Saturday, November 2, 2013


Medical Update:
Thank you for the kind suggestions of home remedies in the comments box last week. Before trying them I went to an ear-nose-and-throat specialist yesterday and he examined me for ten minutes and told me that I have a slight blockage of the Eustachian tube in my left ear. Although it’s nothing serious, it could take a few more weeks for that stuffy feeling to clear up. He gave me some samples of nasal spray to help Mother Nature along. I hope that this will be the last you’ll have to hear about my middle ear.


By sheer coincidence I’ve been reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Beak of the Finch by science writer Jonathan Weiner (1995), that centers on the story of two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, who spent twenty years studying finches on a tiny remote islet in the Galapagos. It’s one of those books that give you a whole new way of looking at the world.  

The Grants' incredibly meticulous measurements of everything (e.g. actually counting the numbers of various seeds in random square-meter plots of ground, and banding and measuring every single finch on the islet for twenty years) revealed, when the data was crunched in a computer, that Darwin didn’t know the strength of his own theory. The Grants detail how the beaks of the three species of finches change in response to the kinds and quantity of seeds available. They watched the beaks change not over eons or millennia but in a couple of short years.

They showed that evolution is not, as Darwin thought, just something in the distant past, nor is it an imperceptibly slow process that can only be observed from the perspective of spotty fossil records. We can see it happening, ebbing back and forth and in all sorts of intricate ways.

Lots of evolutionary biologists routinely demonstrate every day the various principles of evolution at work both in the wild and in laboratories. One scientist, Martin Taylor, was being paid by American Cyanamid to observe and record the rapid evolution of Heliothis virescens, a moth that has been decimating cotton crops in the South for decades. By analyzing the DNA of moths from several states each month he has come to understand exactly how the moths evolve a resistance to a new pesticide – they can do so in the space of a single growing season -- and notes “The moths have become almost absolutely resistant to all pesticides.”


So there I am reading this book as I sit waiting in the doctor’s office because of a slight blockage in the tube that allows the pressure in the middle ear to match the ambient atmospheric pressure. We certainly are “wonderfully made,” aren’t we? I suppose that the finches in the Galapagos have Eustachian tubes, too. I'm not wondering so much about how we all happen to have gotten Eustachian tubes, I'm just in awe of the simple fact that we have them at all.

Meditating over the years on the beautiful account of creation in Genesis has helped me to
Michelangelo's version of the Big Bang
appreciate the truth that God is the creator of all things in heaven and on earth. But for me it’s become much more a source of wonderment to realize that the billions of DNA genes and chromosomes in us living creatures are able to do all the things they do, and that the tiniest accidental variation in a chromosome can result in immense changes if it proves helpful for the survival of that individual and thus is passed on as an adaptation to some environmental stressor such as a pesticide or a drought. Creation is continuing full tilt today.


I used to get asked (no so frequently nowadays) if as a Catholic I’m allowed to believe in the theory of evolution. These days, though, no one has asked if I'm allowed to believe that houseflies and moths have somehow become resistant to every known pesticide. No one has asked me if I am allowed to believe in the observable facts of evolutionary biology all around me. 

Heliothis virescens believes in Darwin
There's an ironic twist to this question in the experience of Martin Taylor, the scientist who is monitoring the evolving resistance of those moths in the "Cotton Belt," which is also known as “the Bible Belt.” He observes,  

Cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution itself that they are struggling against in their fields each season. These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution. How can you be a Creationist farmer any more?

Well, no matter how it came about, I think that the Eustachian tube in my left ear is a pretty impressive work of God. Even if it is stuffed up right now.  

"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Ps. 139:14)


  1. IMHO, the awe at being fearfully and wonderfully made cannot help but be followed by a deep gratitude towards the One who made us. Thank you for a delightful meditation on a tiny piece of the human body that does not come to our attention unless it is ailing. Sometimes I become oblivious to the walking wonder that I am, and forget to cultivate sincere thankfulness to God for such things as Eustachian tubes.
    And thank you for the tongue-in-cheek observation regarding pesticide-resistant Bible-belt moths evolving in Creationist cotton fields. God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn't He?

  2. I'm reading Fossils, Finches and Fuegians! Beaks, October 1835. CMJE