Monday, August 5, 2019

Of What Is God Inordinately Fond?

We added a new small exhibit to the Biblical Museum of Natural History. The four inhabitants are called George, Paul, John, and Ringo. They are the beetles.

These are sun beetles - richly colored in burgundy and yellow, with wing-cases that have the consistency of velvet. I am enormously fond of them, and much to my delight, they have started breeding.

At the moment, I am intensively planning the new museum building, into which we will be moving in a few months. This involves some reorganization of exhibits, as well as adding many new exhibits. Currently, all our insects and invertebrates, dead and alive, are housed in the Insect section of the Kashrut Exhibit. But in the new building, it will be different. The Hall of Kashrut will only feature kosher insects - i.e. our locust colony - while the Hall of Small Animals will include an Insect Zoo, featuring the insects of the Torah (which will be a combination of live exhibits plus super-size models).

Now, the insects mentioned in the Torah include ants, bees, hornets, fleas, scorpions, lice, spiders (debatably), silkworms (indirectly), millipedes, Kermes echinatus (the tolaat shani), and worms. But no beetles!

But the beetles are too special not to exhibit. And so I was trying to think of a way that it makes sense to display them. Then I remembered something!

There is a famous story, possibly apocryphal, about the distinguished British biologist J.B. Haldane. Once, he found himself in the company of a group of theologians, and they asked him what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of His creations. Haldane is said to have answered that the Creator apparently has “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

There's only about four thousand species of mammals, and 9000 birds. There's about 300,000 species of plants. But there are over 350,000 species of beetles that have already been identified - and it is estimated that the total number of beetle species may be one and a half million.

Whether one believes that God created every species separately, or employed creative wisdom to enable them to evolve from a common ancestor, the end result is that He seems to have delighted in there being a very, very lot of different types of beetles.

Thus, the perfect place in the museum to exhibit beetles is in the Hall of Wonders. That hall will exhibit awesome species such as the elephant, and extraordinary creatures such as the duck-billed platypus, but it will also include an exhibit on the sheer richness of the natural world. There is Mah gadlu maasecha Hashem, "How great are Your works," and there is Mah rabu maasecha Hashem - "How manifold are Your works." The wonder of God's universe is not just in its extraordinary creatures, but also in the sheer rich diversity of them.

And what better creatures to illustrate that richness than beetles?

27 comments:

  1. Do you not understand that Haldane was mocking them, or do you just not care?

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    1. Whatever his real intention was, his observation was very perspicacious, and indeed shows that beetles are very special.

      Delete
    2. There's the blind "I don't care," and the it-davka-doesn't-matter "I don't care."

      Delete
  2. If there's 1.5 million different beetle species, it calls into question just what exactly is the distinguishing feature on this tiny bug that makes it a separate species, and - given that there's 1,500,000 of them, on creatures you can fit on your fingertips - why should anyone care?

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    1. Your question has nothing to do with beetles; it applies equally well to every other species: what defines a "species?"

      As it turns out, scientists have put a lot of thought into the question, and some even wrote books like this one.


      As to why people should care, I refuse to dignify the question.

      Delete
    2. "As to why people should care, I refuse to dignify the question" - usually a sign of inability to answer, but that's OK, SQ, I wasn't addressing you in the first place. (I was addressing a different species.)

      Delete
  3. One of the more extraordinary of that species is the Bombadier Beetle which you should exhibit. It has a chemical defense that is remarkable. Evolution is undeniable, whether you believe or do not believe that it is a God created mechanism.
    See here:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BWwgLS5tK80

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    Replies
    1. I was expecting from the video some type of evidence that the bombardier beetle evolved. Rather, all I heard was "could haves" and "maybes." I hope they can do better than that!

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    2. Sedgwick,

      If you’re looking for an evolutionary explaination of the bombardier beetle’s design, look no further than here:

      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/bombardier.html

      Delete
  4. This blog post is so wholesome I don't know what to do with myself.

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  5. This post reminded me of my time as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the mid-1990’s. One of my biology professors was Lawrence Slobodkin - a notable ecologist. The beetle species Ophraella Slobodkini was named in his honor. I was a young student more interested in Chemistry than Biology, but I have fond memories of a number of interactions I had with him both in class and out. One such out of class occasion was a Tu B’Shvat Seder he led. I don’t remember all of the details, but I do recall that his love of and fascination with the natural world was patent. Also, his understanding of nature’s prominence and celebration within Jewish thought and practice was palpable.

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  6. If i understand evolution theory correctly, the existence of so many species of beetles would imply that they largely occupy different ecological niches. Otherwise evolutionary pressure (competition for limited resources) would have produced much fewer surviving species.
    I understand species to define the set of those that can produce viable, if not also fertile, progeny. If, however, species is being defined as those with sufficiently different appearance or incompatible sex organs so as to seriously impede interbreeding, then the great variety of colors and textures in beetles can point to a divine delight in colors, much as is indicated by such great variety in flowers or, even, the brilliantly colored parrots.
    Y. Aharon

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    1. They don't necessarily have to be found in different ecological niches. Ecological niches repeat themselves in different separate geographical zones (ex. there are many rain forests around the world) and so too the organisms that are in those zones are also separate from each other.More than that, even with a certain specific area, ecological niches are very subtle and can be subdivided into micro-niches. We (as humans) may not notice these differences, but in nature these differences are enough to support a speciation event.

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  7. The creator's fondness for beetles resulted in havoc for human agriculture.ACJA

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  8. They're John, Paul, Ringo and George...and they're breeding?

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    1. Good catch! To be honest, we have five of them. There's also Yoko.

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    2. Your fifth beetle isn’t George (Martin)? I realize having more than one George in the the same family of Beetles could be confusing - but George Foreman found a way to make it work in his family....

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  9. The insect zoo should be renamed to be more inclusive. Maybe call it the arthropod exhibit if you want scorpions, spiders and millipedes to feel welcome. And that still excludes other invertebrates like snails and worms. During this time period of fixing sin'at chinam, even small animals should have a chance at achdut!

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  10. At last count there are 5,416 known mammalian species according to Dr Google...please update.

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  11. Despite the text, you ARE aware that spiders, scorpions, and millipedes are not insects, right? :-)

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    Replies
    1. I can't call it "Invertebrate Zoo." Nobody will know what that means.

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    2. Rav Slifkin,
      I know what invertebrate means and so do millions of other people. It seems that only the insular society that you hope to attract is ignorant of that designation. That’s not an attractive description of the education promoted by that society

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    3. "The back-boneless wonders of nature". Problem solved. The name is solved. Please send me my cheque to.....

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    4. Howzabout the Arthropoidian Zoo? No? Oh well.

      The bigger problem, I think, is that Invertebrate is WAAAYY too inclusive. Got lots of sea animals in that group, yes it does. (Yes, Arthropod has the same problem though less so).

      I imagine that in the museum exhibit proper there will be a line or two with a disclaimer about the classification of arachnids.

      Delete
  12. I'm reminded of the time (true story) a fellow dozed off during the daf yomi shiur when were they were discussing Shemoneh Sherotzim. The Maggid Shur nudged the sleepy man and asked him, "Nu what do you say about the beetles?" To which he groggily responded, "Yes, yes, a famous rock band"

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  13. Curious to hear your reaction to the recent sighting of foxes near the temple mount.

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