The number of insects and their potential for harm have caused people on all sides of the debate over the existence of God to use them to support their position. Opponents of Intelligent Design have portrayed insect populations as an example of something that denies that there is any intelligence in the creation--especially those insects that can bring harm to humans. Fundamentalists have used insects as a part of the curse of Genesis 3:17, maintaining that man's sin brought about the insects and that they are a part of the curse that God put on Adam and Eve for their transgression of His commands.
Science and faith are friends, not enemies, and bad information, shallow thinking, and misapplication of situations cause the confusion in all issues like this one. It is important that young people come to see science and faith as friends and not enemies, because career choices and moral beliefs are affected by what we understand the relationship to be between facts and what the Bible teaches. We would like to make some points about insects that we hope will be helpful in correctly relating their existence with the concept that God has created the Earth with purpose and with man as a special product, being in the image of God.
Insects are a highly designed and vital part of the whole ecology of Planet Earth. When you start talking about insects, most people think of the problems insects bring into their lives. We have all had problems with insects that sting or bite. We know about insects that thrive in places where water or filth have crept into human structures, and we know that some insects can actually eat the wood or other materials in our house. The fact is, however, that all of these negative things are actually a reflection of the beneficial things that insects bring us. Insects provide us with food by pollinating plants. Even insects that we consider a nuisance are actually pollinating insects. Seventy-five percent of all mosquitoes are actually pollinators, and most insects that sting serve man by their pollinating activities. The fact is that when an insect stings or bites, it is not to eat us, but to prevent us from damaging the insect or his home. How would man survive without pollination of his fruit trees and vegetable crops?
In addition to the pollinators, insects are important food sources for many animals man depends upon. Many birds and most fish eat insects as a staple in their diet. Some of these relationships are highly complex, but all of them are vital to man's survival on the planet. The fact of the matter is that humans have eaten insects in many places throughout the ages. In Matthew 3:4 we are told that John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey--both products of insect populations. Locusts taste like shrimp and they are very nutritious. The fact is that most insects in the sea are important food sources for man and fish alike.
Insects are also major processors of waste on the earth. We may be repulsed by maggots (which come from flies), or dung beetles--but what would happen to us if there were not forms of life that take waste products and break them down and remove them from our environment? Insects are major agents to keep the earth livable for man and to sustain man's food chains. In short, there would be no life on Earth if it were not for insects.
The capacity to change involves the complex design of insects. The skeptic will be quick to point out that while all this is true, the fact is that the ability of insects to change has made them a huge scourge to mankind. Insects develop resistance to man's pesticides. They adapt to changing environments and spread from one locale to another. Medflies have been a scourge in California and other places around the globe, and this ability to adapt and change has made insects particularly difficult to deal with.
It is interesting that skeptics will try to use this argument as a case against God's wisdom and design in the creation, because it is this adaptability that allows insects to continue to be available to sustain all parts of the earth's ecosystem. When climate changes take place, insects are able to adapt and continue to do the purposes for which they were designed. In cases where an insect is linked in a special way to some other form of life, they are able to shift to another form of life when food becomes scarce and continue to sustain the ecosystem. To design a system that can adapt to changing environmental facts that surround it is incredibly difficult, and far from being an argument against the design of God, it is a wonderful demonstration of the wisdom and design that God has built into all living things.
Most insect tragedies are man-made. One major point that needs to be linked to the above discussion is that when there is something that seems to be out of control, mankind has usually had a hand in unbalancing the system and causing disaster to occur. Moving cut wood from one location thousands of miles across the country has caused insect populations to have access to areas they would not normally have had access to. Killing off those animals that eat certain insects has caused insect populations to explode out of control in some places. Preventing forest fires, damming rivers, removing plants upon which insects depend forcing them to eat something else, and using chemicals that cause aberrant insect behavior are all things that mankind has done throughout the centuries. This is not an act of God or a weakness in the design of the system.
One of my favorite stories was a study done on praying mantises in England years ago. Stephen Jay Gould and others reported on the fact that after mating, female praying mantises were seen to turn around, bite the male's head off and then proceed to consume the male. Elaborate evolutionary scenarios were worked out to explain this seemingly senseless activity. Then researchers discovered that this only happened when the mantises were in captivity. When they were free in the wild the females made no offer to attack the males. The artificial environment produced by captivity caused a behavior that was not normally a part of their lifestyle. Zoos have similar stories of all kinds of behaviors in animals which are not a normal part of what they do, but under duress any living thing may do strange things--including humans.
The curse did not involve insects. If you read the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 you will see that insects are not mentioned in the passage. The indication is that man would have to change from a gatherer who just pulled his food from the trees to a farmer who would have to cultivate plants. The "sweat of thy face" in verse 19 is not coming from swatting flies. It is also important to understand that up until the time that man sinned, he was in paradise, but not in heaven. There was still pain in the garden. God even tells Eve in Genesis 3:16 that her pain would be increased--not that it would be initiated. Stepping on a bug in the garden could still get you a sting.
God's commands to man include the management of insects. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God "took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." As we have already said, man is not in heaven. He has work to do and things to take care of. The garden needs to be cared for, and managing insects would certainly be a part of that. In Genesis 9:1-7 there seems to be a change in man's dietary situation, but whether man ate meat before that is difficult to determine. In Genesis 4:2-4 Abel sacrifices "the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof", and that would certainly seem to suggest that animals were used for more than just wool and milk. The fact is, however, that insects are not mentioned and may have been a part of their diet. Western civilizations have not depended on insects for food, but that is not true of most of the world. A people who gather food would normally gather insects as well as plants, and this may have been a part of man's control of the garden and of his environment after the garden.
There are still a number of questions to which no full answer can be given. Why are there ticks and leeches? Are these a part of God's initial system or are they mutants that came along later after man had severed his relationship with God? It is not hard to see that there would be a small step from insects that process the fluids of dead animals to attacking animals that were not dead yet--especially if man put himself in near proximity to dead things--something God's hygienic laws told him not to do. Things like tape worms and various parasites would have come into existence in the same way. Our knowledge is too small to be able to fully answer this kind of question, but we can see enough to know that this is not a failure in the creation system that God designed.
Insects are a natural part of the world in which we live. They are not evil or negative, but like everything else they need to be controlled and used wisely. God said "Take care of the garden, dress it and keep it." He did not say to pollute it, exploit it, destroy it, abuse it, or make a weapon out of it. We need to view insects in a positive way, and realize that there are challenges for us to make all insects useful for food and to relieve the problems of mankind. When God looked at the creation with everything it had in it--including insects--his conclusion was: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Let us not vilify any part of the creation by ignorance and preconceived ideas.
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