Why God Made Tortoises
In the Genesis story, God first of all, makes the earth and then populates it with plants and animals before eventually creating Adam and Eve. One of the fascinating things which happens here is that as God creates the ground and the plants, the sun moon and stars and fish, birds and land animals, he pauses at each stage and sees that ‘it was good’. Before mankind set foot on planet earth, the creation was good. The Bible gives humanity a special place as the height of creation, but we must never assume that this devalues everything else. The sun, moon stars, mountains, beech trees and bumble bees were good before we got here. I don’t think it is to go too far from the text to say that God likes his creation; he enjoys it.
When I was at school the Christian Union organised a meeting where those who were not Christians could ask questions of those who were. One pupil asked what I thought at the time was a hugely difficult question: ‘why did God create tortoises?’ I remember the person who was leading the meeting getting tied up in knots trying to explain how God must have know that the tortoise would occupy an important niche in the world’s ecosystem that no other animal could occupy. On reflection, I think that the answer is a lot simpler. Why did God create tortoises? Because he likes tortoises and he thought that the world would be better with them than without them. I’m sure that the various tortoise species do play an important ecological role, but that is not the point. God’s first thought about creation was a moral or a spiritual one: ‘it is good’, not a mechanical one ‘it works’.
Our world is an incredibly complex interlocking biological system. When we make small changes to the system, by say introducing a species to a new area, we cannot predict what the long term effects will be, but we do know that there will be effects. You can compare it to a complicated computer programme where making changes to one part of the code can result in completely unexpected changes to the output. But though creation can seem to respond like a machine, it is more than a machine. It’s something that God made and he viewed as good.
As human beings spread across the planet, our industry and agriculture has an impact on places that were until recently wilderness. More and more plant and animal species are under threat; some such as the polar bear or the orang-utan get a lot of press coverage, others just vanish without being noticed. Some people, including, sadly, some Christians ask whether it matters if a species of butterfly becomes extinct. Looking at the biological system; of course it matters, we don’t know what role that butterfly played in maintaining the ecosystem, or perhaps it held the clue to a cure for some disease. For that reason alone, we should do our best to care for the planet. But much more importantly, God created that species and said that it was good. We should think long and hard before we allow part of God’s good creation to be wiped off the face of the earth. If we believe that God created this universe, then we will look after our planet and not sacrifice what God has made on the altar of human progress.
If I ever finish writing it and if I can find a publisher, this will be an extract from Chapter two of the book I’m writing.