Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination underscores the battles to come over Roe v. Wade and religious liberty
One summer afternoon several years ago I noticed a loud buzzing sound from our front porch, like a bumblebee or cicada. The creature on the screen even looked like a cicada at first, wings spread as though it had come to light and would soon take off for other perches. Then, with a gasp, I realized it was a hummingbird, blurring its wings furiously between short rest pauses, its beak firmly wedged in the mesh. He reminded me of Robert Burns’ poem to the shivering field mouse turned up by his plow: “O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” I felt an answering panic as I tried pushing his little beak, thin and fragile as a straw—to break it would be worse than killing the bird.
On a sudden inspiration, I rushed inside, found a Q-tip, and dipped it in olive oil. Back on the porch, I gently brushed the beak with oil, first on the upper part and then lower. The wings beat even more frantically with me there, until finally (actually just a few seconds) a combination of careful oiling and panicked pulling freed the little creature to take off like a shot.
The second time this happened, I was too late. My husband carefully pushed the bird from one side while I carefully pulled from the other, and with a little oil we got him free. Before disposal of the remains, I had to look at him. It’s not often one gets a chance to look closely at a hummingbird.
From my written description: “He feels like he’s all feathers with tiny bones nestled below tissue-thin skin. The head smaller than my little fingernail, with a skull that would fit inside a pencil eraser. The breast is iridescent gray, the tail feathers brown, progressively shorter as they form a notch. Flat feathers layer like dragon scales all the way up the breast, light brown at the shaft but each tipped with emerald. The wings are transparent. Long gray pinions in full spread form a net to catch the air. The leading edge of each wing is crowned with green feathers, gathered like a cape. Finally, the ruby throat: it is spectacular. It’s the final touch, gratuitously splashed upon this smidgen of creation.”
A January headline from The New York Times Magazine: “How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution.” Not reject, mind; it would take a literal act of God to do that. But a number of biologists are suggesting that natural selection alone doesn’t explain certain aesthetic properties of selected species. Male bowerbirds, for example, build flashy love nests decorated with bits of foil, flowers, and bottle caps. Peacocks and birds-of-paradise sport bothersome feathers; club-winged manakins prance around and vibrate specially developed wings that are better for noise-making than flying. All to attract a mate, of course, but ridiculously impractical when it comes to avoiding predators. How could these distinctive marks and gaudy displays have had time to develop before unwelcome attention wiped them out?
The best explanation from an evolutionary view goes by several labels: reproductive preference, aesthetic evolution, or runaway selection (allowing impractical geegaws to cluster and flourish). Darwin gave equal weight to reproduction and survival, but evolutionists since have focused almost entirely on the latter. Research into aesthetics is relatively new and claims only to have scratched the surface, while a wealth of promising clues waits to be discovered. This means more questions than answers. It’s one thing to speculate that the advantages of a peacock’s feathers outweigh their detriments; another to say how they developed in a predatory world to begin with.
The article acknowledges this “conspicuous” gap. “[Evolution’s] gears are so innumerable and dynamic—so susceptible to serendipity and mishap—that even a single outcome of its ceaseless ticking can confound science for centuries.” That’s the blank check science has handed evolutionary theorists, good for the foreseeable future.
And here’s the hummingbird, its miniscule heart just stopped, shouting the glory of God even as its brightness fades away. Two ways to look: but only one way to really see.