Where Science and Faith Converge

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

By Hugh Ross - December 28, 2009

Ravens may be the most intelligent nonhuman animal.

Edgar Allan Poe was not the only one impressed with the great intellect of the raven. Ravens also much impressed the prophet Elijah when God ordered the birds to bring the prophet bread and meat.1

Today’s biologists and psychologists are coming to the conclusion that ravens may be the most intelligent nonhuman animal. Studies that reveal the superior cognitive abilities of ravens and crows challenge the Darwinian claim that the properties of the human mind and of certain birds can be explained by natural descent.

Ongoing debates over the origin of life have focused only on the origin of the physical attributes of life. The origins of the “soulish” and spiritual aspects of Earth’s higher life-forms remain largely ignored. (According to the Bible, soulish life includes creatures, namely birds and mammals, that God has endowed with mind, will, and emotions so they can form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings.) Two recently published papers, one in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, alerted the scientific community to the severe challenges the origins of soulishness and spirituality pose to naturalistic models for life.

Three verses in Genesis 1 use the Hebrew verb bara (“create”) to describe transcendent creation miracles—when God creates something brand new that never existed before, independent of, or from outside of, any of the material components of the universe, including the laws of physics and the space-time dimensions of the universe. The three bara miracles take place in verse 1 (the creation of the universe), verse 21 (the creation of “soulish” animals), and verse 27 (the creation of human beings “in the image of God”). They imply that the origin of life has three components: physical life, soulish life, and spiritual life.

God designed soulish animals so that each kind can serve or please humanity in its own distinct way; Job 39 implies that soulish animals were preprogrammed by God to do so before humans even existed.2 The Bible defines spiritual life as a God-given capacity in creatures to discover and to form a relationship with Him. In the same manner that He designed soulish animals to serve and please humanity, He made humans, the only form of spiritual life on Earth, to serve and please Him.

Secular scientific literature has paid scant attention to the origin of humanity’s spiritual attributes, and virtually no research considers the origin of the soulish features observed in the higher animals, particularly birds and mammals. From a philosophical perspective, avoiding the origin of soulishness and spirituality makes perfect sense. For Darwinian explanations of life, both issues are dangerous minefields.

In his book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin explicitly states that the difference between human and nonhuman minds is merely “one of degree and not of kind” and that “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”3 As proof, he pointed out “there is a much wider interval in mental power between one of the lowest fishes …and one of the higher apes, than between an ape and a man.”4

Darwin’s “proof,” however, doesn’t establish his premise that man is naturally descended from lower animals. From a biblical perspective fish possess no soulish qualities at all, whereas both apes and humans do. So, of course, a wider gulf in mental power exists between a fish and an ape than between an ape and a man.

In the recent opinion essay in Nature, biologist Johan Bolhuis and psychologist Clive Wynne accept the premise that species have naturally evolved and, thus, possess shared ancestry. But they contest the Darwinian principle “that species with shared ancestry will have similar cognitive abilities.”5 For example, researchers have noted cognitive similarities between physically disparate species, but not necessarily between physically similar species. Bolhuis and Wynne point out that this “illustrates that cognitive traits cannot be neatly arranged in an evolutionary scale of relatedness.”6

Bolhuis and Wynne contrast the cognitive capacities of birds and primates. In the Darwinian models, apes and humans are closely related and share a relatively recent common ancestor. Birds, on the other hand, are only distantly related to primates. Thus, Darwinists predict that of all animals, apes should come closest to manifesting the cognitive capabilities of human beings.

But Bolhuis and Wynne give examples where birds defy this prediction. They cite how “Caledonian crows [though not quite matching ravens in intellectual prowess] outperform monkeys in their ability to retrieve food from a trap tube–from which food can be accessed only at one end.”7 They also refer to an experiment demonstrating that “crows can also work out how to use one tool to obtain a second with which they can retrieve food, a skill that monkeys and apes struggle to master.”8 Evidently, certain bird species exhibit greater powers of the mind than do apes. (See crows’ cognitive powers in action here.)

High cognitive abilities of certain bird species even sometimes challenge a purely physical explanation for their behavior. Take for example the marsh tit. This bird stores seeds in tree bark or in the ground and is able to retrieve them days later while its “close relative,” the great tit, doesn’t store food at all.9 Biologists presumed the difference would be explained by a larger hippocampus in the brain of the food-storing birds. Alas, the evidence doesn’t support this suggestion.10 Studies also show that food-storers do not perform any better in spatial memory tasks than do the non-food-storers.11

In their paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, three psychology researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), boldly declared Darwin’s idea of the continuity of the mind (from lower species to higher) a mistake.12 They argue “there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate the higher order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system.”13 They go on to show that this discontinuity “pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain.”14

The UCLA study addressed only the properties of mind that pertain to symbolic thought. Putting aside the unique spiritual attributes of human beings, the UCLA team demonstrated that even in the soulishness that both humans and the higher nonhuman animals share, there is such an enormous discontinuity that Charles Darwin’s descent of man theory must be wrong.

RTB scholars conclude that God, not natural processes, must be the causal agent behind all three origins of life: physical, soulish, and spiritual. For more physical evidence and reasons for our conclusion we recommend our books, Origins of Life15 and Who Was Adam?,16 which explain our creation model on the origins of physical life and spiritual life. I am currently writing a book on the origin of soulish life.

  1. Kings 17:4–6.
  2. Job 39.
  3. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man in From Simple Beginning: The Four Great Books by Charles Darwin, edited by Edward O. Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 798.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne, "Can Evolution Explain How Minds Work?" Nature 458 (April 16, 2009): 832.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., 833.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. D. C. Penn, K. J. Holyoak, and D. J. Povinelli, "Darwin's Mistake: Explaining the Discontinuity between Human and Nonhuman Minds," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (April 2008): 109–30, discussion 130–78.
  13. D. C. Penn, K. J. Holyoak, and D. J. Povinelli: 109.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2004).
  16. Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2006).

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