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Last week, London had an unusual visitor. She entered the UK (as have so many in the past centuries) up the Thames estuary, right into the heart of London.
If you were one of the millions who were watching the spectacle on international TV networks, ‘she’, of course, was not human. It was a North Atlantic Bottle-Nosed Whale. For some unknown reason, the animal had strayed from her hunting grounds and got lost in the murky waters of London’s main waterway. What made her swim upstream and past the Houses of Parliament, no one knows.
What was even more remarkable about this event was the public and media interest that was generated. For two days, millions were riveted to their TV sets, while other matters such as the situation in Iraq, the health of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, and the ongoing turmoil among leading members of the Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third largest political party) were largely forgotten. In addition, huge crowds took up their positions on the bridges and embankments of the Thames, watching as divers entered the waters to attempt to persuade the whale to swim downstream, while volunteer vets stood by to offer possible medical assistance. When these attempts failed, and the whale beached itself (having injured her tail on an empty boat), she was lifted out of the river and on to a barge. It was a highly dramatic, but doomed, attempt to get her back out to sea. Her demise filled more column inches in the UK newspapers than the death of many film stars, and this sad tale of the whale was the subject of a number of long articles in major papers like the New York Times.
The question that many posed during this time was: ‘Why has there been such an outpouring of popular emotion over this creature of the sea?’ This is not to suggest, of course, that there was anything wrong in wishing the animal well. Nothing would have pleased me more than if the news story had ended with this creation of God being seen swimming down the Thames and into the North Sea. Yet there is a disturbing anthropomorphism that creeps into such news stories, largely born of our western society’s evolutionary mindset.
‘It evoked something of the magic that comes when one species meets another at close quarters,’ declared the New York Times. In the UK, the Daily Telegraph commented (in the leader column): ‘Alas, they were unable to save the creature’s life. But their noble efforts bore witness to a strange and very primitive bond’. The emotion of the rescue’s failure was summed up (quite understandably) in the words of one of the rescue team’s leaders. ‘We turned the lights off on the boat as a mark of respect when it died—and so we couldn’t see one another cry. Big hairy guys crying like sissies.’
While I certainly have no problem with having a respect for such animals and sympathize with the rescuers, underlying the sentimentality was the view that this sea creature (a mammal) was related to us. This was our ‘cousin’ of sorts, springing from a common evolutionary mammalian source.
In earlier times, when evolutionary thinking was not so engrained in the culture, there was less sentimentality. In 1961, a 16-foot minkhe whale swam into the Thames. Police in boats escorted the whale, warning the public to keep away, until it died, as it was declared to be dangerous. The last bottle-nosed whale to be seen in the Thames was in 1899, when the Times of London reported that unceremoniously: ‘the crew of the steam tug Empress fastened a rope to it, dragged it off the beach, and took it in tow.’
By the way, are you aware that whales and swans have something in common? In the UK, all whales and swans are owned by the Queen! The Crown claimed ownership of all swans in the 12th century, and whales within three miles of the UK shore can be taken under Royal Patronage through a 1324 statute, under which whales are classed as ‘fishes royal’. King Edward II declared: ‘Also the King shall have … whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm’.1 (Today, whales are classed as mammals, rather than fish.)
Another thing that whales and swans (and sturgeon) have in common is that they were all created on the fifth day of creation according to the book of Genesis. Land animals and people were created on the sixth day. This background helps give us a correct perspective on whales, and enables us to draw two brief conclusions:
Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’) suggests that we should take care of whales; but there is no hint in the text that we need to be sentimental about them and to consider whales to be an equivalent species to humanity.
As Christians, we are often faced with issues regarding the authority of Scripture vs the authority of fallible man. Believers need to be aware that in order to accept the evolutionists’ ‘just-so’ story, they have to suspend belief in scriptural truth. The Christian who accepts God’s Word in Genesis in a straightforward way is freed from a futile attempt to harmonize the bankrupt view of evolution with the account of creation in Genesis 1.