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The Riot and the Dance

Written by Gordon Wilson

WHY IS YOUR TEXTBOOK CALLED “THE RIOT AND THE DANCE”?

This odd title “The Riot and the Dance” warrants an explanation. There are a number of ways that both ‘riot’ and ‘dance’ can be viewed. First, the creation is cursed due to Adam’s sin. The beautiful dance was “subjected to futility.” The enemy, death, invaded. This curse of God was ushered in through predators, parasites, and pathogens. This is one meaning of “the riot,” and it looms large in almost every nature documentary made. Animals killing each other may seem normal, but it’s not beautiful or good in any sense. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.

But even before the fall, it is probable that animal movement and plant placement did not conform to our tidy sense of spatial organization. Wildebeests of the Serengeti aren’t marching lock step to the beat of a drum, and the arrangement of trees in the wilderness isn’t in rows. Both appear haphazard, so in this sense “riot” refers to the apparent chaotic pattern of plant placement and animal movement in a given habitat.

At the same time, there is also a divinely choreographed dance at a much deeper level (that’s why it’s beautiful). And these elements of a dance are still clear even amidst the riot of the fall. This includes the flow and cycling of energy and nutrients in an ecosystem and the dynamic rhythms of nature; the changing seasons, blooming flowers, courting behaviors, and mutualism. All of these are remnants of a dance once perfect at creation. With the advent of death the original dance was deformed. But it hasn’t been blotted out altogether.

For example, at the molecular level the movement of molecules due to Brownian motion is seemingly chaotic. Even if we could see the molecules from the windows of the Magic School Bus, their movements would still look like a riot. But when we step back and look at what is really happening—metabolic pathways, DNA replication, RNA transcription, protein translation, mitosis, and meiosis—it is a wonderfully intricate series of dances that clearly proclaims the wisdom and majesty of God.

WHY DO WE NEED ANOTHER BIOLOGY TEXT WHEN IT SEEMS THERE ARE COUNTLESS OTHERS?

Granted, there are a lot of textbooks out there, but most have a thoroughgoing evolutionary worldview, and that won’t do. This book is unashamedly creationist and seeks to honor the Author of life at every opportunity.

There is a great need for reformation in the area of science education. One fundamental problem is that most (not all) science texts have a layout and text that is sterile and objective, lacking personality or aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, many students who are forced to partake of their recommended high school or undergraduate allowance of biology receive only a mound of disconnected facts about the living world (“data dumping”), with most of the wonder and beauty sucked out of it by the leech of naturalism. Many students probably marvel at how biology teachers and writers (Christian or not) manage to retain any interest in the subject matter when they dole it out with about as much enthusiasm as a server in a prison cafeteria dishing up lukewarm gruel.

If any attempt is made to highlight the magnificence of nature, all glory, honor, praise, and thanksgiving must fall upon the naturalistic gods named time, matter, energy, laws of chemistry, mutation, and (of course) natural selection. This is an abomination and a flagrant insult to the Lord of all Creation. Creation has beauty, complexity, and diversity that proclaim an infinitely wise and omnipotent Creator, but the cosmos’s existence is regularly and dogmatically attributed to mindless matter begotten from nothing. This is not only ultimate foolishness, but also blasphemy (whether deliberate or inadvertent). It’s like teaching an art survey class and refusing to acknowledge the genius of the masters or to mention their names; and then, adding insult to injury, proclaiming that any apparent design of Michelangelo’s David was really the result of wind and water erosion on marble.

Some (not all) Christian biology textbook writers mimic the aforementioned secular pedagogy and teach this glorious subject with materialistic descriptions and definitions. They may praise and honor God with enthusiasm (which I appreciate), but it doesn’t solve the sterile “data dump” writing style and layout.

THIS BOOK ISN’T THE SOLUTION TO THE ‘BORING BIOLOGY’ PROBLEM, BUT I HOPE IT WILL USHER IN THE LOVE OF LEARNING.

I hope to accomplish something different here. My goal is not just to present the subject matter but rather to teach it. Consequently, this book is rife with analogies, illustrations, and anecdotes serving as handles to get a grip on difficult concepts or simply to make the experience enjoyable. I don’t presume this book is the ultimate solution to the ‘boring biology’ problem, but my hope is to usher in the ‘love of learning’ in biology.

The natural revelation of creation is so much more magnificent than any of the works of the masters, and shouldn’t be taught as a pile of dry facts we’re supposed to learn (and then forget), hoping to check off the required course list for high school or college. When science is taught as just another subject to put on the transcript instead of a new way to see the glory of God, attempting to learn the pile of facts is about as much fun as eating gravel.

Instead, as with all subjects, the life sciences should be taught to bring glory to God, and should also be taught as a subset of theology simply because they are the study of God’s natural revelation. By studying nature, we are studying the direct handiwork of God, and His creation gives us great insights into His creative character. His artistry and engineering are so wonderfully evident when pondering the biological systems spanning all levels, from molecules, cells, and organs to organisms and ecosystems, to list just a few examples. One who is called and privileged to teach our God’s creation—its beauty, unity, complexity, and diversity—should strive to teach it so that students will not only enjoy the experience, but will begin to respond with reverence, wonder, praise, and thanksgiving toward the Lord of all Creation.


GORDON L. WILSON, PH.D. 

Dr. Wilson is a Senior Fellow of Natural History at New Saint Andrews. His research focuses on the reproductive ecology of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). He has published his research, field notes, and abstracts in Southeastern Naturalist, Herpetological Review, Catesbeiana, and the Virginia Journal of Science. Dr. Wilson is a regular contributor at Answers in Genesis. Dr. Wilson and wife Meredith have four children and growing collection of grandchildren.