May 28, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Freaks of Evolution Exposed

A science writer calls some weird animals freaks of evolution, but there’s a double meaning in that phrase begging to be unpacked.

“Freaks of evolution.” Intriguing phrase. Pregnant with meaning. British TV host Lucy Cooke uses it to describe certain animals in her book The Unexpected Truth About Animals. At National Geographic, reporter Simon Worrall lets her set the record straight about some animals that some of us tend to project human traits onto. He summarizes the conversation: “Unfaithful penguins, blood-red hippos, and randy pandas: In the wild, animals are not always how we imagine them.”

Sloths can actually swim three times faster than they can crawl on land. There are two reasons why they’re such good swimmers, which are both freaks of evolution. One is that they have extra neck vertebrae. All animals, giraffes included, have the same number of neck vertebrae, but sloths have two or three extra, actually ribs that have been co-opted. This enables them to keep their heads above water as they’re doing the doggie paddle.

The reason why they’re so buoyant—which shows how evolution will find a use for something peculiar—is that sloths suffer from an enormous amount of gas. Their diet, mostly leaves, is extremely indigestible. They have an enormous gut fauna, bacteria that helps them break down these leaves, and the byproduct is a lot of methane. [laughs] Sloths can’t fart, as we do. Instead, that trapped wind serves as a built-in buoyancy device. [Bold added; italics, links, and responses in original.]

If that were the case, though, wouldn’t sloths blow up like balloons as they age? That would be the real freak of evolution. Cooke continues, remarking that frogs have “some of the most freaky, sci-fi adaptations!” And yet as the whimsical interview unfolds, Worrall lets Cooke portray another group of animals that qualify as freaks of evolution: evangelical Christians.

From Aristotle to Disney, humans have interpreted animal behavior as a reflection of our own moral and cultural values, seeing sloths as sinful or penguins as paragons of family values. In her hilarious new book, The Unexpected Truth About Animals, British TV presenter Lucy Cooke upends some of these myths and shows that what actually goes on in the natural world is a far cry from these imaginary projections.

Speaking from New York during her book tour, she explains how evangelical Christians got it wrong about penguins; why sloths don’t fart; and how pandas need more wild habitat, not captive breeding programs, to survive.

Readers will learn some worthwhile things about particular animals in this interview, but why do Cooke and Worrall blame “evangelical Christians” three times for misunderstanding animals? It’s as if they both want to hold up this particular subspecies of Homo sapiens as targets for laughter.

Worrall: Evangelical Christians even adopted penguins as role models for families, without realizing some surprising facts about their behavior. Enlighten us?

Cooke: Partly to blame is the movie March of The Penguins, which proposed that the penguins’ annual trudge across the ice flows is somehow an epic love story. As a result, the Christian right wing adopted the penguin as a paragon of family values. They believed that they were monogamous and great parents. Unfortunately, this is far from true. [laughs]

But March of the Penguins was released 13 years ago, way back in 2005. Since then, despite The Guardian‘s story, I have never heard any Christians, evangelical or otherwise, “adopt penguins as role models for families” — and I read a lot of secular and Christian news. What’s going on here? Why are evangelical Christians fair game for mockery by this evolutionist and her Darwinian interlocutor, but not members of any other religious group? And for the few Christians and non-Christians who may have been misled by the movie 13 years ago, why does this article impute believing in something that is “far from true” to millions of innocent Christians who never thought that? Can you imagine the outcry if these writers used a broad brush to mock Jews or Muslims before laughing out loud?

The psychological motivations behind Cooke and Worrall’s mockery of evangelical Christians would be a good subject for a research paper, but let’s look at this “freaks of evolution” concept another way. Why would evolution produce anything that is freaky? It takes a mind capable of reason to call something a freak. Darwinian selection, mindless and aimless as it is, has no such categories. Stuff happens. It is neither freaky nor sensible. It just is. Why do human beings—uniquely in the animal kingdom—judge things to be outlandish or weird? That question alone should freak out a materialist.

If you think this through long enough, you can only conclude that the real “freaks of evolution” are Darwinians. Their logic is so twisted, they act like stoned guests at a freak-fest around the Charlie idol. Believing they are evolved animals themselves, they position themselves as enlightened ones, illustrating the very image of God they repudiate. Yet they twist that God-given logic into mockery of their fellow created beings—and by doing so, mock the Creator as well. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:22-23).

As thinking, eternal, moral beings, we humans can learn from object lessons in the animal world (e.g., “Go to the ant, thou sluggard,” Proverbs 6:6). But we aren’t supposed to use animals as role models. We are men and women, under God’s authority, and under moral obligation to obey His commandments for humans. How the Creator constructed other animals, and how He permits animals to behave is His prerogative—not ours. Thou shalt not freak thy mind under the influence of evolution.

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  • David Hart says:

    Note that in the subject Nat Geo article (link near top of this page), there’s this quote:

    “Adam Leipzig, president of National Geographic Feature Films, said: ‘These penguins are model parents. What they go through to look after their children is phenomenal, and no parent who sees it will ever complain again about the school run. There are parallels with human nature and it is moving to see.'”

    Adam must be another one of those Evangelical Christians.

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