Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Review: "God and the World of Insects" (Part 1)

Over the next 12 days or so, I will be posting a detailed review of the edited volume titled God and the World of Insects by editors Josh Shoemaker and Dr. Gary Braness. I should note that I was provided a copy by the authors in exchange for an unbiased review of the book. I am happy to review it. It has been a very pleasing read and is by all accounts a unique and fascinating work.

Given my background in both entomology and theology, I am an appropriate reviewer for such a book given that its subject is...well, about God and insects.

First, let's start with the publisher's description of the book:
Viewed through the eyes of entomologists and scientists who believe in a Creator God. the chapters discuss the design, nature, and purpose of insects in the world while at the same time showing the beauty and diversity of insects. Contributors consider such topics as the vision of bees, the importance of ants, and the role of insects in advancing technology and drug therapy. Among the many questions addressed are: - Are insects protectors or destroyers of the ecosystem? - Why are there insects such as mosquitoes and cockroaches? - Do insects suffer? - How should humans respond to the world of insects?
 Who are the editors?
Josh Shoemaker, MA, is an Associate Certified Entomologist with over 20 years of experience in urban pest management. He has taught hundreds of seminars on insect and arachnid biology and is a former adjunct professor at Arizona Christian University. 
Gary Braness, PhD, is a consulting entomologist and owner of Yosemite Environmental Services, Fresno, CA. Gary obtained a PhD in urban and industrial entomology from Purdue University. His research has been published in the Journal of Economic Entomology and many of his articles have appeared in industry trade magazines.
In the first part of the book, "Beautifully Engineered Creatures," the essays ask the essential question of whether it appears that there is an Intelligence or a Designer (i.e. an Intelligent Designer) behind the myriad forms and instances of the wonderous insect varieties on Earth. These essays are more scientific in nature and consider such things as convergent evolution, arthropod diversity, insect metamorphosis, the biology and behavior of ants, bee behavior and design, parasitism in insects, biomimetics, and bioinspiration. Those non-scientific readers of the book should not be frightened though. The essays are accessible and can be read profitably with a little work.

The second part of the book, "Creature, the Creator, and Us," contains the more theologically-natured essays and considers God's purposes for insects, whether insects can suffer or not, humanity's role in caring for insects and the world, and a fascinating essay on the ethics of killing insects.

As I read the book, I was reminded that this is a very brave and important work. First, it essentially belongs to the genre of literature which asks if there is an Intelligent Designer behind natural phenomena, such as insects. As such, it risks a polarizing reaction from scientific colleagues who are opposed to the idea that a Designer is responsible for and is directing the material world around us.

But it is also a brave book in that it asks "regular" people to look for that Designer in a place that most folks are relatively uninterested in considering - the world of insects. As my own experience as an ant biologist taught me, most people are more grossed out by insects than engrossed by them. And that's a sad but common reality. This book will help with that by once again shining a light on the fascinating world of insects.

And why should we care about insects? It is because, as the Harvard myrmecologist E.O. Wilson once noted, they are the "little things which run the world." This book, in multiple ways, is a way to better appreciate what we take for granted when we consider these "little things."

Tolle lege. Take up and read.

Tomorrow we will begin looking at each chapter.