Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
One of the tragic consequences of the widespread acceptance of theistic evolution is that it is always accompanied by a loss of faith in the inerrancy of the Bible as defined by the First Vatican Council. According to the Council’s decree on Scriptural inerrancy, the Bible is free from error, not only in regard to matters of faith and morals, but in all that it affirms. When Dr. Thomas Seiler and I gave a series of seminars in various parts of the United States several years ago, we were twice confronted by the objection that the Bible contains errors in regard to natural science and that the account of the habits of the ostrich in the Book of Job, Chapter 39, offered a clear example of this. One of the people who raised this objection was actually a retired professor from one of the few Tradition-friendly Catholic universities in the country!
Never having heard this objection before, we were not prepared with an immediate response, but we were both quite certain that, rightly understood, God’s description of the ostrich in Job 39 would be proven true. And so it was. Among the many good articles defending the accuracy of God’s account of the ostrich, one of the best is an article by an assistant professor of biology named George F. Howe, published in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation in December 1963 under the title “Job and the Ostrich: A Case Study in Biblical Accuracy.” According to Professor Howe:
The wings of the ostrich wave proudly: But are they the pinions and plumage of love?
For she leaveth her eggs on the earth, And warmeth them in the dust,
And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, Or that the wild beast may trample them.
She dealeth hardly with her young ones, as if they were not hers: Though her labor be in vain, she is without fear:
Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, Neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
What time she lifteth up herself on high, She scorneth the horse and his rider (Job 39:13-18, ASV).
. . . As parents they are outstanding. "Cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness" (Lamentations 4:3) is as mistaken a statement of their paternal behavior as is the statement that they hide their heads in sand to avoid danger. (11, pp. 204 and 207).
She accepts the validity of some portions of the narrative, but rejects the statement concerning ostrich cruelty and attempts to prove the point by a subsequent discussion of ostrich nesting habits.
Although Schreiner accepts the accuracy of the Bible account, he believes that Job 39:14 refers only to an aberrant or abnormal phase of the ostrich story and is not representative (14, p .291). Without definitely mentioning Job's errors, Beebe (2, p. 212) believes this passage is incorrect. Laufer discusses the Job citation and assumes that the Bible account is erroneous: "The observation made in the book of Job that the ostrich treats her offspring harshly does not conform with the real facts" (8, p. 12).
In an attempt to clarify the basis of these criticisms and to establish the validity of Job 39:13-18, an analysis of the ostrich life history has been made. Since little work is presently being done with this bird, citations come mainly from the writings of zoologists and agriculturalists of a previous generation. Theological publications are consulted concerning Biblical aspects of the problem.
The Scripture states (Job 39:17) that the ostrich has been deprived of wisdom and understanding. Since these words were written to laymen of all generations, no apologies need be made for their simplicity and teleological character. All that is necessary to prove their truth is to demonstrate that the ostrich does in some cases act in an unwise manner.
The ostrich in Africa consumes prickly pear to its own peril (9, p. 54). In eating such fruits, the head, neck, throat, and eyes of the ostrich become lined with the fruit-thorns.
The foolish running of the ostrich frequently leads to broken legs. "But his mad scamper will almost probably end a few miles off with a tumble into a wire fence, and a broken leg" (9, p. 107). Martin summarizes this apparent lack of wisdom on the part of the ostrich by stating that
-to revert again to the Book of Job-their character could not possibly have been more perfectly summed up than it is in the words: "because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath He imparted to her understanding" (9, p. 146).
While describing these birds in an historical novel, Robinson comments on their apparent lack of wisdom; they have the "brains of a maggot and strength of a mule" (13, p. I). Pickrell mentions their violent reaction to dogs, which frequently leads to their death (12, p. 406), and Schreiner (14) tells of cock fights that also frequently prove fatal. He attributes the preponderance of females over males to the cockfights. The male birds kick at each other through wire fences, thus breaking legs. He also says that cocks frequently die when, from behind their fences, they attempt to attack people.
The adult birds seem to manifest a "will to die." Hayden (7) observes that when illness strikes, the bird makes up its mind to die and seems to resolutely carry out that intention. Martin (9, p. 54) mentions this "will to die" in birds whose necks have been pierced by cactus needles. Her efforts to force-feed such injured birds were always futile.
Another ostrich mentioned by Martin stuck its head through the mesh of a fence to eat a quince. After swallowing the quince, the bird's neck would no longer pull back through the fence. She describes his plight thus:
. . . there was no one at hand to help, and the more he tugged and julped in the frenzied manner of ostriches when held by e head, the more firmly he stuck. And he was found at last, with his neck broken, and his head, to all intents and purposes, pulled off (9, p. 150).
Lastly, the fable of hiding their heads in the sand to avoid detection has some foundation in their habit of crouching as closely as possible to the ground, when they think they are observed; a great eight-foot creature thus transforming itself into an inconspicuous ant hill, or mound of earth . . . (2, p. 212).
Howe completes this section of his essay with this conclusion:
Was God “Unfair” to the Ostrich?
In a later section of his essay, Howe addresses the claims of critics that God was unfair to the ostrich in His characterization of her nesting habits in Job 39:14-16. Howe explains:
Certain additional aspects of ostrich nesting habits bear out the truth of Job 39:14-16. Anxious habits of ostriches during egg laying endanger the eggs themselves:
One occupies the nest, the other broody hens lying or standing about close at hand, thus betraying its presence. When she arises, whichever of the other hens is quickest, perhaps a laying hen, takes her place. Under these conditions a great many eggs are broken both before sitting begins and afterwards. The hens do not sit by turns; there is no plan in their proceedings at all (14, p. 293).
The laying of eggs goes on from day to day by some of the hens even after others have ceased. The consequence of this is that the same lot of eggs are never in the nest together for more than a few days at a time. (This I have frequently proved by marking the eggs.) Some are rolled out, new ones are laid, or old ones are rolled in, for the nest becomes trampled almost out of shape by the traffic about it. Thus, there are no chicks; the eggs become broken or addled, and the nest is eventually abandoned. Under such conditions it not infrequently happens that the cock (and perhaps some of the hens) abandons the nest in disgust before the full period of incubation is completed (14, p. 293).
Gibson (6, p. 215) reaffirms the dropping of eggs in the sand outside the nest. Douglass (5, p. 122) attributes such scattered eggs to young and unpaired hens.
Both birds participate in the care of the eggs. Martin emphasizes the faithfulness of the cock in nesting (9, p. 116), and Schreiner (14), Wetzstein (15), Crandall (3), and Mosenthal (10) each stress the role of the male in incubating the eggs. In fact, Pickrell (12) asserts that the cock helps the female become oriented to the nest. At first the female lays eggs on the ground, but the male will roll a few of them into the nest. After the cock has done this, the hen will then lay her others in the nest.
In justice to the ostrich, it has been demonstrated that in some respects they are faithful parents, defending their nests, and even cooling the eggs. But there is another side to their nesting behavior-a. side which underscores the natural history of Job (an apparent cruelty and lack of concern for the eggs and young.)
The hens may desert the nest if they are overfed (9, p. 121)., The impatience of these birds jeopardizes the nest as Douglass observes:
Some birds get very impatient, especially if there are many days between the hatching of the first and the last chick, and are apt to leave the nest before all are hatched . . . (5, p. 108).
Hens sometimes forget their own nest and invade the nests of others (1, p. 229). Because of this, Barnes mentions, the bird has been used in Arabic fables as being foolish and not loving its own young:
Damir, an Arabic writer, says, "When the ostrich goes forth from her nest, that she may find food, if she finds the egg of another ostrich, she sits on that and forgets her own . . . " (1, p. 229).
Martin tells of a cock that trampled his own nest after one of the hens was removed to stop the fighting (9, p. 128), and Delitzsdi (4, pp. 338-339) reports that wild ostriches are known to trample their nests if their nests are disturbed by humans.
The nest is always in danger of attack from jackals, wildcats, and other animals (4). Martin (9) reports that whiteneck crows drop stones which break the eggs, and later the bird descends to eat the broken egg.
She also gives an account of jackals preying upon the eggs.
During the hatching stage the chicks are in danger because of the erratic behavior of the parents. The hatching period lasts about 4 days, some of the eggs hatching earlier than others. Pickrell (12) recommends that after hatching begins, unhatched eggs should be removed to an incubator, because they are liable to injury from the parents.
As the Bible has indicated, the adults are sometimes very incompetent in care of the chicks. Martin (9, p. 119) tells of one overzealous cock that literally ran his chicks to death, taking them across the veldt on a continual search for fresher pastures. One hen on the Martin farm that had faithfully reared several broods of chicks lost one batch as follows:
. . . one day the idiotic ostrich-nature asserted itself; she took a sudden and senseless fright-probably at nothing -lost her wits, bolted right away, leaving the chicks to get dispersed about the veldt, where only a few were found; and was herself never heard of again (9, p. 137).
Older birds are spiteful of chicks that are not their own. Parents know their own chicks and will kick and peck at those of other nests (14).
It is hoped that this review of ostrich habits, reproduction, and care of young will demonstrate that the Biblical record (while making no claim at being exhaustive) is accurate in each detail of natural history which it contains. It is noteworthy that a book written thousands of years before the rise of experimental biology has such amazing authenticity. This veracity of Job 39 should challenge serious consideration of all the words in this ancient book.
When one reflects that passages like this one from Job 39 are routinely offered to young Catholics as “proof” that the Bible contains errors when it ventures beyond the confines of faith and morals, it is no wonder that so few of our young people possess the kind of living faith in the Word of God that the dogmatic decree of Vatican I requires us to have. It is not difficult to see a perverse parallel between the tendency of so many Catholic academics to cry “Error!” at the first discovery of a difficulty in reconciling a Biblical text with some other objective truth and the tendency of evolution-believing natural scientists to cry “Useless relic of evolution!” whenever they encounter an organ or feature of a plant, animal or human body that they do not immediately understand.
Just as the belief in molecules-to-man evolution retards and impedes the advance of scientific and medical research, so faith in theistic evolution and limited inerrancy retards and impedes Biblical understanding. Let us pray to Our Lady of Good Counsel to obtain for us the grace of a truly Catholic faith in the inerrancy of the Word of God so that we can once again wield “the sword of the Spirit” convincingly to destroy the errors that hold men and women in bondage and lead them to the Truth that will set them free.
Our regional leaders retreat will take place from August 28-September 3 at the Apostolate for Family Consecration retreat center in Bloomingdale, Ohio. If you would be interested in attending, please contact me as soon as possible so that we can reserve a place for you.
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata, in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. For a masterful defense of the true Catholic doctrine on the inerrancy of Scripture, please consult John Wynne’s The Catholic Teaching on Scriptural Inerrancy which is available in print or as an e-book from the Kolbe web store.
P.P.S. Today is a First Saturday. Please be sure to answer Our Lady’s appeal for the First Saturday devotions as described by the Fatima Center at this link.