Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Book of Nature: A Book Review and Commentaries by a Wildlife Enthusiast

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Mehran Banaei

Virtually all of us are products of an education system that primarily focuses on teaching students how to make a living, rather than on how to live. We are products of an education system, which has missed out the whole purpose of education. It is a bankrupt system that impoverishes the inquisitive souls of students, and has turned the love of wisdom to the hatred of wisdom. In many academic settings the discovery of knowledge is replaced by the concealment of knowledge. As pointed by some critics, the promotion and communal openness to the notion of relativism at academic institutions has led paradoxically to the great closing of once inquiring minds (Allan Bloom, 1987, The Closing of the American Mind). We are products of such an education system that has successfully killed the sense of wonder in observing marvelous natural phenomena and the beauties of nature. In this system, by the time one graduates, the inborn feeling of awe and admiration in witnessing the glories of this vast universe is systematically suppressed in each graduate. How should we expect a biology student to cognitively react to the complex nature of a living cell, when the field of biology is defined as “the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose” (Richard Dawkins, 1987, The Blind Watchmaker)? We are taught in school that complexity, diversity, design and purpose are all mere deceptive appearances having no meaningful implications. Any natural wonder that one experiences or witnesses is the end result of chance. How do we expect a physics student to react to the notion of an infinite universe, an edgeless universe that never comes to an end, when infinity is conveniently viewed as just a mathematical concept?

Too busy with the hustle and bustle of the everyday life, humanity has lost interest in studying the Book of the Universe and its most fascinating and persuasive chapter: the Book of Nature. Living in concrete jungles engulfed with an insatiable appetite for material consumption, mankind has become totally alienated and amputated from nature. A city dweller may hardly experience the tranquillity of nature, or witness the glorious and serenity of the sunrise and sunset, let alone seeing the wonders of an undisturbed natural world far away from home. Case in point, when a massive power outage struck southern California in the 1990s, many Los Angeles residents reportedly called 911 to express concerns about strange clouds hovering over in sky; the callers were seeing the Milky Way for the first time. Mankind’s self-imposed ignorance of the Book of Nature is the underlying reason for his continual demise. Historically, any manmade socio-political, economical, engineering or environmental policies that were implemented in violation of the parameters imposed by the Book of Nature were doomed at its inception, or along the way. It should not come as a surprise when world leaders and corporate executives ratify policies in boardrooms that result in destruction of nature. Nature is something totally foreign to their psyche.

Life is a grand research project to probe into the ubiquitous wonders, to understand the who, the where and the why of Man’s existence, of our raison d’etre. In conducting such a research to seek the answer to the most fundamental and inescapable existential questions of life, what is a better book to read than the Book of Nature? Nature indeed is the best guiding mentor for those who genuinely observe, hear and reflect on the all-telling signs that are omnipresent to convey a deeper message. When one explores nature, one is then truly gaining real education. I have been keenly studying the Book of Nature for many years, attracted to its majestic beauty and endless colourful diversity. As Plato puts it, beauty is splendor of the Truth, meaning that which is beautiful has the hallmark of the Truth. Therefore, to study nature is to study the Truth and to move on the right path to discover the Ultimate Truth. Good research at times requires one to take field trips far away from libraries, cyberspace and inept learning institutions. To pursue this goal, I decided to go far away from the distractions of this worldly life and spend three months deep in the untamed wilderness of Africa’s bushes and natural landscape. There is nothing quite like studying the Book of Nature; it generates elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe, it makes one humble and contemplate the idea of a Higher Power. In the hope of being drawn to an endless sense of wonder, in the hope of learning from the non-human inhabitants of this unique planet, that one would encounter in such a journey, I eagerly traveled to Africa’s wild heart: the Great Rift Valley known as the animal kingdom.

It took me 8 hours to fly from Toronto to Amsterdam and 11 hours from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. During my long tiresome flights I could not stop pondering how minute creatures like the monarch butterfly, or a 25-gram northern wheatear songbird would take such a long journey twice a year on their own tiny wings. I was sitting on a comfortable armchair reading a book, sipping coffee with snacks, or napping, but many migratory animals have to take arduous and often treacherous treks without any assistance or rest. A tiny shorebird called the bar-tailed godwit, holds the record for the longest non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean over a distance of 11,000 km in nine days.

I started my journey from South Africa. More accurately from Kruger, then to Cape Town and traveled north approximately 17,000 km, having passed the equator, having checked out almost every National Park, conservation area and game reserves on my way, packed with diverse animals and flora. I picked Africa for its diverse wildlife and multitude ecosystems like lush forest, savannah, montane, tropical rainforest, wetland, woodland, mountains, desert and rich coastal marine life.

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The interesting thing about nature in Africa is that opposing worlds live together side by side in an interconnected web of life. Stunning diverse life forms come and go, yet none could have come and gone without the existence of other necessary conditions.

I wanted to see the pristine nature with my own eyes rather than through television programs written and produced by neo-Darwinists, distorted by their ideological biases. I sought to closely examine the arguments often posed by materialists and ardent atheists that the universe far from being finely tuned by an Intelligent Designer is in fact full of flaws and created without any intelligent thoughts behind it. One frequently cited flaw according to them is that since animals in nature have many wild predators, they live under tremendous stress. Therefore, no Benevolent or Intelligent Creator could be behind the creation of stressful life on earth, and from this they assert that no Creator exists. I never understood why when something is supposedly going wrong in nature, all fingers are conveniently pointed at “God”, but when a credit is due, it is always given to the almighty: Mr. “Natural Selection”.

Regardless of who is to be blamed, this petty and illogical argument is theoretically invalid and can easily be dismissed. If animals in their natural settings are under stress due to the presence of predators that means animals in captivity should enjoy a stress-free life and ought to be always happy. Captive animals are fully protected, provided and cared for. That is to say they are in actuality experiencing an all-inclusive paid vacation for life, not having to be worried about their day to day needs, free room and board, with free healthcare that many humans would be envious of. Yet we know on the contrary, animals in captivity are depressed and have a much shorter life expectancy. They have the zest to be free in their natural environment. Secondly, the fear of predators being around would not apply to all animals at all geographical locations; for instance, it would not apply to animals in ecological niches such as the Galapagos Islands, where animals have no predators. It would not apply to those animals on the upper part of the food chain. Despite what is said above, I still decided to put the proposed argument under observational study, to see if zebras, wildebeests, impalas or fish are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Where could be a better place to study this allegation than in a confined park like Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania?

My observations at Ngorongoro convinced me that both predators and prey do indeed live together in harmony and enjoy life to its fullest. Ngorongoro crater is a 260 sq. km conservation area where animals are surrounded by the crater’s wall which is about 610 meters high functioning similar to the Great Wall of China.  Seemingly, escape from predators in this confined environment is not an option for the prey. On the other hand, the predators cannot ambush the prey in an open treeless field. Both sides can equally utilize their confined environment to their advantage.

Due to this natural physical barrier, animals there cannot leave the crater and their community cannot take any new immigrants from outside. The animals there are literally trapped for life as if they are in Alcatraz. Yet this isolated ecological niche is completely self-sufficient, self-regulated, vibrant and has a balanced ratio between predators and prey. If there were just a few more lions, leopards or hyenas in the crater, the population of the prey would then be totally wiped out in no time. If there were a few less, then there would be an overpopulation of wildebeests and zebras; consequently, the ecology of the crater would collapse. The existence of a perfect ecological balance is indicative of good health. Needless to say, that which is healthy cannot be an outcome of stress.

Far from being under stress, all organisms co-exist in perfect harmony with their surrounding environment rather than struggling with it. There is no malice or remorse in killing to survive. This basic principle in nature is well understood by all participants. Indeed, all animals in Ngorongoro live together in an observable harmony, since the predators do not engage in senseless killing or act out of greed. To quote the British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris, there is indeed a respected “Animal Contract” (1990) in existence between the predators and prey. Unlike humans, the predators never betray the terms and conditions of this contract in the quest for more wants beyond their basic needs, leaving the vulnerable party at peace. The crater looks more like a school playground in a verdant paradise; I detected absolutely no sign of any species being under stress.

Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania

Furthermore, consider the following brilliant BBC documentary – Inside the Perfect Predator, an excellent documentary focused on the marvelous design of four superb predators designed to kill.

On the other hand, prey is not without advance defense technology. In nature, it is all a fair game. In viewing this documentary, a fascinating point to note is that in order to maintain the balance of nature, each predator is also intentionally designed with a specific limitation, which prevents it from being successful in each and every hunting attempt. For example, a cheetah can reach the speed of 120 km per hour in a split second to chase its prey, but it can only run for a maximum 15 to 17 seconds, before exhausting all its energy. A crocodile has powerful hydraulic jaws that can easily crush any bones, but when it ambushes a prey, that is during the process of lunging at the prey this hunter is deprived of its eyesight. To protect the eyes, it must shut them. Thus, frequently missing the intended target.

These limitations are indeed an indication of the insightful knowledge of the Grand Designer of the whole of nature. A random process with no insight cannot be mindful of fine and crucial details across-the-board, without which the whole system would collapse in short order. The predators are not designed to be superior flawless killing machines, always-victorious warriors. The objective of design is not on mere survivability of the fittest as suggested by neo-Darwinian evolutionists; it is all on the preservation of a well-established ecological balance. For some other evolutionists, the elegant multifunctional designs used in nature are indicators of purpose, wisdom and a deliberate subordination of means to a greater end (Augros, Robert and Stanciu, George, 1986, The New Biology: Discovering the Wisdom in Nature), and biological evolution is nothing but a directed process (Denton, Michael, 1998, Nature’s Destiny).

Genius designs employed in nature are the envy of the best biotechnology engineers who study biomimicry to advance their career. For instance, consider the optimal design used in the body of a frog, hippo or crocodile. The design perfectly allows them to completely submerge their entire body under water except for their eyes and nostrils. These species are dependent on this essential feature in order to hide and watch for predators and prey. The U.S. military uses the same concept to design amphibious armored vehicles.

Consider the wisdom behind the multifunctional zebra stripes: when a lion attacks zebras, the whole herd consciously runs together. As such the predator is unable to discern a single zebra from the herd, unless one gets separated or falls behind. Zebra’s stripes also act as camouflage, this feature allows zebras to hide it in the tall grass and dead wood of an African savanna. The other function of the stripes is in thermoregulation. In summer, zebras grow more white hairs, thus the white stripes are wider than the black stripes. Conversely, when it is cold, they grow more black hair, thus the black stripes are wider than the white stripes, consequently absorbing more heat from the sun. Stripes also function as barcodes which zebras alone are able to scan for identification. The latest study suggests that the stripes further keep flies away.

Have you ever pondered the structure of elephant feet? Walking on a rough surface for a land creature of that size and weight would be impossible or extremely painful without a shock absorber installed on each foot. The cushions used in their feet allow these giants to walk very comfortably and quietly for miles. On the other hand, for another giant land mammal, the camel, why do its feet not require shock absorbers? The answer is obvious: the camel walks on a smooth surface. Camel’s feet are made wide enough to allow the animal to walk on soft sand very easily without sinking into it. They do however require something that elephants do not need: pads. The pads used in their feet enable them to walk on hot surface without feeling much heat. Who truly deserves the credit for compatibility or adaptability between each species and its environment? Is it blind chance or intelligence? What kind of idiotic exercise is this to attribute the intelligence and wisdom behind the genius designs in nature to a cosmic accident, to random chance, to imaginary concepts like “mother nature”, “mother earth” or to a mindless process called natural selection? This is indeed a sheer exercise in self-deception to the extreme. Design implies a designer, purpose and intents. Evolutionary developments cannot exclude the role of the Prime Evolver who sets the law for things to evolve in a particular fashion.

Another argument often presented by atheists to debunk the notion of the intelligent design behind nature is the example of sand dunes formation. It is proposed that the universe was created just the same way a sand dune is created, a marvelous creation totally based on random chance. The elements such as harmony, mathematical order and beauty are there without any creator’s involvement. In Namibia, I had the opportunity to walk in a hot sandy desert and observe the stunning beauty of countless sand dunes formation. While climbing one of the tallest dunes at sunrise, I could not stop thinking, if we were to take the laws of physics away that form various parameters, i.e. gravity, wind, lack of rain, size, weight and shapes of sands, then would we still see sand dunes forming at all, with or without beautiful patterns. The dunes are like circus, constantly moving from one location to another. Do these skeptics not know that we live in a universe of cause and effect, where nothing is haphazard, even a grain of sand abides by the laws of physics? The atheist argument makes sense if and only if one skips the vital question of where did the constructal law and the prerequisite conditions, which govern the evolving patterns in animate and inanimate nature come from. Furthermore, why is it that we conclusively deduce that sandcastles or the sand patterns in small sand jars sold in gift shops have a designer and creator, but the more complex dunes in Namibia are products of blind chance? How can blind process, devoid on intelligence, in and of itself, designs fabulous art works, engineering wonders and mathematical precision?

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To refute the existence of a Divine Creator, atheists strive in finding flaws in the universe. Another vacuous argument presented by them is that the entire universe is inhospitable to life, including the most regions of the planet earth, which is either frozen or too hot and dry. Thus, such a universe cannot be a handy work of an Omniscient Creator. I spent a few days at the heart of the Namibian desert hiking. Each day I drank at least 5 liters of water without passing a drop. Surely, the desert is inhospitable to Man’s liking and preferred lifestyle, however, even in this harsh barren desert under excruciating heat, life thrives. The “wasteland” is noticeably home sweet home for many species. The desert ecosystem system remarkably sustains life and plays a major role in the overall ecology and climate of the entire planet.


I must admit, the best and the most enjoyable part of my trip was witnessing some very common observations. The daily experience of watching the sunrise and sunset for 90 days, observing phenomenal rainfalls with frequently spotting multitude of colourful rainbows in the sky, can put one in deep thoughts. With each rain, the dry land blooms with perfusion of diverse life. Day after day, seeing the life giving sun going down in style and several hours later reappearing precisely at 180 degrees on the opposite direction can shake down ones belief in naturalism. There is indeed something majestic about sunrise and sunset. It is a profoundly moving and thought provoking experience to witness this natural panoramic show everyday. Each day, I was reminded of the famous saying of the prominent 14th century Persian poet Hafez who had this to say about sunrise: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, you owe me.” It keeps on shining to sustain life on earth unconditionally.

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When the sun retires, countless stars gradually become visible turning all heads face up. Looking at the starry sky under the moonlight while listening to the symphonies of tiny insects on the background all night, followed by the predawn performance of various singing birds is a wonder that cannot be expressed by pen and paper or words. It ought to be experienced. At some locations like Etosha and Serengeti the usual night recitalists had a few guest performers in their orchestra. The nearby insects chirping all night accompanied by loud sound of lions roaring from kilometers away. Lions were not the only distant performers, there were hyenas and zebras as well. While daytime animals were resting, there were evidently a lot of intense activities throughout the night. The night we camped at Maun, the gateway to Okavango Delta in Botswana. I could say without exaggeration or reservation that there were millions of insects in the vicinity that were so busy singing tirelessly all night along. Their sheer number singing together amplified their sound like tens of thousands of fans in a soccer stadium cheering together for the home team. I stayed up all night listening to this mesmerizing music, enjoying reading another euphoric page of the Book of Nature, thinking about the Composer and Conductor of this impressive symphony of life, trying to connect to this infinitely talented Entity in charge of “the greatest show on earth”. Here is a fundamental difference between the likes of me and the likes of Dawkins. I acknowledge this Entity and am an admirer of His work and further seek to know Him better. Dawkins is a denier of this Entity and an admirer of chance mutation in an accidental universe. No doubt, one of us is most certainly dead wrong.

A few weeks after the start of my trip while resting at a campsite in Namibia, I noticed that it was time to clip my fingernails. I went to an isolated corner in the shade and started to clip my nails one by one. By the time I clipped the 10th finger I noticed ants gathered on the ground below my feet taking all my nails like they were candies. I followed them to their nest; other ants soon joined them to help. I was not surprised at all to see ants having an appetite for my nails. After all, these little creatures are the one that will consume my entire body when I am dead. I was rather intrigued and fascinated at their superior organizational level and how soon they spotted food and collectively acted upon it. A few weeks later, I was in Malawi and it was time to clip my fingernails again. It was not hard to find an ant colony. In the name of science, I ignored the given directive of not to feed the animals. I approached a populated large colony feeling very philanthropic, thinking that their lunch today is going to be literally on me. I clipped my nails and one by one put them at the entrance of a high traffic gate to their colony. To my surprise they were not at all interested in my offerings. I stood there for 30 minutes; it seems that I just littered the gate to the colony. It then occurred to me, of course, these were a different species of ants than the ones I saw in Namibia – different species at a different niche.

The following morning we left the camp and moved on before the sunrise. I packed my tent in total darkness. In the afternoon, we reached a new campsite some 600 km away. As I was trying to pitch my tent, I noticed that there were about 200 ants on the roof of the tent carried over from the previous site. I gently brushed off the ants to the ground, but they were very quick to move up again. I cleaned the tent several times, but each time all the ants moved back to the roof of the tent. It seemed that these ants were being introduced to a new environment that they did not belong to. Reluctantly, I carried these ants with the tent for several days and they never landed until they all gradually died. Right there, there was a strong argument to be made against ecotourism. I became aware that my careless presence there cannot be without consequences, which could lead to environmental disasters similar to the introduction of cane toads in Australia, goats in the Galapagos and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes of North America. The lesson to learn from these cases is that the balance of nature should not be tampered with, and to determine the answer to a deeper question of how such a finely tuned balance was set in the first place?

Walking through a jungle is like walking through a pharmacy, as each tree and vegetation has certain medicinal qualities. It is further like walking to through an architectural exhibition, as one observes different technologies and intricate designs used in animal constructed housing complexes, from various birds’ nests to beehives and ever-present termite mounds. It is amazing to see tiny species possess extraordinary abilities similar to that of human beings.

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It is further like walking through an immense and perfect recycling plant, with absolutely 0% wastage, at zero dollar operation cost.

During my daily hikes in jungles, canyons, desert and beaches, I developed a habit of collecting small rocks, shells, sands, leaves and feathers. I brought with me many samples to Toronto to study them under microscope and X-ray. A rock displays million years of geological history. Have you ever looked at the astonishing symmetrical precision in a seashell under X-ray, or the stem of a flower?

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The geometric shape of a single grain of sand is beyond belief. It is mind boggling to see the fine details of how a feather is designed and woven together to allow a bird to fly. A feather ought to be light, yet strong, and must keep the bird protected from cold and warm temperature, not to mention to be attractive to the opposite of sex. It is more astonishing to compare the differences in structure between the feathers of a bird of prey like a fish eagle and an ostrich, a bird that is not designed to fly. The feathers of the former is all aerodynamic, essential for flying, allowing the fish eagle to fly swiftly with maximum efficiency at minimum fuel cost. However, the ostrich feathers are only decorative and perfect for insulation. The magnified cross-section of a leaf reveals marvels in high-tech engineering. Each leaf is equipped with solar panels, thus always facing towards the sun to absorb the sun’s maximum energy. During each hike or game drive, I could not be more perplexed about how on earth anybody could think that all these amazing complex phenomena are fashioned by a “blind watchmaker” as Dawkins et al. arrogantly suggest. The denial of design in the name of “science” is only a dogmatic patronage to a failed ideology. Such a refusal to accept the obvious is so absurd and so unfair. It displays a great deal of arrogance and ungratefulness.

We drove through Tanzania’s amazing Baobab valley, a forest full of mighty Baobab trees, each one of these giant trees is a state-of-the-art water pump and air purification system which functions up to 6000 years, putting the best civil engineers to shame. What is outmost intriguing here, is that the knowledge and materials required to build this versatile monolithic structure was entirely stored in one tiny seed, something far more advanced than the best available human biometric technology.

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I was in Serengeti just before the start of an epic animal migration. I would estimate that at the time of my visit, there were about 2 million wildebeests along with zebras in Serengeti getting ready for their annual exodus. How do all these animals get together in such an organized fashion? What governs their well-regulated move, year after year? How do they find the promised land flowing with milk and honey?

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was tough, yet not without its rewards, seeing sunset and sunrise when one is above the clouds is a unique experience. From the starting base to the top of the mountain one can experience all nature’s four seasons at different altitude. On my way down I was mostly alone with a guide who was ahead of me. Unlike going up, while coming down, the weather was great and the surrounding panoramic view was breathtaking. The overarching peaceful silence was pushing me to think about the Great Author of the Book of Nature, mostly on the fact that during all my trips across this dynamic planet, I have not met a living being whose sustenance did not depend upon the Author of the Book of Nature. And I did not come across a living being that is immortal, independent of the cycle of birth and death. As a human being, I may be more sophisticated than the rest of the cohabitants of this planet, but I too, am a part of this Book not apart from it, just a passive reader. In studying and reviewing the Book of Nature, it seems that I am actually studying and understading my own mortal existence, a basic task for all sense-making creatures.

The Book of Nature is a book to be thoroughly read; yet it is totally ignored. Indeed true literacy means being able to read and comprehend the Book of Nature. This is the only Book written in a language that is easily understood by all; its message is universal and transcends time and culture. Its breathtaking beauty is the manifestation of Divine origin, in no uncertain terms for those whose eyes, ears and minds are alert and wide open. As one passionately reads this infinitely edifying Book, one becomes deeply stimulated to reflect on the Book’s origin and authorship. No book is ever written without an author(s). Why would anyone think that the Book of Nature could have been written without an Author? Yet, many dreadfully do.

Certainly, in the origination and design of this resplendent universe, in the continuous revolving succession of night and day, infinite evidence exists for those whose minds are alive, who are able to connect and remember their Originator, whilst standing, sitting or sidereally reclined, contemplating on the Book of Nature and Its Author. Only such people are drawn to the logical and profound conclusion, that the integrated laws of physics and biology certainly reveal purpose in the universe. The universe was not originated without a meaningful purpose, or a purposeful meaning, and in this realization do they extol their limitless Originator and Evolver.

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