“Hi Bobby!” That is what my mother’s nearly-10 year-old Cockatiel Parrot – who, as you might have guessed, is named Bobby – mostly says, along with a few other words. When my wife, daughter, and I have dinner at my mom’s, we often encourage Bobby to deliver his verbal repertoire (okay, mostly I’m the one entertained by that).
A recent discussion on religion in which I took part centered around Lee Strobel’s excellent book, The Case for Faith. Some in the group, including me, took the position that our faith in God is rooted in logic.
I went as far as to synopsize the general premise of another book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (which I reviewed in the Feb. 26, 2011 edition of TNH and is available on our website’s archives): namely, that God’s existence can be realized solely by logic.
Atheists, too, use logic – often in the form of science – to reach the opposite conclusion. And, yet, there are many great mysteries of the universe that cannot be explained by science. One of those is why a few animals can talk but most cannot.
Why is it that throughout the entire animal kingdom, which includes species that we have never even heard of, only parrots can repeat words uttered by humans with any consistent coherence?
Sure, there are other types of birds (crows and mynahs, for instance), and even the occasional elephant, seal, or whale, that have been taught to repeat some words. But why is it that Bobby (not to mention the far more verbose African Grey parrot) can talk circles around the overwhelming majority of animals, including those with higher IQs – like chimpanzees and pigs, for example?
Certainly, there are scholars in the fields of biology, zoology, and speech that have answers to these questions. I imagine they might say something like intelligence is measured in many different ways, and while dogs, goats, and squirrels are better at some things, parrots are better at imitating human sound.
Moreover, atheists use this example as a golden opportunity to argue their own point: the randomness of it all, they might suggest, is consistent with a universe that came into being on its own, without the guiding hand of an intelligent designer.
So, what do talking birds tell us about the universe? That only God could have given our feathered friends the ability to imitate people phonetically, or that it is just another example of our accidental, godless world? It depends on where we stand on this question to begin with.
For reasons far too detailed to get into here – and which I could not explain nearly as well as can the authors of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, I, too, reached the conclusion a long time ago – and also through logic rather than through the Bible – that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving Heavenly Father does in fact exist.
So, during this Christmas season, when I think about Bobby and the few other parrots I have owned or otherwise encountered over the years, not to mention the millions more that I have never met, it is not their ability to say “pretty bird” or “Polly want a cracker?” that convinces me of God’s existence or even tips the scales in that direction.
Rather, it is because I already believe in God that other factors, such as the Church, the Bible, other writings, that the majority of my family, friends, and neighbors share that view, and that Bobby can talk, simply remind me of it. Merry Christmas!
(Constantinos E. Scaros)