I like natural history. It’s God’s creation. I like thinking about how He has created everything from nothing with just a word. I see the intricacy of His creatures and flora and fauna and I’m just amazed. But reading natural history books is a two-edged sword. Most are written from a secular point of view, and at some point the pricks of the constant lies within such books grate, and I abandon the endeavor.
Only to try again later, lol.
I wrote recently about the Victorian craze for seaweed collecting. This was a craze in which mostly women who were constrained by cultural pressure not to collect the more seductive looking plants participated. It was based on an original article at Atlas Obscura, which is a secular magazine. My article was to look at the issue through a biblical lens.
One of the natural history books mentioned in the Atlas Obscura article was a seaweed journal by Margaret Gatty. AO wrote of her,
One of the best known and most dedicated of these so-called seaweeders was Margaret Gatty, a children’s book author who took up the hobby while convalescing in Hastings, on Britain’s southeast coast, in 1848. Gatty’s crowning work of algology, British Sea-Weeds, is an exhaustive compilation of local seaweeds, fully described and illustrated in 86 colored plates.
These are selected plates of her seaweed drawings,
Selected plates from Margaret Gatty’s “British Sea-Weeds.” BIODIVERSITY HERITAGE LIBRARY/PUBLIC DOMAIN
I love those colored plates from natural history books from the 1800s. I own two rare books,
A popular history of the mollusca : comprising a familiar account of their classification, instincts and habits and of the growth and distinguishing characters of their shells, by Mary Roberts, 1851; and
Popular British conchology. A familiar history of the molluscs inhabiting the British Isles, By George Brettingham Sowerby, 1854.
I love the hand colored plates of the plants or animals they carefully drew. I also have several books by Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (secular guy, sigh). There’s French poet-philosopher Paul Valery in his engaging meditation on the aesthetics of the seashell, as Amazon describes his work. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s musings on shells in her famous Gift from the Sea. And so many other books. I guess now that I’m thinking of listing them, my library contains quite a few natural history books. Rachel Carson, Farley Mowat, John Hay, Abbot & Dance…
In this article I enjoyed from the New York Times Review of Books, I learned from this article “What the Trees Say,”
In 1664 John Evelyn, diarist, country gentleman, and commissioner at the court of Charles II, produced his monumental book on trees: Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees. It was a seventeenth-century best seller. Evelyn was a true son of the Renaissance. His book is learned and witty and practical and passionate all by turns. No later book on trees has ever had such an impact on the British public.
I love trees. Maybe I’ll get that book. Hmmm. Maybe you’ll get those books.
As much as I love reading about the creation from scientists of various kinds, there’s nothing like reading the Bible, God’s actual account of His world. As poetic as Lindbergh was, as witty as John Evelyn was, as precise as Sowerby or Roberts was, the thrill of reading about the creation from God Himself never fails to thrill me. As familiar as these verses are, they still ignite a reverent awe at His power:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7And God madeb the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:1-8)
Nature displays God’s glory. The best place to read about that is His word, what He, Himself, has declared.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. (Psalm 96:11-12)
We are glad because as Job 12:10 says,
In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Is there any better place to be, if you’re saved? In His hand? Is there any worse place to be, if you’re not saved?
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
Read of His creation. The essays, poems, philosophies of the secular writers and scientists is fine, also good are Natural History books on the Bible such as The Scripture Alphabet of Animals by Mrs. Harriet N. Cook, 1842; The Plants of the Bible by John Hutton Balfour, 1885. But the originator of it all is the one to be worshiped and the best place to do that is read of Him in His word.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (Isaiah 40:28)