Food Web Wonders
By: Jim Virkler
The Old Testament books of Psalms and Job supply many descriptive references on wonders of the inanimate and animate physical creation. Psalm 8 speaks of the majesty of the Lord who established his glory above the heavens, and the glory of the visible cosmos, exulting in “…the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place.” Later, in Psalm 104:24, living creatures are recognized as part of God’s manifold works: “…In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” These creatures “…all look to you (the Lord), to give them their food in due season (v. 27). Job 37-39 reviews the majesty and power of contemporary spectacular weather events, Earth’s geologic history, and the fascinating behavior of many of our planet’s living creatures.
Before addressing issues surrounding food webs, we use several thoughts and quotes from “The Poetry of Science in the Book of Job,” written by Subby Szterszky of Focus on the Family Canada. Many have stated the Bible is not a science textbook. Szterszky responds, saying, “Textbooks are often dry and prosaic affairs…..God’s word, by contrast, speaks to the whole person—heart, soul, strength and mind…..all things in scripture—historical accounts, prophecies, songs, descriptions of nature— are recorded with a specific purpose in view. That purpose…..is to turn our eyes heavenward, to focus our thoughts and affections on the glory of God.”
Scripture “…touch(es) on a wide array of what we call scientific disciplines, including geoscience, oceanography, climatology, and zoology.” In pre-scientific days when scripture authors lived, many uncertainties existed that modern science has solved. “Modern science has yielded mysteries and wonders our ancestors could never have imagined. Whether in the depths of space, in the heart of the atom, or in the riddle of life itself, the hand of the Creator has become evident in ways that Job and his contemporaries would not have dreamed possible.”
Against this background we cite several inspirational passages concerning food production and consumption such as Psalm 65:9, Psalm 104:13-14, and Psalm 107:9. These verses imply the reality of food webs, food chains, and food cycles. Understanding these concepts magnifies the role of our Creator as Designer: God, in His wisdom, has designedthe relationships between and among species with regard to their food sustenance.
We stress the consistent availability of food for all of Earth’s creatures, including humanity. Many scriptures highlight our understanding that God sustains the existence of all living creatures. We begin with a brief discussion of a simplified foodchain.
Green plants are autotrophs, ‘self’ feeders sometimes categorized as food producers. They make their own food (simple chemical sugars) from water and carbon dioxide in the presence of sunlight. Plants use inorganic substances to produce organic foods. The plant, therefore, manufactures its own food products. Many plant food products are consumed by heterotrophs which cannot make their own food. Literally, heterotrophs are ‘other’ feeders. They are categorized as food consumers. Compared with autotrophs, heterotrophs consume food manufactured by another source besides themselves. Herbivores consume only plants. Omnivores consume both plants and other animals. Carnivores consume only other animals. Herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores are all heterotrophs.
Food chains consist of a simple linear sequence of organisms. For instance, a plant supplies food for a grasshopper. In turn, the grasshopper becomes a meal for a frog, which may become food for a snake, which in turn is eaten by a hawk. This sequence is somewhat oversimplified but exemplifies the general concept of a food chain.
Food webs are more complex and interesting. They consist of many interconnected and interlocking food chains. These chains involve transfer of nutrients and energy from one organism to another. The energy level transfer may be modified by omnivores which derive their food from several locations on the food chain. Sometimes a chain is interrupted by the death of an organism. Its decomposed body is then recycled into a position on another food chain. Food webs represent many interconnected nutritional pathways. Generally, food webs describe who eats what on food chains. As we carefully observe the fields, woods, air, and waterways there are many opportunities to observe food chains and to understand the intricacies of food webs.
Scripture does not formally address the topics of food webs and food chains. It does, however, challenge us to recognize and understand the plan of the Divine Designer on our unique planet brimming with life. We close with Isaiah 66:2. Its purpose is to “turn our eyes heavenward, to focus our thoughts and affections on the glory of God.”
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be. (ESV)
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.