Competing, in Plain View, for a Ball of Dung
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Imagine the life of a dedicated dung beetle. Collecting, moving, and hoarding dung – even raising your children on it. Talk about an ignominious existence – what a life! Yet, from the perspective of a dung beetle, it’s what life is all about.
But there is a life even lower than that, actually, an existence that makes a dung beetle’s life look good. Before we pity those who live a “less-than-dung-beetles” life, however, let us consider how dung beetles actually contribute valuable services via their mundane manure-moving lives.
So what is the occupation of a dung beetle, ecologically speaking? How does a dung beetle make the best of herbivore-dropped manure, from which the dung beetle provides for itself, for its family, and for the habitat it crawls around in? What is so valuable about herbivore feces, that dung beetles are observed to fight over dung-balls, energetically “stealing the ball” from one another, as if the dungball-grabbing competition was an Olympic soccer game!
“Although often ignored or reviled, insects are cornerstones of the prairie ecosystem: they spread seeds and pollen, [metabolically] break down plants, fertilize the soil [such as by distributing nitrates in herbivore manure that they spread], and provide food for birds and small mammals.
Not quite an inch long, the dung beetle … uses its scooplike head to roll a ball of dung sometimes as large as an apple. Once satisfied with its compacted [artwork], the beetle buries it, feeds on it, and then lays its [fertilized] eggs in it [after crafting an air-hole for each deposited egg]. When the larvae hatch, they finish off what remains of the ball. In this way dung beetles assure themselves of a reliable [albeit humble] diet and, inadvertently [from the perspective of the dung beetle], distribute seeds that may be rolled up within the dung.”
Quoting Burkhard Bilger, HABITATS (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1994, edited by Tony Hare), page 69.
In other words, dung beetles serve themselves and their progeny, by accumulating and storing up the dung of grazing animals (such as wild pronghorns or domesticated cattle), and while doing so they serve the ecological needs of their neighborhood.
Even nutritious nitrates, contained in cattle dung, are transported to other locations, as well as seeds that along the way got mixed in, with the manure, so both life-growing seeds and helpful fertilizer are simultaneously distributed at places other than where the herbivores defecated. So, think of dung beetles as slow-motion couriers, who provide seed-sowing service!
Are these dung beetles being altruistic environmentalists, caring about their native ecosystem?
No. Dung beetles don’t study biome ecology; they give no thought to how they further the nutrient dynamics of the American prairies. Rather, the mutualistic symbiosis network in action, that we see exhibited in these operations of the prairie’s habitat – where cattle provide valuable resources to dung beetles, who help to plant the next generation of grasses, which in turn grow up to benefit the hungry cattle — is a composite and interactive display of God’s preplanning genius and bioengineering.
To those with eyes to see it (i.e., to those who are not spiritually blinded), it is God Who is multi-tasking on the great grassy plains, working above and below the surface, providing habitat for plants and animals – and simultaneously providing for human needs.(1)
This is but one valuable gem of God’s handiwork in the plains of the Great West.
Yet even the dung beetle is glorifying God, in plain view (pardon the pun), we see, if we slow down enough to see clearly what is happening in the grass, beneath our feet.
But how does the dung beetle’s routine diligence, in “harvesting” herbivore manure, help to illustrate true value, as taught in Scripture?
Consider again the words of the apostle Paul (in Philippians 3:8), when he compared his own human achievements to the immeasurable value of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ:
Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
Before becoming a Christian, Paul was an extraordinary “winner”, by the standards of his world. Then Paul met the Lord Jesus as his personal Redeemer and Messiah, and Paul soon learned that the most honorable of his own human accomplishments was mere dung (σκυβαλα) compared to the wonderful privilege of knowing, belonging to, and living for Christ. Paul was no “loser” spouting sour grapes; rather, Paul was a “winner” who could speak with authority about discarding worldly “dung”, to better follow Christ in this life (and beyond).
But nowadays we see competition all around us, yet much of the carnal contests – of becoming “rich” or “famous” or “powerful” – is just a tussle over cultural dung, a tourney over the soon-to-be garbage of this ephemeral world. Entertainers of all sorts struggle to out-perform and out-poll one another, as if they were dung beetles trying to grab the prize (dung-ball) by hook or crook. Whoever “wins”, (and keeps) the “most”, is deemed a star to be celebrated, a “celebrity”. Why? Because (based upon our secular habits of covetousness) we assume that “more” must be “better”. So whoever has “more” is labeled and flattered as a “winner” worthy of applause and celebration – a “celebrity”.
But do “celebrities” have good and virtuous and joy-filled lives? Do they routinely demonstrate that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)?
Or do most of them live selfish, indulgent, prodigal, self-destructive (sometimes literally suicidal), empty lives, employing fake smiles (for the camera) to mask their own vain-glorying, self-destructive lifestyles? And, for the most part, what are those celebrities “feeding” their babies? The same old nasty “dung” of this Christ-dishonoring world.
As the apostle Paul could have told them (and, in fact, he has told everyone who will take the time to read the Bible), worldly success, apart from knowing Christ, is just a pile of dung, a messy cow-pie.
But before we get too self-righteous, as we scoff at (or pity) those who waste their entire lives rolling up dung-balls of worldly ambition and tinseled treasure, let us learn from the foolishness of the ancient Egyptians.
Consider Moses the prophet, God’s appointed man who led the Hebrews out of the idolatry-infested land of Egypt. What pagan idols did Moses challenge, as he rebuked the polytheistic Pharaoh, admonishing him that only the LORD was truly God?
The Egyptians had a foul stable full of nasty idols — and one especially prized idol was Khepri, the “scarab-god” beetle, i.e., a fake god likened to (or symbolized by) a dung beetle with supposedly creative powers – i.e., with Kepri’s dung-ball imagined to have animistic powers that could make life-forms “become” – somewhat comparable to the mystical genes-in-magic of Darwinists’ “natural selection” animism.(2),(3)
In plain words, the ancient Egyptians proudly worshipped dung beetles, imagining that their dung-balls had magical powers to make living things “become”.
How silly of those heathen idolaters, right? But are they really alone in their folly? Many Americans, in essence, are worshippers of celebrities who are themselves habitually ungodly, vulgar-to-your-face, and blasphemous. (When you think of Hollywood “stars”, or other “celebrities”, do you instantly think of people who reverence God and His Word? Likely not!)
Yet such secular “stars” are lionized, fawned over, and highly esteemed in the popular media (and elsewhere, even in Christian churches) as so-called heroes and “winners” whom we should honor and admire. But their worldly achievements and popularity are repulsive dung, according to Scripture. So why do Americans continue to idolize such immoral and ungodly dung-ball rollers?
In a sense, people who idolize such dung-collectors are not unlike the Egyptians who worshipped dung-collecting “scarab” beetles during the lifetime of Moses.
But Moses, like Paul, dismissed the “treasures” and popular honors of his ungodly culture, choosing rather to revere and serve Christ, for better or for worse:
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)
No one who reads this was created to be a dung beetle – or to live a life that resembles one. God has done amazing work to create each of us, to be who we are. Beyond that, God has generously provided Christ to graciously redeem us from all sin – giving us guilt-removing forgiveness, plus spiritual power and wisdom to keep us (and our families) from living wasted lives, gathering the dung-balls of this world.
Take a view of the Great Plains – look at the sea of prairie grasses. Then look in the dirt, and below it, for humble dung beetles. Their ignominious lives are worth something, yes — but they are not our role-models! Plaudits and prizes of this passing world are profane dung-balls, compared to living with Christ, here-and-now and hereafter. Pity folks whose life-goals and struggles are like competitively collecting dung-balls. And moreso, pity those who, like ancient Egyptians, celebrate and worship the dung beetles.
(1) Dung beetles perform a similar service in the African savanna grasslands: “Dung beetles, such as these Scarabaeus aeratus females, feed on the [fecal] droppings of other animals. They also collect balls of dungs, as here, and place them in chambers in the ground, upon which they lay their eggs.” Quoting Peter D. Moore & Brian D. Turner, “Savanah Grassland”, in Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 72.
(2) See generally Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap”, Acts & Facts, 40(11):12-15 (November 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-natural-selections . See, likewise, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: How Natural Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature”, Acts & Fact, 40(7):12-15 (July 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-how-natural . Compare also, accord, Jeffrey P. Tomkins, “Mechanisms of Adaptation in Biology: Molecular Cell Biology”, Acts & Facts, 41(4):6 (April 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/mechanisms-adaptation-biology-molecular .
(2) See James J. S. Johnson, “Bait and Switch: A Trick Used by Both Anglerfish and Evolutionists”, Acts & Facts, 41(1):10-11 (January 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/bait-switch-trick-used-by-both-anglerfish . See also, likewise, James J. S. Johnson, “Survival of the Fitted: God’s Providential Programming”, Acts & Facts, 39(10):17-18 (October 2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/survival-fitted-gods-providential-programming . Myths of the ancient Nordic and Germanic pagans, like the polytheistic paganism of the ancient Egyptians, imagined abiogenesis-oriented magic in their animistic nature-worship myths. See James J. S. Johnson, Norse and Germanic Mythology,” in World Religions and Cults: Moralistic, Mythical and Mysticism Religions, vol. 2 (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2016; edited by Bodie Hodge & Roger Patterson), pages 271-288.
[ Egyptian idolatry illustrated: depiction of Khepri, dung beetle “scarab god” ]
*An edited version of this creation ecology study appears as JJSJ’s “Dung Beetles: Promoters of Prairie Preservation”, ACTS & FACTS, 46(1):21 (January 2017).