Another Bad Sermon Illustration

An adult bald eagle in flight (click for credit)
An adult bald eagle in flight (click for credit)

I posted my previous blog article on my Facebook page, and someone asked about another sermon illustration that involves eagles. A typical version of that illustration is:

To convince the little eagles that the time has come to leave the nest, the parent eagles “stir up the nest.” That is, they rough it up with their talons, and make it uncomfortable, so that sticks and sharp ends and pointy spurs stick out of the nest, so that it is no longer soft and secure, ruining their “comfort zone.” The nest is made very inhospitable, as the eagles tear up the “bedding,” and break up the twigs until jagged ends of wood stick out all over like a pin cushion. Life for the young eaglets becomes miserable and unhappy. Why would Mom and Pop do such a thing?

But to make matters worse, then the mother eagle begins to “flutter her wings” at the youngsters, beating on them, harassing them, and driving them to the edge of the nest. Cowing before such an attack, the little eagles climb up on the edge of the nest. At this point, the mother eagle “spreads her wings” and, to escape her winged fury, the little eagle climbs onto her back, and hangs on for dear life. As if that were not enough, then the mother eagle launches out into space, and begins to fly, carrying the eagle on her back. All seems safe and serene, the little eagle never expected such a thrilling ride — but that was nothing to what was to come shortly. For suddenly, without any warning, the mother eagle DIVES, plummeting downward, depriving the little eagle of its “seat,” and the next thing it knows, it is in free fall, falling, and tumbling down, down, down, in the air, its wings struggling to catch hold of the air currents, but flopping crazily due to its inexperience. For it must learn to flow, and there is nothing like “experience” to teach an eagle to fly! Instinct alone is not enough!

Just at it thinks all is hopeless and lost, however, the mother eagle swoops down below and catches it once again on its back, and soars back into the atmosphere. Much relieved, the young eagle hangs on for dear life. But just when he thinks everything is “OK” once again, the mother pulls another sneaky trick, and dumps him into the air, alone, again! Once again, the little eagle struggles, this time his wings begin to work a little better, and instead of tumbling like a rock pulled by gravity to certain destruction below, he manages to slow his descent, and is able to stay aloft a little longer, as his wings begin to strengthen. Again, if necessary, the mother eagle rescues him from death, and soars back into the heavens. But just as he thinks everything is finally “hunky dory,” she does it again! And down he goes! Finally, he learns how to catch the air currents and ride the winds, and begins to soar “like an eagle” — and now experiences the thrill of total “freedom” and “liberty”! Now he is no longer confined to the parameters of the nest. Now he is free to soar in the sky, and to be a true “eagle.”

Like the previous one I wrote about, there is nothing true in this illustration.

The first thing you have to realize is that when a “baby eagle” is ready to fly (when it is 10-12 weeks old), it is about the same size as an adult. Eagles are amazing flying machines, but they can carry only about one-third of their weight in flight. Thus, even neglecting the horrible aerodynamics of the situation, it would simply be impossible for a mother eagle to carry its fledgling on its back.

The second thing you need to know is the parent eagles don’t have to make the nest “uncomfortable” for their fledglings to leave. The young eaglets have been watching their parents fly to the nest with food in their talons – food that the parents feed to the eaglets. This makes the eaglets associate flying with food. As a result, they eventually “want” to learn to fly themselves so they can get more food.

How do they learn to fly? The scientific term is branching. They imitate their parents, flapping their wings and hopping from branch to branch. When they are “brave” enough to actually leave the branches (usually with the help of a strong wind), they typically glide to a nearby tree. If they are hesitant to return to the nest, the parents try to lure them back with food. If they refuse to come back to the nest, the parents will feed them where they are, until they are able to reach the nest again. They stay close to the nest while they are practicing their flying technique, because they know they will get food if they stay close. Eventually, they master the art of flying and begin to hunt on their own.

There are several videos of eaglets learning to fly (see here, here, here, and here, for example), so there is really no excuse for someone using this illustration. It simply isn’t true.

18 thoughts on “Another Bad Sermon Illustration”

  1. I read recently the same idea, in a book about the Holy Spirit, and the author gave some references to where he got the idea from.

    I don’t have the possibility to actually check them, but I made a photo of the reference and put it here, maybe you can verify them.

    1. Thanks so much for the reference, Iustina! That is a real quote from a real journal. I found the full reference here:

      Note that Miller says he offers the account to The Condor readers at face value. In other words, he can’t confirm it. Given the weight problem, the aerodynamics, and the fact that it hasn’t been confirmed over the past 97 years, I suspect that the student wasn’t telling the truth. Nevertheless, at least we know where this bad sermon illustration comes from!

  2. it shows also how simple or what simple motives are being used to get them to fly. its not instinct from genetics .
    likewise I think much of the instinct literature used to explain creatures and based on evolution could also be shown to be from simple motivations.
    I don’t instinct fits with a yEC creationist worldview.
    Other reasons for why creatures know what to do are out there.

      1. Well they are based on thought being meshed with genes.
        YEC should see thought as coming from a thinking creature. yet not already in the genetic makeup. Creatures , probably, all have a spirit which is immaterial. Plants don’t and don’t have instinct either.

        so instinct is used by evolutionists, or anyone, to prove thoughts are already riding on the dna.

        therefore a YEC should look for other options for sEEMING instinct results.
        I reread recently Darwins book on Creatures expressions and so on and their origins.
        It was a good book and well done but he concludes instinct comes from inheritance and so this from evolved previous states of evolved creatures.
        While reading I saw all the examples could be seen as not from instincts but other mechanisms especially memory.

        for example my sister says her dog is one of those who instinctively herds the family. this because they are famous for herding sheep.
        i don”t agree.
        I conclude collies hered because they have small mouths which in the dog world makes them weak .
        So they chase creatures but don’t finish them off because of a weaker body/mouth which they are aware of early in life. in fact one might say they stay adolescent and silly. Forever chasing.
        Yet all simply from a tiny mouth relative to other dogs.

        i think all instincts can be figured out this way (if i did in this case).
        NOT impossible that instincts exist but unlikely and undesirable from a yEC view as I see it.

        1. I would really disagree with that assessment, Robert. Instincts are not thoughts. They are programmed responses. When something comes flying at your face, you don’t think, “Oh, there’s something coming at my face, I had better cover my face and duck.” Instead, you just do it. That’s an instinct, and it has been programmed into us to help keep us alive. Now, those who have practiced can use their thoughts to override that instinct and allow something flying at their face to hit it. That’s the difference between thought and instinct.

          We know that many, many behaviors are inherited. For example, we know that when mice are trained to fear a stimulus, their offspring can fear that same stimulus, even though they have never been exposed to it. That’s instinct, which is utterly different from thought. Collies herd because they have been selectively bred to herd. We see this all the time. A 50-year experiment on silver foxes clearly shows that you can selectively breed to produce specific behaviors. Those behavioral changes are accompanied by physical changes as well. Once again, those behaviors are not based on thought. They are based on instinct.

        2. i do see instinct as only possible as thoughts. Not programmed. What is programmed? It must be a opinion to reply to something.
          one would not DUCK unless one saw it. So ones sight must be sending info to the brain. One must have the thought of what is seen coming. If the thing was going to miss you it would not be a instinct to NOT duck. Just an opinion that you don’t need to.
          What is happening is simply a hair trigger reaction of the memory. One has memorized to duck against a threat and quick enough. it seems like one is not thinking but it is just real fast. clearly so. We talk faster then we can thoughtfully organize sounds/words. Wr drive home faster then thinking over every detail. Yet its just memory.
          So I would say instincts are just memories possibly from small steps , micro, leading to big results, macro.

          I don’t know if evolutionists would agree with the mice example. First i would need to know its not a hair trigger memory. Then if a innate new memory i do think its possible but unlikely. i struggle with this. it would be rare for these examples.

          The collie is bred to be acollie but thats not evidence its herding ability if bred also.
          As i Said i don’t think so.

          Instincts are thoughts to me and clearly. not another area of intelligence.
          So instincts I think could all be shown to be from memory and common sense and common need to survive or conclusions.

          As a YEC i welcomed the mice thing, i heard about, but later I think its in question. HMMM.

          Anyways you should reconsider reflexes as being instinct as opposed to very quick thinking. I think this most wrong.

        3. I think you need to do some more research on this issue, Robert. Consider, for example, the reflex arc. This is designed programming that cuts out the need for thought entirely. It exists in all vertebrates, including people, and it keeps us safe. There is no way to argue that the reflex arc has any connection to thought, because it produces a response without using the brain at all.

          Examples like the mice aren’t rare. In fact, an entire field of study has been developed because of these kinds of experiments. It is called epigenetics.

          We know that collies herd because they have been bred to have that behavior. As I already showed you, breeding can produce huge changes in behavior, as the silver fox experiment demonstrates rather conclusively. That tells us that many behaviors are instinctual and do not involve thought.

        4. I will respond as long as your willing. I won’t weary you(unless that reflex has happened already).
          I read all your links.

          its things like this that show why evolution exists.
          They don’t carefully study it.

          I know the famous silver fox case.
          This is just domestication. If domestication is from instinct then this case is irrelevant. We could use domestic cats. Is domestic instinct??
          Or is it the opposite. The creature never was bred to be wild? many creatures in nature have shown they were not afraid of people first. in fact the famous foxes of Bering island. Tame as sheep at first.
          Foxes don’t have a instinct to be afraid of man or not to be afraid. This research just shows training them to get used to people and rewarding the quicker ones.

          The shepards never had a ability to breed herding in collies. It just worked for them. They didn’t know why. i say its really breeding a very small mouthed dog. in fact collies are cowardly as people who own them know. The herding is just a lingering immaturity or weak dog who will run after creatures but not kill them. I don’t evidence for genetic imprint to herd. Very unlikely.
          In these fox cases it becomes a memory issue.

          I don’t agree AT ALL with the reflex link. very strange for them to say this.
          Yes the conduits are these thinghs but its still the thought that motivated them. When on touches a hot thing ONE does have the thought one did it. then the continuing memory of it. its not another mind.
          If boys were testing each other how long they could touch a hot thing it would surely be based on opinion of how long they would hold. There would be a winner.
          to say one or both are , by instinct, removing their hand is not common experience.
          I say these examples show how memory is underrated as what is directing us.
          There is no reason to say its not thought and memorized thought.
          Its that fast. Driving home is that fast. Yet by memory and thought not instinct without thought.
          So I still say instinct , likely, iis a myth.
          Everything can be put under the equation of memory.

          I am trying to persuade you that thoughts are not riding genes. So al this thinking is from small bits of primitive facts and motives coupled then with a great memory action.
          to be this is best for a YEC creationist view.
          its not only a evolutionist view to see instinct as ‘another mind” but its working of their historic presumptions.

        5. Robert, the fact that instincts exist has nothing to do with evolution. They are simply part of the excellent design God has put in creation.

          Yes, of course domestication relies on instinct. When we domesticate animals, we preferentially breed them so that certain behaviors are passed down. And no, the silver fox experiment has nothing to do with training. When the experiment started, the foxes couldn’t be trained at all. However, the experimenters chose the ones that were least aggressive and bred them. As the generations continued, the aggressiveness was bred out so that, when they are born, they are automatically tame – no training involved. So, in just a few generations, foxes went from completely untrainable to trainable. Why? Because the instinct to be afraid of humans was bred out of them.

          Yes, shepherds had to breed collies in order to get them to herd sheep. Initially the dogs they used were simply for protection, nothing more. However, it was noticed that some dogs tended to pay more attention to the sheep, so those kinds of dogs were bred. Over the generations, this produced dogs that had the instinct to herd. Once again, the dogs didn’t initially have the ability to herd. It wasn’t until selective breeding that the collie was produced. What was the selection based on? It was based on the instinct to herd.

          You might not agree with the reflex arc, but it certainly exists, and it specifically causes actions without thought. We can see the neurons that make up the reflex arc, and we can selectively excite them to show that the behavior does not require input from the brain. We can even show this in people. In a person whose spinal cord is severed, the nerves to the brain are broken. Thus, there is no way for the brain to receive information. Nevertheless, if I blindfold a person with a spinal cord injury and hit him in the knee with a hammer, his leg will kick out, even though he doesn’t feel the hammer. There is no way for him to think about reacting to the hammer. He doesn’t even know it hit him. Nevertheless, his leg will kick out, because it is a programmed behavior that has nothing to do with thought, and it exists specifically because of the reflex arc.

          I agree with you that thoughts don’t ride on genes. However, instincts are not thoughts. They are pre-programmed responses that enhance survivability. These instincts do not affect the YEC view in any way. In fact, they point to how well God designed his creation.

  3. I agree the foxes wrre not trained. Yet they also were not trained to be rough as originally. There is a option here the ones selected because they were more quiet would not teach their kids to be as rough. No need for instinct concepts but simple learning and not learning. A experiment might prove this.

    The collie was surely bred to also have a tiny mouth. The sherpards just didn’t realize the smaller mouthed collies were more nice or weak and lmore likely to run after the sheep but not hurt them and be satisfied. its an option its just learning behavior without instinct in the genes.
    Anyways we both said out claims there.

    I agree the knock on the knee is from reflex.
    Yet thats a real physical reaction to real touching.
    Just like being tickliess .
    Yet in reaction to things not touching us it seems it must be from thought and a fast memory reaction. Even reflex must still be in tghe memory to throw one this side or the other depending on the threat.
    The body does not choose but the judgement.

    If we are souls/even animals then our thoughts are immaterial. They touch the material world by mechanism. I think the memory only.
    Yet instinct puts into our thoughts/actions/mind things from a material origin at such levels.
    Thats why instictism is contrary to YEC as I see it. Undesirable.
    We should want all thought to be from the thinking being and not genes etc etc.
    anyways therefore i think all instinct can be shown to be from small steps of thought being rounded up in the memory and there it is.
    So fast one would think it has a mind of its own but really its just a fast memory.

    1. Robert, the silver fox experiment has already demonstrated that this has nothing to do with the parents “teaching” their offspring. Read the details of the experiment. It shows that as the behavior changed from generation to generation, so did the physical characteristics of the foxes. Thus, just like physical characteristics, the behavior was inherited, not learned.

      No, the collie was not bred to have a tiny mouth. There are dogs with tinier mouths that don’t have a herding instinct at all. They were bread to have the instinct to herd.

      No, reflex is not in the memory. As I said, you can excite the reflex arc neuron-by-neuron and see that the brain is not involved in the process in any way. Thus, there is no memory involved. It is simply a programmed response that is inherited. It is an instinct. In addition, the person with the spinal cord injury doesn’t even know he is being hit with the hammer. Thus, there is no judgement or memory involved. It is simply a programmed reflex.

      You are correct that our thoughts are immaterial. However, instincts have nothing to do with thoughts. They are physical responses that can be traced to physiological mechanisms. There is nothing opposed to YEC in this simple, biological fact. Indeed, denying such biological facts is what goes against YEC.

      1. i’ll just end with a comment on the foxes. We both made our case and its a big subject.

        YES i know the foxes physical looks changed., In fact on a evolutionist blog, Pandas thumb, I argued this was evidence for a none evolutionary mechanism.
        Yet the looks are different from the instincts.
        I say the foxes were never rough nu instinct but only a family learned thing. I mean before captivity.
        Foxes on bering island were tame and unafraid of men. not rough at all. In fact creatures learn to be afraid of mankind but its not innate.
        SO I see a option here that these captive foxes being born would not be rough unless taught so. so a fox selected as tame, or more tame, then has kids THE KIDS have no reason to be more wild then the mother/father. Not because of genes but no reason from learning it.
        If the foxes are totally separate from each other and never influenced it still would work.
        The fox was not ever innately rough and never later innately tame. It just didn’t learn things on a curve. likewise possibly the tame ones selected were smaller.

        The collie is famous for its small mouth. Its not acoincedence. i say the old shepards , purpose or not, did select for this unique trait.
        they might of thought they were selecting for herding but really they selected for size or size of mouth and those dogs herded better.
        Including having good legs and heavy fir etc etc. its an equation.
        anyways the snout on the collie is very unique. A wolf with it would die in the wild . In fact, like your fox morphology change fact, i think the smaller mouth makes them immature. Speculation. Domesticated creatures stay immature in their looks as i understand they say.
        anyways good discussion.
        Hope you don’t mind my holding my trench.
        lord bless.

        1. Robert, of course the silver fox experiment shows a evolutionary mechanism. The people were doing artificial selection, based solely on behavior. They showed that behavior is inherited, and they can keep choosing the most ideal behavior, breeding those that had the ideal behavior, and eventually produce a new breed that has the desired behavior. This has nothing to do with learning. It is solely breeding. The physical characteristics demonstrate this quite clearly. They weren’t selecting for physical characteristics. They were selecting for behavior. However, just as many behaviors (instincts) are inherited, physical traits are inherited. When you select for a set of instincts, you get a set of physical characteristics that come with that inheritance. This is a clear demonstration that instincts are inherited. Just like the reflex arc, they have nothing to do with thinking.

          The foxes on Bering Island prove this point even more conclusively. They were not tame, but they were more friendly towards people. Why? Because they are a different species. Thus, the instincts that they have inherited over time are quite different from those of silver foxes! This is why behaviors change from breed to breed and species to species. Each breed and each species has inherited a suite of instincts that produce a certain behavior.

          Of course, your idea that the silver foxes were somehow taught how to be tame is not supported by the experiment at all. Indeed, the experiment shows that this can’t be the case. If the parents were “teaching” the children to be tame, the children would be no more tame than the parents. The parents can’t teach offspring to do something that goes against their own behavior. Indeed, the experiment showed a marked difference in behavior between the pups and their parents in each generation. Thus, the pups weren’t being taught.

          The collie does have a small mouth, but it doesn’t have the smallest mouth among dogs. If your explanation were correct, even smaller-mouth dogs should be great herders, and they are not. In addition, according to Dr. Gordon Stables, Highland shepherd don’t like collies with very small mouths, because those collies turn out to be biters. (Live Stock Journal Almanac 1878, p. 88). If your idea were even close to correct, the smaller the mouth, the better the collie should be for the shepherds. That’s not the case at all. Collies herd because they have been bred to have the herding instinct.

          You can hold your trench as much as you want, but you are forced to do so against the evidence. Arguing against the evidence is arguing against YEC as well.

  4. I was going to end it but just a last point.
    Your saying the mouth size affects the collies. A smaller mouth makes them bite more. THEN its proof mouth size affects their behavior and its not instinct on THIS POINT. they bite more because of mouth size and not instinct.
    So the mouth size matters. The collie has a very small mouth and so it also would be a factor affecting its reaction to creatures.
    The sheppards rightly don’t go to small but go pretty small.
    it still is a good option its just mouth size that leads to herding ability relative to other dogs. Its the right equation for mouth size that is the origin for the better herding ability.
    They think they select for ability but really they are selecting the right mouth size which affects behavior. Genes need not be the first option but simple behaivor in relation to body.

    The small mouth collie who bites possibly is so small it denses it needs to be more aggressive. however collies are very weak and retiring dogs in general.
    anyways thats interesting new info i didn’t know.

    1. Robert, you definitely need to think about this more clearly. This is not proof that mouth size affects behavior and thus the behavior is not instinct. I know that’s what you want to believe, but the facts say otherwise. Because instincts are inherited, they are often correlated with physical characteristics. Remember, in the silver fox experiment, the researchers selected for instinctual behavior. They were successful, but in those animals that inherited the instincts for which the researchers were selecting, certain physical characteristics appeared as well. Thus, certain physical characteristics are inherited along with certain instincts. The fact that collies with too small a mouth are biters is probably just another example of a specific physical characteristic being inherited along with a specific set of instincts.

      What this does demonstrate, however, is that your explanation of collie behavior can’t possibly be right. Remember, you say that collies herd because their small mouths make them weak. Thus, they “think” they need to herd instead of hunt. That means the smaller the mouth, the weaker the dog. Thus, the better its herding behavior should be. You can’t say that a small mouth makes a dog weak up to a point and then a too small mouth makes it too aggressive.

      There is simply no way to explain the behavior of animals without referencing inherited instincts, just as there is no way to explain the reflex arc without reference to pre-programmed behavior. None of these are thoughts, of course. They are simply inherited behaviors.

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