We humans have a tendency to overlook the marvelous aspects of things we witness regularly. To the parents of a newborn baby, the healthy birth is a clear miracle. To the doctor, this may be just another day at work. We marvel at the tiniest possible signs of water on a distant planet such as Mars. Yet, the abundance of water on Earth does not impress us. A person who fasts understands the value of a piece of bread deep in their heart. Yet most of us fail to appreciate the delicious food we eat everyday. The list is endless. In this article we will try to draw attention to the marvelous aspects of our sustenance in this world and explore two perspectives that provide, or attempt to provide, an explanation for their existence. In particular, we will look at the apple, honey, and milk.
Most people think of an apple as a perfect example of beauty, joy, and health. Indeed, the apple is endowed with a shape that is appealing to the human eye, a beautiful range of colors, a pleasant taste and a long list of health benefits for humans. These , (1) containing two types of fibers that work in tandem to lower blood cholesterol levels, (2) helping to prevent heart disease, (3) cancer-protective activity, (4) helping remove toxic substances, such as lead and mercury from the blood, and (5) helping to reduce the risk of kidney stones. A major survey published in the May 2004 issue of the Nutrition Journal provided a review of 85 studies and identified a number of health benefits of apples, including the ability to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and type II diabetes when compared to other fruits and vegetables. In addition, eating apples has also been associated with increased lung function and increased weight loss.1
Now consider all these benefits and look at how we get apples. An apple tree knows nothing about humans. An apple knows nothing about the human visual system, tastes, or body functions. How is it then that an apple is so appealing and beneficial for humans?
Honey is one of the substances produced by honeybees. In addition to being a nutritive sweetener, medical research has also found that the unique composition of honey makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant. These effects are due to a substance called “propolis,” which the honeybees make by combining tree sap with their own secretions. They use propolis as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal substance to protect the honeycomb. It has been found that propolis contains well-researched anti-cancer substances, such as caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Daily consumption of honey raises the levels of protective antioxidant compounds in the blood level in humans, according to research presented at the 227th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, March 28, 2004.2 Furthermore, researchers have discovered that these substances in propolis prevent colon cancer in animals.3 New studies are also looking into honey as an agent for increasing athletic performance and as a wound-healing agent. Honey has been a popular traditional remedy for many medical conditions.
Now consider these benefits of honey and how we obtain honey: Honeybees know nothing about humans. In fact, if they are agitated, they may sting humans and sometimes cause their death. The honey they make, however, has so many healing benefits that honey has been used in many foods, herbal supplements and, beauty products. The same question comes to mind: How did this come to be?
Milk is produced by mammals. In particular, cows, sheep, and goats produce milk that is consumed in many cultures.
Cow’s milk, for example, and the dairy products derived from it, promote strong bones by being a very good source of vitamin D and calcium, and a good source of vitamin K-three nutrients essential to bone health. Calcium has long been recognized for its role in building healthy bones. This is not the only benefit of calcium, however. Recent studies have shown other benefits such as helping protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals, helping prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and helping to prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them.
Other essential nutrients in milk include iodine, a mineral essential for thyroid function, riboflavin and vitamin B12, which are necessary for cardiovascular health and energy production, vitamin A, a critical nutrient for immune function, and potassium, a nutrient important for cardiovascular health.4 Researchers have found that a beneficial fatty acid called CLA inhibited several types of cancer in mice. Test tube studies also indicated that this compound kills human skin cancer, colorectal cancer and breast-cancer cells. There are other indications of benefits of CLA, such as helping lower cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis.(5)
The cow, the sheep, and the goat know nothing about humans. They do not know how our body functions or what our sense of taste is. Yet, the milk they produce serves as a tasty and healthy food. The same question arises: How did this come to be?
Humans also produce other nutritious foods from milk, such as cheese and yogurt. Yogurt is particularly interesting because it is made with the help of beneficial bacteria called L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus. Everyone has bacteria inside their bodies; especially in the stomach and intestines where food is broken up and digested. Eating yogurt encourages the beneficial types of bacteria to multiply in your digestive track, helping protect the system against harmful microorganisms that cause stomach upsets and infection. Some people cannot drink milk due to lactose intolerance, yet they can consume yogurt. The emerging health benefits of yogurt include boosting the immune system, lowering serum cholesterol, and helping in the prevention and management of certain cancers. In addition, yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, potassium, vitamins B12, and riboflavin.
Now let us turn to the two perspectives that explain, or attempt to explain, how these health-giving substances reach us: The “bounty” perspective and the “chance” perspective. Let us explore these two perspectives in more detail. First, the bounty perspective.
The bounty perspective suggests that the delicious and beneficial foods we enjoy in this world are bounties of a God with infinite knowledge and wisdom.(6, 7) God knows us because He has created us. He knows what benefits us and what harms us. He loves us and He wants to show us His love through signs. The bounties, which include foods among others, are designed to benefit us and appeal to us. In return for these bounties, He expects us to recognize Him as our Lord, our Creator, and Sustainer. He expects us to feel thankful to Him and to express our thanks through worship.
The basis for the bounty perspective can be found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity, as well as in the Qur’an. The first example is from the Bible: Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4). Another example, from David’s Psalms as they appear in the Bible states: Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. (Psalms, 100). A striking example from the works of St. Paul is the following:
And so He gathered together a people for Himself, and fostered them with many liberal distributions of His bounty, and, after so often finding them most ungrateful, ever exhorted them to repentance and sent out the voices of the universal company of the prophets to prophesy.
The sixth chapter of the Qur’an is entitled “Cattle,” and mentions some benefits of domesticated animals, as well as dispersing some myths and false beliefs about them:
And of cattle (He created) beasts of burden and those which are fit for slaughter only; eat of what God has given you and do not follow the footsteps of the Satan; surely he is your manifest enemy. (An’am 6:142)
The following Qur’anic verses mention cattle and milk explicitly:
And God has sent down water from the cloud and therewith given life to the earth after its death; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who would listen. And most surely there is a lesson for you in the cattle; We give you to drink of what is in their bellies-from between the feces and the blood-pure milk, easy and agreeable to swallow for those who drink. And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes-you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder. (Nahl 16:65-67)
In the following verse, the honeybee is mentioned by name, as well as the various semi-liquid substances that they produce, including honey:
And your Lord revealed to the bee saying: Make hives in the mountains and in the trees and in what they build: Then eat of all the fruits and walk in the ways of your Lord submissively. There comes forth from within it a beverage of many colors, in which there is healing for men; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who reflect. (Nahl 16:68-69)
The chance perspective is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, where there is no place for a merciful God.9, 10 It attributes the phenomenon of these health-giving foods to chance working with natural selection over time. It asserts that early humans or their supposed ancestors have experienced a random mutation (a change in the genetic code), which caused some of them to like apples. Those who liked apples ate them and benefited in turn. These benefits have given them a competitive advantage over others who did not like apples. Those who liked apples were able to survive better under difficult circumstances and produced more offspring than others. Through many generations, those humans who did not like apples have disappeared and today almost all humans enjoy and benefit from apples.
The consequences of the two perspectives are completely different. If all health-giving natural products are loved for themselves, if they are thoughtlessly delighted in only for the material pleasures that they yield, that love is merely the love of self. Also, those pleasures are transient and bring pain. People with this perspective are likely to be selfish, stingy, and wasteful. But, if they are loved as favors proceeding from Almighty God’s mercy and as fruits of His munificence, and if pleasure is obtained from them with good judgment by appreciating the degree of kindness in that munificence and favor, then this is both gratitude and is a pain-free pleasure. People with this perspective are likely to be thankful, prudent, and caring for those who are in need.
To better understand the difference in the nature and consequences of these two perspectives let us consider the following parable 11:
If a mighty king were to bestow a gift on you, such as an apple, there would be two joys in that apple for you. The first of these is that the apple would be loved because it is an apple, and there would be a pleasure peculiar to and to the extent of the apple. This love does not concern the king. A person, who puts the apple to his mouth and eats it in the king’s presence, without offering his appreciation to the king, loves the apple itself and his own soul rather than the king. The king is likely not to be pleased with this person’s attitude, despite the fact that he enjoys the apple. Moreover, the pleasure that the apple gives is very limited and passes quickly. After the apple is eaten it is gone, only regret remains.
As for the second kind of joy, it is for the royal favor that is demonstrated by means of the apple. One who holds the apple precious, as if it were the sample and embodiment of a royal favor, shows that he loves his king. Moreover, the pleasure in that fruit, which is a sort of container for the favor, is such that it is far greater than the pleasure obtained from a thousand apples. This pleasure, then, is the essence of thankfulness. This love is a respectful love for the king.
We have presented two explanations for the phenomenon of the presence of health-giving foods in nature and for the abundance of appealing and beneficial food on Earth, such as apples, honey, and milk that are produced by plants and animals that know nothing about humans. The bounty explanation asserts that these are the bounties of a Merciful and Infinitely-Wise Creator who expects us to recognize these as bounties and be thankful to Him. The chance perspective attributes this situation to random mutations and natural selection working over time. Because God works through laws in this world, we cannot see His hand of mercy in action with the eyes in our heads. However, can we see signs of this mercy with the eyes in our heart? This is a challenge for the inquisitive mind.
That is God, your Lord, there is no god but He; the Creator of all things, therefore serve Him, and He has charge of all things. Vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends (all) vision; and He is the Knower of subtleties, the Aware. Indeed there have come to you clear proofs from your Lord; whoever will therefore see, it is for his own soul and whoever will be blind, it shall be against himself and I am not a keeper over you. (An’am 6:102-104)