How Can a Mechanical ‘Cardinal’ Make ‘Selections’?

How Can a Mechanical ‘Cardinal’ Make ‘Selections’?

For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. (1st Corinthians 4:9b)

But what about birds: can they be spectators?

What about fake birds:  can they “select” when to sing?

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

This unusual bird-watching report begins with a “no-brainer” observation that most birders already know well:  we humans like to watch birds!

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

Luzon Bleeding-heart by Dan


In fact, it seems (based on a survey done by wildlife ecologists in Maryland) that we humans like to watch birds — moreso than any other kind of wildlife.  People love birds, and well they should!  Specifically, according to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officer, birds are the main attraction when it comes to people viewing wildlife.  “The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation noted that 71.8 million American participated in some kind of wildlife-watching recreation, including observing, feeding or photographing [wildlife].  Birds attract the biggest following of all U.S. wildlife.  Approximately 46.7 million people observed birds around the house and on trips in 2001.  A large majority, 88 percent (41.3 million), observed wild birds around the home, while 38 percent (17.8 million) took trips away from home to observe wild birds.  Home birders averaged 119 days, while away-from-home birders averaged 13 days.”  (Quoting from Kathy Reshetiloff, “Services Provided by Migratory Birds Don’t Come Cheaply”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 24(3):1 (May 2014).  As noted previously, birds often don’t notice when we are watching them – and that is when we see them acting true to character. [See  ]

A plastic “toy” cardinal can make you wonder about motion sensitivity.  (More on that below.)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a/k/a “redbird” is a beauty to behold – and to hear.  Cardinals are so highly appreciated that seven states claim it as their official state bird:  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia!

Cardinals are songbirds that are easily seen (especially the males), due to their colored plumage contrasting with the green foliage of spring and summer, — or with the bright white of winter snow.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©Zanawer

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©Zanawer

Surely a view of cardinals, eating safflower and sunflower seeds (or other cracked corn, peanuts, or even raisins!), will make you wonder at God’s creative genius and love of beauty, when He chose to make (see Genesis 1:21) the male and female of that beautiful songbird species!

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Male and Female ©WikiC

“The cardinal is a favorite bird of many people and it’s easy to see why.  The brilliant scarlet plumage of the male and the subtle shades of the female, combined with their clear melodic song, make them enjoyable to watch (and to listen to] in any season.”  [Quoting from Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume II (Little, Brown & Co., 1983), page 247.]

But, could it be that birds also like to watch humans?  And could it even be that mechanical “birds” appreciate humans who move around in front of them?

Plastic Cardinal from

[ plastic cardinal image  from ]

Lately my wife have been having fun at my expenses, using a “toy” cardinal.  The cardinal was given to her by Marcia Webel (of Florida, wife of Chaplain Bob Webel).  It is a smaller than life-sized bird shaped and colored like a male cardinal, and it can make “vocal” noises like one, too.  But it is a “motion-activated” machine.  In other words, it is “selective” in when it “chooses” to sound off its recorded chirping sounds (which do sound like a real cardinal).  But it’s not really making decisions about when to chirp; it’s just a programmed machine that is designed with receptor features that sense motion nearby, and the inventor designed the machine to “trigger” its recorded sounds whenever its receptors “recognize” such motions.

So far, so good.

But here is the puzzle:  my wife moves in front of the “cardinal” and he chirps for her, just like the toy’s inventor designed him to do.  Then I dance (not in public, of course, — just in the privacy of our kitchen) in front of the “cardinal” and he is silent.  Silent!  So I dance again.  Silent, silent!  So I try a few Tae Kwon Do maneuvers (kicking, punching, whirling, bowing) – and he is still silent. If proving my body’s mobility was dependent upon the “cardinal” chirping I would be diagnosed as paralyzed or unconscious.

It seems like the “cardinal” is “selective” regarding which human he is “willing” to chirp for.  But that can’t be, you say, and you are right.

A lifeless machine – even one that looks like and sounds like a male cardinal – cannot really “select” anything.

The very idea that anything lifeless can “select” anyone or anything is silly, because the English word “select” necessarily includes the actions of thinking and choosing.  (Of course, the preprogrammed actions of the machine do reveal the thought and choices of the machine’s inventor.)

By now I’m sure you see the parallel to God our Creator, Who programmed all of creation to perform according to how He invented His creatures and the world that He put them in.  (He made the planning and programming choices needed to invent all the birds, and ourselves, and everything else  —   God did it, not “nature”.)

It is both silly and deceptive to use the phrase “natural selection” to imply that nonliving substances (like sunlight, wind, rain, snow, lightning bolts, etc.) are a kind of “natural selection” that orders “nature”.   In fact, the phrase “natural selection” is a science-fiction example of “bait-and-switch” [See “Bait and Switch”, at ]

Yet that very misleading phrase (“natural selection”) is spun as a secular God-substitute, to explain the origin of species that inhabit our fine-tuned planet.  [See “DNA and RNA:  Providential Coding to ‘Revere’ God”, at ]  Obviously, the mechanical “cardinal”, with its puzzling actions that “react” to some (but not all) motions, was invented by a clever inventor.  How much moreso is our Creator-God a clever inventor!  It is God Who selected how to make our bodies, to eat food (Acts 14:17) and to grow (Psalm 139) and to do so many other amazing things during our earthly lives.  And He also invented the real cardinals!  (And sometimes real cardinals watch me, so there!)

Maybe I don’t have the kind of “walk” that causes a mechanical cardinal to “sing”.  As we all know, you need to have the “walk”, not just the “talk”.

So who do you watch?  If you only sang a song if and when someone walked in front of you, but not if he (or she) merely talked, who would you sing for?

The best sermons are role-modeled – those who “walk” their “talk” are truly the best communicators!  When we consider the “talk” and “walk” of other Christians, as we do without consciously trying, we are evaluating which Christians we think are moving in step with God’s Word.  Some are.   Others aren’t.  (And some we can’t be too sure about – see 1st Timothy 5:24.)

Meanwhile, as we move through this world, from day to day, are our own lives worth watching?

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)



James J. S. Johnson

Cardinalidae – Cardinals, Grosbeaks and allies


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