Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Animal Death and Theodicy

A "theodicy" is a defense of God. It generally involves a defense of God's justice in view of some circumstance, argument, or condition that is seen as calling that justice into question. In our day, one condition (of the world in which we live) that is commonly understood as requiring some sort of theodicy is predatory behavior in the animal kingdom and animal death generally.

At some point (at the end of what I hope will be a brief series of posts on this subject), I'll argue (as an ecologist) that predation is a beautiful, necessary, exquisitely-designed part of life on earth, and thus something that needs no apologetic. But before I make that case, I want to deal with some of the other misunderstandings that have led to the modern confusion (among Christians and skeptics) about this issue.

But the goal of this first post is even less ambitious; it is merely to convince you that there is in fact widespread belief that predation and animal death are bad, and therefore cannot have been intended by an all-powerful, benevolent God. To do so, I'll appeal to three diverse views held by Christians today, each of which is at its foundation an attempt to absolve God of the blame for the ecology of our world, containing as it does animals eating other animals.

The first view is the theistic evolution (TE) view held by biologist Kenneth Miller. Miller, a Catholic, is outspoken in his disdain for proponents of Intelligent Design, insisting that not only is neo-Darwinian macroevolution true but that God only set the process going and then never intervened. (Over against the very different form of TE endorsed by, for example, Francis Collins, retired head of the Human Genome Project, Miller's view might better be called "deistic evolution.") But here's the point that is pertinent to our discussion... By insisting that God did not intervene, but allowed evolution to run its course unhindered, Miller believes he is absolving God of things (predation, parasitism, and suboptimal designs) that he (Miller) considers bad or for which he sees no purpose.

The second view is the Young-Earth position of Henry Morris or Ken Ham. In the face of overwhelming contrary evidence from the universe around us, and despite significant flaws in their interpretation of Scripture, Morris and Ham (and many others like them) insist that their view must be true primarily because they cannot reconcile long ages of animal death (prior to the fall of Adam) as being deemed by God "very good." Writes Morris,
The completed creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31), with nothing bad or unfair or hurtful--certainly no "struggle for existence" or "survival of the fittest," or any lack of anything needed by any of God's created beings or systems.
Likewise, according to Ham,
The main point is that death, bloodshed, and suffering of living creatures were not possible before the fall. It was a perfect world...
Similarly, Ralph Winter offers what I can only consider a bizarre view (of how to reconcile God's Word with God's world) in a speculation I only recently came across.* Winter accepts the evidence for an ancient universe and earth. But he, too, gets hung up on seeing predation as irreconcilable with God's "very good" creation. His speculation is that (though Scripture nowhere implies such a role for them) it was the job of angels to assist God in the creation of living things. He goes on to suggest that the Cambrian explosion (during which all the animal phyla or body forms suddenly appeared without precursors) coincided with the fall of Satan and thus that predatory creatures (then and ever since) cannot be blamed on God but on Satan and the demons that rebelled with him.

I'm not making this up, and, believe me, I don't post it here in order that even more scorn might be heaped upon Christians for some of the silly things they believe. But if my brothers and sisters are going to be free to write such stuff, someone (like I) needs to be able to demonstrate what's wrong with it--and by that I mean where they misunderstand nature, where they misunderstand Scripture, and where they are guilty of poor reasoning. I'll begin (in the next post) by addressing some of the Scriptures these folks use to argue that animal death and predation are bad.

The bottom line is that Scripture and the record of nature--both rightly interpreted--are in perfect agreement and that animal death and predation provide no reason for questioning God's justice and perfection.

* Note to grammar geeks (others please ignore): Relative to most people, I'm kinda nutty with regard to doing my best to avoid dangling participles. But here's one of those cases where I give up the struggle. I simply can't quite bring myself to write, "...speculation, across which I only recently came."


Anonymous said...

This is all fine Rick, but the crowd is actually waiting for Willow's next poem.

Rick Gerhardt said...


I refuse to cheapen my daughter's artistic future by posting all her stuff here. But she does have a couple more that I might share before long. In the meantime, is it okay if I decide what to blog about?

Anonymous said...

No problem Rick. You can decide on the content of your blog if you like.

In any event, where will Willow's poems be posted so that we can all change our bookmarks?

Been nice knowing you. Good luck in the future.