Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prevalence of Carnivory

I've been discussing the issue of animal death and carnivory, and how it is perceived by many moderns as a problem difficult to reconcile with the goodness of God. For Christians with this perception, the issue leads to strange interpretations of the Bible, and ones that do serious damage to the doctrine of God's sovereignty.

As an apologist, one who spends his time defending the truth claims of the Christian world- and life-view, it is frustrating (to say the least) to read and hear other Christians airing truth claims that are not biblical and that are contrary to both evidence and reason. Prominent among such views is this notion that predatory animals were not created by God because they are somehow evil.

Several years ago now, my oldest son was asked (along with the other students in his Sunday school class) to think of something created by God for each letter of the alphabet. Being a snake enthusiast, when he came to 'V,' my son wrote down 'venom.' The teacher asked him to think of something else, since she wasn't sure that God had created venom (she apparently perceived of all such things as rattlesnakes, scorpions, and bees and wasps as evil or fallen). Many Christians today likewise see predatory animals--those that eat other animals--as bad, and therefore not directly created by God.

Let me assume, for the sake of argument, that this were true, and see what the implications of that view include. By way of comparison (with those implications), we'll keep in mind that what the Bible actually claims (in many different books written by various human authors) is that God alone is the Creator of all living things. As just one example, here's Psalm 104:24-25...
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
What I want to do is to delineate for you the types of animals that are carnivorous--those that, on the view I'm critiquing, must be viewed as NOT created by God. For simplicity's sake, I'll confine the discussion to extant animals and those living in North America.

There are seven orders of mammals alive in North America (not including humans, whose order, primates, is primarily omnivorous, eating both palnts and animals). Of the seven, three orders consist entirely or primarily of herbivorous animals. These orders are the lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, and pikas), the rodents (some of which are not above eating eggs and young birds), and the even-toed ungulates (deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, and sheep).

The other four orders of mammals are entirely or primarily carnivorous (or, in the case of the opossums, carrion feeders). Chiroptera (bats) are primarily animal-eaters, though some species (especially outside North America) are fruit-eaters. The Insectivora (moles and shrews) are exclusive in their diets, eating only other animals. Then, of course, the Carnivora are flesh-eaters, with a very few species departing from the strict rule and occasionally eating berries or carrion. The Carnivora are a varied group, represented (in North America) by eight different families; they include, the dogs, the cats, the weasels, the skunks, the bears, the raccoon family, the eared seals, and the hair seals. On the "predators are evil" view, we must disqualify the vast majority of these diverse, unique (and well-adapted) species as not intended or created by God.

Among birds, the situation is much more weighted in favor of herbivores, with many passerines (perching birds) thriving on seeds and fruit. Nonetheless, many other passerines eat invertebrate animals. Moreover, whole groups--including hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, gulls (and similar species), most other seabirds and shorebirds, shrikes, crows and jays, and others--eat animal prey exclusively. Are we--without any scriptural warrant--to claim that God made finches, but that the origin of eagles, killdeer, penguins, and all these others must be explained some other way?

Among the reptiles, the vast majority are exclusively meat-eaters. This includes all of the snakes, all of the crocodiles, and nearly all of the turtles. (A few turtles supplement their diets with fruit and vegetables, but even these species are not strictly vegetarian.) Lizards are a bit more of a mixed bag, but those that eat plant material exclusively are the clear minority.

Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are likewise an entire class of animals that prey mainly or exclusively on other animals. The same is true of the bony fishes (Osteicthyes) and, of course, of the sharks and rays (the cartilaginous fishes).

According to this cursory glance at just the vertebrates, we can see that four of the six classes (cartilaginous fishes, bony fishes, amphibians, and reptiles) are comprised mostly of animal-eaters. Of the remaining two classes (birds and mammals), entire groups are meat-eaters. In other words, the clear implication of the view that I am critiquing is that most of the animal species inhabiting North America today were not part of God's plan, and that He is not to be praised for the creation of eagles, flamingoes, bobcats, raccoons, dolphins, or sailfish. I find this a really strange position for any Christian to take.

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