There is a particular fact about the known life forms in this universe that I find very distressing in view of my assertion that there is a creator God, who is Good. I don’t know if it is currently in fashion in atheist circles or not, but it has always appeared to me a pretty strong point for their side. That point may be summarized thusly:
If creation is at heart “good” why is it that all animal life, and even some plant life, lives only by the destruction of other life? Even herbivores and “vegans” consume, digest and destroy other living things, harvesting that which they did not make and killing the maker in the process. Once we have left the plants with chlorophyll, and the relatively few organisms that power their chemical processes with thermal or chemical energy, it is constant predation from there on up. Nowhere above that level is there an organism that does not destroy life. The exception would be the scavengers, from worms to vultures, who consume their prey after some other force has killed it, but even they are fueled by, and depend upon, death.
I can hear the snickers, not only am I objecting to eating meat, I’m exhibiting scruples about eating grass! But the issue is not whether plants can be eaten (I am strictly an omnivore!), it is that the pattern of life subsisting only by the death of other life is poetically very depressing. It is so close to a universal pattern, how can we say a “Good God” dreamed it up? I have heard some Christians attribute it to “the fall”, saying that in the beginning it was not so, and in the fullness of the Kingdom of God, it will not be so again. “The lion shall lay down with the lamb” and that the lion will eat straw, as the prophet says.
Leaving the issue of grass as life destroyed by both lion and lamb in that vision, I am not satisfied. I am not placated by just saying that someday the problem will disappear, that it means nothing.
Anyway, this state of affairs seems to me so ugly that it argues against the idea that any benign entity is behind it.
I have said elsewhere that one of the ways to know if a new idea is true is to see what effect it has on old knowledge. Does it fit what is already known? even better, Does it throw light on what is already known, and draw isolated facts into a pattern?
As a Christian, I claim that the central point of all history, of all creation, is the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. I also claim that creation has been corrupted, and that many things we now see are twisted copies of the truth.
What then is this center point, and how could it relate to predation being a nearly universal feature of life; what could that universal feature be, of which predation is the twisted image?
I think there is a link, the true life principal of which the Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is the archetype, and predation is the twisted echetype. The principal is that of vicarious life. Jesus died so that I might live. Even as a Christian, I have trouble articulating how this “works,” but interestingly enough, it seems in accord with a pattern we see, and proclaims itself the unfallen example of that pattern. I live because of the sacrifice of another. I “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” in the Eucharist. Life based on the sacrificial death of another creature is so prevalent in this creation that it must somehow be part of a central theme.
I think that theme is a “Me first” twist on a Ideal of self sacrifice for the good of another. The distance between “Give” and “Take” is very small. If one examines only the transaction, where things start and where they end up, giving and taking are identical. The twist is the attitude of the participants. Taking is “what’s yours is mine”, giving is “what’s mine is yours”; almost the same, and yet how different could they be!
So predation can perhaps be seen as a fallen and twisted remnant of a great good running through Edenic creation: Life always exist by the sacrifice of other life, but perhaps one can imagine, only just barely imagine a scene where the lamb willingly gives it’s body so that the lion can live, and the lion eats, full of wonder and humility towards this incredible being that would so lay its life down for its friends.
Themes run through the creation, and everything bears the mark of that which (or who) made it. I think that there is a theme here that fills me with awe and wonder.