Predation and a Good God?

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.


Filed under ALL, Christianity, Theology

4 responses to “Predation and a Good God?

  1. Bob Crozier

    Interesting thinking, or at least I think so! Perhaps I think so because I have wondered about some this stuff as well. In my (albeit rather limited) thinking about this though, I took a different path of thought and have wondered if the physical death with which we are constantly surrounded (and upon which our physical lives now even depend!) speaks more to us about the pervasiveness of sin and serves as a constant reminder of its penalty of spiritual & eternal death.

    Surely it is not so much the *amount* of death in the world that would prompt one to question the goodness of God, but rather that there is death *at all.* Whether one tends toward a young or old view of creation, so long as one holds to a view that the world is in fact deliberately and purposefully created by the infinitely intelligent and omnipotent Creator who also reveals Himself in the Bible, then it seems to me that we are obligated to a view that this death that we see is – more than anything else! – both a result and a reminder of sin – our sin.

    Finally, just a passing thought in regards to the idea that the eating of plants is a form of predation. While that is certainly true in some cases (for example, a carrot), I think that the harvesting of much of what we would normally eat from a plant would not kill that plant. The harvesting of the ‘fruit’ of a plant (including leaves, grains, etc., which is, after all, what God first ordained to be to be eaten) does not normally result in the death of the plant. From a ‘young’ creation point of view, it is not unreasonable to to think that death itself was a completely new to factor within the created order introduced into the universe following the contamination of sin.

  2. The answer of why Life is busy continuing by causing death of life is pretty simple. This Universe is based on conservation of energy by recycling its form without the pause for the morality of it all.

    Where it different than the whole construct would collapse and we would not be here discussing this issue.

    Do you know that when matter and anti matter collide and destroy each other, we get light.

    Let there be light is based on the destruction of all that is.

    Light is the nothing that manifested everything.

    Now whether or not a higher plane of existence continues this recycling or takes on other forms depends on understanding the consciousness that manifested everything.

  3. Great essay!

    Attributing what offends us in the natural world to human fallenness would be way too facile an explanation to satisfy me, and I can imagine that any atheist would only giggle at it. I’d rather refer to God speaking out of the whirlwind in Job. How much do we understand about the complexities and– ultimately– logical constraints involved in creating an evolving universe that produces and supports us? Could any of us have done it better? I doubt it, considering the disturbing unforeseen consequences that always crop up after we have proudly invented some technology that we think will bring nothing but good. According to astronomers and cosmologists, many stars had to explode over a long period of time and huge distances, to provide even the elemental raw materials required for life. We would not exist unless the design were amazingly complex and fine-tuned before it ever left the divine drawing board.

    One of the most interesting books I have ever read (even though most of its mathematical reasoning is way beyond my comprehension) is “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” by Barrow and Tipler. They discuss these constraints in great and sober detail. There’s no science fiction here. The authors are as rigorously scientific and rational as they know how to be about the necessary conditions for life in the known universe. Their conclusion is that any other species with our intelligence would have to bear a considerable physical resemblance to us, but that chances are there is no other such species yet: we are probably alone in the galaxy. So unimaginative, so anthropocentric these scientists are, huh? But if the best science out there is telling us, essentially, that the way it is is the way it’s gotta be, why blame God over it?

  4. Thank you for your thoughts, and for your kind words.

    I do agree with you that human brokenness seems to go a long way into overstating our importance in the universe. And our ancestors were clearly wrong in assuming an anthropocentric cosmos. Even Milton new better in “Paradise Lost”!

    But there is the cautionary fable that goes something like
    “For the want of a battle, a kingdom was lost
    for the want of a knight, a battle was lost,
    For the want of a horse, the knight was lost
    for the want of a shoe a horse was lost
    for the want of a nail, a shoe was lost.”

    Something does not have to be central in importance to be central in the ramifications of its failure.

    More currently, the failure of some O-rings on the Shuttle.

    And for those of us with a bent towards seeing the Bible as a vehicle of God’s revelation, there is the notice that “all creation groans in travail, waiting for the sons of man to come into their own” (from memory) There seems to be some connection, whether or not I see it.

    To reject it because it places “us” higher than seems reasonable is as flawed a logic as to reject heliocentrism because it places “our” home (and the home of Christ in His incarnation) as too common, and too low.

    My feelings of appropriateness are a poor form of evidence.

    I suspect you are right about the atheists’ giggles, I could hear them when I hit the “post” button back when I wrote this, and I don’t blame them. It is a pretty “out there” exploration, and without a LOT of preparing of the ground, it will make no sense at all! For what it’s worth, I think most of my friends giggle about it as well -or at least shake their heads in disbelief “…the things that DO get into that boy’s head…!” But all discreetly behind my back or up their sleeve. That’s OK.

    I fully expect that, should this sort of thing come up at some sort of “review board” at the pearly-gates interview, St. Peter would say, “You know Eric, that was interesting! we ALL had a good laugh at THAT!”
    Because like Job, I don’t really have a clue. And what is the truth will be very different from the things I can think up.

    But one of the other things that irritates the crap out of some atheists is our tendency to meet their objections with the incomprehensibility of God. That “I don’t know the answer because I can’t know the answer, but I know there is an answer, because I trust the answerer – whom you don’t know.”

    That one will get the giggles started and the heads wagging! Even while you and I might (along with Job) find it perfectly reasonable and compelling.

    I find that when I take these jig-saw puzzle pieces and at least try to see how they might fit together – what it would mean if they did, I might not end up with the correct answer, but I will understand the pieces better. I might not get the overall picture with details right, but I can see that there is a picture that is reasonable – even if I cannot clearly define it. And I at least get on happier by trying to work the puzzle than if I simply through up my hands and say “It’s all a mystery to me!”

    I am not terrible fond of what gets called the “fine tuning argument” as evidence of God, I think it is rather weak. But When “God” is established (at least in me, if not in my proofs) then the things you cite vastly increase my sense of wonder and delight.

    Thank you for your input!

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