The Problem of Predation
by Richard W. Coffen | 14 August 2018 |
“Nothing, save the selfish heart of man . . . lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life.”—Ellen White, The Desire of Ages.
The Desert Speaks!
While I was tromping in the West Desert, two creatures spoke.
Crotalus atrox: “After a long winter, I awoke famished! Thank God I sneaked up on Sylvi!” He flicked his tongue in and out—licking his chops, perhaps? Then: “God is great, God is good; let us thank him for our food. By his hands we all are fed. Amen.”
Young Sylvilagus audubonii: “Craving salad, I went looking for some greens. Suddenly, two hot needles jabbed me. My hindquarters and left side became paralyzed; now my whole body won’t respond. Is this God’s will?I don’t feel altruistic about Crotalus’ hunger. I want to live.”
Later, Sylvi’s back paws protrude from Crotalus’ mouth.
Did God feed the rattlesnake? Did mother cottontail deliver 10 kits so that they could be devoured by snakes, coyotes, and bobcats? From whose perspective should we address such questions? God’s, whom we worship as Creator and Sustainer? The snake’s? The bunny’s? Do creatures near or at the bottom of the food chain exist to benefit others? Is ministering “to some other life” the raison d’être for prey? Were “the selfish heart of man” converted, how would he “[minister] to some other life”? Prostrate himself in front of a Bengal tiger? Or merely donate $60,000,000,000 to philanthropic causes, as have Bill and Melinda Gates?
Might predation have originated after Adam and Eve ate that verboten fruit? If predation is a marker of sinfulness, then what mechanism produced such behavior? A cause must be adequate for an effect. Swallowing a mouthful of fruit isn’t an adequate cause for mutations that produce predators. Did YHWH create the predator/prey relationship? If he didn’t, then from whence carnivores?
Others have postulated a malevolent a demigod who, ostensibly, made predators. This après-creator has done his best to ruin God’s good creation. Predation and parasitism resulted! God is a benevolent Creator; Satan, a malevolent artisan.
Scriptural support? In all 13 Old Testament accounts of Creation, the devil is not creator. Plato and later Christian Gnostics argued that an evil demiurge created the material cosmos, which included predators, but that heresy ultimately faltered.
If a satanic designer wished to disrupt God’s good creation, then why make proficient killers? That undermine his malicious intentions. Predators show signs of Intelligent Design, even beneficent forethought: (1) claws and/or talons, (2) binocular and/or telescopic eyesight, (3) night vision, (4) abundance of fast-twitch musculature, (5) dentition, (6) short gastro-intestinal tract, (7) supersensitive olfactory sense, (8) adapted cardiovascular system, (9) deceptive and protective coloration, etc. Predators are fine-tuned killing machines. Also, why was Satan so selective in the faunae he manipulated? Why not mess up all? Yet, if predators reveal Intelligent Design, then why did a loving Creator produce them?
Plain Reading of Scripture
In the Bible, God boasts about feeding predators. “Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion?” (Job 38:39, 40). The Psalmist depicts Deity as providing lions their meal: “Young lions roar for their prey, stalking the food provided by God” (Psalm 104:21, NLT). A plain reading affirms that God himself provides lions with impalas, zebras, and wildebeests to consume. Elsewhere, Scripture reiterates this theme. “Who provideth for the raven his food?” (Job 38:41). The understood answer is “YHWH.” Corvus ruficollis is both scavenger as well as predator. Jesus averred: “God feedeth them [ravens]” (Luke 12:24). Returning to God’s tête-à-tête with Job, YHWH praises the eagle, whose young lap up blood. “Doth the eagle . . . at thy command . . . make her nest on high? . . . From thence she seeketh the prey. . . . Her young ones also suck up blood” (Job 39:27-30).
Why does God claim responsibility for feeding predators?
One explanation theorizes that God avoided undermining monotheism, in view of rampant polytheism, by taking upon himself responsibility for everything—good and bad. Hence, in Exodus 4:11 YHWH claims to cause dumbness, deafness, and blindness. Elsewhere, he says he produces evil (Amos 3:6). In this instance, “evil” may refer to a military attack, resulting in God’s people having their eyes poked out, tongues severed, ears lopped off, feet and hands amputated, women raped, persons disemboweled, others skewered. Might the same dynamic be involved with those Old Testament passages in which God hypes his responsibility for providing quarry for predators?
Contra those verses in which God claims responsibility for evil, we find “new light” in the Christian Scriptures. Here the Bible absolves God and places blame on demons. In the Old Testament, “an evil spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 19:9) triggered King Saul’s mental aberration. The New Testament proposes a different etiology—demon possession, something unidentified in the Old Testament. Even so, the consistent testimony of both testaments is that God feeds carnivores.
So, we find ourselves left with one Creator. Furthermore, Scripture speaks not only of a single Creator but also of one Creation. But wait! What about Genesis 3:18? It asserts: “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth.” The text says that “it” would produce thorns and thistles. The subject is the “ground.” YHWH is not singled out as the source for the sprouting. Genesis 3:18 doesn’t support a second round of creation because, technically speaking, it’s dirt, not Deity, as the actant.
Evidence for Retrojection
What about “backward proof”—death never occurred, hence no predation, in Eden? We retroject descriptions in Isaiah chapters 11, 65, and 66 onto the newly-minted Planet Earth. Problems bedevil such a practice!
First, the tenses are wrong. The wolf and lamb will (not did) gambol together, while the ox and young lion will (not did) live peacefully together (11:6, 7; 65:25). Lions will (not did) dine on straw (11:25; 65:25). Indeed, “they” will (not did) hurt (Hebrew: “be bad”) or destroy (Hebrew: “annihilate,” “exterminate;” 65:25 cf. 11:9).
Second, such a conclusion requires selective reading. Here’s what else will occur during this future shalom. No one will die until after his 100th birthday; anyone dying prematurely will be viewed as cursed, contemptible (65:20). The Jewish festival of the new moon will be celebrated (65:23). The blest will take tours to view corpses of mortal humans being devoured by immortal maggots (65:24).
Third, all this happens while Edom, Moab, Ammon, Assyria, Tarshish, Pul, Lud, Tubal, and Javan (11:14; 66:19) exist. Those nations aren’t included in recent world atlases. The time for these dual “new heavens” and “new earth” has expired!
Fourth, this bliss will occur on God’s “holy mountain” (11:9; 65:25). Isaiah 65:18 and 65:25 teach us that “my [God’s] holy mountain” is ancient Zion, on which was situated Jerusalem. The context gives no indication that this shalom will prevail across Planet Earth. It will bless a limited area of some 37 acres.
We should take the biblical data at face value. Projection of the small zone of shalom onto the Garden of Eden distorts the original meaning of God’s Word. Isaiah says nothing about docile predators inhabiting the Garden of Eden.
Fifth, there’s a problem with the assumption of no predation in the Garden of Eden. For the sake of argument, let’s retroject Isaiah’s prophecy to the alleged utopia of Genesis 2 and 3.
On the one hand, if the Isaianic data is retrojected onto the first paradise, then maggots in Eden were immortal, whereas humans were mortal. Mankind’s longevity depended upon ongoing access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22). Did Edenic maggots had an advantage over Homo sapiens?
On the other hand, if there were no death of faunae, then with reproductive rates being what they are, it wouldn’t take long for rabbits, lemmings, and other creatures to infest the planet. Just as the death of flowers is a prerequisite for fruit, might predation be a precondition for a habitable Paradise?
Might painless death be a better way for an overpopulation of faunae to be reduced? But is pain the problem? Maybe the real issue is suffering. Midazolam (a.k.a. Versed) kept me from suffering during colonoscopies, despite the pain accompanying the procedure. Might predation, though painful, not result in the suffering of prey?
But didn’t God declare his work of creating to be “good”? Yes, but he didn’t call it “perfect” (Genesis 1). The connotation of the Hebrew terminology not only means good in the moral sense but also good in the practical sense. Good, as used in Genesis 1 and 2, likely connotes “beneficial,” “usable,” or “practical benefit.” Just as Eve perceived the taboo fruit as “good for food,” perhaps faunae were likewise good for food—at least for predators!
Two choices remain: (1) God is responsible for predation or (2) God is not responsible for predation.
Isn’t there a third option? Might claws, dentition, GI tract, etc. of predators have resulted from genetic mutation? Not so fast! Who created genes—with the built-in potential for mutation and manipulation? If God didn’t create genes with their innate ability to mutate, then how could the biota multiply? For centuries genetic mutation has occurred—sometimes beneficial, sometimes not. Genetic engineering has produced Interferon, used to kill cancer cells, human growth hormone, used to counter dwarfism, and the list could go on and on.
It seems we’re back to only two options: Either (1) YHWH made predators or (2) he didn’t make them.
When forced to choose, perhaps opting for divine creation of predators is better. However, Genesis 1:29, 30 seem to rule that out. So, we’re left puzzled when it comes to the origin of carnivores! Maybe it’s an issue without a good solution.
- Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, page 20. ↑
- Https://www.cbsnews.com/news/bill-and-melinda-gates-the-60-billion-donation. ↑
- Genesis 1; 2; Job 26:7-13; 38:1-11; Psalm 74:12-17; 89:11-13; 90:2; 104; 148; Proverbs 8:22-31; Jeremiah 10:12; Amos 4:13; and Zechariah 12:1. ↑
- Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demiurge; http://www.sullivan-county.com/id2/gnostic_files/demiurge.htm; http://gnosis.org/gnintro.htm. ↑
- Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. ↑
- In the King James Version, there are only four Old Testament passages—Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; and Psalm 106:37—that mention “devils,” which are in context false deities. ↑
- VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, vol. 3, pp. 926, 927; R. Liard Harris, et. al., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, pp. 800, 801. ↑
- This identification is also confirmed by 2 Kings 19:31; Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 10:12; 24:23; 56:7; Ezekiel 20:40; cf. Zephaniah 3:11. ↑
- Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount#Location_and_dimensions. ↑
- VanGemeren, vol. 2, pp. 353, 354. ↑
- William L. Holladay, Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 122. ↑
- R. Laird Harris, et. al., vol. 1, p. 345. ↑
- Https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-microbiology/chapter/genetic-engineering-products. ↑
- A plain reading of Genesis 1:29, 30 seems to indicate that all faunae, including human beings, were herbivores. What florae was specifically identified—if such in Genesis 1:29, 30—is disputed among linguists. On the one hand, the diet of the humans (verse 29) was apparently distinctive from that other the other faunae (verse 30). Humans were to eat grain and fruit (Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, p. 162) or possibly more specifically agricultural produce as in 3:18 (VanGemeren, vol. 3, p. 546). Genesis 2:16 specifies fruit trees as the human dietary regimen. On the other hand, (1) terrestrial life, (2) winged life in the two (the Hebrew noun is dual) skies, and (3) creepy, crawly life were to subsist on green plants that would be “growing during the rainy season, not perennials” (Holladay, p. 284). Even whether or not we should deduce from the text a general vegetarian diet for all faunae is debated. F. Derek Kidner understands the emphasis of Genesis 1:29, 30 to be “a generalization, that directly or indirectly, all life depends on vegetation, and the concern . . . is . . . that all are fed from God’s hand” (Genesis, p. 52; cited in Laird Harris, vol II, p. 701). In this case, word studies don’t appear to provide much help for exegetes and especially for us in this present discussion. ↑
Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association, and writes from Green Valley, Arizona.