Good question...

...does the savagery of predation in nature show that God either isn't, or at least isn't good-hearted?
[original piece: July 6, 1999  updated: July 18/1999]

There are several works that I will cite below, that are NOT in my personal library. Below are the ones that I will refer to by abbreviation:

[X01:FPvol8] Fish Physiology, volume VIII: Bioenergetics and Growth. W.S. Hoar, D. J. Randall, and J.R. Brett (eds.). Academic Press:1979.
[X01:FPvol5] Fish Physiology, volume V: Sensory Systems and Organs. W.S. Hoar and D. J. Randal (eds). Academic:1971.
[X01:FPvol6] Fish Physiology, volume VI: Environmental Relations and Behavior. W.S. Hoar and D. J. Randal (eds). Academic:1971.
[X01:FPvol4] Fish Physiology, volume IV: The Nervous System, Circulation, and Respiration. W.S. Hoar and D. J. Randal (eds). Academic:1970.
[X01:TP] The Predators. Irene E. Cohen, Putnum:1978.
[X01:AP] Animal Parasites. Jean G. Baer, McGraw-Hill:1971.
[X01:BP] The Biology of Populations. Robert MacArthur and Joseph Connell. John Wiley:1960.
[X01:PF] The Physiology of Fishes. David H. Evans (ed.). CRC Press:1003.
[X01:HBB] Hormones, Brain, and Behavior (Biology of the Reptilia). Carl Gans and David Crews (eds). UChicagoPress:1992.
[X01:BRvol8] Biology of the Reptilia, volume 8: Physiology B. Carl Gans (ed). Academic Press:1978.
[X01:BF] The Biology of Fishes. Q. Bone, N.B. Marshall, and J.H.S. Baxter. Chapman&Hall:1995.
[X01:BFCB] The Biology of Fishes. Carl E. Bond. SaundersCollege:1996 (2nd ed).
[X01:CBF] The Chemical Biology of Fishes, volume 2: Advances 1968-1977. R. Malcolm Love. Academic Press:1980.
[X01:EBF] Environmental Biology of Fishes. Malcolm Jobling. Chapman&Hall:1995]
[X01:PAI] Plant-Animal Interactions. Warren G. Abrahamson (ed). McGraw-Hill:1989]
[X01:WBFAR] Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare--an Ecologist's Perspective. Paul Colinvaux. Princeton:1978.
[X01:SLS] The Ecology of the Seas, D.H. Cushing and J.J. Walsh (eds.), W.B. Saunders:1976.
[X01:SME] The Structure of Marine Ecosystems, John H. Steele, Harvard:1974.
[X01:ME] Marine Ecology. Otto Kinne (ed.). Wiley-Interscience:1978.
[X01:MON] The Machinery of Nature. Paul R. Ehrich. Simon and Schuster:1988.
[X01:CDDAW] Carrion and Dung: the decomposition of animal wastes (The Institute of Biology's Studies in Biology no. 156). Roderick J. Putnam. Edward Arnold:1983.
[X01:IK] Innocent Killers. Hugo and Jane van Lawick-Goodall. Houghton-Mifflin:1971.


Okay, let's dive in...

Question One: To what extent is the existing predatory situation created by God, and to what extent does God 'endorse' it now? (In other words, has it always been like this, or to what extent is this the result of the Fall or of the Flood?)

Let's try to look at some passages related to predation and to some texts dealing (even obliquely) with God's attitude toward animals:

Genesis 1 shows rather clearly that God really likes biodiversity! The seas are to 'teem' with life, and the scope of creation covers vegetation, marine life, birds, and land animals. They are directed to populate and fill the earth, and clearly were ordered with ecological communities in mind.

Genesis 2-3 show that humanity and animals existed in apparent cooperation and harmony at some point in the past, and that animals were in the Garden. Humanity and the animals were apparently herbivorous at the time (but not necessarily exclusively so--they might have eaten insects or even occasional meat, but the bible seems to indicate that they were mainly plant-eating at the time (1.29-30)), with animals allowed all photosynthetic plants, and humanity allowed all seed-bearing plants. Some forms of parasitism would have been possible, since many herbivorous animals require bacterial parasites to break cellulose down today, and this situation might have existed back then as well. The Garden still needed horticulture, since Adam is placed there (from outside the Garden, 2.8) to 'till it'.

Genesis 3 indicates that some plant life was either 'changed' or newly created as part of the judgment on Adam. This included:

1. "Thorns and thistles" were said to be future productions of the soil (3.18a). This would imply anti-predatory adaptations (against humanity, in this case!), which would also affect other herbivores, of course.

2. "you will eat the plants of the field" (3.18b) states the reversal of the allowance of 2.16, and implies botanical modifications yielding "secondary metabolites" (i.e., poisons!) to force humans to eat "the plants of the field". This would likely also affect large groups of herbivores as well.

3. These two dynamics alone would have massively affected eco-balances, since it might have introduced competition between herbivores for the smaller set of edible plants (or, alternatively, God might have modified at this time the food processing capabilities of animals--but not humanity--to allow less overlapping of consumption bases.)

Genesis 3-4 indicates that animal death was at least "allowable" to God, since He would have killed some animal to produce the "skins" for Adam and Eve (3.21). And in Genesis 4, animal death ("fat portions" of an animal sacrifice) of domesticated livestock was apparently accepted by God.

Genesis 6 indicates that the Flood was judgment on humanity, but the consequences of the judgment affected all land animals at the time.

Genesis 7 indicates that God was still interested in bio-diversity, and took extraordinary steps to preserve animal life (later repeating the order to propagate).

Genesis 8 indicates the God was mindful of the animals ("God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark").

Genesis 9 marks a major transition in ecological dynamics:

1. it indicates that disruption in the harmonious relationship between humanity and animals arose only after the flood;

2. that man became a carnivore (or substantially more so) at this time.

3. It is also clear that animals were predatory on humanity from this point on (cf. Gen 37.20 et. al).

4. Also, the animals were 'changed' at this time-- they were given at least "avoidance" adaptations ("fear" of humans) and "attack" adaptations (i.e., they were now able to kill humans). If the attack adaptation included a desire to kill humans for energy consumption, then this would likely include a generalized appetite for highly concentrated energy (i.e., meat). And, if the avoidance adaptation included additional mobility enhancements (i.e., speed), then caloric intake requirements would have increased as well, requiring highly concentrated energy sources also.

5. Also, there might also have been modifications for enhanced reproduction (i.e., "breed abundantly"), given the new world of predation, requiring yet more caloric intake.

6. The ecological resource base would probably have changed as well. Depending on how you understand the Flood geo-dynamics, one understanding is that the surface of the earth was much greater at the time, with much of today's ocean water content being below that surface (Gen 7.11: "all the fountains of the great deep"). If this is the case, then the ecological resource base would have greatly constricted, creating biological competition previously unknown to the animal and plant kingdoms. Again, adaptations could have been triggered by God to balance out the odds for the various ecological community member groups, to insure the surviving (and even thriving) of biodiversity at adequate levels to support stable plant and animal populations.

7. Similarly, if part of the flood waters came in the form of torrential rain, then the earth would have been enveloped in a "thermal blanket" before the Flood. This would have generated a greenhouse environment even in areas close to the Polar areas. (This can be easily verified by a study of the mammoths of Siberia. The specimens of those that are preserved were quick-frozen in the act of eating, as would likely have occurred if the thermal blanket had been suddenly punctured. The stomach contents of these mammals contained food elements such as herbs, grasses, and mosses, some of which only grow in temperate areas. [NS:IMM:98-100]). After the destruction of the thermal canopy, much of the land mass of the world would have become less hospitable to life, and the winter seasons would have become more bio-problematic as well. Since predation occurs at higher frequency during the winter months and at colder climes, this factor may also have stimulated the need for predation (to preserve biodiversity and community balance).

Exodus 8 shows that God used insects in His plan of judgment (to free Israel from bondage), and Lev 26.22 indicates the same for large carnivores (cf. Also Ezek 33.27).

Animals chosen for sacrifice were killed swiftly, either by cutting the neck (standard commercial practice of the day ), by breaking the next in the case of larger animals (Exodus 13.13; Deut 21.4), or wringing the neck in the case of birds (Lev 1.15).

Exodus 19 has capital punishment on both animals and humans, but by the exact same means (ie., stoning or arrows)

Exodus 20 (and 23.12) has the sabbath rest commanded to apply to animals as well as humans, so that they could "rest" (they got a day off, too!)

Exodus 22.31 tells the Israelites to give the carcasses of dead animals to their dogs for food.

Exodus 23.10 specifically mentions beneficence to animals as part of the Sabbath year ("For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. ")

Deut 25.4 (quoted in the NT by Paul!) allowed a threshing animal to partake of the benefits of their labor, an explicit act of kindness.

1 Kings 18.5 seems to indicate that Israel practiced some kind of euthanasia for animals. ("Ahab had said to Obadiah, "Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.")

Job, in Job 12.10, asserts that God has control over the disposition of all living things: "In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind."

Ps 50.10 says that all animals belong to God.

Prov 12.10 instructs us to be kind, not cruel, to our animals ("A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. ")

Humans and animals are constantly associated ecologically, and when God judged Israel with a famine (Jer 12.4) or a plague (Jer 21.6), those animals/plants which were part of the ecological community were affected as well.

God uses images from predation to portray violent judgment on Israel (Hos 13.8).

One of the reasons God would judge Babylon was her large-scale destruction of animals in the forests of Lebanon (Hab 2.17)

Some lions go hungry! (Ps 34.10)

Ps 104:21ff asserts that the entire food chain is somehow regulated by God in such a way as to allow all things to eat "at the proper time" and with "good things":

You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.

How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number- living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit, they are created,

and you renew the face of the earth.
Psalm 145.9ff assert that this provision is an act of God's compassion and that it fulfills the desires/needs of all living creatures: The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
In Isaiah 11.6-9, the Messianic kingdom will include peace between the wild animals and domesticated animals: "Isaiah described the righteous kingdom which the Messiah will set up. The curse will be lifted, peace and harmony will be present, and wild animals will again be tame and harmless to domesticated animals and humans. The wolf... leopard... lion, and bear are mentioned as examples of wild animals that will dwell safely with farm animals (the lamb... goat... calf.... cow, and ox). A little child will be safe with lions, bears, cobras, and vipers (cf. 65:25) [The Bible Knowledge Commentary, in. loc.] In Isaiah 65.17ff, God promises that at some time in the future the natural world will return to cooperation, and that at least some carnivores will become herbivores: "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain," says the Lord." (This doesn't necessitate anatomical changes, by the way, because lions are known to eat grasses and fruits already [NS:TC:206])

Also in Isaiah 65, we know that one of the blessings of the Messianic kingdom (at least in one temporal manifestation of it) will be greatly increased life spans (perhaps reverting to the pre-Flood situation).

So, let's try to summarize this data into some brief overview:

1. The original creation, by the end of Genesis 1, was robust, lush, and filled with bio-diversity and mechanisms to perpetuate that world.

2. All indications are that the larger animals were (primarily) herbivorous, but we don't know about smaller animals like birds, insects, and fishes.

3. The Fall injected disturbance into this eco-balance, producing plant variations that made herbivory more costly.

4. After the Fall, deaths of animals are recorded for utility (skins), religious rites (sacrifice), and as a consequence of judgment on humanity (massive population reduction and specie reduction at the Flood).

5. After the Flood, major changes in ecosystem dynamics occur, with wide-sweeping biological changes to the animal world (and probably plants). Most "painful predation" would likely have arisen at this point in world history, already several steps removed from God's first-choice plan! And yet, even in this abnormal situation, He created adaptations (e.g., "flight" and "fight") that gave the animals (and plants) means to achieve and maintain their place in the ecological community. Many of the defensive mechanisms observable today could conceptually have been generated for this reason.

6. Somewhere in the Messianic Future, the ecosystem will return to the basic original blueprint of peaceful harmony and generalized herbivory (or a comparable plan).

7. Between the Fall/Flood and the Future/Fulfillment, animals are to be treated kindly, and God even puts special clauses in the Mosaic law for their welfare. They are still seen as 'lower than' human (Matt 10.31-- and thus can be used for food, resources, and companionship), but are still the object of God's providential oversight and humanity's stewardship.

8. But, as part of the ecosystem with humans, they often suffer from the consequences of our mistakes along with us.

9. The entire food chain and diversity of community relationships--in spite of the conflicts/variations that were created at the Fall and Flood--are somehow 'regulated' by God in such a way as to be "good" to all the creatures. He feeds the predators, both great (e.g. lions) and small (birds, Mt 6.26), and yet their end-of-life scenarios are somehow overseen in such a way that their life could be called overall a "good life" (cf. Matt 10.29).


Theologically, we might note three other points:

1. The most common biblical understanding of evil is that it is parasitic on the good. In other words, you can have good without evil, but not evil without good. In the creative act/process of God, the original eco-creation would have been good (characterized by non-antagonistic interdependencies within the natural world), but a fallen world would have a mix of "positive" dependencies (e.g., mutualism and many forms of parasitism) and "negative" dependencies (e.g., painful predation). But the mix, under a biblical view of God, would always entail that the positive elements were more dominant than the negative elements. Thus, "painful predation" would have to somehow be a "less than 50%" aspect of the experience of natural creatures, and the ecosystem would have to still function adequately to support a "good life" (by various standards).

2. The biblical data on natural history is sparse, to say the least. The data I have cited above from the early sections of the bible were not written with a view to taxonomic precision! The text uses large group nouns, and general terms for many aspects of this, so we need to be a little careful in how far we push the details. One major element not mentioned in the texts, but considered by some to be an important factor in this issue, is the presence and action of malignant intelligences on this process (e.g., anti-good angels). C.S. Lewis, for example, in the chapter on animal suffering in his Problem of Pain, speculates that Satan twisted the natural order before the Fall. There is not much we can do with this idea, in our context here, since we have so little data about demonic-natural interactions of this type. The incidences of apparent interaction would include demonic possession of swine (NT), the imitation/duplication by the Egyptian sorcerers of the initial biological miracles of the Exodus, the temporary enhancement made to the mind of Balaam's donkey (Num 22, but again, we are unclear of exactly how that event was accomplished), and the miraculous healing by the Beast in Revelation, but these are not enough data upon which to speculate on "demonically directed mutations." However, given the extreme plasticity of much of life's building blocks [NS:BTEF:129] and developmental range available during biological maturation (e.g., some fish teeth do not develop at all, depending on diet [X01:FPvol8:96]), we should at least be mindful of this possibility. (The "physics" of such interactions is way beyond us, of course, but so is a Grand Unified Theory...chuckle, chuckle.)

3. We are not exactly sure where death 'fits' in the pre-Fall scenario. Although many believe that death (even animal death or insect death) was a result of the Fall, it is not a certain as some might believe. The theological texts about this seem to refer this to humanity (and not to animals per se), and even there it could be focusing more (but not necessarily exclusively) on the spiritual aspects of human death (as opposed to the bodily form). For examples, C.S. Lewis (above) believed that animal death preceded the Fall (but ascribed it to evil) and more recently, Hugh Ross has argued that pre-Fall death was not 'evil' [Creation and Time:62-63]:

"Some people think that the death of plants and animals before Adam's sin ascribes evil to the Creator. I have met men and women who deny that a God of love could be responsible for carnivorous behavior. They believe that carnivorous activity must be the result of sin and not of God's design...Biologists, physicists, and engineers with whom I have discussed this concern offer this perspective: An organism's place in the food chain determines its capacity for efficient work. The differences in daily activity between creatures that consume low-calorie leaves and those that consume high-calorie seeds, and between those that consume seeds and those that consume animals are dramatic. Elephants, for example, are vegetarians and, even though they are large (thus experiencing less loss of heat), must spend more than half their waking hours harvesting and eating, and they cannot do any hopping or jumping. The destruction they wreak on their environment in attempting to devour sufficient calories results in the death of many plants and smaller animals, arguably more death than is caused by large carnivores...Considering how creatures convert chemical energy into kinetic energy, we can say that carnivorous activity results from the laws of thermodynamics, not from sin. Large, active, agile land animals either must spend virtually all their waking hours grazing, drinking, or digesting or they must consume meat. And I don't think we should hastily label the thermodynamic laws as evil. Without them, life in this universe would be impossible."
Without trying to decide this issue here, let me simply point out that Dr. Ross' argument only actually applies to consumption of meat, not to the killing of it. In other words, all carnivores could have been scavengers and only eaten meat dead of 'natural causes'--predation itself is not required to solve the 'energy problem' for active creatures.


We would have to conclude that a very basic (low-carnivory, low dietary restrictions, "CNS non-violent") food-chain was created by God, but that the eco-dynamics of the system were substantially modified at/after the Fall and the Flood. Nevertheless, the modifications allowed to be introduced were calculated, designed, and are regulated in order to preserve bio-diversity and life on the earth, and still achieve overall "more good than bad" in the system. Thus the predator-prey relationships (broadly considered) that we see today will have more elements that are "positive" (e.g., defensive modifications, poisons that eliminate feeling/pain as they kill, underdeveloped nervous systems of the largest number of prey) than elements that are "negative" (e.g., violent death involving actual suffering for long periods of time in higher mammals). We are also told that God is only 'tolerating' and 'regulating' this situation at the present, and that His purpose in history of rich bio-diversity, in community balance, in loving affirmation, and in the harmony of peace and companionship will eventually be achieved. And then the "lion will lay down with the lamb."

[Back to the Table of Contents for Predation]

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