Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Lord God Made Them All

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.
Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom,
He made their horrid wings.
All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.
Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid,
Who made the spikey urchin,
Who made the sharks, He did.
All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.

-From a comment left here by Bing by way of Monty Python.

Can we find "design" in the fact that every animal lives upon some other, that every drop of every sea is a battlefield where the strong devour the weak?
Over the precipice of cruelty rolls a perpetual Niagara of blood. Is there "design" in this?-Robert G. Ingersoll

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. —Isaiah 11:6–7

Biologists teach us that the bodies of predators are optimized for predation: teeth that tear into muscle or crunch bone rather than grinding vegetation into paste, jaws that unhinge to accommodate large, infrequent prey, claws that cling, muscles that spring, padded feet for silent stalking, digestive systems that separate meat and blood from useless bits of fur and bone, poisons that can paralyze, kill, or even dissolve the innards of a hapless victim. The words of the prophet about lions and lambs are beautiful to me, as beautiful as the notion of beating swords into plowshares (Isa. 2:4). But a lion that eats straw isn’t a lion.

So, what does the natural world tell us about its designer? By all appearances, on this planet, predation (and, by implication, death) is an integral part of the whole. It maintains the balance of nature. Pain, also necessary, has a different function. It works in the service of survival, and it does that job beautifully. But here is what these remarkable systems don’t do. They don’t systematically or predictably comply with the attributes for which we pay tribute to God: mercy, peace, compassion, tenderness, kindness, fairness, and love. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not that the natural world lacks these attributes. They too appear in nature. The problem is not that they are absent but that they are not the underlying principles guiding the system.
To view the natural order as primarily peaceful and benign means either you are viewing through a distorted lens or you need a magnifying glass. Who gets injured, who gets eaten, who starves in the winter, whose offspring flourish, whose don’t, all of these are decided by nature in ways that are indifferent to morality and goodness as we humans normally define them. Our values and the values we like to attribute to God are, for the most part, irrelevant. So is our wishful thinking about lions and lambs. If God is the God of nature, then he is the God of all nature. We can’t look at it selectively, pick the parts that give us a sense of awe or delight or mystery, and then say that those reflect the nature of God, while ignoring the parts that inspire fear, sorrow, or revulsion.

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