The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease . . . . The universe, we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference (River Out of Eden, pp. 131-32 cited by Loftus, p. 239).Man's moral sensibilities related to animal suffering seem to have evolved as well. Whereas in the past, there seemed to be little concern because animals were thought to be soul-less creatures who could not really feel pain and emotion; modern understanding of animal neurology indicates that they have many of the same feelings that we humans have. For those of us who have pets and love animals, we cannot stand the thought of our beloved animal friends suffering. Yet, if there is a God, he created the world in such a way that animals must prey on one another to survive. Is that demonstrative of an all-loving, perfectly good God? Loftus doesn't think so and he evaluates eight different answers that Christians have offered to explain this problem.
1. Animal suffering is due to the fall of Adam.
There are two variations:
a.The first way is the traditional solution that a historical fall in the Garden subsequently caused human and animal suffering from that time forward. (p. 243)
This is the classic Christian answer to the problem. It is held today by many conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. It is falling more and more out of favor because it is dependent upon a literal reading of Genesis 1-3 and therefore an earth created in six 24 hour days less than 10,000 years ago.
b. The second way is that God retroactively created these painful effects into creation from the very start, antecedently, because he foreknew a later fall would occur (p. 243).
This view is held by those who believe in theistic evolution and recognize that animal suffering had been going on for millions of years before man appeared on the scene. Some of the proponents of this position include: Michael Murray, A. H. Strong, and William Dembski.
The problem with both of these variations is why should animals be punished for what man did? It seems grossly unfair and unkind to subject them to such terrible suffering for something that was totally beyond their control.
2. Animal suffering is due to the evil influence of demons and Satan.
This view was held by no less than C. S. Lewis. He wrote:
some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least, the planet Earth, before ever man came on the scene . . . If there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared . . . The Satanic corruption of the beasts would therefore be analogous, in one respect, to the Satanic corruption of man (The Problem of Pain, p. 135 cited by Loftus, p. 250).Other notables holding this view or one very similar to it are Richard Swinburne and Greg Boyd.
The problem with this view is well expressed by Richard Kingston:
If God entrusted to fallible angelic beings such absolute control over creation that it was within their power to "brutalize" the animal kingdom for all time, then he cannot be exonerated from all culpability for what allegedly happened. Must we not go further and say that such action would indicate either incompetence or the fact that the sufferings of the lower creatures are unimportant in eyes of the Creator? (Animals and Christianity, p. 74 cited by Loftus, p. 251).So, this view really does not answer the problem of how an omnipotent and perfectly good being could allow Satan and the demons to "brutalize" his creation. Either, as Kingston says, God doesn't care about the suffering of the animals (in which case he has less virtue than man does) or he couldn't stop Satan from corrupting his creation (in which case he is not all-powerful). The only other alternative is to say that God must have a good reason for doing this, although we don't know what it is--but that is answer #8 (see below).
3. Animals really do NOT suffer.
A third option is to say that animals have no souls, cannot think, and therefore, feel little or no pain (p. 252). This position was put forth by the philosopher Rene Descartes. He saw animals as little more than machines. Those who followed his teaching
administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference, and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they felt pain. They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but that the whole body was without feeling (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, pp. 201-02 cited by Loftus, p. 253).While I am not aware of any theologian or philosopher today (and Loftus doesn't mention one) that would argue that animals cannot feel pain, the general notion seems to be prevalent in the way that many moderns treat animals (both in hunting, trapping, and slaughterhouses).
Science has conclusively shown that animals do in fact feel pain and experience the emotions of fear and anxiety as well. An omniscient God would have known this when he created the animal kingdom so the only conclusion one can draw is that he simply doesn't care about their suffering. Maybe, if there is a Creator, his attitude is the same as ours when we step on an ant or a spider? That brings us to explanation #4.
4. and 5. God is indifferent to animal suffering.
(While Loftus has two different views under 4 and 5, I see them as essentially the same.)
This view holds that God is using animals as a means to an end. They only have instrumental value and no intrinsic value (p. 257). This view grows out of the idea that only man is created in the "image of God" and animals are present on the planet in order to meet man's needs.
The problem with this view is that it is repugnant to man's moral sensibilities. It would make God no different from those, like Michael Vick, who run dog-fighting rings. If what Vick did was morally disgusting, then what the Creator has done on a much larger scale is even more disgusting.
6. God will reward those animals who suffer by resurrecting them to eternal bliss.
This view has been put forward by Irenaeus, Athanasius, C.S. Lewis, Jurgen Moltmann and Keith Ward among others.
While this view seems somewhat absurd to many people, it doesn't answer the problem anyway. Just because someone is rewarded in the future for the suffering he endures in the present does not excuse the one who is responsible for the suffering. The suffering is still a wrong no matter how much reward is later given.
7. Animal suffering is a necessary consequence of the way God created the world.
This view basically holds that while there may have been some other way for God to create the world, we don't know how that would be, so it could be that this is the only way that the world could be created in order to accomplish the evolution of man and bring about God's desire to have creatures that could fellowship with him. This position is advocated by Michael Murray and Dinesh D'Souza. Murray writes:
In order to have organisms which, like us, are capable of intellectual reflection, deliberation, agency, morally significant action, etc. there must first be less-complex organisms which have only primitive capabilities such as the ability to experience pleasure and pain, or sentience (Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, p. 284 cited by Loftus, p. 260).First, the biblical literalists would certainly disagree with Murray as they believe God created all things in six days. Second, if finite man can imagine other ways that God could have created in order to eliminate the pain and suffering of the animal world, why couldn't an omniscient being? We could imagine all animals being created as herbivores. Surely, an omnipotent being could accomplish that. We could even imagine God creating animals and humans without the need to eat at all. To say that this is the only way that God could have created is a cop-out and actually undermines the omnipotence of God.
8. Animal suffering is a mystery but God must have a good reason.
This is always the answer of last resort for the Christian with no answer. When everything else fails, they will say: God must have a reason and we must trust him because we know he is all-good and all-loving . Stewart Goetz takes this tact:
It is reasonable for the theist to be a defender and answer these questions with "I do not know," because the matter is one that lies outside our cognitive purview. One thing that is important to understand is why it is beyond our ken. The explanation for this ignorance has to do with our lack of knowledge of both a beast's nature and the purpose for which a beast exists ("The Argument from Evil," in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, p. 492 cited by Loftus, p. 264).C. S. Lewis also argues this way: From the doctrine that God is good we may confidently deduce that the appearance of reckless divine cruelty in the animal kingdom is an illusion (The Problem of Pain, p. 130 cited by Loftus, p. 264).
First, this answer is no answer at all. It says we don't know and thus we don't have an answer.
Second, it says that God must have a good reason because we know that he is good. But how do we know that he is good? From the Bible? In the Bible, we have God ordering genocides in which infants are killed, demanding multitudes of animal sacrifices, killing all living things in a global flood and to top it off, sending a very large number of human beings to eternal torment. What can we discern from nature? We see animals killing each other, hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters killing and maiming millions of people, and horrible diseases such as childhood cancers and birth-defects. None of these "natural evils" can be attributed to the "free-will" of man. They are simply the way God created the planet (unless you hold to a literal six day creation). Thus, I would say that based on the evidence from the Bible and from nature, God is not good. Yes, he is good to "his people," but not to the rest of his creation.
This chapter in The Christian Delusion is my personal favorite. I think that people are more sensitive to unnecessary animal suffering today than they have ever been. If God created the world the way it presently is, there is no way to hold that he is a good God.