Christianity is not true because a benevolent God would not design vicious parasites.

There are varying examples that people use, but this argument is a common one.  Christians point to numerous examples of fine-tuning as evidence for intelligent design.  The strength of gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the exact distance of the Earth from the sun, even the length of the Earth’s day and year, are all evidences we can use to show how the universe points to an intelligent designer.

And yet, it cannot be that designer, skeptics say, even if intelligent design were true.  For the Judeo-Christian God, being benevolent, gracious, and loving, would not design cruel monsters in nature.  Like the guinea worm that starts out microscopic in size, until it’s sucked so much life from its host that it has grown to two to three feet in size, and then burrows its way out of the skin through the blister.  Or the angler fish who lures fish to their unwitting demise by a pleasant shining light in the dark depths of the sea.  Or bottle-nosed dolphins who have been documented essentially beating porpoises to death just for the heck of it.  Who said humans were the only mammal psychopaths?

So then, the question is, why would a benevolent and loving God intentionally design parasites that borrow their way out of your skin and psychotic serial killer dolphins?  Charles Darwin himself found a difficulty here, and wrote in a letter, “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent god would have designed parasitic wasps with the express intention of feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.”

The answer to this is simple: he didn’t.

That is, parasites were not part of God’s specific, benevolent, gracious universe.  Neither, for that matter, were carnivores (even humans weren’t carnivorous in the Garden of Eden).  But as with the problem of evil, it is our fallen world that brought about the natural evil that exists in the world.

Here’s a good synopsis of the Christian argument as to why the problem of evil is in fact an argument in favor of Christianity:

Premise 1: God created a good universe.
Premise 2: God is benevolent
Premise 3: Man’s sin corrupted God’s good universe.
Conclusion: Therefore, God’s good universe is corrupted.

This is obviously the case with moral evil.  But it’s the case with natural evil as well, and cruelty in nature is just a subset of issues with the realm of natural evil.  When God listed the curses as a result of sin in Genesis 3, it wasn’t limited to the sin that man will choose of his own free will to do.  In fact, those sins aren’t mentioned at all, except perhaps by implication.  Instead the emphasis of God is on natural evil:

“And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” – Genesis 3:17-18

God’s perfect design, down to the very nature of gardening, was corrupted by the introduction of sin into the world.   Romans 5:12 speaks to this as well: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  That the world is in a corrupted state, full of both moral evil and natural evil, has been a tenet of Christianity long before microbiology was a thing, we’d seen the horrors of the angler fish, or knew that dolphins were murderous monsters.  In fact, given what we read in Scripture, cruelty in nature of this sort is exactly what we would expect to find.

So then, does that make void the positive proofs we’ve assembled for the fine-tuning of the universe?  Are we trying to have it both ways by claiming that both positive implications for God’s design and more uncomfortable ones align with our worldview?

In a word, no.  Such a claim fails to take into account the entire, comprehensive worldview of Christianity.  Let’s return to the aforementioned argument:

Premise 1: God created a good universe.
Premise 2: God is benevolent
Premise 3: Man’s sin corrupted God’s good universe.
Conclusion: Therefore, God’s good universe is corrupted.

God’s good world is corrupted, but Scripture would nowhere indicate that such corruption would all of a sudden make the universe unfit for life.  Therefore, the elements of fine-tuning that we’ve discussed are still present, because the framework of a good universe is still intact.  What isn’t still intact is God’s uninhibited presence within the world.  He can no longer dwell with us because He cannot abide with evil.  So the elements that continue to spin within it: humankind’s morality, the cruelty or graciousness of animal life, and other terrors of the natural world, are not bound impeccably to the original plans of God.  It is in that sense that the world is corrupted.

All that I’ve said is ultimately to say this: that a universe finely-tuned for life, but exhibiting corruption in the form of moral and natural evil, is exactly what Christians would expect based on our knowledge from Scripture.  And, in fact, that is exactly what we find.  And so it is that cruelty in nature, like other subsets within the problem of evil, do not provide an evidence against Christianity, but evidence for it.

7 COMMENTS

    • I’m sorry, Judy. But I can’t see how your arguments here hold any water. I have two issues (in two separate posts).
      First, the fine tuning of the universe. Your arguments are based in the Bible being the inerrant Word of God. So they are anything but non-partisan.
      If you step outside Biblical innerancy for a moment and look at your statements about the perfect universe – particularly entropy (2nd law of Thermodynamics) and the placement of the Sun relative to the Earth, you immediately see the fallacy of the arguments. (And by the way, I didn’t even get your point about the length of the Earth’s day and year – why would life necessarily be very different of they were a bit longer or shorter?)
      You argue that God placed the planets and created the Earth to provide a comfortable home and environment for us and the other creatures on the planet. But if a 14 billion year old universe is true, and a 4.5 billion year-old Earth, and evolution by natural selection, then every point you made can still hold true. It just depends on whether you believe they exist this way through coincidence or purpose.
      if the distance from the Sun was different, if our moon didn’t exist, if the axis of our planet was straight up relative to our orbit round the Sun, or if it pointed directly at the Sun, then life as we know it couldn’t have happened. In that case, we wouldn’t exist to create a God for ourselves in the first place.
      We know know that many of the nearest stars have planets orbiting them. They may have all kinds of life on them, too. But it wouldn’t likely be anything like life is here unless the conditions were similar.
      You point to these circumstances as proof of the existence of God. But they can equally well show how the particular circumstances of our planet enabled life to develop in the fashion it has.
      I’m not saying there isn’t a God, by the way. I’m saying that your argument is fallacious. The circumstances you describe do not in any way REQUIRE a God to exist in order to happen.
      To put it another way, you say they are the way they are because God did it that way to create an environment in which mankind can survive. But it’s equally valid to say we only exist because of the coincidence of that set of circumstances.

      • First and foremost, your objection to my article has an extremely obvious staw man fallacy, when you say that “the circumstances you describe do not in any way REQUIRE a God to exist.” That’s not the argument I’m making anywhere in this article. I’m making what’s known as a defensive (rather than offensive) apologetic argument. I’m arguing not that God is required to exist by cruelty in nature, but that cruelty in nature is an inadequate objection to the core tenets of Christianity. Were I to present a comprehensive positive case for God’s existence, I would choose different proofs.

        Secondly: if the distance from the Sun was different, if our moon didn’t exist, if the axis of our planet was straight up relative to our orbit round the Sun, or if it pointed directly at the Sun, then life as we know it couldn’t have happened. In that case, we wouldn’t exist to create a God for ourselves in the first place.” This actually makes my point (which wasn’t actually my main point, but that’s an aside). That is, that circumstances on Earth are particularly fit for life to exist as we know it. Concluding that with “we wouldn’t exist to create a God” is question begging. You’re starting with the conclusion that we created God, even though you offer no evidence for that. And, in fact, the particular circumstances of life on Earth are so particular that it does make design a valid option, and I would say a more probable one than mere chance.

        Finally, you say my argument is fallacious but you have yet to (in this comment at least) respond to my actual argument: that cruelty in nature is an inadequate objection to Christianity.

        • Hi, Judy – I don’t think the post you answered here was a ‘straw man’ argument. I made it clear at the start of the post that I would be addressing two issues I had with your article, in two separate posts. The post you replied to here addressed the first issue. I don’t yet see a reply to the second post.
          You started off writing about fine-tuning of the universe as being evidence of an intelligent designer. It was those remarks I was addressing in my initial post and it was those arguments I was calling fallacious.
          And I didn’t mean to imply that we, human beings, created God, the Divine, itself (we may have done or we may not, I have no idea how one would go about proving that one way or the other).
          I was merely saying that the common Christian INTERPRETATION of the Divine is a human creation. I don’t know about your own personal beliefs, but most Christians appear to view God as a stern father-type figure who punishes or rewards depending on our actions. And a God that intervenes in human affairs.
          With any religion or sect, the specifics and commandments of their particular interpretation of God are peculiar to them. And, for most, their particular interpretation is believed to be the only true God. All other interpretations are considered at best mistaken and at worst punishable by torture and death.
          We will have to agree to differ on whether the finely-tuned universe implies design or pure chance.
          We exist in this particular universe, but that in no way implies the fine tuning is the result of an intelligent designer. We simply couldn’t have existed in the form and manner we do unless the universe existed the way it does. To say we are matched to this universe is self evident, because we’re here. But to believe the universe was created to match us is surely hubris.

  1. I see the comment I just posted (describing the first issue I take with your article) disappeared as soon as I posted it. Time will tell if you allow it to be added to the comment section.
    So, I’ll address my second issue regarding your article, even though it may never appear on your page.
    Today (a beautiful sunny day), after having brought in my laundry from the line, I was standing at the sink and noticed a tickling on my ankle.
    I looked down and saw a small ant crawling round my leg. I absently brushed it away and went back to the washing up.
    As I worked I thought about my indifference and my cruelty. I could easily have gone outside and gently brushed the ant onto the grass. How would he find his way back home now?
    So I looked down at the floor and saw the ant close to my foot. I stepped back, meaning to gather him up carefully and take him outside, when a small spider shot out from under the counter. It grabbed him and rushed back into hiding. My thoughtless action was costing the ant his life. He may not have our level of understanding but I’m sure he can feel fear and pain. He would now experience immense agony and terror as the spider made a meal of him.
    That got me thinking about God. You say that God gave us a good world, a perfect world. And we (represented by Adam and Eve), brought all the current pain and evil on ourselves by our (Adam and Eve’s) disobedience.
    Okay, one, don’t you think that’s a bit of an overreaction from a perfect, benevolent, loving and inerrant God. Why not limit the punishment to those that committed the sin? Why unleash it on all mankind?
    But, be that as it may, God didn’t just punish us for Adam’s original sin. He also decided, in his infinite wisdom and understanding, to make every living creature that could ever exist suffer even worse, much worse, than we suffer ourselves.
    I sort of understand the Christian position of original sin, when applied to mankind. But you go further. You believe the Bible says all animals, all creatures, lived together in harmony before Adam’s sin and the fall that followed.
    That is, that the suffering of that poor, innocent ant I just mentioned, far worse suffering than most humans can even contemplate, was visited on him by God for Adam’s sin, too.
    That is simply horrendous! It posits a God with no compassion at all, no love, no caring – a God that lashes out at both innocent and guilty indiscriminately.
    As I read through your explanation, I see it describing a compassionless God, a cruel and vicious and heartless God – far worse, far more evil, than we give him credit for.
    Thankfully, I don’t believe in such a God. And I don’t believe in Biblical innerancy, either.

    • Your objection is essentially, if I understand it correctly, that God punished all of creation instead of just Adam and Eve.

      This is not, however, what we read in the Genesis account. When God lists his punishments, he doesn’t list all of creation, but Adam, Eve, and the serpent. What happens then is that God withdraws from the world. So the protections that would have been extended are removed because God cannot dwell with sin.

      Now, let’s consider an example. Let’s say I have a son (which I do) who’s old enough to ride a bike (he isn’t). When I start him on a bike without training wheels, I may hold the bike for a while, protecting him from falling. Once I let go, and he tries to ride on his own, he may fall and get hurt. Would you then say, “You terrible father, why did you hurt your son?!” No, you wouldn’t. Now, the purposefulness here is obviously different than the case we’re considering, but the point is this: how we assign fault.

      God’s not extending numerous protections and paradise to the now fallen creation does not, from any sort of logical reasoning I can tell, lead to the conclusion that God is a malicious and unjust God.

      • OK, first, if He can’t tolerate sin, why did God build a system where it can develop?
        And why does God’s creation require his ongoing protection. If he, a perfect being, did a good job, His creation should tick along pretty well without him, don’t you think?
        Are you saying that all the animals, the concept of the food chain and the placement of all creatures within it, developed all by itself, because God removed his protection? Wow, evolution, in fact! So evolution is true, but it wasn’t God’s plan, it came about on it’s own. Interesting! – Please forgive me a little tongue-in-cheek, a little sarcasm. I’m less than perfect, I guess.
        To your analogy. Analogies are always problematic, because they break down if you over-analyze them. So, instead of over-analyzing yours, I’ll give one a try myself. I didn’t give this major thought, it just comes from it being a pretty hot day today.
        The best, most perfect HVAC engineer that ever lived installs a new air conditioner in his house. It’s his own design and so of course it’s perfect.
        A few days later, the air conditioner starts shutting down a little before the desired temperature set on the thermostat is reached. This is intolerable. Even though he’s the top HVAC guy in the world, and understands the precise nature of the machine he designed and built, he makes no attempt to examine the issue.
        It probably just needs a little tweak, a little TLC. But, as the best of the best, he can’t tolerate less than absolute perfection. He simply can’t accept the flaw, even though it’s in his own design.
        So he slams out of the house, grabs a can of gasoline, and burns the house to the ground. Then for good measure, he burns down the whole street as well. This leaves his wife and children, his parents and his wife’s parents, his neighbors and their families, all homeless and on the street. But, in his defense, how can he tolerate a neighborhood where an air conditioner can malfunction, even slightly?
        As I already said, the reaction is, perhaps, just a tad over the top.
        Malicious, perhaps? Certainly impulsive and spiteful, complete intolerance. These are the actions of a dreadfully spoiled child. Perhaps you can tolerate this view of God as a sort of divine Kim Jong-Un. But it’s not for me. The Divine has to be better than that.
        And the thing is, my analogy doesn’t go nearly far enough.
        My engineer didn’t deliberately build in traps (understandably because he didn’t build sentience into his creation – I said analogies break down if you over-analyze them). God gave his creation curiosity, a wish to understand things more fully. Then he set a trap, a tree with luscious-looking fruit that his first man and woman must never touch. Everything else is available to them, except this one tree.
        Then he sat back and watched as their curiosity finally got the better of them. The curiosity he deliberately built in as a part of their nature.
        Then, when they cave, does he poke them and say ‘Gotcha!’? No, he swoops in and destroys his beautiful creation, raining pain and suffering on every creature, guilty or not.
        How can I not see this as anything but a put-up job? Your God isn’t interested in perfection. He’s interested in using and abusing the imperfection he himself created, perhaps for his own amusement.
        But is any of this real? Of course not!
        Like all descriptions of the Divine, and attempts to understand the nature of the Divine, it’s a product of it’s time. It’s actually not bad for it’s time, on a par with Hans Christian Anderson, anyway.
        The story seemed reasonable, as an illustration (a parable?), when it was first written down – probably towards the end of the iron age around 2,500 years ago.
        It’s not lasted so long because it’s particularly insightful. It’s lasted only because we humans were sufficiently civilized to be able to both write something down and also preserve it. That’s why the early texts of the world’s major religions mostly stem from around the same late iron age period. But, understandably, the credibility of the story fell apart a long time ago.
        Instead of remaining locked in an iron age mentality, isn’t it time to move on and, with our better (though still imperfect) understanding of the metaphysical, develop a more credible view of the nature of Divinity. If the Divine really does have a plan, doesn’t that sound a more credible interpretation of it?

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