The advances of modern science have made it increasingly difficult to hold to a “young-earth creationist” reading of Genesis 1 in which the days are interpreted as literal, consecutive 24 hour periods of time, resulting in a world between 6,000 and 10,000 years old (or occasionally as much as 50,000 years old). Evidence for an older earth is not limited to radiometric dating or processes which could be attributed to the effects of a catastrophic flood – everywhere we look we find evidence of an older earth, and an older universe. The very light from many of the stars in our sky is millions of light years away, and using powerful telescopes we can see light from galaxies over ten billion light years away. These discoveries have caused many Christians to abandon a literalistic reading of Genesis 1.
One of the implications of this significant shift is the necessity of re-thinking the problem of animal suffering (somtimes called the problem of natural evil). In the young-earth model, animal suffering was attributed to the curse upon all nature given as a result of the human fall. But within the old-earth schema it is no longer possible to attribute all animal suffering to the human fall, for it now seems clear that animals (and animal predation) have existed for hundreds of millions of years before human beings ever hit the scene. What, then, do we make of animal suffering?
In my next several posts on this topic, I will consider some of the Christian responses to this problem. I will conclude this post with some quotes about animal suffering in order to highlight the gravity of this issue:
“What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of nature!” -Charles Darwin.
“The evidence virtually compels assent to the assumption that death and the suffering that goes with it have been a reality since the beginning of the drama of life in this world. Nature has always been red in tooth and claw – sometimes in fantastically brutal ways that mock the very thought of a loving or even benign divine hand designing it thus.” -Marguerite Shuster, The Fall and Sin: What We Have Become as Sinners (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 74.
“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.” -Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 132.
“Any three-year old can see how unsatisfactory and clumsy is this whole business of reproducing and dying by the billions. We have not yet encountered any god who is merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet. There is not a people in the world who behaves as badly as praying mantises…. The universe that suckled us is a monster.” -Annie Dilliard, Pilgrim at Tinker Hall (New York: Harper Collins, 1974), 179.