Auditing God’s Design
Do we know enough about creation to judge it?
My ongoing dialogue with Karl Meyer, once a mentor and always an independent radical, has hit a rough patch. In a recent note he tells me that all is not well. “I wonder how it is possible,” he asks, “to have an intelligent dialogue with a philosopher who posits a ‘Garden of Eden’”? The problem with my doing so, Karl points out, is that I appeal to a myth that all was well in the Garden and that “the biological structure of life on Earth” became “cruel and brutal” only “when humans entered the garden and disobeyed the Creator.”
In response to Karl, I want to say that “myth” has at least two meanings. The first is commonplace: a widely propagated falsehood, as in “the myth that margarine is healthier than butter.” The second is more complex: a narrative, often in archaic form, about an event that teaches the core meaning of a people. Scripture’s account of the Fall is mythic in the second sense. It is, moreover, the vehicle of the Creator’s self-revelation.
But Karl, I suspect, wants us to focus on the horrors of terrestrial biology, regardless of what went wrong. He writes that “all, or almost all, species of living beings generate a magnitude of offspring grossly in excess of those who can thrive and survive to maturity,” and he adds “that almost all die in abrupt and often painful ways.”
Should we pause, then, to sketch a pleasure/pain calculus for animals? Whether we pause or ponder at length, I doubt we’ll get very far. Animal pain is undeniable, but so too is animal pleasure. Start with the play of otters, the song of birds, and the frolic of porpoises! And animals do not seek their death, not even instinctively, to escape pain. Only human beings, of course, raise questions about the pain of animals.
But Karl has another standard, and it’s not utilitarian. He ends his note with the measure that matters most to him. “I just say that if I were an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving Creator, such as I was taught [of] the God of Christianity, I would intelligently design a less brutal biological structure” and this because “cruelty troubles my sense of fairness and love.”
Here, I think, we should pause. We are all of us so far from being all knowing, all powerful, and all loving that we’re hardly in a position to say what we would do in God’s place. Here enters Revelation, and it is Good News! Karl’s own “sense of fairness and love,” I suggest, come from his nurturing earlier contact with the Revelation. That contact surely came through his friendship with Dorothy Day.
Indeed, that Revelation hints that there is much more for us to learn about our fellow animals than we might now suppose. Isaiah 11: 6-7 tells us that “The leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together; the cow and the bear shall feed; and their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw with the ox.”
Turning to the New Testament, Paul tells us “the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” and “will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Indeed, “the whole of creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23).
Until next time, Karl!
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