Smith attempts to design a better world than ours, thereby showing that if God did not actualize it, then this must not be the best possible world or even a good world, and if it’s not, then God does not exist. (3.1)
Behind his complex argument there is a simple point. There is a law E, according to which “animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive” (235), and that law is ultimately evil. There is a possible world W, Smith contends, which “is exactly like the actual world [V] except that all (and not just some) animals or animal-like creatures are vegetarians. For example, in W there are counterparts to humans that are exactly like humans except that their DNA includes a strictly vegetarian blueprint.” (240-1) In W, unlike in V, even tigers are nourished exclusively by vegetables.
Is W a better world than V?
A considerable part of my reply is contained in my evaluation of Fred Reed’s atheology. Read it first for the main thrust of the argument.
For example, if only herbivores existed, then they would multiply until their food supplies would be exhausted, resulting in mass deaths from starvation. Predators “thin the herds,” benefiting the species, etc. Here are some further points.
Thomas Morris has identified four fears related to death:
(1) fear of the process of dying;
(2) fear of punishment;
(3) fear of the unknown;
(4) fear of annihilation. (Philosophy for Dummies, Ch. 16, “From Dust to Dust: Fear and the Void”)
Animals are innocent; hence they can have no (2) even if their souls are somehow preserved.
There is nothing for them after death and so there is nothing to know in the first place, so (3) does not apply to them either.
Their souls are corruptible, so they must be naturally protected from (4), as fearing the inevitable would be pointless.
So, it seems that animals are only afraid of the pain and suffering attendant upon dying. But, once again, it is hard to imagine a happy death. On one nature show there was a dying giraffe surrounded by a swarm of insects that were eating it alive. We were shown the moment at which the giraffe could no longer stand and collapsed, and that was the end of it. Is that a better way of dying than being consumed by a tiger? Or must insects, too, be vegetarians?
Further, plants compete for sunlight, good soil, etc. with equal brutality: “Did you know that plants fight? If only you could see the deadly, ceaseless warfare among plants, this lovely landscape would terrify you. It would make you think man’s struggles tame,” writes Garet Garrett.
It seems arbitrary to subject plants to the rigors of survival of the fittest yet exempt animals. Moreover, competition and fighting for survival of oneself and one’s progeny makes species strong, even if some individuals are sacrificed in the process of evolution. God gives animals a shot at life and strength to avoid dangers and pass on their genes and nature, which are more than they deserve. We might say that God acts towards animals as Conan’s god Crom in Robert E. Howard’s novels acts towards humans: Crom answers no prayers, and he dispenses only two gifts to the Cimmerian newborn: the strength in their sword arm and the fire in their hearts. And after that he doesn’t bat an eye at them.
In particular, without predation, the forces of natural selection would probably not suffice to produce effective evolution capable of making humans.
Consider also that the non-human animals’ personal identity may not be sufficiently sharp or well-preserved through time, such that the animal may not be conscious that it itself suffers. In other words, rather than proposing that “an antelope is suffering from pain,” we can at the most assert that “some suffering is occurring.”
Further, no individual animal requires us to love it; charity does not extent toward it. It may as in the case of pets, but choosing to love a pet is solely an individual non-moral preference. Hence animal pains and pleasures do not really matter to either God or men. A complementary point is that predators are more sophisticated creatures than herbivores. Cats and dogs are both carnivorous predators; hence a world without predation would lack the best kind of pets. Such a world would be impoverished, as it is said that “until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Smith attacks what he see to be a premise in Richard Swinburne’s argument that “instances of E provide humans with helpful knowledge pertinent to themselves”: “It is good that animals savagely attack, kill, and devour each other and occasionally humans, so that animals and humans can learn to avoid being savagely attacked, killed, and devoured on some occasions in the future.” He says that if we take it to heart, then “we should be rejoicing in the AIDS epidemic since the instances of AIDS combined with the opportunities to learn how to prevent AIDS would result in an overall increase in the positive value of the universe.” (243-4) This is just a confusion. We do not rejoice in physical evil, but we recognize the value of metaphysical evil as an incentive to fight. As the character Gordon Chen considers in James Clavell’s Tai-Pan: “He looked covertly at Mauss. He respected him for being a merciless teacher and was grateful to him for forcing him to be the best student in school. But he despised him for his filth, for his stench, and for his cruelty.” (29-30) So, we, too, should appreciate the challenging environment of nature as a merciless teacher both to humans and lower animals, yet at the same time nothing stops us from longing for eternal rest in God’s heaven.
Smith accuses John Hick’s God of “speciesism,” of favoring humans and letting animals serve them, thereby neglecting the latter’s welfare or rights. Of course, animals have no rights, and their welfare is entirely up to man. But men do not rule the world by some divine mandate; rather, men are the kind of animals who are able to subdue and exploit other animals, given a sufficient level of civilization, better than those other animals are able to exploit them. Our dominion of the world is due to our nature and craftiness and resourcefulness, not necessarily to the reception of a divine inheritance à la early Genesis.
Finally, there is the argument that physical evil is useful as a means for man to heal and purify his nature, which is so uniquely corrupt that not even God could make us better. Basically, each (wild) animal has no allegiance but to the self. The war of all animals against all is a sign of what happens when a rational animal loses his mind. It is this lower part of ours, given our unique animal-angelic nature, that may be responsible for the “Original Sin” or, more philosophically, that causes our metaphysical defects.
(Even if it is said that the Original Sin itself was a moral not metaphysical evil, nevertheless, what qualifies as metaphysical evil is the inevitability of this sin. Adam and Eve never stood a chance, and that’s what made the human race naturally corrupt.)
These points combined suggest that animal suffering is not a reason to doubt God’s goodness.