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The cruelty of carnivores

If there were no carnivores, herbivore animals would succumb to starvation and many different diseases.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz TRADUCTOR Roger Marshall 27 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2022 11:00 h
Eagles tend to occupy the highest places in food chains as they feed not only on herbivores but also on carnivores, contributing to the balance of ecosystems / Photo: Antonio Cruz.

When we observe how lions stalk and bring down their prey, seizing them by the throat in their powerful jaws, until they stop breathing, we will naturally feel repulsed by such lethal cruelty.

Though it is natural and necessary for the proper functioning of the planet’s ecosystems, and though we understand that this is a habitual modus vivendi of carnivores, which need to feed themselves and their young, and though we know that they kill in the quickest and least painful way possible, there is something within us that feels that this should not happen. Why does this have to be? Could God not have made things differently, rather than allow this cruel reality, with so much suffering in the animal kingdom?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), in one of the criticisms he levelled at theistic evolution, with reference to the French Jesuit author Teilhard de Chardin, made the following logical observation: “It seems that during all those ages (…) when animals tortured each other with their ferocious horns and lethal stings, the Almighty was calmly awaiting the appearance of humans, with their even more exquisite power to torture and their ever more extensive cruelty. Why did the Creatror opt to achieve his aims through such a process, rather than go there directly”. [1]  Needless to say, if God created the world through a process of evolution with the ultimate aim of making human beings, then Russell is right.

However, whether human beings descended from apes still remains to be demonstrated. Despite the insistence of paleoanthropologists, the fossils do not by any means show this to be the case, as there is a deep systemic chasm between the two species. Homo habilis has lost all credibility in this regard, as researchers themselves consider the find to be a kind of rag-bag containing fossils belonging to several different species. The Homo genus is perfectly distinguishable from other anthropoid fossils, and neither does the fact that living humans contain DNA in their cells constitute a conclusive demonstration of a gradual evolutionary process, because the Creator could have used macromolecules like these to fashion a range of different living beings in a discontinuous manner, just as he used some of the same atoms to create the different types of matter that make up the universe. However Russell is wrong if the Almighty created human beings in a special and differentiated sense, in his own image and likeness.

It is true that in a creation such as ours, in which the laws of thermodynamics, gravity and electromagnetism prevail, along with strong and weak nuclear forces, herbivores depend on the predation of carnivores to keep their populations in a healthy genetic state, and to minimise sickness, overpopulation, suffering and death. If there were no carnivores, herbivore animals would succumb to starvation and many different diseases.

The pressure exerted by carnivores on herbivores as they select their prey serves to weed out those that are sick, weak, clumsy or old, which contributes to keeping the populations in an optimal condition. Thanks to carnivores, the size of herbivore populations is kept at an adequate level to enable them to feed on the vegetation available. Perhaps the violent death of a herbivore seems cruel from the perspective of human ethics, but it is wholly appropriate from the perspective of animal population dynamics and the proper functioning of the planet’s ecosystems. On the whole, predators are skilful killers which put a speedy and efficient end to the life of their prey. They do not take pleasure in making them suffer, but rather quite the opposite. 

Besides, how can we evaluate the degree of suffering experienced by another species? While it is true that higher animals do indeed appear to suffer, it is unlikely that lower animals do to the extent that humans suffer. If pain and suffering are associated with the complexity of the brain, the vast majority of animals, the so-called lower animals, experience no suffering whatever on being devoured by their predators.

Despite the fact that our world is fallen, the laws of nature have been optimised by the Creator in such a way that evil is compatible with human freedom. It is still possible for humans to experience genuine love out of the exercise of their free will.

According to the Scriptures, when evil has been eradicated, God will place every redeemed human being in a new creation in which the laws of thermodynamics, gravity and electromagnetism will not operate as they do now. It will be an unimaginable world in which “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11 v 6) In a creation like this there will be no decay, sickness, suffering or death. Is this just a utopian fantasy, or a trustworthy revelation from Almighty God? I prefer to believe that it is the latter.

When human beings play at judging God, or claiming that they could have made a better job of creation, they are only focusing on the superficial details, instead of taking the whole of reality into account from an all-encompassing historical perspective, as the Creator does. This truth is reflected in the words of Zofar in the book of Job: “Will you discover God’s secrets? Will you reach the perfection of the Almighty?” (Job 11 v 7) If we do not know what God’s purposes were in creating the universe, it will be impossible for us to fully understand the decisions he made. However, human beings think they know a great deal, on account of their scientific discoveries, and they think this entitles them to judge and call into question God’s works.

But there is so much in the cosmos and in living things that we are ignorant of that we should by now have learnt to be more humble. It is possible that God looks on us in the same way as parents look on their adolescent children. As these kids have grown up quickly and achieved a certain level of maturity, they often criticise their parents somewhat unjustly. However, with the passing of time, and they reflect on life as adults they realise how mistaken their judgements were when they were adolescents.

According to the Bible, God allows bad things to happen in the world because he has chosen to allow human beings to be truly free and responsible for their acts. But there is a condition: the offer of a blissful eternal life which will extend beyond our natural death. And he made this possible and available to us through Jesus Christ. The evil that we observe in nature – which is also reflected in the behaviour of carnivorous animals – remains evil, but it is less so, and it can be understood, when viewed from a theodicy that centres around Jesus.



1. Russell, B. 1985, Religión y Ciencia, Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, pp. 57-58.




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