Some animals commit cruel or disgusting acts humans would consider immoral. What does this mean?
Some pro-evolution scientists seem to take particular pleasure in pointing out the sins committed by animals. Examples abound: some commit cannibalism and infanticide, engage in open homosexual acts, cheat on their spouses, steal, and deceive their neighbors – essentially breaking most if not all of the Ten Commandments. Evolutionists are usually quick with Darwinian explanations for how these acts increase survival of the fittest, but generally fall short of advising that humans should follow their examples. Here are some recent instances in the news:
Lion cannibalism: The BBC News addressed the question of cannibalism and infanticide among lions and other animals. Anna-Louise Taylor offered several evolutionary explanations for why killing or eating one’s own offspring, or the offspring of a rival, “can benefit animals.” For instance, males can beat their rivals by killing the young of another. Females can allocate limited resources to the best offspring. Both males and females might survive if food is scarce by eating their young. “Although this act of cannibalism is difficult to comprehend in a human context, when meat is scarce, in the natural world it can make all the difference to whether other members of a family survive,” she said.
Bird cheating: There have been Christians who have pointed to certain birds that mate for life as lovey-dovey natural object lessons of the virtues of marital faithfulness. Some evolutionists have responded by chirping about other bird species that are either promiscuous or cheat on their assumed faithful partners. The fact is, some animals are monogamous, but many others are not, so it’s not reasonable to pick and choose any one as an example for humans. Nature News had to backtrack recently, though, about an evolutionary rationalization for bird promiscuity. A study by researchers in the UK found there might be a selective advantage against cheating, not for it. Since both phenomena exist, though, it’s hard to attribute explanatory power to natural selection.
While observational facts about animal behavior are fair game for study, philosophical and theological problems emerge when reporters or scientists try to moralize about the implications for human beings. What are the limits of our animal nature? How should we behave in light of these observations of animals? Occasionally, evolutionists imply that humans, being mere animals, have no reason to behave differently than animals. They teach that morality is a mere convention that emerged by nature’s law of natural selection. Some argue that human vices can be excused on the basis that “animals do it.” It’s not clear that such casual philosophers would wish to live in a society governed by the law of the jungle. Worse, if human morality has only an evolutionary basis it destroys any ground for assuming that cannibalism or infant torture could not be justified by a society as morally good for them.
Every society recognizes morality is necessary, but only Biblical theology can account for (1) the reason human beings are set apart from animals, and (2) the need for grounding morality in absolute standards of right and wrong.
First, humans are not mere animals. This is not only clear from Genesis 1:26 and many other Bible passages that state humans were created in the image of God, endowed with the mind, reason, a conscience, worship, creativity and other attributes not found in animals, but in passages that distinguish humans from “brute beasts” (e.g. Jude 10, “But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.” Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 was judged by being turned into a virtual animal: “Let his mind be changed from that of a man, And let a beast’s mind be given to him.” Until his mind was restored, he acted like an animal. In Biblical theology, therefore, humans are a kind of hybrid — possessing the attributes of mammals but also having the capacity to fellowship with the Creator. As “souls cast into animal bodies,” as Wernher von Braun once described human nature, we need to address our bodily needs as well as our spiritual needs.
Second, the spiritual nature of mankind implies that we must live by different standards than animals. These standards have been made clear in natural revelation (e.g., conscience) and special revelation (e.g., the Ten Commandments, all of Scripture, and the life of Christ). It is a non-sequitur to conclude that if animals commit infanticide, homosexual acts, or infidelity, that humans are permitted to do so. Even societies oblivious to special revelation can reason from creation and conscience that we are accountable to a Creator, and have need of laws governing acceptable behavior. Those laws are best informed by special revelation–thus the need for sharing the Word of God.
Third, humans know intuitively that individuals who have lost their rational capacity are not responsible for their actions. We do not condemn the actions of a victim of microcephaly or severe brain damage, or of a loved one suffering dementia from Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why courts assess the mental capacity, thus the accountability, of those accused of a crime. It’s also why the circumstances of a crime can mitigate punishment: for instance, if a person stole from hunger or desperation, or murdered someone because of fear of immediate bodily harm (even if misguided), as opposed to premeditated anger. In such cases, a physical drive (hunger, adrenaline) that influenced the rational choice provides grounds for mitigating punishment.
In short, human beings are expected to behave differently than animals–to use their reason and conscience–because we are not mere animals. This is not unique to Christianity. The Romans and Greeks taught this. If you come across a pool of water surrounded by dead animals, you are expected to reason that the water is poisonous, rather than act like the dumb beasts that responded to their instincts. If you see other people jumping off a cliff (as Mom and Dad perennially warn their teens), you should think before following the herd.
With this background, we can address a thorny question: why would a morally perfect Creator permit animals to “sin” as in the above examples? Did God create lions to eat their young or murder the babies of a rival? First of all, the question presumes that what is is what ought to be. On the contrary, Genesis 3 teaches that the creation, pronounced as “very good” in Genesis 1, fell due to human sin. Plants and animals suffered the consequences through a curse on nature. Like a damaged machine, nature has to get by without its original perfection, though still retaining enough design to exhibit the Creator’s wisdom and love. Romans 8, thankfully, teaches that the curse will be lifted and nature will be restored to its original goodness. This is the only world view that explains natural evil as the result of a “paradise lost” while simultaneously offering the hope of a “paradise regained.”
Remember that animals, as “brute beasts” without the human capacity of rationality and morality included in the image of God, are not morally responsible for what they do. They cannot “sin.” They follow their imbedded physical drives. A hungry lioness, with no conscience to get twinged, might eat its cubs if hungry enough. A male lion that kills its rivals will be most likely to pass on its genes. A pack of scavengers will push others aside to get to the meat. This has nothing to do with evolution, but can perpetuate behaviors that humans, with a conscience, might find repulsive. The Creator endowed animals and plants the ability to adapt to a cursed world without thereby endorsing those behaviors as “very good.” The creation had to “ratchet down” to a new level to adjust to damaged circumstances. In fact, the Creator may have left natural object lessons as stimuli to remind humans to live uprightly, so as not to be like the brute beasts. In this regard, evolutionists who use animal examples as justification for human morality are teaching the opposite of what they should infer from the observations.
An evolutionist, to be sure, will not accept any of these Biblical arguments for morality. Fine. Let them be sentenced to live in a society for a year where might makes right, where humans kills their infants, or cannibalize the weak, that has unrestricted sex and cheating, that endorses lies and theft and abides by the law of the jungle, and they will come running and screaming back to a Christian civilization long before the time is up. Even Richard Dawkins knows better than to take up residence in a country operating by natural selection.