Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Cooper's Hawk and the Robin (the Darwinian Problem of Evil)

Cooper's hawk
A few weeks ago Linda and I were sitting on our front porch. A robin was digging up a worm under the pine tree. Suddenly and quietly, like a stealth bomber, our local Cooper's hawk swept in and landed on the robin.

When a Cooper's hawk lands on its prey it treads on its wings as if to spread them apart, completely exposing the captive's underbelly. Using its bill it clears the underbelly of feathers and digs in, tearing the flesh in large pieces and swallowing them with "great avidity." (John Yow, The Armchair Birder, 234) If you try to save the victim the Cooper will fly off with it. Once our hawk landed on the robin, that was it for the robin. The Cooper "particularly savors the entrails, tearing the bird apart to get at them first." It "knows how to keep objects like trees, barns, or fencerows between itsrlf and its prey until the last second, when it swoops in for the kill. It will follow a bird into a thicket, often plunging through by sheer velocity, and so driving its victom out into the open and capturing it by its superior powers of flight, or by so terrorizing it that it becomes almost helpless from fright." (Ib., 235-236)

I felt sorry for the robin, and amazed at the Cooper's hawk. "The Cooper's hawk is the bane of the chicken yard. But is that all that's to be said? Isn't it a remarkable, even awesome, bird for all that? Don't you have to admire a bird that brings such verve and single-mindedness to its villainy?" (Ib., 236)

Such beautiful villainy, rampant through nature, evidentially argues against the existence of a loving God, according to some atheists. Michael Murray addresses this in Nature Red in Tooth & Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. (Oxford, 2008) I just received my copy of this and am reading through it. It concerns "the Darwinian problem of evil." (1) This "problem consists in the vast and unquanitifiable array of nonhuman-animal suffering that is endemic to the evolutionary machinery... in light of the evolutionary carnage, [some] find it incredible that theists can sustain belief in an all-wise, benevolent creator." (1-2)

Darwin himself said that "the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time" are apparently irreconcible with the existence of a loving, good God. Darwin famously wrote, "What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of nature!" (2)

Richard Dawkins echoes this in his River out of Eden: "If Nature were kind, she would at least make the minor concession of anesthetizing caterpillars before they are eatn alive from within." He concludes: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." (Quoted in Ib., 4-5)

Enter the Cooper's Hawk and the robin. After reading about the Cooperian possibilities that were being exacted upon the robin's red breast I wanted to name the victim "Braveheart."

Murray, a theist, after setting up the Darwinian problem of evil, serves up Chapter 1 - "Problems of and Explanations for Evil." I'm reading this today. Among other things Murray explains the standard Roweian evidential argument from evil against God's existence.

I'm looking forward to Murray's defense of God in the face of prehuman animal suffering, since in such a case it seems that the Free Will Defense won't apply. William Dembski (whom Murray does not cite in his book) would disagree, of course, in his idea of "retroactive causality" as put forth in The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World. Murray does, along the way, reference Greg Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil. I feel certain that Greg will not find Murray's analysis adequate as regards his "trinitarian warfare theodicy."