Magazine article The Christian Century

Carnivores and Herbivores

Magazine article The Christian Century

Carnivores and Herbivores

Article excerpt

WILLIAM Greenway's excellent essay "Animals and the love of God" (June 21-28) relates how, according to the Priestly account of creation, humans and animals were intended by God to be herbivores. It was only after the flood that permission to eat meat was granted. As Greenway puts it, "The beginning of Genesis depicts a harmonious creation where none kills to live."

That may be the biblical picture, but whether it corresponds to the real world is, from the perspective of a paleontologist, doubtful. Numerous fossil specimens provide dramatic evidence of carnivory in prehistory. A pelvic skeleton of the herbivorous dinosaur Triceratops contains numerous gouges and gashes that perfectly match the teeth of the contemporaneous carnivorous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus. A bone fragment from a hadrosaurian dinosaur has, embedded within it, the terminal portion of the tooth of another predatory dinosaur. A vertebra of an ancient marine lizard is similarly penetrated by the tooth of a shark.

A skeleton of the small carnivorous dinosaur Compsognathus has the skeleton of a lizard within it, where the dinosaur's gut would have been. The skeleton of another carnivorous dinosaur, Coelophysis, contains the bones of a smaller individual of its own species, telling a grisly story of cannibalism. Uncountable numbers of fossil bivalve shells contain neat, circular holes of the kind that are today drilled by predatory snails. Many fossilized fecal droppings--coprolites--contain numerous bone fragments.

All of these fossils are the remains or traces of animals that lived well before the origin of humanity, and thus well before whatever event inspired the biblical account of the deluge. The fossil record provides no evidence for the idyllic world of the Genesis creation stories.

I have no quarrel with Greenway's admirable concern for the ethical treatment of animals. Wrestling with the implications of biblical texts for the meaning of creation is likewise a worthwhile endeavor. However, such theological reflection must also deal with nature as it is--and in the distant past was--and not just what we, or the Priestly writers, might wish it had been.

James O. Farlow Department of Geosciences, Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Ind.

I share William Greenway's conclusion that a vegetarian creation and vegetarian messianic age demonstrate that this diet is a biblical ideal. While some people need meat for sustenance, Americans have ample access to healthful, nonflesh foods. When they eat animals, they are choosing taste preferences and convenience over fundamental Christian principles of love and compassion.

Today, animal agriculture's intensive methods are inherently cruel, causing great pain and suffering. I strongly doubt that Christ, who said "Blessed are the merciful," would countenance this. As social justice activists quickly learn, contemporary social problems are interconnected. While millions of people die of hunger annually and many more suffer malnutrition, one-third of the world's grain is fed to animals, who inefficiently convert it to food. In the U.S., the proportion is nearly three-fourths.

Animal agriculture degrades the environment by squandering scarce water and energy resources, destroying rain forests for cattle grazing, and toxifying ecosystems with concentrated animal wastes. In addition, animal-based diets contribute heavily to diseases that plague the West, including heart disease and certain cancers. I believe that if Jesus were among us today, he would agree with John Wesley, Ellen G. White, William Booth, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Schweitzer and other Christians who chose to abstain. …

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