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Intelligent Design and the cruelty of nature

I've recently had the chance to watch a number of excellent BBC documentaries ("Life", "Planet Earth", "Blue Planet", etc.) with my 7-year-old son, and if you haven't seen these yet I would strongly recommend doing so.

One thing that struck me over and over again while watching these shows is just how bizarrely improbable life seems to be in so many aspects. Even knowing that every single adaptation is ultimately explainable by the basic principles of evolution, time and again I find myself asking how such a thing could have possibly happened "by chance." Yes, I know that chance just explains the process of random mutations and that everything else is "driven" by the process of natural selection, but the extreme variety of life on this planet and the extremely specialized adaptations do make me understand why a lot of people believe that there must somehow be an intelligence of some sort driving the whole thing.

The thing is, though, that if there really were a divine creator behind all of it, that creator would necessarily need to be one sick and twisted son of a bitch who enjoys watching his creations suffer in the most excruciating and bizarre ways. I'm not just talking about "nature red in tooth and claw here." I'm talking about things like parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside other animals so that when the eggs can hatch the larvae eat the host animal from the inside out -- while it is still alive! I'm talking about fungi that target specific species and, once inhaled or ingested, grow right up out of the host species brains, killing them in the process. And the list goes on and on.

The standard apologetic argument to explain evil in the world claims that evil is necessary in order that man should be allowed to exercise his free will. But I'm not talking about man here. I'm talking about a natural world where creatures die agonizing and horrible deaths by the billions. Are we to suppose that God, who supposedly knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground, doesn't notice all the pain and anguish of the natural world? If so, he can hardly be said to be omniscient. Or are we to simply assume that he doesn't care about any of it, since only humans are really important to him? If so, then why create such a world in the first place if not to simply provide him some sadistic jollies on the side when he wants to take a break from watching us?

Anyway, this is probably the wrong place to ask questions like this, but I'm wondering whether people have brought this argument up with creationists before and, if so, what the response was. Is there a "standard" response to this question, or does it simply get ignored and/or glossed over?


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