We are so intimately familiar with our requirement for food that we rarely ever step back to ponder exactly why we were “designed” to eat. But does this requirement make more sense in light of a Christian world view, or a natural world view?
If God has designed eating, then pondering His purpose for it might give us some additional insight into His character. Conversely, if nature has designed us, then eating should serve purely natural objectives.
Eating from a Christian worldview
According to Genesis, God originally placed mankind in a garden stocked with plentiful food. Only after Adam was evicted from Eden was he forced to grow his own food.
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
~ Genesis 3:23
Food, of course, is necessary for us to grow and for energy. But this still leaves us with a number of unanswered questions…
1) Why design bodies that need food at all?
If there is no great spiritual point to eating, one would think God would eliminate it, or at least greatly minimize the need for it.
God could’ve created a world in which we were all powered by water, or by the sun, or by some mysterious atomic power source, or given us food that’s so concentrated that we only need to eat once a year.
In fact, I see no logical reason for God to give us physical bodies at all. Why not place us here on earth in spirit form? What is gained by encasing our spirits in meat?
2) Why make eating so time consuming that it takes time away from more important things?
By design, we humans must invest a great deal of time hassling with food. We spend time growing food, hunting food, transporting food, working to afford food, shopping for food, preparing food, cooking food, eating food, and defecating stuff that was once food.
If God exists, our quest for food must be extremely important to Him that He should demand that we dedicate so much time to it. Wouldn’t God rather have us doing something more productive with our time? Like studying scripture, or praying, or worshiping, or seeking salvation, or witnessing to others?
Designing a preoccupation with food might make sense if there were a great spiritual meaning behind it. It’s as if God has said, “I have a point I desperately want to make clear to my creation, and I can only make it clear by forcing them to spend every day obsessing over food. If they refuse to concern themselves with this issue, I will cause them to die.” But what is this all-important message?
If our purpose in life is to work out our salvation, should’t we suffer hunger pangs and die if we fail to do things like read scripture, or go to church, or ponder our existence, or worship God? Why are we punished for neglecting our physical needs, but not our spiritual needs?
3) Why does God sometimes make food too scarce?
Millions of people die each year from hunger and malnutrition. Yet God has ordered us to “Be fruitful and multiply.” Isn’t this self-defeating?
4) Why must eating put us at risk?
Eating itself comes with a number of inherent risks. Eating can cause: heartburn, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, parasites, disease, cancer and death.
Additionally, thousands of people die each year (mostly children) because of a poorly designed digestive system. When we swallow, food can become lodged in our airway, resulting in suffocation and death. Wouldn’t an intelligent designer see this potential hazard and give us one passageway for food and another for air? Why would a designer do this for ducks, geese, whales and dolphins, but not humans?
From an evolutionary standpoint, choking results in so few deaths that it isn’t worth selecting against (though any creatures that choked too easily would’ve been selected out). It makes sense for evolution not to notice such things, but an intelligent designer should know better. If we must eat, why would God make it dangerous?
5) Why predation?
Without a doubt, the absolute strangest aspect of eating is predation (animals using other animals as food). It’s as if God said, “Okay you animals, listen up! There are only two rules to this game: 1) you must eat to survive, and 2) you’re all on the menu! Begin!” This barbaric game encourages a sad and never-ending battle-to-the-death. God could’ve simply made all animals inedible, but didn’t. Why not? Is there some inherent value in having animals consume one another? What does God want us to learn from this?
We could blame predation on the fall of man, but how exactly does this work? Did God say, “Adam, I’m really disappointed in you, therefore I’m going to force all animals to suffer because of you”? These animals didn’t disobey God, yet they are made to suffer for our sin. (I’ll have more on this topic under the next question.)
Terry Pratchett, in his fictional book Unseen Academicals, describes the problem of predation this way:
“‘…one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the banks of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining on mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.'”
A natural view of eating
I can imagine, in nature, a very reasonable scenario in which eating may have come to exist.
The first replicating form of life (regardless of what it may have been) would’ve had to borrow from its environment in order to obtain the raw materials necessary to continue replicating. As this life progressed, it eventually discovered that a lot of the material it needed was readily available in other nearby organisms.
Consuming ready-made proteins saved predators from having to expend time and energy building them from scratch. This gave predators an advantage: it allowed them to grow and replicate faster than non-predators, and so nature favored predation, regardless of any ethical implications.
The first cells to remain conjoined in a colony found this kind of partnership mutually beneficial. They could work together to encompass other cells (or groups of cells) and consume and share the yummy contents.
Over time, nature favored specialized changes in these colonies that assisted the whole organism in detecting, pursuing, capturing and/or digesting other organisms. Size and speed were decided advantages; the larger and faster an organism became, the less likely it was to be devoured, and the more likely it was to be the devourererer…er.
From single cells on up to humans, we all perform the same routine: we consume, extract, excrete, replicate and repeat. We exist to feed and protect the colony, so that we may all reproduce once again.
The Bible says “Love thy neighbor,” nature says “Consume thy neighbor.” Which is most likely to be responsible for how and what we eat?
I’m sure, if we tried hard enough, we could create some reasonable sounding spiritual metaphor for eating, but that explanation doesn’t seem to come quite as easily as the natural one.
Eating seems spiritually unnecessary, counterproductive and risky; and predation is unconscionable, gratuitous and cruel. Why would a loving designer build such a process?
Nature, on the other hand, has a very good reason for letting life consume other life, albeit an unethical one. But nature cannot think, and thereby has a very good excuse for not designing life ethically. What’s God’s excuse?