The Ichneumon (ikˈnyu-men) mother wasp carefully searches the leaves for a juicy, well nourished caterpillar. Upon finding just the right fat, food-processing machine, the wasp will with her long ovipositor deep in the flesh of the unsuspecting caterpillar, leave her eggs, and fly away. But just before inserting her eggs, she will carefully locate the critical bundles of nerves inside her womb-host, stinging those nerves in such a way that the caterpillar is paralyzed, but remains alive. In this way, the wasp larvae will have a constant supply of fresh meat to feed on until they are ready to dig their way out of their hollowed-out host. But there is more! Some innate intelligence working in the wasp larvae instructs them to take care to postpone consuming critical caterpillar organs ... they want their meat alive! So, carefully, they consume the internal parts of the caterpillar in reverse order of importance, leaving the heart until the very end!
An imagined scene from some horror movie? Or the cruel hoax of a sadistic story-teller? No, this is one of a myriad of such regular occurrences in nature. And we who believe in a wise and immutably good God must account for a plethora of seemingly diabolical schemes strewn across the landscape of biology. Did our loving Father create these species to interact in this way? Are these the dirty little secrets of Special Creation? or are these horror-filled anomalies the work of an “Intelligent Designer”?
Some Christians choose to ignore this darker side of Creation. They speak freely of the beauty of the natural world, the grandeur of the mountains, the majestic power of the crashing sea, the glory of the soaring eagle, the elegant beauty of the Stargazer Lily. But they avoid the endless stream of agony, suffering and brutality implicit in the natural order: the parasite, the predator and prey, Tennyson’s nature “red in tooth and claw”. The standard Christian response, that these are but manifestations of the curse, the consequence of Adam’s sin, are hackneyed and obsolete. We now have an endless trail of irrefutable fossil evidence: these brutal horrors of nature precede man by hundreds of millions of years. It has been thus from the beginning!
Richard Dawkins, in his new defense of evolutionary science, The Greatest Show on Earth, retells the habits of the Ichneumon wasp in his chapter entitled “Arms Races and ‘Evolutionary Theodicy’” (page 395). I found the chapter absolutely fascinating. Even the renown atheist recognizes how an understanding of the requisites of evolution offer at least a measure of resolution to the age-old theodicy problem.
It has been my contention for sometime that evolution, properly understood as a part of God’s master plan for the cosmos, actually helps the believer find his way through the thorny issues of the problem of evil, and its corollary, the problem of pain. In building my case, it becomes my burden to confront believing friends with aspects of Creation they’d sooner not think about. It is not a popular thing to do. Some friends are enraged at what they perceive me to be: an agitator, a faith-challenging troublemaker. They fail to see my long term goal: to solve problems of faith.
In truth: evolution, the powerfully-supported science which believers often reject, actually helps to solve theodicy, the #1 stumbling-block which believers typically choose to ignore. But before we can proceed down that path, believers must lay down their resistance to undeniable science, and abandon their denial of the dark underbelly of life. When Christians face these two realities, and consider them side-by-side, they will soon be free to explore fresh answers in the full light of reality!
The sooner this day comes, the better!