If God Hates Abortion Why Do So Many Occur Spontaneously in Humans?

By Fazale Rana – November 25, 2020

A common fundamentalist argument against abortion is that each human being is granted a soul at the moment of conception, and that destroying that “soul” is equivalent to murder. . . However, there’s some serious problems with the logic of ensoulation at the point of conception. The CDC as well as the March of Dimes and several fertility experts have conducted studies to see exactly how hard it is to carry a pregnancy to term. In general, less than 70% of all fertilized eggs will even implant into the mother’s womb causing pregnancy to continue. From there, there is a 25-50% chance of aborting before you even know you are pregnant. So if you look at it from the fundamentalist point of view, all those little souls are being given a home, only to be miscarried before they even know they are alive. Scientific research has compiled the following information about the rates of naturally aborted pregnancies in human beings (or, if you believe everything happens for a reason, pregnancies aborted by God himself).

RationalWiki, “Spontaneous Abortion in Humans”

Miscarriage and Troubling Questions
Perhaps nothing is more painful and confusing for a woman than when she experiences a miscarriage. My wife and I know this firsthand. Amy’s first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage early in the first trimester. Our joy and excitement were replaced by sadness and an indescribable disappointment. I don’t know if I could ever truly understand how my wife felt then or how she feels now about our loss. We wonder, all these years later, if our first child was a boy or girl. Still, we are so grateful for the wonderful children God did give to us.

Questions surrounding spontaneous abortions and miscarriages are painful, indeed. But they also expose profound philosophical and theological problems with far-reaching implications for the Christian faith. The high rate of spontaneous abortions during human pregnancies raises questions about God’s goodness and also impacts the creation/evolution controversy and the abortion debate.

  • If human beings are made in God’s image—as the crown of creation—wouldn’t a Creator have designed a less-flawed and error-prone process for human reproduction?
  • If a Creator made human beings with a soul at the point of conception, why would some of these embryos live, ever so briefly before the pregnancy—and their life—comes to an end?
  • If a Creator hates abortion, why is the rate of spontaneous abortions so great?
  • In light of the high rate of spontaneous abortions, why is it so wrong for human beings to voluntarily end a pregnancy?

Without a doubt, these questions represent a serious challenge to the Christian faith. Fortunately, new scientific insights into embryo mortality and the cause of early miscarriages help address some of these challenging and heart-wrenching concerns, even if other questions remain a troubling mystery.

Before we take a look at these new insights, it is necessary to address a broader concern about the consequences of the constancy of nature’s laws and how this feature impacts the incidences of spontaneous abortions.

Consequences of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Given the complexity of biological systems such as human reproduction, it is unreasonable to think that these processes, no matter how well designed, will perform flawlessly every time. All the more so given the influence the second law of thermodynamics wields.

As a consequence of this law, errors will inevitably occur—at least, on occasion—during all biological processes. Because of the invariance of the laws of nature, the second law is always in operation. Hence, errors will occur during: (1) fertilization, (2) implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall, and (3) placenta formation and embryo growth and development. These errors lead to spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths.

While it is tempting to view entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) in a negative light, it is important to recognize that, if not for entropy, life’s existence would be impossible. Entropy enables metabolism and plays the central role in the formation and stability of cell membranes, protein higher-order structures, and the DNA double helix.

Of course, the unrelenting operation of the laws of nature leads to profound theological and philosophical issues that I have addressed elsewhere. Even if errors are inevitable in biological processes, couldn’t God have somehow designed human reproduction to be less error-prone?

Fortunately, recent scientific insights help address this issue, beginning with a detailed assessment of early embryo mortality.

What Is the Actual Rate of Spontaneous Abortions?

A survey of the scientific literature finds that the reported rates for spontaneous abortions are highly varied. Still, these rates seem to indicate human reproduction is a highly inefficient process with embryo mortality rates:

  • before and during implantation—as high as 75%
  • before the first six weeks of pregnancy—as high as 80%
  • during the first trimester—as high as 70%
  • before the first 20 weeks—as high as 50%
  • from fertilization to birth—as high as 90%

But as physiologist Gavin Jarvis from Cambridge University points out, these rates of spontaneous abortions are most certainly exaggerated and find little evidential support. These statistics are based on speculation and imprecise estimates of embryo mortality.1 In an attempt to remedy this problem, Jarvis carried out a careful reassessment of the published data on embryo mortality.

As part of this assessment, Jarvis concludes that it is impossible to know how many embryos die—or survive—during the first week of pregnancy, from the point of fertilization to the beginning stages of implantation. The earliest point that embryo survival can be realistically studied in a clinical setting is after the first week of pregnancy when the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (CG) can be detected. Prior to that point, the rate of embryo loss is merely a guess.

Some biomedical researchers have attempted to estimate embryo mortality during the first week of pregnancy from in vitro fertilization studies. Jarvis argues that these estimates are meaningless. He says it is hard to believe that embryo survival under laboratory conditions would reflect embryo survival rates under natural conditions. In fact, given that in vitro fertilization and subsequent embryo growth occur under nonoptimal, nonnatural conditions suggests that embryo mortality is likely much higher when carried out in the laboratory than when fertilization and early stage embryo development take place in vivo. Jarvis notes, “It’s impossible to give a precise figure for how many embryos survive in the first week but in normal healthy women, it probably lies somewhere between 60–90%.”2

Insight into embryo mortality becomes quantifiable after the first week. As it turns out, about 1 in 5 embryos die during implantation. In fact, in many of these instances the woman would not be aware she was pregnant, because she would not miss her period. Once a woman misses her period, only about 10 to 15% of the embryos die before birth. In total, about 70% of embryos make it to live birth, once implantation commences and the pregnancy is clinically confirmed from CG levels.

As Jarvis notes, “Although we can’t be precise, we can avoid exaggeration, and from reviewing the studies that do exist, it is clear that many more [embryos] survive than is often claimed.”3

Even though the rate of spontaneous abortion isn’t as high as often reported, skeptics still have grounds to question the design of human reproduction, viewing it as an error-prone, flawed process. Yet, new insight into the causes of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages suggests that a rationale undergirds pregnancy loss, especially during the early stages of pregnancy. In light of this insight it appears that spontaneous abortions may be rightly understood as a necessary part of the design of human reproduction.

Why Do Spontaneous Abortions Occur?

Most miscarriages appear to be the result of chromosomal abnormalities. Embryos with damaged chromosomes or an abnormal number of chromosomes often die. Biomedical researchers have discovered that somewhere between 50 to 80% of human embryos produced by in vitro fertilization have at least one cell that displays chromosomal abnormalities. (As mentioned, the statistics for in vitro fertilization are not likely to be reliable measures of naturally occurring fertilization, so we need to be cautious about how we interpret this finding.)4 Researchers have also learned that the leading cause of embryo mortality during in vitro fertilization appears to be associated with chromosomal abnormalities.

As I noted, these abnormalities inevitably arise as a consequence of the complexity of human reproduction and the second law of thermodynamics. In light of this inevitability, biomedical investigators now think that spontaneous abortions serve as the means to prevent embryos with chromosomal abnormalities from developing once they begin the process of implantation. By studying the interactions between embryos created via in vitro fertilization with cells cultured from the endometrium (the cell layers that line the uterine wall), investigators have discovered that when healthy embryos are introduced to endometrial cells in a Petri dish, they cluster around the embryo, releasing chemicals that promote implantation. On the other hand, endometrial cells eschew embryos with chromosomal abnormalities, halting the release of chemicals that prompt implantation.5 These investigators also discovered that endometrial cells exposed to embryos with chromosomal abnormalities underwent a stress response, whereas healthy embryos activated gene networks in the endometrial cells that led to the production of metabolic enzymes and the secretion of implantation factors. Researchers confirmed this result by exposing the uteri of mice to cell culture media that was used to grow abnormal human embryos and they observed the same response in the mouse cells in vivo as the human cells in vitro.

In other words, it appears as if the endometrium serves as a gatekeeper rejecting embryos with chromosomal abnormalities and embracing developmentally viable embryos. Because the rejection of abnormal embryos happens so early in the pregnancy, most women are unaware that they were pregnant.

Ironically, some researchers believe the widespread occurrence of miscarriages actually led to the success of our species. Compared to other mammals, humans have an unusually high rate of spontaneous abortions (even when we consider Jarvis’s revised estimates). For the most part, humans give birth to a single child that requires nine months of gestation. Other mammals have shorter pregnancies, some birthing litters. For these mammals, a process that allows a few abnormal embryos to grow and develop has relatively little consequences because a significant number of the litter will be healthy. But for humans, allowing a single ill-fated pregnancy to go to full-term is a flawed strategy. As biologist Shawn Chavez notes, “In the case of animals that have litters, maybe they make 10 embryos a month and only eight make it to live birth, but that’s still eight. Whereas we typically can only make one embryo per month, so if it isn’t a good one, maybe it’s better to try again next month.”6 Biologist Tim Bruckner makes a similar point. He states, “According to the theory of natural selection, we want to have children that survive infancy and grow up and have children of their own so they can pass on our genes. There’s this idea that human reproduction is inefficient because so many pregnancies are lost, but overall it may have led to the preservation of our species.”7

These insights into the cause of miscarriage also contribute to our understanding of infertility. Women with a hypervigilant endometrium may struggle to get pregnant because the endometrium rejects both abnormal and healthy embryos. By the same token, these insights explain why some women are prone to miscarriages. In this case, their endometrium isn’t selective enough, allowing embryos to develop which otherwise “biologically” shouldn’t.

Spontaneous Abortions: A Necessary Design Feature of Human Reproductions

On the surface, the high rate of spontaneous abortions appears to be a flawed design. In reality, this feature of human reproduction reflects an exquisite biological rationale. Though emotionally brutal, miscarriages are a necessary feature of the human reproduction process that arises from the complexity of human reproduction and the second law of thermodynamics. If not for the high rate of spontaneous abortions we would have a reduced likelihood of having healthy children.

Though this scientific insight doesn’t answer all the difficult questions associated with spontaneous abortions, it can offer some source of comfort knowing that a rationale exists for pregnancy loss. As science journalist Alice Klein writes:

As traumatic as my own miscarriage was, it is comforting to learn that it probably wasn’t because of anything I did or anything that was wrong with me. On the contrary, it was most likely due to a random genetic error that I had no control over. Instead of my body failing me, it may have protected me from investing further in a pregnancy that probably wasn’t going to produce a healthy baby.8

All these years later, I find comfort, too, in knowing that there is a reason why my wife suffered a miscarriage. Still, Amy and I are left with many questions—questions for which we may never receive answers. Though it may sound odd to nonreligious people, in the midst of this uncertainty, we choose to rely on the fact that God is just and merciful and sovereign over all things.


The Fixed Laws of Nature

The Elegant Design of Human Reproduction

Disabilities and the Image of God

Pro-Life Argument

  1. Gavin E. Jarvis, “Early Embryo Mortality in Natural Human Reproduction: What the Data Say,” F1000Research 5 (June 12, 2017): 2765, doi:10.12688/f1000research.8937.2.
  2. University of Cambridge, “Human Reproduction Likely to Be More Efficient Than Previously Thought,” ScienceDaily (June 13, 2017), sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170613101932.htm.
  3. University of Cambridge, “Human Reproduction.”
  4. Lucia Carbone and Shawn L. Chavez, “Mammalian Pre-Implantation Chromosomal Instability: Species Comparison, Evolutionary Considerations, and Pathological Correlations,” Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine 61, no. 6 (2015): 321–35, doi:10.3109/1939638.2015.1073406.
  5. Gijs Teklenburg et al., “Natural Selection of Human Embryos: Decidualizing Endometrial Stromal Cells Serve as Sensors of Embryo Quality upon Implantation,” PLoS One 5 (April 21, 2010): e10258, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010258; Jan J. Brosens et al., “Uterine Selection of Human Embryos at Implantation,” Scientific Reports 4 (February 6, 2014): 3894, doi:10.1038/srep03894.
  6. Alice Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists—And Why It’s So Misunderstood,” New Scientist (August 5, 2020), https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24732940-900-the-real-reasons-miscarriage-exists-and-why-its-so-misunderstood/.
  7. Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists.”
  8. Klein, “The Real Reasons Miscarriage Exists.”

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Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

By Fazale Rana – July 8, 2020

How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 104:24

I don’t remember who pointed out thedarksideofnature Instagram account to me, but their description was intriguing enough that I had to check it out. After perusing a few posts, I ended up adding myself to the list of followers.

I can’t say I enjoy the photos and videos posted by thedarksideofnature—which depict nature “red in tooth and claw”—but I do find them mesmerizing. Their website states that it is “all about showing the world a different side of nature. A side that may not be the prettiest, but it is the realist.”

The posts from thedarksideofnature are a stark reminder of the dichotomy in the animal kingdom, simultaneously beautiful and brutal, highlighting the majesty and the power—and danger—of the world of nature. For many people the beauty, majesty, and power of nature evince a Creator’s handiwork. For others, nature’s brutality serves as justifiable cause for rejecting God’s existence. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God create a world in which animal pain and suffering appears to be gratuitous?

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the seemingly senseless cruelty of nature more so than the widespread occurrence of filial (relating to offspring) cannibalism and filial abandonment among animals. Many animals eat their young or consume eggs after laying them. Others abandon their young, condemning them to certain death.

What an unimaginably cruel feature of nature. Why would God create animals that eat their offspring or abandon their young?

Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

What if there are good reasons for God to permit pain and suffering to exist in the animal kingdom? Scientific research seems to offer several reasons.

For example, some studies reveal purpose for animal pain and suffering. Others demonstrate that animal death promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability. There are even studies that provide reasons for filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment (see the Resources section, below). Most recently, a team of investigators from Europe and Australia provide additional reasons why animals would consume their own offspring.1

These researchers didn’t set out to study filial cannibalism. Instead, they sought to understand why the comb jelly, native to the Atlantic coast of North America, has been so successful at colonizing new habitats. For example, this invasive species has made its way into the Baltic Sea, which has longer periods of low food availability compared to the comb jelly’s native habitat. The comb jelly has adapted to the food shortage by engaging in behavior that, at first blush, is counterintuitive and seems to be counterproductive. As it enters into the late season, when the prey field begins to empty, the comb jelly makes a massive investment in reproduction, even though the larval offspring have virtually no chance of survival. In fact, after three weeks the comb jelly progeny stop growing, then shrink in size, and die.


Figure: Comb Jelly. Credit: Shutterstock

As it turns out, the late season wave of reproduction explains the comb jelly’s success as an invasive species. The researchers learned that the bloom of offspring serve as a food source for the comb jelly adults, replacing the disappearing prey. In other words, as the comb jelly’s available prey begins to decline in number, the jellies reproduce on a large scale with the juveniles serving as a nutrient store that lasts for an additional three weeks beyond the collapse of the prey fields. While this short duration may not seem like much, it affords the comb jelly an opportunity to outcompete other marine life during this window of time, ecologically making the difference between the flourishing and the decline of the species.

Instead of viewing the filial cannibalism among the comb jelly in sinister terms, the investigators found it to be an ingenious design. They argue that the comb jelly population appears to be working together as a single organism. According to research team member Thomas Larsen:

“In some ways, the whole jelly population is acting like a single organism, with the younger groups supporting the adults through times of nutrient stress. Overall, it enables jellies to persist through extreme events and low food periods, colonizing further than climate conditions and other conditions would usually allow.”2

In effect, the filial cannibalism observed for the comb jelly is no different than the autophagy and apoptosis observed in multicellular organisms, in which individual cells are consumed for the overall benefit of the organism.

Filial Cannibalism and the Logical Problem of Evil

These insights into the adaptive value of filial cannibalism for the comb jelly help address the logical problem of natural evil. As part of the problem of natural evil, questions arise about God’s existence and goodness because of brutality in the animal kingdom. Many skeptics view the problem of evil as an insurmountable challenge for Christian theism:

  1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
  2. Therefore, we would expect good designs in nature.
  3. Yet, nature is brutal, with animals experiencing an undue amount of pain and suffering.
  4. Therefore, God either does not exist or is not good.

Skeptics argue that this final observation about nature is logically incompatible with God’s existence, or, minimally with God’s goodness. In other words, because of natural evil either God doesn’t exist or He isn’t good. Either way, Christian theism is undermined. But what if there is a good reason—as research shows—for pain and suffering to exist in nature? We could modify the syllogism this way:

  1. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
  2. Therefore, we would expect good designs in nature.
  3. There are good reasons for God to allow pain and suffering in the animal realm.
  4. Animal death, pain, and suffering are part of nature.

In other words, if there are good reasons for animal pain and suffering, then God’s existence and goodness are logically coherent with animal pain and suffering. Also, who is to say that pain and suffering in the animal kingdom is excessive? How could anyone possibly know?

The God of Skepticism or the God of the Bible?

When considering the problem of natural evil, it is important to distinguish between the God of naturalistic philosophy and the God of the Bible. Though some philosophers may see pain and suffering in the animal realm as a reason to question God’s existence and goodness, the authors of Scripture had a different perspective. They saw animal death as part of the good creation and a reason to praise and celebrate God as Creator and Provider.3 The insights from science about the importance of animal death to ecosystems, and the adaptive value of pain and suffering provide the rationale for calling these features of nature “good.”

All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

Psalm 104:27–30


Animal Death and the Problem of Evil

The Argument from Beauty

  1. Jamileh Javidpour et al., “Cannibalism Makes Invasive Comb Jelly, Mnemiopsis leidyi, Resilient to Unfavorable Conditions,” Communications Biology 3 (2020): 212, doi:10.1038/s42003-020-0940-2.

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Why Would God Create a World with Parasites?

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A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.1

—Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

If God exists and if he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? This conundrum keeps many skeptics and seekers from the Christian faith and even troubles some Christians.

Perhaps nothing epitomizes the problem of pain and suffering more than the cruelty observed in nature. Indeed, what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of animals?

Often, the pain and suffering animals experience is accompanied by unimaginable and seemingly unnecessary cruelty.

Take nematodes (roundworms) as an example. There are over 10,000 species of nematodes. Some are free-living. Others are parasitic. Nematode parasites infect humans, animals, plants, and insects, causing untold pain and suffering. But their typical life cycle in insects seems especially cruel.

Nematodes that parasitize insects usually are free-living in their adult form but infest their host in the juvenile stage. The infection begins when the juvenile form of the parasite enters into the insect host, usually through a body opening, such as the mouth or anus. Sometimes the juveniles drill through the insect’s cuticle.

Once inside the host, the juveniles release bacteria that infect and kill the host, liquefying its internal tissues. As long as the supply of host tissue holds out, the juveniles will live within the insect’s body, even reproducing. When the food supply runs out, the nematodes exit the insect and seek out another host.


Figure 1: An Entomopathogenic Nematode Juvenile. Image credit: Shutterstock

Why would God create a world with parasitism? Could God really be responsible for a world like the one we inhabit? Many skeptics would answer “no” and conclude that God must not exist.

A Christian Response to the Problem of Evil

One way to defend God’s existence and goodness in the face of animal pain and suffering is to posit that there just might be good reasons for God to create the world the way it is. Perhaps what we are quick to label as evil may actually serve a necessary function.

This perspective gains support based on some recent insights into the benefits that insect parasites impart to ecosystems. A research team from the University of Georgia (UGA) recently unearthed one example of the important role played by these parasites.2 These researchers demonstrated that nematode-infected horned passalus beetles (bess beetles) are more effective at breaking down dead logs in the forest than their parasite-free counterparts—and this difference benefits the ecosystem. Here’s how.

The Benefit Parasites Provide to the Ecosystem

The horned passalus lives in decaying logs. The beetles consume wood through a multistep process. After ingesting the wood, these insects excrete it in a partially digested form. The wood excrement becomes colonized by bacteria and fungi and then is later re-consumed by the beetle.

These insects can become infected by a nematode parasite (Chondronema passali). The parasite inhabits the abdominal cavity of the beetle (though not its gastrointestinal tract). When infected, the horned passalus can harbor thousands of individual nematodes.

To study the effect of this parasite on the horned passalus and the forest ecosystem inhabited by the insect, researchers collected 113 individuals from the woods near the UGA campus. They also collected pieces of wood from the logs bearing the beetles.

In the laboratory, they placed each of the beetles in separate containers that also contained pieces of wood. After three months, they discovered that the beetles infected with the nematode parasite processed 15 percent more wood than beetles that were parasite-free. Apparently, the beetles compensate for the nematode infection by consuming more food. One possible reason for the increased wood consumption may be due to the fact that the parasites draw away essential nutrients from the beetle host, requiring the insect to consume more food.

While it isn’t clear if the parasite infestation harms the beetle (infected beetles have reduced mobility and loss of motor function), it is clear that the infestation benefits the ecosystem. These beetles play a key role in breaking down dead logs and returning nutrients to the forest soil. By increasing the beetles’ wood consumption, the nematodes accelerate this process, benefiting the ecosystem’s overall health.

Cody Prouty, one of the project’s researchers, points out “that although the beetle and the nematode have a parasitic relationship, the ecosystem benefits from not only the beetle performing its function, but the parasite increasing the efficiency of the beetle. Over the course of a few years, the parasitized beetles could process many more logs than unparasitized beetles, and lead to an increase of organic matter in soils.”3

This study is not the first to discover benefits parasites impart to ecosystems. Parasites play a role in shaping ecosystem biodiversity and they intertwine with the food web. The researchers close their article this way: “Countering long-standing unpopular views of parasites is certainly challenging, but perhaps evidence like that presented here will be of use in this effort.”4

Such evidence does not “revolt our understanding,” as Darwin might suggest, but instead enhances our insights into the creation and helps counter the challenge of the problem of evil. Even creatures as gruesome as parasites can serve a beneficial purpose in creation and maybe could rightfully be understood as good.


  1. Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809–1882 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969), 90.
  2. Andrew K. Davis and Cody Prouty, “The Sicker the Better: Nematode-Infected Passalus Beetles Provide Enhanced Ecosystem Services,” Biology Letters 15, no. 5 (2019): 20180842, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2018.0842.
  3. University of Georgia, “Parasites Help Beetle Hosts Function More Effectively,” ScienceDaily (May 1, 2019), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190501131435.htm.
  4. Davis and Prouty,“The Sicker the Better,” 3.

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Why Would God Create a World Where Animals Eat Their Offspring?

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What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature!

–Charles Darwin, “Letter to J. D. Hooker,” Darwin Correspondence Project

You may not have ever heard of him, but he played an important role in ushering in the Darwinian revolution in biology. His name was Asa Gray.

Gray (1810–1888) was a botanist at Harvard University. He was among the first scientists in the US to adopt Darwin’s theory of evolution. Asa Gray was also a devout Christian.


Asa Gray in 1864. Image credit: John Adams Whipple, Wikipedia

Gray was convinced that Darwin’s theory of evolution was sound. He was also convinced that nature displayed unmistakable evidence for design. For this reason, he reasoned that God must have used evolution as the means to create and, in doing so, Gray may have been the first person to espouse theistic evolution.

In his book Darwinia, Asa Gray presents a number of essays defending Darwin’s theory. Yet, he also expresses his deepest convictions that nature is filled with indicators of design. He attributed that design to a type of God-ordained, God-guided process. Gray argued that God is the source of all evolutionary change.


Gray and Darwin struck up a friendship and exchanged around 300 letters. In the midst of their correspondence, Gray asked Darwin if he thought it possible that God used evolution as the means to create. Darwin’s reply revealed that he wasn’t very impressed with this idea.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope & believe what he can.1

Darwin could not embrace Gray’s theistic evolution because of the cruelty he saw in nature that seemingly causes untold pain and suffering in animals. Darwin—along with many skeptics today—couldn’t square a world characterized by that much suffering with the existence of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

Filial Cannibalism

The widespread occurrence of filial cannibalism (when animals eat their young or consume their eggs after laying them) and abandonment (leading to death) exemplify such cruelty in animals. It seems such a low and brutal feature of nature.

Why would God create animals that eat their offspring and abandon their young?

Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

But what if there are good reasons for God to allow pain and suffering in the animal kingdom? I have written about good scientific reasons to think that a purpose exists for animal pain and suffering (see “Scientists Uncover a Good Purpose for Long-Lasting Pain in Animals” by Fazale Rana).

And, what if animal death is a necessary feature of nature? Other studies indicate that animal death promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability (see “Of Weevils and Wasps: God’s Good Purpose in Animal Death” by Maureen Moser, and “Animal Death Prevents Ecological Meltdown” by Fazale Rana).

There also appears to be a reason for filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment, at least based on a study by researchers from Oxford University (UK) and the University of Tennessee.2 These researchers demonstrated that filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment comprise a form of parental care.

What? How is that conclusion possible?

It turns out that when animals eat their offspring or abandon their young, the reduction promotes the survival of the remaining offspring. To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers performed mathematical modeling of a generic egg-laying species. They discovered that when animals sacrificed a few of their young, the culling led to greater fitness for their offspring than when animals did not engage in filial cannibalism or egg abandonment.

These behaviors become important when animals lay too many eggs. In order to properly care for their eggs (protect, incubate, feed, and clean), animals confine egg-laying to a relatively small space. This practice leads to a high density of eggs. But this high density can have drawbacks, making the offspring more vulnerable to diseases and lack of sufficient food and oxygen. Filial cannibalism reduces the density, ensuring a greater chance of survival for those eggs that are left behind. So, ironically, when egg density is too high for the environmental conditions, more offspring survive when the parents consume some, rather than none, of the eggs.

So, why lay so many eggs in the first place?

In general, the more eggs that are laid, the greater the number of surviving offspring—assuming there are unlimited resources and no threats of disease. But it is difficult for animals to know how many eggs to lay because the environment is unpredictable and constantly changing. A better way to ensure reproductive fitness is to lay more eggs and remove some of them if the environment can’t sustain the egg density.

So, it appears as if there is a good reason for God to create animals that eat their young. In fact, you might even argue that filial cannibalism leads to a world with less cruelty and suffering than a world where filial cannibalism doesn’t exist at all. This feature of nature is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God who has designed the creation for his good purposes.


  1. To Asa Gray 22 May [1860],” Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2814.xml.
  2. Mackenzie E. Davenport, Michael B. Bansall, and Hope Klug, “Unconventional Care: Offspring Abandonment and Filial Cannibalism Can Function as Forms of Parental Care,” Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7 (April 17, 2019): 113, doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00113.

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Why Did God Create the Thai Liver Fluke?


The Thai liver fluke causes quite a bit of human misery. This parasite infects fish living in the rivers of Southeast Asia, which, in turn, infects people who eat the fish.

Raw and fermented fish make up a big part of the diet of people in Southeast Asia. For example, in Thailand, a popular culinary item is called sour fish. This “delicacy” is prepared by mixing raw fish with garlic, salt, seasoning, and rice. After rolling the mixture into a ball, it is placed in a plastic bag and left to ferment in the hot sun for several days.

The fermentation process isn’t sufficient to kill the cysts of the Thai liver fluke embedded in the muscles of the infected fish. So, when people eat sour fish (or raw fish), they risk ingesting the parasite.

The Thai Liver Fluke Life Cycle

After ingestion, the cysts open in the digestive track of the human host, releasing the fluke. This parasite travels through the bile duct, making its way into the liver, where it takes up residence.

Once in the liver, the fluke lays eggs that are carried into the host’s digestive track by bile secreted by the liver. In turn, the eggs are released into the environment with human excrement. After being ingested by snails, the eggs hatch, producing larvae that escape from the snail. The free-living larvae infect fish, forming cysts in their skin, fins, and muscle.

Image: Life cycle of Opisthorchis viverrini. Image source: Wikipedia

The Thai liver fluke is a master of disguise, evading the immune system of the human host and living for decades in the liver. Unless the infestation is extreme, people infected with the fluke are completely unaware that they harbor this parasite.

Estimates indicate that 10% of the Thai population is infected with the Thai liver fluke. But in the villages of northern Thailand, where the consumption of raw and fermented fish is higher than in other areas of the country, 45% of the people carry the parasite.

The Thai Liver Fluke and Cancer

The Thai liver fluke can live for several decades in the host’s liver without much consequence. But eventually, the burden of the infection catches up with the human host, leading to an aggressive and deadly form of liver cancer that claims about 26,000 Thai lives each year. Once the cancer is detected, most patients die within a year.

Biomedical researchers think the liver cancer is triggered by the Thai liver fluke, which munches on the host’s liver. Interestingly, the fluke’s saliva contains a protein (called granulin-like protein) that stimulates cell growth and division. These processes help the liver to repair itself after being damaged by the fluke. In effect, the parasite eats part of the liver, supercharges the liver to repair itself, and then eats the new tissue, repeating the cycle for decades. The repeated wounding and repairing of the liver tissue accompanied by rapid cell division eventually leads to the onset of cancer.

The Thai Liver Fluke and God’s Goodness

The problems caused by the Thai liver fluke are not limited to the biomedical arena. This parasite causes theological issues, as well. Why would a good God create the Thai liver fluke? Questions like this one fall under the problem of evil.

Philosophers and theologians recognize two kinds of evil: moral and natural.Moral evil stems from human action (or inaction in some cases). Natural evil proceeds from nature itself—earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, diseases, and the like.

Natural evil seems to present a greater theological challenge than moral evil does. Skeptics could agree that God can be excused for the free-will actions of human beings who violate his standard of goodness, but they reason that natural disasters and disease don’t result from human activity. Therefore, this type of “evil” must be attributed solely to God.

Are Some Forms of Natural Evil Actually Moral Evil?

As I have previously argued, many times natural evil is moral evil in disguise. (See the Resources section below.) In other words, the suffering humans experience stems from human moral failing and poor judgment, not the actual natural phenomenon.

This most certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the Thai liver fluke. Liver cancer caused by parasite infestations would plummet if people stopped eating raw fish and developed better public sanitation systems and practices.

So, is it God’s fault that humans become infected with the Thai liver fluke? Or is it because the people of northern Thailand suffer from poverty and a lack of sanitation—ultimately, conditions caused by human moral failing? Is it God’s fault that people of Southeast Asia develop liver cancer from fluke infestations, when they eat raw and fermented fish instead of properly cooking the meat, knowing the adverse health effects?

Parasites Play a Critical Role in Ecological Systems

Still, the question remains: Why would God create parasites at all?

As it turns out, parasites play an indispensable role in ecosystem health.1 Though these creatures make minor contributions to the biomass of ecosystems, they have a significant effect on several ecosystem parameters, including biodiversity. In fact, some ecologists believe that an ecosystem becomes more robust and functions better as parasite diversity increases.

Considering this insight, a rationale exists as to why God would create the Thai liver fluke to be a member of the ecosystems of the rivers in Southeast Asia. This parasite infects any carnivore (dogs, cats, rats, and pigs) that eats fish from these rivers, not just humans. Undoubtedly infecting these carnivores influences a variety of ecosystem processes, such as species competition, and energy flow through the ecosystem. The harm this parasite causes humans is an unintended consequence of imprudent human activities—not the inherent design of nature.

Parasites and God’s Providence

Remarkably, recent work by scientists from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) indicates that the suffering caused by the Thai liver fluke may fulfill a higher purpose—a greater good.

These researchers believe that the Thai liver fluke may hold the key to effectively treat slow- and non-healing wounds caused by diabetes.2

High blood glucose levels associated with diabetes compromise the circulatory and immune systems. This compromised condition inhibits wound repair due to restricted blood flow to the site of the injury. It also makes the wound much more prone to infection.

The AITHM researchers realized that the granulin-like protein produced by the Thai liver fluke could be used to promote healing of chronic wounds because it promotes rapid cell proliferation in the liver. If incorporated into a cream, this protein could be topically applied to the wounds, stimulating wound repair. This treatment would dramatically reduce the cost of treating chronic wounds and significantly improve the treatment outcomes.

Ironically, the properties of the granulin-like protein that make this biomolecule so insidious are exactly the properties that make it useful to treat diabetics’ wounds. To put it another way, the Thai liver fluke is beneficial to humanity.

The idea that God designed nature to be useful for humanity is a facet of divine providence. In Christian theology, this idea refers to God’s continual role in: (1) preserving his creation; (2) ensuring that everything happens; and (3) guiding the universe. The concept of divine providence also posits that when God created the world he built into the creation everything humans (and other living organisms) would need. Accordingly, every good thing that people possess has been provided and preserved by God, either directly or indirectly.

On this basis, as counterintuitive as this may initially seem, it could be argued that as part of his providence, God created the Thai liver fluke for humanity’s use and benefit.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

–Romans 8:28



  1. Peter J. Hudson, Andrew P. Dobson, and Kevin D. Lafferty, “Is a Healthy Ecosystem One that Is Rich in Parasites?” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21 (July 2006): 381–85, doi:10.1016/j.tree.2006.04.007.
  2. Paramjit S. Bansal et al., “Development of a Potent Wound Healing Agent Based on the Liver Fluke Granulin Structural Fold,” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 60 (April 20, 2017): 4258–66, doi:10.1021/acs.jmedchem.7b00047.