Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A tear for the seal pup

Tonight Wesley and I were watching a nice little program on animal planet about seal pups. At the end of the show, there was footage of something I've always heard about but have never seen (and have always been interested)--killer whales making sport of seal pups that they've recently captured. The narrator speculated that because the orcas keep the seal pups alive while they throw them around with their jaws, and because young orcas are present, they must be teaching the young to hunt. But then comes the indescribable--after the seal dies, the orcas fling the seals 50 or 60 feet in the air just seemingly for fun. The whole scene was amazing and disturbing.

Occasionally I can be romantic and idealistic about the natural world and its power to convey to humans the majesty and beauty of God. I don't think I could ever see this practice as beautiful though. Even carnivores hunting prey has a certain degree of beauty and necessity to it--this seems like it simply a cruel game. So--to put my own general outlook on the natural world to the test--how does this practice display God? If there is a moral underpinning to the universe, why would these animals, presumably not endowed with the faculties of morality, display cruelty? Perhaps, since they have no sense of morality, they simply do it because it entertains them? But if there is a universal undercurrent of love and compassion guiding the universe, wouldn't the default mode for creatures not able to choose the good simply be the good? So far, you see, I just have questions and no answers. I've known that orcas do this for some time, and have thought about it as a foil to some of my idealistic perspective toward the natural world, panentheism, process theology, etc.--but seeing it caused some fresh interrogation.

One thought is that Orcas playing with the dead body of a seal is no more cruel than humans throwing around a football that we have the intelligence to craft from the dead body of a cow (--of course, most footballs are synthetic leather, but you get my point--was it ever really pig-skin?). While we do have the perhaps unique ability of not choosing the good (according to classical theology), humans are also to blame for causing the earth to fall along with humankind. (Genesis 3:17)--of course, if I remember correctly, that curse was revoked after the flood as well. According to my understanding of Process theology, I would say that each creature has the capacity for "choosing" the divine aim, and while the divine aim might not be for orcas to torture seal pups, the orcas are free like anything and everything else to deviate from that Divine Aim. Of course, that seems to convey a lack of morality on the part of the orcas for engaging in "natural" behavior, and I'm not sure I can make that leap. Hmmmmm...... I need to get my Earth Bible commentary out and take a look at it. I also need the wisdom of my friend and sage Max, expert in all things Process theology. Max, are you out there? Care to comment?

Well, if that muddied the waters for you--help me get them clear again. Or, let's have a mud-fight!


  1. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Answer: there is no god.

  2. what an original conclusion by anonymous! Here's what my friend Max had to say--"Well, one way to "dodge" out of the question is to point out that virtually ALL Moral Theorists limit what we usually call "morality" to HUMANS ONLY (and perhaps some primates). The reason being the belief that genuine ethical reasoning requires the ability to "take the role of the other" -- a highly complex Theory of Mind that requires one to consider how the Other "feels" about a particular thing. We think (for now, anyway) that only creatures like ourselves are capable of such a theory of mind, hence one of the well-known names for humans: "the Moral animal."

    Orcas, on this view, or simply being "Orcas." Neither moral, nor "immoral." (sucks for the seals, though!)

    Hope that helps.

  3. Anonymous5:11 PM

    I don't have to be original to be right. The simplest answer is typically the correct one.

  4. The other short and simple answer: sin pervades the world since the Fall.

    Of course, here understand sin not as transgressions, but as a fundamental brokenness in creation. When humans chose to put themselves in the place of God by choosing less than what God desired (choosing the fruit of the tree was a lesser choice...) they altered the fundamental structure of the world. Creation itself is broken, hence the orca toying with the seal pup, rather than just respecting the life of the pup and subjecting it to a quick death.

    Of course then one may ask: Didn't Christ win the victory over sin (and death too)? Of course, but we live in between the time of the victory and the culmination of that victory, when Christ returns and is all in all.

    So.. the other simple answer... sin.