Advisory: The following article discusses a fact of nature: the forced copulation of juvenile harbor seals by adult sea otters. It contains material and language that some readers may find upsetting.
Answers in Genesis likes sea otters. How could they not? Those cuddly little guys are cute enough to eat! (You know, if they weren’t endangered and all.) Here’s what AiG author Joe Francis has to say on the subject:
If you’ve ever watched an otter at play, you’ve probably heard someone squeal, “Adorable!” Fun-loving and playful on the surface, they serve a critical role in the Creator’s underwater gardens — they’re the guardians of His kelp forests.
That’s right, gang. Otters may be playful and “Adorable!” but they also have a serious side: They’re the guardians of God’s kelp forests (see photo). Francis’ article goes on like that. Otters are a great topic for proponents of young-earth creationism, because — for the most part — it allows them to discuss real scientific facts (like animal behavior and physiology) without endangering their worldview. Now, it’s true that in otters — like every species — we can see the marks of an evolutionary past. But YECs don’t feel the need to acknowledge that. They can look at the otter’s dense, waterproof fur, webbed feet and muscular tail and claim them as the handiwork of a creative God — not the results of natural selection.
Then again, this approach can get them into trouble. Because sea otters are not just fun-loving party animals, and they’re not even just fun-loving-party-animals-plus-kelp-forest-guardians. They’re also brutal cross-species rapists, who have been observed forcibly copulating with, and in the process killing, baby harbor seals. (See here for the full study, published in Aquatic Mammals in 2010. Be advised that the journal article contains some graphic images.)
Really, it makes sense. I mean, after a long shift guarding kelp forests for God (who can be a real task master, as I’m sure we all know), who wouldn’t want to blow off a little steam? I’ve never been in the military, but I have seen “Full Metal Jacket,” so I have a good feel for what it’s like.
The problem, for YECs, is that it puts God in a rather undesirable place. Because if God is directly responsible for the otter’s wonderfully adapted marine physiology, than he is also directly responsible for the animal’s tendency to rape baby seals until they die (and for up to a week afterward). Either he made them specifically to do that, or he made them so poorly that, in a sex-obsessed mania, they literally cannot tell the difference between a mature female otter and a juvenile member of a completely different species.
Now, I’m sure some of my YEC readers think they have a better option: “God’s not responsible. We just live in a fallen world.” This is an explanation beloved by YECs as a theological catch-all for everything from tsunamis to the existence of carnivorous beasts. You see, they believe that God’s curse in Genesis 3 not only increased women’s pain in childbirth and gave men the responsibility to work for a living, but also did a bunch of other stuff the Lord apparently didn’t think was worth mentioning, like turning lions and crocodiles into killing machines. (I kind of picture it like a horror movie version of “A Whole New World.”)
So why shouldn’t we believe this decidedly less-than-Adorable! otter behavior is just another consequence of the fall? Well, ask yourself honestly: Is that actually better? I mean, we’re talking about a deity fiddling with the sex drive of an animal Adam and Eve probably didn’t know existed (otters are not native to the Middle East) in order to inflict millennia of torment upon another species that our supposed ancestors would have known nothing about. Is God really any less of a monster for doing that if it was in response to human disobedience, rather than part of his original design?
No, as a Christian, I personally am quite content to believe that otter-on-seal rape/murder does not bear the direct fingerprints of God.
This discussion is not a new one, of course. The cannibalistic behavior of ichneumon wasp larvae was famously mentioned by Charles Darwin in an 1860 letter to Asa Gray as a reason for his growing doubt in the existence of a benevolent God.
“I cannot persuade myself,” he wrote, “that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”
And I must admit, I’m inclined to agree. I find it far more satisfying to view God as the sustainer and overseer of a vast creative process, rather than a tinkerer who has “designedly” weaved cruelty and brutality into the fabric of the animal kingdom.
In an evolutionary view of God, we can indeed see him as a great architect, perhaps at work even in seemingly random processes (as he can be at work in the random casting of lots), such that we do not need to believe humanity is an accident, or that the Lord was “surprised” when natural selection produced an intelligent, creative being.
And yet, at the same time, evolution frees God. A survival mechanism is allowed to be — not some bizarre divine retribution — but simply, a survival mechanism. And the disturbing behavior of otters forcibly copulating with seals is allowed to be seen for what it is: the overly aggressive sexual misfiring of a polygynous and territorial animal. Ultimately, a product of nature — nothing more.