What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.
If God is the author of nature and reveals His character in it (Romans 1:20), then He must be horribly cruel or at the very least indifferent towards life on Earth. This is of course not the outlook that most religious people have when they look at nature. For instance, one common example in nature that is often used by theists to justify their view of design is the curious behavior of the honeyguide bird (Family Indicatoridae). The honeyguides are known to deliberately guide humans to bee hives and feed on the grubs and beeswax left over after the humans eat the honey. Honeyguides will make different calls that humans have learned to identify that will direct them to the colonies. Theists have seized upon this apparently benevolent behavior of the birds as an example of a Creator designing the bird to assist humans to find food (1,2). To the student of evolutionary biology, it is not hard to imagine how such a behavior could have evolved over time. This is a clear example of a mutual benefit of both parties and needs no divine intervention for explanation. Of course this is a matter of perspective; the theist will see it as an example of design while the non-theist will see it as an adaptation.
New research into the behavior of honeyguides has found some less than benevolent behavior among them however(3). While still blind and in the nest, Honeyguide chicks will attack and kill their newly hatched siblings in order to eliminate the competition for the food brought back by the parents. The chicks are equipped with needle-sharp hooks at the end of their beaks and will use them to hack at the hatchling until it stops moving. The researches noted that sometimes the hatchling would not die immediately and could take as much as seven hours to die.
This type of competition is hardly rare or unique to honeyguides. Biologist Richard Dawkins described a similarly brutal act committed by Blackheaded gulls in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins explains,
Blackheaded gulls nest in large colonies, the nests being only a few feet apart. When the chicks first hatch out they are small and defenceless and easy to swallow. It is quite common for a gull to wait until a neighbour’s back is turned, perhaps while it is away fishing, and then pounce on one of the neighbour’s chicks and swallow it whole. It thereby obtains a good nutritious meal, without having to go to the trouble of catching a fish, and without having to leave its own nest unprotected (4).
It is hard to imagine the sum total of a beings existence consisting of being born, being hacked near death by an older sibling, spending several hours slowly dying where you were just born and then calling it a function of design by a benevolent Creator. Examples like this must be taken into account if one wishes to speak of nature as being the product of design. Theists often wish to have it both ways by pointing to those beneficial acts as evidence for their ideas while ignoring the more brutal or detrimental ones. But to then adaptationist both types of behaviors would be expected to arise in the competitive and resource-starved environment of the natural world. It is also important that nature is neither cruel nor benevolent, it just is.
4. Dawkins, Richard The Selfish Gene Ch. 1