I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & 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. -- From a letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1860
The Ichneumonidae is a family of wasps. A very big family. It is, in fact, one of the largest families in the largest class of animals, the insects. There are over 60,000 species of ichneumonid wasps, each one, according to creationists, specially designed by God. My question for them is the same as Charles Darwin's: Why? Why would a beneficent and omnipotent God do such a thing?
To understand the question, it is necessary to know a bit about the ichneumonids. First of all, most are parasitoids, which means that their larvae develop inside the body of a living host, which they slowly eat alive. Eventually, when the wasp larvae pupate, they erupt out of the body of the host that they have gradually consumed, tormented, and destroyed as larvae.
It is easy to see how such a thing could exist from an evolutionary standpoint. The body of a caterpillar is good food for larvae. It's not surprising that some organisms have evolved to take advantage of it. But what kind of a God would purposefully design it to be that way?
I have heard five different answers:
- God originally made everything good; there was no suffering or death until the fall of Adam. Then all hell broke loose. Animals immediately began to kill and eat each other, and predators, parasites, parasitoids, and pathogens roamed the earth. (Creation Ministries)
- God made things nasty right from the start just to show us how important we are to him. He knew that Adam would sin, so he made nature cruel to show us the serious nature of sin. (Dembski's Defective Design Inference)
- God made everything good and then Satan messed everything up. (Gregory Boyd's Cosmic Warfare Theodicy)
- God likes it just fine the way it is. He created it that way for is own pleasure. He likes to watch things suffer. (David Snoke)
- God couldn't help it and had nothing to do with it. He would have liked to create a kind and peaceful world, but he had to let things play out according to the laws of nature, over which he had no control. So the ichneumonid wasps just evolved, along with everything else, over millions of years while God sadly watched from a distance, unable to affect the outcome. (Ken Miller)
For each of these answers, though, I have a question.
- How did things change so quickly? Were the 60,000 ichneumonid species specially created by God the moment Adam sinned? Or did God magically turn 60,000 butterfly species into parasitic wasps? Or did they all evolve (super)naturally in a few thousand years?
- How do the ichneumonids teach us about sin? Until about the time of Darwin no one (except God) even knew they existed? Yet God created them just for us, just to teach us a lesson?
- So Satan created the Ichneumonids? Along with scorpions, spiders, snakes, and sharks? He must have been a busy guy!
- How could a kind and loving God create things just to watch them suffer?
- A God who can't create or control anything isn't a God at all.
Here are some cool videos about the Ichneumonids.
The first one is from David Attenborough's marvelous "Life in the Undergrowth."
And here's one showing a Ichneumonid wasp (Megarhyssa sp.) drilling through the bark of an oak tree to deposit an egg in the tunnel of the siricid wood wasp, whose larva the Maegarhyssa lava will eat alive from the inside in the traditional Ichneumonid fashion (just like God intended it to be).