Over at Why Evolution is True, Professor Jerry Coyne has written a post entitled, Readers’ photos: a doomed caterpillar about the fate of a beautiful caterpillar being attacked by a parasitic fly that lays eggs on its victim. He quotes from a reader who took photos of the incident during an excursion to Vietnam:
As I walked on I felt sorry for the beautiful caterpillar, knowing that it almost certainly was going to die an extremely unpleasant death (slowly being eaten alive by a maggot). Should I have interfered? This moral dilemma occupied me for a while. Nature is wonderful, but full of horrors, most of which go unnoticed.
But Professor Coyne does not stop there. He quotes from a letter from Charles Darwin to Asa Gray, dated May 22, 1860, citing observations like the above as evidence against a beneficent God:
With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. 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.
Coyne notes in passing:
Ichneumonids are not flies, but wasps (mostly parasitic ones) in the order Hymenoptera, along with bees and other more familiar wasps.
Well, Professor Coyne, Darwin lived in the 19th century, but you live in the 21st. Surely you are aware that flies aren’t sentient. There is an enormous amount of neurological evidence that sentience is limited to relatively few animals: mammals (almost certainly), birds (probably) and just possibly, reptiles and cephalopods. Just to jog your memory:
Criteria for consciousness in humans and other mammals at www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/anils/php/processPdf.php?item=30 (Seth, Baars and Edelman)
If flies don’t feel anything, what’s the theological problem here?