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Cecil the lion: should we care?

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Published: 15 September 2015 (GMT+10)
Wikimedia Commons Cecil-the-lion

Many people expressed anger over Cecil the lion’s death in signs that appeared in public places and personal abuse directed at the hunter.

In July, a lion was killed. On its own, this would hardly be newsworthy (given that thousands of lions die every year in Africa from natural causes), but for the simple fact that this lion had become quite well-known by the public in recent years. People living all over the world now know about Cecil the lion. His untimely death has made headline news all over the internet. People who would hardly be able to find Zimbabwe on a map are now outraged by the fact that a lion was killed there.

The animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have already issued a statement expressing their desire to see Walter Palmer, the American dentist who killed the lion, “extradited, charged and preferably hanged”.1 Their petition against lion hunting has currently garnered more than 120,000 signatures.2 Whether or not this is commendable depends upon what we believe about our origins. If we accept the biblical mandate to look after our environment and care for the animals entrusted to our dominion (Genesis 1:28), then any efforts to mitigate against animal cruelty makes sense. God cares about animals, therefore so should we (Matthew 6:26).3

But if humanity owes its existence, along with the lions, to millions of years’ worth of brutal bloodshed in the struggle to survive and pass on our genes, any antipathy against animal cruelty seems a little naïve and counterproductive. After all, if natural selection got us here in the first place, one more dead lion is hardly a tragedy. According to evolutionary opinion, lions appeared on the scene about 700,000 years ago.4 This means that at least 10 billion lions would have died before Cecil did.5 And I would hazard a guess that most lions, like Cecil, have not died peacefully in the wild. If the evolutionary story is true, we actually have very little basis to care.

In fact, looking at this from the perspective of all the other animals which have been killed and would be killed by Cecil, it’s hard to see why we should lament rather than rejoice that Cecil finally got his just desserts. What grounds does evolution give us to choose between being a lion-lover instead of an antelope-lover? And why is it commendable to film, for entertainment, animals torturing and killing each other, but wicked and cruel for human “animals” to do the same? A male lion can kill all the lion cubs of another pride, and no petitions are put out for justice to be served, yet when a human kills a lion, culpable of mass animalicide, in the late stages of its retirement, the international community cries ‘foul’.

If nature is intrinsically “red in tooth and claw”,6 what grounds do we have to protest any bloodshed or cruelty in the world? Within the evolutionary model, death and cruelty are not only necessary for natural selection, but according to Charles Darwin himself, these evils should be seen as “most beautiful and most wonderful”.7 Thus Charles Darwin wrote in Origin of Species:

“It may be difficult, but we ought to admire the savage instinctive hatred of the queen-bee, which urges her instantly to destroy the young queens, her daughters as soon as born, or to perish herself in the combat… maternal love or maternal hatred… is all the same to the inexorable principle of natural selection.”7 (emphasis mine)

So evolution fails to explain why caring for animals is morally superior to torturing them. While most people recognise that something is indeed wrong with gratuitous animal cruelty, the critical question is: can their worldview make any sense of it? Even Darwin could not live by his creed. To cite a few examples:

  1. He regretted how he once cruelly beat a puppy as a boy8
  2. When fishing, he could not bring himself to place living worms upon the hook—instead he killed them with salt water first8
  3. He once rescued a spider from a wasp which was slowly stinging it to death9
  4. On another occasion, Darwin found a wasp which had been caught in a spider’s web. He wrote, “Pitying the wasp, after allowing it to struggle for more than an hour, I killed it and put it back into the web”9
  5. J. M. Herbert, a Cambridge friend of Darwin, reported an encounter Darwin had with a dying bird which had been recently shot: “it had made and left such a painful impression on his mind, that he could not reconcile it to his conscience to continue to derive pleasure from a sport which inflicted such cruel suffering”10
  6. Darwin joined the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was known for the active stance he took against cock-fighting and badger-baiting. He also pressed charges against a farmer who let his animals starve to death.11

So the fact that the mistreatment of one lion has led to a worldwide outcry testifies to the fact that, deep down, we all know that this world is broken and fallen, and not the way it ought to be—just as God told us in Genesis 3. But if we deny biblical creation, we lose any grounds to care about the killing of another lion in Africa.

References and notes

  1. PETA, PETA Statement: Zimbabwe’s beloved lion Cecil gunned down by American dentist/hunter, available at peta.org, 2015. Return to text.
  2. PETA, Take action for Cecil the Lion!, available at peta.org, 2015. Return to text.
  3. Superficially this might seem to provide a case for vegetarianism, but God allowed us to kill and eat animals which, in a fallen world, would die anyway (Genesis 9:3). Nevertheless, as faithful stewards of creation, the fact that we can eat animals does not mean we can be cruel to them (Proverbs 12:10). Return to text.
  4. Wikipedia, Lion, available at wikipedia.org, 2015. Return to text.
  5. Based on data from Ref. 4. The lion population in Africa was estimated between 100,000 and 400,000 in the early 1990s. A male lion will seldom live longer than 10 to 14 years in the wild. Thus a lower-limit of the total number of lions which have walked the planet can be approximated by (700,000/14) x 200,000 = 10,000,000,000. Return to text.
  6. Tennyson, A.L., In Memoriam A. H. H., Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, p. 62, 1895. Return to text.
  7. Darwin, C.R., On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1st edition, John Murray, London, p. 490, 1859. Return to text.
  8. Darwin, C.R., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With the original omissions restored, edited by Nora Barlow, Collin, London, p. 27, 1958. Return to text.
  9. Darwin, C.R., Journal of researches, 2nd Edition, John Murray, London, p. 36, 1845. Return to text.
  10. Darwin, C.R., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 1., edited by Francis Darwin, John Murray, London, p. 167, 1887. Return to text.
  11. Herbert, D., Charles Darwin’s Religious Views: from creationist to evolutionist, Joshua Press, Ontario, p. 118, 2009. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Lindsay L.
Thank you Sallie and Jacqueline. Well said. My exact views on this topic. I am actually quite disheartened by some of the other comments previously made.
Jacqueline W.
I don't believe God's creation was meant to be mistreated the way we do it - cruel hunting for 'sport'. God did not put the animals on this earth for our sadistic pleasure such as in fox hunting. We farm intensely for profit whilst people starve, in need of the grain we feed to cattle so we can eat meat. It goes on. I am totally bewildered buy Christians who cannot see that the way we treat animals - God's beautiful creation, is wrong. Also, just because I care about animals, doesn't mean I care less for people.
Sallie Pershing P.
The disturbing issues are that 1) people kill for their own enjoyment and 2) the lion was lured away from his sanctuary in order to legally kill him.
The Bible gives us the right to use animals for food. We are not given the right to kill for sport. We have been named custodian of the animals of this world; thus, we have the responsibility to care for them and not to use them for our selfish pleasure.
David S.
Absolute codswallop!! Killing in nature, is necessary and used for the survival of the hunters. When you have a sick (person) (expletive deleted), who just kills for the simple pleasure of doing it, that changes everything. Cecil’s death had nothing to do with survival and everything to do with low self esteem (rude language deleted). Because Darwin, like most Atheists, had a compassionate nature and did what he could to relieve suffering of others, doesn’t make evolution untrue. Religious people keep trying to say that Atheists have no morality because they don’t have faith. What (nonsense) (expletive deleted) is that? The fact that, when we die, it is the end of our existence is an even greater reason to be good to those around us and make their only life easier. Religious people have spent history butchering those that won’t accept theirs as the only true way. You don’t find Atheists butchering others to get them to give up their misguided faiths. Being good to your fellow man and looking after the animals is an evolved behaviour because it’s good for the survival of our species. It has nothing to do with a magic man in the sky.
Robert Zins
The article didn't state that Atheists don't have morality. Rather the point of the article is that often Atheists don't have a basis for their stated morality.

Regarding your reference to "religious people," whether one acknowledges it or not, everyone holds to some beliefs, or system of beliefs, by faith. These might consist of beliefs about origins, ultimate authority, ethics, and what happens after death. In effect, everyone, yourself included, is religious.

For example, you assert, "when we die, it is the end of our existence." David how do you know? Do you know that by experience? No. You merely believe so, based upon your faith commitments in solely naturalistic processes. Christians on the other hand believe, "...it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement" (Hebrews 9:27). In either case we have a faith commitment.

Incredibly you assert, "You don't find Atheists butchering others to get them to give up their misguided faiths." Is it possible that you are unaware of the atrocities of Atheists in the 20th century, the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao, national leaders, who butchered millions of the their own people, for the sake of their materialistically motivated utopian vision? See http://creation.com/evolution-and-social-evil

Lastly, you talk about "being good to your fellow man." This takes us back to the point of the article. Based upon a materialistic worldview, how would one know what is good?
patricia L.
My personal opinion is that animals should be treated with respect. Mother Nature has it's way of keeping all in a perfect balance, it is man who interfefiers and it should not be so. Especially we have to stop thinking that we 'are the masters of the world'. Enough damage has been done to the planet and to its wild life.
Robert Zins
Greetings Patricia, Thank you for your comment. Rather than using the term "Mother Nature" one ought to think in terms of God, the Creator, Who is revealed in Scripture. Certainly, for anyone to think that mankind is somehow autonomous "masters of the world," as you put it, would be wrong indeed. Yet, God has given man (mankind) dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:28). Man is to exercise this dominion, not as autonomous man, yet as man, the steward of God's creation, accountable to God.
Deborah L.
I agree with the gentleman, Cornelius, who spoke about "Canned Hunting". I feel that hunting should be used for food. clothing and other items needed for survival. Or, when extermination is necessary for dangerous animals that have killed or maimed humans for food. It insults my conscience regarding those who poach or hunt for the glory and pleasure of it. In the Garden of Eden, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God used animal skins to cloth them. It was a sad day, because it meant death from sin affected all of the Earth, not just Adam and Eve. It still does so, today. No child, creature or plant has gone unaffected at the cellular levels because of sin. Though I do not condone the level of hypocrisy that many have taken on, maligning the dentist who killed Cecil, I am glad that this type of hunting was portrayed in a negative light. However, will it stop the rest of the world's lust for blood as a recreational outlet? I doubt it. I have seen other stories (like Cecil's) that made headlines resulting in dogged voices rising up and protecting this kind of cruelty. Look at the fact that Spain has their hackles up, determined, to protect their interests in the savagery of the Bull Runs. It reminds me of how hard our ancestors fought to prevent the abolition of slavery, the objection that merchants lifted up circled around economy, knowing that slavery was a disgusting and inhumane practice. I wonder, will we ever learn?
Dixon M.
Gen.3:21 tells us God killed some animals to provide clothing for Adam and Eve. God also provided animals for us to eat.
Robert Zins
Yes, just to highlight that God's provision of animals for food was given in Genesis 9:3 after flood.
Henry T.
I'm glad to see people mentioning abortion here. I don't think it's a coincidence that this Cecil story got so big when the Planned Parenthood videos started coming out. I think it was meant to distract us from them. At the same time it shows us that, as a nation, we care more about animals than people.
Phil H.
Re the fuss about poor old Cecil and the badger, Romans 1:24-25, KJV applies; v.25; "who changed
the Truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever, Amen".
Matthew G.
Thanks for this article, it's good and timely. Many will be able to relate to it as well. Also thanks for the G K Chesterton quote - that is useful too.
Steve B.
What a sad predicament we as humankind have created for ourselves. Day after day we witness the sad effects of the fall by rebellion and departure from Gods gracious words of guidance to our first parents Adam and Eve. As descendants from them we have learnt not the sad lesson of the millenniums since.
Our wise dominium and care over all living things [Gen 1:28] failed. The earth is cursed with pain, suffering and disorder [Gen 3 : 17] from that very good which God had created [Gen 1:31].
As man has rebelled against his maker so the lower forms rebel against our appointed sovereign care. There is no peace in this world without the grace of God through his appointed Redeemer Jesus Christ.
A time is to come when God will give all who have been redeemed by faith in Jesus Christ [Hosea 2:17 / 18] peace and harmony with all creation - new heaven and earth.
What confusion and destruction we in our fallen natures have and continue to cause.
Let us look up for the day of our redemption draws close.
Danie P.
A while ago a few locals had a fund raiser in order to help pay for the cost of a injured badger. It was an eye opener to see how much the animal clinic charge, it was adding up to a couple of thousand of ZAR's. So I made the comment that they should rather put the badger out of it's misery...almost got charged, extradited and hanged myself!
Margaret K.
Hello Martin,
I really liked your reply to Jack. It rounds off your article very nicely. In speaking with some very ardent evolutionists, I have found it to be most confusing that they don't actually know why they believe what they believe but they have been given some catch phrases to which they are very attached. I am most disappointed that the education system and teachers in general skip over the fact that it is the THEORY of evolution, which starts with and repeats 'If' as its major basis. A second generation is growing through our secular school system thinking this worldview is a fact. Honesty was the first casualty in the world's need to rid itself of God.
Thanks Creation Ministries, science for the thinker.
Robert Zins
Hello Margaret, Thank you for your comment. Regarding your reference to "the THEORY of evolution" you might be interested in the discussion found in "Refuting Evolution 2" at the link http://creation.com/refuting-evolution-2-chapter-3-argument-evolution-is-true-science-not-just-a-theory.
Leonard C.
All this and you failed to mention abortion, now carried out even to the point of birth. Does PETA care about this?
Jean P.
Hi Jack, evolution cannot have any "thoughts" on morality. We either have a creator who does have opinions about morality, or we make up our own as we see fit. " there was no King in Israel and every man did what was right in his own sight."
Judges 21:25. Still happening today. You say something is wrong. I say, " who said?"
You say, " I do." Then I say, " who made you God?" And so it goes on.
ainsley C.
I have been in medical research about 40 years. In the first 10-15 years I did many experiments on animals such as mice and rats mainly and occasionally on dogs. We had to meet animal ethical requirements and reduce any discomfort to the animals. At the time we justified this by reasoning that human health was a greater priority than animal health.Through this research we better understood disease processes and were able to help those with those diseases.
I have repented to God for any pain I may have caused these animals. I am now a young earth creationist. Can anyone throw light on the ethics of what I did years past?
I feel sorry for Cecil but am exceedingly more grieved by the huge numbers of abortions done every year on our planet. Lions and possibly other cats do kill cubs that do not belong to them. And they wouldn't give two hoots to shred us apart.
Robert Zins
Greetings Ainsley, When God created man, man was placed in a position of dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28). After the flood this was reinforced and expanded when God said to Noah, "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs" (Gen 9:3). So it is with God's permission that man may kill an animal in order to sustain human life, either by killing a chicken for food, or laboratory mice for the benefit of gain knowledge which may be beneficial to our health.
Tony C.
Although my first reaction to the news of Cecil's death was outrage, and glee over the public furore, now having had time to reflect on it I feel a bit sorry for him and his family, with the amount of backlash they've copped.
Jack M.
Hi Martin, There's an error in your reasoning that is fairly common amongst the opponents of evolutionary theory. Simply put, you confuse the belief that evolution happened with the the belief that it is a universally good thing. It is quite possible to believe that something exists and that it is immoral. One might as well say that because a person believes that Satan exists they believe it is right to worship him.
(I appreciate you may respond by asking how evolution produced morality in the first place, which is an interesting question, but we both know that that would be moving the goalposts as it is not the thrust of your argument in the article.) Best regards, Jack.
Martin Ricquebourg
Hi Jack, I believe you have misunderstood the central point of my article which, in fact, is the claim that belief in evolution cannot provide us with a rational basis for morality (hence the absurdity of the E in PETA). Unless demonstrated otherwise, the conclusion stands: if we deny biblical creation, we lose any moral grounds to care about the killing of another lion in Africa. As G.K. Chesterton once observed, "Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws. If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate." (Orthodoxy, 1927, John Lane, London, pp. 204–205). Martin
George J.
I totally agree with R.W. It was a sanctioned hunt . The hunter had all the licenses and permits required and acted accordingly. However, his aim left a lot to be desired. I would not use an arrow to kill one of my cows even if I were standing five feet from her. With a rifle it is over in less than a second. What annoys me is that there are over 1,000 children dying every day from malaria and few people seem to care. Chesterton said, “Wherever you have animal worship, you will have human sacrifice.” Well, we have PETA and we have the oxymoronic Planned Parenthood. Looks like GK was right.
Richard M.
I´ve learned that animal defenders are rabid abortionists, they get sentimental and maudlin over the suffering or death of any beast whatsoever and in the same breath they would murder an unborn child without batting an eye. So much for P.E.T.A. and its animal rights tommy rot. They should be vegans just for consistency´s sake.
R. W.
Cecil's death was not mistreatment, and it was not inhumane. Natural death, in the wild, is very inhumane, and Cecil was near the end of his natural life.

Also, on hunts such as these, the hunter doesn't just walk off with a trophy and leave the rest as waste. It is given to locals who use it for food and such. (Similarly, much of the money the hunter pays for his hunt is a great aid to the local economy.) I would call this good stewardship.

The shadiness of this hunt does not lie with the hunter. It lies with the people who set it up. The hunter depended on his guides conducting a legal hunt.

The hunter, his family, his business (and employees) have suffered for this event, none of whom did anything wrong.
Deon B.
Here in South Africa in almost all the townships, illegal dog fights are arranged on a daily basis. In most cases it is a fight till one dog is brutally killed by the other - big money is involved. Do I hear a voice of the animal rights crowd somewhere? I do not condone arranged trophy hunting like in Cecil's case. And then there is the absolutely appalling abortion policies world wide. Animal rights activists, where are you!
Garth B.
Well said Cornelis, you hit pretty much every point I was going to make. Few people realise that most of the animals that are hunted (legally) only exist because they can be hunted thereby generating money for land owners and villagers who would otherwise be at war with them.
Richard M.
Quite right, this world is losing it's mind! Most people are quite at peace murdering babies in the womb legally (and worse, if recent revelations about planned parenthood are to be believed). Yet they are in uproar over a lion bing hunted and killed, this is crazy. Evil is good and good is evil. I conclude, we are all in desperate need of Jesus!
Cornelis G.
Very interesting perspective on evolution and so very true, thank you.
Just my 2 cents on Cecil: The killing of Cecil was unfortunate true, but not for any reason other than it was not a sanctioned hunt and maybe the manner of its hunt (I am completely against canned hunting). Hunting, and even hunting of big cats etc. is a major source of income for a struggling Africa. If the hunting of animals would end in Africa, especially big cats, you can be assured the species would be killed off in the wild in a generation or two, because for any farmer or rural African, a lion is either income or a pest. Fact. We are stewards of nature, not abstainers. Regardless of all of this and the controversy surrounding it, the saddest thing for me is considering that millions of Zimbabweans have suffered tremendously in recent years through circumstances in that country and the world remains dumb about it.


Edward G.
This is the perfect example of what sets us apart from the rest of the animals. All animals are amoral and will do what it is in them to do. We are not! God has placed within us a moral sense of values and the responsibility to do the right thing. Nature may seem to us to be cruel but how much more so somebody that very well knows better. RIP Cecil.

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