Miracles and Evidence Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

If a Predator has a Chance to Eat You
There Maybe Less that a One in A Billion Chance
They Will Eat You.
God or Natural Explanation?

There are about a million predatory, terrestrial mammals in the United States and Canada that are large enough when full grown to kill and eat an adult human. Most of these predators are American black bears, but there are also grizzly bears, polar bears, wolves, and mountain lions. There are over three hundred and fifty million people in the United States and Canada. These predators kill and eat an average of three or four people a year. We commonly hike around the wild like we own it, and yet these large, warm-blooded, animals of several species simply avoid us. They probably have hundreds of millions and quite likely billions of opportunities to eat us for every time one actually does. Note I am not counting a walk in a city as an opportunity, but a long walk in the wild may offer several predators an opportunity. Nevertheless, the question is, is this divine intervention? Is this a clue that God has given us that he does exist, and is actively involved in our world, loving and caring for us?

Coyotes

Coyotes may provide another example. It has been estimated that there are 2,000 coyotes in the Chicago area and that is typical of large urban areas. A little less than one in thirty Americans live in the Chicago area. So if we multiply 2,000 by 30 we get 60,000 coyotes living in very close proximity to large numbers of people.

Coyotes generally are not large enough to threaten adults but are plenty large enough to kill cats, small dogs, and small children. In recent decades coyotes killed one child. Yet cats and dogs are commonly preyed upon. The Wikipedia article on Coyotes said, Scat analysis collected near Claremont, California revealed that coyotes relied heavily on pets as a food source in winter and spring. Coyotes commonly live in urban areas and kill a lot of dogs and cats, yet have only killed one small child.

Of course, there are several natural factors that help explain this. The coyotes mostly prey at night. People frequently keep their cats and dogs outside at night, but rarely their children. Furthermore, people keep much closer watch over their children. On the other hand, cats are far better at climbing trees than either coyotes or small children, and both cats and dogs run faster than small children. So its seems surprising to me that it would be so common for coyotes to kill cats and small dogs, and so rare that they kill human children, so rare it has only happened once. Once again this seems odd and leads me to ask if divine providence is not part of the answer.

Beyond North American Mammals

The mystery goes beyond the United States and Canada, and beyond mammals. It is surprising how seldom predators, whether they are mammals, reptiles, fish, or invertebrates attack people. I am focusing on the case of North American mammals because we have relatively good statistics both on how many large mammal predators there are and how many people have been killed. But around the world for a wide variety of predators in a wide variety of situations, predators large enough to eat us usually don't even try. Once again we might ask is this divine intervention, God or nature.

Before calling something miraculous it is both traditional and reasonable to look for a natural explanation, one that does not require God or some other supernatural agent. Research at the University of California Davis has been done that claims the Great White Sharks do not eat us because our fat content is not high enough, but I am unaware of any general explanation that explains why we are so rarely eaten by large predators in general. But when I started to think about how miraculous the low level of predation was a natural explanation quickly came to mind.

Natural Explanation, They Don't Know We Aren't Poisonous

Most predators live in environments where many animals that are small enough to eat are dangerous to eat. Take the example of North American, terrestrial, mammalian predators. Most of them have amphibians in their environment. Almost all amphibians are poisonous if eaten whole. There also are poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and insects like bees, wasps, and ants. The mammal may also have to avoid our native porcupine whose quills can work their way into the flesh and kill. Even the skunk, who does not kill directly could be dangerous. The skunk could give the predator such a stench that it could not sneak up on other prey until the scent wore off. It might starve before that happened. A large mammalian predator that simply ate anything that moved would almost always be poisoned or otherwise killed long before it could reproduce. So these predators must avoid eating many animals in their environment. We often see predators as voracious and indiscriminate eating machines, but they have to discriminate to survive and they have to survive to reproduce. So an elementary understanding of life and biology tells us that they will discriminate.

Predatory mammals may limit themselves to prey their mothers fed them when they were young. If their mother had killed humans and fed them human flesh, we would have killed the mother and perhaps the young. Even if we didn't kill the young they would normally still die without their mother. So in almost all cases the predator's mother did not teach them to hunt humans. Therefore it is not surprising that they avoid us, rather than eating us.

The Exceptions Support the Hypothesis

The very rare exceptions lend support to this explanation. Very rarely a mammalian predator will become a man eater. Once they have started and realize we are not poisonous they are extremely dangerous, and often kill and eat other humans. There have been cases in Africa and Asia where an animal killed a hundred or more people. So the barrier that protects us seems to be ignorance.

Furthermore, the polar bear and the barren ground grizzly bear, both of which live so far north that there are few trees in their environment, have a reputation for hunting humans. These predators of the far north do not have to fear amphibians, poisonous snakes, and almost all of the other dangerous animals that more southern predators face. They can hunt and eat just about everything that moves in their frigid, northern environments. This may explain why they are far more dangerous to humans.

So perhaps there is a natural explanation, or perhaps a combination of natural explanations that explain why we are so rarely attacked and eaten by predators. The predators do not know we are safe to eat. Furthermore, in most cases, we are not safe to eat. While they can kill and eat the individual human. The larger human society will usually kill the predator. The mystery is how they know this. The answer may be that large predators can not take too many risks if they are to live long enough to reproduce. So they leave us alone just to be on the safe side.

Of course, this is just my speculation. I have discussed this with biology professors and read a fair amount. I have not found any source that gives this full explanation, and in most cases the writers do not seem to be aware that there is a problem to be explained.

But Is the Rate of Predation So Low that We Still Need God?

But should we stop with this explanation I have invented? True, there are reasons why large predators hunt and kill us far more rarely than we might expect at first glance. However, can this really explain the incredible rarity of them eating us. It seems quite likely that the large terrestrial mammal predators of the United States and Canada are passing up a billion opportunities to eat us for every one person they eat. Can the natural mechanism that I have described explain this incredibly low rate of predation?

After all it is commonly said that predators will eat humans when the predators are old, weak, injured, or starving. With a million predators out there, there must be thousands at any one time that are pretty desperate, and many thousands that become desperate over the course of a year. So how is it possible that with about a million of them, and more than a third of a billion of us, only three or four people are eaten each year.

God Says We Are Slow to See the Evidence

Is it possible that God will point to this after our deaths. Will he say, did you really believe that this could happen without my intervention?

In Deuteronomy 29:5 God says in 40 years of wandering your clothes and your sandals have not worn out. The implication being that the Israelites had not noticed. Their clothes and sandals wore out in Egypt, but it did not occur to them that it was unusual that for 40 years the wear and tear had been suspended. So according to the Bible there can be miracles that are so common that we take them to be part of the normal order of nature. Is the surprisingly low level of predation on humans another example of this?

The argument that I am making here is different from most. I have invented both the natural and the supernatural side of the argument. I am conducting an argument with myself. I hope that one or both sides will prove useful.

The Value for Science Aside From Religion.

Many of the great discoveries of science have occurred because someone was trying to prove the existence of God. They were looking for something that had to be supernatural and discovered a natural mechanism. Copernicus thought the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. They don't their orbits are elliptical. So his proof of God failed but he is credited with the discovery that the earth orbits the sun, even though the Greeks had been discussing the idea thousands of years earlier. Copernicus has also been honored as the father of modern science.

Kepler had his own plan to prove the existence of God by uncovering the orderly nature of the planet's orbits. This too failed, but he discovered that the planets have elliptical orbits.

Newton did much the same thing. He thought that the elliptical orbits could be explained naturally, but they were naturally stable. Only God's intervention kept them stable. This too proved to be wrong. More investigation revealed that they were naturally stable.

A lot of major science was discovered by people who were trying to prove the existence of God by demonstrating intelligent design of one sort or another. Sure they failed but great science was discovered. I also suspect that many great discoveries are made by people seeking to disprove the existence of God. Perhaps some useful science will come out of this.

If Correct This Speculation May Help Us Coexist With Predators

The insight that predators very rarely eat us because they live in an environment with many animals that are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to eat may help us coexist with those predators.

A friend of mine jumped off a cliff into water to avoid a bear. He got lucky, the water was deep enough, he survived. But given the statistics and the natural reasoning above, I think he would have been better off risking the bear.

Another friend of mine lives in a cabin but is afraid to go out at night for fear of black bears. Perhaps this can free her from this fear.

A mountain lion walks along the north edge of the city I live in, about two miles from where I am writing, once every two or three days. Maybe this can calm some fears and allow us to live in peace with this and the million or so other large predators in the United States and Canada. So perhaps once again some useful and informative science can come out of an attempt to build a case for God.

A Secular Discussion of Man and Predator

For those who want a more scientific, less religious look at the subject I have another web page on the low rate of predation on humans in my biology section. So far that web page has been massively more popular than this one.

Religion Again

On Reddit recently asked how it the world different from what you would expect if there was no God. The person who posed the question thought the world looked like a world without God. I have many answers to this question, this is one. Some of my other answers to that question can be found on my miracle index page. Check them out and tell me what you think in my guest book.

You can also check out more of my speculation on biology here. The only biology course I took in college was one on physical anthropology. Other than that my last course was in tenth grade. Nevertheless, distinguished professors at major research universities have found a least one of my ideas in biology interesting, and even suggested that they should be submitted to academic journal. On the other hand they did not want to get involved. Encouraging words are talk, and talk is admittedly cheap.

Miracle and Evidence Index


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Last edited July 12, 2015