Darwin Proofing

Students say the darndest things. In their exams, no less. In one of my classes students were required to read selections from Darwin’s Origin and Descent of Man. Here are some comments from one exam: “I found Darwin’s The Descent of Man hard to read and hard to understand. As a Christian I have always been taught to just ignore Darwin’s work and I believe that played a large part in why I had trouble understanding what I was reading.”

Wow. I think it was H.L. Mencken who said (paraphrasing) that it is hard to make someone understand if that person’s livelihood depends upon not understanding. A fortiori, if a person’s salvation depends upon not understanding, then that person will have a very hard time understanding. I appreciated the honesty of the student’s comments. It is eloquent testimony to how effective fundamentalism has been in making people Darwin proof. Arguing against Darwin because you think he is wrong is one thing. Making it harder for young people to understand Darwin at all is something else altogether.

To affect people’s minds so that they have a harder time understanding important ideas is, effectively, to lower their intelligence. It makes people selectively stupid. This is why fundamentalism, and other pernicious ideologies, are so opposed to reason. It is not just that their positive dogmas are irrational, which they are; it is their appalling effectiveness in undermining the very capacity for rational thought. Fundamentalism induces the mental equivalent of plugging one’s ears and shouting “la, la, la, la…not listening” when somebody say something you don’t want to hear.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Well, LOL.

    On the other hand, Richard Dawkins for example advises people to not study serious books on theology (it’s like studying books on fairies or unicorns – he thinks). His advice also makes people selectively stupid. For the fact is that throughout human history, up until and including today, some of the greatest philosophers were theists.

    And the “don’t read on Darwinism” reaction that comes from some religious people reveals the same kind of lack of understanding of the implications of Darwinism that characterizes those naturalists who also believe that Darwinism contradicts theism. For the science is one thing, the metaphysical implications of the science is another. In fact there is *nothing* in Darwinism that entails that natural evolution was not guided by some supernatural intelligence, nor do we have the least evidence that it wasn’t thus guided. In fact, if the science is right then there can’t be any such evidence. For if there is no evidence against naturalism’s belief that humankind is the result of unguided evolution, so too there can’t be any evidence against the theistic belief that humankind is the result of guided evolution. If a mechanical process driven by blind/random forces can produce something, so can the same process when guided purposefully by an infinite intelligence.

    I think their error goes back to a misunderstanding of the concept of randomness, a concept which I happened to study when I did some work with encryption technology. It turns out that there is no such thing as “random data”, there can only be data produced by a random source. In the same way then one can’t speak of “random mutations”, or for that matter of random encounters with a predator. The scientist can only speak of what appears to be random, and let the philosopher investigate whether it was produced by a random source (as naturalism has it) or by an intelligence source (as theism has it).

    Ultimately I hold philosophers responsible for all the useless and sometimes counterproductive noise about how Darwinism contradicts theism. They should have educated the public better.

    • Adbass

      And this proves Keith’s point.

      • Keith Parsons

        Adbass,

        Ha Ha!! Actually, I think it does. Dianelos concedes that there is no evidence against the claim that humans are the result of unguided evolution. If we then make unguided evolution the default hypothesis (and why not???) we can reject guided evolution until and unless some evidence of guidance comes along. (It won’t) In short, I put the whole burden of proof on the those who claim that evolution was guided. Why? Well, since the origin of modern science, we have had 400 years of astonishing success for natural science and 400 years of consistent failure, retreat, and humiliation for supernatural “science.” Naturalistic hypotheses have abundantly earned their default status.

    • Keith Parsons

      Dianelos,

      Darwin’s reply to the suggestion that evolution was a guided process is apt and, I think, telling. When Asa Gray and others maintained, as you do, that God could be at work in “guiding” evolution in some way he simply challenged them to point to any biological phenomenon that was better explained in terms of divine guidance rather than an unguided natural process. Gray, for instance, maintained that over geological time God would cause certain favorable variations to arise in a population and that natural selection would then act on these variations and so guide evolution in a planned direction.

      Darwin simply noted, in his extensive two-volume work on domestic selection, that in many years’ examination of many, many species he had found no evidence whatsoever that variations were directed towards the benefit of organisms. If, for example, a plant is in an environment that is gradually turning into desert, it would be of benefit to this organism to develop a deeper taproot to reach deeper groundwater. Yet Darwin observed that the natural variability in root length did not tend towards longer roots. Some were longer, and some were shorter, with no observable pattern. The variation was “random” with respect to the needs of the organism.

      When Darwin and other evolutionary biologists speak of variation as “random,” this is all they mean, namely, that the needs of the organism in a given environment have no discernible effect upon the direction or nature of variation. Biologists certainly do not mean that phenotypic variation is randomly generated, i.e. produced by a random source. On the contrary, the genetic causes are well understood, and all explicable in terms of the molecular biology of genes and chromosomes. Actually, the concept at work here is statistical independence, not randomness. Variation is not correlated with adaptability. The variations that would increase an organism’s fitness are no more likely to occur than those that would be neutral or deleterious.

      Given the ostensible independence of variation with respect to the adaptability of organisms, Darwin challenged Gray to say just how the phenomena of variation displayed guidance. As Darwin sagely and correctly observed, to assert divine guidance but concede that guided variation looked no different from unguided variation, is to make a vacuous claim. Suppose, by analogy, I were to toss a fair coin ten times and got the following results: HHTHHTTTHT. Now suppose that you tell me that this sequence was divinely guided. Well, it could be. Without divine intervention, the fourth toss might have been T rather than H. However, unless you could specify just how and why the observed result is different from what we would expect given non-intervention, I think the claim would have to be regarded as vacuous.

      The threat that Darwinism, or any scientific theory can pose to theism is not to show that divine intervention is impossible. No scientific theory can show that. Billiard ball A moving when struck by ball B is, of course, explicable in good old Newtonian terms. However, nothing in physics rules out that what really happened was that God gave ball A a little shove just as ball B impacted. However, nobody (except, maybe, Bishop Berkeley) would take seriously the claim that, really, it was God that moved ball A. The reason simply is that, as Laplace said to Napoleon, we have no need for that hypothesis. That is the real threat science poses to theism–not to show that it is impossible but to render it superfluous. This applies to organic evolution as much as to billiard balls.

      Sorry to have to break off what promises to be an interesting discussion. I will not be able to post any replies for a couple of weeks. Maybe I can pick it up then, or others would like to chime in.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I agree on the particulars you write about the concept of randomness in the context o Darwinism, but would only like to observe that to be effective the Darwinian algorithm requires a random source, or at least a good simulation of it. Thus, it seems to me, the naturalistic interpretation of Darwinism does require the presence of a random source or of something similar. Without it biological evolution would not be as effective as it in fact appears to be.

    I disagree with your claim that no theist (except perhaps Berkeley) takes seriously the claim that God really moved ball A. On the contrary, all classical theists hold this to be a basic premise. Since the time Aristotle and his idea of the first mover, through all the doctors of the Church, God is always understood as being what’s metaphysical ultimate in reality (and indeed this much is entailed in St Anselm’s definition of God). So it’s not only that God actually and really moves that ball according to the order of God’s general providence for nature, but the very existence of the ball is contingent on God’s will. Theism is *not* the idea that beside the natural world existing and working by itself one supernatural omni-everything person called “God” exists. That’s a caricature of theism not worthy wasting one’s time with.

    I agree that the God hypothesis is superfluous when accounting for any physical phenomenona, including biological phenomena, and indeed cultural phenomena. To a theist it’s pretty obvious that God wants us to experience a purely naturalistic environment (and people like John Hick give a pretty convincing explanation of why). So, remarkably, when I throw a handful of sand on the ground its grains fall down haphazardly and do not form the letters of some quote from the Bible. In short I agree there is no evidence against the naturalistic interpretation of Darwinism, nor do I expect there ever to be any. On the other hand I take it you agree that God could have minutely guided natural evolution exactly as it took place in order to produce exactly the result it has produced without in any way violating Darwinism. So we agree that the naturalistic interpretation of Darwinism is possibly but not necessarily true.

    Now if I understand you correctly your main argument is that if God is a superfluous hypothesis we shouldn’t embrace it. Actually, I find that theism is not only a superfluous hypothesis when accounting for physical phenomena, but also when accounting for any data we have, including our religious experiences, our intuitions, how we find ourselves feeling about free will or ethics or reason, etc. There exists a possible naturalistic world which would produce all of the above, and therefore theism is indeed an all around superfluous hypothesis.

    I won’t discuss your claim that modern science has consistently humiliated theism – even though it seems to me that the findings of modern science have produced more conceptual problems for naturalism, and have forced naturalists to revise their basic beliefs about reality far more. Nor will I discuss the common claim that naturalism is a simpler hypothesis; for since naturalists found themselves forced by the findings of modern science to multiply universes (and even physical dimensions) with no apparent end in sight the claim that naturalism paints a simple picture of reality does not hold much water. What interests me are the implications of the fact that theism is a superfluous hypothesis.

    The first thing I find myself thinking is that naturalism is a superfluous hypothesis too. I can easily (and frankly more naturally and elegantly) account for all the data I have, i.e. for the whole of my experience of life, without assuming that naturalism is true.

    Secondly, there are many hypotheses that are entirely superfluous and which nevertheless all reasonable people embrace. So the hypothesis that an external world exists is superfluous, yet rejecting it is so comical that it’s hard to believe that real solipsists exist. The hypothesis that other minds exist is also quite superfluous, yet we hold those who disbelieve in the existence of other minds to be a clinical case.

    Given this epistemic state of affairs why shouldn’t a reasonable person give up and embrace agnosticism? I think the reason is that there are serious pragmatical differences between theism and naturalism, differences that move many people to embrace theism. As a matter of fact many people realize that theism is more useful. Embracing theism’s worldview they find themselves having a better life, in that they see more beauty in the world, withstand better life’s hardships, and, significantly for many, find it easier to do what seems to be the ethically right thing. In short for them theism works better existentially. And in the same way that beliefs that help one to build a better garden can reasonably be held to be closer to the truth – so theists figure do beliefs that help one to build a better life.

    But theism does not only appear to be superior existentially. Many who are more intellectually inclined find that conceptually theism works better too – despite its problem from evil (which even though serious enough appears amenable to solution). In comparison naturalism seems to suffer from a growing list of basic and difficult conceptual problems, related to metaethics, free will, intentionality, even the interpretation of modern physics. Such problems appear to move naturalistic philosophers such as Alex Rosenberg in his recent “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality” to make claims that sound if not raving mad then at least intellectually distasteful.

    • Keith Parsons

      Dianelos,

      I am really not sure how accurate it is to speak of the process of natural
      selection as algorithmic. I know that Daniel Dennett does speak this way
      in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, but I don’t think it is accurate or helpful.
      Stochastic effects play far too large a role for the process to be
      correctly described as “algorithmic.” The fittest toad in the pasture, by sheer bad luck, might get stepped on by the cow, leaving the less fit toads to pass on their genes. As David Raup put it, failure to survive is often a matter of bad luck, not bad genes. Still, because of the differential fitness of different phenotypes, some genes will have a better chance of preservation and propagation in the gene pool over successive generations. This is the essence of natural selection.

      Again, variations are random in the sense that they have no overall direction. The finches on a Galapagos Island need bigger beaks to crack the nuts. The variability in beak size for their offspring is, to all appearances, independent of that need. Further, the causes of that natural variability are now well understood. Of course, meiosis is a chancy process, due largely to the independent assortment of different pairs of alleles. If this is what you mean by a “random process,” then the point is cheerfully granted. Surely, though, there is no conceptual problem with the sort of “randomness” that occurs in the segregation of alleles into different gametes in meiosis. In short, for natural selection
      to “work” there is no need for any kind of random process different from the ones geneticists already–unproblematically–understand.

      As I understand the traditional doctrine of creatio continuans, God actively maintains all things in existence, but this process supports physical causality, and does not supplant it. That is, physical things interact physically, but it is God who maintains those physical things in existence and so gives them the causal powers they have. Thus, for theists, billiard balls really do move other billiard balls, but there would be no billiard balls–or anything else–if God were not continuously active in maintaining all things in existence.

      If this were all that creationists were claiming in talking about divinely guided evolution, then there would be no point in arguing, other than merely pointing out that creatio continuans seems to be an utterly gratuitous hypothesis (Why would a proton need God’s help to exist and be a proton? Why can’t it do it on its own?). Things happen given the hypothesis of creatio continuans exactly as they would given the hypothesis of naturalism, which holds that natural things are sufficient for their own existence, powers, and liabilities.

      My understanding, though, is that those who speak of evolution as “guided” intend a sort of direct divine interference in the usual natural processes. That is, God miraculously suspends the usual processes and brings about a different result, one that the unaltered natural order would never have brought about. For this hypothesis there is zero evidence and it is as superfluous as creatio continuans.

      But, you indicate, what is wrong with superfluous hypotheses? You say that the hypothesis of an external world is superfluous–after all solipsism could be true! However, as you correctly note, solipsism is not a live option for anybody. The existence of an external world is what Hume called a natural belief–it is spontaneous, universal, and impervious to skeptical doubt. I would say that the existence of other minds is also a natural belief. Anyone who tried, even for a day, to seriously doubt that other people have minds would probably find it impossible, indeed, insane. What about belief in God? Is it a natural belief? Billions of people seem to function quite well without such a belief. It is not in any sense necessary for our personal, social, or intellectual lives. It most definitely is not a hypothesis accepted by all reasonable people. Among superfluous beliefs, it is one of the most superfluous!

      Of course, you know from our past exchanges that I deny your claimed advantages of theism over naturalism. I also deny that the theories of modern physics create any sort of conceptual problems for naturalism. On the contrary, their enormous explanatory power is further powerful validation of the claims that naturalistic explanations are all we need. Rather than re-hash all of these points here, let me just direct you to Graham Oppy’s new book The Strongest Argument Against God, which is precisely a defense of the superiority of naturalism over theism.

      Again, it will be a couple of weeks before I can respond further. Maybe some of the other readers will engage you.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    An algorithm is the abstract description of a mechanism. The mechanism need not be deterministic and may well be probabilitistic. To the corresponding set of probabilistic algorithms belong some of the most powerful algorithms we know, including the Darwinian one. These do not guarantee a good result, but produce on average a better result than deterministic algorithms of the same workload. Finally, since on naturalism reality is the blind/unguided evolution of a mechanism it is I think entirely appropriate to analyze naturalism’s understanding of reality using algorithmic concepts.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I will certainly look into it – I like challenging thoughts.

    If you are going on vacation I wish you a nice time. Should you ever come to my homecountry of Greece you must let me know.

    • Keith Parsons

      Dianelos,

      Thanks for the clarification, but I am still not sure that it is helpful to call the process of natural selection an algorithm, unless we are talking about a very abstract and schematic model of the process. Of course, natural selection could be, and has been, simulated with computer algorithms. In fact, such simulations are a standard tool of evolutionary biologists. But, of course, non-algorithmic processes can be modeled with algorithms.

      Perhaps our apparent disagreement is due to the fact that we are addressing events of different scales. Perhaps individual selection events can be usefully described as algorithmic. However, the process of evolution–the cumulative effect of selection events over geological time–does not seem meaningfully describable as algorithmic. For one thing, the long-term effects of evolution are disrupted by cataclysmic events, like asteroid impacts or episodes of massive volcanism (like the events that created the Indian Deccan Traps in the latest Cretaceous), that make a clean sweep of “fit” and “unfit” alike.

      The upshot is that any meaningful “guidance” of evolution would require much more than manipulation of individual variations. Rather it would require major engineering of the whole process of natural history. The problem is that if such guidance occurred, it appears indistinguishable from no guidance at all. True, we are here. Had the various disasters of the end Cretaceous not occurred, we almost certainly would not be here. Instead, the dinosaurs, or their descendants, would still be here. Our existence apparently depended upon innumerable vagaries and extraordinary accidents. To say that this whole concatenation of vast improbabilities was somehow planned seems an assertion based on the sheerest of faith.

      BTW, I would love to make it to Greece someday. I would really like to be there for the 2500th anniversary of Thermopylae and Salamis. I think all of Western civilization owes a great debt to a few thousand hoplites and sailors for kicking Persian butt. If I do ever visit, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  • Eric Sotnak

    I have always found the “guided evolution” unsettling for reasons similar to Leibniz’s objection to a God who needs to wind up his watch periodically to keep it running. It is as though God is being conceived as a skilled pinball player who keeps bumping the table when the ball isn’t going exactly where he wants it to go. I suppose this is fun for imperfect players who want to test their skill, but it makes no sense for an omnipotent and omniscient being.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

      Eric Sotnak,

      It’s OK for theists and non-theists to disagree, but I think it’s not OK to misunderstand each other. According to classical theism (as developed in the patristic theology during the five first centuries of the common era) God continuously creates what exists. (Incidentally that’s an even older idea which goes back to Aristotle and his idea of the unmoved mover). So the view is not only that God’s will makes the ball exist, but makes everything exist, including the ball’s properties (such as physical properties) and the ball’s actual state. All of nature and all of the natural order are the direct result of the application of God’s creative will – according to God’s so-called general providence. So the fact that an apple exists, that it falls down, that when falling in accelerates towards earth according to a particular order – all of that, according to the original understanding of theism, is a direct manifestation of God’s creative will.

      Now consider the physical state of the universe immediately after the Big Bang. Thanks to quantum mechanics we know beyond reasonable doubt that the universe could have evolved in many different ways (or at least that what we observe around us is not the only possibility given the order of nature and the original physical state of the universe). Now one such way is the evolution of humankind via Darwinism in a manner that in no way naturalists understand Darwinism. We agree that such a evolutionary way exists, since we agree that the naturalistic interpretation of Darwinism is an at least possibly true. God then simply actualized into reality that way. It’s not at all like God “periodically rewinding a watch” or like God here and then “bumping the pinball table”. All these analogies reveal the basic misunderstanding of classical theism I spoke of above. According to classical theism creation is *not* a mechanism which can work by itself and God stands by and here and there interferes, the same way the owner here and there winds up her watch, or the player here or there bumps the table. Rather all of creation and at every single instant since the beginning time, all that exists in it and all that takes place (including a single of our hair turning white – to quote the respective bit from the Gospels) is the direct result of God’s will.

      So the scientifically educated theist accepts that the Darwinian story of the biological evolution is literally true, and also that every single bit in it was willed by God. And this last point is not something ad-hoc the theist produced in order to counter some problem many people imagine Darwinism implies for theism, but is a direct application of a basic theistic premise that exists for millennia. According to ancient theistic understanding God “guides biological evolution” in exactly the same way and exactly the same sense that God “guides the falling of an apple”. Biological evolution is exactly as much a problem for theism as is the falling of an apple.

      At this juncture the non-theist may ask two questions.

      First, if things are so groovy as I here explain, why then are so many theists against Darwinism? There are various answers here. Most theists (as most non-theists) know little of either philosophical theism or of the physical sciences, and are apt to be carried away by the whole rhetoric. Which brings me to the second answer. Unfortunately a significant number of theists, especially in the US, and who make lots of noise, are also biblical literalists. Such people find that the Darwinian theory of the origin of the species contradicts the biblical story of the origins of Adam and Eve, namely Adam out of clay and Eve from a rib taken from Adam. It looks kind of a silly reason, and it is, but there you have it: a huge tempest in a teacup. In fact Darwinism represents zero, literally zero, problem for theism. Quite on the contrary, it’s a marvelous account of God’s ingenuity. Imagine you wanted to create a naturalistic environment for your creatures, and thus an environment where your creatures naturalistically evolved – can you even imagine a smarter way to do it than by Darwinism?

      The second question is more serious: Why should God go through all the trouble to create for us a natural environment where one could reasonably believe that we are the result of purely naturalistic forces? Why make it so that natural evolution does not seem to require God’s guiding hand? Well, the easy answer here is this: “For exactly the same reason that God makes it so that the falling of an apple does not seem to require God’s guiding hand. What that reason actually is has been debated by theists for a long time, and in my judgment the best answer is given by John Hick in his theodicy. In our current discussion it is sufficient to point out that the right answer, whatever it is, does not at all depend on the science of biological evolution or on the science of gravitation.

      • Eric Sotnak

        Thanks, Dianelos, for your reply. But I’m afraid I must admit dissatisfaction with the claim that there is any reason to think there is any GUIDANCE here. The claim that God guides the apple in a way that is wholly indistinguishable from his not guiding it at all renders the claim of guidance empty. The same must be said of guided evolution.Suppose I carve a standard die out of wood, toss it, and it comes up 4. I say that I caused it to come up 4. When you ask how, I explain that I endowed the die with all it’s physical properties in the process of making it, and but for such properties it would not have come up 4. Clearly I have shifted the meaning of “cause” here. Someone who maintains that God guides evolution, of the formation of the physical universe, or the course of history, etc., is guilty of the same subterfuge. “God guides these processes by letting them unfold naturally in accordance with the properties that define them.”

        The situation is complicated in the case of evolution by the attribution of moral properties to God. All living things today stand on a hundreds-of-millions-of-years history of naturally-occurring disease, predation, and other unpleasantness that refuels the problem of evil: this is really what we would expect as the means by which a perfectly loving God chose to accomplish his ends?

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

          Eric,

          My pleasure – this is an interesting discussion.

          Please observe that the purpose of my previous post was not to show that there is some reason to think that God directly guides the gravitational falling of an apple. Rather my purpose was to show that the theory of Darwinism, as well as, say, the theory of gravity, do not present any problem whatsoever for theism. On theism all physical processes from simple ones such as the falling of an apple to highly complex ones such as biological evolution on Earth are guided by God’s will.

          Having said that, is there reason to believe that God directly guides all physical processes such as the falling of apples or the evolution of the species? Well, this belief is entailed in theism’s view of general providence (as conceived even in ancient times), so the real question is whether there is reason to believe that theism is true.

          One thing we may readily agree is this: All the data we have (the whole of our experience of life including our subjective feelings, intuitions, etc) are compatible with both naturalism and theism. In other words one can fairly easily describe a naturalistic reality, as well as a theistic reality, that would produce all these data. So, fundamentally, both theism and naturalism are and will for ever remain possibly true, i.e. we shall never be a datum that conclusively falsifies either of them. (At least not in our current cognitive state.)

          Given the above the only open question is whether belief in naturalism or in theism is more reasonable. So, which way does reason point to? Are there pragmatic reasons in favor of one or the other worldview? Are there good evidential arguments in favor or against one or the other worldview? Here in my judgment (Keith Parsons begs to disagree) the evidence lies very strongly for theism. In particular I find that the arguments for naturalism are very weak, and that the only good argument against theism is the argument from evil (in some of its versions). Conversely I find there is a series of good arguments for theism or against naturalism. Much more significantly I find that in real life there are strong pragmatic reasons for theism and against naturalism. Now of course that’s a long discussion. But suppose I am right and that I have good reason to believe in theism over naturalism. Then I also have good reason to believe that theism’s understanding about the metaphysics of the falling of an apple, namely that it’s completely guided by God’s will, is true.

          At the end of your post you raise the problem from animal suffering. As you point out Darwinism’s descriptioh of biological evolution entails hundreds of millions of years of a planet wide history of higher animal suffering. Well, as is the case with many versions of the problem of evil I would like to observe that in the case of animals too the good is far more than the bad. Most animals most of the time have a good time indeed. So at least on average biological evolution is a good thing from the point of view of animals. If there were a rational spokesperson to defend the interests of the animal kingdom and we were to ask her whether given the alternative she’d rather have God create biological evolution or not create it – she would certainly choose the former.

          Given God’s attributes though any suffering at all requires some kind of explanation, for there must be some reason for God to allow it. So how is a theist to think about animal suffering? In the case of humans a story about soul making, about the necessary cost of virtue acquisition, about the great value of atonement, etc can be made. But not for animals who are not supposed to be moral agents, nor to have eternal life.

          As it happens I hold that subjective idealism is by far the strongest theistic metaphysics. For a subjective idealist the simplest (but I think not the correct) answer to the problem of animal suffering is to assert that animals, like apples, or volcanoes – with their properties and states – are ideas in the mind of God. We experience them but they do not have any experiences themselves. Volcanoes erupting or ripe apples hitting the ground do not suffer, and neither do animals.

          But let me not grab this easy way out – it’s not really entailed in subjective idealism and anyway few theists are subjective idealists. Suppose then that animal suffering is as real as it looks. Since all experience entails at least an experiencer the question arises who is the one experiencing animal suffering. We, being moral creatures made in the image of God for some significant purpose – are individually (at least for now) the subjects of our respective experiences. But why assume that the same holds for animals? Given that there is no theological reason why individual animal subjects should exist, the most economical answer is that God is the subject of all animal experience, including animal suffering. And that suffering by God, even though real suffering, is not an evil – for it’s part and parcel of the goodness of creation.

          As an interesting aside, some time ago I sent Peter Singer the above idea. He answered with a short note saying he did not find it plausible. Now of course I did not expect a non-theist to find it plausible. But, speaking for myself, I find it extremely plausible. Not only because it solves the problem from animal suffering, but also because it paints a much more elegant and economical picture of creation. All experience is God’s, and only personal creatures like us, made for a particular moral purpose, are individual subjects.

          In this context some non-theists speak also of the problem of scale. If we created persons are the end of all creation, why then the huge scale of it, both space-wise and time-wise? Billions of years of time, hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of suns, only in order to produce perhaps the only race of persons in the universe on the small planet Earth? First I don’t know whether a smaller universe would work naturalistically speaking, but let’s assume it would. Even then, the answer is why not a large universe? It’s not like God has limited resources, or has to expend more work to produce our kind of large scale reality. Rather, as St Augustine thought, and as is apparent to any theist who looks around or even better knows some science, and as is plausible to hold to be the case for the greatest conceivable being, God revels in creation, delights in it. The greatest conceivable being would create economically in complication but not in beauty.

      • Bradley Bowen

        Dianelos said…

        Unfortunately a significant number of theists, especially in the US, and who make lots of noise, are also biblical literalists. Such people find that the Darwinian theory of the origin of the species contradicts the biblical story of the origins of Adam and Eve, namely Adam out of clay and Eve from a rib taken from Adam. It looks kind of a silly reason, and it is, but there you have it: a huge tempest in a teacup. In fact Darwinism represents zero, literally zero, problem for theism. Quite on the contrary, it’s a marvelous account of God’s ingenuity. Imagine you wanted to create a naturalistic environment for your creatures, and thus an environment where your creatures naturalistically evolved – can you even imagine a smarter way to do it than by Darwinism?

        =====================
        Comment:

        The Garden of Eden is just one a many divine interventions in nature, according to the Bible. So, giving up a literal Adam and Eve does not resolve the tension between a naturalistic understanding of the world and a Biblical understanding of the world. To go the full nine yards and, for example, treat the miracles of the NT as non-historical parables removes the guts out of the Christian faith.

        Setting aside the problems for Christianity, and focusing strictly on the question of theism vs. atheism, I think there is still a problem for theism in evolution: it is implausible that an omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good person would prefer the long, painful, stumbling route of evolution for the creation of animals and humans over simply creating a universe filled with solar systems and planets already populated by plants, animals, and people.

        The Genesis story simply makes much more sense than Darwin’s story, if we view the universe as the product of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good person.

        Evolution fits in much better with Hinduism than Christianity. Hinduism posits unimaginable spans of time in which there are countless small and halting steps of progress towards enlightenment. But Hinduism involves polytheism and pantheism. Hinduism does not posit the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good person who is the source of everything else that exists. Theism, which is the basic worldview beneath the Christian faith, does posit the existence of such a person, and this naturally leads to antipathy towards a view of animal and human life as arising naturalistically through evolution.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

          Bradley,

          treat the miracles of the NT as non-historical parables removes the guts out of the Christian faith.

          Do you really think so?

          First the meaning of the Christian faith is the call to follow Christ’s path. Whether the miracles described in the NT were real or not is next to irrelevant.

          Secondly, even if the miracles described in the NT actually happened is irrelevant to our discussion about whether Darwinism represent even the slightest problem for theism. On theism, God’s guidance of the evolutionary process is not supposed to be a miraculous or supernatural event, but to be an intrinsic part of the natural order willed by God – the very same order about which the physical sciences reveal so many marvelous things about.

          And thirdly, if one nevertheless wants to discuss whether those miracles actually happened, I personally find they probably didn’t. Here’s why: Imagine you are one of the disciples of Christ, and observe Him constantly performing amazing miracles, including the resurrection of smelly corpses. Further imagine yourself hearing Christ predict His own capture, death, and resurrection. Finally imagine yourself observing Christ being indeed captured by the authorities. Would you then be gripped by fear and run here and there to hide, or lie about ever being with Him – as the Gospels describe the reaction of the disciples? The miracle stories, if understood literally, destroy the psychological coherence of the Gospel account. And indeed trivialize Christ’s sacrifice.

          it is implausible that an omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good person would prefer the long, painful, stumbling route of evolution for the creation of animals and humans over simply creating a universe filled with solar systems and planets already populated by plants, animals, and people.

          Not if God wanted, first, to create us in a condition in which the reality of theism were not overwhelming in order to add value and indeed relevance to our moral choices, and second, to create us in a condition that is not cognitive misleading. A magical creation would contradict the former, and a young Earth creation would contradict the latter. Is it reasonable to believe that God would want the two things I describe above? I think that yes, absolutely. The first reflects what I hold is the very goal of creation (according to the so-called Irenaean theodicy), and the second reflects God’s rejection of deception. Besides, as I argue in my response to Eric, the suffering entailed in biological evolution, even though real, is not an evil.

          • Bradley Bowen

            Dianelos said…

            Imagine you are one of the disciples of Christ, and observe Him constantly performing amazing miracles, including the resurrection of smelly corpses. Further imagine yourself hearing Christ predict His own capture, death, and resurrection. Finally imagine yourself observing Christ being indeed captured by the authorities. Would you then be gripped by fear and run here and there to hide, or lie about ever being with Him – as the Gospels describe the reaction of the disciples? The miracle stories, if understood literally, destroy the psychological coherence of the Gospel account.

            ====================
            Response: Well stated. We fully agree on this point.
            I will try to respond tonight on some points of disagreement.

      • Eric Sotnak

        Dianelos Georgoudis,
        Thanks, again, for your thoughts.

        DG: “So the fact that an apple exists, that it falls down, that when falling in accelerates towards earth according to a particular order – all of that, according to the original understanding of theism, is a direct manifestation of God’s creative will.”

        ES: Why believe that the laws of nature are the result of divine creative will at all, though? You are correct, of course, that the theist can always say of anything that happens, “It is just as God wills” since nothing could presumably falsify it. In fact, theists do say such things. They praise God for all good fortune and comfort themselves otherwise by the faith that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.” But what are the reasons that elevate this beyond mere possibility? If I say that chipmunks secretly control the stock market using secret measures that transcend human comprehension so that every gain and loss perfectly reflects the will of the chipmunk cabal, this can’t be disproved. But it is nutty. And if you point out that it doesn’t look like the stock market favors chipmunk interests at all, and I reply that this is just what the chipmunks want you to think, so don’t you see that just makes it more plausible, that is even more nutty. But I don’t see this as much different from the view that nature obeys invisible divine guidance. I’m sure some theists would find my comparisons here ridiculous, and so they are. But I have to wonder whether that is only because theism has historically been treated as worthy of respect because it already fit into the prevailing pattern of beliefs. It may be rather like a group of Mormons commenting on the obvious silliness of Scientology. (Sorry, Mormons… and Scientologists.)

        DG: “Thanks to quantum mechanics we know beyond reasonable doubt that the universe could have evolved in many different ways…. [A]ll of creation and at every single instant since the beginning time, all that exists in it and all that takes place (including a single of our hair turning white – to quote the respective bit from the Gospels) is the direct result of God’s will.”

        ES: But wait… Were those alternate possibilities real? Did God say, ‘let there be a quantum mechanically indeterminate universe – but also let only the possibility I prefer obtain!’ It seems here the theist should echo Einstein’s dislike of the notion that God would play dice with the universe in such a fashion. In fact, the theist’s dislike should be much stronger than Einstein’s. It doesn’t seem fitting that God would resort to genuinely stochastic physical processes to accomplish determinate ends. Perhaps things didn’t work out the way he wanted on the first few attempts and re-rolled the dice until he got the result he wanted (As kids sometimes try to do when playing Monopoly)?

  • Jake Blair

    Keith, you need the review the ethics…or lack thereof…of talking about your students on line.

    • ZenDruid

      It becomes an ethical issue if students are specifically named. I didn’t see any names here.

      • Keith Parsons

        ZenDruid,

        Thanks for making the obvious point. Absolutely no information was given in my post that would allow this student to be identified. The quote was from a personal note to me and the identity of the student has not been shared with anyone. The two individuals who, rather pathetically, tried to make an issue out of this only demonstrated that there are way too many busybodies out there. Thanks again.

    • Steve Willy

      Not to mention the ethical implications of being an atheist instructor. Without God, all things are permissible.


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