Scourge-Making Intelligent Designer

Scourge-Making Intelligent Designer September 3, 2014

I was struck by these words of Michael J. Behe, quoted in a post by Larry Moran:

“Malaria is a horrendous scourge…”

Behe also treats malaria as evidence of intelligent design. And at least he is consistent, since in The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism he writes:

“Maybe the designer isn’t all that beneficent or omnipotent. Science can’t answer questions like that. But denying design simply because it can cause terrible pain is a failure of nerve, a failure to look the universe fully in the face.”

And so the Creator that Intelligent Design offers is one who designs parasites to harm human beings.

If you are inclined to embrace Intelligent Design, be under no illusion. The God it offers you is the deliberate fashioner of horrendous scourges.

And if that is an unacceptable option to you, then don’t accept Behe’s claim that this is a failure of nerve on your part. Rather, it may indicate the opposite, that you have the courage to recognize that rejecting ID may be better theologically, as well as better scientifically. Here are some words from another biochemist who is a Christian, Sy Garte:

Sy Garte design quote

See also Bethany Sollereder’s piece on evolution and suffering in The Christian Century.



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  • David Evans

    “The God it offers you is the deliberate fashioner of horrendous scourges”.

    As opposed to the true God, who fashions them accidentally or in a fit of absence of mind?

    • Andrew of MO

      Or you accept that what you are calling “intelligent” when discussing the Divine is outside of any category that makes sense to us, assuming you are willing to accept the possibility of the Divine. So, I would not characterize God create plagues “accidentally” or while not paying attention. I would rather consider that they are, and we fight them to stop suffering. They exist in a prodigious, virile environment, full of manifold life in myriad manifestations. Some of that life enters into conflict with other life.

      Not a great answer, nor for me a stopping point. Rather, this represents only part of my reflection of what we are talking about when playing the language game of theology.

      • David Evans

        That’s a good answer to my rather tongue-in-cheek comment. I think I felt that if we accuse the Designer of not being benevolent, we should not exempt God from the same accusation. But I see James has said something similar (above).

        • Andrew of MO

          Thanks, but it really is not a good answer. Really, not an answer at all. Just a part of reflecting on life and meaning. Thanks, though.

          Actually, have you read Jurgen Moltmann? He reflects a lot on these questions.

      • Nofun

        Why should you accept the possibility of the divine when their is not a shred of evidence for it. So do you accept the possibility of a man with 50 heads; a flying dog with a PHD etc ….. No? … Why? ….. because their is no evidence of such nonsense.

        • Andrew of MO

          If you are correct, we are royally and totally screwed. Our existence is an accident, our sufferings and the sufferings of others will never be reconciled or vindicated, and suicide becomes a very reasonable choice.

          When I say I accept the possibility of the Divine, or “such nonsense,” you assume I believe in something impossible among impossible beings. You misunderstand. God is the starting point, the ground I stand, the point I start from and return to. God is nothing, by which I mean “no-thing.” God is not a thing among other things, but that which is the reason anything is at all.

          Evidence? Nothing you would accept. Troll someone else. Life is too short to argue about this crap with a jerk.

          • Nofun

            Well maybe you should examine that bedrock idea for reality before basing everything else on it. If it is not real it doesn’t matter and should not be taken seriously.

          • Andrew of MO


          • Nofun


          • Nofun

            No that is where you are wrong. This idea that an atheist would never except any evidence is a convenient lie. It justifies you to not even try to produce any.

            It is true, that if real evidence of a god appeared I may not immediately believe like you do but I could no longer dismiss it out of hand either like I can now..

            There is only one rule in atheism: “If it isn’t real it doesn’t matter’.

            Brother, reality provides you with everything religion claims it does and more.

          • Andrew of MO

            Well, you have convinced me! Thank you for freeing me from the chains of my oppression!

          • Nofun

            No problem ….. and you didn’t have to tithe either

            Here endth the lesson.

          • Andrew of MO

            Not sure if sarcasm came through. You do realize I am mocking you, right?

          • Nofun

            Yes … I returned the favor. Think nothing of it.

          • Gary

            “No way, Jose!”
            Same reference, Bart Ehrman, “God’s Problem”, Eccles 5:18 Behold, that which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion.
            Speaking of dogs,
            Eccles 9:4-5, For to him that is joined with all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          Nofun: one doesn’t need to be even remotely Freudian to wonder about the libidinal impulses driving your marked hostility towards Andrew of MO. And that’s a good thing, because I’m not particularly Freudian, yet I wonder.

    • Nofun

      …or in a fit of absence of being

  • Bethany

    That’s true, but ultimately accepting evolution doesn’t get you a foolproof theodicy either (although I agree it does help).

    • I agree completely. There is no viewpoint that gives one a foolproof answer to the problem of suffering. But the more you make God like humans – whether a Father or an engineer – the more difficult I think it becomes to make the case that that Father or Designer is benevolent.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        And the less you make God like humans, the more difficult it becomes to make the case that the Designer has any special regard for one particular species of primate on one particular planet in this great wide universe. I.e. it becomes harder to make such a God relevant.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          I’m not sure that anthropomorphism is necessary for divine relevance. A human is not caninomorphic yet a dog-owner might well be the most significant entity in a dog’s life. Note that I am making no positive theological claim, but rather just noting that your “objection” might not stand up to empirical inquiry or rational reflection.

          • Bethany

            Agreed. This is also making the assumption that only something human-like could love and care about humans.

            (I also don’t see that we necessarily have to claim that God has special regard for humans, although of course many would. God could have tremendous regard for all sapient, sentient organisms everywhere, or all organisms everywhere, or just everything, without diminishing the regard God has for humans.)

    • Jonathan Bernier

      It seems to me that a foolproof theodicy would have to be one in which the innocent never suffer. Therefore it would have to argue that those who suffer are not innocent. Such a theodicy should be morally offensive to any decent person. Therefore a foolproof theodicy should be morally offensive. Therefore it’s not an adequate theodicy, for the purpose of theodicy is to make suffering intellectually and morally comprehensible. Therefore one cannot have a foolproof theodicy.

      • This deserves to be quoted widely. Would you have any objection to me turning it into a meme?

        • Jonathan Bernier


      • Bethany

        I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree with this statement: depends on what you mean by it. 🙂

        The thing is, theodicy depends heavily on your assumptions about the nature of God, the nature of universe, and the relationship between them, which are, to say the least, big questions.

        For example, in a universe where innocent people never suffer, innocent people would never fall to their deaths. Why do people fall to their deaths? Gravity. So why would a benevolent God create gravity knowing innocent people will sometimes fall to their deaths? Well, without gravity, there would be no people or Earth or stars or galaxies. So all in all, I think God made the right call re: gravity, even if it sometimes causes innocent people to fall to their deaths.

        Now, that’s not a foolproof argument. A universe like ours needs gravity, but could there be another universe totally different from ours at the most fundamental of levels that didn’t need gravity but that somehow still had humans or human-like organisms in it? Who knows?

        Could we have had a universe with a highly interventionist God who could step in and change the laws of gravity for individual people and occasions so people didn’t fall to their deaths? Such a universe would also be different from the one we have important ways, including the physics of gravity and the nature of causality. Could we have a universe like that which still had humans or human-like organisms in it? Who knows?

        So, I agree that no theodicy can ever be foolproof in the sense that I don’t think that humans will ever really be able to answer questions like these about the nature of the reality, and I think that would be necessary to definitively answer the problem of suffering. But that’s in terms of our knowledge. Whether there exists a successful theodicy (even if humans can never know that it’s successful or even be able to formulate or understand it) is IMO a separate — and open — question.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          Hi, Bethany. Thank you for your comments. I would make a distinction between “successful” and “foolproof,” which is basically the difference between “adequate” and “perfect.” The best student in any given class might not necessarily get perfect in the course, but her or his work will be considered adequate or significantly more than adequate. I think that it is in the nature of suffering that there will always be a sort of surd, an aspect of human suffering that simply cannot be made morally intelligible. One simply cannot make it good and right that the good and right suffer through no fault of their own. That surd will always remain, and it’s much of what drives the ongoing quest for knowledge. How many, after all, of our greatest discoveries come from a basic conviction that suffering is wrong and thus ought to be alleviated? Absent that conviction would those discoveries have been made?

          • Bethany

            The distinction I was trying to make was more between, “No theodicy can be foolproof while innocents suffer, because even if there were no conflict between the benevolence of God and the suffering of innocents, understanding and making that argument would require an understanding of the nature of God and the Universe that humans will never have” and “No theodicy can be foolproof while innocents suffer because the benevolence of God and the suffering of innocents cannot possibly co-exist.”

            I agree with the former, I think the latter is very much an open question (and I think always will be, for the same reason I think there will never be a foolproof theodicy in the first sense).

            I’d also argue that we don’t have to believe that the suffering of innocents proves there is no benevolent God in order to feel very strongly that suffering is bad and should be minimized or eliminated whenever possible. The existence of, say, Ebola doesn’t have to have a moral dimension for us to fight Ebola.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes, I meant it in the former fashion: a sort of epistemic claim more than an ontic one. Regarding your last sentence, I do think that the efforts to cure Ebola do suppose on the one hand some notion of what Catholic moral theology tends to call “natural evil”–i.e. that there are things in nature that cause suffering–and on the other hand some sort of notion that humans have a responsibility to work towards ameliorating the effects of natural evil. That however would be contrasted to seeing something like Ebola as a “moral evil,” and thus obviously not quite the same thing as thinking about how to respond to warmongering, genocide, inequality, etc.

  • Sean Garrigan

    “Instead there is an unconscious design process that is inherent in Darwinian evolution…”

    I thought you said: “Who cares about ‘Darwinism’?”

    I guess you care when it suits your argument. Convenient.

    • ID proponents focus on specifically Darwinian mechanisms. Those who respond to them also do so. It seems odd to insist on focusing attention on this particular subset of biological explanations, and then to complain when those who respond to you mention it.

      • Sean Garrigan

        “It seems odd to insist on focusing attention on this particular subset
        of biological explanations, and then to complain when those who respond
        to you mention it.”

        Wow, you could hardly have missed the point more thoroughly. Did you forget about our other dialogue where you used “Who cares about ‘Darwinsim’?” as an excuse to avoid answer my questions? When forgetting about Darwinism helped you avoid answering questions, you were happy to do so, but now you suddenly want to employ what you claimed to have forgotten. So transparent.

  • Sean Garrigan

    “If you are inclined to embrace Intelligent Design, be under no illusion. The God it offers you is the deliberate fashioner of horrendous scourges.”

    James, I would revise this to read something like this:

    If you are inclined to embrace the God-makes-things-make-themselves process, be under no illusion. This God it offers you is the deliberate fashioner of horrendous scourges. Indeed, rather than creating all things using a methodology that would yield less painful results, he instead consciously chose to deliberately use purely material processes, knowing full well that this would result in horrific pain, unspeakable suffering, incalculable misery, and death for all. In this view, this misery isn’t the result of man’s disobedience, but the result of God’s preferred means of bringing life into existence. God made it so that horrendous scourges would make themselves. This isn’t a dog-eat-dog world; it’s an everything-eats-everything-with-pitiless-indefference world, and this was a necessary component of the chosen approach.

    Interestingly, if one is a Christian, one can’t say that the pain, suffering, misery, and death were simply unfortunate but necessary byproducts of creation, because the Bible promises that the righteous will be resurrected, given new bodies, and live forever in paradise. If God _will_do that in the future then God _could have_ done that in the beginning. God has always had the ability to fashion us so that we’d be fit for eternal life in paradise. Your view gives us a God who chose for us the way of pain, instead.

    The biblical God’s creation was “good”, and things went awry when mankind disobeyed Him. The biblical view is that man broke it and God’s gonna fix it. Your view gives us a situation where it was either broken from the start, or the pain, suffering, death, scourges, plagues, etc, are all part of what the biblical God declared “good”.

    So there’s a logical inconsistency with your argument, it seems to me. Rather than using scourges in an argument to try and undermine ID, you should be on your hands and knees praising God for them. These are necessary byproducts of the God-makes-things-make-themselves process that you believe brings even more glory to God then direct creation does.

    You seem to be suffering from a failure of nerve.

    • Actually, it seems to be your stance which says that God can and will make a perfect world with perfect human beings in it, and chose not to do that from the beginning.

      You also make it sound as though humans intelligently designed malaria, that such things which you consider evidence that creation is broken are products of human rather than divine action.

      • Sean Garrigan

        I think you’re choosing to see and not see what you prefer to see and not see.

        Philosophical reflection is hard work, and one must approach it with complete honesty (e.g. by setting apologetic interests aside as much as is humanly possible) or one will always end up facing a wall beyond which lies truth one won’t be able to see.