God: Why Don’t We Photosynthesise? Revisited…

God: Why Don’t We Photosynthesise? Revisited… October 7, 2020

I posted this video the other day:

But no one really listened to it and the conversation flowed anyway. That said, I want to clear up a few things. Firstly, this isn’t a case of how doable human photosynthesis is, either in terms of biology or conversion efficiency. God is OmniGod and can stack the natural laws in any way she sees fit, or just maintain perpetual miracles.

No, this is merely a case of gratuitous suffering. Here is a chapter from my book The Problem with “God”: Classical Theism under the Spotlight (UK):

Remaining on the subject of the Problem of Evil, let us look at an argument from photosynthesis for the denial for the existence of God. To give you an accurate context to this piece, I advise going on to YouTube and searching for a video such as the one I saw where the viewer gets to sit through an arduous visual account of a pride of lions eating a live buffalo, piece by live piece, until it passes away. The torrid and difficult-to-watch video happens all day, every day and has done for millions of years. Carnivorousness is a fact of life. It is the case that billions of organisms over time have necessitated the (often very painful) death of other organisms in order to merely survive.

But need it be this way? God has created the state of affairs we find ourselves in. She designed the system, theistic evolution or not. Animals eat other animals. Nature is red in tooth and claw.

God could have, however, developed things otherwise. Plants can photosynthesise such that they gather solar energy, a renewable source. Why can’t animals do this (some can, to a small degree) whereby they would not need to kill other animals to gain energy? God could create a scenario, with her omnipotence, which meant that animals could really efficiently generate energy from the sun to exist in much the same way we presently do. This would then spare billions upon billions of units of suffering. Remember, if only one unit of suffering is gratuitous, God relinquishes the omnibenevolence characteristic.

The follow-on question, asked in my book The Little Book Of Unholy Questions (UK), is why it was deemed necessary to design a system whereby animals need energy at all. There is a much wider debate vis-a-vis energy in this here universe.

The Problem of Evil is usually stated as something like this:

  1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Here is a better version:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

It is better because it talks about evil as being gratuitous or not. The evil in the world can still logically exist, as long as it is not gratuitous (i.e. serves a purpose). With regard to the question about photosynthesis, the idea is that eating meat and causing animal pain and death must be necessary for some other, greater good.

The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so, therefore, it becomes probable. This is not, for me at any rate, an epistemologically good method. If I went through my life believing things because they were possible and not probable, I would get into some serious trouble.

The Christian would no doubt claim that the rest of the evidence for God means that the evidence for it not being gratuitous is good and makes the conclusion that there is a greater good probable. This is not good enough for me. And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is. Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.

In sum, the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount of pain and suffering on earth just so that animals can merely survive, raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the Omniscience Escape Clause. And I just don’t think that’s good enough.

I asked this question to William Lane Craig at the Stephen Law debate in London after the debate. He had no answer, though he declared it was a great question. There you go.

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