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Chesterton on “Immoral” Design

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 In a previous post a commentor attacked design on moral grounds using this example:  “Would you conclude that the designer was sadistic for creating insects that kill one another in the mating process?” 

Of course, at one level this attack has been answered again and again.  In this blog’s “arguments that have been defeated over and over” section we say:

This [argument] is really odd as it is basically a religious argument being made against Intelligent Design. The proponent of this argument is making a faith based assertion that God is perfect and hence incapable of bad design. ID makes no claim that the source of complexity is a perfect God incapable of imperfection [or, in the commenter’s example, sadism].

Nevertheless, this discussion put me in mind of the following passage from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

But nature does not say that cats are more valuable than mice; nature makes no remark on the subject. She does not even say that the cat is enviable or the mouse pitiable. We think the cat superior because we have (or most of us have) a particular philosophy to the effect that life is better than death. But if the mouse were a German pessimist mouse, he might not think that the cat had beaten him at all. He might think he had beaten the cat by getting to the grave first. Or he might feel that he had actually inflicted frightful punishment on the cat by keeping him alive. Just as a microbe might feel proud of spreading a pestilence, so the pessimistic mouse might exult to think that he was renewing in the cat the torture of conscious existence.

I have always found the idea of a “Schopenhauer mouse” very amusing, but Chesterton’s larger point is germane to our discussion.  The materialist really has no ground on which to say life is better than death (or sadism is better than charity) other than pure sentiment.  Moreover, it is truly ironic for a materialist to attack a scientific project in terms of a morality they must assert has no objective basis.

Barry A: Sorry, I forgot to point out that my post #36 was a response to your post #32. StephenB
Barry A: Fair enough. Maybe, we are all getting hung up on what it means to be "careful." Let me do this chronologically, so it will be a little easier to follow. I will first comment on WJM’s earlier comments on other posts, (not the ones on #29 and #30 which I find to be more nuanced), to mean the following: I interpreted the whole of WJM's comments made on several threads to mean the following: ID defenders take an unnecessary risk every time they answer the "bad design" argument from a religious perspective. ID adversaries will always take it the wrong way, so it is better not to bring it up. Further, I understood him to be saying that the anti-materialist side of ID has been overplayed and should be de-emphasized. Moreover, he seemed to be suggesting that not only should we refrain from doing these things in a debate, but that we should also back off a bit from speculating about such things on the UD website. After all, that is exactly what was happening when he made the comments. It happened once, so I let it go. It happened again on a second thread, I let it go again. After the third time, I decided to write about it, because, to me, it had become a trend. After I commented on it, he responded (#29, #30) with a clarification which seemed reasonable (he is always reasonable), but it seemed that he had revised his opinions somewhat. So when you say that you agree with WJM most recent posts, well, I almost do as well—but not quite. When you responded to me the first time, (WJM had not yet written 29 and 30) you wrote, “No one is suggesting that you not answer the “bad design equals no design” objection,”…. Well, it seemed to me that he was indeed suggesting that I should not answer it--that the best way to “be careful” is to simply avoid it. Even in #29, where he responds to my contention that the bad design argument should be answered, his response to me reads, “of course, you are free to do whatever you want.” I interpret that to mean, “Well, you have freedom of speech, but it’s still a bad idea.” It is my perception that he is unhappy with the fact that so much theology gets discussed on the UD website. But I think it is a very good idea. We should be very careful indeed to make sure that the ID methodology is not misrepresented. That means we take all the precautions you have suggested, even to the point of fussing over it. Yes-make sure they get it. However, we must also have the freedom to operate from diverse paradigms. Indeed, one of the things we must educate others about is the fact that there are scientific paradigms, religious paradigms, philosophical paradigms……..To frame the debate is usually to win the debate. So far, we have allowed materialists to frame the issue by telling us what is and what is not out of bounds, both methodologically and rhetorically. It is a mistake to become inhibited simply because we have been burned by a few misrepresentations and outright lies from our adversaries. We cannot allow them to shut us up, especially since one of their strategies is to frighten us into silence. Materialists lied, for example, about what Dembski said about “Logos Theory” and intelligent design. From a religious perspective, it was a truly a brilliant comment. Yes, the Darwinists lied about him, and there was a heavy price to be paid. So what? Isn’t it obvious they would have found something else to lie about if not that? What should he do with his theological expertise-- throw it overboard because the world is full of liars? It is the materialists who will not consider things from any other perspective than their own. It is the materialists who will continue to bring up the “bad design” argument precisely because it is INHERENTLY DISHONEST. That dishonesty needs to be exposed (judiciously, of course). I don’t doubt that there are others who hope that the UD website will confine itself solely to scientific issues. I disagree. If we are on the side of truth, and I believe we are, we should feel free to express that truth in more than one way, because it strengthens our case, provided, of course, (as WJM wisely cautions) that we don’t get distracted. If our adversaries are on the side of error, as I believe them to be, they will acknowledge only those perspectives that seem to support their error. So I say, yes, preserve ID as science, and let there be no mistake about it. But not to the point of inhibition! StephenB
Nature is neither kind nor cruel. This can be demonstrated either from the materialist perspective or the Biblical one. It matters not. The book of Job mentions the Leviathan in all his glory and danger and the hippo and lions to boot. They are dangerous and have and will kill people. As did the Leviathan (probably the Nile Croc). This is different from saying "bad boys"---or sadistic. Spiders sometimes eat their mates to assure protien and calories for the next generation in situations where such might be lacking since mother spider is relatively immobile and weak. I find it odd that even when the Scriptures even mention the distinction in passages about power and danger not being the same as "evil" we still get commentary from materialists who contradict themselves (as Chesterton brilliantly pointed out) when saying that X-action is sadistic or evil and "God would not do X" and yet the nature of nature has no such notion in the first place. You can't have it both ways. The position of Job being told by God just what God was capable of doing was making the point that danger and death are not necessarily akin to murder in the common sense of the term, and that Job was helpless next to God. Crocs are not evil. Just hungry and dangerous. Like the famous passage from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, Mr. Beaver says of Aslan: "Safe? course he's not safe, but he's good!" S Wakefield Tolbert
jerry, yes of course. It is a standard trial technique. If you have bad or embarressing evidence, don't wait for the other side to bring it out and pound you. Deal with it in your own case. It is still bad or embarressing, but at the very least it blunts the other side's attack. It can even make them look like they are "piling on" when they pound on the same evidence. BarryA
Paul Giem, I loved your suggestion and would also add the following disclaimer at the beginning. "Most knowledgeable scientists believe the evidence shows the earth is roughly 4-4.5 billion years old; life first appeared between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years ago; most complex multicellular animal organisms first appeared during the early Cambrian period; there have been several different radiations of species since that time as well as numerous extinctions. There appears to be a direction to the evolution as the number of cell types has increased linearly over the last 500 million years since the Cambrian period thus, enabling more complex organisms. The debate tonight is not over evolution and whether it happened or not but what are the causes for the origin of life itself and the origin of species. However, science is constantly reappraising the evidence and forming new conclusions. 200 years ago most thought the earth was 6-10 thousand years ago. 100 years ago many agreed with Lord Kelvin, one of the greatest physicists of his time that the world was 300 million years old. Now nearly all science points to a much older earth. But as we have just noted beliefs change rapidly in science. Who knows what we will believe in 2107." Then it would be really difficult to bring in anti science, religion and other religious type objections into the debate. This approach is typical in selling when a salesman answers all objections before they happen so the person then looks foolish when they bring them up. You are essentially disarming your opponent. I am sure Barry A is aware of this technique in legal arguments. jerry
StephenB, I guess I don't understand your comment 27, because I agree with WJM's statements in 29 and 30. I would be grateful if you would tell me what I wrote that would lead you to believe otherwise. BarryA
BarryA, My reading of William J. Murray matches that of StephenB. WJM makes a reasonable argument; stick with the facts and don't allow ID to be sidetracked into arguments about the characteristics of the designer. But you and vjtorley are right that those arguing for naturalism are not likely to allow the matter to rest there. Cornelius Hunter documented this in the past, the recent Paul Nelson/Michael Ruse debate documents this in the present, and it is unlikely to change in the future. One way of dealing with the situation is to say, when the discussion first comes up, "The ID is a classic case of science versus religion. ID proponents are on the side of science, and naturalists are on the side of religion. That is, of course, not how it is usually portrayed. My opponent [insert name here] will undoubtedly tell you that (s)he is on the side of science and I am on the side of religion. Whom should you believe?" "It's actually easy to tell. Just look at which side concentrates on the scientific evidence, and which side brings arguments about God into the discussion first. That's the side that needs religious arguments to bolster a weaker scientific case." Then just give your scientific arguments and wait. The other side will run out of steam and reach for the killer argument that has always sustained them in the past, that "God wouldn't have done it this way." Then you have them. vjtorley, Thanks for your appreciation. The Genesis account says pretty explicitly that the animals were originally herbivores. See Genesis 1:30: "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat". Even one of your URL's admits that there is a prima facie case: "Out of context, without the consideration of the remainder of the Bible, the verses seem to support the doctrine." By contet he means the fact that the Hebrew word for lion comes from a root meaning "in the sense of violence" (his definition) and that the Hebrew word for eagle came from a root that means to lacerate. This assumes that Adam spoke Hebrew, that the meaning of the roots has not changed in thousands of years (something that my experience in English and Greek makes doubtful), and that he has the correct original word for lion (there are about 6 different words for lion in Hebrew). One of the URL's goes on to disparage restoration theology as having "no Biblical support". That is surely an overstatement. This is not the place for a complete critique of the URL's you gave. But let us say that, whether or not their main thesis eventually turns out to be correct, the author (the same for both) cannot be trusted as a careful, unbiased commentator. One has to be careful with argument from URL. Paul Giem
The answer to the question about imperfect or immoral design is simple: "ID doesn't posit that the source of the design is moral or perfect, so those arguments are irrelevant." William J. Murray
#24: The "bad design" argument is a religious argument that has nothing to do with ID theory. Of course you're free to do whatever you want, but as soon as a discussion about ID takes such a philosophical turn, it has left the realm of science, and IMHO it fosters misapprehensions about the theory and invites straw man and red herring. As far as "abandoning the anti-materialist component", I understand that ID is being used to attack the materialistic bias in science, but I think that argument has to be made very carefully and without any form of religious apologetics. IMHO, it should be argued only that science has a blind spot when it comes to implications that it assumes leads to spiritual or religious conclusions, and that this is why it refuses to consider intelligent design - not that ID "must have" a religious or spiritual source. IDers should not assert that ID "must be" caused by a non-material agent, because that might not be the case. IDers should rather use ID to make the case that materialist science is in denial about the obvious design because science believes it would lead to an unacceptable, non-materialist answer. This exposes the problematical and even dangerous materialist bias that has corrupted true sceintific research. IDers must guard against replacing one ideological bias with another. Our case is much more effective when we use ID to expose their bias; it would be hypocritical for us to then assert or argue our own ideological bias to fill in the vacuum. William J. Murray
vjtorley wrote: "I entirely agree with your comment that “The ‘bad design’ argument is a religious objection that must be countered with a religious answer.” The problem is that, like it or not, unless we provide such an answer, no atheist will bother to take ID seriously in the first place." That is a very astute comment. Yes, when dealing with anti-scientific quesions, we do have to "walk a scientific/philosophical tighrope," and we are subject to criticisms from ideologues on each side who don't have to or even want to bother with the nuances involved. How easy it is to ignore mysteries, paradoxes, and ironies, and retreat into the simplistic world of monism. StephenB
Barry A: One of us is misreading WJM’s comments. He has made it clear that we should abandon the anti-materialist component of ID, which is the flip side to the pro-intelligence component. Further, his caution about introducing the God theme is not conditional, as yours is, but absolute. I completely agree with everything you say about making sure that we clarify what ID is and what it is not. I also agree that we should dramatize the point when we are leaving one category and entering another. Clearly, the "bad design" objection is a two category problem. But what I take WJM to be saying is that we should NEVER CHANGE CATEGORIES, because it is just too risky. Reread his comments, especially those on materilaism. I WANT to be wrong about this. StephenB
StephenB, No one is suggesting that you not answer the "bad design equals no design" objection. As I said before, we have to answer it over and over. We are suggesting, however, that you make sure your categories are clear. I think the best answer is something along these lines: "ID is a scientific project that posits simply that some aspects of living things are best explained as the result of an intelligent agent. As science it does not, and indeed cannot, posit anything about the nature or purpose of the designer other than that he/she/it is capable of the observed design. This is so because there is no scientific data upon which to base any such conclusion. Now, the objection you raise is not a scientific one. It is an aesthetic/moral/religious objection to which ID, as a scientific project cannot speak. If you want to change categories to theology I'll tell you what I think and why, but you must understand that when doing so I have left the realm of ID and moved into theology." BarryA
First, I would like to apologize for the fact that my earlier postings have been rather terse and philosophically dense. The reason is a simple one: I really don't have much free time. I work six days a week (sometimes seven), and usually leave home at 7 a.m. and get home at 10 p.m. I'm also married with a two-year-old son. I should add that my lifestyle is by no means unusual in the country where I now live (Japan). I'll try to make it clearer where I'm coming from. What I'm defending here is a natural law ethic. For a good overview, readers can check out the article at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/ by Mark Murphy. The important thing for the purposes of this discussion is that it does not presuppose theism, although most of its proponents are theists. John Finnis, for instance, in his classic work, "Natural Law and Natural Rights" (1980, Oxford University Press), does not address the question of God's existence until the final part of his book. I'm not trying to defend atheism here. The point I wish to make is that even though God is the only Being capable of grounding natural law, you don't have to posit God's existence at the outset, in order to discover what's right. The natural law view is that we know immediately, by natural inclination, that there are a variety of things that count as intrinsically good and thus to be pursued - for instance, Aquinas mentions life, procreation, knowledge, society, and reasonable conduct (ST IaIIae 94, 2; 94, 3). The goodness of these things is self-evident, whether one be a theist or an atheist. One really cannot have an ethical argument with someone who fails to see that life is preferable to death, and it would be folly to attempt to do so. An atheist who regards life as preferable to death does not need "sentimental reasons" to justify this preference; all he or she needs is sound common sense, as the preference requries no justification. Regarding intrinsic finality: the key point here is that if you want to find out what's good for any kind of living thing (humans included), you have to carefully examine its nature, and discover what completes or perfects it. Where else would you start? Once again, there is no logical reason why an atheist cannot embark on such a philosophical enterprise. The question is whether a Darwinian atheist can do so. StephenB raises the legitimate point that if human nature changes over time, then moral precepts are no longer invariant. My reply: some are, and some aren't. No amount of Darwinian evolution could ever undo the goodness of life, procreation, knowledge, society, and reasonable conduct for human beings (unless they regress into some sub-rational life form in the future). It is however conceivable that evolution could alter moral norms such as the wrongfulness of polygamy. The upshot is that life is an objective good (for animals as well as humans) and God is essentially good, then the problem of animal suffering is a real one. It doesn't work against ID as such, because ID is not committed to God's existence per se, but it does blunt its force. An atheist might retort: "Well, you seem to have a good argument that life was designed. But I have an argument that the designer was immoral. I conclude that while there may be some other intelligence that designed life, it is not worthy of my time or respect. Even if you are right about design, I should regard your conclusion as nothing more than an intellectual curiosity." Paul Giem, Thank you for your detailed critique. I'm running out of time (have to go to work in a couple of minutes, and my son is now awake), but I'll just say that I have to disagree with your remark that Scripture makes it pretty clear that the creation was originally herbivorous. See the following articles by Rich Deem: http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/millions_years.html http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/death.html StephenB: I entirely agree with your comment that "The 'bad design' argument is a religious objection that must be countered with a religious answer." The problem is that, like it or not, unless we provide such an answer, no atheist will bother to take ID seriously in the first place. I would like to reiterate my earlier recommendations of Glenn Miller's postings at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred2.html and http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred3.html as they seem to be the most sensible remarks on the issue of animal suffering. Bye for now. vjtorley
William J. Murray wrote, "ID doesn’t postulate that there is a god, or even a conscious designer. The designer could be an emergent process in the universe that is as-yet unrecognized - something like gravity or the strong nuclear force, only capable of teleologically organizing materials. And again, "No morality is required; when one defends the “morality” of the design, they’re only adding weight to the claim that ID is a religious belief." While I believe in the ID methodology, there is no logical reason why I may not take my ID hat off and put my theology hat on. Science intersects with both philosophy and religion. Since ID cannot answer the problem of evil or the problem of imperfect design, one must turn to religion to connect the dots. Are you suggesting that I stop thinking simply because someone else may not recognize that I have left the domain of science and entered into the world of religion?You seem to have enough intelligence to make the distinctions, are you afraid others may not? The "bad design" argument is a religious objection that must be countered with a religious answer. Naturally, my adversaries will twist any response I make, either through ignorance or bad faith. What an irony. Its heads they win, tails, I lose. If I don't answer the objection, case closed. If I do answer it, aha! I'm doing religion. Sorry, I won't play that game. StephenB
Good work Paul, thanks. BarryA
Nochange, BarryA is right. ID is an explanation of what kind of agent is required to explain certain phenomena (an intelligent one). It does not (yet) presume to comment on the moral or intellectual perfection of that agent. Perhaps someday it will, when the theory is more advanced. I sympathize with your requirement that God be in fact morally and intellectually perfect, and capable. However, the subject of this thread is supposed to be how ID should answer the charge that the design that we see includes malevolent design, unworthy of that perfect God. If there is malevolent design, either God must have some higher purpose or there must be some other designer morally capable of evil design, or too stupid to avoid evil design, or both. As Cornelius Hunter has pointed out in Darwin's God, Darwinism is at base a theodicy, creating distance between God and nature to absolve God of the responsibility of creating what apppeared to Darwin (and appears to me) as natural evil. Chesterton apparently argues that what we think is natural evil really isn't, as does Glenn Miller (cited by vjtorley). One can also argue that evil is part of, or is necessary for, a greater good, as some of the objectors that Quentin Smith (cited by vjtorley--the URL doesn't work on my computer, but I was able to Google the reference) attempts to answer, say. I have suggested above that we look at the possibility of an additional designer or designers, this time without the moral, intellectual, and potential characteristics of God. vjtorley, StephenB has a valid critique of your theory. You also claim that although "an Aristotelian ethic runs into trouble" over the question of "whether it is ever right to artificially transform the nature of a living thing", "[i]n everyday life, most of us are seldom in a position to change the nature of an organism." That is simply not true. We can change the nature of living things to that of dead things, and do it in slaughterhouses systematically. We can also change the nature of animals from fearful of humans to friendly with humans (and vice versa), and your morality has no principled way of prescribing which is better. You complain that " it is mistaken to argue that atheists’ attempts to formulate moral arguments against Christianity and other faiths are somehow self-refuting. That move is just too easy." I agree that just because an argument is advanced by those who ultimately do not believe in its validity, and thus are hypocritically arguing, does not mean that the argument is not valid within the system being criticized, or even that it is not ultimately valid. But the fact that theists have a difficult problem to solve does not mean that we should adopt a solution that is on the face of it self-contradictory. I found Quentin Smith's defense againat Platinga particularly weak. It hinges entirely on the "probabiliistic knowledge" that "there are no fallen angels". That would be unconvincing from a Christian perspective. David Snoke's article does point out problems associated with explaining aspects of creation as being associated with satanic agendy during the standard geological ages. As he notes, these problems are less severe if one assumes a short age for life on earth. The problems should be worked on. If after careful examination they appear insoluble from a standard perspectiive, perhaps young earth creationism, or at least young life on earth creationism, deserves a second look. Snoke Is also not completely coherent. While God may take ultimate responsibility in that He does not instantly stop all bad behavior, rather sustaining it (as he did with Satan's actions against Job), the Genesis record is pretty clear that the original "very good" creation was herbivorous. To extend the groaning of creation into that "very good" period is to insist that Paul could not have meant that this groaning started at the Fall, which would appear to be an unwarranted assumption. I agree with you, that other things being equal, life is better than death. I agree that an Aristotelian ethic is valid at this point. But that does not justify an atheistic Aristotelian. As mullerpr implied, perhaps there is a reason why Aristotle was a theist. Perhaps there is no such thing as an atheistic Aristotelian, only atheists who find some of Aristotle's arguments attractive. It is still not clear why atheists can theoretically justify the moral judgment that life is better than death, or any moral judgments, for that matter. Having sentimental preferences, or theoretically unjustifiably borrowing from another system, is another matter. Paul Giem
Arguing about the morality of the design when it comes to ID is a straw man that only increases the view that it is reinvented christian creationism. ID doesn't postulate that there is a god, or even a conscious designer. The designer could be an emergent process in the universe that is as-yet unrecognized - something like gravity or the strong nuclear force, only capable of teleologically organizing materials. No morality is required; when one defends the "morality" of the design, they're only adding weight to the claim that ID is a religious belief. William J. Murray
vjtorley, it's a pleasure to see another philosopher taking part in these discussions! I'm sympathetic to the idea, if I understand you correctly, that one could develop a moral theory off of Aristotle without bringing God into the picture. Natural law without a lawgiver, so to speak. Though without a lawgiver, the whole notion of "laws" as existing in nature at all might be suspect. mullerpr, it's not quite accurate to say that Kant "felt it imperative to invoke theism to account for morality" -- at least, whether it's inaccurate depends on what you mean by "to account for." Kant is unambiguous on this point: the justification of morality does not depend on one's belief in God. However, justification is one thing, and motivation is another. Kant argues that one must believe in God in order to be motivated to act morally -- but that has nothing, so far as Kant is concerned, with the justification of morality. Carl Sachs
Nochange, you are confused. ID is a scientific project. It is not theology. Sorry to bust your bubble. BarryA
"ID makes no claim that the source of complexity is a perfect God incapable of imperfection [or, in the commenter’s example, sadism]." How can you support that position? Of course we suggest a level of perfection. God is completely perfect and capable of anything within His will. I hate to say that on this one, I agree with the Darwinoids. God doesn't make mistakes. Nochange
[...] Chesterton on “Immoral” Design In a previous post a commentor attacked design on moral grounds using this example: “Would you conclude that the designer was sadistic for creating insects that kill one another in the mating process?” [...] » Sadistic designer?
vjtorley, I have to ask you why, as you mentioned, was Aristotle a theist? Also, why did Kant, the master of bringing rationalism and empiricism in harmony, felt it imperative to envoke theism to account for morality? I know of quite a few good philosophers that still concur with these great philosophers and have overcome arguments similar to yours. I personally admit that I don't understand it completely and concur with BarryA that you should try and do the "C.S Lewis thing" - he is my hero because of his clarity & intense intellect. I know I am not close to his standard of communicating and therefore I don't blame you - it is for my sake that I ask you to clarify your argument. A quick analysis let me belief that you have locked your argument into an unsupported notion of naturalism - that also form the basis of your proof. mullerpr
vjtorley--In defense of an atheistic-Darwinist morality, you wrote: “As it happens, the pace of evolutionary change, as envisaged by Darwinians, is so slow that over relatively short time frames (thousands of years), the nature of a species is for all practical purposes invariant.” A species cannot be invariant “for all practical purposes.” Either human nature is immutable or it is not. If time, however lengthy its duration, can alter human nature in any way, or to any degree, there can be no enduring morality. As each stage of evolutionary development changes the essence of human nature, the corresponding standards of behavior will undergo similar changes. If “thou shall not commit adultery” is good for only 10,000,000 years, then it is a conditional, not an absolute moral imperative. One could say at any time, “our species has now advanced to a point where loyalty in marriage is no longer needed for a well-ordered society.” If fact, that argument is being made right now—by secularists. StephenB
vjtorley, one of the problems with philosophy-speak is that it is too often a thicket of jargon that obscures rather than enlightens. If a person really knows what he's talking about he can explain it in terms a well educated child could understand. C.S. Lewis was brilliant in this regard. Perhaps if you would care to de-code your comment you would get more of a response. BarryA
Paul Giem: The following article by Professor David Snoke discusses the problems associated with the hypothesis that Satan is responsible for the suffering in the animal world: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2004/PSCF6-04Snoke.pdf Although one article by Glenn Miller, which I did not cite earlier, at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred1.html invokes the Fall as an explanation for animal carnivory in nature, the subsequent articles by Glenn Miller at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred2.html and http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred3.html do not require this assumption, and their arguments are quite independent of this notion. I hope this helps. vjtorley
I am afraid I would have to respectfully disagree with some of the comments above, in which it has been argued that no atheist can consistently defend the existence of objective moral standards in the world. If the argument which I sketch below is sound, then atheists can consistently attempt to formulate moral arguments against the goodness of the God worshipped by Christians. Here is the argument, in broad outline: (1) If the existence of intrinsic finality in the natural world is an objective fact, then morality has a solid basis, which is both objective and natural. (The objective moral law which I have in mind here could be described as Aristotelian. While Aristotle was of course a theist, his ethical arguments do not explicitly presuppose theism. In any case: apart from intrinsic finality, what else is there that could one could rationally base an objective moral code upon? Extrinsic finality, as some theists have proposed? Surely not. The premise, "X was created for the sake of Y" does not entail the conclusion, "X is morally obligated to obey Y.") (2) But the existence of intrinsic finality in the natural world IS an objective fact: the distinguishing property of living things is that they possess intrinsic ends. (For a brilliantly argued defence of the occurrence of intrinsic finality in nature, see Professor Richard Cameron's Ph.D. dissertation [2000], "Teleology in Aristotle and Contemporary Philosophy of Biology: An Account of the Nature of Life", University of Colorado, Boulder, now available at http://web.archive.org/web/20010101-20050101re_/http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/fac/cameron/diss/diss.pdfIn his thesis, Cameron makes a convincing case that the findings of modern biology in no way undermine the notion of intrinsic finality, and that without the Aristotelian concept of intrinsic finality, it is impossible to construct a satisfactory definition of life.) (3) Therefore, morality does have an objective, natural basis. (Note: the above argument might appear to imply too much - that it is wrong to kill any living thing. However, this would be a mis-reading of the argument. All it implies is that every living thing is morally significant - which means we need a good reason to destroy it.) I am aware that the above line of argument implicitly presupposes that each and every living thing possesses a nature, which appears to be at odds with Darwinism, according to which everything is in flux. However, essences (or natures) don't have to be absolutely fixed over time. They just have to be permanent enough for us to identify which organisms instantiate them at any given point in time. As it happens, the pace of evolutionary change, as envisaged by Darwinians, is so slow that over relatively short time frames (thousands of years), the nature of a species is for all practical purposes invariant. A weightier objection to an Aristotelian ethic is that it fails to answer the questions regarding when and whether it is ever right to artificially transform the nature of a living thing. For instance, is it right to genetically engineer cows and sheep that are decerebrate, and thus incapable of pain, as Bernard Rollin has proposed, so that meat eaters can enjoy steak without worrying about causing suffering? I agree that an Aristotelian ethic runs into trouble here, but these conundrums are hardly typical moral problems. In everyday life, most of us are seldom in a position to change the nature of an organism. We just have to deal with things as they are. Even if we could readily change things' natures, I fails to see how that undermines the implicit assumption behind an Aristotelian ethic, that life is better than death. Chesterton's example of a Schopenhauerian mouse is clever and amusing, but fails to convince. I therefore do not see any valid reason to fault an Aristotelian atheist (Ayn Rand, to cite but one example) for making the assumption that life is better than death. To sum up: it is mistaken to argue that atheists' attempts to formulate moral arguments against Christianity and other faiths are somehow self-refuting. That move is just too easy. It is of course possible to mount good arguments against atheism, but this requires a lot of tough philosophical spadework. In the meantime, the character of the Christian God needs to be defended against sceptical attacks. The best atheistic attack which I am aware of is Quentin Smith's "An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws" (1991) at http://www.qsmithwmu.com/an_atheological_argument_from_evil_natural_laws_(1991).htm On the Christian side, I would suggest the following links from Glenn Miller's Christian Think Tank, as being by far the most sensible writing I have seen on the subject of how the apparent cruelty of the natural world in no way impugns the goodness of God: http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred2.html http://www.christian-thinktank.com/pred3.html vjtorley
One obvious answer to the objection that malevolent design means that we can have no design, is that there is no requirement that all design in the universe have a single designer. If we hypothesize that God created life, we are not then entitled to believe that all subsequent modifications of that life were made by God. Perhaps Jesus' statement of what the owner of a field said when confronted with tares in his wheat field said is appropriate: "An enemy hath done this." The fact that one can put sadistic torture machines in the basement of a building does not prove that the original builder intended the building to be a repository of evil, let alone that there was no builder. It is probably an easier job to pervert the good into the evil than to create the good in the first place. ReligionProf (#9), you may want to note that this is the solution given to the problem at the beginning of the book of Job. Sometimes, traditional Christian theology, or at least original Christian theology, may have the simplest and best hypotheses. :) Given ID, this hypothesis is demonstrable in the modern world. People can certainly take designs that were originally made for good purposes, and modify them so that they are much more easily used for evil purposes. Since a supernatural God is being postulated by at least theist adherents to ID, why not a supernatural (at least as we know nature) devil who can act like the humans that we know exist? Paul Giem
Kind of Off Topic;; Former Vice President Al Gore and other campaigners against climate change lead experts' choices for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20071005/ts_nm/nobel_peace_dc bornagain77
Thanks for taking the time to answer my comment! I certainly didn't intend the comment as a SCIENTIFIC criticism of ID. Plenty of commenters on this forum object to evolution and natural selection on moral, philosophical and religious grounds. Why can a Christian not object to ID in the same way? Of course, I would agree that nature is a perplexing place. That's why I think the book of Job presents the theophany at the end of the book in such terms. But I think the point there is to teach human beings to not confidently claim they know what God is up to in the natural world - to teach humility about our claims to wisdom. Once again I'll defer to my blog, and more importantly to Norman Habel's commentary on Job, for more on this point. http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/09/job-and-despair.html ReligionProf
From a Christian perspective, the problem of imperfect design can be understood as a function of moral fall out. A perfect God designs a perfect universe which, in turn, becomes compromised by the effects of original sin. Many Christian theologians believe that man’s disobedience to God upset not only the moral universe but the physical universe as well. In that context, nature turns in on itself, and disharmony follows. That means that the eco-system will produce storms, animals will be at war with each other, and man will be at war with himself. So it would seem that Chesterton, a believer in the fall, is dramatizing fallen nature in terms of a cold, cruel world where animals, if they could reflect on it, might even question the value of their own existence But, as Barry A suggests, acknowledging this stark reality can be very difficult for a materialist. To admit that something is wrong is also to admit that something ought to be right. That is another way of saying that we live in a moral universe—that we should strive to conform to an objective standard of morality that was not of our making. Perhaps, that is why materialists will not permit us to speak of search out “design” in nature. The term does, after all, carry the connotation of having been “made for something,” a concept which, if applied to humans, implies moral responsibility. Where, then, do they find their morality? I don’t think materialism is so much a cause of morality as it is an effect of a self-centered life style. As a cleric once put it, “either you match your behavior to a philosophy of life, or you will find a philosophy of life to match your behavior.” Materialists commonly embrace a kind of feel-good moral relativism. But it doesn’t end there. They become very moralistic about their moral relativism. Just ask them-- “Are you absolutely sure there are no absolutes?---” “Absolutely!” On behalf of that principle, they will take up arms. For many of them, there is but one passion---to remake the world in their own confused image. And their passion usually puts their adversaries’ passion to shame. StephenB
My simple answer to this kind of "moral" issue is: Jesus himself eats fish. So, eating fish in itself, for nutrition or survival or taste or reproductive energy, is not evil. I used to tell my vegetarian relatives this, because they think eating animals is evil from Buddhist point of view. Of course, this is no science. Darwinism once again has proven itself to be a religion, for bringing up moral issue to support their anti-design argument. Read, Darwinism The Religion https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/toronto-journalists-further-correspondence-with-the-darwin-fans/#comment-138124 https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/toronto-journalists-further-correspondence-with-the-darwin-fans/#comment-138205 MatthewTan
Killing is not necessarily evil. Did not Jesus eat meat and fish? "In Him was there no sin." idnet.com.au
I have been looking at these kind of anti-design arguments for some time and analyzed the rhetoric used, with my limited knowledge. Something that stand out is that anthropomorphism might be the key. Anyone looking at mainstream nature media will find commentary that relate all in nature to human behavior. The kinds of anthropomorphism should be analyzed in more detail, but the general conclusion would be that it carries very little relevance to the phenomenon it describes or reality in general. I would suggest a point of attack on this kind of materialist thinking would be to break down the internalist approach to epistemology which largely disregard the full set of the external epistemic environment. It is arbitrary and counter science. In the age of the enlightenment it was the Christian thinkers that boldly moved towards rational thinking outside the dogma of the Church, but becoming fixated on the "Self" was just as foolish. This I like to describe in terms of Descarte's mistake in asserting that: "I think therefore I am" because it fixated on the "I" which cannot be assumed absolute. Descarte should have said: "There is a lot of thinking going on" and work his epistemology from that externalist basis. mullerpr
Actually, the instance of a "Perverted" Mutation would result in a "Corrupted" Design. The enmity arises when sin influences the design of the righteous Designer. John Kelly
Tell the commentor that there is no "Immoral" Design and that they have it confused with a rarely successful "Perverted" Mutation. If the commentor is male, ask him if he thinks it would be benefical to his species if he was eaten the first time he copulated. :D This would be a great way to promote abstinence among the youth! John Kelly
One could also make the argument that a world where there was no death would defy logic, like a square circle, for instance. Living things need energy to survive, and that energy must come from somewhere. It may be necessary for the designer to develop a world based on this principle. IOW, the circle of life might be a necessary element to our world. Just as a designed can not create a square circle, the designer could not create a world devoid of death or killing for nourishment. professorsmith
Good rebuttal. I see too many objections that are really just cases of "God made in man's image." Or even a designer made in man's image. Indeed, it irks me when a materialist has a morally loaded argument; it's inherently contradictory. Berceuse

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