Intelligent Design

Is this a photo? Is this a slur? Is this an argument?

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Over at his Website, Why Evolution is True, Professor Jerry Coyne has written three unintentionally funny posts in the past week. I thought readers of Uncommon Descent might enjoy them, so here goes.

Coyne gets taken in by a fake photo of Charles Darwin

Recently, Professor Coyne wrote a post titled, What Darwin looked like (10 July 2013), in which he displayed a colorized copy (emailed to him by a reader named Fred, and colorized by a talented 18-year-old artist named “Zuzah” from Denmark) of what Coyne assured his readers was an original photo of Charles Darwin. In his own words:

I thought I’d seen every photo of Darwin, but didn’t know this one, so I suspected it was a Photoshop job. However, it does appear to be real, and you can see the original here. Why do you suppose he was making the “Shhh!” gesture? Perhaps it was a pose denoting profound thought.

In the photo, Darwin’s right index finger is pointing skywards. At first glance, he appears to be making a “Shhh!” gesture, but as one of Coyne’s readers pointed out, if you look more closely, you can see that Darwin’s lips aren’t pursed, so that’s one thing Coyne got wrong from the start.

It gets worse. Another of Coyne’s readers found an additional problem with the photo: the hand in the photo wasn’t Darwin’s.

The hand was Photoshopped in. I’m pretty sure @kejames told me she had met Darwin’s finger-double. If memory serves correct, he works at the London Natural History Museum.

But there was more to come. Even the image of Darwin’s face wasn’t an original. As one of Coyne’s commenters bluntly put it:

The “original” is a fake. As other commenters noted, it’s composition is very un-Victorian. The actual original seems to be this Elliott & Fry portrait from 1881. Note that the photoshopper has reversed the image – Darwin’s beard curls left in the photoshopped version, his right eyebrow (rather than the left) is bushier in the photoshopped version, and the mole/pimple/bump is to the left of his nose (rather than the right) in the photoshopped version. Several independent photos at the National Portrait Gallery confirm that the Elliott & Fry photo is correctly oriented.

Another commenter concurred:

They have indeed reversed the original image. The clue is in Darwin’s facial wen. See this post for more details:
http://friendsofdarwin.com/2009/08/20090815/

So far there has been no comment from Professor Coyne. I think his readers are entitled to at least a brief apology. Moving on…

Coyne objects to being called “a staunch atheistic evolutionist”

In another recent short post, titled, More epithets (12 July 2013), Professor Coyne took exception to being described as “a staunch atheistic evolutionist” in an article by Garrett Haley at ChristianNews.net. Coyne considered this to be a “slur” – a disparaging remark.

I must confess I am utterly mystified that Coyne would take umbrage at being called a staunch atheistic evolutionist. The term “staunch” is anything but disparaging: online dictionaries define it as meaning “firm and steadfast; true” or “loyal, firm and dependable.” Google the phrase “I’m a staunch atheist” and you’ll get 95,700 results, including this one by a self-described “staunch atheist” who evidently isn’t too fond of Richard Dawkins. (By comparison, “I’m a staunch Christian” gets only 11,300 hits.) Nor can I imagine why the term “atheistic evolutionist” would offend Professor Coyne; after all, he is a prominent atheist and also an evolutionist, and in a 2009 post, he ridiculed attempts by theologians such as John Haught to reconcile theism with evolution as an unfalsifiable rationalization: “What observations, I ask, could convince Haught that there is no god behind evolution? … I defy Haught to describe any possible evolutionary scenario that he couldn’t rationalize as part of God’s plan.” In the same post, Coyne quoted a passage from a Washington Post article in which Haught described him as a “contemporary evolutionary materialist,” without raising the slightest objection. If Professor Coyne thinks it’s all right for someone to call him an evolutionary materialist, then he cannot consistently object to being called an atheistic evolutionist. Coyne would do well to follow the example of an Australian scientist who openly declared on a 2012 theology thread: “I’m an atheistic evolutionist, meteorologist and embryologist.” Here is a man who is admirably up-front about his beliefs: for him, “atheistic evolutionist” is a badge of honor, and he wears it with pride.

An article in Wikipedia notes that “atheistic evolution (also known as dysteleological evolution) is the view referring to biological evolution occurring ‘apart from any supernatural process.'” and it adds that the term “has been in use since at least 1906 in The Metaphysical Magazine.” The reference it gives is as follows: Richmond, J.F. (1906). The Metaphysical Magazine, Volume 20. Metaphysical Publishing Company. p. 129. The article goes on to describe Professor Richard Dawkins as “a prominent supporter of atheistic evolution”, and it even includes a link to a BBC video clip by Dawkins, in which he argues for atheistic evolution. So I have to ask: given Professor Dawkins’ eager embrace of the term “atheistic evolutionist”, what accounts for Professor Coyne’s reticence about using this term?

Indeed, one of the commenters to Professor Coyne’s recent post was also mystified as to why he would consider “staunch atheistic evolutionist” to be a “slur”:

“Staunch atheistic evolutionist” – where’s the slur? Surely it would only be one, or sound like one, to a religious creationist? With respect, it sounds like a reasonably accurate description of your position so far as I can tell.

Another commenter also chimed in:

I agree — surely Jerry is staunch in both his atheism and his evolutionary approach to biology. The other terms on the lists may be slurs, but this combination seems to be simply descriptive.

I’d be happy to describe myself as a staunch atheist, and although “evolutionist” wouldn’t be accurate for me, since I’m not a biologist, I wouldn’t be insulted by the term.

I and two of your loyal readers are baffled, Professor Coyne. Perhaps you would care to enlighten us as to why you take particular umbrage at a phrase which describes you perfectly accurately, without conveying any rancor or malice.

Coyne: Wasps disprove the existence of a benevolent God

But the funniest piece of the week over at Why Evolution Is True was one titled, Another wonderful creature: the cicada-killing wasp (12 July 2013), which quoted from an article in the Atlantic about the wasp Sphecius speciosus (pictured above, courtesy of Wikipedia and Bill Buchanan), which kills cicadas. Allow me to quote a brief excerpt:

A killer paralyzes a cicada with a single sting, but getting it back to the burrow can be an all-day affair. It may be three times the killer’s own weight–too heavy to properly fly with. Instead she drags it up the nearest tree, then launches herself, prey in claw, and glides as far as possible toward her burrow. She may have to repeat the process half a dozen times.

Back at the burrow, she deposits the paralyzed cicada in a brood chamber. Then she lays an egg and carefully tucks it beneath the cicada’s foreleg, beside the puncture wound from her sting… The female then seals the chamber with dirt, the cicada still living and immobilized within it. A few days later the egg hatches and grub begins to eat the cicada alive, using the puncture wood as an entry point.

What lesson did Professor Coyne draw from all this? Did he attempt to enlighten his readers as to how this gliding behavior by the wasp might have originated, as a biologist might do? No. He put it down to tenacity and “an exquisite sense of direction”, and left it at that:

I’m astounded, and still find it hard to believe, that the wasps actually glide to their nests from a tree rather than fly… The ability to glide toward her burrow after climbing several trees in succession suggests that these wasps have an exquisite sense of direction. And what tenacity!

As an evolutionist might say: there’s no mechanism in this explanation. But the funniest part was the conclusion Coyne drew at the end of his post:

It’s this kind of eating-the-prey alive behavior that helped convince Darwin that if there was a god, it wasn’t a kindly one.

Now, if the prey were alive but not conscious, then the wasp’s behavior would be no more problematic, theologically speaking, than if it were to eat a plant that was still alive. So I take it that Professor Coyne is inferring that a cicada is capable of suffering pain when it is being eaten alive by a wasp.

Professor Coyne is committing the pathetic fallacy here: he is inferring the existence of conscious pain from the vaguely pain-like behavior of the insects in question. Pain is officially defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage,” which is “always subjective“. Nociception (a bodily reaction to noxious stimuli) and pain are not the same thing: the former can take place without the latter, and vice versa.

Moreover, as I pointed out in a recent post which critiqued the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (a document signed by a mere dozen or so of the world’s 75,000-odd neuroscientists), even the signatories of that Declaration (whose views are considerably further “to the left” than those of the majority of neuroscientists) could not agree amongst themselves as to whether insects felt pain or not. I also quoted from an article by Dr. James Rose titled, The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes and the Question of Awareness and Pain (Reviews in Fisheries Science, 10(1): 1–38, 2002):

It is a well-established principle in neuroscience that neural functions depend on specific neural structures. Furthermore, the form of those structures, to a great extent, dictates the properties of the functions they subserve. If the specific structures mediating human pain experience, or very similar structures, are not present in an organism’s brain, a reasonably close approximation of the pain experience can not be present. If some form of pain awareness were possible in the brain of a fish, which diverse evidence shows is highly improbable, its properties would necessarily be so different as to not be comparable to human-like experiences of pain and suffering. (2002, Summary and Conclusions)

If this is true even for fish, then how much more so for invertebrates such as insects, whose brains are even more radically different from ours?

Even if one were to grant that insects feel pain of some sort and that they are aware of this pain (i.e. that they possess what is called primary consciousness), no neuroscientist alive today would impute self-awareness, or higher-order consciousness, to these creatures. This is a point of vital philosophical importance. As Dr. James D. Rose et al. point out in their 2012 article, Can fish really feel pain? (Fish and Fisheries, published online 20 December 2012, doi: 10.1111/faf.12010):

Even those scientists who would attribute some form of consciousness, such as primary consciousness, to fairly diverse species of vertebrates typically do not believe that fishes could have self-awareness (Donald 2001; Tulving 2005). The debate about that capacity has mostly been centered on whether it is unique to great apes or just humans (Macphail 1998; Donald 2001; Povinelli 2004; Wynne 2004; Terrace and Metcalfe 2005).This point is pivotal because one of the most critical determinants of suffering from pain is the personal awareness and ownership of the pain (Price 1999). This is why dissociation techniques, in which a person can use mental imagery to separate themselves from pain, are effective for reducing suffering (Price 1999). In contrast, without awareness of self, the pain is no one’s problem. It is simply there, something to be reduced or avoided if possible, but not a ‘personal’ problem. The known importance of self-awareness for pain contradicts, Sneddon’s (2011) claim that an absence of self-awareness in fishes would make their ‘pain’ worse. (2012, p. 27)

Dr. James Rose is a zoologist of considerable standing. The point he makes is a telling one: “without awareness of self, the pain is no one’s problem.” No-one suggests that fish – let alone insects – are self-aware. Consequently their pain, if any, is not a ‘personal’ problem and therefore cannot be invoked as an argument against an omnibenevolent Deity. An omnibenevolent Deity cares about everyone, but if suffering takes place in some organisms without a “someone” to experience it, then what’s the problem? Coyne seems to be assuming that a benevolent Deity would have a disinterested wish to rid the world of suffering. But it makes far more sense to suppose that such a Deity would care about sufferers, not suffering. If suffering occurs without a sufferer, than that’s surely none of God’s concern.

I would urge readers to take the time and trouble to familiarize themselves with both the 2002 and 2012 articles by Dr. James Rose. Rose’s mastery of the literature in the field is impressive, and his refutations of his critics are devastating.

Charles Darwin, writing in the nineteenth century before Morgan’s Canon was formulated, could be pardoned for thinking anthropomorphically about the death throes of insects. I am greatly amused, though, to see that anthropomorphism is alive and well at the University of Chicago, in the second decade of the 21st century. Perhaps Professor Coyne would care to explain? Does he really believe that each insect is a “self” that suffers in agony while it is being devoured?

58 Replies to “Is this a photo? Is this a slur? Is this an argument?

  1. 1
    keiths says:

    Hi vj,

    Do you think a chimpanzee suffers when it is eaten by a lion?

  2. 2
    Neil Rickert says:

    In another recent short post, titled, More epithets (12 July 2013), Professor Coyne took exception to being described as “a staunch atheistic evolutionist” in an article by Garrett Haley at ChristianNews.net. Coyne considered this to be a “slur” – a disparaging remark.

    I guess you could call Jerry Coyne “a wavering theistic evolutionist” and see if he prefers that.

    My read is that Coyne was not at all offended by that description. Rather, his point is that it was intended as a slur.

  3. 3
    TJ says:

    I realize you weren’t asking me, but presumably the quote from VJ’s quote of Rose, “The debate about that capacity has mostly been centered on whether it is unique to great apes or just humans” would suggest we don’t know.

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    ‘My read is that Coyne was not at all offended by that description. Rather, his point is that it was intended as a slur.’

    Yes, Neil Rickert. It identifies the spurious nature of the claims to dispassionate reason and logic that atheists have been cloaking themselves with for so long.

    The word, ‘staunch’, with its passionate religious overtones, in this context, would be anathema to them. Well, to them, in any context.

  5. 5
    Axel says:

    Also, it suggests that Coyne’s curiously emotional world-view, in defiance of ever-increasing contrary evidence, is now embattled, under siege!

  6. 6
    goodusername says:

    My reading of all three Coyne posts is a bit different.

    … of what Coyne assured his readers was an original photo of Charles Darwin.

    He “assured” his readers? He actually seemed un-sure to me.

    Professor Coyne took exception to being described as “a staunch atheistic evolutionist”

    I think he was just amused at what was likely intended as a epithet.

    Professor Coyne is committing the pathetic fallacy here: he is inferring the existence of conscious pain from the vaguely pain-like behavior of the insects in question.

    He didn’t say that he believed that insects feel pain. He wrote that Darwin believed so (which you seem to agree with later on).

    And I hardly think it’s a fallacy to think that insects feel pain. I have no idea if they do or not, and as you note, it’s a controversial topic even among the experts.

  7. 7
    vjtorley says:

    Hi KeithS,

    Yes.

  8. 8
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Neil Rickert and Axel,

    Thanks for your comments. Professor Coyne may not have been offended, but he did use the word “slur” to characterize the phrase. The suggestion that it was intended as a disparaging remark but not taken as such doesn’t hold water: it’s a fairly neutral description, after all. Also, if you compare “staunch” with the other words in Coyne’s column A (radical, militant, shrill, strident, staunch, dogmatic), the word “staunch” is one that only an atheist would take offense at – and as I showed above, not even all atheists do, as more and more of them are referring to themselves as “staunch atheists”. Perhaps, as Axel suggests, the religious overtones of the word got up Coyne’s nose.

  9. 9
    keiths says:

    keiths:

    Do you think a chimpanzee suffers when it is eaten by a lion?

    vjjtorley:

    Yes.

    Then you are acknowledging Coyne’s (and Darwin’s) larger point:

    It’s this kind of eating-the-prey alive behavior that helped convince Darwin that if there was a god, it wasn’t a kindly one.

    I know you have wrestled with animal suffering before. How do you reconcile your belief in a benevolent God with the suffering a chimpanzee experiences in the jaws of a lion?

  10. 10
    Joe says:

    keiths:

    How do you reconcile your belief in a benevolent God with the suffering a chimpanzee experiences in the jaws of a lion?

    1- It’s not God’s responsibilty to control pain and suffering

    2- This was never meant to be a perfect realm

    3- Pain and suffering lead to scientific discoveries

    4- The Fall from Grace

  11. 11
    JWTruthInLove says:

    @keiths:
    This is a fallen world, ruled by Satan. Suffering, lies and misery are Satan’s tools to manipulate the world’s religions.

    @Joe

    This was never meant to be a perfect realm

    Paradise was on earth and paradise will be established on earth again. There’s no heaven nor hell. These are man’s inventions.

  12. 12
    Barb says:

    Dr. Stephen Meyer touched on this subject while being interviewed by Lee Strobel for the book The Case For a Creator. For some, it’s hard to reconcile belief in a benevolent God with natural evil. The predator-prey relationship, viruses and bacteria, etc., all have caused this question to be asked: “If God, why evil/suffering?”

    Meyer’s point is that from a biblical perspective, there isn’t an expectation of perfection in nature. The Bible notes that there has been deterioration and decay in the living world because evil entered the world and disrupted the original design.

    The book of Romans affirms that the natural world is “groaning” for redemption because something, somewhere went wrong with the original creation. Based on biblical evidence, we would expect to see evidence of design in nature as well as evidence of deterioration or decay; both of these are corroborated by empirical evidence in nature.

  13. 13
    Joe says:

    JW:

    Paradise was on earth…

    I’ve been to the Bahamas, and it (paradise) still is on earth. You just have to know where to look.

  14. 14
    Andre says:

    JW

    I got bad news for you, neither this place, nor the universe will be restored, its going to be destroyed and it will not be remembered.

    “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13, NKJV)

    There never was a perfect creation, for free will to work, a perfect creation is impossible. Perfection is coming but when it does there will be no more free will.

    “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NKJV)

    Where did you read that this place was going to be restored? That’s news to me sir!

  15. 15
    JWTruthInLove says:

    @Andre

    The “new earth” is refering to a “new human society”

    A righteous new human society—“a new earth”—will then be a reality. (2 Peter 3:13) At that time “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) Even the anguish of death will be done away with, for God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.

    The Bible tells us: “Generations come and generations go, while the earth endures for ever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4, The New English Bible) Also, consider the implications of what is said at Isaiah 45:18: “This is what Jehovah has said, . . . the Former of the earth and the Maker of it, He the One who firmly established it, who did not create it simply for nothing, who formed it even to be inhabited: ‘I am Jehovah, and there is no one else.’”

    Would a loving father spend many hours designing and building a toy boat for his son’s delight or a dollhouse for his daughter’s joy, only to destroy it moments after giving it to him or her? That would be cruel! In the same way, God created the earth primarily for the delight of his human creation. To the first human couple, Adam and Eve, God said: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.” Thereafter, “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31)

    God has not abandoned his purpose for the earth; he will not allow the earth to be destroyed. Regarding all that he has promised, Jehovah emphatically stated: “It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11.

    However, it is Jehovah’s will “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) In his Word, he makes this promise: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.”—Proverbs 2:21, 22.

    When will this occur? No human knows. “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows,” said Jesus, “neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32) Jehovah’s Witnesses do not try to predict when God will destroy the wicked. Though they are alert to “the sign” of the end and believe that humankind is living in the Biblical “last days,” they cannot know just when “the end” will occur. (Mark 13:4-8, 33; 2 Timothy 3:1) They leave that solely in the hands of their heavenly Father and his Son.

    Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses occupy themselves with preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, the heavenly government that will rule and transform planet Earth into a peaceful paradise, one that ‘the righteous themselves will possess and reside forever upon.’—Psalm 37:29.

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Joe, Andre and JWTruthInLove,

    Re the new heaven and the new earth, you might be interested to read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the subject:

    1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:

    For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay…. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.[639]

    1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.[640]

    1048 “We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed. The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men.”[641]

    1049 “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.”[642]

    639 Romans 8:19-23.
    640 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 5, 32, 1: PG 7/2, 210.
    641 Gaudium et Spes 39 § 1. [Vatican II document – VJT]
    642 Gaudium et Spes 39 § 2. [Vatican II document – VJT]

    I hope that proves useful.

  17. 17
    vjtorley says:

    Hi KeithS,

    A few points in reply:

    1. I did a bit of research on lions and chimpanzees, and here’s what I found:

    (a) It is very rare for lions to eat chimpanzees. Here’s what Wikipedia says in its article on chimpanzees:

    Lions may have also preyed on the chimpanzees at Mahale Mountains National Park, where at least four chimpanzees could have fallen prey to them.[25] Although no other instances of lion predation on chimpanzees have been recorded, the larger group sizes of savanna chimps may have developed as a response to threats from these big cats.[25]

    [25] Tsukahara T (10 September 1992). “Lions eat chimpanzees: The first evidence of predation by lions on wild chimpanzees”. American Journal of Primatology 29 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1002/ajp.1350290102.

    For lions, “The prey consists mainly of large mammals, with a preference for wildebeest, zebras, buffalo, and warthogs in Africa and nilgai, wild boar, and several deer species in India.”

    (b) Believe it or not, there are chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo who feed on the big cats, including even lions, according to local accounts. See this report in The Guardian (14 July 2007).

    2. I once read (but unfortunately can’t seem to locate) an account by a nineteenth century African explorer who was almost eaten alive by a lion: his head was actually in the animal’s mouth before it finally disgorged him (I’m not sure why – maybe it didn’t like the taste of him). The explorer wrote that he went into shock during the experience, so the pain was far less than one might expect – a remarkable fact which he attributed to God’s Providence.

    3. Re the larger problem of animal suffering, one has to distinguish between what God intends and what God merely permits. The fact that animals experience pain when being killed does not mean God intended them to. God made animals’ sense of pain, not in order to inflict suffering on them, but in order to alert them to avoidable dangers that they could flee from.

    4. Regarding predation, one also has to ask: “What’s the better alternative?” Predation is a lot less painful than dying of starvation, thirst or cold.

    5. One must also remember that even among mammals, there is likely to be enormous variation in how much pain they experience. A chimpanzee, with its large, well-developed neocortex, probably feels much more pain than a mouse.

    6. For the last 500 years, there have been Christian writers who have speculated about some sort of hereafter for at least some animals. (C. S. Lewis speculated along these lines in The Problem of Pain. I think it would be unwise to rule that out.

    7. It has to be admitted that there are certain aspects of animal behavior which (it seems) a benevolent God could not have designed, but these are rare. Infant cannibalism and infanticide among sentient animals (mammals and birds) would be a case in point. We cannot exclude the possibility that aspects of God’s creation – not the general laws or body plans, but possibly the genes influencing the behavior of certain species – may have been tampered with by malevolent intelligences in the past. Identifying such “acts of tampering” in animals’ genes would be a difficult task, but I see no reason in principle why it could not be done. (The style of a master painter is likely to be different from that of his inept students.)

  18. 18
    Axel says:

    To my mind, the accumulated wisdom of the Catholic Church has to be one of the most extraordinary miracles of its history; the more so, in view of the depths to which its institutional leadership has sunk at various times in one or more areas – right up to Vatican II.

    I’m always tickled to suddenly come across an extremely perceptive remark by some prelate or other. The latest one to knock me for six was a remark by a bishop to a foreign tourist, commenting to him on how beautiful Rome was, with all its magnificent statuary and art works. He replied: ‘Yes, but losing northern Europe was a heavy price to pay.’

  19. 19
    jerry says:

    One of the arguments agains ID is the apparent evil in the world. Here it is a wasp and a cicada. But it is not an argument against ID but the all good Judeo/Christian God. ID says nothing about the designer and it certainly does not have to be Judeo/Christian God. It could be a plain old Deist god who does not have to be a good guy. Or it could have been some intelligence that developed somehow a long time ago from a galaxy far, far away (an argument agreeable to Richard Dawkins).

    This is part of the Hume theodicy argument and as I said it is a useless argument against ID. Hume said the Judeo/Christian God is supposed to be all powerful and all good and evil obviously exists. It is argument not against ID but against a certain conception of God. So whoever uses this argument against ID is using a non sequitur.

    The third part of Hume’s theodicy argument is that evil exists which is assumed to be true and if true, then Hume says one of the other two concepts can not be true. Hume thought he had a slam dunk argument but did he?

    I have a specific interest in the theodicy issue long before I knew about ID or that it was used as an argument against ID. The term was coined by Leibniz but Hume is the person who made it a major issue. One reason, the Lisbon Earthquake. How could a benevolent God allow such devastation and misery to happen.

    Some discussion of evil are:

    Evil and the God of Love by John Hicks.

    http://www.amazon.com/Evil-God.....038;sr=1-1

    Why Evil Exists – A course by the Teaching Company

    http://www.thegreatcourses.com.....x?cid=6810

    As a personal point of view, I do not believe most of what we see in this world is really evil. There are a lot of unpleasant things but not really evil. I used to pose a question here frequently, “What is evil?” No one really answered it. It certainly is not a Wasp providing a cicada as food for her offspring.

    As to why there are a host of unpleasant things in the world, Joe provided several. Free will is another. It is the argument I like.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    David Livingstone, I believe.

  21. 21
    keiths says:

    KF,

    You came so, so close to a really good joke:

    Dr. Livingstone, I presume.

  22. 22
    Axel says:

    I can’t remember if I’ve seen a reference to this film on here. I certainly recognise some of the faces in the trailer. Very funny trailer.

    Long silences… and ‘But.. but, there are hundreds of examples.’ ‘Name one…’ ‘But.. but, there are hundreds of them…’ Name one…’, etc. And a real corker: ‘To be an evolutionist you must have imagination….’

    None of that’s verbatim, but close enough, I think. Certainly not hyperbole.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    Axel says:

    Wrong again. I believe copywrite requires citation of the original link.

    http://www.theblaze.com/storie.....evolution/

  25. 25
    Axel says:

    Or even, ‘copyright’….

  26. 26
    keiths says:

    vjtorley:

    7. It has to be admitted that there are certain aspects of animal behavior which (it seems) a benevolent God could not have designed, but these are rare. Infant cannibalism and infanticide among sentient animals (mammals and birds) would be a case in point.

    There’s even cannibalism in utero.

    If God designed that, he’s seriously twisted. Of course it makes perfect sense in terms of evolution.

  27. 27
    keiths says:

    vj,

    You’re an intelligent guy, which makes statements like this all the more bewildering:

    We cannot exclude the possibility that aspects of God’s creation – not the general laws or body plans, but possibly the genes influencing the behavior of certain species – may have been tampered with by malevolent intelligences in the past. Identifying such “acts of tampering” in animals’ genes would be a difficult task, but I see no reason in principle why it could not be done. (The style of a master painter is likely to be different from that of his inept students.)

    If God is omniscient, then he foresaw every bit of tampering and every instance of suffering before he even created the universe. He chose to go ahead anyway.

    The moral responsibility is God’s.

  28. 28
    keiths says:

    Also, this:

    4. Regarding predation, one also has to ask: “What’s the better alternative?” Predation is a lot less painful than dying of starvation, thirst or cold.

    And yet millions, probably billions, of animals die from those causes each year.

    Why would a benevolent God allow this to happen?

  29. 29
    jerry says:

    If God is omniscient, then he foresaw every bit of tampering and every instance of suffering before he even created the universe. He chose to go ahead anyway.

    The moral responsibility is God’s.

    You presume you know the mind of an omniscient God which by definition means you can not possibly understand such a being. Then you judge Him based on your presumptions. I think the word that describes this is hubris.

  30. 30
    keiths says:

    jerry,

    So you think ‘omniscient’ doesn’t mean ‘omniscient’? Or are you trying to say something else?

  31. 31
    Joe says:

    keiths:

    If God is omniscient, then he foresaw every bit of tampering and every instance of suffering before he even created the universe. He chose to go ahead anyway.

    And there was most likely a damn good reason for that.

    The moral responsibility is God’s.

    LoL! People say that so they don’t have to take any responsibility- “It’s all God’s fault!”

  32. 32
    jerry says:

    So you think ‘omniscient’ doesn’t mean ‘omniscient’? Or are you trying to say something else?

    I am saying if that is the correct description, one can not possibly know what that being is about. I got interested in the theodicy discussion several years ago and have read and listened to a lot of people discuss it.

    There was a lecture once that I listened to on the Book of Job and at one point the lecturer who was a philosophy professor said that one of the points of the Book of Job is that we cannot possibly know the Mind of God. It would be less presumptuous for a maggot or a worm to judge a human then for a human to judge God.

    So if you are going to use the descriptive “omniscient” you rule out any possible ability to understand such a being. So judging such a being is hubris.

  33. 33
    keiths says:

    jerry:

    …a philosophy professor said that one of the points of the Book of Job is that we cannot possibly know the Mind of God. It would be less presumptuous for a maggot or a worm to judge a human then for a human to judge God.

    So if you are going to use the descriptive “omniscient” you rule out any possible ability to understand such a being. So judging such a being is hubris.

    Okay. So anyone who judges God to be good, or loving, or merciful is presumptuous, by your standard. After all, “judging such a being is hubris”.

    Right?

  34. 34

    Okay. So anyone who judges God to be good, or loving, or merciful is presumptuous, by your standard. After all, “judging such a being is hubris”.

    Nobody “judges” god good, or loving, or merciful, but rather necessarily assumes those things for the sake of a coherent worldview and a rational, substantive morality.

  35. 35
    Joe says:

    LoL! No one judges God to be good- who are we to judge God?

  36. 36

    Without an absolute standard of good, there is nothing by which the “goodness” of a thing can be judged. The atheist shoots himself in the foot by appealing to the argument from evil. Without god, there is no “evil” in anything, and certainly not in any wasp, cicada or natural disaster.

    The only way the atheist can complain about the “evil” things that “god lets happen” is by stealing the theistic concepts of good and evil in the first place and appealing to the emotions of theists to consider such things “evil”.

  37. 37
    keiths says:

    William J Murray,

    Nobody “judges” god good, or loving, or merciful, but rather necessarily assumes those things for the sake of a coherent worldview and a rational, substantive morality.

    That assumption isn’t necessary, as you and I have discussed many times at TSZ.

    But even if an assumption were necessary, why assume that God is good? You could just as easily assume that God is evil and base your morality on opposing him.

  38. 38
    keiths says:

    Joe G:

    LoL! No one judges God to be good…

    Joe,

    I don’t usually bother responding to you, but this is worth it. Ever heard of Jews, Christians and Muslims?

  39. 39

    But even if an assumption were necessary, why assume that God is good? You could just as easily assume that God is evil and base your morality on opposing him.

    What would be the point in opposing an evil god?

  40. 40
    keiths says:

    William,

    What would be the point in opposing an evil god?

    Advancing the good.

    What would be the point in assuming that God is good if, as jerry says, we can’t judge an omnisicient being?

  41. 41
    jerry says:

    Okay. So anyone who judges God to be good, or loving, or merciful is presumptuous, by your standard. After all, “judging such a being is hubris”.

    Right?

    There is no way to know the nature or mind of God through reason if God is one of the following omniscient, omnipotennt, omnibenevolent or pick some other atribute. I am sure there are some who think that it is possible and I am certainly not an expert on this type of theology. There has certainly been attempts to do so. Witness Zeus or any of the gods of the ancient world or any of the religions of the world. It is certainly possible to believe there is a creator because of the order and nature of the world but that does not necessarily lead one to an understanding of the creator other than as a massive intelligence.

    However, if the creator chooses to reveal something about himself then we may know some things. Judaism, Christianity, Islam are revealed religions. So if you accept one of these religions then you may have some very imperfect understanding from the revelation. If you do not accept any of these or similar religions then one has no way because by definition there is an vastness between any creator and us and we are in the role of the maggot judging a human.

    Of course if you do not believe in any creator, then there is nothing and the whole thing is meaningless. But to argue against ID as Coyne has done because of what he considers unfairness to animals, is an absurd position. It is absurd to use it against ID and it is absurd to use it against the Christian God. Either way it is stupid. It is the argument of Hume who presumes he knows better than God. As that professor said in the lecture on Job, he would put his money on God.

  42. 42
    keiths says:

    jerry,

    However, if the creator chooses to reveal something about himself then we may know some things. Judaism, Christianity, Islam are revealed religions.

    And contradictory ones. Thus, you still have a problem. How can you judge which of the revealed religions is true?

    If you base it on content, then you are back to judging the mind of God, and deciding which of the revealed religions is compatible with God’s nature.

    You may need to become an agnostic, jerry!

  43. 43
    JGuy says:

    Keiths.

    What is good? Is it absolute?

  44. 44
    vjtorley says:

    Hi KeithS,

    Thank you for your posts. You write:

    If God is omniscient, then he foresaw every bit of tampering and every instance of suffering before he even created the universe. He chose to go ahead anyway.

    The moral responsibility is God’s.

    You’re assuming here that God’s knowledge of His creatures’ choices is not only temporally but logically prior to His act of creating them. If the Boethian picture of Divine foreknowledge is correct, and God’s knowledge of our choices is (timelessly) determined by those choices (i.e. what the theologians call knowledge of vision, rather than the knowledge that the author of a book would have of his/her characters’ actions), then God is certainly not responsible for what they do.

    Of course, God, being omniscient, can foresee what might go wrong in the cosmos. But to say that God should refrain from creating simply because of what might happen suggests to my mind that you think it would be better if God hadn’t created anything at all – except perhaps for a world of robots. Is that what you think?

  45. 45
    Andre says:

    KeithS

    Since you know how God should not have done it, it then stands to reason that you know HOW it should be done. Are you willing to take some time to explain the model you know is best? We can take it from there and see if it is in fact a workable or better solution that that of the Creator of the universe.

  46. 46
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Kairosfocus,

    Thank you for pointing out to me that the explorer who was almost eaten alive by a lion was David Livingstone. (I had been thinking that it might have been du Chaillu.) For those who haven’t read Livingstone’s account, here it is:

    “I heard a shout. Starting and looking half around, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was on a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake by a cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain or feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking around at the beast. The peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.

  47. 47
    jerry says:

    You may need to become an agnostic

    I can certainly make mistakes but I don’t do stupid.

  48. 48

    Advancing the good.

    You’re just begging the question. Why would one advance the good, if god is evil? If god is evil, then our purpose for existence is to do evil, and there would be necessary consequences for behavior in service to or in service against divine purpose.

    Whatever the purposeful, innate characteristic of god is, that is what good is. That is what defines “what good is”. In a universe where that purpose is served by torturing infants for pleasure, we would innately know that torturing infants for pleasure was right. It would be self-evidently true that torturing babies for fun was right. We would call that “good”.

    Good is whatever the innate, purposeful nature of god is. That is how we “judge” anything as right and wrong, good or evil. It is the standard. You cannot judge anything without an assumed standard. You can’t rationally judge the fundamental principles of logic because there’s nothing to judge them with other than those very same principles.

    So, when you say things about “judging” whether or not God is “good”, you’re stealing a concept. Judge by what measure, using what means? There is no meaningful ruler by which to measure the goodness of god; that is the ruler by which other goods are measured.

    What would be the point in assuming that God is good if, as jerry says, we can’t judge an omnisicient being?

    I’ve already answered this. It is a necessary assumption in order to have a rationally supportable morality besides “might makes right” or “because I say so”.

  49. 49
    Phinehas says:

    Some folks don’t actually want to be God, they just want to be in charge of his annual review. 😛

  50. 50
    keiths says:

    Phinehas,

    Actually, all of us are in charge of his annual review, at least in the following sense. Each of us has to evaluate the evidence for God’s existence (and getting a grade of “Nonexistent” looks pretty bad on a god’s record). If we decide that he exists we also have to decide whether he is worthy of our love, obedience and worship — if he even cares about those things.

  51. 51
    keiths says:

    vjtorley,

    You’re assuming here that God’s knowledge of His creatures’ choices is not only temporally but logically prior to His act of creating them.

    If God’s knowledge isn’t both temporally and logically prior to creation, then he isn’t omniscient.

    If the Boethian picture of Divine foreknowledge is correct, and God’s knowledge of our choices is (timelessly) determined by those choices (i.e. what the theologians call knowledge of vision, rather than the knowledge that the author of a book would have of his/her characters’ actions), then God is certainly not responsible for what they do.

    Sure he is. He chose to create this universe knowing exactly what the results would be. He is completely responsible for everything that happens.

    To argue otherwise is as silly as saying that a man who lets his child play in traffic isn’t responsible for the consequences because he isn’t behind the wheel of the car that runs her over.

    Of course, God, being omniscient, can foresee what might go wrong in the cosmos. But to say that God should refrain from creating simply because of what might happen suggests to my mind that you think it would be better if God hadn’t created anything at all – except perhaps for a world of robots. Is that what you think?

    No, and it isn’t necessary. If free will is possible, then God can easily prevent evil without making us robots. All he has to do is consider each universe before he makes it, and only choose to make one a) in which the inhabitants freely choose to do no evil, and b) in which no suffering occurs.

  52. 52
  53. 53
    jerry says:

    “the problem of evil”

    Maybe someone would like to define just what “evil” is. It is usually associated with unpleasantness or unfortunate outcomes; e.g. pain, death. The more unpleasant or unfortunate the occurrence the more evil it is often thought. The book of Job has a laundry list of these types of occurrences. We can point to a lot of other things more real than what happened to Job which is literary.

    But are these things really evil? And are there gradations of evil? If so does that mean that we can compare evils? We could have a discussion to describe what are the really worse evils? Is there an ultimate evil? And if there is an ultimate evil, does that make all the other evils insignificant?

    Does evil require intent? We seem to have two classifications of what may be evil. The actions of one or more people towards others and those events which seem to happen randomly due to natural occurrences. And to this we attribute the intention to God who theoretically is the only person who could control such events.

    The turning point on the thinking of evil was the Lisbon earthquake. But maybe this event clouded people’s thinking about just what is evil. It certainly focused their attention on it.

    Hume and others use this type of event to either say there is no God or if there a God, He cannot be a good God since he controls the events that permit the unfortunate occurrences. Or He cannot be a omnipotent God or else He would stop the unfortunate events.

    Again the theodicy argument, An omnipotent God, A good God and the occurrence of evil. Take two out of the three because you cannot have all three and since Hume and others argue, evil exists, one of the other two have to go. Hume and many others’ preferred choice is that there is no God. No need to even discuss goodness or power.

    I provided two contemporary references to this issue above. Here they are again.

    Evil and the God of Love by John Hicks.

    http://www.amazon.com/Evil-God…..038;sr=1-1

    Why Evil Exists – A course by the Teaching Company

    http://www.thegreatcourses.com…..x?cid=6810

  54. 54
    keiths says:

    jerry,

    Again the theodicy argument, An omnipotent God, A good God and the occurrence of evil. Take two out of the three because you cannot have all three and since Hume and others argue, evil exists, one of the other two have to go. Hume and many others’ preferred choice is that there is no God. No need to even discuss goodness or power.

    This is a good point. I’ve often wondered why believers insist on an omni-God: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. I think of it as “greedy theology”. Believers aren’t satisfied with magnificent power, knowledge, and goodness in their God — they demand omni- everything, even at the cost of making their God implausible.

    Back when I was a believer, I wrestled with this and actually decided that if God existed, I hoped that he was not omnipotent, because then I didn’t need to believe that he was responsible for the horrible evil and suffering we see in the world.

    Why don’t more believers go this route?

    P.S. I’m a huge fan of the Teaching Company, but I haven’t watched Why Evil Exists yet. Did you like it?

  55. 55
    jerry says:

    I wrestled with this and actually decided that if God existed, I hoped that he was not omnipotent, because then I didn’t need to believe that he was responsible for the horrible evil and suffering we see in the world.

    Why don’t more believers go this route?

    This is a stupid conclusion and I said, I don’t do stupid. You have to ask yourself what is really evil? What is the Christian message? Are these things really evil which you object to?

    If the God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, all the rest of the attributes are necessary as a result. A lot of the answers are in the story of Job which preceded the Christian message. I am not trying to preach religion here, only logic. I don’t discuss religion on this site outside of logic. The real message of Job was autonomous love, not heteronomous love (I believe this is the correct use but have to check it). Again I not talking about gushy religious thought but philosophy. It is also one of the key points underlying the theodicy issue.

    I’m a huge fan of the Teaching Company, but I haven’t watched Why Evil Exists yet. Did you like it?

    It was informative and very useful. It had the effect of covering the water front but missed the big picture. I only started to listening to it a couple months ago because as I said I have been interested in the theodicy issue for about 20 years.

    I had never heard of the term, theodicy, and one day I borrowed a Teaching Company course from the library on religious issues and the author said one of the biggest issues in religion was theodicy. I thought that was odd because it was not an issue for me and my reasoning was based on logic I still think is irrefutable. What most people think of as evil is not really evil. There is only one true evil. The answer to the theodicy question is an assessment of what is really evil, free will and non-heteronomous love.

    In short, the things you call evil are absolutely necessary for humans to reach a higher level. What you want is a world that’s good and benign but incredibly stultified and meaningless and one in which humans cannot really become independent actors.

    Have to run, not sure if I used all the right words but will correct it later if necessary.

  56. 56
    keiths says:

    jerry,

    One simple test of whether an act of God is evil is to ask yourself how you would regard a human being who did the same thing.

    For example, if a human sent a tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people, no one would hesitate to pronounce that an evil act.

    It’s ludicrous that God, who is supposedly omnipotent and perfectly good, gets a pass on behavior that would be regarded as psychotic if a human carried it out.

  57. 57
    Joe says:

    LoL! keiths and his other strawman of “evil”! Too funny…

    One simple test of whether an act of God is evil is to ask yourself how you would regard a human being who did the same thing.

    That only works if humans are as knowledgeable as God, which we ain’t so it fails.

    For example, if a human sent a tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people, no one would hesitate to pronounce that an evil act.

    I would because I doubt a human could do such a thing. And I doubt God would too.

    It’s ludicrous that God, who is supposedly omnipotent and perfectly good, gets a pass on behavior that would be regarded as psychotic if a human carried it out.

    God knows more than we do, duh. And if God wants some humans to join Him then that is His will. Just cuz you think it would be better for those people to be here doesn’t mean squat.

    The “problem” of evil is only a problem to those with very narrow minds, and here is keiths…

  58. 58
    jerry says:

    One simple test of whether an act of God is evil is to ask yourself how you would regard a human being who did the same thing.

    There are several issues here. For example, just what is evil. Until one defines what is evil and then discusses if there are levels of evil, it is hard to discuss the concept of evil. I bring up the concept of gradations of evil because that is important to understanding why evil in not an issue. Another important issue is there an ultimate evil?

    By the way I believe evil exists but also believe what you and most people use as examples of evil are not really evil. And what Hume or Richard Dawkins or Bertrand Russell or any of the people who use the theodicy argument to discuss the problem of evil, are not talking about real evil. In other words the place where Hume’s analysis breaks down is in the presence of evil in the world. Not even the 250,000 killed in a tsunami or the incredible destruction of the Lisbon earthquake. That may seem outrageous but I have never really seen anybody make a coherent argument on this topic.

    A second issue is what is the actual act of God that is being evaluated and if a specific act can be identified, then what is the purpose of that act. This will be difficult because as mentioned several times, it is impossible to know the mind of an omniscient being.

    Is it appropriate to compare the same act by two entities of vastly different intelligence, let alone omniscient God with a creature of very limited intelligence, humans. The second creature, humans have no way of understanding the purpose of the act. We can make some guesses but it is stupid to believe we as humans could understand God’s plan. Do you think the maggot or worm could discern our intentions yet we are closer to the maggot than to an omniscient being. While we are made in the image and likeness of God, it is the ultimate hubris to think we can know God’s intentions let alone judge Him on these acts. You seem to want to judge HIm on everything. It is folly to do so.

    Fourth, and I will bring this up here because it is a crucial to understanding and evaluating acts of God, what are the net results of each of the acts by a human and an act by God. For example, is the act of God necessary for humans to progress in the world while the act of the human may just have the result of a lot of dead and misery

    It’s ludicrous that God, who is supposedly omnipotent and perfectly good, gets a pass on behavior that would be regarded as psychotic if a human carried it out.

    You are treating the supposed creator of the universe like He was the next store neighbor. To be kind, it is completely irrelevant comment and lacking in any substance. Until you start to consider the possible reasons for every act based on the nature of each being the objections you have been raising are not pertinent.

    Before you think this is absurd you have to consider the reasons for the very unfortunate events in the history of the world and what is their net effect on any specific human based on different Christian theologies. You can disagree with the specific theology but any reasonable person will have to say that even this imperfect understanding of a omniscient being as described by certain Christian theologies makes sense.

    Again I am resorting to reason not gushy religious sentiment. There is definitely a place for gushy religious sentiment in this world but there must also be a coherent underlying philosophy and theology even if most believers do not understand what it is.

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