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Laszlo Bencze on “horrifying” extinctions and God


Further to Intelligent design “horrifying” Because extinctions occur in the course of nature, philosopher and photographer Laszlo Bencze writes to say:

The article quotes the letter writer as saying:

The earth has experienced five mass extinctions. What kind of designer makes a system that periodically wipes out species for no apparent reason? Are these extinctions simply an “oops” moment on the part of the creator?

This boils down to the statement, “No god I can conceive of would do such a thing,” with the emphasis on “I”. It never seems to enter the minds of the many people who make such statements that god might be completely other than the “I” making the statement. Any god who was limited to the restrictions of human imagination would necessarily be a rather puny god, and hence, not god at all.


See also: Extinction is key to vertebrate terrestrial diversity?

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EDTA, Thank you for your comment. I will add your definition to my list of possible definitions. It is more relevant to moral evil than to natural evil. Though if applied to natural evil, it is implying God is intentionally harming individuals through natural events. I am mostly interested in natural "evil" because this is what is invoked to disprove the Christian God in the Theodicy argument. It is my contention that the Theodicy argument falls apart as soon as one understands the nature of undesirable/gratuitous suffering/premature death events (some definitions of "evil") and realizes they are all finite events in terms of duration and intensity, can be ordered to some extent, and none approaches the one "evil", namely eternal separation from God. Even death in the Christian world view is only a temporary event. It is a complex topic and the lecture last Friday night was mainly on the necessity of a range of desirable/undesirable events in life in order for humans to be fully human and exhibit free will in their actions as they choose various options in life. There can be no courage or really any other virtue if all environments or choices led to satisfying results. My main point is that if all undesirable events were eliminated and only satisfying events remained, then the less satisfying of these events would be considered less desirable or undesirable and we would use the term "evil" to describe them. In a sense mankind has been doing this since the beginning of time as they have been presented with extremely undesirable situations and worked to eliminate these situations. To name a few, think starvation and food, pollution of human waste and sanitation, disease and medicine. Life would be kinda dull without unpleasant events to get in the way of just vegging around in a state of euphoria. But as I say there would be varying levels of euphoria and some would then become "evil." jerry
jerry @ 15, Yes, the realization that there is no usable, agreed-upon definition for "evil" was one of the things that led me into my current exploration of the topic. I'm surprised by how much there is to write about it. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I don't think we humans can formulate a perfect definition, because we always lack information about a situation, the circumstances, etc. So the definition I am using suffers many of the flaws of all the other definitions. The definition I am currently working with is that evil is "intentional harm", or harm done via agency. "Harm" has to be defined, and I'm defining that as forcing/pulling someone or something away from its intended purpose. Defining "intended purpose" requires an appeal to God, who is the only one who knows our ultimate purpose. We try to summarize it with such statements as "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (from a catechism), but that lacks the detail we would need to tease apart confounding circumstances. Lacking God's ultimate knowledge of what we're supposed to be doing prevents us from knowing our purpose in a detailed way, and hence knowing when something might be considered evil. But at least this definition seems to cover the basic evils: violations of the Ten Commandments, the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, and so on. Of course this definition leaves out natural evil (tsunamis, disease--when not intentionally spread, etc.), but real evil seems to require agency first and foremost. The implications of this are interesting. First of all, God takes credit in the Bible for having done evil (harm) to His creatures. It's His right to do so, since He made us, but it still comes as a shock to many to hear such a thing mentioned. This means that evil and sin are not the same thing. There is a ton more here, and perhaps someday I will have finished writing it all down... EDTA
Well, except for all the other places where evil is mentioned in the Bible, describing people’s actions, sin, and general harm no matter the source.
I will ask you to define "evil." I have not found anyone who could define it that held up in different uses. Last Friday night I attended a lecture on "evil" by a theologian. It was extremely good but he could not define it either. He went to the "absence of the good" definition which he quickly realized pointed to everything on earth because it is imperfect. Other theologians and philosophers like a definition of "gratuitous intense suffering." Corneilus Hunter once had a fallen Jesuit who used that as the definition, The Lecturer last Friday agreed that eternal separation from God was evil but could not find a definition that was suitable for any other event. Here is a quote from the bible made by another commenter a month ago which illustrates my point.
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. or "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (two different translations - both indicate that an unpleasant death is desirable compared to what awaits him.)
Barry has essentially called me evil because of my understanding of Christian theology. Interesting because this understanding eliminates the Theodicy argument against Christianity. People desperately want to use the term but like "evolution," "science," "species," "life," and "intelligence" fail to have a common understanding in our debates. I am pursuing a conversation with the lecturer on this topic in the hope for further clarification. His next lecture is on science and religion which I am very interested in hearing. My wife and I and many others at the lecture thought he was one of the most brilliant persons we have ever met. jerry
Me-think at 7, yes, but universal extinction is the common lot of all life forms native to a transient world. Sometimes many at once, other times, individually. That is, it's hard to see how an argument against design based on even mass extinction should not be more efficiently advanced as an argument against death generally. It would be interesting to hear that more economical argument. News
Jerry @ 8
In Christian theology the only evil thing is eternal separation from God.
Well, except for all the other places where evil is mentioned in the Bible, describing people's actions, sin, and general harm no matter the source. EDTA
These extinctions are fables based on poor analysis of raw and meager data in the ground. Placing ones faith on biology events on geology claims is poor scholarship. Its not scientific. People matter more then stupid creatures anyways. Robert Byers
Mapou, I was being facetious ;) For a "materialist" (whatever the hell that means), "evil" cannot mean anything other than a certain arrangement of molecules objecting to another arrangement of molecules. mike1962
I see that Me_Think belongs to the same cretinous cult as the PETA mental midgets. LOL Mapou
Nothing is evil. There is no such thing.
In Christian theology the only evil thing is eternal separation from God. Now given that, people have written millions of pages about the term "evil." jerry
News @ 2
And how did extinction of species become an argument against design in nature when no one argues that deaths of individuals are an argument against design in nature?
It is mass extinction - not just extinction.The largest extinction was at the end of Permian Period when 96% of species perished ( or if you believe in ID- killed by creator). It implies that creator thinks since he created them, he can kill them as and when he wishes.It is evil. If the Creator is supposed to be good, he couldn't have done this, hence there is no creator- at least that's the reasoning. This, of course, is a stupid argument against Intelligent design. There can be myriad reason for the creator to kill the species. He might have wrongly calculated that the space available for next bunch of better model species is not enough. Me_Think
What is evil, indeed? Does it exist in and of itself or is it only what some intelligent being designates as such? If the latter then in what way is it any more than the opinion of that intelligence? The Argument from Evil as an argument against the existence of God only has merit if the existence of that evil can be shown to be inconsistent with the known or at least presumed nature of that God. If the scope of His knowledge and powers are undefined and His purposes inscrutable then pointing to what we perceive as evil cannot be evidence against His existence. Of course, that argument cuts both ways. By the same token, pointing to examples of what we perceive as goodness cannot be evidence for His existence. In the context of the OP, however, I find it ironic that Christians can be outraged and appalled at the prospect of the abortion of millions of human fetuses yet contemplate the extinction of uncounted billions of their fellow creatures - adult, juvenile and unborn - without turning a hair. To slightly paraphrase a line of Mr Spock's from Star Trek, "You speak about the objective hardness of the materialist heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours." Seversky
mike1962 @4, The word evil simply means bad. In reality, unity or oneness is good and disunity is bad. Some call it a Yin-Yang reality. In the physical realm, it is responsible for supersymmetry (conservation laws), i.e., the balance between positive and negative properties. In the spiritual realm, it is called karma. Karma means that every debt must be paid and that all spiritual concepts come in pairs, e.g., beauty/ugliness, pain/pleasure, love/hate, order/disorder, etc. In the end, it comes down to this: everything is ONE. This is just my take on it. Others may disagree, of course. Mapou
Nothing is evil. There is no such thing. What does it mean, anyway? mike1962
I’d like to know why extinction is held to be an intrinsic evil.
The reason is that they are all materialists. They believe that the extinct species suffered greatly somehow because, you know, you don't need a soul or spirit to consciously feel pain. So they are blaming God for the supposed suffering of the animals. Materialists and PETA are birds of a feather. They belong to the same cretinous religion. Mapou
I'd like to know why extinction is held to be an intrinsic evil. We can quite properly say that cruelty or pointless suffering are intrinsic evils. But the fact that something that once existed now doesn't is not clearly an evil in principle. And how did extinction of species become an argument against design in nature when no one argues that deaths of individuals are an argument against design in nature? News
I agree with Laszlo Bencze that those who complain about God's intentions are just malignant narcissists. And so what if the designers exterminated a billion dinosaurs? They're a bunch meat robots with no souls. They served the purpose of the designers which could have been anything from having fun with weird looking beasts or just terraforming the planet for future habitation by newly designed species. Besides, if the designers wanted to bring back the dinosaurs on some other terraformed planet, who is going to stop them? I'm sure they kept the original designs. Mapou

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