Intelligent Design

Schopenhauer’s Mouse Wins?

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Concerning the question of “natural evil” or “cruelty in nature” that others have been discussing today, Chesterton writes:

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.

Chesterton in Orthodoxy.

I have always found the idea of a mouse devoted to Schopenhauer’s philosophy very amusing, but Chesterton’s larger point is germane.  The materialist really has no objective ground on which to say life is better than death (or sadism is better than charity). His views on the subject are based on pure sentiment.

 And this observation immediately leads us to a great irony: The materialist quite happily sawed off the branch of objective morality; but now he pretends the branch is still attached to the tree and he is sitting on it when he levels his “natural evil” charge against the creator.

Or is it hypocrisy and not irony? It is hard to know. What is clear is that at the very moment the materialist concedes that the term “cruelty” has any meaning other than “I personally object,” his argument from natural evil fails. In other words, “cruelty” can have an objective transcendent meaning only if God exists. Therefore, if one concedes that cruelty has an objective transcendent meaning, one cannot use the existence of cruelty to argue that God does not exist. Nothing could be more obvious it seems to me.

7 Replies to “Schopenhauer’s Mouse Wins?

  1. 1
    SCheesman says:

    As a oon-materialist, I’m still puzzled by the idea of “natural cruelty”. I don’t see why it is naturally cruel that creature A kills and eats creature B as a part of the way the universe works. Certainly the degree of sentience will factor into this, but why should parasitisation, for instance, be considered cruel, unless the creature being made lunch was fully and painfully aware of it in the same manner we ourselves might be?

  2. 2
    SCheesman says:

    And please don’t accuse me of condoning animal cruelty… I just would like to see a good exposition of what “natural cruelty” really is and isn’t, and the reasons why.

  3. 3
    Barb says:

    What happens when Schrodinger’s cat finds Schopenhauer’s mouse?

  4. 4
    tragic mishap says:

    That is my question as well SCheesman. My feeling is that “evil” is defined as rebelling against God, which requires a free will. Only humans (and perhaps angels) have free will, therefore only humans can be evil. Animals do not and cannot.

    Seems solid to me. I would like to know where I’m going wrong.

  5. 5
    Dick says:

    I think that the antitheist would abandon morally charged terms like cruelty and evil and argue instead that an omnipotent, omnibenvolent creator is irreconcilable with the existence of suffering in the world.

  6. 6
    Barry Arrington says:

    Dick writes: “I think that the antitheist would abandon morally charged terms like cruelty and evil and argue instead that an omnipotent, omnibenvolent creator is irreconcilable with the existence of suffering in the world.”

    Hmmm. What if I say to your antitheist: “The unstated premise of your statement is that it is wrong for someone to allow suffering when they have the power to stop it. What is the objective and transcendent moral basis for your unstated premise? Ah, there is none? Then I guess we are right back to your statement meaning ‘allowing suffering is not personally agreeable to me’ and nothing more.”

  7. 7
    Jon Garvey says:

    The discussion about suffering is significantly different from the question of evil. Some of the guys at BioLogos, by conflating the two, end up in a theological pickle.

    Words like “cruelty”, “torture” etc imply rational voluntary agency. But apart from mankind, the only rational voluntary agent effective in the natural world is God. Theodicy, therefore, may be an appropriate area to study, because though God might allow or inflict suffering, he cannot do evil.

    But when you attribute “evil” motives to animals or even plants, which only do what their natures dictate, you’re putting a moral capacity on them they don’t possess. Someone like George Murphy would then say that, since evolution produces such “sinful” behaviour, human sin is the product of evolution rather than a conscious fall. Sin therefore becomes Creation’s problem, not just ours (“God saw that it was good” has to be junked), and you have to construct a theology bearing little resemblance to historic Christianity.

    So I, too, dislike the presuppositions evident in “natural evil”. “Natural suffering” is better, but as other posts have indicated, that too needs careful handling less we attribute human (rationally conscious) perceptions to other organisms.

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