Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Animal Suffering and the Fall of Man (Part One)

[I decided to break this into two posts. The first deals with animal suffering from a “No Suffering before the Fall” perspective. The second (which I will post tomorrow morning) deals with animal suffering from perspectives that allow suffering before the Fall.]

Christians typically believe in a “Fall of Man”—an event in which human beings turned against God, resulting in the “Curse.” The Curse would include, among other things, suffering. Thus, the Fall is used by Christians to account for suffering in the world.

Atheists find this unconvincing, but apart from declaring that the Fall is a myth, there’s not much of a way to argue against it. Hence, atheists try to explore the limits of what the Fall can reasonably account for. This is where animal suffering comes in.

“Granting that God is punishing humans for rebellion,” argues the atheist, “why do animals have to participate in this punishment? What did animals do to deserve this?”

The theist, then, is left with the task of showing how animal suffering is related to the Fall of man, and this is the purpose of this post (and the next). I will divide theistic views into (1) those claiming that there was no suffering before man sinned, and (2) those claiming that there was suffering in the world even before man sinned. Since I’m only discussing possible relationships between animal suffering and the Fall, I will have to dedicate a separate post to theodicies that account for animal suffering. Hence, the following should be regarded as a partial theistic response.

Young-Earth creationists typically hold the following:

(1) God created the world between six and ten thousand years ago.

(2) God created various “kinds” of animals, which through selection developed into the species we see today. (Note: Natural selection is a part of Young-Earth theories. These theories simply reject the idea that evolution can produce an increase in genetic information. Hence, in the beginning, God created a great deal of information among the various “kinds”; these “kinds” later produced offspring; selection favored certain offspring in different environments.)

(3) Animals were originally vegetarians.

(4) There was no death before sin (except plant death, and perhaps fish and insects).

Some Old-Earth creationists agree with everything except (1). They hold that the world was created billions of years ago, while God created life according to the biblical account (i.e. God created life between six and ten thousand years ago, though the earth is much older). Hence, certain Old-Earth creationists agree that there was no death or suffering before sin.

So how would the Fall be related to animal suffering on these views? The account would go something like this. God created a world, and it was perfect. There was no death, disease, or bloodshed, because God was upholding and sustaining everything perfectly. Everything went according to God’s will. Suffering was not an option, because there was the perpetual miracle of God’s sustaining presence.

But God gave man the freedom to choose what kind of world he would prefer to live in. Would man rather live in a world according to God’s rules, or a world where he can do as he pleases? Man chose to live in a world where he could do as he pleases. That is, he rebelled against God. Atheists tend to think that such rebellion (eating a forbidden fruit, for instance) is an incredibly small matter. But we should recognize what was going on. The problem wasn’t a matter of fruit. The problem was that man adopted a new system of morality, according to which he would do whatever he feels like doing, even if it goes against what God commands.

At that point, God partially withdrew from the world. He withdrew some of his sustaining power. God said, in effect, “If you’d like to live apart from me, welcome to a world where I am not fully present to keep everything just the way you like it.” On this view, the “Curse” would not be something positive. It wouldn’t be something that God added to the world. Instead, the Curse would be the result of subtraction. God withdrew (to some extent), and things started going wrong.

Animals, of course, were part of the world that God withdrew from. If man had not sinned, God would have continued to fully sustain us, and there would have been no animal suffering. But since man chose to live in a world apart from God, and since God honored that choice, the entire cosmos was affected.

That would be a rough sketch of the “No Suffering before Sin” view. An atheist might make the following objections:

(1) God shouldn’t have created animals if he knew that they were going to experience pain. I addressed this claim in my Introduction a few days ago. Given the choice between suffering animals and no animals, a world with animals is better than a world without animals.

(2) God should have created animals so that they don’t experience pain. But if God knows that he is going to leave the world to its own devices, this would be disastrous for animals. Animals would go extinct if they didn’t experience pain.

(3) God should have created animals so that they experience less pain. Before I take this objection seriously, I’d have to see some evidence that species would perform better with lower levels of pain.

(4) God should have created animals so that they don’t need a sustainer. That is, God should have made the world so that it performs perfectly without him. In the mind of the atheist, this would probably be the strongest objection. To me, it is the weakest. The atheist here would be arguing that God should make a world that functions perfectly even if creatures rebel. But why? Why shouldn’t God create worlds that depend on him not only for their existence, but also for their well-being? I can’t think of any good reason for siding with the atheist on this point.

Hence, I think that the “No Suffering before Sin” views plausibly account for animal suffering. (The question is whether these views account for other things.)

As a final note, I would like to reiterate a comment I made earlier about pessimism. Is nature really as bad as atheists make it out to be? When discussing the existence of God, many atheists act as if we live in the worst world imaginable. Thus Bambi dying in the woods becomes the picture of all nature. The tiger playing with her cub is left out, as are the eagles soaring on the wind, the beavers building their dams, and the dolphins dancing in the water.

Nature is not horrible. Nature is wonderful and beautiful. There is, of course, the problem of pain. But what would we expect in a world where a great rebellion has occurred? I would expect a world with problems, but a world which still bears the mark of its creator. And that’s exactly what we find.

For more on “No Suffering before Sin” views, see:

Why Us? (Ken Ham)

The Problem of Evil (Peter Kreeft)

25 comments:

Stunney said...

Suppose a father has a rebellious son. The son has a cat. The son demands his independence, and never wants anything to do with his father aqain.

The son leaves home, taking his cat with him. But the son is penniless and unable to buy or find nourishing cat food. He lives as a street bum. The cat sickens and dies.

The son wills a world for himself and his cat in which his own well-being and that of his cat is cut off from any paternal support or resources.

Is the father in this scenario to blame for the cat's sad demise?
To ensure the cat's well-being, the father would have had to violate his son's wishes. Perhaps the father inwardly knew that the cat would sicken and die if the son's will was carried out.

Either the father could have ensured the cat's well-being, or he could have let the son have his way. But the father could not do both.

difangle said...

Gen 3:14 And the YHWH said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou [art] cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

Could this be when the beasts were cursed?

John W. Loftus said...

Again, a good blog entry from your perspective.

I still have a great deal of difficulty dealing with a God whom you describe:

At that point, God partially withdrew from the world. He withdrew some of his sustaining power. God said, in effect, “If you’d like to live apart from me, welcome to a world where I am not fully present to keep everything just the way you like it.”

However you describe this, it was not a humane way to treat people, given the horrendus amounts of natural and moral evil he allowed us to sink down into. I don't think you understand the depths of suffering that your God caused by "withdrawing" his presence from us.

What parent would do that? Do we allow our children to experience the full effects of their disobedience? Do we allow them to run away? Do we allow them to drink beer until they die? No. Doing so is not considered loving.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

However you describe this, it was not a humane way to treat people, given the horrendus amounts of natural and moral evil he allowed us to sink down into. I don't think you understand the depths of suffering that your God caused by "withdrawing" his presence from us.

What parent would do that? Do we allow our children to experience the full effects of their disobedience? Do we allow them to run away? Do we allow them to drink beer until they die? No. Doing so is not considered loving.

**********************************

But Loftus doesn't believe that anything is intrinsically good and evil.

So what becomes of his populist appeal?

Amy Sayers said...

John Loftus, you wrote:
"Do we allow our children to experience the full effects of their disobedience?"

What warrants your certainty that the pain we find in the world--even the *extreme* pain--constitutes the "full effects" of disobedience?

AS

David Wood said...

Yes, Loftus seems to think of our world as the absolute worst that anything could be.

But what has God given us? God gave us the family unit, by making it so that two people produce a child. And this adds some stability to our lives. God gave us the ability to form governments, even good governments if we work at it. And this adds even more stability to our world. God gave us natural laws, and a world with seasons and land and oceans and a diversity of life that, for the most part, works pretty well. God gave us the moral law. God gave us a desire for justice. He gave us the ability to learn and to pass on knowledge. In case the problems in our world make us wonder whether He really loves us, He sent Jesus to die for our sins. Then He raised Jesus from the dead, showing us that He can bring something good out of something that seems completely bad. And He’s promised that one day, He’s going to raise this entire universe from the dead, just as He raised Jesus. God has given us a world where we can exercise our free will, where we can be moral or immoral, where we can rebel against Him if we want, where we can develop virtues, and where we can freely decide whether we want to be with Him or not. John looks at all of this and says, “God gave us nothing but punishment.”

I simply disagree. So, John, I think you can say as an atheist, “I reject God because He’s not doing all the things I say He should do,” but you can’t say that theists are wrong or irrational because we don’t see the world as you see it. And you can say, “God hasn’t done enough for me. I want a world with more pleasure. More, more, more.” But you can’t say that God has just abandoned us, because He hasn’t. We chose to live on our own, and instead of just annihilating us, He gave us a world where we can live on our own. It’s tough sometimes, but we always pull through.

Amy Sayers said...

Heh heh.

After reading David's very thoughtful list of all the good God has given us, I'm prompted to state a la John Loftus, "If you don't lie awake at night in a state of humbled gratitude, you just don't understand the blessing."

Amy Sayers said...

Where are all the skeptics?

For the sake of the refinement of your argument (which was nicely put forth, by the way), I have 2 objections:

First,
You write regarding #3, that God should have created animals so that they experience less pain,

"Before I take this objection seriously, I’d have to see some evidence that species would perform better with lower levels of pain."

The pack wolves vs. doe excerpt I posted earlier provides some evidence, doesn't it? When wolves catch a doe, it is going to die and contribute nothing further to the species. Why didn't an all-good God leave behind just a pinch more sustaining power in the animal kingdom and make the wolves a bit nicer in their killing practices?

Second,

This no pre-Fall-animal-suffering theodicy does not address what I would call the Skeptic Concern for Justice. I do not see why an all-powerful God would be required to let Fall the animal kingdom. It seems akin to the teacher who makes the whole class miss recess because of the 2 or 3 in the room who were naughty.

And I don't think Stunney's "bad son and the good cat" story above works too well for this, either. Why couldn't the father say, "You can leave if you want to. But the cat stays here where I can feed and house it"?

You might argue that God gave dominion over animals to humans in Eden, and so humankind was therefore required to "take the cat with," so to speak. But God could have taken this dominion back, for the good of the innocent animals, without violating His Nature. (That is, God "takes back" blessings in other places of the Bible, such as His annointing on King Saul.)

I'm not going to bust your chops for answers to these. (And I don't know how I would answer myself.) As I said, I ask for the sake of serving your argument.

- AS

David Wood said...

Why didn't an all-good God leave behind just a pinch more sustaining power in the animal kingdom and make the wolves a bit nicer in their killing practices?

My response was meant to be taken like this. In place of his perfectly sustaining presence, God gave us a world governed by natural laws. If there are going to be deer in our world, they will need to be able to survive in a world governed by natural laws. If the skeptic wants to say that God should have reduced the pain of animals, the skeptic will need to show that the species would function just as well (in a natural world) if they experienced less pain.

You ask why God doesn't leave some of his presence to take care of Bambi. But here you're asking for a miraculous world, which, according to the view presented here, is what we rejected at the Fall. According to this view of the Fall, God continues to sustain the world in being, but that's probably it.

I do not see why an all-powerful God would be required to let Fall the animal kingdom.

This could be taken in two ways. First, God could have taken animals out of this world. But this would be similar to the skeptic's claim that our world would be better without animals. If our world is a better world with animals in it, then God is hardly under any obligation to remove animals.

Second, you could mean that God should leave the animals in our world, but protect them. Here again, you're asking for a miraculous world. Now think, for a moment, about the skeptics in this hypothetical world. They would argue something like this: "You're saying that there's a God who loves us? If God exists, he hates us! After all, he protects every creature in the world from suffering, except us. Thus, God cares about us least of all."

I'm not sure that the "God withdraws from our world except from the animal kingdom" view is an entirely plausible concept. I'm also suspicious about the skeptic's notion of justice, which differs radically from that of the theist. Theists take rebellion to be extremely significant, and would be inclined to say that God was completely justified in leaving the world to its own devices after the Fall. The skeptic replies, "But it's only a little rebellion. What's so bad about that."

To put the matter differently, this is a value difference. And keep in mind, the Argument from Evil is the atheist's argument. In other words, if the problem here is a matter of the skeptic's sense of justice, how can the argument succeed? The skeptic will have to say something like this: "All right, I've got my Argument from Evil. But we need to presuppose my sense of justice as opposed to your own. Is that okay?" It isn't okay, and this is a problem with the argument.

Now no more playing skeptic's advocate while I'm away. I'm heading to a conference tomorrow, so you and the other theists will have to defend the fort.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve said: But Loftus doesn't believe that anything is intrinsically good and evil.

So what becomes of his populist appeal?


David, you really need better input than from the likes of Steve if you're going to make a difference. No scholarly critique of the problem of evil that I know of utilizes his red herring style approach. Maybe Calvinist scholars do, I don't know, but you're no Calvinist.

Let's say that the internal problem my argument refers to at some point becomes external, even though Christians themselves share the same concerns. What then?

It's the same kind of external argument you might use when speaking against pantheism, which claims all experience is maya, an illusion. You will at that point appeal to something so basic, so intuitively obvious, that you cannot see that a pantheist still would disagree. I mean, really, you have to believe contrary to everything you experience that this material world doesn't exist. And I'm pushing you in that direction when I say that your entire moral code, the code you yourself think is in the Bible, is against what you see God doing on a daily basis. And why do you believe in this God of yours? You do so because 1) when and where you were born (you weren't born in Saudia Arabia, otherwise you'd be a Muslim), and 2) because you believe in some historically canonized set of documents written in a pre-scientific age as interpreted by you.

There are so many chances for error with your beliefs that it seems more rational to accept your own moral notions about what an omni-God should do that you should reject that concept of God, as I have.

Now granted, I don't think anything is intrinsically evil. But this has nothing to do with my argument. I'm appealing to your own notions, not mine, that your own God should do better. You demur, but on what basis? My point is so intuitively obvious that Steve is completely ignorant to even bring it up.

John W. Loftus said...

John looks at all of this and says, “God gave us nothing but punishment.”

I'm sorry David, but if this is how you misrepresent my position, then you are sadly mistaken. I'm being very patient with you. I could blast you to "kingdom come" on this one.

David Wood said...

I'm sorry David, but if this is how you misrepresent my position, then you are sadly mistaken. I'm being very patient with you.

I may be exaggerating, but not much. You complain about LITERALLY everything. According to you, God shouldn't have created anything. Nor should he ever have given us a chance to think for ourselves. Nor should he have done anything because of our rebellion. Listen to your description of the world, John. According to you, the world is nothing but a place of death, disease, and blooshed. Now I know what you'll say. You'll say, "But I think there's some good stuff too." I'm sure you do. But I'm focusing on how you portray the world when we discuss the problem of evil. And like it or not, you do try to make it seem as if God has given us nothing but punishment. Just read some of the things you've written over the past months.

I could blast you to "kingdom come" on this one.

Is your blaster broken?

David, you really need better input than from the likes of Steve if you're going to make a difference.

As far as your external critique goes, Steve is absolutely correct. True, you can write some premises down and say, "Here's my internal critique," but as soon as we start asking how you're using certain terms and where you're getting certain values, it becomes quite obvious that you're mounting an external critique. Steve merely points this out to you, hoping that you'll eventually get the point.

John W. Loftus said...

David, but even if it weren't ME doing the questioning, but another Christian who is struggling with her faith who is internal to your belief system, you still have to deal with those very same questions.

David Wood said...

John Loftus said:

David, but even if it weren't ME doing the questioning, but another Christian who is struggling with her faith who is internal to your belief system, you still have to deal with those very same questions.

Wrong. When a Christian struggles with the Argument from Evil, it's usually because she's absorbed certain values from her surrounding culture--values not internal to Christianity (e.g. "good" has to do primarily with giving pain/pleasure, rebellion is a small matter, free will isn't important, etc.).

Think about it. For thousands of years, isolated thinkers have given arguments from evil. But for the most part, these arguments didn't impress people. It never occurred to most Christians, Jews, or Muslims throughout history that suffering is such a great proof against God's existence. But now, all of a sudden, in the modern world, suffering somehow becomes an issue for Western Christians and Jews. Why is POE only becoming a major intellectual obstacle in our time? Is it because this is the first generation to notice the glaring contradiction? Or is it because this is the generation that, of all generations that have ever existed, is most obsessed with pleasure?

I've said it before, John. Even Christians can absorb non-Christian values. You know that too. So don't pretend that if a Christian struggles, it's because of something internal to Christianity.

steve said...

john w. loftus said...

"Now granted, I don't think anything is intrinsically evil. But this has nothing to do with my argument. I'm appealing to your own notions, not mine, that your own God should do better. You demur, but on what basis? My point is so intuitively obvious that Steve is completely ignorant to even bring it up."

Oh really?

This is what he said:

"However you describe this, it was not a humane way to treat people, given the horrendus amounts of natural and moral evil he allowed us to sink down into. I don't think you understand the depths of suffering that your God caused by "withdrawing" his presence from us. What parent would do that? Do we allow our children to experience the full effects of their disobedience? Do we allow them to run away? Do we allow them to drink beer until they die? No. Doing so is not considered loving."

Was he limiting his appeal to Christian intuitions? Notice the completely inclusive, unqualified usage: "It was not a humane way to treat people, given the horrendus amounts of natural and moral evil he allowed us to sink down into...What parent would do that? Do we allow our children to experience the full effects of their disobedience? Do we allow them to run away? Do we allow them to drink beer until they die? No. Doing so is not considered loving."

Not, it is inhumane according to Christians. Not, these are horrendous natural and moral evils according to Christians (notice, btw, that he always omits the word "gratuitous"). Not, what Christian parents would do that?

What Loftus is doing is playing to play to the galleries. He leaves out these qualifiers because, if he would to put them in, his contention would lose much of its initial appeal.

He is playing to unbelievers as much as believers. Playing to their intuitive sense of morality in order to make Christianity look back. Use that as emotional leverage.

If he were to explicitly build his moral relativism into his examples, then his objection would lose its general, intuitive appeal.

steve said...

While we're at it, I'll reiterate another criticism I've frequently leveled against his position—one that he's consistently chosen to duck.

Suppose, for the same of argument, that he's right? Suppose that he, as a moral relativist, can successfully deploy the internal argument from evil.

What has he achieved? As a moral relativist, what personal stake does he (or anyone else) have in who is right and who is wrong?

If nothing is intrinsically good or evil, then what's the point of proving A or disproving B? In an amoral universe, what does it matter if an atheist wins the argument? In an amoral universe, what's the ultimate difference between winners and losers? Why should anyone care? The outcome is morally indifferent one way or the other.

Loftus is like a gambler who's playing poker with Confederate currency. Even if he won, what would he win? Even if the other guy lost, what would he lose?

John W. Loftus said...

When a Christian struggles with the Argument from Evil, it's usually because she's absorbed certain values from her surrounding culture--values not internal to Christianity

LOL, sorry buddy, but LOL.

Your own values would be rejected as heretical in the 14th century.

LOL, sorry.

I'm beginning to think I'm wasting my time. Again, sorry.

John W. Loftus said...

I would win an argument, Steve, and I would win the opportunity to live in a religionless society. That's what I would prefer, so why Can't I argue for that which I prefer?

As for you, Steve, God has decreed what we all believe, so by the same token why are you here arguing one way or another. You're doing so for similar reasons, except that God may use your arguments to convince someone otherwise, and you are disengenuous to claim otherwise.

Stunney said...

Why couldn't the father say, "You can leave if you want to. But the cat stays here where I can feed and house it"?

How would God manifest such a decision? It seems as if manifesting it would compromise human freedom---the freedom to be cruel to animals, the freedom to be an atheist, and so on.

So if God did decide on such a course, God would have to do it secretly. In which case, for all we know, God is preventing great animal pain.

As fallen, sinful beings, we want nature, and we also want supernature (when it suits us). If God is to give us what we want, it will necessarily be a tricky, ambiguous business.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"LOL, sorry buddy, but LOL...LOL, sorry."

Wow! I'm not sure if David Wood can rebut the crushing logical force of Loftus' latest counterargument.

"I'm beginning to think I'm wasting my time. Again, sorry."

But according to Loftus, life itself is a waste of time. Whatever he does with his time is a waste of time.

steve said...

john w. loftus said...

"I would win an argument, Steve, and I would win the opportunity to live in a religionless society. That's what I would prefer, so why Can't I argue for that which I prefer?"

1. But in order for just John Loftus to live in an irreligious society, everyone would have to live in an irreligious society.

And yet, since he doesn't believe that anything is intrinsically good or evil, why does he think an irreligious society is better for anyone and everyone than a religious society?

2. In addition, it's quite unrealistic, to put it mildly, to suppose that America will ever be a religion-free zone in his lifetime, so why is he fighting for a lost cause?

Amy Sayers said...

Stunney said:

How would God manifest such a decision? It seems as if manifesting it would compromise human freedom---the freedom to be cruel to animals, the freedom to be an atheist, and so on.

Good point. This, combined with David's comments on how we (should)) define 'justice' internal to Christianity answers the Appeal to Justice regarding animal suffering, to my satisfaction, at least.

Stunney also writes:

As fallen, sinful beings, we want nature, and we also want supernature (when it suits us).

But here I object, and to David above, too when he says that "protecting Bambi" would be a "miraculous" world that he (rightly) prohibits skeptics from demanding. I don't think it would "miraculous" for God to have prevented SO much falleness in the animal kingdom such that wolves would rip out the innards of a doe while it still lives. (And other animals kills in other painful ways--though the observations of several so far that we don't actually *know* the degree of pain animals endure is an important one to settle. I don't know either. But it sure looks like it would hurt.)

After all, it's the Christian position that animals--nor humans--are NOT enduring the "full effects" of disobedience. We believe things could be much, much, much worse. So we can't argue that it would have been "miraculous" for God to have designed all predators to make instant kills before taking meat. Predation, we can handle with the Fall defense. But I still don't see how the *extent* of animal pain is explained by it.

Finally, Stunney concludes:

"If God is to give us what we want, it will necessarily be a tricky, ambiguous business."

True. And important to bear in mind.


I'll add to this that "what we want" regarding the animal kingdom is wildly variant among cultures and time. I think I'm leaning towards the theory that animal pain does not really bother God, and the suggestion that it "should" if God is "Good" stems from a generation that grew up with "Bambi" as a household name. Let's face it, when the voice-over content of "March of the Penguins" can describe the mating ritual and saga of penguins as a "Love Story" and not get a single chortle out of the movie-going audience, it's time to think that contemporary Westerners have anthropomorphized animals to a degree that's made us hyper-sensitive to pain.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve said, why is he fighting for a lost cause?

And why are you fighting for Calvinism?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"And why are you fighting for Calvinism?"

Simple: God is a Calvinist, and I like to be on the winning team! :-)

Samad Ashfaq said...

very well attempt to solve this problem. but i don't believe in fall .specially when the other creatures are also involved in it .those who have nothing to do with the original sin