Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Four Evidences for the Fall

Atheists reject the idea of a Fall of man. But the Fall is an important element of theistic accounts of why God would allow suffering. If man were extremely good, we might justly be surprised that there is so much suffering in our world. But if man is actually steeped in sin, should we find it shocking that God allows us to suffer?

There are, I think, four matters which, when combined, provide a reasonable case for the Fall of man. Taken individually, they might not be very persuasive. But taken together, they seem to indicated that we are indeed fallen creatures. (The last is the real point of this post.)

First, there is the matter of revelation. The Apostle Paul, for instance, performed miracles and saw visions of Jesus. And Paul declared that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Paul admitted that even he was affected by this fall, as evidenced by his inability to do what he knew was right (Romans 7:14-25).

Second, man is notoriously sinful. In making an Argument from Evil, atheists frequently appeal to moral evil, which God (according to the atheist) should prevent, i.e. rape, murder, torture, child abuse, and genocide. But the examples offered by atheists also show how bad and selfish man is. Indeed, even people who dedicate their lives to doing what is right always find out that something is constantly pulling them in another direction. This is consistent with the Fall.

Third, we can reason indirectly to the Fall via evidence for God’s existence. Atheists argue that pointless suffering is incompatible with the existence of God. Since there is pointless suffering, reasons the atheist, God must not exist. However, the theist can turn this reasoning around by arguing that evidence for the existence of God is evidence against pointless suffering. Hence, any evidence the theist can muster in favor of God’s existence is simultaneously evidence that God has reasons for allowing suffering. One of these reasons, which is consistent with revelation and with what we know about man’s nature, could be that man has fallen into a state of sin.

Finally (and least obviously), we occasionally see glimpses of man’s greatness—things that tell us that man was meant to be something much greater than what he actually is. There seems to be no survival advantage in Mozart’s amazing abilities, or in our love for Mozart’s music. There is little in evolutionary theory that would lead us to expect such things. Similarly, the painting and poetic ability of the girl in this short video baffles the mind, and tells us something about our original state.

69 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Good entry David, from your perspective. I think Clark Pinnock said that even if the Biblical account of the Fall isn't historical we would still have to postulate a fall from Gods' grace. I just can't locate the exact quote. It's in The Scriptual Principle, I believe.

But I have done a lot of reading and I think the story of the Fall is indeed mythical, and I don't see why I have to postulate a Fall. I also don't think you've done some hard thinking yet about the human nature God purportedly created in Adam and Eve, God's supposed foreknowledge of their sin, the nature of the temptation in the Garden itself, and the punishments God meeted out, which clearly go beyond civility and decency when compared to how we deal with our criminals, and our children and our pets.

But your entry here is a first step.

David Wood said...

John,

You say that I haven't studied the issues enough, the implication being that, if only I read another book or two, and think about these things, I will come to the same conclusions as you.

Here you're making the same mistake you always make. You assume that everything is a matter of premises and conclusions. You ignore the fact that you and I, at our very core, are different. You look at the world and say, "Why did God create anything at all, let alone this awful place?" I look at the same world and say, "God doesn't owe us anything, and yet he gave us all this!" You think about free beings and say, "Why would God give us free will if he knew we wouldn't do exactly what he wanted us to do?" I think about the same topic and say, "Wow! God gave us the freedom to choose, knowing full well that we would turn against him. He must consider our choices to be very significant. So we'd better be careful in what choices we make."

You look at the story of the fall and say, "Haw! Haw! That's just a myth!" But then an atheist says to you, "John, the universe exploded out of nowhere for no reason, and life formed out in the ocean by chance," and you reply, "Now that's the sort of convincing explanation I'm looking for!" Regarding your doctrine of origins, I look at practically everything you believe as a myth.

At the end of the day, your attitude is this: "If God does not do the things I want him to do, I will not believe in him." My attitude is that of Job: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15), even if I do try to figure some things out along the way.

We are very, very different, John. Hence, it is a mistake to think that I will agree with you by rethinking issues that I've been thinking about for more than a decade.

Tim said...

30 January 1945

My dearest Chris,

...But partly as a development of my own thought on my lines and work (technical and literary), partly in contact with C.S.L., and in various ways not least the firm guiding hand of Alma Mater Ecclesia, I do not now feel ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'. It has not, of course, historicity of the same kind as the NT, which are virtually contemporary document, while Genesis is seperated by we do not know how many sad exiled generations from the Fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy Earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'. As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of
Sibb, peace and goodwill, and with the thought of its loss. We shall never recover it, for that is not the way of repentance, which works spirally and not in a closed circle; we may recover something like it, but on a higher plane...

-- J. R. R. Tolkien, to his son Christopher

David B. Ellis said...

As just one of many problems with the Fall as a potential solution to the POE, where do you consider animals to fit into the Fall. They do not and cannot sin....and yet they can and so frequently do suffer physical agonies.

David Wood said...

Ellis,

As just one of many problems with atheist responses to theistic proposals, try sticking to the issue for once. We're talking about the Fall of man. I offered four reasons for taking the Fall seriously. And your response is, "What about cats?"

The same thing happens when theists offer a theodicy. In response to moral evil, theists offer a free will theodicy. And atheists reply, "But what about earthquakes?" Well, the theodicy wasn't meant to deal with earthquakes.

Similarly, when we discuss the Fall, we're talking most directly about people, not cats and dogs. Now I do think that animal suffering is related to the Fall, but it bothers me that atheists can't seem to consider a theodicy or a religious doctrine based on what it's meant to explain. You always judge it based on something else you've been thinking about. Should theists be intimidated by such sloppy analysis?

BTW, if you'd like, I'll do a post on the connection between the Fall and animal suffering. But to give an account, I'll need to put it in the context of a specific view of creation. So, take your pick. Shall I present my case as a Young Earth Creationist, as an Old Earth Creationist, or as a Theistic Evolutionist? Your choice.

John W. Loftus said...

David, what about hell? ;-)

David B. Ellis said...


As just one of many problems with atheist responses to theistic proposals, try sticking to the issue for once. We're talking about the Fall of man. I offered four reasons for taking the Fall seriously. And your response is, "What about cats?"


Forgive me but it doesnt seem at all off topic to wonder whether the state of animals changed following the Fall. It is the view of many christians that death and suffering did not exist in God's creation prior the the Fall. That the Fall brought death and suffering (and predation) to the animal world as well as humanity.

Of course, this may not be your view. But then you haven't bothered to explain your view of the Fall in any detail yet. So:

what, in your view, was the state of animals prior to the Fall? Did the Fall alter it?

If it alter it to bring suffering to them I am left to wonder how it is just to cause harm to living beings incapable of sin because the only species capable of moral responsibility sinned.

IF it didn't alter their circumstances and the state of animals was exactly the same prior to the Fall as it is now then I am left to wonder why creation was set up from the beginning to necessarily involve terrible agony for innocent living beings incapable of sin.

In either case it seems very strange. I would be grateful if you would explain---whichever of the two options happen to fit your view of the Fall.

David B. Ellis said...


I'll need to put it in the context of a specific view of creation. So, take your pick. Shall I present my case as a Young Earth Creationist, as an Old Earth Creationist, or as a Theistic Evolutionist? Your choice.


I would prefer you explain it in terms of whichever view you consider most likely to be true. Whichever one that happens to be.

Amy Sayers said...

David,

You didn't say much about the YouTube clip you posted. Stunning!

This girl's parents were atheists and yet at the age of 4 (and onwards) she's had visions of Heaven and God? Along with the positively un-natural ability to paint those visions? (The natural fine motor function of a 4-year old does not even allow the formation of standard letters!)

Do you mean only for this girl's ability to "tell us something of our original state"? Or you do you mean to use it as evidence relating to weak explanatory power of the evolution theory?

John W. Loftus said...

Shall I present my case as a Young Earth Creationist, as an Old Earth Creationist, or as a Theistic Evolutionist? Your choice.

Good question! I think the POE may force upon you to take a very naive view of the creation accounts in Genesis. The problem of animal pain is probably best explained by a literal 6 day creation and a Fall less that a month later.

Choose your poison.

David Wood said...

John,

Nonsense! The Fall is compatible with any view of creation. In fact, I'll go ahead and present a view that is consistent with all three.

Amy, I meant both. If the Fall is correct, we might expect to see glimpses of greatness. That is, the Christian believes we were created in the image of God, but that this image has been marred due to the Fall. But the image of God is still there, and sometimes we see some amazing things.

But if we're the product of chance and natural law, we would hardly expect anything remotely resembling the abilities of this girl.

Stunney said...

It's possible that those animals which suffer great pain are inhabited by evil spirits.

Their bodily suffering is thus God's just punishment for their own fall (as angels.)

I don't believe this myself, but I don't see how one can disprove it.

David Wood said...

Stunney,

If we're only looking for something that can't be disproven, we could just say that suffering is an illusion. I think we can do better than that, however.

David B. Ellis said...


Nonsense! The Fall is compatible with any view of creation. In fact, I'll go ahead and present a view that is consistent with all three.


Great! Of course we know what events triggered the Fall according to Genesis literalists (eating from the Tree of knowledge by Adam and Eve). But I'm very curious to hear what events, in your view, constitute the fall if theistic evolutionism is assumed to be true.

Stunney said...

David Wood,

I was just trying to show that the argument from animal pain isn't airtight. Descartes' denial that animals experience pain and his belief that their pain-like behavior is merely mechanical motion would be another way out of the problem--the illusion route you cite. I don't buy that one either.

I've just had a couple of rat-traps set in my house.

Should I feel guilty of intentional cruelty? (Whether or not I should, I don't.)

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

Would you please articulate why you consider animal suffering a problem?

M.R.

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

Also, please articulate why you assume that the pain animals feel also elucidates suffering. It is a well known fact that pain does not inevitably lead to suffering.

M.R.

David Wood said...

Stunney,

I agree that the argument isn't airtight. In fact, I think it's filled with holes. As Victor Reppert has pointed out, POE is an Atheism-of-the-Gaps argument. If theism has a gap in its explanation of the world, we fill this gap with atheism.

And, if we were to say that animals are inhabited by evil spirits and therefore God allows them to suffer, I don't think we'd be any worse off than atheists when they say that life formed on its own. Both responses rely on a "I can't prove I'm right, but you can't prove I'm wrong" tactic.

The point of seeking stronger responses is that it makes the atheist's lack of explanatory power that much more conspicuous.

David B. Ellis said...


David Ellis,

Would you please articulate why you consider animal suffering a problem?


For the same reason I consider human suffering a problem.....except with animals christians don't claim (so far as I've heard) that animals are sinful and that their suffering is deserved (as is sometimes argued by christians, particularly in regards to the fall).

In other words, I find it implausible to claim that a loving omnipotent being would want or have to create his universe in such a way that extreme suffering is fundamentally unavoidable for vast numbers of innocent beings incapable of moral culpability or sinfulness (not that I think he would have any particular reason to make it that way for beings that sin either).

Imagine for a moment that you are living in a distant future where we are able to create complete virtual environments in a computer and inhabit them with virtual (but conscious and aware) beings.

Would you design it in such a way that living things have to hunt down and kill other living things to survive? Would you create it such that many beings born into it are subjected to horrible diseases and congenital defects and disasters that cause those beings extreme suffering?

I would call the scientist who created such a virtual world a monster. I expect most people would do the same.

So why would you consider it morally acceptable if OUR universe is such an environment....except that its created by a supernatural being using its supernatural powers rather than a scientist using technology?

David B. Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...


David Ellis,

Also, please articulate why you assume that the pain animals feel also elucidates suffering. It is a well known fact that pain does not inevitably lead to suffering.



Well, thats one of the more bizarre statements I've heard in this discussion.

To be in pain is to hurt. It is, by definition, a form of suffering.

Your comment calls to mind the comment Ingersoll once made:

To argue with someone who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead.

Amy Sayers said...

David,

While you're on the topic of animal suffering, and as you are using this blog in part to gather fodder for your larger work, I pass along the following excerpt to be filed in the section that that describes the problem.

The writer is an accomplished woodsmen who, while mushing his sled dog team, comes upon wolves that have captured a doe:

"Wolves do not kills 'clean.' (If there can be such a thing.) It is a slow, ripping, terrible death for the prey and only those who have not seen it will argue for that silly business about the prey actually selecting itself.

Two wolves held the doe by the nose, held her head down to the ice, and the other wolves took turns tearing at her rear end, pulling and jerking and tearing, until they were inside of her, pulling out parts of her and all this time she was still on her feet, still alive.... She was still on her feet though they had the guts out of her now, pulled back on the ice, eating and pulling, and I wanted it to end, wanted it to be over for her."

Gary Paulsen, _Woodsong_

The problem is, obviously, that wolves--among other hunting animals--don't kill their prey in a manner that minimizes the prey's pain. Why, we can hear the skeptic ask, didn't God design wolves to inflict a quick death first before tearing into dinner? Or, if they were not designed to do so, why did the Fall result in this degree of pain for the prey?

Stunney said...

Imagine for a moment that you are living in a distant future where we are able to create complete virtual environments in a computer and inhabit them with virtual (but conscious and aware) beings.

Would you design it in such a way that living things have to hunt down and kill other living things to survive? Would you create it such that many beings born into it are subjected to horrible diseases and congenital defects and disasters that cause those beings extreme suffering?


Another splendid bout of imagination.

What is left conveniently unspecified, however, is precisely how, in the case one chooses to create virtual beings who are designed in such a way that they cannot experience severe pain, the imagined technology actually works to ensure the preferred outcome. It is simply assumed that it can work, somehow. But that is a key issue---the availability to the creator of a genuinely possible and preferable alternative. This availability cannot simply be imagined or assumed.

Many materialist philosophers of mind think that each type of animal conscious state is a necessary concomitant of the relevant animal brain states. They think, in short, that it's logically impossible to have one without the other. Hence, on their view, necessarily (that is, in every possible world in which it exists), a rat-brained creature, say, caught in a rat-trap will experience, well, whatever it's like to be a rat caught in a rat-trap.

If this materialist thesis is true and generalizes to cover the whole animal kingdom, it suggests that it might well be impossible both to have animals exist and to ensure the avoidance of significant animal suffering.

But suppose the animal kingdom's existence is required for the existence of the human race, which is pre-destined to share in God's glory. Then each non-rational animal's life instrumentally shares in this glory, perhaps even especially in its moments of great striving and suffering (as it were heroically), and participates in the groaning and longing---the sheer desire---of all things for the fulfilment of God's plan to reconcile all things in Christ, the heart of creation and who is present in all of creation as its heart, and who as God incarnate, achieved this reconciliation by shedding his infinitely precious blood on the Cross.

Animal pain, thus, is joined to Christ's pain and thus rendered salvific in its own order by a pre-ordained solidarity, willed by the Creator in view of the Fall.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks, Amy, for that reference. I'm revising my book for Prometheus Books, and I plan to include it. It provides meaning to the phrase, "like a pack of wolves." What a horrifying way to die! And animals die like that every second around the world.

This kind of evil is what I call an "empirical refutation" of the existence of Mr. Wood's God. There is no justification for a good God to create it this way, especially when he could've created us all as vegetarians, or even miraculously supplied nutrients to our bodies so we didn't even have to eat--a perpetual miracle, which, as far as we could tell, would've been considered by us to be a natural law. Is God too lazy to do this? Creatures should matter to him more than that, otherwise he simply does not care about his creatures. Q.E.D.

difangle said...

Have you ever noticed when watching animals on nature video's that they don't really scream in pain when they are being eaten by another animal? Even in Woodsong's description of what he saw, he never mentioned the doe screaming in pain the whole time(which would have definatly added effect). Studies have shown that the adrenal glands of animals in the wild are much larger than the animals raised in safer domesticated enviroment. Adrenaline is a pretty amazing natural drug, it can keep you from feeling pain during what would be classified as a extremely painful event.

Also, YHWH did originally create us as vegans(Gen. 1:29).

Peace

David B. Ellis said...


What is left conveniently unspecified, however, is precisely how, in the case one chooses to create virtual beings who are designed in such a way that they cannot experience severe pain, the imagined technology actually works to ensure the preferred outcome. It is simply assumed that it can work, somehow.


We already know, from our own world, that beings can exist that experience little or no pain. That brain states can be altered by various means to eliminate or vastly reduce pain in beings capable of pain. It is, therefore, highly implausible to claim that an environment in which the designer has total control could not create a world free of agony.

David B. Ellis said...


There is no justification for a good God to create it this way, especially when he could've created us all as vegetarians, or even miraculously supplied nutrients to our bodies so we didn't even have to eat--a perpetual miracle, which, as far as we could tell, would've been considered by us to be a natural law. Is God too lazy to do this? Creatures should matter to him more than that, otherwise he simply does not care about his creatures.


Exactly.

David Wood said...

difangle,

I once heard a rat scream while I was beating it to death with a baseball bat. I've also heard mice scream in terror as they saw me about to smash them.

David B. Ellis said...

I grew up on a farm and observed many a bull get castrated.

They showed every sign of being in pain to me.

The observation of the sort of suffering inflicted on farm animals is one of the things that has led me to stop eating meat. It just doesn't seem ethical to me to kill a conscious living being simply because I think its tasty.

Stunney said...

All examples of apparent great suffering such as the doe being eaten alive by wolves assume that the level of pain involved is definitely horrendous. But it seems quite possible that the animal victim goes into a state of somewhat pain-numbing severe shock combined with instinctual reflexes.


even miraculously supplied nutrients to our bodies so we didn't even have to eat

Our bodies are caused to be what they are by the stuff we eat. A human body necessarily has human biochemistry. The human brain needs this biochemistry to function. We know of no other biochemistry that could possibly do the job for our brains, and we know of no other brains that can do what human brains do.

Nutrition obeys the energy conservation law of the universe. Any physicist will explain why this law is important in our understanding of all physical processes. Nutrition processes that would systematically violate this law are inconsistent with any conceivable and intelligible physical order.

The more one studies science, the more one realizes how intricate, orderly, elegant, rationally intelligible and sense-making the physical world is. There seems to be a good scientifically comprehensible reason for everything at every level of the physical order.

I suspect Messrs Loftus and Wood have conception of a god who thinks only in terms of caprice, whim, irrationality, and magic. And since nature doesn't work like that, their god can't be its author.

Nature itself is a miracle (see, for instance, the miraculous science of blood-clotting). But they want a better miracle, without having fully understood the scope and intelligence of the actual laws of nature and without being able to specify scientifically a complete and preferable alternative. In this they are not alone---no-one has ever done so.

Tom and Jerry cartoons are only cartoons for a reason.

Stunney said...

I injured my foot recently precisely because of numbness in it.

A systematic dampening down of the pain response among the animal population might well result in a far higher injury rate among animals.

If we accept evolutionary biology as good science, then there's a good chance the pain responses of higher animals are adaptive. It might well be impossible to have a complex enough brain for consciousness evolve without having a higher level pain response evolve with it. Certainly the concepts of pain and pleasure are intimately tied to the concept of consciousness.

Perhaps what happened with the Fall is that humankind came to consciousness of pain because it came to consciousness of sin. And the consciousness of pain colored the way we look at the world, including the animal world, projecting our own unique type of self-reflective pain-response onto the world around us, and becoming unable to it as good any longer.

David B. Ellis said...


All examples of apparent great suffering such as the doe being eaten alive by wolves assume that the level of pain involved is definitely horrendous. But it seems quite possible that the animal victim goes into a state of somewhat pain-numbing severe shock combined with instinctual reflexes.


One moment you're telling me it may very well not be possible for God to provide humans with natural pain-reducing mechanisms. Then your telling us animals may very well HAVE just such mechanisms.

One could never accuse you of being a slave to consistency.

Stunney said...

That should have read, 'see it as good any longer'.

When thinking about these matters, I often find it useful to assume that there is no God and to ask an atheist scientist why nature is like this and not like that. This process of scientific question-and-answer can include asking what would have had to be true about nature for it have produced systematically different, counterfactual phenomena. As a scientist, s/he seems to have good answers at every step of the way. The world is, in other words, intelligible to scientific reason, and hence to reason as such if we regard scientific reason as truly or paradigmatically rational.

What scientific proponents of the Multiverse theory show us is that one can scientifically conceive of very few natural law sets that are intelligibly consistent with the existence of complex physical life.

Matter and its energetic interactions must be have well defined properties if they are to be meaningful, coherent notions. Likewise living matter and its properties.

What all known science tells us is that there just isn't a lot of conceivable room for maneuver here that would be intelligible to reason.

But theism traditionally tells us that human reason is a reflection of or participates in divine reason. So this lack of intelligible alternatives may be telling us something about a lack of intelligible alternatives even for a supremely rational mind.

Stunney said...

One moment you're telling me it may very well not be possible for God to provide humans with natural pain-reducing mechanisms. Then your telling us animals may very well HAVE just such mechanisms.

One could never accuse you of being a slave to consistency.


There's no inconsistency. I take it you've never been eaten alive by wolves. So you don't know what kind of conscious experience would accompany such an event, either for yourself or for a doe.

And regardless of what it would be like, you don't know of any possible physical nature that would allow for rich forms of conscious experience but have significantly less potential for painful conscious states.

I used the word 'may' in both cases because I recognize that I just don't know what's really possible and what's really necessary.

You, on the other hand, are confident that you do know. I regard your confidence about your modal intuitions as simply unwarranted.

Stunney said...

We already know, from our own world, that beings can exist that experience little or no pain. That brain states can be altered by various means to eliminate or vastly reduce pain in beings capable of pain.

What we don't know is if higher levels of animal consciousness could be systematically shielded from undergoing higher level pain states without adverse consequences. The very existence of the latter pain states suggests their adaptiveness, which in turn suggests their biological utility. Systematically less pain for a given species might result in that species engaging in systematically riskier behaviors.

If a group of animal loving scientists was able to inoculate a species systematically against agonizing pain, it would not surprise me to find that species on the road to extinction. Indeed, many species may have become extinct in the past in part because their pain response was insufficiently strong.

So imagining a systematically different biology of pain may fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.

Certainly, I'm glad I'm not charged with the task of designing a world teeming with a rich variety of complex and conscious life forms.

John W. Loftus said...

Also, YHWH did originally create us as vegans(Gen. 1:29).

According to Paul Copan in That's Just Your Interpretation, pp. 155-157, God created us as meat eaters, despite Genesis 9:3. Look at Psalm 104, and some of the later passages in Job.

John W. Loftus said...

Our bodies are caused to be what they are by the stuff we eat.

So, either God cannot do what I said, or you are ignorant about why he supposedly created the law of predation. Correct?

You say God is omniscient and so you continue to have this blind faith. But I say that if he is so omniscient then he should know to have creadted better, especially when with my limited knowledge I can clearly see better ways to create, like creating us all as one race of people. Hmmm. Vegetarians with one color of skin. Sounds like he could do it easily to me. And look at the amount of suffering that could've been avoided. He must want us to suffer, right?

John W. Loftus said...

Our bodies are caused to be what they are by the stuff we eat.

So, either God cannot do what I said, or you are ignorant about why he supposedly created the law of predation. Correct?

You say God is omniscient and so you continue to have this blind faith. But I say that if he is so omniscient then he should know to have creadted better, especially when with my limited knowledge I can clearly see better ways to create, like creating us all as one race of people. Hmmm. Vegetarians with one color of skin. Sounds like he could do it easily to me. And look at the amount of suffering that could've been avoided. He must want us to suffer, right?

David B. Ellis said...


What we don't know is if higher levels of animal consciousness could be systematically shielded from undergoing higher level pain states without adverse consequences.

and:

And regardless of what it would be like, you don't know of any possible physical nature that would allow for rich forms of conscious experience but have significantly less potential for painful conscious states.


Less potential for painful conscious states does not lessen the capacity for rich forms of conscious experience. We know this because there are human beings with a condition where they lack the ability to percieve pain but, while this condition leaves then in great danger of injury, it does not lessen the richness of their capability to experience life in any detectable way.

difangle said...

D. Wood,

Were the mice screaming in pain or from fear? It seems if they were screaming before you ever hit them then it was more of a fear response. Why do you feel the need to smash little creatures? If it's for rodent control, there are natural methods to deter them from living in your home.

D.Ellis,

How long would the bulls scream after their castration? Your also talking about an animal raised in a relatively safe enviroment verses one that is out in the wild and would be exposed to possible predators. The bull in the more natural enviroment(which imo,is the way it should be)would probally have a higher tolerance for pain.

David Wood said...

difangle,

Critters get stuck on glue traps, and sometimes they're in the process of trying to free themselves when I find them. Thus, I smash them.

David B. Ellis said...


Your also talking about an animal raised in a relatively safe enviroment verses one that is out in the wild and would be exposed to possible predators. The bull in the more natural enviroment(which imo,is the way it should be)would probally have a higher tolerance for pain.


Lets keep this focused on the POE. Its indisputable that animals suffer---whether they have better pain dampening abilities than domestic animals and humans or not. That our natural world is set up as one involving predation. Obviously this is not a kind process. Equally obviously this is not the only option available for an omnipotent being.

So why set it up that way?

Stunney said...

So, either God cannot do what I said, or you are ignorant about why he supposedly created the law of predation. Correct?

I don't know if what you said makes any scientific sense or how it could possibly work. I don't know what the mechanism is supposed to be. If, upon having a non -predatory mechanism for nutrition of living material beings fully specified, I'd perhaps be in a position to say whether it's really logically possible or not, and hence whether it's something God could instantiate. Given a specific definition of the full properties of living matter, certain things might well be logically impossible for living matter with those properties.

What we know about actual living matter reveals it to have extremely complex properties. And for all I know, this complexity may be essential to living matter. I certainly don't know how to make different or better DNA. I've no idea what the possibilities are. But once you start assigning definite properties to a thing, then logic rules out it having incompatible properties. Doing this for a whole universe of properties while maintainng consistency and generating rich forms of conscious life is no simple matter.

You say God is omniscient and so you continue to have this blind faith. But I say that if he is so omniscient then he should know to have creadted better, especially when with my limited knowledge I can clearly see better ways to create,

Well, I already invited you to publish your superior thoughts on how the world should have been made. But forgive me for not just taking your word for it that your thoughts really will prove to be superior when subjected to serious scientific scrutiny.

Stunney said...

Obviously this is not a kind process. Equally obviously this is not the only option available for an omnipotent being.

There's nothing equally obvious about it, because we have no idea how living matter could function without predation.

David B. Ellis said...

For an omnipotent being, it would function any way he chooses for it to function. You can try to make it out that an omnipotent being has all these implausible limitations but I don't think even your fellow believers are buying that one.

Stunney said...

For an omnipotent being, it would function any way he chooses for it to function.

I doubt this omnipotent being could make cyanide nutritious for babies. So that's one limitation.

And we can go on from there.

Gold bars for breakfast? Doubtful.

Living matter has certain essential properties.

You can either demonstrate that an alternative form of conscious living matter, with different properties, is viable and superior, all things considered; or you can continue doing comic book anti-theism.

difangle said...

"According to Paul Copan in That's Just Your Interpretation, pp. 155-157, God created us as meat eaters, despite Genesis 9:3. Look at Psalm 104, and some of the later passages in Job."

Gen. 1:29 is the original diet before sin entered the pic, it predates Gen. 9, Psalms 104, and Job. Some believe that YHWH allowed for meat consumption b/c man was sinful and already doing it anyway. If you look at our digestive tracts and compare them to a carnivore's, they're very different. Our's is very long and causes meat to sit in our guts and putrify(enviroment for disease) for a long time, whereas the carnivore has a very short tract with very short transit time.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

In other words, I find it implausible to claim that a loving omnipotent being would want or have to create his universe in such a way that extreme suffering is fundamentally unavoidable for vast numbers of innocent beings incapable of moral culpability or sinfulness (not that I think he would have any particular reason to make it that way for beings that sin either).

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

Notice that ellis is trying to play both sides of the fence. Are animals moral agents or amoral organisms?

If they're amoral, then they can't be "innocent." "Innocence" is a quality of a moral agent, just like guilt.

Conversely, if they are innocent, then they are moral agents rather than amoral organisms.

If animals are amoral, then they can't be wronged. No injustice is done them when they suffer.

So ellis has created a dilemma for himself.

mrieder said...

Hello David B. Ellis,

You Wrote:

Well, thats one of the more bizarre statements I've heard in this discussion.

To be in pain is to hurt. It is, by definition, a form of suffering.

Your comment calls to mind the comment Ingersoll once made:

To argue with someone who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead.


You are confusing physical pain with psychological pain. You are switching positions, moving goalposts. In one instance you refer to physical pain, then when it is convenient, you revert to psychological pain.

Psychological pain is suffering. Physical pain, the kind of pain we were and are discussing in this forum is absolutely not. You are trying to move the goalposts on me but it will not work.

Yes, some pain is a subset of suffering, but not all pain is a subset of suffering. There are types of pain that make people happy.

I am by no means an expert in neurology, but I do know enough to show you how suffering and pain are clearly different physiological processes.

Pain is the reception of noxious stimuli in the post-central gyrus of the parietal lobe of your brain. Suffering, on the other hand, is a more complicated response to a given stimuli. Suffering appears to occur primarily in the cingulate gyrus, a separate anatomical structure from the post-central gyrus. The stimuli which causes suffering can be pain, but the stimuli can also be emotional, from the limbic system, or cognitive, from the frontal areas, in origin.

Furthermore noxious stimuli received and processed by your post-central gyrus does not have to result in suffering. Athletes describe a "good hurt" when they are working out. I have experienced this very phenomenon myself. When I am nearing the end of a set of bicep dumbell curls, my muscles are causing me pain because of the buildup of metabolic byproducts. These metabolic byproducts cause neural impulses to be transmitted to the post-central gyrus of my brain and are interpreted there as noxious.

Contrary to your assertion, this does not automatically produce suffering because the cognitive areas in my frontal lobe tell me that this feeling means that my muscles are being challenged and will hypertrophy due to the stress put on them. This makes me happy because I want to look good for my wife.

In this case, noxious stimuli (pain) actually causes happiness and a feeling of success. Any athlete or bodybuilder can vouch for the existence of "good pain" or "good hurt". I am sure you must have heard the expression "it's a good hurt." This is not just a joke. There really is such thing as a good hurt. Pain does not necessarily lead to suffering.

In summary, I have explained the neurological basis of pain and shown how it is different than the neurological basis of suffering. Then I gave an example of empirical evidence to support my assertion that pain does not necessarily lead to suffering.

Can you do the same to support your assertion?

I assure you, I have not abandoned reason, and we can still have meaningful discussions.



*** To the neurologists out there: I know that not all pain is integrated in the post-central gyrus, but I am simplifying for the sake of brevity and simplicity.

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

I have one other comment and I post it separately because it is utterly separate from the previous one.

Your quote was clearly intended to destroy my credibility by insinuating that I am an unreasonable person. This is commonly known as an insult. It is a well established fact that such verbal slanders lead to suffering.

The irony of the situation is palpable.

Here you are, heart-a-bleeding for the suffering cats of the world, yet you do not hesitate to inflict psychological suffering on me, your fellow human being. Why did you do it? You did it because I said something you disagreed with. Did I slander you? No. Did I attack you? No. I asked a reasonable question followed by a supporting fact to clarify the question.

So, if you condemn God for allowing suffering to occur then how can you avoid condemning yourself for willfully, and unnecessarily causing suffering to me?

I recognize that this does not debunk your intellectual position, but it is really, really funny!

Cheers,

M.R.

David Wood said...

I haven't read all of the comments, but I noticed that mrieder is drawing a distinction between pain and suffering. He's completely in line with philosophers in this field, who make the same distinction for the same reasons.

Stunney said...

Suppose drug 1 treats pain type A

Suppose drug 2 treats pain type B

John has both A and B

Now suppose the interaction of drugs 1 and 2 creates pain type C

Hence making drugs 1 and 2 natural products of John's body is problematic.

Drugs work because they have certain physical properties which have a causal impact on the physical properties of certain kinds of living organisms. They only have this impact because of the actual laws of nature which specify the full range of possible causal interactions of all kinds of physical properties.

To get different physical properties and/or different causal interactions between physical properties, one needs to have different laws governing physical nature. But instantiating any law necessitates its own consequences and rules out contradictory consequences. For example, the law of gravity necessitates unsecured mountaineers falling off a mountain in certain circumstances and rules out their being able float in mid-air. But the law of gravity also prevents mountaineers from floating off into airless space.

A complex world will require a complex nature. And as the simple painful John and mountaineer examples above suggest, it is not at all easy, once one starts to think about it in earnest, how to design natural laws and natural property interactions in a logically coherent way while avoiding the possibility of great harm to finite physical living beings.

steve said...

Notice how ellis selectively and one-sidedly expands the original topic. He wants to extend it to animal suffering.

However, if David Wood were to ask him how he, as an atheist, can ground possible worlds, ellis would refuse to expand the discussion in that direction—even though the debate over morally superior alternative assumes the existence of possible worlds.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"Lets keep this focused on the POE. Its indisputable that animals suffer---whether they have better pain dampening abilities than domestic animals and humans or not."

That is not indisputable on secular grounds. What about Nagel's argument about the irreducible, first-person viewpoint? What about the Churchlands on folks psychology?

Ellis wants to limit discussion to apparent problems with theism while conveniently excluding parallel problems with atheism. This is an arbitrary and self-serving restriction.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"We already know, from our own world, that beings can exist that experience little or no pain. That brain states can be altered by various means to eliminate or vastly reduce pain in beings capable of pain. It is, therefore, highly implausible to claim that an environment in which the designer has total control could not create a world free of agony."

Two problems;

i) He hasn't shown that this is viable as a general policy.

ii) It's irrelevant to the argument from evil. He needs to identify instances of *gratuitous* evil.

iii) Even if there were a better possible world that the present world, that would not make the argument from evil sound.

The salient distinction is not between good and better, but between gratuitous or non-gratuitous evil. Keep your eye on the bouncing ball.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...
"For an omnipotent being, it would function any way he chooses for it to function. You can try to make it out that an omnipotent being has all these implausible limitations but I don't think even your fellow believers are buying that one."

Where is he getting his definition of omnipotence? Is this his seat-of-the-pants definition, or is it a definition used by philosophical theologians like Geach, van Inwagen, Wierenga, Mavrodes, &c.?

Why should David Wood feel that he must respond to the imposition of a non-standard definition of omnipotence?

mrieder said...

Stunney,

I found an interesting website that deals with alternate physical realities. Apparently M-theory predicts the possibility of such realities. This link explains a way to understand the different dimensions of M-theory with relatively little pain or suffering (couldn't resist that little joke!) and is very interesting and entertaining.

Here is the link:

http://www.tenthdimension.com/flash2.php

Hope you like it,

M.R.

mrieder said...

Steve,

I know your question was rhetorical, but I am going to answer it anyway for no apparent reason.

The best way for the POE to work against theism is for God to have an absolute type of omnipotence that transcends even the boundaries of logic and rationality.

The problem with a universe that is not based on logic and rationality is that it would be illogical and irrational and all sorts of ridiculous things would happen and, guess what...lead to suffering for any rational logical being. So the only way to fix that is to make the being irrational and illogical, but why on earth would any rational being want to create an irrational illogical reality inhabited by irrational illogical beings. It would all be quite meaningless. I know that if I were the supreme being I would choose not to create a irrational meaningless jumble of a reality.

Cheers,
M.R.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...
I grew up on a farm and observed many a bull get castrated.

They showed every sign of being in pain to me.

The observation of the sort of suffering inflicted on farm animals is one of the things that has led me to stop eating meat. It just doesn't seem ethical to me to kill a conscious living being simply because I think its tasty.

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

Very touching. I assume that, in moral and rational consistency, ellis is equally opposed to, say, late term abortion and infanticide (pace Peter Singer).

mrieder said...

David Wood,

Thanks for the reassurance, I was stunned to hear that there was someone who really did not distinguish between pain and suffering. I also would like to thank you for creating this blog. It has helped me think about the POE in much greater detail and in new ways. There are many people who post here who teach me many things and I am thankful for it.

Keep up the good work,

M.R.

steve said...

As long as commenters insist on changing the subject, perhaps David Wood should revise his policy. He will answer an off-topic question if and only if the commenter agrees to answer an off-topic question from David.

So, for example, if David does a post on human suffering in relation to original sin, and commenters want to pepper him with questions about animal suffering, they would have to answer his questions about the possibility, or not, of secular ethics.

steve said...

mrieder said...
Steve,

I know your question was rhetorical, but I am going to answer it anyway for no apparent reason.

The best way for the POE to work against theism is for God to have an absolute type of omnipotence that transcends even the boundaries of logic and rationality.

The problem with a universe that is not based on logic and rationality is that it would be illogical and irrational and all sorts of ridiculous things would happen and, guess what...lead to suffering for any rational logical being. So the only way to fix that is to make the being irrational and illogical, but why on earth would any rational being want to create an irrational illogical reality inhabited by irrational illogical beings. It would all be quite meaningless. I know that if I were the supreme being I would choose not to create a irrational meaningless jumble of a reality.

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

The problem with the Cartesian definition of omnipotence is that, under that definition, you can no longer propose a *logical* alternative to the actual world.

But this does point out the difficulties with unrestrictive definitions of omnipotence.

And, no, my question was not rhetorical. The definition of omnipotence is a serious issue in philosophical theology. Ellis needs to come to terms with that.

Stunney said...

Thanks, M.R.


I read Brian Greene's book THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE a while back. All very interesting stuff.

“A major outstanding problem is that most quantum field theories predict a huge cosmological constant from the energy of the quantum vacuum. This would need to be cancelled almost, but not exactly, by an equally large term of the opposite sign. Some supersymmetric theories require a cosmological constant that is exactly zero, which further complicates things. This is the cosmological constant problem, the worst problem of fine-tuning in physics: there is no known natural way to derive the infinitesimal cosmological constant observed in cosmology from particle physics.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_constant#Cosmological_constant_problem

This problem is also discussed by Lisa Randall in her new book. She finds it a very disturbing problem. The cosmological constant, also known as ‘vacuum energy’ and as ‘dark energy’, has a measured value that is incredibly tiny, but not zero. Now here’s the problem: unless it had this tiny, positive, but non-zero value, we would not exist. Yet as Randall notes, there is no way to derive this value from any known law of physics, and the odds against it just having this value by sheer chance are practically nil.

This is recognized by two leading physicists, Weinberg and Susskind, among others. Their answer is essentially to go the multiverse route, arguing that if there is a practically infinite number of separate universes or spacetime regions, then in one of them the cosmological constant would take the value it is observed to have in our universe. Randall, however, is clearly uncomfortable with this proposal, to which she gives the name (somewhat idiosyncratically), ‘the anthropic principle’. What she clearly is referring to is the multiverse idea. She writes:

“These string theorists don’t think that string [physics] uniquely predicts the vacuum energy. They believe that the cosmos houses many different disconnected regions with different values of the vacuum energy, and we live in the portion of the cosmos that contains the right one. Of the many possible universes, only the one that can give rise to structure could (and does) contain us. Those physicists think that we live in a universe with such an incredibly unlikely value for the vacuum energy because any larger value would have prevented the formation of galaxies and structure in the universe—and hence prevented us.
“This reasoning has a name: the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle diverges substantially from the original string theory goal of predicting all the features of the universe. It says that we don’t have to explain the small energy. Disconnected universes with many possible values of the vacuum energy exist, but we live in one of the few where structure can form. The value of the energy in this universe is ridiculously small, and only exceptional versions of string theory would predict this miniscule value, but we could exist only in a universe with miniscule [vacuum] energy. This principle might be discredited by future advances, or it could be vindicated by more thorough investigations.
"Unfortunately, however, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to test. A world in which the anthropic principle is the answer [i.e. an explanation of the observed value of vacuum energy by means of it being selected as one of a practically infinite range of values all existing in different parts of a multiverse] would certainly be a disappointing and not very satisfying scenario.”


(WARPED PASSAGES, by Lisa Randall, page 300.)

So there you have it. Physics has now reached the nadir of positing, in a desperate and amusingly ironic attempt to explain the empirical data, a practically infinite number of physically unobservable entities as part of an untestable hypothesis, so as to avoid positing one unobservable transcendent reality endowed with reason, and responsible for the existence of the universe, us, the precise mathematical order that governs both, and the authentic moral and religious experience of humankind.

Can anyone say, Ockham’s Razor?

Stunney said...

The problem with the Cartesian definition of omnipotence is that, under that definition, you can no longer propose a *logical* alternative to the actual world.

It's worse than that for the atheist.

A God who was omnipotent in a Cartesian sense could make it the case that the POE conclusion didn't follow from the POE premises, or indeed any premises whatsoever.

David Wood said...

Harry Frankfurt once wrote an interesting two-page article on divine omnipotence. It went something like this.

(1) The theist says that God is omnipotent.

(2) The atheist then says, "Well, could God create a rock so big that he couldn't lift it?"

(3) The theist responds, "God can't do things that involve a contradiction" (a "rock so big that an omnipotent being couldn't lift it" would involve a contradiction).

(4) The atheist retorts, "You mean there are things that God can't do? Then what's all this talk of omnipotence?

(5) Here Frankfurt jumps in. He says that, so long as the atheist believes that an omnipotent being can perform contradictions, there is no problem. Could God create a rock so big that an omnipotent being couldn't lift it? Of course he could. Then God, the omnipotent being who can perform contradictions, could go ahead and lift the rock that even he couldn't lift.

Hence, if atheists don't want to accept limits to omnipotence, then all problems go away. For instance, think about the problem of evil. The atheist argues that, since there is evil, God is either not omnipotent, not omniscient, or not wholly good. But in a world where God can perform contradictions, we could just say that God is both wholly good and not wholly good, both omnipotent and not omnipotent, both omniscient and not omniscient. Or we could just say that suffering is both gratuitous and not gratuitous, or that suffering is both evil and not evil.

mrieder said...

Stunney,

Wow! Just....stinking....wow! I am definitely going to get my hands on that book.

Also you said:

t's worse than that for the atheist.

A God who was omnipotent in a Cartesian sense could make it the case that the POE conclusion didn't follow from the POE premises, or indeed any premises whatsoever.


I have used this very defense in a similar discussion. It is very effective.

What is your area of study, stunney. I am curious.

Cheers,

M.R.

Stunney said...

I earlier wrote:

I doubt this omnipotent being could make cyanide nutritious for babies. So that's one limitation.

It's important to be clear as to what's being said here.

What's being said is that, for any X, and for any Y, if X has the properties that cyanide has and Y has the properties that human babies have, then there is no possible world W in which X is nutritious for Y.

If an omnipotent being can only do what is logically possible, then it is no lessening of its omnipotence that it can't actualize W.

Now let's consider brains. Suppose the only way for a physical being to be conscious and intelligent is to have a brain. That is, for any X, there is no possible world W in which X is a conscious physical and X has no brain.

Then, an omnipotent being could not actualize W. And it's worth noting that many materialist philosophers accept the thesis that it's impossible to be a brainless conscious physical thing. In fact I'd say this the majority view among contemporary philosophers.

Now, what kind of physical universe might be necessary for the existence of brains?

This requires rational thinking about physical things, which is what we call science. Science tells us that not just any kind of universe is compatible with the existence of brains. As noted in a previous post of mine, the cosmological constant has to be very fine-tuned. And I presume many other things have to be fine-tuned too, otherwise your universe will turn out brainless (given the defining and essential physical properties of brains).

Previously, I mentioned the law of energy conservation. It is logically implied by this law that physical laws do not change over time. In a world where the conservation law did not hold, the physical laws of that world might well change over time. It is a very serious question as to whether stable brain-based rationality would be possible in such a world.

And so on and so forth...

John W. Loftus said...

What about hell? ;-)

Rich said...

Its sounding better all the time John:)