Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If there is no evolution, then nature demands that God is cruel

But when I claim that the God of the Biblical literalists is cruel, I’m not using Biblical passages to support my case (at least not directly). Instead I find support for this claim in nature itself.

Before elaborating on my answer, it must be mentioned that many creationists cite as one of the reasons that they refuse to accept evolution is that Darwinian evolution itself and the inherent cruelty that results from that evolution implies that God is a cruel individual.

The famous evolutionary scientist, Dr. Stephen J. Gould, found this letter in the New York Times on November 3, 1996:

…The problem of pain and suffering in a world created by a God who is all love and light is hard enough to bear, even if one is a creationist. But at least a creationist can say that the original creation, coming from the hand of God was good, harmonious, innocent and gentle. What can one say about evolution, even a spiritual theory of evolution? Pain and suffering, mindless cruelty and terror are its means of creation. Evolution's engine is the grinding of predatory teeth upon the screaming, living flesh and bones of prey.… If evolution be true, my faith has rougher seas to sail."

I will argue that accepting evolution makes it easier, rather than more difficult, to accept a kind and loving God. But I am compelled to point out one additional thing before doing so: for all practical purposes, biological evolution is analogous to the free enterprise economic system (i.e. capitalism). It involves competition to survive and propagate. Therefore cruelty – through economic factors including loss of jobs – can result and extinctions (businesses closing down) are common. If Adam Smith had ever heard the phrase “survival of the fittest” he would have surely adopted it and written about it in his book.

But I’ve never met a creationist who wasn’t also an advocate of capitalism. Neither have I heard them wringing their hands over the “inherent cruelty” of that economic system. All of which makes me think that their sensibilities are somewhat less affected by things that don’t make them review their own interpretation of the Bible.

The basic premise of my argument is that nature is undeniably, indisputably cruel. Very cruel. This has been well known for a very long time.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem titled “In Memorium” in 1850, nearly a decade before Darwin's "The Origin of Species" was published, which contains this verse:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

Of course the message in the phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ is quite obvious.

Creationists insist that God created everything in the natural world. So the question is: how was nature created? Was it done directly by God? Or was it created indirectly through a natural process created by God?

If direct actions were employed, then God is cruel. If an indirect process was used, then there are no moral implications regarding the character of God.

Nearly everything in life can have both good and bad effects. Automobiles have the good effect of allowing people to move relatively quickly, efficiently and comfortably over distances that our ancestors could not imagine. But automobiles also cause pollution and, even more seriously, contribute to injuries and even the deaths of thousands of people every year including children.

Is an automobile a moral or an immoral thing?

Actually, it is neither. It is morally neutral. It is a thing or a process that can be used for both good and bad. Therefore someone who designs or constructs an automobile is performing neither a moral nor an immoral activity.

The same sort of argument can be made for many of the things that appear in the natural world. Fire has both good and bad effects. Electricity has both good and bad effects.

Even something like gravity has both good and bad effects, though we don’t tend to consider the bad effects.

Without gravity our universe would be chaotic. We would not be able to stay “attached” to the Earth and the Earth itself would leave its orbit around the Sun and head towards deep space. In fact, we would not even have stars or planets without gravity. Surely those aspects of gravity are good.

But gravity has bad effects as well. It kills people in falls every day. Even small children are injured with skinned knees and even broken bones from falls, some are even killed, all caused by gravity. But no one would call gravity "immoral".

Therefore, scientific laws and principles are morally neutral.

On the other hand, if someone uses an automobile specifically to perform an evil or reprehensible act, then that person is engaging in an immoral activity. For example, a suicide car bomber is immoral. The bomber’s actions would not be possible without the automobile, but it is the bomber who is fully responsible for his or her own actions.

Similarly, someone who deliberately pushes someone off of a building to their death is acting immorally. That person’s actions would not result in death, and possibly not even in injuries, without gravity, but it is still the person’s actions and not gravity that bear the moral burden.

The moral point that should be made is that a person who creates something that can ONLY be used to cause pain and suffering in performing an immoral action. The person who creates the bomb used as a car bomb may use components (including the automobile) which are morally neutral, but the bomb itself has only one purpose – killing and dismembering human beings. That is an evil act and the person performing the action of creating the bomb is acting immorally.

I expect that we can agree on those points.

In that context, it should be asked – if God created evolution, is God performing an evil or immoral action?

Surely he is not performing either.

However, according to creationists: God directly created all forms of life on Earth. All life forms are simply differently “created kinds”. They were all created in their current form (with minor modifications) from their form in the Garden of Eden.

If that is in fact the case, then God is cruel indeed for God is directly responsible for many of the things that contribute to the pain and suffering that we see in nature.

There are scientists who call themselves "parisitologists". They study parasites.

They study all parasites: parasitic worms including tapeworms, thorny-headed worms, flukes, roundworms, horse-hair worms, microscopic protozoans, ticks and mites, leeches, fleas, flies, nest parasites in birds and even vertebrate parasites like the Lamprey.

This list only begins to identify the vast number of parasites. The web site for the American Society of Parasitologists[1] gives estimates for the total number of species of animals and the number of species of parasites and summarizes with this statement:

"Therefore, using simple math, it is obvious that there exist many more species of parasites than free-living animals and plants!"

Imagine that! There are more species of parasites in the world than free-living animals and plants.

Of course many, though admittedly not all, parasites cause pain, suffering and even death in their hosts.

The specific parasite whose behavior was commented on by Charles Darwin was the parasitic wasp. There are over 200 species of such wasps and they comprise many different taxonomic ‘Super Families’.

Their behavior in all species is effectively the same: they sting their prey (consisting largely of caterpillars, worms and grubs) but only to paralyze them. They then lay their eggs inside the prey and as the eggs hatch the larvae digest the internal organs of the still-living victim.

Charles Darwin was struck by the cruelty of such organisms and stated his feelings in a letter to Asa Gray written in 1860:

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.”

It is an arguable point whether or not caterpillars feel pain, but that argument over this specific parasite misses the point. In the science fiction movie “Aliens” (starring Sigourney Weaver) an alien life form did a very similar thing in humans apparently, according to the movie, without the human feeling pain except when the alien emerged. The cruelty of the alien’s actions was shocking. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie’s screenwriter didn’t get the idea for this behavior from these parasitic wasps.)

More to the point, there are parasites which really do cause pain in suffering in animals that do feel pain – heart worms in dogs for example.

Parasites undeniably exist. Some undeniably cause pain and suffering. Since there are more species of parasites than there are species of free-living organisms, it also seems undeniable that there are at least as many “kinds” of parasites as there are “kinds” of animals.

So where do they come from?

Heartworms are particularly perplexing. They are spread from host to host by mosquitoes – yet another type of parasite. What conceivable form of “created kind” could these worms have evolved from? They can only exist without other parasites that evidently have also changed through micro-evolution or some similar process since the Garden of Eden. (It’s really difficult to imagine mosquitoes in a perfect place.)

Evolution and Biblical literalism provide contradictory answers.

People who argue in favor of evolution are not obligated to believe in a cruel God. Instead God just created a process which, as we’ve already discussed, is by itself morally neutral. Both good and bad things come from it just as good and bad things come from obvious physical laws such as gravity.

But the Biblical literalist believes that the various “kinds” of organisms on Earth were ALL “designed” by God! God designed every single one; even the ones that seem to have only one purpose – to create pain and suffering.

By our previous discussion, that makes God cruel.

When confronted with this argument, what do creationists have to say?

Here’s a typical answer to the question of how this cruelty in nature came about:

> Man Chose it.
> God gave man a choice. Eat from that tree and you will be
> transformed, you will not only KNOW good, but you will also KNOW
> evil and everything which goes with it, including death. Don’t eat
> from the tree and you will only know GOOD, and remain alive.

Then there is this response from another creationist expressing the same idea in a bit more detail:

> Evil, according to the Scripture, including diseases, predation,
> parasitism, death of "soulish creatures" (plants were created
> as food and there may be other creatures, such as plankton
> and possibly insects, that fall into similar categories), misuse
> of God's gifts and human pride, are all a result of the Fall.
> The fact that creatures seem equipped for predation and avoiding
> predation could be related to God's foreknowledge or a major
> change in their nature when "all nature groaned." Mosquitoes
> could have subsisted on nectar, malaria could have been a free
> living organism and grizzly bears, like pandas, eat only vegetable
> matter.

That argument is no help for the creationist cause. It is not just man that is punished by the cruelty in nature; animals suffer pain and suffering as well. With the very arguable exception of the snake, none of these animals played any part in the fall of man. They are completely innocent. So why are they being punished? Only a cruel being punishes innocent animals.

One of my sons has his own dog. If my son misbehaves, is it reasonable for me to go over and kick his dog? Of course not! But that is very analogous to the behavior that God is exhibiting if the argument given by creationists.

Zebras in Africa would seem to be innocent bystanders, at worst, of the fall of Adam. Yet it is often the case that if a zebra is brought down by a pride of lions, the lions will begin to eat the zebra while it is still alive.

Imagine, if you will, an alternative scenario. When a pride of lions approaches a herd of zebras, the oldest and feeblest of them instinctively leaves the herd and walks towards the lions. As the lions close in, the zebra has a heart attack and dies instantaneously and painlessly. Surely that is less cruel than what we see in nature. Wouldn’t a kind and just God who didn’t want to unnecessarily torture innocent animals choose a kinder mechanism that being eaten alive?

Moreover, what mechanism allowed this to happen? Where did heartworms come from for example? If they were something different in the Garden of Eden, what was that thing? Even hypothetically, what was the “created kind” that turned into heartworms? Heartworms are transported by another parasite – mosquitoes. How did all of this work together to allow heartworms to exist?

I consider this to be an important point and one that is supported by a number of people with better theological and scientific credentials than I have.

Francisco Ayala is a very distinguished scientist. He is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (School of Biological Sciences), Professor of Philosophy, (School of Humanities), and Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science (School of Social Sciences) at the University of California, Irvine. He has also served as President and Chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2002 President George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science.But he is also a trained theologian. He was born in Madrid and educated in a religious school there where he received a degree in theology. When he came to the US he was a bit surprised to find that people - creationists - argued that evolution worked against Christian theology. As Ayala puts it:

"In my theological studies, evolution had been perceived as a friend, not an enemy, of the Christian faith."

Ayala goes into more detail with these words[2]:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?"--David HumeHume nicely summarizes one of theology's oldest dilemmas. Here I contend that the theory of evolution actually helps reconcile a large chunk of the problem of evil.Christian theology basically recognizes three types of evil: (1) moral evil, (2) pain and suffering, and (3) physical evil. Moral evil, or sin, is the result of free will. Theologians recognize that in order for humans to enter into a truly personal relationship with God, they must experience some degree of freedom. Without sin, there could not be virtue - it is impossible to do good without the capacity for evil. Likewise, pain and suffering are the result of free will. War and other human wrongdoing (like, say, slavery) happen because people chose to inflict harm on one another. However, there are also good deeds whereby people chose to alleviate human pain and suffering.But what about droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other physical catastrophes? What about cruelty of nature? What about parasites that live only by destroying their hosts, or the carnivore's hunger for flesh, or the venom of a snake, or biological disease? These things are considered physical evils and were a problem for theologians for a long time because, even allowing for the evil associated with free will, there is an awful lot associated with the creation that does not seem to reflect the image of a perfect creator. Enter science. Since the enlightenment, we have known that the way galaxies form, that planets move, and that weather and storms operate are the result of natural processes that have been built into the structure of the world itself. They are not specifically designed by God for punishing or rewarding mankind. Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, therefore, were instrumental in explaining the real cause of physical evils.In the same way, Darwin explained that predators, parasites, and disease were a consequence of evolution. They were not a result of deficient or malevolent design because these aspects of organisms were not designed by the creator. ...God, in His mercy, had to severely limit His contact with the creation following the fall because, once we became intertwined with sin, the perfect nature of God would have destroyed us on contact. The violence and heartlessness of nature are the result of God's necessary void that was brought about by our fall, not the result of God Himself. Therefore, I thank Darwin for his gift to science and religion."

In response to all of this, creationists will wave their arms and talk about micro-evolution and “kinds” and the fall of man and all of their other contradictory arguments. But if you really scrutinize what they say, you must conclude that God is cruel if evolution isn’t true.

[1] http://asp.unl.edu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=51&Itemid=1 referenced on 08/31/2007
[2] http://mckaybailey.blogspot.com/2008/10/darwin-and-theology.html, referenced on November 26, 2008

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