Thursday, June 25, 2015
Creationism and Intelligent Design
The following is my extended analysis of creationism and intelligent design. You can download a PDF by clicking here or read the full writing on my blog by clicking "Read more" below.
Creationism and Intelligent Design
W.J. Holly, Ph.D.
Creationists sometimes complain that they are victims of religious discrimination when they are denied equal time alongside Evolution in biology classes. They cry that their right to academic freedom is being abridged (cf. Ben Stein). However, court cases that deny Creationism equal time in science classes typically hold that Creationism is a religious view, not a rival scientific theory. So, they say, Creationism does not merit equal (or any) time in a science class. Nevertheless, many fundamentalist Christians and Jews believe that Evolution is a false rival to their view, and they seem eager to do honest battle in the arena of ideas. So, in the following, I propose to explain how I think they would fare.
So, how would Creationism and Intelligent Design theory fare as scientific rivals to the theory of evolution? Very little imagination is required to answer this because we have an historical answer to the question. Indeed, Creationism was the received view when Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, and Evolution (not Creationism) was the view that people tried to exclude from biology classes. Do Creationists not remember that Scopes was on trial for teaching Evolution, not for teaching Creationism? But, despite the fact that Creationism was the received view, its claims simply got whittled away by increasing knowledge in geology, paleontology, biology, genetics, physics, astronomy, and so on.
The gradual accumulation of scientific knowledge simply proved that many parts of the Creation story are scientifically untenable, demonstrably false. That is to say, Creationism was eliminated as a rival to Evolution because there is massive and overwhelming evidence against several of its major factual claims. And, what of the “theory” of Intelligent Design, recently revived by Creationists? This theory of Intelligent Design was utterly destroyed by David Hume in his Dialogues on Natural Religion more than a century before Darwin proposed his theory of evolution. Let us now examine these two views in turn:
I. Creationism as a Scientific Theory:
Creationism is not simply the view that God made everything. It is a Fundamentalist view, the view that the Holy Bible was written by God, and that it is the literal and infallible word of God. It is the view that the first few pages of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, provides a literal and infallible account of the order in which God made the earth, the sun and moon and stars, plants and animals, and such.
Some philosophers have argued that Creationism fails to be a scientific theory because it is not testable. Karl Popper and Positivists like A.J. Ayer argue that to be a scientific theory, and even to be factually meaningful, a theory must make claims that could be confirmed or falsified by observation and experiment. Some of the claims of Creationism, for example the claim that in the beginning God said “Let there be light,” would be difficult to verify or falsify. On these grounds, then, we might deny that Creationism is a scientific theory. Nevertheless, Creationism does make many factual claims that can be tested, that have been tested, and that have been proven to be false. So, at least part of Creationism has been falsified -- refuted.
Some Fundamentalists have claimed that finding even one factual error in the Bible would suffice to disqualify the whole Bible by showing that it is not the word of God. If disqualifying the entire Bible were that easy, then it already has been done: Spinoza noted that the Bible (1 Kings 23) wrongly claims that the circumference of a circle is three times its diameter. Many in the ancient world believed this about circles, and they were wrong (Close, but no cigar). But, if God were the author of this passage, perhaps He knew it was an irrational number and was just quietly rounding it for us -- perhaps He even knew the value of Pi to infinity (whatever such knowledge might be), but the passage itself contains no indication that the authors knew the value they gave was only an approximation.
Thomas Paine, in Footnote 18, pp. 132-133 of the Age of Reason (1794) provides a less well known example of a contraction in the Bible. In First Samuel 16, we are told a story of how Saul came to know and love (the future King) David. In this first story, Saul was troubled by an evil spirit, so he told his servants to find him a man who could play the harp well; and when they brought David to Saul, he loved him greatly, and made David his armor-bearer. However, in the very next chapter (17) we are treated to the wonderful story of how David slew Goliath; but this story ends with Saul not knowing who David was when he saw him go forth and slay Goliath. Nor did Saul's captain know who David was. Surely Saul would have known who David was if David was his harpist and his armor-bearer. The footnote in the Westminster Study Edition of the King James Bible explains this inconsistency by noting that the authors were using different source materials for the different passages. This is to admit that the authors were using sources that were inconsistent with one another, and that they did not know which source (if either) was correct! In any event, since it is impossible for two conflicting accounts both to be true, then at least one must be in error, and thus the fundamentalist claim that the Bible contains no errors has been refuted.
So, which Creationist claims have been refuted by modern science? The first several verses of Genesis claim that God created the earth in six days, and tell us what He created on each of those six days (see the Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible, Authorized King James version), Genesis 1:1 to 2:3):
Day One: God created the heavens and the earth, and He created light which he separated from the darkness. He called the light Day and called the darkness Night. And, evening and morning were one day. (Note: Few of these verses actually say that God created anything. While the first verse does say that God created the heavens and the earth, it is more common to find the following manner of expression: God said, "Let there be light,' and there was light.” It is this story that makes us think of God as the Creator, but it is a strange mode of creation: God creates light by saying, “Let there be light.” Is this creation by word magic? )
Day Two: God created a firmament that separated the waters above from the waters below, and called the firmament Heaven. Evening and morning were the second day. (The Israelites believed that the earth was flat and that the firmament was a great dome over the earth that separated waters above from the waters below – the sky looks blue because there are waters held above us by the dome. They believed that the sun, and the moon and the stars were lights set in this dome; and, they believed that sometimes the “windows of heaven” were opened in that great dome, and waters came down as rain. See Genesis 7:11; 8:2. In The New American Bible, the new Catholic translation (it received the paternal Apostolic Blessing of Pope Paul VI on September 18th, 1970) the word "dome" is used in place of the word "firmament" that is used in the King James Version. For example, in the Catholic Bible, Genesis 1:7 reads, "God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below the dome.") Note that such a dome would work only if the earth were flat. The implication is obvious: The authors of Genesis were "flat-earthers."
Day Three: God gathered the waters together and called them Seas, and let dry land appear which He called Earth. He also created grass, herbs bearing seeds, and fruit trees. Evening and morning were the third day.
Day Four: God created the sun, the moon and the stars, and set them in the dome of the sky.
Day Five: God created water creatures (whales, fish) and birds.
Day Six: God made cattle, other beasts of the earth, and creeping things. Finally, he made people, male and female.
Day Seven: God rested.
Strangely enough, this story of the days of creation is immediately followed by a second very different account of creation, the one that tells the story of Adam and Eve. This second account conflicts with the first account. For example, it tells us that God made the first man (Adam) before he made grass, trees, and other plants, while the first account has God making all kinds of plants on the third day, and says He didn't make humans until the sixth day. Therefore, there is a contradiction in the Bible. Since both stories cannot simultaneously be true -- at least one must be false.
The first account of creation makes several claims that are now known to be false:
Re Day 2: Contrary to the Creationist claim in Day 2, we know that the earth is not flat and that there is not (and never has been) a firmament -- no dome that separates waters above from waters below. So, by the third paragraph of the Bible, we see that it is not infallible. It contains two huge errors.
Re Day 4: According to Genesis, the sun, moon, and stars were not created until day 4. But, we now know that we could not have had three full days and nights (three successive evenings and mornings) before there was a sun. We now know that day and night are caused by the rotation of the earth with respect to the sun, our primary light source. (The primitives who wrote Genesis did not even know that the sun is our primary light source. And, looking at the sun, you could see how they might have missed that fact. The sun does not appear to be large enough to be the source of all the light that lights up our day. Nevertheless, we know they were wrong.)
Re Day 4 & Day 3: Contrary to scripture, we know that grasses and plants with seeds and fruits did not exist before the sun and the stars. In fact, such plants are quite recent evolutionary products.
Re Day 3 and Day 5: Some primitive plant forms did exist before fish. Contrary to Genesis, however, grasses and seeded and fruit-bearing plants evolved much later than fish, closer to the time of cattle and other more recent beasts.
Each of the four above criticisms of the Creationist story is conclusive, and each alone is enough to prove that the Creationist Theory (the theory that the story in Genesis is infallible) is FALSE. Of course, if Creationists were more like scientists, they might be able to learn from their mistakes and say, “Oh, we must have gotten part of the story wrong, so let us make the necessary corrections in the Bible.” But, of course, they will not make the necessary corrections when they are proven wrong. They cannot make corrections in the light of new evidence the way a scientist can. They cannot make any corrections of mistakes found in the Bible because that would show that it is not the infallible word of God, that it is not wholly beyond question. Having been proved to be false in certain points, the authority of the Bible must be discarded in its entirety. This is not my position -- it is the fundamentalist position.
When Creationists claim that the entire Bible is the infallible word of God, of course they open up the entire Bible for criticism. I once heard a fundamentalist confess that if there were even one sentence in the Bible that could be proven false, then he would have no reason to believe in God or in any part of the Bible. Notice how this sets Creationism apart from scientific theories, which always are open to correction and revision as needed in the light of new information. This very brittle and very vulnerable kind of fundamentalism allows critics to attack any part of the Bible (not just the story of creation) to bring down the whole thing.
It isn't just that the Fundamentalist is committed to believing that every single jot of the Bible is true. The difference between him and the scientist goes further than this. When a scientist claims to know whether or not the earth is flat, how old it is, etc., he argues from massive empirical evidence gleaned from physics, astronomy, geology, and so forth -- evidence he can cite in support of his belief. If a piece of evidence or an argument is found to be flawed, he makes corrections, sometimes even changing some of his conclusions. The Bible, however, does not offer empirical evidence to support its stories. [NOTE 1.] It is simply one long story that we are urged to accept as being infallible in every respect, because it is the infallible word of an infallible Being. But, it takes only one demonstrable falsehood to destroy the claim that the Bible is infallible. Since it lacks any evidence for its empirical claims, it has nothing to fall back on when an error is noticed, so the Bible can be ignored entirely when its claim to be infallible has been broken.
Note that some people have tried to save the story in Genesis by suggesting that perhaps the six days of creation lasted millions of years. Just as we speak of the days of chivalry, which might have lasted many years, perhaps the “days” of creation lasted hundreds of millions of years. Two responses here: First, the language seems clear that ordinary days were what was meant: “And the evening and the morning were the third day,” does not sound metaphorical. But, more importantly, even if we stretch the days of creation into millions of years, the flaws noted above remain the same or are even worse. No matter how long the days, there was no firmament. And, no matter how long the days, there cannot be any day and night without the sun. Finally, the claim that the plants were created a day before the sun is made less (not more) plausible by saying that this "day" lasted hundreds of millions of years, not just 24 hours. So, this ruse will not save the Creationist story.
Some theologians, like Maimonides, have suggested that the infallibility of the Bible can be salvaged by retreat to metaphor: Any part of the Bible that conflicts with scientifically proven facts must have been meant only metaphorically. Six objections here: First, the metaphorical dodge does not save the fundamentalist claim that the Bible is infallible in its literal interpretation. Indeed, if Genesis is only making metaphorical claims about the sun being created after plants, then the conflict between Genesis and science disappears simply because Genesis is making no factual, scientific claims. Second, the resort to metaphor seems ad hoc and contrived if we cannot know which parts of Genesis are only meant metaphorically in advance of knowing which beliefs will be overturned by science. Third, the Bible is useless to us as the word of God if we cannot know in advance which passages were meant literally and which only metaphorically, because we won’t know what the words really mean. Fourth, once we launch the resort to metaphor, there seems no end to casting doubt on what the Bible really means: Did Moses literally get the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai or was this only a metaphor? Did Moses literally order the slaughter of tens of thousands of Midianite women and children, or was this only a metaphor? Did Christ really die for our sins, and did He really arise from the dead, or is this just a metaphor? Fifth, metaphors that we understand can be unpacked. A metaphor, basically, is just a simile with the word “like” omitted: Instead of saying that Frank eats like a pig, we say Frank is a pig. To unpack the metaphor that Frank is a pig, we can explain that we mean that he has no table manners, that he takes bites that are too large, that he talks with his mouth full of food, and so on. But, how would Maimonides have us unpack the metaphor that God created the firmament or that He made the sun and stars after He made evening and morning or that Moses caused the first born of all Egyptians to die? The metaphorical sense of these passages is not at all clear. If we cannot unpack the metaphor, then we do not understand the word of God, rendering the Bible useless to us as a guide to truth, morality, and religious duty. In a book with such supposed importance, one would expect the meaning to be literal and clear. (For a more detailed criticism of attempts to interpret the Bible metaphorically, see my "Saving God by Retreat to Metaphor." This can be found at lastskepticstanding.blogspot.com)
Perhaps the most celebrated conflict between science and Creationism is that the universe is on the order of one or two million times as old as a literal reading of Genesis would have us believe. In 1654, Bishop James Ussher calculated from the story of creation and the genealogies in Chapter 5 of Genesis that the earth was created on October 26, 4004 BC, at 9:00 am. That would make the earth about 6,000 years old now, which is a typical estimate by “Young Earth Creationists.” We know that the sun is about one million times older than this, and the earth nearly that much older, too. Creationists like Dr. Gish do not like to admit this in public because it makes their views appear ridiculous, but Gish admitted at a lecture that perhaps the earth is as much as ten thousand years old. I asked him how this could be, and he said they think that perhaps a few genealogies were left out. Making each day of creation about a billion years long each would make their estimate of the age of the earth more accurate; but, as noted in the prior paragraph, that would not remove the other glaring factual errors in their story. So, again, the story in Genesis has been overwhelmingly disconfirmed by massive, interlocking pieces of evidence from geology and astronomy.
Another criticism of Creationism is that Genesis contains the story of Noah -- that God got so angry with sinners that He decided to drown all people and all animals on the face of the earth, except for Noah’s family and the animals he rounded up and kept on his Ark. Of course the story is absurd. Noah could not have built a boat big enough to house two and two of all flesh (every kind of animal in the world); certainly a boat of the dimensions noted in the Bible would not be big enough for that. And, what happened to all the dinosaurs, trilobites, dire wolves, giant sloths, oreodonts, and the hundreds of thousands of now extinct animals if Noah indeed managed to save two and two of every living thing, every sort of all flesh? Indeed, where did people of other races come from if all but Noah’s family were drowned? This story, which probably was stolen from the Babylonians, is no more credible than the Aborigine belief that the sun is an egg laid by a giant Kiwi bird. This is just primitive mythology, not a scientific account of what really happened.
Chapter 6 in Genesis even has stories of giants (the Nephilim)! It tells us that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and took them for wives; and, that when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, there were giants in the earth. So, I suppose that Creation Scientists ought to be digging for skulls of giants to confirm their story.
In Genesis 9:8 to 9:17, we are led to believe that there were no rainbows before Noah’s flood. For, we are told that God set his bow (the rainbow) in the clouds to remind Himself that he had made a covenant never again to try to drown all his creatures. Since we know what causes rainbows, we think this story cannot be true. There were rainbows long before Noah's flood. Moreover, it seems odd that an Omniscient being would need to stick pasties in the sky to remind himself of promises he made. It also raises the question how an absent-minded God remembers to put his reminders in the sky. Nontheless, a few years ago I was a bit unnerved to notice that after several weeks of relentless rain, there were no rainbows to be seen. I think that rainbows are indeed a sign that the rain is abating, because rainbows appear only when cloud cover thins enough to let the sunlight shine through.
(The Ojibwe Nation has a different creation tale of why there are rainbows: When Nanabozo got out his paint pots to color the white flowers in the meadows, a couple playful bluebirds darting around got paint on their wingtips, spread it to the mist of the waterfall, whence it spread to the skies when Brother Sun shone on it, and Nanobozo thought it was so pretty that rainbows still appear over his meadow when the sun shines on the mist. Well, if we are just lovers of good stories, then the more the merrier! But a collection of primitive myths would not be a science book, nor would it even be in the running. And, what will we say to the Ojibwe people who took their own rainbow story to be a true account of the origin of rainbows? Shall we tell them that they were right, that while the story is not literally true, it is metaphorically true? And how would that way of saving the Ojibwe story go? No, it is only a just-so story, a pure fabrication, not a metaphorical account of something that really happened.)
In this vein, I would be remiss not to mention that perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Bible is not that its “science” is nothing more than primitive mythology. No. The most troubling aspect of the Bible for many of us is that many parts of it embrace a morality that is as primitive as the “science” it offers us. Of course, as Ingersoll once said, we all applaud when the Bible says to forgive others, and to love our neighbors as ourselves; we all cheer when it says not to kill, lie, steal, commit adultery, and so on. But, some parts of the Bible embrace a morality that is hideously savage and barbaric. For example, when Moses came down from the mountain and found his people worshipping the golden calf, he had the children of Levi take out their swords and murder three thousand Israelite men (Exodus 32: 15-29). At another time, while at war with the Midianites, Moses was wroth with his military officers because they had killed the men, but had spared the women and children. He ordered them to slay all the mothers, all the male little ones, and all non-virgin girls. However, he allowed his men to keep the virgin girls for themselves (thirty two thousand of them), Numbers 31: 14-18, 35. So, are we to believe that this genocidal mass-murderer and plunderer was the man that God entrusted to give us the Ten Commandments and to teach us the moral way of life? To believe that Moses acted as a man of God in these matters (to believe that God approved of murdering tens of thousands of captive mothers and little boys), carries the same stench of evil as the ovens of Auschwitz. It is blasphemy. Men who can justify such atrocities to themselves are not servants of God. They are the declared enemies of all that is good and decent in the human soul.
In sum, while the Bible contains many passages that are morally uplifting and beautiful, Creationists make (and refuse to correct) scientific (empirical) claims that are manifestly false, and fundamentalists sometimes make moral claims that are morally repugnant, savage, and blasphemous. Thus, their claim to have an infallible "holy book" is demonstrably false. Let us now turn our attention to the latest refuge of Creationists, the “theory” of Intelligent Design.
II. "Intelligent Design" as a Scientific Theory, aka The Argument From Design (AFD)
Recent court rulings have held that Intelligent Design theory is nothing more than Creationism in dishonest disguise. One reason for this holding is that advocates of Intelligent Design theory sometimes simply substituted “Intelligent Design” for “Creationism” in some of their literature. In any event, the Intelligent Design folk are the same people who before championed the Creationist agenda. Richard Dawkins, a vocal critic of Creationism, has remarked that "Intelligent Design" is nothing more than Creationism in a Tuxedo. I think it would be more accurate to say that Intelligent Design is Creationism in a Toga. I say that because Intelligent Design Theory lends more support to Greek-style polytheism than to a monotheistic, Super-God hypothesis.
Indeed, William Paley in his modern formulation of the argument from design (AFD) only asserted that the apparent design of plants and animals was evidence of intelligent design. He did not argue that there must be One Super-Intelligent Designer rather than several lesser designers. And David Hume, in his devastating review of AFD (Dialogues on Natural Religion, 1854), argued that the hypothesis of many lesser designers is more plausible than that of one Super Designer. So, what is the Argument From Design?
The gist of Paley's "watch argument" for AFD is this: Suppose that you are walking along a riverbank and you notice that the pebbles along the shore are smooth and rounded. Seeking an explanation for the roundness of the stones and pebbles, you might wonder if there is a minor deity, some "Pebble Rounder" responsible for the rounding of all the pebbles along the shore. Further investigation, however, might reveal that the "Pebble Rounder" is a "god-of-the-gaps" as they say. (Note: a "god-of-the-gaps" is simply a god invented to fill in explanatory gaps not yet filled by science. For example, before we knew what causes lightening, we explained it as bolts thrown by the great god Thor. Now that we have a scientific explanation to replace the Thor story, we have no need of that god hypothesis. A "god-of-the-gaps" is too vulnerable to being diminished by future advances in science.) We do not need to postulate a deity responsible for the rounding of the rocks, since we discover that they gradually become worn and rounded by rubbing against one another on their way down the river.
Suppose, however, that we find a functional watch at the edge of the river and ask who designed and manufactured it. It would be absurd to suggest that perhaps this intricate watch had no manufacturer and no intelligent designer, that it had come together in such a beautiful functioning form by chance. When we take the watch apart with a jeweler's tool, we find teeny-tiny jeweler's screws, a smooth and polished crystal facing, a tempered mainspring and delicate hairspring, and many beautiful little gears. These parts could not acquire their shapes naturally, the way rocks get rounded while rolling down the river. And, even if all those exquisitely shaped parts could occur naturally, it still would take an intelligent being to assemble them and put them into the proper working order. That could not be done by chance alone: Take apart an old watch, screw by screw, put all the parts in a jar, and shake as long as you like. The parts never will come together to make a watch. So, the existence of a watch is proof of an intelligent designer and manufacturer.
The rest of AFD rolls on like the river: If a mere watch requires an intelligent designer, then plants and animals require a far more intelligent designer. The reason for this is that, while mere humans can design and produce such artifacts as watches, houses, sewing machines, and space-shuttles, no human (as yet) can produce anything nearly as exquisite, intricate, and wonderful as butterflies, squirrels, trees, or humans. Since living organisms are far more complex than anything humans have made, the Designer of living organisms must be far more intelligent than any human. In brief form, the AFD argument for the Christian God is this:
Only God can make a tree. Trees exist. Therefore, God exists.
Before Hume begins criticizing AFD, he shores it up a bit in Chapter III of the Dialogues with a fantastical story that goes a bit like this: Suppose that you were exploring a jungle in which you found strange trees that produced large pods. Imagine that when you split those pods open, you found inside a variety of organic watches that kept excellent time, and organic books filled with original poetry, unknown proofs in geometry, and even original tracts on physics and chemistry. Such a discovery surely would lead you to believe without any doubt that these trees (which obviously lack the intelligence to design books and watches) must have been designed by some intelligent other being. But, if we are forced to admit that a tree that produces books and watches must have been designed by an intelligent being, why are we not all the more forced to admit that a tree that produces only apples must have been designed by a superior intelligence? For, after all, we humans can produce watches and books, but none of us can design and produce apples. Since only God can make an apple, the tree that only produces watches and books is less proof of a divine creator than is the mere apple tree. David Hume leaves the solution of this puzzle to the reader.
(For a "brain-teaser", you also might ask yourself how Darwin's Theory could explain the design of butterflies. The caterpillar eats leaves, gets fat, forms a cocoon, and after metamorphosis, emerges as a butterfly. How could natural selection have operated on the caterpillar to help it to evolve into a butterfly during that stage of its life where it has been safely sleeping in the cocoon -- immune from the competition for survival -- during all those changes? Put that in your pipe and smoke it, as they say.)
Some people seem to think that Darwin's theory of evolution is what vanquished AFD. For example, Martin Curd, in his Argument and Analysis: An Introduction to Philosophy (1992), pp. xxv-xxvi, suggests that Paley's intelligent design theory was persuasive to many because they found it difficult to imagine an alternative explanation for the seeming design of plants and animals. This, Curd says, changed radically when Darwin published his Origin of Species. Of course Curd is partly correct: Darwin's explanation how plants and animals could evolve without any having any intelligent designer did undercut the felt need to postulate God as an explanation of seeming design. Still, even without any help from Darwin, David Hume showed that the God explanation (AFD) is not a rival to Darwin's explanation at all. In point of fact, AFD enormously increases what needs to be explained, without explaining what it purports to explain. Hume reduced AFD to rubble a century before Darwin published The Origin of Species.
It can be difficult to grasp this point against Curd, for there can linger the feeling than an inadequate explanation like AFD is better than no explanation at all. So, one might feel justified in clinging to AFD if there is no plausible evolutionary theory to provide a better explanation. But, look at it this way: If we did not yet have an explanation what holds the earth up (what keeps it from falling), would it be better to say we just haven't figured it out, or should we say that perhaps it is supported on the back of an elephant … or that a giant invisible hand is holding it in place? Of course it would be more honest simply to confess that we didn't know. But the problem with going to either of these suggested faux explanations is that neither of them makes explanatory progress. The first postulates a gigantic, non-existent elephant, without solving anything: It only replaces the mystery what holds up the earth with another mystery: What holds up the gigantic elephant? The second simply replaces the original mystery with an unknown entity (an invisible hand) that holds up the earth in an entirely mysterious and unknown way. A genuine explanation reduces mystery. It explains mystery away by appeal to known entities and ordinary processes -- it does not just replace one mystery with another mystery, and it does not appeal to unknown entities with extraordinary and unexplained powers.
We sometimes hear it said that we should try to avoid conflict between religion and science by making certain that our God is not a "God of the gaps." That is to say, we are urged not to postulate God as the Being who fills the gaps that science cannot yet explain. For example if we base our religion partly on the idea that lightening is a thunderbolt thrown by an angry God, our religion will be diminished, and possibly refuted, by the discovery that lightening is nothing but a natural electrical discharge in the skies. Similarly, we are urged not to suggest that the wondrous nature of plants and animals is evidence of a Supremely Intelligent and Benevolent God, lest further discoveries in science might take away this supposed evidence of a Designer's existence and necessity. What this criticism misses is that the Argument From Design lacks the stuff to make it a scientific rival to the theory of evolution in the first place. It is no proper explanation at all, let alone an alternative to the theory of evolution. To say with Curd that AFD is an "alternative" explanation is to give it more than it deserves. The ID explanation only increases the number of questions to be asked, and the number of things to be explained, leaving us explanatorily more taxed than if we simply admitted (in all honesty) that we did not know how organisms get their apparent design.
In the following, I explain and expand on seven major objections or criticisms that Hume and others have urged against AFD. These are (1) the analogy between organisms and human artifacts is weak, (2) the one-many objection, (3) the trial-and-error objection, (4) the regress objection, (5) the does-God-have-a-brain? objection, and (6) the argument from evil. At the end, I add (7) the argument-from-goodness objection. Any one of these objections, even taken singly, is sufficient to utterly refute the "theory" of Intelligent Design. Each alone suffices to demolish the view that proof or even good evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God can be found in the apparent "design" of plants and animals. I do omit some parts of Hume's argument that are interesting. For example, in Part VIII of the Dialogues, he does give a thumbnail sketch of a rudimentary theory of evolution, suggesting that work along those lines might someday result in an explanation how organisms got their wonderful structures. He also wryly adds some alternatives to our God hypothesis that might be more attractive to other kinds of beings. For example, if we were spiders, we might think it plausible to think the universe were spun from the belly of a giant spider. A chicken might be drawn to the view that our universe came from an egg hatched by a giant chicken.
First Criticism: As an Argument By Analogy, AFD Fails Miserably:
In part II of the Dialogues, Hume has Cleanthes introduce AFD as an argument by analogy. The following is a sloppily abbreviated quote: ~"When we contemplate the world, we find it to be one great machine subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines. Even the most minute parts of these machines are adjusted to each other with a curious adaptation of means to ends, that resembles exactly the productions of human contrivance -- of human design, thought, wisdom and intelligence. Since the effects resemble each other, we infer by all the rules of analogy, that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties."
Formulated as an argument by analogy, AFD seems to argue that organisms are analogous to machines (human contrivances or artifacts), especially in their "curious adaptation of means to ends." For example, just as the parts of a watch are so arranged that it can be used for the purpose of telling time, so the parts of an eye are so arranged that it can be used for seeing, and the parts of legs are so arranged that they can be used for walking. Since artifacts and organs such as eyes and legs both have in common that their parts are so admirably arranged that they can serve certain ends (achieve certain purposes), by analogy they must have similar causes -- intelligent authors.
This argument, however, supposes that we can discover "adaptation of means to ends" in a physical thing simply by examining it. But, it is far from obvious how we could discover means and purposes by examining the physical structure of things. Take for example Paley's watch. Since we already know that it is a timepiece -- know that it is an artifact made by an intelligent being for use in telling time -- we can examine how its parts work in order to see how they contribute to its functioning as a timepiece. When we examine the watch, we can see that the mainspring provides power to the mechanism that turns the hands of the watch, and the hairspring serves to regulate the speed at which the gears turn. But, neither the mainspring, or the hairspring, or the watch have any purposes of their own, independent of the watchmaker. It is only because we already know the watch was made for telling time that we can say that the hairspring has been adapted as a means to the end of telling time.
So, even in the case of an artifact, it is not the discovery that means have been adapted to effecting ends that allows us to infer that the thing must have had an author. Rather, the reverse is true. In order to discover that part of the mechanism is a means to an end, we first must discover the author's end or purpose in making the mechanism. To drive home this point, suppose that the "watch" we discovered had only been tossed together by chance. In that case, the "hairspring" would not be a means to the end of regulating the speed of the gears, since it had not been made to any purpose. Or, suppose that the "watch" did have a maker, but that it had simply been put together by a child playing with a mechanical construction kit, just for the fun of seeing gears mesh and turn against one another. Though it could be used as a watch, it was not made for any such purpose, so the "hairspring" did not have the function that a hairspring has in a timepiece. In fact, this "hairspring" serves no purpose or function at all. That is why we put "hairspring" in quotes here. It cannot be known to be a hairspring unless it already is known that it was made to serve as the mechanism that regulates the speed of gears in an artifact made for telling time. So, again, mere examination of the mechanism cannot show that any means were adapted to the achievement of any end.
Let us take another example: Suppose that we see a flock of birds perching on wires strung between poles, and that we know the poles and wires are artifacts placed there by people. It is true that the wires serve the purpose of being perches for the birds, but simply observing the wires and the birds cannot settle whether or not we are witnessing a "curious adaptation of means to ends." If we learn that they are power poles, then we know that we are observing a curious adaptation of means to the end of transmitting energy, not to the end of providing a place for birds to perch. If, on the other hand, the poles and wires were erected by bird lovers to provide a resting place for migrating birds, then the placing of the wires is indeed a means to serving birds. Again, we cannot know we are witnessing a "means adapted to an end" without first knowing the purpose for which the artifact was made. This is true without regard to whether the artifact is organic or not.
Still, what are we to say of eyes whose parts seem so curiously adapted to the end of seeing, and legs whose amazing structure makes them useful for walking? Again, organs have no purposes of their own. (Only conscious beings with desires and values, beings who want things and who feel obligation and duty and such, have purposes and ends of their own.) So, what evidence could we have that structures such as eyes are means that have been adapted to the achievement of ends? If I examine the parachute on a dandelion seed, I might say that the purpose of the parachute is to help the dandelion to find new places to grow -- the parachute helps the dandelion to propagate so that its seed might inherit the earth. But, neither the parachute, nor the seed, nor the dandelion knows or cares whether or not they inherit the earth. So, unless an author designed and made parachutes to achieve a certain end, then the parachute is not a means that has been adapted to an end. We cannot know that it has been constructed to serve a purpose without knowing that a designer made it for a specific purpose. AFD gets the cart before the horse. The same argument holds for eyes and legs.
We sometimes say that the purpose of the parachute is to help spread the seeds of the dandelion. This means nothing more than that the parachute helps disseminate the seeds, and that there would be no parachutes if they did not have this effect. But, this does not mean that the dandelion adopted or employs the parachute for that purpose, since dandelions are non-conscious vegetables that have no ends or purposes of their own. If there is a God who made the dandelion with a parachute to ensure that its seeds would be spread far and wide by the wind, then the parachute has a (God-given) purpose (still not a purpose of its own). However, the scientifically received view today is that the parachute exists because several random mutations resulted in parachutes, and those mutations were passed on to future generations because dandelions with parachutes reproduced at a greater rate. On the evolutionary explanation, the parachute structure gets passed on, not because it is an effective means to achieving any purpose, but only because it increases the likelihood that there will be more future plants like the plants that produced it -- plants with parachutes. And, the genes for having eyes get passed to successive generations only because having eyes increases the likelihood that there will be more offspring with eyes. So much for Intelligent Design!
The temptation to anthropomorphize organisms, to regard them as having purposes, is almost impossible to eradicate. Even Darwin's theory of evolution seems to invite us to see organisms and species in competition with each other, struggling for survival. But, the survival of the fittest is not part of a struggle to survive. In fact, for the vast majority of organisms and for countless ages, this "survival of the fittest" involved no struggle on the part of organisms whatsoever. I remember sitting on a ridge in the evening contemplating a stretch of Oregon desert that had been overtaken by juniper trees and sagebrush. They spread throughout the desert, reproducing their kind, covering vast expanses with their fragrant foliage as far as the eye could see, all with no more knowledge, purpose, intention, or struggle than exists in the elaborate ice crystals that form lovely patterns on your windowpane in the winter. Evolution is blind and mindless. In fact, it is the chief beauty of the theory of evolution that it can explain how wonderful complexities and "designs" can arise without there being any intelligence or purpose in the universe whatsoever.
Cacti poison the ground that surrounds them, which prevents "competing" vegetation from encroaching on their space. But this is no more a purposeful activity than is your growing the hair atop your head that keeps you warm. Nor can we seriously speak of the struggle of bacteria or amoebas that grow and reproduce by "competing" with, consuming and killing other microscopic creatures. They have no more idea of life and death than does a carrot. Nor does the root of the carrot grow deeper because of thirst, nor do its leaves grow upward to the end of gaining sunlight. Even the mouse that seems to exhibit terror at the approach of a cat has no oral tradition from which it might learn of the terrible teeth and claws of the cat. The mouse has no concept of cats or claws or death. And, except for Abraham and characters in end-of-the-world stories, people do not have intercourse that their seed might inherit the earth -- they have intercourse because of desire, wanting to make a baby, wanting to do their duty, wanting an heir or help on the farm, or for money or for some other thing. For billions of years the vast majority of organisms have had no purposes of their own, and those that do (human beings) have incredibly diverse purposes, both temporary and long term, both instinctual and learned, none of which explain why their eyes and other organs have the "design" that they do. Your eyes, your liver, your brains, exist only because the possession of eyes, liver and brains increased the likelihood of your ancestors surviving long enough to produce progeny like themselves (progeny that would have eyes, livers, and brains).
AFD considered as an argument by analogy claims that we can see that some parts of organisms obviously are means adapted to ends. I have been arguing that this premise is false. We can ascertain how the hairspring in a watch qualifies as a means adapted to an end, but this is only because we already know the watch is a timepiece, an artifact made to tell time. But, I cannot ascertain how an insect's organ is adapted to any end, since insects have no purposes of their own, and we do not know the purposes for which insects were made -- in fact we do not even know they were made by any intelligent being. So, the very respect in which artifacts and organisms are supposed to be analogous is in fact not justified.
No doubt the bacterium that causes leprosy is a complex organism with parts so arranged that it would not cause suffering, mutilation, and death in humans if those parts were not so arranged. But, discovering how such parts of the bacterium work to mutilate people does not discover to us any "curious adaptation of means to ends" because the bacterium itself has no purposes or ends of its own (the bacterium is not malevolent, not conscious of its horrible effects or of anything else), nor do we know either that leprosy was created by intelligent beings or what purpose they might have had in doing so. The same goes for apple trees, birds, moss, fish, tapeworms, gorillas, termites, and pterodactyls -- there is no verifiable adaptation of means to ends in these natural, organic "mechanisms." Thus the argument utterly fails. To know that there is an adaptation of means to ends in the organism, we already must have identified the existence and purposes of its Author. In short, the argument presupposes the very thing for which it is supposed to provide evidence. That is called question-begging.
It is tempting to think we can sneak purpose into the parts of an organism by explaining how certain "adaptations" increase its chances for survival. For example, the spines on cacti increase its chances for survival by discouraging animals from eating them. However, no designer had the idea to equip cacti with spines as a means to their self defense. They were not designed to have protective spines for the purpose of protection against predators. To the contrary, chance mutations in the direction of having spines became part of the genetic inheritance of cacti because having the spines caused it to be more likely that there would be future generations with spines. And, again, while cacti do many things that increase their chances for survival, they do not do anything with this or any other purpose in mind: Those carefree cacti have no minds, no cares, no concerns at all.
Even if we were to grant (contrary to fact) that artifacts and organisms were indeed analogous to each other in both possessing internal adaptation of means to ends, arguments by analogy are notoriously weak. Suppose that we know that two people, A and B, have several thousand attributes in common (they both have good health, have red hair and freckles, both are talented musicians, both know that Springfield is not the Capitol of California, etc…); still, despite these thousands of identical attributes, the fact that A is a brother of B does not entail that B is a brother of B, nor do these attributes even increase the likelihood that B is male. B might be A's sister. Of course, if some of their shared attributes are that both liked playing with toy trucks when young, likes kissing girls, etc., then B's having those attributes make it more likely that B is male as well. But, that is not because the analogy between A and B is strengthened, but only because the attributes just mentioned more often are male attributes.
In The Existence of God (1965, Cornell University Press), (see especially his pages 122 to 131), Wallace Matson offers a very different reason for rejecting the AFD argument from analogy. The objection I have been urging is against what he calls Premise I: "Natural objects share with artifacts the common characteristics of adjustment of parts and curious adapting of means to ends." While Matson thinks that Premise I is not obviously true, that it requires much eloquence to convince us that many natural objects show adapting of means to ends, he grants (perhaps only for sake of argument) that closer scrutiny might make it obvious. But, he seems to think that the argument would fail even if we could establish that organs do very often display the adaptation of means to ends in their parts. Matson thinks it fails because our criterion of whether or not an object is an artifact has nothing to do with whether or not it shows a "curious adaptation of means to ends."
Matson notes that when we want to sort objects, separating human artifacts from natural objects like plants, animals, and minerals, our task is quite easy. When commissioned to separate gismos, pistols, brick houses, screws, gears, coins, arrowheads, and other artifacts from natural objects like eyeballs, lizards, fruit, and tektites, our task is easy. We do not need to examine the objects for the presence of accurately adjusted parts. Our judgment, rather, is based on such things as materials of which they are made (plastic, lumber, metal, baked bricks, etc.), how they are held together (welded, nailed, tied, taped, or bound with mortar), regular markings, and so on. In fact, many artifacts can be clearly identified as artifacts even if they have no working machinery, and even if we have no idea of their purpose. For example, we know that Stonehenge is an artifact, though its purpose is not clear to us. So, contrary to AFD's analogy, we do not judge whether or not an object is an artifact by noting a curious adjustment of its parts. We use other criteria.
Matson concludes that the AFD taken as an argument by analogy isn't even an argument from analogy, either strong or weak: "It is just another argument with a false premise, and therefore of no force at all." His reasoning is this: AFD assumes that the essential criterion for judging that an object is an artifact is whether or not its parts are accurately adjusted. Since accurate adjustment of an object's parts (adaptation of means to ends) is not the mark by which we determine that a thing is an artifact, discovery of accurate adjustment of the parts of an organism do not show that it is importantly analogous to human artifacts. Since we can distinguish between artifacts and organisms without any inspection (or discovery) of the adaptation of their parts to ends, and since not all human artifacts even have such attributes, adaptation of their parts to ends cannot be the resemblance or common property that shows they both are artifacts.
Perhaps this captures part of what Hume was thinking when he complained that the analogy between organisms and human artifacts was very weak. The basic idea seems to be that organisms do not even look much like human artifacts. Squirrels and trees are not held together by twine, baling wire, nails, glue, or screws, and they are not made of plastic, lumber, pot metal, bricks or mortar, nor are they painted, nor do they have patent numbers and "made in the Garden of Eden" stamped on their undersides. With so little resemblance between organisms and human artifacts it is not clear how we could sensibly say that they are so analogous that they must have this further quality in common, that they both have intelligent authors.
In the end, we might wonder why we should spend so much time on such a worthless argument. For, once the fog is lifted from our confused minds, we already know that the plants and animals we know are not human artifacts, nor are they artifacts of God or the gods. It sometimes is said that only God could make a tree. This seems at least partly true, since no human as yet has the power to create a tree or any other organism from scratch. However, it might seem only a matter of time before humans will be able to create life in the laboratory. Perhaps knowledge of the chemistry of life will be so great in the future that when a person draws a picture of a flower, a scientist will be able to design and create a seed that will grow such a flower. If that day were to come, then it would not be so easy to distinguish between natural organisms and those that are human artifacts. In fact, it would not be possible to tell (by simple examination) the difference between a natural butterfly and an artifact created from scratch by a scientist or by a god. The only way to know the difference would be to learn the history of the butterfly, to know whether it came from a chrysalis formed by a caterpillar that came from a butterfly's egg, or whether it was made from scratch in a laboratory or by the word-magic of a god.
So, how do we know that chickens are not artifacts made by humans or by gods? The answer is that we know human technology has not advanced to the point that people can make chickens; and, we know they are not made by God or gods because we know that the chickens we see are hatched from eggs laid by prior chickens. Even if Creationism is true, even if there was a first set of chickens made by God, those were the first and last chickens that were made by God. "Adam Rooster" and "Eve Hen" died 6,000 years ago according to that story, and the hens we see are not artifacts (not made by God) but are the result of chicken reproduction -- having chicken sex and laying chicken eggs.
Since the time that Pasteur demonstrated that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation, we know that all life is generated by prior life -- by reproduction: Fungi and ferns come from the spores of fungi and ferns, insects and birds hatch from eggs, dogs and humans grow in the womb, oak trees come from acorns, amoebas come from division, grass grows from seed, and on and on. All living organisms result from the reproductive processes of their kind: Chicken-egg, chicken-egg, chicken-egg, down the vast corridors of time.
If we have the theory of evolution to guide us here, we will not wonder who made the first chicken, because the chicken evolved from a little dinosaur that evolved from a fish, all the way back to pond scum over three billion years ago. But, even if we do not have Darwin to guide us here, still we know that the chickens we see were not manufactured by any god or person -- they were hatched from eggs, according to the reproductive cycle of chickens. And, perhaps this last point should drive the final nail into the coffin of any claimed analogy between organisms and human artifacts.
What, indeed, is the most salient difference between living organism and human artifacts that enables us to know that certain artifacts are made by intelligent beings? You can see the answer to this by seeing why the AFD works at least for Paley's watch. Indeed, it would work even for one of the smallest parts of Paley's watch. Suppose that all that remains of the watch is one of its delicate gears, or its tempered mainspring, or one of the tiny jeweler's screws that held it together. We know that stones become rounded by rubbing against each other on their way down the river, without any help from a stone-rounding deity. But, we equally well know that delicate gears and tempered springs do not arise naturally like rounded stones from the natural action of wind, water, forest fires, or volcanoes. So, the discovery of even one delicate gear of the type used in watches is proof pudding of an intelligent designer, even if we had no idea what its purpose was or how it was adapted to achieve an end. And, if that is the case, then the discovery of a watch filled such gears, so arranged that it tells perfect time, is even greater proof of an intelligent designer and manufacturer of said watch. We know this because we know there is no way for a mechanical watch to occur naturally on its own. But, if so, why does this argument not work even better for trees, given that they are vastly more complex and wonderful than a mere watch?
The answer why AFD works for watches but not for living organisms should be obvious: It works for watches because watches have mainsprings and hairsprings, but they have no offspring. Watches don't reproduce. They don't have babies. So, there is no way for watches, computers, can-openers, spoons, staplers, pencils, and other artifacts to evolve in the way that plants and animals do. All artifacts are made from scratch. Organisms, however, can evolve through blind forces of natural selection because organisms imperfectly reproduce themselves over the ages; and, some of the random changes make offspring that are more likely to flourish and to reproduce their genetic code. Watches cannot progress in this manner, because they do not reproduce. That is why they require a designer.
When reflecting on the argument by analogy for Design, it is interesting that the most salient and important difference between artifacts and organisms (the difference that explains why the former but not the latter must have a designer) is that the latter can (imperfectly) reproduce themselves. The inability to reproduce was not one of the criteria that Matson picked out as crucial for distinguishing between artifacts and organisms. But, this discussion of flaws in the argument by analogy does nothing to advance clarity here, because no argument by analogy is ever a good argument. The argument was supposed to be as follows: 1) Human artifacts and organisms both have property X: 2) Human artifacts have the property of having a designer; 3) Therefore, organisms have the property of having a designer.
This so-called argument by analogy obviously is not only formally invalid (there is no contradiction involved in denying the conclusion while affirming both premises), but it has so little force that it is undeserved charity to call it an argument. The only thing that could make the argument seem good would be the circumstance where having the property X (the property they have in common) provided in itself good reason for thinking that object had a designer. (Recall the argument about two people, A and B, with thousands of properties in common, where A also has the property of being male. The only common property that could make it likely that B also is male would be a property, like the property of liking to play with toy trucks that by itself provides evidence that B is male. But, in that case, the analogy is entirely pointless: It then is irrelevant that the property X is common to both A and B. The entire weight of the inference that B is male rests upon the fact that B possesses a property that makes it likely he is male. The fact that another person A has many other irrelevant properties in common with B does NOTHING to increase the likelihood that B is male.
So, what is the presumed common property X, the possession of which would make having a designer likely? The property that Matson rejects (the property of having parts that constitute means adapted to ends) would do the job. For, we can identify and speak of means adapted to ends only in those cases where we already know they are artifacts and know the purposes for which they were made. This of course does not help us answer whether butterflies have designers, because we cannot know they have this property X without already knowing they have designers.
The property X that Matson supposes to be the criterion by which we can distinguish between artifacts and organisms is having such properties as being made of plastic, being held together by screws, etc. He is right that these are giveaway signs: If an object is held together by screws, it is an artifact, not a natural organism. But, he is right that this candidate for being the property X cannot support AFD, since being held together by screws is not an indicator of having been designed that is shared by organisms as well as artifacts. Trees and frogs are not held together by nails, staples, screws, glue, baling wire, bubble gum, etc., and it is this lack of similarity between them and artifacts that allows us to know they were not manufactured.
Our last candidate for property X, the property that neatly sets the class of human artifacts apart from the class of organisms, is the property of not resulting from reproductive processes (not having been born, hatched, grown from seed or spores, etc.). But, this property works against AFD in two ways. First, human artifacts like watches must have a designer precisely because they have this property X (that they were not brought into existence through natural reproduction). But, while the lack of property X (having been produced through natural reproductive processes) does prove lack of a designer (e.g., having been born of parents proves lack of a designer), it does not show that there could not have been a first set of chickens (apple trees, humans, etc.) that were designed and created by a god (and that subsequently went forth to be fruitful and multiplied). However, in a way not anticipated by Paley, the ability to reproduce naturally opens the way to an alternative to the designer hypothesis -- Darwin's theory of evolution, natural selection from future generations.
In conclusion, construed as an argument by analogy, AFD seems to have no force at all. But, perhaps AFD can be cast in another form that makes it more persuasive. Several years ago, Gilbert Harman popularized a form that he called "Inference to the best explanation." When an event or phenomenon or object cries out for explanation (when it does not seem that it could be explained by coincidence or chance), we might decide than a proffered explanation of it is true because it is the best explanation available. Even if Paley has not proved that the human eye is a means adapted to an end, the fact remains that organs and organisms are mechanisms of far more wonderful complexity than a watch or anything else that humans presently can create. If the parts of a watch cannot simply fall into place on their own to make a functional watch, it seems even less possible for far more wonderful and complex organisms like apple trees to come together with no outside guidance. The applicable principle here seems to be that complicated structures require explanation. And, in Paley's time (a hundred years before Darwin's Origin of Species), the best (indeed the only plausible) explanation for the wonderful complexity of organisms seemed to be that they had been authored by some being more intelligent than any human being.
Given that this version of AFD rests on a principle that applies to any wonderfully complex object, I presume that it is not an argument by analogy. The comparison between a watch and an organism is not used to argue that since the principle applies to a watch, it must apply to an organism because organisms are similar to watches. The comparison is used only to point out that if all complex objects require explanation, then an organism stands in even greater need of explanation than does a watch because organisms are even more wonderfully complex than watches. The more wonderfully complex an object is, the more it requires an explanation.
This principle that "wonderful complexities require explanation" is incredibly vague ("wonderful" and "complex" do not qualify as exact, well-defined scientific terms). Neither is it clear why we should think the principle is true. Is it more a matter of "ideal" mathematical probabilities perhaps questionably extrapolated to physical realities, or is it based on experience or induction? All this notwithstanding, Darwin's theory of evolution must itself accept some form of this principle, since it does offer itself as an explanation of the wonderful complexities of organisms. So, let us take Paley's Watch Argument ("Intelligent Design") to be an inference to the best explanation: If a watch is such a wonderfully complex structure that it must have an intelligent designer, then living organisms (that are far more wonderfully complex) must have a far more intelligent designer. The rest of Hume's devastating criticisms of the AFD seem directed against this version of the watch argument. To these criticisms we now turn:
Second Criticism. The One - Many Objection:
Simple examination of an object cannot establish how many people might have helped to design it. Many different people might have collaborated in designing even a simple lady's purse. Indeed, many people likely were involved even in designing and making the needle used to sew it up, in making the tractors needed to plow the fields to grow the cotton to make the thread, so that probably thousands upon thousands of designers and workers contributed to the making of that purse.
Indeed, the more complex the artifact is, the more likely it is that many people were involved in designing it. Moreover, when postulating an explanation, one should go with the most ordinary, least fantastic explanation. For example, suppose that you have 40 acres of alfalfa, and notice one evening that a few leaves appear to have been eaten by a grasshopper, judging from the tiny bite-marks. If you discover the next morning that the entire 40 acres is stripped of leaves, you do not postulate that a Super Grasshopper has attacked your crop -- you suppose that a large swarm of ordinary grasshoppers ate your crop. Following the same principle, if you think that plants and animals show evidence of intelligent design, you should suppose that a vast team of beings with rather ordinary intelligence designed them. You do not suppose that One Super-Intelligent Being designed them all. The governing explanatory principle, again, is that you must postulate the most ordinary, least fantastic explanation available, not something so fantastic that no one has ever experienced such a thing. So, "many" is more plausible than "one" -- many ordinary beings is a more plausible explanation than one extraordinary being.
Third Criticism. The Trial-and-Error objection:
This objection is similar to the second: If you examine a marvelous artifact like a Yankee Clipper, you might think its designer must be a wonderfully intelligent person. But, there is no way to know simply from examining the artifact, how much trial-and-error and stumbling around it took to arrive at the lovely design of the Clipper. In fact, it might have taken many centuries of experiments by successive generations of ordinary designers to get from the simple log to a dugout to a rowboat to (centuries later) this classic sailing vessel. The governing explanatory principle, again, is that when postulating a designer, one always must choose the most ordinary, least fantastic explanation: One does not postulate a Super Genius who gets a perfect design instantly, when one could just as well postulate many generations of much less intelligent beings who, through trial and error over the centuries, slowly improved the design of their ships. Trial and error is a more ordinary and less fantastic thing to postulate as an explanation than is a Super-Intelligent Being Who gets everything right the first time. Many ordinary beings is a more plausible explanation than one extraordinary being.
Fourth Criticism. The Regress Objection (Infinite Regress or Vicious Regress):
There is a story told about William James, the famous American philosopher/psychologist that nicely illustrates an infinite regress. At the end of a lecture he gave on world religions, a woman approached James, saying how much she had enjoyed his talk. However, she confessed she was disappointed that he had not discussed the ancient Indian view that the earth is supported on the back of a huge elephant that stands on the back of a giant tortoise. James replied that he would have discussed it but for the fact that he had never figured out what holds up the tortoise. "Oh Dr. James," she replied with a note of triumph in her voice, "You can't get me that way -- it's turtles all the way down!"
It is difficult not to be sympathetic to this woman's answer. It seems as good as any other if one supposes that the earth must be supported by something to keep it from falling. And, strictly speaking, she is not guilty of any fallacious reasoning. If we press her on her claim that it is tortoises all the way down, we can ask her, "all the way down to what?" But, if she says there is no end to the tortoises because there is an infinite number of them, then she need not explain what holds up the last tortoise, since there cannot be a last tortoise in an infinite chain. Still, it seems that if the earth must be supported by something to keep it from falling, then the thing upon which it rests also must be supported by something to keep it from falling in turn, and so on, ad infinitum. What holds up the earth? An elephant? Then what holds up the elephant? A tortoise? Then what holds up the tortoise? Another tortoise that in turn needs to be held up by another and another and another? This kind of answer saddles us with an endless regress of tortoises, which is not a happy explanation. It does not satisfy.
Unless we reach a tortoise or some other kind of thing that does not need to be supported to keep it from falling in turn, then nothing is gained by the supposition that the earth is supported by a tortoise. That is to say, nothing is explained in saying that the earth is supported by a tortoise if one cannot explain what keeps the tortoise from falling any better than one can explain what keeps the earth from falling. We just have TWO unsupported objects now, instead of one, so that we actually have lost explanatory ground. The supposition of the tortoise only puts the mystery off at one remove, at the cost of giving us yet another thing that needs supporting. It just shifts the mystery of what holds up the earth to the mystery of what supports the tortoise. An unsupported tortoise cannot hold up the earth any better than an unsupported earth can support itself.
It seems to me that the most obvious objection to this regress explanation (the unmentioned elephant in the room, so to speak) is that we know for a fact that there is no giant elephant or column of giant tortoises at the bottom of the earth. This obvious objection should not be overlooked. Indeed, try to imagine what the story says you should find upon visiting the Antarctic. If you did not fall off the earth upon reaching the "bottom" of the world, what would you see? According to the story, you would see a giant elephant on its back on the ice, supporting an endless column of tortoises on their backs reaching into the sky. What a sight to behold! Then the problem would be reversed: Upon seeing this eighth wonder of the world, instead of asking how the elephant holds up the world, we would have to ask, "How does the world manage to hold up this elephant and its vast column of tortoises?" But, enough of this silliness!
Of course we now know that the earth requires no support to keep it from "falling." The earth is a globe, and unsupported objects near its surface do fall down -- fall toward the center of the earth because of its gravitational attraction. But, there is no "up" or "down" direction in outer space that the earth might fall. We have answered the question what supports the earth, not by postulating the existence of a supporting body that needs similar support in turn, but by explaining why the earth needs no support in the first place to keep it from "falling."
Now, let us return to the AFD: Cleanthes, the apologist for orthodox Christianity in David Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion, Part III, calls our attention to another example of infinite regress. Cleanthes argues that the existence of such wonderful and complicated things as plants and animals shows that there must be a supremely intelligent God Who designed and made them. Cleanthes thinks the ignorant savage and barbarian fails to see this only "because he never asks himself any question with regard to them. Whence arises the curious structure of an animal? From the copulation of its parents. And these whence? From their parents? A few removes set the objects at such a distance that to him they are lost in darkness and confusion; nor is he actuated by any curiosity to trace them farther. But, this is neither dogmatism nor skepticism, but stupidity."
According to Cleanthes, then, the stupid mistake of the savage is that he does not see that his answer gains him nothing because it saddles him with an infinite regress. The savage cannot sensibly explain the wonderful structure of a bird by saying that it was made by its parents. For, this answer simply gives rise to the same kind of question in turn, forever and ever, without ever giving us a final answer that could support the others in the causal chain. Who then made the bird's parents? Their parents? At some point, we have to stop the regress by explaining who made the first birds or how they came to be. It would be like asking where chickens came from and being told they came from eggs which came from chickens which came from eggs, etc. This kind of explanation gives no final satisfaction, as it will never get us to the first egg or the first chicken -- it yields an infinite regress. (Apparently the question which came first, the chicken or the egg, has been settled, not by argument but by the medieval method of trial by combat. A few years ago, a couple men in Hong Kong got into a drunken argument over the question, and one of them was killed in the ensuing knife fight. Unhappily, it has not been recorded which side won.) (Footnote: On Dec. 2002, a 60 year old British subject tried to invoke his ancient right to trial by combat rather than pay a motoring fine. His right to settle the claim by a fight to the death with a champion nominated by the DVLA was rejected, despite his claim that the right was still valid under European human rights legislation. )
The only way to avoid being caught in an infinite regress is to explain the matter with a different kind of answer that does not invite the same kind of question in turn. Unfortunately for Cleanthes, he did not do this, and so he found himself in the same kind of infinite regress as the savage. Just as the savage does not ask who made the bird's parents, Cleanthes does not think to ask, who made God? In fact, Cleanthes' answer gets him into even deeper difficulties than does the savage's answer. At least the savage's claim, that the bird was made by its parents, does not postulate any entities more difficult to explain than the original bird. But, when we ask who made God, then we must postulate a Super God to explain who made God. And then who made the Super God? A Super, Super God? This kind of explanation, so far from solving the original difficulty, so far from explaining admittedly wonderful things in terms of more simple, more ordinary, and easier to understand things, leads us to postulate an endless series of increasingly extraordinary and more wonderful beings that of course are even harder to explain than the organisms we originally wanted to explain. So, Cleanthes' answer actually loses explanatory ground at each step, explaining the admittedly wonderful in terms of even more wonderful and more inexplicable things.
Of course it is open to Cleanthes to say that nobody made God -- that God has been perfect forever and had no beginning. But, if Cleanthes is entitled to say that a being as perfect and wonderful as God needs no creator, then we are even more entitled to say that less wonderful things like trees and butterflies need no creator, and that the chain of generations from parent to parent existed forever, without there ever being a first chicken or egg. Fair is fair. Just as there need be no last tortoise, there need be no first bird either. …
This regress objection works just as well against the Pagan belief that living organisms were designed and created by minor gods or deities. It just raises in turn the question who designed those lesser deities and their brains. If we are so wonderful that we must require designers, then beings smart enough to design us stand in even greater need of an even greater designer or set of designers, and so on without end. To stop such a regress, we need a different kind of answer that does not raise the same kind of question in return. The theory of evolution does this by explaining how well-adapted complex, and even intelligent organisms can (and inevitably will) arise naturally in a completely deterministic universe like ours, without needing to be designed by any intelligent being, indeed without "Nature" having any purpose at all. Survey the desert, invaded and overgrown with sagebrush and juniper, populated by ants and rats and rattlesnakes, all without any more conscious direction than the organization of ice crystals on you windowpane on a winter's day. Have a Banyan tree experience and contemplate the beauty of non-conscious design around you. The theory of evolution explains more complex and wonderful things in terms of more simple things, instead of raising even greater mysteries and difficulties. And, this is what good and satisfactory explanations do.
But, let us suppose that we were in the position that David Hume found himself in, about 100 years prior to the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Suppose that we had no more than the rudimentary sketch of a theory of evolution that Hume possessed. Would AFD (the argument from design) then have more force than it does today? Of course it would not. If we could not explain how the wonderful structures of living organisms came about, then according to Hume we should content ourselves with honesty and just say that we do not yet know. Honesty would be more honorable than pretending to explain things (after the manner of Cleanthes) by bringing in fantastic beings that are even more mysterious than the things we are trying to explain.
On a final note, the regress objection would not be complete without pointing out that, just as we know there is no giant elephant holding up the earth, and just as we know there is no Super-grasshopper that could consume an entire field in one evening, so we have no experience of any Super God to explain the design of the organisms around us. Just as we do not believe in any Superman or Hulk or Plastic man, because their powers are so extraordinary and fantastic that it is not plausible to think there could be such a person, so we have no reason to think it even remotely possible that there could be a being that nobody has ever seen or heard that is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Benevolent (infinitely powerful, knowing, and good). Suppose I am driving through the countryside and see a blackened stretch alongside the road. I might wonder what caused the vegetation to be blackened, and might suppose that there had been a fire there, burning the weeds, bushes, and a few trees, leaving a blackened area. This is a reasonable hypothesis, since I and others have had experience of such phenomena. We have seen fires and their effects. But, suppose I postulate the existence of some kind of Super Being that can blacken vegetation simply by saying, "Let the plants suddenly wither and be blackened." This would be madness, since we have no experience of such a Super Being, nor do we know how such a being could come to be, what could be the source or explanation of such powers, nor do we even have reason to think that such a being is possible. The so-called God hypothesis is just such a sort of explanatory madness.
Moreover, the "God hypothesis" has a bizarre twist that should not go unremarked: Not only does Cleanthes bring in a mysterious and unknown Super Being to explain ordinary things around us, but the existence of those ordinary things is the only evidence he has to show that there might be such a Super Being Nobody has glimpsed God walking in the garden, so he is not an ordinarily observed cause of things like fire or crop-eating rabbits, just waiting around to be invoked as a cause of things. And, since the Being invoked to explain ordinary things is far more fantastic than the things he is being used to explain, and since there is no other, independent evidence for the existence of such a Super Being, and since much less fantastic beings might be used to explain the same things more simply, it does not lessen mystery at all to attribute plant and animal design to this entirely unknown Super Being. Proper explanations reduce mystery -- they do not increase it.
I have heard representatives of religion say that we should honor mystery. What can such a pronouncement possibly mean? Should we also honor ignorance, lack of understanding, fuzzy thinking and stupidity? To wallow in and to glorify mysteries is the trade of the charlatan, not of the philosopher. Those who hawk their wares of sacred mysteries do take their own ignorance as permission to suggest and believe the most outrageous and fantastic conjectures that fear of the unknown can generate in the little minds of the chicken-hearted.
Fifth Criticism: The "Does-God-Have-a-Brain?" Objection:
The question whether God has a brain presents believers with a dilemma. If we are to suppose that God does have a brain, then we are back to the regress objection: If God does have a brain, then who designed and created His brain? If the brains of humans require a super-Intelligent designer, then presumably God's brain (being far more wonderful than a human brain) would require an even more intelligent designer. If the theist replies that nobody designed God's brain, or that it has existed from all eternity, then we can say the same of little human brains, with greater plausibility. This just rehashes the regress objection, with emphasis on the brain.
(In Part IV of the Dialogues, Hume gives an extended criticism of the view that God might have intelligence without having a brain. One small part of his argument is this: "To say that the different ideas which compose the reason of the Supreme Being fall into order of themselves and by their own nature is really to talk without any precise meaning. … If it has a meaning, I would fain know why it is not as good sense to say that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves and by their own nature.")
If the theist takes the second horn of the dilemma, that God does not have a brain, then Hume would say that this answer goes against all human experience. We know of no beings that have intelligence without having brains. Indeed, more intelligent animals generally have larger brains. Additionally, we know that brain damage generally interferes with the ability to think, and we all concede that a person whose entire brain had been removed would be incapable of any thought, perception, or feeling whatsoever. Cut off Fred Astaire's legs, and he cannot dance; pluck out his eyes, and he cannot see; cut out his brain, and he cannot think. Any school child knows this. And, this is why we regard belief in ghosts as being one of the most primitive and scientifically naïve of all superstitions: Since no being can think without a brain or see without eyes, we know there are no such things as ghosts because ghosts (it seems funny to put it this way) are beings that have lost all their physical parts. It is funny because it gives rise to the riddle, what is left of Fred once he has had his arms, legs, torso, and head amputated? There is no Fred left in this case to be the total amputee who has lost all his parts.
The God-story is just the biggest ghost story around. To cite a recent example of taking religious refuge in ghost stories, I recently was told of a grown man at a science/religion colloquium who said that science could not disprove God because God is invisible. What a dodge! What better way to hide God from prying eyes than to make Him invisible! Of course air is invisible, but we can know it exists because we can feel it when it blows against our skin, and we can inflate a balloon with it and can even find how much weight air adds to the weight of the balloon. By comparison, is there any way to take a deep fresh breath of God, to feel Him against our skin, or to inflate a balloon with His invisible substance? To those who want to say that God is invisible, we want to know why God is invisible. Is He too small to be seen with the naked eye, is He so insubstantial that He does not reflect light, does he have a Harry Potter "invisible cloak," or has he lost his entire body and head, so that he is a being made of no physical stuff at all? Or, are we to be Cartesian Dualists, believing that all minds or spirits must be invisible because their contents (beliefs, feelings, etc.) lack all physical properties (have no weight, place, divisibility, etc.)? Are we to say that, since we could never see the contents of another person's mind (could never see another person's thoughts and feelings) that therefore God (Who is pure Mind) must be invisible? But, Cartesian dualism, the doctrine of the "ghost in the machine" is a battle that has been lost. Science and philosophy have abandoned animism, belief in supplementary, nonphysical parts, and so-called "mind-body interaction" that would violate the laws of motion. I see no way to make belief in ghosts respectable.
If God is a Super Ghost with Super Powers, then He is even more implausible than ordinary ghosts. It is bad enough to suggest that a brainless ghost could be intelligent, but it adds insult to unintelligibility to suggest that a brainless being could be Super Intelligent. This is the kind of theistic fantasy that should put the existence of God beyond the pale of even minimal credibility. Do I believe in God? That is to say, do I believe that there is a super-intelligent being that has no brain? Of course I do not.
Since ghosts lack any physical body whatsoever, they must be unable to perform any physical activities whatsoever. We like to think that they could walk through walls because they are immaterial, but how could they open a door or carry chains? Indeed, if they can walk through walls, how is it that they are able to move about and walk at all? How can their insubstantial ghostly feet gain enough traction for them to move from one place to another? And, how can they see anything from a certain point of view if they are disembodied? When we humans see things, we see from a certain perspective because we (our bodies and the eyes with which we see things) are in a certain place. The claim that ghosts can see things from a certain place when they lack bodies to put them in a certain place seems not to make any sense (see Terence Penelhum's marvelous little book, Survival and Disembodied Existence.). And, if God is ubiquitous, if He is "omnipresent," if He is equally present in every part of the universe, then how can we make any sense at all of God's seeing anything? To see things from all possible perspectives at once (from all possible angles and distances at once) seems totally incomprehensible. What could seeing be like for a being that is everywhere at once? (This problem does not go away just because God is eyeless. The reason we know ghosts can't see is that they have no eyes, and nobody without eyes can see. We know that as a fact. It has been verified.)
Thinking that God must be like a ghost raises other questions as well: How could ghosts even stroke and feel velvet as we do, since the velvet will not yield to their immaterial touch? Nor can they take a drink of water, take a breath of fresh air, smell the roses, chew a slice of apple, or share a kiss. Moreover, what feelings or passions are non-embodied sorts such as these supposed to be able to have? Can their knees go weak with fear, do their hearts swell with love, their ears flush with shame, or their fists clench in rage? None such things are possible for those who have no knees, hearts, ears, or fists, unless we are to suppose that they have non-physical ("subtle") bodies of human-like form.
Another relevant question is this: If God could be super-intelligent without having any brain, then why did He waste space and resources by putting brains in our heads? Why give us brains if we do not need them in order to think? Why give us eyes if they are not needed for seeing? Why give us muscles if they are not needed for moving things?
Hume adds to this skepticism that brainless beings could be intelligent by remarking that, in all our experience, mind depends upon matter, not matter upon mind: The mind never exists without some organ of thought (a brain) and physical organs of sense (like eyes and ears) and a physical body to nourish and sustain that organ. And, as remarked above, damage to that physical organ destroys the ability to think. Mind depends upon matter.
The other side of this is: Matter never depends upon mind. We cannot violate the law of the conservation of matter by creating or destroying matter through the power of our minds. Nor can we violate Newton's laws of motion to cause even the smallest particle to swerve from its path though the power of our minds. Our ability to raise our arms and flex our fingers is not a matter of mind over matter, it is NOT telekinesis. We cannot raise our arms unless the muscles and nerves and the rest of the matter in our arms is functioning, and we do not raise our arms by mentally activating the proper nerves leading to our muscles, having no knowledge of which nerves or muscles need to be activated in which sequence, and no power to mentally activate them. Therefore, it is not by telekinesis that we can raise our arms or turn our head or open our eyes. We are organic automatons -- we are not minds that pilot and move our physical bodies through occult mental activities. We are not ghosts in machines.
If it be thought that God might be able to move physical objects through telekinetic powers of His brainless mind, it should be noted that there is no evidence that any being has telekinetic powers. Such powers would violate Newton's three laws of motion (there would be physical action and acceleration without any equal and opposite physical reaction, etc.). And, if telekinesis were possible, why would God waste resources by giving us muscles and such to move things? Why even make us eat to nourish our bodies if bodies, muscles, and bones are not needed for getting things done? The entire story is like a knitted garment that unravels entirely when one pulls the right string.
A couple other objections to AFD seem pertinent here. If we are correct that an intelligent God must necessarily have a physical brain, this in turn raises the question how large God's brain must be in order that He might be super-intelligent or infinitely intelligent. Does God's brain have superior components or a superior design (and, if so, who designed those components, etc.?). Still we want to know just how large must God's brain be if He is indeed infinitely intelligent? If He numbers all the hairs on every person's head, if He knows when any sparrow will fall, and if He has known in advance, from the beginning of time, every thought and process of reasoning that ever would be conceived in His own brain, how gigantic must His brain be? Is His brain the size of our moon, the size of our galaxy, or perhaps infinite in size? If His brain were that large, and if the laws of physics are obeyed in its operations, how can its input and output be instantaneous? The stupendous, gigantic size that seems necessary for God's brain does boggle the human mind. To borrow language from Hume, what a Prodigious Animal God must be!
Brief reference already has been made to an oddity in the Biblical account of God's creation of our world. The AFD (Argument From Design) supposes that God is super intelligent because it supposes that God designed the universe and all living organisms in it, which would seem to require at least a high degree of intelligence, even if not an infinite intelligence (whatever "infinite" might mean here). Let us set aside the "possibility" that God's intelligence might not be as great as some have supposed, because He might have had helpers, or might have taken billions of years to plan things out before starting what is known by some as "the Week of Creation."
The oddity is this: The Biblical account does not suggest that God designed anything at all. There is no suggestion that there was any process of conceiving an idea or forming any plan at all. For example, Chapter 1, verse 24 of Genesis tells us that "God said, 'Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds.' And so it happened." There is no indication whatsoever that God formed or developed an idea or executed a plan that He had devised. He just says, let the earth bring forth animals, and it does! How much intelligence must God have in order to command the earth to bring forth animals, and how much intelligence must the earth have to bring forth such seemingly well-designed animals? It looks like word magic with no blueprints for the eyes, liver, sinews, brains, and other organs of the animals that are brought forth from the earth. Is it possible that God created animals with no blueprints, no knowledge of the design of their parts? Then why speak of His intelligence?
On the other hand, if we are indeed to think that God conceived an idea for the design of animals, and that He developed and elaborated on those plans, like Beethoven madly dashing off concerto after concerto in a creative frenzy, doesn't one want to know what nourished the development of those ideas from the simple to the complex in the brain of our Great Creator? Did he start with simple tunes and see how they could be developed into rondos and sonatas, working His way up to greater things? Or did it spring full blown from His fevered brow? What was His inspiration? Where did He get the original ideas on which to work? What chemistry and what physics did he have to invent and master in order to whip up His first virus, his first double helix, or his first woman?
The problem we are touching here goes deeper than the problem that mind depends upon matter, that our thoughts do not order themselves in our minds independently of the physical structure of our brains. The problem is not simply that intelligence requires having a brain. Rather, the problem is that we do not know what sense can be given to saying that God possesses any intelligence. If God is Omniscient, if He has known from the beginning of time all truths of mathematics, physics, and history -- if He has known in advance everything that ever will happen, then how could He ever learn or figure out anything? If intelligence is a matter of solving problems and finding answers to things, then an Omniscient God has no intelligence since there are no problems He could ever solve, because He always had the answers to all questions. He could not develop ideas or blueprints for his creatures, since He has known their entire structures from eternity.
Try to imagine having a conversation with an Omniscient God: If He asks you what you are thinking, your reply must be: "What kind of a question is that? You have known from the beginning of time every single thought I would ever have at any instant." How boring it all must be for God, who can never learn or discover or figure out anything in all of eternity, since He always knew everything that could be known! He can never know the joys of discovery, going hunting for arrowheads, fossils, or Easter Eggs, wondering what He might find. For Him there can be no joys of learning new things, putting two and two together, finding a new way to express an insight.
In Part IV of the Dialogues, Demea accuses Cleanthes of anthropomorphism when suggesting that the mind of the Deity might be similar to the soul of man, composed of fleeting and successive ideas, passions, opinions -- a notion inconsistent with the idea of the Divine as a Being that is fixed, simple, and perfect. Cleanthes responds that mystics such as Demea are atheists without knowing it. His response is worth reproducing here: "… though it be allowed that the Deity possesses attributes of which we have no comprehension, yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature essential to him. A mind whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive, one that is wholly simple and totally immutable, is a mind which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or, in a word, is no mind at all," (underlines mine). Of course Cleanthes is correct on this point. His only mistake is in not seeing that an Omniscient mind is no mind at all.
Let us ratchet it up another notch. Recall that David Hume was an Empiricist. In simplest terms, he believed that intelligence or the operations of the mind consist largely of associating, comparing, transposing, and variously manipulating ideas that are faint copies of sense impressions. For example, he believed that no person could have any idea or understanding of what it could mean to say that a thing was red without at some time having actually seen something that looked red to him. Thus, a person who had been blind from birth could not understand the claim that an apple was red. So, if God is a super-ghost, if God never had eyes, then how could God have knowledge of (or even any idea) what colors are? Tabula Rasa! His mind would be empty!
Indeed, having had good physical eyes is conceptually necessary even for knowing that a certain thing looks red. If we are trying to teach a schoolboy who is not color-blind to identify things by color ("red," "green," and so on), and if he keeps calling a green thing red, we do not accept it when he says, "Well, at least it LOOKS red to me!" What we tell him is that it does NOT look red to him. We know he is not color-blind because he has passed the tests for color-blindness, so we know there is nothing wrong with his eyes. So, contrary to what he says, it looks green (not red) to him. He just hasn't learned his color words yet, doesn't yet have the words attached to the right colors. This shows that even thinking that something looks red depends upon our first having mastered the use of our color words, having gained proficiency in being able to pick out, correctly point to, and identify things by their color. My right to say the sunset looks red to me depends upon my having demonstrated that I can tell the difference between red and other colors by sight. No nonphysical being (that never had eyes with which to see, mouth for speaking, hands with which to point, etc.) can demonstrate this mastery of language.
Still, even if we know of no beings that can see without eyes, isn't it at least "logically possible" that some people, or ghosts, or perhaps God, could see without the use of physical eyes? Though it never has been confirmed, some people claim to have this ability, and we have a name for it: Clairvoyance. Suppose that a person claimed to be able to see (without eyes) things in the next room or events across town such as a freeway accident. Suppose further that an expert magician has been employed to rule out cheating. If this person now claims to have a Clairvoyant vision of a pile-up on HWY 99 Southbound across town, and describes the make and model of the autos involved, and license numbers that he can "see," the way to test his claim is to send somebody to the scene. Suppose that our investigators find no accident at the reported scene -- they see nothing. Then the clairvoyant claim is dismissed. We do not suppose that he can see wrecked automobiles with his special powers that others cannot see with normal eyes. The testimony of those with normal physical eyes trumps the testimony of the "clairvoyant," especially if none of the other physical senses like touch and smell can back up his claim to clairvoyantly see an accident scene. Physical eyes and the rest of the physical senses win hands down. End of story.
On the other hand, suppose that our investigators do consistently find his reports accurate. Would this show that he could indeed see without eyes, that he was indeed clairvoyant? It is not clear that it would. For, there are many alternative explanations for the "accuracy" of his reports. Moreover, even if his reports were consistently accurate, we still would have no explanation how he could see without eyes. There is no theory that explains how seeing things without eyes could be possible, so confirmation of his reports would not yet be the confirmation of any theory of paranormal abilities he might have. We should be dumbfounded -- we wouldn't know what to say. (By analogy, suppose that he seemed to be able to make himself "levitate" when he recited a mantra. Would that show that he or his words had telekinetic powers? To say that he has telekinetic powers is no more explanatory than to say that sleeping pills put us to sleep because they have soporific powers.)
Note that, even if confirming the "clairvoyant" person's reports were regarded as confirmation of clairvoyant powers, this confirmation could only be made while the person is a living, physical being, not after he has become a disembodied ghost. For, while in his ghostly state, he no longer can use physical eyes to "confirm" his clairvoyant powers, and the evidence of physical eyes (as noted) do trump any claims made via clairvoyant "seeming to see." There is a reason for this. When we see by the use of our physical eyes, there are explanations how physical eyes are causally affected by our surroundings, and we have explanations how perspective and other visual phenomena are explained by optics and the structure of our eyes. There is no explanation whatsoever how non-physical ghosts could interact with our physical surroundings so that they might see things.
Of course most of us have some quarrel with parts of Hume's empiricism. For, example, we do not think that our idea of redness or our understanding of what it means to say a thing is red is a matter of having a faint copy of the sensation of seeing a red thing. Nevertheless, there does seem to be some truth in Hume's view: Even if Helen Keller had been born deaf and blind and unable to smell or taste anything, still she had the ability to touch, feel, and manipulate objects in her environment to learn about them. But, suppose that she had been completely paralyzed with no sensory input whatsoever. What could her completely empty mind know? What could she think about or wonder? She could not know anything about her environment any more than does your computer (word processer) that has no sensory input because it lacks sense organs. (The computer has no way of knowing what is displayed on its monitor screen, and typing the word "red" on its keyboard gives it no sensory input.) In sum, there is no reason to think that the mind of a God that has no physical body or sense organs could have any but an empty mind, a blank slate. And, even if He did somehow have impressions of the physical world, He could have no knowledge that His mental impressions were evidence of how the world really is, since (having no sense organs) He would have no explanation how His non-physical impressions were causally related to a physical world.
Putting aside all these reservations about the mind of a non-physical Deity, let us return to the argument from design and the feeling that only the Mind of a God could generate such diversity and beauty in the design of the organisms of our world. The loveliness of the wildflowers in the wilderness of the woods of my childhood were without parallel --the trillium and tiger lilies, calypso orchids and bleeding hearts, wild current, wild iris, bread and butters, and ocean spray -- enough to make one wish there were a God if only so that one could thank Him for doing such a swell job with the flowers. Mosses and ferns, joint grass and lichen and spirogyra, amoeba and hydra and rotifers, salamanders and centipedes and banana slugs, all make us drunk with wonder and admiration. The first time I visited the University of Oregon library, I discovered two books that multiplied the size of my universe several-fold. One contained hand-paintings of so many varieties of wild orchids that one would think God had exhausted His imagination just in designing the Orchids alone. Another contained photos of hundreds of varieties of fossil spores that had been found in Oregon peat bogs. On the internet today, one site alone gives hundreds of enlarged photos of the most amazing animalcules. What a talented and busy God!
And, let us not forget to mention Love. When a man loves a woman, the perfection of her loveliness can make the most hardened skeptic believe there must be a God -- only God could make a woman. Only a God could look into my heart to see my innermost desire, to know my destiny, to shape and form my one and only true love, my fulfillment, my perfect fit. And yet, that old medieval maxim, Ex nihilo nihil fit (From nothing, nothing comes) rises full force against such romantic over-reaching. The question that begs to be answered here is this: How could God have formed the idea, in all its richness and fullness, of that love that people have for their mates and children? What was the source of this inspiration? With His blank slate of a mind, never having had a mother or father or a mate or children of His own, never having experienced affection, sexual desire, or even a physical body, without having experienced anything remotely similar, what steps are we to suppose that there could have been in the creative process that lead to the idea of human beings in all their multi-splendored emotional fullness? Even if a theologian could fill in plausible steps that God might have taken to get from the Nothingness to a blueprint for the fullness of human love, there is no evidence that there ever was such a God, or that such an idea in fact developed in His empty-slate mind. Absent any explanation how God could have invented love, the fact of love is not explained by saying that God invented it.
Appeal to God's creative powers is no more an explanation than is Harry Potter's magic wand. It is like saying that the Maharishi can levitate because he has telekinetic powers, or that he can levitate because he has a mantra (a magical set of words to effect things) for everything. These are non-explanations, as evidenced by the fact that they do not reduce the mystery of how they bring about the things that we wanted to explain. We do not say, "Oh, I see -- he levitated because he said the magic words!" or "Oh, that explains it -- he was able to levitate and to invent love because he had the power of levitation and inventive powers as well!"
So, how can we explain the love of a man for a woman if it was not part of God's plan? I think that evolution provides the only answer to the mystery of love. Think of it this way: There has been a process of mate-selection going on for hundreds of generations. For thousands of years, ancestors of ours have seen a woman walking by who took their fancy. Something special about her made them think, "I must have that woman -- I have to have babies with her." They are willing to walk over dead bodies to get to her. Down the long corridors of time, each generation has selected its heart's desire to create an even more perfect gene pool from which the next generation will select an even more perfected pool from which the next generation can pick genes of attraction that have become even more deadly and irresistible. So, it is no wonder that we find our mates perfectly suited to our desires: Desires have been selecting their preferred love objects and putting them first in the gene pool (ahead of those that did not fit their fancy) for hundreds of thousands of years. And that is the simple answer why my wife is so absolutely perfect for me: She is The Flower of Evolution.
A similar answer is available to what makes dogs and children so loveable. Children are more likely to survive long enough to reproduce their pattern if they are found irresistible by their mothers. And, dogs that can mimic the cuteness of children are made part of the human family, not cooked for dinner or just killed. Dogs apparently are the only domesticated animal that gives eye contact with humans. How long does this take? Russian experimenters have successfully domesticated Siberian foxes by selecting for tameness (making them more like dogs with juvenile characteristics such as broader skulls, barking, whining, tail-wagging, raised tail, floppy ears, submissiveness, more varied color, lessened aggressiveness, etc.). This was done in forty years of selection -- just a handful of generations!
Of course it takes far longer for evolution to get from pond scum to puppies, butterflies, apple trees, and people. We know this process has been ongoing for over three billion years. So, we know that the story that all plants and animals were designed by a God with a prodigious brain about 6,000 years ago is false and a myth. There have been primitive organisms on earth more than 500 thousand times that long. And, there is no super being that created us. But, not all is lost. One of the sweetest things about Christianity is its view that since God is Father to us all, therefore all people are each others' brothers and sisters. Even though evolution removes God and the Angels from our family tree, our family tree is vastly enlarged. If Darwin was right (and you know he was), then we are brothers and sisters to all living things, to the daffodil and the grass on which we walk, to little puppies and to the cricket and the birds that sing. I think that is sweet. The fact that it is sweet does nothing to show that it is true. Nevertheless, it is true. And, it is sweet … even though some of your more distant relatives (such as poison oak, tapeworms, recluse spiders, and e. coli) might not be welcome at the family reunion.
Sixth Criticism: The Argument From Evil:
The argument from design tells us that our world is so wonderful and so perfect that it must have been created by a Perfect Being. That is to say, it must have been created by a God who is perfect in knowledge, power, and goodness (Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Benevolent).
The argument from evil responds by saying that our world is not perfect. In fact, AFE claims that there are very serious imperfections (evils) in our world, and that those imperfections are incompatible with the existence of God. AFE says that if there were an Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Benevolent God, then He would not allow any evil in the world. But, there are many evils (imperfection and bad things) in our world. So, either God does not know about those evils, and so He is not Omniscient; or, He is powerless to prevent those evils, and so He is not Omnipotent; or, He does not care to remove those evils, and so He is not Benevolent. In any case, if he lacks any of those three properties, He is not God.
Before explaining AFE further, we should be reminded that we argued earlier that it might not even make sense to say that a being has perfect or infinite knowledge. So, perhaps the Creator need not be infinitely perfect (whatever that might mean) to deserve the title "God." In fact, some scriptures hint at a less than perfect God. For example, why would God need Angels to search Sodom and Gomorrah to see if there is one righteous man who dwells there? An Omniscient God would know already. Perhaps this extreme concept of God is nothing more than a matter of pious praise getting way out of hand: It seems that the greatest possible praise would be saying that God is perfect in every respect (perfect in knowledge, perfect in power, and perfect in goodness -- i.e., Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Benevolent). (Of course the Ontological Argument for Gods' existence will not work if He is not the Greatest Conceivable Being -- but, that seems irrelevant since the Ontological Argument doesn't work anyhow). And, as a matter of personal preference, some people might prefer a relationship with a more human God, one with a minor flaw or two (perhaps jealous with a bit of a temper), one who sometimes has regrets and who tries to drown all his children when they succumb to utter wickedness. However, even if having the trinity of perfections (Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Benevolence) is not a necessary prerequisite for being God, I think still we would not think a being qualified as God unless it was vastly (if not infinitely) superior to humans in knowledge, power, and goodness.
But, if God is indeed not entirely perfect, does that help Him sidestep the problem of evil? Can we say that God's existence is compatible with the existence of evil because God just isn't quite smart enough to figure out how to remove all evil … or that He lacks the power? This throws us into the same morass of doubt as the Perfect God hypothesis. For, given that it does not provide any particulars about how limited God's power, knowledge, or goodness actually is, we still are left wondering why there is so much hideous evil in the world. Is it really too hard for God to find a cure for cancer, does He really lack the power to eliminate cancer, or does He just not care enough to put out the effort of saying, "Let there be no more cancer"? Then we are left with an indefinitely (though radically) diminished God. When praying to such a God to have our child cured of leukemia, we open the door to other explanations why our prayers might not be answered. Instead of saying that God has his reasons, we would have to add, "Maybe it was just too hard for Him," or "perhaps He couldn't figure out how," or perhaps "Maybe He just didn't care that much about your daughter." Do we also now have to add, "Maybe you didn't pray loud enough for him to hear," or "Maybe He was taking a nap, taking a stroll in the garden, too busy"? In any case, supposing God to be less than perfect does not save AFD. As we already have seen, even a perfect world would not prove a perfect creator (see the one/many objection), so it is not clear what we could infer about the Creator when we reflect on the evils of disease, natural disaster, etc. For, many different creator stories could be devised to "explain" our imperfect world, and there seems no way to decide between them or other so-so stories.
Back to our argument: AFE says 1) If God exists, there is no evil, but 2) Evil exists, so 3) There is no God. Since the argument is formally valid, the only way to attack the argument is to argue that one or both premises are false. Spinoza attacked the truth of the second premise, but that is not plausible to most people. As one of my students once put it, "If we don't know that evil exists, that some things are bad, then we don't know anything at all." The only defense against AFE that is left is to deny the truth of the first premise. This requires explaining why God might have good reasons for allowing some evils to exist.
For those who have not noticed (or who have forgotten) that our world is not perfect, a brief inventory of the evils in our world might make the problem more concrete: There are diseases (cancer, TB, leprosy, ebola, syphilis, leukemia, herpes and shingles, the common cold and flu, tooth decay and abscesses, mad cow disease, diabetes, heart disease, etc.), bodily injury (broken bones, burns, evisceration, amputation, etc.), parasites (lice, fleas, yellow fever, pin worms and tape worms, brain-eating worms, leaches, ticks, scabies, ringworm, chiggers), old age (infirmity and flabbiness, senility, incontinence, impotence, arthritis, baldness, loss of strength, low energy, napping all the time, liver spots, loss of sight and hearing, etc.), dangerous wild animals (sharks, lions, piranhas, wolves, bears, cobras, coral snakes, sea vipers, black widows and mouse spiders, sting rays, jellyfish, and rabid bats), natural disasters (floods, drought, heat waves and killer cold fronts, meteors, forest fires, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis), man's inhumanity to man (robbers, con artists, rapists, murderers, gangs and irrational mobs, child molesters, adultery, infidelity and betrayal, warfare, bombings, gassings, racism, religious persecution, genocide, and rude and hurtful remarks), mental illness (paranoia, schizophrenia, depression, hysteria, general insanity, psychopathy, memory loss), and Hume asks us not to forget the terrors of superstition. I am certain that more categories of evil could be added (like birth defects, ugliness and halitosis, lack of industry (laziness), rotten food, rose beetles that destroy the beauty of our gardens, fecal matter and filth in general, etc), and vast additions could be made within each category, along with terrible stories detailing the pain, suffering and horrors of each variety of evil. We haven't even mentioned the unfathomable suffering among the far more numerous lesser animals that are victims of parasites, predators, diseases, freezing, poisoning, etc.), wholesale evil that has been tormenting untold numbers of sentient creatures millions of years before humans ever existed.
Some of the explanations why a God would allow such evils are just false. For many kinds of things, it is simply false that good things cannot exist without bad things. Nobody has to have bad teeth so that some can have good teeth. No child has to be crippled so that other children can walk. Of course we would not have a word for "cripple" if no one ever had been crippled (we would not even have the concept). But, so what? We wouldn't need the word if everyone could walk. We wouldn't need the word "disease" if there never had been any diseases. That is no excuse for afflicting us with leprosy, polio, spina bifida, and such.
It has been said that we would not appreciate what we have if it were not for other people suffering evil. This is nonsense. A child can enjoy running and skipping and walking to places she wants to go, without thinking how lucky she is that it was Timmy next door (not her) who was paralyzed by polio or who lost a leg in a car accident. Do you really want your children to enjoy the good food they have by thinking of the orphans in poor countries that have to eat dirt and garbage, bellies bloated with edema?
Some pleasures do indeed seem to depend on prior pain. For example, when a person twists your arm so much that it hurts, it feels good when they stop wrenching your arm. One of my most memorable experiences was walking outside in the spring and smelling the flowers after I recovered from a two-week bout with the flu. The illness did sharpen the pleasure of walking outside in the springtime. For all that, nobody deliberately gets the flu to get an enhanced experience, and nobody asks another to twist his arm until it hurts, just to experience the pleasure of no longer being tormented. Aristotle called such pleasures "false pleasures."
Some say that God allows disease, famine, and war to prevent the world from being overpopulated. But it is morally offensive to offer this as God's excuse for evil. God should be able to find more humane ways to keep the population down. He could simply make us less fertile. And, if He must take some to heaven to make room for the new ones, He could send advance notice to their loved ones so that they could say goodbye properly. In fact, He could take them directly to heaven on white horses with fiery eyes (let them go like Elijah when they go), or send them to heaven happy with an overdose of heroin. When we have to get rid of a surplus of cats on the farm, we try to kill them humanely. We don't give them cancer, starve them, burn them, and so on. To accuse God of using these means to prevent overpopulation is blasphemy.
It is true that good things sometimes come from bad things. For example, two people in my mother's church were having marital problems a few years ago. But, when their little child was run over and killed by a car, this tragedy brought them together, and their marriage was saved. Years later, noticing that my neighbors were having marital problems, I waited for their toddler to walk behind my pickup, and I backed up and crushed him to save their marriage. It is hard being God, and it is thankless work, but somebody has to do it. But of course this is a stupid story that I invent only to make a point: One should never do or allow evil that good might come. It would be wrong to kill the child to save a marriage, and God (being omnipotent) should not need to kill the child to save their marriage. Take another example: If I want to prevent my child from having tetanus and diphtheria, I must take him to the doctor to get his immunizations. The shots cause pain and tears in the child, but the good that results far outweighs the minor pain of getting immunized. But, this excuse for allowing suffering will not work for an omnipotent God who should be able to protect the child from diseases without causing any pain.
Peter van Inwagen (The Magnitude, Duration and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy, 1988) offers a traditional Christian story to explain why God might allow such vast amounts of downright hideous evil to afflict so many innocent people throughout the ages -- apparently at random, without regard to desert. This kind of story is known as a "Theodicy" (Inwagen refers to his theodicy as a "just-so story"). This story has two parts: The first claims that God created people like Adam and Eve for Him to love, and He wanted them to love him in return. However, Inwagen claims that love requires free will: In order for people to truly love and desire to submit to God, they must freely choose to be united with God. To allow them freedom, however, involves the risk that they might choose instead to rebel, to turn away and separate from God. Unhappily, this is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden, and this is known as the fall.
The second part of Inwagen's theodicy explains that the period after the fall (expulsion from the Garden of Eden) will be filled with evil and torment until atonement day when people turn back to God and choose to love and submit to Him. The theodicy then tries to explain why this interim period of separation must be so completely filled with evil. Inwagen thinks part of the explanation might be that, in choosing to separate from God, Adam and Eve lost preternatural powers they shared with God, so that they no longer could foresee and avoid being injured by such things as earthquakes though Godlike prescience.
More importantly, however, Inwagen thinks that the only way for men to recover from the fall and reach atonement is to finally realize that a world without God is a hideous world, one with horrid suffering that afflicts people randomly, without regard to what they deserve. If God were to secretly intervene to prevent evil, then people would suffer the illusion that a life separate from God is not so bad after all, and they would not repent their rebellion and rejection of God. To illustrate Inwagen's point, God has to allow innocent children of good, church-going people to die of cruel diseases, or to be kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered, so that everyone can see how horrid and randomly brutal a world without God would be. In short, Inwagen wants us to love and to seek reconciliation with a big Parent-in-the-Sky who is the "Poster-Parent" for Munchausen syndrome by proxy: God is like an MD who secretly infects His children with diseases, puts arsenic in their porridge, beats them and breaks their arms, etc. so that they and the rest of the world can see how very much they need Him. Inwagen's just-so story beautifully illustrates the depths of moral and intellectual depravity to which some are willing to sink in their desperation to explain God's "Love and Goodness."
To accept Inwagen's so-so story is as morally sick as the child-abuse syndrome that inspired it. The obvious first criticism is that if parents want the love of their children, the way to ensure it is to be there for them (not be an "absent" parent), and to show them plenty of love: Give them hugs and kisses, talk to them, tell them jokes and laugh with them, feed and clothe them, let them know that they are safe with you (that you will protect them from mean dogs and bad spiders), and that you will tend to them when they are sick, injured, or sad; take them for walks in the garden and show them the flowers you planted for their delight, teach them to love and to bake Christmas cookies, draw pictures with them, play peek-a-boo and do building blocks with them, teach them to sing and dance, take them to zoos and museums, introduce them to Euclid and science, read them stories of the sublime, the beautiful, and the terrible. In short, getting your children's love is not rocket science -- Just show them your love, and model that love in the way you treat others as well, and they will love you and others in return.
Inwagen apparently thinks that this way of getting children to love you would be cheating. What is his reason for thinking this? In the first page of his essay, Inwagen states that not even an omnipotent being could insure that that a creature that has a free choice between x and y always will choose x rather than y. The idea is that if a creature in a certain circumstance always chooses x rather than y, then that creature is not freely choosing x. (If the creatures' choice were a free and genuine choice, then at least sometimes the creature would choose y!)
It is one of the seven wonders of the modern world that this piece of stupidity persists in modern discussions of "free choice." Take a concrete example to see the wrongness of Inwagens' claim: Suppose that you are one of those persons who love raspberry twists (they make you smile, salivate, and swallow) and you hate black licorice (it makes you gag, spit, and retch). Suppose that somebody offers you the choice between eating a raspberry twist or a piece of black licorice. Naturally, you always will choose x over y in this case. That does not show your choice is not free. You are doing what any normal organism would do, choosing what you love over what you hate. It should be noted as well, that those of us who hate black licorice do not choose to hate black licorice -- we hate it because we are so constituted that it makes us gag and spit. Moreover, it should be as clear as a summer's day that the way to make friends with normal people, the way to make them like and love you, is to treat them with kindness and consideration. (If you want to be loved, then be a raspberry twist-- be their piece of candy!) There would be something very wrong (psychologically defective) in a child that did not learn to love from being treated with love. On the other hand, people generally learn cruelty by being abused -- not from being loved. How can this not be obvious to intelligent people?
Of course there can be genetic defects that contribute to psychopathic tendencies, but it makes no sense to blame love of cruelty on free will or free choice. When we wonder how a person like Suzie Smith could murder her own children, it explains nothing to say: She had a choice between killing her kids or treating them with love, and she simply exercised her free will and murdered them! For normal persons, murdering their own children just is not one of their choices -- they could not choose such a thing -- it is so contrary to every fiber in their being that they could not do it and be the person they are. It is a fiction and a distortion of what people are like to think that their moral behavior ordinarily is a matter of choice. Suppose that you were visiting a friend, and they left a hundred dollar bill on the coffee table. If you are an honest person and you are asked, "Why did you choose not to take the money when your friend was out of the room," you will not say you were afraid of being caught. If you are an honest person, you made no choice at all -- the thought of stealing did not even occur to you. The reason you did not take the money is simply that the money was not yours. There are some things that properly raised people simply will not do. It doesn't even occur to decent people that they have some "choice" to steal from their friends.
Aristotle got this right twenty three centuries ago: An honest person is a person who habitually, unthinkingly, automatically, as a matter of character can be counted on always to do the honest thing. What is this nonsense about free will here? Do we want to say that the person with an honest character, the person we know we can count on always to be honest, is not really honest? As disciples of Inwagen, should we say that honesty implies freedom, and a person isn't freely choosing to do the honest thing unless he sometimes does dishonest things? That would be absurd. A person who now and then chooses to do dishonest things simply is not an honest person. And, a person who now and then acts in an unloving way is not a perfectly loving person. In fact, it isn't clear that it commonly makes sense to speak of choosing to love a person. Usually, we grow to love another in the course of our coming to know more of their qualities that command our love. So-called "love at first sight" -- being "thunderstruck" -- is a different matter, but that clearly is not a matter of choice either.
Perhaps Inwagen has simply fallen victim to that old picture that people would be mere robots or automatons if they lacked free will, and that free will requires unpredictability. The idea is that if we were just deterministic robots programmed by God to feel and do certain things, then we would deserve no credit and no blame for any of our actions. If God programs us to steal, then it is God's fault (not ours) if we do steal, since we can do no other than what he designed us to do. Similarly, if we are just programmed to love Him, it would seem not to be real love. But, is this really so? If I love maple bars because (due to the kind of taste organs I have, etc.) they taste delicious to me, it seems to me obvious that I do love maple bars. What role would free will have in this? I love the taste of maple bars, and not the taste of rotten potatoes, not from choice, but because of my biological inheritance and my experience with those things. In similar fashion, if I love a person, likely it is due to positive experiences in my interactions with that person -- perhaps I find them attractive, intelligent and interesting, and admire their integrity, industry, and kindness. What has free will to do with this?
If God wants us to love Him, then first He should make us the kind of being that (even if only imperfectly) can appreciate His Goodness, and then make His wonderful qualities known to us. I once was told that God was the kind of being the sight of whom would automatically drop you to your knees in awe and adoration. Well, I like that. If there is a God as wonderful as He is said to be, I think there would be something wrong with a person who did not fall to his knees in awe at the sight of God. It should be like being thunderstruck. It should be like love at first sight. What could it possibly mean to say, "When I saw God, I freely chose to adore Him"? What nonsense! Any God worth His salt will command (totally control, commandeer) your love and adoration. You will have no choice.
This free will excuse for God's allowing evil in this world is pathetic. Some say that if everything we do is determined by our environment and heredity (E & H), then we have no choice. But, that is absurd. If it has been determined that I hate licorice and love raspberry, it does not follow that I cannot choose between the two. Of course I can choose, as I am the kind of deterministic, organic automaton that can learn what I like and choose accordingly. Given the history of having tasted both, it is inevitable (absolutely determined) that I always will choose the raspberry and reject the licorice. The fact that it is causally determined which choice I will make shows that I will make that choice (It does NOT absurdly show that I will not choose). Using similar logic, if it has been absolutely determined by my E & H that I will go get a drink of water, it follows that I WILL get a drink of water. Moreover, given the type of efficient organism that I am, very likely I will get that drink of water because I am thirsty and because I want a drink of water. Moreover, evolutionary forces likely have made my present thirst and desire for water to be appropriate for me, not some random desire forced upon me by fickle chance. So, my getting the drink of water is perfectly voluntary, even though it has been determined from the beginning of time that at this very moment I would get myself a drink of water.
Some people complain about the fact that our E & H determines all our actions for all eternity. Well, what is the complaint? To the extent that our actions are caused by who we are (caused by our desires, values, character, etc.), to that extent we are deterministic beings, and deterministic beings are beings whose future is entirely set. Nevertheless, this is the only kind of world in which the things we do can be considered our actions. If we were to do something entirely out of character, something not in accord with our desires, values, etc. -- like eating black licorice or murdering our children -- then it is not even clear what sense could be made of saying that it was OUR choice, that we were doing what we wanted to do. To the extent that we might not be deterministic beings, to that extent the things we do cannot be considered our actions. If we act contrary to our desires (doing things we do not want to do), how can we be considered to be the author of those actions?
Notice that the only alternative to causation and a completely determined future is violation or suspension of the laws of nature. To put it differently, the only alternative to determinism is randomness, some things happening for no reason whatsoever. Suppose that we or a God wanted to give a robot (or a deterministic organism like a human being) genuine free will, and we were bothered by the fact that the robot was a deterministic being. Well, we could fix that easily. All we would need to do is to put a randomizer in its circuits. So, for example, when a person is driving down the street and sees a child run in front of the car, instead of stepping on the brakes and swerving to avoid the child, the person with the "free will" circuit sometimes randomly will step on the gas and run the child over. Here would be a way to make us indeterminate and unpredictable. But, we would not recognize such randomizer-generated actions as our own actions. When asked why I ran the child over, I think I should be justified in saying, "I didn't do it -- the randomizer made me do it."
The point I have just been making is the same point made by Hume about 350 years ago. Free action is not uncaused or random action (it isn't action that is causally unconnected to our desires and values); rather, acting freely is acting in accord with who we are, acting in accord with our beliefs, desires and values. The opposite of freedom is being forced by another to do something contrary to what we want to do (for example, being forced at gunpoint to give a robber our money, or being locked in a room against our will). Of course Hume admits that there are indeed some men whose actions are entirely unpredictable and unconnected with any of their beliefs or desires. Such people, he notes, are not exemplars of free men. To the contrary, such men make no sense to us and are considered insane. To the extent that people are not deterministic, to that extent they are Madmen. (This sometimes is referred to as Hume's famous "Madman objection.")
For the rest, says Hume, we all suppose that our sister and fellow human beings are deterministic beings. We are assuming that people are deterministic every time that we attempt to influence their behavior through reward or punishment. And, we suppose it every time that we vouch for another person, saying that we know him well and that it is inconceivable that he could do what his accusers say he did. In knowing him well, we know what he could and could not do. With Inwagen's metaphysical concept of freedom, however, we should never be surprised when a person did anything totally out of character, since all things are possible with this strange brand of "free will." We always could say "Yep, when his Mom gave him the present he asked for, it made him so grateful that he put a hatchet in her head because, you know, God gave him the gift of free will, which makes us all unpredictable." This story makes no sense.
And how are we to think this "free will" principle applies to God? Does God choose freely? If not, Inwagen's principle tells us that God has no moral worth. But, If God indeed does have freedom of choice, Inwagen's principle tells us that God sometimes must choose evil. Is that the explanation why God drowned so many of His children in Noah's flood? Because God has free will, He must sometimes freely choose evil things? Again, this story makes no sense. And, needless to say, it is not respectful toward God.
I once saw a bumper-sticker that read, "If you don't like education, try ignorance for awhile." In a similar vein, I want to say, "If you don't like determinism, try indeterminism for awhile." The fact that we are deterministic beings (shaped by causal influences in our environments) is the only thing that makes it possible for us to learn anything, whether it be truths of math and science or whether it be good behavior. Punishment and reward shape up the behavior only of deterministic beings. Only deterministic beings can learn to avoid things that cause them pain and to pursue those things that bring satisfaction and pleasure. Only deterministic beings can learn lessons from history, learn the difference between right and wrong, and learn to care about these things. Stop for a moment to consider how fortunate you are that you have deterministic sense organs and a deterministic brain. What could you possibly know, if your optic nerve was only randomly (not causally) connected to your eyes and to your brain? Then there could be no such thing as knowing what you see. It would be like having the gear of an odometer disconnected from the output shaft of the transmission, so that the numbers displayed gave no indication of how many miles you had travelled. Odometers only work to show our mileage because they are properly constructed and properly connected deterministic mechanisms.
Only a deterministic brain, one that follows the law of cause and effect, can serve us well. By analogy, suppose that you purchase a hand calculator, and you get a different answer every time you try to add 2 and 5 on it. So, you take it back to the store to complain, and you get this response: "Oh, you got a very special calculator, one with a FREE WILL circuit built into it. This is not one of those unoriginal Deterministic calculators that give answers dictated by the laws of physics. This calculator freely chooses the answers that feel right for it." Well, you will want your money back. You don't want a randomizer in your calculator, you don't want a randomizer in your word-processor, and you don't want one in your brain. Of course it would be nice if your deterministic brain happened to be "well designed" as well, but evolution takes care of that too: Your less intelligent relatives in the distant past got killed off at a greater rate than those with better-working brains. Brains that work better increase the likelihood of progeny with brains that work better.
There is enormous hostility and fear against determinism, and part of this is due to a huge misunderstanding of what is entailed by one of the things that determinism does entail. Determinism does in fact entail that the entire future of the universe is set in stone, so to speak. If determinism is true, then every motion of every atom in the universe has been determined in complete detail from the beginning of time: The motion of every atom in the fiery furnace of every star, the motion of every leaf blowing in the wind, every thought and motion of every person, every jot and tittle, as they say, is totally determined by the laws of physics and the relative positions and velocities of the atoms at the beginning. Determinism does in fact entail that. Every event that happens is the inevitable consequence of prior events, even when atoms combine to form molecules that combine to make living organisms and conscious human beings. That is what determinism entails. That is why we call it "determinism," and it is the logical consequence of any system in which all things act according to laws of nature, not according to random chance. If every event is completely determined (caused) by prior events, then all subsequent events are set.
So, what follows from this entailment of determinism? If determinism is true, why put out the effort to mow the lawn? If it already has been determined whether I will mow or not, why not just lie down in the hammock and wait to see what will happen? Whatever will be, will be, "Que sera, sera." This is an irrational response to learning that everything we will ever do has been determined from the beginning of time. Of course it has, but we are part of the causal chain, and if we lie down in the hammock to see what will happen, the lawn will not get mowed -- at least not until the grass gets high enough to interrupt our reverie and prompt us to action. (For an extended discussion of this misunderstanding, see my essay, "Merry Christmas -- The Gift You Can't Refuse -- It’s a Perfect Fit!" at lastskepticstanding.blogspot.com.)
Suppose I am lost in the desert, and do not know which fork to take in the road to get out of the desert. If determinism is true, then indeed it has been determined from the beginning of time which fork in the road I will take. Does this mean that there is no point in checking my map (or reading the road signs) to see which fork to take? Of course not. If I want to take the correct fork, I had better check the map. We are deterministic automata that can and do acquire information that we use to get what we want and need. We are links in the causal chain, and we have been trained to read maps and road signs and to act accordingly. If I am so flummoxed by the puzzle of determinism that I neglect to read the map, thinking it is pointless if my path already is determined, then I might take the wrong path, and leave my defective genes in the desert sands. Take a different example: Suppose I know I need to put on chains to get my pickup over the snowy pass. The information that it has been determined from the beginning of time whether I will put chains on or not is irrelevant to what I should do. Everything is determined, so that information is useless. The useful information is that I need to put on chains, so that is what I do.
When one watches the fox chasing the rabbit, one might wonder how it is possible for this dance of death between the fox and the rabbit to be so wonderfully choreographed. If determinism is true, then the entire path of the fox (turning right and left, stopping and going) has been determined in minute detail several billion years ago. The same is true of the path of the rabbit -- it also has been determined billions of years ago. But, if the direction the fox turns in the next second has been determined billions of years ago, how is it possible that the fox turns to the left just when the rabbit turns left? What coordinates their paths? How is it possible for the fox to follow the rabbit, changing direction upon seeing the rabbit change direction, if its every movement and direction already has been set in stone? To see how this happens in our deterministic world, consider the following:
Suppose we want to design a guided missile to track and take down a jet plane. We might do this by giving the missile an array of heat sensors that detect the heat coming from the jet. If the sensors to the right and the left are both sensing the same amount of heat, then the missile is headed straight toward the jet; if the left sensor senses more heat than the right sensor, then it automatically will activate a side jet that causes the missile to turn left toward the plane; and so on. It is easy, then to design a guided missile that will track and follow a plane, going right and left in response to the plane's going right and left. Both the missile and the plane are deterministic systems, and both have paths that have been determined in detail for billions of years. However, their paths have not been determined and set out independently. They are deterministic mechanisms causally interacting with one another.
In similar fashion, the fox chasing the rabbit is a deterministic rabbit-tracking organism. It has eyes with which to see the rabbit, and when the rabbit turns to the left, so does the fox. Of course the fox's path is predetermined, but only because its path is determined by the law-governed causal interactions between the fox and the rabbit. So, the fox does turn left (doing what it has been determined for billions of years to do at that moment), and it turns left because that is the way the rabbit is turning. It is a complete misunderstanding to think that some kind of indeterminism needs to be introduced into deterministic systems to give foxes "wiggle room" to depart from their pre-determined paths when the rabbit makes an unexpected turn. The fox is not following a pre-set route -- it is following the rabbit. And, its ability to follow the rabbit is due to deterministic structures in its eyes, brain, and body that make it an efficient rabbit-tracking organism. The route is indeed pre-set, but only because the fox and rabbit are deterministic organisms interacting with each other. When the fox turns left, it is not because it has been set to turn left, but because it has been set to chase rabbits, and the rabbit turned left. This is how determinism works. It is the only rational way for things to work. And, if the fox has bad eyes, or had a genetic flaw so that it got right and left mixed up, then that fox would not catch enough rabbits to enable it to pass its genetic defect along to the next generation. And so we see how within a totally deterministic framework, organisms acquire increasingly efficient structures that enable them to engage in successful pursuit of food, mates, and safety. Of course all their movements are completely determined from the beginning of time. But, all that means is that none of their actions or interactions violate any laws of physics, so of course their "trajectories" -- the paths of their lives -- are completely determined, totally predictable in priniciple.
Another complaint that sometimes is lodged against determinism goes this way: Some philosophers admit that freedom in the ordinary sense is simply a matter of doing what we want to do, as opposed to being forced to do something contrary to our desires. They even admit that in a deterministic universe, our own values and desires are the causes of our actions. Still, they want to cry out that genuine freedom requires more than that we ordinarily do what we want to do. Their complaint is that, even though we do what we desire, we still are not free because we do not get to choose our original desires. All our desires and values are completely determined by our environment and heredity -- we do not get to choose our own E & H. But, how could it be otherwise? How could we choose our own E & H?
Suppose that God, hearing our complaint, said "OK, then choose your own E & H!" This sounds wonderful at first, and perhaps it is. But, the first thing to notice is that different people would make radically different choices, depending on their inherited E & H. Some people might wish they had been born smarter, richer, or more sensitive to the feelings of others. But, Charlie Manson (given his different E & H) might wish for a greater ability to do evil. So, the moment I begin to take God up on the offer to let me choose my own E & H, He will have to tell me that the way I am doing this just will not do. For, I am choosing my new E & H on the basis of my inherited desires and values, using the brain I got from my original E & H. To make certain that my choice of a new E & H is not determined by my inherited E & H, God will have to take away everything that He (or Nature) has given me. Of necessity, I will have to choose my E and H with no brain, knowledge, values, or desires at all. But, such a choice, not based on anything I know or want would be no choice at all. It would be like choosing by flipping a coin, which is a way of letting a toss decide the matter, a way of not making a choice. The upshot of this is that no being can ever make any kind of choice at all without already having an E and H that it did not choose.
The complaint, then, is that either our choices are based on (determined by) a brain, environment, and heredity that we did not choose -- or our choices are based on nothing at all (being made without any brain, knowledge, values, etc.), which also would make them not choices. The complaint is that determinism gives us one of those "Heads I win, tails you lose" circumstances: Both sides of the coin (both determinism and indeterminism) entail that we have no genuine free will. The conclusion seems to be that genuine free will is logically impossible -- impossible on any scenario we can imagine.
This complaint should make us very suspicious. It seems entirely vacuous because it does not explain how the complaint could be remedied. What could possibly make these complainers happy? No one denies that we have ordinary free will: Determinism not only allows, but nearly guarantees that we often do things because we want to do those things, or because we think we ought to, and we are not doing those things because anybody is forcing us against our will. But, this "ordinary" free will is not enough for those who complain that our desires are determined by an E & H that we did not (and cannot) choose. Not content with ordinary free will, they yearn for what some have called "Metaphysical" free will. But, they have admitted that this metaphysical free will for which they yearn is a logical impossibility. So, they yearn for something that they cannot even imagine to exist. This means that they have no intelligible complaint. It would be like complaining that you got no round squares or no slithey toves for Christmas. What did you think you wanted? This kind of mental paralysis (being flummoxed by empty words that have been given no meaning at all) is not uncommon in philosophy:
In Part II of Hume's Dialogue, Cleanthes chastises the Mystic (Demea) for saying that, while no man of common sense can doubt the existence of God, the nature of God must be entirely incomprehensible to us. Demea's incoherent claim deserves extended quotation:
"This (God's nature) I affirm, from the infirmities of human understanding, to be altogether incomprehensible and unknown to us. The essence of that supreme Mind, his attributes, the manner of his existence, the very nature of his duration -- these and every particular which regards so divine a Being are mysterious to men. Finite, weak, and blind creatures, we ought to humble ourselves in his august presence, and, conscious of our frailties, adore in silence his infinite perfections which eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. They are covered in a deep cloud from human curiosity; it is profaneness to attempt penetrating through these sacred obscurities, and next to the impiety of denying his existence, is the temerity of prying into his nature and essence, decrees and attributes." Philo chimes in to support this mystical theme: "we ought never to imagine that we comprehend the attributes of this divine Being, or to suppose that his perfections have any analogy or likeness to the perfections of a human creature. Wisdom, thought, design, knowledge -- these we justly ascribe to him because these words are honorable among men, and we have no other language or other conceptions by which we can express our adoration of him. But let us beware lest we think that our ideas anywise correspond to his perfections, or that his attributes have any resemblance to these qualities among men."
Note that Demea's mysticism is absolute, and it is utterly incompatible with the Christian religion. According to Demea, God is so incomprehensible that we cannot know that God loves or cares for us, or even that he is the sort of being that could care for us. We cannot even know God's decrees, cannot know that God gave us the Ten Commandments, cannot know that he will punish or reward anything we do, that he is capable of knowing what we do, or even that he created us or has the power to create anything. On this account, God is an absolute mystery to us. In Part IV, Cleanthes responds to Demea:
"The Deity, I can readily allow, possesses many powers and attributes of which we can have no comprehension; but, if our ideas, so far as they go, be not just and adequate and correspondent to his real nature, I know not what there is in this subject worth insisting on. Is the name, without any meaning, of such mighty importance? … How do you mystics, who maintain the absolute incomprehensibility of the Deity, differ from the skeptics or atheists…? … They are in a word, atheists, without knowing it." (Underlines mine)
Cleanthes might seem somewhat unfair to mystics in calling them atheists; for, unlike mystics who attach no meaning to the word "God," atheists do attach some meaning to the word "God" when they deny God's existence. Skeptics as well have some definite idea what kind of being it is whose existence they doubt. The mystic's position is a bit more nuanced here, because he believes that the God that exists is completely incomprehensible, and to that extent the mystic thinks the word "God" has no meaning for us. Nevertheless, Demea makes clear that mystics side with atheists in denying the existence of the standard Christian God. He contemptuously charges Cleanthes with anthropomorphism (the conceit of thinking that God must be like a human being), and clearly considers that to be a false (perhaps even childish, primitive, and conceited) belief. By any common understanding of the word "Atheist," then, Demea is an atheist in spades.
Still, isn't it unfair to the mystic to call him an atheist, since his refusal to believe in the Christian God is founded on his most pious view that God is so far above weak, finite, and blind creatures like us that God is entirely unfathomable to us? Well, Cleanthes says this will not do. If we cannot know any of God's attributes, then the word "God" has been entirely eviscerated -- completely gutted of any meaning. If the metaphysical (mystical) notion of "God" is entirely without meaning, then it is impossible to believe that such a "God" exists. There is no answer to the question what the mystic believes in when he says he believes there is a "God," because he has no idea what notion the word signifies. It would be like saying "I believe there is a Glubadub." For the mystic, "God" is a word without meaning, so that it makes no sense to claim belief or skepticism regarding the mystic's so-called God. If the name "God" is without meaning, then there is nothing in the subject worth insisting on.
And, what has this to do with free will and determinism? This relevance of his side discussion is that, since the metaphysical (mystical) notion of "God" has no meaning, it makes no sense to claim that there is or isn't any such metaphysical "God." The only talk about God that makes any sense is talk using the ordinary notion of God. In like fashion, ordinary free will (doing what we want, without being forced against our desires) is the only kind of free will we understand. Since the "metaphysical" notion of free will has not been coherently defined, it makes no sense to complain that we lack this special, more-than-ordinary kind of free will. Given that we cannot imagine any circumstance (deterministic or otherwise) in which we would say we had genuine "metaphysical" free will, it makes no sense to complain that we lack it. We cannot say what it is that we thereby are supposed to lack, or why that is supposed to be a bad thing.
A couple pages earlier, I mentioned that some philosophers seem to claim that, since determinism and indeterminism both entail that we have no "genuine" free will, therefore it is logically impossible for anyone to have free will. But, to say that a thing is logically impossible is only to say that the description of that thing is self-contradictory and thus conveys no sense to us. Married bachelors and round squares are examples of things that are "logically impossible." This only means that, since a bachelor is an unmarried male, we would not understand the seemingly self-contradictory claim that Fred is a bachelor and married at the same time. "Married bachelor" is a term without meaning, just as the mystic's word "God" has no meaning, so that one cannot believe in married bachelors or be skeptical about their existence. The two words conjoined together simply convey no sense. It is easy, however, to fall into thinking that logical impossibilities place a restraint upon reality, even greater than the constraints of what is physically possible -- within the laws of physics. For example, Schick and Vaughn (How to Think about Weird Things, 6th edition, page 17) explain "Logical Possibility" this way:
"The laws of thought are often referred to as the laws of logic. Anything that violates these laws is said to be logically impossible, and whatever is logically impossible can't exist. We know, for example, that there are no round squares, no married bachelors, and no largest number because such things violate the law of noncontradiction -- they attribute both a property and its negation to a thing and are thus self-contradictory. The laws of thought, then, not only determine the bounds of the rational, they also determine the bounds of the real. Whatever is real must obey the law of noncontradiction. That is why Frege called logic 'the study of the laws of the laws of science.' The laws of science must obey the laws of logic. … whatever is logically impossible cannot exist."
Schick and Vaughn are just engaged in picture-thinking, letting word-imagery lead them by their noses here. It is simply a metaphysical fiction to think that there are laws of logic that put shackles on what we can think and on what can exist. It is just silly to say that the law of noncontradiction determines the bounds of what can be thought and of what can be real. What sense could it make to say that none of us can think any square is round because our thoughts must obey the laws of logic? And, what sense could it make to say that round squares cannot exist because the laws of logic determine the bounds of the real -- whatever exists must obey the law of noncontradiction? None of this talk makes any sense here. Laws of physics such as Newton's laws of motion describe how things actually behave, and we can imagine one of those laws being violated (for example, an object suddenly accelerating without there being any equal and opposite reaction). But, what constraint does the law of noncontradiction place on reality such that no round squares are permitted to exist? This is no constraint on reality. The words "round square" simply do not describe anything at all, and so they do not convey the idea of anything that might exist if only the laws of logic would permit it. The laws of logic do not prevent the proliferation of round squares any more than they prevent the existence of slithey toves and glubadubs. Reality does not need to be barricaded against words that are entirely empty of any sense. If we were told that an explorer had discovered some round squares, we should have no idea what they thought he had discovered; nor should we have any more idea what he meant if he expressed disappointment that he had found no round squares. Put the two meaningful words together, and we get an expression devoid of meaning, not anything whose existence is possible but blocked by "laws of logic." Nothing is blocked -- we just do not understand the juxtaposed words.
To rejoin the argument, it does not seem sensible to complain that we cannot choose our original E & H, since we cannot imagine how that could be done. Still, it is true that some of us have had the E & H deck stacked against us. Other people started with advantages that we didn't have, being better looking, smarter, healthier, and so on. Our lives are totally determined by our E & H, and some people have better lives and some not, due to these differences. While some feel that this unequal distribution of E and H is not fair, it is no more unfair than that the Earth is bigger than Mars. Even though, strictly speaking, it is not unfair, still we can complain that the deck could have been stacked more in our favor. But this complaint is not a complaint against determinism --the deck ALWAYS is stacked whether it is stacked by prior causes or by random events. Our complaint is only that we wish the deck had been stacked more in our favor.
To return to Inwagen's thesis, there seems no good reason why God could not get all the love he wanted from us just by showering us with love and gifts that would compel our love. Perhaps Inwagen felt that this would not be genuine love because this would be to bribe us. But there is no more reason why we should regard gifts from God as bribes than to think that the gifts of love we give to our children are meant as bribes. The love that we give our children cannot be a bribe because one cannot love as a bribe. When we share and give from love, it simply is not a bribe. But, suppose that God really is doing what Inwagen tells us he is doing -- allowing the most hideous random occurrences of evil just to send the message to us (His children) that a life separate from Him is horrid. This is much worse than accusing God of bribery -- it is accusing Him of the most brutal conceivable extortion. What is even more shocking is that Inwagen apparently sees nothing wrong with such moral savagery. He actually wants to defend it and attribute it to God.
I have given only a few reasons to be suspicious of the "free will" defense of the existence of evil. Let me end with another that should be rather obvious: We are told that God has given us the freedom to choose between good and evil, and that if we freely choose to be good, then our goodness is to our credit; but, so the story goes, if God just made us good from the get-go, then He should get all the credit for our faux goodness. Immanuel Kant is one philosopher who bears responsibility for promoting this incoherent (senseless) piece of philosophical nonsense. Kant thinks that a mother who takes care of her children from a sense of duty deserves our respect; but, if she takes care of them from psychological inclination (i.e. maternal instinct), then she deserves no more respect than the mother bear that protects her young, or the stone that falls not from autonomous choice but from an inclination built into it by God. In a sense, Kant is the first Existentialist. He thinks the only way for us to become God-like and worthy of respect is for us to create our own nature freely through the use of pure reason (choose to act according to certain maxims that we can will be become universal law). God would get all the credit for any of our actions that were in accord with duty if we only acted that way from inherited (God- given) inclination. Kant is so anti-inclination that in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals he says:
"All objects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth; for, if there were no inclinations and the needs based on them, their object would be without worth. But the inclinations themselves, as sources of needs, are so far from having an absolute worth … that it must instead be the universal wish of every rational being to be altogether free from them." (underlines mine)
Should we then remove our children's noses and burn off their taste buds so to remove the inclination to smell the flowers and to enjoy a tasty meal? Should we neuter our children so that they will have no sexual inclinations to distract them from the life of pure reason? Should we blind them to remove the inclination to be moved by the colors of a sunset or the form of a crystal or a flower? This contemptible little man has no concept of what is involved in being a living, breathing, vital human being. To altogether free a human being from all inclinations would be to entirely remove his humanity. Kant does not even get it right about what is wrong with breaking a promise. He thinks that it would be wrong to break a promise because one could not will (without contradiction) that it become universal law that people should be allowed to break promises. But, the fact that promises would not be promises if everyone knew that anybody could break their promise is not what makes it wrong to break a promise. What makes it wrong is that making a promise makes a person rely on you in a way that they would not have done, had you not promised. So, when you fail to do what you promised, you harm the recipient of the promise in a way that they would not have been harmed had you not promised.
But, what does all this about Kant have to do with Inwagen's attempt to justify evil? The answer is that Kant and Inwagen are anti-human in the same way. They both have contempt for the good woman who is filled with the milk of mother-love for her children. They think she is not a fully moral person, that she deserves no respect insofar as she takes care of her children from inclination, from having the instinctual feelings of love, affection, and protectiveness. Well, what kind of mother would you prefer to have had? Would you prefer a cold and unfeeling mother that took care of you only from a sense of duty, or one who took care of you because she had genuine (perhaps oxytocin-reinforced) feelings of love and affection? Suppose your mom tells you that she never had motherly feelings for you, didn't want to cuddle and coo or any such thing when you were a baby, that everything she ever did for you was done only from duty. How would that make you feel? Or, how would you feel if your spouse said something similar -- that they never had feelings for you, only a sense of duty derived from the fact you were their spouse? That would be grounds for divorce, not for respect. (Kant's antipathy to normal human feelings is not plausibly attributed to a mere philosophical mistake. It seems more likely to be indicative of an emotional deficiency, a psychological disorder such as autism or psychopathy.)
Against Kant and Inwagen, then, I have been arguing that there should be nothing to prevent a God from making people who were good by nature, good by natural inclination. In contrast to Kant, David Hume thought that our moral nature is grounded in our natural human empathy or feelings of sympathy for our own kind. If this is true, there is no reason why people could not be born with golden hearts, born kind and courteous, created as naturally caring and loving people. I know that this is indeed possible, because I once had a young daughter who was born with a golden heart. She was always kind and considerate, and if she got up to get a drink of water, she would ask if anyone else needed one. She seemed unable to understand what would make anyone else say rude or hateful things. The fact that she was born with a golden heart instead of choosing to be that way detracts absolutely nothing from her goodness.
As a matter of fact, this just-so story about how we all choose whether to be good people or bad does not pass the smell test. How is this story supposed to go? Is there a time in each person's life when he is asked to choose whether he will be a good person or a bad person (perhaps a murderer or a child molester)? If we were to ask this question of Woody Allen ("which do you want to be -- a good person or a bad person") he should want to know, "Is this a trick question?" There are only two things that could make a person choose evil: Either it is some kind of mistake (he didn't have informed consent, didn't understand all that was involved in the choices) or he was already corrupt or evil in some way (had unhealthy desires, lacked sympathy for others, etc.). The only thing other than a randomizer in a person's circuits that could tip the scales towards choosing evil would be ignorance or already corrupt desires. So, it is not the "freedom" of the choices that makes men choose evil -- it is an already existing imperfection in them (ignorance or stupidity, or an already corrupt nature) that makes them choose evil. Even the Christian apologist, Richard Swinburne, in Is There a God?, admits as much:
"In order to have a choice between good and evil, agents need already a certain depravity, in the sense of a system of desires for what they correctly believe to be evil. I need to want to overeat, get more than my fair share…, indulge my sexual appetites even by deceiving my spouse … want to see you hurt, if I am to have choice between good and evil. This depravity is itself an evil which is a necessary condition of a greater good. It makes possible a choice made seriously and deliberately, because made in the face of a genuine alternative."
This remarkable quote wears its absurdity on its face: Swinburne admits that nobody can make an evil choice without first having an evil desire. (How could a person with no evil in his heart knowingly make a choice for evil?) But, if that is the case, then the obvious best way to keep people from choosing evil is to make certain that they never acquire indecent desires: They all should be born with golden hearts and not be subjected to corruption. Swinburne insists, however, that there is a greater good that can result if we introduce a bit of depravity into God's children, so that they can make a genuine choice for good since they now have a genuine hankering after evil to resist. This is amazing on two counts.
First, Swinburne is suggesting that in order to raise genuinely good children we need to give them a bit of depravity (make evil attractive to them) so that they have a genuine choice whether to do evil or not. So, ask yourself how this might be done. Perhaps you could submerse a married person in pornography for awhile, to train him up to having a roving eye, condition him to lust after women other than his wife. In fact, if he is one of those people for whom the incest taboo is simply innate, why not have him engage in erotic fantasies about his own mother or his sisters? Then, once he has come to lust after his mother and sisters, he could show genuine moral worth by choosing not to have sex with them, displaying a species of moral worth not available to those who simply never found their mothers or sisters sexually attractive! This way of generating moral heroism knows no bounds. Think of the enormous moral respect our children could achieve if we introduced other dimensions of depravity, the joys of molesting children, torture, thrill killing, theft, and on and on. The stronger and more evil the desires that they must resist to make a "genuine" choice for good, the greater the moral respect that Swinburne, Kant, Inwagen, and God will think they deserve! They will become heroes of the moral resistance! But, this suggestion is nothing short of INSANE. These people think that the way to raise good children is to corrupt them, to introduce them to perversion and depravity. If this is the case, then I suppose that we should cross out the line in the Lords' Prayer that asks that we not be led into temptation. The greater the temptation, the greater our moral worth in being able to resist that temptation! Since the pure of heart cannot be tempted, they have no moral worth.
Contrary to Swinburne, however, it is simply false that a person who resists temptation is morally superior to a person who feels no temptation to do seamy, perverted, dishonest, or evil things. (By analogy, my wife's father could not understand why those who give up smoking felt such pride of achievement: "I never was stupid enough to start smoking in the first place," he said.) The same negative assessment is true of those who resist their desires to commit incest or to molest children. No matter how heroically they struggle to resist their perverted desires, the fact remains that they are perverts, not on the same moral plane as those who neither have nor understand those deviant desires. Let me illustrate it a different way: Which kind of husband would you prefer your daughter to have -- one who has eyes for her only, or one who is physically faithful to her despite his intensely lusting after hundreds of other women? The latter kind of man is neither the better husband nor the morally superior person. We have a word for such men -- they are Dogs. So, to bring the point home, the existence of evil desires is not needed to make people better persons, nor is having evil desires even compatible with being a good person.
Swinburne, however, has another justification for evil up his sleeve. It goes a bit like this: Many of us would not have jobs if there were no evils in the world. The dentist would go out of business if there were no tooth decay. Psychiatrists make their living by treating mental illness, and MD's treat physical illness and injury. Teachers treat ignorance. And, police protect us from criminals. But, contrary to Swinburne, none of this shows that it is good for there to be tooth decay, disease, criminals, or ignorance. The criminal cannot justify his acts of theft and violence by pointing out that his behavior is helping to create jobs for judges, lawyers, Police, and prison guards. We all would be better off if criminals no longer victimized us, and police officers could do other more productive things with their lives. Nor do we thank God for having created the horrors of leprosy, even though it provided Saint Francis an opportunity to serve lepers with love, sacrifice, and heroism. If they had not had leprosy, he could have sung and danced with them instead of dressing their wounds. Horrid diseases are never a blessing. If nurses and dentists and doctors are not needed, then let them learn to paint and sculpt, develop other talents in other ways.
I do not think it is clear just what we would want from God if he were at our beck and call like an omnipotent Genie in a magic lamp. It seems that eliminating things like cancer, war, and hatred would be unquestionably good, but the "Monkey's Paw" problem lurks in the background. By what means and at what cost would we get our "absolutely perfect world"? We still want some challenges -- opportunities to make our world a better place. We enjoy telling stories about encounters with poisonous snakes, stories of heroism, etc., which would not be possible if there were no snakes or other dangers. Would we really want God to be like a good Mother that comes into our room, turns off the television, and sets us down with a cup of coffee when it is time for us to study for tomorrow's exam? Do we want him to watch our children and save them from falling into the pool and drowning when we are not paying attention? I think we would not want that to happen. Still, if it is our child who falls into the pool or who is dying of leukemia, of course we will want Him to make an exception in this one case. And we will wonder why He does not help when it would be so easy for him. If an armed citizen sees an assassin attack children on a playground, his ability to prevent a massacre creates an obligation to help. How can God avoid the responsibility of helping, especially in cases like the holocaust where millions are brutally exterminated? The protagonist in Blood of the Lamb, when given rationalizations why God did not save his darling dimpled boy from the ravages of leukemia, put it this way: "It would be less blasphemous to say God did not exist, than to give him excuses such as those." This seems to saddle us with a schizophrenia of desires, some kind of a choice paradox. On the one hand, we really wouldn't want to live in a world of constant intervention by God, yet it wouldn't seem right to us if we knew He simply allowed hideous crimes that He could have prevented with minimal effort. It isn't at all clear where we are supposed to fit in the idea of there really being a God (always lurking behind the nearest tree) who has the fantastic power to easily prevent all misfortune and tragedy. In fact, it isn't just the idea of God, but God Himself who doesn't seem to have a natural place in the world in which we make our lives and find our meaning. In the end, God is a fantasy we do not know how to visualize. There just isn't room enough in this town for the both of us. So, we might end up wishing God would just go away. Cut the apron strings, and just let us be
So much has been written on the problem of evil that I cannot presume to know all the ins and outs of the debate. Spinoza found solace in the thought that that God is a compulsive creator who necessarily creates anything that is not logically impossible; according to Spinoza, this logically entails that nothing can be either good or evil. The reason for this is that God himself could not regret or want to change such things as children being molested or being burned alive, because it would be irrational to regret or want to change that which exists of necessity. And, all that can be conceived flows of necessity from God's creative compulsion.
Of course, Spinoza absolves God of all complicity in evil only by denying the validity of our merely human standards of evil (by denying that cruelty and suffering really are evil), and by making God the author of all those things that from our human point of view are evil. Such an answer leaves us wondering then what sense it could make to praise, adore, or revere God, and what sense it could make to care whether our children suffer or whether or not we ourselves engage in cruelty, if the necessity of everything makes it impossible for anything to be either good nor evil. Spinoza's solution seems to be to save God from the charge of evil by getting rid of the notion of evil. But, again, as one of my students once remarked, "If we don't know that some evil exists, then we don't know anything." And, if nothing that God creates is evil because all His creations exist of necessity, then nothing He creates is good either, for the same reason. It would be irrational to rejoice that something good necessarily happened. Or would it?
In a Death Camp during the holocaust, Martin Buber found a different answer to the problem of evil. Of course he did not manage to figure out how the unspeakable crimes against his people were good in themselves or good as a means to some greater end. His solution only aimed at deflecting criticism away from God. He had been asking how it could be possible for God not to intervene on behalf of his chosen people, not to hear their cries or smell their terror and the burning of their bodies in the ovens. Buber's solution (in his great work, I and Thou) was to realize that the very question places God into the category of a mere Thing. God is a "Thou," and to the extent that we think of God has having this or that attribute, to that extent we are thinking of Him as being a Thing, not as being a Thou. We can only conclude that Buber lost his mind in the concentration camp. How could we regard God as being a "Thou" (a person) if He lacks the attribute of being able to hear, understand, and care about us? Cleanthes' reply to Demea the mystic seems applicable here: If the mystic claims that God's attributes cannot in anywise resemble mere human attributes, that God is so far above us that we cannot know anything at all about God's nature, then we fain would know what importance the word "God" should have for us. What comfort should the existence of God be to us if He cannot hear or understand our prayers, if He has nothing resembling love or concern for us, and if He can be counted on to do absolutely nothing to help us in our hour of greatest need? But, Buber does one better than Demea: While Demea only says that God is entirely incomprehensible to lowly worms like us, Buber says that God has no attributes at all (none, either comprehensible to us or not) -- since God is a Thou, not a Thing. Having something like intelligence and feeling is a necessary qualification for my wife's being a Thou to me. A person who loses both has become a vegetable. And, a thing that has no attributes at all is not even a thing -- it is a Nothing!
Let me end this discussion of the AFE by giving what I think was David Hume's take on it. Hume did not insist that the problem of evil constitutes a proof that there is no God. None of the excuses we have given for God's allowing so much evil seemed very convincing. But, Hume seemed reluctant to claim absolute certainty that God lacks good reason for allowing the evils he allows. Perhaps if we asked God why he made leprosy, his answer would be so compelling that we would exclaim, "What a great idea -- I wish I had been the one to invent leprosy!" Not very likely (not even remotely plausible I think), but Hume doesn't feel he can say it is absolutely impossible.
So why does Hume even mention the problem of evil if he does not think it is proof against God's existence? The use he makes of it is only this: Until we have a completely satisfactory answer why it is better that God allows all the evil he does, we do not know this is the best of all possible worlds. And, if we do not know that this world is perfect, then we do not know that its Creator is perfect -- AFD fails to prove our Designer is perfect because it fails to prove that our world is perfect.
Seventh Criticism: The Argument from Goodness
Our not being able to prove that this is the best of all possible worlds is a minor problem for AFD at this juncture. A much more serious problem is this: We cannot even prove that this is not the Worst of all possible worlds. Consider:
Suppose that a person were to tell us that he believed that this world was created by a Super Satan -- a being that is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Perfectly Malevolent. He would have no difficulty in pointing out abundant evils to support his case. But, one might think, we could counter his argument with what I shall call "The Argument from Goodness" (AFG). To prove that there is no Super Satan, we should point out all the exceedingly good things in the world -- the beauties of nature, the flowers and the sunsets, beautiful people, love, sacrifice and devotion, artistic and scientific achievements, and on and on. AFG is simply the mirror image of the argument from evil: If there were a Super Satan, there would be no Goodness; but there is lots of Goodness; therefore there is no Super Satan. But, the devotee of the SS would have no difficulty in shooting down our AFG. He might even tell us a just-so story to explain why SS allows so much goodness in the world. His "Theodicy" might go like this:
The Super Satan Theodicy:
About 70 million years ago, SS gathered the Dark Angels around and informed them that he had a new plan. He said, "I thought I had made the worst of all possible worlds. You see before you huge reptiles with savage teeth and claws, ripping each other to shreds, their shrieks and cries resounding in the night of the great swamps. But, these creatures have brains only the size of walnuts, and their suffering is crude. Dinosaurs have little to fear from death, as it will release them from their sorrows. So, I have devised a new plan: I propose to make smaller beings with brains the size of coconuts. I will give them beautiful mates and little children they will love more than life itself. I will make a lovely garden filled with fruit and flowers to delight them. I will see them build shining cities and create works of art and science that will fill them with pride and hope. I intend even to make them believe that they have a Creator that loves and cares for them, and that has prepared a place for them in the Heavens when they die, if only they will give up certain things that give them extreme pleasure. They will build monuments to their imaginary gods, wasting their meager time and resources in pointless worship. These creatures will fall in love with each other, with their children, and with all the lovely things I have made for them. Then I will take all these things away from them, twisting the knife, while they see themselves betrayed and abandoned by those they love. Men who cannot be forced to their knees by threats of death will submit when I take their children hostage. I will ravage their bodies and minds with disease, old age, senility and madness. I shall kill their children, burn their cities, and put all their achievements in the dust. And, as a grand finale, I will give them a Judgment Day at which they shall learn that Satan is their creator, and that every act of kindness, every bit of goodness in them, shall reap them endless vistas of hideous suffering. What delicious Irony! They will be punished for their goodness! Their most intense suffering, however, will come from having to helplessly witness the suffering of those they love most. In such manner, the thing that gave their lives the most value, love itself, will become a weapon in my hand."
Of course I do not believe that there is a Super Satan any more than I believe there is a Hulk or a Superman. But, the Argument from Goodness does not show there is no SS. In fact, the AFG is a far less compelling argument against a SS than the problem of evil (AFE) is against a loving God: It is easier to see how a perfectly evil SS might temporarily allow some goodness to bring about greater suffering than it is to see why a loving God would allow hideous suffering to bring about a greater happiness. The just-so story immediately above, the "Theodicy" that explains why a Super Satan might allow good things in order to bring about a greater evil is far more plausible than the theodicy proposed by Inwagen to explain and defend God. I am not certain why that is so. Perhaps it is because we think it would be inconsistent with God's goodness that he should do evil that good might come. However, it is entirely consistent with Satan's evil nature to allow happiness, nobility, and other good things to exist (even to allow love) in order that he might in his good time use them to bring about the most hideous torments conceivable.
The fact that an examination of the world might make the hypothesis of a SS more plausible than that of the traditional God does nothing to show there is any reason whatsoever to think there is a SS. There is not. We know there is no Super Satan. All the other objections to the AFD apply with equal devastation to the SS "hypothesis": A Super Satan is a fantastic creature even less believable than the Kraken, unicorns, or a Santa Claus; there is no answer to who might have created such a being (regress objection), why many lesser devils might not be more plausible, etc.
And, of course we do not need to suppose the existence of a Satan to explain evil in the world. It is a hypothesis as unnecessary as it is unwarranted. Why are there tape worms? The simple answer is that the intestines of mammals are filled with warm nutrients that provide a place where small organisms might eke out a good living. Our intestines are an ecological niche, and it is one of the laws of evolution that any ecological niche will be filled -- wherever there is a place in which organisms can make a living, organisms will evolve and adapt to take advantage of that niche. Note that I am only offering an explanation why this evil exists. I am not trying to explain the evil of tape worms away, not trying to explain why they are such a good thing that God should make tape worms. This latter is the problem of evil, the problem why God would allow evil things to exist. Atheists do not have this problem because they do not believe there is a God. I think this is a good thing. It seems to me that attempts to solve the problem of evil end up being attempts to justify (not simply to explain, but to justify) the existence of evil. And, I do not think that such exercises tend to make us better, more sensitive, more caring, or more moral people. Indeed, as our discussion of Inwagen and Swinburne has shown, thinking up excuses for God to allow hideous suffering tends to cause moral corruption and stupidity in the apologists. It is never good for the soul to present evil in a favorable light, to try to explain it away, to justify it, or to see it as part of God's plan. Indeed, these theodicies that attempt to make God a collaborator in allowing disease, genocide, and the like, are nothing short of Blasphemy.
Twenty-four centuries ago, Socrates was offended by Euthypho's suggestion that the gods might do such dishonorable things as commit adultery, castrate their own fathers, and quarrel among themselves. Such stories are destructive of both religion and morality. To accuse the gods of immorality and injustice is to to slander them, to anger them, to incur their wrath, and to nullify respect for them. To spread such vile gossip against the gods would be to commit blasphemy, the unforgiveable sin. It was so inconceivable Socrates that the gods (the most perfect of beings) could do such things that he says we would have to regard the stories as mysteries (things we could not understand) if they were true. Moreover, he thought that if the gods do commit adultery, then we should keep it quiet -- don't tell our children because these stories would morally corrupt them. They would say to themselves, "If adultery is good enough for the gods, then it is good enough for us." Even today, to accuse God of allowing evil -- if only to bring about a greater good -- is to commit blasphemy. Even if it happens that there indeed is no God, still atheists ought to honor Him in His absence, and not dishonor or sully His Name.
I want to add a post-script about the theory of evolution: The major thrust of this overly long essay has been that "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" do not even come close to being rivals to Darwin's theory of evolution. I have not attempted to present the case for evolution, something that you could find better done in biology books, books on paleontology, articles on the internet, etc. The explanation is simple and does not appeal to any non-natural items, it is supported by the fossil record, by the age of the earth and of the universe, and it is supported by genetic research. Scientists today can tell from your genetic materials how closely you are related to gorillas, squirrels, cockroaches, snails, peach trees and pond scum. There are even tell-tale pieces of "junk DNA" on your genes that evidence ancestral encounters with various diseases hundreds of thousands of years ago, DNA that we share with other primates, showing that we evolved from the same beasts because we have the same ancient disease markers on our DNA. It seems to me that the evidence in favor of evolution is massive and conclusive. Not only does it explain myriad facts that cry out for explanation, it has no plausible competitors in the scientific marketplace of ideas. It is the only game in town. To believe in evolution is to make an inference to the only available explanation.
The post-script that I wanted to add, however, is that the theory of evolution should be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence and cogent argument. It should not be based on the kind of silliness that can be found in Schick and Vaughn's How to Think About Weird Things (6th ed., pp. 196-197). Following the biologist Kenneth R. Miller, they begin by noting that most mainline churches (like the Roman Catholic Church) endorse the theory of evolution as being more plausible than Creationism. It is not explained how these mainline churches reconcile evolution with their holy scriptures. The thing that interests me, however, is Miller's attempt to reconcile evolution with religion. His amazing thesis is that there is reason to believe that evolution is the only view that makes a meaningful life and a meaningful relationship with God possible.
Miller contrasts a Darwinian world of randomness with a deterministic world "in which a deity pulled the string of every human puppet. … Such control and predictability, however, comes at the price of independence. Always in control, such a Creator would deny his creatures any real opportunity to know and worship him -- authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution."
So, we see the same old-hat Theodicy raise its head again. Instead of explaining the flaws in this mare's nest of confusions, Schick & Vaughn follow it up with what appears to be an endorsement: "A life in which all our actions were determined by God would not be a meaningful one. If what we did were not up to us, we would be little better than robots. Our actions are our own only if they are free. … So evolution, far from diminishing our relationship with God, actually strengthens it." Paraphrasing an argument without even hinting at a flaw must be considered an endorsement. (It should be noted as well that Schick and Vaughn do nothing to explain what they mean by "having a relationship with God." Try spelling it out, and try to make it a plausible story. What kind of a relationship do you think you could have with your father if you couldn't see or hear him, and if you were only one of at least tens of billions of his other children?)
So, what are the flaws in the Miller Theodicy? We already have gone over most of them: First, it is not only controversial but demonstrably false that determinism is incompatible with free will. In fact, determinism is a necessary condition of free will: To the extent that things are random and uncaused, to that extent there is no choice possible, free or otherwise. So, randomness and indeterminacy are not the keys to any meaningful free will. Plainly, true freedom is simply doing what we really want to do as opposed to being forced by another (or by unhealthy desires) to do things we really don't want to do. The best freedom is doing our duty, being the best that we can be, doing that which will make us and those we love the happiest. It is not unreasonable then to suppose that the very truest freedom of all would be to turn one's life over entirely to God (if that were possible), as it is done in the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of ultimate submission: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. … For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, Forever. Amen." This should be the truest freedom because, if indeed there were a God, surely He would know better than anyone else what you ought to do to be good and to be happy.
So, what is Millers' complaint against being God's puppet? What is a Christian but a follower of Christ? A follower of Christ is nothing but a person who asks every day of his or her life, "What Would Jesus Do?" and then just does it. (Unfortunately, not all Christians get the same answer or even morally correct answers in this fashion; part of the difficulty might be that it is impossible to know the difference between asking yourself what Jesus would do, and directly asking Jesus Himself what He would do. Indeed, the latter might not be possible to do or to verify.) In any event, I think Saint Augustine was not a robot (not even a robot with a randomizer in his circuits), nor was he a puppet with strings to be pulled. He was moved by adoration -- more like a moth blinded by the light, irresistibly drawn to what he presumed to be God by a vision of purity and goodness. That is what Saints are. Lacking such a vision, the rest of us just have to be philosophers and figure out for ourselves what best we should do.
The second absurdity in Miller's theodicy is the misunderstanding (inexcusable in a biologist) that evolution requires randomness or indeterminacy. That is simply false. If our universe is indeed totally deterministic (maybe it is, maybe it isn't), then evolution would occur no matter how the atoms were arranged at the moment of the "Big Bang." Stir them around as much as you like, the same impetus at the beginning would result in the formation of stars and planets, and intelligent life would evolve sometime, somewhere in our vast universe. Of course, it would require exquisite pre-arrangement for God to line up the atoms thirteen billion years ago to get exactly this universe. But, no matter. One of the most wonderful aspects of evolution is that it occurs necessarily, without any pre-arrangement, intelligence, or planning at all. No matter how scrambled and mixed up the atoms in the original Chaos happen to be, "Blind Design" necessarily will create order and the most lovely and exquisite structures. Even without intelligent guidance, order necessarily emerges in any world where every event is caused by prior events. The evolution of life forms is inevitable in a deterministic universe such as ours, no matter what the starting point -- no matter how the atoms are arranged at the beginning instant. This is wonderful and astonishing! Let it sink into your consciousness.
The third and greatest absurdity in Miller's apology for evolution is his claim that it is the only view that makes a meaningful life or a meaningful relationship with God possible. Well, I think his claim is not even minimally plausible. But, even supposing that he were right about this, what is that supposed to show? I knew a person who thought that belief in Darwin caused people to do drugs and to have children out of wedlock. Even if that were true, it does not provide the slightest reason to think that Darwin's theory was wrong. On the other hand, suppose that nobody could have a meaningful life unless indeterminism and evolution were true. That would not provide any evidence whatsoever that indeterminism and evolution are in fact true. Take the saddest example I know: Suppose that I simply cannot have a happy and meaningful life unless Marsha loves me. Sadly, it does not follow (or even make it more likely) that Marsha will love me. Even if I should die without her love, this provides no evidence she will ever love me. Suppose Heisenberg had claimed that no meaningful relationship with God would be possible unless his Uncertainty Principle was true. Even if somehow he had been right about that, it would have no bearing on the truth of his theory. So why mention it? Wishful thinking is not part of science. Reality is not dictated by our needs.
What are we now in a position to conclude? We have seen that Creationism was soundly falsified long ago, and that the "theory" of Intelligent Design would have nothing to recommend it, even if we had no theory of evolution available to explain the wonderful structures of living things. A hundred years before Darwin, the inimitable Hume proved that ID is an explanatory failure, that it explains nothing. What then can we conclude about the supposed conflict between science and religion -- in particular, the conflict between religion and evolution?
It seems to me clear that if we and other living organisms evolved from pond scum (and we know we did) then God is not our Creator … unless he indirectly created us by creating the physical universe from which we evolved. But, cosmological arguments are as lame as the argument from design. Neither we nor the physical stuff from which we evolved was created by any human-like super being. So, God is not our Creator because we have no Creator. By any ordinary notion of what it means to be God, the conclusion is simply that there is no God. I do not see how this can bode well for mainstream religions. Instead of asking the representatives of mainstream religion what they think of evolution or of the claim that our universe is some thirteen billion years old, I would like to know what they think of the fact that we have no Creator. Or, what do they think of the fact that there is no being that comes even close to satisfying the ordinary notion of what is involved in being God?
It seems to me that taking away God would eviscerate religion. Schick and Vaughn try to do an end run around the problem, saying that evolution, so far from diminishing our relationship with God, actually strengthens it. I have explained how their reason for thinking that evolution strengthens our relationship with God is based on a mistaken view of the relation between determinism and free will. There is no need to rehash their elementary confusions here, because we know that even if (contrary to fact) they were right about free will, they are mistaken in thinking that evolution strengthens our relationship with God. It can't strengthen our relationship with God, for the simple reason that there is no God. If you prefer, let me put it more gently: Schick and Vaughn cannot show that the theory of evolution strengthens our relationship with God without first showing that there is a God. They have not done this. Certainly the theory of evolution is not an argument for the existence of God. If they want laughter and applause, they need to tell a better joke.
Footnote 1: "The Bible does not offer empirical evidence to support its stories." This claim might seem questionable, given that believers do sometimes cite passages from the Bible to support their belief in its absolute trustworthiness. Two kinds of example come to mind, neither of which pass muster as the kind of empirical evidence we would expect from scientists or historians making factual claims.
First, it has been claimed that archaeological excavations have verified the truth of the Bible. For example, it is said that we can find confirmation of the truth of the Bible in the archaeological discovery that there really was a Jericho, and that its walls do seem to have tumbled down, as revealed in the story of Joshua. (The actual facts seem to be that Jericho's walls were destroyed by earthquakes several times, but that this happened long before the time of Joshua). However, even if the Bible did get some of the facts about Jericho correct, this does not show that everything in the Bible must be true. The Bible also got it right that there were camels and sheep in Biblical times, but that does not prove that everything in the Bible is true. For example, it does not prove that God made plants before the sun, that Jesus turned water into wine, or that it was God rather than an earthquake that brought down the walls of Jericho.
Heinrich Schliemann excavated Troy, showing that there really was a Troy, contrary to the common belief in his time that it was only a mythical city in Homer's epic poem, the Illiad. But this does not make us believe in the Grecian gods, or convince us that all the rest of the Illiad is true, or that there really was a Zeus who held a beauty contest over a golden apple between three angry goddesses -- Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. The fact that there really was a Mount Olympus does not show that any gods lived on top of it. This argument is so lame that it does not seem to qualify as one of the common fallacies. Is it a variation on the fallacy of composition -- thinking that since one part of a story is true, therefore the whole story (all its parts together) must be true? How could one think that? Or is it the hastiest of hasty generalizations -- thinking that since one sentence in a tale is true, therefore all sentences in that tale must be true?
Not all disconnects in "reasoning" qualify as fallacies. "Affirming the Consequent" qualifies as a fallacy because an inattentive and careless person might not notice that "P entails Q" does not mean the same thing as "Q entails P." But, we have no name for the invalid argument, "P entails Q," "Q," therefore "Not-P." We have no name for it because it would be like saying, "If there is a God, then the world is perfect; so, if the world is perfect, there is no God." Say what? Such "reasoning" is too screwy to qualify as a fallacy.
Second, we sometimes are told that the divine origin and infallible nature of the scriptures is supported by the many miracles that have been described in the Bible. The miracles are many. The first story of the Bible (the story of supernatural creation of our entire universe in six days) tells perhaps the first and greatest miracle. The miracle of creating a few loaves and fishes, as performed by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount, is small potatoes, compared to God's creating the sun, moon, and all the stars in one day. Jesus' miracles of walking on water, healing the lame and the blind, and turning wine into water barely deserve honorable mention in the miracle hall of fame. Of course raising Lazarus from the dead after three days of rotting is impressive, but how are we to compare this feat with, say, creating just one galaxy?
In Exodus, Chapters 7 - 12, we find some of the most famous miracles that are recounted in the Bible, a series of signs and wonders intended to convince the Pharaoh to let Moses lead his people out of Egypt. We are told that the Lord (God) tells Moses to go with his brother Aaron to Pharaoh, and when the Pharaoh asks for a miracle (presumably to demonstrate the power of the Lord), Aaron will cast his rod on the ground and it will become a serpent. This "miracle" is supposed to impress the Pharaoh of the supremacy of the Lord, but this miracle and the other miracles fail to do their work for two reasons. First, (for reasons that make no sense, morally or logically) the Lord "hardens" the Pharaohs' heart so that he will not be convinced by the miracles performed for the very purpose of convincing him to let the Hebrews go; and, second, the Pharaoh's wise men and sorcerers can do many of the same tricks -- their staffs also become snakes when thrown on the ground! Of course Aaron's snake eats their snakes, but that seems an inconclusive demonstration of superiority. The Pharaoh's wizards also could do the trick of turning water into blood (though it is unclear how they could demonstrate this ability, since Aaron already had turned all the rivers and lakes and pots of water in Egypt into blood), but they could not turn dust into lice. Only the Lord can do the dust-to-lice miracle. What we find in these chapters is a tiresome litany of magic tricks, mostly done with Aaron's staff, such as turning all the lakes and rivers into blood, turning dust into lice, releasing plagues of boils, flies, and frogs, hail, pestilence on Egyptian cattle, and finally the killing of the firstborn of all Egyptian families, as well as the firstborn of all his cattle (Exodus 7:29).
So, how are these miracles of Moses supposed to show that the Bible is the word of God? Prior to asking this, however, it should be noted: We do not even know who wrote the book of Exodus. It cannot have been written by Moses, as some have maintained, since it is recounted in the third person, and describes not only the death of Moses, but events described as happening long after his supposed death. The best estimates are that it was written several hundred years after Moses. And, as Paine remarked, even if we knew who wrote it, and knew that it was written by an eyewitness, it would only be hearsay. As it is, it is not even second-hand hearsay because we have no idea who wrote the account (though we know the author himself cannot have been an eyewitness), and we have no idea what evidence that anonymous author had for claiming that these events actually occurred. In short, we have no evidence whatsoever that these "miracles" were performed or that Exodus is the word of God. In fact, we have no archaeological evidence of the claimed Hebrew captivity in Egypt, of Pharaoh's suffering the plagues described in Exodus, or even that there ever was such a person as Moses.
So, what epistemological weight we should assign to these reputed miracles? How much do they support the claim that Exodus stands as the Word of God, that it has more authority (because backed by miracles) than anything that could be said by a mere human? The obvious answer is that these are the childish stories of a primitive race, and that they have absolutely no credibility. At least the Greek myths sometimes had some class and gave us a moral point to ponder. But, if an adult were to believe the stories of the Grecian gods (for example, to believe that Zeus turned himself into a swan to seduce human maidens), we would think such a person was feeble minded. But, the Moses miracles are no more credible than other myths of old. Besides, the series of torments that Moses inflicts on Pharaoh are not only unimaginative, but needlessly cruel. Why harden Pharaoh's heart, except so that he and the Egyptian people can be tormented by a series of plagues of boils and frogs and flies and lice, only in the end to have their first born children all murdered by the Lord? This is not a pretty story. It is as cruel and blasphemous as it is fabulous. The ability to believe some stories requires not only a mental defect but a moral defect. (It might be wondered if Pharaoh deserved punishment for practicing slavery, except for the fact that the Hebrews also practiced slavery when they could. The Bible forbids some kinds of mistreatment of slaves, but it nowhere forbids owning slaves.)
Still, shouldn't the ability to perform miracles be regarded as a sign of divinity? Well, suppose that we hear that a pastor in our own town has been turning his walking stick into a serpent, or has been using it to turn water to blood. Would rumors of these signs and wonders make us think he was a modern prophet, a man of God? Of course we would not believe these stories. We would think he was a huckster, practicing sleight-of-hand. But, suppose these reports of wonders continue, so we take a magician like the Amazing Randi to investigate this worker of miracles. Suppose that Randi cannot discover any trick -- he concludes that Pastor M really can turn an ordinary staff into a snake, turn water into blood, and can even turn dust into lice. Will this make us or Randi think this Pastor must speak for God? Will Randi say, "I do not know how he does the trick of turning water into blood, but turning dust into lice is no trick -- he couldn't do that without the help of the Lord!" Of course not. The point is that miracles prove nothing.
Commenting on the story of the whale swallowing Jonah, Paine calls this tale fabulous, but he will not allow that it is a miracle. However, says Paine, suppose we are told the tale in reverse -- that Jonah swallowed the whale. Now, that would be some miracle! Imagine Jonah walking into town and telling everyone he had swallowed a whale. Of course nobody would believe him. But, suppose he tells them to watch, and he regurgitates a huge whale onto the beach before their very eyes. Now, that's a miracle to top. But, again, this will not convince anyone that Jonah speaks for God. They will want to know how he does the trick, or if he does it through black magic or the powers of Satan. (It is interesting to note that there is a similar "miracle" hidden in the story of Noah and his Ark in Genesis: Noah does not swallow a whale, but his ship appears to have an even greater capacity than does the belly of a whale-swallowing Jonah, since it is able to keep in its holds a male and female of every species of animal alive at that time, a feat rivaled only by Santa's magic bag that can hold the Christmas presents of every child in the world.)
To see the irrelevance of miracles, let us go back to the time when Galileo was put under house arrest by the Church for claiming that the earth orbits the sun. Suppose that Galileo in his own defense had claimed that the Lord had told him that the Bible is misleading in places, and that the earth really does move 'round the sun. "Hey, the Lord told me so." Suppose Galileo offered to prove that he spoke for the Lord by saying "Watch this" as he proudly throws his staff on the ground and it turns into a snake. Suppose he follows that act by turning water into blood and dust into lice. Will this convince the Church that he speaks with the authority of the Lord? It is more likely that they will be convinced that he possesses unholy powers, and that they will burn him at the stake. Or, to modernize the example, let us go to the time when Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity, and scientists wanted to test it by seeing whether or not they could see a star that was behind the sun during an eclipse. Suppose that Albert assured them that they need not go to so much trouble, because God Himself had told him that his GTR was true; and, to prove that his GTR is the infallible word of God, Albert does the old turn-your-staff-into-a-snake trick. Will this make all the other scientists say, "Well, if Albert speaks with the authority of the Lord (as his walking stick miracles demonstrate) then we should simply believe him, not test"? Absolutely not. Einstein's walking stick tricks should be regarded as irrelevant to science and to the truth of GTR. But, if a scientist's ability to turn a stick into a snake is not evidence for or against the truth of the scientist's theory, then neither can we regard Biblical characters as having unquestionable and infallible scientific views, just because they are reputed to have been able to perform miracles.
Even if the author of Genesis appeared before us today and did the Moses stick-tricks, this would provide no evidence at all that the theory of evolution is false. (Try to imagine a biology book telling us that it would be arrogant for us to question Darwin's theory, because Darwin could turn sticks into snakes and dust into lice, and we mere humans are in no position to question him because we cannot do the miracles that he could do!) Think how much easier science would be if scientists could dispense with the trouble of performing experiments and could simply do a few miracles to prove that the Lord has told them the results in advance! How great if the Lord simply told Michelson and Morley in advance what the results of their experiment would be if they bothered to do it. Then they could skip the expense and effort of doing their famous experiment, and just tell us what the Lord revealed it would have shown. If we wanted proof that they were speaking with the authority of the Lord, He could just give them the ability to swallow and regurgitate whales. Physics books could skip illustrations and explanations of the device they would have used to show that the velocity of light is not additive, and just show photos of the two swallowing and vomiting huge whales, "proof" that their claim about the velocity of light is an infallible, unquestionable, revelation from God. And, we would not just have to take their word for this (would not have to take it on faith) since they have proved it by displaying the godlike ability to swallow a whale. If you can swallow such a story, there is nothing you cannot swallow. Can things get any sillier than this? But, this is exactly what we are urged to accept by Fundamentalists as a proper way to do science: Consult long dead Bronze Age seers who can swallow whales, turn water into wine or blood, staffs into snakes, and so on, and just believe what you are told.
Stop and ask yourself what would be wrong with this way of doing science. Appeal to the ability to perform miracles as proof of one's authority in scientific matters is a very strange kind of appeal to authority. In fact, I think that appeal to authority in science proper should be (and in fact is) very rare. People who believe in catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) do often appeal to a consensus of experts that AGW is real. But, they only need to do this because it is a controversial and complex question. The purported facts and the supposed explanations are not yet settled science. If AGW were as clear and settled as the theory of continental drift, then proponents could just lay out the clear and undisputed case for it, rather than appealing to a sham vote of those they deem to be the reliable experts, while hurling mud and ad hominem at those who disagree with them. Appeal to authority is lame when the claim is controversial, and it isn't needed when the claim is proved. But, even if we are to allow appeal to authority in science, we will only allow a person as an authority if he or she has proper credentials. We expect an authority in science to have an advanced degree in the relevant areas, to have done research and to have published on that or related questions, and to have been willing to share data and codes they used to prove their claims. Even then, their credentials are little more than their "union card", and we still expect them to back up their claims with evidence and argument. A Ph.D. and publications do not constitute a free pass to a status of infallibility. And, Michael Mann's claims that present warming exceeds anything in the past 2,000 years would not be enhanced in the least by his being able to turn walking sticks into snakes or his ability to swallow a whale. The ability to do magic tricks or even to perform genuine miracles is not part of the evidence permitted in defense of a scientific claim.
The main problem with appeal to miracles in matters scientific is that it is an appeal to authority, and as such it does not give us scientific understanding. If an "authority" (someone who got an A in Euclidean geometry) assures me as a novice that the alternate interior angles formed by a line cutting two parallel lines are equal, I suppose that I can claim to know that this is a fact about alternate interior angles. But, until I understand the proof of this truth, what I have is hearsay at best, not genuine knowledge: My "knowledge" of the fact is not based on any understanding of geometry or on what makes this theorem true. And, suppose that the "authority" who assured me that it was true did not himself know the relevant truth, but only believed it because a voice from the burning bush on Mount Sinai told him it was true. This is at least hearsay twice removed, since my cited authority does not have firsthand (or any) understanding of geometry.
Some passages in the Bible do seem to discourage appeal to miracles as proof of the authenticity of the Bible or the authority of the speaker. For example, in Matthew 12:39-40 (and repeated in Matthew 16:4, and in Luke 11:29) Jesus is tempted by the scribes and Pharisees to give them a sign. But, he refuses, saying unto them: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whales' belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The first thing to note here is that, while indignantly refusing to give a sign (perform a miracle or a wonder) to prove his divinity, Jesus does promise a later miracle, the resurrection, rising from the dead after three days and three nights. (This latter promise was not entirely fulfilled, according to Paine, p. 115: Jesus was not in the Tomb for a full three days and nights -- He was in Friday evening, and out Sunday morning -- closer to 36 than to 72 hours.)
Footnote # 2:
The Major "Proofs" for God's Existence -- Radically Condensed and Briefly Critiqued: The following assumes that the word "God" means a being perfect in knowledge (Omniscient), perfect in power (Omnipotent), perfect in goodness (Benevolent), and Creator of the universe. // The Ontological Argument: Anselm believes that the very definition of "God" enables us to see that God must exist -- anyone who understands the word "God" thereby knows that God exists. In short form, the argument says that by definition, God is a GCB (a Greatest Conceivable Being). When the fool hears the word "God" he understands it, and what is understood is in the mind. But a thing that exists in reality is greater than a thing that exists only in the mind. So, since God is the GCB, he must exist in reality, not just in the understanding. QED: God by definition exists. // Criticisms: First, to say that God exists in our understanding only means that we understand the word "God" -- This does not mean that God exists in our minds. (What could that mean?) Second, to say that God by definition is a GCB does not mean that we have discovered that a certain God whose existence is known to us also has the attribute of being a GCB. It only means that IF there is a God, then God is a GCB. It is like saying that IF there is a triangle, then it has three sides. The fact that a thing would not be a triangle if it did not have three sides does not show there are any triangles. The fact that a thing would not be God if it were not a GCB does not show any GCBs exist. Third, it is nonsense to say that a thing is greater if it exists in reality than if it is only imaginary. It is just a bad joke to say that Dr. Holly is stronger than Superman because the latter is imaginary. Fourth, it isn't clear that "GCX" makes sense. There is no Greatest Conceivable number. Is there a Greatest Conceivable Painting, automobile, Spouse, dog, knife, etc.? What would that even mean? So, it is not clear what "Greatest Conceivable Being" means. Fifth, just as there might be more than one person who got the greatest conceivable score on a certain test, perhaps there could be more than one GCB. Perhaps Anselm has an answer to this in his Chapter 5, where he claims that a GCB would be the one who created everything from nothing. He does seem right that only one could be the "One" that created everything, and that this would be greater than being part of a creation committee. Still, it might show moral superiority for several GCBs to collaborate in a joint venture to create everything from nothing, even though each separately could have done it alone; if so, the gods who collaborate to create everything would have greater claim to be GCBs than one that acted alone. Sixth, Gaunilo pointed out that if the Ontological argument could prove there is a God, then it could just as easily prove that there is a GCI -- a Greatest Conceivable Island. (If a GCI did not exist, then it wouldn't be the greatest conceivable island, because it would be greater if it existed -- so the GCI by definition exists!) But, this is silly, so there is something wrong with this type of argument. Seventh, if the Ontological argument works for God, it should work just as well to show that there exists a Super Satan -- a WCB (a Worst Conceivable Being -- a being perfect in knowledge, power, and malevolence). SS would be worse if he existed than if he were only in our minds, so by definition, SS (the WCB) exists. This unwarranted conclusion is theologically unacceptable, and it rests on the same verbal trickery as does the Ontological Argument. So, the OA must not work. At least six of the above criticisms are conclusive by themselves.
Descartes had a variation on the Ontological argument: He claimed that a GCB would have to be an NEB (Necessarily Existing Being), because an NEB is greater than a being that is not necessarily existent. So, he thought it would be self-contradictory to say God does not exist, because that would be to say that a necessarily existing being did not exist. // Criticism: The same objections given to Anselm's version apply to Descartes' version. All we are entitled to say is that IF there is an NEB, then it necessarily exists. But, if this argument could show there is a God, it would just as well show there is a necessarily existing Island, a necessarily existing apple, and a necessarily existing Super Satan -- which it does not do. Additionally, it isn't clear that it always would be better to be a necessarily existent thing (we would not be able to eat a necessarily existent apple). Finally, David Hume objected that the label "Necessarily Existent" makes no more sense than "round square," because anything we can conceive of as existing, we just as easily can conceive of as not existing. So, if God has the property of being necessarily existent, it must be a property we cannot conceive. Moreover, if there is a property of "necessary existence," perhaps it applies to the physical stuff of the universe, not to God. But, suppose that it applies only to God. We still have no explanation how a GCB could create a physical universe from nothing. So, the NEB version of the Ontological argument does not establish that there is a God, nor does it explain how the concept of God could be of any use in a scientific explanation of anything.
Saint Thomas Aquinas has Five Ways to prove God: The First Way is this: Some things change from potentially being X to actually being X. But, (for example) a thing that is only potentially hot cannot cause itself to become hot because it has no heat to give itself. Therefore, a thing getting hotter is being made hotter by another object that actually has heat -- so things must be caused to change by other objects, not by themselves. This chain of prior causes must have a beginning -- it must start with a cause that is itself uncaused. That uncaused first cause is God. // Criticisms: First, Aquinas' physics is primitive and mistaken. For example, wood in the process of combustion gets hotter from chemical reactions that release energy, not by getting heat that is transferred from things already hot. Second, even if he had proved that there must be a first cause, he has not shown that the first cause was God -- that it had any of the psychological or moral attributes of God. Third, he has not shown that there is only one first cause of things (there might be infinite numbers of first causes). Fourth, he has not shown that the first cause still exists (perhaps it entirely depleted itself in causing all subsequent changes). Fifth, he has not shown that there is any problem in thinking that the sequence of causes could go back infinitely into the past without there being any first cause. In fact, we have no proof (or reason to believe) that there was or could be a first moment in time, and no proof that there is a time prior to which God did anything. In fact, the deterministic claim that all events are caused by prior events logically entails that there cannot be a first event. Perhaps the universe (physical matter and the chain of causes and effects) is eternal -- perhaps it has existed forever. Sixth, he has not explained how God could be a cause of heat or motion. Is God hot or in motion, and if so, how does God transfer his heat or motion to physical objects? Does God hit, bump into, or throw objects to give them motion, and does that violate Newton's laws of motion -- does it give rise to action without equal and opposite reaction? Does God change (lose some of his heat) when he makes other things hotter? Aquinas doesn't say. Seventh, Aquinas has not ruled out the possibility that the first big change (perhaps the big bang) happened without any cause at all. If the first event was uncaused, then there would be no explanation for the first event, and none would be needed. Eighth, even if God was the first cause of change, this "God hypothesis" is entirely non-explanatory. To say that a fantastically wonderful being (omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect) who is entirely unknown to us (and that is itself completely uncaused and thus without any possible explanation) caused the first change by an unknown process is not to give any explanation at all. It simply introduces three new super-mysteries without explaining the original mystery, what caused the first ordinary changes, like that from hot to cold. Introducing God (an unknown and uncaused being with fantastic powers that themselves are unexplained) constitutes a loss of explanatory ground, not evidence that there is a God.
Aquinas' Second Way calls attention to the fact that a thing cannot cause itself (bring itself into existence) because it would be logically impossible for a thing to precede its own existence. He concludes that the cause of a thing's existence must be another thing, and that this series of things causing other things must terminate in a first cause (for, without a first cause, there can be no subsequent and thus no ultimate causes). The first cause is God. // Criticisms: First, Anselm gives no proof or even reason to believe that there is only one first cause of things, that this first cause continues to exist, or that it has any mental or moral attributes we associate with God. Second, he offers no explanation whatsoever how God or any other thing could cause physical stuff to come into existence, so the supposition of a God that is causally responsible for the existence of the physical universe is non-explanatory. In fact, it loses us explanatory ground by claiming to explain the existence of ordinary matter by postulating the existence of some fantastic unknown being that exercises entirely mysterious powers (perhaps word magic) to create ordinary stuff. Third, Anselm's supposition that matter needs something to cause it to exist runs counter to our modern belief in the conservation of matter. We know of no way to bring matter into existence (create it out of nothing) or to annihilate it. We cannot do it, and have no idea how any unknown Super being could create matter out of nothing. Fourth, there are two ways matter might exist without having been caused -- (1) it might be eternal (having existed forever) or (2) it might have popped into existence without any cause at all. The second choice here (coming into existence without any cause) is less mysterious than the claim that it was made from nothing by a fantastic unknown being through the exercise of inexplicable powers. The God-hypothesis introduces new mysteries without explaining the first alleged mystery. That is not explanatory gain.
Aquinas' Third Way claims a distinction between things that need not be (contingent beings) and things that must be (necessary beings). The former include things like plants and animals that spring up and die away. He claims that nothing would now exist if nothing but contingent beings existed. This seems unwarranted. Why couldn't trees give rise to other trees before they wither and die, giving us an endless series of trees? (Indeed, there is no reason why a non-necessary being couldn't just exist forever, without being a necessary being). Nevertheless, Anselm claims that contingent beings could not exist without necessary beings to bring them into existence. The necessary being, of course, is God. // Criticisms: Again, Anselm does not show that there is only one NEB (there could be infinitely many), that it has the moral or mental attributes of a God, that it still exists, or that it even makes sense to speak of a necessarily existing being… Ecclesiastes says of dust we are and to dust shall we return. Perhaps dust (physical matter) is the enduring and indestructible stuff of which we and other living things are made, and into which again we decompose. In any event, Aquinas does not explain how God could sustain himself, or how he could bring contingent beings into existence from nothing. So, this is just another non-explanation.
Aquinas' Fourth Way says that we understand comparative terms like "greater," "taller," and "more true," only by understanding how they describe varying degrees of approximation to a superlative. For example, we only understand the claim that A is hotter than B by understanding that A more closely approaches that which is hottest. And, God is the superlative thing in truth, wisdom, goodness, etc. Without God's being the standard superlative object of comparison, we would not even understand such claims as that Grandma is wiser than her children. Since we do understand comparative terms, it follows that God (the superlative object of comparison) exists. // Criticism: I am not certain that this is a correct representation of Anselm's or Aristotle's pre-scientific thinking. I do not know what they meant in saying that the hottest of all things causes all other (hot?) things to be hot. But, the point about comparatives is manifestly false. I know how to tell whether one potato is hotter than another without knowing what it would be for a thing to be the hottest possible thing. I can know one is hotter than anther without comparing them to a third (hottest) thing, and the so-called hottest thing need not exist for me to know one thing is hotter than the other. The same is true of being taller, wiser, redder, etc. Aquinas' last (fifth way) is that stones act with purpose (always go down rather than up when released, etc.) even though they do not know up from down. So, God must guide them. Given how many non-conscious particles there are in the universe that need God's guidance, that should keep Him quite busy. But, how does he guide them, make certain that at each instant their velocities are exactly those required by the laws of motion, and how the heck does God know up from down and do all the computing necessary? This gives the myth of the Ghost in the Machine entirely new scope: The entire universe is the Machine, and God directs its every motion -- by utterly mysterious, ghostly means!
Paley's Watch Argument -- AFD (the Argument From Design): Paley's watch argument points out that the parts and internal organization of a watch are so complex and wonderful that it would take an intelligent designer and manufacturer to make a watch. But, living organisms (plants and animals) are far more wonderfully complex than any human artifact. So, organisms require a far more intelligent designer than a watch does. That Great Designer would be God. (Only God can make a tree, and there are trees, so there is a God). // Criticisms (mostly from David Hume, 100 years before Darwin): First, the One/Many objection is that we cannot tell from looking at an artifact how many designers and makers it had. The more complex the artifact, the more likely it is that it had several ordinary designers, not one amazing designer. If your entire crop was eaten overnight, you suppose that it was a swarm of ordinary grasshoppers, not a Super Grasshopper. "Many" is more plausible than "one". Second, the Trial & Error objection: We cannot tell from examining an artifact that the designer got it right the first time. The more complex and wonderful the artifact (say, a Yankee Clipper), the more likely that it took years (perhaps many generations) of trial and error and experience to get the thing as good as it is. Trial and error is a more plausible hypothesis than a Super Intelligent being that got it right the first time. Third, the Regress Objection: If everything complex and wonderful requires a designer, then who made God? If God is more wonderful than the organisms he is invoked to explain, then he stands in need of an even greater designer -- a Super God to design him. But, this leads to a vicious and endless regress of designers. Who then designed and made the Super God that designed our God -- a Super-Super God? At each step of the regress, we lose explanatory ground -- which means that at each step we invoke something even harder to explain. Explanations are supposed to reduce mystery, to explain complex and wonderful things in terms of more ordinary things. AFD, however, increases mystery rather than reducing it, by purporting to explain ordinary things by postulating extraordinary and unknown things. Indeed, the details on how God is able to design and manufacture plants and animals are left incredibly vague. If God never had a body or parents, how could he have come up with the idea of love and all the other wonderful complexities of human life? Fourth, Does God Have a Brain? In all experience, mind depends on matter, not matter on mind -- we know of no instance where a being that lacks a brain has intelligence. Brain damage negatively affects thought. Cut off Fred's legs and he cannot dance; cut out his eyes, and he cannot see; cut out his brain and he cannot think. Any school child knows this. So, it would be absurd to say that God could be super-intelligent without having a brain. But, if God has a brain, then how large must it be, and who then designed God's brain? Fifth, the Argument from Evil: If there were a God with the knowledge, power, and goodness to prevent evil, there would be no evil (no disease, natural disasters, genocide, etc.). But there is evil, so there is no God. Hume did not think this argument proves that there is no Perfect God. But, the explanations why God allows evil to exist seem pathetically lame. For example, to say that God allows disease, war, and mass starvation to reduce population seems nothing short of blasphemy. There are more humane ways to keep the population down. Hume did not see how to entirely rule out that God could have excellent reason to allow all the evils in this world, even though none of the familiar "excuses" for allowing it seem plausible. Hume's interest in AFE was not to prove that God does not exist, but to block the argument from design in this way: If we have no satisfactory answer to the problem of evil (if we cannot prove that this world is perfect), then we cannot argue from the perfection of the world to the perfection of its creator. This is not meant to blame God for bad things that happen. It would seem ungrateful to blame God for imperfections in this world, when one instead should be thanking God for all the good things he has given us. But, this misses the point of the AFE. The point is that the existence of evil seems to be evidence against an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Caring God. How can we explain God's allowing innocent children to have birth defects and to die of horrible incurable and unavoidable diseases when it would be easy for him to cure all that? Unsatisfactory answers are prima facie evidence that no such being exists. To say that God allows evil to test us is not plausible. Given God's omniscience, he knew before we were born what our test scores would be. So, why not just skip the test, the suffering, and the evil deeds, and just start with Judgment Day, where He says, "We know how you would have done on the test. Martha would have gotten really high marks, and Fred would have failed very badly." (The notion of free will, if it means not being a deterministic being, does not help here. A randomizer in your circuits, while making you unpredictable, would make you less -- not more -- responsible.) // Sixth objection; The Argument From Goodness attempts to explain why our world could not have been made by a Super Satan (a being perfect in knowledge, power, and malevolence). It appeals to the fact that there is much goodness in the world, and submits that an SS would not allow such goodness in the most evil of all possible worlds. However, it is all too easy to explain why a SS might temporarily allow good things like love and beauty and health temporarily, so that he might cause even greater suffering when we see those we love suffer, betray us, and so on. Of course there is not any Super Satan any more than there exists a Super Man of the comic books. The criticism of AFD here is only that the goodness in the world does not prove it is not the worst (most evil) of all possible worlds. If you cannot prove that it is not the worst of all possible worlds, you certainly cannot prove that it is so perfect that it must have been made by God. QED.// Other Objections: The theory of evolution explains the complex and wonderful structures of plants and animals without bringing in fantastic non-explanatory unknown entities with inexplicable powers that we have never witnessed in operation. Evolution explains why we (and evil things like disease and parasites) exist by appealing to ordinary observable processes in normal life. Finally, even if AFD showed that organisms had a Designer, it offers no evidence to think that such a Designer still exists. Perhaps he got old or discouraged and died. Besides, even if a God did in fact create all organisms from scratch in six ordinary days of creation, we know that none of us have ever seen any cows, chickens, trees or people that were designed and made by God. All the plants, animals, and people we have ever seen resulted from normal reproductive processes like being born, hatched from eggs, grown from seeds, etc. In fact that explains why we know watches must have had intelligent designers and manufacturers: Watches cannot evolve the way organisms can, because watches have gears and springs but they have no offspring. Watches have no parents or children, and that is why they cannot evolve as organisms do.