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But they don’t feel anything, Professor Coyne

Over at Why Evolution is True, Professor Jerry Coyne has written a post entitled, Readers’ photos: a doomed caterpillar about the fate of a beautiful caterpillar being attacked by a parasitic fly that lays eggs on its victim. He quotes from a reader who took photos of the incident during an excursion to Vietnam:

As I walked on I felt sorry for the beautiful caterpillar, knowing that it almost certainly was going to die an extremely unpleasant death (slowly being eaten alive by a maggot). Should I have interfered? This moral dilemma occupied me for a while. Nature is wonderful, but full of horrors, most of which go unnoticed.

But Professor Coyne does not stop there. He quotes from a letter from Charles Darwin to Asa Gray, dated May 22, 1860, citing observations like the above as evidence against a beneficent God:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

Coyne notes in passing:

Ichneumonids are not flies, but wasps (mostly parasitic ones) in the order Hymenoptera, along with bees and other more familiar wasps.

Well, Professor Coyne, Darwin lived in the 19th century, but you live in the 21st. Surely you are aware that flies aren’t sentient. There is an enormous amount of neurological evidence that sentience is limited to relatively few animals: mammals (almost certainly), birds (probably) and just possibly, reptiles and cephalopods. Just to jog your memory:

Criteria for consciousness in humans and other mammals at www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/anils/php/processPdf.php?item=30 (Seth, Baars and Edelman)

The neural correlate of (un)awareness: lessons from the vegetative state (Laureys)

The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes and the Question of Awareness and
Pain
(Rose)

If flies don’t feel anything, what’s the theological problem here?

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24 Responses to But they don’t feel anything, Professor Coyne

  1. This is remarkable. This is the second time this afternoon I’ve seen this issue come up.

    The caterpillar experience and the Darwin quote are essentially a form of the “Why would God allow evil in the world?” question. This is a serious question and one that deserves to be grappled with. Those who deny anything beyond the material nature have an answer as well, but in stark terms it isn’t very satisfying, expressed variously as: dumb luck, chaos, random forces of nature, survival of the fittest, the universe is a cold and unfeeling place, etc.

    Benjamin Wiker has penned what I consider to be an excellent essay on this topic, well worth the read to anyone who is really interested in grappling with the question of good and evil:

    http://www.catholicculture.org.....ecnum=5782

  2. Incidentally, I don’t think arguments about which creatures are sentient or which creatures feel pain are that helpful. There are plenty of creatures who are sentient and feel pain who experience horrible atrocities in the world. All that does is shift the discussion to better examples — which are legion.

    Wiker’s essay gives some hint as to what a serious consideration of the issue should lead us to. Cornelius Hunter has also written thoughtfully on this issue in one of his books.

  3. Is it wise to extrapolate sensitivity to pain exclusively on neural networks or whatever?

    Leaving insects aside, I was horrified by a nature documentary on the box, in which some kind of monkey, perhaps an orang utang, was a simian kind of psychopath, who was killing the group’s youngsters surreptitiously.

    One of the victims looked appealingly at the camera-man for protection, but, oh, no, they wouldn’t want to interfere with nature. The ingenuous crassness and the moral vacuity that ‘informed’ it, appals me to this day. It’s not something I’ll be able to forget.

    They are powerful beasts, but that wasn’t the reason he chose not to ‘interfere’. He would surely have had the means to protect himself, lethally.

    Jesus’ parable or story about Lazarus and the rich man is remarkable on several scores.

    Implicitly, Jesus compares the rich man unfavourably with the dumb beasts – the street-dogs, who in their hapless stumbling compassion licked Lazarus’ sores.

    Also, inveighing against the scribes, Pharisees and priestly families, as he evidently, frequently did, must have been very emotionally draining; and here, he seems to have reached a point at which he decided it had largely, perhaps completely, failed, and the only thing for it was to adopt the completely different tack of warning them in a very clinical manner of the consequences of their attitude and behaviour. Almost as if he were reading from an instruction manual. Do this, and you will have eternal life and unending bliss; neglect to do so, and you will spend eternity in Hell, and all the unending torments that entails.

    But all, couched in loving terms, since the choice is theirs. Abraham, when addressing the rich man called him, ‘son’. Father Abraham simply laid it on the line in a perfectly measured, routine manner, in response to the rich man’s querulous requests. In contrast to Christ’s own earlier condemnation of some Pharisees as spawn of the Devil.

    No mention is made of the rich man being wicked. Nor did Jesus state that the rich man didn’t give Lazarus anything, but that nobody did: the malign political influence of the rich man.

    A name is a very personal thing, and it seems significant that Jesus only gave a name to the poor man. Ascribing the name, Dives, to the rich man is a ‘tradition of men’ that began later.

  4. Better for us to err on the side of empathy.

  5. I’m sorry to digress, albeit in a forum effectively dedicated to the nexus between the quantum order and the world of the spirit, as is increasingly becoming apparent.

    If insects do not feel pain, wanton cruelty even to an insect, still strikes me as an offence against moral beauty, for which there must be consequences, depending perhaps on our age and understanding. I mean I know wonderful people who have done so as youngsters.

    But I believe this is the significance of Yahweh’s commendment in the Mosaic law, not to ‘seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.’ Why would it matter? It could only because it offends or ought to offend against our sense of moral beauty. Once we lose that, what can remain in us of any worth? We even speak of a person flowing with the milk of human kindness.

  6. Eric Anderson@2 is right (IMO): the fact that Darwin chose a spider and a wasp to make his point is a red herring. The issue is “natural evil” (or whatever we want to call it) per se, not spiders and wasps.

    The passage Coyne quotes from a letter Darwin wrote Asa Gray is very well known. IMO, it points to one of the problems inherent within traditional (pre-Darwinian) natural theology: by and large, they tended either to ignore “the dark side of creation,” if I may call it that, or else to justify it rather glibly by noting (e.g.) that carnivores do other creatures a service, by cutting short their lives, offering them a quick but painful death instead of a slow and painful death from some other cause(s), such as disease, old age, or starvation. To some extent Paley fits this description, and so do some of the leading advocates of OEC positions in the early 19th century. (Interestingly, the YEC position insists on the “young” earth, in large part, b/c accepting an “old” earth entails the acceptance of “natural evil” before the first humans sinned. That is a very different response than any type of OEC position.)

    A deeper problem with pre-Darwinian natural theology is the fact that it focused solely on God the Father as Maker of Heaven and Earth, entirely ignoring the teaching of John’s gospel that God the Son had a great deal to do with it. Furthermore, theology of creation was usually only about God the Father, not God the Son. In short, Christians (at least in Western Christendom; I am mainly ignorant of Eastern Christendom) did not formulate distinctly Christocentric theologies of creation. Thus, the natural theologians were in a pretty tough situation. On the one hand, as natural theologians they were supposed to leave revealed theology out of the conversation (just as ID is officially supposed to do); on the other hand, even if they’d wanted to go into theodicy (as they sometimes did) and bring in specifically Christian conceptions of God as part of that (which they rarely or never did, as far as I can tell), they didn’t have Christocentric theologies of creation to draw on.

    This has changed in recent decades–and there is an irony in this situation. To make my point, let me join with Eric Anderson in applauding the lovely essay about theodicy by Ben Wiker, which he links @1. Wiker obviously takes a Christocentric, even Incarnational, approach to theodicy, placing it within the larger picture of the mortal suffering of the Son. However, when he brings in “natural evil,” he seems to back away from applying it too specifically, by emphasizing (understandably) our ignorance of God’s greater knowledge. Obviously he doesn’t want to say that evolution should influence our theodicy, b/c (obviously) he doesn’t accept evolution and (just as obviously) b/c Dawkins says that evolution means there is no such thing as “evil” as a moral category.

    The irony emerges, at least to me, when we realize that those Christian thinkers who have the work of developing a Christocentric theology of creation, including a Christocentric theology of “natural evil,” have mainly been people who accept evolution, even “Darwinian” evolution with apparent randomness at the core. They reject Dawkins’ equation of evolution with moral bankruptcy, of course–that is where their approach differs from Wiker’s.

    Some of the people I have in mind here have developed the idea of divine “kenosis” *in their theology of creation*. That is quite novel historically. I understand that certain Lutheran theologians in the 17th century emphasized “kenosis” in their theology of *redemption*, and I would not be at all surprised if there were not Catholic thinkers who had already done that (though if is I leave it to Wiker or someone else to identify them). But, to apply this type of thinking to theology of creation is, to the best of my knowledge, something that happened only in the 20th century, and it was done by thinkers who saw Darwin’s problem (if I can call it that, though Darwin hardly originated it) and responded Christologically to it–in the context of a doctrine of creation.

    Fully to deal with “natural evil,” however, theology of creation by itself is still not adequate, not even if it’s a fully Christocentric theology. I think Wiker agrees, but I don’t want to read too much into his comments and of course he can drop in and speak for himself if he wishes.

    I close by offering a passage from one such theologian, Robert Russell–a theologian, incidentally, who fully accepts natural selection operating on random variations as good science, but who also believes that God sovereignly governs the world, including natural selection, by acting “invisibly” at the quantum level. Here is a passage from Robert Russell’s book, “Cosmology From Alpha to Omega”(pp. 266-67):

    “[I]n order to move us beyond mere kenosis to genuine eschatology, I believe that both kenotic theodicy and eschatology must be structured on a trinitarian doctrine of God. The reason here is simple: it is the trinitarian God who will act to bring about the redemption of all of nature since it is this God who is revealed as God in and through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. A kenotic theology (that God suffers voluntarily with the world) in and of itself is not redemptive. Eschatology is required, in which the Father who suffers the death of the Son acts anew at Easter to raise Jesus from the dead. In turn, the involuntary suffering of all of nature–each species and each individual creature–must be taken up into the voluntary suffering of Christ on the cross (theopassionism) and through it the voluntary suffering of the Father (patripassionism).”

    “How then do we respond to the problem of natural theodicy? My response is to recognize that the problem is generated in part by the fact that natural evil has been discussed in the context of the theology of creation. I believe, however, that we *cannot* answer the challenge of theodicy if the framework is creation–the universe as we know it and the laws that science has discovered… Given science, we see ever more clearly and ominously the scale of the problem of natural evil: It extends back before and down under biology even to the physics of thermodynamics and outwards endlessly to cosmology as the scientific description of the universe as a whole. More ominously, we see that the challenge is immense: we have been forced to recognize ‘natural evil’ as *constitutive of life* and *not just a consequence* of a historical event now taken as mythological [i.e., the fall].”

    “Hence I propose that the only possibility for an adequate response to natural theodicy will be to relocate the problem of sin and evil beyond the theology of creation into a theology of redemption: the kenotic suffering of God with the world together with the eschatological transformation of the universe in the New Creation beginning proleptically with God’s new act at Easter in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.” Etc. Forgive me for putting so much of this passage into the blog, but I don’t think many here are familiar with Russell and others who take this type of theological approach, and it can’t really be stated fairly and adequately in anyone else’s words.

    I close with just this final point: I very often hear that TE is theologically unorthodox by its nature. Perhaps so, depending on how orthodoxy is defined, but if it’s defined in terms of the ecumenical creeds (as I like to define it), then there are plenty of TEs who are theologically orthodox. And some of them, like Russell, are IMO among the very best Christian thinkers in the world.

  7. I just noticed a major typo in my post @6. The words “those Christian thinkers who have the work of developing a Christocentric theology of creation,” should actually say, “those Christian thinkers who have done the work of developing a Christocentric theology of creation.” Must have erased it by mistake when editing.

  8. Though I’m a great fan of Vincent Torley’s posts, I have to agree with Ted and Eric above: the problem of theodicy is wider than the suffering of caterpillars at the hands of wasp larvae. Thus, even if the caterpillar doesn’t suffer (and I question whether that can be determined by the kind of studies cited), so-called “higher” creatures definitely do, from parasites of all kinds. The “problem of evil” can’t be discounted.

    The question is whether God might have created a world in which there was natural evil. I have no problem in accepting that God not only might have, but did, create such a world. I think that the various attempts to ground all natural evil in the Fall (at least, every attempt I’ve read) all involve gratuitous additions to the Biblical text, in order to produce a doctrine which isn’t really there.

    The question Ted raises about the possibility of a Christocentric creation doctrine is important. I’ll discuss it momentarily. In the meantime, I will say that I don’t need any “Christocentric shift” in creation theology to defend my own view. I don’t have to change the focus from the First Person to the Second Person in order to explain suffering, as if natural evil is something that God needs an excuse for, and the suffering of Christ provides the excuse. God needs no excuse for anything.

    If you want lions, you have to have lambs. Those who condemn God for animal suffering are saying that God should have created in a world in which all animals were vegetarian and there were no parasites. But why should he have done so? Perhaps he wanted a world in which the plenitude of being could be expressed. Who are we to say what God should desire or execute?

    Sometimes I think everyone in these debates — ID, OEC, YEC, and TE/EC — needs to take the book of Job more seriously. You don’t talk to or about God as if he is some kind of civil servant who has botched a job (e.g., poorly designed the traffic flow of a city). As any Orthodox Jew would tell all of us oh-so-rational modern Christians, fear and trembling would be a more appropriate response to the divine majesty. At the very least, a little intellectual humility is called for. We don’t know for sure that God could have no good reason for creating physical evil, and therefore trying to get him off the hook for it is of questionable value.

    This is where Miller and Ayala go wrong, trying to pin the blame for evil and suffering on the vagaries of the unplanned Darwinian process. As if God’s hands can be kept clean by blaming evolution for the evil! But Mike Behe has already decisively destroyed Miller’s argument on this point; in fact, his refutation is posted on Mike’s former Amazon blogspot right here on this site.

    But back to the subject of a Christocentric creation doctrine. The idea is deserving of serious consideration, but *only if it is motivated wholly by the desire to understand the Biblical teaching about nature*, as opposed to the desire to theologically justify the biological dogma of Darwinian randomness and antiteleology. If all that “Christocentric creation doctrine” means is that God surrenders his cosmic power (as Christ did at the crucifixion), letting the violence of the world reign (as Christ did at the crucifixion, and as happens in Darwinian processes) instead of ordering the world according to his plan (as Genesis teaches, and as the major theologians up until very modern times have taught), then it’s just a theological patina put on naturalism, to justify the rejection of design language and the embrace of a reductionist account of origins.

    However, a Christological creation doctrine that takes seriously not only the suffering part of Christ, but also the fact that he is the incarnate Logos (rational speech, rational order, coherence, structure, meaning — not a set of “trial and error” processes), will not lightly dismiss notions of planning, design, and providence, as Miller, Ayala, etc. do when they talk about how lousy and cruel the design of everything is, or as Venema does, when he (as he did recently) gives studiously murky answers to a plain question about whether evolution is guided or planned. So if there is a thoughtful, systematic, Biblically and traditionally based Christocentric theology of creation out there — by all means let’s hear more about it. And if Biologos won’t sponsor such a discussion, because it is too committed to an antiteleological naturalism to have respect for the Logos doctrine of John, then let the more thoughtful TE/EC people (Ted Davis, Russell, Murphy) break with the Biologos people and start up their own web site. I’ll be the first visitor.

    T.

  9. I agree with Timeaus about Job, though not entirely with the rest.

    Let me repeat a short post I put on another thread here last year:

    Why did God not make heaven now?

    My own view is that we cannot know the answer to this, on this side of the eschaton. In short, I take my theodicy mainly from Job rather than from Genesis. In this connection I strongly recommend the following article by John Schneider: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10dyn.html

    Partly for reasons related to theodicy, a number of TE advocates like to talk about “divine kenosis,” or “the theology of the cross,” or “the crucified God.” These ideas are not necessarily identical, but they all have in common the idea that the universe was created by the second person of the Trinity, and that the act of creation involved God taking on suffering personally. (This may or may not be patripassionism; I don’t care myself whether or not it is. I think it’s true, regardless.)

    C.S. Lewis opens “The Problem of Pain” with the following epigram, taken from George MacDonald: “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

    That pretty much sums it up, from where I sit.

    ***

    To which I add, Timaeus, an ironic post script. The author of this article that I recommend, John Schneider, is one of the two faculty members from Calvin College who have come under scrutiny for possible charges of heresy. Job and some other Hebrew texts might indeed be seen by some as dissonant, perhaps even “heretical,” relative to the theodicy presented in Genesis 2-3. Nevertheless, Job is IMO the most theologically profound book in the Bible.

  10. I can’t speak for VJ Torley, but I get the impression some people here are taking his reply to Coyne to be some kind of denial of the problem of evil. I don’t see him as doing that at all, especially given his past writings on this topic. I’ve never seen him be flippant on this topic.

    Yes, it’s correct that even if Torley is right about the scope of sentience that there are still tremendous examples of evil. But if someone comes up and talks about (to use an extreme example) the excruciating pain that rocks experience during geographic processes and how this reflects on the existence of a benevolent God, I think it’s not only fair, but important to acknowledge the problems with attributing pain to rocks.

    That the argument can fall back to squirrels, then, is fine – fall back.

  11. As for “the rest” (see above) of what Timeaus said, I have only this to say. It’s high time, IMO, that Christian theologians got around to thinking about the doctrine of creation in terms of the crucified God–that is, in terms of the Incarnation, for IMO the Incarnation *means* that we crucified God, that we crucified the Maker of Heaven and Earth. I also believe (as I suspect Timeaus does not believe, though if I am mistaken I hope he will correct me) that the Incarnation constitutes the primary, most reliable revelation of God to us. Thus, I think it very appropriate when those theologians I have been speaking about prioritize theology of nature over natural theology.

    Let’s do a thought experiment–one of a type that ought to be done more often, particularly when “Darwinism” or evolution is being blamed for all of the errors of modern theology (and there are errors, to be sure). Let’s pretend that Darwin never existed and that “Darwinism” was never proposed by anyone else. But, we still have an ancient earth, filled with parasites and disease and carnivores all the way back to the beginning of life on this planet. We’d still have Darwin’s problem to deal with, and it would still be good that theologians were talking about creation in terms of God pouring Godself out into the creation, for it would still be full of natural evil from the earliest times–even without our own miserable existence, even if God had never gotten around to the latter part of the sixth day of creation.

    Now, I would certainly agree that the acceptance of evolution is a big factor here, for the claim that God created through evolution (which is the classic definition of TE) underscores the magnitude of the problem of natural evil; nevertheless, it underscores what was already written.

    If however the character of the creator is best seen in the suffering servant who ultimately redeems through that suffering, then it is perhaps less surprising that God would create through a process that mirrors God’s character. Perhaps there are deeper reasons why God chose to do things in this way, just as there may be deeper reasons why God chose to take on human form and be crucified. Perhaps Darwin, who after all was no ignoramus in theology, spoke better than he realized in that final paragraph of the Origin of Species. Perhaps.

    But natural theology will have none of this. If there was an intelligent design in this story, it isn’t one that we’re going to find by looking for specified complexity.

  12. One more point for Timaeus, who wrote:

    “But back to the subject of a Christocentric creation doctrine. The idea is deserving of serious consideration, but *only if it is motivated wholly by the desire to understand the Biblical teaching about nature*, as opposed to the desire to theologically justify the biological dogma of Darwinian randomness and antiteleology.”

    As I’ve said, Timaeus, I think it’s high time that Christian theologians got around to this, regardless of whether “Darwinism” or any other idea is part of the story. It stands to reason, at least to mine, that the construction of a Christocentric theology of creation should be applauded, whether or not Darwin had ever worried about wasps and spiders. The biblical and theological reasons should have been sufficient in and of themselves. Apparently they weren’t, but they should have been.

    Also, it should be clear from what John Schneider writes (noting the many biblical texts he cites) that “the Biblical teaching about nature” is a collective noun, and that there is no single teaching about nature in the Bible. Job’s view of nature, IMO, wasn’t all that different from what Dawkins has written about the moral indifference of it all. God pulled rank on Job, when he brought this up. I don’t have that luxury.

    That might have been the best God could do for Job, prior to showing Godself more fully in the Incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Those events certainly have implications for our understanding of nature–creatio ex nihilo is inseparably tied (IMO) to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But, they were not available for Job to consider. Thus, the final scene of that great biblical drama is not very convincing. IMO.

  13. Ted:

    Glad to see you are up late thinking about theological subjects. :-)

    I would require evidence that George MacDonald, when speaking of “the suffering of God”, was referring to the creation of the world. As it sits, it need not refer to anything more than the suffering of the Son while he was on earth. Do you know the original context?

    Like you, I am not concerned with whether Patripassianism is formally heretical; I’m quite willing to look at even heretical ideas if they bear some organic relationship to the Christian tradition overall. At the same time, I’d be very nervous about treating as *the* Christian doctrine of creation a notion that had *no* support until the 20th century. So what I look for is at least some adumbrations of a “kenotic” creation doctrine earlier in the tradition. I believe that these exist, but I haven’t seen a good, detailed historical study of them, as opposed to a loose assemblage of proof-texts that amount to the suggestion of a doctrine rather than an articulation of one.

    You speak of Genesis 2-3. Just to clarify, I have in mind Genesis 1, not Genesis 2-3, which in my view reflects a different Israelite tradition. I see the language of divine planning and command and execution in Genesis 1 as entirely compatible with the Logos doctrine in John 1. God creates through the Logos — and therefore we would expect his creation to be orderly, rational, even perhaps mathematical — along the lines of Newton or Kepler, not along the trial and error lines of Darwin. I also see both Genesis 1 and John 1 as compatible with Job; for though Job emphasizes the inability of human beings to fully comprehend the rationality of God, the rationality is plainly there. In Darwinian anti-teleology, however, the whole point is that there is no rationality to the process, and no particular aim or end to it. Rewind the tape, step on an ancient butterfly at the wrong time, and the whole history of life changes. Not law but contingency reigns.

    The problem with Biologos-TE is that it is so enamored of contingency in evolution that it does not do justice to rationality in evolution. I would submit to you that precisely one of the texts you mention — John 1 — points to the rationality of the cosmos, and hence of the underlying rationality of any evolutionary process which might operate within it. What I’m missing from Bio-Logos is the Logos. It advocates Logos-free evolution. Or, if it does believe that there is a Logos behind evolution, it is resolutely silent about what role the Logos might play in the process. And merely to say that one believes by faith that it plays a role, and then going on to do one’s science just as if it played none, is simply theologically inadequate.

    In short, I don’t see any “kenotic” or “incarnational” understanding of creation at Biologos. I see the Big Bang, the chemical origin of life, and neo-Darwinism, all of course framed in piety, but the picture is untouched by the frame. The picture inside the frame would look identical if the frame was made by the firm of Lewontin and Provine rather than that of Falk and Giberson. In a truly kenotic, truly incarnational theology of creation, the picture inside the frame would look quite different. I think that you and Russell and Murphy and others need to show in what ways it would look different.

    T.

  14. Ted:

    Note that I had not read your posts 11 and 12 when I composed my post 13. My post 13 was responding only to your post 9.

    T.

  15. Ted, briefly to your post 11:

    “that the Incarnation constitutes the primary, most reliable revelation of God to us.”

    It constitutes the primary, most reliable revelation *of some aspects* of God to us. It does not necessarily teach us everything we need to know about God. If it did, we could just keep the Gospels and scrap most of the rest of the Bible.

    “If however the character of the creator is best seen in the suffering servant who ultimately redeems through that suffering,”

    Again, *some aspects* of the creator are best seen in the suffering servant; I don’t see why *all* aspects of the creator — or of the process of creation — are best seen in that light. Christ was a suffering servant, but is that *all* that Christ was? And if God was incarnate in Christ, is God *nothing but* what could be seen incarnate in Christ? It seems to me that you are advocating a “skewed Trinitarianism” in which the first and third Persons of the Trinity are interpreted only in relation to the Second. I do not see this as the meaning of the traditional Creeds.

    Regarding theology of nature vs. natural theology, I don’t see why the two need to be in competition. Natural theology is the international lingua franca by which Greeks, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, etc. can talk to each other about the ultimate cause of the universe and of the mind which knows the universe. The existence of natural theology doesn’t count against or rule out a theology of nature based on additional sources of information (coming from revelation). This is why the hostility of Biologos to natural theology is incomprehensible to me.

    Over at Biologos they don’t understand natural theology’s function. They think it seeks to replace revelation. But it doesn’t — not when it is being true to itself. If some natural theologians have gone beyond what natural theology can do, and tried to smuggle covert Christian propositions into their conclusions, I would rebuke them. But there is certainly nothing in the Five Ways of Aquinas which does this. Nor do teleological arguments from the order and organization of nature necessarily do this.

    On the other side of the ledger, the attack on natural theology, over at Biologos, is often used to sell certain fideistic forms of Christian theology to which Biologos personnel seem attracted. But there is simply no reason why a choice has to be made between the debatable theological positions of Barth and Pascal and the overreaching of certain physicotheologians. One can find value in Paley’s watchmaker analogy for natural theology, without accepting all the excessive Christian-derived contents that Paley slips in as conclusions of natural reason. And one can find value in Augustine’s and Calvin’s emphasis on faith, without, like Barth and Pascal, denigrating the powers of unaided reason.

    Biologos is too much given to polarization. The cause, I believe, is that most of the writers on Biologos simply do not know the theological tradition very well. They are therefore incapable of the nuance required to write about science and theology with the appropriate caution. That could of course change if new writers were to burst onto the Biologos scene, and I sincerely hope that such a thing will one day occur.

    T.

  16. Ted, briefly to your post 12:

    I am glad we agree that the project of working out an incarnational theology of creation need not be tied to the defense of Darwinian evolution, and that it should have its own independent theological motivation.

    I’m inclined to agree with you that the Bible contains a spectrum of views about nature, rather than a unitary and systematic theology of nature. I don’t count any of those views as worth zero, but I do think some of them are more important than others.

    It seems to me that in Genesis 1 the themes of orderliness and of intentionality are among the most important statements about creation in the Bible. And it seems to me that Biologos simply does not know what to do with the language of intentionality. There is no place for intentionality in its understanding of origins. To use my earlier metaphor, they can allow intentionality in the frame, but not in the picture. For the writer of Genesis, however, intentionality was very much in the picture. My objection to Biologos is not that it objects to six-day literalism; my objection to Biologos is that it fudges on a teaching which the author of Genesis 1 considered to be central.

    T.

  17. It’s not just me who has trouble getting straight answers about teleology from BioLogians, then. 145 posts on the Venema thread, with simple questions obfuscated by both author and President to the end.

    Apart from my having problems with the justification for “kenosis with everything” theology, does it not create a complete dysjunction between the message God gives to Job (and I assume divine inspiration rather than mere philosophy in that book) and the message that “Christ in suffering deals with the failures in creation”?

    Job encounters the God who affirms the worth of his faith over against the oversimplifications of the friends, but also the God whose answer to “Why is the world like that?” is, “Because I made it like that – and glorious it is, too, far beyond human understanding.”

    I do not accept that the Incarnation implies a denial of that, and that God was boasting unjustifiably about his creative wisdom, only solving the problems he himself caused, directly or indirectly, through the cross.

    Such a theology raises more questions than it answers about Creation, and yet its reason for rejecting the message of Job, that we cannot understand the depths of God’s wisdom, is that we now understand things better!

  18. Jon Garvey:

    The discussion of kenosis on your site is useful; I think that Ted Davis will find it interesting, and I hope that he and others will go there to read what you have to say.

    Could you give us the title and hyperlink for the Biologos thread where “simple questions” are “obfuscated” by Venema and Falk?

  19. Timaeus, thanks for looking.

    In my dotage I mixed up the details of two relevant threads. The Venema/Falk thread is Understanding Evolution: Is There “Junk” in Your Genome? Part 3, which is shorter than I said. The main questioner there is Crude. I think his questions were plain and open, and the answers significantly less so!

    The longer thread also majored on teleology, and also failed to get substantive answers about divine oversight of evolution from any of Biologos’ principal players. This is Monopolizing Knowledge, Part 6: Evolutionary Metaphysics, where yours truly and JamesR (who was banned for asking too pertinaciously, I suppose) fielded the questions.

  20. Hi everyone. I’d like to respond briefly to some of your comments (thank you very much, by the way). Let me state at the outset that my post was not intended as a general answer to the problem of animal suffering, but as an opening move in a response that could be made. For the simple fact is that of the estimated 10 to 30 million animal species inhabiting our planet, probably only about 0.1% (5,500 species of mammals plus 10,000 species of birds) are capable of suffering. Hence for 99.9% of animal species, there is no problem of animal suffering. I think people need to be told that.

    Atheists do have a peculiar psychological problem here: their writing abounds with examples of the pathetic fallacy. Dawkins, for example, cited Darwin’s remarks on the Ichneumonidae in a celebrated article entitled God’s Utility Function:

    I cannot persuade myself, “Charles Darwin wrote, “that a benificent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” The macabre habits of the Ichneumonidae are shared by other groups of wasps, such as the digger wasps studied by the French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre.

    Fabre reported that before laying her egg in the catepillar (or grasshopper or bee) a female digger wasp carefully guides her sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system so as to paralyze the animal but not kill it. This way, the meat stays fresh for the growing larva. It is not known whether the paralysis acts as a general anesthetic or if it is like curare in just freezing the victim’s ability to move. If the latter, the prey might be aware of being eaten alive from inside but unable to move a muscle to do anything about it. This sounds savagely cruel, but, as we shall see, Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. ..

    To return to our pessimistic beginning, maximization of DNA survival is not a recipe for happiness. So long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process. Genes don’t care about suffering, because they don’t care about anything.

    It is better for the genes of Darwin’s wasp that the caterpillar should be alive, and therefore fresh, when it is eaten, no matter what the cost in suffering. If Nature were kind, She would at least make the minor concession of anesthesizing caterpillars before they were eaten alive from within. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA…

    … The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it:

    For nature, heartless, witless nature
    Wll neither care nor know

    DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Bold type mine – VJT.)

    Actually, as the Christian apologist Glenn Miller points out, Dawkins is wrong in his biology, because he makes the mistake of relying on Fabre:

    1. First of all, he [Dawkins] is simply wrong about the stinging behavior. His use of such an old resource as Fabre (1823-1910!) might be the problem, for the contemporary experts in the field would have been much more reliable guides. So, R.F. Chapman (in the dominant resource in the field today) points out:

    “Hymenoptera which paralyse their prey inject the venom via the sting, which is a modified ovipositor. There is no real evidence that the wasp attempts to inject its venom into a nerve ganglion of the victim as is suggested in the literature.” [X01:IFS:34]

    2. The comment about the paralysis is slightly confused.

    First of all, we have noticed that there is nothing there to even be anesthetized, so his dichotomy of general anesthesia and curare is vacuous to begin with.

    The detailed data is very strong–the host doesn’t suffer any pain at all. It is not even remotely “aware of being eaten alive from inside”. It simply doesn’t reach reproductive adulthood. Darwin (and presumably Dawkins) simply were not familiar enough with the biological details, and hence, constructed a false ‘problem’ for traditional theism. (The bold type is Miller’s – VJT.)

    For another example of an evolutionist committing the pathetic fallacy, here is a post by Matthew Cobb over at Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True Web site. I’ll just quote an extract:

    Darwin once wrote to a friend “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” These creepily amazing solitary wasps lay eggs in or on other insects; the hatched larvae then proceed to devour their prey from within, generally keeping all the vital functions going while they are about it.

    Some of these amazing wasps have recently been captured on video (300 fps!), attacking various Spanish ants that were going about their business…

    With incredible dexterity, the tiny wasps (less than 2 mm long) managed to lay eggs in their hymenopteran cousins, just slipping their ovipositor between the plates on the ant’s gaster. At the end of the first film, one of the ants manages to grab her tormentor in mid-air and nom her, as we scientists say. So yes, the ants most definitely know the wasps are there and do their best to avoid been attacked.

    The first film shows the wasp Elasmosoma luxemburgense ovipositing in Formica rufibarbis ants. There’s no soundtrack. I happened to be listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater ‘O quam tristis’ when I watched them, which is recommended for a suitably grim accompaniment. (Bold type mine – VJT.)

    Cobb should be aware that while insects do indeed possess sophisticated sensory capacities as well as nociception (response to noxious stimuli), they don’t feel pain. The instances of parasitism he cites, in which the prey does not die, and of which the host is generally unaware of the presence of the parasites within its body, do not and should not generate any theological conumdrums.

    One of the most sensible writers I know on the question of animal suffering is the Christian apologist Glenn Miller. His three-part series on the subject is a classic, and I would especially recommend Part Two and Part Three .

    I’ll have more to say on the subject of animal suffering in a future post. But I would like to acknowledge before I finish that Timaeus is entirely correct when he asserts (citing the book of Job) that there is much about God’s motives that we cannot know, that showing that insects don’t suffer doesn’t answer the question of why mammals and birds do, and that the available evidence strongly suggests that God created a world in which some degree of animal suffering was built into the picture.

  21. “But I believe this is the significance of Yahweh’s commendment in the Mosaic law, not to ‘seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.’ Why would it matter? “

    Likely that this injunction was given contra some pagan practices at the time, not for any inherent immorality of the practice. Note that goats and sheep and pigeons were having their throats slit around the clock in the temple court.

  22. Dawkins cited the Ichneumonidae again in his debate with Rowan Williams yesterday. His attitude was strangely ambivalent: on the one hand he was saying that scientists view such things dispassionately, being exactly what they’d expect in an indifferent Universe.

    On the other hand, he only mentioned it in order to show how one couldn’t possibly believe in God, and talked of these animals “torturing” their victims.

    Now that’s hardly dispassionate: I used to stick needles in babies as part of my medical calling, and not infrequently they objected strongly. Their mothers, however, didn’t view it as torture.

    We also kill animals to eat them, and until modern methods of killing came in, no doubt some pain was involved – but that is not torture.

    Even biologists using live animals in experiments are only torturing their subjects if they cause unnecessary suffering – and no doubt even those researching the nature of pain would deny that the word “torture” is appropriate given their medical motivation. So why would Dawkins prefer to use human value-sodden vocabulary?

  23. “So why would Dawkins prefer to use human value-sodden vocabulary?”

    Because he has envy of human-social sciences – the realm of knowledge that speaks of meaning, purpose, goal-orientation, choice, intention, values, ethics, morals, etc.

    One can see this already in his concept of ‘memes’. Why would Dawkins seeks to speak of ‘cultural evolution’ via ‘cultural replicators’ without knowing much about the history of theories of change and development or diffusion, expression and translation of ideas in the realm of culture?

    I’m curious to see the speakers’ time breakdown for the discussion at Oxford. Dawkins looked nervous and kept talking and talking and Sir Kenny kept feeding his scientific-rhetorical diet. Perhaps it was a little bit like ‘don’t let a divine foot in the door?’

  24. I read it as Williams being a polite listener, Dawkins (with little to bite on) being a polite point-maker and Kenny ever so slightly exposing Dawkins lack of philosophical credibility.

    The result was a polite exchange of views, with little in them being challenged or even, for a newcomer to the issues, being developed. Which was a shame.

    To those familiar, Dawkins was using the same reservoir of arguments and examples, inluding this pretty discredited (even factually) thing on the Ichneumonidae. “I present no evidence of any actual suffering, but plenty of anthropomorphism and yuck factor. Therefore God does not exist.”

    Williams replied “It’s a problem, isn’t it?” but may hvae done better to ask, “What’s the problem.” But theologians have to assume biologists are not telling biological porkies, I suppose.

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