Home » Intelligent Design » The Earth: Not our mother, not our sister, not a living thing, but our treasure trove, our observatory, our library, our spaceship and our home

The Earth: Not our mother, not our sister, not a living thing, but our treasure trove, our observatory, our library, our spaceship and our home

Five quick questions:

(1) What is your favorite metaphor for our Earth? Is your favorite metaphor an animate one (e.g. the Earth is our mother / our sister / a super-organism), or an inanimate one (e.g. the Earth is our home / a jewel / our spaceship / our way-station)?

(2) In the course of an average day, what percentage of your waking hours do you spend thinking about the following: (a) God; (b) issues that invoke abstract ideas, such as philosophical and moral questions (whether speculative or practical), mathematics, the sciences and the arts; (c) yourself; (d) people you love; (e) other people; (f) animals (including your pets) and other living things; (g) the global environment as a whole (Gaia, for some)?

(3) Imagine that the construction of a highway linking a small town to a large city is planned to go through an area where an endangered species (say, a community of frogs) lives, and there is no commercially viable alternative route. You are a politician with the power to veto the project. How do you decide on the right thing to do? Do you attempt to weigh the interests of the people involved against those of the frogs, or do you make a decision based on an appeal to some universal moral principle? Would you use a different decision procedure if the endangered animals were mammals instead of frogs?

(4) How worried are you about environmental problems in the world today? Do you believe we can solve each and every one of them? Or do you believe that the environmental problems confronting the human race may destroy it very soon, and will inevitably destroy it at some future date?

(5) Do you believe we were put here for a purpose on this Earth?

As we’ll see, there are strong correlations between the answers people give to these questions, and for a very good reason.

I intend to show that Intelligent Design has significant implications for how we view the world. In this post, I’m going to talk about the world in a very literal sense: I mean our Earth. I’m also going to discuss two environmental problems that concern many scientists today: global warming and ocean acidification.

Intelligent Design-friendly metaphors for thinking about the Earth

In 2004, Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez wrote a book, The Privileged Planet, in which they argued that the Earth was designed for life and also designed for scientific discovery. A recurring theme of their book is that the finely-tuned conditions that make the Earth hospitable for life also make it well-suited for viewing, analyzing and understanding the universe. Since “life” includes intelligent life, and since intelligent beings have a natural desire to know about the world around them, it follows that there is an inextricable link between the Earth’s habitability and its suitability as a place for making scientific measurements (measurability). These ideas suggest a number of useful metaphors for thinking about the Earth. Here are just a few:

Treasure trove / treasure map. If the Earth is designed for intelligent life, then we would surely expect it to contain clues that point to the existence and attributes of its Designer. The Earth’s stability over time, coupled with its ability to recover from past catastrophes, points to a Designer Who is by and large life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly. (I’m not trying to minimize the problem of natural evil here; all I’m saying is that the mere fact that living things, and subsequently human beings, emerged at all, and somehow managed to remain in existence, is an utterly amazing state of affairs, which we have no right to take for granted.) If we think of the Earth as a gigantic treasure trove, designed for inquisitive human minds, and if we suppose that its Designer is an omniscient Being, we would expect that somewhere on this planet, we should be able to locate vital information about contemporary human problems, which only an omniscient Designer could have foreseen. The genome would be a logical place to look. (It is even possible that the Designer may have left human beings with some sort of treasure map or set of instructions somewhere on Earth, telling us where to look for the different kinds of information we need to solve our problems. This is pure speculation on my part, of course.)

Observatory. The Earth is in a very privileged location for observing the universe. For instance, our location away from the center of the Milky Way and in the flat plane of its disk makes the Earth an excellent vantage point for observing the stars. According to the authors of The Privileged Planet, the reason why Earth is such an ideal place for making observations is that its Designer wants human beings to exercise their intelligence, and learn as much as they can about the beautiful universe which He created. One of the things that we have learned is that the universe had a beginning; another thing we have learned is that the constants of Nature are very finely tuned.

Library. The Earth contains a detailed record of the past. In that respect, it resembles a library. To take one example from The Privileged Planet, the moon stabilizes the Earth’s orbit, which consistently preserves the deep snow deposits in the Earth’s polar regions, giving us a valuable window on the past. Ice cores can tell us about the Earth’s temperature in times past, as well as the composition of its atmosphere, and the strength of its magnetic field. They even tell us about the length of the sunspot cycle, through variations in the concentrations of beryllium-10. It is reasonable to suppose that the Earth was intentionally designed to store all this information about the past, because the intelligent beings who now inhabit the Earth would one day need this information in order to solve their environmental and technological problems. Scientists need to construct models incorporating past events, in order to test competing hypotheses about future events. An Intelligent Designer, having foreseen this need on our part, should have left sufficient information for them to do this, in the geological record.

Jewel. The earth is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, as the Blue Marble photo above illustrates. Exactly what makes it beautiful? We might say that it is unique; but then, the ugliest thing in the world is unique too. Or we might fabricate a pseudo-scientific “Just-So” story that we like the colors blue and green because we’ve looked at blue skies and green grass all our lives; but then, repeated exposure to a stimulus usually results in desensitization. If we are truthful with ourselves, the only adequate answer to the question of what makes the Earth beautiful is that it really is a work of art, created by a Great Artist who had a much better eye for beauty than we do.

Spaceship. The Earth is the vehicle which we live on, as we orbit the Sun, which orbits the center of the Milky Way. Moreover, Richards and Gonzalez make a strong case that the Earth is a planet that’s finely tuned for supporting life, and in particular, for allowing intelligent life to thrive. The Earth, then, really is a giant spaceship. But if the Earth is a spaceship, then who made it? Obviously not us – the Earth was here long before we were. Aliens, maybe? Well, who made their spaceship? Or maybe the Universe itself is in some way intelligent, and capable of designing our Earth? But if the Universe created our Earth, how do we explain recent scientific discoveries indicating that the cosmos itself is finely tuned for life as a whole?

Home. The Earth is not just the place where we live; it’s also the planet to which we are naturally adapted. As far as we know, no other planet in the cosmos is hospitable to human life; so apart from Earth, there really is no other place that we could call our home, or even our second home. And while there are planets where some kinds of organisms can survive (bacteria can survive on Mars), we have yet to find any where it can thrive. Even Mars would require a massive degree of terra-forming, in order to make it a truly life-friendly planet. Now, the fact that the Earth is our home can be understood in a way that does not explicitly mention a Designer: we could say that human beings have biological ends which can only be realized in a terrestrial environment. But this explanation fails to address the deeper question of what makes finality of any kind possible (be it intrinsic or extrinsic finality). Living things, and even the workings of inanimate Nature, cannot be adequately described using norm-free, non-teleological terminology. Norms, however, can only be created by an Intelligence. If we and other living things are naturally fitted to living on Earth, it can only be because Someone intended us to be here.

Way-station. For many religiously minded people, Earth is but a temporary dwelling place; Heaven is our true home. The meaning of the way-station metaphor is that we should not grow too attached to our earthly abode; according to the Bible, it will one day be completely obliterated (2 Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 20:11, 21:1). However, the Bible also speaks of a new heavens and a new earth, and it tells us that people will live on the new one.

How does Intelligent Design affect the way we respond to environmental problems?

Someone who believes (as many Intelligent Design proponents do) that the Author of Nature is a supremely good Personal Being will also believe that this Being intended humans to know and love their Maker. In other words, Intelligent Design proponents would tend to expect that the world we live in is a well-designed, resilient planet, where we don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about environmental crises. A God who made the world in such a way that the only creatures who were capable of knowing Him didn’t even have time to think about Him because they were too busy making sure that their activities didn’t destroy His fragile world, would be a pretty inept God.

As an aside, I find it very curious that when discussing the question of origins, opponents of Intelligent Design insist that the world, if it had a Designer, should have been designed so as to be capable of generating new life-forms, from microbe to man, without the need for continual intervention by God. Yet these same people also argue that the world is too fragile to withstand the impact of seven billion human beings enjoying an affluent lifestyle, all by itself! My intuitions are precisely the other way round: it seems obvious to me that designing a world that can withstand the impact of seven billion people raising the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from its “natural” level of 0.03% to a level of 0.08% by the year 2100 should be a far easier engineering task than designing a world which is capable of generating ten million species of living things, including Homo sapiens, all by itself, from nothing more than a bunch of simple organic chemicals!

How, then, should Intelligent Design proponents who believe in a personal God respond to environmental crises? If our government tells us that there is an urgent environmental crisis that we need to fight, which imperils the very future of humanity itself, and that it will require a great deal of time, money and effort to combat this crisis, our first reaction should be one of deep suspicion. We’re probably being conned. After all, we know beyond reasonable doubt that there is a God, and God wouldn’t make the world like that. If there are any genuine environmental crises, we would expect them to be problems where the correct course of action is clear, and which can be attended to in a quick, no-nonsense fashion, and at an affordable cost, which doesn’t interfere with our duties to other human beings.

A case study: global warming vs. ozone depletion

The way in which humanity successfully managed the ozone hole crisis back in the 1980s contrasts dramatically with the way in which our scientists and politicians are mismanaging the global warming in the twenty-first century. I’d like to highlight four key differences.

First, concerted international action to stop ozone depletion was not taken until scientists had established beyond reasonable doubt that human activities were responsible. It is true that a few countries, including the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, moved to eliminate the use of CFCs in aerosol spray cans after the United States National Academy of Sciences released a report in 1976, which concluded that the ozone depletion hypothesis was strongly supported by the scientific evidence available. However, the European Community did not follow suit – and subsequent research, summarized by the National Academy in reports issued between 1979 and 1984, appeared to show that earlier estimates of global ozone loss had been too large. What galvanized the international community into action was the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985. The hole was much larger than anyone had expected. Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), proposed that chemical reactions on polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) in the cold Antarctic stratosphere caused a massive increase in the amount of chlorine present in active, ozone-destroying forms. This hypothesis was decisively confirmed, first by laboratory measurements and subsequently by direct measurements, from the ground and from high-altitude airplanes, of very high concentrations of chlorine monoxide (ClO) in the Antarctic stratosphere. Alternative hypotheses, which had attributed the ozone hole to variations in solar UV radiation or to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, were also tested and shown to be untenable.

By contrast, the scientific establishment has failed to properly investigate the various explanations put forward for the climate change we have experienced in recent years. While anthropogenic global warming remains a plausible hypothesis, many alternative hypotheses have been sidelined. In the words of NASA climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer:

What the big-government funded climate science community has come up with is a plausible hypothesis which is being passed off as a proven explanation.

Science advances primarily by searching for new and better explanations (hypotheses) for how nature works. Unfortunately, this basic task of science has been abandoned when it comes to explaining climate change.

About the only alternative explanation they have mostly ruled out is an increase in the total output of the sun.

The possibility that small changes in ocean circulation have caused clouds to let in more sunlight is just one of many alternative explanations which are being ignored.

Not only have natural, internal climate cycles been ignored as a potential explanation, some researchers have done their best to revise climate history to do away with events such as the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. This is how the ‘hockey stick’ controversy got started.

If you can get rid of all evidence for natural climate change in Earth’s history, you can make it look like no climate changes happened until humans (and cows) came on the scene.

The second major difference between global warming and ozone depletion is that the technological action required to stop ozone hole depletion was well-defined and agreed on by scientists, whereas the technological solution to man-made global warming is not. In 1987, representatives from 43 nations signed the Montreal Protocol, agreeing to phase out production of CFCs, halons, and related compounds, and by 1996, CFCs and halons had been phased out entirely (aside from a very small amount marked for certain “essential” uses, such as asthma inhalers). The solution appears to be working: the 2010 report of the United Nations Environment Program found that global ozone and ozone in the Arctic and Antarctic regions is no longer decreasing. Since peaking in 1994, the Effective Equivalent Chlorine (EECl) level in the atmosphere had dropped about 10% by 2008. However, a detectable (and statistically significant) recovery of the Antarctic ozone layer will not occur until around 2024, and complete recovery is not expected to occur until the year 2050 or later.

What about global warming? Certainly, there is widespread agreement that we need to stop emitting carbon dioxide and methane, but what are we supposed to replace them with? Sadly, scientists and politicians are still bickering about this question. The most sensible solution, in my opinion, would be to build liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) (see also here and here). Switching from uranium to thorium as our primary nuclear fuel could lead to cheaper, safer and more sustainable nuclear power. (Please see here for an explanation of why solar and wind energy do not stack up in comparison.) Thorium is far more abundant than uranium, and much more energy-dense. A tonne of thorium produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A fistful would light up London for a week. The volume of waste is also very low. LFTRs could power Australia (population: 22 million), while producing only 48 tonnes (12 bathtubs) of recyclable by-product per year. Furthermore, meltdown in a liquid fluoride thorium reactor is impossible, and it uses 100 times less fuel than a conventional nuclear reactor. In addition, it is virtually impossible to convert the waste products generated by thorium into plutonium – and they remain dangerous only for hundreds of years, rather than hundreds of thousands. A further advantage of LFTRs is that they can be produced in factories. Most importantly, LFTRs would enable the conversion of coal and natural gas powered plants, cutting their carbon emissions by 99%.

Sad to say, the political will to implement this kind of solution appears to be lacking, at least in Western countries. Popular prejudice against nuclear energy dies hard, thanks to movies like The China Syndrome, and people are nervous about sudden change. However, if man-made global warming is real, rapid change is the only realistic option we have.

The third major difference between fighting ozone depletion and fighting man-made global warming is that of cost. From 1987 to 1997, the world spent approximately US$235 billion in total to contain ozone depletion. The cumulative total for “north to south” transfers (from developed to developing countries) was relatively modest, of the order of US$2 billion. However, a recent review by D. R. Ahuja and J. Srinivarsan, entitled Why controlling climate change is more difficult than stopping stratospheric ozone depletion (Current Science, Vol. 97, No. 11, 10 December 2009) concludes that “the climate problem is at least a hundred times more expensive problem to tackle than the stratospheric ozone depletion and north–south transfers could be a thousand times greater” (emphasis mine – VJT). According to the best current estimates, fighting global warming will cost about 1 to 2% of global GDP each year – i.e. somewhere between $600 billion and $1.2 trillion, at present-day prices – for the next several decades. (Note: I regret to say that I have yet to encounter any detailed estimates for how much it would cost worldwide to convert to liquid fluoride thorium reactors [LFTRs] – VJT.) And if we want to reduce annual CO2 emissions to zero, as many scientists say we must, the cost rises to 5% of GDP per year, for the U.S. alone. That’s $700 billion per year at current prices – for the next 30 years. This news, coming at a time when bankruptcy for the United States is a “mathematical certainty” if it keeps on spending at current levels, makes practical action highly infeasible. The problem is compounded by the fact that the world’s number two economy, China, shows no inclination to spend vast sums on fighting global warming. At the same time, we are also told that the cost of doing nothing about global warming will be a staggering 5 to 20% of global GDP, in perpetuity. If the experts are right, the cost of fighting man-made global warming is prohibitive – and yet, we are told, we must, or the problem will get worse. I have to say this sounds like emotional blackmail. The “high priests of science” are holding a gun to our heads. “Do as we say or humanity will be doomed.” Putting people into a state of fear is a counter-productive strategy, however: people seldom make rational decisions when they are in fear for their lives. And if scientists put our politicians into a state of panic, we can be absolutely sure that they’ll choose the wrong course of action to avert the crisis.

I might add that the “regret minimization” argument for fighting global warming now, is only valid if we have ruled out the most plausible alternative hypotheses to man-made global warming. If we haven’t, then shelling out 5% of GDP for the next 30 years is likely to prove a colossal waste of money.

A fourth and final difference between the ozone depletion problem and man-made global warming is that fighting ozone depletion was commercially viable, which is why the halocarbon industry shifted its position and started supporting a protocol to limit CFC production. A key factor in the decision by the chemical industry to support the Montreal Protocol in 1987 was that it set up a worldwide schedule for phasing out CFCs, which were no longer protected by patents, providing companies with an equal opportunity to market new, more profitable compounds. By contrast, combating global warming appears to be an uphill commercial battle: companies are happy to co-operate, but only if they receive massive government subsidies.

As Professor Fred Singer, a leading critic of man-made global warming, reports in an article (November 6, 2010) entitled The Green Bubble is about to Burst:

Nothing has been learned from European disastrous experiences, it seems. As Bjorn Lomborg (a firm believer in AGW) reports, Germany led the world in putting up solar panels, funded by 47 billion euros in subsidies. The lasting legacy is a massive debt and lots of inefficient solar technology sitting on rooftops throughout a fairly cloudy country, delivering a trivial 0.1% of its total energy supply. Denmark’s wind industry is almost completely dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and Danes pay the highest electricity rates of any industrialized nation. Spain has finally discontinued its solar subsidies as too costly; as Prof. Gabriel Calzada reports, the program actually caused a net loss of jobs.

Having successfully exploited domestic subsidies, Europeans are now looking at the United States as the new “land of opportunity.” A recent example (described in the Wall Street Journal of Oct. 26, 2010) is the world’s largest solar-thermal power plant, on 7,000 acres of Federal land in the desert of southern California. The $6-billion project is a venture by two German companies, and it may be eligible for a cash subsidy of nearly one billion dollars in taxpayer money…

In addition to direct subsidies, the companies are seeking federal loan guarantees and, no doubt, an array of benefits from the State of California. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

So how should an Intelligent Design theorist respond, when confronted with claims that we need to do something, now, about man-made global warming? With extreme skepticism, I would suggest. Politically and economically, the problem of how to effectively combat global warming still belongs in the “too hard” basket: it’s practically insoluble. It could only be accomplished if the entire planet gave it paramount attention for the next 50 years. It would have to dominate our thinking as no other issue ever has, before now. And that’s precisely why any believer in a personal God should be leery of the claims of the global warming crusade. God would not have designed a world for intelligent beings, with insoluble environmental problems. Nor would He have designed a world with problems that could only be solved by ditching our democracy and allowing ourselves to be ruled by a scientific / bureaucratic elite.

Case study: ocean acidification

Even if we manage to defuse the problem of global warming, the bureaucrats have another manufactured crisis in store for us: ocean acidification. In an article (The Times, Opinion, November 4, 2010) entitled Who’s afraid of acid in the ocean? Not me, Matt Ridley, a former science correspondent for The Economist and author of the recent best-seller The Rational Optimist, explains what’s going on:

As opinion polls reveal that global warming is losing traction on the public imagination, environmental pressure groups have been cranking the engine on this ‘other carbon dioxide problem’. ‘Time is running out’ wrote two activists in Scientific American in August, ‘to limit acidification before it irreparably harms the food chain on which the world’s oceans – and people – depend.’…

Start with a few facts. The oceans are not acid but alkaline, with an average pH of about 8.15 (0-7 being acid, 7-14 being alkaline)… The dissolution of carbon dioxide in the oceans may lower the pH slightly to about 7.9 or 7.8 by the end of the century at the worst – still alkaline…

…[This change in pH] is still well within the bounds of normal variation over space and time: the pH of the water intake at the Monterey aquarium varies by almost twice as much as this every month. The difference between the pH of the seas off Hawaii and Alaska is greater than this.

…[S]tudy after study keeps finding that far from depressing growth rates of marine organisms, high but realistic levels of carbon dioxide either do not affect them or increase them…

Studies of oyster sperm, cuttlefish eggs, juvenile sea stars, coral polyps and krill all point to the same conclusion: damage only occurs when carbon dioxide levels reach ludicrous levels, not expected for many centuries. A new study of plankton concluded: ‘Thus, both of the investigated coastal plankton communities were unaffected by twenty-first century expected changes in pH and free CO2.’

When I voiced some of these doubts in my book The Rational Optimist, I was accused of cherry-picking studies. All right, so let’s take a look at a ‘meta-analysis’, that is to say a comprehensive paper summarising all relevant studies. Iris Hendriks and Carlos Duarte of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research found that in 372 studies of 44 different marine species ‘there was no significant mean effect’ from lower pH. They concluded that the world’s marine biota are ‘more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions’ and that ocean acidification ‘may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century.’

In his article, Matt Ridley also cites evidence of vested interest groups beefing up the problem of ocean acidification. He also provides documentation for the studies he mentioned in his article, in the Comments section.

A rational person, surveying the evidence, would conclude that the problem of ocean acidification has been greatly exaggerated. It does not warrant public alarm, let alone drastic measures by the world’s governments, and we, the public, should not allow it to be rammed down our throats as the next Big Thing To Worry About.

To the Intelligent Design theorist, Ridley’s article provides confirmation of the belief, shared by many in the ID movement, that the Earth was designed with human needs in mind. Accordingly, we should expect it to be fairly resilient to human activities. The increase in the concentration of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 200 years was an inevitable consequence of the world’s population rising from one billion to seven billion. Scientists like James Lovelock think it should never have risen above the one billion mark – but if it hadn’t, how much of our technology would we still have, and how comfortable would our lives be? Big, lifestyle-changing ideas, such as electricity, the automobile, television, the computer and the Internet, require a certain “critical mass” of scientific and engineering minds to generate them. That can’t happen in a world with low population density.

Popular animate metaphors for thinking about the Earth

At the present time, the prevailing metaphor for the Earth in intellectual circles is that of an extended, self-regulating Super-organism, while among environmentalists, the image of Mother Earth is predominant. The two images are quite compatible, because they’re both animate, and James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis ties them together very neatly. We continually encounter these images on a daily basis, in conversation, on TV, on the Internet and on billboard posters. The motto of the eco-activist group Earth First says it all: In Defense of Mother Earth.

In everyday discourse, you may hear people portray Mother Earth as benign and bountiful, or as cold and uncaring, or as angry and vengeful, depending on their personal spiritual beliefs, and/or the ethical or political point they are trying to convey. But common to all these portrayals is the unstated premise that Mother Earth is powerful and that people are puny. She doesn’t need us; we need her. The ethical consequences of such an outlook should be immediately apparent. Individual people are, at best, nothing more than cells in the body of Mother Earth; and at worst, malignant carcinomas which Mother Earth is perfectly entitled to eradicate, using all the natural means at her disposal. And it is pointless to argue the question of whether she has the right to eradicate us – after all, who can fight her? What is most revolting about this ethic, however, is not its personification of a ball of rock cloaked in a thin layer of vegetation, but its subordination of every human endeavor to a single over-riding end: the good of Gaia, or the long-term sustainability of the biosphere. The goodness of any human project, however noble, is now provisional: only if it is compatible with the long-term sustainability of the biosphere can it be given the ethical green light. For instance, if the world currently has too many people for Mother Earth to support, then a real human mother’s act of having a baby suddenly becomes a crime. And if a technological revolution which will save the lives of billions generates pollution on an unsustainable level, then that too is a crime. However, the Gaia ethic is both sociologically naïve and intellectually incoherent.

“Sustainability” is an attractive-sounding concept, but what it overlooks on the sociological level is that the only constant about our society is change. As a species, we are incapable of standing still, even if we want to. And even when we change, we are simply unable to keep changing in the same way indefinitely. Due to the inherently dynamic nature of human society, no trend can last forever; hence it is a fallacy to extrapolate a trend into the long-term future and cry doom. I can remember reading Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb when I was 10 or 11, and being impressed at the time by Ehrlich’s argument that if the then-current rate of world population growth (2% p.a.) were to continue, there would be no standing room on Earth by the year 2600. But of course the population didn’t continue to grow that way, and it now looks as if it will start to decline after peaking at 9 billion, around 2070. If I had known a little history, I might not have been so credulous. Predictions of disaster based on extrapolations are not new, as this interesting article on the great horse manure crisis of 1894 illustrates. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Of course, the great horse manure crisis of 1894 vanished when millions of horses were replaced by motor vehicles.

The intellectual incoherence of the “Mother Earth” ethic consists in the fact that although local ecosystems – and by extension, the biosphere as a whole – can (in some sense) be said to flourish, to benefit and to be harmed, the flourishing of these systems is derivative upon that of the individuals whose interactions comprise them. “Gaia” only thrives if individual trees do. Here, the flourishing of “Gaia” is derivative upon that of trees: it is the fact that trees have a biological “good of their own” which enables us to meaningfully talk of actions which promote tree growth as being “good for the planet.” Since ecosystems do not do any extra ethical “work” in this case, bio-centric individualism (the view that all – and only – individual organisms have moral standing or intrinsic value) is the only intellectually defensible way of articulating the “Earth First” view.

Why “Mother Earth” is ethically poisonous and inherently elitist and undemocratic

Now, I don’t deny for a moment that all living organisms – even the humble bacterium – do indeed possess intrinsic value. The ethical question that then confronts us is: what are we supposed to do when our interests clash with those of other organisms? Perhaps more to the point, politically speaking, is this question: who decides what’s right and what’s wrong for us?

How do believers in “Mother Earth” decide what’s ethically permissible? The Earth never tells us that there are too many people for it to support, of course; scientists do that. I am thinking especially of ecologists, but at any given time, scientists from other disciplines might be roped in as well, to speak on behalf of Mother Earth: oceanographers, climatologists, and biologists of various stripes. These might be irreverently called the “high priests” of Gaia. No doubt they sincerely believe that they are doing something good and noble; but what they are in fact doing is ethically perverted: they are teaching our children that people don’t matter, in and of themselves, and that the Earth is what matters most. According to the new ethic, only in relation to the Earth we live on can our human endeavors be morally assessed, because without Mother Earth, none of them would come to fruition. A human endeavor can only be called good if it’s earth-friendly.

The divisive nature of this ethic should be immediately apparent. The high priests of Gaia, the politicians who side with them, and the “enlightened” members of the public who follow their prescriptions are on one side; the “ignorant” masses who harm Gaia with their profligate lifestyles and the poor who “breed like rabbits” are on the other. An “Earth First” ideology inevitably pits people against people, and creates an elite. We get meritocratic “rule by the best,” instead of democracy.

Do you think I’m making this up? I’m not. I’m deadly serious. I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. Here is what scientist James Lovelock, author of the ground-breaking book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, says on the problem of climate change in a recent interview (“James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change” in The Guardian, 29 March 2010):

I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change,” said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. “The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is “modern democracy”, he added. “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.

The image of Mother Earth sounds reassuring, but in reality it is ethically topsy-turvy and spiritually idolatrous: human well-being is subordinated to that of an entity (Earth) which cannot even be said to have a “good of its own”, except in a purely derivative sense. The Earth is not a living thing. “Gaia” only thrives if individual organisms do.

Why “Sister Earth” is no better than “Mother Earth.”

Surprisingly, though, many religious believers have imbibed some of this new “eco-friendly” spirituality. Much of the “softer” New Age literature is written by clerics. In this literature, Gaia does not reign supreme; the Earth can never be deified. Yet neither is she entirely dethroned. Instead of being our Mother, she is now our sister. To take a relatively innocuous example, Sister Earth: Ecology, Creation, and the Spirit, a collection of meditations by the late Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian priest and archbishop, tells us that that God chose humans to be co-creators, “to complete the creation and to help nature express its full potential.” All very well and good, but what the good archbishop failed to realize is that if Nature is our sister, then she is also our equal. That means she has veto power over our endeavors, if her interests are significantly harmed. And who decides which way the balance tips? Once again, the “high priests” of Sister Earth. For it is they who shape our moral judgments – and those of our children – with their ethical pronouncements, and it is we who allow ourselves and our children to be shaped by the opinions they express in their books. In effect, then, “Sister Earth” spirituality is just Mother Earth-lite.

A parable: the highway and the frogs

The problem, then, is that if the interests of the Earth itself – or of the various species of organisms that dwell upon it – are ranked equal to our own, then we get ethical gridlock. Paralysis sets in: the construction of a highway linking a small town to a large city can be stopped by government officials if the only commercially viable route for the highway happens to go through a habitat where an endangered species (say, a community of frogs) lives. What started as an elitist meritocracy, dominated by the “high priests” of Gaia, has now given way to a bloated bureaucracy, producing a blizzard of papers and studies, in which the pros and cons of the highway are debated. To make matters worse, politicians from both parties are compelled to read these papers and take positions on them, in order to appear well-informed. Ordinary citizens watching the televised debates between politician A and politician B may feel cowed by the formidable intellectual prowess of the speakers on both sides, but they correctly intuit that something is amiss, morally speaking. This kind of intellectual talkfest can’t be the best way to decide what kinds of human endeavors should be permitted, and what kinds should be outlawed.

What’s wrong with bureaucrats making ethical decisions about the environment?

Why not? Firstly, the detachment and impersonalism of the humans-versus-frogs debate is deeply offensive. We are talking as if we were visiting Martians, or mini-deities, impassively weighing up the interests of species A and species B – even though one of the species is ourselves! That’s ridiculous. We’re not gods, and we shouldn’t pretend to be. We have a personal stake in this, and we shouldn’t attempt to reason as if we didn’t.

Second, we’re not just any old species, either. Humans are special. To explain why, I’d like to cite a short passage from (atheist) Jason Rosenhouse’s online article, Coyne lays an egg, in which he criticizes the snideness and ridicule of Professor Jerry Coyne’s review of Professor Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution. At one point Rosenhouse cites a remark made by Coyne in his review:

So what scientific reason can there be for singling out just one species as the Designer’s goal?

and answers Coyne’s question with a ready reply that an Intelligent Design proponent might make:

There is only one species with the intelligence to contemplate a relationship with God. That’s why we might single out just one species.

Bravo, Professor Rosenhouse! I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The intelligence that makes humans capable of contemplating a relationship with God also makes them capable of following rules. This ability forms the basis for moral behavior. Thus when a scientist of the stature of James Lovelock, despairing of our future, asserts (interview with the Daily Mail, 22 March 2008) that “It would be hubris to think humans as they are now are God’s chosen race,” he fails to realize the self-refuting nature of his assertion. How many species on Earth are capable of changing their behavior, in order to avert a long-term future threat? How many species on Earth are being asked to do something about global warming? Only one – Homo sapiens. And how many species on Earth are capable of changing their behavior for a reason – as opposed to an incentive, like bananas? How many species are capable of justifying their actions by an appeal to reason? Only one – Homo sapiens.

Incidentally, the fact that chimps, dolphins and a few other animals are capable of recognizing their bodies in mirrors doesn’t prove that they have any concept of their own body, let alone a concept of themselves as agents. I’d be far more impressed if they could recognize themselves in a portrait, and even more impressed if they sat for one.

Likewise, the tool-making feats of Betty the crow look impressive, but we cannot ask her: “Why did you make it that way?” as she is incapable of justifying her actions, as a rational agent should be able to do. The same goes for the extremely clever New Caledonian crows who are able to use three tools in succession to get some food (BBC news report, 20 April 2010, by science reporter Rebecca Morelle). Let us imagine an older crow teaching a younger crow how to use a tool. And now try to imagine the following dialogue:

Older crow: Don’t bend it that way. Bend it this way.
Younger crow: Why?
Older crow: Because if you bend it this way, it can pick up a piece of meat, but if you bend it that way, it can’t.

The dialogue contains only simple little words, but the problem should be immediately apparent. The meaning of words like “if,” “why,” “but,” “can” and “can’t,” cannot be conveyed to someone who does not understand them, through bodily gestures alone. Until we have grounds for saying that crows possess a language at this level of abstraction, we should react skeptically to claims that they can reason.

The very act of comparing the interests of a species whose members are intellectually capable of asking themselves what they should and shouldn’t do, and what Being (if any) they should worship, with the interests of a species whose members are incapable of asking themselves these questions, is a moral absurdity. It’s worse than comparing apples and oranges; at least they’re both fruits. It’s more like comparing cubes and squares. Humans have dimensions to their existence that frogs do not. Our intelligence is what gives us those added dimensions. Like it or lump it, we are special, and our interests simply cannot be “weighed against” those of frogs.

This brings me to my third reason why Joe and Jane Citizen are right to distrust the bureaucrats: Joe and Jane Citizen still retain the intuition that goodness is personal. We realize our fullest potential as moral agents when we are loving, helping, or working in partnership with, other people. The more time we can spend on inter-personal moral endeavors, the more we realize our human potential. By contrast, impersonal moral endeavors, in which we have to deal with things instead of people, or in which we have to deal with people on an impersonal level (e.g. by making decisions based on cost-benefit analyses which are carried out over aggregates of people, instead of individuals we know), are morally hazardous: they constitute a drain on our precious moral energy, and they tend to make us forget about our personal relationships. We should therefore spend as little time as possible engaging in impersonal activities, and as much of our time as we can engaging in personal ones. Above all, we need to set aside time to communicate with the God Who made us, and with Whom we all have a personal relationship. Anything that distracts us from that is bad.

I repeat: goodness is personal.

Whatever happened to Goodness?

This is a truth we have lost sight of during the past four decades. Two parallel trends have contributed to this loss of vision: we’ve “de-personalized” virtue, and we’ve “de-charitized” it.

Depersonalization set in when we started ridiculing as “small-minded” the kind of person who strove to be good in their personal dealings (e.g. a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend and a good worker) but who never attempted to question, let alone overcome, institutionalized forms of injustice, or unjust social structures. At the same time, we exalted the great humanitarian who dedicated their life to changing the world, but who may have had serious personal failings as a human being (e.g. by being a cold distant father, or an unfaithful husband). The point I want to make here is that a small-minded person may be morally blinkered, but still fundamentally good, as a human being; while someone whose “moral blinkers” have been removed does not thereby become a good person. Such a person is able to do good in ways that the small-minded person could never imagine, but may in fact be a deeply flawed, and even an evil individual.

De-charitization was the result of exalting “thin” virtues over “thick” ones. There was a time when a good person was defined as a loving spouse, a loving parent, a generous friend, a trustworthy person at work, and (time permitting) someone dedicated to serving their community as a volunteer. Love, generosity, trustworthiness and service are “thick” virtues. Nowadays, however, we tend to think of a good person as someone who is fair in their dealings with others (e.g. someone who does their share of housework and parenting), someone who is tolerant of other people’s beliefs and lifestyle choices (especially those of their children, friends and workmates), and someone who strives to avoid harming others as a result of their personal lifestyle choices (e.g. people in developing countries, or other sentient creatures). Now, fairness, tolerance and harm avoidance are all very well and good, and I don’t wish to belittle them. But they are “thin” virtues, which pale in comparison with love, or charity in the broadest sense of the word. If people are forced to spend too much time focusing on the thin virtues, they will have no time to think about the thick ones.

Why am I harping on these points? Because during the past twenty years in particular, the average citizen has been forced to spend an inordinate amount of time paying attention to things that don’t matter much, in the moral scheme of things: for instance, buying fair trade goods, buying cruelty-free cosmetics, garbage sorting, recycling, and reducing CO2 emissions by buying a hybrid car or an LED. Many of these things should be done: alternatives to animal testing should be found for shampoos and cosmetics; and alternatives for landfill sites should be found, to prevent needless destruction of trees. But doing these things is not what makes us good people. Goodness lies elsewhere: it is found pre-eminently in the domain of personal relationships. If governments decide, then, that we need to sort garbage or reduce CO2 emissions, they should strive to minimize the amount of time that we spend thinking about these things, so we can get on with what really matters most in their moral lives: being a good spouse, parent, friend, worker and community volunteer. Insofar as governments force people to spend a significant amount of their time attending to, or worrying about, the little things in life, they are doing the community a huge disservice. And schools that teach children not to hurt other living things, and not to criticize others’ lifestyle choices, while failing to inculcate virtues like charity, fidelity, patience, generosity, reliability and service, are producing a morally lop-sided generation of people.

I haven’t mentioned the greatest hazard that obsessing about the “little things” in life poses: it reduces the time we spend relating to our Creator. We don’t have time to sit down and think about Gauguin’s big three questions: “Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?” We don’t have time to pursue Truth with the moral energy that such a quest merits; we don’t have time to hear the “still, small voice of God,” and we certainly don’t have time to pray.

Back to the frogs

Moral significance attaches to any being with a good of its own – including a frog. But in the paradigmatic sense, moral significance attaches to persons, who are capable of knowing that they have a good of their own, which they should pursue as agents – in other words, beings who are capable of having the concept of a norm, and choosing to follow it. (The term “capable” of course includes human beings, such as embryos, fetuses and newborn babies, who are as yet too immature to possess such knowledge or to exercise their moral agency, but who are nevertheless in control of the natural process whereby they acquire such knowledge and learn to exercise their agency.) Other living things do matter, but in a progressively weaker sense of the word “matter,” as we go from sentient animals to non-sentient animals to plants and microbes.

Does that give us carte blanche to ride roughshod over frogs, as we criss-cross the land with highways? Certainly not. What it does mean is that any sane and sensible ethic should start out from a “People First” premise. Highways save lives, over the long run. To take just one instance: think of how many seriously ill people they enable to get to hospital more quickly. (Highways are also associated with deaths caused by car crashes; but the failing here is generally not that of the highways themselves, but of the careless drivers who misuse them.) Highways also enable people get to work more quickly, and as a result, they spend less time on getting from A to B and more time on inherently valuable activities like doing creative work at the office, and spending more time with their families at home. Highways are job-creators too. If a highway can’t be swiftly and sensibly re-routed to avoid a community of frogs belonging to an endangered species, then it should still be built: it would be morally wicked to let frogs’ interests take precedence over people’s interests. However, since frogs have a well-being of their own, we should try to relocate the frogs, if we can do so without putting on hold any current projects that are vital for saving human lives.

If the frogs were endangered mammals instead, we would also try to minimize any physical discomfort that the animals might experience in relocating. But it would still be wrong to subordinate human welfare to that of the animals, when deciding whether to go ahead with such an important human project. People have to come first, in such cases.

The aim of this essay was to show that Intelligent Design theorists have a very different “take” on a suite of environmental issues, ranging from global warming to highway construction to the way we think about the Earth itself, simply because we believe that the Earth was made for human beings (especially) and also for other living things to inhabit.

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60 Responses to The Earth: Not our mother, not our sister, not a living thing, but our treasure trove, our observatory, our library, our spaceship and our home

  1. any … sensible ethic should start out from a “People First” premise

    We are approaching 7b people, and destroying the planet in the process. How many do you want to ‘come first’ ?

  2. Graham:

    Thank you for your post. What do you consider your strongest piece(s) of evidence for your assertion that our population of 7 billion people is destroying the planet?

    More importantly, what makes you so sure that the planet cannot support a human population of 7 billion, over the long term?

  3. To vjtorley: Im tempted to cite global warming, but I dont think this is the place.

  4. vj

    How long did it take you to write this!? It is surely the longest post ever on UD.

    I couldn’t possibly read it all – but this caught my eye.

    The Earth’s stability over time, coupled with its ability to recover from past catastrophes, points to a Designer Who is by and large life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly.

    If one planet supporting humanity is evidence for a human friendly designer can we count the umpteen billion planets that are decidedly unfriendly as evidence against?

    Can we count the Black Death as evidence against?

    Can we conclude that the designer is not at all friendly the 99% of species that have gone extinct such as the Neanderthals?

  5. Most of nature is very thrifty. A fire rapidly consumes whatever fuel there is, in a raging inferno. However, biological organisms manage to get by with very low fuel demands. And if they accumulate a little more than they need, some of that may be saved in nature’s piggy bank, the fossil fuel beds.

    Humans long ago discovered nature’s piggy bank. And since the time of the industrial revolution, they have been raiding that piggy bank with ever increasing demands. Not only do we continually raid the piggy bank, but our deforestation, our intensive agriculture, our over fishing, have reduced the rate of new savings to the piggy bank. According to Genesis, God said that we should “replenish the Earth”. He did not say that we should rape and pillage the Earth.

    I am of a conservative temperament, and what we are doing offends my conservatism. Even if we do not believe that global warming is anthropogenic (though it surely is), we should be able to see that what we are doing is wrong; it is very, very wrong.

    Perhaps there is a just God after all. Perhaps the global warming that we are seeing is the first sign that God is taking steps to erase the profligate race of wastrels that has become a blot upon creation.

  6. Just noticed this section in your tome.

    But doing these things is not what makes us good people. Goodness lies elsewhere: it is found pre-eminently in the domain of personal relationships. If governments decide, then, that we need to sort garbage or reduce CO2 emissions, they should strive to minimize the amount of time that we spend thinking about these things, so we can get on with what really matters most in their moral lives: being a good spouse, parent, friend, worker and community volunteer.
    …..
    I haven’t mentioned the greatest hazard that obsessing about the “little things” in life poses: it reduces the time we spend relating to our Creator. We don’t have time to sit down and think about Gauguin’s big three questions: “Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?” We don’t have time to pursue Truth with the moral energy that such a quest merits; we don’t have time to hear the “still, small voice of God,” and we certainly don’t have time to pray

    As a philosopher you must know that this is highly controversial. You are taking a deontological view of morality i.e. what matters is how you behave – not what effects that behaviour has. The alternative is to be a consequentialist. What matters is how much happiness you create and how much suffering you relieve. Norman Borlaug is widely regarded as having saved over a billion lives. He didn’t do that by being a good spouse, parent, friend, worker and community volunteer. He did it through science and politics and I doubt he had time to do much relating to his creator. Was he not a good person?

  7. markf@5

    Was he not a good person?

    I don’t know if he in particular was. I don’t really believe there is a “good” person. But if I was to classify acts as being good I would look at the motivation behind them. If someone saved a billion people because they were driven by fame, fortune or some narcissistic reason I would say those are not good acts. They are selfish acts with good outcomes – the context of “good” being very different.

    If someone was driven to save those lives because they were driven by compassion and love of their fellow man. I would say those were good acts.

    For me the outcomes are irrelevant to the nature of the person, motivation is everything.

    But it is a “good” question. What makes a good person, or rather what are the qualities of a good person. Off the top of my head I would say, honesty, integrity, humility, sacrificial, loving, kindness, generous, patience, bravery, respectfulness.

    And as a Christian this comes back to the original sin. We are born in a state of rebellion against God and so the person who is good is the one who says as Jesus said, “Yet not my will Lord, yours”. Or something close to that.

  8. Neil you state:

    Not only do we continually raid the piggy bank, but our deforestation, our intensive agriculture, our over fishing, have reduced the rate of new savings to the piggy bank. According to Genesis, God said that we should “replenish the Earth”. He did not say that we should rape and pillage the Earth.

    as well you state this:

    Perhaps there is a just God after all. Perhaps the global warming that we are seeing is the first sign that God is taking steps to erase the profligate race of wastrels that has become a blot upon creation.

    Actually Neil there is much evidence that indicates that the earth was/is ‘prepared’ with humans in mind:

    Microbial life can easily live without us; we, however, cannot survive without the global catalysis and environmental transformations it provides. – Paul G. Falkowski – Professor Geological Sciences – Rutgers
    http://www.bioinf.uni-leipzig......g_2008.pdf

    Earth’s Capacity To Absorb CO2 Much Greater Than Expected: Nov. 2009
    Excerpt: New data show that the balance between the airborne and the absorbed fraction of carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of carbon dioxide having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now. This suggests that terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans have a much greater capacity to absorb CO2 than had been previously expected.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....141842.htm

    The Life and Death of Oxygen – 2008
    Excerpt: “The balance between burial of organic matter and its oxidation appears to have been tightly controlled over the past 500 million years.” “The presence of O2 in the atmosphere requires an imbalance between oxygenic photosynthesis and aerobic respiration on time scales of millions of years hence, to generate an oxidized atmosphere, more organic matter must be buried (by tectonic activity) than respired.” – Paul Falkowski
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20081024a

    Interestingly, while the photo-synthetic bacteria were reducing greenhouse gases and producing oxygen, and metal, and minerals, which would all be of benefit to modern man, ‘sulfate-reducing’ bacteria were also producing their own natural resources which would be very useful to modern man. Sulfate-reducing bacteria helped prepare the earth for advanced life by detoxifying the primeval earth and oceans of poisonous levels of heavy metals while depositing them as relatively inert metal ores. Metal ores which are very useful for modern man, as well as fairly easy for man to extract today (mercury, cadmium, zinc, cobalt, arsenic, chromate, tellurium and copper to name a few). To this day, sulfate-reducing bacteria maintain an essential minimal level of these heavy metals in the ecosystem which are high enough so as to be available to the biological systems of the higher life forms that need them yet low enough so as not to be poisonous to those very same higher life forms.

    Bacterial Heavy Metal Detoxification and Resistance Systems:
    Excerpt: Bacterial plasmids contain genetic determinants for resistance systems for Hg2+ (and organomercurials), Cd2+, AsO2, AsO43-, CrO4 2-, TeO3 2-, Cu2+, Ag+, Co2+, Pb2+, and other metals of environmental concern.
    http://www.springerlink.com/co.....04577v8t3/

    The role of bacteria in hydrogeochemistry, metal cycling and ore deposit formation:
    Textures of sulfide minerals formed by SRB (sulfate-reducing bacteria) during bioremediation (most notably pyrite and sphalerite) have textures reminiscent of those in certain sediment-hosted ores, supporting the concept that SRB may have been directly involved in forming ore minerals.
    http://www.goldschmidt2009.org...../A1161.pdf

    Man has only recently caught on to harnessing the ancient detoxification ability of bacteria to cleanup his accidental toxic spills, as well as his toxic waste, from industry:

    What is Bioremediation? – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSpjRPWYJPg

    Metal-mining bacteria are green chemists – Sept. 2010
    Excerpt: Microbes could soon be used to convert metallic wastes into high-value catalysts for generating clean energy, say scientists writing in the September issue of Microbiology.
    http://www.physorg.com/news202618665.html

  9. Neil,

    As a side note to this, recently bacteria surprised scientists by their ability to quickly detoxify the millions of barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico:

    Mighty oil-eating microbes help clean up the Gulf – July 2010
    Excerpt: Where is all the oil? Nearly two weeks after BP finally capped the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared. Nor has much oil washed up on the sandy beaches and marshes along the Louisiana coast.,,, The lesson from past spills is that the lion’s share of the cleanup work is done by nature in the form of oil-eating bacteria and fungi. (Thank God)
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews_.....xcl_sc3270

    Deepwater Oil Plume in Gulf Degraded by Microbes, Study Shows
    Excerpt: An intensive study by scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that microbial activity degrades oil much faster than anticipated. This degradation appears to take place without a significant level of oxygen depletion.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....132349.htm

    in conjunction with bacteria, geological processes helped detoxify the earth of dangerous levels of metal:

    The Concentration of Metals for Humanity’s Benefit:
    Excerpt: They demonstrated that hydrothermal fluid flow could enrich the concentration of metals like zinc, lead, and copper by at least a factor of a thousand. They also showed that ore deposits formed by hydrothermal fluid flows at or above these concentration levels exist throughout Earth’s crust. The necessary just-right precipitation conditions needed to yield such high concentrations demand extraordinary fine-tuning. That such ore deposits are common in Earth’s crust strongly suggests supernatural design.
    http://www.reasons.org/TheConc.....tysBenefit

    And on top of the fact that poisonous heavy metals on the primordial earth were brought into ‘life-enabling’ balance by complex biogeochemical processes, there was also an explosion of minerals on earth which were a result of that first life, as well as being a result of each subsequent ‘Big Bang of life’ there afterwards.

    The Creation of Minerals:
    Excerpt: Thanks to the way life was introduced on Earth, the early 250 mineral species have exploded to the present 4,300 known mineral species. And because of this abundance, humans possessed all the necessary mineral resources to easily launch and sustain global, high-technology civilization.
    http://www.reasons.org/The-Creation-of-Minerals

    Dr. Ross points out that extremely long amount of time it took to prepare a suitable place for humans to exist in this universe, for the relatively short period of time that we can exist on this planet, is actually a point of evidence that argues strongly for Theism:

    Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity By Hugh Ross
    Excerpt: Brandon Carter, the British mathematician who coined the term “anthropic principle” (1974), noted the strange inequity of a universe that spends about 15 billion years “preparing” for the existence of a creature that has the potential to survive no more than 10 million years (optimistically).,, Carter and (later) astrophysicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler demonstrated that the inequality exists for virtually any conceivable intelligent species under any conceivable life-support conditions. Roughly 15 billion years represents a minimum preparation time for advanced life: 11 billion toward formation of a stable planetary system, one with the right chemical and physical conditions for primitive life, and four billion more years toward preparation of a planet within that system, one richly layered with the biodeposits necessary for civilized intelligent life. Even this long time and convergence of “just right” conditions reflect miraculous efficiency.
    Moreover the physical and biological conditions necessary to support an intelligent civilized species do not last indefinitely. They are subject to continuous change: the Sun continues to brighten, Earth’s rotation period lengthens, Earth’s plate tectonic activity declines, and Earth’s atmospheric composition varies. In just 10 million years or less, Earth will lose its ability to sustain human life. In fact, this estimate of the human habitability time window may be grossly optimistic. In all likelihood, a nearby supernova eruption, a climatic perturbation, a social or environmental upheaval, or the genetic accumulation of negative mutations will doom the species to extinction sometime sooner than twenty thousand years from now.
    http://christiangodblog.blogsp.....chive.html

    One scientist is far more pessimistic about the ‘natural’ future lifespan of the human race than 20,000 years:

    Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist – June 2010
    http://www.physorg.com/news196489543.html

    further note:

    Privileged Planet – Observability Correlation – Gonzalez and Richards – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5424431

    Here is the final summary of Dr. Hugh Ross’s ‘conservative’ estimate for the probability of another life-hosting world in this universe.

    Probability for occurrence of all 322 parameters =10^-388
    Dependency factors estimate =10^96
    Longevity requirements estimate =10^14
    Probability for occurrence of all 322 parameters = 10^-304
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in universe =10^22

    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^282 (million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion) exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.

    Dr. Hugh Ross, and his team, have now drastically refined this probability of 1 in 10^304 to a staggering probability of 1 in 10^1054:

    Does the Probability for ETI = 1?
    Excerpt; On the Reasons To Believe website we document that the probability a randomly selected planet would possess all the characteristics intelligent life requires is less than 10^-304. A recent update that will be published with my next book, Hidden Purposes: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, puts that probability at 10^-1054.

    Linked from “Appendix C” in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters ? 10^-1333
    dependency factors estimate ? 10^324
    longevity requirements estimate ? 10^45
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters ? 10^-1054
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe ? 10^22

    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^1032 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.
    http://www.reasons.org/files/c....._part3.pdf

    Hugh Ross – Evidence For Intelligent Design Is Everywhere (10^-1054) – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4347236

  10. and you are right Neil, God is just, in fact God is perfectly just and holy, and if it were not for the redeeming work of Christ on the cross then as you say,,,

    “God is taking steps to erase the profligate race of wastrels that has become a blot upon creation.”

    ,,, not one of us would be able to stand before Him in his perfect justice and holiness, and we would all deserve to be ‘erased’ from creation.

  11. My favorite metaphor for earth? Prison. Obviously gravity and the speed of light limit were made to keep us from destroying the rest of creation. :)

  12. Ah! So, apparently, “we” are not yet clever enough (for “we” have not yet evolved to be so clever) to be able “to handle a complex a situation as climate change” … but James Lovelock (‘scientiste!’) and like-minded wannabe dictators *are* clever enough.

    One wonders, is James Lovelock so “evolved” that “we” ought to consider him to be a separate species from us. Could it be that his species regards ours as sheep or cattle, with themselves as the husbandmen? Or, perhaps his species stands in relation to ours more as wolves to sheep than as shepherds to sheep?

    Shouldn’t “we” try to figure out the answers to such questions, and deal with this (apparently new) species according to the threat it poses to us?

  13. 13

    I’m surprised by the strictly utilitarian view of nature in your post. I would have thought that an internally consistent view of nature from ID perspective would have treated it as more or less sacred. After all, if all life is designed by God, then it is just as or more holy than Bibles or churches. Thus, I would expect IDists to have a great regard for creation (design-ation?), to limit human impacts whereever possible, and to hold nature above merely human-designed dollars.

  14. Gumby- How’s Pokey?

    I’m surprised that a prof. would offer up such a straw man.

    Must be the haircut dammit…. LoL!

  15. markf

    Thank you very much for your post. You write:

    How long did it take you to write this!? It is surely the longest post ever on UD.

    About a week and a half, actually. That’s why I’ve been a little quiet of late.

    In the first part of my reply, I’ll deal with your arguments against the existence of a human-friendly Designer. In the second part, I’ll answer your query regarding Norman Borlaug.

    1. Does the available scientific evidence point to the existence of a life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly Designer?

    Referring to my statement that the evidence points to “a Designer Who is by and large life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly,” you write:

    If one planet supporting humanity is evidence for a human friendly designer can we count the umpteen billion planets that are decidedly unfriendly as evidence against?

    Can we count the Black Death as evidence against?

    Can we conclude that the designer is not at all friendly the 99% of species that have gone extinct such as the Neanderthals?

    The odds against a Universe coming into existence which can support life of any sort (let alone intelligent life) are overwhelming. With regard to gravity, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (see http://www.amazon.com/Blackwel.....038;sr=1-1 ) tells us that “if the strength of gravity were smaller or larger by an estimated 1 part in 10^60 of its current value, the universe would have either exploded too quickly for galaxies and stars to form, or collapsed back on itself too quickly for life to evolve” (p. 215). Another figure that’s often quoted in the literature is Roger Penrose’s 10^10^123 figure. As I don’t understand the physics behind that figure very well, I’ll stick with the lower figure of 1 in 10^60. That’s still 38 orders of magnitude larger than the number of stars in the universe (10^22), which is probably about equal to the number of planets.

    So even if there are “umpteen billion planets that are unfriendly to life” (and we don’t know that there are), their existence should not count as evidence against the existence of God if the number of planets in our life-supporting universe (10^22) is dwarfed by the odds against a life-supporting universe emerging: 10^60 to 1, by an extremely conservative estimate based on gravity alone, or 10^1054 to 1, based on the astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross’s latest estimate, quoted by bornagain77, which factors in all the parameters.

    As I understand it, the fine-tuning figure for gravity applies also to the mass of the universe (which is why I don’t want to double-count it, as that would be over-stating the fine-tuning argument). But a corollary is that if the mass of the universe had varied only slightly, the universe would never have emerged. That means the universe has to be very big. That means it has to contain a large number of stars and planets, even if only one of those planets supports life.

    Barry Arrington wrote a post on this recently on UD in his post On the vastness of the Universe (30 August, 2010).

    In the last paragraph, he quotes Richard Deem:

    If the universe were just one part in 10^59 larger, the universe would have collapsed before life was possible. Since there are only 10^80 baryons in the universe, this means that an addition of just 10^21 baryons (about the mass of a grain of sand) would have made life impossible. The universe is exactly the size it must be for life to exist at all.

    In the comments that followed, your main objection to this line of reasoning was an aesthetic one:

    You would think it might have been possible to used a different set of laws of physics and save on having such a vast infrastructure to support one planet.

    All I can say is: based on what we currently know, it wouldn’t have been possible for God to make a stable universe (i.e. one that did not require continual adjustment, as opposed to conservation) that was smaller, even with different laws of physics. You could have a smaller universe if you like, but you’d need God to continually intervene to stop planets going off course, and so on. From what we can tell, it seems that asking God to make a small, stable universe is like asking Him to make a square triangle.

    What about the Black Death? At most, this would count as evidence against the existence of a personal God, but I never claimed that science pointed to a personal God in my post. Rather, I claimed that it pointed to “a Designer Who is by and large life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly.” For all we know, such a Designer might love intelligent life (en masse) but not individual people.

    But even if you do believe in a supremely good personal God (as I and many Intelligent Design proponents do), the Black Death does not necessarily count as evidence against such a God. To show that it did, one would have to show that God made it happen (which I deny), or that God could have prevented it (which I would also deny). You might like to read Professor William Dembski’s book,The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (B & H Academic, Nashville, Tennessee, 2009). See http://www.amazon.com/End-Chri.....0805427430 .

    What about the 99% of species that have gone extinct? What I would conclude from this is that God doesn’t care much about species. What I would not conclude is that He doesn’t care about life. Frankly, I can’t for the life of me fathom why some Darwinists get so distressed about the extinction of species, while at the same time they insist that species do not correspond to any “natural kinds.” After all, the whole point of Darwinism is that there are no natural kinds in the biological world. Why, then, should they mourn what they believe never existed?

    As for the Neanderthals, recent research has shown that they were able to inter-breed with Homo sapiens, so I see no reason why we shouldn’t classify them as Homo sapiens. For that matter, I’d be inclined to say the same about Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, as well as Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. The anthropologist John Hawks classified them all as Homo sapiens, in an article he wrote, back in 2000. All human beings, past and present, can be viewed as belonging to the same species.

    More to come…

  16. 2. Does the life of Norman Borlaug count as evidence against my claim that goodness is centered on personal relationships with one’s family, friends, co-workers, community and God?

    You write:

    Norman Borlaug is widely regarded as having saved over a billion lives. He didn’t do that by being a good spouse, parent, friend, worker and community volunteer. He did it through science and politics and I doubt he had time to do much relating to his creator. Was he not a good person?

    Norman Borlaug certainly was a good person. He was also a good spouse, parent, friend, worker and community volunteer. And he was a man who had a firm belief in God.

    Many of us have read of humanitarians who were flawed individuals, and whose private lives were far from exemplary. What I want to argue is that these are atypical cases. Typically, the virtues of a great humanitarian are built on a very solid foundation, which enables them to accomplish the extraordinary things that they do. Four pillars are particularly important: a firm faith; commitment to one’s family; hard work; and a long history of community service. There are some humanitarians for whom one of these pillars may be absent, but I defy you to produce a great humanitarian for whom all four were absent. All four pillars were present in the life of Norman Borlaug.

    Allow me to quote from his Wikipedia biography:

    He met his wife, Margaret Gibson, while in college, as he waited tables at a university Dinkytown coffee shop where they both worked. They had three children, Norma Jean “Jeanie” Laube, Scotty (who died soon after birth from spina bifida), and William Borlaug, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. On March 8, 2007, Margaret Borlaug died at the age of 95, following a fall.They had been married for 69 years.

    To finance his studies, Borlaug had to periodically put his education on hold and take a job. One of these jobs, in 1935, was as a leader in the Civilian Conservation Corps, working with the unemployed on U.S. federal projects. Many of the people who worked for him were starving. He later recalled, “I saw how food changed them … All of this left scars on me“….

    From 1942 to 1944, Borlaug was employed as a microbiologist at DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. It was planned that he would lead research on industrial and agricultural bacteriocides, fungicides, and preservatives. However, following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Borlaug tried to enlist in the military, but was rejected under wartime labor regulations; his lab was converted to conduct research for the United States armed forces. One of his first projects was to develop glue that could withstand the warm saltwater of the South Pacific… Within weeks, Borlaug and his colleagues had developed an adhesive that resisted corrosion, allowing food and supplies to reach the stranded Marines. Other tasks included work with camouflage, canteen disinfectants, DDT to control malaria, and insulation for small electronics…

    In 1964, he was made the director of the International Wheat Improvement Program at El Batan, Texcoco, on the eastern fringes of Mexico City, as part of the newly established Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo, or CIMMYT), an autonomous international research training institute…

    Borlaug officially retired from the position in 1979. But he remained a senior consultant at the CIMMYT and continued to be involved in plant research at CIMMYT with wheat, triticale, barley, maize, and high-altitude sorghum, in addition to taking up charitable and educational roles.

    Borlaug taught and researched at Texas A&M University from 1984 till his death…

    Following his retirement, Borlaug had continued to participate actively in teaching, research and activism. He spent much of the year based at CIMMYT in Mexico, conducting research, and four months of the year serving at Texas A&M University, where he had been a distinguished professor of international agriculture since 1984. In 1999, the university’s Board of Regents named its US$16 million Center for Southern Crop Improvement in honor of Borlaug. He worked in the building’s Heep Center, and taught one semester each year.

    Of environmental lobbyists he stated, “some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”….

    “Ah,” you will say, “but what about his firm faith? Did he have any religious beliefs?”

    Indeed he did. Norman Borlaug was not much given to public pronouncements about religion. I imagine he had far too much work to do. Nevertheless, he was a man of faith. He was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, as his Wikipedia biography states. And in case you are wondering whether he retained his childhood faith, allow me to quote from his Nobel Peace Prize lecture of December 11, 1970, entitled “The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity.”

    Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on ignoring the lessons available from history.

    Man’s survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability to ensure his food supply….

    The invention of agriculture, however, did not permanently emancipate man from the fear of food shortages, hunger, and famine. Even in prehistoric times population growth often must have threatened or exceeded man’s ability to produce enough food. Then, when droughts or outbreaks of diseases and insect pests ravaged crops, famine resulted.

    That such catastrophes occurred periodically in ancient times is amply clear from numerous biblical references. Thus, the Lord said: “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew.”(2) “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered… The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”(3)

    Plant diseases, drought, desolation, despair were recurrent catastrophes during the ages – and the ancient remedies: supplications to supernatural spirits or gods. And yet, the concept of the “ever-normal granary” appeared in elementary form, as is clear from Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of imminent famine and his preparation for it, as indicated by this quotation from Genesis: “…And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread…”(4) For his time, Joseph was wise, with the help of his God….

    The recognition that hunger and social strife are linked is not new, for it is evidenced by the Old Testament passage, “…and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their King and their God…”(5)

    Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the “Population Monster”. In the beginning there were but two, Adam and Eve. When they appeared on this earth is still questionable. By the time of Christ, world population had probably reached 250 million. But between then and now, population has grown to 3.5 billion…

    Since man is potentially a rational being, however, I am confident that within the next two decades he will recognize the self-destructive course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth and will adjust the growth rate to levels which will permit a decent standard of living for all mankind. If man is wise enough to make this decision and if all nations abandon their idolatry of Ares, Mars, and Thor, then Mankind itself should be the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize which is “to be awarded to the person who has done most to promote brotherhood among the nations”.

    Then, by developing and applying the scientific and technological skills of the twentieth century for “the well-being of mankind throughout the world”, he may still see Isaiah’s prophesies come true: “… And the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose… And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water…”(7)

    And may these words come true!

    Biblical Footnotes

    2. Amos 4:9.
    3. Joel 1:17, 20.
    4. Genesis 41:54.
    5. Isaiah 8:21.
    7. Isaiah 35:1, 7.

    I think it’s reasonable to infer that a man who was baptized a Christian, and who refers to Adam and Eve twice in his acceptance speech, states that the human race sprang from one original couple, and quotes the Bible five times, is a Christian.

    I should add that Norman Borlaug was a trustee of the Christian non-profit organization Bread for the World , from 1975 to 1980.

    In his Nobel lecture of 1970, Norman Borlaug expressed his alarm about the population crisis, but his views later changed. To quote again from his Wikipedia biography:

    Besides increasing the worldwide food supply, early in his career Borlaug stated that taking steps to decrease the rate of population growth will also be necessary to prevent food shortages. In his Nobel Lecture of 1970, Borlaug stated, “Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the ‘Population Monster’ … If it continues to increase at the estimated present rate of two percent a year, the world population will reach 6.5 billion by the year 2000. Currently, with each second, or tick of the clock, about 2.2 additional people are added to the world population. The rhythm of increase will accelerate to 2.7, 3.3, and 4.0 for each tick of the clock by 1980, 1990, and 2000, respectively, unless man becomes more realistic and preoccupied about this impending doom. The tick-tock of the clock will continually grow louder and more menacing each decade. Where will it all end?” However, by the 1990s Borlaug had changed his position on population control, believing it was not necessary. In 2000 he stated: “I now say that the world has the technology – either available or well advanced in the research pipeline – to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.” (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

    (Neil Rickert, please take note!)

    I don’t deny that there have been good humanitarians who were atheists. The late Dr. Fred Hollows was a case in point. In our own time, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are prominent agnostic humanitarians, even though they became involved in humanitarian work only after they had achieved financial success. I would further add that all of these individuals seem to have had stable family lives, and to have been assiduous workers.

    And while there is such a thing as culpable, willful unbelief, I certainly don’t regard any of these great humanitarians as being closed in their hearts to the possibility of there being a God. I would also add that God has His own ways of finding people.

    You write that according to a consequentialist ethic, “What matters is how much happiness you create and how much suffering you relieve.” The point I would wish to make in response is that a person’s virtue cannot be assessed on the basis of the results he/she achieves. There have been noble failures; and we do not consider them any the less noble for that. On the other hand, if someone were to invent a life-saving device purely for personal gain, we certainly would not describe that person as good.

    Finally, consider the following hypothetical. Suppose that you knew of a great humanitarian, who subsequently turned out to have been an abusive spouse, a violent parent and a thoroughly untrustworthy individual in his/her personal dealings. Even if that person had saved millions of lives, would you still call him/her good? I wouldn’t. Someone who is bad to the people near and dear to them, is a bad person, period.

  17. Dr. Torley, the 99% figure for extinct species in post 15 is incorrect:

    notes:

    One persistent misrepresentation, that evolutionists continually portray of the fossil record, is that +99.9% of all species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct because of ‘necessary evolutionary transitions’. Yet the fact is that 40 to 80% of all current living species found on the earth are represented fairly deeply in the fossil record. In fact, some estimates put the number around 230,000 species living today, whereas, we only have about a quarter of a million different species collected in our museums. Moreover, Darwin predicts we should have millions of transitional fossil forms. These following videos, quotes, and articles clearly point this fact out:

    The Fossil Record – The Myth Of +99.9% Extinct Species – Dr. Arthur Jones – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4028115

    “Stasis in the Fossil Record: 40-80% of living forms today are represented in the fossil record, despite being told in many text books that only about 0.1% are in this category. The rocks testify that no macro-evolutionary change has ever occurred. With the Cambrian Explosion complex fish, trilobites and other creatures appear suddenly without any precursors. Evidence of any transitional forms in the fossil record is highly contentious.”
    Paul James-Griffiths via Dr. Arthur Jones
    http://edinburghcreationgroup......paper1.php

    The following studies show that the number of species that are currently alive is well below the ‘millions of species’ that are commonly believed to be alive:

    Marine Species Census – Nov. 2009
    Excerpt: The researchers have found about 5,600 new species on top of the 230,000 known. They hope to add several thousand more by October 2010, when the census will be done.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/200.....ine_census

    Scientists finish first sea census – October 2010
    Excerpt: The raw numbers behind the $650 million Census of Marine Life are impressive enough: Almost 30 million observations by 2,700 scientists from more than 80 nations spent 9,000 days at sea, producing 2,600 academic papers and documenting 120,000 species for a freely available online database.
    http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com.....sea-census

    Census of Marine Life Publishes Historic Roll Call of Species in 25 Key World Areas – August 2010
    Excerpt: In October, the Census will release its latest estimate of all marine species known to science, including those still to be added to WoRMS and OBIS. This is likely to exceed 230,000. (Please note how far off the 230,000 estimated number for species to be found is from the actual 120,000 number for species that were actually found in the census)
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....173704.htm

  18. Prof. FX Gumby

    Living things possess moral significance, but that does not make them inviolable. Contrary to what you assert, the choice never is: animals’ lives versus human dollars. Dollars are always spent on something. The question we should ask is: is the human project on which the money is being spent, valuable in its own right? And if it is, can it be realized at an affordable cost, without hurting other life-forms? If the answers to these questions are “Yes” and “No” respectively, then we have a genuine conflict of interests, and people have the right to put their interests above those of other living things. In other situations, they should avoid harming other living things.

  19. I must admit I am horrified by the philosophical viewpoint underlying this post. The belief that God created this planet just for us and he will solve any problems we create is very scary. I only hope it is a viewpoint not shared by most people on the planet.

  20. Hasn’t anyone noticed from the arguments that Darwinists make in support of their theory that a conclusion based on our ideas of what God would or wouldn’t do is not one in which we can base much confidence? You can’t know what any creator of something would or wouldn’t do with respect to that creation until you thoroughly understand the purpose its creator had in mind. What if one of the purposes of this beautiful planet is for us to learn to consider the long term consequences of our actions? Or to learn to take care of our living quarters? Or to make each decision taking into account the next seven generations, as some native Americans would have us do? I’m not arguing that these are true. I suspect that God’s purposes are even more subtle and complex than any we can currently imagine.

    Humankind’s current collective actions relative to our planet are definitely cause for concern: we are dumping millions of tons of over 100K different man-made persistent substances into the earth every year. Because they are persistent, and because of the Second Law, they will accumulate in living systems indefinitely. The same is true of toxic substances we take from within the earth (heavy metals, etc.). Also, we are systematically destroying living species and ecosystems (over-harvesting, depleting topsoil, destroying rain forests, paving over arable land, etc.). It is true that living systems are remarkably resilient, but there are limits. If you doubt this, find photos of the wastelands that have been produced by unrestrained dumping near chemical plants.

    To ignore this, to do nothing to alter the course upon which we have set ourselves based on our made up notions of what God would or wouldn’t do seems to me to be the height of irresponsibility.

  21. vjtorley:What about the Black Death? At most, this would count as evidence against the existence of a personal God, but I never claimed that science pointed to a personal God in my post. Rather, I claimed that it pointed to “a Designer Who is by and large life-friendly, human-friendly and science-friendly.” For all we know, such a Designer might love intelligent life (en masse) but not individual people.

    Mr Torley, do you not understand what “personal God” means? It has nothing to do with whether God is good, nothing to do with whether God does or does not do what finite persons imagine he *ought* to do so as to justifiably be called “good;” it has only to do with whether ‘personhood’ is or is not an attribute or property of that which we call God — and, in fact, “impersonal God” is an oxymoron, for it is to assert that God is not God.

  22. Bruce David

    You are very worried about long-term consequences, aren’t you? But if we’re putting “millions of tons of over 100K different man-made persistent substances into the earth every year,” as you say, then it’s not going to be possible to compute the long-term effects of all of them. We don’t have the computing resources available to do that.

    So what should we do? An adherent of the Precautionary Principle would say: don’t put anything new into the air until you’re sure it’s safe. But if we’d done that throughout our history, we’d never have the advanced science and technology that we have today. We wouldn’t have cars, for instance.

    I’d be more inclined to say: always monitor carefully what you do put into the air, and have a Plan B in case a substance turns out to be dangerous.

  23. Ilion

    “Personal God” could mean two things. It could mean a God who possesses personal attributes (i.e. is a rational individual). Or it could mean a God who cares about each and every person He created.

  24. 24

    VJ,

    I don’t think I said that life was inviolable. Otherwise I wouldn’t weed my garden.

    I understand your point regarding conflicts, although I suspect we might differ on the relative weights we would put on human benefits and nature conservation. However, it doesn’t answer my main point. I don’t understand how an ID perspective logically leads to a human-centric, mainly utilitarian view of nature.

    You state that: “Intelligent Design theorists have a very different “take” on a suite of environmental issues, ranging from global warming to highway construction to the way we think about the Earth itself, simply because we believe that the Earth was made for human beings (especially) and also for other living things to inhabit”. (My bolding.)

    I don’t think you’ve adequately made the case that the Earth was especially made for human beings, strictly from an ID pov and without the assumption that the Designer is the God of the Bible. (I understand that ID makes no assumptions about the nature of the Designer, please correct me if I’m wrong.) In your response to markf, you invoke the privileged planet argument. However, this argument doesn’t bear on whether the Earth was designed especially for humans or, say, turnips.

    What is the ID evidence or theoretical argument for the special position of the human species in creation?

  25. prof, Gumby you ask,

    What is the ID evidence or theoretical argument for the special position of the human species in creation?

    here is one,

    Intelligent Design – The Anthropic Hypothesis
    http://lettherebelight-77.blog.....is_19.html

  26. 26

    I’m afraid I don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the 203 pages and 114,804 words of that blog post. A quick skim didn’t reveal anything that supports a human-centric and as opposed to a turnip-centric Earth. Perhaps you might reproduce it here?

  27. If the universe shows evidence of having been designed for life—and if life exists as a hierarchy such that elements nourish plants, which in turn, nourish animals, which in turn, nourish humans—that fact alone points to a human centered creation.

  28. Well Gumby,

    I suppose that a few points could ‘cliff notes’ the main points for you:

    1. Every 3D point is central to the expansion of the universe:

    Every 3D Place Is Center In This Universe – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3991873/

    The Known Universe – Dec. 2009 – a very cool video (please note the centrality of the earth in the universe)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17jymDn0W6U

    This centrality that we observe for ourselves in the universe also happens to give weight to the verses of the Bible that indirectly imply centrality for the earth in the universe:

    Psalm 102:19
    The LORD looked down from His sanctuary on high, from heaven He viewed the earth,

    2. Every ‘observer’ is central to the ‘quantum wave collapse’ of the universe:

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579/

    Quantum mind–body problem
    Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.....dy_problem

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Wigner

    Quantum Enigma:Physics Encounters Consciousness – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: It is more than 80 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics gave us the most fundamental insight ever into our nature: the overturning of the Copernican Revolution, and the restoration of us human beings to centrality in the Universe.
    And yet, have you ever before read a sentence having meaning similar to that of my preceding sentence? Likely you have not, and the reason you have not is, in my opinion, that physicists are in a state of denial…
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-designer/

    3. The ‘unification’ between Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, the number one problem in physics today, is strongly indicated, by empirical evidence, to be ‘unified’ by Jesus Christ:

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/5070355

    The End Of Christianity – Finding a Good God in an Evil World – Pg.31
    William Dembski PhD. Mathematics
    Excerpt: “In mathematics there are two ways to go to infinity. One is to grow large without measure. The other is to form a fraction in which the denominator goes to zero. The Cross is a path of humility in which the infinite God becomes finite and then contracts to zero, only to resurrect and thereby unite a finite humanity within a newfound infinity.”
    http://www.designinference.com.....of_xty.pdf

    4. The foundation of reality is information theoretic in nature:

    Leading quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger has followed in John Archibald Wheeler’s footsteps (1911-2008) by insisting reality, at its most foundational level, is ‘information’.

    “It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom – at a very deep bottom, in most instances – an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that things physical are information-theoretic in origin.” John Archibald Wheeler

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.” Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:
    http://www.metanexus.net/Magaz.....fault.aspx

  29. cont. Gumby,

    5. The mind of Man is extremely unique in his capacity to generate and understand ‘information’. Moreover this unique mind that each human has seems to be capable of a special and intimate communion with God that is unavailable to other animals, i.e. we each clearly have the potential of communicating information with “The Word” as described in John 1:1.

    Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds:
    Excerpt: There is a profound functional discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. We argue that this discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture can explain. We hypothesize that the cognitive discontinuity between human and nonhuman animals is largely due to the degree to which human and nonhuman minds are able to approximate the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (i.e. we are able to understand information). http://www.bbsonline.org/Prepr.....eprint.htm

    6. whereas material processes are wanting for any proof whatsoever for the ability to generate information:

    The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity: David L. Abel – Null Hypothesis For Information Generation – 2009
    To focus the scientific community’s attention on its own tendencies toward overzealous metaphysical imagination bordering on “wish-fulfillment,” we propose the following readily falsifiable null hypothesis, and invite rigorous experimental attempts to falsify it: “Physicodynamics cannot spontaneously traverse The Cybernetic Cut: physicodynamics alone cannot organize itself into formally functional systems requiring algorithmic optimization, computational halting, and circuit integration.” A single exception of non trivial, unaided spontaneous optimization of formal function by truly natural process would falsify this null hypothesis.
    http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/pdf
    Can We Falsify Any Of The Following Null Hypothesis (For Information Generation)
    1) Mathematical Logic
    2) Algorithmic Optimization
    3) Cybernetic Programming
    4) Computational Halting
    5) Integrated Circuits
    6) Organization (e.g. homeostatic optimization far from equilibrium)
    7) Material Symbol Systems (e.g. genetics)
    8) Any Goal Oriented bona fide system
    9) Language
    10) Formal function of any kind
    11) Utilitarian work
    http://mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/ag

    Thus Gumby, the cumulative case for the uniqueness of man’s ‘special’ place in the universe in relation to God is far stronger for other life forms, especially TURNIPS!!! :)

  30. correction:

    is far stronger THAN for other life forms, especially TURNIPS!!!

  31. O worlds capacious, O bright light of morn,
    Lift up thy heads! for Turnip thou was born.
    What dexterous hands in long-forgotten time,
    Weaving the celestial garment sublime,
    Stooped to tune thee in thy fine array
    And turned thy ancient night to day?
    What gracious artist, with golden threads,
    Wove thee skillfully in Turnip beds?
    For lo, the harvest feast is nigh
    When noble Turkey stoops to die,
    Our gold-rimmed plates to furnish with his breast,
    Dressed up with stuffing, peas and all the rest.
    What would poor turkey without Turnip be?
    Just plain white meat, devoid of dignity.
    Let us then praise the skillful hands
    That placed the baleful tuber in our lands,
    Craftily designed to draw from soil
    The tart sweetness that justifies their toil.
    O Turnip! Rolled up with stars divine into a ball,
    Thou art the crowning dividend of fall.
    For thee let us remember to give thanks,
    And shun the indigestion caused by cranks.

  32. 32

    Stephen: If the universe shows evidence of having been designed for life—and if life exists as a hierarchy such that elements nourish plants, which in turn, nourish animals, which in turn, nourish humans—that fact alone points to a human centered creation.

    My science teacher told us that there are more bacteria cells in the human body than human cells. So maybe we are just living in a bacteria centered creation. LOL

  33. Beautiful poem allanius. Gumby I should also like to point out that this ‘chasm’ between the finite world of the space-time of General Relativity, and the ‘infinite’ world of quantum mechanics, lends strong support to the Christian contention for the necessity of each person to accept Christ in order to enjoy a ‘complete’ eternal life with God. It seems very likely that without a person accepting Christ, and His redemptive work, into their heart that their soul could very well be left as ‘an island unto itself’ from what is revealed by General Relativity:

    ,,,This following site, through a fairly exhaustive examination of the General Relativity equations themselves, acknowledges the insufficiency of General Relativity to account for the ‘completeness’ of 4D space-time within the sphere of the CMBR from different points of observation in the universe.

    The Cauchy Problem In General Relativity – Igor Rodnianski
    Excerpt: 2.2 Large Data Problem In General Relativity – While the result of Choquet-Bruhat and its subsequent refinements guarantee the existence and uniqueness of a (maximal) Cauchy development, they provide no information about its geodesic completeness and thus, in the language of partial differential equations, constitutes a local existence. ,,, More generally, there are a number of conditions that will guarantee the space-time will be geodesically incomplete.,,, In the language of partial differential equations this means an impossibility of a large data global existence result for all initial data in General Relativity.
    http://www.icm2006.org/proceed.....l_3_22.pdf

  34. VJTorley:Ilíon, Personal God” could mean two things. It could mean a God who possesses personal attributes (i.e. is a rational individual). Or it could mean a God who cares about each and every person He created.

    No, it means (and can mean) only the first.

    Consider two men who have sired children. The first cares intimately for the being and well-being of his each of his children. The second doesn’t even so much as acknowledge that he has sired any children at all.

    Is it not nonsensical to say of the first man “he is a personal father” and of the second “he is an impersonal father”? They are both persons, equally; their personhood is a different matter from their siring of children and from their performance of the obligations of fatherhood.

  35. San Antonio Rose:My science teacher told us that there are more bacteria cells in the human body than human cells. So maybe we are just living in a bacteria centered creation. LOL

    If human beings are *simply* collections (or sets, in mathematical terms) of cells with certain genomic characteristics, then I guess we must conclude that no human persons exist. For, after all, those sets of cells are never the same from instant to instant, as cells divide and/or die. Nor, for that matter, is any individual cell — including the bacteria cells — the same from instant to instant. One wonders: is it even meaningful to speak of “an individual cell”?

  36. 36

    Ilion:If human beings are *simply* collections (or sets, in mathematical terms) of cells with certain genomic characteristics, then I guess we must conclude that no human persons exist.

    WAM, that is what you got from my comment? Sigh. The punchline was that there is a unimaginably huge number of bacteria in a human body (and the whole world, AAF) and may people are just walking, talking food carts for the wee buggies.

  37. Prof. FX Gumby

    Thank you for your very thoughtful post (#23). You ask:

    What is the ID evidence or theoretical argument for the special position of the human species in creation?

    The best evidence, to my knowledge, relates to the fact that habitability correlates with measurability, as documented by Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez in their book, The Privileged Planet (see http://www.amazon.com/Privileg.....0895260654 ).

    In other words, not only does the Earth have special properties as a planet which make it uniquely suited to life, but it also has properties which make it uniquely suited to making scientific observations, without which we would never have been able to figure out our place in the cosmos. These observations have also greatly strengthened the case for God’s existence.

    A striking example relates to solar eclipses. The Earth is the only place in the solar system where it is possible to witness a total solar eclipse. (One of Saturn’s moons, Prometheus, comes close, but it’s shaped like a potato and results in eclipses that last less than a second). What’s more, even on Earth, it will only be possible to witness perfect solar eclipses for the relatively near term future, as the moon’s distance from the Earth gradually changes over the course of time.

    Total eclipses are possible because the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it’s also 400 times further away than the moon. It’s this coincidence that creates a perfect match.

    “What’s so important about solar eclipses?” you may ask. The answer is that eclipses resulted in scientific discoveries that wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere, on planets where eclipses don’t happen. Perfect solar eclipses have helped us learn about the nature of stars. Using spectroscopes, astronomers learned how the sun’s color spectrum is produced, and that data later helped them interpret the spectra of distant stars.

    Second, a perfect solar eclipse in 1919 helped teams of astronomers confirm that gravity bends light, which was a central prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. That test was only possible during a total eclipse.

    Third, perfect eclipses provided a historical record that has enabled astronomers to calculate changes in the Earth’s orbit over the past several thousand years, and to put ancient calendars on our modern calendar systems.

    Human beings also live in a part of the galaxy which is ideal for observing stars. In particular, we live in a very good neighborhood for detecting cosmic background radiation, which provided vital evidence for the Big Bang.

    I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The Earth is not just a very life-friendly planet, it is also a very science-friendly planet. This is a striking and wholly unexpected fact. Habitability and measurability coincide on our planet, leading people who believe in God to suspect that the Earth was created not just for life, but as a place where scientific knowledge could be acquired and amassed – knowledge that points to the existence of a Creator. In other words, God put us in a world where His existence could be reasonably inferred.

    Humans are the only animals with science. Turnips don’t use telescopes – or at least, they weren’t using them the last time I looked :)

    I think it is reasonable to conclude that the Earth was designed for Homo sapiens in particular.

    I hope that answers your question.

  38. Ilion (#33)

    Thank you for your comment. The point I wanted to make is that the question of whether God is a rational individual or Person (or in Christian theology, an indivisible Trinity of Persons) is logically distinct from the question of whether God is the sort of Being with Whom it is possible to have a personal relationship, because He cares about each and every human being (and not just the human species). Rather confusingly, modern English applies the term “personal God” to both of the meanings listed above, which is why people tend to get them mixed up.

    Your example of the human father didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. A father who disowns his children is still a father who is capable of having a personal relationship with them, as he is capable of knowing and loving them as individuals. But from the mere fact that God is a rational individual, one cannot logically deduce that He is capable of knowing and loving each of us human beings, as individuals.

    That was what I wanted to say.

  39. vjtorley:

    Is there a reason that a total eclipse would not be visible from the Moon?

  40. Muramasa

    Thanks for your question. I was referring to a perfect total eclipse, where the sun appears to move exactly behind the moon, with the view of the moon seeming to perfectly overlap the sun. It’s this kind of eclipse that has yielded important scientific discoveries. To understand why you would not see a perfect solar eclipse from the moon, you might like to have a look at this page:

    http://nrich.maths.org/6683

  41. To vjt: You said, “But if we’re putting ‘millions of tons of over 100K different man-made persistent substances into the earth every year,’ as you say, then it’s not going to be possible to compute the long-term effects of all of them. We don’t have the computing resources available to do that.”

    This is absolutely true, and compounded by the fact that we would have to consider the possible effects of any or all of these acting in combination with each other. Not only do we not have the computing power, we don’t posses the requisite scientific knowledge either.

    But there is another fact that raises my level of concern even more, and that is that when ecosystems die, they don’t just slowly get weaker, they cope as long as they can, and then they suddenly collapse. The earth as a whole is an ecosystem. When it reaches the point of collapse, there will be absolutely nothing we will be able to do about it, since the toxic substances will have spread throughout all living things and there will be no way to remove them.

    To me, the only responsible action that we as a species can take (responsible to our children and their children) is to re-invent our technology, and to do this as fast as we can. This would mean reducing our use of persistent man-made and toxic mined substances to an absolute minimum, replacing them in our manufactured goods with biodegradable materials. We also need to stop all actions that physically reduce the worlds living systems. Would this involve material sacrifices on our part? Almost certainly. Would we need to put in place mechanisms to redistribute wealth so that millions of people would not have to live (or die) in abject poverty? Probably.

    But what are the alternatives? Allow the earth’s ecosystems to die and us with them, or hope that we understand God correctly and that He won’t let it happen. Personally, I would take action.

  42. Bruce David,

    Thank you for your post. I have to say that the course of action you advocate sounds like an impossible quest to me. There’s no way we can take all of the chemicals we’ve put into the atmosphere, out of the atmosphere. It’s too late. And in case you’re inclined to think that reducing the concentrations of these chemicals will reduce the risk, I have some bad news for you. It ain’t necessarily so. You might like to have a look at this article:

    A Climate of Belief by Patrick Frank, In The Skeptic, vol. 14 no. 1. Patrick Frank is a Ph.D. chemist with more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. Here’s an excerpt:

    The limits of resolution of the GCMs [general circulation models] – their pixel size – is huge compared to what they are trying to project. In each new projection year of a century-scale calculation, the growing uncertainty in the climate impact of clouds alone makes the view of a GCM become progressively fuzzier… It is well-known among climatologists that large swaths of the physics in GCMs are not well understood. Where the uncertainty is significant GCMs have “parameters,” which are best judgments for how certain climate processes work. General Circulation Models have dozens of parameters and possibly a million variables, and all of them have some sort of error or uncertainty…

    So the bottom line is this: When it comes to future climate, no one knows what they’re talking about. No one. Not the IPCC nor its scientists, not the US National Academy of Sciences, not the NRDC or National Geographic, not the US Congressional House leadership, not me, not you, and certainly not Mr. Albert Gore. Earth’s climate is warming and no one knows exactly why.

    Frank also warns that cutting CO2 won’t necessarily cut the risk of warming.

    Here’s another fact to consider. The task you propose is a task that by definition could never be finished. No matter how much you worry, no matter what precautions you take, there’s always another one you could take to make the world even safer. If you kept thinking like that, you’d have no time for human interactions with people around you, let alone prayer. And that’s why I object to eco-fascism. Thinking about the Earth tends to monopolize your time, once you make its concerns paramount, or once you think that you and you alone can save it.

    Ecosystems can collapse suddenly, but the Earth isn’t just an ecosystem. The Earth has a web of feedbacks and controls that we are still beginning to understand. Dr. Roy Spencer’s Website on global warming explains these well.

    For my part, I believe in caring about the Earth, but I believe in living a human life first. I’m not going to let Nature (or Gaia) make me ashamed of doing that.

  43. “The task you propose is a task that by definition could never be finished. No matter how much you worry, no matter what precautions you take, there’s always another one you could take to make the world even safer.”

    Using that logic, I should stop doing laundry or washing dishes because there will always be more to do.

  44. Dr. Torley,

    Frank is not a climate scientist. You might want to look at this article and the responses to Frank in the comments:

    “Frank confuses the error in an absolute value with the error in a trend. It is equivalent to assuming that if a clock is off by about a minute today, that tomorrow it will be off by two minutes, and in a year off by 365 minutes. In reality, the errors over a long time are completely unconnected with the offset today.”

    ID should have nothing to do with denialism, climate change or other. ID is a positive programme affirming design, not a rejection of science.

    I talked about this in response to a post about Einstein, but the post seems to have disappeared.

  45. Dr. Torley,

    You said, “There’s no way we can take all of the chemicals we’ve put into the atmosphere, out of the atmosphere.”

    Well, I agree. And the problem is not just those in the atmosphere, it is also those that are accumulating in the water, the soil, and indeed in all living things, including ourselves. My point is that we should begin a program designed to eventually eliminate the production of virtually all persistent substances, replacing them with ones that degrade naturally or that the biosphere can deal with. It may in fact be too late. It may be that what is already in the pipeline, making its way into the biosphere by virtue of the Second Law is enough to overwhelm the ecosystem which is our planet, but my position is that it is irresponsible not to make the attempt.

    You also said, “For my part, I believe in caring about the Earth, but I believe in living a human life first.”

    To this I would respond that the two are inextricably intertwined. Our very survival as a species is utterly dependent on a healthy biosphere. In spite of all our technology, our food supply and very much else that contributes to our lives comes from living things, and there are no substitutes. If the earth dies, we die. Secondly, even if we could somehow manage to survive on a dead planet through some as yet undiscovered technology, what kind of a human life would that be? What would be the quality of life without the breathtaking beauty of this incredible world that we inhabit (given to us by God, I might add)?

  46. Should we also attempt to stop all of the oil that naturally seeps into the ocean year round?

  47. Bruce David,,, wonderful plan,,, good luck implementing it ,,, How bout we put a stop to all wars while we are at it? :) ,,, Yet Bruce no matter how peaceful and ‘clean’ we are, Something tells me that man is not going to be completely in sync with ‘how God intended us’ to live in this world until Christ returns,,, which according to the following fact, should not be to far down the road:

    The Precisely Fulfilled Prophecy Of Israel Becoming A Nation In 1948 – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4041241/

    ,, and Bruce this is interesting to think about,,, just how do you imagine God should have us live in harmony with nature? Will we forfeit all creativity and industrious??? Will we walk around naked,, leaving zero ‘carbon footprint’?

  48. Muramasa (#43)

    Sorry, but your laundry and dish-washing analogies don’t hold. There may be more clothes or dishes to wash in the future, but at least (if my household is well-run), I can say, “Well, all the clothes and dishes are clean now.” No such situation obtains with the Earth. It will never be pollution-free or in perfect equilibrium, environmentally.

  49. Quite ID

    Scientific opinion about Frank’s article seems to be rather polarized, but at least one climatologist agrees with Frank – NASA climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer. See http://www.takeonit.com/expert/835.aspx

    Alarm bells went off for me when I read polemical comments by Schmidt such as “naive beyond belief.” Whatever mistakes Frank has or hasn’t made, they’re hardly likely to be naive ones.

    As for tying ID to the issue of climate change: I haven’t attempted to do this. What I have argued is that “[s]omeone who believes (as many Intelligent Design proponents do) that the Author of Nature is a supremely good Personal Being” will tend to believe that climate problems, and all other environmental problems, are soluble without too much fuss, because the proper end of human existence is to develop personal relationships with others – especially our Creator and those near and dear to us. A world in constant crisis would leave us no time to do that. It would demand continual attention and it would monopolize our consciousness. We couldn’t live a properly human life in such a world. Also, living in such a world would destroy democracy, as we would be at the whim of an informed elite constantly telling us how we had to live and how much tax we had to pay in order to solve Mother Earth’s problems. The potential for abuse is obvious.

    An ID proponent could believe in a world designed by a malevolent, indifferent or inept being. In that case the climate crisis would come as no surprise. But if one believes in a supremely good and powerful Designer, as many ID proponents do, it would.

  50. Dr. Torley,

    When you write that “climate problems, and all other environmental problems, are soluble without too much fuss,” you are on the verge of saying that because God is good, everything that happens in the natural environment is no big deal. Try telling that to the earthquake victims in Haiti, or China, or Chile, or the tsunami victims in Indonesia.

    Interpreting scientific data based on how you think God will act is a Terrible Idea. Besides, if there’s an important theological principle here, it’s not the goodness of God (which we both will vouch for) but the depravity of man. Maybe you think such depravity has a limit, but I haven’t seen it.

    I believe that Dr. Roy Spencer is a Christian and a supporter of ID. I am glad, but he is still in a small minority among climate scientists, including those who are Christians.

  51. You must do your laundry naked, then.

  52. “You must do your laundry naked, then.”

    non-sequitur

  53. Not a non-sequitur. The response states “but at least (if my household is well-run), I can say, “Well, all the clothes and dishes are clean now.””.

    I generally consider the clothes I am wearing to need washing. Therefore, unless I do my laundry naked, “all the clothes” cannot be clean.

    Pedantic to be sure, but the devil is in the details, no?

  54. Quite ID

    Thank you for your post. You profess to believe that God is good, so I’ll take you at your word. However, you have no time for the notion that, as you put it, “because God is good, everything that happens in the natural environment is no big deal.” You comment: “Try telling that to the earthquake victims in Haiti, or China, or Chile, or the tsunami victims in Indonesia.”

    First, you are confusing a local problem with a global one. One might still believe that God is good if He allows some people to die as a result of some catastrophe. However, a global catastrophe that wiped out humanity itself (or everyone except for one individual), would certainly falsify the proposition that God is good. For what meaningful sense would still attach to the proposition, after a catastrophe like that?

    Let me illustrate with an anecdote. Back in the early 1940s, while my Grade 12 physics teacher was still at school, one of his teachers told him that if a nuclear explosion ever occurred, it would set off a chain reaction that would detonate the entire globe. Of course, he was wrong. But the point I am making is that a humanity-loving omniscient God would have foreseen the possibility of a Kim Jong Il, and would have designed the world so that it could never explode.

    Second, I don’t maintain that all environmental problems are easily soluble. What I do maintain is that if personal relationships are an essential part of our telos as human beings, it must be possible for human beings in general to live their lives in a fashion that allows them to meet their obligations to each other and their Creator. That means that on a global scale, environmental problems must be at least manageable. A world where we had our plate piled high with unmanageable environmental problems would be a world in which we would be too busy to live human lives, in which we could adequately fulfil our duties to each other – and hence a world in which we would be incapable of behaving morally. A good God would not design a world like that.

    Third, the assumption I am making, that every problem confronting humanity as a whole is a soluble one, while not entailed by ID, is certainly very ID-friendly, and also very science-friendly. I would also like to add that many of the pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, such as Kepler, Newton and Boyle, made similar assumptions in the course of their scientific research.

    I have already drawn attention to the happy coincidence between the Earth’s habitability and its suitability, as a location in the Milky Way, for making scientific measurements. I assume that you agree with me that this is not a coincidence but a designed outcome. I find it puzzling, then, that you doubt that the Earth itself is designed to be able to withstand the impact human activities, particularly when they are not even malevolent ones!

    You write that “if there’s an important theological principle here, it’s not the goodness of God (which we both will vouch for) but the depravity of man.” But how did our CO2 levels get to be so high, in the first place? Humans chose to continue multiplying in the 19th and 20th centuries, when infant mortality started to decline, and they chose build factories and automobiles. Was this a case of human depravity? Should the Industrial Revolution never have happened? I think not.

    Finally, you argue that “[i]nterpreting scientific data based on how you think God will act is a Terrible Idea.” Agreed, it is. But we should not give up the basic assumption that global human problems are soluble and manageable until proof is forthcoming. Giving up the ghost and allowing yourself to be cowed by bureaucrats into living in a world where you are only allowed to have one child, where meat is totally off the menu (I don’t eat meat, by the way, but that’s my choice), where you can only own an electric car, and where you can never travel overseas – even to visit your family – because of airplanes’ excessive GHG emissions, is craven and cowardly. Yet if we consistently followed the advice of the Green movement, this is the lifestyle we’d all have to lead. We should resist such eco-tyranny.

  55. Muramasa

    You write:

    I generally consider the clothes I am wearing to need washing.

    I don’t, or I wouldn’t be wearing them. And what if I’ve only just put them on?

  56. To Bornagain77: You said, “wonderful plan,,, good luck implementing it ,,, How bout we put a stop to all wars while we are at it?”

    I’m under no illusions that this will be easy. What will be required is nothing less than a global shift in consciousness. First people have to wake up to the seriousness of the problem, and then we have to start making decisions on a time frame longer than the next quarter. We have to decide whether the quality of our children and grandchildren’s lives (and indeed whether they will live at all) is more important than having as much as we can accumulate as cheaply as possible right now.

    These are the facts:

    1. Huge amounts of persistent chemicals and heavy metals are being produced every year.

    2. Because they are persistent, and because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, whatever is produced, both product and waste, will eventually make its way into the biosphere.

    3. Because they are persistent, they will accumulate in living things as long as they continue to be produced.

    4. We don’t know the effects on living systems of most of these substances alone or in combination.

    5. We don’t know what levels of concentration living organisms can tolerate of most of these substances alone or in combination.

    6. We do know that beyond some level of concentration, these substances are lethal to all living things. (Again, if you doubt this, just look at the chemical wastelands that have been produced by unrestrained dumping around some chemical plants.)

    The consequences of these facts should be obvious–we are headed on a course which will end in the destruction of life on earth, including ourselves. Under such conditions, it is not terribly relevant how God wants us to live. We won’t be here.

  57. To continue, I can envision some alternatives to the doomsday scenario outlined above, but none of them are pleasant. For example, it might be that the destruction of topsoil currently being visited upon our arable land by unsustainable farming techniques coupled with over harvesting will trigger a world wide crisis in the food supply before the accumulation of persistent substances kills everything. This could possibly lead to an economic crisis so severe that it results in a dramatic and sustained curtailment of manufacturing, thus avoiding total planetary death.

    The bottom line is, “pay me now, or pay me later”. In the long run, the consequences of not making the necessary sacrifices now will be sacrifices much more severe down the road.

    But of course, God might not let it happen.

  58. Bruce David

    On the subject of chemicals and heavy metals, you might like to have a look at this primer on the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) by Bruce Yandle, Maya Vijayaraghavan, and Madhusudan Bhattarai (PERC Research Study 02-1, May 2002). The authors make a strong case that for some kinds of pollution, including certain kinds of heavy metal pollution, as a poor country’s development process picks up, economic growth helps to undo the damage done in earlier years, when a certain level of per capita income is reached.

    The authors write:

    If economic growth is good for the environment, policies that stimulate growth (trade liberalization, economic restructuring and price reform) ought to be good for the environment. However, income growth without institutional reform is not likely to be enough. As we have shown, the improvement of the environment with income growth is not automatic but depends on policies and institutions. GDP growth creates the conditions for environmental improvement by raising the demand for improved environmental quality and makes the resources available for supplying it. Whether environmental quality improvements materializes or not, when and how, depends critically on government policies, social institutions and the completeness and functioning of markets. It is for this reason, among others, that Arrow et al. (1995) emphasize the importance of getting the institutions right in rich and poor countries. Along these lines, Torras and Boyce (1998) argue and show empirically that, all else equal, when ordinary people have political power, civil rights as well as economic rights, air and water quality improves in richer and poorer countries.

    Better policies, such as the removal of distorting subsidies, and the introduction of more secure property rights over resources, and the imposition of pollution taxes to connect actions taken to prices paid will flatten the underlying EKC and perhaps achieve an earlier turning point. Because market forces will ultimately determine the price of environmental quality, policies that allow market forces to operate are expected to be unambiguously positive. The search for meaningful environmental protection is a search for ways to enhance property rights and markets. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    You might also like to have a look at this article: The China Syndrome and the Environmental Kuznets Curve at http://www.aei.org/outlook/23617 , by Steven Hayward, of the American Enterprise Institute.

  59. Dr. Torley,

    Thank you for your reply. To clarify, I do not believe anthropogenic global warming will cause the extinction of humanity. I do think that, unaddressed, it will cause global catastrophe of a considerable scale. Of course, this will affect different populations differently. Let’s say global warming reduces world population by 20%. Should we not try to forestall that if we can? What does it mean to love our neighbor if not this?

    I am less sanguine than you about the effects of capitalism on the environment or on people’s lives. The industrial revolution and similar developments both exploitative and progressive.

    All this distracts from my original point. The science on warming is ongoing, but the basic facts are clear: global warming is happening, people are contributing mightily to it, and it’s going to be seriously bad. Even if this were not true, global warming has nothing to do with ID. My position is and remains that ID does itself no favors by allying with forms of denialism (including climate change denial). ID does not deny anything: it affirms design.

  60. Quite ID

    Thank you for your post. Regarding anthropogenic global warming, I am not a denialist but a skeptic. The hypothesis might well be true (as Dr. Roy Spencer himself admits). However, I have yet to see alternative explanations ruled out for the warming that has been observed to date.

    But if, as you say, anthropogenic global warming is occurring, then we should waste no time trying to fight it intelligently, with the solution most likely to work, rather than the one that Greens, politicians or bureaucrats happen to favor. In my post, I highlighted liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) as the best means of combating global warming – see here and here and here. The technology isn’t what worries me about fighting global warming; it’s the bureaucratic stupidity factor. Let’s hope that the powers that be abandon their fixation with windmills, and do something that will really work.

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