Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 4 – The Question of Suffering

This post will look at how creationism and Intelligent Design falls short when it comes to the question of suffering. In my mind, the question of suffering is one of the most fundamental questions in theology.

What makes the creationism and Intelligent Design most problematic in a theological sense is the question of suffering. Within the Christian tradition, there is no place for a kind of demiurge or designer other than God. Thus, the only Creator or Intelligent Designer could be the Christian God. In order for God to create by means of evolution, it follows that God would use “the suffering of very many creatures.” The question then follows: If God can intervene to introduce certain elements of complexity, why could God not intervene in the suffering of a myriad of creatures? The philosopher David Hume was brutally direct in stating the problem: “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?” Michael Ruse makes a similar point:

Many vile afflictions are caused by minor changes at the molecular level. The effects multiply, bringing on lifelong pain and suffering. If the designer is around to make the very complex, why doesn’t he take a little time to repair the simple but broken? Either he cannot, in which case wonders how powerful he really is and if he truly has designed the very complex; or he does not, in which case one wonders about his intentions toward the world of life, including humans. Either way, the designer seems not to be something that can be identified with the Christian God, which is the underlying aim of the Intelligent Design theorists.

Biologist Robert Pollack points out that Intelligent Design reduces the suffering in this world to “but a preamble for a world to come, in which a totally new Intelligent Design will provide all the solace, peace, and love of which nature seems so severely depleted.” This reduction does not provide satisfactory answers to the question of suffering. Pollack goes on to say that this view keeps us from acting to do good in the world:

This is why as an article of faith, ‘intelligent design’ is truly powerful, and deeply troubling. As science, it is meaningless: nothing in nature supports it; nothing in nature demands it; nothing we can do will either prove or disprove it. But as a belief, it distracts us from all acts that we – as individuals but more important as families, faiths, nations, and even as a species – can perform in this world, to diminish the catastrophic consequences of natural disasters and human cruelties.

A famous example of the problem of suffering and Intelligent Design is the ichneumonidae wasps that lay their eggs in a living caterpillar. In South Africa there are four genii of the family Ichneumonidae. Osprynchotus species parasite the nests of other wasp species that build nests with mud. Enicospilus species parasite the larvae of noctuid moths. Gabunia species parasite the larvae of long-horn beetles (family Cerambycidae). Theronia species parasitize the larvae and pupae of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, and bees), and Neuroptera (lacewings and antlions). Charles Darwin referred to this specific instance of endoparasitism in a letter to his friend Asa Gray: “There seems to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars…”

I have been (un)fortunate enough to witness the eruption of parasitic wasp larvae (Apanteles acraea from the family Braconidae) with my own eyes. The wasp larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside until they are ready for pupation, at which moment they eat their way out of the still living caterpillar and begin spinning their cocoons on the surface. I have recently began the hobby of caterpillar rearing, where one rears caterpillars, documenting their life history, and then send the results off to a lepidopterist for research. It is an interesting and mostly rewarding hobby with the added value that it benefits science. A cucullia inaequalis caterpillar that I was busy rearing had been parasited without my knowledge and great was the shock when I checked up on it only to find a large number of writhing wasp larvae that were starting to spin their cocoons on the outside of the caterpillar. Their poor host was alive and not paralysed throughout the entire ordeal. You can view the video here and see a photo album here. After they had spun their cocoons, the caterpillar somehow got itself free from under them and started walking around with gaping holes in its soft body. It died a few hours later.

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The Pteromalus puparum wasps from the family Pteromalidae parasite final instar caterpillars and then live and pupate within the larva and pupal form of the butterfly or moth. The adult wasp then emerges from the pupa via a small exit hole. Parasitism is almost never immediately fatal to the host, because the parasite requires the host to be alive for as long as it is needed. Most parasite species are highly specialised.

The biologist David Hull states that “The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” This is the kind of God that can be deduced from evolution, which, as Hull describes, is “rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror…” David H Bailey adds to this, pointing out the difficulties of creationism and Intelligent Design when it comes to “the many troublesome features of nature, such as pain, disease, violence, and the millions of species that have become extinct.”

The Catholic biologist Francisco Ayala states that “As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life. They were not a result of deficient or malevolent design.” Ayala also states that “I do not attribute all this misery, cruelty, and destruction to the specific design of the Creator. … I rather see it as a consequence of the clumsy ways of the evolutionary process.” He claims that it will be good for people who have faith to accept natural selection as being responsible for “the design of organisms, as well as for the dysfunctions, oddities, cruelties, and sadism that pervade the world of life.”

 

Conclusion

From the previous sections it can be seen that, theologically speaking, creationism and Intelligent Design has certain pitfalls. The two main pitfalls are dishonesty on the part of God and the problem of suffering, which weighs the heavier of the two. The dubious use of the Bible is also a point of concern and the bad science coupled with bad theology is a pock mark on the face of Christianity.

 

Also See:

10 Astonishing Examples of Bizarre Parasitic Life Cycles

10 Disturbingly Weird Parasites

Parasitism in Forest Ecology

 

And now something light-hearted…

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Sources:

Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

Daintith, J & Martin, E. (eds.) 2010. Oxford dictionary of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, F. (ed). 1898. The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Vol I. New York:  D Appleton and Company.

Griffiths, C, Picker, M & Weaving, A. 2004. Field guide to insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Pollack, R. 2007. “Intelligent Design,” natural design, and the problem of meaning in the natural world. Crosscurrents, 125-135.

Ruse, M. 2006. Darwinism and its discontents. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Southgate, C. 2008 The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 3 – Unintelligent Design and God of the Gaps

In this post we will look at some “design flaws” in nature. This is really interesting and there are many instances. I will only touch on some of these. At the end I will briefly look at the God of the Gaps argument.

 

Unintelligent Design

Michael Ruse, philosopher of biology, states the problem plainly: “There is far too much wrong with the world – too many instances of malfunction – to think that a designer has been directly involved with making organisms.” Conor Cunningham makes the observation that to equate God with the mechanism of natural selection comes to an immediate problem: “Now, an immediate problem with this was the confusing paths developed by evolution, for they appeared random, and even contradictory. Many of these paths came to a dead end – hence extinction. If a God were involved in this sometime-successful chaos, one might think it to be a rather odd God.” That is the picture seen from a view when one steps back and takes in evolutionary history in general. In the big picture there are many dead ends. When it comes to specific species, there are more specific examples of unintelligent design., which will be discussed below.

There are several instances where the apparent design of organisms does not seem to be very intelligent, even downright dumb or wasteful. One of these examples is the detour taken by the laryngeal nerve in mammals, expressed in its most extended form in the giraffe. This nerve stretches from the brain, loops around the ductus arteriosus (near the heart), and then makes its way back up towards the larynx. In a human being, the detour is several centimetres, but in a fully grown giraffe the detour can be up to over 4.5 metres. Why? What a waste of nerve fibres. There is no functional reason for the detour made by this nerve and as Richard Dawkins writes: “Any intelligent designer would have hived off the laryngeal nerve on its way down, replacing a journey of many meters by one of a few centimetres.”

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Such “design flaws” are evidence for evolution. Robert Pennock explains that “[t]he reason that odd arrangements and makeshift adaptations are evidence for evolution is that these constitute a kind of pattern that is an expected effect of evolutionary processes, which must work at any given moment within the constraints imposed by previous evolutionary development.” Evolution can only work with what it has and thus has no way of working around the detour and making a direct route for the laryngeal nerve. An evolutionary explanation states that in fish the nerves and blood vessels serve gills that are neatly in sequence. With the gradual steps toward mammals, these nerves and blood vessels became stretched as, for example, the neck became longer. There was no way for natural selection to fix the nerve looping over the ductus arteriosus.

laryngealtransition

Another example, which is closer to home, is that of the male human’s vas deferens. The vas deferens is a tube that conveys sperm from the testes to the penis. The starting point and end destination are rather close together, but the vas deferens takes its own detour, looping around the ureter and then descending down to the penis. Ruse explains the detour with an everyday example when he says that “the sperm duct is rather like a garden hose that takes an unneeded loop around a distant tree, on its way from tap to nearby flower bed.” Why would an intelligent designer make such a useless loop? Once again the evolutionary explanation makes sense of the detour: The testes were originally in the abdomen, but descended lower, probably due to temperature issues. The vas deferens got hooked over the ureter and the process of evolution simply kept on lengthening the vas deferens.

vas-deferens-images

David H Bailey adds more examples to the list of human design flaws. Due to our upright stance, humans are prone to back ailments and while most mammals are able to generate their own vitamin C, we have lost the ability. Our sense of smell is poor, because about 30% of the genes related to our sense of smell are made void by accumulated mutations. Even though our eyesight is very good, humans have a blind spot which is caused by the optic nerves that originate at the front of the retina and then travel to the back of the retina. The eyes of molluscs are better “designed” with nerve connections at the back of the retina which results in eliminating the blind spot. Former Dominican priest and evolutionary biologist Francisco J Ayala poses a thought-provoking, yet tongue-in-cheek question: “Did the Designer have a greater love for squids than for humans and, thus, exhibit greater care in designing their eyes than ours?”

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In vertebrate eyes, the nerve fibers route before the retina, blocking some light and creating a blind spot where the fibers pass through the retina and out of the eye. In octopus eyes, the nerve fibers route behind the retina, and do not block light or disrupt the retina. In the example, 4 denotes the vertebrate blind spot, which is notably absent in the octopus eye. In both images, 1 denotes the retina and 2 the nerve fibers, including the optic disc (3). (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evolution_eye_2.svg

As conclusion, Bailey writes that “[e]ach of these examples makes perfect sense from evolutionary history, but they are inexplicable as the product of meticulous design by a transcendent Being.” Palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris states that the God of Intelligent Design would not be “encumbered with a customary cliché of bearing a large white beard, but … the very model of scientific efficiency and so don a very large white coat. ID [Intelligent Design] is surely the deist’s option, and one that turns its back not only on the richness and beauty of creation, but also, and as importantly, on its limitless possibilities. It is a theology for control freaks.” At first glance, Intelligent Design seems to bring theology and evolution closer together, but this is a misapprehension.

 

God of the Gaps

god-of-the-gaps

Many creationist and Intelligent Design arguments lead to what is known as the “God of the gaps.” This argument, in short, places the activity and influence of God in the gaps left by science. Basically a “we don’t know, therefore God” stance. For Haught, this type of argument is not only bad theology, but also bad science, as it is to “shrivel what infinitely transcends nature into something small enough for mathematical equations to capture.” Mark Isaak explains that arguments from incredulity (e.g. irreducible complexity) create a God of the gaps. God is used as a convenient excuse and not the ground of all that is. Bailey mentions that it has been called theological suicide, because the gaps get smaller and smaller as scientific knowledge expands. It is indeed a dangerous path for theology to take, because God is pushed more and more to the side and eventually there will be no more room for God in the picture of the universe.

 

Sources:

Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Dawkins, R. 2009. The greatest show on earth: The evidence for evolution. London: Bantam Press.

Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder:   Westview Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 2 – Mature Earth & Intelligent Design

faith-and-reason1

This post will look at the theological problems behind Mature-Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Mature-Earth Creationism

Mature-earth creationism is also called the appearance of age argument or ideal-time creationism. Phillip Gosse, Henry Morris, and John Whitcomb, Jr. have been proponents of this argument. In his 1875 writing, Omphalos, Philip Gosse introduced the idea that God created the universe to look old. The universe is not billions, millions, or even hundreds of thousands of years old; it just looks that way.

The biggest theological problem with mature-earth creationism is the implied trickery or dishonesty on the part of God. Why would God create a universe and give it the appearance of age? What’s the point? Would a loving, righteous God place dinosaur fossils in certain strata of the earth’s crust in order to dupe the creatures He/She seeks to have authentic, meaningful relationships with? Keith Miller, a Catholic biologist, writes that: “In order to defend God against the challenge [Creationists] see from evolution, they have to make him into a schemester, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. … To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.” Such a deceiving God is not worthy of worship.

 

Intelligent Design

In this section the focus is shifted to Intelligent Design. With regard to Intelligent Design, Christopher Southgate asks the question of whether it is the best option to pose. “It is a type of explanation that must always be vulnerable to Occam’s Razor; it introduces an extra entity, a designer, into the system – an entity that is untestable and uncharacterizable, over and above the range of entities included in an evolutionary explanation.” Catholic theologian John Haught states that one of the biggest problems with Paley’s argument from design is “the intellectual integrity of Paley’s core argument. How could one speak of observing “design” in nature? One observes nature, but one infers design in nature.” There is a significant difference between observation and inference. Bram van de Beek states that inferring intelligent design from nature simply means that we can recognize that our human intelligence as a complex phenomenon has similarities with other complex phenomena, but that inferring the existence of an Intelligent Designer is taking it too far.

 

David H Bailey raises an important issue: “[b]ut like Creationists, ID scholars have not yet produced a solid body of quantitative, falsifiable scientific hypotheses of their own; instead, they have focused their efforts on identifying weakness in the established evolutionary theory.” Haught goes further to say that “Intelligent design injudiciously passes over the disorderly, undirected aspects of evolution that are also part of the life processes. It ignores the darker hues in the Darwinian story that gives a tragic cast to evolution and thereby strain the credibility of any theology.” It could be said that Intelligent Design takes an easy way out and ignores the dark side of nature.

 

John Haught makes much of what he calls “the drama of life.” Bailey quotes Haught as saying:

If God were a magician or a dictator, then we might expect the universe to be finished all at once and remain eternally unchanged. If God insisted on being in total control of things, we might not expect the weird organisms of the Cambrian explosion, the later dinosaurs and reptiles, or the many other wild creatures that seem so exotic to us. We would want our divine magician to build the world along the lines of a narrowly human sense of clean perfection.

But what a pallid and impoverished world that would be. It would lack the drama, diversity, adventure, and intense beauty that evolution has in fact produced. …

Fortunately, the God of our religion is not a magician but a creator. And we think this God is much more interested in promoting freedom and the adventure of evolution than in preserving the status quo.

 

A world made by Intelligent Design would be perfect, but it would lack the drama of life. Conor Cunningham states that the God of Intelligent Design is not a god to worship. It is not a god worthy of worship. George L. Murphy, physicist and theologian, argues that “God does not compel belief of skeptics by leaving puzzles which science can’t solve.” Once again that seems to imply that God is playing games with people. God is fooling people and tricking them into believing. Cunningham goes on to say that the God of Intelligent Design “would merely be a domesticated god, a ‘natural’ god. This ‘god’ might have bigger biceps, a Jedi Knight of sorts. He might be merely Homeric, but he certainly won’t be Abrahamic. To worship him would be like worshipping a whale or a mountain – one worships it because it is big.”

 

God as Intelligent Designer

Niels H Gregersen, from the University of Copenhagen, points out that “the meaning of the term ‘divine designer’ is under-determined. …its content obviously changes as one goes from one level of abstraction to another, and from one application to another. Usually, the divine designer is tacitly assumed to be the Creator of all-that-is (and not only a forming principle), but historically as well as logically the idea of a creator is not entailed in the notion of design.”

 

Haught argues that “Paley’s image of God as the divine artificer of the world reduced God to the world’s level. Where was any sense of transcendence, mystery, or glory?” Van de Beek agrees that an Intelligent Designer would not be a transcendental power, but rather an immanent phenomenon. “[S]uch a perfectly designed universe would have no room for life, freedom, and new being. An initially fixed and finished universe would have no future. It would also be insentient and mindless.” Such a universe would be static instead of lively and dynamic. This argument is once again emphasised when Haught says that the perfectly designed world of Intelligent Design would be “dead on delivery. Since it would already be perfect, it would also be finished; and if finished, it would have no future.” The Christian faith is a faith which values the past, lives in the here and now, but also reaches forward into the future. In a perfect world, there would be nothing to strive towards, which in the Christian tradition is the consummation of everything in Christ. There would be no place for the “drama of life.” Haught explains how one might see God as the originator of novelty and the path of life. Indeed, the idea of common descent as such need not imply any diminishment whatsoever in the power of God to create. “Think of the Creator as bringing into being a world that can in turn give rise spontaneously to new life and lush diversity, and eventually to human beings. In that case, evolution is the unfolding of the world’s original God-endowed resourcefulness.”  He goes on to state that “[t]he divine maker of such a self-creative world is arguably much more impressive – hence worthier of human reverence and gratitude – than is a “designer” who moulds and micromanages everything directly.” The God of evolution is a God of freedom and self-sacrifice. This God is a God of hope and promise, allowing the world to unfold, without coercing or manipulating it. Haught states that this “God of freedom and promise invites, and does not compel, the creation to experiment with many possible ways of being, allowing it to make “mistakes” in the process. This is the God of evolution – one who honours and respects the indeterminacy and narrative openness of creation, and in this way ennobles it.” The God of evolution is a humble, self-donating liberality that avoids any unmediated manipulation of things. A world that is perfectly design and created would be a static world, without novelty. Haught continues his argument as follows:

If you are the kind of theist or atheist who demands here and now a world with no design flaws, you are asking for an anaemic idea of deity and a divine creation devoid of a deeper, dramatic coherence. If a fixed and frozen universe is what you want, then you may insist of perfect design as envisaged by ID and most contemporary evolutionary atheism. But if you prefer a truly surprising and richly creative universe, then you may be religiously open to evolution. Isn’t it conceivable that Darwin’s three-part recipe for evolution wells up from a hidden dramatic depth of nature wherein there resides an inaccessible wisdom that those obsessed with perfect design simply cannot fathom?

Christian belief, at any rate, does not depend for its credibility on the existence of a world without design flaws. … Furthermore, if you explore the bible carefully, you will not find an elegant engineer there either. God’s intimate relation to the world is before all else one of liberation and promise rather than the imposition of design.

 

It is important to keep in mind that the Bible is a book which tells of liberation and promise in a world where all is not perfect. The Christian faith ought not to act as if we are not living in a world which is flawed, which is in constant change, and which has brokenness. The Bible is clear about the fact that all is not well and that God seeks to restore all things in time.

 

The next blog post will take a look at what I call “Unintelligent Design.”

 

Sources:

Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder:   Westview Press.

______2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Miller, K B. (ed.) 2003a. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B        Eerdmans.

______2003b. Worshipping the Creator of the history of life, in Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 205-207.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Murphy, G L. 2003. Christology, evolution and the Cross. In: Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 370-389.

Southgate, C 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.