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Archive for the ‘suffering’ tag

Animal suffering: William Lane Craig whiffs again

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Head over to the Breaking Spells blog to read that intellectual superstar, William Lane Craig, explaining how animals other than humanoid primates aren’t conscious of pain because they have no prefrontal cortex. Actually, mice do seem to have these, and other animals probably do as well. Here’s another article from the NIH that suggests as much.

This is Craig’s comment about prefrontal cortices:

…the awareness that one is oneself in pain requires self-awareness, which is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—a section of the brain which is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates. Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of it and so doesn’t suffer as you would if you were in pain.

And a portion of the blogger’s response:

… the pre-frontal cortex is present in animals outside the primate line. It’s a bit different (primates tend to have granularized cortices[1] ). …

WLC is citing the work of philosopher Michael Murray, who suggests that animals aren’t aware of their pain (therefore god exists) -but Murray has some fatal flaws in his work. Murray differentiates humans from other animals by claiming (with minimal evidenciary support) that there exists a “affective pathway” which allows for self-awareness -this pathway, he says, terminates in the prefrontal cortex in humans. Because non-human animals aren’t self aware of their pain, according to Murray, they aren’t suffering. In other words, gratuitous evil is not present.

But lets suppose it’s the granular layer that’s found in primate cortices that makes the difference. This granular layer is present in many non-human primates, and yet these primates experience pain and are clearly, demonstrably aware of it. Gratuitous evil, therefore, exists among non-human primates that suffer predation, abuse, natural disasters, anthropogenic habitat destruction, infanticide, etc., etc.

If gratuitous evil exists, god can neither be omnipotent or benevolent. Therefore, god doesn’t exist. It’s not my reasoning, it’s the reasoning of WLC and Michael Murray. Surely one or both would move their goalposts accordingly if called on it, so I’m not expecting either to revise their positions. That would be too much like science.

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Written by Jeremy

December 17th, 2011 at 12:49 am

Thoughts on God, the problem of intense suffering

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I didn’t really intend this to be a separate post, as the following is commentary I made on a reply to this post, but I think it’s important enough, and interesting enough, to make it a separate post, and perhaps, I will add to it a bit. That said, read this, then read this:

While John Loftus’ argument against God appears is convincing when read at first, you should take a closer look at his logic. Suffering does NOT exist in the world because of the doctrine of so-called “original sin.”

Alexandre Dumas, in the Count of Monte Cristo, wrote the famous line, “A man is not capable of feeling ultimate bliss until he has felt ultimate despair.” Happiness cannot exist without unhappinesss. God knows that as well as Dumas. He wants us to be happy, so he allowed us to experience something that will help us learn and grow and have something to compare our happiness too. — Ian, poster

This is my unexpectedly lenghty reply:

Thanks for your comments, Ian. This is going to take a few graphs, so bear with me.

Have you read the entirety of Loftus’ book? Loftus may have brought up the original sin argument by Christians to account for the suffering in the world, but his predominant argument, to the best of my understanding, was about intense suffering in the face of an omnibenevolent god. The point about original sin was mine.

According to Roman 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

Ok, perhaps, according to your statement, “suffering does NOT exist in the world” because of original sin, but death certainly does. But which is worse? Is suffering included in “death?” The traditional doctrine goes thusly (I am speaking from one who was raised in a Wesleyan, and later, Baptist church):

Adam and Eve were created by God in a sinless state in the garden, where the very concept of sin was absent, at least as far as Adam and Eve knew. Satan tempted Eve with the knowledge of good and evil, thus leading to the fall.

After the fall of man, God cursed man, handing down the curse of birth pangs, imminent death by old age, etc. So, without Satan’s influence and without the introduction of sin, we can only assume Adam and Eve would have continued in their nearly perfect or perfect world free of sin and free from Satan’s influence, thus free of the knowledge of good and evil and free from birth pangs and free from certain death (But, they obviously had free will, so their fall may have been forthcoming eventually anyway). Regardless, if man hadn’t fallen, it’s conceivable, though unlikely given free will, that we would continue to this day to live in a perfect world, free of Satan’s influence, walking only in God’s light. But man did fall, thus casting us out of Eden, as John Milton’s imagery portrayed it in “Paradise Lost.” With this fall came not only sin, but death, given Paul’s quote above.

Now, death cannot exist without suffering on our part. Who on the planet has not suffered when a beloved son or daughter or mother or father has died? Death, in itself, includes some level of suffering inherently, and this is precisely what Paul was referring to. According to traditional doctrine, we live in an imperfect, fallen world, and as a result, death and suffering are inevitable.

I don’t necessarily agree on Dumas’ premise that bliss can’t exist without despair. (The very idea of happiness and suffering assumes we have a level of intelligence capable of such feelings). But it’s not necessary that we have both. We could have come into consciousness as a less evolved form of human, say 200,000 years ago. Say we are examining the first generation of species capable of the level of consciousness or intelligence to be able to be feel something called happiness or suffering. Say we are at the very birthplace of the being capable of experiencing such things. Then, imagine, as the being opened its eyes, looked up, and saw a comet heading for the earth. It’s mother was there looking down at its young frame. It then looked up at its mother, and in a matter of minutes, the mother was thrown backward by the force and killed, and the baby species watched the death, and then in the next moment, was killed as well. In the milliseconds before the mother and child were killed, did the child, freshly aware of its place in the world, suffer or feel despair? What did it think about, and what did it feel? Did it experience any point of happiness in its short existence? Perhaps something like comfort occurred, but to say it felt happiness or bliss seems to be a stretch. In those brief moments, it must have felt tragedy and nothing else in seeing its mother perish in the seconds before its own demise.

Do children in Africa dying from AIDS or starving from hunger feel despair? Certainly. Do they ever, ever feel what we call bliss? What about stillborn children? According to the evangelical crowd, they were humans with souls. Do they feel happiness or suffering? What about embryonic stem cells?

Dumas’ point, of course, is that one can not appreciate bliss without experiencing suffering, thus having a frame of reference for what happiness feels like. But one doesn’t need a frame of reference or a comparison. The ability to experience happiness and suffering are hard-wired. We don’t need one to recognize the other; we just feel them as the experiences come.

So, finally, back to the topic of intense suffering in the face of an omnibenevolent god, three scenarios seem possible to me. First, God is either concerned about the atrocities taking place on his watch, but is not interested in intervening. He is either concerned and incapable of intervening or either unconcerned, thus irrelevant to us. To say that God is concerned and wants us to be happy but allows intense suffering anyway circumvents his omnibenevolence. To say that God could sit back and watch his creation be raped, starved, mutilated, lynched and burned though generation after generation and do nothing, nothing whatsoever, for at least 2,000-plus years gives a disastrous testimony to his omnibenevolence.

To end, if he exists and is also omnibenevolent, he must be the saddest (to see his creation suffer so), powerless (to be unable to do anything about) being in the universe.

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Written by Jeremy

March 21st, 2009 at 2:52 am

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