• The ‘Why I am a Christian’ series – Vincent Torley of Uncommon Descent (Part 2)

    After having looked at Randal Rauser’s reasons for being a Christian, and having had my reasons and his defences intensely debated on his blog, I have in a previous post offered Dr Vincent Torley’s account. Some readers may know Vincent from the Uncommon Descent website which attempts to refute evolution. I have argued with him at length when I used to write for John Loftus more often at Debunking Christianity. Here is his bio:

    Vincent Torley is originally from Geelong, Australia. After obtaining a B.Sc., a B.A. and a B.Ec. from the AustralianNationalUniversity (all at no cost to himself), he worked for several years as a computer programmer in Melbourne, during which time he obtained an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne. In 1999, he moved to Japan to take up a job as an English teacher, returning to Australia for a year in 2001 to complete a Dip. Ed. in high school teaching before going back to Japan, where he has resided ever since. He obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2007, while studying in Japan. He currently teaches English in high schools, as well as teaching English conversation and business English. He is married and the father of a seven-year-old son. His personal Web page is at http://www.angelfore.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html

    I have split this up into multiple parts as it is very lengthy (whilst he didn’t have that many paragraphs, he made them massive!). I have also taken it upon myself to split it into Points so that it makes it easier to reference. I hope both of these actions are OK with Vincent.

    Please make every effort to have a civil and discursive back-and-forth. I hope some interesting discussion can be had. Thanks to Vincent, as it takes some guts to put your beliefs in the firing range, but it is what we should all do. Over to Vincent for the second part of his account:

    Point 5

    Fifth, the argument assumes that the only morally significant beings who exist in the cosmos are God and ourselves – i.e. the sentient human and animal life-forms that we see all around us. But that’s a ridiculously narrow view. If there is a God, then He could have made rank upon rank of beings higher than ourselves, whom we know nothing about, because they’re invisible to us. Call them angels or advanced aliens, if you wish: I don’t care. The point I wish to make is that if there is a God, then it’s highly unlikely that we are the greatest beings in creation – which means that when deciding what God should and shouldn’t do, we also need to factor in God’s obligations vis-à-vis these higher intelligences. Why might that ameliorate the problem of evil? Perhaps God assigned certain responsibilities for looking after the lower orders of creation (including ourselves and other sentient animals) to these higher beings. (Think about it. It would be funny if they had absolutely nothing to oversee, wouldn’t it?) And now suppose that some of these intelligences turn out to be either too lazy to continually keep the world’s evils in check, or too inept to do the job properly, or positively evil characters. The world would soon become “unweeded garden” filled with “things rank and gross in nature”, as Hamlet put it. It might look utterly unlike the world God originally planned. So what’s God to do, when He sees the damage that these higher intelligences have wrought, and the suffering His lower creatures (animals and humans) have inherited as a result? Having delegated some responsibilities for overseeing creation to these higher beings, should God intervene at once and fix up the mess they’ve caused? Or should He wait a while?

    Point 6

    Sixth, and most importantly, the argument assumes that an omniscient God knows what His creatures would and wouldn’t choose to do, before He’s even decided to make them. But when you come to think about it, that really doesn’t make sense, if sapient beings possess libertarian free will. In that case, God’s knowledge of His creatures’ choices would be (at least logically) posterior to His act of creating them. All God would know ”prior” to that act would be what they might get up to. But is God morally obliged to refrain from creating a sapient creature, simply because it might abuse its capacity for good and evil, and wreak untold harms in the world? I think not, for if He were, then He’d be obliged to create a world without libertarian free will. And how many of us would want that? I conclude that the problem of evil is a real problem only in relatively simple cosmos, in which we’re the most important beings there are. But if there’s a God, the cosmos may not be like that at all. The presence of other agents with libertarian free will in the cosmos, who are much greater than ourselves, complicates the picture: we can no longer say with confidence what God should and shouldn’t do in such a cosmos, when it comes to removing evil.

    Point 7

    I’ll just say a little about Jonathan’s big question: why don’t animals photosynthesize instead of preying on one another? Well, that wouldn’t work, as they couldn’t obtain enough energy to meet their daily needs. So meeting Jonathan’s request would mean altering the laws of physics, with who knows what consequences. I’ll also note that death from predation is a good deal les painful than death from starvation, thirst or cold. I should also add that animal deaths from predation wouldn’t be a theological conundrum if animals died painlessly. Maybe that’s what God originally intended, before His handiwork was fouled up by other intelligences. Finally, I do not believe we can rule out animal immortality. At least some Christians have believed in it for 500 years now, so it’s not a trendy modern notion. That still leaves animal suffering on Earth unexplained, of course.

    Point 8

    Of course, I realize that there are some people who think that the very notion of libertarian free will makes no sense. One of the best arguments I have heard against libertarian freedom is that for any choice made by an agent in a particular set of circumstances, there must always be an explanation of why that choice, and only that choice, could have been made – otherwise, they say, the choice is random, which would also preclude it from being free. However, I would question the claim that for any non-random choice, there must be an explanation of why only that choice, could have been made. Surely it’s enough to explain why that choice was made. Additionally, I would argue that a good explanation of why a choice was made doesn’t have to be an explanation in terms of prior physical causes which determine that choice. It could be an explanation in terms of the agent’s future goals. Finally, I would like to point out that a goal-oriented explanation doesn’t have to be a deterministic one. And there are reasons for thinking it couldn’t be, anyway. As John Finnis points out in his book, “Natural Law and Natural Rights”, the basic goods that we choose from cannot be ranked: they are incommensurable. (Which would have been “better” for the young Leonardo da Vinci to have chosen: a career in the arts, or in the sciences?) To reply that we will in fact choose the good that we happen to like best is to assume, question-beggingly, that the attraction of these various goods can be weighed against one another, like the opposing pulls and pushes in some vector diagram. There’s not the slightest piece of evidence that this assumption is true.

    Wow, we’re about a third of the way there. So much for a few paragraphs! Kinda defeats the object…

    On Point 5, all I can say is that Vincent is appealing to the unknown using exceptionally ad hoc rationalisations without any evidence whatsoever. This smacks of presuppositionalism. This is a badly designed epistemology: Conclude something and then massage the evidence to fit and if it doesn’t, invent stuff to make it fit.

    Rather than:

    Analyse and investigate the evidence. Create a hypothesis which follows on from the evidence. There is then no need to invent ad hoc rationalisations.

    You see, Vincent relies on appeals to more ‘perhaps’s and ‘might’s as discussed in the last post. These are unlikely probabilities. The problem is that even IF God had designed the world so, he is being completely irresponsible by not communicating that to us. Let me remind you of the quote from my Unholy Questions book, available from the sidebar:

    282. If my child was to walk on the flowers in my garden, trampling them, it would be immoral to punish him without telling him what he had done wrong. This would communicate to my child his misdemeanour so that he would not do it again. What have we done wrong to deserve cancer, malaria, the tsunami, the Holocaust, disability, cholera etc., and is it right that you have not communicated to us why we have had these ‘punishments’? … The analogy that I use about my child stomping on the plants and being told off arbitrarily after the event is powerful. The fact that ‘high-falluting’ philosophers and theologians argue incessantly, and without sound conclusion, over the nature of evil clearly means that God is doing exactly this. There is no clear communication from God as to why this evil is taking place, as to why we are being punished, if indeed evil exists as a result of some kind of punishment. If evil exists for any other reason, God is still not communicating this, and as a supposedly all-loving ruler I suggest that it is his duty to do so. His subjects are suffering each and every day in a universe where there could be no suffering. As the suffering ones, I believe we have a right to know why this is the case.

    God is apparently a morally dubious father, holding back information that would contextualise the suffering. Without giving us the reason, or even clearly telling us that there IS a reason, God is being morally corrupt. Even if I take my child to be immunised, they might not understand the science behind why they are getting injected, but they can be comforted that it will stop them getting ill. Look, humanity aren’t as ignorant as small children.

    As far as point 6 is concerned, we have the old Open Theism argument. Open Theists arguer that God does not know the outcome of freely willed decisions. The fact is, I deny free will on both exceptionally strong philosophical grounds and exceptionally strong empirical grounds. Which is why only a small percentage of philosophers believe in libertarian free will. But even granting LFW, we know that we are exceptionally influenced. There are so many pieces of research which support this that even the LFWer has to concede a massive amount of capacity for free will. Whether genetic or social scientific, we have a huge understanding of what motivates our actions. God is the greatest entity in existences. Surely he knows counterfactuals! I think Vincent is conceding a massive amount of God’s omnipotence here, leaving her nothing but a glorified human. Look, if God created everything in existence, chances are he knows how it all works.

    Of course, the most damning evidence appears to be the fact that most physicists claim the B-Theory of time was it fits better with all known facts (eg relativity). As a result, it looks like we live in a block universe. Which denies free will as at all possible. See the article here.

    Vincent appeals to an argument from desire – that we wouldn’t want to live in a free will denying universe. But this has little to do with reality. Essentially, Vincent appeals to things which don’t exist to try to conclude that God does. He presupposes:

    1. that God exists
    2. that we have free will
    3. that higher beings exist unbeknownst to us
    4. that these entities have free will
    5. that A-Theory of time exists and fits best with science
    6. that Open Theism is true and God is ignorant of human choice outcomes, even though he can somehow choose the ‘best’ of most perfect choice of worlds (ie it is not random)
    7. God is not morally obliged to refrain from creating a sapient creature, simply because it might abuse its capacity for good and evil, and wreak untold harms in the world

    This is not convincing.

    Point 7:

    why don’t animals photosynthesize instead of preying on one another? Well, that wouldn’t work, as they couldn’t obtain enough energy to meet their daily needs.

    Hang on, didn’t God design and create everything? And if he DID have counterfactual knowledge, which he should have at least of the outcome of certain design criteria, otherwise his design of this universe is effectively random, then he knew damn well the outcome of carnivorousness! What do you mean we couldn’t garner enough energy? God has the power to create ANYTHING logically reasonable. And there is nothing logically unreasonable about animals photosynthesising (some already do). Just tinkering with a few figures here and there… All Vincent is doing with all of these answers is taking abilities away from God until he ends up being no more powerful than the president of the US. Apparently, even though he designed physics and biology, it constrains him. Do natural laws constrain God, who actually designed them? Who ontologically brought them into being?

    I’ll also note that death from predation is a good deal les painful than death from starvation, thirst or cold.

    And I’ll note that that is a fallacious red herring. The ability to photosynthesise would mean there would be far less starvation and has nothing at all to do with starvation or cold.

    I should also add that animal deaths from predation wouldn’t be a theological conundrum if animals died painlessly. Maybe that’s what God originally intended, before His handiwork was fouled up by other intelligences.

    So a couple of humans sinning caused animals to feel pain. Because that’s fair. Are you serious? This is so morally corrupt as I cannot see how it helps your case in any way, let alone make your god appear OMNIbenevolent! We already know that Original Sin is inherently incoherent:

    1. If Adam was chosen as representative of humanity in his capability to fail then God designed humanity badly
    2. If Adam was not representative of humanity then God had no right to choose him and test him to fail and be responsible for the future of humanity and animals for the rest of time

    This two-horned dilemma means that OS is simply a non-starter. So really, my big question has not remotely been adequately answered.

    On Point 8, Vincent correctly points out the Dilemma of Determinism. But:

    However, I would question the claim that for any non-random choice, there must be an explanation of why only that choice, could have been made. Surely it’s enough to explain why that choice was made.

    I am not sure i get him here. He is saying it needs to be reasoned, but somehow that that reason leaves a causal gap… I have explained the incoherence of this in what I call the 80-20% problem, which includes:

    Which is all good and well, but what about the issue at hand? Well, when people claim we are, say. 80% determined, but that 20% of an action is still freely willed, we have EXACTLY the same problem – we have just moved that argument into a smaller paradigm, into the 20%. Assuming that we forget the 80% fraction which is determined so not being of interest to the LFWer, we are left with the 20%. But this is devoid of determining reasons. So what, then, is the basis of that 20% in making the decision? The agent cannot say, “Well  my genetically determined impulses urged me to A, my previous experience of this urged me towards A, but I was left with a 20% fraction which overcame these factors and made me do B” because he still needs to establish the decision as being reasonable.  OK, so if that 20% is not just random or unknown (but still grounded in something) and had any meaning, then it would be reasoned! The two horns of the Dilemma of Determinism raise their ugly heads again. We are left with reasoned actions or actions without reason, neither of which give the LFWer the moral responsibility that they are looking for.

    Vincent continues:

    It could be an explanation in terms of the agent’s future goals

    Which of course are victim to determinism themselves…

    I would like to point out that a goal-oriented explanation doesn’t have to be a deterministic one. And there are reasons for thinking it couldn’t be, anyway. As John Finnis points out in his book, “Natural Law and Natural Rights”, the basic goods that we choose from cannot be ranked: they are incommensurable. (Which would have been “better” for the young Leonardo da Vinci to have chosen: a career in the arts, or in the sciences?) To reply that we will in fact choose the good that we happen to like best is to assume, question-beggingly, that the attraction of these various goods can be weighed against one another, like the opposing pulls and pushes in some vector diagram. There’s not the slightest piece of evidence that this assumption is true.

    These decisions made taking into account future goals are still deterministic. To say that we cannot fathom the total utility from two sets of choices does not mean the decision is not determined! My laptop doesn’t understand quantum mechanics, and cannot understand the future implications of whether printing the document is better for humanity or worse. It still prints it based on the inputs it has.  We choose what we think is the best choice with the information we have, using the faulty reasoning we have (some 60 or so cognitive biases and heuristics) and so on. We are far, far from perfect, but we are determined thus.

    Category: ApologeticsFree Will and DeterminismGod's CharacteristicsPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan. Thanks for putting up the comments. I’ll be back in about 12 hours.

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      Back again. I’ve got time to address your comments now, so here goes. I’ve indented your comments, as you did mine.


      If my child was to walk on the flowers in my garden, trampling them, it would be immoral to punish him without telling him what he had done wrong.

      There is no clear communication from God as to why this evil is taking place, as to why we are being punished, if indeed evil exists as a result of some kind of punishment. If evil exists for any other reason, God is still not communicating this, and as a supposedly all-loving ruler I suggest that it is his duty to do so.

      Punishment in the modern, everyday sense of the word is a penalty you incur for wrongdoing on your part. In that sense, we are not being punished. We’re suffering the consequences of a stupid decision made at the dawn of humanity. Is God morally obliged to explain to each and every one of us why we’re suffering? Maybe He is, but you haven’t put forward even the shadow of an argument to support this claim of yours. I’m waiting.


      As far as point 6 is concerned, we have the old Open Theism argument. Open Theists arguer that God does not know the outcome of freely willed decisions.

      Open Theism holds that God doesn’t know the future. I’m not an Open Theist. I hold that God knows our future choices, but that His knowledge is logically (but not temporally) posterior to His act of creating us. God, I maintain, is (timelessly) determined by our choices: our free decisions cause Him to be aware of them.


      [You assume] 6. that Open Theism is true and God is ignorant of human choice outcomes, even though he can somehow choose the ‘best’ of the most perfect choice of worlds (ie it is not random).

      No, I don’t assume that Open Theism is true, or that God is ignorant. Nor do I claim that God chooses to make the best of all possible worlds; there isn’t one. There might be a best of all possible set of fundamental constants of physics, though (but I’m not sure).


      God is the greatest entity in existence. Surely he knows counterfactuals! … Look, if God created everything in existence, chances are he knows how it all works.

      That’s just the problem. You’re assuming that free will “works” somehow. But free will is not like a clock; it doesn’t have a built-in mechanism for God to understand. If it did, it wouldn’t be free. You apparently have trouble conceiving of a thing which can simply act without there being a “how” it acts. But if there has to be a “how” for every act then we get an infinite regress. Some acts, then, must be properly basic: we just do them. I see no reason why voluntary decisions require a “how” to explain them; a “why” seems enough, and it doesn’t have to be a deterministic “why” either (see below).


      …[M]ost physicists claim the B-Theory of time was it fits better with all known facts (eg relativity). As a result, it looks like we live in a block universe. Which denies free will as at all possible.

      Jonathan, you are misinformed. Your attached article quotes Lee Smolin, but he believes the flow of time is real. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/books/review/time-reborn-by-lee-smolin.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 . Nor is special relativity incompatible with A-theory. See http://web.mit.edu/bskow/www/research/timeinrelativity.pdf and http://www.reasonablefaith.org/response-to-mccall-and-balashov . I might add that the Second Law of Thermodynamics points to an objective flow of time – which is quite compatible with God’s being outside time and being able to perceive all events occurring within time.

      New post coming up: I think I’m approaching your 4,096-character limit.

      • Punishment in the modern, everyday sense of the word is a penalty you incur for wrongdoing on your part. In that sense, we are not being punished. We’re suffering the consequences of a stupid decision made at the dawn of humanity.

        Er, that is being punished. God could have it otherwise, but chooses not to. He designed this. We are paying for the crimes of another.

        Is God morally obliged to explain to each and every one of us why we’re suffering?

        Yes, yes, yes, yes. WE have morality that is supposedly grounded in him. And WE find such an analogy morally repugnant. No one ever punishes or allows to suffer without some such explanation.

        Maybe He is, but you haven’t put forward even the shadow of an argument to support this claim of yours. I’m waiting.

        Eh? I am not the one claiming Goddidit as the explanation for everything. I have shown that in normal life, that would not just be expected, but would be necessary for a moral agent, not least the most moral agent in conception. You have not shown how it would be necessary for God not to communicate.

        Belief is about weighing up the most probable explanation. At the moment, with your incredible ad hoc, which explanation best explains suffering in the world as we have been talking about? How many extra entities must you multiply to get you out of this mess?

        Open Theism holds that God doesn’t know the future. I’m not an Open Theist. I hold that God knows our future choices, but that His knowledge is logically (but not temporally) posterior to His act of creating us. God, I maintain, is (timelessly) determined by our choices: our free decisions cause Him to be aware of them.

        You need to explain that better. This sounds like Molinism. Which to me never gets passed the grounding objection even IF you allow for free will. There can be no before before time, so that decision is instantaneous. He must just know and create simultaneously (incidentally, ex nihilo creation sans time makes no sense whatsoever, even Craig’s poor attempts at simultaneous causation fail), knowing which out of all possible permutations is the best most loving one.

        No, I don’t assume that Open Theism is true, or that God is ignorant. Nor do I claim that God chooses to make the best of all possible worlds; there isn’t one. There might be a best of all possible set of fundamental constants of physics, though (but I’m not sure).

        I agree that there can be no best possible world. I would be interested why you would think so.

        Incidentally, you contradict yourself by saying there is no best possible world but there can be best possible permutations. This is a direct contradiction because the only way to compare constants by value would be by outcome – ie best possible world.

        That’s just the problem. You’re assuming that free will “works” somehow. But free will is not like a clock; it doesn’t have a built-in mechanism for God to understand. If it did, it wouldn’t be free. You apparently have trouble conceiving of a thing which can simply act without there being a “how” it acts.

        If it is logically impossible, it is impossible. Thus, it is impossible.

        But if there has to be a “how” for every act then we get an infinite regress. Some acts, then, must be properly basic: we just do them. I see no reason why voluntary decisions require a “how” to explain them; a “why” seems enough, and it doesn’t have to be a deterministic “why” either (see below).

        No, we get to a creation event, like a Big Bang (or bounce as in LQC).

        Jonathan, you are misinformed. Your attached article quotes Lee Smolin, but he believes the flow of time is real. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05… .

        Smolin can believe what he wants. But actually, if you read one of the articles linked, he believes time DOES NOT FLOW like a river, but in a spin foam context. But Smolin’s theories are tentative and highly theoretical at any rate.

        Nor is special relativity incompatible with A-theory. See http://web.mit.edu/bskow/www/r… andhttp://www.reasonablefaith.org… . I might add that the Second Law of Thermodynamics points to an objective flow of time – which is quite compatible with God’s being outside time and being able to perceive all events occurring within time.

        God doing that is incoherent. Craig studied time for a dozen years and that is why he believes that God must be in time at creation. You cannot be timeless and interfere temporally with a system.

        Also, the paper you linked is the moving spotlight theory (or growing block universe) which is not strict eternalism or presentism.

        And if you are appealing to Craig’s use of the neo-Lorentzian interpretation, you have some SERIOUS (totally circular and unscientific – unfalsifiable and questions begging whilst actually being science denialist of Craig).

        So your defences of that need some work!

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      Back again with Part 2 of my reply. Here goes. You write:


      God has the power to create ANYTHING logically reasonable. And there is nothing logically unreasonable about animals photosynthesising (some already do).

      What I’m saying is that God doesn’t (and cannot) create material things in isolation from one another. To be part of a material universe is to have ontological connections with other things. Those connections are described by the laws of Nature. You want God to make animals (large and small) that can get enough energy to move around from the Sun alone, while keeping the rest of the universe constant. But if the sun shone energetically enough to power large animals, it would fry the earth. What are you wishing for, Jonathan? Laws like this, perhaps?

      L1. If x is an atom in an animal’s body and x is part of that animal’s photosynthetic organ then when x receives a photon of sunlight, let its energy increase by 100 units.

      L2. If x is an atom outside an animal’s body, or x is in an animal’s body but not part of the animal’s photosynthetic organ, then when x receives a photon of sunlight, let its energy increase by only 1 unit.

      That would give animals enough energy and at the same time save the earth from frying, but it would violate the law of conservation of energy. In addition, it would mean that you’d have laws of Nature which are no longer mechanical, since they include reference to states of affairs which can no longer be described mathematically. It seems you want a universe with intelligent laws. And I would ask: is that even conceivable?


      Just tinkering with a few figures here and there… All Vincent is doing with all of these answers is taking abilities away from God until he ends up being no more powerful than the president of the US. Apparently, even though he designed physics and biology, it constrains him.

      As wee saw above, it isn’t just tinkering with figures; we need to get an internally consistent description of what you want God to do. As for God being no more powerful than the President: let him make a universe for me, or even a single law of Nature, and I’ll concede your point.

      Is God constrained by the laws of Nature? Certainly He can prevent them from working in their usual way, simply by not co-operating with causal agents. If He wanted to prevent animal suffering, the easiest way would be to simply refrain from co-operating with the activity of animals’ nervous systems whenever they were experiencing gratuitous pain. If He did that, then the animals would feel nothing: the noxious stimulus wouldn’t hurt them. I’m a concurrentist: please read here to see what that means, and see especially the part about Shadrach in the fiery furnace: http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/chance.htm . “So why”, you ask, “doesn’t God do this all the time, and prevent animals suffering gratuitous pain, at absolutely no cost to Himself and without violating a single law of Nature?” Short answer: (i) that would require massive and continual interruptions in God’s regular co-operation with Nature (even if they are gentle interruptions, which leave things’ causal dispositions intact); (ii) it isn’t clear to me that God is morally obliged to interrupt His regular co-operation with causal agents over and over again, in this fashion, simply because He can; (iii) God’s continual interruption of His regular co-operation with causal agents in this fashion, whenever something threatened to hurt animals needlessly, would be incompatible with His delegation of responsibility for the running of certain parts of His creation (including the animal kingdom) to higher intelligences, a.k.a. spirits, (as I have argued that He probably did).


      So a couple of humans sinning caused animals to feel pain. Because that’s fair. Are you serious?

      No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that evil spirits may have messed up aspects of God’s creation (not the laws of Nature, but perhaps the design of animals’ bodies, for instance). It’s also possible, as Professor William Dembski argues in “The End of Christianity”, that a further necessary condition for animal suffering was the Fall of the first human beings, which God timelessly foresaw, but I’m certainly not arguing that here: that’s speculation.


      If Adam was chosen as representative of humanity in his capability to fail then God designed humanity badly.

      There’s nothing wrong with having a capacity to fail if that’s a necessary condition for a human person’s having a capacity to do good. And once again, you seem to assume that Adam fell because of some internal design flaw. That’s mechanism. I’m not a mechanist.


      We are left with reasoned actions or actions without reason, neither of which give the LFWer [advocate of libertarian free will] the moral responsibility that they are looking for.

      Actions can have reasons without having determining reasons. For a free choice, it is legitimate to demand a rational answer to the question “Why did you do X?” However, it doesn’t follow that it’s legitimate to demand an answer to the question, “Why did you do X and not Y?”


      We choose what we think is the best choice with the information we have, using the faulty reasoning we have… [W]e are determined thus.

      This is a Hobbesian account of choice. To many people it seems impossible to conceive of any other model of choice. I disagree. We don’t always try to maximize utility in our choices, although we sometimes do. Sometimes we strive for authenticity instead – or freedom, or integrity, or godliness, or what have you. As a determinist, you might want to claim that even at this rarefied level, there’s something pushing us to select one of these high-sounding goods. I say: prove it. Funny experiments with button pressing or psychology research articles about how we can predict people’s political affiliation most of the time, really don’t cut it here.

      • Do you really think that “evil spirits” messed with the evolutionary process and that this is a plausible theory on why there are mutations and animal predation? What is your evidence for this? And what evidence do you have that Adam and Eve ever existed?

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi,

          Good questions. Personally, I doubt very much that all instances of predation were caused by evil spirits, but I consider it quite possible that their interference with the genes of certain species of organisms may have caused them to develop aberrant behavior patterns that they originally didn’t have (e.g. infant cannibalism in chimps or rape in geese), and may have also prolonged their deaths and thereby exacerbated their pain.

          I don’t need a unique individual named Adam at the dawn of history to explain the Fall. Adam could have been the elected head of some tribe of hominids (actually, hominins). Claims that the human population was always much larger than any tribe (i.e. around 10,000) rest on uniformitarian genetic assumptions. Hope that helps.

          • Really? Wow. This is the very definition of ad hoc. It is so unbelievably unfalsifiable (the causal basis is imaginary and invisible) as to be almost funny. I do not mean this rhetorically, I mean that I actually find someone as qualified as you positing this as funny.

            • Vincent Torley
            • ” Personally, I doubt very much that all instances of predation were caused by evil spirits, but I consider it quite possible that their interference with the genes of certain species of organisms may have caused them to develop aberrant behavior patterns that they originally didn’t have (e.g. infant cannibalism in chimps or rape in geese), and may have also prolonged their deaths and thereby exacerbated their pain.”

              Tell me how this claim is in any way a reliable claim, unfalsifiable or even evidenced?

          • What about cannibalism in praying mantises and thousands of other species? For some species, cannibalism is part of their default behavior, it’s normative. Whose design was that, a demon’s?

            And this all must’ve occurred way before the “Fall.” Genetic mutations are why there is evolution to begin with, which must have been god’s plan, and most genetic mutations lead to harmful changes that cause suffering. How is a morally perfect god compatible with this process that he designed and started?

            • Vincent Torley

              Hi,

              Praying mantises aren’t sentient, so I have no problem with their behavior from a theological perspective. Ditto spiders. Re sentience, please see Professor James Rose’s excellent 2002 paper, “The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes” at http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/pubs/Fishwelfare/Rose.pdf and his 2012 paper, “Can Fish Really Feel Pain?” at http://www.scribd.com/doc/125995417/Can-fish-really-feel-pain . For a good non-technical summary of both sides of the debate, try this paper: “Do Fish Feel Pain?: A Matter of Scientific DebateBy Greg Laslo at
              http://www.dtmag.com/Stories/Weird%20Stuff/03-04-ecoseas.htm . Sentience is likely confined to mammals, birds and (just possibly) cephalopods. See also my post, “Why the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness is more propaganda than science” at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/craig-and-his-critics-why-the-cambridge-declaration-on-consciousness-is-more-propaganda-than-science/ .

              Re the objection that God is a sadist if He designed evolution: your conclusion only follows if He designed evolution to occur by mutations. I happen to think that mutations won’t get you to new life-forms anyway, without intelligent guidance. Here’s why: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/the-edge-of-evolution/ and http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/some-testable-predictions-entailed-by-dr-kozulics-model-of-intelligent-design/ . Mutations are not part of God’s design as such, any more than sunburn: they are foreseen by God but not intended. Only intelligently guided mutations (which are much, much rarer) are part of God’s plan.

            • Daydreamer1

              I don’t know if Vincent can even imagine just how crazy he sounds to me.

              Sometimes the distinction between the arts and sciences is all to easy to see, and it is often a real shame for the arts when they are used in this way.

              but I consider it quite possible that their interference with the genes of certain species of organisms may have caused them to develop aberrant behavior patterns that they originally didn’t have

              Vincent obviously hasn’t formally studied any palaeontology to say something like this. Looking up a little bit of history on the internet is not the same as studying it. That is why a wise person listens to people who have studied it. There seems to be a real deficit of this going on here. If evil spirits messed with animal genes to alter animal behaviour then perhaps Vincent should take a closer look at the fossil record to check if there is evidence for this, or if there is evidence for when such an event occurred. In the fossils that contain such data he will find that the fossil record does not add weight to this. Actually the opposite is true and we see predation, cannibalism etc etc hundreds of millions of years before humans – hundreds of millions of years before mammals even. And that is just looking at the fossilised skeletal remains inside fossilised stomachs – including cannibalistic dinosaurs.

              Of course you can also look at fossils to determine predator prey relationships and tooth marks on fossils to determine what was eating what – track ways to determine what was chasing what etc. Fossils allow you to see how all this changed over the eons and the predator prey relationships allow you to see when these ‘evil spirits’ messed with life.

              Re the objection that God is a sadist if He designed evolution: your conclusion only follows if He designed evolution to occur by mutations.

              Hmmm. I wonder what biologists have discovered about this? Vincents viewpoint goes against a 3 billion year history and the only way I can see getting it to work is to hold an opinion completely counter to science. That’s fine on a personal level, but don’t expect to be winning much respect if to make your ideas work you’ve got to ignore so so much.

              When I studied philosophy I would often speak to friends and relatives about how amazing it was and I still feel that most people do not understand how rigorous it is. I am coming to believe that the reason why is that the label ‘philosophy’ get tagged onto any thinking that anyone does so the public see it attached to things like this and since many people are well educated they see these sort of things presented as good philosophy and they judge it like any well educated sane person would.

              Sure, you can think that mutations are this and that, that evolution actually works this way, that gravity is such and such or that mountains are formed when the evil demon sorcerer pushes mana up from the throat of the world. But Vincent must have surely noticed that many many people how did degrees in the subjects he is making his own theories up about think he is mad. And his response to his other human beings?

              So is this philosophy? Is philosophy really about people not being educated in a subject making up their own theories about it? Sure, philosophers can make their own theories of gravity, continental drift, evolution, but when it comes down to it did they leave the subject at the same time they left the planet?

            • I wholeheartedly agree. I think Vincent’s theories run counter to all known data and science and have nothing positive going for them either other than ad hoc necessity to get him out of theological trouble.

              This is why options like his fail to evade Ockham’s Razor.

              http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2012/08/26/ockhams-razor-and-christianity/

            • What about all the conscious suffering of our pre-human hominid ancestors who lived for millions of years in which many died of disease, natural disasters, famine, starvation and genetic mutations? Whose design was that and is it compatible with god?

              Your link is based on Michael Behe, who is a known creationist hack who’s ideas have been debunked time and time again. Creationist sites purposely distort the evidence. Evolution does occur by mutations, if DNA copied perfectly every time there’d be no evolution. It’s the very flaws in nature that lead to mutation guided by natural selection.

            • Daydreamer1

              Nothing a little ad hoc hand waving cannot solve. Rule number 1 in theology must be that you can invent anything to get you out of a pickle so long as it doesn’t conflict with too much in the same sentence.

            • “Not to disparage his intelligence since he can put sentences together well and pass exams. But there is no rule against intelligent people going off the wire. We all do it – it is called politics, and Vincent is being a wonderful example of bringing those skills to science.

              Without trying to be too high brow – its nuts.”

              Gotta love that. If it wasn’t so sort of personal, that would be a quote of the day!

            • Andy_Schueler

              I happen to think that mutations won’t get you to new life-forms anyway, without intelligent guidance. Here’s why: http://www.uncommondescent.com… and http://www.uncommondescent.com… .

              No offense, but this is pretty amateurish stuff, particularly the latter article.

              Mutations are not part of God’s design as such, any more than sunburn:
              they are foreseen by God but not intended.

              In other comments, you point out that you do believe that “god” designed the laws of nature. If you believe that, you either have to believe that mutations are part of “god´s design” as well or you believe in two things that blatantly contradict each other.

              Only intelligently guided mutations (which are much, much rarer) are part of God’s plan.

              How do you know that there are any “intelligently guided mutations” in nature? (examples?) And how do you know that they are rare, if you believe that there is such a thing – how do you know that they are rare instead of all mutations being “intelligently guided” (whatever that is supposed to mean)?

            • Daydreamer1

              Yep, it was personal, and no doubt ‘ad hominem’ will be banded about.

              I was feeling like a school teacher – and believe me, my school teachers said far worse when they graded me.

              In my defence though it is an objective assessment. Given our recent chats about epistemology if we apply those we cannot escape the fact that this is sloppy workmanship. That his explanatory devices create big problems elsewhere that he seems to escape only by denying well founded and established science. That he is creating theories outside of his field, and requiring magical explanations to make them fit both the scientific data and his own faith.

              I sometimes feel that adults don’t say it how it is. If he was 17 and did this his report card would be about as fair.

              Back to a previous question you never answered… ‘how does a philosopher spot an insane philosopher?’. There are good rules, you can pick them up for crazy logic for example. They will have their retorts, but…. ‘How does a theologian spot a crazy theologian?’ Well, it doesn’t seem they can. All they can do is assess proximity and when they go too far they say ‘well, he isn’t a Christian anymore’. And that’s it.

              My comments were more personal than I usually stray; I think I was going for honesty… ;)

            • Vincent Torley

              Daydreamer1,

              I don’t mind being called crazy, but in the interests of accuracy, I should point out that haven’t denied any established science. The literature on the impossibility of proteins forming by chance has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. If you don’t believe me, see the work of Dr. Douglas Axe at http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/article/view/BIO-C.2010.1 (The Case Against a Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds). He’s a real scientist, who’s published in PNAS. If you think he’s wrong, feel free to point out why.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Vincent,
              Bio-Complexity is not recognized by the scientific community and every single editor for Bio-Complexity is a creationist, this journal is just as much “established science” as the Answers Research Journal.

              He’s a real scientist, who’s published in PNAS. If you think he’s wrong, feel free to point out why

              I´ll do that as soon as this real scientist publishes his real research in a real journal like PNAS.

            • Vincent, a question just popped into my mind, Given the ease in which you are quick to adopt a “God did it” explanation for any and all gaps in our scientific knowledge, and even applying this explanation where there actually are natural explanations, how would adopting such a mindset benefit our scientific understanding of nature better than methodological naturalism? Will it be better for science or worse in explanatory power?

            • Vincent Torley

              Hi Thinker,

              I believe that our scientific understanding of Nature might benefit a great deal if we assume it was intelligently designed. Think of reverse engineering: if you assume an object was designed then you can ask, “Why was it designed this way?” and that helps you progress in your understanding of the object. If you never make that design assumption at the start then vital aspects of the object’s functions may forever elude you. That’s one reason why I think godless science is bad science.

            • Completely disagree. If you assume intentionality in everything, you will entertain all sorts of radical ideas that will have no scientific basis whatsoever. There will literally be no limit as to what your imagination will be able to spin on it. But the point is, how is assuming god intervened to magically create something beneficial to our understanding of the mechanism behind which that something came about?

            • Andy_Schueler

              I believe that our scientific understanding of Nature might benefit a great deal if we assume it was intelligently designed. Think of reverse engineering: if you assume an object was designed then you can ask, “Why was it designed this way?” and that helps you progress in your understanding of the object.

              If you are working under the assumption “an unknown number of unknown designers interacted with this object or process at unknown points in time for unknown reasons using unknown methods” – how could you possibly answer the question “why was it designed like this” given that your “design assumption” is compatible with every conceivable observation?

      • What I’m saying is that God doesn’t (and cannot) create material things in isolation from one another. To be part of a material universe is to have ontological connections with other things. Those connections are described by the laws of Nature. You want God to make animals (large and small) that can get enough energy to move around from the Sun alone, while keeping the rest of the universe constant. But if the sun shone energetically enough to power large animals, it would fry the earth. What are you wishing for, Jonathan? Laws like this, perhaps?

        So ~God cannot create perpetual miracles? God cannot intervene in his own creation? The bible says he can. Also, you are effectively saying that this here universe is the BEST universe which can possibly be created, given God must have knowledge of counterfactuals, given decisions to create not being random.

        L1. If x is an atom in an animal’s body and x is part of that animal’s photosynthetic organ then when x receives a photon of sunlight, let its energy increase by 100 units.

        L2. If x is an atom outside an animal’s body, or x is in an animal’s body but not part of the animal’s photosynthetic organ, then when x receives a photon of sunlight, let its energy increase by only 1 unit.

        That would give animals enough energy and at the same time save the earth from frying, but it would violate the law of conservation of energy.

        This is the option being discussed: Photosynthesis can be used to create enough energy for a large enough brain. Can God not do this? Are you denying God can create an animal which could photosynthesise and have sentience?

        Your God is rubbish. Guaranteed humans will be able to do that in 500 years.

        As wee saw above, it isn’t just tinkering with figures; we need to get an internally consistent description of what you want God to do. As for God being no more powerful than the President: let him make a universe for me, or even a single law of Nature, and I’ll concede your point.

        You have failed to show how an omniGod couldn’t make or do such. You have made an impotent God out of nothing but special pleading.

        Is God constrained by the laws of Nature? Certainly He can prevent them from working in their usual way, simply by not co-operating with causal agents. If He wanted to prevent animal suffering, the easiest way would be to simply refrain from co-operating with the activity of animals’ nervous systems whenever they were experiencing gratuitous pain. If He did that, then the animals would feel nothing: the noxious stimulus wouldn’t hurt them. I’m a concurrentist:please read here to see what that means, and see especially the part about Shadrach in the fiery furnace: http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/p… . “So why”, you ask, “doesn’t God do this all the time, and prevent animals suffering gratuitous pain, at absolutely no cost to Himself and without violating a single law of Nature?”

        Er, where the hell is your evidence he has done it even once?

        Short answer: (i) that would require massive and continual interruptions in God’s regular co-operation with Nature (even if they are gentle interruptions, which leave things’ causal dispositions intact);

        Are you invoking Van Inwagen’s Regularity Defence? Which seems to be the case and is problematic (I have just edited a chapter critiquing it, aamof)

        (ii) it isn’t clear to me that God is morally obliged to interrupt His regular co-operation with causal agents over and over again, in this fashion, simply because He can;

        It is apparent to me why he wouldn’t. You will have to do better than that. Because using our own morality, which is apparently grounded in God, he is being morally repugnant by not doing.

        (iii) God’s continual interruption of His regular co-operation with causal agents in this fashion, whenever something threatened to hurt animals needlessly, would be incompatible with His delegation of responsibility for the running of certain parts of His creation (including the animal kingdom) to higher intelligences, a.k.a. spirits, (as I have argued that He probably did).

        This is another terrible ad hoc argument. I can’t believe you believe the stuff you are claiming.

        If I created sentient and non-sentient creatures in a lab and they attacked and killed each other causing pain the whole time, I would feel pretty bad, as well as be seeking to design these creatures to live in harmony without that necessity. To not do so is not only a moral weakness, but a design weakness. etc tetc

        No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that evil spirits may have messed up aspects of God’s creation (not the laws of Nature, but perhaps the design of animals’ bodies, for instance). It’s also possible, as Professor William Dembski argues in “The End of Christianity”, that a further necessary condition for animal suffering was the Fall of the first human beings, which God timelessly foresaw, but I’m certainly not arguing that here: that’s speculation.

        Is there ANY evidence for ANYTHING you are claiming. There are more mays and mights and possiblys than I’ve had hot dinners. You can’t even establish what an evil spirit is (ontologically) let alone that they exist.

        There’s nothing wrong with having a capacity to fail if that’s a necessary condition for a human person’s having a capacity to do good. And once again, you seem to assume that Adam fell because of some internal design flaw. That’s mechanism. I’m not a mechanist.

        So now God originally created humanity not to be able to do good? What was the original point in that? You web of ad hoc is wrapping you up and suffocating your senses and rationality here.

        Actions can have reasons without having determining reasons.

        No they can’t.

        For a free choice, it is legitimate to demand a rational answer to the question “Why did you do X?” However, it doesn’t follow that it’s legitimate to demand an answer to the question, “Why did you do X and not Y?”

        Yes it is legitimate. You have not established free will (as has no other philosopher ever) and even if you could, we are pretty much 95% determined on what we know from empirical science:

        1) Libet style experiments whereby we know that the nonconscious brain is active to a ‘decision’ before the conscious brain.
        2) We can predict behaviour and attainment of people 10-20 years later based on delayed gratification research of 4-6 year olds
        3) We can predict criminality of people 20 years later based on fear conditioning at age 3-4
        4) We can assess prison places based on school literacy levels
        5) We can to some degree predict educational attainment using genetic markers
        6) We can predict who you will vote for based on disgust sensitivity
        7) We can use TMS to make the brain choose a certain thing and then watch the mind invent conscious intention ex post facto (this is the same as recorded for people with hemispheres that have been severed)
        8) We can prime people in ALL SORTS OF WAYS to think that they have chosen something but they have actually have non-conscious primes (disgust, language etc etc) – these can control moral judgement
        9) We can adjust people’s moral judgement using TMS (transcortical magnetic stimulation)
        10) certain autistics are less likely to believe in God, as are men (ie there is a causal link in some way)
        11) A the low-functioning BDNF met variation is a risk factor for suicidal behaviour (ie suicide is genetically influenced)
        12) poor cerebral cortex functioning leads to impulsive behaviour

        And so on, ad infinitum.

        What amazes me is that all this data is PREDICTED by determinism. It fits like a glove. It is NOT predicted by LFW. Indeed, you have to ad hoc rationalise to make the two aspects coherent.

        I say: prove it. Funny experiments with button pressing or psychology research articles about how we can predict people’s political affiliation most of the time, really don’t cut it here.

        Have you actually properly looked into the MOUNTAINS of evidence which supports (adequate) determinism?

        • Daydreamer1

          Regarding Vincent:

          1. God made the laws so miracles aside – He Made The Laws. Besides the use of photosynthesis is only a tool. There are many sources of energy from chemical to versions of nuclear.

          But if the sun shone energetically enough to power large animals, it would fry the earth
          And what on earth is Vincent talking about anyway. Has he not noticed that there are large herbivores? Since his argument rests on him not noticing the elephant I am inclined to think his education is doing little. And again, the elephant is small in comparison to herbivores in the fossil record.

          Vincent – this is very embarrassing.

          2. So God cannot create material things in isolation to each other. Fine. But you want free will to be in isolation from the material? Err OK. I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that they are a little connected. Free will is free will happening in something and governed by something is it not? I tell you what, following your previous comments, you perform a free will action outside the bounds of the material and I will agree with you.

          3. If we ever create a consciousness in a machine what on earth makes you think we will build suffering into it. I can conceive of a machine consciousness that interprets its environment in a way that does not cause it suffering – does not cause it mental trauma in response to errors in its environment and doesn’t perceive negative stimulus as ‘feeling like burning alive’. It could do all that and still navigate its environment perfectly well. Heck, you even suggest we were like this once. Pre the fall we still had free will, since the choice to fall was made freely was it not?

          4. Some children are born in agony. They suffer terrible diseases and afflictions all their life. Are you suggesting that they are better than we are because they suffer more? If our nervous systems only allowed us to feel 0.1% of the pain we feel we would be in trouble, but only because we have no other mechanism for understanding our environment.

          Yes, it is a quandary for anyone trying to match Christian theology with the fact that on any scientific assessment the world appears entirely natural. I appreciate your difficulties and the effort you have to go to.

          I hope you are honest enough to admit that your project is biblical. The data does not lead to your conclusions, you are trying to interpret the data using the bible. To me it is producing some very immoral and irrational interpretations. I cannot decide what the data is. A measurement is what it is and if you dig down you do not decide what fossils you will find. But we can make moral judgements of the stories and methods we make up to try and fit these facts.

          • Honest_John_Law

            The nature of some of these arguments presented by Vincent remind me of those presented by John Woodmorape in defense of the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark.

            • Daydreamer1

              I haven’t read his books so cannot comment. Arguments circulate though so I can speak to what I have read on the AIG website and in their forums (and other creationist forums).

              It brings to mind the question of how far one has to go to be considered a fundamentalist. I would personally use it not as a measure of an individual claim, but a stacking up. I see no difference in quantitate assessment of many claims of Jesus as I do Noahs Ark, and yet many Christians look down on other Christians who take the creationist claims in the OT literally. There seems to be a lot of snobbery regarding who takes what literally, but not very much introspection regarding the bits that do not face much criticism culturally.

              That is probably the key here – there is not a big epistemological difference between fundamentalists and religious liberals/moderates. It is more to do with the culture they find themselves in/are raised in – what their beliefs can get away with on a subconscious level, rather than evidence of a deeper introspection. If that is the case then it is a product of the same system that produces political biases.

              I’ve said it before, but we should never clap out political parties on the back, or our friends, for getting the science right unless they have done it through caring about methodology. If they have stumbled on the right answer culturally and unthinkingly then it is fortunate and circumstances. Not that it is random – it is likely the result of good public communications etc. But that has the problem of not crossing cultural and political lines etc

              As for Vincent, I am not sure how fundamentalist he is. He is certainly less scripturally based than I am used to with fundamentalists who cannot win an argument any other way than by appealing to their chosen authority, but he sees no issue with invoking magical flair in his arguments.

              As a side issue it is the reason why I find supernatural stories often fall into the same writers trap. Take Warehouse 13 for example. If you use magic as a plot device then you have to be very careful how you wield it else you fill simply fill one plot hole with another. Even when writing fiction authors have to steer clear of the same problems theologians face (often deny they face as they steamroll on). In film magic is a gateway to cool special effects, but in terms of writing it is often boring. Just like writing for Superman half the problem is deciding on your characters limits to make them interesting. Throwing magic in their as a random get out solution to an impassable looking problem at the last second is the worst writing technique. In a sense I am amazed that theologians use it so often, but then they are not trying to write good stories, but get themselves out of self dug holes.

            • Honest_John_Law

              Philosophical arguments re. the existence of God are perhaps the final line in the sand in defense of the Abrahamic religions. Christian apologists (for example) likely believe it is unlikely they could summon God to appear or to perform some mighty feat (a la OT lore) as bold evidence of God’s existence and God would oblige them. Thus, they make philosophical arguments that God’s “attributes” can be clearly seen, or that belief in God is “properly basic”, or that God’s actual appearance before us would take away our “free will” etc. Philosophical arguments…

            • Daydreamer1

              All true, and yet what to make of it as a situation? Once the objective is lost to you then the subjective is all that remains, but it is rarely a friend to anyone who is willing to notice that it is friends with those they disagree with.
              I would hate to have to be bed partners with the subjective. It is like sleeping with someone you know is cheating on you with your neighbour.

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi everyone (Jonathan, Thinker, Andy, Daydreamer1),

      Thank you for your comments. I thought I’d address everyone’s objections in a collective post (probably two, given space constraints).

      I’d like to make a general remark up-front. A number of you seem to think my attempted justifications for God’s not intervening to prevent suffering sound lame. That’s fine. I’d be quite happy if you’d allow there’s a 1% chance of their being true. Why? Because if you have a 99% convincing argument against God’s existence and a 100% convincing argument for God’s existence (or even a 99.9% convincing argument) then the rational thing to do is to believe in God. Now I’ll address your specific claims.

      First, I’ve been studying the creation-evolution controversy for 40 years. I can rattle off the geological timetable from memory (which I’d bet most of you can’t do, except for Daydreamer1, who’s a real scientist) and I can tell you what came when in the history of life on Earth. So yes, I’m well aware that predation and cannibalism have existed for hundreds of millions of years. I didn’t come down in the last shower, you know. I’m also aware that while there’s good scientific evidence for sentience in mammals (and also in birds, though the evidence is not as compelling here), the case for sentience in other creatures is much weaker, and there are powerful reasons for thinking that fish and invertebrates (with the possible exception of cephalopods) don’t possess it. I’ve linked to articles by zoologist Dr. James D. Rose; read them and draw your own conclusions. Finally, I should point out that neuroscientists distinguish two kinds of consciousness: primary and secondary consciousness. Animals that are in pain (and aware of that pain) possess primary consciousness. Animals that are aware of themselves as being in pain possess secondary consciousness. Although I’m personally inclined to attribute at least a rudimentary secondary consciousness to a good many mammals and birds, I should point out that there’s no good scientific evidence of its existence outside apes, dolphins, elephants and corvids, and there are still plenty of reputable scientists who think it’s confined to human beings. I did my Ph.D. on animal minds, so I jolly well know what I’m talking about.

      Why does this matter? Because as zoologist Dr. James D. Rose puts it in his article, “Can Fish Really Feel Pain?” (Fish and Fisheries, published online 20 December 2012, doi: 10.1111/faf.12010): “without awareness of self, the pain is no one’s problem. It is simply there, something to be reduced or avoided if possible, but not a ‘personal’ problem.” What that means is that you haven’t even established that animal pain is a theological problem yet, because if there’s merely suffering going on without a “self” that’s experiencing the suffering, you could argue that God has no obligation to prevent that. I don’t like to argue in this way (since I’m inclined to believe in animal immortality for mammals and birds), but if you’re all going to hammer me for being scientifically illiterate, then I’m going to have to remind you that the onus is on you to prove that there’s a problem of animal suffering in the first place – which you have failed to do, so far.

      Second, a word about mutations. You seem to think it’s an established fact that unguided mutations cause speciation. Rubbish. We have excellent evidence from the fossil record that new species arise over time; how they do so remains the subject of vigorous scientific dispute. I might add that you need to be careful about what definition of “species” you’re using. There are problems with the biological species concept: see http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/VA1BioSpeciesConcept.shtml . And of course it doesn’t apply to asexual organisms. I’m of course familiar with Websites like this one: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html . All well and good, I say. But if there are powerful theoretical reasons why one species cannot normally evolve into another, then we need to consider the possibility that evolution has been intelligently guided, after all. I mentioned Dr. Branko Kozulic’s paper at http://vixra.org/pdf/1105.0025v1.pdf . The gist of it is that each species possesses hundreds of “singleton” proteins that are chemically unrelated to other proteins, and that distinguish that species from other species, Current research suggests that for evolution to stumble on these proteins would be like finding a needle in a haystack – and in this case, we’re talking hundreds of needles for each species. Dr. Kozulic concludes that speciation by natural, unguided processes is astronomically unlikely, given the time available. He’s a real scientist. If you don’t like what he says, then refute his arguments, instead of engaging in ad hominem attacks on my Uncommon Descent posts. What I say is neither here nor there; address the science.

      Third, re God’s responsibility for mutations, we need to be clear what we’re talking about. If we’re talking run-of-the-mill, unguided mutations, then given the laws of Nature we possess, it’s inevitable that they occur. Don’t like those laws? Show me a better set. And please, don’t tell me you can logically conceive of a set of better laws, even if you can’t specify them. The simple fact is that you can’t logically conceive of a better set of laws; all you can conceive is a better set of outcomes (fewer or no animal deaths), without having the foggiest idea how God would bring those outcomes about. That’s not a logical concept; that’s a sketch.

      But if we’re talking about mutations caused by malevolent intelligences, then we’re talking about fairly rare events. I’ve already told you I don’t think cannibalism is a theological problem for non-sentient species, and I don’t think predation is a problem for sentient ones. I do think that aberrant behavior such as infant cannibalism is a theological problem for sentient animals; I don’t think God could have designed that. But if you look at sentient species, it’s not as common as you might think. Ditto for animal infanticide. It’s certainly not pervasive; it seems to crop up in some species and not others.

      Finally, what about Divinely engineered mutations? About three years ago I was a front-loader, and I thought a few such interventions might do the trick. But if Dr. Kozulic is right, then it looks like billions have occurred in the history of life on Earth. That doesn’t particularly faze me; the Earth is billions of years old, after all. But maybe it’ll turn out that Dr. Kozulic’s scientific claims are wrong. That’s fine; it doesn’t affect my main arguments for God.

      TO BE CONTINUED

      • Andy_Schueler

        Second, a word about mutations. You seem to think it’s an established
        fact that unguided mutations cause speciation. Rubbish.

        Nope, not rubbish. How speciation works is generally one of the most challenging problems in evolutionary Biology, but there are some exceptionally well understood cases where the precise loci that caused reproductive isolation have been identified, and the evolutionary trajectories have been reconstructed. For research on this with a heavy focus on Drosophila, Coyne´s and Orr´s book “Speciation” is somewhat outdated, but still a comprehensive overview of the research in this field. Speciation in plants is not well covered in this book, but here, the genetic basis of speciation tends to be rather obvious because speciation in plants is very often caused by polyploidization (several new plant species emerged in the timespan covered by recorded human history).

        The gist of it is that each species possesses hundreds of “singleton” proteins that are chemically unrelated to other proteins, and that distinguish that species from other species

        That is not true. The best studied family when it comes to the Evolution of de novo Genes is again (obviously) Drosophila, and here, an investigation of 12 genomes (representing 12 species that shared a common ancestor ~35-40 million years ago), yielded 195 genes that emerged de novo (195 is the total number for ALL twelve lineages):
        http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6011/1682.full
        If you compare the most closely related species among those 12 to each other (which shared a common ancestor between 300,000 years and 3 million years ago), the number of de novo genes is somewhere between zero and a handful. The remaining differences in gene content are the standard processes of gene duplication, gene recombination and gene loss.
        ProTip for you as an IDler – your crew is completely ignoring pretty much all of the scientific literature in this field, the paper that Stephen Meyer published in the Proceedings of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (until it got retracted) for example, manages to discuss the issue of novel genes without addressing the research in this field at all. Seriously, this would have needed several promotions to be considered a silly strawman.

        Current research suggests that for evolution to stumble on these proteins would be like finding a needle in a haystack

        No, current research does not suggest that at all. Again, you are simply ignoring the literature in this field completely. If you are interested in an overview, a good start is Manyuan Long´s paper from 2001:
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959437X00002525 (you find 146 newer papers that cite this paper on google scholar, many of which are also very interesting, one of the most fascinating recent studies in this context IMO was this one: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11184.html ).

        But if there are powerful theoretical reasons why one species cannot normally evolve into another…

        Since the available evidence demonstrates the exact opposite, your speculation based on this (false) assumption is pointless.

        What I say is neither here nor there; address the science.

        We do. You don´t. You base your views on a paper submitted to vixra (you realize that anyone can submit stuff there, independent of the scientific merit (or lack thereof) of the manuscript?). I just browsed the manuscript and whoever this dude is, he is completely clueless about this field (for one reason – the “singleton” stuff – see above; but some of the rest, particularly the last section about protein domains (that happens to be my area of expertise) is even worse).

        He’s a real scientist. If you don’t like what he says, then refute his arguments

        He might be a real scientist, but his manuscript is not scientific in any way, shape or form – he doesn´t even describe where he got his data and how exactly he produced his figures. Re figure 3, I can assure you that this is complete BS (on multiple levels actually – even if he inferred singletons per genome correctly (which I doubt, but cannot prove since he doesn´t even say what data and methods he used), he presented the result in a form from which it is completely impossible to infer any kind of trend even if the underlying data would actually have this trend (which it doesn´t – unless you would cherry-pick the datapoints that support the trend and discard the rest)).
        I pointed you to some of the actual scientific literature in this field and I could even show you how to calculate the fractions of singletons per genome yourself (this is an almost trivial job actually), so that you can see for yourself that he is wrong.

        • Daydreamer1

          Thanks for the response Vincent.

          Obviously most of it regards biology which I will leave to the biologists here.

          Christian material claims have a long history of problems regarding geology so it is good to see that you don’t seem to have an issue with modern geology or palaeontology. Most people have never been introduced to the scope of the fossil record. Most books will list a few hundred fossils, not several thousand or tens of thousand for obvious reasons. And if people get their information from creationist websites or from the documents the Jehovah’s Witnesses bring around then they get a falsehood. Anyway, it is good to see that you accept that there is the full appearance of common ancestry in the fossil record and that you are leaving palaeontology at this point and going over to have a word with the biologists with regard to how it happened. That in itself would be far too bigger a step for many.

          As for your other comments: the evolution of the neural system means that us more scientifically orthodox specimens have no problem agreeing that not all life forms are sentient. For sure there is some point between bacteria and some mammals where sentience emerges.

          I like your argument about the ‘self’. I would probably draw it too if I was trying to argue from your side (as we should all try and argue something we disagree with now and then). But even if lacking a self in a neurological sense (i.e. lacking whatever sophistication of the neural system produces it) guarantees a moral get out clause you have conceded that there is a whole spectrum here. This means there is a spectrum of moral problems in your argument. Your right to point out that there probably is no problem ethically in causing negative reactivity along chemical channels in bacteria such that the bacteria attempt to move away from the stimulus ‘perceived’ as harmful. Probably there is no ethical issue with more complex neural systems like that of the fly – maybe even if what it ‘feels’ is more akin to us even if it does it in a very different way to us.

          Maybe… I mean, surely most people would have a problem with stabbing or conducting experiments on coma patients. The self isn’t the only assessment of value is it? Perhaps you are arguing that for God it is? I don’t know. I see complexities here that you have not explored.
          The big daddy of course is that this is all subjective. I like that you’re tackling the subjects head on, but when a Christian doesn’t the only way we can decide the clear points of what they are doing is objectively. I.e. if they say the world if 6k years old I can objectively deal with that, if they say that God doesn’t care about the suffering of Goats because he doesn’t like Goats then I can’t do anything other than ask ‘how do you know that’. That example is not likely to be real of course, but there are many like it that only get as far as ‘the Bible says’. Are you sure you’re not just using your faith as the base of your arguments here (except the ones you tackle objectively, right or wrong). God doesn’t worry about pain in animals that lack a self might be a moral get out many can nod at, but it doesn’t answer why God would feel like that. Many humans do have a moral issue with causing harm to fish for example. If it is within the power of humans to desire reduced suffering in animals that lack a self then it is within the power of God, God is just not doing it. Your argument is not exactly as solid as granite here and amount to ‘I’m happy with God to be that way/I understand God to be that way’.

          I enjoy the way you are moving away from just putting your hands in the air and going ‘we have a soul, they don’t’ though. That is too easy a way to speak entirely about different things – though some opt for the advantage of fully living in a different discussional landscape.

          Anyway, once you have accepted, as you do, that millions of animals are sentient (which is what you have done accepting sentience in many mammals, some birds etc) and that these millions of animals suffer then you haven’t tackled the problem. I cannot hand wave natural evil aside when I notice that bacteria are feeding off of the brain of a child by just saying ‘ah, it doesn’t make a creator of bacteria evil to design them that way – look – over there – a fish’.

          • All it takes is one animal.

            • Daydreamer1

              Yep, and Vincent seems to have admitted entire classes.

              I don’t understand the argument. It seems very close to the ‘Hitler was a vegetarian’ response or a murderer who does some volunteer work.

              Spotting one evil and pointing in the opposite direction is not a good foundation for morality.

      • Vincent, have you seen this (Craig getting owned on animal suffering, twice)?

        http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/02/11/boom-craig-is-um-owned-on-animal-suffering-twice/

      • What that means is that you haven’t even established that animal pain is a theological problem yet, because if there’s merely suffering going on without a “self” that’s experiencing the suffering, you could argue that God has no obligation to prevent that.

        Torley, you haven’t even begun to refute what I said. I said, “What about all the conscious suffering of our pre-human hominid ancestors who lived for millions of years in which many died of disease, natural disasters, famine, starvation and genetic mutations? Whose design was that and is it compatible with god?”

        I’m not talking about fish or insects. I’m talking about our pre-human hominid primate ancestors who lived for about 10-20 millions years and were consciously suffering. How do you rationalize that with the idea of a perfect god?

        we need to consider the possibility that evolution has been intelligently guided, after all.

        If god chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then god knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary. Check out my evolutionary argument against god for a full argument against it: http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/06/07/guest-post-the-thinkers-evolutionary-argument-against-god-eaag/

        If we’re talking run-of-the-mill, unguided mutations, then given the laws of Nature we possess, it’s inevitable that they occur.

        So you believe in a world where unguided mutations happen naturally all the time, but god intervenes to create the “good” mutations that benefit organisms and that lead to their evolution towards humans? Is that not a faith based position if their ever was one? Isn’t god responsible for the whole system? Consider this:

        (1) God (an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent being) exists.
        (2) Natural evil exists.
        (3) God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
        (4) Natural disasters and suffering, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

        How does god abdicate himself from the necessary misery that this logically concludes – of which the evolutionary process is a part of?

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Thinker,

          I’ve just had a look at your argument. Here’s my answer: 1. Any creature capable of third-level pain awareness is self-aware and therefore has an immortal soul of some sort. 2. The claim that it’s wrong to create humans using a method that involves conscious suffering is not necessarily true, if the creatures that consciously suffer also have an immortal hereafter.

          I should add that it is by no means certain that higher primates are capable of self-awareness, whatever Craig might say. Some experts in animal cognition think otherwise: they say only human are self-aware.

          I should also add that I think Neandertals were true human beings like us. Humanity, I believe, probably began with Heidelberg man.

          • Wow, that sounds about as ad hoc as one can get. When did the soul appear, over night? In one generation? Did it evolve along with consciousness? What possible afterlife could there be for a primate like a chimp, gorilla, or a hominid like H. Erectus, Heidelberg? It seems to be that you’re theology is very dependent on animals not being meta-cognitive. And what exactly is the logically necessary reason why god chose the arduously long and slow evolutionary process to create man, knowing that would involve millions of years of conscious suffering?

            And finally, how exactly does compensation equate with justification. If someone is tortured in a basement for 10 years and then is released and give 10 million dollars, does that compensation justify that person’s torment? It seems a rather wicked method god would choose.

            • Vincent Torley

              Hi Thinker.

              Thanks for your response. Since the human soul is spiritual, it must indeed have been created instantaneously, and it must have appeared in the first hominids that received it at the moment of the conception.

              As for the animal afterlife: while subrational animals are incapable of the Beatific Vision, there’s no reason why they couldn’t experience some kind of natural happiness, if God wills it. What that may consist in, I don’t know, but I suppose it to be centered on the enjoyment of other animals’ friendship, since friendship is something that social animals are capable of.

              As regards animals being meta-cognitive: I think Christianity could survive intact were it demonstrated that some animals had a rudimentary sense of self, and an awareness of other minds. However, were it to be discovered that some non-human animals were capable of using a language and of justifying their behavior in that language, I think that would be fatal for Judaism and Christianity, as we could no longer say that humans alone were made in the image of God.

              Finally, likening animal suffering to being tortured in a basement for 10 million years is ridiculous. Animal suffering is nothing like that. I’d like to quote from If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness (The Free Press, 1998) by Stephen Budiansky, a former Washington of the science journal Nature. Budiansky’s book was highly praised by Sir John Maddox, the Editor Emeritus of Nature, who described him as “the thinking person’s conservationist.” In the last chapter of his book, Budiansky proposes that while animals experience pain, they do not suffer. Only humans, he argues, are conscious. In the following extract, Budiansky refers to the philosophical arguments of Daniel Dennett in his book, Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness, Basic Books, 1996, page 164:


              The premise of animal “rights” is that sentience is sentience, that an animal by virtue above all of its capacity to feel pain deserves equal consideration. But sentience is not sentience, and pain isn’t even pain. Or perhaps, following Daniel Dennett’s distinction, we should say that pain is not the same as suffering: “What is awful about losing your job, or your leg, or your reputation, or your loved one is not the suffering this event causes you, but the suffering this event is,” Dennett writes. Our ability to have thoughts about our experiences turns emotions into something far greater and sometimes far worse than mere pain. The multiple shades of many emotions that our language expresses reveal the crucial importance of social context – of the thoughts we have about our experiences and the thoughts we have about those thoughts – in our perception of those emotions. Sadness, pity, sympathy, condolence, self-pity, ennui, woe, heartbreak, distress, worry, apprehension, dejection, grief, wistfulness, pensiveness, mournfulness, brooding, rue, regret, misery, despair – all express shades of the pain of sadness whose full meaning comes only from our ability to reflect on their meaning, not just their feelings. The horror of breaking a limb that we experience is not merely the pain; the pain is but the beginning of the suffering we feel as we worry and anticipate the consequences. Pity and condolence and sympathy are all shades of feeling that are manifestly defined by the social context, by the mental-state attribution to another that we are capable of. Consciousness is a wonderful gift and a wonderful curse that, all the evidence suggests, is not in the realm of the sentient experience of other creatures. (1998, pp. 192-194)

              I wouldn’t go as far as Budiansky in denying that non-human animals suffer, but I think their suffering is likely to be orders of magnitude less than ours, as they appear to lack an autobiographical consciousness. Likening animal suffering to being tortured for 10 million years is a bit over the top.

              It’s not clear to me that it would always be wrong to allow and animal to suffer if you compensated it with an eternity of natural happiness.

            • Daydreamer1

              I wouldn’t know how to weigh the entire pain felt by the animal kingdom, perhaps this is why we are generally of limited empathy towards anything we don’t see much of ourselves in. A sort of defence against coming unstuck ‘feeling’ it. I am led to that question by watching/reading about hyper-empathy, whereby someone does not have that barrier and suffers (or even feels pain) at seeing animals in pain.

              Bloomin eck, I’m having to watch my wording carefully now! Thanks Vincent ;)

              This separation between pain and suffering is genuinely interesting. If suffering is separate from pain and is more to do with an appreciation of how something negatively affects possible outcomes for yourself tied in with feeling pretty pooey about it then I can think of several animals that fit the first. I’m not sure about the latter.

              This to me gets to the root of what is going on. When we consider an outcome we might model 5 or 10 outcomes and form gut feelings about the probability of each. If we have lost a leg we can still model the outcome of having both, but we must accept facts and adjust our likelihood of success against only having one. This must be a very basic feature of surviving in the world. A brain is tied into the body and so is aware of it and its abilities. It must model different possibilities to decide at what point a best outcome is likely.

              Is suffering a response to knowing that you are failing to match a modelled outcome? A favoured outcome?

              I forget the name of the spider, but it produces very complex plans. It cautiously analyses its environment and then enacts its plan climbing up there and over here to get to an optimal position to strike.

              I’m not sure if this system holds up really well in defining this disconnect between pain and suffering and suffering and the type of consciousness. I understand the desire to suggest it from a theological point of view, and would double that up – it is interesting from every point of view.

              Firstly I wouldn’t immediately – or at least as quickly as Vincent – jump on the idea that the moral responsibility automatically ends if there is a distinction between suffering and pain. In terms of the theology we can ask about the morality of a God that allows so much suffering in the animal kingdom and even if we say ‘No!, there is none’ we are still left with the question of the morality of a God that allows so much pain/designs a word where animals should feel so much pain.

              My Mum has a debilitating long term incurable illness (started when she was 17, got worse to 35, held in check by multiple surgeries to 50, now getting worse again). But on her good days her mental health is fine. On these days, though she might still be/probably was in pain most of the time she is happy. She is not suffering like on her very worst days when she just begs for it to stop by any means.

              Do we say that on those days when she is not suffering as much the moral issue of the design of how her brain stem outgrew the size of the base of her skull causing high pressure anomalies through her nervous system and corresponding brain damage is reduced? On her really good days when she does not suffer is there no moral problem in her design?

              Animals have different levels of ‘consciousness’ (from nothing to those that contain features we see in ourselves). We all accept that. They do feel pain. We accept that. We can care about that, or brush it away. Animals also plan, and must adapt their plans to fit their physical abilities.

              I wish we had more data or a better way to tell whether they felt anything while doing this planning. Is there any form of happiness or satisfaction if their plans come to fruition? Is their sadness that a plan that would have worked no longer will?

              If they have equivalent emotions (not equivalent to us, but some, any, physiological/neurological response that corresponds) then I would say that they do have forms of suffering. (If the Christian standard is that I must first be a dog to say a dog suffers then I think that is going to far, if all we can have is correlations, in behaviour, physiology and neurology, then it would be enough for me – out of interest what standards would you accept Vincent?)

              I would love to see MRI scans of our brains under stress compared to animals under different situations. For Vincents method to really hold true I would like to see a complete lack of correlation between our emotional states and brain states and those of animals.

              I can easily imagine that you would be able to plot this back in time – along less and less sophisticated neural systems, but it is harder to imagine that the cut off is exactly where Vincent would like it. I.e humans or nothing.

              Perhaps this is why Vincent still invokes some magic in this description. I note that he was making reasoned arguments, but still felt the need to throw the soul in there – which is the classic religious ‘if this argument fails then you can’t get past this bit’ strategy.

              If you have scientific evidence of the soul Vincent then just present it. Otherwise it is just one idea among many.

              Vincent: you also made a very large statement at the top: the human soul is spiritual, it must indeed have been created instantaneously, and it must have appeared in the first hominids that received it at the moment of the conception

              I accept that that is Christian dogma and that without someone absolutely disproving it that is not going to change, but philosophically that is a long way off of evidence for it. You know perfectly well why. At the moment it is just moving aside whenever an experiment comes in.

              As for disproving Christianity if non-human animals communicated through language and justifying behaviour in it I guess you might want to tighten up your definitions of species and communication before that argument hits trouble.

              I wonder if you think it is honest though to define the only standard as being human and then say that because there is no other human species (a little circular) that the image of God argument is safe.

              Christianity would not have evolved as it has if our sister species had not become extinct. Sci-fi authors have played with the concept of having two sentient species co-exist. It looks like we exterminated and out-competed ours, but of course, for a time, they were there. There is no reason to think they did not use language and communicate feelings.

              Neanderthals are an extinct species of the same genus as us, but if they could paint art onto cave falls I wouldn’t feel at all as confident declaring that they did not meet your criteria for disproving Christianity. They were, however, close to us, but that is exactly what evolution predicts. As you get more distant the traits we consider humanlike are going to disappear. They were not homosapien though – and Christianity has had a hard time coming to terms with other humanlike species so accepting that they are real and using the fact that they are close to imply they have souls etc means a different species (same genus) with souls. I would applaud your theology for going that far.

            • It seems to me that you’re trying to take one of two routes. Either no non-human animals are or were ever meta-conscious, or many were, but the ones who were all had souls! So what afterlife could satisfy a hominid who’s self-conscious, and yet does not yet have the moral capacity like we do or knowledge of a god-concept? Do they just get to live in a heavenly Savannah for eternity as compensation for the horrible life they endured as an instrument of god’s will?

              And if the soul came over night, what about the parents of the generation that had no soul, did their suffering not count to god? Will heaven be filled with millions of hominids and primates? How did god judge the hominids and neanderthals? Did they all go to heaven? It seems their moral capacity would not be adequate to be judged on such a level as us.

              I find your explanation lacking theological underpinnings and to me sounding seriously ad hoc.

              What scriptural authority do you have for allowing animals into heaven or the idea of them having souls, or is this your own theology? If the purpose of life is to know god, then what evidence do you have that these primates or hominids are conscious enough to know god? Or is their existence and meta-cognition just a marginal note to the main story – that of us human beings?

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      I’ll address your specific criticisms in this post. With reference to my account of the Fall and God’s silence, you write:


      We are paying for the crimes of another… No one ever punishes or allows to suffer without some such explanation… You have not shown how it would be necessary for God not to communicate.

      Let me be clear. I’m not arguing that it would be necessary; all I’m arguing is that for all we know, it might be. I put forward a tentative hypothesis: perhaps at some point in the past, the human race asked God to “turn off the mike.” You think that God wouldn’t be bound to honor such a request, and that He’d be morally obliged to keep booming from on high, no matter what His creatures said or did. To me, that claim of yours sounds unduly dogmatic.

      I might also add that on a Christian account, God has spoken to us at times in the past, even if He isn’t speaking to us right now.

      I’ll explain my strategy in legal terms. The Judeo-Christian God is in the dock, accused (by you) of negligent homicide, cruelty and dereliction of His parental duty. Since the Judeo-Christian concept of God also stipulates that He’s morally perfect, you argue that He can’t possibly exist. I’m not trying to establish God’s innocence. All I’m arguing is for a Scottish verdict of “not proven.” Why? Because I think there are very powerful arguments for God’s existence. All I have to show is that the arguments against His existence are not compelling.

      With reference to my account of how God knows, you write:


      This sounds like Molinism. Which to me never gets passed the grounding objection even IF you allow for free will. He must just know and create simultaneously…

      No, Jonathan, I’m not a Molinist either, as I explain here: http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/whybelieve1.html#god-omniscience . Like you, I think Molinism is vulnerable to the grounding problem. I maintain that God’s knowledge of our choices is caused by those choices, and hence logically subsequent to them. So God doesn’t know and create simultaneously, if by “simultaneously” you mean “logically simultaneously.”

      I can’t see any contradiction between saying that God is timeless and that that a creature who is in time can at some point of time act in a way that causes God to be timelessly made aware of that creature’s action. If you think that’s a contradiction, then I’d like to see your argument, laid out step by step. But suppose you’re right. In that case, I’d argue it still makes sense to view God as omnitemporal, as Craig does. Unlike Craig, however, I’m not a Molinist; I think God’s knowledge of our free choices is determined by those choices.

      You write:


      [E]x nihilo creation sans time makes no sense whatsoever…
      You cannot be timeless and interfere temporally with a system.

      But you can be timeless and interfere with a temporal system, Come on, Jonathan. You’re going to have to do better than that.

      Re the best possible world, you write:


      I agree that there can be no best possible world. I would be interested why you would think so.

      Incidentally, you contradict yourself by saying there is no best possible world but there can be best possible permutations.

      For any world God makes, He could always make one with more bells and whistles. Aquinas thought likewise: see http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1025.htm#article6 .

      However, there might be a best possible set of laws, if by “best” you mean “maximally life-friendly.” But even if there were a cosmos with maximally life-friendly laws, you could still imagine extra features being added to it, so it doesn’t follow that there’s a best possible world.

      In response to my claim that “You apparently have trouble conceiving of a thing which can simply act without there being a ‘how’ it acts,” you replied:.


      If it is logically impossible, it is impossible.

      Fine. Please show me the logical impossibility of there being a free choice occurring, without there being any underlying “how” it occurs. I’m waiting.

      I argued that we get an infinite regress if we suppose that every action has to have a “how”; you reply that on the contrary, we we get to a creation event, like a Big Bang. There appears to be a major misunderstanding here on your part. The regress I’m talking about here isn’t a temporal one but an explanatory one; it involves higher-level acts which are explained in terms of lower-level ones, which are explained in terms of still lower-level acts, where all levels are assumed to be going on at the same time, in parallel. My point is that we must eventually hit ontological rock bottom – i.e. some set of basic, primitive acts. I’m not arguing for a T-zero but for an A-zero, or basic act which is not done <i<by doing something else. And I’m also asserting that there’s no reason why a free choice couldn’t be such an act.

      Lastly, with respect to the A-theory of time, you wrote:


      Smolin can believe what he wants…

      And if you are appealing to Craig’s use of the neo-Lorentzian interpretation, you have some SERIOUS (totally circular and unscientific – unfalsifiable and questions begging whilst actually being science denialist of Craig).

      “Smolin can think what he wants…” And you say I’m arrogant? I would never write a put-down like that, of a respected physicist.

      Face it, Jonathan, not all physicists accept your B-theory of time. Smolin doesn’t, but he isn’t the only one. By the way, you might like to have a look at this interview with Tim Maudlin in 3 AM, at http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/philosophy-of-physics/ . There’s also a good review of Smolin’s book here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/06/time-reborn-lee-smolin-review .

      Finally, maintaining that God is outside time and that He is timelessly made aware of our choices (as I do) does not entail that time is not real, and that a B-theory of time is true. It’s quite coherent to hold that the flow of time is real, but that God doesn’t experience it, either because He is not in time (the Boethian view) or because He exists at all points in time.

      Re the neo-Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity: as far as I can make out, the only good argument against it is that it doesn’t explain things as well as the standard Minkowskian interpretation does. Even if that were true, it pales into insignificance when set alongside the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That, to my mind, is a much weightier argument.

      By the way, Craig defends the neo-Lorentzian interpretation at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-triumph-of-lorentz and http://www.reasonablefaith.org/time-and-relativity-theory . I might add that it poses a special problem for your theory of knowledge. For if all knowledge of the real world is derived from observation and experiment, and if these tools can’t distinguish neo-Lorentzian relativity from the standard account, then how can we ever know that the latter account is true?

      Over to you, Jonathan.

      • Andy_Schueler

        I put forward a tentative hypothesis: perhaps at some point in the past, the human race asked God to “turn off the mike.” You think that God wouldn’t be bound to honor such a request, and that He’d be morally obliged to keep booming from on high, no matter what His creatures said or did. To me, that claim of yours sounds unduly dogmatic.

        I really don´t understand your position here at all. Again, if I would tell my father that I want nothing to do with him and I don´t want his help, even if my life would depend on it, and I also don´t want him to help my children, even if their life would depend on it – would my father then be “bound to honor my request”? Could he be excused if my son dies in an accident, although my father could have easily saved him, because I asked him to never help my children, even if their life would depend on it?

        • Daydreamer1

          It is stranger than that.

          This is a person going ‘I want you to have nothing to do with my children for thousands of years’.

          It is a version of condemning the children for the mistakes of the parent.

          The only reason for having to invent this type of theology is because the world looks entirely natural (a handful of currently disputed scientific papers aside, plus an even bigger handful of ‘papers’ published by Watchtower et al and the ilk).

          • Andy_Schueler

            It is a version of condemning the children for the mistakes of the parent.

            Yup. And when it comes to whether every individual should be accountable for his own, and only his own, actions, or also for whather his ancestors might have done – the Bible really could not be more ambigious. For both positions, there are roughly a dozen Bible passages that support it.

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Andy,

          Thanks for your post. In the case you cite, the children are already present, and your father’s over-riding duty is to protect the lives of the children. In God’s case, the children are as-yet-unborn generations of people. God’s over-riding goal is not to save their lives but to save their souls. And if the parents threaten to poison their children’s minds against God and to corrupt them if He doesn’t back off with His continual intervention, then in such a situation, He could be obliged not to intervene. I know it sounds odd. All I’m saying is: it’s quite possible that something like this happened in our past.

          I’ll finish with a quote from Cardinal Newman at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia65/chapter5.html:


          Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birthplace or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world;—
          if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

          Food for thought. Of course, you’re going to ask me why I believe in God. Stay tuned for Part 3 of my apologia.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Thanks for your post. In the case you cite, the children are already present, and your father’s over-riding duty is to protect the lives of the children. In God’s case, the children are as-yet-unborn generations of people. God’s over-riding goal is not to save their lives but to save their souls. And if the parents threaten to poison their children’s minds against God and to corrupt them if He doesn’t back off with His continual intervention…

            What exactly do you mean by “corrupt”? Do you mean “corrupt” in the sense of those hypothetical parents indoctrinating their Children to believe that there is no God, or that there is a God but they shouldn´t listen to him? If so – how could they possibly accomplish that? (if they would accomplish that – wouldn´t that mean that mere humans are able to beat a deity? And couldn´t that only happen if the deity in question is not only not omnipotent, but not even able to outcompete mere humans?).

      • Craig’s neo-Lorentzian theory is unscientific, and for him, hypocritical. Here’s a good start on that:

        http://counterapologist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/william-lane-craig-science-denial-and.html

        Well worth checking out.

        On God and time (your position), refer to Craig himself:

        http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-time-and-creation

      • Philosophers on time:

        Accept or lean toward: A-theory 144 / 931 (15.5%)

        If you want a stinging criticism of Maudlin from a physics point of view:

        http://motls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/tim-maudlins-right-and-more-often.html

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Jonathan,

          Thanks for your posts. I’ll be brief, as this post is an argument about Christianity, not relativity.

          I had a look at Lubos Motl’s post in response to Maudlin, and didn’t find anything on the issue at hand: namely, whether the flow of time is an objective feature of reality or not.

          I also checked out the PhilPapers survey. Only 26% of philosophers accept or lean towards B-theory, 16% accept or lean towards A-theory and 58% some other theory. That response speaks volumes. A lot of philosophers are dissatisfied with the block theory of time, even if they can’t agree on the best response to it.

          The Counter-Apologist claimed that William Lane Craig believes that length contraction and time dilation don’t actually happen. That’s wrong. See here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-real-time#text19 , where Craig says:


          This is, in fact, the modern Lorentzian interpretation of STR, which holds that velocity affects one’s measuring devices so that moving rods contract and moving clocks run slow. Such an interpretation does not commit one to a substantival aether, but merely to an aether frame, i.e., a privileged frame of reference. That the Lorentzian interprets length contraction and time dilation as not merely apparent, but real, cannot be cited as a disadvantage of the theory, since the Einsteinian also must posit real contraction and dilation…

          Counter-Apologist also makes the bald statement: “Just so we’re clear: “Lorentz Invariance” means Time Dilation and Length Contraction.” I have yet to find any definition on the Web that equates the two like that.

          So it sounds to me like Counter-Apologist’s criticism of Craig is off the mark. I also notice that the link provided by Counter-Apologist, Craig approvingly cites the words of John Bell himself!

        • Daydreamer1

          Is it just me being strange or shouldn’t we really be polling physicists and not philosophers if we want to learn something about physics?

          In geology there were many things you could figure out just by spending a good bit of time walking around looking at rocks and fossils. All sciences have a basic stage like this where low hanging fruit can be put together quite easily in the sciences youth. Philosophers throughout their day have been great at this – in part because they were the professionals of the ancient world doing all the science. Naturally at the same time they were getting lots wrong they were getting some stuff right.

          That is the observational stuff though. That world seems very distant from ours, and certainly in matters of general relativity or QM.

          At best I would hope that a group of educated thinkers sitting down and deeply studying the product of a scientific field would roughly converge on the consensus in that field – otherwise it would mean something strange was happening in one of the groups. But there would be funny things, such as lags and terminus’s where you simply don’t get the average of the group to a standard without the average in the group having the standard (i.e. having physics degrees for example). If a physics student takes say 5 years of physics study under tutorial to reach the required standard then passing the field out to 1000 people in another field and asking them to do a study is a game in psychology and the social sciences. I would think it more likely that the group would converge around norms and personalities within itself instead of around accurate physics – unless they were having good tutelage and plenty of time.

          I wouldn’t for a second trust a group with obvious and known biases, such as theologians X. This is because there is a statistically correlation between the religion and the individuals strength of conviction and their output.

          For this reason if philosophers are disagreeing with any consensus in physics (or coming to one that is not there in physics) I would take the physicists.
          If philosophers are coming to the same consensus as physicists then I would still take the physicists as the primary source of the consensus.
          Either way I would look to the physicists as the source of information on physics. Polls on what philosophers think about the subject are likely to just be revealing interesting information about philosophers, not about physics (the consensus in physics is more likely to be revealing this).

          • Honest_John_Law

            “Is it just me being strange or shouldn’t we really be polling physicists and not philosophers if we want to learn something about physics?” – Daydreamer1

            Thank you. It agitates me to no end to listen to philosopher-apologists wax and wane about matters of science and/or medicine and/or engineering etc. in support of their belief system when they themselves lack formal education and/or professional experience in any of those fields.

            • Daydreamer1

              And me no end to hear a person confuse/willingly misunderstand the difference between authority and consensus.

              Scientific consensus is not an authority. It is a group of individuals who are all educated in a subject coming to a similar conclusion. Given that in the sciences that is based on objective evidence it only means that the evidence is strong enough to create the consensus in the first place.

              Consensus in Christian theology, for example, can emerge for entirely different reasons with groups fracturing due to ‘theological’ reasons. Real evidence does not do this – it unites.

              An authority decides what everyone will profess. There is no scientific authority. No person at the top. Instead evidence shifts us all.

              Polling physicists reveals the current consensus in their field. Polling philosophers reveals the current consensus about what philosophers think about the work of physicists. It is a big difference and should never be used to argue that one idea in physics is more likely to be true than another.
              I like philosophy a lot, but we shouldn’t forget that the same rules apply. If someone comes up with 3 philosophical possibilities the way to check them is to test them. If they are untestable then the same rules apply and no-one can make claims about their truth. Reality is where the buck stops and we can all sit in a cloudy haze until someone hits us over the head with a stick or the sea level rises around our ankles. Reality exerts itself continuously and anyone that stops too long to think about what it might be is ultimately reminded by the rumbling in their stomachs what it is. 3 billion years of life’s Earth history compared to a few hundred thousand years of imagination acts to ensure that we never get too far from forgetting it.

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      I’d just like to briefly address your comments on the alleged mountains of evidence for determinism. The evidence you cite falls well short. You list a dozen or so points, most of which are predictions of a statistical nature re educational attainment, crime, voting and suicide. As the predictions are not perfectly accurate or even 90% accurate, and as they only apply to select areas of human behavior, I don’t find them very impressive as evidence for the global claim that ALL of our choices are determined. Instead I’ll focus on points 1, 7, 8 and 9, which are more substantive:


      1) Libet style experiments whereby we know that the nonconscious brain is active to a ‘decision’ before the conscious brain.

      Libet himself was a libertarian. His experiments didn’t disprove free will. He came up with his own explanation of his test results: “free won’t”. To be fair, I should point out that recent research has challenged Libet’s interpretation: see http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0053053 . The authors (Filevich, Kuhn & Haggard) claim to have found “a candidate unconscious precursor of the decision to inhibit action,” which thus counts as “evidence against Libet’s view that the decision to inhibit action may involve a form of uncaused conscious causation.” Frankly, I think all this is beside the point, as free decisions are typically not snap decisions, but ones that take place over an extended period of time, and involve a careful weighing up of alternatives. The thing about button pressing is that it’s irrational: it’s not directed at any good. You won’t find freedom there; all you’ll find is impulsive behavior, and/or impulsive decisions to restrain one’s impulses. And if someone wants to tell me that’s predictable, all I can say is, “So what?”


      7) We can use TMS to make the brain choose a certain thing and then watch the mind invent conscious intention ex post facto (this is the same as recorded for people with hemispheres that have been severed)

      What you can do using TMS is make someone feel an overpowering urge for some thing, without an accompanying reason – which is why the patients have to confabulate and make up stuff to cover their embarrassment. But in a free decision, reason plays a vital part. If you can’t offer any account of why you did what you did, then your decision can hardly count as a free one. TMS doesn’t cause rational choices, so it can’t be used to discredit free will.


      8) We can prime people in ALL SORTS OF WAYS to think that they have chosen something but they have actually have non-conscious primes (disgust, language etc etc) – these can control moral judgement.

      If you’re talking about subliminal exposure or stuff like that, obviously it can be used to influence people’s decisions. It’s quite another thing to say, though, that all of our rational decisions are in fact governed by subconscious priming. That’s quite a tall claim.


      9) We can adjust people’s moral judgement using TMS (transcortical magnetic stimulation)

      Adjust or impair? There’s a big conceptual difference. Is there a meter out there which you can set, and then plug into my brain to make me assent to the set of moral propositions you want me to assent to? If you could make a pro-life person pro-choice or vice versa, that would be a significant result, and a real argument against free will. Until then, color me skeptical.

      Finally, regarding the question of whether it’s legitimate to demand an answer to the question, “Why did you do X and not Y?”, I proposed that the question isn’t a fair one when choosing between incommensurable goods. But if you don’t buy that particular argument, here’s another one.

      We’ve been talking about competing goods as if they had a power of their own to pull the agent. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes the “pulling power” of a good depends on the agent’s own set of what I call fundamental attitudes. Let me explain.

      In real life, there are certain things we have to decide whether to respect (and/or obey) or not. Should I obey my parents? Should I obey my employer? Should I obey the government? Should I obey God? If you disrespect any of these authorities and cultivate an attitude of defiance, then you will set at naught the “good” of being on friendly terms with them. Instead you will value as a good the state of being free from their supervision and interference. You will prefer to live as an outcast, so long as you have your freedom. Here, the value of the good is determined by your attitude towards it. And that, I think, is what goes on when we make a moral decision.

      What I’m saying is that there aren’t any physical processes that govern our entire set of attitudes to things. We decide what attitudes to adopt, by making a fundamental option for or against these things – e.g. God or various human institutions. That’s up to us.

      • Andy_Schueler

        What I’m saying is that there aren’t any physical processes that govern our entire set of attitudes to things. We decide what attitudes to adopt, by making a fundamental option for or against these things – e.g. God or various human institutions. That’s up to us.

        Just out of curiosity – do you think you can freely choose your beliefs? (example: do you think that believing that the Christian God exists is a choice? If you affirm this: could you really just choose to stop believing that the Christian God exists out of the blue?)

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Andy,

          Yes, I do think that believing in God is a choice, in the end. There are powerful intellectual reasons for belief, but a person who is bitterly opposed to the very idea of a Deity will always be able to find some “out”.

          Having made the commitment to believe in the Christian God, one cannot stop believing just like that. But if one wished not to believe,one could certainly bring it about over a period of years – e.g. by choosing to hang out with scoffers, or read books calculated to weaken faith, or to desensitize oneself to the sense of the presence of God. After a while, one’s heart would become impervious to grace. Many of us (myself included) have done things like that, in the past, at least partly for selfish reasons – even if there were other reasons as well.

          • Andy_Schueler

            There are powerful intellectual reasons for belief…

            Let me start out by saying that I don´t doubt at all that you genuinely believe that this statement is indeed true.

            …but a person who is bitterly opposed to the very idea of a Deity will always be able to find some “out”.

            I´ll grant you that. But what about those that are not bitterly opposed to the idea? (which includes quite a lot of Atheists and Agnostics?)

            Having made the commitment to believe in the Christian God, one cannot stop believing just like that. But if one wished not to believe,one could certainly bring it about over a period of years – e.g. by choosing to hang out with scoffers, or read books calculated to weaken faith, or to desensitize oneself to the sense of the presence of God. After a while, one’s heart would become impervious to grace. Many of us (myself included) have done things like that, in the past, at least partly for selfish reasons – even if there were other reasons as well.

            Well, for me, it was never about “wishing” one way or the other – I grew up in a culture where Religion has become pretty much irrelevant to everyday life and I didn´t need anyone to “talk me out of my faith”, I rather never had any faith that I could have been talked out of (and this scenario I´ve just described is actually very common in many parts of the world). I´ve heard many arguments for all kinds of faiths, from Mormonism to Scientology – but found none of those arguments to be persuasive, just like I find none of the arguments for why the moon landing was faked to be persuasive. Do you really believe that this is a choice?

      • ” Instead I’ll focus on points 1, 7, 8 and 9, which are more substantive:”

        What is interesting is that you have chosen the ones which are least substantive. This is because any social scientific research finds a correlation between a group of people and a characteristic or behaviour. This sounds ‘meh’ but is VERY important. EVERY SINGLE piece of research which find such correlation implies causation somewhere – either direct of ‘third party’. In EVERY SINGLE CASE this means a lack of control for members of the subject group. That people with poor fear conditioning at age 3 are more likely to get criminal convictions 20 years later means that they are deferring ability to be conscious agents. And EVERY SINGLE such piece of research implies the same.

        You have chosen to concentrate on some points, but neglect the MOST important ones. Go on to Science Daily and use a simple search: ‘genetics’ or ‘behaviour’ and you will understand what I mean by the sheer volume of research which supports a lack of free will. That doesn’t even include priming and most psych studies.

        Way out, mate!

      • “If you’re talking about subliminal exposure or stuff like that, obviously it can be used to influence people’s decisions. It’s quite another thing to say, though, that all of our rational decisions are in fact governed by subconscious priming. That’s quite a tall claim.”

        Straw man plus undervaluing of research. Put it this way, just having a sign “please wash your hands” can influence whether you think homosexual sex is morally bad or not. THAT is how powerful priming is.

        We can also PREDICT using disgust sensitivity ratings whether you will vote Democrat or Republican. THAT is how powerful such research I am talking about is. See Pisarro’s excellent TED talk for that.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-TmKo75gJI

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Jonathan,

          That’s an interesting little video, but as someone with a background in statistics, I couldn’t help noticing that the correlation he claimed to find between disgust sensitivity and voting (0.2) was a rather weak one. Then I had a look at the 2012 article he cited in his talk, which is available online at http://static.squarespace.com/static/4ff4905c84aee104c1f4f2c2/t/5084d57ee4b066390d1616c9/1350882686625/Inbar%20Pizarro%20Iyer%20Haidt%20Disgust%20and%20Voting%20proofs.pdf and I was surprised to discover that of the 25,000-odd people in his first study, only 11.8% were conservative. For Study 2, the percentage of conservatives was even lower: 9.2%. That alone leads me to suspect that there’s something wrong with his methodology, and that the sample of conservatives he used may not have been a typical one. And I can tell you why. The guy based his research on a sample of people who visited a Website called yourmorals.org . I guess I’m fairly conservative, and I can tell you that the site itself would be instantly off-putting to most conservatives. I mean, look at the language they use on their front page: “We are a group of professors and graduate students in social psychology at the University of Virginia, The University of California (Irvine), and the University of Southern California. Our goal is to understand the way our ‘moral minds’ work.” My reaction? “Bunch of academics wants to psychoanalyze conservatives and come up with a theory to explain what’s wrong with them – and possibly how to ‘cure’ them. Yeah, right!” Any conservative who took part in that survey was a dupe who came down in the last shower. No self-respecting conservative would lower him/herself like that.

          But what I found most comical about the talk was that Professor Richard Dawkins is pretty easy to disgust: the guy actually made him gag three times. I wonder if he votes Conservative? Somehow I doubt it.

          In any case, I’d like to add an observation of my own. Liberals are, in my experience, particularly easy to disgust: they just get disgusted in different ways than conservatives. You want examples? Here goes.

          1. As a moral conservative, I regularly debate people who hold all sorts of views I find utterly revolting and that make me want to gag (e.g. the view that babies aren’t persons, or that it’s OK for two teenagers to engage in sex even if their only available method of birth control is abortion). Yet it’s the liberals who can’t control their gag reaction when it comes to moral debates: Richard Dawkins won’t debate William Lane Craig because he’s nauseated that Craig would justify the slaughter of the Canaanites in the Old Testament – even though Craig has stated he might be wrong on this and that the Bible might contain errors after all. We’re talking about an event that may or may not have happened 3,000 years ago – and for Dawkins, Craig’s attitude towards this event is a good enough reason to refuse to debate him on principle.

          2. I’ve noticed that liberals have an odd tendency to attach zero credibility to someone if he/she holds even ONE opinion that they deem “beyond the pale” – even if it’s on an unrelated topic. Case in point: Roy Spencer is a very fair-minded skeptic of anthropogenic global warming (he’s a luke-warmer – you should check out his Website at http://www.drroyspencer.com/ ). But to a liberal like Senator Barbara Boxer, he’s a man who can’t be taken seriously, because he’s also a young-earth creationist, so that alone makes him a nut, despite the fact that he’s a former NASA climatologist. I would not be so hasty. I know from experience that people can be absolutely nutty about some topics but eminently sensible about others: often it depends on how much reading they’ve done. I don’t believe in dismissing a person as not to be trusted because of his/her odd views on certain subjects.

          3. I’ve also noticed that liberals are very unforgiving of people’s past attitudes. They have elephants’ memories for past statements made by individuals which they deem “bigoted” or “unenlightened” – and they never, ever let them forget that they made those statements, either. They keep files on their enemies and log all their bizarre and eccentric utterances. Case in point: check out the Encyclopedia of American Loons at http://americanloons.blogspot.jp/ . They’re up to 630 now.

          All of these are disgust reactions, Jonathan. It’s a pity that liberals can’t recognize their own built-in cognitive biases.

          • As John Alford said about an earlier study, “The results seem to suggest that our ideas about the world are shaped by deep, involuntary reactions to the things we see. As evidence, the study found that greater sensitivity to the images was linked to more fervent support for a conservative agenda—including opposition to immigration, gun control, gay marriage, abortion rights and pacifism, and support for military spending, warrantless searches, the Iraq War, school prayer and the truth of the Bible. In other words, on the level of physiological reactions in the conservative mind, illegal immigrants may = spiders = gay marriages = maggot-filled wounds = abortion rights = bloodied faces. Before liberals start cheering, however, they don’t come off much more noble or nuanced. They were less sensitive to the threatening images, and more likely to support open immigration policies, pacifism and gun control. But according to the research, that’s hardly desirable, since it suggests that liberals may display mammal-on-a-hot-rock languor in the face of legitimate threats. “They actually don’t show any difference in physical response between a picture of a spider on someone’s face and a picture of a bunny,””

            From his Smith et al 2011 paper: ” In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images. This relationship holds even when controlling for the degree to which respondents believe themselves to be disgust sensitive and suggests that people’s physiological predispositions help to shape their political orientations.”

            etc etc

            But you fail to deal with the priming data (and the worldwide supporting data) which clearly shows that moral value judgements (which surely underpin political worldviews) are highly suggestible to disgust.

            • Daydreamer1

              We are clearly not free to choose what we deal with in terms of stimulus – either externally from the world, or internally from the subconscious.

              One day I will be annoyed at something that doesn’t bother me the next. Meditative techniques that teach you to recognise the difference between your background thoughts and ‘you’ are interesting here.
              I tend to separate the ‘me’ from my emotions preferring to use them when they are conducive to a better life. We all do this when we don’t act on the ones that would have us attack people, but of course we all do it more subtly as well.

              But the point is I do not choose them.

              When a married couple fall out of love they may both still want their life together – that life they planned. They may both desperately want the love back. They may try to rekindle it, or seek marriage guidance, but in the end it is just not there anymore.

              This is such a big part of us, such a big part of our lives it seems to almost trivialise our experience to push it aside just because there are other things we have more free will over.

              I agree with Vincent that, with effort, we can choose roughly freely between the thoughts that are offered to us. Left or right, cheese or ham sandwich. These choices are not free of experience, data, considerations of others, ambitions, desires. But I can roll a dice and obey its outcome ignoring all other parameters – even to my own death if I decided to be so obstinate to prove a point. Free will is not infinite. There are versions and we exist in a system of our own body, mind and external world. I image that the choice maker part of my brain is in a feedback loop, which is more likely to me since it is not extracted from, or modular to, the rest of the neurons in my brain. But instead exists alongside them, which about matches my experience of living in my body and brain.

              But if I have no free will over my emotions – just my reactions to them – then that means I have no free will over some very considerable and whoppingly important parts of my life. My positive emotions glue my world together, and I don’t like it that many people will testify to the destructive power of having them change under you without your desire or consent.

      • With regard to your claims about TMS etc, you need to research the invention of intention etc. Either read Daniel Wegner (The Illusion of Conscious Will) or, better still, my book Free Will?

        • Vincent Torley

          Hi Jonathan,

          One thing you have to realize is that I can only afford to buy books once in a blue moon. I get my information online these days.

          I haven’t read Wegner’s book, but I have read a good critical review of it by Eddy Nahmias, entitled, “When Conscious Matters” at http://www2.gsu.edu/~phlean/papers/When_Consciousness_Matters.pdf . I also suggest you read “Do Conscious Thoughts Cause Behavior?” by Roy F. Baumeister et al. at http://www.carlson.umn.edu/assets/165663.pdf , if you haven’t already. Baumeister makes a very strong case. A short quote from the conclusion:


          The present evidence points to four broad conclusions about how conscious thought influences behavior. First, it integrates behavior across time…. Second, conscious thought allows the individual’s behavior to be informed by social and cultural factors…. Third, conscious thoughts are influential in situations that present multiple alternative possibilities. In many cases, the causal flow of events is leading in one direction, but an alternative is structurally possible. Conscious thought can simulate alternative realities and by imagining them increase the likelihood that they will come true…. Fourth, most and possibly all human behavior emerges from a combination of conscious and unconscious processes. Nothing we have reviewed would prove that any behavior emerged from exclusively conscious processes. Likewise, ostensible evidence of unconscious causation is typically compromised by extensive reliance on conscious processes too, such as for giving instructions and focusing attention; the participant is merely unconscious of one particular link in the causal chain… In sum, conscious thoughts are far more than a steam whistle or epiphenomenon. Human conscious thought may be one of the most distinctive and remarkable phenomena on earth and one of the defining features of the human condition.

          I think it is fair to say that claims that our mental processes don’t cause our actions are vastly overblown. And I can’t help wondering why books that claim we don’t have free will sell far better than books that claim we do, such as Thomas Pink’s “Free Will – A Very Short Introduction.” Could it be that some people don’t want to be held responsible for their actions? I don’t know.

          • No.

            Pink’s book has been totally slammed. (eg “All in all, Pink has produced something that is an embarassment to philosophy. He shouldn’t be teaching at a university, let alone publishing books. I suggest he goes back to school to learn the very basics of philosophy. Whether you come from the determinist, compatibilist or libertarian camp, this book has only one thing to offer: an example of how not to argue a case for the freedom of the will.” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Free-Will-Short-Introduction-Introductions/dp/0192853589/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374097276&sr=1-3&keywords=free+will

            • Daydreamer1

              All this fret and worry about people not wanting to be held responsible for their actions seems utterly overused to me.

              Re-phrase it to people want to be held responsible for the actions they agree with and it fits a lot better, be it Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Labour.

              All I see is people disagreeing. The number of anarchists seems exceedingly (and I can’t use that word without thinking about cakes – thank you Mr Kipling) low – fortunately. And even then they want to live in a ‘type of world’, usually being governed locally/communally without governments (national, or perhaps local).

              We might all disagree on points, but I see very little evidence that anyone wants to live without laws, rules, society or responsibility of any kind.

              Perhaps your hypothesis here rests a little on painting your fellow people as psychopaths in the sense that you are not fully embodying them with the scope of emotions that is responsible for our behaviour to each other in the first place. After all, we do not behave responsibly dependant on what theologians or philosophers tell us about free will. How can we if 99.9% of people have never read anything on the subject. Our behaviour comes from experience during upbringing combined with, experiment suggests, neurological features such as the cingulate insulate. Plus culture. All aimed at appealing and underlying the advantages that have made our species what it is today – namely grouping, socialisation (and the bonding, love and altruism that requires), communication and intellectual feats.

              Perhaps books sell well because they are provocative or interesting to people for other reasons.
              Either way, if your argument requires painting a much larger percentage of people as emotionless or psychopathic than actually are then that will be why it is failing to explain.

      • Also, it is rather easy to posit large amounts of free will from our privileged positions, living in middle-classed lives in temperate zones with access to basics. This allows us scope for so much choice. Just imagine being a tribesman in subsistence living Sub-Saharan Africa.

        We know, for example, that:

        a) Religious people are more prone to bias

        b) Religious people, despite what they think and what Jesus supposedly said, are less generous to out-groups than control groups

        c) People primed with Christian words exhibit higher racist tendencies

        d) Priming with concepts of God as authoritarian (controlling, commanding, punishing) lead to aggressive behaviour

        e) Priming with concepts of God as benevolent (helping, forgiving, protecting) lead to more prosocial behaviour

        f) For non-Catholic Christians, reminders of a benevolent God increased the willingness to forgive while reminders of an authoritarian God increased aggression and decreased forgiveness, the willingness to conserve water, intentions to volunteer, and the willingness to aid religious outgroups.

        yada yada yada

        The point is, we think we are free, and there are so many things influencing us. And this is just priming, with no thought of genetics or epigenetics.

        Dude, ALL of this is predicted on determinism. None of it is explicable by free will.

        • Vincent Torley

          Jonathan,

          I have never denied that priming, genes and epigenetics can influence our behavior. But it certainly doesn’t determine us.

          I was surprised to read your suggestion that tribespeople have fewer choices than we do. Fewer opportunities – yes, certainly. But fewer choices? I don’t think so. They make vital decisions every day – ones that really matter.

          Let me ask you a question. If you were a member of an out-group (say, a struggling community in Africa) and you heard that you’d just received a donation, what could you confidently predict about the donor? Nothing. That’s why I can’t take the priming experiments you cited very seriously.

          • Daydreamer1

            An interesting question is what would be the point of the evolution of consciousness if it wasn’t making choices that the subconscious couldn’t make on its own?

            Perhaps there wasn’t a pressure for it, or perhaps the pressure was not natural selection, but another type.

            Either way, if it didn’t have the freedom to go it’s own way in some regard then the subconscious wouldn’t need it.

            It seems to me that the two of you are almost discussing different things. I understand Jonathans point that you can limit peoples choices and so reduce them, and that messing with peoples minds also has a similar affect, but again the conscious decision maker is being invoked by the brain to make a choice between different information stored in the brain, and different models created by the brain.

            I am starting to feel like we are here to answer the questions that the subconscious poses to us. When you prime someone you try and get their subconscious to ask the questions and offer the choices to the conscious that you want it to. But the conscious mind cannot deliberate on questions that the subconscious does not pose, much like you cannot think about information you do not have.

            We’re in a feedback with it though. It may hit a problem and the idea ‘pops into our head’ as a request for more information. We have evolved to use the information we have and the models the subconscious has created alongside logical rules to solve problems that as a device using memories and experience it struggles to do. We are the inference engine while it computes in a fashion more similar to what we experience when we dream.

            I also wonder whether the working memory of the conscious mind being much smaller than the working memory of the subconscious is what results in it only being able to pass up the jist of its models to the conscious in the form of intuitions and gut feelings about a modelled probability.

            That is my current suspicion of what is going on in our brains.

    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      In response to your query as to whether I’ve seen Craig getting “pawned” on animal suffering, I’m streets ahead of you on this one. I actually wrote a post on Craig’s scientific errors back in February: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/william-lane-craig-and-the-problem-of-animal-suffering-why-its-a-poor-argument-against-atheism-but-an-excellent-argument-against-scientism/ . I also critiqued the Cambrideg Declaration here: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/craig-and-his-critics-why-the-cambridge-declaration-on-consciousness-is-more-propaganda-than-science/ .

      In any case, I didn’t quote Craig’s line on animal suffering; I quoted Dr. James Rose, who as far as I know has no religious views. His point is a simple one: animal suffering isn’t a moral problem unless it’s somebody‘s suffering. I think that’s fair as far as it goes, although I would ad that I regard at least some non-human animals as “somebodies.” My point is, however, that science hasn’t established that; currently the view that humans are the only animals with an autobiographical consciousness is quite tenable. From a scientific standpoint, animal suffering hasn’t yet been established as a moral problem. Strange but true. That says a lot about the limitations of science, doesn’t it?

      • Daydreamer1

        Hi Vincent,
        Out of interest what do you make of the affect of animal suffering on human beings?

        In these comments you have put forward various arguments for different spectrums of animal suffering and animal consciousness. Going from ‘those ones don’t suffer’ to ‘those ones probably do suffer, but theologically it doesn’t matter’.

        Now we have the idea that even if they are suffering it isn’t a moral problem until someone spots it or feels it. (Are you putting forward a type of relativism whereby if no-one spots it it doesn’t matter?, or where no-one feels it it doesn’t matter?)
        Anyway, it wouldn’t be difficult at all for science to prove that whatever animal suffering is it creates human suffering. The RSPCA, animal protection legislation, and numerous people in prison for causing animal suffering testify to the response caused by seeing this ‘animal suffering’.

        We might well agree that this response is principally caused by human empathy for animals, but it means that the human suffering is present – and present as a motivator.

        Science can easily measure that.

        As for science not establishing a moral problem and that being an interesting limit to science – well of course it is!!! As a philosopher you know the reasons for this. It is not a limitation of science, that is like saying it is a limitation of houses that they do not fly us on our holidays. We make the decisions as to how we respond to scientific information. There are obvious differences in the animal kingdom, and tests of self are one of many. But the decision of how we respond to whether an animal recognises itself in the mirror, or whether it yelps or screams when it experiences a pain stimulus we would call pain is ours and ours alone.

        People working for animal charities can tell us about animal behaviour. We cannot know how an animal ‘feels’, but we know how we feel in response to it. We also know that whereas a dog typically has 4 legs there is no objective measurable quantity called the moral problem of animal suffering. To suggest this is a limitation of science is to mislabel science and claim it as a weakness. It is a strawman. We make the decision based on available data. Science doesn’t have some of the data we would like yet – that is true, but science isn’t going to establish whether something is a moral problem or not even when the data comes in.

        By your own definition though it is, animal suffering is creating suffering in somebody. They often work for animal charities.

        If it is designed then we can easily ask the question ‘why is the world designed in such a way that we suffer when we look at it?’

        I know there is a get out in that theology has already dealt with this and had to conclude that if a God is added to the mix then human life has to be about suffering anyway, which pretty much leads us back to the main point – why is a God that can apparently do so much so intent on making everything look so natural that suffering is about what we would expect if it was natural and there wasn’t an all loving all powerful God?

      • is that true also of neanderthals and homo erectus, homo habilis, and living primates today like chimps? They certainly are self aware and we know this from tests like the mirror test and the fact that they have an advanced prefrontal cortex. Your story just doesn’t make sense when given our long slow millions-of-years evolution that you believe god chose as the best way to make humans.

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    • Vincent Torley

      Hi Jonathan,

      I’ve just put up a reply to your latest post, “Craig and the Kalam (and relativity): Vincent Torley vs Counter Apologist… CA wins” at http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/07/19/craig-and-the-kalam-and-relativity-vincent-torley-vs-counter-apologist-ca-wins/ . In short: I think CounterApologist is badly misinformed.