• Why don’t all animals photosynthesise? (the Problem of Evil revisited)

    [This is a post I created last year, but I screwed up embedding the video. So viola un autre fois.]

    Here is a video I did some time ago which I think sums up the Problem of Evil in one fell swoop. The question sidesteps free will theodicies, especially as it applies to the rest of the animal world. See what you think.

    Excuse the shameless plug at the beginning, and the bastardised use of begging the question!

    The follow on question, asked in the book, is why it was deemed necessary to design a system whereby animals need energy at all. There is a much wider debate vis-a-vis energy in this here universe.

     

    The Problem of Evil is usually stated as something like this:

    1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
    2. There is evil in the world.
    3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

    Here is a better version:

    1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
    2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
    3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

    It is better because it talks about evil as being gratuitous or not. The evil in the world can still logically exist, as long as it is not gratuitous (ie serves a purpose). With regards to the question about photosynthesis, the idea is that eating meat and causing animal pain and death must be necessary for some other, greater good.

    The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable. This is not, for me at any rate, an epistemologically good method. If I went through my life believing things because they were possible and not probable, I would get into some serious trouble.

    The Christian would no doubt claim that the rest of the evidence for God means that the evidence for it not being gratuitous is good and makes the conclusion that there is a greater good probable. This is not good enough for me. And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is. Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.

    In sum, the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount  of pain and suffering on earth just so that animals can merely survive, raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause. And I just don’t think that’s good enough.

     

    I asked this question to William Lane Craig at the Stephen Law debate in London after the debate. He had no answer, though declared it was a great question. There you go.

    Category: Problem of Evil

    Tags:

    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • Edward Clint

      I’m not a biologist, but I would hazard a guess: photosynthesis wouldn’t be much help to animals.

      Organisms that photosynthesize have these properties (typically):
      -they don’t move. moving constantly takes enormous energy by comparison to never really moving
      -they have a very high surface-area to volume ratio, making solar power efficient
      -they pretty much have to be green
      -they don’t have energy-expensive organs like brains, livers, alimentary tracks, or hearts
      -they don’t survive well in very cold places

      So there are a few problems here. The most obvious is metabolism. Consider how much grass a cow has to eat to sustain its life and grow. Why? because plants need and therefore contain very little stored energy. Energy-rich fruits only exist as lures for animals to eat them and even so, pale in comparison to the energy storage found in animals.

      Next, relying only photosynthesis, even for just a part of your energy supply means that you may have trouble camouflaging yourself from predators or prey. The Arctic fox has a white coat and blends well, but a hypothetical photosynthetic arctic fox can’t be white and do photosynthesis- it would have to be green. And that’s if it had no fur as we know it. Insulative fur is too fine because plants need to have vessels to transport water and sugars to/from photosynthesis sites. Fur doesn’t have, nor could it have vessels and chloroplasts.

      Animals have an extraordinary diversity of skins/feathers/furs/etc for many purposes: insulation, mate signaling, thermal regulation, flight or swimming, moisture control, etc.., these things would not necessarily be precluded by the need to photosynthesize, but many would be much, much more difficult for comparatively little benefit energy-wise.

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        I think you misss the point here, Ed. I agree with everything you said. However, you are implying that God, being omniGod, does not have the power to make animals as intelligent as humans or as stupid as amoeba exist through photosynthesis or some other inanimate method of energy consumption and conversion.

        The point of this is that omniGod has designed a universe where a huge number of animals necessitate the suffering and death of other animals to survive. What purpose does this serve? Is this the work of an omnibenevolent God?

        Because a pride of lions killing an antelope by ripping it limb from limb, or a wasp paralysing a grub and laying its larvae inside to eat it slowly from the inside out must provide, on omniGod, a greater good, because intrinsically, that pain and death can in no way be seen as good. So not only is the system consequentialist – itself interesting in moral philosophy – but it is also unnecessary, unless it can be shown that this greater good exists.

        God would have the power to make animals garner their energy inanimately or he is not omnipotent.

        • Edward Clint

          Ah well then the answer is of course, original sin, animals don’t have souls, and there has to be darkness to be light because there is no joy without the capacity for suffering etc..,

      • Evan Gelist

        Next, relying only photosynthesis, even for just a part of your energy supply means that you may have trouble camouflaging yourself from predators or prey.

        But if all animals photosynthesized, they wouldn’t need to be hunting each other, or therefore hiding or fleeing from each other.

    • Evan Gelist

      To go off on a cool scientific tangent, there is at least one animal which does photosynthesize:
      Solar-powered sea slug
      Of course it gets it chloroplasts by stealing them from sea weed that it eats, so it doesn’t help out in the Problem of Evil debate…

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        There is also, by memory, a wasp which they have found to photosynthesise. I will dig up a link.

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      http://www.evolutionswitness.com/?p=286
      “The oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) has evolved yellow patches located on the dorsal surface of the abdomen that Plotkin et al (Plotkin M et al: Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) Naturwissenschaften (2010) 97:1067–1076) have shown are photosynthetic or at least harvest light as an energy source.”

    • Reasonably Faithless

      Even if they couldn’t photosynthesise, there’s always the possibility that they could all be herbivores.

      • Evan Gelist

        Hey! Plants are people too.

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      There just doesn’t seem to be a decent, plausible explanation as to why an all-loving God would organise a universe so!

    • FireandIce

      There’s a ton of unevidenced things in your argument:

      Firstly – “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”

      Appears to be unevidenced, begging the question, and missing a couple of hidden propositions.

      “The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable.”

      a) Would they?

      b) If they do how is “this is logically possible” a claim that “this is probable”? i.e. how is Carrier’s reply relevant?

      “And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is.”

      Would he? Is this a logical proposition, backed by evidence or just what you figure you would do?

      “Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.”

      So you have evidence that we can understand the Mind of God?

      No?

      Faith?

      No?

      You just assume?

      Do you think that we can understand the mind of Raelians from Marshall IV through just 1000 pages of a book written by them? Then why on Earth would you predict that we could do the same with a Deity?

      “the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount of pain and suffering on earth”

      Hidden proposition: Animals have phenomenological experience

      “raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause”

      Really difficult is impossible if you have a get out of jail free card. What I think you want to say is “If only they didn’t have a logical explanation for this it would be a really difficult explanation, and that would have them in a total bind!”

      “And I just don’t think that’s good enough.”

      Luckily for the theist it’s rational, logical and sound, your arguments are not and appear to be based largely in hidden undefended propositions and your own subjective feelings about whether it’s “good enough” even after admitting that there are logical explanations that you cannot refute, merely frown at disgruntled because you think (but cannot evidence or prove!) that God “would not be like that”!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Firstly – “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”
        Appears to be unevidenced, begging the question, and missing a couple of hidden propositions.
        “The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable.”
        a) Would they?

        OK, so I present both sides to the argument. The atheist would say, as you set out, that here is gratuitous suffering. The theist defends this by saying there is a greater good. In order to say this, and it being true, it has to have a probability of 1. Therefore, self-evidently, it is more probable than any other alternative. So, the answer to your question is yes.
        b) If they do how is “this is logically possible” a claim that “this is probable”? i.e. how is Carrier’s reply relevant?
        IT shouldn’t be, but as explained above, this is how the argument, for the thesit works. It is the primary theodicy. This is necessary, otherwise God cannot have the label of being all-loving. By his perfect nature, all decisions that he makes must be perfect (and all-loving). Thus any suffering is AT LEAST a passively willed action or omission. Either that or it is an actively willed (decided TO DO rather than to simply not stop).
        “And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is.”
        Would he? Is this a logical proposition, backed by evidence or just what you figure you would do?

        Why wouldn’t he? You see, all your lines of argument are, at the moment, ad hoc. You are throwing in explanations where ones don’t already exist, presupposing ideals that cause you to have the need to move God around in such a manner as to not be victim to contradictions in his character. As I said in my Little Questions book: “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 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.
        “Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.”
        So you have evidence that we can understand the Mind of God?

        What evidence do you have that we don’t and couldn’t, especially in the case of suffering?
        No?
        Faith?
        No?
        You just assume?

        Er, right back at you there. In fact, you require a whole lot more faith to claim that God exists, and suffering can be explained in his all-lovingness.
        Do you think that we can understand the mind of Raelians from Marshall IV through just 1000 pages of a book written by them? Then why on Earth would you predict that we could do the same with a Deity?
        I did not say we could understand the mind of God from a book. I said we could understand why we are suffering. And then I said that even if we couldn’t understand that, we could be told quite straightforwardly that there was a reason, even if we couldn’t understand it. You are missing the mark here by a long margin.
        “the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount of pain and suffering on earth”
        Hidden proposition: Animals have phenomenological experience

        Hidden, and less likely proposition, they don’t. Do you not realise your hypocrisy here!
        “raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause”
        Really difficult is impossible if you have a get out of jail free card. What I think you want to say is “If only they didn’t have a logical explanation for this it would be a really difficult explanation, and that would have them in a total bind!”

        No. I am saying that with unfalsifiable and ad hoc reasoning, anything which is logically possible gets conflated with probable and therefore actual. Without the required evidence. Your whole piece here is absolute evidence for this. You claim things of me with even worse epistemic right, and no evidence.
        “And I just don’t think that’s good enough.”
        Luckily for the theist it’s rational, logical and sound, your arguments are not and appear to be based largely in hidden undefended propositions and your own subjective feelings about whether it’s “good enough” even after admitting that there are logical explanations that you cannot refute, merely frown at disgruntled because you think (but cannot evidence or prove!) that God “would not be like that”!

        Surely, it is a subjective opinion. But IS THIS universe the best, most perfect universe in conception? Is not heaven better? An all-loving God has created this universe of heat death probability, black holes, plat tectonics, more designed for death than life etc… So really, you need to show me that it is more likely a universe created by such a God.

        • Jonathan MS Pearce

          By the way, thanks for taking the time to comment and critique – appreciated.

    • pboyfloyd

      “..God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is.”

      And what with Christians believing that they are being guided by the Holy Spirit(God, personality number three), we should be able to see that they believe it is possible, and therefore they beieve it is probable that at least one of them could explain God’s motives in sufficient detail, no?

    • The Thinker

      Have you heard what Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga would probably say to answer why animals eat each other? His theory is this: “Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain.”

      So according to Plantinga, demons did it! And that’s from one of the worlds top “sophisticated” contemporary Christian philosophers.

      • Ha ha! World of Crack….

        Of course, Satan was created by God, and God actualised this particular designed world with the outcomes of each piece of design known in advance,

        So really, Satan is exonerated.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      In order for your conclusion to be rational you need to prove there is no good reason God might have for permitting suffering in the world. Can you?

      • John Grove

        Evil conflicts with the existence of an omni-benevolent God. Either God doesn’t care to do something about the evil in this world or God is unable to. Also, if God is omnipotent, he could have made a world without the evil, but apparently he chose not to. God actualized a world that has untold suffering and misery that has lasted billions of years. In the words of Epicurus.

        Either God wants to abolish evil and cannot, or he can but does not want to,
        or he cannot and does not want to, or lastly he can and wants to.

        If he wants to remove evil, and cannot, he is not omnipotent;
        If he can, but does not want to, he is not benevolent;
        If he neither can nor wants to, he is neither omnipotent nor benevolent;
        But if God can abolish evil and wants to, how does evil exist?

        • Joseph O Polanco

          In order for your conclusion to be rational you need to prove there is no good reason God might have for permitting suffering in the world. Can you?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Suffering might be explicable given the existence of a benevolent God, gratuitous suffering not (by definition).

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Gratuitous suffering cannot be objectively quantified; it’s in the eye of the beholder. As it turns out, most people are myopic when trying to interpret the effect of contemporary events on future events. Thankfully, our loving Creator isn’t: http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

            • Explain why it’s logically necessary for animals to consciously suffer and how that’s compatible with an omnibenevolent god.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Are you somehow suggesting that God tortures animals?

            • Yeah, wasn’t Jesus god, and didn’t he cast the demons into a heard of pigs and sent them off a cliff? That’s animal abuse.

            • Andy_Schueler

              As it turns out, most people are myopic when trying to interpret the effect of contemporary events on future events. Thankfully, our loving Creator isn’t

              1. Those are three mere assertions, prove that they are true (hint: “the Bible sez so” is not proof)
              2. Infectious diseases have killed hundreds of millions of people in human history, many of the victims had to suffer unimaginable pain before they died and little children were overrepresented among the victims of those diseases before modern medicine arose. For the overwhelming majority of human history, people didn´t even know what caused these diseases. This is gratuitous suffering – there is no rhyme or reason to it, You could argue that this was somehow “for the greater good”, but this is just as plausible as saying “Hitler was acting for the greater good, we just don´t understand how”.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              False analogy. God is not the cause of gratuitous suffering. Mankind, Satan and his demons are, never God.

            • Andy_Schueler

              God is not the cause of gratuitous suffering. Mankind, Satan and his demons are, never God.

              Infectious diseases are caused by demons?

          • John Grove

            [[you need to prove there is no good reason God might have for permitting suffering in the world]]

            This seems like you are making your postulate a tautology and unfalsifiable. Gratuitous suffering on a scope and scale that we see is simply not tenable with an omni-benelovent diety that is supposedly omnipotent.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Only if it does not serve a greater good. Remember, compared to God, your vision of how current events affects the future is wholly myopic. As is the case, God’s temporary of allowance does serve a greater purpose: http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

          • 1) not for the evidential problem of evil.

            2) in the same way that you have to prove that unicorns don’t exist to infer that they do not?

            3) Surely the burden of proof is on you to show that God is incapable of creating this ‘better’ world – that indeed carnivorousness and all of the suffering somehow IS necessary. For it must be NECESSARY in order that the creation of the universe conforms to his omni attributes.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              1. Why not?
              2. Correct.
              3. Ask and you shall receive: http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

            • Your link presupposes Genesis and biblical creation to be correct, a claim that hardly anyone is going to accept on this website because there’s no evidence backing it up.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Ask and you shall receive: http://bit.ly/14Ckccl

            • Apparently if I ask you I’ll get poorly written links that only fundamentalist YECs are going to regard. Didn’t the fact that Jesus’ kingdom did not appear in his follower’s lifetime fail to fulfill his promise?

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Where does Christ promise that his kingdom would appear in his follower’s lifetime? Could you be more specific and less turbid?

            • “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“ (Matthew 16: 27, 28)

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Now read chapter 17.

            • There’s nothing there that corrects that false prophesy.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              How so?

            • How not? You show me how.

            • Joseph O Polanco
            • ManhattanMC

              I can’t believe you are linking to WatchTower, you sad sack.

              moron.http://www.towerwatch.com/Witnesses/Prophecies/failed_prophecies.htm

            • All Joseph can do is link to Jehovah’s witnesses websites and articles that I wouldn’t consider truth even if I was a believer since fundamentalism is for retards. And the link didn’t do anything to disprove Jesus’ false prophesy.

      • If god is the designer of the universe and the physical laws that govern it, then the nature evils and the suffering they cause, are a direct result of the physical laws that god created to govern the universe. Therefore god doesn’t merely “permit” suffering, he designed it and instigated it knowing exactly what it will do. How do you justify all the non-human suffering with a morally perfect god?

        • Joseph O Polanco

          It appears you misapprehend how free will actually works: http://bit.ly/15mmyNx

          • That article only makes your case worse. If choosing A leads to millions of nonhumans suffering for no logically necessary reason, then wouldn’t choice A be evil? It seems to me that if god exists, he freely chooses to have millions of nonhumans consciously suffering for no logically necessary reason.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              But he does have a necessary reason for temporarily allowing suffering: http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

            • Again, that link (and all your links) presupposes a strict literal interpretation of the bible, which many Christians today do not even adhere to. If your only explanation comes in the form of fundamentalist YEC, then you fail by the fact that YEC is false since there’s no good scientific evidence backing it up.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              I. No presupposition required since that’s how it’s always been interpreted unless indicated otherwise by the context.

              II. Do you really expect anyone to defend an argument they have not made? That’s why your comparisons to YEC are Strawmen.

            • 1. Genesis was not always interpreted literally, and many Christians that I’ve argued with like pointing that out to me. For much of Christian history it was metaphorical, and only relatively recently has the move towards strict literalism grown.

              2. If you’re not a YEC then please by all means clarify your views. How old is the universe, the earth, man, and where do you differ from a literal interpretation of Genesis? Do you accept any evolution at all besides obvious microevolution?

            • Joseph O Polanco

              I. How does any of that change the fact that Christ Jesus – the founder of Christianity – regarded Genesis as literal, historical fact?

              II. Happy to oblige!

              A. http://bit.ly/14quj20

              B. If you’re asking whether or not I accept that, for instance, share a common ancestor with – and thus evolved from – great apes then, no. Such a claim is presupposed on the suppositions of Gradualism and Common Descent: http://bit.ly/17PMEwz

            • Andy_Schueler

              share a common ancestor with – and thus evolved from – great apes

              You are an ape, as every other human, by the very definition of the word “ape”.

              Such a claim is presupposed on the suppositions of Gradualism and Common Descent:

              Repeating this lie ad nauseam doesn´t make it true.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Really? Somebody forgot to tell these guys: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/22/section/4

              II. You don’t even know what Gradualism is!!! What are you squealing about?

            • ManhattanMC

              I science isn’t done by bumbling legislators, fool. You are an ape by taxonomic classification whether you like the idea or no.

              II Dude what part of ‘Andy Schueler has a Phd in biology’ isn’t clear to you? You embarrass yourself again and again but are too damned stupid to recognize it.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Really? Somebody forgot to tell these guys:

              Nope, what makes you think that?

              II. You don’t even know what Gradualism is!!! What are you squealing about?

              Again, I told you at least a dozen times that this term is ambigious and asked you to clarify. It´s called phyletic gradualism because “gradualism” is also used to refer to uniformitarianism.
              And now you misconstrue that to imply that I “don’t even know what Gradualism is!!!”?

              I can prove that I asked you for clarification at least a dozen times, and you know it. So I give you a chance to apologize for that statement.

            • It shows that if he did, he was a false prophet since Genesis has been definitively disproven in many areas.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Who has disproved Genesis? You? Where?

            • Andy_Schueler

              Who has disproved Genesis?

              Flat-earthism was refuted 4th century BCE (Aristotle).
              Geocentrism was refuted in the 16th century (Galileo).
              The mosaic flood was refuted in the late 18th and early 19th century (the pioneers of Geology and their successors).
              Special creation of all “kinds” was refuted in the 19th and 20th century (pretty much all Biologists that worked in this time).

            • Andy_Schueler

              And while we are having fun:

              I. How does any of that change the fact that Christ Jesus – the founder of Christianity – regarded Genesis as literal, historical fact?

              You are presupposing gradualism and that Jesus actually said that (if you ask me to justify that claim – I´ll do that as soon as you justify your ad nauseam repeated mere assertions that we presuppose gradualism and common descent).

              Also, what evidence do you have to support the notion that any of the quotes attributed to Jesus were actually uttered by Jesus?

            • Joseph O Polanco
            • Andy_Schueler

              [Joseph mode]1. You are presupposing the existence of a historical Jesus[/Joseph mode]
              2. I didn´t ask for evidence that Jesus actually lived, I asked for evidence that he actually uttered any of the quotes that are attributed to him. So you have no evidence for that? I thought so.

            • ManhattanMC

              Hahahahahahahaha-

              you actually think the ‘testimonium flavium’ is authentic and not an interpolation by Eusebius?

              Hilarious.

              Outside of your ‘holy’ book-which is of unknown authorship and hazy chain of custody-there are no witnesses to the life of your ‘jesus’.

              Sorry.

    • John Grove

      I think the very question itself is a refutation of the omni-attribute God.

    • Pingback: The Problem with Divine Command Theory #1 | A Tippling Philosopher()

    • Pingback: God: JUST create heaven, for crying out loud | A Tippling Philosopher()