The Birth of Dr. Evil, or, Where Did Evil Come From?

Where did evil come from?

This question is the root of some of my strongest objections to Christianity, and the source of many subtle but significant contradictions that, to my mind, demonstrate the manmade qualities of the Christian faith.

As an aside, I will state for current and future reference that when I relate specifics of Christian theology, I will use as my primary references either J.I. Packer’s “Concise Theology” (hereafter CT) or, when the short version won’t suffice, Norman Geisler’s 4 volume “Systematic Theology” (hereafter ST.)  I don’t think anyone will argue that these books don’t well represent the state of current Evangelical Christian Theology.

There are a few details we need to determine, then we’ll put them together and see if they fit.

First we have to define “Evil.”  Evil is often defined as the absence of Good.  Personally I find that interesting, because it implies that Evil is the default state that exists without the application of Good.  Considering the doctrines of original sin and human imperfection, this is probably very in line with Christian thought on the matter.  Many Christian sources put a finer point on the definition by defining Evil as that which is in opposition to God.

The discussions of Evil in the above books are too long to include here.  If you differ on these points, please relate in the comments and we’ll continue that part of the conversation.

The follow up point, and the one that is key to the discussion, is the relation of God to Evil.

The Evangelical theology concerning God and Evil includes several points:

  1. God is Perfectly Good
  2. God cannot be in the presence of Sin/Evil
  3. Which is why people need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to purify them perfectly so God can tolerate their presence.

J.I. Packer puts it thus:  “The core of the concept (of God’s Holiness), however, is God’s purity, which cannot tolerate any form of sin (Hab 1:13)…”  This overall goodness/holiness is often referred to as his omnibenevolence, simply to bring it all under one term.

For the sake of this blog entry, not to be mistaken for a doctrinal thesis (!), I believe it reasonable to state that Evil, by definition, is external to God, and that the end result of the grand plan of redemption through Christ is to finally eradicate Evil from the universe (except for hell, wherever that may be – a discussion for a later date.)

A few more doctrines regarding God, important to this conversation, (and Biblical of course) are: the total self-sufficiency of God or aseity, his existence independent of time and the universe or transcendence, his creation of all things ex nihilo (out of nothing,) and God’s nature in relation to the universe in that he is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

This combination of doctrines present a serious problem in regard to evil, though.  We return to the original question.

Where did evil come from?

Before creation, there was only God (never mind the whole Elohim/YHWH conversation – that’s for a later post.)  There was nothing else.  No other reality except God himself, who we’ve already defined as holy and omnibenevolent.  There was only Good, no Evil, nothing that could be construed as Sin, because the biblical God cannot tolerate the presence of sin.

So for his own mysterious purpose, he decided to create the universe, the earth, everything therein, and mankind.  At the completion of creation, he called it “Good.”  The theological position is that creation was, before the Fall, perfect.

We all know what happened next.  Adam, Eve, Serpent, Apple, and the Fall, right?  What happened there?

Well, biblically, there are two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

What?  Why on Earth is that tree there?  At this point the world and all of creation are still perfect, right?  Okay, alright, Lucifer fell prior to that and became Satan, right?  So let’s move backwards a little bit, to his fall (and let’s nevermind the fact that the passage relating his supposed fall has nothing to do with any angel, rather the King of Babylon, but I digress.)

The basic story is that Lucifer and all the angels were made perfect, and were in the unfiltered presence of God in heaven.  But Lucifer wasn’t happy being just the chief angel, he wanted to be the most high and place himself above God.

Therefore he was flawed, right?  We’ll get back to that.

Here’s my first point.  Whether you call Lucifer or Eden square one, the fact is that prior to creating ANYTHING, there was, according to Christian theology, only God.  Nobody else.  No other thing other than God’s whole self and nature, which is perfectly good and perfectly pure.  From that ‘nothing else’ God created EVERYTHING.

There was no evil, right?

So God made the angels and created the heavens and the earth and all the animals and, last of all, people.

Now, God is omniscient and omnipresent, right?  He is also transcendent – he exists outside of the boundaries of time.  He knows the end from the beginning (Is 46:10.)

So at the moment right before he creates Lucifer, at the moment right before he creates people, he already sees the catastrophic tracts of evil, pain, and suffering ahead.  God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent sees it all.

Not only that, in the interest of free will, he designed us to be capable of falling, right?  If he didn’t, we wouldn’t fall.  In order to design us to be able to fall of our own “free will” (again, much more on that later) he had to define what that fall would entail, right?  To define free will, he had to create all of the potential for all of the evil ever committed throughout time.

If he had to create that, then does that not mean that evil, the concept, and the particulars thereof, came from within God?  Did he not then create every definition of evil that would ever exist?

But God is outside of time, so for him to “come up” with that definition, it would mean it had to always exist.  God is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6.)  Everything that he created, every idea he ever had, every concept that can ever be anywhere first had to be in him, and if it was in him, then it had to always be, which means that if he designed a world where evil was possible, then that evil, the very concept of evil, had to come from within himself.

This is a grand contradiction.  It’s also a serious flaw in the whole doctrine of free will, which we’ll get to in another post.

The point I want to nail down here is that it is not possible for a perfectly pure, all-powerful God to exist, who made everything, but knew no evil, nor could coexist with anything evil or impure.  If there was no such thing as evil before the universe was created, then the universe would reflect that lack – it would not exist.  The fact that it exists means that it had to already coexist with or within God, and since by Christian definition, only God existed before creation, it would have to come from within God.

Heck, Isaiah 45:7 even hints that God created evil.  Christians will gerrymander around this point incessantly, then fall back on *other* verses that say God is not the author of evil (James 1:13, Psalm 5:4, 18:30, 145:17), as if that somehow negates the logic of the argument, or the aforementioned verse in Isaiah.  They will also say that the Isaiah verse refers to adversity or calamity.  I don’t see how that’s an improvement.  If it’s God who sends a tidal wave to kill 240,000 people on Christmas Eve, isn’t that still capricious, possibly even malevolent?

Either way it hardly matters – God is still wholly responsible for all of the evil in the world.

Think of it this way.  Let’s say you are an architect and you build a beautiful theater for the purpose of housing the world’s most beautiful works of musical, dance, and theatrical arts.  It is gorgeous and perfect for its purpose – the best sight lines, the best acoustics, the best of everything.  But you design into it one simple flaw – the doors open inward instead of outward.  When a fire starts, and 2,000 people are trapped inside to burn alive, who is responsible?  Did they die because they chose to go to the theater?  Or did they die because the designer created that theater with a fatal flaw?

A lot of Christian Theology collapses under this particular argument, in my opinion.  This is one of the main linchpins that did in my faith once and for all.  A few days before I met with my pastor to tell him I no longer believed, I read a news article about a child porn ring that had been busted.  It was an online network where members downloaded and uploaded images.  Pedophiles had to upload pictures to maintain their membership.  The pictures were categorized into thematic sections.  One of the sections required all pictures submitted to show a child victim either crying or in obvious pain.

Did God not see that from the beginning?  Did he create a world where such vile suffering was possible?  Certain?  Predestined?  And did he, on that day, still pronounce his creation good?

If so, I’d rather risk hell than worship a God capable of creating that kind of evil.

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72 thoughts on “The Birth of Dr. Evil, or, Where Did Evil Come From?

  1. The real question is how can you believe in evil without believing in God?

    Your worldview cannot account for good or evil, right or wrong. So, to say that you don’t believe in God becasue of evil is an oxymoron. Without God there is no evil because there is no universal moral standard to judge it by.

    David Silverman admitted this in his debate with Dr. James White when he refers to the Holocaust has only wrong in his eyes but not morally or universally evil.

    So, when you write, “I read a news article about a child porn ring that had been busted. It was an online network where members downloaded and uploaded images. Pedophiles had to upload pictures to maintain their membership. The pictures were categorized into thematic sections. One of the sections required all pictures submitted to show a child victim either crying or in obvious pain.” You are implying it is evil and wrong. But you need to tell us why it is evil or wrong. Is it simply wrong to you? Or should it be considered wrong to everyone?

    I can give you an answer because God gave us his word through the inspired text of the Bible but you cannot.

    Travis (anotherchristianblog.org)

    • Using the term “universal moral standard” in reference to God’s perspective of good and evil is an oxymoron.

      God’s perspective, while bigger and more authoritative, is not the only perspective there is. For instance, God is not me. I am not God. My perspective can, and quite obviously does differ from his. We can disagree on issues of morality.

      God’s perspective does not equal objective reality, unless you believe that humanity has no free will. We have to have room to operate outside of his perspective. And therefore, the fact that God holds a certain standard of morality does not mean that this standard becomes objective.

      Saying that God’s understanding of morality trumps everyone else’s is not the same thing as saying that there is a universal understanding of morality. A universal understanding of morality actually requires that all perspectives other than God’s perspective recognize it as well. That is quite apparently not the case.

      There is no way to say that morality is universally standardized. It’s not.

      Your only argument appears to be that God’s perspective on evil trumps man’s, and that is how we can come to an agreement amidst the obviously diverse views on morality among humans. That does nothing but define an ultimate perspective — it doesn’t make good or evil objective, simply subjective outside of you or me.

      You’re playing the “the guy that came up with my opinion is bigger than you so his opinion trumps yours” card, which rarely gets us anywhere in discussions of ethics, which are based on reasons, not perspectives.

    • “The real question is how can you believe in evil without believing in God?”

      Evil has nothing to do with mythical sky beings. It is a human value judgment. There is no reason to suppose that creatures other than humans have this concept. For them, there are dangerous things, useful things, edible things and neutral things. Most generally don’t wish to be an edible thing – or at least wish to be dead before it happens.

      “Your worldview cannot account for good or evil, right or wrong.”

      It can. ‘God’ has nothing to do with morality. Morality comes from mothers. ‘God’ makes sociopaths. Mothers make good people who do right through empathy. Religion is spread through deceit, fear, torture and murder. Empathy is spread through patience and persistence..

      There is certainly no discernible moral code in the bible. Christians constantly offer proof of this.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Travis 🙂

    *Your worldview cannot account for good or evil, right or wrong.*

    Really? Actually, you’re perfectly incorrect. The concepts of Good and Evil predate Christianity, Judaism, and pretty much any recorded -ism you can get ahold of.

    Good and Evil are human concepts generally referring to human interrelation and the benefit/detriment of said interrelation. The idea that we need the bible to explain to us the benefit or detriment of certain actions on the part of one human toward another is narrow and archaic.

    *Without God there is no evil because there is no universal moral standard to judge it by.*

    Again incorrect. Murdering other humans is detrimental to those humans, and the behavior is detrimental to human society as a whole because to allow such actions to others unchecked would result in the eventual breakdown of human societies, which are necessary for the survival and growth of the species. It’s simple evolution, which you probably don’t believe in. Regardless it explains it well. Is it relative in a sense? It is, except that we are all humans and the benefits of living as a society are largely, though not completely I’m sure, universal.

    *I can give you an answer because God gave us his word through the inspired text of the Bible but you cannot.*

    What? Of course I can. It harms those children physically and psychologically, possibly damaging their ability to recover and have fulfilling lives and contribute to society. People, and society, are also wired by evolution to protect and defend their children because they ARE the survival of the species.

    Philosophically I can also make a claim based on the detriments on such behavior, label it as evil, and have instant understanding among people of diverse background.

    None of these things require your God, who apparently waited thousands upon thousands of years to start telling people what was evil and good, even though we’d figured most of it out by the time he appeared.

    Cheers. Thanks for visiting and sparring 🙂

    • Toon — you say
      ” Murdering other humans is detrimental to those humans, and the behavior is detrimental to human society as a whole because to allow such actions to others unchecked would result in the eventual breakdown of human societies, which are necessary for the survival and growth of the species. It’s simple evolution…”

      By internal definition, evolution is survival of the most fit. Applied, that would mean that if I am capable of murdering anyone I wanted to and surviving, I would fulfill evolution’s mandate. It would not be detrimental to my life or the lives of my progeny (assuming I could pass on the ability to kill). To assume that murder is detrimental, life has to have value, which begs the question from where does the value come? I believe that the value of life comes from the Creator of life, and the condemnation of murder also flows from Him. If you choose to abandon your belief in the Creator God and substitute your own created vision of reality based on evolution, remember that within evolution the ONLY good is that which promotes survival. In evolutionary thinking, the death of anything (or anyone) other than the survivor is by definition not detrimental, but good.

      • *By internal definition, evolution is survival of the most fit. Applied, that would mean that if I am capable of murdering anyone I wanted to and surviving, I would fulfill evolution’s mandate. It would not be detrimental to my life or the lives of my progeny (assuming I could pass on the ability to kill).*

        Not necessarily so at all. If by your act you create a conflict that results in the extinction of your tribe, then your act of murder only served to destroy your DNA line rather than perpetuate it. Humanity is, by nature, interdependent. You can’t pass on the ability to kill when your ability to kill results in the death of all of your line. However, had you the ability to interrelate with the other tribe, your line and theirs might have thrived and later dominated.

        Of course, all outcomes would serve their evolutionary purpose, but you can’t look at the issue so simplistically.

        *To assume that murder is detrimental, life has to have value, which begs the question from where does the value come? I believe that the value of life comes from the Creator of life, and the condemnation of murder also flows from Him.*

        Whoa there! You don’t see the big ol’ leap of faith you stuck in the middle of your logic? I’m glad you believe that, but your belief doesn’t just follow from the question. You’ve dropped a big bag of woo where none was necessary to create a claim. Human society is by nature interdependent. While a lone human *can* survive with some skill, humanity thrives in community. Life has immense value in community for the obvious reason that without them there is no community. Larger populations reveal broader skill sets and capabilities, the more of which you have the better your community’s chances of survival. Humanity’s creation of a moral mindset to solidify commitment to the community and to the value of the individual to the community provides a moral and emotional foundation for that value. It becomes intrinsic in the community. It was so long before the assemblage of any Judaic or Christian writings. Those writings simply formalized a much older morality for the sake of perpetuating a particular tribe, and later a particular religion.

        *If you choose to abandon your belief in the Creator God and substitute your own created vision of reality based on evolution, remember that within evolution the ONLY good is that which promotes survival. In evolutionary thinking, the death of anything (or anyone) other than the survivor is by definition not detrimental, but good.*

        The ONLY good? Nonsense. That’s pretending we’re starting from scratch in every generation. Human culture is cumulative. We’ve built over ages a set of societal mores that are almost universal across religions and philosophies. We have given value to life and to aspects of living by our own evolution. We have created right and wrong, we have created gods, we have given meaning, and those things now transcend the individual and are germane to humanity as a whole. The roots are in survival, but we’re waaaaay past that point. Life has great meaning, but it doesn’t need your god to give it that meaning. People were honoring their dead millennia before anyone ever thought up your particular god.

      • Toon (Anthony) — yup it’s me, Rick. “Pooskapop” came about because one of my daughters had the in-family nickname of “Pooska”…therefore, I am Pooskapop.
        Anyway, although the back and forth is fun, your understanding of evolutionary thinking is different than what I was taught in college. Back then {way, way back then 🙂 } , they told us that evolution means survival of the fittest, by any means. If that means murder, so be it. If that means that society creates a framework within which the family unit is important and allows survival, so be it. As to murder not promoting survival, there have been recent articles that suggest that the Neanderthals did not just die out, that they were killed by homo sapiens (except for a very few that interbred). If one believes that sort of thing, it would mean that in an evolutionary sense, murder promoted the survival of Homo Sapiens, and so in the evolutionary sense, murder was good. BTW, I do not agree, and will respond to Dr. Zen on evolution, without using my faith as a support for my position.

        As for my “bag of woo”…that comment was not there as support for any position that I have, merely as a point of reference to allow others to understand where I am coming from. Just a statement of belief. And you are not forced to acknowledge God, simply given the opportunity to do so. Your choice. Your decision, and I would never presume to tell anyone what they should or should not believe. My beliefs are based on the God of the bible offering redemption and forgiveness, and in that bible the God who created the universe and is omnipotent tells people what they should believe. He also gives them the opportunity to disagree with Him and explains the results of that choice. Again, your choice. I miss seeing & singing with you, and will make the effort to somehow get together at least for a big hug when I next travel through your area.

    • “The idea that we need the bible to explain to us the benefit or detriment of certain actions on the part of one human toward another is narrow and archaic.”

      Why should I be concerned with the detriment of others? I am assuming you hold to neo-darwinian evolution. If that is the case and the purpose of life is to simply expand my genetic pool then why would it be wrong for me to kill my neighbor and take his wife? I could sleep with her and spread my genes.

      But, you say that would be a detrimental to her so your worldview is contradictory. You cannot live consistently within your proclaimed worldview because you hold to evolution yet you know that it is wrong to kill and rape your neighbor. You are made in the image of God. And you use God’s truth to live morally yet cannot account for it in your worldview.

      • “why would it be wrong for me to kill my neighbor and take his wife? I could sleep with her and spread my genes”

        The downfall of this strategy for animals that live in groups is pretty obvious. It’s not impossible of course: gorillas do something similar.

        “But, you say that would be a detrimental to her so your worldview is contradictory”

        It would only be “contradictory” if evolution were some sort of golden rule that animals must do everything AnotherChristianBlog believes would increase their prevalence in the gene pool. Not only is this not true, but “spreading” genes is not actually our “purpose” in life.

        “You cannot live consistently within your proclaimed worldview because you hold to evolution yet you know that it is wrong to kill and rape your neighbor.”

        Evolution is a fact regardless what I think is right or wrong. Evolution is not a matter of dogma, like your belief in a sky god. It’s just what happens. There’s nothing in it that insists that human beings should slaughter each other to advance their own bloodline (that’s your fantasy, sorry), although it’s certainly true that humans have contested resources vigorously throughout their history, and among those resources, and the goal of some of that contest, have been women.

      • Ah, Dr. Zen — You said “Evolution is a fact regardless what I think is right or wrong… It’s just what happens. There’s nothing in it that insists that human beings should slaughter each other to advance their own bloodline”

        Perhaps you should be aware that current evolutionary thinking is that Homo Sapiens did indeed slaughter to advance their bloodline. Many recent articles posit that Neanderthals disappeared because of violent interaction with Homo Sapiens, now modern man. Not that I agree or believe, but I am aware of evolutionist thinking.

      • “pooskapop says:
        November 3, 2011 at 17:48

        Ah, Dr. Zen — You said “Evolution is a fact regardless what I think is right or wrong… It’s just what happens. There’s nothing in it that insists that human beings should slaughter each other to advance their own bloodline”

        Perhaps you should be aware that current evolutionary thinking is that Homo Sapiens did indeed slaughter to advance their bloodline. Many recent articles posit that Neanderthals disappeared because of violent interaction with Homo Sapiens, now modern man. Not that I agree or believe, but I am aware of evolutionist thinking.”

        You have either misunderstood the recent research or had it misrepresented to you. Animals have absolutely no awareness of “fighting for their bloodline” and this is not how evolution works. When we talk about fitness in evolutionary theory, we do not mean physical fitness. We mean fitness for purpose.

        What happens is that the environment the animal is in changes, and what promotes survival changes with it. So today’s fittest animal can be tomorrow’s discard.

        In the case of homo sapiens and Neanderthal man, what is possible is that both species competed for the same food resources. Do you see that in that case neither is “fighting for their bloodline”, but each is fighting for *themselves*? This is all animals do: keep themselves alive and try to reproduce. It’s all we do.

        “A mosquito population that changes by becoming resistant to an insecticide has adapted, not evolved.”

        No, it has not. This misunderstanding is called Lamarckism. The animals themselves do not change. They are however they are. It’s their reproductive outcomes that change.

        I understand that the latest “thinking” in creationism is to concede “micro”evolution to us and deny “macro”evolution. What creationists fail to understand (because they learn their stuff from creationist websites and cannot understand science on the most basic level) is that microevolution IS evolution. At any given time, a species is not unitary: each animal has a different, unique (apart from twins etc) set of genes. (I don’t think you can deny this because you could be shown it with your own eyes.) Where I might share a gene with you, Anthony might have a different version of it. The different versions exist in different proportions, and as each of us breeds, those proportions change over time. The genes that differ give us different colour hair, different body types, different faces that attract women or do not.

        Speciation often happens when a subpopulation is geographically separated from the main population of a species. When a population’s genetic material is affected by mutations, those mutations, if favourable, spread. Clearly, separate populations have separate mutations. In time, the animals involved will have evolved to the point that the two populations can no longer interbreed. At this point, there has been speciation.

        It doesn’t take much thinking to realise that this process can happen in a population that is not split.

        The rest of your post has been answered countless times on the internet and I’m not going to bother refuting intelligent design here. You’re just wrong, I’m afraid. Animals exist NOW with the adaptations you say couldn’t survive. Of course they are sometimes left with useless things. You had an appendix. Whales have hips and ankles.

      • If you have access to a peer reviewed research paper showing that insecticide resistant mosquitoes are not able to breed with non-resistant mosquitoes and their genome has diverged enough to become a separate species, please cite the source and publication date. If you have such, I will retract my contention that insecticide resistance is adaptation, not evolution.

        On another subject (polite discourse): oops…not nice for you to say that I “cannot understand science on the most basic level”. Your statement is not supported by facts. In college, I was a chemistry major with a history minor. I took chemistry as a sophomore in high school, and took advanced placement (college credit) chemistry as a Junior. Not really basic level science, eh? I also was not a creationist at that time, and believed what I was taught about evolution, but I have learned as did Dr. Kenyon. Evolution is a working hypothesis, not a fact.
        You have chosen to believe in evolution without what I would consider proof (any transitional fossil or currently transitional animal). I have chosen to believe in creation without what you would consider proof, but I would not resort to commenting on your ability to understand. I will leave it to God to work on your heart and mind and will pray for your future enlightenment. Just remember God loves you and so do I.

      • *But, you say that would be a detrimental to her so your worldview is contradictory.*

        What? Utter nonsense. It would be detrimental to her emotionally, and considering you’re a murderer, probably physically. But hey, you’re forgetting someone. It’s detrimental to him, and it’s detrimental to the society you live in, because nobody’s safe, especially if they have a hawt wife. You see, as society matures, a society of free equals is generally more beneficial to the whole – it’s very complex. You keep coming up with inane simplicities and crying ‘contradiction’ without any cause.

        What you’re missing is that a cultural philosophy about living in a society of human beings has grown over the millennia – Hundreds of religions have formalized those basic philosophies (the golden rule, etc.) over that time, aiding enforcement of those philosophies.

        Since we’re all humans on this space marble, I have a sense of equity and justice. It’s not given to me by some incorporeal spirit in the sky. It’s given to me by my own sense of self-preservation and the cognitive ability to interrelate and empathize.

        You see, I wouldn’t want you killing me and taking my wife. I don’t think any one individual would want that. Therefore that is wrong as far as I’m concerned. I have the cognitive capacity to see that it would be wrong from the point of view of any victim. As a collective we can all start to see that what we don’t want others to do to us, we also should not do to others. Agreeing to live by that sense of equity allows us to live safely, to survive as a collective species. It is all part of the mechanism. When some AnotherChristian murderer comes along and threatens the balance of safety, the reaction of most communities is to neutralize the rogue element. Today you’d be incarcerated. For most of recorded time they’d kill your murdering self and dump you in Gehenna outside of town.

        It’s not “God’s” truth. It was true for communities thousands of years before YHWH was even named by the first Semitic tribal priest/shaman/chief trying to put some meaning to it all.

      • Dr. Zen: “Evolution is a fact.” This shows where your faith is placed. For someone that would claim to be so logical it seems illogical to claim a theory as a fact. And last time I checked Neo-Darwinian Evolution is a theory.

        Toon: “When some AnotherChristian murderer comes along and threatens the balance of safety, the reaction of most communities is to neutralize the rogue element.” I appreciate you calling me a murderer. However, your accounting for morals is strange. Here is a good moral question for you.

        Is abortion, in it’s average usage, morally permissible?

      • Here are several thousand papers on the evolution of resistance to insecticide in mosquitoes: http://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=evolution+of+resistance+mosquitoes&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

        Here’s an article on Lamarckism for you to start to clue yourself up on “adaptation”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism

        Evolution is not a “working hypothesis”. It’s a fact. It’s a sad thing that even a person trained in a scientific discipline (although not biology, clearly) would lie about that.

        And as for polite discourse, yes I said “lie”. Because as I said, you can have your own hypothesis but you do not get to have your own facts.

        Among those many thousands of papers are many on how allele replacement is linked to insecticide resistance. Scientists can even induce resistance by replacing alleles themselves. Here’s just one paper that you could look at: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2411080

        As for “transitional fossils”, do you know how ridiculous you make yourself sound? How about Pezosiren portelli? (transitional between animals similar to cows and whales) You do know that whales have hips and ankles, right? How about therapsids (watch that jawbone migrate to the ear — you do know that your earbones, with which you hear, are relics of a reptile jawbone? You do know that snakes are deaf because they didn’t evolve the same way?)

        What about the hominid line? There are no billion-year-old homo sapiens. Why? There should be. After all, we’ve only “adapted”, right?

      • Dr. Zen — Firstly, no need to insult me by saying I was making an intentionally false statement (the definition of “lie”). I was only telling you what I believe. You believe that Darwinian evolution is a fact, I do not. I believe the God of the bible created the earth, you do not. That does not make you a lier, nor does it make me a lier. It simply means we disagree. I am sorry that you feel the need to resort to name-calling rather than engage in polite discussion of opposing viewpoints.

        On another subject, you said:

        “You do understand that once you accept that mosquitoes can evolve resistance to pesticides, you will have to accept that they can evolve an inability to have sex with other mosquitoes of the wrong type?
        You care to deny that? You want to gamble I don’t have a link to a paper showing exactly that?”

        My response was to ask for a paper showing proof of your statement. You provided a link to multiple papers discussing genetic changes in mosquitoes as a result of pesticide exposure. None of those changes resulted in a new species, and none discussed the result you mentioned (“an inability to have sex with other mosquitoes of the wrong type”). It seems like you have chosen to believe in evolution rather than creation, and you view the world through that lens. Your choice. I have chosen to believe in creation rather than evolution, and a God who is in complete control of all nature. My choice.

        I will finish with this: even if you don’t believe it, you are deeply loved by God and are valuable to Him because you were created in His image. You are so loved that He came and died for you and is offering you the chance to accept His free gift of eternal life. He wants a relationship with you. Your choice to believe or not. I will pray that you do accept His gift and that your mind will be opened.

      • surrender? I wasn’t aware that you felt it was a contest… Oh well, I will continue to pray for you.
        btw, still haven’t found any mention of species differentiation / new species / inability to breed in mosquitoes due to pesticides in any of the articles on your link. I’m 8 or 9 pages into the list, and done looking. Let me know if you find any proof. No gamble.

      • I was bluffing you obviously. Mosquitoes have not speciated. There’s no reason they should. I’d be interested to know your hypothesis to explain why there are more than one species though, and why their genetic material is so similar yet not the same, with the differences very specific.

        However, if you do read those papers, you’ll clearly see that the scientists can isolate the alleles that specify for resistance. Are you genuinely suggesting that they have “adapted” their own genes to be resistant to pesticides? How did that work? What’s the mechanism for their genes changing? Does your god change them as needed? If he does, why didn’t he change our genes so that we didn’t suffer from back pain because our posture does not suit our body plan? Why does he not fix our tendency to short sight?

        You do know that genetics crushes your hypothesis and confirms ours? Mosquitoes may not have speciated but resistant and unresistant mosquitoes have different genes. Why? Why do more have the resistant genes now than did 20 years ago?

        Is the resemblance between our earbones and a reptile’s jaw purely coincidental?

        Why do we have an appendix?

        Why do bats have fingers? If they were designed, why were they designed with something so useless to them? Why do whales have hips? Why were they designed with hips when they don’t have legs?

        It’s okay. I don’t expect answers. I know that you are forced to restrict yourself to trying to chip away at the margins. People like you are one percenters. Science is built on doubt. It does not and cannot deal in certainties because it is about building a model that approximates the world, which can never be confirmed (it’s only a model) but can be disproved. We can only ever hope that our model will work very close to the way the world works. You rely on our scepticism, our belief that we can never find the “truth”, to hide in the one percent, the margin, the gap that we cannot close at this time. The problem for creationists is that by focusing on the gap, you place your god there too. Instead of accepting our science for what it is, and accepting that whoever wrote the bible misinterpreted the world (or the word of your god, however you like it), you insist that it is a lie. And you are forced to insist that we too are believers. But we are not. We are doubters. We built science with doubt, and we build knowledge with it.

        Evolution is a fact. You’ve given us that. You accept that “micro”evolution happens. I am not sure whether you are unaware or just ignoring that all evolution is microevolution. Our theory doesn’t require any other kind. Our hypothesis is that microevolution occurs and over time its results are what you call macroevolution.

        Mosquitoes that have been exposed to a certain pesticide evolve resistance to it. Simply put, some of those mosquitoes already had the resistance because their genes mutated in previous generations. That mutation was neutral in a world without the pesticide. Once the pesticide was applied, the mosquitoes with pesticide prosper, because the others die and cannot reproduce.

        Deny genes mutate if you like. That is also a fact. We can bombard insects with UV and make their genes mutate (read the papers through and you’ll find scientists doing that).

        Were we to separate a million mosquitoes from the main population, their genes would over time slowly mutate. The genetic material that the population shares drifts over time. Each mosquito has unique genetic material of course, just as we do unless we are twins. But it comes from a pool shared by the population. In time, that pool of genetic material would include genes that make it impossible for the mosquitoes to interbreed with other populations.

        Do you deny all this? At what point do you disagree?

  3. Btw ToonForever,

    You might want to read some Plato, who taught that the soul cannot undergo any annihilation. Indeed Plato’s Monad is the souls unigue reality.Lebiniz called monads as the basic unit or perceptual reality. For Aristotle and Plotinus, this is first being: God!

  4. I didn’t realise that about fundy theology. God can’t tolerate sin? Perhaps he should have avoided creating sinners then?

    My big problem with your prior beliefs is that they demand a god who is, all in all, a bit silly. He’s transcendent and omniscient, but didn’t realise that the beings he made as the peak of his creation would offend him? He’s omnipotent but cannot tolerate sin? He enjoys blood sacrifice? He considers your earthly life a trial, at the end of which he will judge you and in many cases punish you for eternity for failing the test? I mean, come on. He’s omniscient. He could just skip the whole test thing. Also, he’s transcendent, so at the exact same time he’s setting the test, he’s punishing me for failing it. Thanks for that, Gahd, very loving.

  5. This brings to mind the question I asked myself last summer:

    “Does God have the capacity to do any evil?”

    Being a believer at the time, I recognized that an omnipotent God could not be without the ability to do evil. The righteousness of God came from his choice to never do evil.

    Which brings to mind the question of how free our wills are? We are constantly manipulated by our surroundings, our emotions, our bodies, and other people. If you are a spiritual Christian, you most likely also believe that Satan is manipulating you at some points in the midst of a the spiritual warfare that goes on behind the scenes.

    If we do not truly have an unencumbered choice, can we really say that we freely choose to sin?

    Jesus was used as my answer for this. Jesus was the representation of God as a being who could handle all of the stress and temptation and still remain without sin.

    Of course, if Jesus was God, then Jesus had total and complete control over his body, emotions, and surroundings. It is still not the same thing.

    The entire situation seems quite unfair and unjust to me. We are locked into a world that manipulates us and controls us, and yet we are held accountable as though our choices were purely ours to make.

    Anyway, I’m just rambling. Thanks for your post!

    • Thanks for your reply 🙂

      And of course I hear your consternation too – I think you allude more to free will – an upcoming topic that I’m really looking forward to delving into 🙂

  6. Toon — you are correct: God is responsible for evil. That does not mean He created it, however. God created angels and mankind with free will and their own ability to create. For example, I can decide (free will) to create a sculpture by welding together steel rods. Even though an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God knows I have built the sculpture, He did not create it. He only set up the parameters that allowed me to create it. God did not create evil, but He did create beings that had the ability to disobey Him and bring evil into creation.

    As an example of responsibility, when I ran a business I had employees who had the choice (free will) to abide by rules I had established for their conduct. If one of my delivery drivers chose to drink while on duty and caused an accident, I was responsible for that action even though I did not make the decision to drink and drive. So…responsible for, but not creator of.

    Lucifer was good when created, but used his free will to choose to disobey and in so doing create evil for himself. Did God know Lucifer would make that choice? Yes, but he allowed it anyway. The real question is “why?” I believe that He wanted a loving relationship with beings who had the choice not to love Him. As an earthly example I want a loving relationship with my wife because she chooses to love me, not because she was created with no other option. If one does not have any other option, that is not really love.

    • Interesting logical progression.

      1. God has free will.
      2. God does not ever do evil.
      4. To make a being with free will, God has to make beings that will do evil sometimes.

      |:

      • yup…free will means just that: FREE
        It means there cannot be any restrictions on what that being wants to do, which includes evil.

      • not the “exact right answer”, just yes or no. Remember how easy a “true-false” test was in school? This is the same: either you believe Jesus is God and died to atone for your sins, then rose from the grave and offers you eternal life; or you don’t believe. Easy.

      • This all reminds me of that saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The thing is though that we would think differently of the gunmaker if he knew the whole history of the gun before he made it, if he could see the people being killed with his weapon.And made the people.

      • Nah – it’s the exact right answer. There’s the Catholic way, the Anglican way, the Pentecostal way, the Baptist way, the Amish way, the Quaker way, the Shaker way, the Joel Osteen way even. You’ve got to get the yes in the right way. Eternal security or no eternal security? Do you have the Holy Spirit or dontcha? There’s a lot more to the equation – you probably don’t have a lot of cause to think you’ve got it done the right way. The odds are against you.

      • “There’s the Catholic way, the Anglican way, the Pentecostal way, the Baptist way, the Amish way, the Quaker way, the Shaker way, the Joel Osteen way even.”

        Therein lies the essential rub of why I eschewed Christianity. I greatly enjoy discussions of religion because over the years they help clarify my initial Dylanesque exodus of “There must be some kinda way outta here (said the joker to the thief). There’s too much confusion – I can’t get no relief.”

    • RIck, is that you? LOL. Gotcha –

      Okay, onward:

      *God is responsible for evil.*

      Glad we got that out of the way [grin]

      *That does not mean He created it, however. God created angels and mankind with free will and their own ability to create. For example, I can decide (free will) to create a sculpture by welding together steel rods. Even though an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God knows I have built the sculpture, He did not create it. He only set up the parameters that allowed me to create it. God did not create evil, but He did create beings that had the ability to disobey Him and bring evil into creation.*

      It means exactly that. Evil existed as a concept before it was ever committed, else God could not have created being capable of something he himself had not already conceptualized in all its fullness. Evil is, in fact, only a concept, really. It is how we categorize the acts of humans towards other humans and towards nature. It is how we evaluate lovemaking vs. rape, murder vs. euthanasia vs. self-defense.

      You see, if God had not already conceived of the concept of sculpture in all its possibilities, you would not be able to sculpt, period. God created all that was, is, and will be, according to the Christian theology, in turn interpreting the bible.

      Which begs the question – if prior to creation, god existed fully formed, unchanging, and self-sufficient, where did that concept come from? It could only come from within god, otherwise it couldn’t be conceptualized in any finite creation, because it wouldn’t be able to exist. If God is all in all, he can’t conceive of anything outside himself. Where would this contrast ever come from? What is there to contrast to if there is only god? He has to author all possibilities of evil in order to write those possibilities into the code of the universe. Creation cannot then create that which god could not first conceive. Creation can only discover that which god wrought.

      *As an example of responsibility, when I ran a business I had employees who had the choice (free will) to abide by rules I had established for their conduct. If one of my delivery drivers chose to drink while on duty and caused an accident, I was responsible for that action even though I did not make the decision to drink and drive. So…responsible for, but not creator of.*

      So then God *is* responsible for the evil men do? Glad we cleared that up too. Then he has no grounds to send anyone to hell for doing that which he is equally responsible for. It’s not an act of love to send a savior, it’s his duty at best, and still he has no grounds to punish others for what he is responsible for an not also punish himself in like fashion – i.e.: eternal torment.

      That doesn’t even touch the gap in your example that god created his workers to be flawed and he knew they would drink and drive, because he built that into the design and he knew they would do it, yet sent them anyway.

      Rick, my man, the argument falls apart. It’s not that I’m saying that god is there and is something other than what you say. I’m trying to point out that the bible is an amalgamation of many different human thoughts about god. The concepts are man made, flawed, and inconsistent, as one would expect of many authors writing over eons from their own cultural perspective.

      As for Lucifer? We’ll get into that in a post coming up soon 🙂 Cheers –

    • If God creates a being knowing he will do evil, God has created evil. There’s no real way out of that. The early Christian fathers made a mistake by making God omniscient and transcendental. He’s just too powerful. He already knew all of Lucifer’s choices when he created him and he created him in a particular way and not some other. You need God not to be responsible for creation or not to be omniscient for your story to work. The former was the conclusion reached by the gnostics among others.

      Also, human beings do not have a real option not to love God. Your wife isn’t going to set you on fire if you stop loving her.

  7. AnotherChristianBlog:

    “Dr. Zen: “Evolution is a fact.” This shows where your faith is placed. For someone that would claim to be so logical it seems illogical to claim a theory as a fact. And last time I checked Neo-Darwinian Evolution is a theory.”

    You clearly don’t understand what a “theory” is in science. It is not a hypothesis, a guess or even a conjecture. It is a framework used to explain a series of facts and observations. It’s a great pity that the word is used in the common parlance as a synonym for hypothesis.

    Evolution is a fact. Beings evolve. We can observe them doing so. This isn’t even controversial. Anyone who doubts it is simply misinformed. I could demonstrate evolution to you given a lab. When we talk about, for instance, mosquitoes becoming resistant to insecticides, what we are describing is evolution in action. Mosquitoes individually do not change. As a population, they become resistant, because those mosquitoes that are born with a gene for resistance to the insecticide live and reproduce, and those that do not, do not.

    The theory of evolution explains the diversity of life. It seeks to explain facts that we can readily observe. The facts are not in dispute. You can have your own hypothesis but you do not get to have your own facts.

    “Toon: “When some AnotherChristian murderer comes along and threatens the balance of safety, the reaction of most communities is to neutralize the rogue element.” I appreciate you calling me a murderer. However, your accounting for morals is strange. Here is a good moral question for you.

    Is abortion, in it’s average usage, morally permissible?”

    What if he thinks it’s not? What have you proved? Only that you and he differ in what you believe is moral. If morality were absolute, that should not be possible. He would have to be wrong in the face of it. But he would not be.

    But you know well that he doesn’t think it is. So your point is that he derives his morality from a Christian perspective. So what? We all live in nations whose mores were moulded by Christian beliefs. Had we lived in classical Rome, we’d likely all agree that exposing unwanted or deformed children on hillsides was moral.

    • Dr. Zen — When you said ” Evolution is a fact. Beings evolve. We can observe them doing so. This isn’t even controversial. Anyone who doubts it is simply misinformed. I could demonstrate evolution to you given a lab. When we talk about, for instance, mosquitoes becoming resistant to insecticides, what we are describing is evolution in action. Mosquitoes individually do not change. As a population, they become resistant, because those mosquitoes that are born with a gene for resistance to the insecticide live and reproduce, and those that do not, do not.”, you were very close to the truth. What you described was micro evolution, also known as adaptation. A mosquito population that changes by becoming resistant to an insecticide has adapted, not evolved. They are still mosquitoes. If they were more specifically Anopheles mosquitoes, they would not “evolve’ into another new species due to the insecticide, and they certainly would not become a new genus. The theory of evolution posits that such a change would take place, but it does not. The theory of evolution says that small incremental changes take place over long periods of time, but cannot account for complex body parts which could not work if assembled via small incremental changes. For example, the eye would not function without being complete, yet if evolution were correct a non-functional eye would be bred out as un-needed. Another example is the bacterial flagellum. This complex mechanical unit which is used by bacteria to propel themselves could not have originated via the mechanism of evolution, unless one believes that somehow one bacterium spontaneously had one with no previous progenitor. A partial flagellum would be of no value and would breed out according to evolutionary theory.
      There has been absolutely no evidence ever found of a transitional species, and none exists today. If evolution were a fact, we would see examples of currently evolving species all around us, and they are not there. I am not one who has had a great deal of education, so I would refer you to this man and his work:

      Dean H. Kenyon is Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University. He received his Ph.D. in Biophysics from Stanford University. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemical Biodynamics at the University of California at Berkeley, a Research Associate at NASA-Ames Research Center, and a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College, Oxford University.
      Prof. Kenyon coauthored Biochemical Predestination which is one of the leading monographs on the origin of life, and Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. He contributed chapters to the Festschrift volumes for origin-of-life researchers A. I. Oparin and Sidney W. Fox, and has published papers on chemical evolution, protocell models, and the RNA-world hypothesis.
      Dr. Kenyon’s current research interests focus on linguistic, statistical, and visual imaging analysis of coding and non-coding DNA sequences.

      If one chooses to believe in evolution, that is their choice. However, that choice requires a significant amount of faith in pure chance. Sir Fred Hoyle, Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University, said “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged from inanimate matter is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein”.

    • So micro-evolution is a fact. I agree with that. But Neo-Darwinian Evolution is bigger than that if I am not mistaken.

      Dr. Zen wrote: “Evolution is a fact. Beings evolve. We can observe them doing so. This isn’t even controversial. Anyone who doubts it is simply misinformed. I could demonstrate evolution to you given a lab. When we talk about, for instance, mosquitoes becoming resistant to insecticides, what we are describing is evolution in action. Mosquitoes individually do not change. As a population, they become resistant, because those mosquitoes that are born with a gene for resistance to the insecticide live and reproduce, and those that do not, do not.”

      Can you show me a mosquito that is turning into another species or can you show me only some that are resistant to insecticides?

      Christians have never doubted micro-evolution but macro-evolution has yet to be proven. You can say something is a fact but it doesn’t mean it is a fact.

      • “Christians have never doubted micro-evolution but macro-evolution has yet to be proven.”

        Well it has. You just don’t understand or, worse, deny the proof.

        You do understand that once you accept that mosquitoes can evolve resistance to pesticides, you will have to accept that they can evolve an inability to have sex with other mosquitoes of the wrong type?

        You care to deny that? You want to gamble I don’t have a link to a paper showing exactly that?

    • Wait you have a link to a paper that studies a mosquitoe becoming a new species? Because that is what Darwinian Evolution postulates. So, even if they are resistant to pesticides or cant have sex they are still mosquitoes. Thus, Darwinian is NOT a fact it is merely a belief that you hold yet criticize the Christian for trusting in the communication of the God that created all living things.

  8. AnotherChristianBlog:

    *I appreciate you calling me a murderer.*

    It was YOUR illustration [eyeroll]

    *However, your accounting for morals is strange.*

    Strange? I’d say it’s anthropologically and philosophically right down the middle. It’s your insistence that we need a god to hand us said morality well after we’ve figured it out for ourselves that is strange. That’s not even getting into the fact that this moral god doesn’t really feel the need to adhere to the morality that is supposedly part and parcel of his very nature.

    *Here is a good moral question for you. Is abortion, in it’s average usage, morally permissible?*

    I assume by “average usage” you mean in a contraceptive sort of way. It might surprise you to know that I personally think it is not. There are a couple of reasons for that. As someone who thinks we as people should treat every living thing with compassion, protect the weak and helpless, and never be cavalier about the taking of any life anytime, I think that fetuses are children at their supreme helplessness. I am against the death penalty in nearly all cases. I don’t think it’s consistent to be for one and against the other.

    Again, aborting that baby is, to my mind, removing its chance for self-determination and fulfillment, its chance to grow up and become part of society.

    That said, I understand others see it differently. It’s not a simple question by any stretch. What would we do with another 1 million plus children a year? An enormous amount of social help would be necessary. Don’t even pretend that your local Crisis Pregnancy Center is going to take care of the problem. Not even close, and nevermind that some of the women who might need that sort of support have very good reasons for not involving themselves deeply into something so directly Christian.

    I’m not even sure it’s a good moral question, though I can see why you’d say so. it’s a convoluted question, at best.

  9. Hi everybody,

    ON EVIL AND GOD

    On the question of evil, Christian theology says that everything arose directly and solely from the omnipotent power, will, intelligence and compassion of “God,” who also remains “in” all things. So what room is there for “evil” to arise? None. There should not be any “evil” if that’s what you believe about “God.”

    Does God have free will? How can He? By definition He knows everything and only makes the perfect decision, and has all power too, so He can make sure his decisions go where He knows they must go. So God has no free will. And for that matter, neither do we, based on the above definitions of “God.”

    “Free will” is not an answer. A totally “free” will is no more beneficial when it comes to making wise decisions than spinning a wheel of fortune. What we need is not “free” will but “intelligence.” We need to make intelligent decisions, not “free” ones, and for intelligent decisions we need to continue to acquire knowledge. Rather than making “free will” decisions that are allegedly “disconnected” from this space-time cosmos, we need to be connected to the cosmos through all the knowledge we can acquire and all the foresight that knowledge can give us, so that we make intelligent decisions.

    Lastly, if “free will” is so important will people have it in hell, and still be able to repent? Will people in heaven have “free will” and be able to sin and get damned later?

    ON MORALITY

    The vast majority of us heartily dislike having our lives or belongings taken from us at someone else’s whim. Such “dislikes” are so universal it’s not difficult to imagine that how “laws” originated that incorporated such “dislikes.”

    Furthermore. . .

    “Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or a religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates…Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order… When social animals are involved…antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human. ”

    [Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates]

    “Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:

    “Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection… Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.”(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

    “That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.

    “These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt–though of course usually an unsuccessful one–to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.

    “If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we–being creatures subject to gravitation–could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin’s idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention.”

    [Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001]

    SOME PERSONAL THOUGHTS

    There’s lot’s we could all gripe about concerning human decision-making and human history. The difference between my views and those of say, a devout Christian like Augustine is that I don’t think we’d all be angels if “Adam hadn’t eaten a piece of forbidden fruit,” or that “original sin” is to blame. Rather, I view the matter biologically, psychologically, and sociologically. Humans are both a social and competitive species, and there’s also plain old ignorance and stupidity to blame, as well as inherent difficulties in acquiring knowledge and sharing it, difficulties in learning and communicating. And there are cultural differences that include religious differences. And there’s the way the mind makes grandiose assumptions and generalizations, and how we learn to fear and like different things, or fear and like the same things but to different degrees.

    We learn to love different things too, different holy books, different literature, different songs, and even within the writings we love there’s parts we may love more than others do, and other parts we may dislike more than others do. But none of us can simply turn on love and hate at will, nor can we simply turn on “belief” or “faith” at will. It’s all part of a process, and not an easy one. “Instant conversion” stories are far rarer than the norm of lengthy enculturation. In fact “instant conversions” involve a feeling at first, but one’s education in whatever religion (or lack of religion) that one has “converted to” comes later.

    MICHAEL SHERMER also makes some interesting points:

    I wanna believe and you do too, in fact I think belief is the natural state of things, it’s the default option, we just believe, we believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural, while disbelief, science, skepticism is not natural. It’s more difficult, it’s uncomfortable to not beleive things. We have a belief engine in our brains. We are pattern seeking primates who seek associations between things. So we connect the dots, thinking A is connected to B, and sometimes it really is connected to B. We find patterns we make connections, whether it’s Pavlov’s dog associating the sound of a bell with food and then salivating to the sound of a bell, or a rat pressing a lever expecting food to appear. In fact it was discovered that if you put a pigeon in a box where it has to press one or two keys for a reward in the hopper box, if you start to randomly assign rewards such that there is no pattern, the pigeon will imagine there must be one, such that whatever the pigeon was doing just before the reward appeared, the pigeon will repeat that particular pattern, sometimes it was even spinning around twice counter clockwise, once clockwise, and peck the key twice. And that’s called superstition.
    –Michael Shermer, “The Pattern Behind Self Deception,” a TED talk, 2010 http://youtu.be/b_6-iVz1R0o

    FRANZ DE WAAL, the primatologist who has studied bonobos for decades, and written some great books, including Peacemaking Among Primates, Our Inner Ape, and Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, has some fascinating things to say:

    “The possibility that empathy resides in parts of the brain so ancient that we share them with rats should give pause to anyone comparing politicians with those poor, underestimated creatures.”

    “I’ve argued that many of what philosophers call moral sentiments can be seen in other species. In chimpanzees and other animals, you see examples of sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, a willingness to follow social rules. Dogs are a good example of a species that have and obey social rules; that’s why we like them so much, even though they’re large carnivores.”

    “To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us.”

    A REVIEW OF A RECENT BOOK ON THE MIND’S BIASES

    Let there be no mistake: nothing that you remember, think or feel is as it seems. Your memories are mere figments of your imagination and your decisions are swayed by irrational biases. Your emotions reflect the feelings of those around you as much as your own circumstances.

    In What Makes Your Brain Happy, David DiSalvo takes us on a whistle-stop tour of our mind’s delusions. No aspect of daily life is left untouched: whether he is exploring job interviews, first dates or the perils of eBay, DiSalvo will change the way you think about thinking.

    DiSalvo’s talk in his title of “happy brains” has little to do with joy and well-being, though. Instead, it is shorthand for our grey matter’s tendency to choose the path of least resistance. When explaining confirmation bias, for instance, DiSalvo cites brain scans showing that we treat conflicting information as if it is a physical threat. As a result, we choose the “happier” option of ignoring details that don’t fit our views.

    DiSalvo admits in his introduction that the happy brain metaphor is “intentionally oversimplified”. Indeed, by the end of the book it has been stretched dangerously thin. In a chapter on imitation, for example, he tells us that “a happy brain is happy to copy”. But an “unhappy” brain is just as big a copycat – that is how our mirror neurons work, whatever our mood.
    If you can ignore these glitches, What Makes Your Brain Happy is an enjoyable manual to your psyche that may change your life. As DiSalvo says: “The brain is a superb miracle of errors, and no one, except the brainless, is exempt.”

    FINAL P.S. Snakes are not deaf. Their brains react to sounds in the low ranges, they have an inner ear, and also use their jaw bones, a dual system of hearing.

    • Snakes are deaf. Most deaf people “react to sounds” but it doesn’t mean they can hear.

      Any scientist who claims dogs have empathy is a charlatan, btw. They have no theory of mind and cannot theorise about third-order intentionality. HTH.

      • Hi Dr. Zen,

        Here’s some info on HOW SNAKES HEAR

        New research indicates that snakes can hear airborne sound waves in the low-frequency range.

        The 1988 edition of The New Encyclopedia Britannica says: The fact [that snakes lack an external ear], together with a seeming indifference to airborne sounds, has led to the supposition that snakes are deaf or that they can perceive only such vibrations as reach them through the ground on which they crawl. This supposition is incorrect; snakes are sensitive to some airborne sound waves and are able to receive them through a mechanism that serves as a substitute for the tympanic membrane… Although the sensitivity of the snake ear varies with the species, it is appreciably sensitive only to tones in the low-frequency range, usually those in the region 100 to 700 hertz. (Volume 27, Sensory Reception)

        Feb. 21, 2008 — Scientists in the United States and Germany have for the first time demonstrated how snakes could hear, despite their lack of external ears and internal eardrums. [Snakes have complete inner ear systems, including functional cochlea, which are carefully connected to and stimulated by their lower jaw.]

        The research shows that snakes actually have two hearing systems. . . By hearing through their jaw bone AND THROUGH A TRADITIONAL EAR, snakes essentially evolved a second way to hear, say the researchers. Humans also have a very crude version of this ability. If you hit a tuning fork lightly and place it in the air next to your ear, the sound will be faint. If you lightly hit the tuning fork again and then place the base against the bone behind your ear, the sound becomes much stronger. While a human jaw is one complete bone, snakes actually have two jaws, an adaptation that allows them to swallow prey larger than themselves, but also apparently lets them hear in stereo. Catherine Carr, a biologist at the University of Maryland who was not involved in the research, said that the work “was truly interesting. Transmission through the skull may have been how the first land vertebrates heard.” The work was reported recently in the journal Physical Review Letters. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/02/21/snake-hearing-ear-print.html http://www.innovations-report.de/html/berichte/physik_astronomie/bericht-100983.html

      • MORE ON SNAKE HEARING

        Snake bioacoustics: toward a richer understanding of the behavioral ecology of snakes.
        Q Rev Biol. 2003 Sep;78(3):303-25.
        Young BA. Department of Biology, Lafayette College Easton, Pennsylvania 18042, USA.

        Snakes are frequently described in both popular and technical literature as either deaf or able to perceive only groundborne vibrations. Physiological studies have shown that snakes are actually most sensitive to airborne vibrations. Snakes are able to detect both airborne and groundborne vibrations using their body surface (termed somatic hearing) as well as from their inner ears. The central auditory pathways for these two modes of “hearing” remain unknown. Recent experimental evidence has shown that snakes can respond behaviorally to both airborne and groundborne vibrations. The ability of snakes to contextualize the sounds and respond with consistent predatory or defensive behaviors suggests that auditory stimuli may play a larger role in the behavioral ecology of snakes than was previously realized. Snakes produce sounds in a variety of ways, and there appear to be multiple acoustic Batesian mimicry complexes among snakes. Analyses of the proclivity for sound production and the acoustics of the sounds produced within a habitat or phylogeny specific context may provide insights into the behavioral ecology of snakes. The relatively low information content in the sounds produced by snakes suggests that these sounds are not suitable for intraspecific communication. Nevertheless, given the diversity of habitats in which snakes are found, and their dual auditory pathways, some form of intraspecific acoustic communication may exist in some species. PMID: 14528622

        That reminded me that I had another link to more research by Bruce Young, including this article: Auditory Atavism and Integrated Pathways for Hearing in Snakes (PDF)

      • Please read what I wrote. Evelyn Glennie can follow a cue, but she is deaf. Flies can respond to movements of air, but they are also deaf. Sophistry will not make a snake hear.

      • Hi Dr. Zen,
        Snakes can hear airbourne sounds, but not nearly as wide a frequency of them as humans can. I think the same is true concerning dogs and also chimps exhibiting “empathy.” Have you seen the video of the dog that rescued another dog that was hit in traffic, pulling it to the side of the road using its forepaws around the other dog’s neck until both dogs were safe on the side of the road? Neither am I saying that all dogs would have reacted like that to the sight of another dog in danger. But there’s plenty of stories and videos on the web of dogs rescuing humans or even kittens. And there are stories of chimpanzees and gorillas as well.

        “Brookfield, Ill. — A toddler fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo Friday afternoon… A 7-year-old female gorilla with a baby gorilla on her back, picked up the child, cradled him in her arms, and placed him near a door where zoo keepers could retrieve the boy.”
        ASSOCIATED PRESS NEWS STORY, AUGUST 16, 1996

        “When Washoe [the chimpanzee] was about seven or eight years old, I witnessed an event that told about Washoe as a person, as well as causing me to reflect on human nature. [The account proceeds to describe the chimp island at the Institue for Primate Studies]…One day a young female by the name of Cindy could not resist the temptation of the mainland and jumped over the electric fence in an attempt to leap the moat. She hit the water with a great splash which caught my attention. I started running toward the moat intent on diving in to save her. [Chimps cannot swim.] As I approached I saw Washoe running toward the electric fence. Cindy had come to the surface, thrashing and submerging again. Then I witnessed Washoe jumping the electric fence and landing next to the fence on about a foot of bank. She then held on to the long grass at the water’s edge and stepped out onto the slippery mud underneath the water’s surface. With the reach of her long arm, she grasped one of Cindy’s flailing arms as she resurfaced and pulled her to the safety of the bank…Washoe’s act gave me a new perspective on chimpanzees. I was impressed with her heroism in risking her life on the slippery banks. She cared about someone in trouble; someone she didn’t even know that well.”
        ROGER FOUTS, “FRIENDS OF WASHOE” NEWSLETTER

        “A famed heart surgeon, Dr. Christian Bernard, once witnessed a chimpanzee weeping bitterly and becoming inconsolable for days after his companion was taken away for research. Bernard then vowed never again to experiment with such sensitive creatures.”
        A. J. MATTILL, JR., THE SEVEN MIGHTY BLOWS TO TRADITIONAL BELIEFS

        GORILLA TALK “Koko the gorilla has learned the hand signs to over 600 words, and uses them regularly and spontaneously to communicate with others (including another gorilla she lives with, Michael). She also invents her own unique signs. A ring is called a `finger bracelet.’ A cigarette lighter is a `bottle match.’ Hand signs in Koko’s repertoire of abstractions include: bad, imagine, understand, curious, idea, gentle, stupid, boring, and damn. She also understands over a thousand spoken English words and short sentences. She recognizes words that end with similar sounds or start with the same letter, and can `talk’ via an auditory keyboard which produces spoken words when appropriate keys are pressed.

        “When Koko was 3 1/2 to 4 years old she took several I.Q. tests designed for human children. In her case the tests were administered via sign language, and Koko’s scores on three separate tests over a one year period were 84, 95, 85 (which is not an uncommon fluctuation among human children). The scoring even took into account the cultural bias that favored the responses of human children, which was built into the tests, and without which Koko’s scores would have been higher. For instance, one question in the test was `Point to the two things that are good to eat.’ The depicted objects were a block, an apple, a shoe, a flower, and an ice-cream sundae. Koko, with her gorilla tastes, picked, `apple and flower.’ Another asked `Where you would run to shelter from the rain.’ The choices were a hat, a spoon, a tree, and a house. Koko picked `tree’ instead of `house.’ Rules for the scoring required that Koko’s responses be recorded as `wrong.’

        “Koko `purrs’ and makes laughing and chuckling sounds to express happiness. Her laugh is a sort of voiceless human guffaw which she expresses at her own jokes and those made by others. She finds incongruity funny, the way a young child might. Asked `what’s funny,’ she put a toy key on her head and said it was a hat, pointed to a puppet’s nose and said it was a mouth, and signed, `That red,’ showing me a green plastic frog.

        “Barbara Hiller saw Koko signing, `That red,’ as she built a nest out of a white towel. Barbara said, `You know better, Koko. What color is it?’ Koko insisted that it was red — `red, Red, RED’ and finally held up a minute speck of red lint that had been clinging to the towel. Koko was grinning.

        “Another time, after persistent efforts on Barbara’s part to get Koko to sign, `Drink,’ Koko just leaned back and executed a perfect drink sign — in her ear. Again she was grinning.

        “She even tells lies, once blaming a broken sink on a human volunteer. Another time, while I [Patterson] was busy writing, Koko snatched up a red crayon and began chewing on it. A moment later I noticed and said, `You’re not eating that crayon, are you?’ Koko signed, `Lip,’ and began moving the crayon first across her upper, then her lower lip as if applying lipstick.

        “Koko also cries, a sort of heart- rending wooo-wooo, when she’s sad [like when her pet kitten, `All Ball’ died], or when she’s lonesome. And she’s thought about where gorillas go when they die: `Comfortable hole bye.’

        “When one of Koko’s visitors asked her, `Are you an animal or a person?’ Koko answered, `Fine animal gorilla.'”

        THE ABOVE QUOTATIONS HAVE BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED FROM
        “Conversations With a Gorilla” by Francine Patterson (National Geographic, Oct. 1978)
        “`Fear, Humor, Commitment, Sorrow’ — Apes Feel Them All” (U.S. News and World Report, July 22, 1985)
        “Talk to the Animals” by Don Kaplan (Instructor, Aug. 1985)
        “Sex and the Single Gorilla” by Judith Stone (Discover, Aug. 1988)
        One of the most careful and thoughtful reports on primate communication is “Language Comprehension in Ape and Child,” ed., E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Number 23 (1993). Savage-Rumbaugh’s work is based on rigorous tests and does not rely on anecdotal evidence, yet it supports some of the same claims made above.

        Dogs and chimps can also be angry and violent, just like human beings.

        “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal’s lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”
        SALLY CARRIGHAR, WILD HERITAGE

      • Once again, snakes are deaf. You are confusing the ability to be stimulated by airborne vibrations with “hearing”. This is not a question of “hearing” different frequencies (on an analogy with the sense of smell, which we share with dogs, but in different measures). It is a question of having an entirely different response (snakes are more like flies).

        I think it’s possible you do not know what empathy is. We are not discussing whether apes are or are not intelligent, but whether they have a theory of mind. None of the research you suggest shows that they do, and many experiments have shown that dogs certainly do not. No one has been able to repeat the Washoe experiment, which implies that either Washoe was exceptional, or that the researchers involved overinterpreted the results. You can decide for yourself which is more likely.

        I think you are misunderstanding what I’m saying. I don’t believe humans are substantially different from animals (we are animals, in other words, not some other thing), so of course we respond in many ways like other animals do. But we do differ from them in our ability to manipulate symbols, to the extent that even chimps cannot conceptualise that others have minds different from theirs. This is the basis of empathy, and chimps. The notion that a dog should have empathy is very distant from the truth about their cognition. I don’t know why they save humans from floods etc, but it certainly isn’t *for* the human as such, because dogs cannot action for another; even the things they do that have favourable outcomes for others cannot be conceptualised as having that purpose. To do so is to indulge in anthropomorphism, which is the converse, equally misguided, of human exceptionalism.

  10. Dr. Zen, Hearing is a vibratory phenomena. Snakes have an inner ear, a cochlea, they don’t have a tympanic membrane. They conduct vibrations through their jaw bones into their cochlea. They can detect both groundborne and airborne sound vibrations in the lower range, which are translated via the cochlea into “sound” inside their brains. At least that is a good assumption since our own brain receives vibrations via the cochlea into our own brains, and we call it hearing.

    • You are simply redefining “hearing” so that snakes become undeaf. For your next trick, you will show that dogs talk because talking involves making air vibrate, and hey, dogs do that.

      • Vibrations going through the cochlea to the brain are what we experience too. If you don’t call it hearing, and if you don’t agree it is airborne low frequency hearing, then please contact the Encyclopedia Britannica and every expert I cited above.

      • Dr. Zen, The experts say snakes can hear in the lower range. They said it in print, if you can’t read, get a bigger arse of a brain to think with. The jaw bone is thicker than the tympanic membrane in the mammalian ear, hence their jaws conduct sound in the lower range, and they hear. You do know what a tympanic membrane is, what a jawbone is, what a cochlea is? If you do, then don’t be an arse, and your arse-remarks should be shared with the experts above, don’t take it out on me. Neither did I start bringing arse into the consersation. Your un-zen-like and un-Dr. like persona does not suit your name. And that makes you an even bigger arse. Or maybe I need to speak in a lower range for you to understand me since your cochlea is probably connected with your arse bone not your tympanim. That being said, we have heaps in common concerning just about every other subject under the rainbow. At any rate both or our alpha male ape arses are showing in this discussion. How about discussing a little more primatology sometime, Dr. Zen? My own views concerning human politics and religious disputes is that they provide yet more examples that we are primates.

      • It’s probably not the jawbone alone that conducts the lower range sound waves to the snake’s cochlea, but some lighter cartilage in the jaw bone joint just as our own ear bones developed in the embryo out of jaw bone tissue and they are located near the jaw joint.

  11. Dr. Zen, A week or two ago I read a dialogue about theory of mind and chimpanzees in which two experts went at it tooth and nail concerning the experimental evidence. Things got gritty. But it appeared to me that the person advocating a view nearer to mine than yours won the verbal duel. Please read it for yourself, and let me know your thoughts. By the way Martin Garner was a friend of mine, and I think he was incorrect in his dismissal of various chimp experiments. And there have been more convincing experiments of late. I am beginning to doubt that you’ve kept up with them any more than you’ve kept up with the experiments in snake hearing since 2003. If you want to compromise and call dog and chimp behaviors pre-empathetic, pre-forgiving, I’m willing to accept that so long as we both agree that such behavior lay along a spectrum that includes empathy and forgiveness at our end and something along the way, in that same spectrum, at the other end. Now I have to find that conversation in the book review magazine, which was quite interesting.

    • I’d sooner credit a dog with walking on its hind legs than with having empathy, thanks, since they so clearly don’t.

      Nothing you’ve presented suggests chimps have a theory of mind. They simply do not need one. Natural selection is at least somewhat parsimonious.

      • Dr. Zen, I agree all words are human words, but the world is filled with things for which humans do not have precise words. As you yourself said, “I don’t know why the dog did that.” You admit you lack the words, or even the knowledge of what animates animal minds. I agree with you dogs are not humans. Bravo, we agree. But I never said they were. But some dogs do exhibit something that may be said, for lack of a better word, to be something akin to what we call empathy. NEITHER DO I THINK THAT ALL HUMANS REQUIRE FULL HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS TO ACT IN KIND WAYS TOWARD ONE ANOTHER. Humans can act just as impulsively and without thinking for their own safety when danger threatens someone or even when danger threatens an animal.

  12. Unlike you, my friend, I do not ascribe to dogs cognition they are not capable of simply because I am not fully conversant with what they are capable of. By all means, you may believe your dog understands you. Perhaps it will pull that encyclopaedia out of your butt for a biscuit. It will do it for its own sake though, not because it imagines how much that book must hurt stuck up there.

    • Dr. Zen, I appreciate the article link that you provided. It CONCLUDES with these words:

      “It is time for humans to quit thinking that their nearest primate relatives only read and react to overt behavior. Obviously, chimpanzees’ social understanding begins with the observation of others’ behavior, as it does for humans, but it does not end there. Even if chimpanzees do not understand false beliefs, they clearly do not just perceive the surface behavior of others and learn mindless
      behavioral rules as a result. All of the evidence reviewed here suggests that chimpanzees understand both the goals and intentions of others as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Moreover, they understand how these psychological states work together to produce intentional action; that is, they understand
      others in terms of a relatively coherent perception–goal psychology in which the other acts in a certain way because she perceives the world in a certain way and has certain goals of how she wants the world to be.

      There is much less evidence overall, but it is possible that other
      non-human primate species also have a similar understanding
      [20,21], and as do, perhaps, some bird species as well [22–25].

      In a broad construal of the phrase ‘theory of mind’, then, the answer to Premack and Woodruff’s pregnant question of 30 years ago is a definite yes, chimpanzees do have a theory of mind. But chimpanzees probably do not understand others in terms of a fully human-like belief–desire psychology in which they appreciate that others have mental representations of the world that drive their
      actions even when those do not correspond to reality. And so in a more narrow definition of theory of mind as an understanding of false beliefs, the answer to Premack and Woodruff’s question might be no, they do not. Why chimpanzees do not seem to understand false beliefs in particular – or if there might be some situations in which they do understand false beliefs – are topics of ongoing
      research.

      2) The paper says nothing about empathy.

      3) I never said my dog understands me, and you didn’t even define what you meant by that. On the other hand If dogs had absolutely NO understanding of humans then they would be more like ants wouldn’t they? Rather than dogs?

      4) Here’s the article and debate I mentioned, starting with Peter Singer saying some stuff about Herbert Terrance having set back chimp communication studies, and Terrance and Singer go at it together in the next ish. Here’s an excerpt, from Singer’s original review in The New York Rev. of Books:

      “Whatever the reasons for Terrace’s verdict regarding Nim’s abilities, it served to reinforce the view that language is a distinguishing mark of what it is to be human. Money for research on teaching language to nonhuman animals dried up, and the whole field was set back for at least a decade. It is now clear, though, that Terrace was wrong to suggest that signing in apes is always some form of imitation. Roger and Deborah Fouts, psychologists who now co-direct the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, at Central Washington University, managed, after a struggle, to take over responsibility for Washoe from the Gardners, and ensure that she did not meet the same fate as Nim. They observed her teaching her companion chimpanzees to sign, and using signs in novel ways, including asking questions about the future—for example, after a snowfall, asking about the “candy tree,” their term for the Christmas tree they get each year.

      “Perhaps the most rigorous proof that nonhuman animals can understand language comes from the primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s research, although her work concerned not chimpanzees but their close relatives, bonobos. Savage-Rumbaugh trained bonobos to use a keyboard to sign, thus eliminating any uncertainty about what was or was not being signed. Kanzi, a bonobo who began to pick up signs without any training, while observing his mother being trained to use the keyboard, clearly understands complex novel sentences. For example, when asked, for the first time, to “make the dog bite the snake,” he takes the toy snake, puts it in the mouth of the toy dog, and closes the dog’s mouth over the snake. He does not put the dog in the snake’s mouth. (In Kanzi’s Primal Language, Savage-Rumbaugh and her co-authors Pär Segerdahl and William Fields suggest that Terrace’s failure to make comparable progress with Nim may have been due to the fact that, in contrast to the way Kanzi picked up language from the environment around him, Nim was supposed to learn it largely in structured sessions, more like the way we teach children a second language.)”

      http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/aug/18/troubled-life-nim-chimpsky/

      And here’s where Terrence responds to Singer and Singer responds in return, citing the latest resesarch:

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/24/can-chimps-converse-exchange/?pagination=false

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