T’sinadree was interested that I respond to Craig’s final two paragraphs in particular. I’ll start by quoting both paragraphs in their entirety so you get the context. And then I’ll swing back and comment on some significant sentences that strike me as problematic. So first, here’s Craig:
Better for the animals involved? Hard to say! Any viable ecosystem will involve animal predation and death for the health of the system as a whole (e.g., the re-introduction of wolves was necessary in Canada in order to preserve the health of the caribou herds upon which they preyed because in their absence the caribou were overgrazing and dying). As proponents of the Gaia hypothesis have taught us, you can’t just consider “every animal on its own,” as you suggest. Moreover, given almost all animals’ apparent lack of self awareness, it is far from clear that animals suffer in the same way that we do. Maybe a world with evolution is a richer and more wonderful world of creatures. After all, seriously, aren’t you glad that God created the dinosaurs? I am! Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been thrilled with the age of the dinosaurs and the Ice Age with their wonderful prehistoric creatures. What’s not to love about these wonderful, fascinating, colorful, and often bizarre creatures? Why shouldn’t God delight, as we do, in all creatures great and small?
Or do we mean better for human beings? Aye, and there’s the rub! God’s ultimate purpose on this planet concerns bringing men and women freely into His Kingdom. The evolutionary history of the Earth is ecological scene-setting for the advent of human beings and the working out of God’s purposes among them. The primeval forests of those prehistoric ecosystems laid down the deposits for the fossil fuels which have made human advancement and modern civilization possible. Should God have just created the Earth with the illusion of age? Why think that that would have better achieved God’s purposes for humanity? How do you know that God’s purposes for the human race are not better achieved by having a genuine ecological history of the Earth rather than by creating an illusory history or a world with no apparent history at all? How do we know how many people or what percentage of people would have freely come to find God and His salvation in such worlds? We are in no position at all to speculate about such matters. But then we are in no position to speculate as to whether evolution was the best way for God to create life on this planet.
So what should we think of these observations? In the main I’m on the same page with Craig here in that I don’t think Michel’s argument is a success and thus I see no philosophical objection to the notion of God creating through evolutionary processes. But before I round out the discussion by offering my own response to Michel’s argument let me first make some critical comments on a few of Craig’s key sentences. I’ll quote each of those sentences in boldface and then offer a response.
“Any viable ecosystem will involve animal predation and death for the health of the system as a whole….”
This begs the question. You see it may be true that any viable ecosystem in the universe as we have it will involve predation and death. But that hardly means every feasible world with sentient creatures will have ecosystems with predation and death. I have no problem at all conceiving of a world in which animals all live in perpetual bliss, eating peppermint flavored grass and lapping up nourishing sugar water from clear bubbling springs. And that world could have been on a planet the size of Jupiter with a billion more species than we have now.
Let’s go further. Perhaps predation adds to the delightful abundant diversity and action of creation. Fine. Let’s say that some creatures — the chocotails — grow tails of chocolate. And when those tails grow sufficiently long, rich and 90% cocoa, other creatures — the sweettooths — chase them and nip off the pure chocolate tails. Six months later the chocotails have grown a new crop of tails like sheep grow wool and the cycle starts over.
Sounds quite nice to me. If I can envision it, why didn’t God create it?
“Moreover, given almost all animals’ apparent lack of self awareness, it is far from clear that animals suffer in the same way that we do.”
Craig has made this claim often that because (almost all) animals lack self-awareness they don’t know that they suffer and thus the suffering they experience is lesser than the suffering of human beings who are self-aware. The load-bearing capacity of this claim appears to me only marginally better than a bridge made of loose leaf paper and Elmer’s glue and here’s why.
I will never forget the horror of seeing animal rights footage of a dog skinned alive in China and left to die. (They don’t kill the animals first because it will stain the fur.) So there was a dog which could have been loved by a family but instead is left quivering in agony while the life ebbs away. And believe me, nature is no more compassionate than those individuals that harvest that fur. In the face of images of unspeakable horror like this, Craig’s erudite philosophical point about self-awareness is akin to a gnat in the mouth of a furnace (to borrow one of C.S. Lewis’ metaphors). It is not merely consumed in the fire of real animal suffering, it is all but vaporized. Can Craig seriously claim that the suffering of creatures like that poor dog is not anything but a gash on the face of creation which all but screams for redress?
How do you know that God’s purposes for the human race are not better achieved by having a genuine ecological history of the Earth rather than by creating an illusory history or a world with no apparent history at all? How do we know how many people or what percentage of people would have freely come to find God and His salvation in such worlds?
This argument strikes me as problematic. Consider two scenarios:
Scenario 1: a pack of pitbulls bark at passerby to deter intruders.
Scenario 2: a pack of virtual pitbulls indistinguishable from a pack of pittbulls bark at passerby to deter intruders.
There is no reason to think scenario 1 would be more effective at deterring intruders than scenario 2 since the virtual pitbulls are indistinguishable from the real ones. Likewise, a world of real age with a real fossil record would be no more effective at helping people freely come to find God and his salvation than a world with a fabricated age and planted fossil record. On that point at least Michel has a leg up on Craig (assuming an anthropocentric view of creation which I’m about to call into question).
Let me conclude with two more comments, one for Michel and the other for Craig.
First, my problem with Michel’s argument is that it treats evolution as a means to an end, i.e. the production of the species that now exist. That’s a wrong-headed way to think about evolution. Look at it like this. Let’s say that evolution is true. In that case “species” is, in significant respects, an artificial human taxonomic imposition which we invoke in order to make sense of the world. And once we recognize that fact the thing we have to explain is not the origin of species but rather the origin of the myriad of concrete individuals that we group into innumerable distinct species. Assuming that God exercises meticulous providence and thus acted to create just this set of concrete individuals and not another, what biological process other than evolution would we expect him to use? In other words, once we move beyond the artificial, pre-Darwinian focus on “species” to the Darwinian focus on concrete individuals we find that the processes of Neo-Darwinian evolution are ideally suited to achieve the desired ends of creating just that set of individual creatures and not another.
And now my second comment on Craig. The way he addresses the issue is highly anthropocentric. Craig gets this anthropocentric focus from the Bible. And while there is obviously nothing wrong with that focus per se (i.e. if you’re addressing humans of course you’ll write with respect to the concerns of humans), that doesn’t mean that we are constrained to follow that focus in our treatment of every issue. After all, a biblical perspective is also patriarchal and that emphasis is presumably a result of the fact that God was revealing himself in a patriarchal culture and as such can be set aside in subsequent retellings of the Christian story. Might it be the case that the anthropocentric ethos of scripture is also due to the fact that the Bible is a document directed at human beings and thus is not an absolute restriction for dealing with the biological history of every creature? Certainly this is possible. And insofar as that is the case we ought to consider broader treatments of the problem than those that are restricted to reiterating that same anthropocentric perspective.
This is, in short, nothing less than a challenge both to Michel and William Lane Craig to think within the framework of a truly Neo-Darwinian perspective.