Pharyngula

Nick Matzke has unearthed a treasure: an article from the Interdisciplinary Bible Research Institute that uses “Intelligent Design theory” to explain such phenomena as parasitic ichneumonid wasps and the panda’s thumb. You’ll be able to get an idea of the nature of the explanation from the title alone:

Rumors of Angels: Using ID to Detect Malevolent Spiritual Agents.”

It’s serious, not a joke.

The point to be made here is this: organisms which possess incredible complexity beyond what natural selection could “design” from the available offerings of chance, and which also seem to be clearly malevolent, might well be the work of malevolent spirit beings. There are, of course, other possibilities. They may be the direct or indirect work of God and we are mistaken in viewing them as malevolent. They might be the work of non-spiritual intelligences (extra-terrestrials). I cannot see any other alternatives that are consistent with a biblical theism.

I guess he’s assuming that theistic evolution is inconsistent with his bible.

The fellows has a proposal for a “research program”, too, something beyond what the run-of-the-mill IDists have accomplished.

Could predation be malevolent design? That was certainly the way Darwin viewed the matter. As I read the geologic record, predation goes all the way back to the Cambrian period. If it is malevolent, then the fall of Satan is much earlier than that of Adam, and creation is already not so good by the time Adam comes along. These are things that theologians, scientists and philosophers need to think about.

I’m picturing a bunch of guys in clerical collars sitting around, arguing about the geological era in which the fall of Satan occurred…it’s funny, but it’s no real research program.

So, we end this paper with a call to some dedicated Christian historians and biologists to take some time (and risk some ridicule) to see whether there is anything to be said for taking the biblical pictures of angels, demons and Satan seriously as a picture of the real world, rather than an ancient mythological worldview.

The real way to test this would be to have a collection of evidence that persuaded atheists, muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. that biblical angels and demons existed. That he has to assume only Christians who share his preconceptions will be able to accomplish this is telling.

Comments

  1. #1 wamba
    March 30, 2006

    an article from the Interdisciplinary Bible Research Institute that uses “Intelligent Design theory” to explain such phenomena as parasitic ichneumonid wasps and the panda’s thumb.

    OK, but what about pygmies and dwarves?

  2. #2 Paul
    March 30, 2006

    Wamba,
    Do you mean PYGMYS + DWARVES?

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    March 30, 2006

    Well, at least he’s not making daft claims about the fossil record being messed up or anything. I think it’s a good sign that, under appropriate evolutionary pressure, even the Creationist wackos are getting more moderate. Of course, absent that pressure they’d probably regress, but if they do so now they’ll be stuck with a lot of questions about their more moderate public positions.

  4. #4 Mike Fox
    March 30, 2006

    I always thought that the fall of Satan happened between gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2 – which is what allows the world to be void and without form (God doesn’t create anything without a reason, it’s in Timothy “God creates nothing in vain” or something). This is much before geologic time began. I always assumed it was when the big bang went from pure energy to energy with matter. Go sins of the flesh! WOOOO!!!!!!

  5. #5 outeast
    March 30, 2006

    PYGMIES + DWARFS now on Wikipedia! Get it before it gets deleted!

  6. #6 Mark Paris
    March 30, 2006

    It is always funny to me that the christian fundamentalists can’t even get their own religion right. Attributing the power of creation to anything other than their god gives god-like powers to non-gods. In other words, it makes them gods, too. That is not allowed in christian theology. Morons.

  7. #7 Matt
    March 30, 2006

    Wow. A hypothesis… though, not what you’d call a testable hypothesis. Do you still go to Hell if you disagree?

  8. #8 Jeff
    March 30, 2006

    As an escapee from the christian fundamentalism of my youth, this reminds me quite a bit of the teenage death throes of my attempts to rationalize what I’d accepted blindly when I was younger. Blind faith was not enough anymore, and I started looking far and wide for any explanation or evidence for what I believed, but in the end this kind of crap cannot provide any kind of mental sustenance when you are really worried about answers to your questions. I think that taking christian / creationist claims to their logical extremes can be the way out of that ridiculous mode of thinking for many who are still stuck in self-delusion. This guy may be close to his rebirth as an atheist, when he realizes how ridiculous these statements are.

  9. #9 AC
    March 30, 2006

    organisms which possess incredible complexity beyond what natural selection could “design” from the available offerings of chance, and which also seem to be clearly malevolent, might well be the work of malevolent spirit beings. There are, of course, other possibilities.

    Love it!

  10. #10 djlactin
    March 30, 2006

    ohh.. i get it now…

    it’s all about that dark matter stuff, right? 90% of the mass of the universe…. physicists are trying to explain it as some form of stuff that interacts with the univese only gravitationally… but it’s clear to me that it’s angels and demons, dwelling on the fringes of the reality we know and interacting only when they choose!

    (how long ’til the ID folk grab this concept?)

  11. #11 fwiffo
    March 30, 2006

    Why do people always feel the need to cruft up Wikipedia with stupid crap? I mean, the PYGMIES + DWARFS stuff is funny when making fun of creationists, but it’s not something that belongs in an encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a useful resource and I for one am getting tired of it being used for political food-fights.

  12. #12 rrt
    March 30, 2006

    Have to agree with the others, this guy’s approach crosses a lot of theology, too. He’ll have both sides mad at him.

    Did anyone else notice this?:

    “Could predation be malevolent design? That was certainly the way Darwin viewed the matter.”

    I’m well aware that it’s irrelevant what Darwin did and didn’t think in terms of modern evolutionary theory…I’ve just never heard this before. Did he spend a lot of time speculating on the morality of…um…”evolutionary lifestyles?”

    And, before I leave…to the IBRI: BWWWAAAHAHAHA!!! (descends into uncontrolled fits of giggling.)

  13. #13 Paul Koeck
    March 30, 2006

    I really don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole article. I have real work to do, for which I will need an unexploded head, at least for today. I do have a comment about the following:

    [blockquote]
    The point to be made here is this: organisms which possess incredible complexity beyond what natural selection could “design” from the available offerings of chance, and which also seem to be clearly malevolent
    [/blockquote]

    Were the two premeses presented above assumptions or did they attempt to validate them in the article? How did they determine that the organisms were too complex to have evolved? How do they measure malevolence? Is it in terms of “mother-in-law” units, perhaps? Perhaps that giant centipede from an earlier post would be 8.5 MILUs whereas a parasitic wasp is a mere 5 MILUs? Do they use a set of criteria to determine MILUs or some piece of hardware? How do they measure complexity, and where do they draw the line between designed and evolved? Can a creature on the designed side reproduce with a creature on the evolved side? Is that, perhaps, the mystical origin of Kend Hovind?

    Is it time for lunch yet?

  14. #14 Paul Koeck
    March 30, 2006

    Oops. Pretend I did the quote correctly in my last post.

  15. #15 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    The chart headed “Agent Power/Scale Character Quality Example” made me wonder if the author is a closet D&D player. I suspect there is a similar impulse at work to come up with elaborate rules of fantasy. The key distinction is whether you’re aware that you’re making stuff up.

  16. #16 rrt
    March 30, 2006

    [quote]The key distinction is whether you’re aware that you’re making stuff up.[/quote]

    I wonder if that’s partly why they’re so vehemently anti-fantasy-game. They’re precisely the sort who WOULD be the “creepy players”, unable to separate the game from reality…?

  17. #17 rrt
    March 30, 2006

    Bah. I’ll have to figure out this HTML tag thing…

  18. #18 meega
    March 30, 2006

    You must check out DaveScot’s nuclear ad hominem:

    I’d like to be the first to congratulate Nick Matzke on finding an adversary that makes Nick look well versed in science by comparison. It’s about time. Maybe if Nick starting fisking nursery rhymes for bad science he could appear even smarter than he does now. Update: Awe shucks. It looks like I was wrong. The adversary is Dr. Robert C. Newman who was awarded a doctorate in theoretical astrophysics from (Ivy League) Cornell in 1967. Nick has not only failed to attain a doctorate, he switched his major at an unremarkable school from chemistry and biology to the much more lightweight field of geography. What’s next for Nick, a doctorate in basket weaving from the ITT Technical Institute? Theoretical Astrophysics is pretty much your stereotypical rocket science and far beyond Nick’s meager intellectual abilities. My abject apologies to Dr. Newman for the comparison.

    I wonder if Nick can spell “aw” correctly (versus “awe”) with his “meager intellectual abilities”?

  19. #19 mark
    March 30, 2006

    I thought Newman’s essay was great! That part about the wasps gets one thinking–humans aren’t doing geese any favors preparing them for fois gras, or boiling pre-born baby corn–proof positive that humans were created by evil angels!

  20. #20 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    Clearly angels are at work in the design of snowflakes. Otherwise who would guarantee the sixfold symmetry? And if you claim that is the result of a natural process, then you still need angels to make sure that no two snowflakes are alike. This job would be too simple for God to be bothered with, but could easily be handled by an infinity of angels. If you do find two that seem alike, no doubt one is the work of Satanic plagiarism.

    But an important question I haven’t seen addressed is whether there is a countable or uncountable infinity of angels. It seems that you could map the angels to the integers and still have more than enough to use as messengers, guardians, snowflake designers, etc. Somehow that does not seem glorious enough for God, but then neither does massive unemployment in the angelic sector. Maybe God would require higher orders of infinity to achieve certain kinds of harmonies in His heavenly choirs. This strikes me as an important area for further research.

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    March 30, 2006

    That’s a remarkable about face from DaveScot — first he’s mocking Newman as an idiot who makes Nick look good, then when he finds out Newman has a doctorate in physics, and starts sucking up to him.

    Typical.

    I don’t know or care what degrees Nick has, or DaveScot has, or Newman has. I can judge them from what they write, and Nick is a sharp fellow, Newman is a kook, and DaveScot…well, see the next post about parasitic worms. He makes them look good.

  22. #22 Kristine
    March 30, 2006

    This general idea of malevolent design has actually been in the works for some time. Check out Dembski’s “Intelligent Design is Not Optimum Design,” in which he first argues that, when scientists point out the eye as a poor example of design, scientists are treading into theology, whereas when Dembski opines “We need to investigate how sin arose before man did,” he is engaging in SCIENCE! On the Design Inference website, this is also listed: “Coming Soon (March 2006) ‘Christian Theodicy in Light of Modern Science.’ An essay that, by employing Newcomb’s paradox, traces natural evil to human sin in a world where natural evil predates humans.” Well, there you are. Those bacteria have been very naughty with their flagella!

  23. #23 lt.kizhe
    March 30, 2006

    The chart headed “Agent Power/Scale Character Quality Example” made me wonder if the author is a closet D&D player. I suspect there is a similar impulse at work to come up with elaborate rules of fantasy. The key distinction is whether you’re aware that you’re making stuff up.
    Reminds me of a New Age rag I picked up once. It was full of ads for some serious woo-woo-ery, my favorite of which was for a course in spiritual enlightenment. It gave a list of promised benefits, which was along the lines of: “Channel 10 times as much Divine Light as you could before! Receive four new Spirit Guides! Increased sensitivity to Natural Energies! [etc.]”…and I couldn’t resist mentally appending: “Ability to turn the undead! +2 on saving throws against cleric spells!”

  24. #24 Lya Kahlo
    March 30, 2006

    So, just to be sure I understand – it’s now “the Devil did it” and not God? Was he on vacation or something?

    (Just TRY to NOT imagine the Big Guy on Spring Break trying to coax young girls to show their baby feeders for Girls Gone Wild. Just TRY not to!)

  25. #25 BronzeDog
    March 30, 2006

    I definitely need to dust off my old +3 flaming anti-vaxxer bane tire iron.

  26. #26 Kristine
    March 30, 2006

    “The rise of modern science has led to many profound changes in human culture. One such, which has apparently attracted little attention, is the disappearance of angels from scholarly discussion.” I have a simpler explanation: due to the off-putting creationist attempts to interject religion into science at the high school level, more and more angels are eschewing science careers in favor of trying to make it on Broadway.

  27. #27 mathpants
    March 30, 2006

    I like the direction PaulC is taking this.

    Further ideas:

    Mankind understands neither the ways of God nor the more esoteric burblings of Alexandre Groethendieck. Both names begin with G. Therfore, evolution=dumb.

  28. #28 T_U_T
    March 30, 2006

    due to the off-putting creationist attempts to interject religion into science at the high school level, more and more angels are eschewing science careers in favor of trying to make it on Broadway.

    Hey, that looks like a testable hypothesis !

  29. #29 MJ Memphis
    March 30, 2006

    “I have a simpler explanation: due to the off-putting creationist attempts to interject religion into science at the high school level, more and more angels are eschewing science careers in favor of trying to make it on Broadway.”

    And don’t forget the tragedy of all the naive young angels in California who, thinking they are positioning themselves for future acting careers, end up in the seedy world of angel porn.

  30. #30 John M. Price
    March 30, 2006

    Djinns. Can’t forget djinns. Humans created from blood, animals water, djinns fire.

  31. #31 darukaru
    March 30, 2006

    Why do people always feel the need to cruft up Wikipedia with stupid crap?

    Perhaps because it is already 95% stupid crap.

  32. #32 BronzeDog
    March 30, 2006

    Perhaps because it is already 95% stupid crap.

    How else am I suppose to explain the stupid crap I reference in a lot of my jokes?

  33. #33 wswilso
    March 30, 2006

    I’ve never been able to make sense of the christians’ responses to the observation that if God is all powerful, God is responsible for the existence of evil. If God made everything, then God made the malevolent agents. If God is all knowing, then God knew before creating them, what evil these agents would do, and who they would recruit to damnation.

    Ergo: by christian doctrine, God cannot be all good and there is no free will.

  34. #34 Kristine
    March 30, 2006

    Wswilso, it’s simple. God, being an atheist, can do anything, because He doesn’t believe in anything, being that He doesn’t worship a God which is the basis for all morality.

  35. #35 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    I think it’s reasonable to have the “PYGMIES + DWARVES” reference explained somewhere, but it’s a mistake to call it a creationist argument. It is an instance of one kind of creationist argument used by one creationist; that’s all. It is funny, but not important enough to having its own entry.

    I disagree strongly with the comment that Wikipedia is 95% junk. I have found Wikipedia entries on history, music theory, and science for example just by doing google searches on some keywords. I realize that I have to do my own fact-checking, but it’s still an amazing resource and is usually backed up by other resources.

    The part that puzzles me is how to classify the “PYGMIES+DWARVES” argument. It is so off the wall that I struggle a little to even understand what Pinkoski is getting at. It seems closest to begging the question: you start with the assumption, based on one reading of the Bible, that people are really getting smaller over time. Then you say, OK smarty pants, if the Bible isn’t literally true, then how do you explain the fact that people are getting smaller?

    At least, that’s the best shoehorning I can do to make some sense out of PYGMIES+DWARVES. Perhaps I’m overinterpreting and a better classification is non sequitur.

  36. #36 Leon
    March 30, 2006

    These are strange times when Old-Earth Creationism seems like a breath of fresh air…

    Well, I welcome them taking a systematic and methodical approach to ID. If they can create something truly scientific that’s of real predictive value, so much the better. Unfortunately with the tack they’re taking, they seem much more likely to come out with a pseudoscientific forcefitting of bits of science into the Biblical story.

  37. #37 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2006

    It’s far from a specific hypothesis. What is more, it’s old fundie stuff recycled into a slightly more sensible form (i.e. they pay attention to the age of the earth–no reason to do that while ignoring evidence for evolution, however). I grew up hearing that mosquitos and the like were “bred up” by Satan.

    I guess someone finally balked at the nihilistic blather of Dembski and decided that their “designer” had to be something other than an indifferent idiot savant who unfathomably designed (according to evolutionary patterns) creatures to eat each other in the most miserable and horrific manner. After all, many of the most amazing “designs” are of parasites who manipulate behaviors in order to further their need to eat up defenseless organisms from the inside.

    The traditional problem for invoking evil gods is simply that supposedly only God can create life (why I was told that Satan used breeding programs). The creationists are now hollowing out their theology via ID, deciding that after all a human is just a collection of parts, tubes, “wires”, and molecular machines, which any reasonably good alien or demon might master. In a sense I expect they’re right, though it really remains to be seen if anything could design the complexity of life and ecological and evolutionary relationships from “first principles” (I’d agree that “designers” could likely copy what we have now at some stage–or make something similar, though different, using evolutionary algorithms). The life cycles of parasites in particular seem to be of the sort that humans would be quite unlikely to design (had they a reason–why don’t the IDiots ever ask the reasons for design by gods and demons?), and make sense only as opportunistic evolutionary developments.

    Of course this is what the IDiots always ignore, the fact that we now use evolutionary processes to develop what thinking from first principles could not, or at least what intelligence would not readily conjure up. That is to say, there is overlap between what intelligence thinks up and what evolution produces, however each means of developing complex systems has specific strengths and weaknesses which we may and do use to our advantage.

    Unfortunately the dolts still refuse to ask why even demons are “designing” by utilizing evolutionary algorithms.

    I think that the upshot is that eventually we are going to have IDists who posit that intelligent beings, as intelligent beings, in fact did use evolutionary algorithms to produce life. They’ll still claim that biological evolution is not adequate to produce “incredible complexity beyond what natural selection could “design” from the available offerings of chance”, but they’ll note that we use evolutionary algorithms to “design”, and so could gods, demons, and aliens.

    We might still ask them how evolutionary algorithms themselves ever arose (we picked them up from the evolutionary pattersn we see, after all). But the real point is that one really cannot argue down IDists, for they will always invoke ad hoc possibilities to save their “hypothesis”. It would be absurd to suppose that they will not pick up on evolutionary algorithms at some point as the design process that demons and angels have used, and then they will have achieved their ultimate end, an “ID hypothesis” that cannot even conceivably be falsified, even by the critics who so far have attempted to treat ID as a sort of proto-science and thus have introduced meaningful restrictions in their critiques.

    That IDists continually come up with “hypotheses” that differ in no manner whatsoever from evolutionary predictions (sensibly we can understand herbivory, carnivory, and parasitism as predicted by evolution) points to one fatal flaw–they have no real knowledge of science and of what constitutes a scientific hypothesis. Though tiresome to repeat and to contemplate, it is the master explanation for all of their bewilderingly complex evolutions.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  38. #38 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    Glen D:

    The traditional problem for invoking evil gods is simply that supposedly only God can create life (why I was told that Satan used breeding programs).

    I’m curious what religion you were brought up in. When I read statements like this, it sounds like parody–like Bart Simpson asking his Sunday school teacher if there are pirates in hell.

    I missed out on all this as a Catholic. I learned somewhere, but probably not in school, that one name of Satan was “Lord of the Flies” (Beelzebub) and I understood this metaphorically. Perhaps I was educated at a particularly sane time shortly after Vatican II, but as one raised Catholic I have the distinct feeling that my religious teachers (with the exception of a few aged nuns) were quite careful not to make claims that were obviously falsifiable.

    If I had been given to speculate on the religious significance of mosquitoes it would have been more along the lines that while they cause us lots of trouble they are part of God’s plan and worthy of respect. Is it really true that the mainstream of American religion concerns itself with crocks like the “evil” origin of insect pests?

  39. #39 Kristine
    March 30, 2006

    “Though tiresome to repeat and to contemplate, it is the master explanation for all of their bewilderingly complex evolutions.” Ah, it’s simple, again. Somehow, for some totally irrational reason, people find comfort in this idea:

    God: “It is my incomprehensible will that everything happens according to my purposeless, random, incomprehensible will.” It gives life meaning!

    “I’m curious what religion you were brought up in.” There is only one religion, really. Just many different kinds of mold on top.

  40. #40 Leon
    March 30, 2006

    There is only one religion, really. Just many different kinds of mold on top.
    Really? Are Buddhism, Hinduism, and American Indian beliefs the same religion as Christianity and Islam? I find that a bit of a stretch.

  41. #41 Rocky
    March 30, 2006

    The Biblical God already claims to be the creator of evil

    Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    When I asked a local fundie to explain this “God of Fear” stuff, of course I got a convoluted explanation that he really didn’t mean what was written, and is the loving big guy above.

  42. #42 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    Kristine:

    There is only one religion, really.

    I hope my comments aren’t read as an attempt to justify any religious beliefs. The thing that interests me is what leads certain religious people to make an ardent defense of biblical literalism to the point of putting themselves at odds with facts and logic. Even when I was religious, I had absolutely no literalist impulses. I would say that, on the contrary, the people teaching me understood that biblical literalism was a losing proposition and that I’d be less likely to continue believing anything if I had to waste time on it.

    There is of course a contrary argument that once you go down the road of evaluating things with logic, you are likely to start questioning your religious beliefs. I often wonder if the literalists have actually hit on the right formula for making their religions appear vital and necessary, and it is the moderate religions that shoot themselves in the foot.

    I am honestly curious, because I sort of grew up thinking that even though a lot of people went to church on Sunday, they didn’t really believe all the stuff they might claim to, and I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that people are believers rather than nominal members of a religious community. The thing that really gets me is that we’re not talking about zealots but people functioning in ordinary jobs, coping with the complexity of the modern world. I thought I had some experience in what it meant to be a religious American, but I think there is a large part of it that would strike me as quite alien.

  43. #43 Kristine
    March 30, 2006

    “Are Buddhism, Hinduism, and American Indian beliefs the same religion as Christianity and Islam?”

    Long story short: speaking as someone who must deal with all religions at work, who also has friends of every religious stripe–yes, I’m serious. The “Native American” beliefs of today (one of my friends, who is Crow, scoffs at using the phrase “Native American”) do not resemble the Dances with Wolves romanticism of the past. I had to type up 12 pages of notes on Tibetan Buddhism from one of our guides, and it destroyed my illusions about that religion, too. Religion as actually practiced is virtually the same all over the world–gods, saints, sin, and redemption. Yes, even in Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, and “Native American” ritual.

    “I had absolutely no literalist impulses.”
    I did. It’s how I was raised.

  44. #44 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2006

    I’m curious what religion you were brought up in. When I read statements like this, it sounds like parody–like Bart Simpson asking his Sunday school teacher if there are pirates in hell.

    It was one of the new American religions, which attempted to keep up with the science of Victorian times while adhering to the “truths of the Bible”. It’s Pinkoski’s religion, Seventh-day Adventism. This is a religion that largely rejects vitalism and the idea of “soul” and “spirit”, and more or less expects Satan to be a super-brain who still can’t quite master the miracles of God in producing life from non-life.

    In a way, the non-vitalistic nature of Adventism facilitated my early rejection of the religion, since it occurred to me that there were no unbreachable barriers to evolution, according to what I had been taught. Otoh, it is hard for a great many Adventists to get past the twin inspirations of God and their prophet Ellen White, along with the necessity of clinging to the literal word of God drilled into the Adventists .

    I missed out on Catholic ideas, not surprisingly, and only learned them in philosophy classes, most notably during a year and a half at a Catholic university. As a religion it seems so much more sensible, though I never was tempted much by Catholic and metaphysical philosophies. To understand the history of Western philosophy, however, such knowledge is absolutely crucial.

    Is it really true that the mainstream of American religion concerns itself with crocks like the “evil” origin of insect pests?

    Among fundamentalist I believe such notions are not rare. I doubt that the breeding program notion is prominent among most fundies, but the ideas that Satan made fossils and diseases seem not unusual. I have to admit that I’m no expert on most of fundamentalism, but the Satanic origin of some parasites, and especially diseases, strikes me as “normal creationism”. The “curse” at the fall is another very important idea (I’m guessing that past Catholics used it for “explanation”) of course, but the idea that God would deliberately make tuberculosis is not attractive to many fundies.

    I think I’ll see if it’s very easy to find the “Satanic cause” explanation on the web. I have never been sure of how common Satanic causation of parasitism was among fundies, so I just wrote that it was “old fundie stuff”, but it seems to me that it is at least not rare.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  45. #45 wamba
    March 30, 2006

    Really? Are Buddhism, Hinduism, and American Indian beliefs the same religion as Christianity and Islam? I find that a bit of a stretch.

    Yup, they all make untestable claims about the existence of supernatural entities.

  46. #46 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    and more or less expects Satan to be a super-brain who still can’t quite master the miracles of God in producing life from non-life.

    Now I get it. Satan is Plankton. God is Mr. Krab. Jesus is, I guess, SpongeBob. And Satan will never get the secret formula for the Krabby Patty.

  47. #47 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    Glen D

    I have to admit that I’m no expert on most of fundamentalism, but the Satanic origin of some parasites, and especially diseases, strikes me as “normal creationism”.

    I find this scary since it could lead to some very warped conclusions about species extinction being a good thing.

  48. #48 wamba
    March 30, 2006

    I find this scary since it could lead to some very warped conclusions about species extinction being a good thing.

    You mean like the smallpox virus?

  49. #49 Leon
    March 30, 2006

    Thanks, Kristine. I think I might have misunderstood what you were saying.

  50. #50 Leon
    March 30, 2006

    I missed out on Catholic ideas, not surprisingly, and only learned them in philosophy classes, most notably during a year and a half at a Catholic university. As a religion it seems so much more sensible, though I never was tempted much by Catholic and metaphysical philosophies.

    Catholicism can be kind of weird. On one hand it’s a mainstream, staid, steady belief system that tends to keep things quiet and contented. On the other, it’s filled with medieval anachronisms. For instance, they demand you believe that that the wine and wafer turn into the blood and body of Christ–not symbolically, literally turn into blood and body (never mind the chemical composition doesn’t change). OTOH, they’ve also come out in favor of evolution, so my opinion of them (yes, I was raised Catholic) has improved lately.

  51. #51 Rocky
    March 30, 2006

    I’ve always thought the “ritualist canibalism” of the host and wine aspect was off the wall. I asked a nun about this when I was young, and got a ruler across the knuckles for asking.

  52. #52 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    You mean like the smallpox virus?

    The last sample has not yet been destroyed. (http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/extract/330/7502/1230 )

    Obviously, there’s a trade-off, and it’s understandable if human needs are sometimes placed ahead of the more abstract goal of preserving nature. A purely utilitarian argument could be made for causing the extinction of any species harmful to humans providing there was no harmful ecological impact and no reasonable expectation that the species would ever be useful to humans–both nearly impossible to establish, by the way. I don’t subscribe to that argument, but I think there is an ethical distinction to be made between a viral pathogen and a multicellular organism, such as a mosquito.

    Utilitarian arguments aside, I feel strongly that it would be wrong to cause the extinction of mosquitoes even if it were technologically feasible. On the other hand, I don’t have any problem with keeping smallpox on ice, could probably accept its complete destruction, and would have no problem at all with the latter if it were possible to keep a complete informatic record of the virus such that its synthetic reconstruction were possible. This would not be true in the case of organisms that have behaviors not encoded in DNA or play a irreplaceable role in some ecological system.

    However, I still find it scary that anyone could believe “mosquitoes are the work of Satan” because it not only tosses out the above tradeoffs but actually turns extinction into a virtuous goal. Say what you want about smallpox, but I do not think the situations are even remotely equivalent.

  53. #53 cp
    March 30, 2006

    or play a irreplaceable role in some ecological system.

    Is it possible to positively say if they do or don’t? I mean, can we be absolutely certain?

  54. #54 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    For instance, they demand you believe that that the wine and wafer turn into the blood and body of Christ–not symbolically, literally turn into blood and body (never mind the chemical composition doesn’t change).

    But in my experience, they also discourage looking for any physical evidence of this transformation and explicit deny the possibility of finding any. That doesn’t make it a rational belief, but it is irrational in a different way from the kinds of literal beliefs that send people off to Mount Ararat looking for Noah’s Ark.

    On the other hand, it’s also true that Catholicism allows for miracles performed by saints as well as practices such as exorcism. In my experience, these never seemed to be a particular emphasis of Catholic education, however. I think it is in many ways a “big tent” religion that tries to provide something for everyone, from the scholar to the illiterate peasant. I don’t justify this on any rational grounds. I feel comfortable with it because I was raised that way, though, but find many other religions very alien.

  55. #55 PS
    March 30, 2006

    Here is the creation hymn from the rigveda written presumably in 3000 BC and quite possibly the earliest known record of mankinds rumination regarding the origin of the universe. It would seem that people were more intelligent at that time.

    I am an agnostic hindu but I would still appreciate if people would not not put hinduism, buddhism and Jainism in the same bin as christianity and islam!!

    Here goes

    There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
    There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
    What stirred?
    Where?
    In whose protection?
    Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

    There was neither death nor immortality then.
    There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
    That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
    Other than that there was nothing beyond.

    Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
    with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
    The life force that was covered with emptiness,
    that One arose through the power of heat.

    Desire came upon that One in the beginning,
    that was the first seed of mind.
    Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
    found the bond of existence and non-existence.

    Their cord was extended across.
    Was there below?
    Was there above?
    There were seed-placers, there were powers.
    There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

    Who really knows?
    Who will here proclaim it?
    Whence was it produced?
    Whence is this creation?
    The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
    Who then knows whence it has arisen?

    Whence this creation has arisen
    – perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not –
    the One who looks down on it,
    in the highest heaven, only He knows
    or perhaps He does not know.

  56. #56 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    cp:

    Is it possible to positively say if they do or don’t? I mean, can we be absolutely certain?

    No, of course not, but if you’ll notice, I said that in the context of a hypothetical. There is still some logically consistent proposition as to whether the removal of a particular species irreversibly harms an ecology even if it’s beyond our ability to predict this. Thus, there is no problem with referring to such a proposition hypothetically.

    Moreover, I had already referred to such a proposition as
    “nearly impossible to establish” so I don’t understand your objection.

  57. #57 rrt
    March 30, 2006

    Glen D, the catch-all explanation I’m familiar with is basically as you describe it in referring to a “curse.” That, basically, the Fall corrupted not just humans but the entire world (universe?). Everything is literally “broken,” not working as it was designed to, all because of a poor decision regarding an apple.

    Incidentally, this was also offered to me as an explanation for why those uneducated in Christianity, those who didn’t have a “fair chance” to be “saved” would be doomed to Hell–they’re fundamentally broken and worthless to start with, and why would the Creator want to keep trash around? And it was also implicit that being “saved” really didn’t change much of anything about our broken natures…that rather, God is just going out of his way to do us one heckuva favor by making an exception.

    I find the latter concept especially disturbing, as it can certainly feed some scary perspectives on our fellow human beings. After all, if we’re fundamentally worthless…

  58. #58 BronzeDog
    March 30, 2006

    I once encountered that attitude, rrt. It was a small part in a big post, but I should have singled it out and described in precise detail how monstrous the person saying it was.

  59. #59 Carlie
    March 30, 2006

    “I often wonder if the literalists have actually hit on the right formula for making their religions appear vital and necessary, and it is the moderate religions that shoot themselves in the foot.”

    That’s one of the basic reasons it works, I think. If a faith isn’t absolutely necessary, why bother? Also, the literal interpretation goes right along with the entire black/white mindset. If something’s right, it’s entirely right. If it’s wrong, it’s entirely wrong. That’s the message that gets preached – if one single word of the Bible is wrong, then none of it can be counted on. Of course, the copout is that some of the Bible was “clearly meant to be figurative”, such as the ripe pomegranate breasts (Song of Solomon, Bible porn!) The one little chink I always had in my righteous armor was wondering who decides which parts of the Bible are figurative. That eventually led to wondering if it was all figurative, which eventually led, well, here.
    To link that to another post on this subject, I agree that the degree of atheistic fervor is directly linked to a person’s former religousness. A zealot is a zealot, and a moderate is a moderate, in general. I just wonder if the zealousness is inherent in a personality, or taught so well early on that it sticks forever?

    Oh yeah, topic. In my branch of fundamentalism (Southern Baptist), it’s generally assumed that little nasties like mouse-eating centipedes are indeed the result of the sin that infected the entire world after the fall of Adam and Eve. Every animal was a vegetarian in Eden. No, seriously. That’s what they teach. Never mind the poor preyed-upon plants…

  60. #60 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2006

    I looked around the internet, and I’d have to say from that cursory investigation that there are not a lot of prominent creationists/IDists favoring the Satanic origin of diseases and parasites. I’m thinking that it’s more of something the creationists say when they don’t have a specific “answer” given to them by their “experts”, like this, recounted by an anti-IDist:

    Why would a designer of life also create things that only serve to destroy life?

    Once, I asked a friend this very question. She replied by saying that Satan created cancer and viruses as punishment for our sins. This explanation means that there are two intelligent designers. Not only that, but the second designer is more powerful than the first. Consider two engineers. The first engineer builds a bridge. The second engineer builds a bomb to destroy the bridge. Whether the bridge remains standing depends on which engineer is the better designer. However, the ID theory allows only one all-powerful designer, so this explanation can’t be valid.

    Found here:

    http://waragainstscience.blogspot.com/

    I did manage to find an IDist-type (via an anti-ID site) apologetic for evil beasties which considers six options to “explain” them, with number five being “the Fall”, and number six being Satan’s work during/after “the Fall”:

    The prototypes of parasites and diseases:

    5) were subject to random mutation and natural selection after the Fall transforming their benign gene sets into malignant gene sets. The latter were not designed by God.

    6) were completely benign in all respects but at the Fall the enemy (Satan, et. al.) engaged in post-Fall genetic modification and/or bestiality that resulted in creatures with malignant behavior and morphology.

  61. #61 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2006

    continuing from above:

    Then he goes on to disagree with both of the above:

    I will argue that the two scenarios that are the most harmonious with both scripture and the scientifi c data are 1) and 2). Any scenario attributing the presence of these highly complex morphological and behavioral arsenals to random mutation and natural selection is granting creative powers to mindless processes (this is no better than atheistic evolution). Any scenario that attributes these complex arsenals to God’s creative power yet shifts their time of origin to a post-Fall creative act, contradicts the finished creation on day six. Finally, any scenario that attributes these complex arsenals to Satan et. al., attributes too much creative power and intelligence to the powers of darkness.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting theologically-based opposition to the expanding number of “designers” being produced during the “hollowing out” of the IDist’s theology in order to “preserve it”. Obviously, if God lacks the monopoly on creating organisms we may as well “hypothesize” that any and every mythical god or monster might have made good or evil organisms.

    I’m going with the Greek god Hephaestus. After all, he made robots, according to Iliad by Homer. Now the Greeks knew the difference between machines and living organisms, but IDists don’t, so their program largely involves “explanation” of life via design and manufacture. Hephaestus is ready-made for that sort of “explanation” for life since he made automata, with the only inconvenience being that he wasn’t stupid enough to confuse designed machines with life.

    Never mind that–I’m thinking of a “designer” for people lacking in normal discriminatory powers.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  62. #62 cp
    March 30, 2006

    Moreover, I had already referred to such a proposition as
    “nearly impossible to establish” so I don’t understand your objection.

    PaulC, it was a real question about our ability to determine such things, not a direct answer to your post.Thanks for clarifying, anyway.

  63. #63 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2006

    Incidentally, this was also offered to me as an explanation for why those uneducated in Christianity, those who didn’t have a “fair chance” to be “saved” would be doomed to Hell–they’re fundamentally broken and worthless to start with, and why would the Creator want to keep trash around?

    Oooh, I like that one. It’s what I heard to “explain” why genocide of the Amonites was “necessary”. Not that Jesus didn’t die for everyone and offer salvation to everyone, but then there were those Amonites….

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  64. #64 Tania Winter
    March 30, 2006

    The whole thing sounds like it’s been channeled from the faculty lounge of Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University.

  65. #65 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    cp:

    PaulC, it was a real question about our ability to determine such things, not a direct answer to your post.

    Fair enough. I tend to assume the law of unintended consequences holds unless there is some good reason to assume otherwise. You might make a good guess about the effect of removing a species from an ecology or replacing it with a similar one, but I can’t imagine ever being certain without actually doing it.

  66. #66 PaulC
    March 30, 2006

    rrt:

    Incidentally, this was also offered to me as an explanation for why those uneducated in Christianity, those who didn’t have a “fair chance” to be “saved” would be doomed to Hell–they’re fundamentally broken and worthless to start with, and why would the Creator want to keep trash around?

    I’ve often thought that the biggest threat to religious belief is definitely not science, but the existence of other cultures with religions. Science and religion can maintain an uneasy truce provided you take off your scientist hat sometimes and allow for unfalsifiable beliefs. There’s a certain group of competent, productive, scientists that compartmentalize effectively enough to keep this truce going in their heads.

    But once you are exposed to other cultures, you have a window into beliefs that are not only not backed by fact and logic, but are also not backed in your own mind by cultural reinforcement. So either you have to believe that your culture and religion are specially privileged, or else your certain dismissal of the other culture’s beliefs has to lead you to question the certain truth or your own culture’s beliefs.

    One attempt to reconcile this is the much maligned “cultural relativism.” Actually, I am a cultural relativist in the sense that I believe people all over the world do things differently but these practices all have validity insofar as they aid cultural adhesion and do not run counter to basic human rights. People might not need one particular culture and its assumptions, but most people need some kind of cultural identity.

    But I certainly cannot be a relativist in the sense of saying that all beliefs are equally valid. Beliefs either correspond to reality or not, and if two beliefs contradict each other, then at least one of them does not correspond to reality. Moreover, unless there’s some reason to view one more favorably, it’s only by chance that either one is correct.

    In short, I can reconcile a Christian God with evolution: if God could set in motion something that was bound to happen anyway, that would be preferred to designing each little bit in piecemeal fashion. I can reconcile a Christian God with mouse-eating centipedes: nobody said this world was perfect; the next one is supposed to be. But I cannot reconcile the beliefs I was taught with the simple fact that other people in other places were taught entirely different things and seem to have got by about as well as my ancestors.

    I think this is why I’m sort of curious onlooker in this religion/evolution business. The elephant in the room is not evolution but the fact that religious beliefs vary so wildly.

  67. #67 Julia
    March 30, 2006

    “In my branch of fundamentalism (Southern Baptist), it’s generally assumed that little nasties like mouse-eating centipedes are indeed the result of the sin that infected the entire world after the fall of Adam and Eve. Every animal was a vegetarian in Eden. No, seriously. That’s what they teach.”

    There is considerable variation in Southern Baptist churches, and in the beliefs of individual members of most of those churches. So, “what they teach” is an overstatement. In 50 years association with Southern Baptist churches, I’ve heard these two ideas defended by only perhaps half a dozen people, far fewer than those I’ve heard argue for the correctness of evolutionary theory. Someone living in a different place, knowing other Southern Baptists, may well hear frequently the ideas you mention.

  68. #68 Carlie
    March 30, 2006

    Julia,
    That is a good point. One of the basic guidelines of the Southern Baptist Convention is that there’s a lot of leeway in what each church believes, outside of the basics (one of which is complete inerrancy of the Bible). For example, some of the churches have women deacons, some think that’s completely against Biblical teaching. I was going more by not just my church, but what people coming out of SB seminaries in the last decade or so have been taught. That’s an interesting side note: although the churches have a lot of independence, the seminaries don’t seem to. I know a few people employed at different SB seminaries (and many more who have been educated by them), and the tenor and information taught in seminary is a direct reflection of who’s in control of the Convention at that time. Moderates were in control in the 70s and 80s, so people who trained then were a little more liberal. In the 90s the conservatives took over the convention, and the curriculum suddenly got more fundamentalist. I would think that the ideas posited by individual pastors might well be a function of when they were ordained/went to seminary. There could also be regional differences, but I’m only familiar with midwest and southern variations (which seem almost identical).

    This also brings up a question that keeps getting floated in various forms lately: who is in charge of “what the denomination believes”? I’ve read many challenges to broad statements on ‘X’ religion by people who say “I’m an ‘X’, and I don’t believe that”. Sure, individuals will pick and choose which tenets of the religion they take seriously, and which they disregard, but that shouldn’t affect the diagnosis that the religion itself holds to certain tenets.

  69. #69 Mark Paris
    March 30, 2006

    Regarding southern baptists: it used to be that they believed in “the priesthood of the believer”, and they still sometimes say they do. But, in fact, they do not. They have instituted loyalty oaths and try to kick out people and churches that do not follow them. The new baptists are not the old baptists.

  70. #70 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 30, 2006

    “God, being an atheist, can do anything, because He doesn’t believe in anything, being that He doesn’t worship a God which is the basis for all morality.”

    That’s good, I’ll try to remember that next time I’m unfairly attacked on moral grounds by a militant theist.

    Of course, I think that this logically proves that there must be gods all the way up. 😉

  71. #71 Abie
    March 30, 2006

    What? “Malevolent spirit beings” capable of creation?
    That is downright manicheism! People have burnt at the stake for much less… 😀
    (and to answer a question asked here, this belief was considered an heresy by the Catholic Church).
    for details : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manicheism

    Sorry, couldn’t help.

    And BTW, about this bit :
    evidence that persuaded atheists, muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. that biblical angels and demons existed.

    Angels like Michael and the others are in the old testament. You know, the “Book”. The one that is accepted as holy scriptures by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. They believe in angels, too
    (and I find names like Jibraïl and Shaïtan so much classier than just ol’Gaby and S(a)tan…)

  72. #72 thwaite
    March 30, 2006

    The poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote about predation and theology, in his poem “To Mrs. Professor in Defense of My Cat’s Honor and Not Only”. A sample:

    And such as cats are, all of Nature is.
    Indifferent, alas, to the good and the evil.
    Quite a problem for us, I am afraid.

    The full poem is not long (is there much to say?):
    http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1599.html

  73. #73 Carlie
    March 30, 2006

    The most recent (2000) version of the Southern Baptist Faith and Message is here: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp#ix

    The preamble says “Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.”

    Also: “That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.”

    I guess that means that Baptists actually have no beliefs at all as a group? Now I’m confused, and I’ve been one since before I was born. Let’s pick on Lutherans instead. Diversionary tactics, now!

    Mark – what I think you might have encountered is an offshoot of the “Purpose-Driven Life”, promoted by Saddleback Church in southern California. Adopted by many Baptist churches, but not Baptist in and of itself. That does require a signature to a list of beliefs, or no membership for you.

  74. #74 David Harmon
    March 30, 2006

    In my Jewish upbringing, I don’t think there was ever a suggestion that the Fall affected the world at large. The point was supposed to be that unlike all the other animals, humanity gained “knowledge of good and evil”. Predators and parasites (like all “lesser” creatures) do their things without consideration of good or evil, just like a storm or rockslide. Also, Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden (which was supposed to be “perfect”) into what was clearly described as a much less pleasant lifestyle. Presumably, the comfort of humans was not the primary design factor when creating the world!

    Not from upbringing, but regarding “what did the lions eat in Eden”: Who’s to say the species of our world include everything that was in Eden? There might well have been support species such as “meat-trees”, that never made it “outside the walls”.

  75. #75 Axinar
    March 30, 2006

    The whole argument seems really simple to me – either the universe is understandable and reasonably predictable or it changes at the whim of an “invisible magician”.

    I think Carl Sagan was right – evolution is a fact, not a theory – it REALLY happened.

  76. #76 386sx
    March 31, 2006

    “Could predation be malevolent design? That was certainly the way Darwin viewed the matter.”

    I’m well aware that it’s irrelevant what Darwin did and didn’t think in terms of modern evolutionary theory…I’ve just never heard this before. Did he spend a lot of time speculating on the morality of…um…”evolutionary lifestyles?”

    Newman is just quote-mining Darwin. (Gee who would have guessed.) Do a word search for
    “Darwin” in Newman’s paper and then read this page at talkorigins.org.

  77. #77 386sx
    March 31, 2006

    Okay, one more try:

    “Could predation be malevolent design? That was certainly the way Darwin viewed the matter.”

    I’m well aware that it’s irrelevant what Darwin did and didn’t think in terms of modern evolutionary theory…I’ve just never heard this before. Did he spend a lot of time speculating on the morality of…um…”evolutionary lifestyles?”

    Newman is just quote-mining Darwin. (Gee who would have guessed.) Do a word search for
    “Darwin” in Newman’s paper and then read this page at talkorigins.org.

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