Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Retired Professor On: "Creation Science and the Theodicy Problem "

In defense of Bob Thiel's takedown of evolutionary theory, anonymous commenter on May 7, 2013 at 11:22 AM wrote, "It is easy to make scientific theories that can seem to prove evolution as near-fact based on our research. OK, take that a step further, and explain the chances of these evolved species working for, and complimenting, each other for each other's existence, as well as being the proper size, material, and with the proper tools. To me, the chances of that happening so perfectly is what needs to be looked at, not the theory of individual evolutionary theory on individual species.That's easy to accept. However, accepting the fact that they all developed perfectly to serve each other is a different avenue."

I recently wrote, just for the hell of it, a piece that satirizes the creationist idea that god built the universe specifically to house human beings. Thus it bears on the problem Thiel discusses and addresses the problem of interdependence this writer calls attention to. 

Creation Science and the Theodicy Problem

Philosophers and theologians who argue about the question of theodicy—“How could a loving god allow evil to exist in the universe?”—often cite malaria as a self-evident example of evil. It sickens millions of people per year and kills hundreds of thousands, many of them innocent children. Atheists put forth this awful toll as evidence there is no god. Believers counter that their God works in mysterious ways and only the limitations of our pitiful human minds prevent us from seeing the full glory of the Divine Plan, in which we must trust that malaria plays an integral role. 

Evidence suggests that the believers are right. However, the limitations of their pitiful human minds have in fact kept them from perceiving the full glory of God’s plan for Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite. Even the most faithful disciples of creation theory fail to grasp the special place it occupies in the design and construction of the universe.

Some background is in order. To many human minds the universe appears fine-tuned for human existence. If certain fundamental physical constants such as gravity and electromagnetism were only slightly different from what they are, chemistry (and thus life) would be impossible. But life obviously does exist—in fact on our planet it thrives. The earth occupies the perfect orbit in the solar system for liquid water to abound, and therefore it can support a rich supply of living things from which we human beings derive food, clothing, and shelter. Believers in special creation maintain that all these benefits showered on our kind could only have been arranged intentionally. The faithful have named this idea the Anthropic Principle: everything in the universe tends toward the promotion of human life.

Close examination of Plasmodium and its relation to humanity, however, calls the Anthropic Principle seriously into question. It is not so much the harm the organism does to human beings that tips the Creator’s hand. It is the details of Plasmodium’s convoluted life cycle. In order to persist in the world, the parasite morphs through several stages of existence that require it to alternate between two hosts: the Anopheles gambiae mosquito and Homo sapiens. Inside the mosquito, Plasmodium gametocytes and microgametocytes join in the manner of ova and sperm and merge to form sporozoites. Next, the mosquito must inject that form of the microbe into a living human body, a warm, moist environment that supplies a hospitable liver and nourishing red blood cells. Inside us the sporozoites migrate to the liver, where they reproduce prolifically by cell division and change into merozoites, which stream out of the liver into the bloodstream. Thousands of them at a time burrow into corresponding thousands of red cells, where each reproduces till the teeming offspring enlarge into trophozoites and cram their host cell to bursting. Members of that stage bud off new merozoites, which spill back out into the vein to burrow into still more red cells. Repeated episodes of such assaults cause the human host to suffer waves of chills and fever, followed by respiratory distress and impaired liver function. Some of the Plasmodium cells transform to gametocytes and microgametocytes, to be drawn into the gut of a feeding Anopheles so they can unite and start the cycle all over again.

Consider how miraculous this arrangement is. Such Byzantine intricacy could never have arisen by chance through the random operation of natural processes. The cycle of interdependence is directed by codes programmed into the three separate genomes of the mosquito, the one-celled parasite, and the human being. Not only does each genome contain the millions of letters of DNA code required to shape its own organism’s bodily growth and behavior, but also all three conspire toward the purpose of sustaining one of them. The mosquito’s genes shape its bowels as a surrogate womb for Plasmodium sexual reproduction. Human genes program our bodies to produce liver cells and red blood cells with just the right shapes and just the right nutrients for Plasmodium cells to grow and divide. In creation science, these genomes fit the definition of specified information. Such a vast quantity of it, intertwined with such irreducible complexity, can lead to no conclusion other than this: the Creator composed the codes and meticulously spelled them out by placing each DNA letter at the exact point in the sequence where it contributes to the end result.

That is the how. As for why the Creator intertwined the lives of these three species in just the way He did, consider these facts. Anopheles can live perfectly well without Plasmodium, but the reverse is not so. The parasite cannot persist without the mosquito as its brood site and vector. Likewise, Plasmodium requires its secondary host, Homo sapiens, for the asexual reproduction stage of its life cycle, yet the human does not require the parasite at all. Clearly the creator charged both hosts, the arthropod and the vertebrate, with the mission to sacrifice their comfort and safety to the protist.

The conclusion is clear: the Anthropic Principle is wrong. The laws of the universe were not fine-tuned to suit human beings, except insofar as our existence contributes to a greater good. The earth’s ecology was not delicately balanced to make a home for you and me. No, the universe with its untold numbers of galaxies, including our own Milky Way containing the solar system hosting our wet rocky planet orbiting smack in the habitable zone around its central star, was all carefully arranged to form a comfortable and scenic habitat for the creator’s most beloved creature, Plasmodium falciparum. He dedicated the richly nutritious host Homo sapiens and the airborne vector Anopheles gambiae to the propagation and spread of that ultimate jewel of His creation. That is to say, in all He did the Creator was guided by the Plasmodic Principle.

The Plasmodic Principle completely overturns all previous speculation about the relation of malaria to the theodicy problem. Malaria cannot be evil, since the organism that causes it is the focus of creation. The mosquito that transmits it cannot be evil, since its existence is necessary for the parasite to reproduce and spread. At first human beings were not evil either. For nearly six thousand years after the week of creation our existence was as benign as that of mosquitoes. Near the middle of what we count as the 19th century, however, we started dosing malaria sufferers with quinine to sicken and kill the parasite, and in the 20th we sprayed massive quantities of DDT to try to wipe out the mosquito. Hostilities continue to this day, with updated strategies and materiel. In our depravity we keep devising new means to thwart the will of the Creator by attacking His most cherished creature and the vector required to perpetuate it. We have fallen as low as Judas. We introduced suffering and death into the life of the very being we were placed on earth to support. So the theodicy question now becomes, “Why does an omnipotent and beneficent Creator allow humankind to exist?”


Anonymous said...

In reviewing some of the comments on various posted material it appears to me that there are two subjects under discussion.

One is the scientific efforts to discover the origin of human life and its relationship with the universe. Many comments reveal very little about this enormous subject. I believe those who have made personal studies in this area will admit that known facts are so complex that even those involved in tracing things back to an origin have made very little progress is defining a source that can be understood through the normal channels of education.

The other subject is theology (a study of the nature of God and religious truth).This also is a complex subject that deals with the supernatural. The comments made here seem to have a negative view of development of the Christianity as it appears today. The dominate focus of the bible today is the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection gives the hope of life after our physical life has been completed.

Science may offer a little longer life, but there is no indication that science can overcome death. It is Christianity that gives the most positive solution to overcoming death, but this is totally dependant on the existence of a supernatural being that has a planned purpose in process. One thing that needs to be remembered is that the existence of human life is not the goal of this planned purpose. The reduction of the length of human life was not due to human sinfulness, but due to fact that a premature over population of human life would create unneeded stress on those that exist.

Theology is making some progress in answering some of the hard questions, but it is greatly hampered by those who fail to recognize that religion is an evolutionary process that needs to face scientific facts in the faith they build while living by the moral standards that reflect what is envisioned as a perfect human life. At least this is how I look at things.
A. Boocher

Anonymous said...

Therein is the distinct advantage of a believer over an atheist. A believer will live forever but an atheist will not.

Anonymous said...

Genesis Got It Wrong


Great and straightforward series on how and why Genesis is not science and how Genesis got it wrong.

It is amazing people still argue about this in this day and age but reflects few fundamentalists actually do any homework on the topic but rather simply believe what they are told by an equally uneducated preacher

Anonymous said...

Can we assume that the way things are in this world, with its diseases and natural disasters, is the way God created it or did all these evils enter the world after the "Fall of man" by his free choice? Doesn't Genesis tell us what God did, but not how he did it? Might Genesis be correct, but our understanding of it is not? How many passages have former WCG member misinterpreted in years past? Finally, which belief system, evolution or creationism requires the most faith? Both have many unanswered questions and are belief systems.
Didn't Habakkuk have questions and God told him that the just shall live by faith? Is it OK if God knows something we don't? Aren't the Jews more comfortable with the mysteries or unanswered questions? Is the western mind less comfortable with not knowing?

Anonymous said...

Yes Genesis got it wrong because an almighty all powerful God could not possibly have done the things He said He did. Let's instead believe the even more unbelievable atheistic theory that everything came from nothing by itself and that life came from non-life spontaneously. LOL.

Anonymous said...

did you watch the series, doubt it, or are you just repeating simplistic views and generalities? Einstein was Jewish so , no, I doubt "the Jews" are more comfortable with unanswered questions lol At least modern humans aren't.

You can't test for "God" so the point is moot

Perhaps we wrong to think the God of the Hebrews and the Old Testament is the God we should even be talking about in the first place. That's a small God in todays universe and world of inquiry

Assistant Deacon said...

Anon 5:32, the issue is hardly one of atheists claiming that things just sprouted throughout the universe like so many Chia Pets.

The real issue comes down to the dilemma of how advocates of various religious beliefs have, in general, done a piss-poor job of actually living according to the things they claim, let alone defending them with any sort of adequate scholarship. Such blatant hypocrisy leaves rational people dissatisfied, then doubly disillusioned by the religious types' resorting to their predictable "you intellectuals think you're so smart" tauntings -- as if intelligence is a bad thing.

In the COGs, this is particularly true. At the so-called "top" of various organizations, men behaving like so many grade-schoolers bicker and whine, then split and split some more. By-now-soulless people, immunized as they've become to this smarmy behavior, blindly follow along, weakly intoning the "but we have to keep the Sabbath and holy days" argument when all else lies in tatters around their feet -- thanks in no small part to the infantile and indefensible (not to mention inherently racist) theory of British-Israelism, which underlies everything Herbert Armstrong ever taught or attempted to enforce.

LOL, my ass. If COG members were less flippant about how "right" they are and more inclined toward mature and respectful study and discussion, they would be light years ahead in their understanding of both scripture and the universe -- and less inclined to throw know-it-all epithets at others in defense of their pet theories or flavor-of-the-month kingpins running their currently preferred "church."

Anonymous said...

The creator does not care about us. We are guinea pigs in one of his engineering experiments.

Kids make lego men just for the fun of busting them up. The creator is the same.

He must work for the Zios.

Anonymous said...

"Such blatant hypocrisy leaves rational people dissatisfied..."

The secular crowed are the bigger hypocrites because they have NO standards to live up to. Hell, anybody can do that. That is not one bit rational but they think they are so smart.

Anonymous said...

The article said, "Atheists put forth this awful toll as evidence there is no god. Believers counter that their God works in mysterious ways...."

There's no mystery to His way.

I recall that growing up I had a great and a moral dad and when I did what was expected of me, I was praised and sometimes rewarded. But when I did bad, my dad punished me according to the offense, bad for bad, real bad for real bad. Typical and reasonable.

I caught on to his reward system and thrived in it; good for good, and evil for evil (reaping what you sow).

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

Deut. 30:15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;
16 In that I command thee this day to love YHWH, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and YHWH shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
17 But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;
18 I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish....

It works.

Anonymous said...

Old Testament God is kind of a dick, isn't he?

Corky said...

A human father makes some promised to his child and the child believes him.

That's reasonable faith.

An invisible something (because we don't know what it is) called "god" is claimed (by some men in a book) that he made some promises to us, his children, and we believe it.

That's unreasonable faith.

Why? Because, in the first case, the father actually exists. In the second case, the father might not exist and probably doesn't.

Assistant Deacon said...

Anon 9:18, you simply prove my point. Stick to the context, contrary to what you're taught to do in the COG of your choice. The hypocrisy I referred to is not that of belief; it is that of not living according to that belief, let alone being able to defend it with any sort of mature, respectful scholarship.

That has nothing to do with how you feel about the secular "crowed," as you put it. Further, your notion that such people have "NO standards to live up to" is as ignorant as it is arrogant, and nullifies the remainder of your typically flippant and dismissive "I'm in a COG so I'm right" comment.

Michael said...

Who exactly is the Retired Professor?

This was pure genius - well done, whoever.

Anonymous said...

"Old Testament God is kind of a dick, isn't he?"

What a terrible thing to say!

YHWH is a dick only if you believe someone is a dick who talked a father into sacrificing his son, then when the poor schmuck was on the point of slashing his son's throat, said, "Aw, take it easy, Abraham, it was just a joke!"

YHWH is a dick only if you think an experimenter working with living creatures is a dick for flying into a rage and drowning almost all of them when the experiment didn't go as planned.

Please, let's have no more of this slander about Old Testament God being a dick. That's heresy, and He will throw you in the Lake of Fire for saying it.

Sterne Warner

Previously Anonymous said...

For me,

its obvious that the natural order around me was 'made,' despite anything that men may do. Its the most reasonable thing to believe.

I spent about five years RVing through KS, NE, SD, ND, WY, MT, UT, AZ, NM, ID, WA, OR, etc., in all their natural beauty and majesty. Its not rocket science, those systems could NEVER come out of chaos and chance, not in a trillion millennia.

Such a natural paradigm may slowly degenerate over time, but not the other way around.

I followed the state-of-the-art AI (artificial intelligence) efforts for some time also and I laughed when the head of one of the decade(s)-long projects admitted, 'This is IMPOSSIBLE!'

Until the best in computer science/programming is really able to make something basic like a working human brain, then I'll consider that such things are beyond our universal experience.

And some top evolutionists admit they think aliens brought 'life' to the planet, so my idea of a 'Maker' is as valid as theirs.

Assistant Deacon said...

Beliefs are fine, PA. We all have them.

But the suggestion made previously that the "secular crowd" have no standards is pejorative and absurd.

Even the basics of science as presented in documentaries on any of the cable networks -- TLC, Discovery, History, etc. -- provide ample evidence that scientists have, in almost all cases, the highest of standards. And those are just the basics. The depth of their studies is often stunning.

I just can't stand it when people dismiss them with a "flowers and canyons couldn't have just happened" wave of the hand. It's condescending, particularly when you consider the source.

Then again, for the scientific faint-of-heart, TLC also airs Honey Boo Boo, so there's that.

Retired Prof said...

I have been amused by conservative Christians (economically as well as theologically conservative) who profess unshakable faith in these two propositions:

1) A centrally managed economy cannot possibly succeed, but must be allowed to self-regulate.

2) A self-regulated universe cannot possibly succeed, but must be centrally managed.

Anonymous said...

"Please, let's have no more of this slander about Old Testament God being a dick. That's heresy, and He will throw you in the Lake of Fire for saying it."

It's not only heresy, it's BLASPHEMY!

BTW, I'm sure YHVH was a more reasonable guy, when he had his wife Asherah to keep him in line (and before he ditched her).

I'm sure the family of four- YHVH, Asherah, Holy Spirit, and Jesus- were once a very happy family with two cats in the yard, before YHVH got all maniacal after he kicked Asherah out and couldn't get laid any more.

Anonymous said...

It's the story
Of a man named Armstrong
Who was raising 144,000 disobedient members
All of them gave all their gold to their leader
But that's not the part they remember.

It's the story
Of a fellow named YHVH
Who was busy with one boy of his own
They were two men living all together
But they were all alone.

Till the one day when the man met this fellow
And they knew that it was much more than a bunch
But this group must somehow form a family
And that's the way they became the Worldwide Church of God
The Worldwide Church of God
The Worldwide Church of God
That's the way they became the Worldwide Church of God!

Anonymous said...

I here add my praise to the work of Retired Professor and note that none of the "critics" have addressed the point made by him. I wonder if they even understand it.

Anonymous said...

Retired Prof said...
I have been amused by conservative Christians (economically as well as theologically conservative) who profess unshakable faith in these two propositions:
1) A centrally managed economy cannot possibly succeed, but must be allowed to self-regulate.
2) A self-regulated universe cannot possibly succeed, but must be centrally managed.
May 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM

A question
This is an interesting parallel, but I am not sure I understand just how we can apply it. The economy has been created and managed by human intelligence. Whether it is centrally managed of self-regulated; greed and corruption will always be a problem.

What kind of intelligence has created the universe how is it self-regulated?
A. Boocher

Anonymous said...

I here add my praise to the work of Retired Professor and note that none of the "critics" have addressed the point made by him. I wonder if they even understand it.

The anthropic principle is championed bt atheists like Steve Weinberg, the prof diagrees with the anthropic principle, isn't his problem with other atheists?

Retired Prof said...

Can you give us a quotation (or at least a link) showing where Steve Weinberg champions the anthropic principle? And can you explain which version he advocates?

It comes in two flavors, the strong and the weak.

The strong anthropic principle (the version I used in my satirical essay) says the universe developed to fit us; it arose for the purpose of housing intelligent life. Perhaps it was created by a separate deity. Or maybe it was infused with some intrinsic teleological principle pushing toward beings that could serve like sensory organs to allow the universe to contemplate itself.

The weak anthropic principle turns that around and says we developed to fit the universe. It was here, and at least one rocky ball happened to have the lukewarm temperature and mineral composition that allowed us to arise. The principle is called anthropic simply because it is human beings who are here talking about it. There was nothing inevitable about it being us.

Anonymous said...

Steven Weinberg[47] believes the Anthropic Principle may be appropriated by cosmologists committed to nontheism, and refers to that Principle as a "turning point" in modern science because applying it to the string landscape " at wikipedia anthropic Principle entry

Weinberg is also mentioned extensively in this article about Anthropic coincidences

Retired Prof said...

Thanks, Anon.