Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Problem Regarding Violence And Creation

There is a growing volume of scientific data that points to intra-species violence (that is violence between members of the same species) being a phenotypic trait of Homo Sapiens (hereafter ‘humans’). How can this be rectified with the notion that God imposed suffering on man (apologies for the use of the masculine here) for the Original Sin of Adam?

I shall posit that there is no possibility of rectification, and that this is problematic for Christian theology.

(The argument here set out is only a first attempt – apologies for any error before I begin – and one that I have a slight intent to return to and develop, so any comments will be appreciated.)

The argument, as it has been presented by a visitor here, seems to run that God (the Judeo-Christian conception – seemingly more post-Protestant than Catholic) created Adam qua man as a perfect being free from suffering and death, and granted him free will. Adam then, under peer pressure, committed the sin of disobeying God (which seems to have been the only possible sin in Eden) – this event having been made possible by free will. God then punished man by casting him from Eden and into suffering. It is claimed then, that much of the suffering caused by man is a result of his free will.

This account does not appear to stand up to basic scientific scrutiny. Violence has been seen to be – however contentiously – at least partially hereditary; that is individuals born into families with a history of violence are more likely to be violent. This has given rise to an argument, much debated, that violence is genetically caused; and that there is a gene or group of genes that increase the likelihood of violence, and that in the right environment these genes will manifest themselves as phenotypic traits.

If humans are indeed phenotypic beings, with our individual phenotypes resulting from the interaction between our genes and our environment, this raises the question of how we came to be such. I will take it as beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings have genes – since I am yet to hear a Christian argue contra this – and for the purpose of the discussion acknowledge a creationistic view that God created man as a genetic being. Herein this account there lies a problem – if God created man he did so with a gene for violence because in both Genesis accounts God leaves man as created (except for the removal of a rib or two in one of the accounts) after He completes creation. Simply, when man is forsaken to this world, God is not recorded as interceding and inserting another gene into man for violence before sending man on his merry (?) way. So, it must be asserted that God engineered man with a gene for violence.

God need not have inserted this gene from a biological standpoint. It seems pointless to make the claim, as I fear some may want to do, that God had to insert a gene for violence because of free will – the claim is simply nonsense. In fact, if God had inserted a gene for violence, violence ceases to be an issue for free will. How is this? If a trait has a genetic basis, it is likely to become active regardless of the will of the possessor – I may will to have blue eyes, but I possess a gene that results in brown and my will can do nothing about my actual biology on this issue – and can be said to be ‘determined’. Effectively, if God implanted a gene for violence then God has caused man to be violent. I take this position to be one that few, if any, Christians would consent to yet it seems the only logical one given the evidence.

The options that appear are either to concede the error of creationism and acknowledge that the flawed evolutionary theory that we currently possess (which are being developed) are better at explaining this issue and thus are paradigmatically better, our to concede that God has caused violence by implanting a gene for it and the consequences that this must have for theology.

Some may rally to the cry that violence is a product of environment. This would be a valid claim were it not for the data from higher primates that seems to show them capable of intra-species violence. This does not sit well with creationism at all – either God gave the apes a gene for violence or they must also have committed their equivalent of Original Sin and been cast from Eden as well. Of course, the tendency to employ violence has been demonstrated to have evolutionary advantages, and can actually be considered evolutionarily valuable, which would amount to an explanation of violence in apes as well as humans, without recourse to a deity …

To restate the question – how can the scientific data pointing to violence having a biological basis be rectified with creationism?


Samuel Douglas said...

To get out of this one an opponent would have to at least claim that the account in Genesis is symboli/leaves some bits out. This is not an option for many of the more reactionary prodestants and evangelical christians I have spoken to.

I have oftern wanted to dare creationists and other literal interpreters of the Bible to say that the entirety of modern science is wrong, and that they are right. You got there before me. Congratulaions

Bill Pascoe said...

You guys all seem hung up on this God thing. So many posts here are about God you'd think it was a Christian site.

If you think God is such a silly idea, and people who go on about him so silly, why don't you start talking about something else.

It looks like your arguments are usually something like, 'It is unreasonable to beleive in God'.

I can tell you that doesn't matter. The point that everyone seems to miss, not just you guys, is that belief in God isn't founded on reason. It's founded on blind faith - reason doesn't matter. In fact God invented reason, and reason is fallible. Though I suppose after all it is worthwhile discouraging people from blind faith whatever way you can. But it doesn't seem you can reason with blind faith. What you want to do is replace blind faith with reason.

A Hare Krishna once suggested that if I was interested in Philosophy, then I must be interested in the God of Philosophy.

Back in my day no-one ever talked about God. It just didn't come up. Who needs to even talk about it. I think maybe with the George Bush II era these Christians have forced themself into the public domain somewhat, they make you think about Christians, and have to come up with justifications of things from a Christian point of view. That is just a power play. The best way to beat it, is not to let them take up all your thinking, not to let them generate all this discourse. But, if you just ignore it, let if fade into silence - that's the only way to stop it from existing.

If you are angry that the church fucked up your fragile teenage mind, it's time to move on.

This is a philosophy blog, not a theology blog. Talk about Kierkegaard, Neitzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Wittgenstein, Aristotle, Plato, Sartre and all the rest of them. I've only seen a bit of a mention of Neitzsche and that's probably only because he's famous for saying God is Dead.

Though I do think you guys have done really well in keeping an active debate going here, keeping this blog alive, and for keeping up with contemporary relevant philosophical events.

IcarusInFlight said...

God is entirely feasible, he is not a person in a holy book, he is not an all seeing, all knowing body, he does not dispense justice or decide what is right or wrong, (whatever that is).

He just is, he is the essence of everything in the universe through the consciousness of humans, he is indefinable and untouchable. He just is.

Violence is a genetic trait that evolved in animals to harm or destroy competitors in a world of perpetual scare resources. There is no answer to this as animals are always filling up every available space. We are just animals nothing else.

MH said...

Bill - I do agree that we seem to spend a lot of time on the God issue. It is a problem for the content of the Blog, but one that has come about because it is what contributors have been writting about. I have been trying to move the discussion away from the theme.

This brings me to explaining the background of my post. As part of my thesis I have been reading a lot of biology - especially regarding genetics - and was hit the other night by this thought. It was quite at random and there was no conscious connection with the other discussions that were going on. I basically scribbled it down and posted it the next morning to see if the argument itself worked and to make sure that I was not suffering the influence of lack of sleep and excessive espresso consumption. Basically it was more a challenge to my thought processes than a challenge to faith.

I get the feeling that Icarus has proved your point.

Lucas said...

Adam and Eve were not cast out of the Garden of Eden into a world where death had previously reigned before Adams sin. They were cast out of the Garden of Eden because, as God states, "He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Genesis 3:22). God stated creation was very good, so the world was perfect - free of decay, violence, stinging nettles, and all bad things. He also said, "And to all the beasts ... I give every green plant for food." (Genesis 1:30), so definitely no violent carnivores.

Creationist believe that all of creation, which would include the Garden of Eden and apes, were 'cursed' by God because of our sin (e.g. see Romans 8:20-22). The world changed radically from its former state and obviously this would require the supernatural power of God. "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field." (Genesis 3:17-18) and the fact there are carnivores are simple indications that genetic change must have taken place.

So then, what about man and violence (and, for that matter: lies, hate jealously, etc. - our sinful nature/disobedience)? Has God really forced this on mankind? Just to clarify, every specific sin is disobeying God and He doesn't make laws/commands that aren't in our best interest. God didn't want Adam and Eve to experience evil or to know anything about it. As everything God created was good, the only thing that would have a negative impact on us was the knowledge of evil itself. Adam and Eve's specific sin was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and make coverings for themselves." (Genesis 3:7). They then knew evil as a direct result of their own actions and, because of their disobedience, they submitted to their own desires (and ultimately Satan). The knowledge of evil brought them fear and shame when they lost their innocence. All this happened before God had passed His judgement. There's nothing in the Bible to suggest that there wasn't or couldn't be a supernatural event causing genetic change.

We inherit the knowledge of evil from Adam and Eve, who sought after this knowledge. We have a conscience for discernment of right and wrong (a moral awareness), and a will to choose evil over good (should the environment/temptation 'persuade us'). Since many people live for themselves rather than for God (prevalent in western society), they choose evil in many cases when they feel it will benefits them or their opinions (to the extent of Hitler/Stalin evolutionary based ethics - how can they be proved evil without an authoritative lawgiver & absolute morals?). It comes as no surprise that evidence shows our sinful nature/disobedience is partially hereditary. We still have a conscience and a will to make moral choices. Yes, we can't choose our physical phenotypes, or where/when/to whom we are born, for example, but these don't involve moral choices of good and evil. The Apostle Paul said, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). You can guess the answer. We still have the choice to let God handle our sinful nature, even though this is can be a struggle at times.

As for apes, they suffer because of the curse just like the other animals do. Only humans were created in God's image and are capable of truly loving our maker. We are the only ones created with a spirit body to communicate with God. Our moral awareness of good and evil is also perceived in our spirit body. Our spirit and soul (comprising of our consciousness, intellect or mind, emotions, and power of choice or will) live on after the death of ones physical body.

I would consider order arising from disorder and greater information from less information (given millions, billions, zillions... of years of time, of course :) is just as hard, if not harder, to believe in than a creator, especially when factual science directs this trend the other way. In many cases, creationists appeal to scientific fact to support their view, and evolutionists often appeal to philosophical assumptions from outside science. Creationists also don't pretend that science can be pursued without presuppositions (religious or philosophical). Both creationists and evolutionists are objective. "We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:2). Read in detail and contemplate what creationists/Christians/the Bible really have to say before writing them off (and get rid of The Simpsons inspired, stereotyped view of Christians and God). It's to your benefit. If you are right and I am wrong, I lose nothing and my conscience being goes back into non-existence. If you are wrong, however, you have everything to lose for eternity.

Samuel Douglas said...

Bill: Some of your criticisms are fair. There is not always alot of variety on the blog. As MArtin said, we are trying to remedy that. I also agree that there are plenty of other things that we could/should be thinking and talking about. The only thing that younsaid that I disagree with is that if we ignore the issue it will go away. Ignorance of the philsophical discourse tthat intersects with theology is part of what allows (to borrow from Foucault) grossly inequatable power relations to exist.

Lucas: I suspect that we are talking at cross purposes. There is nothing that I could say to make you shift your position, is there?

Lucas said...

Yeah, I was reminded about a survey - apparently Americans think of Ned Flanders when asked about well known Christians in society, whereas previously they thought of someone like the evangelist Billy Graham. Ned Flanders is an awful representative of true Christians. Though The Simpsons may be funny, it does have a lot of influence. Heaven and hell is real to me and I believe shouldn't be taken lightly. Oops, I meant to say: "Both creationists and evolutionists are subjective", lol. You are right, once you know God personally, it's hard to be persuaded He doesn’t/can’t exist.

Clark Goble said...

While I have strong reservations about the idea of original sin, I do think there is a key problem with your argument.

"Simply, when man is forsaken to this world, God is not recorded as interceding and inserting another gene into man for violence before sending man on his merry (?) way."

Doesn't that commit the fallacy of argument from silence?