Readers’ photos: a doomed caterpillar

Reader André Schuiteman, who works at Kew Botanical Gardens and has previously contributed biology photos and stories here, sends the following pictures and a tale about death in nature:

On December 2010, during a brief excursion to Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam, about 80 km south of Hanoi, I came across the most unusual caterpillar I had ever seen. [He now thinks it's a species of Orgyia, a tussock moth, or something closely related.] As shown in the photographs, it sported a luxuriant and colourful coat of long and short hairs, partly arranged in tufts, some resembling miniature shaving brushes, others bouquets of white eyelashes. It was sitting on a leaf of which it had evidently eaten quite a bit. As I was admiring the creature, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one who had taken an interest. A rather ordinary-looking fly was walking around it and clearly seemed to disturb the caterpillar, which tried to crawl away. Suddenly the fly curved its abdomen forward under its body, walked up to the rear end of the caterpillar and, raising itself on its hind legs, inserted its abdomen in the victim’s fur. I write ‘victim’, as there can be little doubt that this was one of those parasitic flies that lay their eggs on caterpillars.

All this took place slightly above eye-level, which made it awkward to photograph. I happened to have my camera with macro-lens ready, but the flash was still in the bag. As I didn’t want to lose an opportunity, I photographed it with natural light, which explains the shallow depth of field. Unfortunately, the photo of the moment of oviposition is highly unsharp because either the leaf or I moved too much.

As I walked on I felt sorry for the beautiful caterpillar, knowing that it almost certainly was going to die an extremely unpleasant death (slowly being eaten alive by a maggot). Should I have interfered? This moral dilemma occupied me for a while. Nature is wonderful, but full of horrors, most of which go unnoticed.

To bring up a bit of historical (and religious) context here, we have the famous quote from Darwin written in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray on May 22, 1860, using observations like the above as evidence against a beneficent God:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

Ichneumonids are not flies, but wasps (mostly parasitic ones) in the order Hymenoptera, along with bees and other more familiar wasps.

96 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Sub

  2. Ray Moscow
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It’s necessary to frequently remind ourselves that nature* is completely indifferent to suffering and to our notions of ‘morality’. It seems so alien to our naive notions of how the world ‘should’ be.

    *except for the self-imposed morality that social species such as humans develop

  3. Dominic
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    To interfere – had you waved it away, it would have returned later. It may be an unpleasant end, but it is a neutral one – it is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it just ‘is’.

    • Dominic
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Are the hairs perhaps intended as a deterrent to the fly? Nice fortuitous capture anyway! Thanks for sharing.

      • AndreSchuiteman
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        The hairs are more likely a deterrent for birds and other predators. If anything, they are perhaps helpful to the fly, in that they protect the eggs from being rubbed off.

        • Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Very nice photos Andre!
          I suspect the hairs are not helpful against birds, which would not be stopped by them. I agree with Dominic, these hairs (and similar ones on other caterpillars) would impede many wasps and flies, and maybe more important, when they were touched they would alert the caterpillar that something wants to ruin its day.

          • AndreSchuiteman
            Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            Someone should experiment with shaved caterpillars :)

            In any case, irritating hairs would not deter flies, I think, but mainly larger predators. Also, let’s not forget that many parasitic flies and wasps specialise on particular (possibly hairy) caterpillar species.

            • Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

              Yes, the irritating part wouldn’t affect flies, but the hairs themselves physically impede access.

          • Hempenstein
            Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps the hairs are akin to the throat of the orchid/length of the moth’s proboscis – the hairs are long enough to prevent the ovipositors of some moths from reaching the caterpillar’s abdomen?

            • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              Consider MDT, or ‘multi-designer theory. If the actual grunt work was done by surrogates, perhaps competition was an operative. One designs a caterpillar, another a parasite fly, and later, designer ‘A’ may work to try to overcome the peril by hair design or modification.

              If I were God, I’d fire designer ‘A’.

              • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                What, like the guys on Time Bandits?

              • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                I would say so. If in fact Kevin (and we) are designed in someone else’s image, then why not? If so, then parallel’s pervade the Cosmos!

                Maybe time for a new TV series …

              • GBJames
                Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                I should do something very extroverted and vengeful to you. Honestly, I’m too tired. So, I think I’ll transfer you to the undergrowth department, brackens, more shrubs, that sort of thing… with a 19% cut in salary, backdated to the beginning of time.

              • Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                ” … I think I’ll transfer you to the undergrowth department, brackens, more shrubs, that sort of thing… with a 19% cut in salary, backdated to the beginning of time.”

                Hmmm. Been peeking at my cosmic CV? Been there; done that.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Not to mention that saving the caterpillar would have inhibited the reproduction of the fly. We feel sorry for the beautiful caterpillar, and vilify the ugly fly, but each has their struggle.

      • AndreSchuiteman
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        And let’s not forget the plant.

        Still, one could argue that saving the caterpillar would have reduced the total amount of suffering in the world. After all, the fly wouldn’t have suffered as much from not being able to reproduce (or less so), as the caterpillar would have suffered from being eaten alive.

        Unless, of course, this particular caterpillar would have been the ancestor to a line of indestructible man-eating caterpillars ten million years from now. By allowing it to be eaten alive I saved mankind.

      • Achrachno
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        For all we know the caterpillar may have been fine even without human intervention. The fly egg may well have been hit by a parasitic wasp (Trichogramma egg parasite, or whatever) 10 seconds after the photos were taken. Parasites are not immune to parasitism, or to other lethal attacks. They have mortality rates comparable to other living things. And, eggs and juveniles always seem to suffer heavy losses in all groups.

        • Dominic
          Posted February 22, 2012 at 2:18 am | Permalink

          Not that IS fascinating! parasites of parasites! Can you tell me where to find out more? Book/articles/authors/species?

          • Achrachno
            Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            Here’s a brief bit about the one I referenced: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichogramma

            Trichogramma are common and important parasites of insect eggs.

            But, google hyperparasite and you’ll find more. This is really common among the micro hymenoptera. Most of these are technically parasitoids, since they consume their host, rather than just “stealing” some resources while the host goes on and completes its life cycle.

  4. Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The ridiculousness of religiosity is exposed in this realization: flesh eating bacteria, because God loves you.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Harlequin ichthyosis, because God wants to give you ample opportunities for doing good.

  5. Liz Naples
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I feel your pain… the dilemma! Beware of things in pretty packages. :) Nature’s way of pest control? The Tussock Moth has been deemed by humans to be a pest. To others, it’s food.

    http://www.kelowna.ca/CM/page2625.aspx

  6. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Great photos – and fascinating story of raw life at the macro level.

    If I might reply to the thought Darwin presented – the discussion of death, suffering and trials is so very difficult because most of us have tasted of this bitter leaf – and as such, thoughts on the subject produce deeply emotional responses. While I do not think there is a simple or easy answer to the question of suffering, I do believe God is infinitely loving and truly omnipotent. Yet, for reasons we cannot fully understand, he allowed his creation to be corrupted. We see this in nature, in tragedies, in others, and if we are honest, we see this clearly enough in ourselves. We are broken – damaged goods.

    I believe this is what Darwin failed to see. Darwin could not conceive of a good and sovereign God that would allow suffering, death and hardship. Darwin’s conception of God is common enough in our day as well. We want a God that makes life easy – we believe humanity should be the center of God’s existence – and from such a perspective suffering makes no sense. So we are forced to conclude that either God is not truly loving, is not really sovereign, or simply does not exist.

    But what if we are not the end? What if all of this – joys, sorrows, ease and hardship are all designed to point us to what is supremely valuable? If God exists, is he not infinitely more valuable than that which he created? I believe that suffering, in part, exists because it is precisely then we feel our deepest need – it is then we are prone to realize that things just aren’t right with this world – and it is then we most often hope for something better – something freeing – something to hope for. In short, sufferings point us to God, to the need of a redeemer, and the work of Jesus to that end.

    Okay, enough with my preaching – thanks for sharing – I appreciate it!

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Darwin could not conceive of a good and sovereign God that would allow suffering, death and hardship.

      It’s not that he couldn’t conceive of it, it’s just that he was too smart to continue to believe in it in the face of overwhelming evidence against it.

      In short, sufferings point us to God, to the need of a redeemer, and the work of Jesus to that end.

      No, they point us to the realisation that god is imaginary.

    • S A GOULD
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      um… does that mean that God has a nice place for insects that HAVE suffered? Or is the catapillar NOT suffering?

    • JFM
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      it is then we are prone to realize that things just aren’t right with this world – and it is then we have a right to hope for something better – something sensible and indicative of what one would expect from an all-powerful being – something consistent. In short, suffering points us away from God, to the need of a better, more humane planner, and to lead us to suggest a more thoughtful and compassionate blueprint to Jesus toward that end.

      • Ray Moscow
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        I think that if God wanted to demonstrate His love to biologists He would have arranged to have Jesus killed by Ichneumonidæ.

        I suppose the resurrection would have been as either a butterfly or as adult Ichneumonidæ, but either way that would have been pretty cool.

        • horrabin
          Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          Can you imagine the torture porn mileage Mel Gibson could have made out of a parasitized christ?

          • Ray Moscow
            Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:57 am | Permalink

            The Brood of the Christ

    • horrabin
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      So you’re saying we truly can’t value God or heaven or whatever it is that you’re vaguely implying we’re being pointed towards without a certain number of children dieing of leukemia? I realize you’re trying to salvage an untenable proposition and your only options are ‘it’s a mystery’ or ‘it’s for our own good’, but there’s a simpler solution to the problem of natural evil.

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        I just recently lost a dear friend to cancer. I spent days with he and his family in the hospital and then hospice over the year it took for him to die. So I am not approaching this with a theoretical or inexperienced perspective.

        Too often, I have been guilty of assuming the person on the other side of the debate blindly accepts their position without giving serious consideration to the opposing position. It is a coping mechanism of sorts – if everyone who opposes my position is uneducated, or foolish, or blind, then my position is that much better.

        But typically,people don’t come to their conclusions lightly. Rather it is through reflection and research and critical thinking that we come to our convictions. Though you and I have different worldviews, I trust you have come to your position in such a way.

        I did not feel a response to a blog post was an appropriate place to post a large and detailed thesis on my position, but if you care to read something much more exhaustive, I would suggest the following resource: http://dwynrhh6bluza.cloudfront.net/resources/documents/2439/books_bssg.pdf?1281043214.

        Take care,
        - Nate

        • GBJames
          Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          What is your point here Mr. Studios? your friend’s death grants you some kind of authority? Does mu sister’s death at 40 make my position stronger? Was watching my dad die in hospice something that makes my arguments better? My mom is 93 and in decline. When she dies will my argument be invincible or do I need for my wife to die first?

          • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

            I am sorry for your losses. Truly sorry. Losing those we love – especially to something as drawn out as cancer is a hard road to walk.

            My point was by no means to draw your own suffering into question – and if it came across as that, I sincerely apologize. My intent in sharing a bit of my own story was to illustrate what I stated – that we need to treat one another with respect and grace when we disagree, because chances are we didn’t come to our conclusions haphazardly or without serious consideration.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

              And my point was not to solicit sympathy. It was that personal loss is pretty common and being witness to grief is no reasonable basis for advocating for religious ideas. Loss is loss. It isn’t evidence of mysterious ways.

        • Observer
          Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          You’re presenting a false dichotomy. There is no reason that a ‘coping mechanism,’ as you put it, should result in a blindly arrived at, unconsidered conclusion. In fact rationalizations often are highly detailed, meticulously crafted things.

          • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            “You’re presenting a false dichotomy. There is no reason that a ‘coping mechanism,’ as you put it, should result in a blindly arrived at, unconsidered conclusion.”

            While it may be regarded accordingly, I wouldn’t go as far as terming it “blindly arrived at” or “unconsidered”.

            “In fact rationalizations often are highly detailed, meticulously crafted things.”

            True, IF true. Here’s an interesting anomaly considering its [rationalization] definition. While ‘rationality’ is defined as an exercise of reason, it is “not just reasoned, but also optimal for achieving a goal or solving a problem.” ref: Rationality at Wikipedia.

            While ‘rationalization’, an application of same it would seem, is defined as an “unconscious defense mechanism”, and “in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation.”

            If rationality is in fact an exercise of reason, while rationalization constitutes a contrived and false defense mechanism, it is no wonder we often end up with cognitive dissonance. Ah, semantics …

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Thanks for responding all. I know I’m likely the minority here , but felt compelled to share a bit from my own experience. I know it’s naive to expect you or I to change our well-researched and strongly help positions with a few paragraphs, but after an experience I had last month, I felt compelled to share all the same.

      I recently went to Haiti (here is the link to my photos from the trip: http://deremerstudios.wordpress.com/tag/haiti/) to document what has been happening in the church, now 2 years after the earthquake that killed over 200,000. What struck me more than anything else was the hope and genuine joy these people had. It blew me away. We spoke to people who had lost homes, friends and family, and yet despite the tragedy, they were thankful to God for what he has been doing through it.

      I know its easy to dismiss this as a coping mechanism or self-delusion, but having experienced it firsthand, and repeatedly from so many I am hard pressed to question its authenticity.

      But anyway – I can go on an on, but I don’t want to turn this into a debate or upset any of you. While we may not agree, I do appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        You are right, Deremer Studios. It is extremely easy to dismiss. Please chime in again when you have something more substantial.

      • Observer
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        The joy people experience is no less authentic when explainable, as it is, by psychological processes.

        But what specifically are the people joyful about? I’m inferring from your brief description that they are responding to outpourings of compassion and are attributing them to divine influence. There are many problems with this view. One is theological. God’s mechanism for causing good actions requires the torture and destruction of millions of innocents. Of course, as you demonstrate, highly motivated individuals can skip over the blithely skip over the challenges this presents. But that doesn’t really make the challenges go away. If it did, thoughtful people would not have written so much about the problem of evil these past couple millennia.

      • S A GOULD
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        About eight years about my pest exterminator guy decided he was called by God to somewhere in Africa and set up a mission. Periodically he sends out a newsletter detailing the progress. Its a small village of about 150 people and they are working on basic sanitation, wells, etc. They have a very small schoolhouse now and the kids are getting at least one good meal a day.

        I have no idea how much religious instruction comes with all this, but these people are thrilled for the help. But I bet they would be JUST AS HAPPY if skeptics or atheists were providing the help.

      • horrabin
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        No one is questioning its authenticity. People cope as best they can to adversity. But the real question is, if you had the choice, would those 200,000 people had died? Couldn’t the Haitians demonstrate the same hope and joy if only 100,000 had died? How much extra suffering was necessary to get the requisite amount of thankfulness?

      • Hempenstein
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Did God collapse the cathedral on the archibishop? Did God set things up such that Portland cement is so expensive in Haiti that people are prone to skimp on the mix, leading to an inferior concrete that collapses under seismic stress?

      • Nathan Hevenstone
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        And yet not a single one of them questioned *why* God let that earthquake occur in the first place? Not one of them struggled with the question of *why* God took their loved ones away from them?

        What is it about tragedy that turns believers into the most selfish people on the planet? “Thank you, God, for saving me. I know you let 200,000 others die, including some of those closest to me, but you saved my life, and for that I will rejoice?”

        How is it that it’s only atheists, people who don’t even believe in God, who will ask the question “why did He let it happen in the first place?”

        Honestly, and I mean not disrespect to you, Deremer Studios, but stories like the one you shared are maddening to me simply because of the enormous amount of people who miss the obvious in this… you’re supposedly *all-loving* God *let it happen*.

        But God can’t lose, can he? You survive: “thanks be to God!”. You lose everyone you ever loved: “it’s all part of God’s plan.”

        When is someone gonna come out and say it “fuck God! He obviously doesn’t give a shit about us, otherwise he’d intervene and *never* let *anyone* die of *anything* other than old age.”? Probably never, because God just can’t lose. His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and, most importantly, his omnibenevolence must be maintained at all costs, even if it means (as William Lane Craig has done) excusing *Genocide*.

        Again, I mean no disrespect to you, Deremer, and I do respect that you have your beliefs, and you and I will never have a problem as long as you don’t try to shove your beliefs on me (and I will, in turn, show that same respect to you). I just can’t stand these stories of survivors of major disasters praising God not only for saving them (the other side of which is thanking him for letting everyone else *but them* die, though they don’t say that), but for giving them all the aid they get from *other human beings*.

        A surgeon I know here in Florida once told me that being a surgeon was a thankless job… because God tends to get all the credit for his (the surgeon’s) work… he told me that and told me that he loves saving the lives of atheists because they thank him directly… and yeah, he’s an atheist himself.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      If God exists, is he not infinitely more valuable than that which he created? I believe that suffering, in part, exists because it is precisely then we feel our deepest need – it is then we are prone to realize that things just aren’t right with this world – and it is then we most often hope for something better – something freeing – something to hope for.

      If this God is a loving God, then this “creation” would be as such a parent producing a child, in which the creation is more valuable than the creator, rather than some paper mache construct that would be easily discarded by a petty God seeking worship. We are either pets in a vast cosmological ant farm for some supernatural being to play with, or else we are part of a vast creation that is the meat of the purpose of this omnipotent being. That we are but a mote in all this vastness indicates our insignificance in the eye of some infinite being beyond even the vastness we can see from our pinhole in the sky.

      Hope and the desperation of suffering may lead a person to believe in a loving God, but this is not truth, merely wishful thinking. I’d rather deal with suffering and live my spec of a life for as long as it lasts me, and take what may or may not come next when the time comes. If there is nothing, then hope is a waste, if there is, then it never mattered anyways, I still dealt with what was given and lived a fuller life because of it.

      I have nothing other than the tired old tales of ancient tribesmen, that are more often used as a manual of hate than of anything useful, to tell me that there is actually a supreme being at work in the universe. Jesus, or at least his author, may have said some groovy things, but they are but pithy words barely suitable for a greeting card compared to the works of modern wisdom, and even other works around the same time period, but in different, more literate, parts of the world.

      As for suffering in nature, it is not a sign of anything “broken” or “corrupted”, it is merely the consequences of a natural system. There is a cause for each instance and in most cases it is from the interaction of organisms, and in all others the consequences of environmental conditions. As far as human suffering, as social creatures, especially in the more affluent parts of the world, it pains us to see children huddled in a field, skin taught against their bones, but there is a very real environmental cause of this suffering. If there is anything broken, or corrupted, it’s that people of plenty don’t do more to mitigate the natural consequences that would cause such horrible die-off in all other epochs of natural history.

      After all, imagine the suffering and death that go into a cheeseburger. Happy Meal indeed! But I believe in a loving butcher, who kills cows humanely and bathes in their blood so that I might eat my Big Mac with a clear conscience. It’s amazing what a little self-delusion can do.

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Hi Justin – thanks for sharing and challenging my understanding.

        I’m not sure your analogy plays out in regard to father and child – at least from a Christian worldview. It would be more accurate to compare God and his creation to Steve Jobs and the iPhone. No matter how much fun and entertainment (and maybe some business use) we get from the phone, we wouldn’t say the iPhone is more valuable than the person who created it. God and creation are not of the same kind in the same way an inventor and his invention are not of equal value. Does that make sense?

        • Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Agreed, bad analogy. Though what I was aiming for was the idea of a loving “Heavenly father” as opposed to a dispassionate inventor who would readily toss out his creation for the iPhone 5. From what I understand of the traditional “Christian” worldview (they do vary), that such was His Love that he gave his only begotten Son (for a very bad weekend) for the specific salvation of a single species of primate from the sin of their ancestors not having obeyed his rule about the apple. Even if we go with the idea of kenosis, and the very emptying of Himself into the Christ, again a very bad weekend, and ultimately a return trip home after some brunch with a dozen of his mates, what we see is an idea of a creator valuing his creation very much over himself. An interesting myth, though not particularly original.

          The overall point being, we can conceive of many different definitions and ideas for such a being, and each is more attractive to some than others, or at least culturally infused, but each requires a forfeiture of reason in order to accept wholeheartedly.

          As for Haiti, it is good that they are happy with the outpouring of help that they have received. But that God gets the credit rather than the actual human beings that helped them is a sign of backwards religious thinking. Now, you could say “But God brought these people down to help.” But that would destroy the Christian idea of freewill wouldn’t it? You could even take the Tolle-ish view that God’s love entered the hearts of these people. But why can’t these just be good people? Unless you’re using this loving God as a metaphor for human goodwill, then you’re creating a supernatural explanation for why good people are good rather than simply appreciating that there are good people in the world. If there had to be divine intervention for humans to do good things, then we are at best puppets, and there are no good people. Then you either have to say that people are inherently bad because they also do bad things, or else create a supernatural reason for doing bad things, which many call the Devil. Of course modern psychology has different explanations for both these phenomena, but you can see where explaining the warm-and-fuzzies with gods can lead you.

          You can go around and around in rhetorical circles giving the amorphous and mysterious uber-being credit for everything, but in the end good people did good things, and that warms my heart enough without inventing a supernatural explanation. In fact, it warms my heart enough to want to do good things myself, no mythology required. That’s why I consider myself a Humanist, and a naturalist, because I cannot and do not know, outside some old, and quite nasty pieces of literature that such supernatural forces exist. I only know that people exist, that many are good, and many are bad and most are a bit of both. Suffering has been alleviated throughout history by the compassion and science of humankind, and there is work yet to be done. Some may be inclined to credit some spiritual ideal, but I prefer to credit the hardworking men and women actually making it happen. That way, I know that whatever warm-and-fuzzies I experience are from something tangible. I see no purpose in believing otherwise, especially without some sort of evidence.

          • Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for sharing Justin – I see what you’re saying.

            You’re pretty close on the worldview – though as you pointed out – they do vary to a degree. Though, I would clarify that from a Christian perspective, we look to God as a Trinity – one God yet three distinct beings, all with the same essence, yet with different roles. So, as we understand it, it is not that God gave this guy, Jesus his essence, but that Jesus was actually God incarnate.

            And you’re right, the act of Jesus coming to earth to redeem a people was a supreme act of love for humanity. As Christians, we believe that God created humanity in his image – that’s to say that he made us with a soul that was made for fellowship with him. And then came that whole bit with the apple. It was not the eating of the fruit that was the great sin, but what that act represented – in essence saying it is not God, but ourselves who are the ultimate source of truth. In short – we made ourselves to be like God – determining what we could or could not do.

            So God the Father, in his love for his special creation, sent Jesus to redeem us. As to why he did this goes back to why we believe anything exists, and not nothing. We see God, being God and all, as the most valuable thing in the Universe. But because of God’s very nature – that of a creative being that exists in community (back to the Trinity). And so, in all his creative work, he creates a special creation for which to have eternal communion. But, because of all that business back in Eden (and our consistent rebellion from him since then) we needed a perfect redeemer to make things right – thus Jesus’ trip to the earth.

            But this wasn’t some sort of Plan B. We believe that from all eternity past, this was the plan – and this is where it ties into suffering, evil, sin and all that stuff. If God is the most valuable thing in the universe and we are designed to spend all eternity with him – making this life but a puff of smoke compared to eternity – then it is in our best interest to be best able to love and appreciate God.

            Now I’m an artist and as such we learn that contrast is our friend. It is what makes a photo (or a painting, or a sculpture) interesting. I think the same applies to life. For me, Haiti was all the more shocking because I grew up in America. The pain we feel is deeper and the joy greater because we have tasted both. And so it is, I believe with our appreciation of God. Because there was a fall, and thus a need for a redeemer which was realized in Jesus, we see the goodness of God more clearly. God is more desirable as a result of our own brokenness. He is more precious because he did not just make us, but also redeemed us.

            Okay, so that was pretty long. I hope that gives you a bit more of a glimpse into our worldview.

            Anyway – I appreciate you taking the time to converse. Good talking (well i guess typing)! I don’t want to tie up this blog any more – I’ve done that enough – but if you want to continue the chat offline, i would be happy to. Take care!

            • GBJames
              Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              Wow! A Trinity Diety! I had no idea!

              Honestly. Doesn’t typing that formulaic nonsense embarrass you?

              (I know, I know. I shouldn’t be so strident.)

            • AndreSchuiteman
              Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              I’m sorry to see that all our host’s posts on free will, Adam & Eve, ‘sophisticated’ theology, etc., etc., have been wasted on you.

    • DV
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Your musings remind me of something that Dawkins quoted in The Selfish Gene:

      “What is man? The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we are better off if we ignore them completely.”

      • DV
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        That was from G.G. Simpson btw.

    • Persto
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      For starters, observations of human and animal suffering appear just as they can be surmised to appear if there is no God.

      “In short, sufferings point us to God, to the need of a redeemer, and the work of Jesus to that end.”

      Two questions:

      Why should we unthinkingly trust acts that go against our very nature? Why would god proffer us a disposition that deems his actions so opprobrious?

      “What if all of this – joys, sorrows, ease and hardship are all designed to point us to what is supremely valuable?…I believe that suffering, in part, exists because it is precisely then we feel our deepest need – it is then we are prone to realize that things just aren’t right with this world – and it is then we most often hope for something better – something freeing – something to hope for.”

      A few questions: Who benefits from the beating and raping of an elderly lady? Who benefits from the sudden death of an infant? Why must suffering endure, often unbearably, after treatment collapses and we await death? Does God really need so much pain and suffering to effectuate his ends? Is there any tenable satisfactory justification behind so many children dying of starvation and disease every day? How are these children served by the rest of us becoming more compassionate?

      I am sure you are a amiable person, but your outlook regarding human suffering is egocentric and strangely unfeeling. I adjudge, repulsive and offensive, the notion that someone else’s suffering is formulated to assist me or you. Do you really believe the suffering of others allows you to appreciate your lack of suffering?

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        I know this was not addressed to me, but I’ll respond.

        “Why should we unthinkingly trust acts that go against our very nature?”

        We should not.

        “Why would god proffer us a disposition that deems his actions so opprobrious?”

        Our disposition is of our own will and desires. If in fact our affinities for violence and self-satisfaction were proffered upon us, I might agree. But along with the imbuement of agency go those and other traits.

        As to who benefits from the despicable, the answer is no one. But if free will and agency were constrained to allow only neutral or benevolent acts on our part, how would a lineman sack a quarterback?

        So rather than to constrain our actions by built-in constraints, or by continued interactions to restrain, we are free agents, at least to a degree. We, not God, are in the driver’s seat, somewhat akin to the Islamic imbecile who chose to run over his ‘westernized’ daughter. So can we then blame GM or Honda for not designing cars with A-ROP (anti – run over people) restraints?

        Hmmm, might be worth inventing …

        • Persto
          Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

          Cherry-picking questions. Does this extend to your interpretation of the scriptures?

          “We should not.”

          Read Exodus 34:11-13 or Job. Your god demands that of his followers.

          “Our disposition is of our own will and desires. If in fact our affinities for violence and self-satisfaction were proffered upon us, I might agree. But along with the imbuement of agency go those and other traits.”

          This only appertains to suffering that ensues from human deeds; but, substantial as they may be, much extraneous suffering is of natural rather than human radix. For instance, most diseases and all natural disasters.

          Also, free will is illusory. We are as blameworthy for our decisions as we were for being born.

          “As to who benefits from the despicable, the answer is no one. But if free will and agency were constrained to allow only neutral or benevolent acts on our part, how would a lineman sack a quarterback?”

          Not Studios opinion. Again, not all suffering is the consequence of human “free will.” Most diseases and all natural disasters are subservient to the authority of your supreme being. Furthermore, benevolence can exist independent of suffering.

          Are you suggesting humans couldn’t play football without the existence of suffering?

          “So rather than to constrain our actions by built-in constraints, or by continued interactions to restrain, we are free agents, at least to a degree. We, not God, are in the driver’s seat,”

          Once again, not Studios opinion. Nice try, but if you are a theist you can’t sustain this perspective without being thoroughly inconsistent and antithetical. Let’s get beyond the dubiety. Do you believe god causes human suffering?

          “So can we then blame GM or Honda for not designing cars with A-ROP (anti – run over people) restraints?”

          GM and Honda are not omnipotent or omniscience. So, they can’t foreknow or shape every eventuality, but if they could then, yes, they should be blamed for allowing it to occur.

          • Posted February 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

            ” Does this extend to your interpretation of the scriptures?“

            My conclusions regarding agency and free will are not scripturally based, and indeed, may conflict with certain scriptural interpretations. My cursory scanning of scripture this morning seems to point to the scriptural citations that support the Calvinist view as relating to salvation per se, rather than the ability to choose one’s actions.

            And regarding the question of suffering or the imbuement thereof, I view it as a pitfall that all endure, and not based on scripture, but derived from deductive logical thought. As well, the question of ‘free will’ remains an open question. But based on experience and observation rather than scriptural accounts, I feel it is well supported. If not, then my comments here were preordained.

            ”Read Exodus 34:11-13 or Job. Your god demands that of his followers.“

            Exodus is a historical account of a purported pilgrimage, including commandments based on new allegiances, take-overs of territory, and the establishment of a forthcoming religion.

            The assaults on the existing Canaanites has nothing to do with guidelines regarding our current behavioral modalities, ergo to ‘go forth and conquer’.

            “Our disposition is of our own will and desires. If in fact our affinities for violence and self-satisfaction were proffered upon us, I might agree. But along with the imbuement of agency go those and other traits.”

            “This only appertains to suffering that ensues from human deeds; but, substantial as they may be, much extraneous suffering is of natural rather than human radix. For instance, most diseases and all natural disasters.”

            Yes, but neither evil acts based on our actions, nor bad outcomes based on natural phenomenon discredit a creator, nor disprove the existence of a creator(s). The omni^3 descriptor is alleged to not allow for the above, but two things refute that conclusion:

            • The omni- prefix is not stated in scripture, but is the result of scholars’ interpretation of scripture.

            • Even if omnibenevolent and omnipotent, a creator or overseer may choose to allow suffering.

            And as far as free-will being illusionary, it is easily confirmed, since we can demonstratively choose our actions, but with limitations.

            “As to who benefits from the despicable, the answer is no one. But if free will and agency were constrained to allow only neutral or benevolent acts on our part, how would a lineman sack a quarterback?”

            “Not Studio’s opinion. Again, not all suffering is the consequence of human “free will.” Most diseases and all natural disasters are subservient to the authority of your supreme being. Furthermore, benevolence can exist independent of suffering.”

            “Are you suggesting humans couldn’t play football without the existence of suffering?“

            I think I’m clear that the inducement of evil and of suffering are the logical result of free will, and that suffering as a result of ‘natural evil’ [cataclysmic events] are the logical result of our natural arena [plate tectonics, weather and meteorites to name three], and that our creator(s) and/or overseer(s) have allowed for all of the above. And again, based on my perceptions [IMO] rather than scriptural accounts.

            The metaphor of sacking the quarterback was an example of our competitive nature and of free will. The bombing of Hiroshima is another.

            “So can we then blame GM or Honda for not designing cars with A-ROP (anti – run over people) restraints?”

            “GM and Honda are not omnipotent or omniscience. So, they can’t foreknow or shape every eventuality, but if they could then, yes, they should be blamed for allowing it to occur.”

            As stated, omnipotency by a deity is speculative and not confirmable, but even IF omnipotent, I opine that he/it/they do not micromanage human events. We ourselves take responsibility for the outcomes of driving a car, and for all other actions that we choose to do.

            So to summarize, the existence of both derogatory acts by us [some term it ‘evil’], and of suffering [induced or naturally occurring], do not in any way offer refutory evidence of the intelligent design of biological entities, IMO.

            • Persto
              Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

              Apologies for the long post.

              “As well, the question of ‘free will’ remains an open question. But based on experience and observation rather than scriptural accounts, I feel it is well supported. If not, then my comments here were preordained.”

              What is your definition of the expression “free will?”

              You can’t buttress the existence of free will derived from personal observation and experience. From your subjective perspective, you perceive, wrongly, you are the wellspring of your own thoughts and actions. You decide what to do and what not to do. You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. However, this perception cannot be made congruent with our knowledge about the human brain.

              Firstly, the human brain responds to information from external occurrences and internal occurrences or states. (Your genes, where you were raised, brain tumors, falling in love, etc.) You are conscious of only a infinitesimal segment of the information that your brain processes in each moment. All of your behavior can be traced to biological events about which you are unaware. Famously, Libet’s data shows activity in the brain’s motor regions 350 milliseconds before the person had decided to move. More recently, a lab using “fMRI data showed that “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they enter awareness.” You, as the subject of your experience, cannot know what you will next think or do until the thought arises; and thoughts are caused by physical events and mental happenings of which you are unaware. This needs to be stressed: no account of causality allows latitude for the existence of free will. Human belief in free will arises from moment-to-moment ignorance of prior causes. Your comments were not preordained, but determined by external and internal occurrences of which you are unaware and that are governed by the laws of physics.

              “Exodus is a historical account of a purported pilgrimage, including commandments based on new allegiances, take-overs of territory, and the establishment of a forthcoming religion. The assaults on the existing Canaanites has nothing to do with guidelines regarding our current behavioral modalities, ergo to ‘go forth and conquer’.”

              For purposes of accuracy, the Exodus narrative is not historical. Archaeological and historical data confirm this.

              It has a considerable amount to do with society’s current behavioral modalities because many Christians are biblical literalists. Therefore, the Bible can be employed to vindicate almost any action or belief–homophobia, anti-abortion, anti-evolution, sexism, slavery, in our not to distant past. Additionally, biblical morality and scriptural interpretation influences American political, governmental, social, and educational policies.

              Also, it explains the very unbenevolent nature of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god.

              “(1)The omni- prefix is not stated in scripture, but is the result of scholars’ interpretation of scripture.
              (2)Even if omnibenevolent and omnipotent, a creator or overseer may choose to allow suffering.”

              (1)God didn’t need to mention omni–maybe he felt it would be crystal clear–when he declared, “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who do all these things.” (Isa. 45:7) It appears he was fairly perspicuous about his celestial attributes, good and bad.
              (2)Why would god allow so much suffering? This would make god an evil monarch. He might have power, but he has no moral authority and, certainly, no one should worship him.

              “And as far as free-will being illusionary, it is easily confirmed, since we can demonstratively choose our actions, but with limitations.”

              Free will is illusory. In fact, the illusion of free will is an illusion. (See above for response.)

              “I think I’m clear that the inducement of evil and of suffering are the logical result of free will, and that suffering as a result of ‘natural evil’ [cataclysmic events] are the logical result of our natural arena [plate tectonics, weather and meteorites to name three], and that our creator(s) and/or overseer(s) have allowed for all of the above.”

              Free will is an illusion. Once again, you can’t preserve this locus if you are a theist. Clarify your position because I can’t disprove the existence of a deistic god, so this would be an exercise in futility. However, you seem to be advocating some configuration of deism and theism. If so, how do you get from a prime mover to a theistic god?

              “So to summarize, the existence of both derogatory acts by us [some term it ‘evil’], and of suffering [induced or naturally occurring], do not in any way offer refutory evidence of the intelligent design of biological entities, IMO.”

              It disproves the existence of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic god.

              Now, you are muddling the issue. At one moment, you are arguing from a deistic perspective and then you say,”offer refutory evidence of the intelligent design of biological entities” a theistic perspective. Now, you are tiring me out. What are you arguing for: theism or deism?

              Regardless, intelligent design has been anything but intelligent. A few facts: 99 percent of all species ever recorded as having lived on this planet did become extinct, 75,000 years ago our species population dipped below the 2,000 mark(We almost became part of that 99 percent.), a large portion of our species DNA is non-functional, we are on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, etc. (For a more concise rebuttal of ID read Jerry’s The Case Against Intelligent Design
              The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name.) It seems ID could be thought of as a “laborious and roundabout and inefficient and incompetent (and somewhat cruel and capricious) method…”, but not intelligent.

              • Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

                ”What is your definition of the expression ‘free will?’ “

                I can’t define it precisely, since I (and others) cannot define consciousness, since the two act in concert. But let’s start with consciousness.

                First, I hold to a duality of mind and brain, and based on experiments I did in my twenties, as well as multiple contacts with non-corporeal entities over a two year period in that time period. But since you’d have to take my word for that, I can’t offer it as evidence. What I will offer, however, is some conclusion I’ve arrived at, and you can look elsewhere for confirmatory data from other sources since there is a plethora of investigative efforts going on. One piece of advice, however. Do not use an approach that Shermer and Randi use; one of summarily assigning *any* non-corporeal data as hogwash. Objectivism requires an open mind, rather than hard a priori subjective opines, ergo that:

                • consciousness (both perception and directed action) is a purely neurosynaptic function, and
                • any and all reported OOB events or experiments were either (1) contrived or (2) misinterpreted.

                If one holds to a materialist acceptance of physical brain function as the seat of both consciousness and willful actions (the appearance at least of cognition, free will and determinative actions), you (and the consensus of neurologists) may be correct. But to be open to an objective dissemination of whatever data comes your/our way, you must be open to both concepts. And since I have no agenda save for objective science, I will go where the data ultimately points.

                So then, my definition of an outward *act* of free will is that my actions are determined by,

                • a thought process external from the brain, but interacting directly with it,
                • a series of synaptical look-ups to weight the intended action,
                • perhaps a quick review of sensor input, and then
                • an OK to proceed with a physical [muscular] action and control over that action.

                This would likely be a repetitive process as needed. I’m not well schooled yet in cerebral neurology, but at this juncture, I view the brain as an integral interface to sensory input, for data storage (although there may be other means of sensory storage), to aid in the conscious mind’s decision making function [similar to a group decision], to color the thought processes [add an emotive component like inquiry, urgency, hesitation, fear, lust, anger, joy, etc], and with ancillary functions like directing muscular action, and directing internal bodily functions via nerve connection to glands which result in delayed or extended functions via metabolites, hormones and enzymes.

                A somewhat accurate metaphor would be the pilot of a jet fighter aircraft, directing its flight in an intensive combat situation where direct craft navigational input was employed, but filtered by automated systems [the craft’s ‘subconscious’] to modify those inputted control movements to better navigate the craft based on self-calculating the control parameters based on temperature, airflow, radar perhaps, and engine and lift limitations.

                This is an example of emerging technologies, as many of the more advanced aircraft do (or will soon) do much of the calculative grunt work. A simple example would be not allowing a stall to occur due to pilot error, or warn when ice buildup was calculated to reduce lift to a stall point, and to automatically take corrective action on its own. Sadly, we have been slow to put these safeguards in place.

                Another metaphor that we all experience is driving in traffic. When an experienced driver drives through traffic, brain functions, in concert with sensory input and muscular output drive the car with little high-level conscious involvement, allowing texting, tuning the radio, talking to passengers, and checking out the gal in the short skirt on a windy day. While pre-programmed brain functions are herein involved, a novice driver would likely crash the car if too much was attempted simultaneously, while a long-tenured driver could more easily handle it. So yes, the brain calculates and directs, but not on its own.

                Your citing of .350 seconds in a Libet study may even be somewhat long, as I have reacted in a fast-draw contest at around 200 milliseconds [age 20, Topanga Canyon movie set]. I can also, even at my extended age, spin and catch an object knocked off a counter by my elbow in less than the 1/3 second cited. And the ten second pre-awareness determining factor of an action cited [fMRI] would never account for all activities [driving in traffic], just some. And it does nothing to prove that the brain was the sole determining factor.

                This in an overly simplistic overview, laced with my predictions, and of course subject to revision.

                ” For purposes of accuracy, the Exodus narrative is not historical. Archaeological and historical data confirm this.”

                If you mean that it’s unverifiable as a valid historical account you are correct. That’s why I used the adjective “purported” to modify “pilgrimage”. A historical account, but possibly false.

                ” Also, it explains the very unbenevolent nature of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god.”

                But those accounts have been shown to be conflictive, and subject to both interpretive errors and subjective and error prone input of data. Unknown authors, much dated authorship, lack of geological and archaeological data support (as you cited), etc. Even the non-benevolent nature of a dictatorial God is subject to error, and thus loses validity as an argument *against* a creator, employed ad nauseam by critics.

                ”The omni- prefix is not stated in scripture, but is the result of scholars’ interpretation of scripture.”

                Right. And while much of scripture may in fact be overseer inspired, it is gleaned, interpreted, added to in some cases, and finally delivered via the ‘man filter’, which corrupts it. While the omni^3 (or 4) qualifier may be accurate, it also may not. And even if valid, would not of necessity deem a creator to micro manage the myriad of events occurring at millisecond intervals.

                ”It disproves the existence of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic god.”

                No, it merely casts doubt on our perception of the ‘J-C-I’ God. No better example perhaps, is the Quran 56:36, specifying that obedient Muslim men will receive virgins on the other side, with the number being specified by Muhammad in his hadith [72]. Quran 78:33 says they will be voluptuous, and there is more which I would offend some by citing here.

                ”Now, you are muddling the issue. At one moment, you are arguing from a deistic perspective and then you say, ”offer refutory evidence of the intelligent design of biological entities”, a theistic perspective. Now, you are tiring me out. What are you arguing for: theism or deism?”

                Both are very general terms, but the closest to me is ‘theist’. And again, my views conflict with many monotheisticly established views. For example, I presently hold to a MDT position [multi-designer theory], which postulates that surrogates have done design and implementation work over vast time, and likely under a higher authority. The parallel would be the CEO of GM, with employees doing design and production. The assembly lines would correlate to embrogenesis, and the design oriented fixtures and computers to evolution. All metaphors are only scantily valid, this one included.

                ”Regardless, intelligent design has been anything but intelligent. A few facts: 99 percent of all species ever recorded as having lived on this planet did become extinct, 75,000 years ago our species population dipped below the 2,000 mark(We almost became part of that 99 percent.)”

                “A large portion of our species DNA is non-functional, we are on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, etc.

                (And for a more concise rebuttal of ID read Jerry’s The Case Against Intelligent Design The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name). It seems ID could be thought of as a “laborious and roundabout and inefficient and incompetent (and somewhat cruel and capricious) method”, but not intelligent.”

                Regarding extinction, an even *higher* percentage of all manufactured cars have become relegated to extinction [over 104 years for one example, the model T], and the more the merrier.

                Regarding non-functional DNA, more functions have been unraveled, but redundancy is no big deal. Does it inhibit your metabolic processes to the point where you can’t get up in the morning? And did you know that some microprocessors have large areas of non-specified functions, as newer designs are produced [evolved]?

                And finally, whether Jerry, Neil deGrasse’s, RD, or Francisco Ayala, I’d be glad to debate any over a beer, but in the public arena, it’d never happen, due to my lack of credentials. My penchant is to encourage *true* rational thot, and to encourage others to do the requisite studies, rather than simply hold to a contrived set of beliefs, yes ‘beliefs’ in tenets that have yet to be fully substantiated and empirically demonstrable as proof of purely natural evolutionary processes. And that ball guys, is in your court. Now get busy …

                Oh, and sorry for the even longer post. Yours was 919 words, mine 1511. And thanks Jerry for the server space. This will be my final post on this thread.!

                Cheers all

              • Persto
                Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                Concise should be precise.

              • Persto
                Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

                @leebowman

                This will be a shorter post, I hope, and my last on this thread, as well.

                Consciousness is an aggregation of multiple sensory inputs and outputs of the cerebellum, all of which are performing their own functions independently of each other. Consciousness is nothing more than the accompanying effect of a lot of complicated neural activity.

                Libet’s data shows activity can be detected in the brain’s motor regions 350 milliseconds before the person had decided to move. More recently, a lab using “fMRI data showed that some “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they enter awareness.” This demonstrates that we are completely unaware of what we intend to do until the intention arises in the brain. The parts lighting up on the fMRI are you. The postulation of a non-physical mind would seem superfluous.

                “So yes, the brain calculates and directs, but not on its own.”

                The brain is influenced by internal states of the body and external events, but this doesn’t allow latitude for the existence of free will. While we continually notice changes in our experience we are utterly unaware of the neural events that fashioned these changes.
                Also, while the brain needs a properly functioning body to sufficiently complete tasks. The process that occurs after the decision has been made is immaterial to the existence of free will.

                “as I have reacted in a fast-draw contest at around 200 milliseconds [age 20, Topanga Canyon movie set]. I can also, even at my extended age, spin and catch an object knocked off a counter by my elbow in less than the 1/3 second cited.”

                Not germane. Libet’s data is about neural activity in the brain’s motor regions before you move; not your actual movement. Nice draw at 200 milliseconds, but it isn’t pertinent because your brain decided to draw ,maybe 350 milliseconds, before you actually drew. This suggests you are not the author of your actions. Does that make sense?

                “And it does nothing to prove that the brain was the sole determining factor.”

                As I stated before, the brain responds to information from external stimuli and internal states of the body. The brain responds and is influenced by external and internal occurrences. “Actions, beliefs, desires, etc are the sorts of things that can exist only in a system that is significantly constrained by patterns of behavior and the laws of simulus-response.”

                The biblical Exodus has been proven to be historically false. It didn’t occur. Archaeological and historical data confirm this.

                The god of the bible, torah, quran, if he exists, is not omnibenevolent by commonly accepted standards. That is the point.

                If my argument against god forfeits validity because of the specious constitution of the bible; then the bible forfeits validity as the divinely inspired word of god. Fine by me. My objective was to identify the inconsistencies of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god based on his “holy books.”

                Deism is god initiated the process. He was the prime mover. However, He then withdrew himself from the undertaking to behold with indifference and non-interference that which he had created.
                Theism is he launched the process, he is mindful about what eventuates, and he beneficially interferes in the natural processes. Two incompatible worldviews.

                Cars are not living organisms. The notion that cars and living organisms are qualitatively similar requires your god to be cruel and capricious. Doesn’t the substantial number of extinctions seem cruel, particularly, if they could’ve been avoided?

                Science only knows the function of genes constituting less than 2 percent of the DNA in a cell. We are uncertain about what an investigation into the 98 percent will reveal because of the incompleteness of our knowledge. However, at the level of our current understanding it seems that an intelligent designer would have been tortuous and inefficient.

  7. AndreSchuiteman
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words, but I can’t follow you. To me there is a logical contradiction between the existence of an ‘infinitely loving and truly omnipotent’ god and the occurrence of extreme suffering. You don’t resolve this contradiction by asserting that we don’t understand god’s mysterious ways. If god can’t reach his goal without causing suffering then he clearly is not omnipotent. If he could do so, but still allows suffering, then he is not infinitely loving. You can’t have both at the same time.

    • AndreSchuiteman
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      This was a response to 6.

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Yes. And if good doesn’t mean good by human standards, then, by definition (listening you apologists?) it is not good.

      People in the developed world are happy and unhappy in similar proportions to humans in difficult situations. This proves suffering is not required for human life or happiness. The argument that (somehow) we need to suffer to be fully human is nonsense.

      The correct conclusion to draw from suffering, if you allow in the premise of a god, is that this god is evil and enjoys the anguish of other beings.

      As you (AS) noted: Omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence cannont coexist (as one being) with the world as we see it. The “Problem of Evil” cannot be solved with God 1.0 (Yahweh), God 2.0 (Jesus) or God 3.0 (Allah).

  8. Steve Smith
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I saw this Tomato Hornworm parasitized by Braconid Wasp larvae while eating cherry tomatoes, so I snapped the shot and uploaded it to Wikimedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tomato_Hornworm_Parasitized_by_Braconid_Wasp.jpg

    Not a good way to go.

  9. JBlilie
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Nice photos! The prize goes to the prepared! I’m sure it was your interest in the caterpillar that had the macro lens on the camera and both at the ready.

    • AndreSchuiteman
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Not quite. Being a botanist I was primarily on the lookout for interesting flowers.

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        Cool, thanks.

  10. Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    This is an excellent example of the competitive nature of a foray into the worldly realm of theme park earth. And there are many others; most survival oriented. While I can see some merit in this systemization, ergo that like sporting events, this systemology creates challenges to either

    • initiate
    • overcome, or
    • assist others in those endeavors.

    But, hey, an Omni^3 [some would say ^4] God, if extant, would never have ‘created’ these encumberances!

    While I would agree that that would apply to examples like malaria, which inflicts atrocious suffering and consummate grief, I would place that categorically into an evolved scenario, or like other natural phenomenon, not one of a designed origin. Like tsunamis, a natural result of tectonics, anomalies can and do occur. And to the question of ‘why would a benevolent god allow this?’, I would postulate, based on reason and historical data, that overseers do not micromanage on this plane.

    And ‘why not?’ one might respond. Simply put, consider representatives from GM, appointed to follow around every GM car on the road, and to intervene with immediate corrective measures if trouble occurred. Could be that when purchased, the negatives as well as the plusses were accepted.

    The other alternative to life in a competitive plane might be a Utopian existence, which to me would be boring ad infinitum.

    From Wiki,

    “Boredom is an emotional state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, and is not interested in their surroundings.”

    And also mentioned,

    “Boredom has been defined by C. D. Fisher in terms of its central psychological processes: “an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity.”

    Consider a soccer game or racing event where the outcome was known. No losers, no injuries possible, and four wheels always lined up with the track. Would you attend such events? I would not, and I simply draw that parallel since life on ‘theme park earth’ is no different. We are here to strive for the positives, and in [hopefully] many cases defeat the negatives, and if life continues, of which there is evidence that it does, one might even be allowed to compare notes regarding prior experiences at a celestial colloquium down the road a piece.

    In closing, a reminder of something I’m sure that most would agree upon. The studious works of prior philosophers and theologians were noble efforts, but largely based upon correlations with accepted religious views, based on the prevailing monotheistic dogma ‘out there’, to borrow a qualifier from two Republican presidential candidates. But what I propose is based solely on the data I have gleaned from direct observation and experience. And I would propose that you guys do the same.

    One more thing. Life bears the earmarks of design. And to doubt that based on what I consider to be the false precepts of theodicy [when employed as an argument for natural causation] is a little short sighted. Look instead at the bigger picture, and enjoy the balance of your earthly sabbatical.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      So let me see if I understand you here. The “good stuff” was designed. The stuff like malaria evolved. And things like tsunamis happen because Omni^3 (or ^4) was too busy to pay attention. Right?

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Correct.

        We do know that embryogenesis is what ‘creates’, although like any assembly line, a designed mechanism.

        And when the assembly line jams, we fix it.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          Cool. So now I just need to find out if you actually believe that or if Poe’s Law applies.

          • Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            Neither it, nor Arthur Clark’s third law apply here, since I don’t ‘cloak’ my views. I consider myself a skeptic and rationalist.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              OK. You believe it. Just checking.

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      “your earthly sabbatical”

      The only life there is. This ain’t no rehearsal!

      I would postulate, based on reason and historical data, that overseers do not micromanage on this plane

      So much for, “the fall of every sparrow,” eh?

      Post hoc rationalization is so much fun.

      (I hope i’m not falling for a Poe.)

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        “I hope I’m not falling for a Poe.”

        You’re not. And regarding another fall, the so-called ‘fall of man’, I do hold relevance to our sinful, actually ‘self serving’ manner as it were. But rather than being due to an inheritance via an unacceptable act [the G of E cookie jar], and genetically transmitted via semen*, it is merely an inherent and inborn characteristic, a component of free will.

        If redemption is indeed advisable or required, hey, we didn’t make the rules. Choose to CYA or not.

        * St. Augustine of Hippo

  11. Buzz
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I did once rescue a caterpillar that had a couple of parasitic eggs nesting on it. Ordinarily, I might not have taken the time to scrape the eggs off, but my daughter (who was two or three at the time) thought the little thing was so cute and beautiful. After hearing her get so excited and sweet about it, I decided I couldn’t leave it to a painful death.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      If you could see them easily, I suspect they were pupa, and had already eaten their fill.

  12. Filipe
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m not particularly affected by caterpillars being eaten from the inside, but videos of botflies infecting kittens do impress me.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget the ones that eat people! Those are really a drag, as Jerry and I and many other tropical biologists can both vouch for from experience.

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        oops, no “both”

      • Achrachno
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        They are both gruesome and common. Luckily I’ve never gotten one personally, but people I’ve worked with have. I helped with a field extraction once.

        But all sorts of parasites are common, and bots are far from being the worst. I remember an ornithologist friend who was working in the Amazon of Peru for a couple of months and was really happy upon return that, on this last trip, the worst he’d gotten was a bot in his finger.

  13. Xuuths
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I find this post particularly poignant, as the religious have been parasites on society for far too long — tax free, sought out in every crisis, dispensing “wisdom” (and sneering judgement), given deference by the real authorities, all while claiming to be victims.

    Parasites.

    Do the good works but without evangelizing.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Yep. They appear to be laying their eggs on this caterpillar of a post.

  14. JimboReeno
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    My kitteh, Buddy, caught a mouse today. He’s not a great mouser, but he is improving. Unfortunately, he tends to torture them rather than do a quick-kill…he does like to play and he is SO PROUD when he catches one. It is heart rendering for me to see the attendant suffering of the mouse. When I went to take the mouse from him, he held on all the tighter. I ended up tossing the possibly injured, but still alive, mouse out the back door where it could take it chances with Mother Nature (though that may have already been the case).

    My particular problem, however, was the wifey who both didn’t want the mouse tortured and didn’t want the mouse escaping into the general domicile again! Nature is a bitch.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

      This is the worst thing about cats…I love my cats to pieces, but can’t stand to watch domestic cats play with their prey. Why oh why can’t they be of the “immediately deliver a fatal bite to the spinal cord/jugular/whatever” disposition? Stupid evolution.

  15. JimboReeno
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I mean heart rending.

  16. Edward
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    “Should I have interfered? ” Having one of those, Should I violate the prime directive moments?, eh.

  17. Bob Carlson
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    The fly is a tachinid. The caterpillar species has other parasitoids as well, maybe even including several in the family Ichneumonidae, which is generally regarded as the second largest of all insect families. I suppose Darwin may have been aware that only some kinds of ichneumon wasps feed inside the bodies of caterpillars. Some feed externally (e.g. on larvae of wood boring beetles), and some feed on fly maggots or puparia, and the puparium of the photographed tachinid may be subject to parasitism by Ichneumonidae of the tribe Phygadeuontini.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    That sort of parasitism I think throws the ‘problem of evil’ into sharp focus and blows the Creationist God right out of the water. Because while the goddists may try handwaving around evil people and free will yadda yadda, the wasp doesn’t have free will, it does what was ‘designed’ into it. So if an intelligent designer set all that up, what sort of ingenious, twisted, perverted sadist would it take to come up with that? And, it just isn’t necessary – if ichneumon wasps and similar nasties were all magically vanished, or made to kill in less cruel ways, I dare say the ecosystem would adjust to compensate.

    • Bob Carlson
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Of course, from the perspective of the plants being eaten by caterpillars, tachinid flies and ichneumon wasps aren’t nasties at all but rather saviors. And wouldn’t you suppose that the caterpillar would much rather be eaten by a parasitoid than chomped upon by a bird, lizard, or carabid beetle? When populations of caterpillars get too dense, there will often be a crash brought on by viruses. The other natural control factors help to keep the viruses in check. After all, being a caterpillar with a virus has to be a pretty miserable existence. :)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

        Ummm, no. That’s a bit of spurious cultural relativism, I think. I’d be willing to bet plants don’t feel pain the way that animals/insects can feel.

        All things are not equal. I’d say the caterpillar suffers much less if it gets chomped quickly by a bird, than slowly eaten alive by grubs.

        After all, we (as intelligent beings) know enough now to kill food animals fairly painlessly. If God had any feelings at all, He would have set the whole ecosystem up on those principles. But manifestly he didn’t. So what use is he?

        (Evolution, of course, doesn’t care).

  19. Diane G.
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    A bit of devil’s advocacy…it’s at least possible that the caterpillar doesn’t suffer quite the way we imagine it does…While it would be adaptive to have nerve endings that notice and react to the initial ovipositional attempts by the fly, it is not necessarily adaptive to have pain-sensitive nerve endings on every internal tissue. The caterpillar also can’t “think” about the horror the way sentient beings can…

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      For insects, that seems possible.

      For more intelligent animals (including humans), who often go through much the same ordeal leading to death, not so much.

    • Achrachno
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Or is it worse when you can’t think about it? For an insect all there is is the pain of the parasite’s chewing. No perspective, just a world of pain.

      • Bob Carlson
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        My understanding is that the behavior of most parasitoids is such that all vital organs are avoided up until very near the time that parasitoid development is complete. If the host dies before this point, the parasitoid will not be able to complete its development. Therefore, I expect that there is minimal stress or discomfort for the host until the vital organs are consumed, at which point the suffering, if any, would be rather brief.

    • Xuuths
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Diane G., caterpillars clearly “think” — the evidence of which is that it tried to escape after viewing the threat. The author noted it was “clearly disturbed.”

      Do you have evidence that caterpillars cannot think? (Be careful with this one.)

      Do you have evidence that caterpillars are not sentient?

  20. FastLane
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The most pathetic thing, IMO, about using something like this (or suffering in general) to argue for a supreme being, is that you could put Ganesh, Zeus, Odin, et. al. and it makes just as much sense.

    Every religion has a story to explain why there is evil/suffering in the world.

    To paraphrase a man much wiser than me: We no longer have need of that hypothesis.


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  2. [...] all looks like it was made with fore thought and purpose. What purpose does this serve? I don't remember if Darwin coined it or stole it, but he's pretty famous for the phrase [...]

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