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  1. #1
    Senior Member Into It's Avatar
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    Default Descartes and the Problem of Evil

    Was Descartes a Christian? I do not know. However, I feel that he probably was, as most great thinkers of his time seemed to be. I haven't read his Meditations in a while, but I do recall his description of animals as ("Machines of God," were they?) I believe there was a comparison between a clock or other device and animals. This comparison was that a clock may be made to chime at a certain time, and an animal may chirp at a certain time as well.... That is,

    that animals are machines comparable to any that man has made, only more complex, because they are made by God. I am aware of Descartes experiments with vivisection, (live disection), and I have wondered for some time, "Just how can someone as smart as Descartes be so remarkably stupid as to be unaware that animals probably DO feel pain, and are not just yelping in an unconscious way comparable to a clock, when they are poked in a certain way?"

    I just made a connection, though. Perhaps it was his belief in an omnibenevolent God that skewed his perception...

    After all, if God is all-good, then animals must only appear to feel pain - they never actually would. The Problem of Evil, or why pain and injustice are so prominent and always present if God is all-good, can sometimes be explained away by saying, "There is an afterlife, and thus this 'injustice' is merely an illusion, as justice will be served after people are already dead."

    I never appreciated this evasion, and yet, I have found it difficult to discredit in any other way than by saying, "evidence for the afterlife is scarce." But in an argument, this response is often not good enough, because, in spite of a lack of evidence, there are many people who hold the afterlife as such a certainty...and unless I can get them to admit that the afterlife as they see it is not terribly likely, then their argument stands.

    A-ha! But now I have an idea that has come to me through Descartes...

    Animals! Sentient creatures who are too stupid to cultivate and harvest, (and yet intelligent enough to feel pain {today's consensus...}) starve - and even those who live normal lives are often devoured fearfully and viciously.

    Is there retribution for these events? Yes, I am asking if future justice will be served on behalf of these animals, such as in another life, etc.

    You will probably say 'no'.

    Because you would have no evidence for that either-

    But if there is no retribution, then there is no justice. Am I correct that the most popular Gods are usually considered 'just'? I cannot even think of a good counter-argument for why animals suffer under the control of a good God. And I would be pretty impressed if I heard one.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Zangetshumody's Avatar
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    The problem of evil dilemma is really a bit of sophistry which I think can be overcome by the following...
    To really articulate a "problem of evil" one has to actually say what they expect God to do to mitigate some evil, and then see if they can truly commit to such a world.
    I'm not religious, but I don't discount the possibility of an All Good Creator God, although I can't actually formulate a stipulation that I can consistently wish God to live up too in this respect.

    The conditions on which life is predicated are narrow, most temperatures and pressures are evil to for life, perhaps God engineered the laws of nature to minimize natural calamity? alas we can only speculate. So now either you expect God to make an aberration of creation through some interventionist scheme designed to negate the reception of evil or simply conservatively and conveniently reserve cosmic justice for the next realm, the first option does seem unfathomable as it involves a large amount of discontinuity integrated within reality.

    And then to touch more specifically on your concern, the plight of animals and their redemption...
    I'm no priest but I think animals in the monotheistic traditions aren't spiritual beings, also I find it a bit dubious to go from something feeling pain to something being a moral recipient. At the end of the day it's not our ability to feel pain that defines our specialness, it is our specialness that leads us to prohibit "inhuman" treatment.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Into It's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zang View Post
    The conditions on which life is predicated are narrow, most temperatures and pressures are evil to for life, perhaps God engineered the laws of nature to minimize natural calamity? alas we can only speculate. 1So now either you expect God to make an aberration of creation through some interventionist scheme designed to negate the reception of evil or simply conservatively and conveniently 2reserve cosmic justice for the next realm, the first option does seem unfathomable as it involves a large amount of discontinuity integrated within reality.
    There is a third option. But I'll deal with these two first.

    1) Yes, this involves a large amount of discontinuity integrated with reality if I understand you correctly. But God has many arms, and if he can part the seas, then he is fully capable of stopping floods, etc. This may seem very weird to us - a God constantly intervening. But it is weird only because it is not what we are used to. If God constantly intervened, it would be seen as normal. Not only would it be normal, but it would actually make far more sense than this absence of God's intervention that we see today.

    2) He reserves justice for the next realm:

    This would be plausible if we had good reason to believe that God does serve justice. However, we cannot say that the God's lack of just intervention is evidence that he is just in some other realm. This realm is all we have to go by, and that statement is unsupported.

    3) The way things could have been:

    This dilemma is incomplete - God would not need to intervene at all if he had created a universe without pain. We may say, a) "How would evolution progress without pain?", or we may say b) "How would we know pleasure without pain?"

    a) Regarding evolution: This view is myopic; why suppose that a universe in which organisms evolve is the only kind of universe that could be created? If God created space and time, then mind can exist without space or time. If it is a fact that pain necessarily exists because it makes so much sense in this world we live in, it still says nothing about an other universe that could have been created without matter, gravity, or anything else that is basic and considered necessary, even pain. I emphasize: if mind can exist absent of space and time, then a universe like ours would not necessarily need to exist. It is for this reason that all of the intervention you were speaking about is unnecessary.

    b)Pleasure is a quality of a state that someone experiences. All that someone experiences at a given moment I describe as their "state." Right now, my state involves concentration and contemplation - it also involves the relatively mild pleasure that comes with sharing my thoughts with the people on this forum. However, my current state does not involve pain. If a state can be experienced without pain, then pain need not exist.

    The statement that we would need pain to know pleasure is false. "Opposites" is a tricky concept...they do not exist without people to place that label on something. White is not intrinsically and totally 'opposite' of black. Black is how something looks when light is absent, and white is how something looks when a full spectrum of light is present. If light was never present, we would experience constant darkness. Do you see how it is absurd to claim that that darkness could not exist because light does not exist? It is equally absurd to claim that pleasure cannot exist because pain doesn't exist.









    Quote Originally Posted by Zang View Post
    I'm no priest but I think animals in the monotheistic traditions aren't spiritual beings, also 1)I find it a bit dubious to go from something feeling pain to something being a moral recipient. 2)At the end of the day it's not our ability to feel pain that defines our specialness, it is our specialness that leads us to prohibit "inhuman" treatment.
    I disagree with both of these statements.

    (1)&(2): The entire reason that ethics exist is, and give me a moment to explain myself, to minimize pain. I use 'pain' very broadly here. It could be said that morality exists also, or even primarily, for justice. But why do we value justice? We value justice because injustice is painful.

    Have you ever sliced a piece of bread in half?

    Have you ever sawed head off of a man?

    We would both agree that these actions are not morally equivalent. Yet, they both only involve splitting up some solid matter. I think that the man's ability to have a conscious experience of pain is really the deciding factor. Why?

    Because sawing off the head of a dog is morally questionable as well. But why would sawing off the head of a dog be different than sawing the head off of an ant? I believe it is because of our certainty of the dog's ability to feel pain and our uncertainty of the ant's ability to feel similar pain. This is a very important qualification for moral consideration.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Zangetshumody's Avatar
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    I disagree with both of these statements.

    (1)&(2): The entire reason that ethics exist is, and give me a moment to explain myself, to minimize pain. I use 'pain' very broadly here. It could be said that morality exists also, or even primarily, for justice. But why do we value justice? We value justice because injustice is painful.

    Have you ever sliced a piece of bread in half?

    Have you ever sawed head off of a man?

    We would both agree that these actions are not morally equivalent. Yet, they both only involve splitting up some solid matter. I think that the man's ability to have a conscious experience of pain is really the deciding factor. Why?

    Because sawing off the head of a dog is morally questionable as well. But why would sawing off the head of a dog be different than sawing the head off of an ant? I believe it is because of our certainty of the dog's ability to feel pain and our uncertainty of the ant's ability to feel similar pain. This is a very important qualification for moral consideration.
    Well I don't quite know exactly what you are referring to when you talk about justice, you obviously aren't referring to the virtue, but to give a utilitarian basis to ethics and justice undermines and debases morality.

    Your own example makes no sense, if intelligent alien life made contact with us, could we perform insane medical experiments on them because their nerve cells were significantly dissimilar from ours and they didn't feel pain the same way, perhaps you should re-examine why you really care so much about mammals and so little about insects.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Into It View Post
    Was Descartes a Christian? I do not know. However, I feel that he probably was, as most great thinkers of his time seemed to be.
    It's not like they had a lot of options culturally. It was going to be atheism or some variation on Christianity, as a default setting, based on its cultural predominance and influence. Even the original US political leaders, regardless of their specific beliefs and how they viewed the world and lived their lives, had some nods to Christianity in the original founding docs of the country. It just permated everything.

    I just made a connection, though. Perhaps it was his belief in an omnibenevolent God that skewed his perception...

    After all, if God is all-good, then animals must only appear to feel pain - they never actually would. The Problem of Evil, or why pain and injustice are so prominent and always present if God is all-good, can sometimes be explained away by saying, "There is an afterlife, and thus this 'injustice' is merely an illusion, as justice will be served after people are already dead."
    I feel like this is really a stretch on your part.

    I think if anything he would have been far more likely to think, "Only human beings show rational ability and cognitive will and the ability to make calculated decisions, while animals seem to respond out of instinct; thus their pain does not MATTER, they are essentially just biological machines." That seems to mesh much better even with a cursory view of Descartes summarized in the notion, "I think, therefore I am."

    IOW, since animals do not (seem to) think, they are not.


    But if there is no retribution, then there is no justice. Am I correct that the most popular Gods are usually considered 'just'? I cannot even think of a good counter-argument for why animals suffer under the control of a good God. And I would be pretty impressed if I heard one.
    Suffering is both specific AND relative. It feels specific to the organism suffering (although if they are not self-aware, one could argue the suffering doesn't matter because once the suffering ends it will be forgotten/irrelevant), but usually suffering occurs to the benefit of something else... so while one is suffering, another is experiencing pleasure or satisfaction. That's just how the world seems to work, God aside. Any deity that would be relevant, thus, has to take the reality of suffering into account; and substantial religions try to do that. If you accept their premises, then the explanation can be satisfactory... but you have to accept the premises, and usually it is the premises that are unsatisfactory to people.

    As for me, based on how our world functions, I see suffering (which is basically either negative physical stimulation signalling damage to an organism OR the deprivation of something based on a real or perceived need or as the Zen Buddhists say, unfulfilled desire) as unavoidable. I'm not sure how you would create a world that did not have suffering, and if we could, none of us would understand it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Into It View Post
    Because sawing off the head of a dog is morally questionable as well. But why would sawing off the head of a dog be different than sawing the head off of an ant? I believe it is because of our certainty of the dog's ability to feel pain and our uncertainty of the ant's ability to feel similar pain. This is a very important qualification for moral consideration.
    I think that's how we work. The dog's experience is far closer to us than the ant's experience, and we can thus perceive its pain and empathize with it.

    On the other hand, as far as we can tell, a piece of bread is not alive (as we've already murdered the plants it came from ).
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  6. #6
    Energizer Bunny Resonance's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Into It View Post
    Pleasure is a quality of a state that someone experiences. All that someone experiences at a given moment I describe as their "state." Right now, my state involves concentration and contemplation - it also involves the relatively mild pleasure that comes with sharing my thoughts with the people on this forum. However, my current state does not involve pain. If a state can be experienced without pain, then pain need not exist.

    The statement that we would need pain to know pleasure is false. "Opposites" is a tricky concept...they do not exist without people to place that label on something. White is not intrinsically and totally 'opposite' of black. Black is how something looks when light is absent, and white is how something looks when a full spectrum of light is present. If light was never present, we would experience constant darkness. Do you see how it is absurd to claim that that darkness could not exist because light does not exist? It is equally absurd to claim that pleasure cannot exist because pain doesn't exist.
    No. If darkness was all there was, we wouldn't have a name for it, it would just be.

    Imagine that there is a certain branch of evolution which provides certain creatures with a sense called 'flargle', a sense of whether things are 'boopy' or 'noopy'. Perhaps this is simply in reality a certain threshold for concentration of nitrogen in the air or something, but for these animals, 'boopy' and 'noopy' are two very distinct and important concepts.

    If they only ever felt 'boopy' all the time, as we do, then they wouldn't have a word for it because it's a default of their existence. A lack of 'noopy' doesn't mean 'boopy' can't exist, but rather that we cannot understand 'boopy' as the opposite of 'noopy', just as we could not understand 'pleasure' as the opposite of 'pain' if 'pain' did not exist. That's what he means when he says we could not 'know' pleasure without pain.
    The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. ~ rCoxI ~ INfj ~ 5w6 so/sp

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    Quote Originally Posted by Into It View Post
    Was Descartes a Christian?
    I think that depends on if we want to take Descartes at his own word. According to historians he was a devout roman catholic, but his "true" religious beliefs are widely debated, apparently some accused him of being an atheist or possibly worshiping multiple deities... but that's their word against his unless supporting evidence from either side is discovered.

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