Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Stephen Law on animal suffering

Recently, Stephen Law and I mixed it up on Facebook. Doug Groothuis posted a video about a rescued dog. The dog was neglected and abused. Law used that as a pretext to launch into the problem of animal pain. I've rearranged some statements to improve the flow of argument. I've done a bit of additional editor for clarification or stylistic improvements. 


Steve Hays 
I've seen your evil-god challenge before. An unoriginal knock-off of the Cartesian Demon. 

Your evil-god challenge is self-defeating. What makes you imagine the onus is on a Christian to rebut a hypothetical that Christians and atheists alike have no reason to take seriously? What makes you imagine the onus is on a Christian to refute a hypothesis which, if true, would falsify atheism just as surely as Christian theism? It's a murder-suicide strategy. You behave like a philippic suicide bomber who blows up atheism to blow up Christian theism. What in the world do you think that's supposed to accomplish?

Stephen Law 
Well either animal pain is a big deal or its not. If it is its a big deal, then it's also a big deal re problem of evil (which is what Craig is trying to deny). If it's not, why do we care so deeply?

Steve Hays 
So Law is attempting to pose a dilemma. Here's one complication for Law: the existence of what God does Law think the problem of animal suffering disproves or undercuts? Does Law think that undercuts or disproves the existence of Yahweh? But the Bible records a variety of natural evils (including predation). So in what respect is the existence of animal suffering inconsistent with the existence of Yahweh?

Stephen Law 
Your God ain't all-powerful and all-good? Then, as any fule kno, there is no problem of evil. But now I want to know why I should worship this being who, being NOT all-good, goes in for inflicting pointless torment on animals.

Steve Hays 
You need to explain how my replies to you imply that God isn't omnipotent and benevolent. Moreover, you need to demonstrate that God is inflicting "pointless torment" on animals.

i) This seems to be a repetition of your bait-n-switch, where we're not talking about the same set of animals. Rather, you're suggesting those animals (predator and prey species) should not be allowed to exist in the first place. 

ii) You need to demonstrate in what sense wild animals are normally "tormented". To an outside observer it might seem excruciating to be eaten alive. But from what I've read, humans who've survived shark attacks, bear maulings, lion maulings, &c. don't feel pain at the time. They go into shock, which has an anesthetic effect.

Stephen Law 
But in both cases (assuming yr god exists) the suffering is something someone freely chooses to inflict. My point is this: in both cases the fact that the victim might prefer to exist even while living does NOT (as you erroneously supposed) that their suffering is not on balance a bad thing.

Steve Hays
I notice that you keep shifting the goalpost in this exchange. When one of your objections fails, you introduce a new objection. 

As far as your new objection, you could just as well say pleasure isn't something the animal freely chose. You need to explain how "freely chosen" is germane to the issue at hand. After all, many atheists subscribe to physical determinism. 

Stephen Law
My point is this: in both cases the fact that the victim might prefer to exist even while living does NOT (as you erroneously supposed) [mean?] that their suffering is not on balance a bad thing.

Steve Hays
What do you mean by "on balance"? Do you mean that if an animal has a pleasant existence most of the time, yet dies a brief but painful death (in itself a contestable assumption), that the end of life cancels out the overall value (to itself) of its existence?

Incidentally, you've been ignoring certain counterarguments. You failed to engage the issue of second-order goods. 

Likewise, you didn't address the question of whether animal suffering falsifies a historical religion like Judeo-Christian theism. Is it out of character for Yahweh to create a world in which predation occurs? If not, how does predation disprove or even undercut Yahweh's existence?

Stephen Law
Is your god omnipotent and omnibenevolent? If he is, prob evil (and your reference to Old Testament natural evils is then just a red herring as those natural evils just become part of the problem). If not, then no prob of evil (as I said)."

Steve Hays
i) Respecting divine benevolence, are you attempting an internal or external critique? Are you saying Yahweh is not benevolent on biblical grounds? On valuations internal to Biblical theism? If so, present your argument 

Or is it your position that animal suffering is incompatible with Yahweh's benevolence on your own grounds? By your own standards? If so, you need to justify the external standard by which you presume to assess Yahweh's benevolence.

ii) Respecting omnipotence, you need to spell out what you mean in reference to this debate. The question at issue is not whether God has the ability to make a different kind of world with different kinds of creatures.

However, even an omnipotent God cannot perform a pseudotask. For instance, one can't have second-order goods apart from first-order conditions. That's a necessary, internal relation.

Likewise, if God operates with or through a physical medium, that limits what he can do via the medium, since a physical medium has in-built limits. God can often bypass physical media, but if God uses a physical medium, that's a self-imposed constraint on his field of action. And that's consistent with omnipotence.

Stephen Law
I am attacking notion of a god that is all powerful and all-good. Is that God Yahweh? I dunno. You tell me.

Steve Hays
That's intentionally simplistic. You dodge my explanation. 

But what's the end-game? You're angling at the problem of evil in reference to animal suffering. There are different aspects to that issue. One needs to distinguish between pain threshold and pain tolerance. Wild animals often appear to have a higher pain threshold and pain tolerance than humans. We also need to distinguish between higher and lower animals. Pain doesn't mean to a caterpillar what it means to a dog or human. What's the psychological make-up of a caterpillar–if any?

Moreover, there are tradeoffs. We have a balance of nature where the existence of predator and prey species is interdependent. If the "solution" to pain is for all those species not to exist, is that really good for them? Most of the time, animals don't appear to find existence unbearable or even unpleasant. 

So, is the problem of animal suffering a problem from their viewpoint? How many animals even have a viewpoint? Or is that an anthropomorphic projection by human observers? Using ourselves as the frame of reference. Speciesism.

Stephen Law 
You are rather underestimating the problem of evil. God could have created beings that did not suffer nearly so much, that did not have to tear each other limb from limb just to survive. Indeed, many Christians believe there is a realm - heaven - where death does not exist, and neither presumably, does such extreme suffering (some Christians even think dogs go there!). If God is all-powerful and all-good, why did he create a world with quite such spectacular levels of suffering in it over thousands of millions of years before we humans even show up? Saying 'But many animals would prefer to exist' is irrelevant, as you'll realize if you think about it for a moment. 

Steve Hays
My response to you anticipated that objection. You are proposing a different possible world in which only herbivores exist. Replacing prey species and predator species with herbivores. 

But that means denying prey and predator species the benefit of existence. It's very strange for you to presume to speak on behalf of predators and prey when your solution is to say they'd be better off not existing in the first place. Is there any reason to think they share your disapproval regarding their quality of life? How is it in their best interest not to exist?

When you talk about "spectacular levels of suffering," what are you referring to? The way animals die? Even if some animals die a painful death, what makes you think that cancels out the overall value of their life? If a human dies a painful death, does it follow that he'd be better of not existing in the first place?

Stephen Law
Someone with painful illness might say 'I'd still prefer to exist, even while suffering this way', but of course that doesn't mean that such pain and suffering isn't a very significant problem re belief in God."

Steve Hays
Once again, there are tradeoffs. A world without pain and suffering will have a different set of people. By eliminating certain evils, you thereby eliminate certain second-order goods. Take a young wife and mothers who dies of cancer. Tragic. The widower remarries and has children by his second wife, in addition to the children by his late wife. Something good results from that tragedy which would not obtain apart from that tragedy.

Stephen Law
Compare: My child would no doubt prefer to live even while I viciously beat her regularly for no good reason she can discern."

Steve Hays
Your comparison is vitiated by disanalogy. To be beaten is not a natural condition of existing, whereas predation is a natural condition of predator and prey species existing.

Stephen Law 
Your 'anticipation' doesn't actually work Steve. To say it would be better if x did not suffer (my view) is not to say it would be better if x now cease to exist (your strawman). Similarly to say it would have been better had xs not existed and ys existed instead (my view) is not to say it would be better if existent xs now cease to exist and be replaced by ys (yr strawman)"

Steve Hays
Not a strawman. If you think predation represents gratuitous suffering, then the way to eliminate that kind of suffering is for predator and prey species to never exist. How is that supposed to be an improvement for them?

Stephen Law
My point, to repeat, is that it would have better had such suffering creatures not existed (at least not in that form, requiring immense suffering) and that there had instead been creatures living far more pleasant lives."

Steve Hays
Better for whom or what? Not better for the class of creatures that never had the opportunity to lead generally satisfying lives. And a satisfying life for a porcupine isn't a satisfying life for a human.

Stephen Law
Of course it's not necessarily better for these existing and suffering creatures now that they now cease to exist (for they must then die, lose the possibility of fulfilling their plans and desires, etc.)."

Steve Hays
Surely precious few species have the cognitive ability to entertain plans. 

Stephen Law
But that's not to say it would be worse if they hadn't existed in the first place"

Steve Hays
Nonexistence can be worse than existence. Nonexistence is a deprivation–unless you're an Epicurean. Is that your position? 

Stephen Law
It might be better if, for example, they had taken the form of other kinds of creatures that don't have to endure such horror.

Steve Hays
But that's a bait-n-switch. You're no longer talking about the same individuals or the same kinds of animals, but something that takes their place.

Stephen Law
It might be better or if very different far more content, creatures had existed instead.

Steve Hays
You keep speaking of "better" as if that's absolute when, in fact, what's better or worse is relative to the individual in question. 

This comes up in debates over euthanasia. It is better to abort a baby with Down Syndrome and start over with a new pregnancy and a normal baby?

Even if (ex hypothesi) it would be better if the baby didn't have Down Syndrome, that hardly means it would be better for him to be denied the opportunity to exist so that someone else with an (allegedly) better qualify of life can take his place. Not to mention that people with Down Syndrome can lead happy lives. Indeed, happier than many "normal" people.

Stephen Law
Sure. But he pretty obviously didn't need to create hundreds of millions of years of appalling animal suffering - suffering on a literally unimaginable scale."

Steve Hays
You have a bad habit of repeating that assertion as if that's an unquestionable datum even though I've given reasons to challenge that assumption, which you don't attempt to refute.

Stephen Law
Nor did he have good reason to kill children on an industrial scale (around 50% of all died horribly before age 5) for the 200,000 years of human history.

Steve Hays
Yet another example of you moving the goalpost. Is that a backdoor admission that your argument from animal suffering is a bust, so you shift grounds to discuss human suffering instead?

And you continue to duck the issue of tradeoffs. A world in which you don't have child mortality will be better in some respects, but worse in others. It will generally be better for the children who survive into adulthood. However, that produces a different future than a future with child mortality. Under each alternate timeline, there are winners and losers. In a world with infant mortality, other children will be born, some of whom will survive into child. In a world without infant mortality, they miss out. When you compare alternate outcomes, improvements in one scenario are offset by lost goods in another scenario.

Stephen Law 
You're denying there has been hundreds of millions of years of appalling animal suffering - suffering on a literally unimaginable scale? Yeah, right.

Steve Hays
You shoulder a burden of proof for your key assumptions. That's hardly something you're entitled to shove off on me.

Stephen Law
Let's leave it there then, as it's more or less where we came in. For it's what Craig denies too. 

Steve Hays
That's a fallacy of equivocation. I didn't use Craig's argument. Try again.

Stephen Law
Yet the dog in that video did suffer appallingly, didn't it? Multiply that by many millions of creatures, and then multiply that in turn by generations spanning hundreds of millions of years - that vast expanse of suffering (certainly beyond my imagining) is reality, whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not.

Steve Hays
i) That's an argument from analogy minus the supporting argument. You regularly evade your burden of proof in this exchange. Your arguments (such as they are) are full of gaps.

ii) Dogs descend from social creatures (wolves). That's why they have a capacity to bond with humans. Dogs are fairly intelligent compared to other animals–although I daresay many domestic dog breeds are dumber than wolves or coyotes. Finally, millennia of selective breeding have made dogs even more compatible as companions for humans.

You cannot rationally extrapolate from the special case of dogs to animals in general. Many animals don't even have a capacity for suffering. A dog is not a frog. Do you think plankton suffer when whales consume them? Unless you're a panpsychic, you yourself believe that there's a threshold below which many animals lack the brainpower to suffer. I presume you're a physicalist. 

iii) I've heard that when pythons are decapitated, the headless bodies continue to writhe for a long time. It might appear that they are writhing in agony, but that's not even possible. You can't just judge by appearances.

iv) I've seen my share of nature shows. Death in the wild isn't pretty. But it's often quick. A crocodile drowns a wildebeest. That's a quick way to die. A lion snaps the neck of a zebra with one swipe of the paw. That's a quick death. A venomous snake bites a rodent, causing it to shut down in minutes. A big fish swallows a little fish whole. A python squeezes prey, causing it to pass out minutes later. And so on and so forth. How does a quick death, even if it's painful, outweigh the entire life of the animal? 

v) You act as if God is wronging animals by creating them. You act as though it is to their advantage never to exist at all. Is there any evidence that that's how animals feel about their existence?

Stephen Law
Compare: I have the choice of creating either a creature that will live happily, or one that will live in excruciating pain (though I give it a powerful urge to live nevertheless). I choose to create the latter creature. Am I benevolent person? Clearly not.

Steve Hays
You keep tossing out these fact-free comparisons without bothering to document how they are supposed to correspond to real life. What evidence is there that most animals live in excruciating pain? You don't cite any. At best, you might argue that some animals die in excruciating pain, which is altogether different from living in excruciating pain. If I die of a heart attack at 90, after a happy life, does my brief but painful death erase the value of my life? 

You don't even bother to detail in what respect you think animals suffer. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, your objections have all the advantages of intellectual theft over intellectual toil.

The obvious candidate would be violent death. But wild animals typically die within minutes of attack. Do you have a different example in mind? Diseased animals are typically picked off by predators.

Stephen Law
PS I get the impression you're a newcomer to Christian apologetics? If so, my advice would be to drop the above approach as it is quite silly IMO."

Steve Hays
I get the impression that you have pat objections to the Christian faith. When you encounter someone who presents counterarguments for which you don't have prepared answers, you have nothing in reserve. It didn't take you long to bottom out. It's revealing how unphilosophical your replies have been. How you ignore counterarguments you can't refute. How you indulge in slipshod generalizations. How you push the replay button rather than engage the argument before you.

6 comments:

  1. The Skepticutioner, Steve of Destruction, strikes again!

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    1. It was brutal! Law was utterly and completely schooled.

      'I get the impression you're a newcomer to Christian apologetics...'

      If I were a 'loller' I'd still be lolling. He won't make *that* mistake again. However, even with now 'knowing [his] enemy' I still fear for Law if he encounters Mr. Hays again in future.

      Delete
  2. Law:

    'Compare: I have the choice of creating either a creature that will live happily, or one that will live in excruciating pain...'

    And that's the crux of it. No supporting arguments. Just unsubstantiated assertions about nonexistence being preferable to a painful death at the end of an animal's life, and then this absurd final claim. What on earth does it mean for an animal to 'Live in excruciating pain'? It seems to me that, by the end, Law was so battered and bruised that he was by now flailing around so badly that this absurd gem somehow found its way into the proceedings.

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  3. In no particular order:

    1. At best, I think it'd only apply to animals with a developed enough nervous system to experience pain in ways Law is describing. That rules out huge swathes of animals or organisms (e.g. microoganisms, insects, many fish, many reptiles).

    2. Of course, just because an animal experiences pain doesn't necessarily mean pain is always equivalent to suffering. For instance, we can distinguish between pain and suffering if we consider pain as a physical sensation plus a reaction to the same sensation, and suffering as involving both physical and psychological components. As such, pain may at times be an expression of suffering, but suffering can occur with or without pain.

    3. I don't necessarily agree, but here's how the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain: "An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage".

    The reason I bring this up is because in this definition of pain (among others) there is a subjective component involved.

    Hence, for example, there are some people who experience pain, but medical science doesn't detect their pain fibers firing. The experience of pain may indeed be real for them, but medical science can't detect anything is askew. Everything "seems" normal. If Law is a materialist or physicalist, how would he know such people are experiencing any pain if they don't communicate it to him?

    4. We can make further distinctions in defining pain. For example:

    a. Neuropthic central pain - nerve injury in the central nervous system
    b. Neuropathic peripheral pain - nerve injury in the peripheral nervous system
    c. Nociceptive somatic pain - lesions of muscle or bone
    d. Nociceptive visceral pain - disease of the internal organs
    e. Psychogenic pain - presumed to exist despite no nociceptive or neuropathic mechanism

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    1. 5. Furthermore, we could distinguish between fast and slow pain. Fast pain is in general localized and well-defined pain (in humans it is carried in the neospinothalamic tract), while slow pain is more diffuse and poorly localized (in humans it is thought to be carried in the paleospinothalamic tract). In the peripheral nervous system of humans, for example, C fibers generally subserve slow pain, while A-delta fibers subserve fast pain.

      6. Nevertheless, even in our distinctions, it's generally inferred pathophysiology. That is, there's rarely direct and deductively conclusive evidence there is pain; one must infer there is pain based on a set of signs and/or symptoms.

      7. What's more, paresthesia is any abnormal sensation. It may be spontaneous or evoked. Paresthesias are not necessarily painful. However, dysesthesias are painful.

      8. I'd also like to elaborate a bit on Steve's point distinguishing between pain threshold and pain tolerance. Pain threshold refers to the lowest intensity at which a given stimulus is perceived to be painful, whereas pain tolerance refers to the highest intensity at which a given stimulus is perceived to be painful. Animals and humans don't necessarily have the same pain thresholds nor pain tolerances. And even within the same species of animals there may be variations in pain threshold and tolerance, since we see it in humans, although presumably the same species will have similar pain thresholds and pain tolerances to one another in comparison to other species.

      9. Humans and many animals can produce their own natural pain killers, as it were. For starters, we could see the difference between anesthesia and analgesia. Anesthesia refers to the loss of sensory modalities in a particular area or entire body, whereas analgesia refers to the easing of painful sensation. Analgesia can occur in the presence of a normally painful stimulus, and it can be produced in both the central as well as peripheral nervous system.

      10. If an area of the body has had enough nerve damage, say if an animal survived and largely recovered from a previous attack, then it's possible it may not feel anything if the area is damaged enough.

      11. Yet another distinction is between acute and chronic pain. Law refers to living with excruciating pain. If so, that'd be chronic pain, not acute. Do most animals suffer from chronic pain?

      12. There's so much more to be said, but this should suffice for now.

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  4. "I get the impression you're a newcomer to Christian apologetics?"
    LOL

    ReplyDelete