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Theodicy Is For Losers

2007.10.04   prev     next

IN Ayala’s Potemkin Village, William Dembski does a fine job of exposing how Francisco Ayala’s Darwin’s Gift paints the rosiest possible picture of Darwinism: mainly by skirting modern ID arguments in favor of another Paley exhumation, but also notably by neglecting Ayala’s own past writings in which he expressed various doubts about Darwinism.

No quarrel here — as long as entrenched evolutionists feel a moral obligation to defend Darwin’s thesis by any devices available, the ID leaders will have a jolly time laying bare the unscientific character of said devices. Hip, hip, hoorah; I’m all for it.

I’m all for it, that is, provided said ID leaders don’t use the occasion as an opportunity to sneak in some other agenda. Then it’s my turn to lay bare that agenda.

Which Way Blows the Bluster

On page 4, Dembski briefly mentions that supernaturalism (i.e. interventionism) is not necessary in ID because ID can “be understood in terms of teleological organizing principles built into nature.” Michael Behe, the other pillar of the movement, has also made recent mention of this idea.

But nobody seems to go further than simply stating that this is possible. What principles are we talking about here? — Stuart Kauffman’s, which are generally rejected by the ID leaders, and with good reason? No. Then what?? ID people aren’t fond of bluster, and this “improbable evolutionary steps programmed from the start” stuff smells more like bluster with each passing year that nobody even suggests how it could work. My position is that it’s literally ruled out by Dembski’s own Law of Conservation of Information. Information diffused throughout a dynamic system does not become less diffuse over time. It either maintains, or it diffuses more.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Confused

A significant portion of Dembski’s review is devoted to the subject of theodicy, the general attempt to explain why there is “evil” in the world. Dembski points out that Ayala is mistaken to think that theodicy is solved by reference to Darwinism, because whether God created organisms by direct intervention, or indirectly via Darwinism, such a God would still be morally culpable for the outcome, e.g. malaria, malcontents, murderers, etc.

But of course, when an anti-Darwinist says that theodicy is a problem for Darwinism, one can’t help but wonder whether it is a problem for his position — in this case, Dembski-style ID. How does Dembski’s ID address theodicy? Dembski doesn’t broach that subject in Potemkin, but he has talked about it in other writings, and I’ve commented on that.

No More Hot Potato

Let’s cut to the chase, stop beating around the bush, and address theodicy directly and forcefully. No more throwing the “problem” of theodicy around like a hot potato and hoping it burns only the other guys. It’s time to dunk that passionate potato in a bucket of ice-cold logic and common sense — right now. Here goes:

1. If atheism is true, then Darwinism or something very much like it must also be true, and theodicy is thus resolved because it doesn’t matter whether bad things happen to good people — the world is just the way it is, and nobody planned for it to be that way.

2. If Christianity (or any other major moralistic religion) is true, then — irrespective of whether Darwinism or ID is correct — there is a big problem in the minds of many with the question of why their religion’s Creator-God would allow horrible things to happen to us. (This is Dembski’s point against Ayala.)

3. If ID is true, but no major religion is true, and in fact we were created by human-like designers (think: mistakes, tinkering, redesigns, multiple designers, engineering teams, scrapped development plans, kludges, etc., etc.!!), whose intent was to create an exhilarating adventure arena, (think: videogame, or Sims-esque simulation), then the problem of theodicy disappears — almost. It remains only as a troubling, mental, stumbling block in the brains of losers, i.e. those who have suffered or are suffering at the hands of some highly undesirable fate, and can’t bring themselves to subscribe to a design scenario in which their tragedy is simply allowed.

Understood as in scenario 3, theodicy is not the problem of why creators would allow “evil” in their created world, but is instead the problem of why creators would make a human-populated world in which a large percentage of those humans are living unpleasant enough lives to render them unable to grapple with the truth of their purpose (i.e. of scenario 3), or at least unwilling to openly acknowledge it. And the answer to that is pretty direct too: The creators don’t care what most humans think of their world. For thousands of years, humanity believed all kinds of different things about who (if anyone) made us and why, and our creators didn’t really give a hoot. Apparently it is enough for our designers that some humans figure it out, and if those are mostly winners, enjoying the good life, so what?

Theodicy is for losers: those who say “Why did this wretched fate befall me — surely it must be a vexing philosophical problem that the most advanced minds should wring their hands over for centuries to come.” Winners, by contrast, grab life by the horns, gulp a shot of whiskey, and say, “I’m not 100% sure who made this crazy carnival, but it’s a real trip! Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk to the makers when it’s over ... right now, let’s ride!”

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