Thursday, June 29, 2006

Naturalism and the problem of pain

I suppose pain behavior could have been developed through evolution without the sensation of pain. So? This doesn't mean that pain behavior with the sensation of pain isn't just as likely to develop through evolution.
I have to wonder why this so-called benevolent, all-powerful being didn't create humans to have this pain behavior without the sensation of pain? It would seem he'd be motivated to do so through his loving kindness.
Such motivations are irrrelevant to evolution. That's why there really is no problem of evil under an evolutionary theory.
Whether or not morality is objective or subjective seems to me to be a seperate issue.

But what you seem to have admitted is that evolution doesn't explain why the pain exist. Why are there subjective states at all. According to naturalism there is no difference without a physical difference. What is the difference between the actual world and one physically like this one in which you are me and I am you? We can surely imagine the possibility, but naturalism, with its emphasis on third-person truths, can't account for it.

I have to have a point of view in order to be suffering pain. If I have lower back pain, then my pain hurts from my point of view but not from yours. On a naturalist view, particles go from one place to another. They sometimes become "systems," from our point of view, just as the computer I am typing on is a system. But how do some systems acquire points of view, so that they can suffer pain, and not just adopt pain behavior. Science has no clue, and I maintain that this is because the point of view adopted by science is constitutionally incapable of explaining this sort of thing, and any attempt to explain the kind of consciousness that permits us to take pain seriosuly is going to be guilty of changing the subject. If what we call pain is just the by-product of the user illusion, then why should be get all riled up because God permits it, or even inflicts it. In the final analysis, it's not real.


Steven Carr said...

Is Victor claiming that there is no explanation of pain, other than that God creates it?

If I cut my finger, no chemical or electrical signals travelling from the cut to my brain can cause me to feel pain )after all, they are purely material), so God steps in to create the sensation of pain that I feel?

Perhaps Victor can explain what there is about a cut finger (a finger is just a piece of matter), that can cause a subjective feeling of pain, without God creating the pain?

Edwardtbabinski said...

Some stuff about pain and evolution I found thought-provoking.

"Don't tell me God works in mysterious ways, there's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else He's forgotten all about us...How much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?"

"Pain?" She pounced upon the word victoriously, "Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers."

"And who created the dangers?" he demanded. "Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! Why couldn't He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of his celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead. Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn't He?"

"People would look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the middle of their foreheads."

"They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupefied with morphine, don't they? What a colossal, immortal blunderer! When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid, ugly little mess He made of it instead, His sheer incompetence is almost staggering."

"It was no use feeling the pain of an inflamed appendix until modern surgical techniques were sufficiently advanced to remove it. And often the `warnings' appear ill-adjusted to the seriousness of the disease. Toothache kills few people, while sadly some forms of cancer give little pain in the early stages. So we are left with a large amount of pain that seems to serve no purpose and which is not far distant from torture."

"The evolutionary process is not at all a perfect one and many traits created by it are not even adaptive. It is precisely because of this that we suffer from such unadaptive traits as back pain, fallen arches, impacted wisdom teeth, varicose veins, appendicitis, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, Huntington's disease, schizophrenia, manic-depression, alcoholism, painful childbirth, and a host of other maladies which genetic evolution has created, but which natural selection has done nothing to eliminate.

"Moreover, each evolutionary change tends to bring with it new forms of pain and suffering that had not existed before...

"For example, sexuality is not absolutely superior to asexuality, and the evolution of the former has brought with it many forms of conflict and suffering that do not exist in organisms that reproduce without sex...

"Sociality is not absolutely superior to solitary life, and its evolution has created new forms of competition and conflict that are less frequent, or even unknown among asocial animals...

"Bipedalism [walking on two legs] is by no means absolutely superior to quadrupedalism [walking on four], and the evolution of a two-legged gait in Homo sapiens has brought with it countless adverse side effects...

"Intelligence and behavioral flexibility are by no means absolutely superior to instinctive behavior, and their evolution had brought with it many forms of [intellectual angst and] emotional pain that are virtually unknown in the nonhuman world...

"No animal has undergone more major changes during the course of its evolution than Homo Sapiens, and no animal has inherited a greater capacity for pain and suffering. With every evolutionary change we have sustained, we have discovered new ways to protect our genes and new ways to suffer for their benefit. With every passing generation, the aggregate price paid for their preservation has become dearer and dearer. And our genes - unlike us - remain blissfully ignorant of the staggering mass of suffering that has been endured for the sake of their perpetuation."

"He remembered the sense of loss and disgust and horror when he saw it: it swam upward wriggling heavily in a flail of heavy dying protest, through a thickened murk of greenish water, and he saw that to its brain was fastened some blind horror of the sea, a foul snake-like shape a foot or more in length, a headless, brainless mouth, a blind suck and sea-crawl, a mindless abomination, glued implacably, fastened in fatal suck in one small rim of bloody foam against the brain-cage of the great dying fish."

"What kind of God can one infer from [the study of nature]? The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror. Millions of sperm and ova are produced that never unite to form a zygote. Of the millions of zygotes that are produced, only a few ever reach maturity. On current estimates, 95 percent of the DNA that an organism contains has no function.

"Certain organic systems are marvels of engineering; others are little more than contraptions. When the eggs that cuckoos lay in the nests of other birds hatch, the cuckoo chick proceeds to push the eggs of its foster parents out of the nest. The queens of a particular species of parasitic ant have only one remarkable adaptation, a serrated appendage which they use to saw off the head of the host queen.

"Whatever the God of natural history may be like, He is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about His productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the Book of Job. The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray."

Why did God make tigers so good at catching prey and at the same time make prey so good at getting away from tigers? You’d think that if God wanted one thing or the other to happen he’d have engineered it rather better. Maybe he enjoyed the spectator sport?
RICHARD DAWKINS, River Out of Eden

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
RICHARD DAWKINS, "God's Utility Function," Scientific American, November 1995, p. 85.

If there is a god of nature surely that god is a libertarian. After all, there are hermit species and social species; herbivores and carnivores; some that mate for life, others that live to mate, and some that eat their mates. Plus, there are species in which sons mate with mothers, newborn children mate with each other, fathers kill other father’s children, mothers eat their children, daughters eat their mothers, and fetuses devour each other in the womb.

I am at two with nature.

"Beloved children, I write to you today to offer you loving guidance against the unnatural use of antibiotics... God created bacteria and viruses for the purpose of infecting organisms sometimes seriously, sometimes less seriously - and we must never presume to interfere with the right order of God's creation... Just as all forms of birth control go against the natural purpose of conjugal relations - namely, procreation - so the use of all forms of man-made antibiotics interfere with the God-given design of bacteria and viruses and how He intends them to interact with the human body... each and every bacteria-body interaction must remain open to the transmission of bacteria... It is immoral to impede development of a natural process. That is why we have so exhaustively spoken out against artificial birth control and now anti-biotics. We cannot impede a process that God has created. No impeding, no impeding! ...God created syphilis to infect sexually immoral people, and cause them suffering and eventual death. In no way should a man-made antibiotic interfere with this God-given process. Also, the fear of syphilis is a natural encouragement toward marital fidelity, which could not otherwise hold its own in a free market."

"Parasitism is such an appealing way to earn a living that the majority of the earth's organisms have adopted it. A number of parasites, like ticks, are generalists, hopping readily from one warm-blooded creature to another. Many more are remarkably specific. There are mites that can survive only in the rectum of a giant tortoise, worms that fit snugly into the quills of a single species of bird, and mites that live exclusively and harmlessly at the base of human eyelashes. Most parasites are themselves burdened with parasites." [Fleas burdened with mites, which are burdened with protozoa, which are burdened by bacteria, which are burdened by viruses! - ED.]

"Although most parasitic diseases are now rare among those in developed nations, the majority of the world's people are hobbled by one or more types of parasite."

Anonymous said...

"But what you seem to have admitted is that evolution doesn't explain why the pain exist."

I'm afraid that I really don't understand what you are objecting to here.
The pain behavior system that evolution has "designed" for humans involves feelings of pain. Perhaps another system may have have worked as well. Although for creatures as complex as us, it does seem a little difficult to imagine what this pain behavior system would be like without the sensation of pain.

It appears quite obvious to me that for highly devoloped animals like us, conscious sensations are a very effective evolutionary advantage.
Also, becuase consciousness may not be what you would expect it to be under your metaphysical system, that does not mean it is merely an illusion or unreal.
And a 3rd person description of consciousness is always going to differ from the 1st person experience of it.
Again, I really am having trouble understanding or seeing a problem here.

Mike Darus said...

Thank you for the thought-provoking quotes. They are a little too much to respond to, but a good collection.

Anonymous said...


These are indeed some thought-provoking quotes. But Darwin himself says in the "Descent of Man" that overall the evolutionary process seems to create more pleasure than pain, and that natural selection tends to favor happiness in organisms as a means to achieve reproductive success. And how about Richard Dawkins admitting that it's hard to escape the conclusion that the world was designed, there seem to be so many exquisite adaptations and organismic structures of such admirable efficiency? Like I said about observing the behavior of other primates, Nature is a very mixed bag when it comes to inferring the attributes of morality or God. It all depends on what you want to focus on. Do you agree with Darwin that "there is grandeur in this [evolutionary] view of life", do you see the elegance of the theory of evolution, or do you only see the maladaptations and pain and misery?

Anonymous said...

jd, I would suggest that you read a good biography of Darwin. The 2 vol. one by Janet Browne is excellent. You are really distorting Darwin's views here by your selective quoting. Not to mention your apparent misunderstanding of Dawkin's statement re: design.

Anonymous said...


I am not misreading Darwin's quote. It's almost verbatim from the "Descent of Man", which you can find from

James Rachels also makes this point in "Created from Animals". And what, exactly, am I looking for in a 2 vol. biography that would prove that he never said that? Does the author deny that the above quote exists in Darwin's work?

Neither am I misquoting Dawkins here. All I said is that he thinks the appearance of design is ALMOST inescapable. I know full well that he thinks real design is illusory.

There is really no such thing as Darwin's "views" on the subject here. If you read his letters and other essays (also at you will find that his views tended to fluctuate with time. He could never decide what to make of this world of ours. He couldn't dismiss the argument from design and he could not bring himself to believe that the world could be a product of chance, but he could not embrace this intuition fully.

You've commented on my apparent misquoting of Dawkins before. What are you, his personal bodyguard? You sound like a fanatic preserving the Holy Word of the Great Teachers from blasphemy.