Friday, 30 December 2011

What A Pain: Does God Hate Everything?

So what's the purpose of pain?

In the UK, The National Health Service spent £442,000,000 on pain killers alone last year. In the USA the analgesics market is said to be worth $2,800,000,000, that's $2.8 billion, per annum. Clearly, pain is seen as a major medical problem and something to be overcome, even at considerable expense. Most people can imagine few things more distressing than constant chronic pain.

How many times have you heard piously self-righteous Christians and Muslims gleefully telling those who disagree with them that they can expect an eternity of pain and suffering for doing so? Suffering eternal pain seems to be the worst thing at least some humans can imagine.

There seems to be nothing to be said for pain at all. Yet we even have specialised nerve endings for feeling pain and centres in our brains for processing the information they provide and turning this into the conscious unpleasant experience we call pain. Indeed, the normal responses of our bodies to injury often seem designed to INCREASE the pain of injury.

So why have we evolved the ability to feel pain?

Put simply, pain tells us something is wrong. Pain draws our attention to injury or disease. Pain says do something or don't do something; guard me, rest me or don't use me. Don't walk on that broken ankle because it needs to be rested. Don't carry on with that chest pain but slow down and take a rest. Don't bite on that tooth or raise that broken arm. Close your eyes and sleep when that headache becomes unbearable. Put your hand over your ear when cold wind makes it ache and change your shoes when that blister bursts...

Pain even initiates reflexes which happen before our brains have noticed. These spinal reflexes have evolved to protect various parts of our bodies and pain is the signal to act automatically without the normal luxury of thinking about it first.

Pain has evolved as a signal. It is unpleasant because that tells us to try to stop it by resting or guarding the hurting part of our body. Pain is unpleasant because we have evolved to perceive it as unpleasant. Being unpleasant means we do something about it to reduce the unpleasant sensation.

Consider a patient dying in extreme pain of cancer, or an abscess, or a disabling injury in the absence of any pain relief? What possible purpose could that serve the individual?

Consider a gazelle dying of the shock of having it's intestines pulled out and its liver eaten by lions whilst still alive, or the zebra having a leg torn off by a crocodile as it is slowly drowned.

How does pain serve these individual?

Nature is unemotional and entirely lacking in compassion. Nature doesn't care about the suffering of a prey species as it is eaten and yet we can be quite sure that every sentient creature, and probably many others, feel pain. Nature has no concern at all for the discomfort or distress of an animal suffering from infection or dying of disease or simply starving to death of old age.

The fate of almost every living multi-cellular thing is to die of disease, or by being eaten, or of starvation due to injury or old age. There are very many ways to die and none of them are pleasant. Millions of feeling animals die every day in great pain. A system which has evolved to keep you alive is useless when you are dying, and yet it is still demanding you do something even when there is nothing you can do.

So why should we have evolved something we don't like and why would it be at its most insistent when at its most useless? What intelligent designer would design such a thing?

Because evolution isn't driven by what we like or dislike; evolution is driven by whatever ensures we have more descendants than we would otherwise have. Evolution is determined by what is in the interests of our genes because it is our genes which either survive in the next generation, or don't. And there is no benefit to our genes in evolving a mechanism to turn pain off when it is no longer any use.

So, evolution has provided us with something we don't like, and this is perfectly understandable in terms of mindless, unemotional, uncaring, genetic evolution.

What is not understandable is how this could have been designed by an intelligent, loving, caring and compassionate god. If pain has been designed by a god then that god must be a stupid, cruel, sadistic and hateful god.

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  1. Rosa,

    Just so I'm understanding correctly, is your argument this: "There is pain, therefore there is no God"?


  2. Matt.

    What about the final sentence in that blog did you not understand? Did you actually bother to read the blog at all or did you go straight to the comment section?

  3. Rosa,

    Sigh. I guess I know better than to have expected a straight answer. I'm merely clarifying.

    That you do not see a purpose in pain, or that you do not understand it, does not mean there is no purpose in pain. It also does not mean others also don't understand it.


  4. Matt.

    Once again, can I recommend that you actually read what I wrote if you wish to know what I was saying.

    I appreciate you may not like it and would have no excuse for not dealing with it.

  5. Rosa,

    You conclude that, since it appears as though pain is useless when it affects those who cannot "improve" their situation, therefore it is actually useless and its existence makes sense (more appropriately "you understand it") only from an evolutionary standpoint, and not from (your conception of) a viewpoint in which there is God. Therefore, you conclude, God must not exist. Or else He does exist (which I *know* you're not allowing) but is cruel, stupid, etc.

    Hence, my conclusion was perfectly appropriate, namely: your argument is, there is pain (which at times has no perceived purpose), therefore there is no God.

    So I simply respond: that you see no purpose in pain does not mean there is actually no purpose. And, since your argument depends on it actually being true (which it actually is not), then it's hardly an argument at all.


  6. Matt.

    I'm pleased to see you've read at least part of the blog now.

    The point which you managed to avoid is that pain in a situation where the individual can do nothing about it serves no useful purpose.

    Unless you believe that your god designed it that way for no other reason than it intended dying animals to die in agony for no purpose then you have answered the question in the title.

    Now you need to explain why you believe your god hates everything and is deliberately cruel whilst simultaneously claiming to believe in a merciful, compassionate and omni-benevolent god.

    Personally, I prefer to go with the evidence and to conclude that dying in agonising pain is an unfortunate result of an uncaring, undirected, evolutionary process in which there is no mechanism for taking the interests, likes and dislikes of the individual into account, especially when that theory is supported by so much evidence, and your cruel, sadistic magic friend, which requires you to hold two or more mutually exclusive views simultaneously, has no evidential support whatsoever.

    But then I'm not afraid to go with the evidence in case a magic 'friend' hurts me.

  7. Rosa,

    >"The point which you managed to avoid is that pain in a situation where the individual can do nothing about it serves no useful purpose."

    Which of course I responded to with:

    "that you see no purpose in pain does not mean there is actually no purpose."

    Tell me you didn't miss that.

    >"Now you need to explain why you believe your god hates everything and is deliberately cruel"

    Well, the problem with that statement is that it assumes I actually believe that.

    >"Personally, I prefer to go with the evidence and to conclude that."

    You realize I could just as easily (and more-so) use that as evidence for sin? By the way, if nature doesn't care, why do you? Such concern over "pain" and "cruelty" is...not a natural behavior, in your view.


  8. Matt.

    I'm not surprised you can't work out why people care but thank you for confirming it.

  9. I don't like pain therefore God doesnt exist. What an argument.

    Hey rubi quick question can you explain why you continue trying to be rational if you already believe that the world we live in is irrational?

    Thanks Hun.

  10. Hezekiah Ahaz

    I'm sorry you needed to attack an infantile parody of my blog. I'm sure people can work out why you needed to rather than deal with what I really said.

    Do you think you'll ever be able to contribute anything useful to a debate like normal adults do?

  11. What's a normal adult?

    How about that question rubi:

    Since you believe there is no intelligence in things why do you keep trying to be intelligient?

    Why do you get out of bed in the morning hun is that arbitrary?

  12. Hezekiah Ahaz

    More of the same, eh? This is the last of your comments which will appear in this blog.

    I'm sorry you lack the intellect and maturity to conduct a civilized conversation and appear to feel exempt from the normal standards of adult behaviour.

  13. I can see what is going on here. I am not sure -since I never met them- either Matt or Hezekiah is Christian. Nonetheless, when Rosa is talking of God, it means "Christian God," not a theoretical intelligent designer. -which also has been proven to be a religious dogma-

    If the God Rosa is discussing here was a Thor, or Nut from different myths, then the Matt's argument does make sense. Because they are not bound to be a "Good God." However we no longer believe in Ra or Odin. Now it's only pieces of literature, known as Norse mythology and Egyptian mythology. Lists go on and on.

    For Hezekiah's argument, it's totally absurd. There is no need to answer any of his/her idiocy. Let me return the question as follows: why europe and n. america are so prosperous while asia, africa, s. america, and australia are not even close to world power? Frankly it is atheists' call the world we live rational, since atheists believe in the law of logics. Unfortunately, it is role of creationists or theists to believe in irrationality, since their whole faiths and ideas are solely dependent on single being.

    1. Dorian Gray

      Jared Diamond, "Guns, Germs And Steel" addresses the question of why Europe, and it's off-shoot, North America, were so successful. If you buy it though a link to Amazon on this blog, all the commission will go to Oxfam, as with purchase from Amazon though this blog.

  14. Here is a definition of the straw man argument: A straw man argument occurs in the context of a debate ― formal or informal ― when one side attacks a position ― the "straw man" ― not held by the other side, then acts as though the other side's position has been refuted.

    IMHO what's being discussed and in focus in this commentary field is a straw man's position and point of view. Not what Rosa really stands for in her blog article. How can it be so difficult for some readers to discriminate between Rosa's position and the straw man's?

    Are they blind? Are they not able to read?

    If I were religious, I'd say, "Only God knows". But since I'm not religious, I can but continue wondering what the answer to my questions may be.

    Keep up your good spirits, Rosa! In my eyes you are invaluable with your perspicacity!


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