The Problem of Animal Suffering

While we're on the issue of suffering, let's look at a kind of suffering which isn't as thought about by theologians.


Atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg crafts what he considers an irrefutable instance of suffering against which no defense of God’s character might stand (probably based on a similar argument from William Rowe). 

In his example, Wielenberg describes a scenario in which a wildfire burns its way through a remote area of wilderness without any human witnesses. In the course of the fire, a young fawn suffers severe burns, and spends two days dying in excruciating agony. 

This example, according to Wielenberg, escapes all of the regular justifications Christians offer for suffering. This is not a human being suffering, so this cannot be an act of divine punishment for sin, or some kind of lesson to be learned from the pain. No humans were responsible for the tragedy, so this cannot be an instance of God allowing someone to exercise their free will to do something bad. And because there were no human witnesses that will ever be aware of the event, there can be no moral lesson learned from the experienced. 

It is an utterly gratuitous instance of suffering which has no justification. 

In his 2013 debate, “The Status of God in the 21st Century,” atheist Justin Schieber constructed an argument from evil which included a factual account of gorilla groups that would dominate, kill, and rape other gorilla groups. Schieber subsequently received accolades from the audience for his inclusion of animal suffering in his argument. 

This forms a convenient fallback position for the argument from suffering. Even if Christians were to somehow build an effective argument that shows God could be good and still allow humans to suffer, why would he allow animals to suffer? Alternately, if human beings act evilly because of sin and rebellion, why do animals act evilly? 

This covers both suffering and evil. Animals were not, according to the Bible, made in God’s image, and yet they are prey to the exact same difficulties that plague human beings even though they cannot, in the strictest sense, sin. 

The concern over animals in the discussion of evil and suffering is added to because of a strictly evolutionary worldview that does not include a Creator. Although the Christian worldview puts humans in a distinctly separate ethical and volitional position than animals, if God is removed from the picture, the distinction between humans and animals blurs significantly. 

Biologist and Atheist Frans De Waal notes that animals, especially primates, show hints of what humans would recognize as moral behavior. Says De Waal: 

“…female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today.” (Morals without God, Frans De Waal, 2010) 

So the problem becomes even further involved. Morality may have evolutionary roots, which would – in theory - eliminate the need for some transcendent cause to explain moral impulses. 

So to sum up the problem of animal morality: 

· Animals suffer even though they do not have moral agency 

· Animals act in ways which are “evil”, even though they were supposedly designed by a good God, and did not “fall” in the way that humans did 

· Certain animals display “moral” behavior, indicating that morality is not a strictly human trait, and may be the product of evolution rather than conscious design 

Arguing from a hypothetical 

Before these objections are addressed, there is a technicality in Erik Wielenberg’s “Burnt Fawn” scenario that is worth mentioning. 

The classic question goes “if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?” 

The idea behind the question is that events require observers in order to be said to be real. If there is no conscious observer around to witness an event, there is no way to be certain what the experience was like. Wielenberg describes a hypothetical situation that would require that no one ever finds out about it in order to stand as an objection. The problem is that there is no way to know if something like that has ever happened. If a human observer comes upon a burnt section of forest, and the remains of the dead fawn, a moral agent has now become aware of the event, and any moral lesson that might be associated. 

In order to be evidence against God, it must be evident. But in order to be a meaningless instance of suffering, no one may ever know that it occurred. Perhaps this kind of thing does happen, but there is no way of knowing if it does, and this is a speculative argument. 

Animals and suffering 

In order to consider the questions of animal suffering and morality, one must ask the same questions one does of human suffering and morality: what value do animals have in the eyes of their Creator, does their suffering serve a purpose, and what is the relationship between animal behavior and morality? 

The Bible places an immediate distinction between humans and animals. Humans are given their own separate creation story, are the only creatures created “in God’s image”, and are given the responsibility to identify and name the animals. Moreover, God is said to have breathed life into human beings, indicating some soulical distinction between humans and animals. Genesis chapter 4 shows Abel tending domesticated livestock. In the Flood story, God puts a man in charge of preserving all of the animal species. In the Mosaic Law, domesticated animals are to be killed if they intentionally injure or kill a person. 

The indication here is that humans are not simply superior to animals, but, in fact, responsible for animals and their behavior. 

This theme of the fate of animals being connected to humans is brought into even starker focus by the many passages in the Old Testament that require animals to be destroyed along with their evil owners. 

A significant treatment of animals that is seen in the Bible is the constant cycle of animal sacrifice that is required to purchase God’s forgiveness of sins. Here one sees animals standing in for humans as objects of God’s wrath. 

In this regard, animal suffering appears to be directly related to the fallen state of human beings. The indication is that humans are given responsibility for the earth and everything on it; humans are morally faulty, and the earth suffers as a consequence. 

This is stated explicitly in the book of Romans: 

Romans 8:19-22 

English Standard Version (ESV) 

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 

The penalty humans suffer due to their rebellion is not restricted to their own corruption, but also the corruption of their environment. 

In fact, the observation that animals have the capacity for both moral and immoral behavior (by human standards) actually lends credence to the moral argument for God. If animals were created by a moral agent, then they would evidence this moral behavior. If both animals and creation are in a fallen state because of human behavior, then the animal world would manifest this corruption. 

What’s wrong with animal suffering? 

Assume for a moment that suffering is not “bad” if it leads to existential fulfillment. In the case of human beings, this works out because a person’s ultimate existential purpose is determined after their death. Based on Biblical doctrine, there is no afterlife for animals. When they perish, they do so permanently. Consequently, any purpose served by animal existence must be temporal. This article has so far made the case that suffering and any moral culpability on the part of animals is directly related to that of human beings. So what purpose do animals serve that could possibly relate to the ultimate purpose? 

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the Old Testament references already cited. Human beings were given responsibility for the planet including the animals thereof. The human failure to manage the animal kingdom, the resultant suffering, and the “moral” failure of animals, are all actually part of the problem of suffering and evil. They point to human failure, and the human need for redemption. Thus the existential purpose of animals is served in highlighting the human capacity for good when properly managed, and the human failure when mismanaged. 

If this is the case, a human being would not need to be present when an instance of animal suffering occurs; the very fact that they unable to prevent such suffering – the very fact that divine intervention would have been required in order to prevent the suffering – evidences the need for God in a fallen creation. This need is ultimately met in the person of Jesus Christ. Again, the circle is completed. 

One additional thing to mention is that, if God does exist, than there is not a single instance of animal suffering that goes unnoticed. Jesus said: 

Matthew 10:29-31 

English Standard Version (ESV) 

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

So Wielenberg’s “suffering fawn” scenario would be observed by a moral agent, namely God. 


The other factor that requires consideration is the inevitability of death. All animals will die. Any suffering they have experienced in life is erased at the point of their death. This becomes quite a different problem than the suffering of humans. Since presumably humans live beyond death, their suffering would have to be given some kind of meaning that transcends death. Since, on the other hand, death is inevitable for animals, the question becomes, “What kind of death is morally acceptable?” Presumably death itself is the problem; a problem which will be addressed at the return of Christ. 

Evolution: A problem? 

It’s hardly worth stating that evolution is a controversial subject, both within and outside Christian circles. Assume for a moment that human life arose through a process of mutation and natural selection. This would involve a lot of suffering, dying animals before humans were ever around to adopt an attitude of rebellion against their Creator. This might seem to defeat the explanation that animals suffer because humans suffer or are morally fallen. 

However, if humans arose through the process of evolution, then the suffering and death of animals becomes a necessary part of bringing about the human race. This being so, animal suffering actually serves an existential purpose, justifying its existence. Since, as already stated, animals cease to be after death, this suffering is erased by death and is given a purpose by the advancement of the species that it serves. 

Moreover, the primitive root of morality displayed by higher-functioning primates serves as the vehicle through which morality is produced in humans, explaining these observations as well. 

Even adopting an evolutionary stance, suffering and evil become a justifiable aspect of creation. 

The Hierarchy of Suffering: What is Suffering and Why Does it Occur?



I have never seen this done before, so I am going to own this one. I have written extensively on the subjects of suffering and evil, but I have never seen anyone systematize suffering in an organized manner. I intend to do that for you now with one simple example that is easy to visualize.

The problem of suffering is not the same thing as the problem of evil, although evil almost always leads to suffering.

As far as evil goes, there are a total of three different kinds of evil. The first of these is natural evil. Natural evil is any unfortunate event that is not initiated by a moral agent (any being who is able to recognize the rightness or wrongness of their actions). Examples range from disease to workplace accidents to meteor strikes.

The second type of evil is human evil. This is any kind of unfortunate deed that humans perpetrate upon themselves, their environment, or other humans. Examples range from something as simple as refusing to hold the elevator for a stranger, to the much weightier deed of mass genocide.

The final type of evil is a matter of debate: Divine evil. This would be any kind of disastrous event initiated by a deity. Like destroying the earth with a flood, or striking someone dead on the spot.

Of course, if we are speaking of the Christian God – the one I defend – how accurately the word “evil” applies to him is a matter of debate. For the sake of this discussion, however, we must allow that at least some evil is attributed to God by some people – hence his inclusion in the list.

Now on to the subject of suffering. I posit six tiers of suffering which I will illustrate in the following way:

Imagine you lose your wallet. A simple misadventure ends with your wallet being in a place where you’re not. You feel your pocket or purse, and discover its absence. You are hit with a wave of panic and worry. You have just experienced Tier One of the Furches Hierarchy: Soft Emotional Suffering. For the purpose of this discussion, Soft Emotional Suffering ranges from every-day annoyances to a sudden lingering fear or anxiety. This kind of emotional suffering is less intense or long-lasting than the kind of gut-wrenching mental agony that leads to breakdowns or suicide – hence its low placement on the hierarchy.
So you’ve lost your wallet. Now you have to go through the exhausting process of retracing your steps, tearing your office, car and house apart looking for it, and calling all the places you’ve been in order to see if it’s been found. You don’t find it, so now you have to go through the process of canceling all of your cards and getting identity theft insurance. You have now entered Tier Two: Inconvenience. Inconvenience could be temporary or permanent depending on the situation, but it is any circumstance that requires monotonous or superfluous attention which takes your time away from anything you would prefer to be doing. For some people, school or a job falls into the second tier of suffering.

Your wallet was stolen by some clever thief. He didn’t just take your money, he began using your cards to make a huge number of untraceable purchases. He also used your ID and SSN to steal your identity. This would be an example of human evil.

Because of the identity theft, you are unable to get medical insurance. Suddenly, you come down with a chronic disease for which you can get no treatment due to the identity theft. The chronic illness puts you in pain. You have just entered Tier 3: physical pain.

Physical pain can range from stubbing one’s toe to recovering from a hernia surgery.  The pain being experienced in tier 3 may be intense for the time it’s being experienced, but there is an upper threshold it does not cross, it is not malevolent in nature, and there is hope for relief.

This leads us to Tier 4. Tier 4 is Gratuitous Suffering. This kind of suffering isn’t just your body telling you there is something wrong – it is intense, mind-numbing, chronic physical pain from which there is little hope of escaping. You can’t get pain-relievers because you have no insurance. You just lie writhing on your bed in agony.

As an aside, physical torture also falls under Tier 4, because it is malevolent in nature, no pity or relief is offered, and the only hope of relief relies on the torturer. Tier 4 is categorized by intensity and hopelessness.

Your simple error in misplacing your wallet has become the greatest tragedy of your life. You cannot get a job due to the identity theft and now your illness. You have no source of income, your friends have abandoned you, and there is no relief in sight. In light of all of this, you are spiraling down into a well of anxiety, depression and despair. Congratulations, you have entered Tier 5. This tier is characterized by emotional destruction. You are as emotionally low as a person can possibly be. This may very well be enough to kill you.

Which leads us, finally, to Tier 6. Death. The final stage in the Furches Hierarchy is the termination of life. Arguably, there is no physical or mental suffering in Death, however the prospect one’s life being taken is the worst possible consequence in most people’s minds, and the one thing humans strive in general to avoid. Even if we rule out personal suffering, the loss of friends and loved ones contributes to the net suffering in the world. The last reason that Death is included in the Hierarchy is that – when people raise the subject of the Problem of Suffering – Death is the foremost evil people attempt to confront.

With Tier 6, the Furches Hierarchy is complete. I just realized that if this catches on, my name will be synonymous with suffering. Perhaps not the wisest move. It is worth mentioning that these Tiers are not exclusively separate from one another. Of course someone can be experiencing chronic pain, and also inconvenience. Of course someone can be clinically depressed, and also suddenly panic because they can’t find their wallet. Overlap can and does occur very frequently.

When one looks at the Problem of Suffering within the context of theology, it is a problem well-studied. This very hierarchy is explored in the Biblical book of Job, wherein Satan once tells God that Job will abandon worship if his possessions are taken away, and when that doesn’t work, Satan revises his theory to say that it is one’s physical comfort and health that matters. A hierarchy of suffering is at play here, as well.

More to the point, however is this: the skeptic frequently claims that God should have created a perfect world in order to be a Good God. Presumably, a Perfect World would be devoid of suffering. If God were to make men immortal, we would still deal with pain. If pain were eliminated, we would still deal with emotional difficulties. If these were somehow resolved, we would still have to face inconveniences. One would have to have a very, very micromanaged and narrowly defined world to eliminate suffering altogether.

What would this look like? Perhaps exactly like the world predicted in the Bible when God re-creates the heavens and the earth. At this point, the residents of the world will have become immortal due to the work of Christ. Their immortal bodies would have been perfected – presumably eliminating physical pain and suffering. Their hearts, minds and spirits will have likewise been perfected by conforming to the nature of Christ, such that mental and emotional suffering becomes a non-issue.

Finally, with their desires being to fulfill their purpose in glorifying God, everything they do would lead to that end, such that there would be no inconveniences. The very Problem of Suffering becomes all the more demonstrable of the necessity of God’s work as defined in scripture.

The Furches Hierarchy of suffering

1.)    Annoyance

2.)    Inconvenience

3.)    Pain

4.)    Gratuitous Suffering

5.)    Emotional Destruction

6.)    Death

Four Ideas on What the Bible Really Is

Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Like it or not, western culture owes a lot to the Bible. From views on law and human rights down to common phrases and vernacular, much of what is commonly accepted in current culture can be traced back to things written in scripture. 
That said, the Bible is arguably the most disputed book of all time. There are those who would like nothing better than to have it disappear entirely along with pagers and pet rocks. There are others who see it as inspirational, even if they don’t embrace or believe everything it has to say. But all of the contradictory views of scripture can be summed up in one of three categories: 

By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) (originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


The Grab Bag: 

The “Grab Bag” approach to the Bible is essentially an approach that assumes that the passages in the Bible have some sort of value, whether they see it as a prophetic code like the writings of Nostradamus, a book of inspirational sayings like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or even as a book inspired by God, this approach to the Bible is largely intuitive and involves taking passages out of context in order to prove a point. This is a process known as eisegesis-the interpretation of a text by reading into it one's own ideas. This approach is largely unhelpful because one could prove practically anything they wanted by reading whichever passages most closely prove their point, and a large portion of the in-house quibbling in Christianity results from this approach to reading scripture. 
Another example of the “Grab Bag” approach is The Bible Code. As defined by Wikipedia, the Bible Code is “…a purported set of secret messages encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah. This hidden code has been described as a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message. Though Bible codes have been postulated and studied for centuries, the subject has been popularized in modern times by Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code. 
“Many examples have been documented in the past. One cited example is that by taking every 50th letter of theBook of Genesis starting with the first taw, the Hebrew word "torah" is spelled out. The same happens in theBook of Exodus. Modern computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants, and published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 1994. Proponents hold that it is exceedingly unlikely such sequences could arise by chance, while skeptics and opponents hold that such sequences do often arise by chance, as demonstrated on other Hebrew and English texts.” 

By Anonymous (photo by Adrian Pingstone) (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Religious Mythology

The “Religious Mythology” approach to the Bible is a school of thought that takes the Bible as a patchwork product of various writers with a diverse set of superstitious or religious views. These writings, through their various copying and editing over the years were changed to reflect whatever religious beliefs were widely embraced at the time so that any uniformity in the teachings of the Bible is the result, not so much of beliefs that remained consistent across centuries of time, but rather of revisions to make earlier writings match current beliefs. The “Religious Mythology” view may give a nod to some historical details contained in the Bible, but usually considers these so obscured among mythological elements as to be largely unreliable. As an example, in the Old Testament/Torah, this view would cite the similarities between elements of the book of Genesis and Babylonian myths, and conclude that during the time that Babylon controlled the majority of the Middle Eastern region, Hebrew scribes worked the Babylonian beliefs into their writings. 
In the New Testament, this view would, among other things, cite the seeming dissimilarity between the teachings of Jesus – teachings about social reform and the coming of God’s Kingdom – and the writings of Paul who seemed to focus on the building of a church separated from culture and society and on a sort of “internal kingdom” wherein the believer is the vessel of an immaterial Spirit of God. They would say that these contradictory views, or re-interpretations of Jesus’ teaching reflect an evolution of the Christian religious ideas over the years. 
People in this school of thought tend to pick scripture apart using broad assumptions. If there is an apparent change in the style of the writing, then that section was added by a later author. If the text makes a clear “prophetic” reference to a later event, that was retroactively added to the text or that text was written after the fact. If a different name for God is used, then this indicates that this was a different group of writings that were spliced together with the other writings. 
To this view, scripture is an interesting historical study or a work of literature, but cannot seriously be regarded as conveying any meaningful truth. 

Valentin de Boulogne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unified Text 

This approach to the Bible takes the text to be, on the whole, the communication of a unified message that remains consistent across history. This view is largely held by orthodox Jews for the Old Testament/Torah, and Conservative Protestants for the entire Bible who believe the message is consistent because it was God-inspired. While most others would have difficulty believing that any text could remain consistent across a thousand years of time and thousands of re-copying, the Unified Text school takes the consistency of the scriptures as evidence of its inspiration. 

The “Grab Bag” method of interpreting scripture is inherently irrational. It has no real interest to what the text is actually saying; only what they can make it say. 
The other two methods are faced with two facts of scripture that have to be explained: some unity of message across the entire text of scripture, and the presence of the supernatural. The “Religious Mythology” approach begins with the assumption that the supernatural cannot exist, and so must find some other explanation for those things. The “Unified Text” method assumes that the supernatural is the explanation for these things. 


Book Giveaway


My web page is fairly new. I am looking to see how many involved viewers I have attracted. So, as an encouragement, I will occasionally do a book giveaway to one lucky fan. 

Sometimes the book I give away will be from the Michael D. Furches Memorial Library, but this week it is a signed copy of my own book, Christ Centered Apologetics


Simple. Just leave a 'like' and a comment on this blog asking me for the book in order to enter for the book giveaway. Anyone who 'likes' and comments will be entered for the giveaway, and I will contact the lucky winner by the end of the contest on 8/20/2017. Good luck, all!


*This contest will end on 8/20/2017

*I will not ship the book outside of the U.S.

Three Things Jesus Taught About the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Those who are anti-Christian often claim that suffering and death are a real problem for Christianity as a worldview. While much has been written on the subject, it is difficult in a sound bite culture to answer a question such as “If a woman is brutally raped, or a child is dying of AIDS in Africa, and God has the power to stop it, why doesn’t he?” 

The argument is convincing because it is emotional. The framing of the question often seeks to stir immediate outrage against a God that would allow such a thing. 

To answer this question in brief, it is interesting to turn to what Jesus had to say on the subject. If any orator in history could say a lot with very few words, it was Christ. Here is a three-point argument that Jesus develops on the subject of suffering and death. 

Everyone dies

The book of Luke describes a situation where various people confronted Jesus with two sobering news items of the day. A recent tragedy occurred where the Roman Governor, Pilate, had a group of Jewish worshipers killed while they were in the temple offering sacrifices to God. In another contemporary catastrophe, a stone tower under construction toppled, killing eighteen people. These two stories effectively illustrate the two possible kinds of tragedy: that inflicted by other people, and that which is a natural occurrence. Jesus’ response was the same for both

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

Here, Jesus attempts to shift his audience’s focus away from the suddenness and seemingly tragic nature of these deaths to point out that all death is tragic for the unredeemed. 

Suffering points to the human need for God

Jesus was famous in his day for healing the sick and injured. Naturally, then, the sick and injured sought him out. In one such instance, a man who was paralyzed was brought to Jesus by his friends. The book of Matthew describes the scenario

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. 

The fact that this paralytic was healed was incidental to the story. Jesus’ act of healing did not grant this man immortality or invincibility. No doubt the man suffered illness and fragility after this, and he eventually died. The man’s suffering led him to Christ, and Christ met his real need first: he reconciled the man with God by forgiving him of sin. 

The world is temporary and corrupt

In speaking to the issue of human need, Jesus made this observation: 

Matthew 6:27 

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” 

Here, Jesus highlights what has already been stated: Everyone dies. Jesus’ recommendation to this problem is this: 

Matthew 6:19-20 

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Suffering and death are a very big problem indeed if this life is all there is. It is Jesus’ assertion that this particular life is a very brief experience that determines a person’s eternal state. If this is, indeed, the case, then any suffering that brings people to a realization of their need for God is beneficial to the sufferer. 

John 11:21-26 

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Book Mind Over Matter Says Science Requires God

Dr. Wayne Rossiter

While Dr. Wayne Rossiter currently resides in the modest position of Assistant Professor of Biology at a little Christian College in Pennsylvania, this young academic has still managed to gain some notoriety in the atheist community with his dramatic conversion story from atheistic Evolutionary Biologist to Christian Biologist – and some celebrity in the Christian community due to his no-holds-barred criticism of theistic evolution which he publicized in his 2015 book, Shadow of Oz.

Practically on the heels of his last book (published in October of 2015), Rossiter released a new book in January of 2016, coauthored with his brother. Straying away from his field of biology, this new book – titled Mind Over Matter – looks at the modern world and asks the question “The idea that matter and energy are all that exist, and that these two things alone are sufficient to explain everything about the universe – does this fit the facts?”

Interviewing Rossiter

This writer had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Rossiter about his new book and get just a few of these facts.

The seeds of this concept – that the material universe was poorly suited for explaining all of the facts humans knew about the broader spectrum of existence – were undoubtedly planted while Rossiter was still an atheist, as described in this excerpt from his first book:

“On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)”

However, it was not his conversion experience which inspired Rossiter to write this book. In the interview, Rossiter explained that this book was largely in reaction to another book: Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists. Boghossian’s book claims to offer what amounts to evangelism techniques to win religious people over to atheism in a similar way to how religious people evangelize unbelievers. Boghossian focuses largely on the fact that (he says) religion is blind faith in unverifiable, superstitious nonsense, whereas skepticism places its belief in confirmed scientific facts.

In response to this, Rossiter says:

“…arguments like his have been successful for all of the wrong reasons. The science vs. religion debate has been wildly popular in the media, but the content on the atheists’ side has been fairly empty. My brother and I wrote Mind Over Matter as an attempt to offer quick and easy responses to the most common objections raised against belief in God. We basically got tired of well-meaning Christians getting bullied by bad arguments. This book represents a partial antidote.”

The Biologist and the Philosopher

Mind Over Matter was written in equal parts by both Wayne and his brother, Brian. The book contends that the universe requires both the material aspects – such as energy and matter – and immaterial aspects – such as number sets, principles of logic, morality and minds. Fittingly, Wayne is a Biologist while his brother is a Theologian. Between the two of them, they provided insights on both the material and immaterial functions of the universe. Says Rossiter:

“When my brother and I get together, all we do is discuss these issues. The book emerged from several years of those discussions. The process was completely organic. We just started keeping notes on the ideas we’d discuss, as well as the types of objections that were most common in the mainstream debate circuit. It was also surprisingly egalitarian. I’d say the book is really about a 60/40 split in effort, which is incredibly gratifying. It really was a joint effort.”

Despite the fact that the book stands in broad disagreement with atheism – as well as most of the presuppositions people in the modern world hold – the book is not, Wayne assures, disagreeable.

“…we start with shared facts about reality, and work towards a rational case for God. For example, most atheists don’t realize that they must assume the existence of immaterial things like numbers or logical relationships before they even begin to do scientific experiments or engage in debates. The quantity pi (3.14) has no volume, mass, charge or spatial location. Yet, it is a real attribute of our material world. So, clearly reality is not just matter. Likewise, many fields of science routinely infer the actions of intelligence in causing physical phenomena. If a behavioral ecologist goes into the field and sees a conspicuous pattern of bramble in the grass, they will rightly identify it as something intelligently and purposefully made (in this case, a nest made by a bower bird). When you put observations like these together, you begin to get an answer to why there is this 'unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics' in describing the natural world, and why the universe is both logical and comprehensible. While such features of reality continue to befuddle atheists, they fit nicely within the worldview of the theist. This was our approach in writing Mind Over Matter.”

As challenging as the subject matter may seem, Rossiter’s heart for the work was for the average Christian reader, and so he has kept the work digestible:

“…it’s a really short book that’s intended for 'on the street' use by any believer. Sure, some of the jargon is unavoidable, but basically, this book offers sound responses to objections like 'Who made God?,' 'We can replace God with science,' 'We have the fossils, we win,' etc. Right now, atheists are winning debates in the public sphere using arguments that are easily knocked down. Our book shows you how (and why).”