Tag Archive | "intelligent design"

Evolution is Not a Religious Issue

It really irks me that more than one person has tried to disprove evolution to me as soon as I reveal to them that I am an atheist, as if evolution were the reason for my disbelief. People would soon begin spouting nonsense, citing “scientific” articles that they’ve never read, and asking me to view religious propaganda masquerading as legitimate documentaries.

I have had my fair share of creationist indoctrination even during my childhood. One of my earliest recollections of the concept of evolution, if not the earliest, was when I was still about 4 years old. I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be a scientist. She asked me in return if I would still want to be one even though scientists believe that we came from monkeys. She then asked me the very common (and stupid) creationist fallacy, “If evolution is true, why haven’t the monkeys today turned into men?”

To the unsuspecting child, this empty argument would have effectively put the nail through the coffin of evolution. Sadly, this seems to be the case in the Philippines, where the pseudoscience of creationism and misconceptions of evolution are accepted and even embraced by religious and scientific authorities. People in highly influential positions such as parents, teachers, and clerics, whom other people (most especially children) look up to as sources of truth, continue to preach against evolution while hardly knowing anything about it. In most cases, arguments against evolution revolve around citing Bible verses or attacking straw man versions of the theory.

Our current demography

According to the 2000 census, Roman Catholics made up 80.9% of the Philippine population while Muslims comprised 5%, Evangelicals 2.8%, Iglesia ni Cristo 2.3%; Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses comprise 1.3%. [1]

Thankfully, the Catholic Church is more liberal in saying that evolution is compatible with Christianity. In a statement made by the Vatican on February 2009, they further claimed that the concept of evolution predates Darwin, and the concept can be traced to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. More than 50 years ago, Pope Pius himself said that evolution is a valid scientific approach to understanding the development of humanity. [2] This makes me wonder though why, despite the Philippines being almost 81% Catholic, evolution denial is still prevalent among Filipinos.

From my experience, evolution is still treated, even within academic circles, as a scientific principle that can be reasonably doubted. What saddens me the most is the fact that I personally know biology students, graduates, and even teachers who, while seemingly versed in evolutionary biology, continue to dismiss it as false. Equally sad is how many science majors I know repudiate evolution for being “just a theory.” The fact that grossly unscientific ideas like creationism continue to permeate the academe, and that people who are products of our country’s so-called “premier university” keep on spouting nonsense against evolution, makes me seriously doubt the effectiveness of our system of science education.

Evangelicals (also known as born-agains) and Muslims are divided on the matter. However, both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists are clear on their position against evolution. [3] [4] The controversial Members’ Church of God International (colloquially known by their TV and radio show, Ang Dating Daan) has a creationist stance as well. Eliseo Soriano, its leader, stated: [5]

“To believe in the theory of evolution is to believe in accidents, for the theory of evolution can only be explained by accidents that allegedly happened in nature, and perhaps in the brains and minds of evolutionists!”

the ever-savvy Soriano

Clarifying some misconceptions

“According to Darwin, man was not created by God.”

The previous statement came from a history book written by Gregorio Zaide that is widely circulated among elementary schools in the Philippines. [6] Yes, you heard me right. That’s the famous Filipino historian Zaide right there. More of his religious zealotry can be found in the book and this blog article [7] written by a fellow freethinker.

It is a blatant misquotation of Charles Darwin, whose 1859 On the Origin of Species kickstarted revolutionary advancements in evolutionary biology and science, in general. While Darwin eventually professed deism and agnosticism, he never became an atheist. [8] As a biographer of Darwin puts, “one point is abundantly clear, all the surviving evidence contradicts the assertion that Darwin was an atheist.” [9]

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist. … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” —Charles Darwin in his letter to John Fordyce, 7 May 1879 [10]

“Lenin is quoted as saying that religion is the opiate of the people, but the truth is that evolution is the opiate of the atheists!”

The quotation came from an article published by The Church of God International (Philippines) about evolution and their stand against it. [11] The Church of God, by the way, is affiliated with the producers of Armor of God, a TV show on GMA News TV. Just so you’d know.

Before I proceed on dispelling these obviously distorted straw men, let’s just get things straight. Vladimir Lenin, the Russian communist, did not make an opium metaphor. It was Karl Marx who said that “religion … is the opium of the people.” [12]

Both Lenin and Marx were atheists, communists and evolutionists. Now before you get into thinking that evolution is some propaganda by atheists and/or communists, like what this person in Answers in Genesis thinks, let me tell you: it’s not. Believing in evolution will not make you an atheist (or a communist).

Contrary to what Soriano thinks, evolution is not driven by accidents. Rather, it is driven by natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which certain individuals in a population survive or reproduce more because of certain variants of genes they possess. This eventually creates organisms which are better equipped for their environments as they out-reproduce the competition. Mutations give rise to new variations among genes, and are also subject to natural selection.

To demonstrate this point, I’ll give a common example: albinism, a condition in which the animal is unable to produce any skin pigments. The primary reason why albinism is so rare is that individuals with the condition are heavily pressured in nature not to survive. Albinos will be normally easier to spot for predators, and are usually unsuccessful in finding mates, and thus fail to pass on their albino genes.

Another example would be sickle-cell disease (SCD). Just like albinism, it is a very rare condition, and for a good reason; SCD brings about many life-threatening complications, shortening life expectancy to about 42-48 years. But here’s the catch. While SCD is a rarity elsewhere, it has a high rate of prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is because, in less severe cases, resistance to malaria is displayed by individuals with SCD. This is especially helpful if you’re living in a region where malaria is widespread.

In summary, traits are a result of a continuous non-random process where a species adapts to the pressures of its environment. It is not an accident why albinism is rare. It is not an accident why SCD is prevalent in some parts of Africa. Humanity is not an accident. We have our traits today because individuals who first had them found them an evolutionary advantage for survival against those who don’t have these traits.

It may appear that animals (including humans) are intelligently designed because they’re so adapted to their environments. This is but an illusion of a lengthy natural selection and evolutionary process.

Why is it so contentious?

I think the biggest reason it has been so contentious is that a lot of people think that evolution, just as what people in the Renaissance thought of heliocentrism, is a religious issue. Well, it’s not. The fact that evolution is true doesn’t disprove the existence of any god, just as proving that the Earth revolves around the Sun doesn’t. Disputing creationism (the antithesis of evolution) doesn’t mean that you reject believing in a god as well. In fact, you can still be an atheist and believe that life on Earth was mystically guided by, say, some flying spaghetti monster.

The need to teach evolution and real science

Having recognized the problems, why make a fuss out of it? Why do we need to teach evolution? Why can’t we teach creationism alongside evolution?

The answer is simple: we must teach evolution because it is what evidence-based science tells us to be true; teaching creationism would be a disservice to rationality. People advocating for teaching creationism at schools might as well advocate for equal teaching time for astrology and the horoscope in our astronomy classes, for magnetic therapy in our medicine classes, and for homeopathy in our pharmacy classes.

Our current state necessitates secularism as a tool for preventing unscientific ideas from penetrating society-at-large. We must never commit in our pursuit of equal representation and free speech a most grave fallacy—that all ideas are of equal value. The words of Isaac Asimov still ring true and remain as inspiring as it was more than 30 years ago: “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Evolution is a cornerstone of modern science. As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, denying evolution is tantamount to denying the Holocaust. [13]

Now if creationists would just apply the same degree of skepticism to their religious beliefs, that would be really dandy.


Notes and references:

  1. Philippines. National Statistics Office. The Philippines in Figures 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.census.gov.ph/data/publications/pif2012_in_CD.pdf >
  2. Irvine, Chris. “The Vatican claims Darwin’s theory of evolution is compatible with Christianity.” The Telegraph 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/4588289/The-Vatican-claims-Darwins-theory-of-evolution-is-compatible-with-Christianity.html >
  3. “Evolution is incompatible with Christianity.” Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. “Is Evolution Compatible with THE BIBLE?” The Watchtower 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080101a/article_01.htm >
  4. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church affirms its belief in the biblical account of creation in contrast to an evolutionary explanation for the origin of living organisms and the relationship of humans to other life forms.” “Statement on Creation : The Bible’s Worldview.” Seventh-Day Church. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 23 Jun. 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/statements/bible-worldview.html >
  5. “The Origin of Humankind.” Members’ Church of God International. Eliseo F. Soriano, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.mcgi.org/en/topics/blog_articles/the_origin_of_humankind/ >
  6. Zaide, Gregorio F. World History in an Asian Setting. 1994. Quezon City, Philippines: Rex Printing Company, Inc., 2000. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=Kq512SmGMIsC >
  7. The Filipino Freethinkers does not guarantee the veracity of any of the blog post’s claims.
  8. Lamoureux, Denis O. “Theological Insights from Darwin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 56.1 (2004): 2-9. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2004/PSCF3-04Lamoureux.pdf >
  9. “Was Charles Darwin an Atheist?” The Public Domain Review. John van Wyhe, 28 Jun. 2011. Web. Apr 6. 2012. <http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/06/28/was-charles-darwin-an-atheist/ >
  10. “Darwin to John Fordyce.” Darwin Correspondence Project. n.a., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12041 >
  11. “The theory of evolution remains unproved and unprovable. … Special creation is the more rational.” The Church of God International (Philippines). “Evolution: Fact or Fallacy?” 2002. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. < http://www.cgiphils.org/literature/pdf/evolution.pdf >
  12. Marx, Karl. Introduction. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher. Trans. Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley. Paris: 7 Feb. 1844. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm >
  13. Rizvi, Ali A. “Are Evolution-Deniers any Different from Holocaust-Deniers, Birthers, or Truthers?” Hufftington Post 24 Sep. 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/are-evolution-deniers-any_b_295254.html >

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Beauty, Life, and Death through a Macro Lens: Is there an Intelligent Designer?


I’ve been dabbling in macro photography recently and it’s like having a new set of super eyes, one that allows you to appreciate the beauty of flowers and insects by seeing their vibrant colors and intricate eye patterns, like the weevil above and the fly below.


















Such beauty compels some people to conclude that there must be an Intelligent Designer, a Loving Creator who creates and sustains life. However, naturalists argue that it is the sun which is the ultimate sustainer of all life on earth. The sun makes the plants grow, and certain animals feed on them, like this bee sucking nectar from a flower.






Other animals prefer animals for food, like this spider waiting on another flower for a bee just like the one above.







This is a colorful jumping spider. Handsome creature, isn’t it?







Does it look as beautiful now when it’s holding a small dragonfly in its jaws, paralyzing it with venom and slowly sucking the life out of it?







There is much debate about whether or not insects and even higher animals are capable of suffering pain from physical injury, e.g., being eaten alive, but even assuming that they don’t does not change the fact that certain lives must be ended in order to sustain other lives. That’s just the law of the jungle, the natural order of things – nature, red in tooth and claw – and it doesn’t look very lovingly designed at all. As Richard Dawkins observed in The Greatest Show On Earth,

If we are going to postulate the creator of the cheetah, he has evidently put every ounce of his designing expertise into the task of designing a superlative killer. But the very same designer has equally evidently strained every nerve to design a gazelle that is superbly equipped to escape from those very same cheetahs. For heaven’s sake, whose side is the designer on? Does the designer’s right hand not know what his left hand is doing? Is he a sadist who enjoys the spectator sport and is forever upping the ante on both sides to increase the thrill of the chase?

Now consider an artificial world inside a butterfly sanctuary, an environment tended by a Gardener who loves butterflies. The Gardener is not very powerful, but within his limited ability he provides a safe and abundant haven for the winged residents by putting a large screen dome to keep predatory birds out, removing spiders and their webs, planting different flowers, and even placing sliced peaches on a table for the butterflies to feast on all day.







And this butterfly-loving Gardener did not plant a forbidden flower anywhere in the garden, a flower that would cause the banishment of the butterflies that would feed on its nectar.









Now contrast this garden world to the world we live in…


All images by Jong Atmosfera

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How David Hume’s Critique of the Design Argument Survives for Three Centuries (Part 2)

(Continued from Part I)

Chaotic Universe

More recent findings in astronomy, for instance, substantiate Hume’s assumptions of a chaotic universe rather than an orderly one. Astronomers contend that the universe used to be crowded and disorderly; stars were more massive as they die rapidly and detonate after millions of years. These explosions result to newer and heavier elements, spawning new stars, less massive, but multiplying amidst chaos. Stephen Hawking, in his book “A Brief History of Time”, explains that the universe is congested and limited in extent, with no beginning or end (1988). However, many of us assume that the orbits of stars and planetary bodies take defined movements which have been ‘properly spaced’ so as moving matters in space may glide in ‘safety.’

Conversely, for many billions of years, planetary objects have been traveling in changing paths and orbits, consequently colliding and crashing onto each other. The ‘order’ we perceive now as we gaze at the stars is just a result of planetary bodies which toppled obstructive matters off their paths. Surprisingly, these orbits were random, as astronomers assert that the elliptical course is the most dangerous of all paths. Most collisions in the universe result from aberrations in shape, path or movement.

The Dangers of an Ellipse

If design were intelligent as god applied it to his ‘creation’ of the universe, a circular orbit is safer for a celestial body to move across space. “If all the orbits were nearly circular,” scientist Rolling T. Chamberlain affirms “only a few of the separate bodies moving in them would come into collision with one another” but because the orbits take an elliptical shape, conflicting much in contour and dimensions, particles in space have high prospect of colliding against each other (2001). Stars do not just return to their original positions in space due to the infinite movements of heavenly bodies as the stars and other matters disperse into interstellar space. This results to the thinning out of the universe in which stable orbits do not subsist. Likewise, Hume reiterated that the universe has no a semblance at all on complex human made machines as artifacts are designed for a purpose. On the contrary, the universe has an unclear function (Poidevin 1996). While on the surface the universe may seem to suggest order, it is difficult to surmise its apparent function. The famous biologist J.B.S. Haldane once replied to a reporter who queried what his research on genetics suggested about the deity. Haldane replied that “He must have an inordinate fondness for beetles,” referring to the numerous species of these insects existing for no perceptible function other than for the purpose of reproduction.

Defying Anthropomorphism

Hume also showed us that it is apparently easy to compare things found in our world and yet, we have nothing to compare our universe to as it is the only one we know that infinitely exists. Thus, it defies logic to compare a whole to a part of a whole and vice versa. We may perceive a god present in the universe at all times, but this comparison does not provide scientific value. It is remote that theology and other social sciences can actually benefit from it. Hume emphasized that the analogy between the minds of humans and the mind of an omniscient being is ‘anthropomorphic.’ Nature in general is mindless rather than ‘intelligent.’ It is credulous to interpret the mind of god using the human mind as an equivalent.

As the product of an anthropomorphic philosophy always results to a close look at the finite god, Hume demonstrates through his propositions that if the argument from design is seriously considered, most of us will come to the conclusion that the god who controls the universe entirely differs from the concept of the god/gods of organized religions. As there has been a dearth of valid arguments on how all- knowing and perfect the designer is, we have to assume his abilities and traits manifested in the universe he designed and created. Bertrand Russell, one of greatest thinkers of the previous century, summarized these attributes and capabilities in a more telling fashion, ‘If I had millions of years of time and infinite power and had come up with the universe as we know it, I should be ashamed of myself.”


Chamberlain, Rolling T. (2001) “The Origin and Early Stages of the Earth,” in The Nature of the World and of Man, p. 37.

Gaskin,J.A.C. (1779). Dialogues concerning Natural Religion in: Dialogues and Natural History of Religion, ed. (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Page references are to this edition.

Hawking, Stephen (1988). A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-38016-8.

Hume, D. (1739-40) A Treatise of Human Nature: being An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects in two volumes

Norton, D. F. (1993). Introduction to Hume’s thought. In Norton, D. F. (ed.), (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-32

Poidevin, Robin Le. (1996). Arguing for Atheism, (New York: Routledge,), p. 85.

Sober, Elliot. (2003). “The Design Argument” p. 27-54 in (Manson 2003).

Swinburne, Richard. (1991). The Existence of God (NY: Clarendon)

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How David Hume’s Critique of the Design Argument Survives for Three Centuries (Part 1)

That the universe is designed by an ‘intelligent creator’ as it exhibits balance and order has prevailed for centuries as the ‘most robust argument’ in defense of theism in the philosophical realm of old. Even in the present century, theists recurrently invoke the classic Design Argument as proof of god’s existence. This argument was torn down, however, when David Hume put forward his criticism of the Argument of Design – a treatise that sparked further acerbic debates for many centuries on the subject of god’s existence (Gaskin 1993). Although many attempted to dispute his arguments, the sagacity and decisiveness of Hume’s critique, until today, are difficult to challenge.

Cleanthes vs. Philo and God’s ‘Work of Art’

The “Critique of the Design Argument” is presented in Hume’s book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion in which he puts forth a discourse between fictional characters, Cleanthes and Philo. The discourse begins when Cleanthes brings Philo’s attention to the world around them, asserting that the world is but one great machine, with its tiniest parts attuned to each other and with accuracy worthy of admiration and contemplation (Gaskin 1993). Cleanthes further adds that the creator’s ‘larger faculties’, parallels the minds of men as they manifest wisdom and intelligence and thus, it is only logical that an intelligent ‘maker’ shaped them (Swinburne 1991). This argument, Cleanthes believes, ‘proves the existence of a Deity’.

Using the house and the universe as analogy, Philo asserts that the universe does not show any relationship to a house as this is a flawed logic. The universe is a manifestation of nature while the house is man-made as he emphasizes the complexities we fail to clarify in the works of nature. Philo contends that men’s capability to understand ‘infinite’ relations is inadequate and it is “impossible for us to tell, from our limited views, whether this system contains any great faults” or merits any justifiable adulation when “compared to other possible, and even real systems” (Hume 1739).

Through Philo’s character, Hume contends that order and purpose are perceived only when they are the consequences of design. However, we see some kind of order all the time manifested in seemingly unconscious occurrences like vegetation and generation. Thus, design constitutes only a tiny fragment of our perception with regards to ‘purpose’ and order. Assuming that the design argument is feasible, Hume argues that it is not enough to surmise or prove the existence of a deity from the conclusions gleaned from our knowledge of the universe’s configuration which bears a distant resemblance to human design – cursory and sometimes unintelligent – a world which Hume states is “the only and the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance” (Hume 1739).

Hume believes that god’s intellectual or mental order and faculties need to be understood in order for the design argument to be decisive and reach a logical finality. Otherwise, we could not create a parallel explanation of order, or actually define it, leaving the notion too arcane and inscrutable. Hume also argued that if an orderly and balanced natural world necessitates a special maker or designer, then God’s mind as it is well ordered, likewise requires a creator. Thus, this maker would similarly need another maker, and so on. The comparison with nature and the various things found in it, Hume adds, is ineffectual as things present in the universe are set apart from human material items as they exhibit considerable disparity (Hume 1739).

The Degradation of the Creator

Cleanthes further argues that ‘the works of nature bear a great analogy to the work of art (Sober 2003) insisting that the resemblance which exists between this world and human products is quite significant. Hence, god is somehow ostensible in human intelligence. Hume argues that this leads to a degradation of the creator. He suggests that we know nothing about the nature or the attributes of god as everything about the deity is unknown and there exists only a distant analogy among the diverse operations of nature. These comparisons do not suggest that the basis of the emergence of the universe is the mind or human intelligence. The aforementioned analogies, according to Hume are so feeble and distant that god’s nature cannot be explained nor understood (Poidevin 1996).

An Argument against All Odds

For a many decades, Hume’s treatise has been challenged using modified arguments from the intelligent design proposition. Scholars in the field of religion and philosophy have concocted innovative extensions borne out of the design proposition. These counter-arguments however, fell apart as Hume’s critique stands robust amidst attacks from different schools of philosophical thought.

Hume’s arguments persist until today as his objections to the prevailing idea that an orderly universe exists are strengthened and supported by science. Although knowledge of the universe during Hume’s time is not as advanced as of late, Hume exhibited deeper understanding of the universe we live in.

To be continued…

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If There Was An Intelligent Designer

When observing the complex beauty of the natural world and the diversity of plants and animals and how each species’ characteristics seem perfectly tailored for a particular lifestyle, it is not difficult to jump into the conclusion that everything was designed.

I was staring at a small clover garden, admiring the structured leaf formation and how it uniformly blanketed the patch of ground when I realized that underneath the miniature canopy of clover crowns must be a thriving community of insects and other tiny creatures. And beneath the ground dozens of earthworms must be burrowing and ingesting dead matter and minute soil particles, aerating the earth and secreting humus and minerals needed by the clover plant to grow. At this point it makes sense to imagine that this nice little ecosystem must have been orchestrated by an intelligent and loving being.

However, also living underground are thousands of ants, and ants feed on earthworms. Anybody who has seen a live earthworm being attacked by red ants knows that it is a slow and very painful death, the worm writhing and rolling and curling in a feeble attempt to escape the tormenting mandibles that tear all over its soft flesh, each bite leaving behind a burning toxin. It must be one of the most excruciating deaths an animal can experience (although perhaps not as agonizingly slow as that of a caterpillar whose body is being leisurely devoured from the inside by a growing wasp larva). Even if one believes that earthworms have souls that will be eternally rewarded in Earthworm Heaven for all their sufferings under the earth, it is absurd to conceive of an intelligent designer.

A lot of people especially those living comfortably in civilized societies are not aware of this life and death struggle among the lower animals.  Most have not even considered that the burgers they’re munching came from a once-living cow whose throat was slit with a very sharp industrial blade, causing it to stumble and thrash around as its air sacs get filled with its own blood, flooding its lungs and simulating a slow drowning effect that would last several minutes until the cow finally expires. Or that the drumstick they’re nibbling came from a chicken who endured its entire short life in cramped captivity, injected with chemicals to speed up growth for early slaughter.

When you’re on top of the food chain (and blissfully oblivious to the great inconvenience you are causing those below), it is easy to be overwhelmed by a feeling of gratefulness, and there even seems to be an almost instinctive need to seek an object of gratitude. But imagine if we happened to be the cow or the chicken, or the earthworm for that matter. I wonder if gratefulness would come as naturally.

If there was an intelligent designer, animals wouldn’t have to feed on one another. Every creature would be responsible for its own photosynthesis and capable of absorbing moisture and minerals from the air. Predation and parasitism would be totally unnecessary. All animals would also be able to fly, swim, run and burrow, freely frolicking across the bounds of the earth, fully enjoying the planet’s blessings.

And maybe this is why a lot of people believe (or would like to believe) that we have a soul. Perhaps unconsciously we think of the spirit as the perfect form of existence, totally free and having no need for transport, shelter, clothing, air, water, or food. And no need for food means no need for other animals to die just so we can live. The earth would be a true paradise where no creature has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. If there was an intelligent designer, existence wouldn’t be as cruel, and the struggle for life wouldn’t be as bloodthirsty.

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