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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Michael Ruse on Richard Dawkins

In Saturday's Globe and Mail, philosopher Michael Ruse has a positive review of the new book by Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ruse concludes, "I hope you can [...] put your abilities to good use and read Richard Dawkins's wonderful new book."

Indeed, I'm looking forward to reading The Greatest Show on Earth, which has been on my must-read list since its publication a few weeks ago. It's nice to see Ruse giving Dawkins such a favourable review, since there has been an appearance of bad blood between them in recent years, but Ruse cannnot refrain (dare I say?) from having another crack at Dawkins' expressions of his well-known atheism. He explains one of Dawkins' points as follows:

Dawkins cannot refrain from having another crack at the evolution-is-cruel-and-hence-God-cannot-possibly-exist argument. Associated with this is a fairly detailed discussion of how often organisms are built on what Americans would call Rube Goldberg and the British would call Heath Robinson lines, that is to say cobbled together without regard for the niceties of fine design simply to get things working, probably in the most outlandish way possible. All of this apparently is taken to be a refutation of the God of Christianity.

Actually, it sounds like a pretty good refutation to me. Indeed, I've often put the same argument, and I'm far from the first to do so. The idea of a loving, providential, but all-powerful-and-knowing God seems pretty much coherent to me (though some philosophers doubt this), but it is very difficult to reconcile with the facts of the world made known to us by biological evolution.

In response, Ruse says:

To which I suspect Christians will respond: Whoever thought they needed Dawkins and evolution to tell them about any of this? The problem of evil goes back a long way before Darwin; this is not to say that it can be solved, but it is to say that evolution does not uniquely have an essential role in refuting Christianity.

But surely this misses the point. Ruse is correct that the Problem of Evil already existed prior to Darwin, but I doubt that Dawkins believes or states otherwise. In any event, it doesn't follow that biological evolution is irrelevant to the problem.

Arguments about the Problem of Evil, including attempts by religious apologists to solve it, are based, in part, on the facts we have about the world. They are also, of course, based on concepts of God. The idea is that a God of a certain kind would seem to have both the power and the motivation to act in ways that he has evidently not acted, given the facts about the world that are available to us. The better informed we are about the world, the better our discussion of this problem. But, as it happens, the more we know about life on Earth, including its history, the more intractable the Problem of Evil becomes and the more remote become the prospects of solving it satisfactorily.

To take just one obvious example, evolution knocks on the head the argument that evil and suffering (if these are distinguishable) were only brought into the world by Adam's fall from grace 6000 years ago (and can thus all be attributed to human free will). If a believer is going to rely on free will, assuming that the required concept of free will is coherent and plausible in any event, she will be forced into what may be an unpalatable position - perhaps developing a demonological defence in which the evil and suffering result from some rebellion against God by angelic beings billions of years ago.

The point isn't that there was no evidence against the existence of a benign creator before Darwin came along. I doubt that Richard Dawkins or any atheist thinks that. The point is that the totality of the evidence changes dramatically when you take evolution into account; when you do that, it becomes all the more likely that no loving and providential (yet all-knowing and all-powerful) God exists.

Although Ruse makes it clear that he is not a Christian, he offers his own pet theodicy:

Moreover, many Christians think that miraculous creation is simply not the way of the Lord. God is outside time and (as Saint Augustine argued) created by implanting seeds that would then develop naturally. Hence, on theological grounds, one has reason to think that God created through unbroken law, that is to say through evolution.

But why should we accept this as a satisfactory response? If God is all-powerful, he is quite capable of miraculous creation, and his existence outside of time does not remove this power (indeed, he could create the entirety of space-time from outside it). So the question remains, What could motivate a loving God to create through a process that foreseeably, to such a being, leads to all the suffering (not to mention design flaws, waste, etc.)? What Ruse says here is no more satisfactory than any of the other recent attempts to offer an answer to the evolution-enhanced Problem of Evil, such as the weak arguments that Andrew Sullivan has been making, and which Jason Rosenhouse has been tearing apart.

Ruse is not a Christian, but he has certainly become an arch-accommodationist of religious thinking. I see that his next book is to be entitled Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science; he says, doubtless accurately, that Richard Dawkins won't like it.

I can hardly wait.


Anonymous said...

Only atheists and fundies are silly enough to take Genesis literally (either attacking or defending). A mature view understand Genesis to be a metaphor.

As early the 5th century St. Augustine of Hippo warned against a literal interpretation of Genesis. People who do so are what St. Augustine called "people of limited understanding". According to his "Literal Meaning of Genesis", Chapter 19:

"...Christians should not talk nonsense to unbelievers. ...Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men."

I myself am a Catholic whose church has never had a problem with evolution. The Pope a few years ago described it as being "more than a theory". For the cautious Vatican, this amounts to a ringing endorsement. St. Augustine speculated that organisms changed form over time, though he didn't have any kind of fossil record to back up his claim. From a review of Augustine's philosophy as expressed in his book, "The Literal Meaning of Genesis":

"In the beginning there were created a few species of beings which, by virtue of intrinsic principles of reproduction, gave origin to the their species down to the present state of the existing world. Thus it seems that Augustine is not contrary to a moderate evolution, but that such a moderate evolution has nothing in common with modern materialistic evolutionist teaching."

Given his lack of fossil evidence and the tools of the scientific method, it would be too much to expect him to express a modern theory of evolution — though he was on the right track.

Anonymous said...

Sigh... one more time, what problem of evil?

The most perfect world but the most free. As such we stand delicately balanced between chaos (where freedom becomes meaningless) and perfection (where freedom is not possible).

A God that would micromanage the development of life would be a control freak, not a loving God.

When contemplating why evil exists in a world made by a benign deity, it helps to remember that God is not a behaviorist.

Evil comes in two flavors, physical evil (hurricanes, plagues, earthquakes, disease, old age, etc.) and moral evil (murder, theft, abuse, hatred, etc.). The first deals with the fact that the universe is often a painful and unjust place where the innocent suffer. The second deals with the evil committed by less than perfect humans on their fellows.

Moral evil is relatively easy to answer: God gave us free will to chose either good or evil. God did not wish to create a race of mindless, puppet automatons lacking the ability to chose. For all the evil done by man throughout history, our current situation is preferable to being a mindless slave. Those who would prefer otherwise in effect want to be slaves.

Furthermore, love isn't love unless it is freely given. For God to force us either by design or will to love Him always would result in the making love meaningless. God is not a rapist. As the Good Book says, "God is Love". The ability to chose evil (and all the resultant pain and suffering caused by men) was given to us for the sake of love. Do we pay too high a price for love? I honestly don't know. But the other alternative (quoting thought policeman O'brien in "1984") would be "God is Power". He could stop the gulags, concentration camps, etc. only by making the whole universe itself a concentration camp — with Himself as commandant.

God chose love instead of power, because a perfect world was to horrible to contemplate.


Anonymous said...

Physical evil is a bit trickier to address. Why do good and innocent people suffer? Why is suffering even possible? To make pain and suffering impossible, the universe would have to be perfect — and frozen in its own perfection. Since any change would mar its inherent perfection, such a universe would be a dead place where change and growth. Perfection = completion = death. It would be a dead place devoid of life. If moral evil is the price we pay for freedom and love, than physical evil is the price we pay for life.

One response to the existence of physical evil might be that the intensity of the evil is relative and our response to it dependent on what we are conditioned to accept. We can imagine a world with fiercer hurricanes devastating whole continents or a world with nothing more intense than light breezes. The inhabitants of the second world (not knowing anything worse) might complain about the breezes and wonder why a benign God allows them to exist.

There are also an infinite number of potential universes that contain more opportunities for 'physical evil'. Universes, perhaps, where tsunamis are as common as thunderstorms. Or conversely, in a less violent universe, the inhabitants might wonder why a kind and loving God allows paper cuts to occur.

To sum up, perfection is an absolute state. The slightest movement, even of a single atom, would mar that perfection. Such a universe wold be frozen and lifeless. By definition, a perfect universe cannot change, therefore change is never desireable for a perfect universe.

There is a story that God created a perfect universe before He made our own. Not liking the results — a place of eternal death — he cast it aside and began work on the deliberately imperfect universe we live in. The first universe still exists. It's called Hell.

But why do the innocent suffer and why do evil people prosper? Well this brings us back to free will. Even if the potential for free will existed, it wouldn't mean much if the universe had a built-in system of rewards and punishments designed to coerce behavior. So does anyone wish that God was a Tyrant, using the physical universe as a system of rewards and punishments, and humanity reduced to the level of pigeons inside of a BF Skinner box?

And so we have a world where innocent children die or are born handicapped, people through no fault of their own suffer the pains of living, and evil people often live happy lives of material contentment. But it beats the alternative. As I said at the start, God is not a behaviorist.

One of the many things I find baffling about Atheists is their claim to be "free" of control and superstition, unlike us poor sheep-like believers. You claim to desire freedom from control and freedom of thought above all else. Yet here God has set your mind free to chose and the universe free to be alive, without safety or security or guarantee. Neither the mind enslaved nor the universe frozen.

And yet you're not happy.

If God is not a behaviorist, the Devil most certainly is. This is apparent from the opening scene in Job where Satan bets God that Job is only good because he has been physically and materially rewarded. And that's the whole point of the story, whether we should be good no matter what or be good only if things are well. God's answer is as obvious as it is harsh. For those who would wish that God was a behaviorist, coercing them and making slaves of them, God has this to say, "Gird your loins like a man."

A perfect universe would be a place of perpetual slavery and eternal death. An imperfect universe with its pain and suffering is far more preferable.


Anonymous said...

Furthermore, your "Problem of Evil" argument is based on a fallacy: The fallacy occurs in assuming that there actually is such a "best" possible world. It seems conceivable that for every world, there is in fact a better possible world, so none is best.

Some commentors tried to salvage the argument by giving a world two numbers — amount of evil and amount of good — and arguing that this world should at least be the least evil possible world. But again, there is an assumption that there is in fact a least evil possible world.

However, it seems plausible (even given the theist assumptions about omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) that for some reason no world with absolutely no evil is possible, and therefore for every world, a less evil world exists. Thus, evil only appears to be a problem if we make a fallacious inference for the existence of a best possible world.

In some hypothetical "less evil" universe some inhabitants would wonder why a kind a loving God would allow paper cuts or allow showers to spoil their picnics. OTOH, in a "more evil" universe, where tsunamis, earthquakes and plagues are as common as rain storms, life would adjust and its inhabitants would conisider their situation to be normal. One can always imagine a better world, no matter how good you have it - or a worse world no matter how bad things are.

If every conceivable universe is subject to such criticism, the criticism itself becomes meaningless.

Anonymous said...

"So the question remains, What could motivate a loving God to create through a process that foreseeably, to such a being, leads to all the suffering (not to mention design flaws, waste, etc.)? "

So unless a Gardener micromanages the development of each cell of each plant in his garden, the Gardener can't exist?

Brian said...

However, it seems plausible (even given the theist assumptions about omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) that for some reason no world with absolutely no evil is possible, and therefore for every world, a less evil world exists.
Again, Heaven is a theistic assumption. It is a perfect world and created by God. Therefore, if God can create that world, and God can give us whatever knowledge he chooses then why this world and all it's suffering. There is simply no need for this world. You cannot say that God is all powerful and can create Heaven yet God can't let us into heaven with whatever knowledge he wants us to have. It's incoherent.

jdhuey said...

So unless a Gardener micromanages the development of each cell of each plant in his garden, the Gardener can't exist?

You continually seem to miss the point. No one is arguing that the 'problem-of-evil' (tm) precludes all conceptions of all gods, only that it precludes the tri-omni God: Omnipotent, omniscient, omni- benevolent. THAT God is inconsistent with the facts of reality. A God that is missing one of the 'omnis' could be consistent with the problem of evil. If He/She/It knows and cares but is unable then fine; if He/She/It knows and is able but doesn't care then fine; if He/She/It is able and would care but just doesn't know then again fine. The problem is that these lesser gods are not the ones touted by Christian Apologetics. Although studies have shown that the actual beliefs (as opposed to their expressed beliefs) of many Christians really do conform to the more limited forms.

Your Panglossian argument that this is "The most perfect world but the most free" is ludicrous. As has been pointed out on many occasions there are many many marginal improvements that could be made by a tri-omni God that would not impact free will. The fact that those marginal improvements could in principle exist but don't is prima facia evidence that the Tri-omni god does not exist.

Gardeners tend a garden for their own benefit, not for the benefit of the plants. Gardeners grow plants for food or for beauty or for recreation, or for scientific knowledge but they never grow plants specifically for the benefit of the plants: no gardener is omni-benevolent toward the plants. Gardeners have certain powers over the garden - amount of water, amount of fertilizer, pulling weeds, killing pests, etc. but no gardener has complete control over all facets of the garden: no gardener is omni-potent. Some gardeners are very knowledgeable about what is need to make a garden grow but none know everything. Nor does any gardener know everything that is happening everywhere in the garden: no gardener is omniscient. So, if you want a 'Gardener God' then you can't have a 'tri-omni' God.

Anonymous said...

"No one is arguing that the 'problem-of-evil' (tm) precludes all conceptions of all gods, only that it precludes the tri-omni God: Omnipotent, omniscient, omni- benevolent."

You confuse restraint with inability. A God that fully exercised his omnipotence would not be one that would allow life or free will.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Gardeners tend a garden for their own benefit, not for the benefit of the plants."

As you noted, the Gardener provide fertilizer, water and protection against investation. How do the Plants not benefit? The Garden in question exists because the Gardener loves flowers.

The Gardener provides inherent meaning a purpose for the Garden's existence. The Garden has a reason for being, unlike a purposeless and random mess of weeds.

"but no gardener has complete control over all facets of the garden: no gardener is omni-potent."

Which is a good thing otherwise the Garden would be lifeless. The Gardener would then be doing all the Plant's living for them instead of letting them grow freely - which wold be a pointless existence.

Russell Blackford said...

Anonymous, you have just written comments that are probably longer than the original post. I'll let them stand, but I'm getting sick of this practice from you. If you feel so strongly and want to write long screeds of Christian apologetics, then create your own blog. I believe I've warned you about this previously.

You can come here and describe your viewpoint and link to your own blog posts. Or if you're cribbing this material from somewhere then you can link to that. But stop making my comments section so user-unfriendly to everyone else each time you see a topic like this. Next time you do it, or anyone else does it, the comments will be deleted.

Just briefly, I think that you rely on incoherent notions of "freedom", and that you use analogies that show you don't take the ideas of omnipotence and omniscience seriously.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"The point isn't that there was no evidence against the existence of a benign creator before Darwin came along. I doubt that Richard Dawkins or any atheist thinks that. The point is that the totality of the evidence changes dramatically when you take evolution into account"

The total amount of evil changes dramatically, sure. However, that is irrelevant if one is dealing with theodicies where the actual amount of evil is irrelevant. If those theodicies work, then they absorb all the evil of evolution. If those theodicies fail, then they already choke on present-day evils, and there is nothing to add by pointing out millions of years of animal suffering. I'm pretty much cribbing from a guy by the name of Mark Vuletic here, who contended that "the wastefulness and arbitrariness of evolution is either redundant or irrelevant."

Anonymous said...
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Brian said...

A universe with freedom and life is going to be a painful place.

Why? God could just make it nice. We could still be free. We could still learn valuable second order things like compassion, and all that. God could teach it to us or embed it in our DNA. Why is a universe with freedom and life going to be a painful place?

If all you say is that God couldn't make it not painful because he had to give us free will and let us do good or bad things and it couldn't be done otherwise, then you're saying God isn't omnipotent. There's no logical contradiction in a painless, free universe where everybody knows all about second order goods. It's apparently where all Christians want to go when they die.

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Greywizard said...

My own suggestion, Russell, is that you ban Anonymous now. He is certainly the chief reason that I would not comment here.

I will however make one comment about Anon's claim that the catholic church has not had problems with evolution. (This came in his first note. I did not bother to read the rest.) Pius XII wrote that "the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God." And John Paul II, while accepting that evolution is more than a hypothesis, claimed that while "the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God." This seems to me to be having a problem with evolution.

The other point to be made about these claims is that it tends, not only to separate human beings from the rest of the natural world, but also implies that the sufferings of the rest of the natural world are of no spiritual value, so making them doubly pointless. Catholic theology, while it has condemned cruelty to animals, because, as Aquinas said, it may lead to cruelty to men, and may lead to the death of an animal that belongs to another, and also because it is symbolic in itself of such cruelty, has not considered the natural suffering of animals as something in need of explanation or justification. Human suffering may be redeemed in the world to come, but the thought that animals might share in that world is a heresy, since only the rational soul itself is endowed with immortality (and for this reason had to be created separately).

The religions are not sufficiently aware of the problem that evolution causes for the problem of evil. Catholics, apparently, cannot be.

Anonymous said...
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Greywizard said...

While I know, Anonymous, that sometimes my posts tend to be longish, so far in this thread you have posted nearly 3,000 words. It is not because I want this to be an echo-chamber. It is because I don't want it to be one that I think we would be better off without you. You are rambling, repetitious, and, moreover, dogmatic. You do not respond to questions with answers, but with theological boilerplate. When you have learned to carry on a reasonable discussion, perhaps it will be worthwhile joining in.

For your info, you misunderstand the idea of the selfish gene, and it seems to me you miss the point about evolution and the idea of the creation of the soul - which runs clean contrary to evolution. It is ridiculous that we should think that God should have created a psychology which is so obviously continuous with the rest of the natural world. Christians - though more specifically, Christian men, I think - claim to be made in the image of God, than which there is possibly nothing so absurd or so absurdly self-regarding. This is not a response to you. It is just an indication that, if you want to discuss, discuss, but don't throw the whole Catholic Dictionary at us in the process. But, as I say, discussing with you is like talking to a soul on Ex-lax. So.....

David said...


I agree with you, if I understand you correctly, that the Roman Catholic acceptance of evolution is not without caveats—basically the TE caveat. Maybe a little stronger. Ken Miller is a TE who does not view our species as inevitable. While there is no ex cathedra statement on the matter, my reading of the comments of JP II suggests to me that the RCC deems the view that God used evolution as a secondary means to be within the pale of orthodoxy. But only if it acknowledges that God may intervene anytime he wants. And, unlike Ken Miller, with the proviso that our species was the predestined culmination of the process.

I also agree with you that evolution adds a wrinkle to the problem of evil, as compared to a YEC view. However, it is not a problem of (theistic) evolution per se. It is inherent in any view of old earth creationism, which includes but is not limited to theistic evolution.

The related problem of evil is that prior to man’s fall uncountable multitudes of animals suffered and died. But that problem is not particular to evolution. Marquee OECs, such as Hugh Ross, also acknowledge that animals suffered and died long before the fall. But they assert special creation of new species rather than evolution. Yet, even though they are “evolution free”, they have the same problem of evil as the TEs.

That’s my only point: the problem of animal suffering prior to the fall is not specific to TEs. All theists who believe in an old earth have the same problem, even those who deny “macroevolution’. An animal clutched in the jaws of another does not suffer more (or less) because it part of an evolutionary process.

Pete UK said...


All I can see is reasoning stupendously contorted to fit your god into the picture.

I mean, just to take one example:

"Love isn't love unless it is given freely".

Let's assume for one moment that love isn't simply a complex bundle of activities in the human brain (has god got one too, then?)

You can reconcile this with the idea of every generation being punished for a fall which was apparently inevitable?

If god was obliged to give us free will (and remember, you're insisting that your god couldn't have made the universe any other way) then that act only has meaning if we choose to exercise it. And I can't see how we could only choose to exercise it for good without rendering the universe as sterile as it would have been without free will.

For this transgression he punishes not only our distant ancestors but everyone since.

And what about that promise of eternal damnation if you don't accept that unconditional love?

He didn't have to create the universe. Presumably he would have understood the suffering he was going to cause. But he didn't decide it wasn't worth the candle, and decline to create anything. He went ahead anyway. Do you think it is worth giving ten people temporary happiness at the expense of one human with, say, pancreatic cancer? Most humans would say no, but not your god.

In any other sphere of human discourse, such a line of reasoning wouldn't get the time of day.

Even if your deity actually existed, I don't think he would be worthy of our worship, except as a response to his threats.

Final point. If a perfect world without free will is sterile, what on earth is heaven going to be like? You can't introduce any free will without the risk of precipitating another fall. So is heaven completely sterile and meaningless too?

Russell, help me. Am I just a simpleton? If not, how can humans begin to think that way?

It might have been necessary once simply to have any kind of attempt at rationalising the world, but hasn't it passed its sell-by date?

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Greywizard said...

As I say, Anonymous, quite, quite pointless to discuss with you. For instance, you take Dawkins to be contradicting himself, but give no reason for thinking so. There is nothing inconsistent between the hypothesis of the selfish gene, and human or animal altruism, and altruism which is not based simply on gene survival, certainly, when it comes to human beings. We are no longer limited by selfish gene survival, as a look in any hospital would have told you.

Nor are we reduced to giving so-called 'materialistic' answers to moral questions. This is nothing but religious flim-flam. Human mind takes us far beyond the limits of materialism, if by that you mean explanation purely in terms of physics. However, to escape this trap you are quite prepared to imagine an entity called the soul, injected into the human body at a certain point of human evolution, though at the same time being in fact in no particular related to the physical goings on in that body. So all the human psychology which is clearly related to our animal heritage must have, from your view, nothing to do with the soul, which is a pure entity magically inserted into the body. Of course, there is no evidence for so foolish a supposition. So, we are still arguing with ghosts here.

As for the idea of man being created in God's image. I never suggested a literal reading of it. Read it as metaphorically as you like - though it's a bit difficult to speak of metaphor when we have no idea what the image is an image of. We can speak metaphorically only because we know both terms of the comparison, which in the case of beng made in the image of God we do not. But that it is self-regarding, whether taken literally or metaphorically, can be taken as read. So far, nothing that you have said is more than religious boilerplate. Don't tell me that that's all you have, almost 1200 more words more of it!

Your remarks about suffering are so infantile that it is hard to believe they were actually written down. Speak of pre fall and post fall existence is bizarre, pure religious nonsense for which there is no evidence. The fall is there because Jesus was crucified, not the other way round. Before that no one had the concept of the fall of man. But Jesus had to suffer for something, and it had to be big. So, voilĂ , the fall of man.

Animals suffer, and they suffer more because of the mechanism of evolution, which requires excess fertility so that selection pressures will actually work, so the number of animals killed and suffering is much greater than was proposed under the old creation idea, where all that was necessary was a nice balance, everything in its particular niche just as it was created. Second, you can't get rid of the suffering of the prey by imagining the greater suffering of the predator. This just multiplies suffering, which of course gives an accurate picture of the true extent of suffering. The suffering of animals is ceaseless and very great. As for human suffering, the callousness of your remarks beggars imagination, though, to be truthful, Christian theologians like Richard Swinburne go one or two steps further. In any event, it won't solve the problem, even if the number of Ichneumonidae is small.

Dizzyingly jejune stuff. As I said, we can do without this.

tomh said...

Anonymous wrote:
"You prefer that this be a self congratualatory echo chamber instead of a place of honest and vigorous debate?"

That has nothing to do with it. Your crime, as with all apologetics, is extreme boredom. To be told, at great length, what heaven is like, what the Bible really means, what God could and couldn't do, and on and on, is just plain boring. Everyone knows it is all just made up. Not by you, of course, you're just repeating older, invented stories. Boring.

Russell Blackford said...

Anonymous, you were warned about your commenting style. You are still welcome to post here, and to put dissenting views (as some others do), but try to be more concise. If you must write huge screeds, create your own blog and link to your blog posts.

OB said...

Yeah. Just to corroborate: I was going to write a brief comment on Russell's post but when I saw the sea of sludge from Anonymous I instantly decided not to bother. Comments from carpet-bombers use up all the oxygen and block other comments.