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Death and Pain in the Created Order, Part 4

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November 24, 2012 Tags: Problem of Evil
Death and Pain in the Created Order, Part 4
John James Audubon (1785-1851). Plate 16 of Birds of America (1838): “Great-footed Hawks” or Peregrine Falcons preying upon a Green-winged teal and a gadwall.

Today's entry was written by Keith Miller. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In this series, Keith B. Miller has explored "the problem of natural evil"-- the tension between our understanding of God's character as revealed in the Bible, and the fact of widespread pain and death among creatures on our planet. This vexing problem has been debated within the Christian Church throughout its entire history.

In parts 2 and 3, Miller evaluated several proposed solutions to the problem of evil, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Today he suggests a possible synthesis that is faithful to what we know of God theologically, and of the world scientifically.

This paper first appeared in the American Scientific Affiliation’s journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith , and is used by permission.

Toward a Possible Solution

Taking into account all of the theodicies we’ve explored so far, the question that continues to arise and needs to be addressed is this: How might death, pain, and suffering accrue to the benefit of the individual animal life?

In my opinion, Austin Farrer comes closest to directly facing this issue. Farrer focuses on the experience of the individual animal life and its relationship to God. God cares for the life and activity of the individual animal—so God really does care for the sparrow. “God does not want his creatures for any ulterior aim; he wants them to be, for their sakes, not his.” The life of each individual animal is a work of God. So how does God care for the sparrow? Farrer responds:

God loves his animal creatures by being God to them, that is, by natural providence and creative power; not by being a brother creature to them, as he does for mankind in the unique miracle of his incarnation.1

What role then does pain and suffering have in the life of an animal? Farrer explains that

Animal existence is beset by goods and evils, things needing to be shunned and things asking to be embraced. But animal action is the shunning of the one, and the embracing of the other; and while the animal survives, it is successful rather than the reverse ... Living is its own justification, its own good.
the God of nature gives his animal creatures pains out of love for them, to save their lives ... Again, out of love for them, God moves his creatures to shun their pains and mend their harms, so far as their sense or capacity allows.2

God is not just interested in the future of species, but is a participant in the lives of individual creatures. But I would argue that this is not the end of the matter. The “soul-making” theodicy provides a model for considering the fulfillment of animal existence. Like Hick, we can ask, “What would animal life be like in the absence of death and pain?”

It can be argued that it is the presence of death and pain that makes possible the fulfillment of individual animal lives. Death and pain are integral to the functioning of all ecological systems and animal lifestyles. Defense, protection, camouflage, pursuit of prey, and so forth are major forces that shape both animal biology and behavior. The drive to reproduce is one of the most fundamental features of life, yet would not be possible in the absence of death. Without the continued loss of individuals to disease, predation, or injury, the carrying capacity of the environment would be quickly reached and continued reproduction would become impossible. Consider how much of an animal’s life is devoted to reproductive activities such as attracting mates, defending territory, preparing nests, caring for young, etc.

What would remain of an animal’s life without the search for food, pursuit of prey, need for defense, or the drive to reproduce? In short, essentially all meaningful animal activity and interaction would be rendered meaningless or impossible if death were not a universal certainty. It can thus be reasonably argued that it is the presence of death and pain that make possible the fulfillment of individual animal lives. Natural “evil” thus seems to be a necessary component of the environment for “soul-making” in both the human and nonhuman creation.

The concept of animal fulfillment is one that Christopher Southgate also used in trying to develop a theodicy that applied at the level of the individual creature.3 Southgate argues that animal lives can be seen as “fulfilled,” “growing toward fulfillment,” “frustrated,” or “transcending self.” He defines “fulfilled” as “a state in which the creature is utterly being itself, in an environment in which it flourishes, with access to the appropriate energy sources and reproductive opportunities.” “Frustrated” animals are held back in some way from fulfillment, and animals that “transcend self” have explored new possibilities of their being.

Southgate envisions God delighting in the fulfillment of creatures, and “inviting” them toward transcendence. This is similar, I think, to Farrer’s view of God wanting creatures simply to be who they are. But what about those creatures whose lives are “frustrated”? Here Southgate speculates that “all that the frustrated creature suffers, and all it might have been but for frustration, is retained in the memory of the Trinity.”

Finally, many authors see a final and complete answer to the problem of suffering of the nonhuman creation only in the promise of a new creation in which all creation participates. The eschatological hope of a new heaven and a new earth points us to the final redemption of all things in Christ.


So what does all of this mean for us? How do we respond practically to the challenge of theodicy? I draw the following implications from this contemplation of the God-given character of the non-human creation.

  1. Creation is good, and the death and pain embedded within it are part of God’s will and purpose for it. Creation is not a fallen thing to be conquered and controlled, but a divine gift we are to serve and rule and enjoy as God’s stewards.
  2. Rather than focusing on the presumed fallen-ness of creation as the result of past disobedience, we need to recognize our present abuse of our creation mandate. We need to fulfill our calling to serve and care for creation as God’s image bearers.4
  3. Since the sole task of animals on this earth is to be, and when they die they can no longer glorify God in this manner, it is our task as stewards not to inhibit, but rather to aid them in being what they are. We are to encourage the fulfillment of animal existence.
  4. Most human suffering due to natural events or processes is a consequence of our free moral choice, or our disregard for natural processes.
  5. For the nonhuman creation, pain and suffering provide the context in which animal lives can be rich and fulfilled. For us, physical death, pain, and suffering are opportunities for the expression of Christ-like character. This is not to argue that we are to embrace death and suffering; rather, it is in the struggle to understand and overcome them that our most Christ-like and meaningful thoughts and actions are expressed.
  6. The crucified God participates in the suffering and death of his creation. God is not distant, but with us in our life’s journey toward becoming like him, and with the creature in its journey toward fulfillment.

It is this last point which I think is the most important. God is present with us, and with all creatures, as we each live out God’s call in our lives. It is only in that journey of life, including especially its pain and struggle, that God’s purpose for his creation (human and nonhuman) can be expressed. And most profoundly, God is a participant with us, and with the sparrow, in that struggle of life. “Then the universe for him is like a Crucifixion.”


1.Austin Farrer, Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1961), 91–3.

2.Ibid., 74, 92.

3.Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 64–5.

4.The concept of actively “imaging God” in creation is developed by Douglas John Hall in Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986).

Keith Miller is research assistant professor of geology at Kansas State University in the United States. He is editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003), an anthology of essays by prominent evangelical Christian scientists who accept theistic evolution. He is also a member of the executive committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, an association of Christians in the sciences, and a board member of Kansas Citizens for Science, a not-for-profit educational organization that promotes a better understanding of science.

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Joriss - #74874

November 30th 2012

If I understand your arguments well, Merv, I don’t see the logic of it. The law is set aside when we believe in Christ. The law has had its function: a tutor to lead us to Christ. But now the faith has come, we are no longer under the tutor.
We don’t need the law any more.
But genealogies have to do with history, not with the law. The law - as far as the commandments are meant -  is fulfilled and set aside by Christ, on the cross.
So we should not put ourselves under the law again and be circumsized, lest Christ looses his meaning for us.
Therefore Paul didn’t want to have none of it.
But suppose an early christian said to Paul: I believe in Christ, but I don’t believe He is a Jew. I don’t believe He is a descendant of Judah or David. I think Paul would have made every effort to prove that, if Jesus wasn’t all that, then He could not have been the promised Messiah. Or do you think he would have said: all right, you may think what you want, if only you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Acts 28:23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.

With the same zeal Paul explained to the galatians that Christ was the end and fullfilment of the law, he tried to persuade the Jews concerning Jesus from both the Law and the Prophets, the Scriptures of the old testament. How could he have done this if he could not have trusted genealogies - or other historic facts?

Merv - #74879

November 30th 2012

You are right that genealogies themselves aren’t “law” although they are part of the books that they considered “the law of Moses”.  My attempted logic is to make a comparison (admittedly a very general comparison!) between their [Jewish peoples of Jesus’ time] attitude towards the “Word of God” which for them was the Law and Prophets, and our attitude towards today’s modern English Bible.  If we want to delve into “the letter” and insist on the importance of understanding every pen stroke in a literalist manner (including turning the genealogies into a math exercise)  —how much more did those early Jews have reason to think Paul was off course when it wasn’t just genealogies he was setting aside; it was the LAW!  They could point to places where God pretty much says:  Do this!  Compare the number of explicit commands to be circumcised with the number of explicit commands to believe in the genealogies.  Paul was “messing with” the Word of God from the perspective of these early Jewish Christians.  

Now ...  I hear you when you note that Paul may well have used the genealogies when reasoning with people.  And I agree with you; I don’t think Paul questioned the history of the Law or Prophets (genealogies or otherwise).  But Paul did seem interested in meeting folks where they were at in order to accomplish his over riding purpose:  to bring them to Jesus.  So for Jews, I’m sure he made use of whatever genealogical information he had to demonstrate that Jesus was a ‘Son of David’.  But I can’t imagine he leaned on genealogies over much with his Greek or gentile audiences.  But whether he did or not is really beside the point.

My main point is that if we wish to “dwell on the letter” and furthermore insist that the only correct way to understand it is the literal or historical way that we modern westerners seem to prefer, then I don’t think we have a good pattern to follow in looking at Paul.  He seemed to use all such Scripture opportunistically.  If it helped the cause of Christ—then bring it on!   (He had Timothy circumcised just to avoid trouble.)  If it got in the way, then dispense with it.  (He got crotchety when some Jews tried to import their laws—God’s Word, after all!—into the young church.)   Christ is everything.  

So if clearly commanded laws can be so apparently set aside, how is it that we can now think genealogical details (let alone our interpretations of the same!) should be our new sacred addition to Christ?  If we’ve already accepted Christ today, then his genealogy is not an issue for us.  We can accept the truth that he is reckoned a Son of David—a root from the stump of Jesse.  It need not trouble us now as to whether all generations were  listed or some omitted or whether all the numbers and ages remain historically accurate all the way back to a literal Adam.  We begin with Jesus, and from him Adam (which includes all of us) is reckoned.


Joriss - #74918

December 2nd 2012

Although I agree with much of what you are saying, I disagree with the point you want to make.

“So if clearly commanded laws can be so apparently set aside, how is it that we can now think genealogical details (let alone our interpretations of the same!) should be our new sacred addition to Christ?”

That’s absolutely not the way I (and many others) look at genealogies. Genealogies are in no way a sacred addition to Christ.

 “If we’ve already accepted Christ today, then his genealogy is not an issue for us.”

That’s easy said, but can mean anything. Not an issue in what respect?

Of course because we live in Christ now, nothing is, from a certain point of view an issue any more for us, not only his genealogy, also his jewish background, also his birth out of a virgin in Bethlehem, the murder of the children by Herode, his living in Nazareth, they are no longer an issue for us….to be in Christ! Neither to enjoy his fellowship, his love and guidance. In this respect I agree with you.

But in many other respects all these things are certainly issues.

If I renovate my house, I have to build scaffolds, to make a workbook, to instruct workers what they must do and supervise the whole job from day to day.

When it is finished, the scaffolds are removed, the workers go to another place, the job is over. Now to live in my renewed house and feeling at home and enjoy all the comfort of it every day, certainly the state of my house before the renovation, the scaffolding that was once needed, the workbook, and all other things are no longer  issues to fully enjoy the new state of my home. But…(to be continued)

Joriss - #74919

December 2nd 2012

But in many other respects they are certainly issues and it would be foolish to destroy the administration, or evidence, or workbook, or blueprints or whatever I can need in the future. I have had to pay the workers, the hire of the scaffolds, the materials, to prove that I have used legal material, the date the work started etc.
So although no longer of any importance to me to enjoy my new house, I need a truthful and correct record of how I have come there! I have to be able to prove that I renovated my house, that I paid the workers, the hire of the scaffolds, the taxes etc. I can not deny any tube or pipe of the scaffold that I have hired, neither one hour of the time the workers have done their job.

The old testament is full of prophecies about the Messaiah to come. Prophecies, from the mouth of prophets, prophecies by historical events, prophecies by the tabernacle and the offerings. These things all tell us something about Christ. I can not deny one if them, they are all part of the foreshadowing of the coming Christ.

And now we can enjoy the fulness of freedom in Christ and in that respect they are no longer an issue. But the “administration” of how we have come there has to be correct, lest we have another Christ than the one of whom the OT has prophesied! TE’s are, in my opinion often way to easy to doubt the exactness or historical truth of some reported events or to symbolize them; events that have, just like the scaffolding for the renovation, been necessary to shape the outlines of the coming Christ.

A good example of this is a part of a comment of Mike Beidler:

“But even if the original Passover did not actually occur in history, that changes nothing about the need for Jesus to present Himself as the New Passover Lamb, because that’s what the culturo-religious context of His day required in order for God to bathe the Cross in meaning.”

With all respect for Mike, for you and all TE’s here on the blog, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ: that would really be the world upside-down! The culturo-relugious context of His day required…..?? No, the cross that was to come had to be foreshadowed by the Passover, the offerings and the other shadow-rituals, deliberately commanded by God, because He wanted to bring his Son as the Lamb into this world from the beginning. So there could never have been an ” If the original Passover did no actually occur in history….” then God had either
1. Not inspired the Israelites to do so, not prepared the world for the coming of his Son, not let the world know that we need the blood of the Lamb to have our sins forgiven. Just Christ adjusting to their culturo-religious context they happened to have in his day?
2. Inspired the Israelites to write a story in which God claimed they had been eyewitnesses of the mighty deeds of God -which was in the first place the death of the firstborn of Egypt, the saving of the Israelites by the blood of a lamb (Passover!) - and tell this from generation to generation.

The first option is impossible because God is the Initiator; the second would make God a manipulator, even a liar.

Jesus coming in the flesh in this world, as written in the New Testament is fully intertwined with everything of the Old Testament.

Once the house is finished, the scaffolding is removed.

Once the reality (Christ) has come, the shadows are removed.

But the history, the documents stay. We need them for the sake of truth.

Jon Garvey - #74955

December 4th 2012

Amen Joriss.

Divorcing the Christ of history from the Christ of experience was exactly what the 19th century liberal theologians ended up doing, mainly because their way of doing history more or less demolished the first. Sadly, the second often tended to die of its own accord thereafter, it seems.

But how does one experience the Christ of experience if not through history? When I came to faith, it was in the Christ who had given his life for my sins and risen from the dead, which I heard through the proclamation of the gospel. Otherwise, our message would just be to seek a mystical experience like that offered by the gurus. So if someone were to tell me that Jesus was not crucified, or that he did not die for sins, of his resurrection was a metaphor, who do I actually experience? Is it any different from the schizophrenic who believes Jesus is giving him instructions to slay the unbelievers, or the theosophist who “knows” Christ as a guardian spirit?

Maybe it’s a false parallel, but it’s a bit like someone showing that the entire fossil record has been falsified, and then saying that because we exist it makes no difference to the truth of evolution. Both Christianity and evolution stand or fall on their history.

Joriss - #75029

December 6th 2012

Yes, that’s also my point: Christ is the one we find in the Scriptures, foreshadowed in many details in the Old Testament and fully revealed to us in the New Testament, by the Holy Spirit, who confirms us that Jesus is the Truth, the Son of God. But without this scriptural confirmation we could easily accept the wrong jesus - not the one with the big J - 2 Cor.11:4.

What about evolution: if evolution is true, it’s history is true, if evolution is false, it’s history is false. So yes, it’s a valid parallel as far as I can see. Every existing thing’ s history is connected with it’s identity and also the other way round.

Seenoevo - #74972

December 4th 2012

“Maybe it’s a false parallel, but it’s a bit like someone showing that the entire fossil record has been falsified, and then saying that because we exist it makes no difference to the truth of evolution. Both Christianity and evolution stand or fall on their history.”

Are these not legitimate parallels?

- No one currently alive has seen God; no one currently alive has seen evolution.

- Christianity would not exist absent real history and its witnesses; Evolution theory would not exist absent the witness of the fossil record.


Is the only difference that the biblical witnesses spoke and the fossils don’t?

Merv - #74975

December 4th 2012

Joriss, I like your building / scaffolding analogy—and I partly agree with you and Jon on this if I correctly understand the point you’re making.  I’m certainly not advocating for some kind of “feel good” Christianity where we believe the right things about somebody named Jesus while then thinking that the real history doesn’t matter.  I don’t think any other TEs here would go down that road either.  (It would be interesting to hear your take on George Murphy’s new thread that touches on some of this importance of having a Christ/Cross/Resurrection centered perspective as we approach the rest of the Bible—including early Genesis.  —maybe this discussion will migrate there.)

Allow me to push a little on your building and scaffolding analogy.   If a large cathedral was built many centuries ago, and took more than a century to be built—spanning many generations beyond the original architects, maybe some of the records, purchases, plans, etc.  have faded into lore in the knowledge of the generations now enjoying the edifice.  Much of that lore would no doubt be true and based on historical fact, and maybe some of it was lost or somewhat modified in the retelling where original records are no longer available.  Would it be important to the current users and beneficiaries that every historical “fact” retold by the current generation be without error?  Would the cathedral lose its existence, its meaning, its utility if some part of its history became a matter of doubt?  It’s very existence is testimony to its very real history.  Whether or not every detail of that history would satisfy some current journalistic standard doesn’t impinge on its validity.

I’m not suggesting in the slightest that Jesus life, death, or resurrection are in the category of dubious lore.  I’m suggesting that all these things about Christ are the cathedral.  And then beyond that I’m still not suggesting that the O.T. is all in the category of doubtful lore—I agree with you that the people of God trust a very essential history from that.  It does God no good to have Israel celebrate His bringing them out of Egypt if he didn’t indeed do just that;  or hearken back to a “law of Moses” if there never was any such law. But to insist that each detail in all these stories (not even just some ‘original details’ but our modern interpretation on each one as handed down to us by translations)—to insist that these be lashed together with the central truths of Christian faith in such a way that none can be understood as figurative without questioning the truth and validity of the whole seems to me dangerous to say the least.  

I think I may be repeating points I’ve already made—and if to you, then sorry about that.  In any case I appreciate the continued discussion.


Joriss - #75040

December 6th 2012

I think you are right that the real history matters to every TE in this blog. If not, then there could not be a serious discussion whatsoever. But sometimes I notice a certain easiness to not really consider the full consequences of not taking a part of the OT as historical that was meant as such.
So what I said about the Passover in my comment above here, was to express my concern about that. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have a feeling that some TE’s think “yes I believe the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, the Exodus, the meeting between Moses and God on the Mount of Sinai, the mannah, the millions going through the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan, I believe it…..as long there is no scientific evidence against it. So if it turns out to not have really occurred, well, it’s symbolic meaning will stand and I will not be shocked. Yes, it would even suit me a little, because it strengthens my position as an evolutionist, and makes it easier to consider the Flood and the other first chapters of Genesis also as symbolic, as non-historical, because these chapters could - if considered historical - jeopardize the evolution theory.”
If I am wrong or just too negative, or even offending, please correct me. I don’t mean this way of thinking would be a conscious, deliberate act, but I keep in mind that our hearts and minds can easily err, and of course from the opposite side creationists can err in the same way. 
Yes, I agree with your cathedral-analogy. And of course details can come into lore and be retold with little mistakes, differences, errors, deletions and additions. And that would in no way mean a loss of meaning or utility or deny it’s existence, you are right.
But what details in the OT do you mean with:
[“But to insist that each detail in all these stories (not even just some ‘original details’ but our modern interpretation on each one as handed down to us by translations)—to insist that these be lashed together with the central truths of Christian faith in such a way that none can be understood as figurative without questioning the truth and validity of the whole seems to me dangerous to say the least.”] ? Can you give an example of such a detail?

Merv - #75047

December 6th 2012

But what details in the OT do you mean…?

Those details seem to be the important things, don’t they!  One person’s ‘details’ are another person’s grounds to launch an inquisition.  But anyway, here is an example.

One of my favorite books is Job and the depth of the struggle it displays as a righteous man demands that God provide him with some sense of accounting about why he is suffering.  While nearly the whole book seems profound to me, there are details in it which need not be literal history, and in fact might even subtract from the profundity of the story if they were.  One need not imagine that Satan takes regular strolls in Heaven, or that Job in a story book ending that would do Disney proud, got back an exact multiple of two times his former livestock and the gloriously sacred numbers of seven sons and three beautiful daughters (family replacement!  —one wonders if the “curse God and die” wife also got replaced by a younger, more beautiful model?).  Apparently some scholars think all this last bit got tacked on by later redactors who felt the story needed a happy ending.  And it wouldn’t bother me if they were right because the profundity of Job was completely intact prior to that, and if he had even died in that forlorn fleshly state (but humbled by God), it is all-the-more profound for being real-to-life and foreshadowing Christ!  So the actual historicity of such a story is, for me, one of those ‘details’ that doesn’t contribute to or detract from its message.  Nor does it bother me if it is historical.  Its historicity isn’t the point (at least not in the smaller sense of it happening to one person.)  It has bigger fish to fry; History with a big ‘H’!

I hesitate to go too far down an ‘example-listing’ road not because I don’t have more I could give, but because I don’t want to encourage any paradigm where our main approach to the Bible is “this history is dispensable” vs. “you must grit your teeth and believe this.”  The whole notion of theologians needing to be subservient to science is patently false, as I think you and I would agree.  Origen (such as described in the recently appearing essay) has things to say which I find interesting.  I would be curious about your reactions to his approach.


Joriss - #75087

December 8th 2012

“Those details seem to be the important things, don’t they!  One person’s ‘details’ are another person’s grounds to launch an inquisition.”


If Scriptures and truth are involved, Merv, we should allow and be allowed to ask sharp but fair questions to one another. If there is a real desire for truth in us we will not launch an inquisition to one another, but together search for truth. And we need not be afraid of truth, even if it is not what we thought it was. I have absolutely no interest in hanging around in a lie or defending it. But what is truth and what is not? What do I have to defend and what do I have to reject?
For me that’s a question I want to be able to answer. If the evolution theory is true, I will embrace it. If not, I will resist it. For now I am a creationist, but not fanatic, and I am not blind for the amount of scientific evidence that testifies for evolution. Neither am I blind for the discrepancy between evolution theory and many things in the Scriptures.
So that’s the reason why I ask questions about details, because, if Scriptures and evoluton are to be proved to be in harmony, this proof must be legitimate, without violating any part of Scriptures. You love truth, I have no doubt, but so do I.
So once in heaven, we will 100% share all truth, but let’s see how far we can get here

About Job, that’s not the part of the OT I meant. It’s difficult to say how much of it is history, or dramatized history, poetry or some other kind of literature. Anyway it is not a part of Israel’s history. What I mean is the books that are presented as history, which is the Pentateuch, and the following books up to the book of Job and some parts of the Prophets.
If one is prepared to dismiss or to symbolize parts of it, that in the text itself has no cause or reason to do so, but for scientific reasons from outside the text, my alarmbells start ringing. And although I can’t disprove scientific evidence, I can try to do something else, consider if the proposed change in interpretation will do harm to the Scriptures and dishonour to God. If that, in my opinion, is so, I don’t trust the evidence, although I can’t falsify it.

For me, it’s a search for truth and I believe I share this search with a number of creationists AND theistic evolutionists. Neither of them has a monopoly in matters of truth, although on both sides some of them seem to think so. I don’t think you or me belong to those. I’m open for being wrong, I’m open for being right. I want to be open for truth.

By the way, I don’t know if I can react on Origen or the Cross Theology of George Murphy, but perhaps I’ll try. It needs time and a pretty amount of concentration, and I don’t know if I can afford it.




Merv - #75090

December 8th 2012

Amen to your (and also mine) expressed need to pursue truth wherever it is.  And I gather that we would probably also agree that Scriptures (properly understood—there’s the rub) and Creation (properly understood—there’s the rub) are our sources as Christians.  Now the ‘detail’ of working on the ‘properly understood’ part.   So if you want me to addres certain details in the name of that pursuit, I will do my best.  I guess I just like to be clear up front that there can be that day when we all will be able to have a good laugh at ourselves—and together about things we thought.

I approach early Genesis in some ways that probably would trip alarm bells for you—i.e.  science does play a role for me in helping shape or clarify or even prefer some theological approaches as being more likely closer to *material* truth than other approaches.  But as other prior Biologos essays have addressed so well (thinking of John Walton), the ancient Hebrews and all their surrounding world had little interest in addressing material truth in their writings.  So for me, a profitable winnowing of modern theology by science may be helpful if it puts a check on our modern habit of imputing our material interests back onto the early writers of Scripture.

By the way, I don’t think any one Christian group should have total claim on the word “creationist”.  We all believe God created everything even if we dicker around about exactly how and how long it took.  I know the label now has one powerful connotation and so always requires further qualification.  But I am unapologetically a creationist and believer in the Bible (all the way back to ‘In the beginning…’) and don’t find in that any reason to reject deep time or even common descent.  

Gotta go for now.


Jon Garvey - #75062

December 7th 2012


Genre has been fruitfully discussed in relation to Scripture since, at very least, the time of William Tyndale, who insisted on literal interpretation but took “literal interpretation” to mean “the sense implied by the writer”, including poetry, allegory, philosophical treatise or whatever: part of the work of Bible scholarship is to understand genre correctly.

Fruitful work has been done by conservative scholars in showing how conventions in ANE literature may appear to us as error, just as we have in our literary forms conventions that don’t fit pedantic literalism (Eg, “Everybody knows banks are crooked” = “There are those who doubt the ethics of parts of some of our financial institutions…”, “This video has gone viral,” which doesn’t mean the transmutation of computer code into cellular parasites.)

There is, then, a difference between correcting ones impression of a text by realising that “thousand” in the book of Joshua may also be a word for “troop” or something, and leaping on the large numbers as clear evidence of error. Crass historicism like insisting Job must be a factual account when it doesn’t even pretend to be has never had a place in serious scholarship - it’s just a defensive mechanism of blinkered literalists and a polemic accusation of “errantists”, much like calling anybody religious a “fundamentalist”.

What’s at stake is ones understanding of the process of “inspiration”. If one takes the “Socinian Incarnational” view, Scripture (and Christ too) are erroneous because human, with a hidden intermixing of the divine if one can spot it. But if one takes the orthodox Chalcedonian view of incarnation, then Christ is both perfect God and perfect man indivisibly, and by analogy Scripture is both perfectly divine and fully human.

Irenaeus takes this line in Against Heresies (centuries before Chalcedon) - because Jesus was perfect, his Spirit infused the apostles so that their teaching was perfect too - anything else would be a calumny on Christ’s Lordship. He’d have pointed out that since 1 Peter says the OT prophets wrote by the Spirit of Jesus too, the question of error simply doesn’t arise.

The alternative is a modern view, but that doesn’t make it any more valid, and it does take a much lower view of God’s ability to communicate to his people through his written word. If one wants a parallel using the “Two Book” analogy, assuming errors in Scripture is like assuming human footprints in the Paluxy river were put there by God to confuse us. Or maybe rather that much of the fossil record is a fraud by evolutionists.

Merv - #75081

December 7th 2012

Thanks, Jon.  But it’s obvious I have homework to do before I will glean full understanding from your comment as I know next to nothing about “Socinian Incarnational” views or Chalcedonian views—I’ve not even heard of the former and couldn’t have explained the latter either.  So thanks for your brief comments following each.  I do plan on delving into the current thread on the Fathers that is now presenting Origen.


Jon Garvey - #75089

December 8th 2012

Sorry to get technical and historical, Merv. Succinct explanation here.

Merv - #75092

December 8th 2012

Thanks for the links, Jon.  I was also fascinated to learn that Socinians were an Italian branch of the Anabaptist movement.  As an Anabaptist (Mennonite) myself, I’m used to thinking of my own group in “small tent” terms, so it’s always a bit surprising to stumble across other Anabaptist groups that I hadn’t even heard about!  They must have been a fringe group.  It sounds like their theology was a bit too radical even for us.   


Jon Garvey - #75104

December 9th 2012


I know it’s off topic, but apparently Socinus wandered around Europe ingratiating himself with Reformers of different shades, who gradually twigged where he was coming from. Calvin on several occasions wrote to him in a friendly manner but strongly advising him against his overly speculative tendencies. Some group in Spain (or France?) later also kicked him out, as did most of the communities he settled. It seems to be one of those cases that shows “it’s the cause that makes the martyr”.

Anabaptism was a pretty variable feast in the early days - all the branches that have persisted, including the Baptists to whom I’m currently affiliated, either cleaned up their act or were the varieties with selectable genes (ie orthodox).

But if you run down the list of Socinus’ heterodox teachings, it’s amazing how many have become popular again amonst “evangelicals” in these untheological times, as “new understandings.”

Ed Babinski - #76259

January 31st 2013

Hi Keith Miller, Ed Babinski here of the cetacean evoultion site you told me long ago that you appreciated. 

You wrote, “all meaningful animal activity and interaction would be rendered meaningless or impossible if death were not a universal certainty. It can thus be reasonably argued that it is the presence of death and pain that make possible the fulfillment of individual animal lives.”

I disagree. I think both animals and humans would be just as fulfilled if not more so if they continued living. Most animals and humans are far from viewing death positively, and they have loads of things they like to do, that they feel fulfilled doing, rather than dying. Those animals at the top of the food chain, or with few to no predators, seem to live lives they enjoy and are fulfilled by. Simply the smell of fresh air in the morning, a tasty bit of vegetation, or a tasty bit of prey, and hanging out with friends is part of what both animal and human lives are like, especially at the top of the food chain. There is no fulfillment in running for your life, or contemplating the inevitable pale of death each moment of the day.

In fact I’d go further and say that this world contains at least as many soul-crushing factors as soul-building ones. Traumas experienced in childhood or adolescence or young adulthood, remain with a person, and can cripple their souls for life. 

In fact ONE COULD EASILY ARGUE on the basis of the evidence from nature that this world is but a net (with trials and perils galore) in which Jehovah catches souls for hell. Bodies and brains are subject to diseases and nutritional deficiences, as well as traumas and emotional roller coasters, hormonal imbalances, psychological tensions, mental abuse, confusion, ignorance, prejudice, and a greater diversity of religions, denominations and philosophies than people have ever had access to before.   

Look at the world around us, can we say with certainty that it is imbued with eternal significance? Tapeworms, malarial parasites, viruses and bacteria that eat children alive? Mass extinction events? The extinction of countless species as well as countless cousins of those species over vast periods of time? Including the extinction of ape species that had larger cranial capacities than modern apes, and the extinction of several known species of human. And the deaths of countless species occurred long before the earliest humans ever appeared. Then there’s the recent discovery of hundreds of planets circling nearby stars and the likelihood that trillions of planets and moons might exist throughout the cosmos, leaving an untold amount of real estate out there, and loads of suns pouring out energy galore, to no easily discernible purpose. Maybe we’re the dart that stuck in the bullseye out of trillions of possible dart throws? Maybe our species is too? Maybe our cosmos is too? 

Not to mention headaches, backaches, toothaches, strains, scrapes, breaks, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, yeast, parasites, viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness, paralysis, mental illness, ugliness, ignorance, miscommunications, embarrassments, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom, hard labor, repetitious labor, accidents, old age, senility, fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes. . .
. . . such that I can not imagine how anyone, after they are dead, deserves “eternal punishment” as well.  Surely nothing is more unjust than the idea of eternal punishment, especially given how this world features as many if not more things that seem designed to crush souls than build them up—and designed with even fewer things to point people toward the one true religion [sic]—for instance, no divine hand seems to have spent the least bit of effort to help guide us toward the one true religion (if that’s what Christian is) by wiping clean the ink from the pages of the first Koran, nor stepped in to ensure that Mohammed and the founders of Islam received true instruction from the one “true Christian God” and his angels such that their writing and teaching would agree more properly with that of the Christian writings.  Instead, holy books and endless rival commentaries on each book and passage fill the earth. I guess God loves to watch competitive sports.  
In fact the history of Christianity is the history of debates and conflicts too numerous to mention with prayers and devotion poured out on both sides. But where’s the heavenly referee in all this? God has allowed holy books and their interpreters to run riot over the earth. 
Based on such evidence one might easily conclude that “holy books” and their “proper interpretation” and “proper holy rites” are not so important that God wishes to intervene to ensure that people receive the same visions and teach the same holy religion, thus are not led so easily astray. Though, being God. He must also know how suggestible we all are, from birth, family, culture. The evidence suggests that God doesn’t really care that much about such matters, and hasn’t even designed this cosmos for much of anything except to crush souls, or keep them deluded.   
One small case in point. Riots in major cities followed by persecution “ended” the Arian-Athanasian debate. The political clout and physical power of one side to persecute the other has ended far more debates in Christendom than prayer ever did, and also helped incite further debates and rancor. 
See Christians 0, Christians 0, and similar posts: 
As I said, the questions remains painfully obvious.




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