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Southern Baptist Series: Evolution and the Problem of Evil

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December 28, 2012 Tags: Problem of Evil

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

Southern Baptist Series: Evolution and the Problem of Evil

Today we post the seventh and final installment in our Southern Baptist Voices series–a collection of essays from Southern Baptist scholars with BioLogos responses to their concerns and arguments. You can read more about the series and access all of the other papers here, and get an overview in Dr. Kenneth Keathley's introductory essay.

But because today's essay from Dr. Steve Lemke is the last in this nearly year-long project, and brings together many of the concerns expressed by his colleagues (not to mention many non-academic Christians), we're handling the response in a slightly different manner than we have in previous exchanges. Instead of posting a separate response essay, we've chosen to highlight how the conversation has developed over these past months by including pertinent links to previous SBV exchanges within the paper itself, and responses to Dr. Lemke's key points in the sidebar: mouse over highlighted phrases to show and hide this additional text. As BioLogos President Darrel Falk explains in his accompanying post (also published today), we think this method shows how prescient Dr. Lemke was when he wrote this paper early on in our dialogue, and how the conversation itself has suggested ways forward in many of the key areas of concern he cites. Please be sure to read Dr. Falk's series summation, as well.

Evolution and the Problem of Evil

Let me begin by expressing appreciation for the commitment and intent of BioLogos. Francis Collins was speaking at nearby Tulane University a couple of years ago when my son was a senior in high school, and I brought him along to hear this noted Christian biologist’s presentation to help prepare him for challenges he would experience (as he is now) in college. This is a tremendously valuable ministry. However, as a philosopher and a theologian I do have concerns about some of the theological implications of the BioLogos theistic evolution view, particularly regarding the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is one of the most persistent and intuitive challenges to the Christian faith and the existence of God. The classic defenses or theodicies that have been used to answer this challenge include the Freewill Defense (God is not responsible for much of evil because it is caused by the free actions of humans), the Soul Making Defense (God allows or sends some evils or suffering in order to build human character in overcoming adversity), and the Eschatological Defense (although the cause of some suffering may be beyond our understanding, whatever suffering we may experience in this life cannot compare with an eternity of blessing in heaven).

These theodicies or defenses to the problem of evil, however, normally presuppose the standard view of divine creation. Were one to propose creation by means of theistic evolution, some of the presuppositions for these responses to the problem of evil no longer function. Therefore, advocating some form of theistic evolution poses problems for standard explanations of the problem of evil.

Cornelius Hunter has recently published Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil,1 an excellently researched book which re-examines Darwin’s motives for developing the theory of evolution. Hunter’s main thesis is that Darwin’s intent was not to undermine belief in the existence of God, but to afford a defense of God’s moral nature. The viciousness of nature caused Darwin and some of his contemporaries to desire to disconnect God’s role in creation from this viciousness in nature, and the blind process of natural selection is the vehicle for disassociating God from the vulgarities of nature. In essence, then, Hunter’s argument is that Darwin’s theory was a form of theodicy – sheltering God’s goodness against the accusation that He is the author of the evil in nature.

Hunter’s thesis sounds hauntingly similar to that of the early Gnostics, who sought to insulate God from the evil material world. They therefore proposed intermediary aeons, archetypes, or a demiurge to isolate the purity of God from the evil of nature. The Darwinian account sharply differs from the biblical account in at least three crucial ways:

  • The Darwinian account removes God from being directly involved in much of creation by utilizing natural processes instead, while the biblical account presents God as directly involved in the details of creation, both in the beginning and throughout history through his providential care.
  • The Darwinian account blurs the distinction between humans and other animals, while in Scripture humans are a distinctive and special creation.
  • The Darwinian account presents God as apathetic and disinterested in the moral status of animals, while the scriptural account presents God (though giving primary focus to humans) as vitally interested in the moral status of animals, and indeed for the redemption of the entire created world.

Another problem with Hunter’s thesis is that whatever Darwin’s original motivation might have been, the novelty of Hunter’s thesis underscores the fact that this is not how Darwin’s ideas predominantly have been used and understood. No one (including contemporary evolutionary biologists) seriously believes Darwin’s ideas as he presented them. Darwin’s ideas about evolution have themselves evolved. ( see Falk, Part 2) So even if Hunter’s thesis were correct about Darwin’s original motivation for the problem of natural selection, this has little relevance to contemporary evolutionary biology.

Any such Darwinian evolutionary biology also undermines classical defenses for God’s goodness. For example, the Christian group BioLogos has presented the perspective that God created all living organisms, including humans, through a gradual process that includes natural selection, group selection, genetic drift or other such physical processes, with God possibly intervening at some undefined points. While this BioLogos approach (which might be labeled a variety of “gradualism” with regard to creation) includes a role for God in creation (as opposed to pure Darwinian evolution), some of the same problems involved with the problem of evil pertain to the BioLogos view as well. In fact, the specific role that God plays in evolution remains somewhat vague and ill-defined. (see Falk, Part 1) Without BioLogos providing a clearer and more precise differentiation between itself and Darwinian evolution – and thus building a clear “Chinese wall” between their view and that of Darwinian evolution -- these views appear to be very close, and the problems that pertain to one view pertain to the other view (at least in part) as well. The following problems arise with regard to the problem of evil in relation to forms of creation by gradualism.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

First of all, it is incumbent upon a good God to produce an optimally good world. We could not necessarily expect an evil or morally mixed God to produce a good world, but we have every reason to expect a good and beneficent God (Matt. 5:48; 1 John 1:5, 4:7-8) to produce the “best of all possible worlds” (given human freewill). In the biblical account, therefore, the evil and suffering we witness in nature and in human experience is not accountable to God because of a defective process in creation, but rather it is a result of the moral Fall of the first humans and subsequent sin by their descendents. However, gradualism has no such vehicle to defend God against the accusation of being responsible for natural and physical evil and suffering. (see Applegate, Falk, and Haarsma, Part 2).

Human Distinctiveness

Second, if God created all living species, including humans, through a gradual evolutionary process that includes common descent from nonhuman primates, there is no clear line to draw a moral or spiritual distinction between humans and other living beings. (see Falk, Part 2).. Yet fundamental to any view of a moral universe is the belief that humans are created in the image of God in a way that is uniquely above all other sensate species (Ps. 8:4-8), and included in this image is our soul and our moral capacity. It is difficult to imagine how humans could receive the image of God through some sort of physical process. Instead, the Bible describes God as being directly and personally involved in creating the human soul by breathing it into mankind (Gen. 2:7). (see O’Connor, Part 1). In the specific language of the biblical account (if not to be discounted, allegorized, or completely ignored), God created human souls directly, not indirectly through some impersonal process. Gradualism offers no clear answer as to how a human soul reflecting the image of God could come about; in fact, such a unique thing in all of creation is everything but gradual or natural. (see Bishop, Part 2).

Whence Cometh Freedom?

Thirdly, even if God intervened at various points in theistic evolution to create new forms from which other species evolve, this does not afford a satisfactory account of human freewill. If humans are not a unique and distinct creation (as the biblical account makes quite clear), but are with other apes the product of a single ancestor, from whence did freewill arise? How can we account for some mutations having freewill and others not having it?

Some quasi-materialists propose some form of epiphenomenalism in which the mind emerges somewhat magically from material cells. This proposal is devoid of any convincing scientific evidence, but it is the only alternative left for materialists to espouse in order to account for some of the most basic human intuitions – that our minds are more than merely a physical organ, that our choices are genuine expressions of freewill, and that we are free moral agents who are responsible for our actions.

Evolutionary biology has no scientific evidence to respond to these basic human intuitions other than to assert that “there is no ghost in the machine” and that any apparent choices are actually mechanical outworking of hard determinism predetermined by prior physical causes. (see O’Connor, Part 2). Therefore, if human choices are merely illusions, humans cannot be held morally accountable, all blame and responsibility reverts back to the God who created this world.

The Problem of Pain

Fourth, gradualism has no moral explanation for animal pain. If humans are the product of an earlier ancestor, it may have taken thousands or millions of years for life to evolve to that point, or for humans to evolve from an earlier primate ancestor. How can the pain of these creatures (some of them quasi-human or proto-human) be justified? (see Schloss, Part 2) This is specifically the issue that worries many Christian ethicists about cloning. Each experiment in animal cloning has produced hundreds of “monsters” before the clone is successful. What if we were cloning humans? What would be the moral implications of creating hundreds of “monsters” just to develop one clone?

The unanimous view is that this would be morally unjustifiable, but this is uncannily similar to the notion of creating animals who suffer for millions of years before evolution finally produced humans. (see Schloss, Part 3) In the biblical creation accounts, pain and suffering comes into the world after the Fall and as a result of the Fall of the earliest humans, and thus God is absolved of direct responsibility for this pain. In this gradualist account, pain and suffering precede the Fall. Millions of generations of sensate beings would have suffered and died before the Garden of Eden. Why would God allow this suffering of innocents for millions of years? (see Schloss, Part 3)

Ironically, Hunter’s Darwinian explanation in Darwin’s God doesn’t work for the BioLogos perspective at this point, because God is somewhat more directly involved at several steps in creation than in the purely Darwinian perspective, so it is God who must shoulder the blame for this undeserved pain. (see Schloss, Part 2)

Another attempt to affirm a gradualist view of creation in which pain preceded the creation of humans was by William Dembski, who in his book The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World2 proposed that the animal world existed in pain for millennia before the creation of humans, and thus the pain of these animals was applied retroactively from the later Fall (pp. 9-10). This proposal was not well received by many in the evangelical world because it depicts God causing pain to sensate beings even before the cause of the pain took place, and Dembski ultimately felt compelled to post a clarification of his views.3 So, the reality of animal pain before the Fall in the gradualist account of creation heightens the problem of evil rather than resolving it.

Death and the Nature of God

Fifth, in orthodox Christian theology, death is seen as the ultimate punishment for the Fall of Adam and Eve. There was a time of created goodness from when humankind has fallen. All human suffering, animal suffering, natural disasters, and death was ultimately the result of the God’s punishment for human sin, the curse after the Fall as described in Genesis 3. (see Schloss, Part 1)

However, in the gradualist evolutionary account, there is no Fall.(see Applegate, Falk, and Haarsma, Part 2). If anything, there is a “rise,” as human beings “come of age” and become morally responsible at some point in the process of evolution from prehuman primates. There are multiple problems with this proposal from a theological perspective:

  • It is one thing to apply symbolic interpretations to the first three chapters of Genesis; it is another to eliminate the historical reality of the Fall altogether.(see Applegate, Falk, and Haarsma, Part 2). .
  • In the biblical view of creation, God creates humans in a paradisical Eden, and humans are ejected from Eden after their sin. In the gradualist view,(see Applegate, Falk, and Haarsma, Part 2). there never was an Eden, and humans never enjoyed the kind of original created goodness described in Scripture.
  • In the biblical view of creation, separation from God and death are the punishments for human sin. In the gradualist view, there never was an Edenic paradise, and persons were created to die. Sin has no real causal connection with physical death. (see Schloss, Part 1)
  • In the biblical view of creation, humans were created “a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). In the gradualist view, humans emerged from previously created nonhuman primates. This is a profound re-envisioning and diminishment of the Christian anthropology found in the Bible. (see Falk, Part 2)
  • The Bible describes God creating a beautiful paradisicial Eden with sinless humans, which was lost only because of human rebellion and sin. The gradualist account posits God creating a substandard world that had to evolve to reach even the sad levels of contemporary life. This imperfect creation reflects on the nature of God. Why would a perfectly good God create such an imperfect world? Why or how could a moral God create humans to be already fallen? Orthodox Christian theology affirms that God is already perfect in all His attributes, and does not evolve or change in His essence. The theology more apposite to the gradualist account is Process Theology, in which evolution in creation mirrors evolution within God himself, as he moves from a powerful but imperfect being toward a more perfect being. In fact, Process Theology was designed with a view to harmonizing Christian theology with evolutionary presuppositions. But Process Theology is not held to be orthodox by most evangelical Christians, particularly with regard the nature and perfection of God.

At the core of the Christian worldview is the biblical metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption. The evolutionary gradualist perspective radically rewrites this standard Christian account by essentially merging the creation and fall into a single event. Humans were created as finite and fallen, not placed in a paradise with created righteousness. This gradualist approach squares well with an evolutionary account, but it does not square well with the biblical creation accounts in Scripture.

Notes

1. Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Waco: Brazos Press, 2001).
2. William A. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009).
3. Tom Nettles, review of The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, by William Dembski, in Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13.4 (2009): 80–85. A partial defense and Dembski’s clarification are found in David Allen, “A Reply to Tom Nettles’ Review of William A. Dembski’s The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World,” a white paper at the Center for Theological Research (February 2010), available online (PDF).


Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he occupies the McFarland Chair of Theology. He is also Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry and Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.

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Bilbo - #75723

December 28th 2012

Dr. Lemke,

I’m curious what you would think about two attempts at dealing with the problem of animal pain:

1) C.S. Lewis’s attempt:  Satan is responsible for pre-human natural evil.

2)  An attempt by Mike Gene:  In order to bring each specific individual human being that has ever lived into existence, it was necessary that the specific history for that individual also be brought into existence, including all their pre-human history, back to the moment that life first appeared and began evolving, 3.5 billion years ago.  Since God wanted us all to exist, God needed to create our histories, regardless of how much animal pain was involved.


Steve Lemke - #75736

December 29th 2012

Bilbo,

Thanks for your questions about animal pain. I’ve given this topic quite a bit of thought (see, for example, http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/animalsets.html). In reference to your particular questions—

(a) No, although I am a fan of C. S. Lewis, I find his attributing animal pain to Satan unhelpful (in the end, a good God still has to account for it in some way, so this “answer” just sort of kicks the can down the road a little but doesn’t solve anything). I also find unsatisfactory his proposal that just the pets of believers go to heaven (again, that has unredeemed suffering of innocents). Both of these are merely his speculations without any biblical support.

(b) Mike Gene’s account makes more sense from a logical perspective. In a way, it is a reframed Ireanaean theodicy (as opposed to the Augustinian theodicy that I advocate), in which there is not a pristine creation, but a slow “coming of age.” So one could invoke a sort of “necessary evil” or “greater good” defense, arguing that the good of creating humans is worth, as you put it, “regardless of how much animal pain was involved.” I suppose you could even appeal to a motif of animal sacrifice.

However, I do not find Gene’s account satisfying from a biblical or theological perspective. First of all, it projects an image of God as a rather imperfect Creator—He can bring a universe out of nothing but He can’t create humans without going through a 3.5 billion trial and error process of evolution? This hearkens back to my “cloning” argument, that costing millions of animal lives is a very “messy” solution, it doesn’t fit well with the principle of parsimony, and it doesn’t match up well with an all-benevolent God. Could He have chosen to do so? Yes, of course. But again, it doesn’t fit well with who He proclaims Himself to be. I’m also still troubled by the question of the suffering of innocents, with God being responsible. I also raised the issue in my article the rather orthodox notion of Eden being a pristine environment before it was marred by sin and suffering came into the world as a result of the Fall. Again, Gene’s account does not match up well with Genesis 3. From a moral perspective, Gene’s account would appear to need to be tied with some sort of animal eschatology which provided compensation/reward for animal suffering.

Those are at least my initial thoughts about these proposals.

swl


Bilbo - #75807

January 5th 2013

Hi Dr. Lemke,

I think the point of Mike Gene’s hypothesis is that God could create human beings by fiat, but that if God wanted a specific human being, then that would mean creating that human being’s specific history as well, assuming that they had one.  In our case, if that meant an old earth with a long history of animal suffering, then that history must exist, if God wants us to exist.  There would seem to be no other way for God to bring specifically us into existence, since we would no longer be us.  God is omnipotent, but must still obey the laws of logic.

I think Lewis’s point is that God was not the one who originally spoiled the earth, but that evolutionary history is part of God’s way of redeeming Satan’s work.  Instead of God’s redeeming work beginning with the human fall, it goes back further and begins with Satan’s fall.


PNG - #75725

December 28th 2012

I wish that somewhere in this series one of the Baptists had addressed what they think the consequences might be for the evangelical church and its mission of simply ignoring or denying the massive amounts of evidence that have been produced by modern biology, especially genomics and population biology. 


Steve Lemke - #75737

December 29th 2012

PNG,

I may surprise you some with my answer. I agree with you that the evangelical church must provide a menu of options for persons to deal with the powerful theories of modern biology. I was pastor of a church in a city with a major research university, and our church had a number of professors and graduate students who did serious research in the sciences, particuarly in biology. Although I am not convinced of the evidence in contemporary biology (I find the evidence proposed by Michael Behe and others more convincing), as a pastor it was not my task to convince them of my position. It was my role to provide them a theological framework in which their academic research and their faith fit together. So, if theistic evolution helped them to do that, it was fine with me. Now, having provided that framework, then we could start talking about Behe’s proposals (smile). At the same time, I took a Philosophy of Biology graduate seminar under a leading evolutionary biologist to gain a greater understanding of that perspective. So, I do think that churches need to provide their members with some different models of concordance between the biblical creation accounts and the biological evolutionary accounts. But at the end of the day, I honestly don’t find the evolutionary accounts compelling, and not a good fit with the biblical accounts.

swl


PNG - #75740

December 29th 2012

Behe, unlike most IDists, accepts common descent and an old earth. His only dispute is the mechanism of evolution. Is that where you are? It doesn’t sound like it.


Steve Lemke - #75745

December 30th 2012

PNG,

No, I’m not exactly with Behe. Let me come at it this (somewhat inaccurate) way. Many within the BioLogos fellowship are practicing scientists who are devout lay Christians. Those of us who responded as Southern Baptist scholars are primarily theologians or philosophers, many of us serving or having served as pastors, and science is a real area of interest. That is to say, we may be coming at the issue from different starting points, and weighing the evidence by different criteria. I hear BioLogos writers expressing concern about reconciling the view of creation with the findings of contemporary biology. Of course, as Christians, there is the assumption that this fits with the Bible at some level. [Let me acknowledge that BioLogos does include scholars such as Peter Enns and Timothy O’Connor (one of my philosophical heroes), who don’t fit this generalization]. From our Southern Baptist perspective, the main concern is reconciling any account of creation with the Genesis accounts. Of course, as thinking people, we would like to see it fit with contemporary biology at some level. These different “starting points” change everything, including the degree of hermeneutical flexibility you are willing to have with your “starting point.” So, for me, the ultimate standard is the degree to which the proposed creation account matches up well with the biblical creation narratives, properly understood. I am open to a variety of views on creation. I would describe my own view as progressive creationism. You are correct that I do find the mechanism of naturalistic evolution to be untenable, and though theistic evolution would sort of help in “punctuating the equilibrium,” so to speak, that is not my preferred view.

swl


Damon Casale - #75727

December 29th 2012

Okay, first of all, one needs to understand what the Creation account is really saying before trying to determine whether that fits in with what we know scientifically about human history and prehistory.  Looking at other creation literature in the ancient near east, we see the following:

1) None of it was meant to be taken literally, although it often had literal elements.  For instance, comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh, there was a real King Gilgamesh, but he never went in search of the fabled plant of life.

2) Creation literature was written to give the people who wrote it a distinctive identity and character as compared to other peoples.  It also commonly spoke of a specific “place where creation occured” and then associated that place with the capital city of that country and/or the foundation of a temple.

3) Other creation literature often described the stars, planets, animals, etc., as gods.  In contrast, the biblical account shows that all of these things were created by God.

In reality, the biblical creation story was crafted as a polemic against other religious beliefs and concepts.  It was never meant to literally explain how mankind got here.

In order to better understand the biblical creation story, one needs to look at how later books of the bible used creation symbolism.  For instance, later books often used animals to represent other peoples, contrasting them with man as a way to show that “man” understood the distinction between good and evil.  The animals in the creation account symbolized other peoples who existed at that time.

How do we know this?  Because the creation account specifically mentions seeking a suitable mate for Adam *among the animals*.  People don’t marry animals, so this is symbolic.

There are two animals in particular which are singled out by the creation account.  The first is the “great sea creatures” or tannin of Genesis 1:21, as they are one of only three things in the creation account to be referred to with the Hebrew verb “bara,” to create.  The other two are the heavens and the earth, and man.  We find these same creatures referred to again in Ezekiel 29:3, just one chapter after a reference to Eden, and in connection with Pharaoh of Egypt.  The other animal is, of course, the serpent.  Together, they symbolize Egypt and Sumer, the earliest civilizations that existed.  And when the creation account describes that God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them, it was simply an ethnocentric way of saying that many peoples came to the Garden of Eden.  It was simply a rest stop on a major trade route between Egypt and Sumer.

The point of the creation story isn’t to put man on a pedestal above the animals.  Rather, it’s to explain the importance of distinguishing between good and evil, in contrast to other cultures.  One popular creation story explained that the fruits of civilization were beer and prostitution, for example.  In contrast, the biblical account holds up the institution of marriage.

Now, if the distinction between good and evil was meant as a new thing, something that had never before existed in the world, then it would make sense as being associated with a kind of “creation”.  Also, whether Adam and Eve were directly created by God (which is possible, given that their genealogies show a much longer lifespan than what science tells us was the norm for that early period of human history) or whether they were descended by other people simply not mentioned in the biblical account is immaterial.  The important thing to consider, at least as far as an understanding of “evil” goes, is that evil cannot exist without some recognition of what good is.  (Romans 2:12-15)  Therefore, animals cannot “sin”.  Natural suffering—that is, animal suffering apart from the cause of sin—should not then be looked at with an overly moralizing perspective.

In addition, God could not punish sin until there was some recognition of it.  Therefore, the exile from Eden has to be viewed with that in mind.  And as far as creation being “very good”, compare the book of Job.  It goes through and looks at this very thing, that there is natural suffering, and where is God in that?  But the book very clearly explains that God is in control of the natural order of things as well.

If one looks at Jeremiah 4:23-26, it becomes clear that this “creation in reverse” is symbolic of the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah.  Therefore, the creation of Genesis 1-3 is simply an *ordering* of that which had come before.  Part of that established order was an understanding of good and evil.  It’s not denying that something had in fact come before, but it *is* identifying this time as when God first began interacting with man.


Steve Lemke - #75738

December 29th 2012

Damon,

The question you are raising is, of course, about hermeneutics. It sounds like you’ve read quite a bit on this subject. I would commend the book I co-edited, Biblical Hermeneutics, as well. I do think it is quite possible that among the purposes for the first three chapters of Genesis is to demonstrate God (YHWH)‘s preiminence over all the other gods in the ancient world, most of whom were associated with aspects of creation that God created—sun, moon, snakes, bulls, and even human kings. We also know that it was utilizing poetic literature to communicate these truths.

However, that was not all that Genesis 1-3 taught. It did, in fact, give an account of the origins of the universe. It cannot be stretched too far with scientific expectations—if God had said to Moses, “Actually, to create the Mediterranean Sea, I had nuclear fusion with 2 billion hydrogen atoms and a billion oxygen atoms, and then threw in some NaCl,” Moses would have said, “Huh?” It was literally impossible for a person in those ancient times (or now) to understand fully how God created the universe. But at the same time, what was said was accurate to the degree intended. We may have to disagree about the degree of accuracy intended, but I believe that the Genesis accounts do intend to lay out an account of creation, and I do not believe that the Genesis accounts are misleading or mythological. There is much more we could talk about here, and perhaps this is an important aspect of this conversation.

swl


Damon Casale - #75739

December 29th 2012

We may well have to agree to disagree on the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 as a creation metaphor, then.  However, I would encourage you to consider that there are multiple other creation myths—such as those of ancient Egypt—which were not intended to be taken literally either.  For example, we can trace back the peoples who came to inhabit Egypt all the way to predynastic times, being a combination of a native group living in the north which was joined by a nomadic group coming up from the south by way of Nabta Playa.  But their creation mythology speaks nothing of these origins, instead preferring to speak of the sun rising over a primordial mound of earth rising out of the waters, with the ben-ben stone on top of the mound.  The stone then became the foundation of a temple (namely, that of Heliopolis).

If other ancient creation mythology wasn’t meant to be taken literally (or even pseudo-scientifically) when it spoke of the origins of animals, plants, etc., then why should the biblical account be given special treatment in that regard?  The main concern I have with a literal or even a semi-literal interpretation is that it seems to derive from our modern perspective, more than 3500 years after the text was originally written.  I think we run the risk of reading things into the text that were never intended to be there, when we do that.  Instead, we need to ask what the intended method of interpretation was for ancient near eastern creation literature, and then apply that same methodology to the biblical account and see what we get.  I do not believe that the Genesis account was *intended* to be misleading, but it may well be so to our modern mindset.

In any case, I would refer you to another article on BioLogos, written by Joseph Lam:

http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/lam_scholarly_essay.pdf


Steve Lemke - #75744

December 30th 2012

Damon,

Yes, of course, I’m aware of the other Middle Eastern creation myths, and I am most struck by the remarkable differences between those accounts and the Genesis account. For example, in the Enuma Elish accounts, a divine couple of Apsu (male, fresh water) and Tiamat (female, salt water) existed at the beginning of time. Many gods were born from them (from Apsu’s spittle, in one account). One of the younger gods, Ea, killed Apsu. Tiamat sought revenge against the younger gods, headed by Marduk, the son of Ea. Marduk won, killing Tiamat, and her body became the heavens and the earth. Marduk then created a human from the body of one of the gods aligned with Tiamat. If that sounds like the Genesis account to you, I would suggest that you reread it (:-).

Furthermore, I am not committed at all to the notion that the biblical accounts are just another creation mythology, not really different from the others. So I am very uncomfortable with your interpreting the Genesis accounts just as you would any other near eastern creation literature. I believe that the Genesis accounts were inspired by God, and are on an entirely different plane from the religious writings of the pagan religions (just as the Ten Commandments and the Prophets differ in remarkable ways from the Code of Hammurabi or other ancient collections of laws). The biblical accounts are not intended as mythologies, and the orthodox Jewish rabbis did not take them as such. The other ancient creation mythologies were always understood to be mythological. Does the Genesis account use poetic devices and symbolism at points? Yes. But not a mythological account that was not taken as true. Do the Genesis accounts describe real events in history? Yes. The precise literalness with which they are taken is open for debate, but the notion that they are not true is not.

swl


Damon Casale - #75747

December 30th 2012

I think that’s where we would differ, then, since I think the biblical text would often use literary styles or imagery common to the ancient near east but repurposed for a higher purpose.  The law code of Hammurabi is a perfect example of this.  Although the literary style existed before the Ten Commandments did (and we’ve found even older law codes than that of Hammurabi), the Ten Commandments was written using that very literary style, because it would be something that the Israelites would be familiar with.  Even the architecture of the Temple that Solomon built was derived in large part from previous Egyptian architecture (the columns, for example), so there definitely was cultural influence even where there was a divinely ordained pattern.

In any case, I think there might be somewhat of a misunderstanding of how I perceive the Genesis account.  I do see Adam and Eve as real, historical figures, because we have a genealogy coming down from them.  I also see the Garden of Eden as a real place, just as the “place where creation occurred” was a real place in other ancient near eastern creation myths.  However, I doubt that the Garden of Eden had a real tree of life or a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as I take those to be metaphors.  I also highly doubt that it had a talking snake.

I see the Genesis account as containing historical elements, but overall I see it as an allegory with highly precise imagery with specific meanings.  In other words, we can understand what it was intended to mean, rather than—as some skeptics are wont to do—simply painting it as an example of pious fiction.


Steve Lemke - #75784

January 2nd 2013

Well, Damon, I’m resonating with your affirmation of historical elements in Genesis, including Adam, Eve, and Eden being historical and real. I would not, of course, say that the biblical documents did not somewhat reflect literary patterns of peoples around them. Perhaps where we differ there is just a matter of degree. Again, I’m more struck by the differences than the similarities of the biblical materials with the Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh Epic, and Code of Hammurabi. But it sounds like we may not be that far apart.

swl


Damon Casale - #75788

January 3rd 2013

Then I would again emphasize my opinion that the main thrust of Genesis 1-3 was as a polemic, hence the major differences, even though it seems to have used the same literary style.

In any case, thank you for your time and consideration.

Damon


Merv - #75748

December 30th 2012

Dr. Lemke, your thought (quoted below) provoked a new idea for me.

If humans are not a unique and distinct creation (as the biblical account makes quite clear), but are with other apes the product of a single ancestor, from whence did freewill arise? How can we account for some mutations having freewill and others not having it?

Who is to say that no other animals have free will?  I don’t think this is so much a Biblical question since so many Biblical writers (along with nearly all humanity, Christian or otherwise) simply presume freewill along with moral responsibility.  We may all agree that non-human animals don’t have any moral culpability.  But unless we think morality and freewill are bound together, I see no reason to insist that non-human animals are incapable of free choice.  It’s a philosphical question, of course, and neither science or theology will rule for us one way or the other.  But it would put your challenge of differentiation in a different light if we thought the differentiation itself was suspect in the first place.  Free will may be a tempting identifier for what we call God’s image.  But it seems probable to me that being made in God’s image may have significance other than or in addition to freewill.   I do agree that Humans are unique according to Scripture.  I’m just not sure that our God-given distinction will be something that can be parsed out according to empirical or physical procedures available to science—and in fact, almost sure that it cannot be.

Thanks for your thoughtful and respectful critiques.

-Merv


Steve Lemke - #75781

January 2nd 2013

Merv,

This might be a topic that it would be good to hear from Timothy O’Connor, since he is an expert on freewill. Let me make you aware that I’m a proponent of animal intelligence, communication, and, in some upper animals, personality. My son is working on a research lab project with his professor next semester on communication patterns among several species of animals. So I probably have a higher view of animal intelligence than many people (as I mentioned to Bilbo above, some of my perspective is summarized in this paper—http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/animalsets.html). However, I don’t think that animals really have freewill, particularly in the moral sense. They make choices between alternatives because they are conscious beings, but I don’t think this equates to human freewill. I would be interested, however, in evidence to the contrary.

swl


wesseldawn - #75769

January 1st 2013

I personally think that Darwin’s influences were not so much with a view to protect God’s good character but rather the evidences presented in nature itself were factors that he could not ignore.

The Darwinian account removes God from being directly involved in much of creation by utilizing natural processes instead, while the biblical account presents God as directly involved in the details of creation, both in the beginning and throughout history through his providential care.

In truth the Bible account agrees with the Darwinian one:

In Gen. 2:7 we see man being created of the dust of the ground (translations: earth, ground, mud/primordial soup) meaning that it was a product of the dust itself. Only later was it put into a garden where it got God’s image (Gen. 2:8).

As for God being involved in creation, the Bible tells another story of how the woman was deceived and Adam lost the original creation and Satan became the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) - thus the reason for pain and suffering.

Evolution is the result of the natural processes of this world rather than being something from God.

 

 

 


Steve Lemke - #75783

January 2nd 2013

Wesseldawn,

Regarding Darwin’s motivation for the theory of natural selection, I was just mentioning Cornelius Hunter’s theory that it was to protect the nature of God, not endorsing it. I don’t know what his motivation was, but his observations from his journey on the HMS Beagle clearly were a contributing cause. To be a little Humean, however, the evidence itself did not force Darwin to believe anything; the evidence was filtered through his presuppositions and conceptualization.

I don’t disagree that humans were created from existing matter that God had already created, and that he then breathed the breath of life into them. I’m not clear why you think that we differ on those points. I suppose that you could read the Scriptures you mentioned in a highly symbolic way and it be an ancient way of affirming Darwinian evolution, but that is not the most obvious meaning of the text, nor how it has been understood through most of Christian history. Furthermore, if you apply that symbolic a reading of the text, someone else could just as easily say it is symbolically describing the Enuma Elish creation account (see my interaction with Damon above). So I’m worried about stretching the language to mean something that is not evident in the text.

However, your statement, “Evolution is the result of the natural processes of this world rather than being something from God,” is precisely the concern I was voicing when I said,  “The Darwinian account removes God from being directly involved in much of creation by utilizing natural processes instead, while the biblical account presents God as directly involved in the details of creation, both in the beginning and throughout history through his providential care.” I find your notion that God had no direct involvement in creation very troubling from a theological perspective. You seem to be endorsing the deistic notion that God wound the watch up and let it run on its own, rather than the theistic God of Scripture. Even theistic evolution, as opposed to Darwinian evolution, affirms that God intervenes at some points to accomplish what mindless evolution could not. Again, as I mentioned to PNG, perhaps it comes down to which source we take as primary or as our starting point, but as for me, I can’t affirm any option which does not accord with the biblical creation narratives.

swl


Eddie - #75790

January 3rd 2013

Dear Dr. Lemke:

You wrote:

“Even theistic evolution, as opposed to Darwinian evolution, affirms that God intervenes at some points to accomplish what mindless evolution could not.”

This may be true of some versions of theistic evolution; it is certainly not true of all versions, or even of most versions.  In fact, among the leaders of theistic evolution, you find a very strong avoidance of language suggesting that God “intervenes at some points.”  And when, as often happens, TE leaders are asked whether God “guides” or “steers” or “directs” the evolutionary process, they often become extremely vague, sometimes to the point of seeming downright evasive.  The problem, of course, is that if evolution is conceived of as a “natural” process (which it is, by most TE leaders, especially the biologists), then it no more needs “guidance” or “steering” or “intervention” to occur than the moon needs “guidance” or “steering” or “intervention” to stay in orbit around the earth.  I may be wrong, but, while I have seen some TE leaders reported or interpreted as believing in some sort of divine intervention or guidance in the evolutionary process, I have not seen (except in one case, that of R. J. Russell) a contemporary TE leader—speaking for himself or herself (in print, or in public debate or interview)— say “I believe that God intervened from time to time in the process” or “I believe that the process was steered by God to achieve certain results.”

TE leaders will freely grant that God could have steered or guided or intervened, and sometimes they will plead agnosticism on the question; but the number who have asserted in unambiguous language—language which would count as an admission in a courtroom—that in their personal opinion God did “intervene” or “guide” or “steer” etc. evolution—can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  And I see no sign that this is ever going to change.


sy - #75791

January 3rd 2013

Eddie

Although I am not a TE leader in any sense, I do follow the general path of TE as represented by the Biologos Foundation. And I happen to believe that God does indeed intervene, and had intervened in the process of evolution by natural selection.

Such intervention, (I believe) might be in the creation of environmental conditions that favor certain evolutionary directions, they could be in the form of guiding the “random” process of mutation to produce genotypes of a particular kind. And there are at least two, and possibly three events in the history of life, where I am convinced that the intervention of God was critical - the origin of life, and the origin of modern human beings, and perhaps the origin of multicellularity.

I also see no contradiction between these beliefs (which I agree are not commonly shared by most other biologists) and any of the data from molecular evolution or the historical record.

So, there is at least, a minority view among TE folks, even if they are not (at this point anyway) actual leaders of the movement.


Eddie - #75795

January 3rd 2013

Thanks, sy.  You speak directly, and I salute you for it.  And for all I know, the view you advocate may well be the majority TE view—if all the rank and file evangelical church members who are TEs are taken into account.

I think that TE “rank and file” people can be franker than TE leaders, because they are not conducting a political activity (against perceived theological or scientific enemies on all sides—New Atheists, creationists, and ID people).  They can just say what they think.

My perception is (i) that some TE leaders agree with you, but don’t want to be ridiculed by their biologist colleagues (whether atheist or TE) for suggesting unscientific “interventions,” and (ii) that many other TE leaders, especially among the biologists, disagree with you, and endorse something like a “fully gifted creation” which lifts itself up from hydrogen atoms to life by its own innate powers (after God creates the hydrogen atoms), but don’t want to say that very loudly, because many members of their churches back home would object to such a quasi-Deist picture of creation.    

In other words, I think that American evangelical politics is keeping a number of leading TEs from saying exactly what they think.  But the measure of a leader is that he or she is not afraid to say what he or she thinks.  A leader leads rather than follows.  I long for the day when every TE leader will give a blunt account of exactly how he or she thinks God was (or was not!) involved in the results of the evolutionary process.

The reticence is actually harming TE’s fortunes.  As long as TE leaders are ambiguous, they generate distrust on all sides; the leading secular biologists will suspect them of believing in miraculous interventions, and therefore will be hesitant to accord them full parity as scientists; and the ID and YEC/OEC people will suspect them of denying the Biblical notion of God who is lord of nature as well as of history, and substituting for that God the God of Deism or, more radically, of Open Theism.

For the good of TE, this defensive strategy must be abandoned.  It would be far better for each TE leader to throw caution to the winds, say what he or she thinks, and take the heat from whatever constituencies it comes from—including other TEs.  That’s what the Prophets, Paul, and Jesus did—and Socrates and all the great philosophers too.  They said what they thought.  And we still read their teachings today.  We don’t read the writings of the countless court flatterers who have gone down into historical obscurity.

As you probably know, sy, there are ID proponents (a minority among the leaders, but a sizeable chunk among the rank and file who write on blogs, program computers for a living, etc.) who accept evolution, but who think that evolution was either preprogrammed or steered (with “interventions”) by God.  Your own view is compatible with that of many ID-evolutionists.  

I’ve long maintained that there can be harmony between some ID and some TE people; but the ambiguity of many TE leaders regarding God’s role in the evolutionary process gets in the way.  When Behe, who fully accepts evolution, including human evolution from primates, is bashed by all of TE-dom for allegedly supporting “God of the gaps” or “interventions” or “miracles,” and some of the TEs doing the bashing (or condoning it by their silence) themselves privately believe there were interventions (of however subtle a kind), such a fundamental duplicity harms the whole discourse by creating an artificial polarization between ID and TE that doesn’t need to exist.  It is precisely the apparently rigid “naturalism in origins” of many TEs that causes many ID people to dissent; and if some TE leaders are not as rigid in their naturalism as they let on, but actually think that evolution is the product of the cooperation of natural and supernatural activity, then they need to say that out loud, instead of remaining silent or equivocating.


sy - #75798

January 4th 2013

Eddie

Thanks for that marvelous reply. I agree with you 100%. In fact I believe that some time ago, I made a comment on this blog about a comment made by Steve Meyer, in which he confessed to admitting evolution, but restricted his design ideas to the origin of life. I was very surprised that my joy at this convergence of thought was not echoed by others here.

I have also seen some disturbing trends concerning what I would consider a bit too much accomodation (not from Biologos, but from some other TE leaders or writers) of the more evolutionist point of view, which is not, either to my way of thinking, nor that of the late SJ Gould, actually scientific.

I am a professional biologist, and I do not think that many of the ideas you put forward, including some that are quite IDish (such as the origin of information, ala Meyer)  violate any principles or contradict any facts of actual biology. One issue is that biology has become somewhat dogmatic and unscientific in the minds of some atheist advocates, and Christians of all stripes, should be careful to avoid bending too far backwards to appear “scientific”.

Thanks again for your comment, which gives me a great deal of joy to read.


Eddie - #75802

January 4th 2013

Hello again, sy.  I’m glad you don’t find my views antithetical to good biology.

Meyer’s position is slightly different from the way you have put it.  He doesn’t go so far as to “admit” macroevolution, but he makes his case for design independent of the question of macroevolution, by concentrating on the origin of the first life rather than the origin of species.  So, as he puts it somewhere in his book, even if Darwin was right in positing that unguided natural processes could explain all developments from the first life all the way up to man, the origin of the first life does not appear explicable without the input of a designing intelligence.  So a religious believer could accept Meyer’s argument for the origin of the first life, while supposing that the designer of the first life built into it the power of evolutionary change, making further interventions unnecessary.  And for the purposes of his book, Meyer has no objection to such a supposition.  But if you examine the whole range of his public statements, you find that (a) he thinks that there were, very likely, interventions of a designing intelligence at points beyond the origin of life, e.g., during the Cambrian explosion; (b) he is skeptical of (not dogmatically opposed to, but skeptical of) the narrative of macroevolution overall.  And on point (b) Meyer differs from Behe, who cheerily accepts macroevolution.

What I found interesting in the BioLogos discussion of Meyer was that  even though Meyer restricted his argument to the origin of life, and therefore did not threaten evolutionary biology per se, he was still vigorously attacked by columnists and commenters here.  Apparently some Christians are committed to the view that life itself, as well as evolution, can be explained wholly by natural causes.  Here the influence of Van Till, with his idea of “a fully gifted creation” appears to have been influential.  And this is where I have found the more cautious position, which is less enamored with pure naturalism, and less negative about the notion of direct divine action—the position which seems to be advocated by yourself, penman, and jon garvey—to be very constructive.


wesseldawn - #75814

January 6th 2013

Steve…from what I have read it was the evidence that encouraged Darwin; if there was not that then what motivated him to change his mind?

The scientific theory (life orignated in the primodial soup) exactly matches “God created man (ruddy/soul) of the dust of the ground/mud (meaning that ruddy was a product of the ground/mud itself)”!

Genesis 2:7 says that “man” was a soul (creature devoid of God’s image/spirit = animal) - it only got a spirit (God’s image) when it entered the garden (Gen. 2:8)and it was in gaining that, it was able to become something more. Up to the garden it was clearly evolutionary processes (primordial soup - man) at work. It was the garden however, that accelerated man’s development from animal to human.

As for God intervening, I know that He does but the reason He must is because it’s imperfect. Had God made it, He would not need to intervene to change things because it would all be perfect as God is.

Your view is a Christian one, but it’s not the Biblical view.


sy - #75780

January 2nd 2013

Dr. Lemke

I find myself agreeing with much  of your thoughts concerning the issue of the creation of humanity and the origin of evil with the fall of man, even though I am a strong proponent of Darwinian evolution. While all evolutionists concur that human beings are physically descended, through the process of natural selection, from other primates that were part of the animal world, there is no scientific explanation of the origin (or even the definition) of human consciousness, or in theological terms, the soul. So it is scientifically consistent to believe (as I do)  that the body of man is derived from a gradualist process, but that the first actual Human was a creation of God.

This argument does nothing however to address your question of the suffering of animals before the fall. How could there have been evil, you ask, before the creation and fall of Adam?

 My answer is that the death of animals before Eden, was not an evil that it is at all comparable to the suffering of man. I am not even sure that the death of pre Adamic animals (even that of pre Adamic humans, assuming their existence) could be called evil, as we view death today. To argue this point, I might ask you to consider the alternative situation, a world without death. By assuming that God’s perfect creation was a world without physical death (as opposed to spiritual death) we need to picture a world without birth, without growth, and without all of the natural processes by which animals and plants live.

I frankly doubt that such a world could really be considered a “perfect” world, from God’s point of view (although our own aversion to death might make it seem so to us). Instead, I see God’s creation of the perfect world as one that allows for all of the natural processes of life, which include, birth, growth, death and renewal.

Before the creation of Man, there was death, but not evil. Even now, we see most of nature as morally neutral. The fall of man, I agree, is a central and crucial component of Christian belief, but it is not necessary to discard Darwinian biological evolution to agree with this view.  


Steve Lemke - #75782

January 2nd 2013

SY,

Although I don’t affirm the perspective you are describing—a gradualist explanation of our physical side and a creationist account of our spiritual/mental side, I would not rule it out as a possible explanation among some other possibilities such as I suggested to PNG above. Again, while I’m not endorsing it, I do believe it is a plausible account that need not be inconsistent with the Genesis creation accounts.

However, I’m not taken with your account of animal pain. It causes theodicy problems about the nature and perfection of God if He has such an imperfect creation, even before human sin. As I mentioned to Bilbo above, it is possible that a “greater good” defense could be built for such a claim, but for me all the problems with it theologically (such as those I listed for Bilbo) outweigh the rationale this option provides.

swl


sy - #75792

January 3rd 2013

Dr. Lemke

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Of course I agree that God’s creation must be perfect. Where we disagree is the definition of perfection. I am not really proposing the “greater good” solution, but simply that our human definition of perfection (which includes the absense of death or pain) might not in fact be correct, in terms of how God sees it.


PNG - #75817

January 7th 2013

Where does this idea come from that the world is perfect? Is Dr. Pangloss a church father now? In Genesis 1 God says that His creation is good, which I would assume means that it will suit His purposes for it. If this world is “perfect,” what adjective do we reserve for Heaven?


Jon Garvey - #75856

January 10th 2013

Steve, Sy

This is a very late reply as BioLogos has been rejecting my posts since the New Year. Frustrating. But I’ve recently completed a survey of the historical literature about Creation from Patristic through to early modern times.

To my surprise, the theodical problems of a “fallen” creation appear to have been virtually unknown for the first 3/4 of the Church’s history, the vast majority of writers affirming (against the pagans and gnostics in the early days) that creation was, and remains, good, apart from the effects of the Fall on mankind itself. Sy’s position on this is therefore consistent with orthodox Christian teaching for the first 1500 years of Christianity.

True, the good creation was often viewed as being turned, to some extent, against mankind as God’s judgement, but the main reason for our vulnerability was seen as the loss of our original spiritual vigour, not a feature of nature itself. And the idea that nature was turned against itself was seen as pagan, not biblical.

That seems to be consistent with what Scripture actually teaches (as opposed to what is now read into it as inference by both YECs and TEs, both grappling with the assumed “evils” of creation in their own ways). The change to a “fallen creation” came only in the 16th century, for reasons that had little to do with theology and a lot to do with increasing humanism. That’s another story.

Now it’s possible that all the early writers failed to engage properly with Scripture or reality - though that’s a bold claim to make about the likes of Irenaeus, Augustine, Athanasius, Bede, Aquinas, a Kempis etc etc). At the very least it shows that Christian beauty is in the eye of the beholder - very many of the faithful have looked closely at creation and seen goodness, not corruption, so the case is not clearcut.

I just raise here that if we were to recover the original teaching of the goodness of creation, one of the sticking points to rapprochement between Christian “Creationists” and “Evolutionists” (as documented in this thread) would disappear. Our differences would then be with the unbelieving modern equivalents of the Church’s old opponents, whose pessimistic view of nature’s malice dissolved in the face of the Christian view until, as I have suggested, it was recovered via Renaissance Humanism and, sadly, took over the Evangelical Church.


robynhood - #75794

January 3rd 2013

Dr.  Lemke,  First of all, thank you for your important contribution to the BioLogos website.  As you mention, the problem of evil is extremely significant, and I appreciate your efforts to address it.  In your essay, you state the following:

However, gradualism has no such vehicle to defend God against the accusation of being responsible for natural and physical evil and suffering.

True, but I don’t think that problem is exclusive to gradualism/TE.  The traditional view may have a ‘vehicle’, but it is not exactly an air-tight one.  The traditional view explains pain and suffering as the consequence of Adam’s sin.  Yet the idea that God cursed all mankind (and all of creation for that matter) because of the disobedience of one free individual raises serious questions about God’s character.  If any human had acted similarly, we would consider that human to be exceedingly unjust.   At very least, cursing all mankind seems completely incompatible with the notion that God is personal and values individual relationships with every free human being.

More generally, while the modern free will defense (especially as formulated by Plantinga) does have its merit, many questions remain.  For example, why would God allow free will in the first place if He knew it would cause so much suffering (even the suffering of the innocent)?   Also, if free will was an important attribute that God wanted in His creation, why would he permit one free creature to destroy the free will of another creature (i.e. by killing them)?

Beyond the evil choices of free beings, the traditional view also struggles to account for natural evil.  It is common for traditional view advocates to point to The Fall and Adam’s sin as the root cause of terrible tragedies like earthquakes that bury people alive or Tsunamis that cause unimaginable destruction.  But again, why would a loving God choose to poison all of His perfect creation with such natural evil simply because of one free individual’s sin? ...especially if He is, by nature, a God of forgiveness and mercy?

Considering this, it seems to me that the traditional view does a poor job of defending God from the problem of evil also.  It seeks to defend God by placing a free will event (The Fall) in between a Loving God and a world filled with pain and suffering, but it doesn’t escape harming God’s character in the process.  It either removes His omnipotence by claiming that He (because of free will) was powerless to prevent the suffering of others that would result from Adam’s sin, or else it removes His Loving and Just nature by implicating Him directly in cursing all creation for one individual’s sin.


Seenoevo - #75796

January 3rd 2013

God appears to be on trial. And his chances don’t look good.

robynhood wrote: “Yet the idea that God cursed all mankind (and all of creation for that matter) because of the disobedience of one free individual raises serious questions about God’s character. If any human had acted similarly, we would consider that human to be exceedingly unjust…why would God allow free will in the first place if He knew it would cause so much suffering (even the suffering of the innocent)?”

 

Scripture says his ways are not like our ways. But we can wonder. How could he possibly allow such things? How could he allow the sin of one to affect so many others? How could he allow free will when it can cause so much harm?

- Maybe because free will may be God’s greatest gift to man, and his scariest?

- Maybe because God is love, and calls us to love him, but love without the free will

choice of the lover is no love at all?

- Maybe to reveal the hellishness and power of sin, that sin is not just a private affair but often can have far-reaching and unimaginably bad consequences?

- Maybe to provide a taste and a warning of the far worse consequences of unrepentance (i.e. eternal damnation in hell.)?

 

Just wondering.

 

Too bad someone more loving and just, perhaps someone like robynhood, isn’t god.

 

P.S.

What might a Christian think if someone said that Christ’s suffering and death on the cross was inadequate, or somehow lacking?

Might he think this sacrilegious, an apostasy?


robynhood - #75804

January 4th 2013

Seenoevo,  You might be surprised that I agree with much of what you said about the possible reasons God may allow free will and evil.  (And, having a taste for sarcasm myself, I got a good laugh from your first line.)

While I agree we must be careful about our motivations when doing so, questioning God is not inherently wrong.  In fact, from Job to Jesus, there is significant Biblical precedent for asking God, “Why?”  Perhaps this may seem like we humans are putting God on trial, but I think He can handle it.

Having said that, I’d like to point out that it is not really God that I am questioning, but rather man’s conception of God.  Specifically, I am questioning the traditional belief that natural evil is something God created for the sole purpose of punishing mankind for Adam’s sin.  I question this conception of God because it is in conflict with my other beliefs about God, specifically that he is perfectly loving and just.

Granted, as a mere human, I surely don’t understand what it means to be perfectly loving and just.  Fortunately, God has given us some help in that area.  First, He has created us with the ability to reason and with an inherent sense of right and wrong (moral compass) to help guide our path.  Second, He gave us the example of Christ to show us what perfect love looks like.  And third, according to the Bible, we can actually be filled with His Spirit, which seems like a great advantage in seeking to understand God’s higher ways.

With all that in mind, how can we look around at all the pain and suffering in the world and simply conclude, “Who am I to question God’s goodness?”  For, it the words of J.S. Mill,

To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?


hathach3 - #75803

January 4th 2013

Perhaps I missed a suggestion in the comments above, but, anyway, I’ll say it.

It would be helpful if the additional text could be more permanent—in a different color, or something—rather than appearing and disappearing with mouse movement.

Thanks!


HornSpiel - #75815

January 6th 2013

I realize I am coming quite late to this post,after a vacation break then a cold. Still I would like to plant my stake in this interesting stream of comments.

What strikes me as rather odd, or myopic, is the particular sort of argumentation going on here—whether TE “solutions” to theodicy are “adequate” or “biblical.” What Dr. Lemke nor the commentators address, are the facts. To put it simply, the fact the billions upon billions of animals have died and suffered and that the world does appear to be very, very old. It is one thing to disagree with the scientific how it happened explanation—evolutionary theory. It is quite another to disagree with the scientific what happened description—the natural history of the universe and earth chronicled in stars, rocks, fossils, and genes.

To his credit Lemke states above that “I would describe my own view as progressive creationism.” I take that as an Old Earth view which recognizes the natural history facts. If so my question is, How does progressive creationism provide any better account of the problem of evil than the Biologos/TE accounts? The facts point to plenty of pain and suffering before any “historical fall.” There may be other reasons for preferring progressive creationism but I do not see how theodicy is one of them.

What I would like to know is how Dr. Lemke finds support for a more satisfactory theodicy in any progressive creationism account of natural history than in a TE natural history that accepts the Fall as historic (although described mythicly in Genesis).


GJDS - #75816

January 7th 2013

I am not sure if my comments will resonate with TE’s or the various evangelical outlooks, but I guess I enjoy hearing other people’s views and am tempted to put forward my own, so here goes. The notion that the earth is old is beyond reasonable dispute, and the fact of death to all creatures is even more so. The part of this discussion, which is termed theodicy, perplexes me in one sense, as it is put forward as if human beings can decide what is totally good, totally perfect, and added to this, how God may create to meet our notions of what is good and perfect. I can understand atheists in their arrogance saying, “well, if God is all powerful, he would and should have created something better than what we have.” The TE may reply that evolution and such like requires lengthy times and ‘experiments’ for the creation to make itself, so God decides to do it like that. Both outlooks are faulty!

So what is my point? It is to ask, how can we reconcile the teaching of the faith, in that we have eaten the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and we see the result around us of that same thing – just how can a Christian then entertain the notions of ‘things should be made differently by God?’. We may say the atheist cannot know beyond his notions of good and evil, and thus he cannot think ‘God’s thoughts’ or decide what is total goodness or perfection, and his faulty outlook may be understandable. The Christian however, is taught that he/I cannot come to the knowledge of what is totally good and perfect, but Christ as the revelation enables us to contemplate God’s grace as a means of seeing partially (through a veil) such goodness. If we accept this teaching, should we not re-phrase the discussion on theodicy to deal with the ability of human beings to perform extremely evil acts, and why it is that atheists use this as a judgement of God? If we as human beings cannot understand total perfection and goodness, how we understand the phrase, ‘totally powerful?”. We simply dig a hole for ourselves in this thinking, and then wonder if God put us in such a hole. How could power as we understand it be equated with God’s power? We cannot have such knowledge, and what we know surely should convince a Christian that we are unable to come to a decision of a world in which humans cannot do wrong. If this is inconceivable to us, than what does our discussion on theodicy amount to?


HornSpiel - #75818

January 7th 2013

GJDS,

You ask “what does our discussion on theodicy amount to?” Sounds like you basically do not think anyone can completely understand these questions therefore it is futile to try. Am I wrong?

Two comments:

Saying “we cannot understand something” is the theological equivalent of “God-of-the-gaps.” It is saying we cannot understand this or that but God did it. Now that may be understood by some as humility, and in some cases it might be, but i don’t think so in the case of theodicy because…

One of the apparent purposes of Genesis 3 especially, is to give us an account of sin and evil. It may not be a complete philosphical defense of God, but I believe God gave it to us so we would have enough to come to an adequate understanding of the issue.

I do like your reference to “we have eaten the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.” Although some interpret this is as meaning that eating the fruit caused evil, that is not what it says. I think it is better to argue eating the fruit caused mankind to become aware of evil, both in the world and particularly in themselves.

It is tempting to equate our Adamic inheritance, the result of the Fall, to our biological inheritance. I do think there is truth in that but biblically our Adamic inheritance must be more than just biological. In other words sin and evil is not natural. It cannot be explained completely by any natural process i.e. scientifically.

What Genesis and a biblical understanding of creation teaches me is that:

  • All natural processes are good, even the ones that do cause deaths, pain and suffering
  • God created humans with a supernaturally endowed capacity to be free moral agents, which science will never be able to explain or explain away.
  • In some mysterious fashion evil was in creation prior to Man, though not in scientifically describable natural processes.
  • The price God paid to create humans was that they would also participate in evil
  • But God was willing to pay that price because the human race would become the means by which He would enter creation and destroy evil though His self sacrifice.

robynhood - #75824

January 7th 2013

GJDS wrote:

I can understand atheists in their arrogance saying, “well, if God is all powerful, he would and should have created something better than what we have.”

It is not only atheists that make claims like this.  In fact, many Christians assert that God did in fact create something better, but that the devil and/or man’s freewill are responsible  for corrupting it.

The Problem of Evil raises questions that are asked by both atheists and Christians alike, and it seems they are asked for the same reason (and it is not arrogance).  It is simply that they both expect a ‘perfect’ God to create a ‘perfect’ world.  (Whether that is a valid expectation is another matter.)  Of course, our observations quickly tell us this world is not ‘perfect’, so how do we respond?  Atheists respond by simply taking God out of the equation.  Christians respond more creatively with a whole array of Theodicies.

GJDS, you have some interesting things to say in your posts.  Am I right that your point here has something to do with the idea that we, as humans, are in no position to truly understand what ‘perfect’ means?  Perhaps that is true, but I think it is a different story with goodness and Love.  Even with our human limitations, I think we can understand those qualities enough to be justified in asking, “Why is there evil, pain and suffering if God is Loving?”


GJDS - #75820

January 7th 2013

HornSpiel,

My comments are not “God of the gaps”. Indeed I am pointing to all of human knowledge and showing that the Biblical teaching is best understood within the context of ‘eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil’. This means we must deal with the consequences of this to our capacity for knowledge, or put another way, our knowledge is always to be understood as within ‘good and evil’.

I do not think God needs us to defend him. If our total knowledge is always within the fruit of good and evil, than our understanding of what it means to be holy, sacred, perfect, good, all-powerful, cannot be singularly so – God is singularly all of these attributes.

Just as an illustration, you may recall the Nietzschean outlook on the all powerful being (superman) who was above good and evil. To be all-powerful is to be without a moral outlook. To extend this meaning to God’s power is a mistake; humanity cannot understand, and thus cannot discuss, an all-powerful being that is also perfect. Instead our discussions are on what we think God should have done, or finding our own reasons to make God look ‘all-right’ regarding evil.

The bottom line is that our limited knowledge and understanding of God is an act of grace through revelation. We cannot ‘figure out’ God from scientific studies. We can show that faith and science are not in conflict, but atheists would just as easily show that it is. The revelation that is Christ shows us that another is ruler of this world, and thus Christ was subject to death and pain. In short, unless theodicy adequately shows why the holy and sacred cannot be part of the sinful, it is an exercise in futility. The outlook is for human beings to endeavour towards an understanding of what is good though our own life and experiences, and find hope in God’s mercy.

Accounts of sin and evil are found throughout the Bible and not restricted to Genesis. Our personal experiences and our collective human history are full of examples of sin and evil performed by human beings. It is not an exaggeration to say that while we human beings perform the acts of evil, we are quick to discuss God as part of these acts. Perhaps we should discuss God when we try to do what is good and realise our limited capacity for goodness i.e. the good that we wish to do we cannot, but the evil we try to avoid is before us. The price paid by Christ was to defeat the outcomes of sin to reconcile us to God the creator – Christ did not come to make nature appear scientific, nor did the Apostles give us two books on understanding the Faith (if I may indulge in a little humour!).


HornSpiel - #75823

January 7th 2013

I agree it is not appropriate for us to try and justify God. Still I am not sure yours is the best response to make to those who doubt the goodnes or existence of God because of the pain and suffering in the world. You are certainly correct that Genesis is not the only place that sin and evil and the reasons for suffering and pain are discussed in the Bible.

I personally like the approach that admits that we really don’t have a good explanation. However God has given us a good response, His willingness to suffer and die to  defeat sin and evil and thus prove His love and goodness.


GJDS - #75825

January 8th 2013

This web page keeps giving me problems; reply to HornSpiel #75823

The problems and questions we face regarding good and evil are profound and I am not suggesting that I have the total answer to such problems and questions. The point that I find interesting is a distinction between human understanding (the human spirit and human experience) and the sacred, which is commonly stated as the response based on faith. I cannot fault the atheist who questions how a God that Christians proclaim as perfect and totally good, appearing to purposely create a world where pain and suffering take place. Such an atheist position is not based on faith and hope, and seeks to (in most cases) to find another approach to dealing with such things (and often is motivated by a desire for the good). However I cannot accept a person of faith who thinks God has done the best he can and, well, it was not good enough. I am not saying you or anyone else says this, but I am simplifying the discussion to make a point regarding the distinction between knowledge and faith. God becoming human and suffering when he had committed no wrong has a lot to do with God’s law and the power in that sin brings death. This I see as part of the creation and God’s plan - however it is the Law of God that is the issue. These remarks are to show a distinction between human knowledge, faith, and the sacred.


GJDS - #75826

January 8th 2013

Robynhood, (reply to 75824)

I see a distinction between the sacred (the attributes of God) and we human beings – those of the faith confess to committing sins, or acting contrary to God’s law and his will. Having said this, human beings are also inclined to good will and a desire to do what is beneficial. This is the general setting that I use when contemplating the questions of good and evil. Since the Christian faith teaches to both strive to do what we know is good, and also to have faith and hope that good will eventually prevail, I take this as my ‘statement of theodicy’. Atheists however, may do the same thing (acts of good will), but as you say, they take God out of the equation. I see that also as God’s will and do not see some other purpose.

The point is that we all live in a world that is subject to pain and suffering – I mean ‘arrogant’ in the sense that we all accept this, but fail (I think many atheists) to accept the fact that we still end up with pain and evil. This question begins with human nature and what evil we human beings have done, and are capable of doing. I cannot accept that I (or others) as a responsible human being can shift responsibility from my individual (and collective) action by saying, “well God made it like this”. If the latter response is valid, we would not strive to solve problems (since it is created by God, how can we change it?) even when at times our efforts seem futile. Hope gets in there for all of us. Theodicy as such IMO


GJDS - #75827

January 8th 2013

seems my comments were not pasted completely… #75826 at the end should read

Hope gets in there for all of us. Theodicy as such IMO begins with an understanding of who and what we are, and an understanding of the Law of God.


robynhood - #75831

January 8th 2013

GJDS,

Thank you for clarifying your previous posts.  You make some very interesting points and, now that I understand better, it sounds as if we have much that we agree on.  If I’m reading you correctly, you seem to take an existential approach to faith, which I can definitely appreciate. Thanks again,

-Robynhood


Seenoevo - #75832

January 8th 2013

GJDS wrote: “The outlook is for human beings to endeavour towards an understanding of what is good though our own life and experiences, and find hope in God’s mercy.”

What does this mean for a Christian? Do Scripture and traditional Christian teaching supercede “life and experiences” in the understanding of what is good? Or are they equal or subservient to “life and experiences”?

Does the quoted statement mean, for example, that if a Christian decides, through his own life experiences, that his continued practice of homosexuality is good, then he has nothing to worry about in terms of hoping in God’s mercy?


GJDS - #75833

January 8th 2013

Seenoeve,

I have stated that the distinction is between the understanding of sinful human beings, which is very different to the understanding of the sacred revealed by God through the Holy Spirit. The law of God is taught to Christians through the Bible - in terms of what is good and evil, human beings by ourselves will always end up with a mixture of good and evil, and human experience has shown this is so through the end results of our individual and collective actions. Consequently human attempts at theodicy are futile - Christians therefore base their life experiences on faith underpinned by hope that God’s grace would show us what is good.


robynhood - #75835

January 8th 2013

Seenoevo wrote:

Does the quoted statement mean, for example, that if a Christian decides, through his own life experiences, that his continued practice of homosexuality is good, then he has nothing to worry about in terms of hoping in God’s mercy?

For the specific example you mention, I would answer yes, a gay Christian need not worry that God would fail to love and accept them.  I would also challenge any Christian to read the book, “Torn” by Justin Lee, before deciding where you stand on this issue of homosexuality and Christianity.

But more generally, it would seem that our “life and experiences” is a very broad category that would include our experience of Scripture and Christian teaching.

In any case, to me it seems unlikely that a Christian (who honestly seeks to follow Christ and has their faculties intact) would, through their own life and experiences, conclude that something clearly bad is actually good.  If they did, I’m sure God could find a way to help them realize their error.


Seenoevo - #75842

January 9th 2013

“For the specific example you mention, I would answer yes, a gay Christian need not worry that God would fail to love and accept them.”

The question was not whether a gay Christian needs worry that God would fail to love and accept them.

The question, essentially, was whether a gay Christian, who not only practiced homosexuality but, perhaps convincing himself that it was OK, fully intended to continue the practice of homosexuality, would have anything to worry about in terms of hoping in God’s mercy.

If the answer is “No”, then the various Scriptural warnings against, and condemnations of, homosexuality and fornication could be safely ignored.

What other Scriptural admonitions, including Jesus Christ’s warnings (e.g. Mat 5:32, Mat 7:21), may be safely ignored in terms of salvation?

Is there such a thing as “sin” anymore?

If there is still such a thing as “sin” today, does it matter?


robynhood - #75846

January 9th 2013

Seenoevo,  As this is drifting off topic, I will keep my reply brief.

The Bible says that all of the Law can be “safely ignored” as long as we do not ignore the command to love our neighbor. (Mat. 22:35-40, Gal. 5:14)

Of course there is such a thing as “sin”, but in as much as homosexuality is not inherently un-loving, I do not consider it inherently sinful.


Eddie - #75866

January 10th 2013

robynhood:

As far as I know, the traditional Christian understanding, i.e., the understanding that prevailed in Christendom prior to the Enlightenment, was that the ceremonial and dietary parts of the Law were abolished for Christians, but that the moral parts of the Law retained their force.  That included the Ten Commandments, explicitly, but also other parts of the Law that had to do with moral behavior.  The specific punishments prescribed by the Law were no longer in force, but the wrongness of the actions to which those punishments were attached remained.

I suspect that all the Old and New Testament authors believed that homosexual conduct was “inherently sinful” and would have said that whether or not such conduct was “loving” in the modern sentimental sense of “loving” (which has replaced the Biblical sense of “loving” for modern, middle-class Christians in developed countries) was completely irrelevant.  What God has forbidden, God has forbidden, and doing what God has forbidden is sin.  That would have been the traditional reading of the Bible.  It is, of course, nothing new for post-Enlightenment Christians to reject the traditional reading of the Bible and substitute a reading based on Enlightenment principles (and later, on Freudian principles, Marxist principles, feminist principles, etc.).  And maybe the traditional reading of the Bible needs to be abandoned on some issues.  But if Christians do so abandon it, they should do so explicitly and honestly, and not try to conceal the changes they are making underneath ambiguous words like “loving.”  They should say:  “The Biblical understanding of sin needs to be modified in light of modern attitudes and aspirations.”  When matters are put in this blunter fashion, the magnitude of the changes that are being proposed is visible for all to see.  

I agree, however, that the discussion of homosexuality is off-topic regarding this particular column.  Of course, it is nothing new for Seenoevo to lead the discussion off-topic.  He will do that for as long as he contributes here.  His agenda has nothing to do with Protestant evangelical Christianity; his theological loyalties appear to lie elsewhere, on the other side of the Tiber.


robynhood - #75873

January 10th 2013

Eddie,  Thank you for your reply.

Because of our post-Enlightenment understanding of Biology, Sociology and Biblical Criticism, I believe it is reasonable for Christians to abandon the traditional view of homosexuality specifically without abandoning a traditional view of Christian morality more generally.

The only statement in you post that I really disagree with is:

But if Christians do so abandon it, they should do so explicitly and honestly, and not try to conceal the changes they are making underneath ambiguous words like “loving.”

I take issue with this statement because it implies that appealing to the concept of Love being the highest law is somehow deceitful. While it is true that the word ‘love’ is ambiguous in our culture, I do not think it is an ambiguous concept to most Christians who take the self-sacrificing (agape) Love of Christ as their model.  Therefore, I do not think the proposed changes are an attempt to “conceal” anything.  Rather, I think they are an explicit and honest attempt to find Biblical support for accepting our gay brothers and sisters the way God made them.

Whether you find this attempt compelling is and individual matter, but I would again ask anyone who seeks understanding on this very relevant (but off topic) issue, to consider reading the book “Torn” by Justin Lee.


Eddie - #75881

January 10th 2013

robynhood:

The point is that if the traditional teaching about homosexuality is wrong, then the Bible contains an error in its moral teaching.  Are you willing to say that?  If so, then fine—you’re being up front.  I’d rather you said that than that you said that you believed the Bible was wholly and completely true, inspired, and inerrant in all that it teaches, and then try to justify adopting a liberal position on homosexuality by appealing to the occurrence in the Bible of the word “love”—a notion the Bible never employs to excuse things that it considers sinful.  (Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to sin no more; I doubt very much that he would have said to a man caught in homosexual activity that he had not sinned at all.  Can you imagine Jesus saying that?)  

Note that I am not taking a position on the acceptability or non-acceptability of homsexuality per se.  I’m merely indicating that it was considered sinful by the Biblical writers, and that there is no evidence that Jesus overruled traditional Biblical and Jewish teaching on the subject.   So either the Biblical writers were correct on that point, or they weren’t.  I just wish that evangelical Christians could learn to call a spade a spade, instead of trying to have everything both ways.  Either Protestant evangelical Christianity should admit error and modify its traditional teaching, or it should hold the line on its traditional teaching.  The attempt to do both—to pretend that one still believes in an infallible Bible while in practice adopting modern mores and standards—will in the long run rip evangelical Christianity into pieces, with only fundamentalism and vacuous mainstream church liberalism left over when the dust clears.

I don’t want to speak specifically about homosexuality any longer, and am dropping the subject.  But evangelicals have to decide what the basis of religious authority is.  Is it sentiment?  Is it the findings of social science on human sexuality?  Is it the Bible?  Is it Reformation doctrine?  I don’t think evangelicals any longer have a clue.  I think they have lost their way.  I think they want to be Biblical and also up to date in their science and social science and philosophy and culture and environmentalism and feminism and who knows what else.  I think they are trying to serve a dozen masters.  At some point, they will have to return to the magisterial Reformation, or they will simply melt away into modern pluralistic humanism as their Christianity becomes equated with “tolerance” and “sensitivity.”


robynhood - #75882

January 10th 2013

Eddie,

You are correct, I do not personally subscribe to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.  But I know of Christians who do and who appeal to the concept of Love transcending all other moralities and I agree with that line of thinking.  The only Biblical instances of the word “love” that I appealed to in this discussion were the verses where Jesus and Paul say that, essentially, all of the Law boils down to “love your neighbor”.  I’m not sure why you see this position as some sort of smoke screen. To me it seems like one of the more glorious and inspired examples of Christian teaching.

Even if I did subscribe to inerrancy, I don’t consider the Bible’s teaching to on this issue to be nearly as clear as many Christian make it out to be.  Sure, you could build a much stronger case if you decided that words like “fornication” automatically include homosexuality - but that’s an interpretation.

As for you comments on Evangelicals, I’ll say only one thing.  Perhaps they are trying to serve a dozen masters because there are a dozen evangelicals.

In any case, I agree we should try to wrap up this line of conversation.  I appreciate the considerate way you’ve responded in your posts.

-Robynhood


Jon Garvey - #75884

January 11th 2013

Eddie

It’s a key question, isn’t it? One would think that part of following Jesus as Lord is to accept his teaching. But there’s a, shall we say, open-ended understanding of such discipleship now that says (a) any interpretation of his teaching is equally valid or (b) if not, then what we have as his teaching is actually erroneous, or maybe even Jesus got it wrong sometimes, being ignorant of science and critical scholarship and all.

On that question of “love” as the highest morality, for example, what Jesus actually said is that love “is” (= sums up) the law and the prophets (Matthew), and as restated in Romans 13 love “fulfils” the law; not that it supercedes it or contradicts it.

We have good evidence that Jesus would have regarded an interpretation of love that negated the law as an indication of insufficient acquaintance with God’s love.

John the Baptist - Jesus’ own cousin and prophet -  was arrested, and eventually executed, for condemning the divorce and remarriage of Herod to his brother’s wife. One might expect a quick message from Jesus to John would have solved the problem: “Back down on this one, John - you’re thinking Old Testament, and Herod’s got it right: love is the thing that matters, not the letter of Levitical law about divorce and degrees of relatedness for marriage.

We don’t have that message (an error of Scripture, maybe?), but we do have Jesus referring to Herod as “that fox”.


robynhood - #75889

January 11th 2013

Isn’t Christianity more about accepting and following the living Christ rather than the teachings attributed to Him?

While I am not suggesting that we casually disregard any words attributed to Jesus, it would seem Christianity is more about who Jesus was and what Jesus did than about what Jesus supposedly said.

In the words of George MacDonald in “Unspoken Sermons”:

The great heresy of the Church of the present is unbelief in this Spirit.  The mass of the Church does not believe that the Spirit has a revelation for every man individually…  If we were once filled with the mind of Christ, we should know that the Bible had done its work, was fulfilled, and had for us passed away, that thereby the Word of our God [Christ] might abide for ever.


robynhood - #75890

January 11th 2013

P.S.  Jon, do you really want Herod as your example of Love based morality?  (Mat. 1:16)  There may have been additional reasons John the Baptist and Jesus did not especially like him.


robynhood - #75891

January 11th 2013

Oops - sorry, that verse should be Matthew 2:16!


Jon Garvey - #75892

January 11th 2013

Robynhood, the teaching that the Holy Spirit gives us access to the mind of Christ apart from the apostolic teaching is difficult to derive from the teaching of Christ. It’s a good way to baptize ones own preferences, though.

It was denied by many of the saints (remember Martin Luther’s attitude to the Zwickau prophets and the orthodox Church’s to Montanus) and is belied by the baleful results of so much in charismatic/pentecostal practice when the Spirit loses touch with the Word.

But as for Herod in Matt 2.16 (in case anyone’s mystified by the reference), remember that he’s a different Herod for a start, but also the main point, which is that John condemned Herod, and was condemned to death as a result, by the Mosaic  law. Jesus supported John and rejected Herod, not the law.

For myself, the living Christ appears, through his Spirit, to have driven me to trust the written word for nearly half a century, which is after all what was promised by Jesus of that Spirit “reminding you of all that I have taught”.

So at the very least, the Spirit would appear to lead many to the living Christ through the living word, even as others say the Spirit is showing them a Christ independent of the Bible’s witness. As Mark Knopfler said, “Two men say they’re Jesus - one of them must be wrong”. Interestingly, as GJDS has been arguing, if subtly, the majority of Christ’s Church for two millennia have listened to the first Spirit.


robynhood - #75893

January 11th 2013

Good points Jon.  I completely agree about the dangerous results of separating Christ from the Bible.  (and so would George MacDonald)  You certainly can end up with whatever sort of God you prefer.

The intent of my last post was to highlight the danger at the other end of the spectrum; namely the danger of elevating the Bible to such lofty heights that it is worshiped instead of Christ.  It’s especially easy to do when it is viewed as a flawless, complete, and direct communication from God.  The situation is also not helped by the unfortunate use of the English word “word” to refer both to the written word of God and the Word of God (meaning Christ).

As an alternative, I suggest a more balanced view that recognizes scripture as a form of revelation (even if not a perfect one) but also recognizes that God can reveal truth in other ways (via creation, via reason, via conscience and even via personal revelation).  Taken as the inspired writing of men, I view the Bible as an important foundation for Christianity and a pointer to the true Christ.  Beyond that, expecting the Bible to be without error, answer all my questions about life, teach me impeccable history and science, and give me a comprehensive and completely error-free moral code to live by, strikes me as unreasonable.


GJDS - #75895

January 11th 2013

Robynhood,

Jon is right when he mentions ‘other sources’ of understanding which may not be of Christ and God’s word. What you may refer imo is the limitations that we human beings face - surely the argument is summarised as one of faith - we accept our limitations and rely on faith (even if the Bible were written perfectly, whatever that may mean, we are still the error prone human beings who read it with error) thus our hope and our faith (also taught by the biblical writings and sated by Christ) is because of Christ, and hope, faith and charity, are indeed gifts from the Holy Spirit.


Jon Garvey - #75900

January 12th 2013

Robynhood

The issue of the nature and extent of biblical truth is a large and ploughed-over one, and I agree that to view Scripture as a simple recipe for all matters in life goes against its very purpose.

But there are very different meanings one can place on “inspired writings of men”, and one way of judging between them is in that “unfortunate” English word word, which happens, not at all coincidentally,  to correspond to a Greek word Logos and a Hebrew word dabar. All are used both of Scripture and divine (personified) fiat. In other words, the link of Scripture as God’s word to Christ the Word is not at all fortuitous or misleading, but deliberate, and in John particularly a developed theme.

If you’re interested I’ve discussed that at length here.


HornSpiel - #75843

January 9th 2013

GJDS,

Consequently human attempts at theodicy are futile

I assume you mean human attempts to justify God are futile. Using theodicy as you do in the above sentence and elsewhere are do not sound natural to my ear.

The bottom line is that our limited knowledge and understanding of God is an act of grace through revelation.

This is another confusing statement. Are you saying God has revealed that our ignorance of God (lack of understanding) is a result of His gracious action, or something else?

Clearly you contend that humans cannot justify God. I think you are also saying that humans should not even try. Ironically, IMHO, your anti-theodicy is itself a kind of theodicy—God needs no justification. This sounds curiously like the Islamic point of view.


GJDS - #75850

January 10th 2013

HornsSpiel, 

I will assume that you have a different sense of humour than I do! My goodness, from a ‘god of your gaps’, now to Islam? Perhaps it is better to receive comments from Beaglelady who would remove my PhD in science. Nonetheless, I will try and give a considered reply. I will try to make this brief but I am not making any promises.

1)                  Knowledge (science) and theism: To ‘know’ about God requires that what is known is comprehended and would form part of the context of a human’s awareness. Knowledge cannot be considered such, if a human being cannot be aware in some manner of what is being known. The usual meaning of ‘God’ is a being with attributes such as, for example, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, unlimited by space and time, and so on. Yet it is not possible to point to anything that a human being may know or identify that would fit these attributes. One may point to the universe as infinite and be satisfied in this way that such an attribute is known, without necessarily knowing about God. Meaning for a human being, however, requires that it be within and part of the person, otherwise knowledge can only be of an object - such knowledge derives its meaning from sense responses to that object. If a human being cannot obtain meaning within self, then speculation and scepticism result. Meaning, however, may be attributed to an idea that would be intelligently constructed as an idea of god. This would be a synthesis of an idea and the meaning is part of that idea.

2)                  I do not share the Miltonian view in that the ways of God should be justified to men. I take the view that sinful humanity needs justification before God, and that is through Christ. I would have thought that of all people, you would understand this. This is why I use the term ‘futile’ regarding the former, and not the latter.

The Law of God – is it intrinsic and above so called scientific laws: The intrinsic aspect of the law of God may be difficult to contemplate because freedom is always part of the Way of Life. The intrinsic aspect may be comprehended in that all have sinned; this is a negative statement. An understanding of the grace of God is needed for comprehension of the law of God. A community benefits from the lawfulness that results as people within that community comprehend the will of God as law, and endeavour to implement that comprehension in action. Such intent and action is from (and is an expression of) freedom and faith. The will of God encompasses all things, including all notions understood by people as law, be these laws of nature, or legislated laws of a community. ... continued


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