Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

“Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science”

arroba Email

An essay that employs Newcomb’s paradox to show how natural evil can be a consequence of human sin in a world where natural evil nonetheless exists before the advent of humanity:


This thread looks a bit moribund, so maybe it could do with a little extra blather (wonder how the article has been received elsewhere?). Anyway I appreciated the article, especially because it brings home the genius of ID. ID addresses a single issue--the most important one of all!--and unites many under its "Big Tent". It leaves the age of the cosmos and the nature of the deity for other venues, and to get on board one does not have to buy into any all encompassing philosophy. I can't really argue with the argument, except to say that it escapes me how invoking Newcomb's Paradox says anything more than that God looks into his crystal ball, sees Adam sin, and therefore curses the Planet to make it tough on Adam when he is cast from the Garden. Augustine and Calvin, in my opinion, espoused a gloomy determinism--also to consider is the hopeful optimism of the rabbis, such as this today from Rabbi David Aaron (http://jewishworldreview.com/david/aaron_divine_good.php3): "The creation of so much evil was no mistake. Ultimate goodness is the goodness achieved through choice and it therefore requires the possibility for evil. Goodness that isn't chosen is not complete goodness. If we didn't choose goodness--if we were just naturally good, or if goodness was the only option available--how could that be the highest expression of goodness? ... ... Without the possibility and inclination for evil we would naturally do G-d's will like angels. We would automatically serve G-d but never experience the joy of choosing goodness and loving G-d through choice." In regard to those pre-adamic eons Orion (30 above) rightly asks, "But does it explain why there is so much animal death? Why the millions upon millions of years? From a scientific perspective the long time period makes sense as God working through his created physical laws to prepare a suitable habitation for mankind." In his talk at the 2004 Biola banquet, Phillip Johnson asked, "How do we know that God doesn't know the future?" Answer: "Because it hasn't happened yet!" But that's the question! Has the future happened already from God's purview, not just in the certainty of prophecy (Rom 4:17), but in actual reality? Is "subjective time" merely some kind of illusion and in reality my life is already lived? Tribune says, "For over a millennium, conventional wisdom assumed the universe had no beginning, and would have no end, contradicting scripture. Scripture, of course, has been found to be right." Hmm ... For those interested let me recommend three books, er, rather five (will list them at the end of my Spiel). Anyway Judeo-Christian theology presumably begins when Philo (20 BCE-50 CE) wrestled with philosophical concepts of the eternity of matter and a beginning to the cosmos (as in the Timaeus), on which see Gerhard May (page 19): "Frankly such statements cannot hide the problems which arise for the concept of God from the acceptance of a beginning of the world: The creative act in time implies that God is not eternal creator; and so through the creation we come to a change in God." If you're interested there's an article on line that challenges May (http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/article_exnihilo_copan.html), but I recommend that you also read May's book. From Philo to Augustine to the Rambam and our own Professor Dembski, it all may be good theology. But modern exegetes, such as David Tsumura (2005), are not so sure that it's there in Genesis. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Heaven and earth (sky and land) is a merism, as they say, for the Universe. OK, from one perspective certainly. But in context "Heaven" is the barrier (רָקִיעַ) established on the 2nd day (see also Ezekiel 1) and "Earth" is the dry land that appeared on the 3rd day but which was already there even before the six days began (verse 2): "And the earth was without form, and void ..." This isn't the undifferentiated "matter" (hyle) of the stoics nor is it our planet Earth. It's the land of Israel ... but you object? Genesis is talking about ultimate creation in verse one and cannot switch to the land of Israel in the next verse! Oh? There is certainly such a shift of focus in the Genesis Haftarah (Isaiah 42:5-6): "Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." One sees this again in Isaiah 65:17-18: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy." As for all planetary evil resulting from Adam's sin, I wonder about (John 9:2-3): "And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents [Adam and Eve were parents]: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." It just may be that a mechanistic creation is a dangerous place. Maybe we shouldn't have rejected our Creator and spurned his wisdom--which is the tree of life (Prov 3:18). As he says (Hosea 4:6), "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." Paul echoes this in (Rom 1:28): "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient ..." Anyway, yes, it's a vast subject--science and theology and Genesis and reconciling these three. A great deal more has been written on Genesis One, they say, than on any other portion of Scripture. Recommended Reading: Boyd, Gregory A. 2001. The Open Theism View. In Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, pp. 13-47. Downers Grove, Illinois: InverVarsity Press. Collins, Clifford John. 2006. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company. May, Gerhard. 1994. Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of “Creation out of Nothing” in Early Christian Thought. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. (Originally published as Schöpfung aus dem Nichts. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1978). Tsumura, David Toshio. 2005. Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament. Eisenbrauns. Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 2001. Unqualified Divine Temporality. In God & Time: Four Views, edited by Gregory E. Ganssle, pp. 187-213. Downers Grove, Illinois: InverVarsity Press. Rude
Tina, I think there are many ways to counter atheism. The best is to pray and reflect Jesus in your behavior. tribune7
To quote another famous man, "truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." jaredl
jaredl: To quote a famous man "What is Truth?"... tinabrewer
Tina - you are on the path to finding the truth. jaredl
tribune: why is atheism only reasonably countered by adherence to the Biblical account of creation AS CURRENTLY UNDERSTOOD? Just as science changes its viewpoint over time, religion has shifted its viewpoint many times. Even Christianity is FAR from a single, agreed upon interpretation. A truth about truth is that when there is real clarity and understanding, there is NO ROOM for differences in interpretation and competing creeds. Consider: does anyone reasonably argue that 2=2=4? Of course not, because it is a basic truth of mathematics which everyone can readily understand and agree upon. Spiritual truth must be exponentially MORE certain and powerful than addition of numbers, and yet there is a mountain of competing interpretations withing a single religious movement. (In this case Christianity, but it is a universal condition of all religions) When a mountain of competing and disjointed theories arises in science, typically it is understood that "we just don't get it" "we don't have enough information to develop a decent theory" etc. Darwinism might be the most powerful exception to this necessarily humble stance. Why shouldn't the same be true in religion? Isn't that what revelation and prophecy is about? When people just "don't get it", then someone comes, sent by God, to bring clarity and further understanding? tinabrewer

Something to consider -- suppose we accept that the methodologies indicating an old Earth are proper but declare on the basis of faith that the conclusions are wrong.

There are at least two very good reasons for doing this:

For over a millennium, conventional wisdom assumed the universe had no beginning, and would have no end, contradicting scripture. Scripture, of course, has been found to be right.

And, the atheist set insists that abiogenesis -- the spontaneous generation of life -- happened. This, of course, unabashedly ignores what may be the foundational principle of modern biology. Their argument is that things were different back then. OK, so maybe radioactive decay was a lot faster back then. Sauce for the goose, right?

As to science's influence on the noetic environment, I think it may be overrated, blasphemy that may be. Wealth, ease and safety make for fertile soil for atheism, and it was in that soil that the seed of Darwin landed (along with Marx, Freud etc.) when it fell among the 19th Century movers and shakers.

The defenders of atheism are going to reject whatever argument you put forth regardless of how rational. The average person, however, will accept the claim of God's existence without the need for details. The problem as I see it are that the defenders of atheism have acquired too much power in our courts and media, and I fear they are immune to reason.

Ironically, I think it is God's desire for us to have wealth, ease and safety.

Anyway, professor, I'm a fan, and you always provide food for thought.

Jaredl: thanks for the info. I actually looked on wikipedia before posting my question, under biblical inerrancy, but still couldn't really get a handle on the real reason the book is viewed in this fashion. I have always wondered about this, and it is relevant here simply because the whole program of apologetics seems geared to making everything make sense in Biblical terms. If this entire premise is flawed, then it will, of course, never work satisfactorily. The truth itself is likely to be greater than that which is contained in books. tinabrewer
Tina - orthodox Christians have no cogent answer to your question. The primitive Christians had direct access to God and, for them, revelation was of supreme authority and the books secondary. Today's orthodox Christianity has lost revelation and for that reason alone claims that the Bible is the infallible, final, and all-sufficient word of God. The Bible itself nowhere makes such claims. jaredl
Eden is in heaven. The original creation, the ideal form, is the non-material kingdom. The form must always precede that which it informs. The "fallen" creation is the material world which has developed in a negative direction under the influence of human sin. This Platonic concept also has much to say about evolution: the changes take place first in the finer plane of information, and finally manifest physically. This can never be proven, of course, but is just an idea. I like it. Could I ask a serious question of religious Christians without sounding flippant? Why does the Bible rank as the single authoritative and definitive work regarding truth? Given that it was assembled over a long period in real historical time, at what point did it gain the status of the inviolable "word of God"? I mean this in a technical, historical sense. Did someone important say that this was so? Is it assumed? Is it in the Bible itself, in some self-referential fashion? tinabrewer
Much as I admire Bill's work, Occam's razor suggests the simplest, most elegant explanation is likely the closest to true. What is the major scientific problem with a young earth? I do like the Garden amidst The Wild idea, though. mmadigan
I believe the kairos/chronos concept explains very well why animal death occurs chronologically prior but morally subsequent to the Fall. But does it explain why there is so much animal death? Why the millions upon millions of years? From a scientific perspective the long time period makes sense as God working through his created physical laws to prepare a suitable habitation for mankind. Or are the millions of years a result of the infinite dialectic? From the point of view of theodicy would the millions of years of animal death be an indication of the magnitude and pervasive extent of mankind's sin? orion
Thanks for this fascinating essay. I've often wondered whether updating our understanding of "time" in relation to the creation / fall / flood narratives would help ease some of the apparent tensions between scripture and our "noetic environment" as you call it, as well as among different interpretive camps within the Christian community (such as YEC, OEC, and TE). I'm curious whether you've ever thought of the conditions in the "segregated" area of Eden along these lines. We see reference to the "tree of life" in Eden, and it's not seen again in relation to any "place" until Revelation 22 in the new Jerusalem. In the interim between the fall and the new Jerusalem, access to the tree of life is cut off by the cherubim and "flaming sword" of Gen. 3:24. Whatever the "tree of life" represents, this suggests to me that Eden as a "place" is not coeextensive with the present Earth as a "place," similar to the way the new Jerusalem and the new heaven and new Earth are not coeextensive as a "place" with the present creation. In terms more consistent with our noetic environment, perhaps Eden exists along a different "brane" (or some such construction theoretical physics hasn't yet conceived), and Adam and Eve were expelled into the "brane" we currently inhabit (or the fall represents an interaction between our brane as it existed then and another brane). Or, perhaps the "brane" to which Adam and Eve were expelled contained a version of the world that was destroyed during the flood, and Noah and those aboard the ark were placed onto the world in our currently inhabited brane (or the flood is another event of branes interacting) -- a possibility perhaps evoked by the parallel between the Noahic flood and the destruction of the present world drawn in 2 Peter 3. Thus, we really come from a "world" that was pristine and "young" as the Bible seems to describe, but we also really inhabit a "world" that is broken and "old," as natural history informs us. (There is no "appearance of age" here -- natural history as we observe it is real). I know these are wacky ideas, but I'd be curious for your thoughts. Keep up the interesting work! dopderbeck
Kathy: I agree that Dr Dembski's writing is much clearer than Lee Irons'. I went back and re-read the section on the two register cosmology which I had previously found to be somewhat extraneous to the framework view, and discovered that the kairos/chronos concept helped me to make sense of the two register cosmology. It's interesting that Lee Irons' justifies animal death on the basis of Psalm 104, but I think that God's provision for predators which the Psalm defines as good does not negate the fact animal death is a result of the Fall. i.e. given that the creation is also "fallen" because of human sin, God still shows his goodness to his creatures including predators by providing for their needs. orion
Romans 5:11. After actually reading the article by Dr. Dembski (something I failed to do before my above comment) I found the answer(s) to my above question(s). It almost seemed like there was prior knowledge of what I was going to say with answers provided (yet hidden from me – because I commented before I read) before I asked. an example of the good teacher and the poor student, i guess... Jaspers
Does the Bible say that evil [i]in the world[/i] is the result of Human sin? Why not evil in the Garden (the environment -or 'world'- of Adam and eve)? There seems to be a distinction in the bible between the world in-and-outside the Garden –- maybe even separate creation events (?)… Why not separate falls/curses, too? Jaspers
Dr. Dembski, I've let the article percolate for the past couple of days, and I want to add to the que my expression of appreciation for your willingness to use your gifts to edify us and honor God. I agree that your paper seems to correlate somewhat to Lee Irons "upper register/lower register" time discussed in the book “The Genesis Debate,” but your clear and engaging writing makes your points more accessible to lay people than Irons' stilted and stuffy delivery. Defining time as kairos vs. chronos rather than "upper register/lower register" is,in my opinion, much less ambiguous and arbitrary, as well. Besides, I don't like perpetuatng the dualistic notion that God's domain is "up there." Even though Irons doesn't imply such with the label, laypeople tend to think that way. Now, I have some biology/earth science questions about the implications of your article. I've always struggled with reconciling the fact that what we perceive as evil in creation is built into its ecology. Parasites and death and decay are all necessary to recycle the building blocks of life. Even hurricanes and volcanic eruptions play their parts in keeping earth habitable. Similar to tinabrewer's question about what kind of love would there be in a world untainted by sin, I've always wondered what kind of ecology would exist in a world untainted by sin. Indeed, what will the restored creation look like on a functional, geophysical and cellular level? What kind of physicality will "nature" have? Can we speculate based on what we know now? Or should be be content to wait and see? kathy

Prof Dembski,

From the Genesis account we know that the fall of Satan preceded the fall of man. Surely that has some bearing on the entry of evil in this world that is not related to human sin? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

[Yes, that's why I consistently stress that evil in the world traces to human sin. The origin of that human sin, and Satan's role in it, is a further question. --WmAD] antg
Darrow said: The root, in this case, turns out to be a combination of God’s demanding love for Job and satan’s malice. And in God’s defense of his righteousness to Job, he mentions nothing of man’s natural corruption, but focuses on his own right to visit evil on who he will for his own good purposes. I don’t trust a theodicy that doesn’t take his claim of righteousness in this case at face value. This furthers my claim that maybe, just maybe, God's methods are justified because he knows they are - period, end of discussion. Perhaps if we could know what he knows then we'd agree - but that's not possible. We aren't omniscient and therefore our judgement may not be accurate. I mean, how do you know murder is evil? You only know this because God says it's evil - period, end of discussion. Doesn't matter is you agree or disagree. Something may look evil/wrong to us, when in reality it's a good thing. You've got to know the whole story in order to determine if something is good or evil, and God knows the whole story. Does he owe us an explanation for everything? I don't think so. Lurker
Dr Dembski, thank you, you've addressed the questions that niggled in the back of my mind regarding OEC theodicy. The view that non-human death was a "good" thing seemed to be a natural corollory of OEC theology, but didn't sit comfortably. I would like to commend you for taking YEC criticisms seriously and providing an answer that is faithful to both Scripture and general revelation. One minor point. The kairos/chronos distinction seems similar to the two register cosmology that Lee Irons discussed in the book "The Genesis Debate" edited by David Hagopian. In the framework view the non-literal 6 days of creation have reference to upper-register time i.e. what you call kairos time. orion
It does not seem to me that the author has actually demonstrated (3) -- All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin. To be sure, I come away from the essay impressed that all evil in the world could plausibly--in a philosophical sense--trace back to human sin. It's been cleverly and clearly demonstrated that (3) is logically possible. But I don't see much to argue that (3) is true, or a position that I should hold. There is a brief reference to Romans 8:19-22 on p. 8, and a comment that young earth creationists "have an easier time" interpreting Romans 5:12. Given that the first passage doesn't overtly mention sin (human or otherwise!) and the second isn't demonstrably referring to the natural world, this is pretty poor support. I don't doubt that attributing natural evil to human sin simplifies the task of theodicy, and might be philosophically desirable. But theodicies rooted in philosophical puzzlings rather than sound theology are really only good for warding off atheists. Our struggles with the problem of evil indicate there is something about the character of God we don't understand--the true task of theodicy is to uncover that. To accomplish such, any solution must be grounded in God's revealed nature. Aside from the passages in Romans mentioned in the essay (which I judge spurious), I can't think of a single case in the Bible in which natural evil is attributed to human sin. There are several famines in the old testament, and none are ever attributed to human sin; when Jesus calms the storm on the sea of Galilee, not a word is breathed about its being the just consequence of human sin; Paul never once speaks of what an excellent demonstration of the folly of sin his shipwrecks were. Moreover, the cases in which a specific natural evil is used to punish the unrighteous (e.g., the flood) are explicitly attributed to God. Is it really possible that God introduced natural evil into the world to demonstrate the consequences of sin, as in the essay's arsonist analogy--but never taught a connection between sin and natural evil? It certainly isn't intuitive, and the ancients seem to have struggled with causal relationships more explicitly made and repeatedly demonstrated, such as the relationship between Israel's prosperity and fidelity. The sole exception I can think of here is man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. You could make an argument that natural evil shows man what life is like outside the garden--but if so, you'd think the curse would mention it. Adam's curse is about toil and perhaps famine, and Eve's is about childbirth. If tsunamis are supposed to demonstrate what abandoning God is like, nobody connects it. An object lesson is only valuable if it's comprehensible. Finally, an explanation of a specific case of natural evil is given in the book of Job, and human sin is never mentioned (in fact, one of the main points of the book is that human sin is *not* the source). The root, in this case, turns out to be a combination of God's demanding love for Job and satan's malice. And in God's defense of his righteousness to Job, he mentions nothing of man's natural corruption, but focuses on his own right to visit evil on who he will for his own good purposes. I don't trust a theodicy that doesn't take his claim of righteousness in this case at face value. Another problem with this theodicy is that the scope of evil it makes humanity responsible for is too broad. It is nowhere a Biblical teaching that human sin is the original source of sin, the origin of all evil in the universe. Man did yield to temptation and fall--the source of many of mankind's sorrows, and rightly his judicial and moral guilt to bear. But the author of the fall was not man himself, but Satan. Man is naturally deceptive, but he is not the original father of lies--that title belongs to another. Satan's active adversity and influence is identified many times in scripture: he is portrayed as the source behind temptation, the active force powering death and corruption. God has clearly created an unredeemable being who does nothing but evil--and is the ultimate source of corruption in the world, the causal *reason* man abused his free will. A theodicy that does not deal with this has only succeeded in solving a toy problem. So I don't think this essay succeeds as theodicy. It might solve the abstract philosopher's problem, but is no great help to the Christian philosopher. In the end, this argument is a special case of those that argue God included evil in the world for his own good purposes. In this case, God is said to have included evil in judicial reaction to man's anticipated sin, and to demonstrate to him the consequences of his sin. Perhaps he did--but if so he didn't tell us about it, and at any rate, he clearly doesn't stake his righteousness on the fact of our sin justifying the evil he allows (see Job again). I think we should not stake his righteousness on it either. If a clever and valuable take on predestination and foreknowledge, this theodicy avoids some problems theodicies ought to deal with, and seems a little sour Biblically. ------------ I also have a minor nitpick. I disagree technically with the discussion of the "infinite dialectic" at this point (p. 25): "This up and back loop between divine action and creaturely causation proceeds indefinitely....Consequently, only an infinitely powerful and wise God can pull off the infinite dialectic." Computer viruses face the same problem. A computer virus is a program which must copy itself--that is, print its own source code. If we tried to write one of these naively, we would begin with "Do SOURCE CODE, print 'SOURCE CODE'", and then realizing there's a 'print' in the source code but not in the printout, we might try tack "Print 'Print 'source code''" onto the end, only to recurse. Seeing the pattern, we might be tempted to argue that only an infinite program could ever print its source code, but of course we'd be wrong--people write computer viruses all the time, and they have quite finite length. All that's needed is a bit of abstraction to close the loop: "Print the following, followed by its quotation, and then run SOURCE CODE: 'Print the following, followed by its quotation, and then run SOURCE CODE: ". The solution is not to keep hacking away at an infinite number of print statements, but to perturb both the code and the print statement until they are consistent, and then close the finite loop. And this is, in fact, how computer viruses are written. Novel writers also face the same problem. I may have a well-written story, and then decide I want to change something. I want my character Mary to have a dark past, but that affects how she meets Bob, so I'll have to have her hometown be Bruxy instead of Paverly, but then where did she learn about fencing? These ripples seem like they should be infinite in nature, but in fact they're finite: I'm capable of molding all of the pieces of the story at once, so all that's needed is for me to perturb it to a point where it is consistent and I am happy with it. I completely comprehend the all ramifications of my changes to my finite world, and at some point I close the loop and the story, after that point, proceeds as I originally planned. We, very finite beings, are perfectly capable of writing novels or computer viruses. It follows that a sufficiently large finite being could--in principle--make limited changes to our (finite in time and space) universe, and completely comprehend the effects and be happy with them. Though I suppose the value of 'sufficiently large' here includes a mind capable of fully understanding the universe all at once, which is plenty big enough to be infinite for all practical purposes in this universe. Darrow
If God is a timeless being, i.e., beyond time, then, as I said, establishing how exactly He operates is impossible. Of course, it is difficult to swallow the existence of a being beyond time, because "time" lies at the very foundation of our perception. On the other hand, if there is no being beyond material existence, then we would have *infinite* cause-effect chains, and also "free will" would be an illusion---maybe an adaptation to help us survive and reproduce. The problem of "free will" is more severe under the premises of materialisitc monism than under traditional theism. salatino
The argument holds whether you think God is in time or (if this concept can ever be shown to be coherent) out of time. jaredl
Dr. Dembski, you have *not* eschewed the end-justifies-the-means "fallacy" through your Divine foreknowledge/Divine preemption scheme. Therefore, the Perfect Purpose Paradigm may be more promising in rationalizing the existence of suffering. (I am not Christian, but I learned a lot about the Christian worldview from this very insightful and informative article.) Regarding (17) by jaredl, do not forget that God is not in time---time as we know and experience it. God is beyond time. Our future is *not* future to God, and is *not* past to God. How a timeless being interacts with the universe, I think following Kant, is a question impossible to answer given that concepts such as time, space, causality, etc., form the very foundations of our perception and understanding. That is, these are the irremovable lens through which we perceive reality. This imposes an inherent limitation on what we can know. salatino

I'll quote someone else. There are other problems with the paper.

1. It has always been true that I will sin tomorrow. (Assumption: Omnitemporality of Truth).

2. It is impossible that God should hold a false belief or fail to know any truth (Assumption: Infallible Foreknowledge).

3. God has always believed that I will sin tomorrow (from 1 and 2).

4. If God has always believed a certain thing, then it is not in anyone’s power to do anything which entails that God has not always believed that thing (Assumption: Fixed Past).

5. It is not in my power to do anything that entails that God has not always believed that I will sin tomorrow (from 3 and 4).

6. That I refrain from sinning tomorrow entails that God has not always believed that I will sin tomorrow (necessary truth and from 2; Principle of Transfer of Powerlessness).

7. Therefore, it is not in my power to refrain from sinning tomorrow (from 5 and 6).

8. If I act freely when I sin tomorrow, then I also have it within my power to refrain from sinning (assumption libertarian free will).

9. Therefore, I do not act freely when I sin tomorrow (from 7 and 8 ).

Dr. Dembski: Wow. This paper contains a remarkably clear assessment of theodicy (to my amateur eyes, at least), as well as some brilliant, evocative ideas. Like almost all of your serious writings, it triggered an avalanche of ideas in me -- and very deep questions. Most will require much contemplation, and comparison with scripture and exegesis. An observation:
Combined with Newcomb’s paradox, divine omniscience and omnipotence now yields an interesting insight into divine action, namely this: God is able to act preemptively in the world, anticipating events and, in particular, human actions, thereby guiding creation along paths that God deems best.
Although I'm not aware if it's ever been referenced to Newcomb's paradox, the Catholic explanation of the Immaculate Conception depends on the same, or a similar, understanding of divine action. ("The Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and priviledge of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin." -- Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854.) As Mary was redeemed and perpetually preserved from the effects of original sin through the merits of Jesus, perhaps Creation suffers perpetually from the effects of original sin (even chronologically prior to the Fall). Typo: "Just what form those preemptive structures take will depends on your purposes." (p. 24, line 18.) You are doing much to change the noetic environment for the better, Dr. Dembski. j
Even as an aetheist I found this very interesting and a genuinely different approach to the theological problem of evil. One specific item, I don't see theological significance of Newcomb's paradox. There is the classic and deep concern - does the fact that God knows what I am going to do mean I have no free will? - and you answer that quite simply and effectively without recourse to Newcomb when you say that "If God foreknows what I shall choose, then I shall not choose otherwise. It doesn’t follow, however, that I can’t choose otherwise." It is no different in principle from me being able to anticipate what Dave Scott's opinion will be on many subjects or he anticipating mine. It doesn't follow that either of us lack free will. Newcomb's paradox is one of many situations that get complicated because the actor takes into account the prediction, or what the prediction might be, when deciding what to do. This can indeed create logical condundrums. In the extreme you have the individual who if given a prediction as to who how they will act always avoids that action. In this case even God cannot predict what they are going to do, and tell them the prediction, without limiting their free will. But I can't see that these logical problems are at all central to the theology. Mark Frank
Thanks Bill. Very helpful. The Catholic physicist Wolfgang Smith makes a similar God's time/world's time distinction: "The act of creation may thus be viewed from two directions, as it were: from the side of the cosmos, and sub specie aeternitatis, as the Scholastics would say. According to the first point of view, things are created in temporal sequence: first one thing, then another, and so forth. Let us observe, moreover, that this corresponds to the perspective of the first chapter of Genesis, the perspective of the hexaemeron or the `six days.' But let us not fail to observe, too, that in the second chapter one encounters an entirely different outlook: `These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb of the ground before it grew.' (Gen. 2:4-5).35 Now this corresponds to the second point of view. From `the standpoint of eternity' there are no longer six days, but only *one*. On its own ground, so to speak, the work of creation is accomplished in one absolutely simple and indivisible act. As we read in Ecclesiasticus (Ecclus. 18:1): Qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia simul ('He that liveth in eternity created all things at once'). ... For as St. Augustine has observed, the metaphysical recognition that `the world was not made in time, but with time' entails the scriptural omnia simul as a logical consequence: `God, therefore, in His unchangeable eternity created simultaneously all things whence times flow...' They were not made in temporal succession, because they were not made in time. Yet, to be sure, created beings come to birth in time: they enter the world, as it were, at some particular moment. Each creature, in its cosmic manifestation, is thus associated with its own spatio-temporal locus: it fits somewhere into the universal network of secondary causes. But yet it is not created by these causes, nor is its being confined to that spatio-temporal locus: for its roots extend beyond the cosmos into the timeless instant of the creative act. That is the veritable `beginning' to which Genesis alludes when it declares: In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. It is `the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb in the ground before it grew.' Let there be no doubt about it: the creature is moreincomparably more!-than its visible manifestation. It does not coincide with the phenomenon. Even the tiniest plant that looms for a fortnight and then is seen no more is vaster in its metaphysical roots than the entire cosmos in its visible form: for these roots extend into eternity. And how much more does this apply to man! `Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee.'" (Jer. 1:5). (Smith, W., "Teilhardism and the New Religion," Tan: Rockford IL., 1988, pp.17-18. Emphasis original) I find great significance in Mat 13:58, "And he [Jesus] did not do many miracles there [in His hometown Nazareth] because of their lack of faith," in that it indicates that God's power is, in some sense, limited by human sin. Also, Gen 3:22, "And the LORD God said, `The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He *must* not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever'" (my emphasis) indicates that God cannot allow a perfect world to coexist with human sin. Finally, Rev 13:8 tells us that Jesus is "the Lamb that was [Gk. having been] slain from the creation [Gk. foundation] of the world [Gk. kosmos]." That is, human sin had been factored in *before* the foundation of the world (indeed the Universe) was laid. To *oversimplify*, YECs are right with their metaphysics but wrong with their physics; and OECs are right with their physics but wrong with their metaphysics! The sin of Adam (who is Everyman-including you and me) is the root cause of all *earthly* evil (the sin of Satan is the root cause of *all* evil-Gen 3:1 = Rev 12:9, "that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray"), but logically (or theologically), *not* chronologically. Stephen E. Jones http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/ senojes
Atom said: "Only when the means is itself morally wrong do we say that the ends shouldn’t be used to justify it." I agree. So the question is how do you determine the morality of a particular 'means'? Relating this to Dembski's paper, how do we know that God is acting immorally (evil) when he allows or even purposely creates natural evils? Perhaps in God's eyes the end result is completely justified by the means. I'm not saying I take this position, but it's something I think about. Lurker
WmAD: I want to clarify a couple of my points which you responded to, and thank you for the opportunity to do so. You say "as for the way I connect love and suffering, I don't see anything in what I've written that invites us (or God) to become a doormat". I think that the Truth of God is a set of Laws or principles which underlie, in fact give birth, to the creation. These principles are the inviolable expressions of God's Will. This is the Will with a capital W I tangentially referred to in my post. In the sciences, we percieve these expressions in the form of natural laws such as gravity and electromagnetism, etc. These are only the most material aspect or ramifications of this greater Truth. We understand and predict these ramifications best when we percieve the lawfulness which lies above and behind the particular manifestations. The same is true spiritually. You say that you don't connect love to suffering in a way which makes Christ a doormat. But you in fact do when you adopt a theology which posits that it is (was) necessary and in fact willed by God that this horrific suffering should happen in order to satisfy the creator. Since God acts through his Will as Law, and Christ was the incarnate expression of this, it makes sense that everything Christ taught about the expression of love would be a principled teaching about the true shape and contours of love. While I certainly agree that Christ gave up his life willingly, and I also agree that he made an unimaginable sacrifice in incarnating in this world rife with sin and hatred, it does absolutely not follow from this that he paid for our sins with his life, or that it was his purpose in coming to do so. Such a principle is totally out of harmony with Justice, the inviolable second half of the Love/Justice polarity of God! To return to the analogy of the car thief: Seeing the cross itself as redemptive as opposed to the idea of humans vigorously exerting themselves to reform their characters in tune with the teachings of Christ, would be analogous to the victim of car theft serving a jail sentence on behalf of the car thief, in order that the car thief would be so moved by this act that he would give up thievery. Unfortunately, this just doesn't work, and it clearly violates a most basic sense of justice. You ask "what if he were your son", and I think this question makes the necessity for answering the overarching problem correctly even more poignant. While the relationship between a human father and a human son is at best an analogy for the relationship of the Creator to his creatures, if we take it as a valid analogy, we can say with even more certainty that the blood sacrifice of Christ cannot be seen as redemptive: A human father who consistently takes the consequences of his child's wrongdoing upon himself does the most gross disservice to his child! We have all had the pleasure of meeting such children and they are currently setting about destroying the very fabric of the society in which we so tenuously live...It is a wrong principle to shift the burden of responsibility for wrongdoing onto the innocent. God, and his incarnate Son, act only according to the highest principle we can imagine, Truth itself, which would show itself to be, in all ways, harmonious with sound basic human principles. On the day it becomes healthy and sound to raise children by allowing them to commit all manner of sins and crimes while paying the price for these acts with parental money and suffering, well on this day it will make sense for God to act in such an arbitrary and indulgent manner. The view of love expressed by Christ is far more demanding! In the parable of the vineyard, he quite clearly expresses what is in store for those who would destroy the son of the lord of the vineyard in order to collect the inheritance ( a more perfect analogy to the murderers of Christ hoping to collect redemption through this murder is impossible to concieve ) "What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others." In the end, it is an interpretation to say that the blood sacrifice was the redemptive act as opposed to the teaching mission itself being the redemptive act. It is a matter of the way one interprets the language handed down to us in the light of basic moral intuitions. One can say "Christ made great sacrifice in order to redeem humanity from sin" and this could mean a) the coming into flesh, living among men who rejected him and facing inevitable death was a tremendous and necessary sacrifice in order that the truth could be brought to humanity .... or b) Christ died on the cross which wiped away our sins provided we accept this sacrifice. The difference is in how the words are viewed. With regard to the problem of natural evil, I think a better explanation is a simpler one: Animals and plants do not have the consciousness to experience natural events, even death, as evil. To experience "good" and "evil" requires the element which lies only within the human, that is spirit. Spirit is an independent consistency or species which is hierarchically superior to the animistic 'soul' of animals, and the vegetative energy of plant life. This superior element is not superior in the sense of "better or more valuable", but superior in the simple and lawful sense of being a more refined and powerful energy form with a higher set of qualities, which qualities allow this substance to quicken or impress matter in a more powerful way. The creature is valuable only insofar as it fulfills its own natural perfection. This is both hierarchical and egalitarian, acknowledging the superior capacities (and concomitant superior responsibilities) which make humans special, while at the same time acknowledging fully the innate value of all other creatures and life forms. Just as humans are, in this same sense, vastly inferior to angels, they are not at the same time inherently inferior. Only because they fail, through sin, do they become objects of contempt and wrath in creation. The animal finds its complete fulfillment and expression in the material creation, which is its field of activity and home. Physical suffering and death are an intrinsic part of this, as is excitement, eating, sex, play, etc. The animal encounters and experiences these things in an entirely natural way, not lamenting an philosophizing, but experiencing. The human, however, is not entirely at home in the material. He contains a superior element which indicates to himself that his "home" is elsewhere, in the spiritual, and that the material is but a transitory experience for his innermost being. Therefore, he seeks meaning in every experience, and embraces the concept of justice with regard to suffering. Therefore, natural evil only became so when the human spirit incarnated on earth for the first time. As to the issue of making God an idol: An idol is something which serves to increase our own sense of power and worth. If we offer sacrifices and burn incense, then we expect reward. We relate to this idol in a selfish way, in a way which says, whether overtly or covertly "what have you done for me lately" This is why I believe that the view of God you express is idolatrous. you describe His love for us and his activity in history entirely in terms of his capacity to serve the interests of human beings and make them seem more precious and valuable. He should take our sins upon himself. He should suffer for us in order that we can love him properly. He should even be murdered by us, and through this murder he should be moved to forgive everything past and future. There is no other way to see this than God as servant of erring man. I believe it is humanity which must serve God through the absorption of truth and the spiritual reformation which such absorption brings. Intense personal activity is required for this, as well as a full acceptance of responsibility for sin and wrongdoing. We must serve God, not remake God so that he serves us. The Genesis account says that we are made "in the image of God" which is not the same as saying we are godlike. I think it refers to the form of the human spirit, which has qualities which seek communion with the godhead: the spirit desires truth, clarity, it seeks the light, etc. Truth, clarity light are God. The spirit, having been made "in the image of God" bears these reuniting qualities within it as a support in its development. This is a long question which requires taking the Genesis account as a spiritual metaphor. Too long for here. You seem to use parts of Genesis literally (there was a garden, a real garden on earth) while other parts are taken metaphorically. (did they really eat an apple?) This interests me. Anyway, I hope I have expressed some clarifying thoughts about my own view. tinabrewer
Lurker, the means isn't always morally questionable. Work is a not a morally questionable action. It is actually considered moral to work. Only when the means is itself morally wrong do we say that the ends shouldn't be used to justify it. If the means is not evil, it needs no justification at all. Atom
A comment about the so-called "means-to-an-end fallacy". In reality that line of reasoning is overly simplistic. In other words, it's not true all the time and is therefore not a fallacy. Greg Koukl at STR clears it up here: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5444 "Think about this. If the end never justifies the means, then no means would ever be justifiable. If no means are ever justifiable then you'd never be able to do anything at all." "Every single thing that you strive to do involves a means and an end. As I mentioned before, the goal might be to get money for your church and the means could be to work for it. But if the statement is true, then no matter what your end or goal is no means would ever be justifiable. You could never do whatever you wanted to do." Lurker
Tinabrewer: You may not like my proposal, but I've carefully considered the other proposals out there (I'm unclear where you're coming from). If you've got something better, lay it on the table. I'm interested. As for the way I connect love and suffering, I don't see anything in what I've written that invites us (or God) to become a doormat. Christ gave up his life willingly, not neurotically. With regard to your example of someone stealing your car, what if the thief is your son? When humanity sins, the sin is against God who is not a stranger but our Father. As for your charge that my proposal makes God an idol, how do you make sense of humanity being made in the image of God? --WmAD William Dembski
A couple of impressions from someone outside the theologically orthodox Christian camp: One, the first half of the essay is a beautiful reflection of a human spirit who posesses the qualities of earnestness and a desire for clarity. All of the very difficult questions of the moral and natural evil are stated with such lucidity and there runs through this entire segment a golden thread of love for the justice and truth of the Creator! On the other hand, as soon as the second half begins, in which you attempt to answer all of these powerful questions, the weaknesses of your underlying assumptions about God become quite clear, and the entire second half reads like a giant house of cards, carefully and very intellectually constructed, but leaving a totally unsatisfying overall impression which leaves out so many fundamental questions of human life (questions intimately connected to the problem of evil, both natural and moral) that your arguments are quite easily refuted or at least weakened. First, running throughout your work is a picture of God which is quite idol-like in my opinion. God is depicted as being a creature with a will which is essentially analogous to a human will, only more powerful. Will is seen as a wish for certain particular things to occur. The divinity which should be associated with God would evoke an entirely different quality of will. Will with a capital W, perhaps. Of a substance and expression entirely different from the particularist wills of human spirits, who are mere creatures. Also, the view of God expressed is idol-like in that it depicts God as being emotionally dependent upon restoring a relationship with humanity, and being willing to exert all manner of effort to achieve this. (Example: "God's overriding task is to find a way to heal this rift" :Why? Why is God's overriding task immediately assigned to something which benefits humanity? This presumes that God is the servant of man. A more reasonable view might be that"humanity's overriding obligation is to find a way to heal this rift") Even in mundane life, we never place the burden of making good on a rift upon the one wronged. If a criminal steals my car, is it even remotely reasonable to say "My overriding obligation is to find a way to atone for the criminal's guilt" ? Of course not. The guilt and responsibility lie squarely on the criminal's shoulders, and we expect that the person will be held accountable for this act. The question of forgivenness is secondary here. I am only referring to the natural assignment of responsibility for the crime and the natural road to overcoming the effect of the crime. Logically this always falls to the one who committed the crime in the first place. Erring humanity, having committed sin, has consistently been admonished by prophets, and even by Christ himself, to strive in the direction of goodness. To exert their free will for the good. such exertions are logically unnecessary and arguably impossible if 'the fall" so corrupted humanity that literally everything they do or will is pervaded by sin, and only redeemable through an act of sacrifice external to their own free-willing agency (namely the Cross) On the other hand, calls to reformation of the human will through the earnest absorption in the true way of living, such as those given by Christ, fit logically with the schema in which the criminal (sinner) remains responsible for his crime. Your view that love in a tainted world is only fully expressed through a willingness to suffer is a sad and deeply confused view of love, that all-embracing quality of purity and light which is said to be inextricably contained in the Creator himself! It makes of love a tool designed to overcome the ego-limitations of fallen humans ("suffering removes the suspicion that the good we do for another is for ulterior motives..." and begs the question of what form love might have taken in a world untainted by sin (?)) Furthermore, it radically enslaves God to the demands of fallen humanity by saying, that "The extent to which we can love God depends on the extent to which God has demonstrated his love for us..." and even more unbelievably "...and that depends on the extent of evil which God has had to absorb, suffer and overcome on our behalf." This view makes of God an entitiy which, were he a mere human, would lie beneath out contempt. If such a principle, namely that we display love through a willingness to be spit upon and abused, were to become commonplace, the resulting overgrowth of sinful behavior is almost indescribable. This is not to speak of the way in which such a shoddy view flies entirely in the face of the fact that the creature is COMMANDED, on pain of suffering the wrath of God, to worship God before all others. Christ himself ADMONISHED those who sought to kill him, saying "you seek to kill me because my word hath no place in you." and further that "If GOd were your father, ye would love me..You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do." This certainly sounds like someone who deeply opposed the idea that the purpose of his coming was to be abused and treated with contempt, and it certainly speaks of a view of love which is entirely free from the lusts of the devil such as suspiciousness and self-interest. Also, your entire explanation of the use, by God, of natural evil as a way to get humanity to perceive the gravity of sin seems to be another example of the "means-to-an-end" fallacy which you condemn in other philosophers. In seeking the truth, it is necessary first of all to be open to all possibilities. To take as a foregone conclusion that your task is to defend a pre-concieved interpretation makes it at least possible that the truth (which ,as you agree, IS, in spite of humanity's flawed attempts to understand it) will lie in some other possibility. The Darwinist takes, as a foregone conclusion, that his task is to defend RM+NS as the only possible correct interpretation of natural history. He then builds an ever more teetering house of cards upon this premise, while with each passing day this premise itself becomes more and more obviously flawed to the objective observer. The truth lies totally outside his conceptual framework, and only his own, self-imposed limitation of materialism prevents him from grasping the simplicity of design. Is this the fault of truth itself? Clearly it is only the fault of the human who dogmatically seeks to narrow truth into his self-created box in order to see himself as masterful in understanding, rather than admitting, in all humility, that he doesn't know the whole truth. tinabrewer
Oh, I also wanted to add that the folks at Deal or No Deal appear to owe Newcomb some royalties from their gameshow that's clearly a knock-off of his paradox. Change the colored boxes to numbered briefcases, throw in Howie Mandel, and it's the same thing!! :) iDoc21

To choose both boxes therefore leaves you
necessarily $990,000 poorer.
If you are losing $1,000,000.00, and getting $1,000.00, won't you be left $999,000.00 poorer??Anyways, I still haven't finished reading it all, but it is excellent. You tackled a lot in this paper Dr. Dembski, and given me a lot to think about. I hope that those that will disagree will take your points seriously, and not post some immediate, half-a**ed respone and call it good. These are too important of issues. Thanks for sharing this.

I'm a mathematician, not an arithmetician. ;-) I'll fix it! --WmAD

You know Dr. Dembski, your contribution with this essay is nothing short of amazing. I appreciate the several novel insights you revealed in the paper: natural evil in its full form is a reflection or "picture" of our human sin, G-d allowing it to run its course as a way of showing us the reality of sin, the fact that a garden was necessary (never considered that before), etc. I'm sure your work will ruffle some feathers, but I suspect you are onto something. Your name will one day be remembered among the giants of our age. Now if you could just learn to focus on humility, you'll have nothing hindering you from that destiny. Stay blessed. Atom
Awesome! Not light reading. I'll read and think about it on the weekend. geoffrobinson
I read it all. Wow. I have lots of questions and comments. No offense, leebowman, but this work is the antithesis of navel gazing. I need to sleep on it before I respond. kathy
I've only had a chance to read a portion of this dissertation, and I'll likely have more to say later, but I thought I'd give my initial impression. One of the hardest things a Christian (or any religious person) has to do in the face of skeptics' criticisms, is answer questions like, "Is there free will?", and "If so, why did God allow sin", or "Why does He allow illness, calamity, war ... " On and on. Personally, I don't have a problem with these questions. I welcome them. Reality is reality, and facing it squarely will provide answers. Philosophical views of Patricia Williams and John Hicks (pg. 5) are tenable and viable. Both confront the concept of 'free will'. I still find it difficult to embrace the Calvinist notion of predestination. Frankly, I reject it. Is life a puppet show? Or further, does God know our every move ahead of time? It's not that he couldn't, perhaps, but of what value is a world where everything is preordained? Kinda like watching the same movie over and over, ad infinitum. I believe that our creator, along with angelic beings, not only watch, but participate in the adventure of our lives down here! If we didn't have free will, there would be nothing to achieve, no personal improvement attainable, no choosing (or rejection) of God. But polarities exist; i.e. the aspects of good and evil. Paradise does not exist on this plane, nor was that intended IMO. It's for later, perhaps, but for now, we have been provided a realm, so to speak. A place to live, to love, to grow, and yes, a place for the polar opposites (greed, lust, revenge, etc). As John Hicks believes, the Fall of Man is an occasion for 'soul making'; a place for people to deal with, and overcome evil. More than just a philosophical guess, it's stated in scripture! So after grabbing a Big Mac, I'll read the rest, and maybe contemplate my navel, but assuredly gain some food for thought. Cheers ... leebowman
Fight on Dr. Dembski. I'm a HUGE fan of your work and enjoyed your reading your distinctions of chronos and kairos. However (as a YEC) you seemed to have chosen an exegetical model that is able encompass an old earth, natural evil before the fall, and one that also encompasses special creation of humans and original sin. The biggest difference I believe (wish you touched upon it more) is that YECs don't have the luxury to choose a hermeunetic model that fits scientific data (and AFTER they look at the data), but rather subjects the data to fit to a faithful reading to Scripture (and the priority that it/Scripture takes). Trust me, if I really believed the Scripture could be interpreted that way I would more than happy to be old earth it would save me a lot of stress! Anyways, let's not be like the Democrats who ripped each other apart during the 2004 primaries before the main election, who knows what if they could've won by building each other up? Until the world actually looks at the evidence and sees that their is a designer on a purely scientific level and relinquish all their naturalisitic biases both groups should encourage each other to fight for design (and not focus on their disagreements; that's why there's blind evolutionists right? they don't need any more help :P ). Well, till blind evolutionists concede, I'll be praying for you. -John Park jpark320

Leave a Reply