An Evolutionary ‘devil’ in the Detail (Part2)

Part 2


Alvin Plantinga (1974) quite rightfully, points out that Leibniz’ view (his lapse)—that an omnipotent God could have created/actualized just any world God pleased is false; this is taken to mean, according to this reasoning, that God could not have created a world in which there was neither natural or moral evil. This world, as is ‘painfully obvious’, contains states of affairs that are considered to be rather bad states of affairs—states of affairs that, it can be concluded are brought about by both ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ evil. However, this world is, nevertheless, the best possible world, in that it is in this kind of environment in which the freedom of the action of carbon-based-life and (even) none-carbon-based-life expresses itself—and in which the actions of both men and angels have both good and bad outcomes. Moreover, it is this world that God has created so that both freedom and justice may obtain i.e. the freedom of the ‘will to do’—of Angels and of Men. And, moreover, the freedom of an omnipotent and benevolent God—so that God may bring about a just state of affairs in accordance with God’s  perfect governance i.e. God’s plans and purposes to ‘tabernacle’ with the Jewel of his creation—the imago Dei.

Continue reading An Evolutionary ‘devil’ in the Detail (Part2)

An Evolutionary ‘devil’ in the Detail


In a chapter entitled ‘Evolutionary explanation’ Professor Ian Hutchinson (2011) refers to the dangers of a hospital environment. Hutchinson comments that one reason hospitals are such dangerous places is that, “…the environmental pressures on the bacteria there (in hospitals) are such that they rapidly evolve resistance to the various anti-bacterial agents that hospitals use.”  Within the biospheric ‘framework’ there are a quite remarkable amount of life-forms, some of which might be considered unnecessary intruders, or the kinds of creation that God would ‘surely not have conjured-up’ because they seem to prove a contradiction in terms when one maintains a particular understanding of what a  ‘good’ creation would look like. Bacterial life-forms are, as Hutchinson infers, endemic—not only in hospitals but in the whole of the biosphere. They are essential to the whole of the history of the biosphere. Biochemistry Professor and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe (2007) refers to statistics offered by workers at the University of Georgia who estimated that about a billion billion trillion (thereabouts) bacterial cells are formed on the earth each and every year. Behe adds that:

If that number has been the same over the entire several-billion-year history of the world, then throughout the course of history there would have been slightly fewer than 1040 cells, a bit less than we’d expect to need to get a double CCC (i.e. a mutation cluster: ‘chloroquine-complexity clusters’):  The conclusion, then, is that the odds are slightly against even one double CCC showing up by Darwinian process in the entire course of the life on earth…So if we do find features of life that would have required a double CCC or more, then we can infer that they likely did not arise by a (purely material) Darwinian process.

‘Processes aside: Biochemist, Dennis Alexander refers to the necessary effects of biological evolution on its products—advocating that biology is a package deal and that the values only come with the disvalues. However, Alexander goes on to say that the positive side of this is that we are living in an incredibly dynamic world in which there is what he refers to as ‘a huge amount of daily coming and going—the dead of all kinds are constantly making room for the living; all of life is Interdependent’ . Alexander holds that the ‘Good God’ of all creation is also the great naturalist who enjoys all the richness and diversity of the natural world that he has brought into being—including its ‘impressive carnivores’ .Physicist John Polkinghorne underlines the fact that this current universe is a creation endowed with the physical properties that have empowered it to ‘make itself’ over the course of its evolutionary history:

A world of this kind by its necessary nature must be a world of transience in which death is the cost of new life. In theological terms, this world is a creation that is sustained by its Creator, and which has been endowed with a divinely purposed fruitfulness,…

Of course, it is the case that a Darwinian notion of ‘divinely purposed fruitfulness’ offers no guarantee of a ‘just so world’ in which there is no cost to the created order—unless it can be argued that the God of the Bible had no choice but to initiate such a ‘chamber of horrors—that this world is, not only the ‘best possible world’ but the ‘only possible world in which God could bring about his ‘GOOD’ purposes.  This world may be ‘endowed by collaboration and fruitfulness’, but it is also a ‘vale of tears’ in which, metaphorically speaking, ‘all hell breaks loose’. Such a world as this most definitely necessitates suffering, but whether or not its proclivity to produce the ‘short successes’ of life—the inevitability of pain and extinction may be considered wasteful—may not be comprehensively addressed from mankind’s current knowledge or current perspective. God is, as Polkinghorne suggests:’…the one who holds creation in being and interacts in hidden ways with its history. It is though ‘the hiddeness’ that mankind finds so difficult to comprehend. Indeed, what may be observed ‘today’, is not the whole story. Polkinghorne refers to the  “two halves of God’s great creative/redemptive act…” —the second half being that through which God shall bring about both vindication and justification for the [Created] state of affairs. The ‘present’ half (the old creation) may be seen to explore and realise its potentiality at “some metaphysical distance from its Creator” while the second half—the new redeemed creation—is brought into freedom through its intimate relationship with the ‘life of God’—in and through the work of Christ. The problem with this is of course: How to balance the evidence for a ‘greater-good’ with the opposite.

In philosophy much is spoken of regarding the existence of a ‘Best Possible World’—that in order to offer a defense for the existence of evil in the world this world is to be defined as ‘the best possible world’.

Supreme wisdom—united to a goodness that is no less infinite cannot but have chosen the best…(Leibniz)

In other words, the God of the Bible would have had to create the best possible world. Ergo, this world is the best [of] possible states of affairs. But is that the case? Moreover, need it be so? Biochemist & Theologian Christopher Southgate says that he fully accepts that we can never be sure that this was God’s only way to give rise to creatures such as stem from the 3.8-billion-year-long evolution of the Earth’s biosphere but he does suggest that “…given what we know about creatures, especially what we know about the role of evolution, in refining their characteristics, and the sheer length of time the process has required to give rise to sophisticated sentience, it is eminently plausible and coherent to conclude that this was the only way open to God.” It seems to me that Southgate may be sacrificing the omnipotence of God in order to retain God’s benevolence—or indeed to avoid conflict with the present ‘priestly’ paradigm of evolutionary theory or, moreover, the continuing  ‘synthesis’. There are however several things that can be said in answer to this. Firstly, in the light of our comprehension of the evolutionary process so far, we can ascertain certain fundamentals of the evolutionary process—fundamentals that Southgate mentions: 1. The role of ‘evolution’ in the refining of creatures’ characteristics. 2. The amount of time taken. There are also several things we can say about these assumptions: Given the nature of God’s omnipotence we can presume that time and procedure had nothing to do with God’s ability but all to do with God’s planned intentions—intentions to produce intelligent carbon-based-life on this planet,  i.e.that there always has been (for want of a better word) a  ‘blueprint’ for the process. It was never left to mere ‘chance’ for if it had been, we need not look further for omnipotence; though benevolence we might find—though it would be a poor substitute—and would hardly give us cause for rejoicing. God’s role in this procedure would have been one of watching ‘helplessly/haplessly’ as a mother watches her fledgling bird being devoured by its predator. Given God’s omnipotence we can further assume there was no ‘better’ way for God to bring about/to actualize particular outcomes.

Critics demand to know why it is that, in spite of God’s ‘alleged’ attributes, this world appears to fall far short of being the ‘best possible world’.

           Michael Murray (2008) considers two sorts of criticism: 1) that the natural laws could have been better and 2) that there could have been more ‘evil-preventing interventions’.  Murray’s suggestion is that, to show that such a world is possible the critic would need to describe a nomically regular world which (a) contains goodness of the sorts (either the same sorts or equivalent or better sorts) and amounts found in the actual world and which (b) contains substantially less natural evil than the actual world. Murray’s conclusion is that the task seems hopeless—that it would be necessary to identify a reasonably complete list of the goods that this actual world contains in order to offer a ‘best possible world’ potentiality. Murray suggests that it would be hard to know whether or not the acquisition of such a comprehensive list was at all possible:

Not only must the critic confront the fact that describing such an alternative world is seemingly beyond our capacities, she must also confront the claims of numerous scientists that there are many respects in which the physical parameters governing our world could not, after all, be significantly different from what they are in fact. Michael Murray 

Murray’s points are crucial to the question of whether or not God could have presented a better option. Murray, I believe, is most likely correct: As from our present understanding of the physical world—we cannot know whether or not there could have been a better option; this world being de facto the world we inhabit and of which we have reasonably comprehensive knowledge. As I have suggested elsewhere: It is not beyond the realms of possibility/probability that a different manifestation of the physical laws existed prior to, at least, the Angelic Fall— i.e. physical laws that might have preceded the ‘known laws of physics. Most importantly, it is because of the character of the God of Scripture, that we can assume that this world is the best of possible worlds. Liebniz  indeed argues that it is in this sense that this world is the best possible world, as we know of no other, and assume that God would not have created this world without it being an absolute necessary state of affairs; this is, as is suggested above, an assumption rather than an argument—it is though a reasonable assumption.

Derek J. White ( July 2019)

An exert from’God’s Goal in Creation’ 2019 [1644Words]


Book Preview: Science and Humanity – reconfiguring the public understanding of science

Science and Belief

lab-512503 copy pixabay Pixabay

It is time to shake off a widely believed but mistaken idea of what science is and how it interacts with human life in the round.

For a long time now it has been the habit of science writers to present their discipline as if it was the be-all and end-all of knowledge, and everything else follows in its wake. Particle physicists have written about their forthcoming ‘theory of everything’ as if it amounted to the final word on the nature of reality, the very ‘mind of God’…The same fundamental error is promoted by neuroscientists who, waxing lyrical over wonderful magnetic images of the living human brain, have declared or implied that all the functioning of the brain is about to be laid open, with no input from the arts and humanities required. 

It is my opinion…that all such visionaries in fact have a skewed vision of both…

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Creaturely Flourishing

Fox Grub Predation

In his book, The Groaning of Creation, Professor Christopher Southgate gives much attention to the hope of a future state of affairs (heaven) where creatures that have, through the effects of Natural Selection–predation, etc. have not been able to flourish—to ‘fully self’, in other words to have had the best of possible ‘life-experience’. Whether or not this failure to ‘fully self’ is a question of moral failure on God’s part or of the necessary consequences of Natural Selection—or both— it does require qualification—as the alleged moral failure of God is at the center of the Problem of Evil—both evidential and philosophical.

The philosopher and Episcopal Priest Marilyn McCord Adams argued against the falsity of Christianity on the grounds that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, pleasure-maximiser is incompossible with a world such as ours, because Christians [at least those taking the Bible seriously] have never believed that God was such a ‘pleasure-maximiser’ anyway. (1999). It is a question of whether the purpose of  life is to provide what some philosophers describe as ‘a good thing’ and not the opposite—so that the end of this ‘good thing’ isn’t an issue—excepting when that ‘experience’ is neither good or fully experienced. Contrary to McCord Adams, atheist philosopher William A. Rowe argued that: should there be one example of an opposite experience to ‘the good’—either for humankind or for animals—whether sentient or otherwise–then the claim for the existence of  ‘the deity’ is but a fabrication. Much has been written in response to Rowe; his view—that creatures with high order consciousness (at least) should have a positive experience of ‘life’—the implication being that should that not be the case then we can rule out any notion of benevolence. There is, of course, much more to Rowe’s views than the above caricature—but even in its philosophical sophistication—it is not sufficient enough of an argument to deny the existence of God, i.e. the God of The Judeo/Christian Scriptures—particularly as this God is not some kind of divine ‘pleasure-maximiser’

Thomas Aquinas concludes that the word ‘evil’ does not signify any essence, form or substance. Evil, he advocates, can only be described as an ‘absence of goodness’. Anything that lacks ‘goodness’ can, according to Aquinas, be described as ‘evil’, which, for Aquinas, simply means  less than good. God, according to Aquinas, did not, and could not have created anything less than good. Aquinas concludes that the word ‘evil’ does not signify any essence, form or substance. Evil, he advocates, can only be described as an ‘absence of goodness’. Anything that lacks ‘goodness’ can, according to Aquinas, be described as ‘evil’, which, for Aquinas, simply means  less than good. God, according to Aquinas, did not, and could not have created anything less than good. If it is the case that, as Aquinas maintains and as I argue in ‘God’s Goal in Creation’ that which God creates is ‘GOOD’. This is not to be confused with perfect—especially as the notion of perfection is a man-made construct —a comparison with other states of existence and of experience. “What God does is, de facto, The Good.” (Aquinas, 2003)

With regards to flourishing—i.e. ‘to grow or develop successfully’—it is the case that, in this world, things, so often, do not either ‘grow or flourish’—and even the things that flourish and grow–eventually fall fowl of the physical laws of the universe. Ergo, they perish or decay. The question is: Can this state of affairs bring about a charge of failure or ineptitude on behalf of the Creator? Would it be acceptable therefore to accuse God of injustice? Indeed, Can God be accused of moral failure? Accusations against God that are based on the notion of God’s apparent [moral] failure to produce a world in which ‘Human’ or ‘Animal’ rights are being fulfilled, and in which Southgate’s  ‘Creaturely Selfing’ is a given, seem to ignore the fact that the [present] created order is the way it is because of the functioning of its physical laws. There are, of course, other factors and influences—not least the anthropic influence. However, is it really God’s sole responsibility to provide the best of possible life-experiences for all of the created order? Of course, should it be the case that God has no influence whatsoever regarding the creative state of affairs that produce much of the misery experienced by both animals and humans alike then we may well conclude that God is an ‘under achiever’. However, the notion that GOD has to bring about a state of affairs in which creatures can ‘sail through life’—experiencing the best of possible outcomes whilst avoiding the less than popular experiences is based on the rather anthropomorphic assumption that even none-sentient life forms should realise any kind of life-experience that would warrant a more wholesome ‘re-run’ of that ‘experience’—without the predation etc: That God, whilst having to be, from this perspective, the ‘pleasure maximiser’ rather than the ‘pain condoner’, has some kind of moral responsibility to produce the best of possible experience for every creature in the history of the biosphere is based on a false assumption. Moreover, regarding the thumb-endowed creatures with the proclivity to live life according to their own self-directed desires—their having the best of possible future experience whilst living this life as if there were, in existence, no such ‘benefactor’ seems to be a somewhat unreasonable notion.

And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write these things down, for these words are trustworthy and true.(Revelation 21:5)

I shall end this section with the words of C.S.Lewis as written in his classic apologetic work ‘The Problem of Pain’:

There is a kindness in love but love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness is separated from the other elements of love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object—we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer….Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided that it only escapes suffering…If God is Love, he is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense. (Lewis, 1996)

There is, much more, to say on the matter…

Derek J. White