Beyond ‘The Realm’ of Darwinism [THEODICY]

Beyond ‘The Realm’ of Darwinism [THEODICY]
Most ‘Post-Darwin,’ attempts at a defence or theodicy avoid any notion of the prevailing state of affairs being the result of any major shift in the order of creation. Few, if any, offer an Adamic Fall as the reason for the existence of predation, plague and parasitism though some offer an Angelic Fall as an alternative—a fall that brought about and continues to bring about major negative effects on the Creation—effects that God is not responsible for, but that He allows. The majority of these defences/theodicies adhere to a theistic-evolutionary perspective—William Dembski’s ‘The End of Christianity’ being an exception/variation.

This section interacts particularly with the views of Stephen H. Webb—as given in his book entitled ‘The Dome of Eden’ (2010). Webb’s view is that evolution works under divine permission and that the emergence of Humankind has particular significance within an evolutionary paradigm ( ). Webb notes that evolution leaves a trail in history—marked by blood and anguish. However, what Webb avoids saying here is that it is this very ‘trail of blood and anguish’ (made possible by the natural laws) that the Triune God ‘commissioned’ and ordained. Along with Webb’s views, the argument here is that it is this very state of affairs that allows for the victory of God over both sin and death. Indeed, the song the faithful will sing and that the creation will echo is that of the Victory of God over sin and death; it will be a continual song declaring the gracious mercy and goodness of the Godhead ( ). It is this world (a world ordained and created by God) that is the only possible world—in which the free will of conscious beings can pertain with all of the resultant consequences and, most importantly, the redemptive act of the crucified son of God could possibly take place. We concur with Webb’s views on the ‘emergence’ of humankind as being a significant ‘event’: Compos mentis, intelligent, incredibly creative, morally aware and, most importantly, ‘God Conscious’—within, what can be described as, the physical evolution of carbon-based life-forms.

Webb’s views coalesce with the argument that is given in this book, i.e., that God [incarnate], at the eschaton, would dwell with a redeemed creation, having rescued and redeemed the creation from its bondage to corruption. The question of the whereabouts of this redeemed world—this ‘New Heaven & New Earth’, in which physical laws ave a different outcome, is presently unknown. Yet we may assume—indeed more than assume—that in the light of the promises of God there shall be a life-experience for the redeemed creation in which there shall be no more plague, predation, parasitism or indeed pain, for as Scripture attests, ‘the former things [shall] have passed away.’ (Revelation 21:5). This ‘future world’, however, cannot surely be the world in which the present physical laws obtain—it is another world yet to be revealed. Yet this present world is, and has always been, a ‘Necessary World’. ‘Humankind’ (imago Dei) is meant to be here. The ‘arrival’ of humans has been a major part of God’s ‘creation project’. We hasten to add that the argument in this book does not devalue the rest of creation or suppose that God has little more than a utilitarian purpose for it—but that this world is the way it is—not as the result of natural processes alone but as the result of the ‘Telos of God’. For the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures is Benevolent, Omnipotent and, indeed, Omniscient.

Robert. J. Russell advocates that the suffering of creatures cannot ‘alone’ be justified by the evolution of Homo sapiens and their destiny with God: “Instead, the suffering of creatures is taken up individually by God in the incarnation, suffered by God in the crucifixion, and redeemed by God in the Resurrection. This eschatological act of God is to be seen as proleptically present to and with each creature at its death. “(2012) Russell’s view may be considered speculative, but it is nevertheless plausible. Indeed, the effects of the Cross of Christ need to be viewed in proleptic terms—as it is in Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we have sight of the ‘big picture’. However, as is argued elsewhere in this book, there needs to be an argument that addresses the origin of evil—God’s reason for allowing it to remain within the created order, and, most importantly, an affirmation of God’s attributes, i.e., God’s Benevolence as associated with God’s Omniscience and God’s Omnipotence. Webb makes the point that, if God chose this universe (this world) with its prevailing set of physical laws as the stage for the ‘arrival of humanity and the incarnation of ‘The Second Person of The Trinity’, then there must be something unique about both planet earth and humanity (i.e., the imago Dei). Indeed, Webb argues that one of the corollaries of Christ’s primacy is that humans have the form (and image) precisely because God intended to give a human form to Christ from the beginning. Webb states (unapologetically) that the Old Testament has not only an anthropomorphic view of God but also a ‘theomorphic’ view of humanity, i.e., that humans take the form they do because God has the form he has—in Christ the Son. Webb makes it clear that sceptics will view his position as anthropomorphism, in the most negative of terms. He understands the reason for the critique well enough but points out that they are mistaken to claim that Christians think of everything from a human perspective, and he suggests that “God made the world with mankind in mind, to become friends of the Son and to accompany him in praise forever.”

Webb contends that theologians who argue that this world is the only world that God could have created—in their attempt to justify God’s relationship with natural evil—run the risk of ‘portraying’ the world as thoroughly and necessarily evil. That is, if there is no possible world that God could have created that would have been without evil, then the very existence of matter is thoroughly saturated in and inseparable from evil. If evil is built into nature, however, it is God who put it there. Webb’s point—that if evil is built into nature, it is God who put it there, clearly rules out the possibility of a third party—or even ‘third parties’ being responsible for, at least, natural evil. It is exactly this question that we seek to address in this book, i.e., the culpability of GOD. Webb is, in our opinion, correct in that God has allowed certain of his creatures the gift of choice and that, consequently, this ‘gift’ has allowed for the inflicting of an enormous amount of harm. However, this does not mean that God is guilty by default, rather that God has allowed for the kind of creation that is able to express itself. This, surely, is a good outcome rather than a bad outcome. Webb makes a salient point when he says that evil (in the natural world) is real, whereas entropy is exactly “what one would expect to find at the level of physical processes”. Evil (Webb does not differentiate between natural and moral evil) is, from this perspective, a malevolent factor, whereas entropy is, simply, the consequence of certain physical conditions. Webb, however, points out that even though the temptation to equate evolution with evil is understandable. Equating nature with evil runs counter to the Christian tradition, most notably the claim ‘exegeted’ from Genesis chapter one, that nature is good, which for Webb seems to mean ‘moral’ rather than ‘utilitarian’. The view here is that creation does not necessarily have the moral dimension that Webb may wish to assign to it. In this sense nature is amoral. Indeed, Webb reminds us that groups that considered nature evil (Manicheans and Cathars in particular) have always been considered heretical. He maintains that any adequate theological account of evolution has to explain how God (as the source of all that is good) bears no responsibility for evil evident within the evolutionary cycle of life. Webb here uses the term ‘evil’, but a more appropriate word would be ‘harms’—as the results of [natural] entropy need not be considered ‘evil’ per se. The argument in this book is that neither God’s universal laws nor the outcomes of these laws are ‘naturally’ evil, in and of themselves; they are nothing of the sort. That there are ‘harmful outcomes’ to these laws is a de facto given; that these outcomes are, most often, horrendous—even maliciously harmful to life’s outcomes—is accepted. However, this does not prove that this world is not the best possible world for the purposes of God; neither does it prove that the natural laws themselves are morally deficient. The outcomes of the effects of the natural laws on carbon-based life may be reprehensible (from our perspective), but that is all that they can be.It may be acceptable to bring judgement against God with insufficient evidence; to do so is common practice—as C.S. Lewis points out: “God is guilty—as ‘proven’. He (man) is the judge: God is in the dock. He (man) is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the God who ‘permits’. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. However, the important thing is that man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”

As has previously been alluded to, Webb’s view is that entropy is what one would expect to find at the level of physical processes, whereas evil is something other than ‘evil’; this demands an explanation. For Webb, the answer to the problem of evil has to be located outside of the evolutionary paradigm rather than within. This is. Indeed, a sentiment concurred within the argument here—particularly with regard to the ‘labelling of nature as evil’. However, the conclusions here are somewhat different from Webb’s. His views, though, are relevant to the argument here, as they helpfully open up a vista that offers some clarity regarding the rebellion of Satan and the angels: Satan’s fall is a fall from grace and is not to be confused with a ‘fall from heaven to earth; the argument here is that Satan’s fall from grace could be considered a ‘pre-creation-of-the-physical-universe event’; in other words, outside of the space-time-continuum, whereas Satan’s being cast down to the earth was, probably, not. We have no detail of ‘when’ it was that Satan et al. were cast ‘down’ to the earth, but we can presume that the state of affairs on earth would never be the same again.

Eden was a real place though not ‘real’ in the sense that we can plot its coordinates on the space-time-continuum that we experience today. If Eden is a real place, and if Satan tries to battle God in nature from some point in the space-time-continuum, then there has to be some kind of ‘reality’ that divides Eden from the rest of the world. The effects of moral deviancy had to cross into Eden in order to disrupt it and, to corrupt its latest arrivals—as Scripture indicates. The ‘evil’ that Webb refers to is that which can be described as ‘moral’ rather than ‘natural’. This evil comes about as the result of the deviant behaviour of advanced created intelligence: extra-terrestrial and terrestrial alike. The outcomes of this evil, though affecting/infecting certain aspects of the created order, do not bring about major changes to the laws that God had ordained for his creation ordinances—though it may be argued that there was, as a result of this deviancy, a significant change—not least to the effects of the physical laws.
The reason for Satan’s Fall to come full circle (i.e. the fall of angels to the fall of the creature bearing the image of God) is the same reason for creation as a whole, i.e. that God created the world because ‘God the Son’ had determined to take on the form of a man—and the form God the Father gave to the Son is the same form that God gave to humankind:” In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God is, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him, all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-5 & 14 (NIV)

Webb opines that “the world and all that is in it is a gift to the Son from the Father. If something like the human species, with its intelligence, its eyes and who knows what of other parts and features, is inevitable, then biology must have been conditioned from the very beginning to unfold the human pattern” (Webb, 2010) Moreover; Webb’s view is, that this is exactly, what the Primacy of Christ leads us to expect; Indeed the Primacy of Christ can be considered the metaphysical precondition made necessary by the phenomenon of evolutionary convergences.” Robert C. Doyle (1999) argues that it is clear from the contents of Genesis chapters 1 to 3, as well as the way Scripture uses these chapters, that the basis for any understanding of the last things is in the understanding of the first things. Doyle’s observation is that the beginning of the Bible—the beginning of time, the world, humankind, and humankind’s relationship to God and the world—is pregnant with purpose, i.e., the purpose, the end (the eschaton) is implicit in the beginning. Regarding the six days of creation, Doyle proposes that these six days find their significance in the seventh, “…the divine rest on the seventh day indicates the goal of creation.” Along with Doyle, we maintain that ‘the seventh day’ is the goal which shall be maintained, “…despite any rebellious efforts to vitiate it.” The argument here offers the same reasoning as Doyle’s summary, i.e., that God’s plan for the creation is purposeful, that it incorporates the alpha and ‘the’ omega with the telos of creation being finally revealed at the eschaton. Ergo, it is the case that God’s sovereign purposes rather than the ‘Royal We’ of material processes that obtain.

Derek J. White

Chapter 5 (another EDEN: Gaining a Fresh Perspective on Evi; Evolution & The Purposes of God)

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

I have desired to go where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail

And lilies blow.

And I have asked to be Where no storms come,

Where the green well is the havens dumb,

And out of the swing of the sea.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

It is the case that: a longing for a better place, i.e., thoughts of a place in which harms threaten not, and thoughts of an environment where notions of death are expelled from the mind is the norm for the thought-life of the majority of us. Any such thoughts are often accentuated by a realization that—though the creation is indeed wondrous in its beauty and complexity, the environment in which we live, and breathe and have our being is nevertheless a hostile environment in which potential harms lay in wait—to spoil the idyllic day to which Manley Hopkins alludes.  Heaven is our desire because this world is not and may never be such an environment.

Reading the words of St John’s Gospel at the head of the funeral cortege is a most surreal experience:

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,…(John 11:25,26).

This particular occasion was the funeral of someone with whom one was well acquainted (a ‘young’ forty-six-year-old), someone that we had met on a reasonably regular basis. Such an occasion as this person’s funeral is particularly poignant.

This is not the place to speculate as to the post-mortem destiny of any particular person—or to philosophize as to the actual/temporal post-mortem state of affairs prior to the biblical notion of ‘The Judgement’—save to say that, according to the Bible, there is the promise of ‘personal existence’, i.e., the survival of the person after death. However, it is the author’s opinion that, even though ‘the matter’ (no pun intended) isn’t settled regarding the actual nature of man, i.e., whether or not there is a dualistic factor ‘within’ that is presently undetectable, there is a strong argument for there being a ‘dimension’ to humanity other than meets the critical eye of the materialist thinker. The philosopher J.P.Moreland ([1]) opines that “…if the dualist arguments are successful the principle/seat of life and consciousness is a transcendent self or immaterial ego of some sort.” ([2]) (2014)

It is often said of someone who has died that they are ‘with the angels’ or even that they have ‘joined the stars in heaven’. If this is the opinion of someone we know and love, someone who is referring to a deceased relative or friend, we are not likely to question the sentiment behind the aspiration. However, as far as we are able to comprehend the ‘reality’, it is the case that, in order to function as individuals, it is necessary to ‘inhabit’ the ‘space,’ i.e., the physiology that makes up the material—the DNA that, it is perceived, makes us who we are. Ergo in order to continue to exist post-mortem, we shall, most likely, need something akin to our physical bodies with which to function.

The idea of there being any such thing as post-mortem survival is, of course, anathema to both Materialists and Monists. Indeed, it is the apparent conclusion of persons ascribing to a worldview that allows for no such possibility at death. For the Monist ‘soul-life is a social construct that evaporates into the oneness of a universe that is seen as having a soul-life of its own—a non-personal figment of a lively imagination—that, somehow, denies the potentiality of the soul-life of the individual person whilst allowing for the alleged creative capacity of an indescribable ‘ultimate reality’. However, the Monist notion of this alleged ultimate reality need not be confused with the God of Judeo/Christian Scriptures, which is an entirely different proposition.

If heaven is such a ‘wonderful place’, then one might expect that it has an altogether different set of physical laws than experienced on earth and in the known universe. Scripture gives a strong impression that, in heaven, there is a different environment. In the book of Revelation, we read the following words of comfortable promise:

I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people; he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelation 21:1-5

The book of revelation is exactly that—a REVELATION. It is addressed to the seven churches in late first century Asia Minor (present-day Turkey)—churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There isn’t the space to delve further into the life of these seven centres of Christian life and worship save to say that they were vibrant centres of community life—moreover, churches that were experiencing rather mixed fortunes. Dennis E. Johnson describes Revelation as a letter for a church (churches) under attack, “Its purpose, to reveal ‘things which must soon take place’ is not to satisfy idle eschatological curiosity or feed  futuristic conjecture but to fortify Jesus’ followers in steadfast hope and holy living.”([3])

Getting back to ‘Heaven’, we are reminded of an international student who, while travelling in the school minibus, would often sing words to the effect of ‘Heaven is a wonderful place’. We were never too sure whether the words were anticipatory or cynical. If we take the words offered above, i.e., that, in heaven, things shall be rather different in that, in the heavenly abode, there shall be ‘no death; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ This would have to be an entirely different environment indeed.

In his considerably thorough book on the subject of Heaven, Randy Alcorn reminds his readers that the story of the Christian Faith begins with a story of an idyllic garden in which God was intimately present and in which the progenitors of the human race made the worst possible decisions—bringing about a curse that was to adversely affect the entire biosphere. In order to understand the narrative, it’s necessary to refer to the first book of the Bible (A part of The Pentateuch): “Because of you cursed is the ground.” (Genesis 3:17).

Alcorn asserts that:

…when the curse is reversed, we shall no longer engage in painful toil but shall enjoy satisfying caretaking. No longer will the earth yield  ‘thorns and thistles’ (Genesis 3:18) defying our dominion and repaying us for corrupting it. No longer will we return to the ground—from which we were taken (3:19) swallowed up in death as unrighteous stewards who ruined ourselves and the earth.

Alcorn continues when he opines that our welfare is inseparable from the earth’s welfare—our destiny inseparable from that of the earth’s. (P.103) Alcorn’s expectations are ‘other worldly’ yet rooted in the earth’s flourishing. With regards to the effects brought about by the physical laws, in particular the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Alcorn suggests that there may have been some changes brought about by the creator and sustainer of the biosphere as a result of God’s promised judgement—according to Scripture. This, naturally, creates difficulty in that, according to current scientific consensus, the biosphere is the product of natural processes evolving over some 3.5 billion years.

For the purpose of clarification there is, within the Christian tradition, an increasing disparity—or rather a polarization between the view that sees a newly refurbished earth on which the incumbents, somehow, live a ‘New Heaven & New Earth existence’, and the view that has a less than earthly hope, i.e., the view that realizes the belief that the Sovereign God—creator and sustainer of all that exists—known yet unrealised. 

The argument here is that any ‘permanent abolishment of death must take seriously the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that should death be swallowed up by victory, there would be a totally different state of affairs in operation—even  ‘different physical laws’:

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man in heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does the perishable inherit the imperishable…and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ‘O death where is your sting?’  (1 Corinthians 15:49,52,53,54,55). The writer of the letter to ‘The Hebrews’ refers to ‘a better country’, i.e., a ‘heavenly country’ (11:14) and ‘a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (12:28}. The implications are obvious: Heaven, wherever its location, cannot be a renewed version of the old—it has to be an altogether different state of affairs (in heaven—on the ‘new/refurbished earth’) than exists anywhere on Earth. Clearly, there shall be an altogether ‘different’ order. And yet there are many well-meaning, well-informed, theologians who insist on informing us that everything created has always meant to be ‘material’—and all that there will ever be—at least to do with the created biosphere—shall only ever be ‘material’. Materialism, as Edgar Andrews outlines ([4]), is based on the idea that every effect, including every human experience, must have a physical cause. Richard Middleton ([5])  poses the question of why it is that the idea of an ‘other worldly destiny in heaven’ has displaced what Middleton refers to as ‘the biblical teaching of the renewal of the earth’. Middleton, we believe, is ‘half-way’ correct. ‘Heaven’ is, we suggest, ‘worlds apart’ from the material world on offer by those with a fixation on a return to a ‘biospheric utopia’, which was, most likely, never the ideal home of men or even of angels