The ‘problem’ of evil and the supremacy of Scripture
Theological gymnastics result in placing ‘science’ as an authority over Scripture
Published: 12 October 2010(GMT+10)
Along with my fellow CMI speakers, I find I am constantly prodding audiences to ponder the questions, “Why death and suffering?” and “If this world is God’s creation, why does evil exist?” Theologians and philosophers have long scratched their heads and searched their hearts in attempts to provide satisfying answers. Something intrinsic to our human nature has caused millions throughout history to wonder, “Where did I come from? Why am I here? What happens to me when I die?” Today, professing atheists tell us that we now know the answers to our origins, life’s meaning, and even our destiny—albeit one that is devastatingly bleak, devoid of an eternal hope. I sometimes quote my colleague in CMI-Australia, Carl Wieland—once an atheist himself:
“If Darwin was right, there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life except what we choose. You are born, you suffer, you die—that’s it. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you may get recycled as organic manure—but beyond that, you’re just a number that happened to come up in the great casino of the universe.”1
Atheists and creationists agree!
In Richard Dawkins’ most recent book promoting evolution, audaciously titled The Greatest Show on Earth,2 he says (p. 392), “Theologians worry about the problems of suffering and evil, to the extent that they have even invented a name, ‘theodicy’ … for the enterprise of trying to reconcile it with the presumed beneficence of God.” It is no coincidence that creationists and atheists actually agree with the logic of the Genesis record of Creation/Fall/Flood being foundational to the Christian faith! Christians who hold to a grammatical-historical reading of Genesis 1–11 have the only sure defence: the teaching of a literally perfect world, ruined by Adam’s sin and the subsequent Curse, now crying out to “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”3 Militant atheists know only too well that the logic of the Gospel depends on Genesis history; hence their recently redoubled efforts to drive this point home. Needless to say, they are careful also to stress that “evolution and millions of years proves that the Bible’s history is false”!
… organisations such as Creation Ministries International … have taken great pains to show the fallacy of attempts to squeeze man’s ideas into the Bible, how this always results in serious compromise of the infallible, inerrant, perspicuous Word of God, and how it destroys the very basis for the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Of course, organisations such as Creation Ministries International have long taught that nothing less than a faithful stand on the authority of Scripture—taking Genesis as literal history, just as Christ and the apostles did—will stop the rot in contemporary Christendom. We have taken great pains to show the fallacy of attempts to squeeze man’s ideas into the Bible, how this always results in serious compromise of the infallible, inerrant, perspicuous4 Word of God, and how it destroys the very basis for the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A “very good” ancient earth?
The logic of the “young earth creation” position is often acknowledged by compromised theologians and church leaders. Nonetheless, theistic evolutionists have continued to publish books which purport to solve the riddle of how God could justly have created a “very good” world over millions of years through an evolutionary process involving suffering, death and extinction.5
There are clear signs that our insistent message of ‘no death before Adam’s sin’ has been having an impact, and also that the writings of the New Atheists (such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris) have been provoking those who hold tenaciously to compromised positions on Genesis. Theistic evolutionists and various ‘old-earth creationists (e.g. Hugh Ross in North America) have had to work overtime to try to convince thinking Christians that their ideas do not, in fact, do violence to Scripture. Yet, many have a nagging doubt that the biblical creationists are right, and that the 'young earth' position is the only one that really does justice to the plain teaching of the Bible.
An imaginative theodicy
The latest salvo in this battle for minds is a new book by William Dembski, a key figure in the Intelligent Design movement. Titled The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World,6 it aims to provide a solution to the ‘problem of evil’, that is both faithful to orthodox Christian teaching and acceptable to those convinced that the world is billions of years old. But it actually serves to highlight even more the absurdities resulting from failure to believe the Word of Truth.
William Dembski, Author of The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.
As an evangelical Christian, this philosophy professor does argue (correctly) that all evil in the world (including the death of all creatures since time began) must be traced to human sin. So why does Dembski adhere to ‘old earth’ belief? Simply because he thinks the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports it and because today’s mental environment demands it.7 Yet he does acknowledge the nonsense of attempts to reconcile death and suffering before sin: “ … throughout the old-earth creationist literature8 … natural evil becomes simply a tool for furthering God’s ends rather than a consequence of human sin. … In making sense of the Fall in light of modern science, old-earth creationists often deny that natural evil is morally significant” (p. 79, my emphasis). He even writes that young-earth creationists “have the stronger case here, both exegetically and theologically, in interpreting such passages [as Romans 5:129] as speaking about death and corruption generally and not just about human death.”
In fact, towards the end of his book, Dembski confesses (p. 169) that “the young-earth position, which has been my principal foil, receives its support not only from Genesis 1–3 but also from Genesis 4–11. The latter chapters present a chronology that appears to allow only around 6,000 years from the creation of Adam and Eve to the present.” So if the Scriptures seem unambiguously to teach that all death is a consequence of sin, what is his solution?
The Fall was also retroactive!
Mankind’s Fall into sin, he argues, was not only proactive (marring the creation since Adam) but was also retroactive. Yes, that’s right! All the natural and moral evil in the world, since (deep) time began, is due to Adam’s sin, even though Adam didn’t rebel until very ‘late’ in the long-ages chronological time frame! He argues that God’s time is kairological—from the Greek word for time, kairos (as in ‘a welcome time’, ’the right time’), as distinct from chronos, which is time by which we set clocks, compute chronology etc. The Fall, argues Dembski, must be understood in this way so we can solve the dilemma of death and suffering for long ages before the Fall.
Test an idea by its fruit
Predictably, however, seeing the Fall in this new ‘light’ means that other plain truths of Scripture must be explained away:
“Genesis 1 is therefore not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God’s purposes (kairos). Accordingly the days of creation are neither exact 24-hour days … nor epochs in natural history … nor even a literary device (as in the framework theory). Rather they are actual (literal!) episodes in the divine creative activity. … [They] represent key kairological divisions in the intentional-semantic logic of creation … ” (pp. 142–143, my emphases).
Dembski says: ‘ … God himself wills the disordering of creation, making it defective on purpose.’ … If so, He actively cursed the real world with disease, decay, death and relentless suffering for untold eons prior (chronologically) to the existence of morally culpable human beings!
Whatever you make of what he’s saying, a literal Creation Week is denied. Aside from the obvious attempt to avoid the plain teaching of the Bible (when it does not fit with one’s mental environment), Dembski’s retroactive view of the Fall is ultimately bizarre:
“an omnipotent God unbound by time can make natural evil predate the Fall and yet make the Fall the reason for natural evil.” (p. 50)
Book of Genesis in the New Testament
Dembski claims that there is a theological precedent for such a reading of Genesis 1–3 because “the saving effects of the Cross … are held to act not only forward in time but also backward” (p. 50). However, this is completely unconvincing—Scripture does teach that Jesus’ work of redemption, wrought at the Cross, transcends time,10 but never hints at anything resembling Dembski’s thesis regarding the Fall of Man. Consider the following assertion (p. 145): “To make us realize the full extent of human sin, God … allows natural evils (e.g. death, predation, parasitism, disease, drought, floods, famines, earthquakes, and hurricanes) to run their course prior to the Fall. Thus, God himself wills the disordering of creation, making it defective on purpose.” In other words, God did this in advance, pre-empting the rebellion of Adam hundreds of millions of years before he would even exist. If so, He actively cursed the real world with disease, decay, death and relentless suffering for untold eons prior (chronologically) to the existence of morally culpable human beings!
But what of God’s declaration in Gen. 1:31, that everything was “very good”? Were Adam and Eve not duped if the world around them was, in fact, full of corruption and death? Dembski recognises, of course, that the historic Fall occurs chronologically in space and time but his solution to the dilemma posed by his theodicy really takes the cake:
“This seems to raise a difficulty, however, because humans who have yet to sin come into a world where natural evil is already raging. Starting their materialistic existence in such a world puts them at a disadvantage, tempting and opposing them with evils for which they are not (yet) responsible. The Garden of Eden, as a segregated area in which the effects of natural evil are not evident (one might think of it as a tropical paradise), provides the way out of this difficulty” (p. 151, my emphasis).
“In the Garden of Eden … the originally intended perfect world, there are no pathogenic microbes and, correspondingly, there is no need for Adam and Eve to have an immune system … In the imperfect world [bordering Eden on every side], whose imperfection results from God’s acting to anticipate the Fall, both pathogenic microbes and human immune systems exist. Yet, in their Garden experience, Adam and Eve never become conscious of that difference” (p. 153).
[In Demski’s scheme] God is now guilty of deliberate deception because His words about the perfection of ‘everything He had made’ are rendered utterly hollow and false!
But, far from resolving Dembski’s dilemma, he creates a far greater difficulty with this suggestion, one which he appears not to have considered; God is now guilty of deliberate deception because His words about the perfection of “everything He had made”11 are rendered utterly hollow and false!
Sop to evolutionists
Dembski makes clear that theistic evolutionists can adopt his theodicy too, as long as they take on board his explanation of Eden. Adam and Eve, in this view, are soul-less humans that God takes from the corrupted world and places in the perfect garden.
“Any evils humans experience outside the Garden before God breathes into them the breath of life would be experienced as natural evils in the same way that other animals experience them. The pain would be real, but it would not be experienced as divine justice in response to wilful rebellion. Moreover, once God breathes the breath of life into them [and places them in Eden], we may assume that the first humans experienced an amnesia of their former animal life” (p. 155, my emphases).
Again, how does God avoid the charge of deception in this view? I do not want to cast doubt on the sincerity of Dembski’s faith, but human ingenuity is a very poor substitute for faithful acceptance of God’s Word. And if such acceptance doesn’t sit well with my “mental environment”, then it is my mental environment that must change—my mind must be made captive to the Word of God. Tragically, Dembski’s arguments attempt to make Scripture bow the knee to ‘millions of years’—just the latest in a long line of examples of Christians failing to accept the authority of the Bible.
My plea is: Let us not shrink from embracing biblical Creation, without compromise.
- Wieland, C., 101 Signs of Design, Master Books, 2002, p. 83. Return to text.
- CMI’s response to this is Jonathan Sarfati’s book-length critique, The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, available from our office or creation.com/store. Return to text.
- Romans 8:21, KJV. Return to text.
- That is, the Bible is literally ‘God breathed’ (thus infallible), contains no errors, and its teaching and message are clear to the honest reader who comes to it without prejudice from secular, extra-biblical ideas (perspicuous). Return to text.
- Three of many examples from very influential theistic evolutionist authors: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins, 2006—reviewed at creation.com/collins-review; Creation or Evolution: Do we have to Choose? By Dennis Alexander, 2008—reviewed at creation.com/alexander-review; The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, 2009—review by D. Statham in Journal of Creation (in press). Return to text.
- Published in the UK by Paternoster, 2009. Dembski intends ‘End of Christianity’ to refer to its goal (the “ultimate triumph of Christ”), not its demise. Return to text.
- “Mental environment” is Dembski’s term—a similar, though not identical, concept to that of worldview. As a Christian, Dembski does acknowledge that (as Jer. 17:9 teaches) our mental environment is corrupt but chooses to trust its ‘old earth’ beliefs anyway. Return to text.
- Dembski mentions Hugh Ross as a key example of an old-earth creationist. Return to text.
- One can actually concede this passage as primarily referring to human death; the creationist argument is much stronger than that and based on other passages—including Romans chap. 8. See the classic Refuting Compromise. Return to text.
- E.g. this is implicit in Hebrews 11:3 which says of the people of faith of the OT, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them … ” Return to text.
- Gen. 1:31 obviously refers to the entire work of the six days of Creation, not merely Eden and its inhabitants. Return to text.
(Also in Russian)
I greatly respect Dr. Dembski, so it saddens me to see him tying himself into intellectual knots because he accepts without question the alleged evidence for an old world. If he would only make even half the intellectual effort to look closely at the alleged evidence, as I did long ago, he would see it evaporate. Instead, he would find that the bulk of the evidence is heavily on the side of a young world, as many articles on this site have shown (see 101 Evidences for a Young World). It is probably fear (that so many experts can’t be wrong) that has led Dr. Dembski to make this desperate intellectual leap. As God says in Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.”
Great article. Pathetic Theodicity by Dembski.
Among other flaws; how would Mr.Dembski rationalize Genesis 1:26?
Despite the flaws, such a theory could have interesting implications as to why God would ever have placed "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the garden.
I would agree that William Dembski’s ideas are interesting on one level, though I’d have to say that they’re also dangerous in terms of how they might trip up some Christians and deter them from a faithful acceptance of the straightforward narrative of Genesis 1–11.
Regarding Gen. 1:26, Dembski believes in a literal, historical Adam and Eve. But perhaps you’re talking about the second part of the verse that deals with their God-given dominion over the animal kingdom. I believe he would argue that he believes this as a confessed inerrantist regarding the Bible. However, did this dominion extend backwards in time and include the many creatures that had existed before Adam did (or before he and Eve were plucked out of the cursed-in-advance world and placed into the pristine Eden)? I confess that I don’t know exactly how he would answer, though he would, presumably, make reference to kairos time being involved, rather than chronos. Ultimately, whichever way one looks at Dembski’s proposals in The End of Christianity, I find them entirely counterintuitive, not to mention unbiblical.
As to ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, you are right in intimating that this seems to become rather irrelevant within Dembski’s historical framework—his theodicy puts the cart before the horse here too. For God to provide this tree as a test of their obedience when, in real time (i.e chronos, not just kairos), the fruit of their disobedience has already been visited upon the Earth and its creatures for countless millennia, seems almost absurd.
Placing apes into Eden?! Good grief. You wonder why Dembski needs to first do away with special creation and then reinvent it (partly) to explain his logical problems away. If God so intervened in evolutionary history that He took pre-humans, breathed a soul into them, and placed them in an artificial environment without pathogens etc., what reason is there not to simply go with the biblical account that Eden was really the beginning of ALL we see today? His story is a lot less credible than either evolution or creation; I can't see how anyone would fall for it. Sorry mate, it's not backed up by either science or the Bible, so we have to reject it.
Oh dear! The knots people have to tie in order to fit their theories into the Scriptures!
This guy is going to be SO embarrassed one day when he realises the stupidity of his arguments. Sadly this does no good to biblical Christians in the eyes of the world. Thank you CMI for taking such an intelligent, biblically uncompromising stand on Genesis. It is so encouraging. I am sad to hear of Michael Behe coming to debate this month on Intelligent Design, because his arguments are so flawed biblically that the atheists will make mincemeat of christians who support his views. Keep up the great work!