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Theology & Science – Part 7

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 7)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.

Exam Question:  Given how you answered #3, give your answer to the problem of this course.  In other words, given the problem of evolutionary suffering how can the Gospel still be considered to be “good news”?

[The Problem]  (The “Good News to follow in Part 8)

So, how do we answer to this challenge of theodicy? First of all, let me start by saying that in my epistemology, I hold that all roads, no matter how smooth, have some potholes. There is no perfect theory. However, there are better and worse theories. For example, in the previous essay, I quickly and resolutely dismissed the position of Miller. To me, that position is a worse position than say, Jensen. Each of them has holes but Miller’s has many more and larger holes.

I say all this to say that my position here is a developing position largely because I’m a rookie in what is for me a terra incognita, as the science part has never been my area of interest or skill. I have however, long been fond of the philosophy of science with its falsification theories and such. There are a few prefaces to declare that will assist in understanding what I’ve developed as my final answer.

First, I see God as a God that has allowed for a partially open future from the beginning of creation. I considered whether it would be best to abandon that idea in light of evolution by natural selection. However, what I found was that a partially open future assisted me in thinking along the lines of theodicy. I didn’t see any of the authors we read for class display hints of this theology underlining their thinking. Perhaps the closest was Russell and his talk of chance and law (125). However, Reynhout illustrated a few times some theology that came the closest to my view, although it was not exactly the same.

I suggest the possibility that God created a world with natural laws that aligned just so, so that there existed in the world, a set of limited possibilities. Within that set of limited possibilities existed the possibility for creation to go astray from what God hoped for from His creation. It may be that this part happened almost instantaneously. Why? Because even while God called His creation good, it was still finite. By definition, anything finite falls short. I hesitate to use words here like, finite things fall short of perfection, because the word perfection brings along with it a whole mess of baggage that I don’t want to deal with here and I don’t want that baggage to distract us. For now, it’s enough to be thinking that the creation, almost instantaneously falls short.

I also believe that God knew that this was extremely likely to happen. Although, to be consistent, I’m willing to say there was a possibility that it would not happen. But it did. So, in God’s first display of being a God who works on Plan B, in the midst of a mess that He would prefer not to have taken place, God allows and begins to work in the world and eventually in evolution by natural selection. I don’t see that there is any need to appeal to demons, nor do I claim to know the details of how God works and natural selection works at the same time. However, I do claim that God working and natural selection working in a situation need not be mutually exclusive, as Sideris would suggest. In fact, I see lots of scripture supporting God working in the negative (death) to bring about a positive (life).

There is a great deal of work that I have to do to answer to suffering in nature, that I don’t have to do if all we’re talking about is suffering in humans. I have covered those in the previous essay so I won’t rehash those here. However, I will say that I have to do more work in regards to the creation story and certainly more work regarding the story of the fall in light of evolution. So, now we have a creation with possibilities and what I would say a falling short rather than a fall.

The fall is generally a reference to sin but I’ve previously stated that I don’t think nature can sin. But it did fall short in that it is not infinite. At this point God adapts and adjusts to the then present situation and allows for evolution. Over the course of millions of years life develops and evolves, largely due to the harsh realities of nature and animals arriving on the scene. How’s that for some real science-like language? Animals from the start wage war on one another and the ones able to adapt survive. Those that do not adapt quickly enough go extinct.

Eventually humans arrive on the stage. I have no idea if humans evolved from primordial slime or a miraculous work from God and I don’t think it matters for our task here. I actually don’t think it matters much at all, but I digress. Humans come on stage and, like the beginning of creation, almost immediately fall short. God had big intentions and mankind blundered it up in no time flat.

So there’s my description of an open view of creation that attempts to take evolution by natural selection and the revelation of scripture seriously. I think I’ve seriously thought through extensively the doctrine of God (Open Theism being a large part of that), I think I’ve seriously incorporated the true science of evolution, and I think I’ve taken the Bible seriously. Seriously!

What if someone were to say, regarding the creation story in Genesis, “I just believe what the Bible says?” I’d say, “Me too!” I’d go on to say that we never just believe a thing. We always believe a thing in a particular way. I see Genesis as a very poetic work. This does not mean I see it simply as poetry. In fact, I see Genesis as one of the greatest, genre diversified, unique work of writing that I’ve ever encountered. Being also a poetaster, I’m careful to claim Genesis to be largely poetic. However, I would like to remind anyone looking at its verses about one of the fundamental characteristics of poetry, and that is that poetry is succinct. Poetry says a lot in a little space. The best poetry is able to pack in an enormous wealth of insight into few words. So, what better poetry than Genesis, which compacts the enormity of creation along with the deepest reflections on the truest nature of man into just a few chapters?

So, my explanation involves the full creation by the infinite God, even though the days in my view are not 7, 24 hour days. My view includes Adam and Eve, even though they may have been types rather than particular persons. Finally, my view includes natural selection, with all its values and disvalues, though it was not necessarily the way God would have preferred things.

Now, there may be a number of objections at this point. I’ll have time to deal with one of them that I can anticipate before moving on to the Good News. The question, when it comes to humans that is asked, regarding the problem of suffering is, “Why didn’t God just make a world where there was no suffering?” The answer usually goes along the lines of, “God is love so He needed to make a world with free choice. Without free choice we can’t actually love nor can we actually receive love.” Well, this line of thinking works well if we’re just talking about humans. However, if we’re talking about nature, we don’t have the “free will” out. Or do we? Is there something in nature, even on a subatomic level that operates with a certain kind of free will? Not the kind of free will that we think about with humans, for nature is non-human. But, could we say that God created nature with a free will that is labeled as such with a kind of anthropomorphic style similar to the way humans talk about God anthropomorphically? It’s tough to give a definitive yes to this question but it’s also tough to completely dismiss it by claiming complete knowledge on the subject.

Theology & Science – Part 6

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as a Star Wars movie.]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 6)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its cause and its range] The question assumes that evolution is true, and I agree that it is, so it is here necessary to show the difference in the way someone who assumes both the reality of evolution and the existence of a good God and how they would answer to the problem of suffering in nature. This is the cause, isn’t it? Suffering in nature is not the same for the creationist described above for the aforementioned reasons and it may not be much of a problem at all for the Atheist who doesn’t have to hold to a good God. The atheist can simply say that nature and its creatures suffer and that’s just the way it is. But this will not do for the Christian.

Another idea that Southgate shows will not do for the Christian comes from Kenneth Miller. His idea is that this whole issue is just a failure of perspective. We’re all giving this much too much thought. Everything hangs on if we’re looking from the perspective of the predator or the prey. That relationship is just a fact of nature. I agree with Southgate when he says that we can dismiss this case without much effort. I’ll make an epistemological sin and say, I just don’t buy that argument. It’s an argument by ignoring which to me makes it an ignorant argument. To quote Forest Gump, “That’s all I got to say about that.”

So, the Christian is faced with skepticism from interlocutors who press the famous question “How could a good God allow so much suffering in the world?” Pat answers like, “Well, it’s all a mystery” or “God has a plan that we just have to trust” may work for a good number of people, but not for me. In my way of thinking, these kinds of answers may not be the cause of the problem of suffering, but they certainly enhance it.

The second one in particular puts God in the place of being the cause for the suffering. However, it seems to me that God can’t be both all good and the cause of suffering. So, in terms of the range of the problem, it ranges as far as it is able to because it extends out far enough for some to question the very existence of God. Specifically in regards to range and the concept of evolution, I think there are a few paths a person could consider when it comes to the reality of God, suffering, and evolution in terms of a solution.

A person could consider the idea that God set up evolution from the start, or that God set up laws that allowed for the possibility for evolution and it then came to be. Further dialogue on the ramifications for those answers should be reserved for question 4. However, I point them out to show how deep and wide this question can get. Certainly, the range can go as far as the doctrine of God to ask what kind of God would create a (physical) nature with evolutionary suffering. However, I think it is sufficient to show that if the range can go as far out as the furthest possible place, by my definition the existence of God, that that is enough for our purposes here.

Theology & Science – Part 5

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as a Star Wars movie.]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 5)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.               Click HERE for Part 2.               Click HERE for Part 3.               Click HERE for Part 4.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its challenge] If one believes in a literalistic interpretation of scripture, with a 24 hour day and 7 day week of creation found in Genesis, in spite of the many clues for the necessity to include other interpretive frameworks on the piece, and an Augustinian “Fall” of mankind that sent a curse upon all humans as well as on all of nature, there will be a particular way of framing this question. However, if a person has moved away from this angle on scripture they would likely frame things completely differently from the start.

Usually the people in the literalistic camp will at some point go to ideas regarding the problem of suffering being simply the result of disobedient humans in Adam and Eve. Sideris has shown that holders of this view often hold to an idea that because God called creation good in the beginning, that there was a time that all the animals fed on plant life rather than one another. The escaton for them is then about God fixing everything so that things can go back to the way things were supposed to be all along. The lion will lay down with the lamb without feasting on the lamb. The way things are now is a result of the world being in a fallen state, according to this view.

We can see then, that for all the publicity given by the populous over the issues of science and theology relating to our reading of the 7 day creation narrative, the real issue is tied more closely to the popular theology of the Fall. I won’t take the time here to directly show the problems with this line of thinking but I will state the reason for bringing it up. It is to show that the route one takes on the issue in the beginning has a direct effect on the position taken regarding the problem of suffering.

So, one of the major challenges with this problem is that if we don’t get the launching point of our theology correct, we will have created lots of problems for ourselves far down the road. Often, theologians don’t discover these theory holes until they are so far down the road that it becomes difficult, for reasons of pride, investment, stubbornness, etc., to abandon the theory and start over.

Another challenge that Southgate points out is that not only is natural selection, which includes sometimes seemingly horrible acts, a reality, but it is these very horrible acts that leads to the life we currently see in the world. Life forms evolve and adapt as a means of avoiding suffering, amongst other reasons. So, the question for some theologians is whether or not God purposely caused the suffering to allow natural selection to do its thing. Once again, since this essay is more about the setup and the questions, I’ll defer that part that seeks to answer these questions for now. What we can see by now is that if there is evolution, natural selection and an all loving God in the world, there is a challenge to figure out how to coalesce these streams at the brackish.

Brian Bram November 12, 2014 1 Comment Permalink

Theology & Science – Part 4

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as an ice bucket challenge.]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 4)

 

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the second question and part one of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.

Click HERE for Part 2.

Click HERE for Part 3.

Exam Question:  This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).

[its distinctiveness] There seems to be a bit of a difference regarding the fact that there is suffering in the world of nature versus the fact that there is suffering in humans. Whether or not there should be a difference is the topic of another essay. However, one thing is certain. More work has been done theologically with the problem of suffering in humans than has been done with analyzing suffering in all the rest of creation.

This points to one aspect of the problem which is that humans are basically anthropocentric. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve looked at the human piece more than the other. I myself have spent most of my time studying the problem of evil in relation to humankind and almost no time in relation to nature. Even when I did spend time on nature it was usually things like natural disasters that had a disastrous effect on humans, usually ignoring the devastating effects on others in God’s creation.

However, I don’t think that the fact of selfishness is a distinctive feature. I see that in evolution there is rampant selfishness, as pointed out by Dawkins in Foster’s work. However, even though there is selfishness that has infected both humans and non-humans, it’s only on the human side that we should expect to see a rising out of this conundrum. More on that in a second.

One question we need to ask first is whether there is evil in nature? I agree with Reynhout’s assessment that to call disvalues in nature evil is a category mistake. I don’t see animals having the same moral ability and therefore responsibility as humans have. Because of this ability and responsibility humans also have the ability to sin. Sin is evil. However, animals can’t sin in my theology. So, when a lion brutally attacks, kills and eats a gazelle, or when an orca playfully kills its prey, I don’t think it is evil. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that there is something not right in all of that, though. I’m different in my thinking here than people like Rolston and Sideris. I am hopeful that someday those disvalues will no longer be a part of creation.

So, the most salient difference that I see between the human realm and the non-human realm as it relates to this question is the existence or the type of free will. Presumably, at least some, although not all, suffering in the human world can be attributed to human sin. But this can’t so easily be done in the animal kingdom, for example. Nor can it be done in a single celled ameba (I hope I’ve gotten my science right here!) It seems impossible to make a case that these forms of life have the same kind of free will, if they have any free will at all, as humans do. So, I suggest that the main difference in the suffering topic on the nature side is the existence or type of free will.

McFague, whom I criticize but whom I also regard as a person with great erudition, seems to have tapped into at least a bit of my idea of responsibility and accountability here. She says, “The only difference between us and the rest of creation is that the others reflect God, tell of God, simply by being, whereas we must will that it be so (The Dearest…, 113). She assumes here that both humans and non-humans are in a state that is not full, there is something missing, something that we are striving towards. However, humans have the extra responsibility, due to the extra capacity we have, to align our actions with the Trinitarian God’s character.