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 third question and part one of my answer.
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.