Sunday, November 29, 2009

Serpentine Logic

That devolved legless reptile is doing its damnedest to stay in the picture

Interesting is this post on Uncommon Descent concerning ID guru William Dembski’s book “The End of Christianity, Finding a Good God in an Evil World”. This is what Dembski says about the book.

My book attempts to resolve how the Fall of Adam could be responsible for all evil in the world, both moral and natural IF the earth is old and thus IF a fossil record that bespeaks violence among organisms predates the temporal occurrence of the Fall. My resolution is to argue that just as the salvation of Christ purchased at the Cross acts forward as well as backward in time (the Old Testament saints were saved in virtue of the Cross), so too the effects of the Fall can go backward in time. Showing how this could happen requires extensive argument and is the main subject of the book. As for my title, “End of Christianity” involves a play on words – “end” can refer to cessation or demise; but it can also refer to goal or purpose. I mean the latter, as the subtitle makes clear: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.

The link to the interview with Dembski also worth looking at.

Some comments

1. Although he minces his words and hedges (Not surprisingly given his particular Christian sub-culture) my guess is that Dembski is an “Old Earth” believer; otherwise his attempt to explain pre-fall evil as a “retroactive” result of an anthropocentric fall would seem rather futile.(Note: If the act of God in Christ is a powerful symbolic declaration of covenant by God and revealed in the fullness of time, then its ability to dispense grace retroactively is less enigmatic, whereas I can make little sense of a retroactive fall in this light)

2. In line with Young Earth Evangelicalism’s world view Dembski assumes evil and suffering to be largely sourced anthropocentrically. And yet the serpent in Genesis 3 could be construed as a symbol of the presence of extra-human evil. The person(s) who penned Genesis 3, as is the wont of arcadian folk, would be ever aware of the lurking presence of evil in an unseen world. There is also the question over the interpretation of the enigmatic Romans 8:18-23 , a passage which hints that the cause of evil and suffering is not quite so crisp and clear cut as traditional Young Earth Evangelicalism would have it.

3. The problem Dembski is addressing comes out of contemporary Young Earth Evangelicalism’s world view and is thus very pressing in his own intellectual circles. Some of us, such as myself, who feel that there are deeper mysteries surrounding the source of suffering and evil have a less pressing need to explain pre-fall suffering. According to my concordance the word “good” of Genesis 1 is not quite the same as the word perfect (~ completion). I wonder what Dembski teaches his seminary students?

I have been a close witness of evangelical philosophy for over thirty years and its sometimes cursory and shallow treatment of suffering and evil is not its only short fall. So much about standard evangelical explanations fail to make sense of the world around us, not to mention its inconsonance with aspects of my own personal experience. It’s no wonder that when pressed the fallback position of many evangelicals is fideism: Viz: “Faith is not always logical, if it was it would not be faith.” In the fideist mind the ability of faith to accommodate mystery is conflated with the ability to swallow illogicality. But I’ll hand it to William Dembski, he is brave guy (and a nice guy as far as I can tell) and he is making a very valiant attempt at being be logical. Pity about some of his fellow pilgrims.


James Knight said...

Hi Tim,

"My resolution is to argue that just as the salvation of Christ purchased at the Cross acts forward as well as backward in time (the Old Testament saints were saved in virtue of the Cross), so too the effects of the Fall can go backward in time."

Interesting idea from Dembski and one that I'm inclined to agree with. Although the death described in Genesis which refers to Adam seems a fair departure from the sort of death that would have occurred through billions of years of pre-Adam evolution. Death entered the world through Adam's sin, but clearly this is more than the death of organisms, as I'm sure you agree - it is a death with deeper dimensional consequences, as I contend in one of my Christianity and science columns...

James Knight said...

" I wonder if what makes us think that God’s account of creating man ‘from the dust’ implies something instantaneous is more of a psychological objection that a philosophical one. Has it never occurred to those that think this way to ask why God should make a special case for man when every other precious thing takes time to grow or develop or blossom? Perhaps an answer to this problem is that He did not create man instantly; that is, perhaps He thought, as He seems to have done with all other precious things, that He would gradually perfect the process over time. It seems more likely that if we are to understand God’s methods of progressive development in His beautiful creation, we might find that the answer lies in a slightly different interpretation of the ‘from the dust’ verse in Genesis. I think there is a quite straightforward explanation of how gradual evolution over millions of years could produce creatures that were ‘made in God’s image’, and it probably goes something like this.

James Knight said...


For many millions of years God gradually perfected life, in cellular form and in more developed forms, knowing all the time that every step of gradual evolutionary progression was itself a step closer to the physical creatures that would be the instrument or vehicle of humanity - able to be imparted with the glorious Spirit of God through the ‘dust’ - the image of Himself into man. Now this creature might easily have been the result of a long evolutionary process -certainly in cellular form it could be aptly characterised as being a cousin of the frog, the elephant, the ape, and of every other living animal. The long evolutionary process eventuated in this creature having all the bodily parts necessary to receive God’s glorious Spirit. Its brain had evolved to a level sufficient to receive Divine reason; it was an unbelievably complex being that had the properties whereby logical discernment and rational thought could be incarnated. Similar creatures that evolved from the same branch certainly would have been around for many tens of thousands of years, themselves capable of adapting to their environment. They may even have had enough cranial capacity to create things that their descendants would later find (tools, artefacts, drawing, symbols, etc - all of which have, in fact, been found) - and they may even have been living a life under the supervision of God that was able to produce the kind of intrinsic pleasure that such a primitive existence would elicit. But its physical and psychical systems meant that it remained primitive - a proto-human - nothing that could be compared to what we are.

What happened next was probably the next biggest and most significant event since creation itself, for here is where the events in Genesis 2 begin to take place; here is where the man, so described because he is about to be made in God’s image is, in the sense of Spiritual impartation, brought up from the dust. I suppose it must be the case that the only part of this impartation that could not have been progressive was the point where the primitive creature changes from what he is to what God makes him in His image. At the time that God imparted Himself into man, the second most significant event after creation had occurred (the third would be the incarnation). The newness of man, the blessing conferred upon him from providence was part of the plan even before the first big bang and the first stellar collision.

Therefore I see no reason why the moment that God chose to put Himself into man should cause difficulties in the domain of scientific theory and evolutionary theory. The (presumably instant) change on both the psychology and the physiology of this proto-man was the first instance of God ‘creating’ man in the sense that man was made in His image. The first man, one that could recognise the self in a way which required Divinely installed rationale, is the first instance of his human consciousness, for the possession itself was God’s great gift to him - his reason, emotional feelings, cognisance and spiritual awareness, were to be the very things that could bless him and bring him into God’s eternal realm."


Timothy V Reeves said...

I think James that you've sketched out a story there that indicates one scenario potentially consistent with the fall.

As an aside: What theological sense do you make of the Genesis 1 serpent and Romans 8:18-23 re the origin of suffering and evil?

Bud said...

“Faith is not always logical, if it was it would not be faith.”

Logical pertains to logic and logic pertains to Logos. In religious texts Logos is the Word of God. It is in the Word of God that Jesus asked the people to believe, to have faith in.
Logic is "a priori". "In the beginning was the Word..." Logic is God's Word therefore it is always logical. Having faith is simply following God's logic.
I am not sure where you got the above quote but in God's Word faith is always logical and cannot be otherwise.
...James E Gambrell

Timothy V Reeves said...

Hi Bud,

I can't disagree with any of that!

I got the quote from somebody I was discussing with on a Christian web site here in Norfolk England. I'll probably be betraying confidences if I identified who it was, but I have heard things like it before on many occasions.

What you refer to as God's logic may be difficult to understand, even incomprehensible to us, but this measure of inscrutability can be exploited by religious charlatans in order to intimidate people into accepting outrageous practices.

These charlatans exploit doubts about God's inscrutable purposes by suggesting that God is completely beyond one's logical faculties. This logic of "illogic" is then used to try and neutralise the immune system of one's critical faculties prior to introducing some weird new view or practice.