Saturday, 6 December 2008

Evolution, natural evil and the theodicy question (Creation or evolution, chapter 13)

In this chapter, DA continues to address the question of how to integrate on the one hand the account of history and the development of life given by Darwinism, and on the other a Biblical theology. This especially concerns questions over the Fall, Adam and Eve, and the existence of suffering and pain (so-called "natural" evil as opposed to "moral" evil). This chapter particularly focuses on the latter set of issues. DA introduces it this way, though the chapter itself actually ranges over a much broader range of territory:
"The question before us is how a good God could choose to bring about all of biological diversity, including us, by such a long and wasteful process which involves so much death and suffering." (p277)
Much of that ranging seemed to this reviewer to not be especially relevant, but other material that DA found interesting, wanted to get in the book, and shoved in in various digressions in this chapter as the best place. Perhaps there are connections that evaded me. DA's basic answer to the question is one that exists in perfect harmony and continuity with the trajectory traced out in the previous few chapters. The Darwinian account of the earth's history is not up for critique or question; the Bible will not be used to examine whether there are any faults in what contemporary secular scientists say about the past. Rather, this will all be taken as certain truth, and what will be done is to search out for a theological justification by which the general themes of the Bible can be harmonised with it.

Such a harmony, as we've already seen in the discussions of the Fall, requires that pain and suffering cannot be seen as unnatural intruders into God's "very good" creation, coming because of Adam's sin. No - such an approach irreparably contradicts Darwinian dogma, because DA has already explained that humans and such unpleasant experiences had been around for many aeons before Adam was ever born to his father and mother. It's instructive to take a step back and observe how little effort - none - DA takes to actually derive his theodicy from the pages of Scripture. These questions are not answered by any kind of inductive study of Scripture, but by an exploration of the speculations of various non-evangelical theologians, of whom the most familiar to most readers will be John Hick, the pluralist universalist. This is not unexpected; beginning with an evolutionary framework as the starting point instead of Scripture, it's only really going to be such theologians who are going to have a compatible framework to help you.

The harmony itself, then, amounts to this: biology is a package deal, carbon-based life cannot be created without the accompanying down-sides, and who are we to label the natural evils that we see with such subjective labels as "wasteful" or "evil" when God has seen fit to use them as part of the process which brings about all the good and enjoyable things that we can witness and experience? In DA's solution to "the problem of evil", then, the problem is not so much as solved as defined out of existence, with various exceptional caveats in the particular case of suffering humans. Here are some representative quotes:
"Biology is a package deal. Once we have carbon, phosphorus, oxygen, nitrogen and the other key elements for life ... virtually any plus that we care to mention .... is going to have an inevitable minus." (p279)

"As noted in previous chapters, life, at least carbon-based life of the kind with which we are familiar [reviewer: i.e. including humanity], is impossible without death." (p279)

"... without genetic variation between us all, we would all be clonal, looking identical. But it is that same genetic variation which affects our susceptibility to certain diseases, and which causes genetics diseases or cancers - necessary costs of living in a carbon-based world." (p280)

"It is a world in which moral and spiritual growth is made possible - more like a Boot Camp than a Holiday Camp. No pain, no gain." (p288)
DA's answer, then, is that the "problem", if it is one, is essential. It's like 2+2=4, or requiring that squares have right angles. God himself couldn't do it another way. If you want life in anything like the present form, then this is the only way to have it. Throughout the chapter, the answer is consistent - it's not because of sin. Human wickedness plays no real part in the evil of this world - don't say, "fallen world", because the Fall is to do with unseen, inner, spiritual reality - relationship with God - not to do with the dust and dirt of everyday life.

DA's dualism becomes Gnostic when he relates this to the new heavens and the new earth - the age to come. That will, he allows, be one free of such pain and suffering, a different order entirely. As remarked before, what this means is that salvation is not to be conceived of in terms of an originally good created order which was ruined through sin then being redeemed and glorified through the work of Christ - rather, Christ liberates us from an order that was originally and essentially unpleasant, to something better. We're freed from the prison of the pains of this life, into a better and ultimately disconnected order. Not creation restored, but creation replaced. This leaves us wondering (DA never even approaches this question) why Christ had to bring this new creation about in such a flesh-and-blood way. He came as a carbon-based life-form, so to speak, and suffered in the flesh. He underwent physical death, in order to bring in the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). But why? Why was physical incarnation, physical suffering and physical death needed, when the physical suffering and natural evil has nothing real to do with sin, the Fall and the spiritual world, or even in the case of physical pain is actually something necessary and good?

Ultimately, this chapter has no real relationship to a Bible-based theology. It scrapes around from what this or that Princeton University scholar had to say that can be made to fit into an evolutionary worldview. At best it has some helpful thoughts that could be developed in a Scriptural way. At worst, it undercuts the Bible's own historical narrative and removes the foundation of the gospel, replacing evangelical religion with the ancient and disastrous Gnostic heresy.

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