Thursday, May 8, 2008

Natural Evil vs. Moral Evil (part 1)

As I began chapter 5 of Hasker's book, I can honestly say that I never really considered the title to this be something of incredible importance. However if one is going to create a sound theodicy, then this will inevitably be a topic of consideration. Chapter 5 is Hasker longest and most detailed, therefore I will split this chapter into two (maybe three) posts for the sake of some initial reflection.

The chief question Hasker considers is this: How do we account for all of the natural evil in the world (hurricanes, disease, drought, famines, earthquakes)? Remember, we're developing a theodicy. What first came to mind when I read this was, original sin. To me it seems that from the Genesis narrative God created everything which he deemed "very good." At which point subsequent to the Fall, the earth was subjected to travail (cf. Gen. 3:17-19). Moreover, as the Apostle Paul says, the world is now waiting, as it were, for the consummation of all things (Rom. 8:22). However, according to Hasker, the answer is more complicated.

In typical fashion, Dr. Hasker evaluates several positions and the arguments from their supporters. However, due to a highly debatable conclusion from Hasker, this post we will briefly evaluate one then hopefully move to discussion in some further posts. The first position he evaluates is the one I proposed above. His chosen supporter, Henry Morris.

According to Morris, "the entrance of spiritual disorder into God's perfect creation (Gen 1:31) led to the imposition of a universal and age-long reign of physical and biological decay and death as well." Resulting in what we find in the 2nd law of thermodynamics. As stated above, this position presupposes a series of subsequent events based the Genesis narrative coupled with the notion of a "young-earth." That is to say, that God created the world just prior to his creating Adam. But as some of you already know, due to the (apparent) overwhelming evidence based on scientific inquiry that the world cannot be a few thousand years old. As a result, Hasker uphold this theory as the very thing that cripples this position. In the words of Hasker himself, "...the earth is not a few thousand years old but rather several billion. We know this as securely as we know anything at all about the history of our planet and a supposed theological principal that conflicts with this rock-solid fact has to be reexamined or discarded."

Here I'll be honest that I'm not an expert in the scientific arena when it comes to the creation account. Nor can I say with any confidence that I could argue either way. I do believe one can be undecided on this issue and still maintain a strong commitment to Scripture. Even with that said, its clear that Dr. Hasker has utilized a specific scientific presupposition and imposed that upon his understanding of the natural evil. He terms the concept of an "old-earth" as rock-solid evidence. And perhaps it is, but that may only be rock-solid for now. I say this because when thinking through this I'm reminded of the whole Galileo episode in the 17th century where he concluded a heliocentric universe over Copernicus' geocentric universe. Which eventually led to an upheaval in the Catholic church with respect to the integrity of Scripture and Science. Essentially what the Church felt was, based on certain aspects of their reading of Scripture, the Bible appears to maintain a geocentric universe. But as we've come to know over time, this is not the case. Heliocentricity is the dominant, nay, rock-solid credible notion of the structure of our universe. This may work in favor for Hasker's theory, but it may also work against him. If we come to find by some irrefutable scientific evidence that the earth is only a few thousand years old, then I imagine what will be in store for the rest of this chapter will be difficult to sustain.

So what do we say to this? Does the earth need to be young if we are to maintain the integrity of Scripture? Is it possible that science can alter the way we read the Bible? Indeed it has in the case with Galileo. If the earth is billions of years old, how are we to interpret the Genesis narrative?

Personally this topic is a difficult one. I cannot land on any position without evaluating enough options that lead me to a coherent conclusion. So before I continue on into Hasker's following sub-chapters of individuals who attempt to work their way around this issue, I wanted to hear some of our readers thoughts on it.


John L said...

"If the earth is billions of years old, how are we to interpret the Genesis narrative?"

The OT is a grand collection of metaphor (damah), poetry, interpretive history, theology, law, wisdom, etc.. But it is not a science text.

I think both OT and NT writings beautifully compliment every scientific discovery ever made. Science helps us think rationally, Jesus frees us from rationality as our religion.

Anonymous said...

Its a very interesting conversation; I'm interested in hearing more of your thoughts on it.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago where the person was shocked to hear that I disagreed with a major evangelical leader who says that holding to a literal six day creation is one of the foundations of the faith.

It seems that there has been more of a turn away from a young earth to the other three main views: theistic evolution, gap theory, and framework theory. All of these would recognize, or allow for a much older dating of the earth.

The best defense of the young earth position that I have read, from a strictly theological approach, was written by Robert Reymond in Contending for the Faith.

The big question I have in regards to this issue is how do the the proponents of the three views listed above explain man as the imago dei?

By the way you guys have a great blog.

- matt

Damian Romano said...

Guys, thanks for the comments.

John, surely Genesis is filled with those devices you mention and is not intended to be a science book. But I do think that if one holds to the 'old-earth' theory then they'll have some 'splainin' to do, as Matt pointed out.

Matt, I'm going to do some more reading on the earth's age after I follow up with the rest of Hasker's book. Perhaps he'll offer some insight to this in the coming chapters (imagio Dei). I actually have Reymond's book at home, I might have to read that chapter again. Also, thanks for the encouragement on the blog.

Dr. Hasker has joined the conversation by commenting in the past few posts. I'm sure he'd be happy to comment here as well.

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

another really good question to ask is "how big is the unverse"?

this can let someone predisposed a certain (small) age of the universe get a better sense of the scale of things and e.g. ... how far away that star is (and thus how old the light is) that your are looking at right now ;-)

btw is this video scriptural?

Damian Romano said...

P3, with reference to the size of the universe and the impact it may have on determining the age, I'll leave that to the scientists. I supposed that could contribute to the overall schema.

With reference to the video you linked, I think that this song by Tomlin represents the traditional Christian stance on and about God. I am inclined to agree with the majority of its allusions.

John L said...

Damien, great blog.

Agreed, a literal OT interpretation is difficult against scientific findings. But, as someone who makes a living by the scientific method, I can't deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution and 4B year-old planet, especially in light of recent genomic research.

The real question, in my mind, is how life began 3B years ago. Did RNA and proteins just spontaneously "occur?" Given the complexity of even the most simple genome, I find this impossible to believe.

Most evolutionary scientists have rejected the old "lightning hypothesis" - but that leaves us with little more than off-planet seeding, or divine intervention.

It doesn't bother me that the OT writers used inspired metaphor. The essential J/X story remains solid:

God created - unity reigned - humanity fell into disunity - Jesus calls us back to Jn17 unity.

I suppose one could argue from Ps91:4 that God is a bird. The symbolism, poetry, and metaphor throughout the OT is to be cherished. I take it all seriously, but (clearly) not always literally, or "scientifically."

Damian Romano said...

John, yeah, the difficult issue is the harmonization of science and Scripture. Like I said in my post, an old earth may very well be something we as Christians have to accept. But then again if science just-so-happens to "prove" otherwise, we'll have to deal with that to.

Like you say, we must be sure to interpret in light of the literary genre that is utilized. Clearly Jesus is not a [door] as he states in John 10:9. I think this is where the Roman Catholic's and Jehovah's Witnesses (and others) stumble at times.