Evil and Evolution: Thoughts on Enns and Smith

In light of my post yesterday about evolution and Genesis and the conversation swirling around Peter Enns's new book The Evolution of Adam I'd like to point you to a review of Enns's book by James K.A. Smith at The Colossian Forum and a response to that review by J.R. Daniel Kirk at his blog Storied Theology.

I don't want to insert myself into that particular conversation, mainly because I don't think I can make much of a contribution in an exchange between two professionals on their own turf. I do, however, want to point you to the conclusion of Dr. Smith's review as it raises some issues I've wrestled with on this blog.

At the end of his review of Enns's book Smith turns to what he considers to be the root problem in trying to reconcile evolutionary history with the Christian faith. Specifically, this problem has less to do with how we read the bible--Should Genesis be read as literal history?--than with the theological problems evolution poses to orthodox theology. The main location of tension, according to Smith, has to do with the problem of evil.

Theologically, the doctrine of the Fall is doing a variety of things according to Smith. Primarily, the doctrine of the Fall makes the claim that humans are universally sinful and in need of a Savior. This is the part of the Fall that Enns focuses on in his book. The question he poses is straightforward: Do we really need to posit a historical Adam to make the claim that humans are universally implicated in sin? Enns's answer, given the Darwinian struggle inherent in evolution ("Nature red in tooth and claw") is that, no, we don't need to posit a historical Adam. Darwinian evolution could stand in for the Fall given that it is a process that would, in an unredeemed state, produce selfish and violent survival machines.

So far, so good. However, Smith goes on to note that the Fall isn't just trying to explain universal sinfulness. In addition to this, Smith argues, the Fall is also trying to explain the origins of evil. Critically, the Fall is making the claim that God is not the source and origin of evil. In this the doctrine of the Fall is a claim about the unmitigated goodness of God. Consequently, if we reject the Fall and claim that God "created" humanity via Darwinian evolution then we are left with the conclusion that God is the origin of evil. According to Smith that is the critical theological issue. The debate isn't about universal sinfulness, it's about the origins of evil and the goodness of God.

Here are the concluding paragraphs from Smith's review where he's making this point:
But it is in this context that I think Enns either misrepresents or misunderstands the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Fall and original sin. He speaks as if the doctrine of original sin was just an account of the cause of our universal human sinfulness (124)—and it is just this sort of causal claim that he thinks is untenable in light of evolutionary evidence for human origins. But Enns thinks we are free to abandon this causal claim associated with original sin and instead simply affirm universal sinful humanness—and hence the need for a Savior, thereby preserving the Gospel. We “must remain open on the ultimate origins of why all humans are born in sin (original sin) while resting content in the observation that all humans are born in sin (sin of origin)” (125).

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Because if we don’t have an account of the origin of sin we will end up making God the author of evil—a thesis that has been persistently and strenuously rejected by the orthodox Christian tradition. Enns thinks he can save the Gospel by simply affirming universal human sinfulness without taking a stand on the origin of sin; but that is to fail to recognize that what’s at stake is the goodness of God. If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with fall and God is made the author of sin—which compromises the very goodness of God. And if the goodness of God isn’t central to the Gospel, I don’t know what is. I don’t deny that this is an incredibly thorny issue; and this is not necessarily an apologetic for a “blow-by-blow” understanding of the Fall. I only point out that Enns’ account doesn’t recognize it as an issue. And that is a problem...
If you are a long time reader here you know I've been wrestling with this exact problem for many years. Specifically, given that I largely agree with how Enns reads the bible I have regularly struggled with how certain theological moves morph issues of soteriology into issues of theodicy. Smith has correctly pointed out that this is exactly what Enns has done in his book. Enns has solved the soteriological issues posed by evolution only to have created for himself (and for those who read the bible as he does) a suite of theodicy issues. In noting this I think Smith is exactly right.

So the question now becomes, what are we to do about this?

As I noted in yesterday's post, I don't know if there is anything that can be done about it. Smith is right: if you accept evolution the easy work is soteriological in nature. The harder work has to do with the theodicy questions that get thrown up. In noting this Smith is an excellent diagnostician. And I agree with his diagnosis. The trouble is, what if you find the scientific evidence convincing? Yes, you're going to have to, per Smith's diagnosis, confront the issues of theodicy. But if the scientific evidence is convincing to you, well, this is simply the theological path you have to travel. And, yes, how many travel on from this point may indeed lead them away from orthodox faith. (For example, you might handle the theodicy problems posed by evolution by adopting a process theology position.)

In light of this conundrum, let me conclude with two related thoughts that might split the difference between Enns and Smith.

First, Smith argues that the doctrine of the Fall is an attempt to explain the origins of evil. I disagree. I don't think the doctrine of the Fall is, at root, an explanation for the origin of evil (though it does do some work in this regard). In Genesis evil, in the form of the serpent, predates human sin. And regarding the origins of the serpent, evil and Satan the bible is pretty much silent. 

This silence provides some nice wiggle room for orthodox theology. The silence of the bible on this subject allows orthodox theology to retreat into "mystery" when questions of theodicy get too tough and too pointed. And that's handy.

But as I see it, that doesn't get orthodox theology off the hook. The questions are just as acute as they are for someone like Enns. The questions are just being dodged more artfully.

Enns, by contrast, has a bit of a different problem. Specifically, by getting into mechanisms and origins Enns is being much more specific. And in being so specific he lets the boogieman of theodicy out of the closet. Smith rightly notes this. Enns, being tied to a very specific scenario, can't play the mystery card so easily. But as I see it, Enns shouldn't get dinged on this account. By bringing theodicy to the forefront Enns isn't creating a problem. Rather, Enns is simply drawing attention to a problem that has always been there. A problem, in my opinion, that orthodox theology regularly sweeps under the rug.

This brings me to my second observation. At the end of the day, theodicy doesn't really boil down to the origins of evil. It boils down to this: Why'd God do it in the first place? Why, given how things turned out, did an all-knowing and all-loving God pull the trigger on Creation? Why'd God do it?

No one knows of course. Not Smith. Not Enns. Not me. My point here is simply to note that this is a live and acute question for everybody. So I think it right and proper for Smith to point this out for Enns. But the same question is pointed at orthodox theology and it doesn't have any better answers, just a "mystery" that allows it, often in cowardly ways, to retreat from answering the questions directly.

Theodicy has always been the root problem of Christian theology, orthodox or heterodox. There's no getting around that. The problem is no less acute here than there.

I don't care how you read Genesis.

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55 thoughts on “Evil and Evolution: Thoughts on Enns and Smith”

  1. I think that there is far more at stake here than both Smith and Enns suggest. The doctrine of the Fall protects the doctrine of a good creation, a doctrine that serves as a foundation for far more than a theodicy. And let's not regard theodicy in this context merely as the addressing of some secondary theological or philosophical conundrum: the Scripture repeatedly presents the goodness of creation as grounds to recognize and joyfully to declare the goodness of God and a challenge to the goodness of God's creation casts this core theological confession into shadow. The doctrine of a good creation represents a deep and robust affirmation of the material order, challenges gnostic approaches, and frames the biblical declaration of God's commitment to restore it. It casts Death as an enemy, and an invader of God's good order. The claim that man was created good and upright is not easily separated from the absolutely non-negotiable claim that man was created in the image of God. Without the doctrine of a good creation, the biblical narrative takes a very different form. Now, obviously, there remains much room for debate over what is entailed in the affirmation of a good creation (my approach on this subject is hardly standard), exactly what function the word 'restore' might play in this context, and what is meant by 'Death'. However, as these belong to the most fundamental lineaments of the biblical narrative, we need to be doing serious business with them.
    Of course theodicy has always been and will always be a problem. The difference between the mystery approach of Smith and that of such as Enns is that the mystery of a good creation followed by a Fall is quite clearly the Bible's own account, one which bears an incredible burden of a theological superstructure. Creation of a good world, followed by Fall, and promise of future restoration and perfection is integral to the core biblical narrative, repeated, presumed, and alluded to throughout. Abandon this and the fundamental biblical narrative is at risk of unravelling. Smith's approach definitely poses deep problems and questions. However, without a robust affirmation of the goodness of creation, Enns is in danger of telling a story alien to the Christian one, which is a problem of catastrophic dimensions.

  2. "This silence provides some nice wiggle room for orthodox theology. The
    silence of the bible on this subject allows orthodox theology to retreat
    into "mystery" when questions of theodicy get too tough and too
    pointed. And that's handy.....This brings me to my second observation. At the end of the day, theodicy
    doesn't really boil down to the origins of evil. It boils down to this:
    Why'd God do it the the first place? Why, given how things turned out,
    did an all-knowing and all-loving God pull the trigger on Creation?
    Why'd God do it?"

    Precisely!  Mythology and religion are the children of Natural mystery.  Several readers yesterday made comments about the tension between the creation story and evolution as if this is some type of new and unique "threat" to their religious dogma.  In doing so they ignore the context our own day.  I see this issue as little different from a host of other threats and challenges to Christianity by men and women of science over the past 500 years.

    Mike Gantt in his ebook "Everyone Is Going to Heaven" explains Evil thusly:  It started in Heaven with a rebellion of angels. God's response to this evil was to create the Earth and Humanity.  Eventually humanity will be the instrument through which evil is defeated (we just have to learn to be more tolerant of all this suffering business while we wait). This makes as much sense to me as any other explanation I have ever heard, and he swears it is CLEARLY written in the Bible, if one just takes the time to study it.

    Unfortunately for skeptics such as myself, (as you have noted above) the Bible is wide-open to interpretation, mystery, mythology, and misrepresentation.  So along side your question of "Why'd God do it", my question is -- "Why do humans seem so deeply to care"?  If we could figure that one out, it seems we would understand both ourselves and the natural world (as well as the Deity) a little bit better.

  3. I'm with you in your criticism of evil in nature.

    Basically evil is irrelevant in nature. A storm is not evil. A volcano is not evil. They are clearly indifferent. A cat chasing a mouse, a tiger eating meat and (not to let the vegetarians off the hook) a duck pushing a smaller duck out of the way to get some bread are also not well characterised as evil either. Up to here I agree with you.

    However an infant who wakes up and cries for attention, a two to five year old kid pushing boundaries or a primary school bully, these aren't exactly well characterised as evil either. And can't we go on all the way to old age with this? So I'd take it further.

    Evolution not only teaches us that we come from animals but that we are animals. As such we can hopefully move away from unhelpful concepts such as evil as an understanding of human behaviour. That's particularly the case when "evil" is understood as some sort of magical darkness (Eeeevil!) that is divisible from us, like a sinister possessing spirit.

    I think you make an interesting point that without law there is no law breaking. However I would also say that for me Genisis is an explanatory tale of how we differ from animals. We ate of the tree of the knowledge of all things, we became as wise as Gods. We got thrown out before we got to the Tree of Life so we life and die like other animals. We wear clothes. They don't but we bleed and rut and breed like they do.

    There's no evil about it. If we hadn't of eaten that apple we wouldn't be humans writing blogs. But from it sorrow comes.

  4.  It sounds like we're on the same wavelength, pretty much.

    Of all places, my epiphany came from reading Dragon Magazine (and I'm dating myself, I realize). In it was a spirited discussion of how to play an "evil" character, around the thesis that an "evil" character is unplayable because he must always betray his friends, break his bargains, rob and kill everyone who comes along, etc., etc. The sensible reply came that this is a cartoonish concept of evil--though less cartoonish than the notion that evil is a sort of physical thing. Evil is basically just selfishness unrestrained by conscience. An evil person keeps bargains, when it's in his interest; he breaks them when it's in his interest and he thinks he won't get caught. He only betrays his friends when it benefits him and he won't get caught. And so on.

    Evolution gave us the "selfishness," but selfishness isn't evil. It becomes evil when it is unrestrained by law, conscience, compassion, love of your neighbor, or whatever you want to call it.

    Your point about being animals is well taken. The Bible teaches exactly that. Solomon wished "that [people] might see that they themselves are beasts." I take that quite literally. And as you say, beasts are neither good nor bad. Neither are humans, until you introduce a standard by which to judge things. I often put it that "man is nothing but an animal, but God offers us the opportunity to become something more than animals."

  5. Agreed. The "mystery" exists, no matter what. Either the mystery is why God created Satan with the capacity for sin despite knowing before he created him the havoc he would cause in his good creation, or it's why God created a world with death built-in (I don't think the natural order of animals killing each other can be considered "evil" by any reasonable definition of the concept). 

    In your previous post, you mentioned that you don't understand why people tend to personalize these debates. Honestly, I don't understand how they couldn't. Look at the issues we're dealing with. The first three chapters of Genesis deal directly with the origins of sin and death, which means they affect soteriology and the theology of redemption. In an individualistic culture, what could be more personal than that? Pull out the literalness of Genesis 1-3 and you threaten the very foundation of modern American teaching on a host of issues many Christians hold close to their hearts. That's a very personal thing to do, and it's not surprising to see a backlash against those who try to find a better way than what evangelicalism has promoted over the past 200 years or so. 

  6. I've been a frequent (but mostly silent) reader of this blog for a quite a while. And I know well enough I can't even begin to compete with most people here, speaking in (what I see as) "scholarly" language and thought.

    But what I believe is more or less simple and in layman's terms. 

    If God created man to serve/fellowship with Him, but WITHOUT free will, then humans would be nothing but "robots" or a "computer program." We wouldn't know more or less than what we're told by God (which, before eating the fruit, was the case).

    On the premise that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and unchanging in His nature, God knew Adam would eat the fruit. But He knew what he could do to fix that (which wouldn't happen until millennia later). And he said so when he cursed Adam and Eve.

    Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thereby he sinned and gained "KNOWLEDGE" independent of God. And cut off from the Tree of Life, Death entered, and God exiled Man from Paradise. Original Sin and Death. Perfection of Creation broken.

    Since the resurrection of Christ, we are reborn, redeemed, resurrected. Creation to be patched up, in a sense. We are LEARNING about God, growing in grace and learning to love God on our own free will. This is the completion of perfection, I believe. The foreknowledge/plan was not eternal perfection from the start, but fulfilled and complete perfection, like iron wrought into a finely crafted sword.

    In short, I guess what I'm trying to say is, how can we truly know the depth and breadth of whom God is, if we (and Adam) didn't  mess up our lives with God in the first place?

    Without the Fall, there would be no Christ, nor need for a Messiah.

  7. Brother Beck
    this is Praveen originally from India
    i do not understand this point about scriptures being silent. If all things have been created by the word, and without him nothing was made that has been made, and if all things are for him, from him, through him, and in him, and if all things are upheld with the power of his word, then was is it hard to imagine that evil itself has been created by God who is Love, for his Glory and good of his people?
    Isaiah 45:7 clearly states that : "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.:"
    i am not saying brother that this is very easy to swallow; but let God be God.
    Didn't Marilyn McCord Adams too deal with the same issues?
    and as you had mentioned earlier the problem that we become avowed Christian Universalists is not "personal salvation" or salvation of loved ones and friends, it has to do with theodicy
    there is ofcouse no solace in giving a "theological", or "psychological" answer...as Jürgen Moltmann or someone said...
    "we have to live through and go through this pain this nagging pain of evil till the Lord returns or we are called home"

  8. The problem for skeptics is that your logic is circular.  Man may have Free Will, but (the omniscient and omnipotent) God does not.  This is illogical.  This is a problem in existentialism.  God created EVERYTHING -- including Evil, or the trail to Satan.  Therefore, he has no Free Will, and cannot be omnipotent and omniscient. 

    Implicit in Dr. Beck's heart-rending question is this:  Apart from any consideration of the role of Humanity in it, how did a part of creation begin and end up outside of God's control, if God is Absolute and Almighty?  If it did not, then logically he is in complete control and must have created it.

  9. I think I'm with Marilyn McCord Adams here that evil has to be understood as a requirement of the "best of all possible worlds" defense but only if coupled with a universalist perspective. Evil exists as a inextricable part of the fabric grand experiment in creative love, but this can only be worthwhile if ultimately the value of every life is positive rather than negative - and this is only possible in universalism.

    "[I]n an elegant analogy, John V. Taylor likens the Incarnation to a scene in Shakespeare's Henry V. On the eve of battle against an overwhelming enemy, King Henry dons a disguise and moves incognito among the common soldiers in the field. He overhears one swear that the king will have to pay on judgment day when the hacked and broken bodies rise up and accuse him of having bought victory with their lives. Henry knows all too well the burden that lies on his shoulders, a burden that he now transfers to his army.

    "'Yet he still believes it will prove worthwhile and, as morning breaks, he rallies his small force to believe in it with him. So he instills into them his own hope, his faith in the value of the enterprise ...God does know more intimately than any the price his creatures have been paying for his huge adventure of making this universe of accident and freedom and pain as the only environment in which love could one day emerge to receive and delight in and respond to his joyous love. He still believes the outcome will outweigh the immense waste and agony, not least the agony of his seeming indifference and inaction. So, knowing we cannot understand, cannot forgive what he is doing, God has come among us as a fellow being and fellow-sufferer to make amends and to win back trust.’”
    - As quoted by Philip Yancey in Reaching For The Invisible God

  10. I have no brilliant answer(s) to the problem of squaring a world of pain and suffering with a good God who *is* Love.  I think that, as much as we are able to understand anything about it, we have to turn to Christ and the Gospel Story.  At the moment, I'm in the beginning (ha, 'punny') of a study of the Gospel of John with my nursing home friends.  Creation, life, light, truth, grace -- all summed up in the perfect expression of God's heart revealed in Christ.  That Christ pitched his tent among us, sharing in the roughness, pain, and temporariness of our human lives is not an explanation for "why" God created or allowed the roughness and pain and temporariness in the first place, but at least, *at least* a sign that God's presence (glory/grace/hesed) was, is, and always will be with us.  Many days I struggle to remember and affirm this truth.  Every now and then it is really and immediately clear and true for me, right here and right now.

    I am glad that you did not roast Peter Enns.  (I do not know the other fellow -- whether he's roast-worthy or not.)  I liked Enns' book, and was/am grateful to the man for writing it.  I think that you make a valid point, in that his thesis does not address the larger theological problem(s) of pain and suffering (evil) in the world.  I feel to a great extent that no one could answer these questions satisfactorily (with absolute certainty); and, specific to Enns' book, theodicy issues were beyond the scope of the subject.  That might be a lame defense, but I really didn't expect theodicy to be explained.  There were some other theological issues that I was curious to see how Enns would handle (sin, the fall, atonement, etc.)  ~Peace~

  11. Dr. Beck,

    I feel theodicy in unavoidalbe, evolution or not. Retreating into "mystery" doesn't cut it for the thoughtful person, you know that (Augustine doesn't do it). If the process position is considered unorthodox, why isn't Calvinism and Augustinianism considered unorthodox as well? All three make theodicy claims:

    God is all powerful
    God is all good
    Evil exists

    One of the three premises has to be weakened. Process weakens God's power, Calvinism does not posit a good god, and Augustine denies the existence of evil (privatio boni). So there you have it, we're all unorthodox. Process does have an answer to your last question: why'd God do it this way? It may not be the answer you want but it's convincing to me.

    Great post! 

  12. Hello
    Kudos to both jeff_r and Susan N.
    very well written, thoughtful and empathetic.
    i did not know that jeff_r ....wow..
    i wish i can add a bit more, but i cannot.
    but i will try
    First of all God created Satan a liar from the beginning as our Lord Jesus put it. He was created crooked from the very beginning - Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD
    God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not
    eat from any tree in the garden'?" - Gen 3:1

    Now the question remains: If eve and adam were created in God's image - there are two brothers - Ray L Smith, and concordia publications brother i do not know his name - they use the present continuous tense - "creating them in his own image was the Lord"  - they imply that eve and adam did not reflect the entire image of God when they were created. the entire image of God would be clearly reflected when God became flesh in our Lord Jesus Christ and since his bodily physical resurrection on easter sunday, the new creation in Christ would eventually after many eons reflect God when God become all in all (1 Cor 15:28 - When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him
    who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.)

    Secondly, when God was made flesh, he intimately and realistically experienced our suffering, - Sorry, shame, hunger, unrighteousness, hardened hearts, callous teachers, false worship, etc...He was no longer a distant blood thirsty deity.
    He suffered with us. He came to our state, and pitched his tent. in a way of speaking, he paid forward; He paid his dues.

    thirdly, God gave the law on Sinai - a sword to kill - Apo Paul says there was sin even before the law was given, so death.
    but lets say law is kind of a sword to kill. Now, God lifted up that sword, and turned it on his Himself.

  13. The question of our day.  As little as I like to credit Calvinists, there is something to learn from them in regards to the why anything question (I think).  First, if we take Paul seriously in Eph 5 about marriage being a symbol of Christ and the church, and we realize that marriage predates human sin, I think we have to say that creation was always expected to fall.  Jesus and the cross were not Plan B, but always plan A.  So the question of why anything, becomes: to display Christ.  And what is it that Christ displays?  Romans 9:22-24.  To show his power and wrath against evil and to make known his mercy and glory for those called (beforehand).  A flaming two-edged sword.  All the Jesus sayings about division.

    You are left with the 1st century (pre-modern?) conception of a King: mercy and wrath, power and glory.  And a good king exercise all of those things perfectly.  And Jesus is the good shepherd (i.e. Davidic King). Maybe Wright/McKnight will get around to it, but the whole King/Kingdom theology I think comes back to Calvinism and the problems of election, which is a problem of theodicy.  Luther's only answer was look at who the King is - is it safe to fear, love and trust the Crucified?  Otherwise you are throwing yourself against the hidden God in ways he hasn't allowed.

  14. The only thing that brings me peace while dealing with the unavoidable problem of a benevolent God and suffering is to view the world as Teilhard de Chardin did who believed evolution was being used to bring the earth and mankind to a greater state of consciousness/complexity, converging with Omega.  We can see now how consciousness, along with science and technology, is being used to ease the sufferings of mankind: in one case, finding cures for disease.  Maybe someday we'll evolve into a greater understanding where suffering still exists but the weight and sting of it no longer effect us in the same way (similar to what this guy proposes in this TED talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0--_R6xThs).  Maybe in the very creation ex nihilo, God, as he so often does, limited himself giving more to his creation so that the creation may also enjoy God's perfection; in other words allowing both evil and good to coexist (though good will always prevail).  And maybe, also, we will arrive to a state of bliss by working together through evolution, God and man; creator and creation. 

  15. God is love and is triune.
    That eternal trinity is a perichoretic, kenotic relationship - constantly giving, loving, self-effacing.

    I believe the trinity had only one decision: whether to, or not, share that love with a creation - to extend that relationship beyond themselves. "For God so LOVED..."

    As God's nature IS love and love REQUIRES a freely made choice, free will itself was not a decision of God - God didn't 'decide' to give man free will. From God's one decision to create followed everything else, including free will. Evil is the result, the fruit, of the freedom required and encapsulated in God's decision to create.

    One could go further and even wonder whether God even made a decision to create given the nature of love.

    But I believe a theodicy rooted in our orthodox doctrine of the trinity moves us closer, deeper, truer to the mystery. Current theodicies are inadequate.

  16. "
    First, if we take Paul seriously in Eph 5 about marriage being a symbol of Christ and the church, and we realize that marriage predates human sin, I think we have to say that creation was always expected to fall."

    There may have been incarnation without a fall. Humanity is Daughter to God the Father, and the Son will have a bride, prepared by the Spirit. The fall gives us an additional wrinkle to the story, but expecation of fall is not inherent to bridal imagery for humanity.

  17. In the first place, "pain and suffering" are only a problem if you regard the individual as the thing of ultimate importance, and Death as final. Neither of which is strictly a Christian position, it seems to me.

    Moving along, an Evolutionary view eliminates the need for active evil, or an author of evil ... Chaos is sufficient. We don't need to see the Serpent as consciously, deliberately evil. "Hath God said?" is really a very good question, one we should ask more than we do. He was "more crafty" which could mean "too smart for his own good". God did *not* say that anyone who touched the tree would surely perish. The Serpent just injected himself into something that was none of his business, and assumed that he knew more than he did and what was right for him was right for everybody, like a regular knowitall busybody.

    The Laws of Thermodynamics state correctly that left to themselves, things move from order towards chaos: "entropy always increases". Yet modern cosmology shows a clear progression -- in the beginning there was undifferentiated, extremely energetic chaos with only a very small propensity toward differentiation*. And now here we are with museums full of great art, a community of "minds" chewing over the most abstract speculations. Likewise within Scripture we see a progression of covenants as God continually reworks His relationship with His Creation like a painter developing the image on his canvas. Creation is on a journey and we have not arrived at a destination; as with any journey, there is tautologically dislocation and inevitably discomfort. Our certain hope is the Kingdom that is to come.

    For me the problem is that in Scripture as well as in Evolution, "only a remnant will be saved." I was raised in a liberal/universalist tradition, and I hate throwing away stuff, let alone art, people, civilizations, etc. But such is clearly a feature of the "organic growth" paradigm... plants need compost, and anyway there isn't room to keep everything. And we have to appreciate that sometimes a gardener will prune off a branch that is perfectly good in itself, but in a bad situation with respect to other branches, other plants, or available sustenance. That rules out an "omni-goodstuff" God, but Job 38 "out of the whirlwind", as usual. We are called to take up our cross and follow, full stop.

    * eg, http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/28092. BTW, I'm not saying that the teleology I am pointing to violates thermodynamics, which doesn't preclude temporary and local increases in orderliness. "God keeps his Word", but it doesn't always mean what you assume it does. 

  18. I'm not a roaster. I try not to write about other people all that much. I like to be boring.

  19. I love how sharply you made the excellent point about the serpent predating the fall.

    I was already thinking vaguely in that direction as I read along. In particular, I was thinking that views of God that tackle the Euthyphro dilemma by saying that what is good is good because God commands it - such views wouldn't seem to have much trouble with God authoring evolutionary "evil." Humans, at least, commit evil in the course of evolution. (Defining animal actions or sufferings as evil would take some more work in this Euthyphro context.) But God is doing no evil. By definition God does not do evil - even when He commands genocide in the Old Testament, for example. Sure, there are challenges to this Euthyphro position, and bullets to bite. But I think that it fits best with the whole of the Bible.

    Also, I heartily agree with your point about an all-knowing God pulling the trigger on creation. Blaming the devil just can't do as much work as some would like it to.

  20. Praveen,
    Not necessarily disagreeing.   But two things. First, what you are suggesting, that God is the creator of evil, isn't the orthodox position. Which is Smith's point. To be sure, there are other views but these aren't the orthodox views (e.g., McCord Adams espouses universalism). Second, even if the view you propose is true, there is a silence in the bible on that point. We get no origin story, a narrative about the Fall of Satan. Mainly because we'd have a Russian-doll like situation. A serpent for Satan's own Garden of Eden and on and on.

  21. Two comments:
    First, these aren't the only points of disagreement between Christianity and evolution.  Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth.  Darwin said that the successful (technically, reproductively efficient) continually inherit the earth.  These are very different predictions.

    Secondly, there's a reason that Genesis has suffering start when a woman conspires with a snake to ruin man.  That snake isn't a real subtle symbol.  The Fall is symbolic of marriage and the transformation of a happy single man into an overworked parent.  Genesis seems to have been written by married guys.

  22. brother
    i am just disagreeing with Smith's point.
    i am using inductive reasoning via scriptures to come to a conclusion that God is the creator of evil.
    I am not blaming the secondary causes at all - approximately 10,000 children die of hunger ever day. A small virus can penetrate the eyes of infants in Africa, and cause blood to come out of their eyes. the structure of DNA with its trillions of combinations can cause cerebral Palsy. Starvation, famine, genocide (commanded by God in Old testament), seemingly sane people like Adolf Eichmann plan with logistic precision the killing of many. Devil can't be held responsible. He cannot be at two places at the same time.
    Ultimately it has to be God of the Bible.
    as a Calvinist brother once put it - God is infinitely, irresistibly, absolutely Sovereign.
    But i don't think he went far enough.
    the revelation came to me on Saturday morning around 7 years ago...i was deep in anguish and crying and praying on my knees on the state of this present world .......If God is God then, then, will things be alright one day....then it occurred to me, if God can save some, why doesn't he save the Devil himself?
    then by and by i read Origen of Alexandria and other ante-Nicene fathers...

    So do i believe in Libertarian free will? No. Do i believe in some sort of free will? Yes- the inability to choose otherwise. 

    So am i also deterministic (Determinism as a philosophical concept) in my outlook. yes.
    am i happy? very, very
    am i hopeful ? i have better theology of hope than moltmann. Why? Personally, i think by the Grace of God and His Spirit, secondarily i think my eastern upbringing in India - Both/And is very easy for my mind.
    Either/Or Logic is good to an extant, but does not take the additional step of heuristic ambiguity (it cannot since there are no premises that it can afford to, as Gödel's incompleteness theorem proved that a new set of premises are needed - (THANKS WIKI- Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true,[1] but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250).)

    Is the bible silent and does not tell all the story? yes.
    Is there one fundamental thing it tells that is sufficient? yes : God is Love, God is Good, He will restore everything one day when God will be all in all.

  23. "Calvinism does not posit a good god"

    I have no idea what you mean by Calvinism; but, if you would allow Calvin to speak for himself, then I believe you would find this assertion to be quite wrong.  His Institutes are full of his view of the goodness of God.  In particular, here is what he has to say about this in Institutes I, xiii, 24:   ". . . Christ’s seeming at the first glance to disclaim the name of good (Mt. 19:17), rather confirms our view. Goodness. being the special property of God alone, . . ."

  24.  "Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth.  Darwin said that the
    successful (technically, reproductively efficient) continually inherit
    the earth."

    The meek inherit the earth because God steps in and body-slams everyone but His chosen few. That's not a contradiction at all. I think it's safe to say that God is the fittest one around.

  25. Sorry David, that was a gross generalization, quite ostentatious and very uncharacteristic of me. I guess I was just referring to the doctrine of  predestination, that all events are willed by God. Frankly, I don't see how an benevolent God could will eternal damnation for some and salvation for others,

    but that's just me...

  26. You certainly don't owe me an apology.  I was just surprised by the statement and the fact that nobody here questioned it.  By the way, predestination is hard for me too.  But, what are you going to do with the many passages that seem to say it, like Romans 9:20-22    On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?   Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?   What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

  27. And the additional problem becomes: Why would God make all of this such a mystery, and then wire us in such a way that we can't STAND to leave a mystery un-solved?

    Again - mystery. Oddly enough, as much as the nastiness of evil bothers me, the existence of that mystery doesn't... I guess because I enjoy the process so much. Maybe that's all it is - God having fun - and maybe you can argue that God's being a pretty selfish, vindictive jerk having all his fun at our expense. But given that we play such an active, endless role in creating the pain we live in...

    I guess I just keep finding myself back in the place of Job: unable to comprehend, and therefore left with writing a poem/play about it - getting lost in the story.

    Perhaps I'm a coward, retreating into my existential hobbit-hole. But hobbit-holes are the nicest sort of holes I've found, and I'm so very, very tired of chasing rabbits.  

  28. I think mystery is really what we are left with. So I'm not against mystery per se. Just the suggestion that mystery is not working equally across every theological position.

  29. I never really understood why god's refusal to explain himself is put forward as an 'answer' to questions; it's really more of an admission that there's not one.  "who are you, O man, to look behind the curtain of the great and powerful Oz?!" just doesn't cut the mustard.  Jesse, you're totally on target with Calvinism being a bad-god religion.  doing away with free will removes the only flimsy excuse that ever was for hell as anything other than divine sadism.

  30. I came here via slactivist so I might as well comment.  You're correct, of course, that 'Theodicy has always been the root problem of Christian theology, orthodox or heterodox.'  But it's a problem that's never been solved.  Epicurus' formulation of the basic dilemma predates Christianity; twenty
    three centuries of wrestling with it have failed to produce a victory: the idea of a God who is good, all-knowing, and all-powerful is incompatible with the universe as it is observed to be.

    God, if he exists, must know the answer, but he deliberately keeps humanity in the dark.  As one fellow commenter has inadvertently reminded us, Holy Writ holds no answers to such questions, only the thundering insistence of the Great and Powerful Oz that we step away from the curtain.

    So in addition to the paradox, we add the peevish silence of the Almighty, and the whole of theology has done no better than to desperately plaster the word 'mystery' over this glaring hole.

    Christian theologians have now spent two thousand years multiplying entities and debating in a vacuum, never reaching consensus with each other on minor points, let alone resolving the grave inconsistency at the heart of their belief system.  In the end, they simply cannot imagine a way for a God to watch with folded arms as--for example--children are raped and murdered, and remain good.  But children *are* raped and murdered, and the god they imagine *does* watch with folded arms, so perhaps the better question would be why they insist on imagining such a god at all.

  31. I'd like to push back on the view that we are--necessarily--left with mystery. 

    Posit: Evil requires sufficient sentience for an agent to understand alternative courses of action and choose harm when harm could be avoided. In that case the story of "the fall" is a typological narrative--a narrative of how evil arises in human life. In that case, the Serpent is a trope.

    The reason we would not be left with a mystery (how did evil arise?) is that that is precisely what the story's typological narrative is about, on one level, while that typology fails at the meta level: a simple story that requires an understanding of how one's actions will result in harm (fairly straightforward cause and effect) presumably does not apply to the extraordinarily unstable quantum cause and effect in play at the origin of the universe. (We are applying scientific perspectives here, right?)

    So, on one reading, we're creating the mystery by reading complexity into a very simple typological narrative.

    Just thought it was worth throwing out...

  32. Sure, but the reason people are abandoning the Fall as a doctrine is that it has become insupportable.  Science has provided an enormous amount of evidence for a different origin of mankind, and talking snakes with magic fruit do not figure into it.  This whole thread is asking what can be salvaged of the Christian narrative, with the origin story gone.

  33. I'm getting hung up on the assumption that good and evil are 'created' entities at all.  If one considers goodness to simply be an extension of the 'being' of God, then wouldn't evil be an equal, albeit opposite, extension, like matter and anti-matter?

    In my feeble mind, to say that the origin of evil calls into question the omnipotence of God is like saying  that because God simply "is" therefore He "can't help being God" and therefore is not omnipotent and has no control over is own God-ness.  At some point we have to quit with the circular semantics and just accept the "I AM." 

  34.  "His decision to make a world with love in it entailed giving His creatures free choice."

    I know you're just elegantly summarizing here, but this line of argument strikes me as transparently weak, in that it suggests that Adam and Eve were literally the only humans who ever had Free Will. If their sin has automatically corrupted the rest of mankind, where is our option to freely choose NOT to sin in the first place?

    If we are sinners by nature, and the only real choice before us is to accept or reject Salvation as framed by unlikely stories, then Free Will as expressed in the Bible is false.

  35. My thoughts exactly! Although for some reason I do insist on imagining him, or "believing" in him, or whatever you want to call it. Clearly something is seriously "rotten in Denmark", but I'd rather have some sort of ultimate hope then just accept that the cosmos managed to evolve into something this horrible all on it's own, that it will likely just continue to get worse, and that someday, gorged on violence and horror, it will devour itself in a final spasm of gluttonous debauchery.

  36.  "God did *not* say that anyone who touched the tree would surely perish."

    Gen 2: 16–17 "And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”Am I missing something?

  37. Long-time reader, first-time commenter. Not sure why now . . .
    Seems like a sticking point in this discussion, for evolutionists and creationists, is the wholesale acceptance of “nature red in tooth and claw,” etc., which betrays an insidious anthropocentrism. Seems like both sides would benefit from an ecology course. As it happens, Darwin’s account, extremely vital as it is, isn’t the final word on the subject. For instance, not long after Saint Charles, Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid challenged the exclusive focus on competition and claimed that cooperation played an equal, if not greater, role in the ebb and flow of evolution. Kropotkin argued that Darwin, while making incredible observations, also inhaled quite a bit of smog during the accelerating industrialism of 19th England which may have contributed to his reductionist bias. Biologist Mary Clark’s In Search of Human Nature is also very instructive on cooperation and evolution, as well as a huge plethora of other themes.
    Another issue is the orthodox assumption that God created the universe ex nihilo. Interesting that literalists uphold this when the text speaks of the preexistent primordial void: the desert and deep waters over which the ruach hovers. This doesn’t seem like a story about how ‘being’ came from ‘non-being.’ Some sort of partnership is happening in this narrative. John Caputo’s interpretation in The Weakness of God is thought-provoking:
    “There is an element of irreducible indeterminancy and instability built right into creation so that creation is going to be continually exposed to re-creation. What God has formed is able both to come unformed, to break down or come unstrung—that is the bad news, the downside of the risk—but by the same token and for the same reason, things are also able to be reformed, reconfigured, and reinvented, which is the upside, the more creative and re-creative side in things . . . Without the mythological tohu wa-bohu and the tehom, the horizon of the narratives is dramatically and disproportionately shifted away from that of beauty, goodness, and life and over to that of power and of being. They are turned into explanations of why the world is there, instead of proclamations that what is there is beautiful and good. The stories are not about being—being is there, given, mute, and barren—but about bringing being to life.”
    And on a final related note, historical-critical interpretation and orthodox literalism are not the only hermeneutical options. What ever happened to socioliterary interpretations, to poetic and contextual readings? God is a fluid and dynamic character in the Hebrew scriptures, not this theistic omnibus of omni-prefixes. Ched Myers is an extremely important writer and activist whose commentary on Mark (Binding the Strong Man) was a watershed moment in biblical studies, and came from a non-academic committed to living and working on the streets. I highly recommend Who Will Roll Away the Stone? His conjoined essay, “The Fall and Anarcho-Primitivism and the Bible,” is a fascinating, and very relevant, example of his work. http://www.chedmyers.org/system/files/The%20Fall%20-%20Anarcho%20Primitivism%20%2526%20the%20Bible.pdf

    Blah, apologies for the length . . .

  38.  ok, I was going to mention Ched Myers....now I don't have to. :)

    The fall could be viewed as a transition from working along with nature (permaculture) to systems of domination- agriculture, human cities, human domination over one another. Spiritually, a departure from giving thanks to the Creator to autonomous achievement and self congratulation. Socially, a departure from mutuality to hierarchy. Economically, an uneven division between productive labor, consumption and waste management ( thus The King of the Town and the Poopsmith).

  39. There's a heck of a lot to be said for a permaculture/bioregional reading of the biblical tradition . . .

  40. To me, theodicy doesn't just boil down to "Why'd God do it in the first place?" If you believe in God, then the real question is "Why does God do it every minute of every day?"

    What would we think of a doctor who stands by while a child bleeds to death in the street? If there is a God, this is his constant behavior.

    I also find doctrines of universal sin as disturbing (and ultimately harmful) as doctrines of hell. If we are born into sin, why are we damned for it? What sort of God would invent such a birth?

  41. You are using a common religious misinterpretation of the laws of thermodynamics. Entropy only increases in a closed system, where energy runs out over time. Entropy does not increase in a open system that is constantly fed energy from an outside source (in the case of the earth - the sun - though this energy will one day run out). If the current predictions of physics are correct, our universe will increase in entropy over time, but at the present time, the universe is still running quite well on the energy of the big bang.

  42. John Milton,  Areopagitica.  " many there be that complain of divin
    Providence for suffering Adam to transgresse, foolish tongues! when God
    gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but
    choosing; he had bin else a meer artificiall Adam,"  One cannot choose without choices:  one cannot choose more without less, better without worse, and so it goes.  There's no need to "create" evil except in the need to create choice, and with creating choice, freedom. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/areopagitica/ 

  43. Jonathan, thanks.  I love your thoughts here -- glad you chose now to comment at ET.  :-)  Also, Ched Myers -- SO grateful for the introduction.  He has a lot to say that speaks to me.  ~Peace~

  44.  Oh yes. For instance, an indigenous reading of "subdue the earth" opposed to a Western universalizing one, would take into account that the garden of Eden was an oasis in the surrounding steppes. So it could mean extending the food forest by composting human, tree and animal waste and planting more trees. Tilling was the curse. Also, given Israel's hostility toward the surrounding idol worshiping cultures, where cults reinforced imperial caste systems reserving the divine image for the king,  the Imago Dei resided universally in the "primitive" humans, whose every need was ALREADY provided for by YHWH.

     While the stories of Israel's ethnic cleansing of Canaan are disturbing, they emphasize an economy of God's provision over against the systems of domination employed by the surrounding superpowers, represented by their idols. Unfortunately, they have been held up as excuses for Western expansionism and superpower formation, despite being composed of "Gentiles" who have been shown mercy by being grafted in to the tree of God's people. Without the tearing down of the wall of separation through Jesus' death as scapegoat, the cleansing of Canaan would continue to be the dominant narrative for the Pharisee types, those seeking a cult of purity. the moral elite. The possession of the promised land, however, as the author of Hebrews reveals, never took place, the Sabbath rest remained in the future. The cleansing of Canaan, the Davidic dynasty, and Nehemiah's rebuilding were all insufficient means to implement YHWH's rule. "For what the Law was powerless to do..." But when Jesus announced after his baptism/annointing and wilderness sojourn, that "the acceptable year of the Lord", that is, Jubilee, had been fulfilled in the people's hearing....then the valley filling and hill lowering ethic of John the Baptizer preparing the way, "He who has one coat must share with the one who has none", then that rest for the land and for the people who were weary and exploited, is revealed to be the basileia of God in our midst.

  45. Hi Susan. Thanks! Ched has many excellent articles on his website which I highly recommend. And for the record, I meant not sure why I'm now commenting on this particular article, not that I'm unsure why I read this blog!

    Sara, great points! Ellen Davis' Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture is a good companion to these thoughts. Also, whatever subduing the earth means, it must take into account that nonhuman animals are blessed before the creation of humans. I think Jubilee can be read as an attempt to infuse a Paleolithic ethos into civilization. The world begins in a garden and is transfigured into a city within a garden . . .

  46. Genesis and the creation /fall story is an effort of the wise one of old to deal with the brokeness of life.  The serpent is not evil, it represents creation.  Eve and Adam's story is the story of the interaction of the prime movers and actors in life.  God, humans ( women and men) and creation ( symbolised in the serpent)  The story taken on its own apart from the dogmas that are derived from it, seems to describe relationships as the ontological base reality .  The account is given in a quest for and answer to the age old question of where does evil come from,  but the wise ones of old leave the question unanswered.  They all blame each other.  Evil, or the part that does not work, seems to "arise from relationships"  and life requires trust, which seems the hardest thing to do.   God is not blamless in the story, but neither is God to blame.  Relationships are more complex than that.  Humans have difficulty trusting God, and God has difficulty trusting humans and the creation.  Yet trust is the most marvelous element of creation, it is  beautiful.  Trustworthiness and the ability to trust are the great virtues required in this nexus of relationships we call life, but all parts of the created order seem to "fall" in the process of relationships. 

  47. Revlouie,

    How do you integrate the following three verses into your theology?

    2 Cor 11:3  But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, . . .
    Rev 12:9  And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; . . .
    Rev. 20:2       And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;

  48. I think an important perspective to maintain when reading Genesis, is it could have written as answers to questions yet to be asked. That is to say, what is the function of scripture but as a message concerning the question "Why?', rather than an infinite number of questions concerning the question, "How". Why are humans such miserable creatures? The answer is that humans are imperfect and God is not and at the time of the Genesis there was no place in the Perfect for the imperfect. Mankind's imperfection as a derivative of the exercising of free will, choosing to eat the Forbidden Fruit, was simply the first mistake, the first missing of a target, the first straying off the path, the first Sin. We, the progeny of Adam and Eve can not pay for that mistake, neither can we correct it, but instead seem to be doomed to repeat it - generation after generation. Why is the gulf between the Perfect and the imperfect so wide? One assumes that things are as they should be, or that things are as they have to be in Order to preserve this timeline. Think on it, what else is there in the entire observable universe that does not function perfectly, except for the human race?
    It seems that we have demonized sin as evil, instead of demonizing evil as evil. Sin can be an innocent mistake, knowing to do good, but forgetting to do it. Evil is the deliberate creation of imperfection, an act of intent. So the Fall of Man, the Original Sin resulting in Knowledge of Good And Evil, was the result of an act of evil by Satan, but not by Adam.

    Dr. Beck has more recently written about "The Cross as a Mousetrap", but perhaps it was not the original trap, perhaps the Garden of Eden was a trap and Adam and Eve were the bait. The process we know as evolution, or the "Curse of the Earth" was set into motion at that time, not previously, IMO, and is Life's triumph over the force that would destroy it with evil intent, God as Life, springing life as jaws of a trap.It is said that great artists deliberately place an imperfection in masterpieces, but how many human artists could create a masterpiece from such an imperfection?

    Alas, my words have obscured my message - again, I fear..

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