Monday, October 29, 2007

Whence Venom?

The issue of scorpion venom (discussed in my last post) allows me to segue back (in a roundabout way) to the problem of evil discussion we began a few weeks ago. Most people see scorpions (and rattlesnakes) as bad things, as part of the "evil" in this world. Indeed, so deeply is this felt that some Christians attempt to exonerate God (excuse Him from the charge of creating such "evil" things) by suggesting that they are the result of the Fall (or the 'Curse'). A concrete example comes to mind...

In a Sunday school class, the teacher asked my young son and his classmates to each come up with a list of 26 Things God Created, one thing beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Being a snake enthusiast, when my son got to V he wrote down "venom." Seeing this, the teacher asked him if he could come up with a different one, because she didn't think God created that.

Now, this well-meaning lady was not arguing for macroevolution (theistic or naturalistic). Rather, she had somehow come to believe that God had originally created the earth as a perfect paradise, completely free of any so-called "natural evils," including rattlesnakes or scorpions or (presumably) earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, forest fires, predatory animals, or anything else that might cause pain or loss of life. On her view, all of these things originated at the Fall of Adam and/or through a subsequent "curse" on God's part.

Sadly, this understanding is not rare among conservative Christians in our day and age. Sure, it flies in the face of all that we learn from the creation itself (general revelation), and has no historical grounding within the church (it really arose only in the 20th century). But more importantly, it involves a very wooden and superficial reading of the pertinent Bible passages and ignoring others that clearly refute it.

If God didn't create rattlesnakes and scorpions in the first place, where did they come from? The range of options is few. They either evolved, or were created by Satan, or resulted from a spell God cast at the time of "the curse." And I suspect that it is this latter option to which folks like my son's teacher ascribe. But the Bible seems pretty clear that God ceased creating once He had made the first man and woman, and that "the curse" was, more than anything, a banishment of Adam and Eve from the specially-prepared Garden and a straightforward explanation on God's part of the consequences of Adam's having chosen to sin.

The best treatment of this whole subject that I've ever come across is a relatively recent book by a friend of mine, NASA scientist Mark Whorton. It's called Peril in Paradise, and in it he contrasts the Perfect Paradise Paradigm (the Sunday school teacher's view) with the Perfect Purpose Paradigm (which I take to be a much more accurate understanding of the Biblical texts). I highly recommend it.

But we'll talk more about "natural evil" in posts to come.

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