Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bad Theology, Too

I guess I feel the need for one more post before leaving the issue of Noah's flood and modern misunderstandings about it. We have seen that belief in a global flood a few thousand years ago involves bad hermeneutics. That is, the dating of the flood as occurring approximately 5,000 years ago is based upon imposing a false modern understanding of the role of genealogies upon Hebrew genealogies in Scripture that were never meant to play such a role. Likewise, understanding the flood as covering the entire planet is also anachronistic, and depends upon prefering a superficial reading of the text to one that does justice to the intent and context of the passage.

But there's perhaps a more basic problem at the back of 'flood geology' and modern attempts to insist that a recent global flood can account for all the geology, paleontology, and biology of Earth's history. This position begins and ends with bad theology, a view of God that is both unbiblical and unsupportable.

Let me, before quoting some folks who ascribe to this bad theology, first paraphrase it...
An all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God would not have created a universe in which animal suffering and death occurred for millions of years. God could have no place or purpose for such suffering.
Now here's the really interesting thing about this view of God. Those who hold or have held this view include not only young-earth creationists but also Darwin and his modern defenders. That is, both Darwin (and Darwinists) and global-flood advocates cannot in their minds reconcile their view of God with millions of years of animal suffering. Of course, the two groups explain the problem away differently: Darwinists acknowledge the millions of years of animal death attested to in the record of nature, and choose to deny the existence of God, whereas young-earth creationists acknowledge God's existence but deny the millions of years.

Darwin's theory was, in essence, a theodicy, an attempt to deal with the so-called problem of evil and suffering.* In On the Origin of Species, he offered a great deal of very speculative theorizing, almost nothing in the way of evidential support, and a good smattering of bad theological arguments. The following comes from his autobiography:
Suffering is quite compatible with the belief in Natural Selection, which is not perfect in its action, but tends only to render each species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species, in wonderfully complex and changing circumstances.

That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain it in reference to human beings, imagining that it serves their moral improvement. But the number of people in the world is nothing compared with the numbers of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient. It revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent First Cause seems to me a strong one; and the abundant presence of suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.
As you see here--and throughout Darwin's writings, the appeal is made not to evidence supporting his theory but to his how his particular view of God argues against that God existing. Now here's a sample from Henry Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood and late president of The Institute for Creation Research:
What conceivable purpose could God have had in interposing a billion years of suffering and death in the animal kingdom prior to implementing His great plan of salvation for lost men and women? He is neither cruel nor capricious, and would never be guilty of such pointless sadism.
James Stambaugh, also of the Institute for Creation Research, echoes Morris' theology:
If God created a world in which the creatures that inhabit it must suffer from evil (at least physical and emotional), then this evil has been present from the very beginning. This means that God is either powerless to do away with this kind of world or that He enjoys seeing His creatures suffer. A god who could create the world "subjected to vanity and corruption" is exactly like all the other gods of the ancient world--cruel, vicious, and capricious. In short, this god is not the God of the Bible.
Morris again:
One of the hardest things to understand is how anyone who claims to believe in a God of love can also believe in the geological ages, with their supposed record of billions of years of suffering and death before sin came into the world. This seems clearly to make God a God of waste and cruelty rather than a God of wisdom and power and love.
There's a great deal that could be said against this view, and a host of Scriptures that argue against it. And then the Darwin quote above has enough misunderstandings, mischaracterizations, and bad reasoning to take up a couple of blog posts. Indeed, I could take several posts answering the question Darwin (and Morris) asked, 'What reasons could there be for God's allowing billions of years of death?'

But for now let me just drive home what these men have in common... They have placed themselves in judgment over God, rather than allow Him the sovereignty He claims in Scripture.

Wherever animal death and predatory behavior are mentioned in Scripture (as in God's dialogue with Job and in Psalm 104), God unapologetically claims responsibility for it. Likewise, throughout the Bible, God claims responsibility for the natural disasters that cause so much human and animal calamity, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. And nowhere does Scripture suggest that this is a response on God's part to Adam's sin, a sort of cosmic Plan B. Instead, the God of Scripture claims to be unwavering in His purpose:
I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.' (Is. 46:9-11)
In the final analysis, the inaccurate theology of Morris and other young-earth creationists begins with the declaration that 'the God whom I worship could have no place for such suffering!' But this is exactly the claim for which the Lord Himself rebuked Peter (in Matthew 16). Peter had rightly acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and for this affirmation had received the Lord's blessing. But immediately after this, Jesus reveals that He will go up to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter's response to this is "Far be it from you, Lord!" In other words, "My understanding of God cannot be reconciled with the suffering you (Lord) just described."

Whether we like it or not, whether we understand it completely or not, the God of the Bible has purposes for allowing suffering in this creation (though He promises another, better one in which suffering will have no part). Indeed, the central event in all of cosmic history is at the same time the quintessential example of suffering, that of God Himself upon a Roman cross.

Young-earth creationism and global flood geology begin with a distortion of God's revelation to us with regard to His perfect purposes in allowing suffering in this creation. We would do better to conform our theology to Scripture than to interpret Scripture in ways that conform to our pet theologies.**

*The works of Cornelius Hunter (Darwin's God and Darwin's Proof) explore in depth the theological nature of the original arguments of Darwin and of the arguments made by his modern admirers.

**An outstanding treatment of the theology behind young-earth creationism is Mark Whorton's Peril in Paradise. It's a great read!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That clears up some of you'r initial arguments, Thank You.