Friday, July 2, 2010

The Goodness of God

It seems as though everywhere I turn, I find people either arguing against the existence of an all-loving God or trying to defend the goodness of God in bizarre ways. Darwin's theory was esentially a theodicy, an attempt to distance God the Creator from those things in nature that Darwin saw as bad or evil. Modern atheists likewise use bad theological arguments--appeals to 'bad design' or to suffering and death in nature--in attempts to deny the existence of the God of the Bible. Some Christian evolutionists (like Kenneth Miller and Francis Ayala) believe that by postulating God as having designed the evolutionary process--but then allowing it to work without His subsequent intervention--they are absolving God of having created things like parasitism and predatory behavior, and of creatures whose design they consider suboptimal. On the other end of the spectrum, many young-earth creationists deny the vast majority of scientific findings because they, too, cannot reconcile millions of years of animal death and suffering with an all-loving God.

Recently, the issue came up as a discussion thread on a list of which I'm a member. And this is a group of science-minded Christian apologists, men and women who recognize that the Earth and universe are billions of years old and who also largely or entirely reject macroevolutionary theory, recognizing it as based not on evidence but upon philosophical preference. Even some of these (otherwise clear-thinking) folks seem to feel the need to defend God from responsibility for creating 'bad' things.

It began, apparently, with a YouTube video arguing against the existence of a good God, in which the the author appealed to one of the Intelligent Design camp's main evidences for a Designer:
If God created the bacterial flagellum then he cannot be a good God. Why? The flagellum of many types of bacteria allows them to wreak havoc upon the human body. These bacteria cause, among other things, typhoid, cholera, and stomach cancer.
In response to this argument, my apologist friends offered a number of good scientific points in rebuttal. These included the facts that...

Microbes, including bacteria, play and have played key roles in the ecosystem. Given the physics of this creation, it required billions of years of bacterial activity to transform the Earth's atmosphere and oceans to make human life possible, as well as to convert toxic metals into ore deposits that are accessible and useful to humans.

Bacteria play key roles in maintaining human health. As just one example, it is now known that lack of exposure to certain microbes early in life may lead to an increased risk of both autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular disease.

Pathogenic bacteria comprise an extremely small percentage of all known species, the vast majority of which are beneficial or necessary.

Some of the human pathogenic microbes have resulted from host-jumping (e.g., HIV) or from micro-evolutionary changes.

But it seems to me that all of this misses a more important point, which is that the argument itself fails. That is, the argument does not establish a logical link between the existence of disease-causing bacteria and the existence of an all-loving God. Indeed, it seems that the person making this argument has to first assume God-like knowledge of the entire issue, and can thus assert the missing premise, that "there is no possible reason for an all-loving Creator to have included pathogenic bacteria in His creation."

What is really going on here is captured in a passage by C.S. Lewis in his essay "God in the Dock"...
The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.
To put it a slightly different way, the God who has revealed Himself in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (and in His creation) is far bigger than our petty likes and dislikes. He declares Himself to be the Creator of all things, and unapologetically claims responsibility for predatory behavior in the animal kingdom (as in Ps. 104:21, 27-30; Job 38:39-41; 39:26-30) and for diseases, famines, and calamities (e.g., Is. 45:7).

The existence of the all-powerful, all-loving God of Christianity is supported by overwhelming evidence wherever we look, and that God calls us to seek a deeper understanding of Him and His ways. But complete understanding by our finite, contingent minds of His infinite, necessary one is not to be expected (Is. 55:8-9). It is human pride that seeks to reverse the roles and make the infinite Creator of the universe answerable to the relatively ignorant rantings of the dependent creature. Those rantings seem reasonable only to those who begin by denying or remaining largely ignorant of most of what Scripture and the creation reveal about the nature and majesty of God.

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