Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Taking a break ...

I will be taking an indefinite break from blogging. If it is true, as it has been reported here and elsewhere, that 200 million bloggers have quit blogging (more than twice the number of active bloggers), you may count me among them, at least for the moment.

I started this blog with hopes of creating an on-going dialogue with my friends about some possibilities in theology that I thought worth exploration. While many of those friends report that they are regular readers, hardly any have commented. So, in terms of dialogue, blogging has proven to be a disappointment.

This is not to say that I do not appreciate my new fellow blogging friends. I do appreciate your support, your ideas and comments, and your friendship. To Steve, Gordon, Jac, Stephen, and my non-believing friends Tom and Psiloiordinary, I say thank you. I have enjoyed conversing with you, and will likely continue to do so over on your sites.

But my purpose of engaging my own friends has been unsuccessful, and the time commitment is just too great to justify such results. And in fact, these posts have only succeeded in ticking off a number of those friends. So, I will give it a rest.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

POST #11: Theodicy, Q & A

My last post on theodicy, in which I propose that this cosmos exists as God’s answer to evil, and as his means of exterminating evil, has caused some consternation (as I expected). Mine is hardly a traditional concept. It is admittedly “outside the box”. Maybe a bit too far outside for some! But as these posts continue, I hope to demonstrate how well it fits Biblical theology, even as it flies in the face of traditional theology. My friend Steve, host of An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution has raised some excellent questions. As I typed out my response, the comment grew to the size of a full post. Here are excerpts from Steve’s comments and questions (italicized), followed by my answers. Steve begins by responding to some comments from Jac. If you want the full context of this discussion, it can be found in the comments section of Post #10.


Hi Jac:

I admit that when Cliff first started discussing these ideas a few months back, I thought it smacked very much of dualism. I don’t think that anymore since I believe Cliff has carefully addressed that concern a number of times. There is a difference in not be able to do something, and choosing not to do it. God is not limited in any way UNLESS he limits himself.... I’m not sure I’d put it in the same language as Cliff, that evil is “difficult for God to eliminate”. I think a more appropriate way of phrasing it is that the ramifications of eliminating evil in one swift blow are worse than allowing it to continue. (i.e. what Jesus said about wheat and chaff) But Cliff & I might be saying the same thing.

So I don’t think dualism is a problem, but I see two other challenges.

1) Where did evil come in the first place? ... Doesn’t the existence of evil outside of the space-time of our universe just push the issue back in “time” (if we can speak of time prior to the big bang)? Don’t we just end up needing the same argument again - i.e. a free-will / free-process argument? What is the benefit to theodicy of having the origin of evil outside of our universe? My questions don’t in anyway address whether your argument is consistent/good (and I know even you say it is speculative), I’m just not sure what the point or benefit is to theodicy. Maybe I'm missing something.

2) I’m really uncomfortable with the implication that the purpose of the universe is the destruction of evil. Maybe you aren’t saying “only purpose”, but it seems to be “primary purpose”. Is this what you are saying? To me this seems very much like we are being “used” by God. And I know we ARE “used” by God (we are his “hands”, “feet”, “eyes”, “ears” on earth helping to bring in the kingdom of God) – but that is different. I think the overriding theme in the bible is the redemption of creation, not the destruction of evil.



• In your response to Jac, your framing of the choice God made comes close to my own thinking. We’re going way beyond anything we could know when we talk about the pre-cosmos mind of God. But I conceive of it as something like this: when evil rose up, God might have chosen to snuff it out, maybe only to have it recur again and again ... but that perhaps he devised a plan involving us and this universe which would purge it forever. Whatever he is doing here with us is going to set the whole of the angelic hosts into awe at his wisdom (Eph. 3:10). That verse has always set me on a search for something more dramatic than Jesus dying for my sins and admitting me to heaven (as wonderful as that is!). I mean that these angels have known God intimately for billions of years, and he is doing something through the church (I understand church in this verse to refer to believing mankind of all time) that will demonstrate facets of his wisdom they have never witnessed before! Something very big is happening in the cosmos. My details may be sketchy. They may be all wrong. But I have to believe that we are in the midst of a drama that is beyond anything we have ever imagined! Evil may be a thing difficult to purge forever, but God has devised a plan -- long and involved -- that will do just that. Clearly any theology that sees evil as being once-and-for-all annihilated could hardly be called dualism.

Should it surprise us that God opted not to use his “Iron Fist” to stomp out evil? Is the concept that he would utilize a more “passive” tactic to overcome evil really so startlingly new? Is this not the manner in which we are instructed to overcome evil? Does he tell us to overpower evil? or to turn the other cheek. Does he tell us to use force against evil? or to go the extra mile. He says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Why should we think that a cosmic battle with evil changes the rules of divine engagement? Is it not at least possible that God tells us to war against evil through nonresistance because that is precisely how he does so? And might it be that this is actually the best way? to let evil run its course, and actually die under the influence of divine goodness, love, and nonresistance ... even a nonresistance that cost the blood of Jesus? Or are these just the wistful notions of a Sermon on the Mount idealism that could have no practical role on a cosmic scale?

• You say Where did evil come from in the first place? and doesn’t this problem just put us right back at square one, with no real theodicy solution other than free-will?

Those are very insightful questions. I have excluded events outside of time and space from my posts, because we have no way of discerning anything about them. But that is a too easy cop-out, and your questions are valid. One possibility, I suppose, is that prior to the drama of this cosmos, there was some kind of balance-of-power dualism, one that will after this cosmic battle come to its final end. But I doubt it. The Bible does tell us about a war in heaven, a rebellion against God’s authority led by Lucifer. But imagine with me that that is exactly what happened, and this cosmos and its process was God’s answer. (The following logic gets very complicated, but stay with me.) We do not need a new free-will theodicy to explain this eruption of evil. In fact, if we surmise that angels do have an inherent power of self-determination, and that Lucifer simply made a horrible choice, note that he did so without a backdrop of evil going on around him. This angelic “free-will” did not require a context filled with natural evil and moral evil, did it? In other words, if your argument is valid (that I have just pushed the “free-will” theodicy argument back 13 billions years) then our present day free-will theodicy arguments make no sense. Why should unthinkably horrible events be a necessary backdrop to ensure genuine free-will, as free-will theodicy implies? If Satan had genuine free will without tsunamis and earthquakes and unthinkable suffering of millions of innocents, why would such manifestations be deemed necessary to validate our free-will?

So no, I do not think I just pushed the problem back to an earlier free-will argument. Or if I did, then the nature of that earlier free-will argument is completely different from the one I have rejected. Still, I have not answered your question, and that is because I believe no answer exists. Our problem of evil is limited to events within our cosmos. We know evil exists. It’s ultimate cause is a mystery, for now. But theodicy attempts to answer the question, “why does it persist? why does God just look on, and take no action?” My thoughts are limited to these questions.

• You say, I’m really uncomfortable with the implication that the purpose of the universe is the destruction of evil. Maybe you aren’t saying “only purpose”, but it seems to be “primary purpose”. Is this what you are saying?

Yep, that is what I am saying. Shocking? But it may make more sense to you after I have posted more thoughts about how death, resurrection, evolution, nonresistance, the theology of suffering and glory all interconnect to this framework. In my mind, a goal to destroy evil does not exclude nor minimize the stories of the redemption of creation, and our personal redemption, etc. Rather, it adds a layer of purpose and meaning on top of these themes, enriching them and contextualizing them.

Are we just being “used” in this scheme? I certainly don’t conceive of it that way. I see that we are called into a significant and meaningful partnership with God, and with Jesus. It is our choice whether to accept this call. Its a volunteer army!* Part of this calling may be an invitation to suffer for his cause. But God, through our captain Jesus, has already led the way in suffering. We are called to join in with him. And if we do, we are granted to share in the glory of the Kingdom! This is the teaching of 1 Peter, and Romans 8. This certainly elevates our role in the cosmic scheme of things. Traditional theology has taught us to see ourselves as of little count. Pawns being acted upon. A false humility. What I am seeing is that God has given us significance beyond our imaginations. Can he get the job done without me? Yes. But I have (we all have) the amazing potential of actually speeding up the process! (2 Peter 3:3-14). A God who adopts me as his own child, calls me into high service, asks me to join in his suffering, makes me a co-heir with his Son, sharing in his glory ... such a God can scarcely be seen as “using” me.

* An exception might be those innocents who suffer at the hand of evil, and unwittingly play a role in this battle. When they experience the glory that goes hand in hand with their suffering (Romans 8:17-18), I have no doubt they will in retrospect happily accept the role they were given to play out, and not object that they were “used”.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

POST #10: Theodicy, a New Approach (Part Two)

In this post, I briefly describe some personal conclusions as to how entropy relates to evil, and thus to theodicy. This post is the most significant of any of my posts to date, and lays a groundwork for many future posts. To my knowledge, these ideas have not been widely tested. I invite you to offer a response, or to question these ideas, and I hope you will do so.

As typical Christian theology would have it, God created a pristine universe and world. From there, story usually goes something like this: at a point in time, evil invades the scene, and corrupts the cosmos, necessitating corrective actions by the Creator, which in turn leads to a judgment of evil at the end of the age. As we bring together current understandings of entropy with Biblical truths, the possibility of a quite different picture begins to emerge.

In part one of this post, we traveled to the end of time, and established a linkage between the fates of evil and entropy in this cosmos. We suggested that this linkage may help us to understand the purposes of a Creator who intentionally created an entropic cosmos, even though it is clear that he considered entropy a provisional aspect of his creation, one from which he hoped (divine hope, of course, is more like certainty!) it would be delivered (Romans 8:18-23). Now I invite you to journey back with me to the dawn of time.

From the still resounding echos of creation (including cosmic microwave background radiation), physicists are today able to piece together a remarkable amount of information about the first second of cosmic history. For example, we are told that entropy began at 10 to the power of -43 seconds after the big bang (for non-math majors, this is an extremely small fraction of a second). For our purposes, we could simply say that God created the cosmos to be entropic at its very outset.

Why would the Creator intentionally subject his new creation to a physical law of decay and death? If the entropic cosmos is as we described in Post #4 , driven at every level by a principle of death and decay, why would a God of Life choose to create a cosmos governed by the law entropy from the very beginning? Why would he build into creation the seeds of its own demise, such that all creation would groan in pain, experience frustration, be bound to decay; and then express that his will from the beginning was to see it delivered from its inevitable entropic end? Considering the linkage between entropy and evil, can we not reasonably deduce that God created this cosmos as he did because of evil, in response to evil, as a way of dealing with evil?

This deduction would suggest that the rebellion of Lucifer and his expulsion from heaven occurred prior to, or commensurate with the Creation Moment, and that this cosmos, driven by death and decay would have been created to house him, and ultimately destroy him and the evil that arose within him. In this scenario, this cosmos would be God’s response to evil, and his plan to contain it and bring it to a final end.

Of the ultimate origin of evil, how it came to express itself in Lucifer, we can say nothing. This occurred outside of our cosmos, outside of our space/time dimensions, and must remain a mystery. But if we can deduce from the time line of entropy that the entire cosmos is in some way a response to evil, a complete paradigm shift ensues. The ramifications of such an understanding profoundly impact our understanding of the purpose of creation, the purpose of man, the role of evolution, the role of suffering, and, germane to our present discussion, the problem of evil. It effectively resets the table for the theodicy discussion.

The underlying presumption of Free Will theodicy, the most commonly advanced Christian solution to evil’s riddle, is that man was created by God to glorify him, to obey him and enter into fellowship with him. I have always loved that oft-quoted Westminster Shorter Catechism which suggests that the chief purpose of man is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” But this presumption is, in part, responsible for the difficulty of resolving the problem of evil. C.S. Lewis suggests that the persistent existence of evil is a price God considers “worth paying” for free will. But what if the ultimate prize was not having free will spirit beings choose to love their Creator? What if, instead, the prize was the ultimate destruction of evil? And what if the true purpose of man is to co-venture with God in the pursuit of this prize?

We might then see all expressions of evil in a different light. If, in the interplay of spiritual and natural process, it is necessary to let evil run its own course, to be overcome by goodness rather than subdued by a greater power, we could surmise that God’s hand must be restrained. Yes, he allows evil to persist. But the prize is not free will. The prize is evil’s complete undoing. This turns the whole theodicy issue upside down. If it is true that evil must be allowed full expression, and that it must ultimately be overcome not by force, but by the greater power of goodness, we can then begin to see that the best thing a good God can do is to let evil run its course. Of course, we must deal with the fact that evil claims millions of innocent victims in full view of God. But as we will see in a future post, the experience of even these victims of evil is cast in an entirely new light when their sufferings are viewed as a part of the necessary process of destroying the cause of all suffering.

All theories begin with a presumption. Mine begins with this one: evil has posed a more difficult problem for God than we have allowed ourselves to imagine. This will undoubtedly be a troubling concept for many. Christians might find it unthinkable that an omnipotent God could find any task “difficult”. But I am asking you to consider the following possibilities, and to respond with your comments.

I am suggesting that all of Creation exists as God’s answer to evil. I am suggesting that the purpose of God in creating the cosmos was to house and ultimately destroy evil. I am suggesting that God knew from the beginning that evil could not be dealt a final death blow without much suffering under its hand. I am suggesting that God is asking all of Creation to join in paying this price. I am suggesting that, from the beginning, God knew that he would lead the way in suffering, that no one would suffer more. But I am suggesting that even the sufferings of Christ would be incomplete; that the price of evil’s ultimate undoing would include the sufferings of many innocent victims. (The Biblical theme of non-resistance overcoming evil in the end plays into this scenario.)

In fact, many of these suggestions have strong Biblical support. Some have inferential support. But I will not be building the Biblical case for these concepts in this post as 1) this post is already too long! and 2) I would like to hear first from my readers.

I want to finish this post by reemphasizing what I am not saying. I am not saying that entropy is evil. I am suggesting that it is a piece of God’s plan to annihilate evil. And as such it is good. Genesis 1 tells us that God was pleased with every step of his creative work. Five times we read his assessment: “God saw that is was good.” I understand that God’s inclusion of death and decay in his original blueprint was provisional, but purposeful, and that it suited his plans perfectly. (It does appear from Scripture that entropy, death and decay, are tools available to the forces of evil ... that death itself is under the controlling influence of evil in the person of Satan.)

I am not promoting a new brand of dualism, in which good and evil are locked into an eternal “balance of power”. I am not saying that the power of evil is equal to the power of God. Evil, together with death and decay, will be vanquished. Its doom is certain. I am suggesting that the manner in which evil must be dealt with is far more complex and involved than we have thought. I am suggesting that the demise of evil has so far been a 13.7 billion year process, one that we cannot yet fully understand. And I am suggesting that all the out-workings of evil in this cosmos are a necessary part of its ultimate undoing.

Please comment.

Monday, October 15, 2007

POST #9: Theodicy, a New Approach (Part One)

The problem of evil presupposes that God is 1) good, and 2) all-powerful. When set against the backdrop of natural and moral evil in a cosmos he created and over which he rules, these two presuppositions set up an incongruence that deeply troubles thoughtful believers, and bars the pathway to belief for the skeptic. In earlier posts, I described this problem, and tested standard Christian answers to the problem and found them to be incomplete, or unsatisfying.

Perhaps our theodicies have failed to adequately answer the questions raised by evil because we have failed to ask the right questions:

The problem of evil assumes:
• God exercises unrestrained sovereignty ~ Does He?
• God is responsible for all events ~ Is He?
• God can end evil any moment he chooses ~ Can He?

The problem of evil exists, in part, because most Christians believe that the abolishing of evil would be a simple task for an Almighty God. Ask most Christians if God could crush evil, and they will respond “Sure, he could crush it under his little finger this very instant.” Christians profess that the power of God is much greater than the forces of evil; and most Christian theodicies presume therefore that God is “permitting” evil to persist for some higher purpose. Perhaps we need to take a step back and recast the drama of this cosmos, with some help from physics coupled with the teachings of the Bible. Take a journey with me to the end of time, and then follow (in part two) as we journey backwards to the very dawn of time, the first instant of the Creation Moment (aka the Big Bang).

But before we take these journeys, let me be clear about what I am not suggesting. Many have attempted to solve evil’s riddle by minimizing God’s power, or suggesting that the power of evil is equal to the power of God. There is a category of theodicies which deal with the problem of evil in this way, many embracing various forms of Dualism. I reject these views. The questions I am asking, and the answer I will be proposing, have nothing to do with lowering our view of God’s omnipotence, nor will they impact the free exercise of his sovereignty. Dualism, which sets Good and Evil into a kind of eternal balancing act, is not Scriptural. John assures us, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and all of biblical revelation points to a coming climactic victory over all God’s enemies.

I will suggest, however, that when evil arose in God’s presence, he was confronted with a formidable challenge. I will suggest that the annihilation of evil is the overriding purpose of the cosmos. I will suggest the destruction of evil was not a simple task, but one that required a 13.7 billion year process and a vast entropic universe to accomplish; and that it would involve untold suffering. I will suggest that in this suffering he himself would lead the way, but that he would also call upon creation, including man, to suffer with him. And I will suggest that, after the dust settles, angelic hosts who will have observed the entire process, will drop their jaws in utter amazement at the multi-faceted wisdom of God displayed through what he accomplished, in part, through people of faith (Ephesians 3:10).

It is necessary to return to the earlier posts on entropy, particularly third and final installment. In those posts, we established the timeline of entropy both from the sciences of cosmology and physics, and from the Scriptures. Let us now revisit those concepts.

First, we will move forward in time to the end of this present age. Here we will discover that entropy ends. The need for the sun as an energy source will cease (Isaiah 60:19, Revelation 7:16, 21:23; 22:5). Natural pain, suffering, and death, all products of entropy, will cease (Revelation 21:4). At the same time, Satan will be judged, and evil will be swallowed up forever. (Depending upon one’s eschatology, this may all happen at once, or be spread out by as much as 1000 years. But it all occurs within the context of the closing of this entropic world, and the creation of the new heavens and earth. In my own view, these events are all simultaneous.) Romans 8:18-23 describe this moment when all of creation is delivered from the bondage to decay, led into this liberty by the children of God, revealed in this late day to be sons (and daughters!) of God. The context suggests that suffering ceases in the same instant. From these specific Scriptures, and the general teaching of the Bible about the concurrent changes in both the spiritual realities and in the physics of the cosmos, I have concluded that the fate of entropy is in some way linked intrinsically to the fate of evil. We also understand from the Romans 8 passage that entropy was introduced into creation by the Creator himself, but included as a provisional element, one from which he fully intended to liberate creation in the fullness of time. If the fates of entropy and evil are thus linked, and if the plan of the Creator was that entropy would someday cease along with evil, we might conclude that the purpose of an entropic creation is related to evil, and to evil’s ultimate demise.

This conclusion, which is based upon physics, the Bible, and logic, is central to my entire thesis; if you tend to scan these posts, please read that last sentence of the previous paragraph slowly.

In my next post, we will travel back in time to the creation moment in an attempt to understand what might have been the ultimate purpose of the Creator. And I will then apply these understandings to theodicy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mini Book Review: The Doors of the Sea

On the first day of my vacation with my family, I just read The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart (Eerdmans, 2005). I could not it put down. I recommend it to any reader who wants to delve deeper into our current topic of the problem of evil.

Hart wrote this wonderful little treatise, subtitled “Where was God in the Tsunami”, in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami. Out of his deep faith and informed mind and with profound honesty and eloquence, Hart responds to the horrors of that 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Chris Tilling reviewed and recommend the book (you can read his review here) and his enthusiasm was so unrestrained that I immediately ordered my copy. I read it this morning; and, for reasons which shall in time be obvious, I am compelled to offer this review before moving on to my next post.

Against the backdrop of two manifestations of Natural Evil (the 2004 tsunami, and the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami/fire of 1755) and Dostoyevsky’s portrayal of Moral Evil in The Brothers Karamozov, Hart thoughtfully weaves his “elucidation” of God’s goodness, evil’s reality, suffering, and redemption. With his multiple scathing denunciations of Calvinistic determinism (which he calls absurd) and eloquent dismissals of all other standard Christian theodicies (many of which he unapologetically identifies as “blasphemous flippancies”), Hart shows his utter contempt for much of what passes as Christian explanations of the problem of evil.

The truth, Hart helps us to see, is to be found in the context of free-acting evil, the understanding of the cosmos as entropic and death driven, the coexisting of two Kingdoms (life/light and death/darkness — but Hart is no dualist!), the suffering that results from this state of affairs, and the glory that awaits a final consummation.

Hart’s thoughts closely parallel many of my own; he comes nearer to the concepts I will unfold in my next post than anything I have ever read or heard. There are still significant differences, and Hart would doubtless include mine in the category of “rational theodicies” which he uniformly rejects. Nevertheless, with considerable trepidation I shall boldly move forward with my proposed theodicy, encouraged and re-inspired by Hart’s superb book.

Monday, October 8, 2007

... Continued ... IS GOD GOOD?

Background: A reader, Jac, noted an inconsistency in Post #8 in which I tested four standard Christian Theodicies against a set of defined criteria. One of these criteria was that “a working theodicy must result in an omnipotent, compassionate God with his honor and integrity firmly intact in the face of a cosmos brimming with evil.” Jac’s question, very simply stated was this: how could I insist that a viable theodicy must uphold the honor of a “compassionate” God when so many Old Testament stories cast him in a light that is far from compassionate (as we might define compassion). Jac wrote, “By society’s definition of compassionate, many would consider the God of Exodus 11 and other Old Testament passages to be no different than your baby killing Nazi.” Jac cited the killing of firstborn sons in Egypt (Exodus 11:4-6), the slaying of innocent children in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the drowning of innocent children in the flood of Noah. So the question has been raised. And before we move forward to suggest an alternative theodicy, we must return to reexamine the very presumptions of theodicy. Is God good? Is he compassionate? Do we define compassion in the same way he does?

Readers Comments: Several readers wrote comments suggesting ways in which this dilemma might be viewed.

Jac suggested that these O.T. stories portraying God as an apparently uncaring child slayer are troubling to believers, and are often “insurmountable barriers to the skeptic.” He sees them as irresolvable, and suggests that I ought to be more tentative in my dismissal of the free will/free process theology theodicy. He argues in favor of that theodicy, and contributed this C.S. Lewis quote (from Mere Christianity): “If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will--that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings--then we may take it it is worth paying.”

Steve Martin suggests that the answer might lie in the concept of progressive revelation. His explanation seems to me to be two-pronged. Either the revelation is accurate, but God accommodated the infant state of man’s faith in his actual dealings with man, or the recounting of the stories is a little fuzzy, representing a less-than-accurate view of what God did and why. This concept would suggest that the true character of God comes into clearer focus as we progress through the ages of written revelation. Jac concurs that this must be part of our approach when he writes, “I agree with the concept of progressive revelation – we definitely understand God better now that we did before.”

Timothy takes a similar tack and writes, “When we look at historical accounts from the old testament scripture, it would seem to me that we are watching a God who is some how engaged in the affairs of man on a different level then we have experienced in the last couple thousand years of recorded history.” He expands on this idea, suggesting that we assign greater weight to later revelation. Early revelations concerning God's character, Timothy contends, may be tainted by the authors imperfect understanding of God. The authors might be giving what amounts to an inspired, but nevertheless human, rendition of the interactions of God and man; but their writings would not necessarily represent the final word on God's nature.

About himself, God declares “I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). The loving, kind, good God that Jesus came to show us is the God of Creation, the God of Moses, the God of the Old Testament. My own solution to Jac’s dilemma (which I will elucidate in greater detail later) is found in progressive revelation. It is a subject to which I will necessarily return, and which will involve a major discussion of Biblical interpretation and inspiration.

My Conclusion: I must agree with Jac’s central objection to the way in which I discounted the free will argument of theodicy as not upholding the compassionate character of God. Considering the stature of those who have forwarded the free will / free process theology argument (Lewis, Guinness, Polkinghorne, many others), I may have oversold my somewhat cavalier dismissal of it. Nevertheless, my argument is unchanged: this theodicy fails to satisfy the skeptic, it fails to satisfy most believers, and it fails to satisfy even its own proponents. So the quest for a better theodicy continues. I will suggest my own approach to the problem of evil in my next post.

The interlude continues ...

Post #9 is coming! And also, some possible solutions to the dilemma posed by Jac. But life has been very busy lately; and I have been a little distracted by conversations happening elsewhere, some of which might interest my readers. Over at Young Earth Creationists Anonymous, a website hosted by a former YEC who is now an atheist, I have been involved in some interesting discussions with some atheist friends. Christians can benefit much by engaging intelligent, thoughful atheists. If you're interested, you can look at the latest discussions by clicking here, and entering in, if you wish. Also check out the earlier post and comments, "Paley's Moral Compass." My friend Steve Martin has posted an excellent essay at his site, An Evangelical dialogue on Evolution. If you think that belief in evolution somehow marginalizes Genesis, Steve makes a case that the exact opposite may be true. Read it here.

And don't give up on me!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

... Interlude ... IS GOD GOOD?

I was just getting ready to write POST #9, when the discussion of my last post took a sharp turn. I am inviting comment on Jac’s contribution (which you can read by clicking here and scrolling down to the exchanges between Jac [“anonymous”] and myself). Jac raises a point which brings the whole matter of theodicy into question. Is it necessary to solve the riddle of how a good God who is also all-powerful can permit horrifying evil if we agree at the outset that the very same God perpetrates horrifying evils. To put it another way, why should anyone expect God to stop Hitler’s hand when God himself is on record killing innocent children in Egypt and Sodom, etc. If we start with a God who commits monstrous atrocities, does the Problem of Evil cease to exist as a problem. For the Problem of Evil begins with the assumption that God is good.

I have some ideas about how to deal with this legitimate question, but I would prefer to hear first from my readers. Please comment ...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

POST #8: Theodicy, Standard Christian Arguments

When confronted with the horrible evil of sin and sin’s consequences, rather than launching into an angry diatribe on the injustices of God, or conversely, launching into a defense of the justice of God, we are told that Aaron simply “held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). For many Jews and Christians, the only appropriate response to the horrors of evil in a universe created and governed by a good, loving, and just God is not to respond at all. They say we must take our place at Aaron’s side, and hold our peace. Many thus object to the very notion of “theodicy”, that branch of theology which seeks to justify God in the face of evil: “as if,” they might object, “God needed us to write his defense brief!” While this approach (or non-approach) to the problem of evil may satisfy some, it fails to move the millions of atheists for whom the very existence of evil is the lynchpin of their unbelief. Nevertheless, if you have found solace and satisfaction in simply accepting evil without giving further consideration to its meaning, then you need read no further. But if like me, you have grappled with the problem of evil, if you believe that the rational minds with which we are endowed naturally seek answers to the riddles of existence, if you are searching for answers that are sensible and satisfying, then I invite you to consider with me the possible meanings of evil in the cosmos.

In this post, we will briefly examine four typical theodicies which have been offered by believers, and we will test them against a set of defined criteria. We will ask, “do they work? have they the compelling force to satisfy the mind of the skeptic? do they give peace to the believer willing to ask the hardest of questions?

Evil is generally divided into two categories. 1. MORAL EVIL consisting of sin, and all the direct consequences of sin. Moral evil is caused by free moral agents. And, 2. NATURAL EVIL consisting of bad things that happen seemingly outside the causation of man: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, diseases, genetic disorders, etc. Natural evils, it could be argued, all find their origination in entropy, and are thus the result of the very way in which the Creator fashioned the cosmos. Some might find in these categories some cross-over. Certain diseases, for example, may be caused by or exacerbated by the choices of free moral agents. But it is not our intention to draw a sharp line of distinction. Rather, we wish to identify these two kinds of evil as separate categories for the following purpose: a theodicy that “works” must account for both kinds of evil. This is the first criterion for testing theodicies.

For a theodicy to accomplish its own goal, it must uphold the character of God. A theodicy which leaves us troubling about the honor and consistency of God is no theodicy at all. The Greek philosopher Epicurus laid down the gauntlet some 300 years before Christ when he asked, “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” A working theodicy must result in an omnipotent, compassionate God with his honor and integrity firmly intact in the face of a cosmos brimming with evil. This is the second criterion for testing theodicies. Examine with me the standard Christian theodicies in light of these criteria, and judge for yourself.

1) “Evil is created for God’s glory.” For many who subscribe to Reformed Theology (or Calvinism), it is enough to say that all evil exists for the glory of God. God created evil (Isaiah 45:7), they say, for his own ultimate glory. He created a cosmos in which evil was not only possible, but assured, right down to the finest detail. This view suggests that the Holocaust itself originated in the mind of the Creator, and was his intended plan written into the blueprint of the cosmos. Though it is beyond our understanding (I can certainly agree with that!), evil somehow maximizes the glory of God. Certainly not all those in the Reformed camp subscribe to this form of rigid determinism. But many do. This theodicy makes God out to be the author of all sin and natural evil. It further suggests that when God created Satan, he specifically engineered him to rebel just as he did. His fall was written into his design specifications. While this may provide a rational, satisfying answer to some followers of Calvin, I find that it fails to satisfy our second criterion. Epicurus would not be placated. No atheist will be compelled to abandon his skepticism by this argument. And few believers will find the God of this argument consistent with the God they have come to love and trust.

2) “Evil does not exist.” Others will insist that evil, in fact, does not exist as an entity, or as a reality apart from goodness. The argument goes like this: just as darkness is merely the absence of light (we cannot “fill a room with darkness”), and is instantly dispelled by the introduction of light, so evil is merely the absence of goodness. Augustine first introduced this concept. He said that all being is good. Evil is the lack of being, the lack of goodness. From this argument, Augustine moved on to #3 below, stating that evil as we know it originated in the rebellion of mankind, and the rejection of the goodness which God intended to permeate the cosmos. The problem with the idea of evil’s non-existence is that it simply fails to live up to our experience. Particularly in the face of the 20th century horrors, most people find it completely irrational to argue that evil has no independent existence. There is an energy and driving force, a “life” we might say, of evil that goes beyond the mere absence of goodness. This argument fails the tests of reason and experience. But it also fails to account for natural evil, for reasons we will apply to #3, below.

3) “Evil is caused by Man.” Augustine declared, “All evil is either sin or the punishment for sin.” This view suggests that all moral evil is the direct result of the Fall, and the sin that it perpetuates; and that all natural evil is the indirect result of the Fall, a consequence of the curses of Genesis 3:14-19. While this argument might have worked in Augustine’s day, we now understand that it cannot account for all natural evil. The earth is filled with mountains of evidence that the pre-Adamic world included natural disasters of every description: diseases, death, meteorites and thousands of species extinctions. If chronology has any bearing upon causation, we simply can no longer lay the responsibility for evil at the feet of fallen man.

Thus, each of these first three lines of reasoning fail to meet our criteria for a working theodicy. But it is the fourth theodicy argument to which most Christians today subscribe. For many thoughtful believers, it is the only option that holds out the hope of resolving evil’s riddle. Does it pass the test?

4) “Evil is necessary for Free Will to have meaning.” (This theodicy has numerous variations, including the more thoughtful “free-process theology” version espoused by John Polkinghorne and others, for which I feel some affinity. Some may wish to present a cogent and convincing case for the more sophisticated versions of this theodicy, and I welcome them to do so in the comments for this post. For the sake of brevity, I will state this argument in its simplest terms.) The typical line of reasoning goes something like this. In order to have a world in which free moral agents would have a clear choice, and thus be truly free, they must be given a viable alternative to God and goodness; hence, evil. A presupposition is that God considered it desirable to create moral agents who would freely choose him. And while he may bring some influence to bear upon his creatures, he does not use coercion. I have read and heard this line of theodicy reasoning all my life. I must say that it has always left me cold! It describes a God so desirous of creatures who choose him that if the cost is unimaginable innocent human suffering, well, so be it. This sort of ends-justify-the-means rationale leaves us with a monstrous God willing to sacrifice Jewish babies on the altars of Nazi bonfires—they are just the collateral damage—for the gratification of his desire that people have a genuine choice.

Has there ever been a single atheist or agnostic “won over” by any of these standard Christian theodicy arguments? Has a single skeptic ever abandoned his problem-of-evil objection to theism after being confronted with one of these lines of reasoning? I’ve never heard of one. Neither have I read any Christian apologist who is satisfied with his own theodicy argument. Whether its C.S. Lewis, Os Guinness, or John Polkinghorne, each writer closes his argument by confessing his own lack of satisfaction. In his own way, each one declares that we do not have an adequate answer to this riddle. Could it be that we have been looking at evil through the wrong lens? In my next post, I want to suggest an approach to evil’s riddle that does meet the criteria, for me at least, and perhaps, for you as well.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Book Review: Beyond the Firmament

“Why another book on science and faith?” Gordon Glover poses the question himself in the preface of Beyond the Firmament, his first book, released earlier this month by Watertree Press. While Glover offers his owns reasons, I would like to add a few of my own.

The motto of the publisher Watertree Press (also new) is Read. Think. Grow. With this book, their first release, readers will likely do all three. Glover challenges us to step outside our comfortable paradigms and think about issues like the big bang and evolution in new and fresh ways. He takes the reader on a journey of discovery to answer such questions as: What do we know, and how do we know it? What can the Bible tell us about nature? What can nature tell us about itself? What about evolution?

Glover's approach to this subject matter is unique. He does not write from the perspective of a trained scientist. This, I believe, is to his advantage. The reader will not be bogged down in the arcane language of the lab or technical terminology. (When it is necessary to introduce terms which might be unfamiliar, Glover defines those terms in simple language using footnotes on the same page.) Instead, Glover employs entertaining analogies and a bit of humor to shake us out of our comfort zones and compel us to think clearly! While Glover is not a trained scientist, he does not lack understanding of the technical issues at hand. But his presentation of those issue to the untrained reader is clear, straightforward and to the point. The result is a book that is easy to read, informative, and enjoyable. I recommend it to all my readers who wish to have a clearer world-view when it comes to the sciences of origins and the Bible.

Glover’s forte is analogy. His analogies open up delightful windows upon the truth. They yield up opportunities to look at things from completely new and fresh angles. This sometimes indirect approach catches us off guard, and gently dismantles our faulty preconceived notions without attacking them head-on. It is hard to be defensive and argumentative when we are smiling! Whether Glover is imagining a fleet of levitating snow machines or exposing the folly of a Christian insistence upon “theistic meteorology”, even the resistant reader will be disarmed and forced to rethink his cherished assumptions.

Another strength of Glover’s is his understanding of ancient Near-Eastern world-views, and how they impacted the writing of the Old Testament. Every believer who struggles with early Genesis and Inspiration should read this book. Glover, a committed Bible believer, makes a strong case that those who would defend the Scriptures must do so with an understanding of the world in which they were written. His approach brings clarity to many of the riddles of Biblical interpretation, especially as they relate to modern science.

Reading Beyond the Firmament was a pleasure for me. I shared most of Glover’s views before I read his book, and he introduced little information with which I was not already familiar. Still, his unique and fresh approach captivated me and gave me an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Personal note ...

I am in Canada with my wife for a conference in Vanderhoof, B.C. (British Columbia is more beautiful than Oregon! It is, quite possibly the most beautiful piece of the planet!!) I am also reading Gordon Glover's newly released book, Beyond the Firmament, which I am enjoying very much. I will be reviewing it here soon, and then dialoging (a lot!) with Gordon. Very good book. I recommend it to all my readers. Anyway, all of this to say that it may be a few more days before I am able to finish the next post on the the problem of evil.

~ Cliff

Friday, September 14, 2007

POST #7 Theodicy, Evil's Riddle

With this post, we launch into a discussion of the “Problem of Evil”. This post is part one of a three part discussion ...

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed....
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

Bette Middler popularized these Julie Gold lyrics in her 1990 hit single, “From a Distance”. In the shadow of the First Gulf War, our nation sang along as the recording climbed the charts to #1. It expresses the highest hopes of many postmodern minds. God, if he exists at all, must be the God of the deist: distant, uninvolved, perhaps even uncaring. Why is God watching us only “from a distance”? Because if he were truly here, he would surely do more to correct the many evils of the world.

Deism is that belief which conceptualizes God as something of a watchmaker. He designs and creates the watch, sets it to ticking, and then never picks it up again. Deism was born in the wake of an earlier war, the devastating 30 year war in Europe. It gained traction from the scientific advancements of the 17th and 18th century. But deism is primarily an effort on man’s part to harmonize the notion of a God with the realities of the evil and suffering we see on earth.

From the standpoint of the skeptic, there is no greater barrier to belief than the problem of evil. It is the issue most often cited by the atheist and the agnostic. It has been called the “rock of atheism” (Hans Kung). All my adult life, I have struggled with this problem, and the standard Christian responses. The problem can be summarized by the following broken syllogism:

1) If God is personal, good, loving and compassionate; and
2) if God is all-powerful, in control of the cosmos; then
3) how and why does atrocious evil, including man on man violence and what is sometimes called “natural evil” (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, meteorites, etc) resulting in so much human suffering and death, continue to exist.

The problem of evil is by far the most rational and forceful argument in the arsenal of thinking unbelievers against an all-powerful, benevolent God. It is also the most difficult riddle for thoughtful people of faith.

The greatest mind of the last century, Albert Einstein, struggled with belief in a God. His own theory of General Relativity predicted that our universe had a beginning, and thus, a First Cause. But this conclusion he found distasteful, and he tried to overcome it with new theories. But when Edwin Hubble’s telescope established the origin of the universe from a single point, Einstein finally yielded to the necessity of a Creator. His own discoveries led him to abandon his earlier agnosticism, and he become a professed believer in God. But he settled upon the god of the deist, as he could never bring himself to believe in the Christian God or the God of his own Jewish upbringing. Einstein rejected the notion of a personal God. The reason? he could find no way around the problem of evil.

The many horrors of the 20th Century served to deepen this troubling conundrum. The Jewish theologian Eugene Borowitz commented on the Holocaust:

“Any God who could permit the Holocaust, who could remain silent during it, who could ‘hide His face’ while it dragged on, was not worth believing in. There might well be a limit to how much we could understand Him, but Auschwitz demanded an unreasonable suspension of understanding. In the face of such great evil, God, the good and the powerful, was too inexplicable, so men said, ‘God is dead.’”

The horrors of the Holocaust are all too well known. For their evening entertainment, Nazi soldiers trucked small Jewish children to their bonfires, dumping them into the fire. As the terrified screaming children attempted to flee the flames, Nazis armed with pitchforks stood guard, barring their way. The drumbeat of evil touching the lives of our most vulnerable continues to roll: every day, on some street in Thailand, or perhaps another country, some small child is whisked away from his or her parents, and sold into sex-slavery, destined now to die of some horrible disease at a young age. And God looks on.

There is a profound exchange in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov in which Ivan relates a very sad story to his brother Alyosha, an Orthodox priest. It is the story of a young boy’s unfortunate scrape with a cruel general in the Russian Army. The boy had thrown a stone which hit the paw of the general’s favorite hunting dog. This enraged the general, and he put the boy in a cold cell for the night. The following morning, while the boy’s mother looked on, the boy was stripped naked, and ordered to run. The general then turned his hunting dogs loose, and the boy was torn to pieces. Ivan asks his brother this searing question:

“Tell me yourself, I challenge you. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature ... and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth.”

Os Guiness identifies the problem of evil as “life’s greatest challenge,” which is the subtitle of his book Unspeakable published in 2005. Written in a post 9/11 age, Unspeakable offers a chilling discussion of the manifestations of evil which reached a horrifying crescendo during the last century. The answers he suggests for this riddle come from one of the greatest contemporary evangelical thinkers, but I found them to be personally unsatisfying.

Evil’s existence has given rise to a branch of theology and apologetics called theodicy, man’s effort to explain why horrendous evil survives in a universe created and governed by a benevolent Almighty. The word theodicy literally implies an effort to “justify God”. From C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain) to Os Guiness (Unspeakable) Christians have sought to make sense of this horrible riddle. There are typical lines of reasoning suggested in Christian theodicy. I have heard and read these proposed solutions from many sources. In my next post, I will discuss the typical Christian response to the problem of evil, including the response that objects to the notion that we should even ask these hard questions. I will let the reader judge if these responses are rational and satisfying. In a subsequent post, I will reexamine the problem of evil in light of the earlier posts on entropy, and suggest a new understanding of the place of evil in this cosmos.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Book Review: The Language of God

I've been reading Francis Collins book, The Language of God. I recommend it for all who are still struggling with the concept of evolution, or for those who want a quick and easy intro to the state of science today as it relates to Christian faith.

Francis Collins is arguably the most prominent evangelical scientist of our day. He was the leader of the Human Genome Project through the 1980s and 1990s. He is an M.D. and one of the world’s leading DNA scientists. In simple and plain language, he gives an overview of the state of cosmology and quantum physics. But his forte is molecular biology, and the science of DNA. He presents a compelling case why it is that Darwinian evolution is accepted fact today among the vast majority of biologists. The evidence streaming in from genetic research is providing mounting confirmation of evolution. Collins writes,

The examples reported here from the study of genomes, plus others that could fill hundreds of books of this length, provide the kind of molecular support for the theory of evolution that has convinced virtually all working biologists that Darwin’s framework of variation and natural selection is unquestionably correct. (page 141)

He goes on to explain that many people are confused by the use of the term “theory”. Evolution is “theory” in the same sense that Newton’s laws of gravity are “theory”. Evolutionary theory underlies the study of biology in much the same way that music theory underlies the work of musicians. We seldom hear people deny belief in gravity. I’ve never heard a musician question the validity of music theory.

With sound reasoning and overwhelming evidence, Collins firmly rejects Creationism, and Intelligent Design. And he does so from the standpoint of a devout Bible believing Christian.

As my blog entries progress, we will visit the significance of evolution in the plan of God. While I will gladly discuss why I believe in evolution, I would much prefer to move on to discuss the meaning and significance of evolution, and the role which I believe naturalistic evolution has played in the plan of God.

POST #6: Entropy, the Implications

Years ago, I adhered to the Young Earth Creationism (YEC) position; that is, I believed creation occurred over six 24-hour days at some point in the last 10,000 years. I was persuaded that this sort of time frame was required by what seemed to be a Biblical teaching that all death was a consequence of Adam’s sin. But I came to see that this theological construct stems from a wooden, literalist reading of Genesis and the New Testament, and that it is not the only reasonable way to interpret these scriptures. I also came to see that the notion of death being non-existent in our universe until about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago is completely untenable in light of scientific evidence. Earth is strewn with a history of death and species extinctions dating back some 3.7 billion years.

I also came to see that death and entropy are intrinsically linked. So, I set out on a search to discover the moment in time when entropy (and, with it, death) entered into creation. It seemed to me that this would be a critical understanding in theology. I soon learned that physics and cosmology have identified that moment, with a high degree of precision. And it dates all the way back to the creation moment (See my last post).

I identify this key passage in Romans with entropy (Many, but not all expositors do. Judge for yourself.):

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
– Romans 8:19-21 (NIV)

Follow this progression of observations:

1) At some point in time, the Creator chose to subject his entire creation to a principle of decay. This “bondage to decay” I understand to be entropy, the law of physics described in Post #4.

2) This subjection of creation to the bondage to decay in Romans 8:19-21 has been almost universally understood as a part of God’s response sin, part of a sin-related curse. So, in traditional Christian theology, this subjection has been connected variously with the sin of Adam, the Tower of Babel, or the Fall of Satan, etc.

3) However, we now know that entropy dates back to very first moments of this universe’s existence.

4) This would suggest that if entropy is God’s response to sin or evil, this sin or evil predates the creation moment, or the creation moment is commensurate with the onset of evil.

5) There will come a time when entropy will have run its course. Creation will be set free from its relentless entropic march toward death. And this moment of liberation, when entropy is halted in its tracks, is precipitated by an event identified as the revealing (or “manifestation”) of the sons of God.

The implications of these observations on theology, the purpose of God in creation, and specifically, the purpose of man, are profound. If the above observations are accurate, they suggest the God may have created this cosmos with the purpose of dealing with and exterminating evil. They suggest that entropy might be one of the tools which God is employing to accomplish this purpose. They further suggest that humankind plays a critical role in this plan.

Being raised in the evangelical church, I had always been taught something like this: God’s purpose in creation, particularly the creation of man, was fellowship. He created us so that we might come to know him, and we might enjoy fellowship with him. Indeed, it had long been a settled matter: “The chief purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

I’ve always loved the elegance and simplicity of that phrase from the Westminister Catechism. But I now question whether it is completely accurate. Without doubt I am to glorify God, and I do believe that eternity will be required to explore and enjoy our infinite Father. But “the chief purpose of man”? I have come to believe that God has a purpose for mankind that transcends fellowship. “The chief purpose of man,” I might suggest, “is to co-venture with God in his overarching plan to exterminate evil.” And far from minimizing the importance of fellowship with God, this overarching partnership in the conquest of evil creates a far deeper potential for camaraderie between God and man.

Some might fairly argue that these conclusions are a bit overreaching, and largely speculative. While I believe that this scenario, the entire cosmos existing as God’s response to evil and as his plan to annihilate evil, does have a foundation in Scripture, science, and reason, I confess that, to a degree, it does venture into the realm of speculative theory.

However, in future posts I will explore how this overarching story, when used as a template for various scriptures and theological problems, is reasonable. We will explore how it relates to the Biblical themes of resurrection, nonresistance, suffering, and the most explicit scriptural statements on the purposes of Christ’s coming, and man’s existence. We will see how it gives a better answer to the age-old Problem of Evil (theodicy) than those typically proposed by Christians. We will see how it relates to evolution, and how evolution ceases to be a feared atheistic threat to faith and becomes instead the elegant and awe-inspiring plan of God. We will discover in it a rational answer to the skeptics’ argument that earth, and mankind, are extremely insignificant in view of the utter vastness of the universe.

In my personal faith journey, I have grappled with these issues. I read the arguments of skeptics. Frankly, they often make more sense than the standard answers Christians offer. I have struggled with the Problem of Evil, and have not found the solutions offered by Christians to be at all compelling. Most atheists site the Problem of Evil as the primary obstacle to belief in God. In this new way of viewing creation, I have found satisfying, rational answers to such faith issues that have taunted me for decades. I invite you to explore these answers with me as these posts unfold.

P.S. This line of thought is often objected to on the grounds that entropy is necessary and good. It is true that within the bounds of this cosmos, driven as it is by the energy flow of entropy, we could not live without entropy. Because of entropy we are warmed by the sun, our food is produced; in fact, everything necessary for physical life is provided by entropy. But entropy is also the source of all natural disasters, of diseases, and ultimately, of physcial death. Entropy is itself a dying process. So while I must be clear in stating that entropy is not evil, we must not forget that it is by its essence, death. Entropy is temporary; it is not part of God's plan for the coming utopian heaven and earth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

POST #5: Entropy, the Timeline

Scripture teaches that entropy had a beginning, and will have an end. In Romans 8:19-23, Paul gives us some insight into both events. 20th Century physics and cosmology have helped to fill in the blanks with regard to the onset of entropy; we can today pinpoint with a high degree of certainty just when entropy came into being. But while Paul gives us clues about what events will precipitate the end of entropy, we do not know when in the future that will be. We do know there is coming a major upheaval in the laws of physics (see Hebrews 12:26-28, 2 Peter 3:10, etc.). One of the results of this upheaval will be the removal of the need for the sun (Revelation 21:23). Isaiah explains, “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19) Light and energy from our Sun is at the very heart of the human experience of entropy. The removal of the Sun, and the replacing of it with God himself as our new inexhaustible energy source signals the end of entropy. It is not God’s plan that entropy play out to the bleak end described in my previous post. Entropy will not go on forever. Entropy appears to be playing some temporary role in the plan and purposes of God. Just what that purpose might be is not clear. But if we go back to the beginning of entropy, we might pick up on some clues.

So, when did entropy begin?

One commonly held belief among many Christian theologians has been that entropy came into the cosmos as a part of the curse following Adam’s sin. Since death is the inescapable consequence of entropy, it is argued by some that entropy could not preexist the Fall of Man. However, the Biblical account itself give us much evidence that entropy was predates Adam’s sin. The sun, the growth of various life forms, and the references to eating in Genesis 1 and 2 are facts dependent upon entropy. Perhaps of greater significance is that we know the Serpent, that influence of moral corruption, was already slithering about the garden. No matter one’s view of the Fall, the onset of death, etc., Even the most ardent literalist must agree. Prior to the Adam’s sin, all was not well in the cosmos.

Death was the penalty for Adam’s sin. But this death was not physical. Adam did not die physically on the “day” (Genesis 2:17 KJV) he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The death he suffered is described in Genesis 3:7-8. This death was spiritual, and involved guilt and shame, and separation from God. This understanding is consistent with Scripture, including Romans chapters 5 through 8.

Years ago, after concluding that entropy clearly preceded the Fall of man, my own search for the beginning of entropy took me to the great rebellion of Satan and his army of fallen angels. This event clearly happened prior to Adam’s sin. How much prior is a matter of speculation. However, if biblical revelation is incomplete on the question of entropy’s beginnings, science is not.

Evidence streaming in from many fronts (from such things as the cosmic background radiation) all indicate that entropy dates back to the very beginning of time. So precise is our ability to measuring time, so precise is the evidence and the mathematics, that scientists today are in substantial agreement: Entropy began at 10 to the power of -43 seconds into the life of the Universe! The evidence is overwhelming: this cosmos has been entropic since the Creation Moment, since the very beginning of time.

Dr. Allan Harvey, an evangelical Christian who is also a chemical engineer specializing in molecular thermodynamics has posted an interesting FAQ style article on entropy which you can read (just click here). He has a different point of view on some of the theological ramifications of entropy, but his discussion of entropy in general, and his criticism of how Creationists abuse the “Second Law of Thermodynamics Argument” are very good. With respect to the timeline of Entropy, Dr. Harvey writes:

"Astrophysicists, using data such as the cosmic background radiation, have verified that the universe has obeyed the second law of thermodynamics very well since the time of the big bang."

There can be little doubt about it. In the beginning, God created an entropic universe. We learn from Romans 8:20 that God arranged and ordered (hupotasso) his creation in a condition of “frustration” (NIV), “futility” (NAS) or “vanity” (KJV). The next verse offers clarification: this frustration is defined as a “bondage to decay”. The Greek word for decay (phthora) means “corruption, destruction, perishing”.

God intentionally created the cosmos to be subject to corruption, destruction, and death, though it was not his intention to leave it in this state. Verse 20 and 21 tell us that when he subjected his new universe to entropy, he did so “in hope” that it would, in time, be delivered from entropy. Thus, from the very beginning, before the fall of man, before the creation of man, God subjected the creation to physical laws involving decay and death. And then he stood back and declared it to be “good”. Though not his ideal, and his hope was that it would not remain this way, such an entropic universe was in his view, “good”. Apparently, his plan would best be fulfilled by subjecting all creation to this principle of corruption, destruction, and perishing. Death.

In my next post, I want to explore the possible meanings, the theological implications of a death-driven, entropic cosmos.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Personal note ...

Just a quick note to let my readers know that my wife and I became the pround grandparents of our third grandchild on Saturday. That, together with a Festival of Tents camping weekend with friends, has temporaily slowed my writing. The next post might have to wait for another couple of days. Thanks for your patience!

~ Cliff

Monday, August 27, 2007

POST #4: Entropy, the Concept

There is in physics a phenomenon the results of which you experience every moment of your life. With every breath, with every bite of lunch, with every synapse between brain cells, with every metabolic function in every cell, this physical principle is at work in your body. Some day, when your body lies cold in the grave, this phenomenon will still be at work in you. As you read this and listen to the gentle whirring of the hard drive on your computer, you are listening to the effects of this law of physics. The breeze outside your window, the clouds rolling by in the sky, the very light enabling you to see these things: these are all evidence that this fundamental principle is constantly at work. Einstein called it “the first law of all sciences.” It is everywhere, effecting everything.

This principle is often mentioned in the Bible. It has profound theological significance. But only in the last 150 years have we come to understand its operation. And only in the last 50 years have we come to understand its history, its origin. And thus, only in our time can we more fully connect the dots between this physical law, the Scriptures that discuss it, and the theological implications of that convergence. This principle is called entropy. You may be more familiar with its other name: The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What exactly is entropy? The technical definition of entropy is “The measurement of randomness in a system; the measurement of the decreasing availability of useful energy in the universe.” With respect to energy and matter, our universe is lumpy. It is full of “chunks” of matter (which have not yet been converted to energy). It has hot spots and cold spots. Energy is not evenly distributed. It is this uneven distribution which provides the thermal energy to accomplish work. But this thermal energy available to accomplish work is constantly decreasing. Technically, entropy is the measurement of the “unavailability” of energy to do work. Physicists thus see our universe as presently in a state of “low entropy”, moving inexorably toward what they call “high entropy”, and ultimately leading to the even distribution of useless energy, resulting in a universe that is dark, very cold (about 2° above absolute Zero), and utterly dead. This state would occur somewhere between a trillion and 100 trillion years from now. So don’t lose sleep over it.

(Some scientists see the end of the universe somewhat differently. Instead of a cold dark expanse of nothingness, they envision a sort of reverse big bang, sometimes called “the Big Crunch”, in which all the energy of the universe converges upon a single point in an extremely hot, fiery implosion. This event would occur much sooner, perhaps in only 100 billion years. But whether a slow cold death, or a relatively quicker hot fiery death ... and there are a couple of other less popular theories also along way off ... the prospect of the “end-game” of entropy is not very inviting!)

In the figurative, or popularized use of the word, entropy refers to a lack of order, or a gradual decline into disorder. And while the technical use of “order” and “disorder”, “low entropy” and “high entropy” can sometimes be confusing, in the end, entropy simply means this: everything tends to break; my teenage son’s room only gets messier; teeth decay; iron rusts; wood rots; without the infusion of a heat source, everything gets colder; people, plants, and animals die; ultimately, planets disintegrate; stars burn out.

There is much confusion surrounding entropy, particularly among Young Earth Creationists. The law of entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is often invoked as evidence against evolution. This is unwarranted. Others consider life itself to be in contradiction to the law of entropy. But the fact is, entropy is always at work, it never goes on vacation, and it does not “disprove” evolution. The Law of Entropy does not say that all things move toward disorder in all places at all times. To the contrary, we observe the organization of atoms, molecules, living cells, and a variety of other things all the time. Children grow up, exquisite snowflakes form, huge new stars are born, 747 jetliners are assembled, crystals self generate. The very composition of this article results from me organizing (some might dispute this statement!) my thoughts, and then bringing order to these letters on a page. Such occurrences, some the result of human activity, some of natural causes, might seem to defy entropy. But in each case, the Law of Entropy is still at work. As Richard Carrier (an atheistic scientist and critic of Creationism) correctly states on this page of his website. “it is still possible for a closed system to produce order, even highly elaborate order, so long as there is a greater increase in disorder somewhere else in the system.” In other words, in every process within the cosmos, there is always a net increase in entropy. When some new degree of order appears to arise somewhere, it is more than offset by increasing disorder elsewhere.

Entropy means that everything will eventually die. Our Sun will burn out. Earth will crumble into nothingness. All life forms will die. There will ultimately be no “matter”. Living in an “entropic universe” means that everything is driven by decay, by a slow wind-down, by death itself. In everything from ecosystems to the decay of the Sun, life itself is dependent upon death. In essence, we live in a “death-driven universe”

Did God create the universe this way? Was it his intention that the very driving force of all Creation would be death itself? Or is entropy part of the curse of sin? When did entropy begin? Prior to the information gleaned from cosmology over the last 50 years, no one knew the answer to that question. Theologians were free to place the origin of death and decay anywhere along the cosmic time-line that pleased them, or was consistent with their theological presuppositions. But we are no longer free to do so. We now know, with a high degree of certainty, exactly when entropy began. And the theological implications should not go unnoticed.

In the next posts, I will look more closely at the “timeline of entropy”, and discuss what this timeline suggests about our Creator, and his intentions.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

POST #3: Principles of Revelation: Progressive Revelation

In this post and the previous post, I am laying the groundwork for discussions that will follow by defining an epistemology, that is, a set of governing principles for how we arrive at knowledge. I have established the place of Special Revelation, particularly the written revelation of the Old and New Testaments. These Scriptures are our authority for all matters of faith and practice. They must be the arbiter of all Christian understandings about God.

I have defined General Revelation in somewhat broader terms than are typically used. It is my conviction that we can learn much about the Creator by studying his Creation. The cosmos offers a wealth of information which may furnish clues to his character and purpose. In addition, there is a strong linkage between the state of scientific knowledge in any given era of the church, and the theological understandings of that era. Thus, science can and does influence theology. But the church has typically lagged behind science, at times taking hundreds of years before adjusting its thinking to align theology with the more accurate understandings about the Universe. It is my contention that much of evangelical Christianity is dwelling in just such a time lag today.

We now turn our attention to Progressive Revelation.

When I first was taught the principle of Progressive Revelation, the extent of its application was limited to written revelation. I learned that later Scriptures built upon, expanded upon, and expounded upon earlier Scriptures. This can be seen readily as we read through the Bible, beginning to end. Moses lays a foundation for David. Isaiah builds upon David. By the time John wrote, he had the benefit of all of the Hebrew Scriptures and many already extant New Testament writings. Our understandings of God, his character, his purpose, his involvement in the earth grow with each new portion of revealed truth. Progressive, when used in this sense, is defined as “developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step”. Progressive Revelation, understood in this way, is widely accepted and taught. Controversy heats up quickly when the discussion turns toward the notion that revelation might be progressing still today.

Written revelation was completed in the first century. The foundation for the church, and for our age, was laid by the original apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20) and through their writings. Jesus is the Word of God. The Old Testament looks forward to him. The New Testament consists of a flurry of writings by those who walked him, or had first or second hand exposure to his life and teachings. The essence of our understandings about God are wrapped up in Jesus. No writer today qualifies to write about the Logos, Jesus, in the same way those first century authors did. I am satisfied that written revelation is, therefore, closed.

But I take a different view when it comes to General Revelation. The heavens and the firmament are “uttering speech” (Psalm 19:-2). To the degree that General Revelation affects theology, to the degree that it informs our understandings about God, and about his work of Creation, to the degree that it illuminates the Scriptures, to that degree we continue to receive revelation! And General Revelation affects theology in many and profound ways.

In addition, while written revelation is closed, it is but one aspect of Special Revelation. The activity of the Holy Spirit in believers, both generally and though the special gifts of the Spirit, includes many streams of illumination. The Spirit still speaks, still teaches (1 Corinthians 2:10-16, John 16:13, 1 John 2:27 This illumination does not add to the authoritative base of the Scriptures. It must always be judged by the Scriptures. But the Holy Spirit can refine our understandings of those Scriptures, helping us to arrive a truths contained there which we may have overlooked and/or misinterpreted in the past. In this process, the Holy Spirit may assist us in coalescing of the fruit of our exploration of Creation with the Scriptures in ways we have never seen before.

The interplay of these three elements (growing General Revelation, ongoing Spirit illumination, with the written Word giving us the anchor and setting the parameters of truth) provides us with a richly textured revelation that is dynamic, alive, and progressive.

John Polkinghorne, the Anglican Theologian / Particle Physicist, has long argued for this interplay of science and theology. He sees the two disciplines as “cousins” in search of one ultimate reality. Occasionally we encounter what first appears to be conflict. But as the conflict finds resolution (as it always will!), truths emerge which are deeper and more profound. He describes this process in five successive steps [from Quantum Physics and Theology]:
1. Moments of enforced radical revision
2. A period of unresolved confusion
3. New synthesis and understanding
4. Continued wrestling with unresolved problems
5. Deeper implications
In the last 100 years, there have been many such “moments of enforced radical revision”. Many findings of science have been at first disconcerting, and have resulted in considerable wrestling. In many cases, the wrestling continues as Bible believers come to grips with the concepts of relativity, quantum uncertainty, evolution, the big bang, the age of the universe, the timing of the onset of entropy, the incomprehensible size of the universe, the likelihood of many extra-dimensions, etc. Each of these concepts touches upon theology, how we perceive God, and his work of Creation. Each of them jolt us out of some preconceived notions. They compel us to reevaluate how we read and understand the Scriptures. They shed new light on Scriptures we could not have fully understood before. And just possibly, they lead us to “deeper implications” in theology, origins, eschatology, and even the advance of the Kingdom in our own day.

It is these deeper implications that I wish to explore. I invite you to come along and share with me some fresh new vistas offered to us through the scientific discoveries of the last two or three generations.

And, I ask you to join me in this prayer: Holy Spirit, aid us in this search. Enlighten our hearts and minds, sharpen our insights. May our discussions not become bogged down in idle speculation. Instead, I ask that you lead us to life-changing implications that will find practical expression in how we live out our commitment to the King and the Kingdom.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

POST #2: Principles of Revelation: General Revelation

God speaks! Foundational to all Christian thinking is the assumption that God is self-revealing. Jesus is the Logos, the very Word of God (John 1:1). God talks (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Greek word here, LALEO, according to Thayer, means to use words in order to declare one's mind and disclose one's thoughts. God “takes the upright into his confidence” (Proverbs 3:32). The Hebrew word for confidence, SOD, has a graphic derivation. It originally meant a cushion or couch, came to refer to sitting together in a familiar or intimate setting, then came to mean the sharing of secrets. Those who listen are rewarded ... God is not silent!

Christian theology has historically recognized three guiding principles of revelation. I use these three principles as the base of my personal epistemology (how and where we obtain knowledge). They help me to understand the various ways in which God speaks:

1) Special Revelation
Examples include the inspired Scriptures, Old and New Testaments (2 Timothy 3:16); the person and work of Jesus, declared to be the one who explains the Father (John 1:18); and the personal illumination of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (John 16:13).

2) General Revelation
The heavens declare the glory of God in a continual flow of speech and a constant display of knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV).

3) Progressive Revelation
We see progression in the formation of written revelation. Scripture builds upon scripture. New revelation expands upon, and expounds upon earlier revelation. But did revelation cease with the closing of written revelation? No. On-going Spirit illumination continues to this day, and will up until the end times (Joel 2:28-32 which was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost).

While these three principles are widely accepted and taught in the church, the specifics of how we define them, and the ramifications of each term, vary widely among believers. Epistemology is the necessary beginning point for the discussions which will follow on this site.

The nature of Special Revelation, and in particular, written revelation, has been discussed at great length, and I do not wish to rehash the Inerrency debates here. I refer my readers to a spirited discussion of these issues which occurred on the web-blog, “Chrisendom” last November, and can be found here. Essential, however, is an understanding of the Authority of the Scriptures. For the sake of these discussions, Christian theology, by definition, is sourced in, and/or tested by the Scriptures. The Scriptures have served the church well as an anchor for two thousand years. They provide the parameters of truth, even as our understandings of those Scriptures grows and develops.

Of greater interest to me, four our purposes here, is a discussion of principles two and three. Today’s post will explore General Revelation. A follow-up post will explore Progressive Revelation.

A discussion of General Revelation typically begins with Romans 1:19-20. Here Paul makes it clear that we can glean revelation about God from creation. And this revelation goes beyond seeing his glory. From the things that are made, we can discern certain of God’s invisible qualities, including his power and his divine nature. It is clear that we have a far more profound understanding of the “things that are made” today than ever before. Because of the unique position of our solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy, we have been blessed with a front row seat on the cosmos. And today, we see and understand the Universe with far greater clarity than did those who penned the words of Scripture, or the great majority of those who formulated traditional Christian Theology. In addition to this improved view of the Universe, today we are beneficiaries of a rapidly expanding knowledge of how God knit together this cosmos on the atomic and subatomic levels. Much of the traditional theology that is accepted in the church today was formulated in a pre-copernican day, a day when planet earth was widely viewed as literally occupying the very center of Creation. Other aspects of theology are based squarely upon Newtonian physics, with its rigid laws of motion, time and space. As relativity and quantum mechanics show how fluid and bending these laws are, there may be theological implications to consider. Much fundamentalist theology is reactionary, constructed one hundred years ago in response to what was then perceived as an atheistic attack upon Christianity in the form of evolution. Today, we know much more about the history of life on the earth.

Without question, the Scriptures are the ultimate source and arbiter of our understandings about God. But the Scriptures have always been read through the prism of how the world and the cosmos are currently viewed. Let’s be clear: science has no capacity to explain God, or teach theology. But down through the ages, our growing knowledge of the cosmos has often adjusted, and sometimes revolutionized our understanding of the Scriptures, and what they teach us about God. A sad truth is that the church has often drug its feet, sometimes for hundreds of years, in this task of keeping theology current with our growing knowledge base from General Revelation. Theology has a way of settling into a stubborn inertia, becoming nearly immovable. Instead of rejoicing in new understandings about our wonderful Maker, the church typically resists changes in our understandings with guarded skepticism and suspicious fear. We have been given a fixed written revelation in the Scriptures which provides a stable anchor for our faith. But on the other hand, we have a very fluid, constantly changing source of information streaming in on many General Revelation fronts which should excite every believer. As one of the world’s foremost DNA scientists, Francis Collins describes the exhilarating joy and awe which he experiences as he uncovers some new truth about Creation, and thus the Creator, to which, for but a moment, he alone among humans is privy. It is as though God just whispered into his ear.

For too long has the church viewed scientific inquiry as an adversary to be feared. Truth is truth! The exploration of the cosmos, whether by telescope or microscope, is the friend of all who would know the Creator, and would understand his works with increasing clarity. General Revelation is not static. It is supplying us with a constant fresh flow of detailed information about what our God has created, and sometimes even how he created. No one should be more excited about this process of exploration and discovery than children of the Creator!

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of Kings” (Proverbs 25:2). This suggests something more than the passive observation of Creation. It seems evident that man has an active role to take up in this field of General Revelation. This active role is largely the work of scientific inquiry. I have a friend who is an artist. Every time I walk into his gallery, I learn something new about him just by observing his paintings. The entire field of science, limited as it is to this cosmos, is a continuing study of the very work of God. With each new revelation of science, we learn something new about him. Of course, much that is new in the realm of science must be tested rigorously, and for some time held tentatively. But the certainty of such findings grows with layers of validation and confirmation. As this certainty grows, we can receive new insights into the artist behind this awe-inspiring cosmos. In turn, many of these insights will compel us to reevaluate and adjust how we interpret the Bible, and fine tune our theology. But we must pay attention! And we must be willing to think outside the artificial constraints of our theological traditions.

God speaks. Are we listening?

A note added on 9/17/2007: C. Michael Patton posted a thoughtful piece on natural revelation at Parchment and Pen after I made the above post. If you’re puzzling about the notion of God “actively speaking” to us through natural (general) revelation, check out his answers. (If you are new to blogs, you can go directly to Michael’s article by clicking on the words “piece on natural revelation” above)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

POST #1: Understandings I am Seeking

Recently, a friend was troubled by my search for understandings which, in his view, threaten to deviate from traditionally held Christian Doctrine. He asked me to define truths which I am seeking that “make a difference”. In my reply, I listed four areas in which I seek understandings that go beyond those I have received from the evangelical church. I open this blog with my response to his question ...

I believe in both Special Revelation (mainly the Scriptures, but including the on-going ministry of the H.S. as he guides us into truth) and General Revelation (truths about God and his purposes which are discernible in Creation.) I also believe in Progressive Revelation. Through the ages, believing mankind has been given the revelation required to fulfill its purpose in history on an as-needed basis. And I believe that there may be significant revelation as this age closes (Joel 2:28-32, which was not completely fulfilled in Acts 2). If you take a different view of any of these three elements of revelation, you may as well stop reading right here. They are foundational in my thinking.

1) I am seeking to understand the role of entropy in God's overall plan. Scripture gives some strong clues that there is something significant here. (Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 15 for starters.) Only lately have we come to understand more fully what entropy is, how it works, where it is leading, and how long it has been here. Entropy is the predictable conversion of all matter and energy into useless low level heat scattered across the known universe: the cosmos is headed toward an exceedingly cold, completely dark, stable state of near nothingness. Death. And this universe has been moving in that direction since the creation moment. Entropy is itself, of course, death and decay. It therefore has great theological and eschatological significance. We now understand that God intentionally created a universe driven by death. A universe that began to die at the very moment of its inception. Death is the engine that makes this universe work. And when he finished creating the universe in this way, God stepped back and said, "This is GOOD." Now that combination of facts creates all kinds of questions for me. Does it not for you? It is strange, to me, that more thinking believers aren't, at least, puzzled. I am amazed that Zoroastrians and Jewish Kabbalists have noticed this, and have been for hundreds of years asking questions about entropy and evil. But their answers are lame in my judgment, and fail to take into consideration the New Testament Scriptures which powerfully speak to this question. At least, they are asking. I believe Christians can give better answers!

2) I am seeking to understand how a compassionate, caring God can stand idly by while children are stolen away from their homes by the sex marketeers, and forced into horrible, unthinkable lives of sex-slavery. I am seeking to understand how this loving Father could look on from heaven while Hitler's soldiers dumped, literally dumped dump-truck loads of babies that could barely talk and walk, little innocent toddlers, into raging bonfires for their amusement, using pitchforks to stop the little screaming ones who tried to escape. The problem of evil is the most significant stumbling block to faith for skeptics today. When Einstein, perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th Century, discovered relativity and described a cosmology which now necessitated a belief in God, he became a convinced theist. But because of the the problem of evil, he could never come to belief in a personal God. The god Einstein declared must surely exist was for him only an "impersonal creative force". The church has offered no satisfying answers to the riddle, or at least none that satisfy my mind. Nor the minds of the many agnostics who cite this problem as an insurmountable obstacle to belief in God. The church has offered answers which fail to uphold the integrity and character of God. Is it the best we can do to shrug our shoulders and say we don't understand? I believe that this riddle may be to some degree solvable, and that the solution may be right before our eyes; but our theological presuppositions have barred us from seeing it. So I seek a clearer understanding of what God is doing here in the universe that will explain why he is compelled to restrain his hand in the face of evil and suffering.

3) In conjunction with the riddle of evil, I seek a clearer and fuller understanding of the role and significance of suffering. Scripture is full of hints; we have been slow on the uptake, in my opinion. But when we piece together the theological implications of entropy, and come to a more complete understanding of evil, we will see more clearly why people suffer. We will see the role of suffering in the cosmic plan of God. We will see why it is necessary. We will understand its interwoven connectedness with glory. We will see that something in the spiritual realm is actually accomplished through our suffering. And we will be better prepared personally if we are called upon to suffer as this age winds down.

4) I seek to understand the profound significance of man, and the immense responsibility that believing men and women share in the purposes of God. This also relates to entropy, evil, and suffering. We have been assigned a critical role in the affairs of our planet and in the ultimate undoing of evil. This is clear in the Scriptures. But little emphasis is given to this truth in the church. It is not understood well at all, in my view. Again, our theology may be standing in the way, perhaps barring us from fully participating in the breath-taking tasks of the advancing Kingdom of God.

Well, there are four, for starters. I do not expect that all believers should seek these things as I do. It is not necessary. You need not join me. If the theology which has been handed to you satisfies your mind, there is no need to trouble yourself with my questions. But I do ask you not to scold me for asking them. Or to suggest that I shouldn't ask. That is part of the problem of this whole sea change we call postmodernism. Young people today are asking hard questions. You and I can't stop them. We must decide whether we will join them in their quest, and attempt to provide intellectually and spiritually satisfying answers, or stand back and chide them for their lack of contentedness, and watch them drift off. Which will it be for you?