Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Problem of Evil III. Pristine Creation (?)

After a lengthy pause, I resume the God and Evil series with this, the third post dealing with the Problem of Evil (hereafter referred to as PoE). In this series, I offer my own resolution to the quadrilemma of Epicurus discussed in this earlier post. The series will be several posts long. The full picture will only become clear as all posts are presented. For this reason, I will not generally respond to challenges or arguments to individual posts. But I am more than happy to answer any questions for clarification.

A central tenet of traditional Christian theology is that evil invaded a once pristine Creation. The assumption is that God’s original Creation was idyllic, unspoiled. It is assumed that God would not create a broken universe, one with a component of evil present at the very beginning. Into this unspoiled Creation, evil enters as an unwanted guest, through the rebellion of Satan and his angelic followers, and/or through the rebellion of man as illustrated in the first three chapters of Genesis.

Is this picture correct? Was all of Creation originally an unspoiled Eden? Is evil an interloper, and invader and spoiler of an otherwise ideal, paradisal cosmos? Does Scripture support this view, or does it suggest the contrary? At the culmination of his creative work, God looked at creation and found it to be “very good” (
Genesis 1:31 ); but was it perfect? Can our study of Creation, our scientific investigation of the universe itself, help us to answer this question? I believe it can.

If you believe, as I do, that God faithfully reveals truth through the nature of the universe (see
Romans 1:20), then we can confidently look to the natural history of our cosmos as revealed in science to provide us with insight about God’s creative activity. Amazingly, our study of the present day cosmos has given us a remarkable front-row view of the creation moment. It is as though we can watch God fling this universe into existence. We are treated to such a trail of evidence, echos from the deep past, that astrophysicists today actually subdivide the very first second of time into “epochs” of natural history.

Among other things, they tell us that, following the initial moment of creation (aka “the Big Bang”),there was a very brief period known as the "Planck Epoch"
, which lasted a tiny fraction of millisecond. After this briefest of moments, the cosmos entered into a condition which has continued to the present day: the state of ever increasing entropy. (For a fuller explanation, see my earlier post on entropy) This Law of Entropy (also known as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) dictates that the cosmos, as we know it, has a death sentence. We don’t know how long the universe has to live; some predict only about 100 billion years. Other suggest 100 trillion years or more. But we know that the ultimate fate of the universe is death. And now we understand that God made it this way from the very beginning. Not only is the universe winding down, entropy predicts that all matter, including all living beings, will ultimately die and/or decay.

This understanding is in keeping with the teachings of the Bible. The Psalmist declares that “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded” (
Psalm 102:25-26, quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12).

The Christian theological concepts I learned growing up in the church have evil invading the cosmos at some point in time after creation. Following this invasion (either the Fall of Adam and Eve or the judgment of Satan), death and decay begin to spoil an otherwise pristine Creation. Clearly, if 20th century science is close to the truth, this concept does not square with reality. But can the reality of a universe which has included death and decay from its very outset square with the Scriptures?

Your comments are welcome!

12 comments:

Rich G. said...

Ooh..... I get to be first.

I re-read your post about entropy, and have the following idea, not as a challenge, but as a seed for thought.

Entropy is an essential for every chemical reaction. Even processes like respiration would be impossible without an increase of entropy. There would be no physical life without it. So it would seem to me that since entropy is essential to life, it would have been integral to God's "very good" creation.

I heard of an early tradition that said that what honked off Satan was God's creation of the physical world of matter.

Since Scripture states that "Flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God", I am of the opinion that Adam & Eve were not meant live forever in the flesh. I suppose there was to have been a peaceful transition to god's presence when their bodies had run their course. I do not expect a simple physical resurrection into a perfect version of this world, I have to plead some ignorance about eternity - it will require a completely different kind of universe.

VanceH- said...

Hi Cliff, An observation--when God created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden that implies that evil existed at that pre-fall point in time. If evil didn't exist at that point there would be nothing to know.
Science certainly supports that entropy has been increasing ever since the big bang. You've linked increasing entropy with death and decay, which seems reasonable, but that doesn't automatically equate to evil in my mind. I assume you will address that in later posts...

Steve Douglas said...

Good comments from both of you guys. Rich, I'm 100% in agreement with your "seed for thought". We must ask ourselves what "good" is to God. Now, while I am convinced that "good" with regard to God cannot be utterly in contradiction to good as perceived by men. But although I haven't checked, the word "good" in Genesis 1 is likely to be the same word as the "good" contrasted with "evil" with the tree, which has always, and probably correctly, been associated with moral good and evil. This suggests to me that God was affirming that creation matches His own ideals, in stark contrast to the "evil" that entered with humanity. So while God's idea of "good" and our idea of "good" should not be expected to be in full contradiction (or else the word is meaningless), neither should it be expected to be in full coordination, particularly considering humanity's manifest propensity for evil.

VanceH, good point about the "knowledge" of evil being predicated on the presence of evil. Indeed, it reminds me of the observation that a perfect being would never have fallen into temptation in the first place. What I infer from these things is that the Hebrew cultures, as so many contemporaneous cultures, could not quite conceive of a world with nothing negative in it.

Cliff Martin said...

Excellent comments all!

Rich: Yes, life (as it has evolved in this cosmos) would be entirely impossible without entropy. But entropy is still, essentially, death. So death is necessary for life. ("unless a seed fall into the ground, and die ...") I'm trying to trace down a Darwin quote in which he essentially says the same thing. Life cannot exist apart from death. But that does not change the fact that God created a universe driven by the energy from dying things, and that (as I read Romans 8) it is not his ultimate intention to leave things this way. A reality is coming in which there will be no more need for the sun (entropic energy sources), death will be no more. So, despite the fact that entropy is essential for physical life on this plane, the question remains: Why would God create an entropic universe in the first place?

Vance: Not only does the tree of knowledge imply the presence of evil, but so does the visit from the serpent; and so does the fact that Eden was surrounded by a wall and a guarded gate. Outside of the protected garden was a whole world waiting to be subdued (the Hebrew implies opposition!) So clearly, evil predates the onset of mankind.
While I agree, entropy does not equate to evil, I am asking in these posts if there isn't some connection between the two. Zoroastrians have been asking that question for a long time. So have others. I wonder how we can avoid the conclusion that death (which is said to be a piece in Satan's arsenal) as the driving force of the universe is connected in some way to evil.

Steve: But it is precisely my contention that the creation does not "match [God's] own ideals." When he stood back and said that creation was "good" (and yes, it is the same Hebrew word used for the tree, towb which can simply mean "appropriate") he may not have been saying anything about his ideals. If there is an overriding plan of God for this cosmos, one which would necessitate an entropic universe to accomplish, then I see God's assessment as being the equivalent of "Ah yes. That will do!"

Steve Douglas said...

Thanks, Cliff. I think I see where you're going.

So, despite the fact that entropy is essential for physical life on this plane, the question remains: Why would God create an entropic universe in the first place?

Equally valid questions are 1) can we have a reasonable expectation that might be able to find the answer? 2) does God owe us the right to? 3) should not knowing the answer to that question trouble our faith in God or His self-proclaimed goodness, and if so, why that unanswered question more than any other question we're supposed to take by faith? Of course, I'm not saying we shouldn't ask; what I'm saying is that not having an answer doesn't necessarily constitute an answer in itself. Heaven knows there's enough intractable mystery in our faith.

I wonder how we can avoid the conclusion that death (which is said to be a piece in Satan's arsenal) as the driving force of the universe is connected in some way to evil.

I would contend that evil is no more a driving force of the universe than is life. Life and death naturally work together. I don't know if it ever could have been any other way; I doubt there could have been a conscious existence without the allowance of a little privation of good. Once a second currency, death, is put into circulation, the universe must needs take the natural shape it has. In my view, God's allowance of evil and anything negative was a necessary part of His creative act. I therefore naturally hate to give credit to Satan. If death and calamity are, as you appear to have admitted, necessary for existence in a finite world (how could perfection be finite?), then I would blame God for evil in the same way that I blame an 80-year-old's death on his father for bringing him into the world. Or so it seems to me.

Rich G. said...

Why would God create an entropic universe in the first place?

I think this is intimately related to our being confined to the flow of time itself. The very concept of entropy increasing requires a "before" and "after" state. A beginning and an end, a first and last. A rock starts at the top of a hill, then falls, coming to rest at the bottom. It has lost its potential energy and can fall no further. It had a starting state and an ending state separated by a time interval. Nor can it return to the beginning without some external force putting it back, separated by another time interval.

I think we are promised a coming day when time will be no more - Eternity - if you will. Then the concepts of "before" and "after" will become meaningless. And the First and the Last will be One.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve and Rich,
Again, thank you for the valuable insights.

Steve: I value your input! Your mind is so helpful to me. But I do have some follow up questions for you.

Maybe there can be no answers to the questions I am posing, and maybe my pursuit will be fruitless. But here is why I engage in this pursuit. I believe in both General Revelation (we can learn about God through nature) and Progressive Revelation (we understand more about God as time moves on). These epistemological assumptions are at the heart of my pursuit, and my early posts on these subjects form the foundation of everything that follows. I suspect that God may want us to know more and more, to understand better what is happening around us, and that he expects us to explore and to think. It will not surprise me if this late day explosion of knowledge yields up deeper theological understandings! Typically, the church has been slow on the uptake. On the other hand, it could well be that I am jumping the gun ... that we do not have sufficient data to draw conclusions. Still, we ought to poke around at the possibilities.

You write this about death and decay: “I don't know if it ever could have been any other way.” But, Steve, we know that someday, in the new creation of heaven and earth, it will be another way. And we know that this current “way” (if I read Romans 8 correctly) is actually not the way the Creator wanted things, but that it is provisional, temporary, seemingly accomplishing some purpose. Do you agree?

You seem to imply that death was a necessary and planned part of God’s creation, that he willed it to be part and parcel of what he is doing here, “a necessary part of His creative act.” But we know the end of the story: the annihilation of death in a great feat of divine triumph (Isa 25:8; 1 Cor 15:54-55; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 20:14). Does it not strike you (as it does me) as hollow that God triumphantly defeats death, after he himself intentionally wrote it into the script in the first place?

Rich: You are certainly correct about entropy and time. Entropy is what defines “the arrow of time”, as we know it. So, are you saying that God wanted a time-governed creation so much that to pull it off, he had to build in death, suffering, disasters, babies crushed in earthquakes. entire families washed out to sea in tsunamis, an evolutionary process involving untold death, predation and extinction? You must show me why the commodity of “time” was so highly valued that it was worth such an extreme cost; and why God would put these processes into place so that he could later “heroically” deliver creation from these very processes. Does this not strike you as strange?

Rich G. said...

[A]re you saying that God wanted a time-governed creation so much that to pull it off, he had to build in death, suffering, disasters...?

No, I don't think so. Maybe it's more like a craftsman wanting to make something magnificent, like a cosmic sculpture (so to speak) and this requires time and effort to craft, chipping away the excess to reveal what He has had in mind all along. And we are within that vast, eternal lump wondering about the hammer, chisel, sandpaper, and, yes, sometimes dynamite. We can no more see the completed creation than a grain of sand can see not only the beach, but the whole panorama of beach, mountain and ocean.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,

You wax poetic! And of course, I share your optimism for something exquisitely beautiful, jaw-droppingly wonderful arising out of the heap of this seemingly chaotic, sometimes tumultuous cosmos. But, while the craftsman/artist motif is nice, and may be part of the story, I still see a larger story that involves battles, all-out war, untold pain, agonizing suffering (into which the creator injects himself), and ultimately a triumphant victory over evil and death. If these are merely the tools in his hand, how do we account for the mortal warfare going on all around us, and God's final annihilation of evil and death? It does not fit well into the picture you paint, at least not for me.

Rich G. said...

how do we account for the mortal warfare going on all around us...?

I can't.

The verbal picture I painted represents only one facet of what we see all around us and in Scripture. Any illustration only goes so far, then breaks down. I even read somewhere that any attempt to explain the Trinity risks becoming heresy. Our explorations of eternal questions, when done honestly, and if we don't think we've reached a conclusion, can and should keep us humble and from becoming narrow-minded fanatics. In all my reading, it seems that every heretical teaching has come from an attempt to make one or another aspect of eternal questions sound more reasonable.

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Rich,

I even read somewhere that any attempt to explain the Trinity risks becoming heresy.

And to deny the “Trinity” is also considered heresy by most believers, even though as you know “trinity” is nowhere found on the pages of Scripture. Do you not find it strange that we have a doctrine which is considered a watershed for orthodoxy which is neither found in Scripture nor rationally explicable? I sure do.

All my life I have attempted to understand my Christian faith rationally. And I always test all possible conclusions against the Scriptures. The thing that I believe is that we are being given more “revelation” in terms of what we are discovering about nature, about the cosmos, about God’s handiwork. This “new” data is often very telling, in my opinion. In the case of entropy having been dated back to the Creation Moment with a high degree of certainty, I believe we have a bit of information with potential significance theologically. So I pursue possibilities. I am not trying to make an eternal question sound more reasonable. Rather, I am taking all available data into consideration. When I plug such data back into written revelation, it begins to make sense to me. But it does involve looking at the whole God/Man drama in a new way.

Rich G. said...

I was re-reading this thread and noticed this

Steve wrote:
I would contend that evil is no more a driving force of the universe than is life. Life and death naturally work together. I don't know if it ever could have been any other way; I doubt there could have been a conscious existence without the allowance of a little privation of good.

And I had a thought: Doesn't a conscious existence require a sense of "Self" as distinct from "Something else" (i.e. 'God' and 'Not God')?

It seems to me we are living on that border (frontier?).