I just finished William Dembski’s “The End of Christianity,” in which the eminent mathematician and apologist for the design argument struggles with the question of theodicy. If God is all powerful, and God is perfectly good, why is there such evil in the world? Dembski understands that this a much more significant question when it comes to natural evil as opposed to moral evil. Historians have long understood that events such as the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 shook not just the ground under Portugal but the grounding of European Christendom’s theological system. What evil had the generally God-fearing people of the Portuguese capital, many of whom were at worship when the quake hit, done to earn this level of catastrophe?
But the great earthquake in thought that Dembski struggles with is the logical and temporal link between the Fall of humanity and the origin of natural evil. As he himself writes, “a tight link between human sin and the world’s evil used to seem quite reasonable” (p.34). But no longer, Dembski feels, does that link hold. Our current mental environment which prizes our natural, scientific knowledge of the world makes such traditional beliefs impossible in his view. He quotes Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, John Polkinghorne, Jurgen Moltmann and Ian Barbour, who all reject the link between the Fall and the rise of natural evil – including death – in the world.
C.S. Lewis invoked Satan’s fall as necessarily having some impact on the condition of the world. This Dembski dismisses, arguing that Satan does not reside within our material order of creation and therefore cannot influence it. British professor Richard Bell in his book “Deliver Us From Evil,” however, does not see Satan and the demonic in a different light. He proposes that the demonic and angelic realms exist in the noumenal realm which exists alongside the world of phenomena in which we material creatures live and breathe. Information, that intangible third essential property of the cosmos alongside matter and energy, could also be seen to exist as a noumenal property which expresses itself in the phenomenal world. Jesus calls Satan the “Father of lies,” and what is a lie but bad or corrupted information? Our own minds, for those inclined to see consciousness as more than simply an emergent property of matter and energy, also exist in that realm. Given all this, and given Dembski’s interest in information and the detection of design within matter and energy, it is hard to see how Lewis’ idea could be so easily dismissed. The demonic requires an interface with the phenomenal world; the minds of Adam and Eve provided that point of entry.
This side argument notwithstanding, Dembski understands that the connection between the Fall and evil is one central to traditional Christian orthodoxy, and one that should be upheld. However he finds it impossible to see the link as as temporal-causal link, with one event following chronologically on the other. If that were the case it would necessitate belief in a young earth and a quick creation of life. It would require a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 3, something he feels is simply not reasonable given what we have learned from “the book of nature.” Science, the study of the book of nature, cannot give answers that are at odds with Scripture, but it can give answers that are at odds with our interpretation of Scripture. Since the the prevailing scientific view is that the earth is over 4 billion years old, and the universe 4 times older, our interpretation of Genesis as a literal account of creation must be flawed.
Dembski does recognize that a face-value reading of Genesis 1-3 suggests a young earth and a quick creation of life in six days. Great theologians and exegetes of the past, including Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin all accepted an earth thousands of years old. Dembski himself admits that for anyone who takes Scripture as authoritative revelation from God “a young-earth interpretation of Genesis seems natural and fitting” (p.52). Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul, a convert to belief in a young-earth, wrote “one must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2″ (p.54).
Scientists who hold to a young earth acknowledge, however, that their view runs contrary to a significant amount of scientific evidence. Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, scientists who hold to a young, or recent, creation, write:
Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an ‘old’ cosmos. But over the long term, this is not a tenable position. In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision. They have many fewer ‘problems of science.’ At the moment, this would seem the more rational position to adopt. Recent creationism must develop better scientific accounts if it is to remain viable against old earth creationism. On the other hand, the reading of Scripture (e.g., a real Flood, meaningful genealogies, an actual dividing of languages) is so natural that it seems worth saving. Since we believe recent creationist cosmologies are improving, we are encouraged to continue the effort. (p.56)
But Dembski is unwilling to follow in their path. For him, abandoning the constancy of nature that leads to a old age for the earth and the universe is more difficult than abandoning a particular interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. If we cannot count on a consistent universe, then science is impossible. It is difficult to understand how the eternal attributes of God outlined in Romans 1:20 could be clearly seen in such a world. ”A good reality check in such discussions is to ask yourself what age you would estimate if you didn’t feel the need to square the age of the earth with a young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11″ (p.61) Of course one could also ask the question in reverse: how would you interpret Genesis 1-11 if a majority of scientists were not convinced the universe was fifteen billion years old?
Having explained his preference for an old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11, Dembski returns to the question of theodicy: where does evil come from? He distinguishes between causal-temporal logic, and intentional-semantic logic. The former has to do with cause and effect in our time; the latter with purpose and meaning that arise out of kairos time. Causal-temporal logic explains speech as the vibration of molecules through the air between mouth and ear. Intentional-semantic logic sees speech as the communication of information and emotion between beings. They are not separate, yet they are distinct. One is science; the other gives meaning. In Dembski’s words, “the intentional-semantic logic is the deep structure of the world; the causal-temporal logic is merely the stage on which this deeper logic plays out” (p.137).
The Fall, then, can be the cause of both moral and natural evil in the world, despite a Fall occurring causally “after” the introduction of death and natural disasters into the universe.