Friday, 30 November 2007

Problems With Creation Science V: A God Who Uses Death In A Good Creation? Part I

This then raises the next stage of the theological argument. “How could God have made a ‘good’ creation if animals died?”

Behind this argument is the view that I think is fairly common among Creation Scientists. On this view, God made every creature a herbivore, and (presumably) without the equipment to kill other creatures, and without the biochemistry to be sustained by a diet of meat, and without the complex and synergistic ecology that the world now enjoys that depends upon some species eating other species for everything to work properly. Death, and the associated pain of being killed violently, on this view, is fairly obviously ‘not good’, so how could creation be ‘good’ if the death of animals is not due to sin? And, in the discussion, there were some fairly heated words said over the issue: I was asked to go a stick a long needle in an animal to see how it reacted to see if that was ‘good’, and the kind of God involved was described as a ‘monster’.

There are however, I think, serious problems with such arguments. We’ll start with the most emotive and easily dismissed one, and move out to some of the others.

The suggestion to stick a long needle in an animal to see how it reacts, betrays a very poor grasp of the difference between God and us. Unless you are a radical Open Theist (a view that God not only is not in control of what happens in the world as per classical arminianism, but doesn’t even know for sure what will happen in the future—and so all sin and suffering is really a consequence of God guessing wrong, rather than him standing by and allowing it to occur on his watch) then every animal that is poked with a long needle is poked with God’s full knowledge and acquiescence. God, even for the arminian, stands by and lets it happen. If a human stands by and allows an animal to be tortured when they could prevent it we would consider that to be culpable (and it might even be illegal). But can such criteria really be applied to God?

Everyone who dies, dies at God’s command in some sense, because God sets the limits of our life—when we will be born, and when we will die. But only a fool (and I use that word deliberately in its biblical sense) would suggest that somehow God is a murderer, or culpable for humans dying. God is not a human being. He gives life and takes it away. That is what it means for him to be God. Aslan is not a tame lion.

If God can rule over a world in which suffering and death exist and be good (and most Christians would argue against atheists that he can) then it is not immediately obvious that God couldn’t make a world in which suffering and death exist and still be good. After all, unless you are an Open Theist, you accept that God made the world knowing that that is what actually happened. In other words the ‘torture animals’ argument betrays a ridiculously poor grasp of the difference between God and us. You can argue that it is not good for God to do that, you can’t just presume that what is not good for you to do is not good for God to do. Because you don’t sit on the throne of Heaven.

The next point is for me the most decisive. I think it is fairly clear that God takes credit for carnivores and other aspects of the animate world that we tend to consider ‘not good’. The key passage for this is Job 39-41.

The book of Job has been set in motion by a scandal—righteous Job experiences monstrous suffering. As is commonly known, most of the book is taken up with a ‘debate’ between Job and his three friends. The three friends are concerned to justify God in the face of Job’s suffering and so blame it, in different ways, upon some heinous sin in Job’s life. Job (like the reader) knows that’s not right, and, with increasing vigour protests his innocence and demands some kind of vindication, all the time getting bolder and bolder in the way his statements imply some kind of problem with how God has treated him.

God finally appears and speaks to the debate. The problem could have been settled easily by explaining the nature of suffering in a world in which sin exists, or even by explaining that it was really due to Satan’s agency (after all, we the reader get that information so it’s hardly a state secret). But God does no such thing. He parades before Job item after item that shows that Job is not in a position to interrogate God in this way. Job can’t do any of the things that God does all the time in managing his creation. Job has neither the wisdom, nor the power, to be God. So on what basis does he think he should be a backseat driver about any part of God’s management of affairs? It is a powerful statement of the profound limitations on our knowledge of God. And I think Christians should pay far more attention to it than they do. It would reduce the number of flippant ‘that kind of God would be a monster’ type of arguments that seem irreverently frequent these days, among other things. (Have people not read what happened to Job’s friends?)

In this context we find the following three examples that God puts before Job. The first is the ostrich:
Job 39:13-18 "The ostriches' wings flap joyously With the pinion and plumage of love, For she abandons her eggs to the earth, And warms them in the dust, And she forgets that a foot may crush them, Or that a wild beast may trample them. "She treats her young cruelly, as if they were not hers; Though her labor be in vain, she is unconcerned; Because God has made her forget wisdom, And has not given her a share of understanding. "When she lifts herself on high, She laughs at the horse and his rider.
God’s point is that the ostrich is a fast, stupid bird. It is so stupid that it ‘treats its young cruelly’, leaving its egg in the sand and moving on. And the reason given is not that this is a Fallen world—that would defeat the entire point of God’s response to Job in these chapters! (Something that the guys I was debating with could not or would not recognise. They opted for a reading—that all these examples I'm about to list were due to sin—that overturned the message of the entire book of Job rather than take the plain meaning of the passage. And they did so with no evidence in the text to support it.) The ostrich lacks wisdom ‘because God has made her forget wisdom’—and this in a context where God is speaking of his wisdom and power, and not the conditions of sin. The ostrich is dumb because that’s how God made it. As a consequence, its young aren’t looked after.

It is similar with the hawk:
Job 39:26-30 "Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, Stretching his wings toward the south? "Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up, And makes his nest on high? "On the cliff he dwells and lodges, Upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. "From there he spies out food; His eyes see it from afar. "His young ones also suck up blood; And where the slain are, there is he."
This one is particularly pertinent because it comes immediately before the first of Job’s two repentances in these chapters. It is the clinching argument of the first section. And here the hawk is spoken of in unambiguous terms as a carnivore whose ‘young ones also suck up blood’. There is no squeamishness about its carnivore nature. The hawk’s search for prey is directly linked to God’s understanding and God’s command, and the hawk is unambiguously linked with death (where the slain are, there is he). And there isn’t even the hint that these carnivore features that God highlights are due to sin. Quite the opposite, they are held up as manifestations of God’s wisdom and power. Otherwise, why would Job repent of asking for an explanation, rather than say, "thanks, now I have an answer"?

Finally, there is good old Leviathan in chapter 41, who, along with Behometh in chapter 40, is a favourite of creation scientists wanting to prove that dinosaurs were alive concurrently with the humans of Job’s time. In the long description of Leviathan we find the following:
Job 41:8-10 "Lay your hand on him; Remember the battle; you will not do it again! "Behold, your expectation is false; Will you be laid low even at the sight of him? "No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; Who then is he that can stand before Me?
What is being held up here is the inherently violent nature of Leviathan. Just putting one’s hand on him leads to a battle of fearsome proportions. In fact, ‘no one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him.’ And God draws the implication, ‘who then is he that can stand before me?’

If Leviathan’s violent nature is the result of the Fall (for which there is no evidence in the text), this argument doesn’t completely fail, but it does become weird. It’d be analogous to God saying “Look at how destructively powerful the devil is. You can’t stand up against him, so you can’t beat me either.” It’s not impossible for God to argue that way, but it would seem to be incongruous in light of God’s normal stance towards evil. God doesn’t normally compare himself as like to like with evil. He normally sets himself over against it as a binary opposite.

No, the spirit of the passage suggests that Leviathan’s destructive power is to be connected to God’s power, not to the Fall.

Hence, what we have in Job are a number of indications that foolish animals, carnivores, and awesomely violent animals are an expression of God’s wisdom and power.

In light of this, I would be cautious about attributing the power of the lion, or the shark, or the hawk as they pursue and kill their prey to the Fall. The only thing we have from the Bible that speaks to this at all links it to God’s unfathomable wisdom and irresistible power. And it does so to remind us that we are not qualified to judge God on how he has managed his creation. That suggests that such features of the world are good, but the kind of good that is not domesticated to us. They are the good works of the God whose ways are unfathomable and whose judgements are beyond finding out.


CraigS said...

Mark, excellent stuff as always. Of course as Reformed folk we understand that suffering *is* somehow comprehended within the good, sovereign plan of God. The cross being the ultimate example.

I hope you will take these essays and turn them into a short book - "A biblical theology of creation" or something like that. Seriously.

Michael said...

My daughter, as all good daughters should, loves nature documentaries. There is a magnificence to the stoop of the falcon, the strike of the cobra and the charge of the lion. If, however, these are all merely outcomes of the Fall, then such magnificence is entirely illusory - yet, I agree, Job seems to appreciate their place and power. Maybe Christians should do more hunting... Or am I only channelling an unnamed MTC lecturer here?