Friday, 30 November 2007

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

A quick note to say that this is part 2 of a two-parter that were posted together. Please go to the previous post to pick up where this argument starts.

In light of the previous post, I would want to argue that it is not at all obvious that animal death is inconsistent with creation being good. Calling something ‘good’ reflects two things about the thing, its nature and its purpose. It’s not good for the man to be alone. That tells you something about the man—what he is, and what he is intended for. The fact that this can only be solved by creating someone made out of his very bone and flesh tells you even more about him and the woman—what they are, and what they are for.

But is it ‘not good’ for a rock to be alone? Or a tree? How about a cloud? Or a star? How about a bolt of lightning? How about a mathematical equation?

‘Good’ is not a ‘one size fits all’ category. What is good is going to be different as we move from one thing to the next. It is good for human sex to occur in the context of marriage. But animals don’t get married—is that ‘not good’? Some species mate with more than just one partner in the one mating season, others change partners from one season to the next, still others mate for life. Are we supposed to think that all the reproductive patterns except the last one are due to the Fall, and if it wasn’t for sin, all species of animals would be monogamous? (And that would still fall short of God's Law, which requires marriage and not just monogamy.) Or, is it that God’s commands are intended for human beings and are good for humans, and have nothing to say to animals, for whom good will be different according to their nature and purpose? Some will reproduce asexually, some monogamously, some with other mating patterns.

And if that is even partially accepted, why stop at death and draw the line there? If it is ok for plants to die in the absence of sin, why think it’s an assault on the goodness of creation if animals do? As I’ve already argued in post IV, I think there is good reason in the Bible to think that animals’ nature and purpose is different from humanity’s at this point. Animals weren’t made to live forever, and don’t have the kind of nature that fits with immortality (they aren’t in the image of God, and they cannot be united to Christ by faith). I suggest that animals dying isn’t any problem for the goodness of creation—unless you anthropomorphise them.

However, I think it is fair to say that arguments against the incompatibility of animal death are really arguments against animal suffering (as the person who offered the needle sticking experiment showed—an argument about death was immediately moved to an argument about pain). After all, we live in an age where voluntary euthanasia is taken seriously as many of us instinctively feel that people should have the right to escape suffering. Pain, rather than death, is the ultimate evil for us.

I don’t think there is a knock-down answer at this point, because, no matter where you stand on these issues, there are minimal biblical statements on the issue. The following issues would seem to be pertinent however, and I’ll list them in no particular order.
  1. It is possible that while death is natural, suffering only began with the Fall. That is, being eaten alive would have been a painless experience for animals before the Fall and now isn’t. This is pure speculation, so I’m against it on principle, but it can hardly be said to be more speculative than the idea that when the Fall occurred God changed a fair chunk of the animate world and turned them into carnivores (God mentioned the appearance of thorns and thistles in Genesis 3:18 but neglected to mention that you might want to rethink playing with the nice big yellow pussy cat with the large mane any more...), and transformed the entire ecology to cope with the new situation. So if you’re a Creation Scientist, which seems to involve a fair bit of speculating to make the selective literal readings work, you’re hardly any worse off.

    At this point, I suspect someone is going to raise Genesis 1:29-30
    Genesis 1:29-30 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.
    Here, it is surely fairly clear that there are no carnivores at the point of creation. Only plants are given for food. And this is for both humans and animals.

    The problem with taking this that strictly is when one looks at when this command is broadened and meat is also put on the dining table:
    Genesis 9:3 "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
    Two things need to be noticed here. First, this is not a result of the Fall. It is what happens in the wake of the Flood. So there's still no direct connection to Adam's sin. You need to hold that there were no carnivores until after the Flood. This means that, according to a strict literal reading, Adam's sin was many centuries in the past when the entire ecology changed, and a large number of species were fundamentally transformed. Even more, the change happened after the Flood, in the context of God blessing the human race and establishing how to live again now that judgement has passed. All of which makes it hard to relate carnviores as some kind of automatic effect of sin, and not a creative work of God.
    Second, the passage doesn't say that animals are allowed to eat other animals now. Humans are, but animals are not given permission. If you are going to take 1:29-30 in a strictly literal sense and argue that all animals ate plants and only plants, then you need to take 9:3 strictly literally and say that animals were not given permission to broaden their diet from plants. Hence, there should be no carnivorous animals. Because the stricture of 1:29-30 is never lifted for animals (and thorns growing does not mean carnivores appearing, especially if you think the big divide is between plant life and animate life...).

    So, if you are into a strict literal reading of these chapters and you hold that there are animals who eat other animals, you do so in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches in Genesis on the basis of that strict literal approach. Namely, that all animals eat plants and only humans are given permission to eat animals. What you think you know about the world (that some animals do eat other animals) and what other parts of the Bible seem to say (that some animals, like the hawk, are carnivores) contradicts Genesis 1-8 on your strictly literal approach.

  2. It would seem that suffering is one of those things that will not exist in the new creation:
    Revelation 21:4 …and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
    Here suffering is linked with things that are clearly the result of sin in the world: death, mourning, and crying. This would seem to fairly clearly indicate that suffering too is a consequence of sin. There are two possible mitigators for this, however. The first is that as you move from verse 4 to the broader context of Revelation 21 and 22, not all the changes that take place are due to the absence of sin—it’s hard to say, for example, that there being no sun or moon is because the sun and moon only existed due to sin. So it is possible (although I agree it is highly unlikely) that ‘suffering’ is the odd one out in this set in verse 4, the only member that is not due to sin. The other possible mitigator is that, as always, Revelation is human-centric. It doesn’t really care all that much about the animal world. It explains the new creation in terms of its ‘cash value’ for human beings. So you have to make a jump from this verse to animals to decide that it shows that it is not good for there to be a creation in which animals suffer. Nonetheless, I think this does give some support to the idea that suffering isn’t good.

  3. However, I still want to claim that our obsession with pain is wrongheaded. We elevate it way too high in the ‘evils’ that exist in our world (and I say that as someone who has an embarrassingly low pain threshold). When Romans 8 looks at the ‘good’ for God’s people, suffering is actually an instrument in accomplishing the good:
    Romans 8:28-30 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
    Romans 8:35-37 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
    Here in Romans 8, the good that all things work together for is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is not to avoid pain or suffering. ‘Good’ is to be conformed to Christ’s image. Suffering, or the lack of it, is quite irrelevant to that definition. In fact, as the later material in 8:35-37 indicates, suffering in its various forms can actually be the things in which we overwhelmingly conquer. Far from being opposed to the good, they are used by God to bring about the good. In the world we find ourselves, even pain serves God’s purposes to bring about good. And if that is the case, its presence may not cut against the goodness of creation. If it serves the purposes of blessing it is an ally of good, even if we’d rather not experience it. Pain is not the great evil we make it out to be, even though it is part of the glory of the new creation that there will be no suffering. It’s part of the parochial patheticness of our day and age that our existence is getting increasingly defined by the attempt to avoid deprivation at all costs (with the resulting cost that that has for those around us). On the criteria of Romans 8, animal suffering is compatible with good (even if it is not quite good itself) if there is some way in which it serves the purpose of creation—to conform us to the image of God’s Son.
Behind this last point is Luther’s Theology of the Cross. This is something that I was introduced to by Mark Thompson when he taught my year the Reformation and that, as the students to whom I’ve taught the Reformation can attest, has had an ongoing provocative effect on me. It has lodged away and I keep returning to it and wrestling with it. The term ‘theology of the cross’ is a phrase that people have lifted from Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, the key points of which (for our purposes now) are:
19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
They were points for a disputation and, as the connected ‘proofs’ showed, drew heavily on 1 Cor 1-4 for the ideas embodied in these brief, allusive statements. In it Luther is comparing two basic paths to knowing God.

The first is described in point 19, it is a ‘theology of glory’. In it, the theologian holds that when we look at things around us we can clearly see God. This is often described as natural theology and was intended by Luther to include mysticism as much as rational attempts to reason to God’s existence and character from looking at the world around us. If one reads the rest of the Disputation, it becomes clear that Luther sees this approach to knowing God as tied to a self-righteous pursuit of achieving one’s own righteousness by works. However, the focus of points 19-21 is on the two paths to knowing God. And the theology of glory tries to go straight to God’s eternal glory by reading it off the glory of creation. Because we can see that this thing in creation is good, or strong, or whatever, we can deduce God’s goodness or strength or whatever as a larger version of it.

The opposing way is radically different. Here the theologian looks only at the cross for the knowledge of God. And when he or she looks at the cross he or she sees God through suffering and death. God’s glory and strength shines forth in that which a theology of glory finds scandalous. We come to know the righteous God of life by looking to the cross where Jesus dies under the judgement on sin. In the cross God comes to us as the opposite of what we would expect from him. And, Luther indicates, a theology of the cross sees this as the paradigm for understanding God and his ways. God’s work will always be a scandal to sinners. It will always offend our notions of love, righteousness, glory, justice and the like.

The point from this is that Creation Science is a natural theology par excellence. (In fact, the complaint of one of the guys I spoke to was that, by not accepting Creation Science, ‘the Sydney Diocese’ prevented people from being able to reason their way to God by looking at the world around them, He complained that we were stopping almost the very thing that Luther is attacking! It was one of those bizarre moments when, as Luther says, the theologian of glory calls good evil.) Creation Science tries to move to God’s glory by reading it off those things that we find glorious, and explain away those things that offend our notions of good and the like (like suffering).

But the cross opposes such methods every bit as much as it opposes attempts to erect one’s own righteousness. The cross is the revelation of God. And it is a scandal. Because in the cross God is associated with everything that we consider unfitting of him. His glory is revealed in the suffering of his beloved Son.

In other words, don’t assume that our notions of ‘good’ can be trusted, and don’t need to be overturned. For if you do, you are radically underestimating just how enslaved to sin you really are. By nature you call evil good and good evil, even as you do something really evil (justify yourself before God) rather than something truly righteous (throw yourself on God’s mercy). Only the cross teaches you to approach God differently than what comes naturally. And only the cross (and not nature) gives you the knowledge of God.

We need to learn from God what good means. And it may be the opposite of what we take for granted. After all, the cross was.

14 comments:

Gordon Cheng said...

To call creation science a theology of glory makes a meal of a morsel, but the diagnosis is spot on and v helpful. Thanks Mark!

michael jensen said...

So, is Matthias Media going to publish this series in book/pamphlet form? I reckon it would be brave but VERY worthwhile. Your offices might be attacked....

CraigS said...

Or perhaps ISCAST or Moore College would publish it - maybe fleshed out to 120 pages or so?

The "Heretics" guys are flailing about at the moment, they've got no response to a theological critique of this nature...

Keith said...

Just wanted to encourage you, brother. I've found your series very helpful. I look forward to what comes next!

Baddelim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baddelim said...

There was a spelling error in the last comment (keyboard keys are a bit small, so I occassionally hit the wrong button), which was going to cause my wife a bit of pain to see. It should be corrected now.

Ok, kind words are nice. But talk of publishing is way too premature in my opinion. The thoughts in these blog posts aren't matured, they're quite fresh, and may well be revised more (a lot more). There'd also be a substantial amount of work involved in turning this little series into a book of any use. And I doubt Moore would even consider publishing something like what you're suggesting CraigS - that's not really what Moore does.

It's a shame about the SAH response so far. I was going to wait until after Part VII before putting an entry down that suggested to people to look at their response for some kind of critique. But seeing that they're complaining that there's no link to them, I might put it up today.

I'm not sure that they're flailing around though. That presumes that
a)they are writing to engage us, and
b)that they think the kinds of posts I've done are even worthwhile (as an approach, not the answers I come up with).

I think both are wrong, with maybe the odd exception among them like Critias. Their own comments, let alone the tone of writing, shows that we are merely the foil to give them something to fight against, as it's an inherently negative movement and so needs an enemy. But they're really writing for their own constituents.

Nothing I've ever seen suggests that they value a genuinely theological engagement with Scripture just to explore the knowledge of God and its implications. They give every impression of reading everything just to find ammunition for a literal six day creation. Hence 'Neil Moore's' comment about selectively using Scripture would reflect how strange they would find what I'm doing. For them, Scripture functions simply to 'prove' an argument.

They may, in time, do some posts that we think are more valuabe than "Neil Moore's" effort, but I think they fact that they started with his ad hominem post says as much as anything about how fundamentally different our approaches are.

CraigS said...

that's not really what Moore does.

Oh, I thought they had a publishing arm? A shame if they don't.

By all means keep fleshing these thoughts out, mulling over them, maturing them. I hope publication lies in the future.

I think "flailing" is somewhat the right word. Despite your "award", they've also engaged in a bit of ad hom since you posted. Everyone keeps promising to respond "soon" to the substance of your posts, but no-one has come up with the goods yet.

qraal said...

Hi Mark

Keep up the good fight! Those SAH chaps sound rather nasty in their own self-righteous ways and arguing with them is probably like arguing with a Saturday Sabbatarian - nothing you say will cause them to actually think, merely regurgitate pre-packaged arguments.

I had the weirdest experience once of arguing with a whole room full of Seventh-Day Adventists about their "soul sleep" doctrine - not an original thought in the lot of them, just repeated arguments from Ellen White herself...

BTW who's the famous cousin?

geoffc said...

"BTW who's the famous cousin?"

The golfer?

That's my guess. They look similar...

Dannii said...

Firstly you've given me lots to think about. I still think that animal death is horrific, but I'll have to look over the Bible more. If I changed my mind it wouldn't be a quick decision...

Secondly, to the ANE Hebrew, plants aren't alive, and therefore can't die.

Thirdly in relation to the flood, I'm not sure Gen 1.29-30 is really a command against eating meat. All it really seems to say is that the earth's vegetation is sufficient for food. However after the flood God explicitly allows mankind to eat meat too. Why? The flood would have killed off (and cause some extinctions too probably) much plant life, and resources would have been tight right after they come off the ark. Vegetation would no longer be sufficient for food. Why don't the animals get a command? Firstly cause they don't have language capabilities ;) and also cause I would guess they already were, or they would figure it out for themselves quick enough.

Baddelim said...

The more famous cousin is indeed 'the golfer'. Full marks to GeoffC for the connection. (Although how you got there from the appearance, I'll never know. He's much better looking. Surely the name was a give away? How many Baddeleys does one meet?)

GeoffC, if you're the same guy who got a bit mauled over on SAH recently, all I can say is that I hope that you have a better experience talking with your creationist mate by e-mail, or maybe you could find whichever forum Dannii is currently posting on about such matters and follow his stuff. I think that'd give you a better impression of what creationism is capable of in both manner and strength of the position.

Dannii, if you come to different conclusions after your thoughts, would you mind posting them here? You needn't obligate yourself here to engage in any kind of debate, but I'd value hearing what led you to different conclusions.

I agree with your point two. I'm afraid to say that the posts are more written as reflections upon much weaker creationist positions than what you seem to have (those are the only ones I've been exposed to, both when I was one, and since). If one day I take things further I'll need to do some work to reflect on more sophisticated positions like yours. However, again, I'm not sure how your view (that I share) about plants not being alive squares with your view that Genesis 1 has to be 'true' to do its job. Surely plants are alive?

I love the common sense approach you have in point three. If it is a journalistic-style historical record, then I think your explanation is as good as any. (Although I think that if the meat eating is brought in simply because of the lack of plants straight after the flood, then that was a very short term solution, and would lead to widespread species extinction pretty quick.) I think what we agree on is that Gen 1:29-30 is not a command against eating meat, so isn't relevant to the question of animal death.

Dannii said...

It could take years, but hey if I remember, I'll try to post here ;)

Oohhhh, if you're wanting to look at some sophisticated ideas, I'd like more people to consider Omphalos again. A friend of mine has written a paper about it, I don't agree with everything, but it deserves more though for sure.

Well firstly remember that scientists hardly agree what constitutes life in the first place. One definition might include reproduction, response to stimuli and growth. But few of the proposed "proto-life" models of abiogenesis would match up. The Bible makes it simple, it's all about the blood. Sure we think of plants as alive, but to the ANE Hebrews they weren't. I don't see any truth problems.

It's not a command, but it does give us a further glimpse at the creation. If vegetation was sufficient for food I think it suggests that scavengers and carnivores really weren't part of the original plan. Could you have a ferocious lion who killed basically just for the thrill (and to glorify God)? Perhaps, but it doesn't seem right to me.

Baddelim said...

Hi Dannii,

It could take years, but hey if I remember, I'll try to post here ;)

LOL! No probs. If it takes years, you're absolved. I was more thinking that if you reject the idea it is quite likely that it will happen in the next few months. In such a case, I'd be keen to hear what convinced you the notion was problematic.

Oohhhh, if you're wanting to look at some sophisticated ideas, I'd like more people to consider Omphalos again. A friend of mine has written a paper about it, I don't agree with everything, but it deserves more though for sure.

I'll read it tomorrow and I'll make at least a comment about it on this thread.

Well firstly remember that scientists hardly agree what constitutes life in the first place. One definition might include reproduction, response to stimuli and growth. But few of the proposed "proto-life" models of abiogenesis would match up. The Bible makes it simple, it's all about the blood. Sure we think of plants as alive, but to the ANE Hebrews they weren't. I don't see any truth problems.

Hmmmnnn. I'm really not sure at this point. I'll acknowledge some uncertainty about how to classify things on the edges, but plants not falling under the category of 'alive'?

I'd need a fair bit of convincing before I'd accept that something could have DNA and not be alive.

It's not a command, but it does give us a further glimpse at the creation. If vegetation was sufficient for food I think it suggests that scavengers and carnivores really weren't part of the original plan. Could you have a ferocious lion who killed basically just for the thrill (and to glorify God)? Perhaps, but it doesn't seem right to me.

I'd tend to agree, although I'd need to heed my own point about not assuming that I've really nailed what 'good' is when it comes to creating. Certainly I'd want to say that God wouldn't have to create carnivores, so in some sense they kill to glorify God. (And the alternative, to say that they're an effect on sin, or God's judgement on sin, doesn't square with the way that God seems to boast in them in Job).

As far as the plants being sufficient, I suppose my hassle there is that I don't see any evidence that carnivores can live on plants now. That suggests that plants changed and were no longer sufficient for animals somewhere along the track. And I can't see any evidence for that in the Bible. I'm also not sure why plants are now sufficient for some animals but not others.

Dannii said...

I'll read it tomorrow and I'll make at least a comment about it on this thread.

Did you have a look yet? No worries if you didn't.

Hmmmnnn. I'm really not sure at this point. I'll acknowledge some uncertainty about how to classify things on the edges, but plants not falling under the category of 'alive'?

I'd need a fair bit of convincing before I'd accept that something could have DNA and not be alive.


Well firstly virii have DNA (or RNA) and yet aren't widely considered to be alive.

Second I think you're making the same mistaked those nasty Creationists make of using outside knowledge to make some theological point. Yes you can use science and other facets of human knowledge to help us understand the Bible, but only when there's some common ground. No Hebrew was even considering our modern classification systems when they wrote the Bible (nor could they, seeing as it didn't exist ;)). In terms of classification the two aren't even in the same book, let alone on the same page.

So in my biology class of course I'd say that plants live, according to the system laid out over the centuries. But in my theology class when discussing life, death & souls, I'd say they weren't, according to the system of Lev 17.

(And the alternative, to say that they're an effect on sin, or God's judgement on sin, doesn't square with the way that God seems to boast in them in Job).

What parts of Job are you thinking of here?

As far as the plants being sufficient, I suppose my hassle there is that I don't see any evidence that carnivores can live on plants now. That suggests that plants changed and were no longer sufficient for animals somewhere along the track. And I can't see any evidence for that in the Bible. I'm also not sure why plants are now sufficient for some animals but not others.

Well the Creationists do love to tell stories of vegetarian lions etc...
As to why they're sufficient for some and not others... well each animal is different, does different things, and so needs different nutrients to do so. Ecosystems vary widely as well. And for some it's a matter of taste (I've heard Koalas can live on leaves other than Eucalypts, but that they get addicited to Eucalypts even from within the womb and so prefer not to eat the other trees.)