The God of the Bible and the Genome

I came across this quote from Francis Collins on Reddit:

I am sharing it because I thought it might lead to some interesting discussion. On the one hand, Collins’ perspective is an important and helpful one, since it illustrates that it is possible for people of faith to embrace mainstream science.

And yet I don’t think that embracing of science can leave one’s faith unchanged, and that isn’t a bad thing. The Bible doesn’t know God as “God of the genome” because it doesn’t know the genome. And our greater understanding of nature and of human beings means that the God previously thought of as “nature’s God” and “the God of humankind” cannot simply be thought of in the same ways as previously when we understand those domains differently, or simply better.

I emphasized this point in my Sunday school class last week, in which we were up to Revelation 6, and so talked about the famous “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (on their treatment in the Left Behind series, see Fred Clark’s recent post). I soon found myself talking about the depiction of God in the Bible, and in some circles today, as one who hurls storms and earthquakes at human beings to inflict punishment upon them. Such a depiction clearly does not view God as all-powerful. If by the “God of the Bible” we mean “God as depicted in the Bible” then we can pinpoint the Bible on a trajectory. At least some of its writers are at the stage of taking all the separate gods that in a a polytheistic context are identified with or responsible for various natural phenomena, and rolling them into one. But there is a trajectory within the Bible which points beyond that, to a God who is greater than that, and not a being whose power is merely the ability to hurl either earthquakes or floods at human beings. A God whose weapons are natural phenomena, with earthquakes still happening along fault lines and hurricanes primarily along coastlines, is not supreme or ultimate, when thought of in a world in which we understand the actual and sufficient causes for natural phenomena.

And so I find myself both appreciating and pausing at Francis Collins’ words about the God of the Bible and the God of the genome, and the possibility of scientific investigation and understanding being an act of worship. For it is surely not a matter of simply taking the Bible’s depiction of God and repeating them in our very different context, but of noting the Bible’s trajectory, and finding ourselves appreciating our current perspective as one which may owe much to the Bible, but in light of the genome, and the Hubble telescope, and much else, also sees the need to go beyond what the Bible says, precisely because within the Bible we see a trajectory in its depiction of God, one that need not end where the Bible does.

And so then the key question becomes, “How must we think differently about God – the same ultimate reality that both the Biblical authors and we ourselves point to inadequately – when viewed in light of the genome and other scientific knowledge?”

How would readers answer that question?

  • http://twitter.com/JTarb William Tarbush

    I like the difference between the “God of the Bible” and “God as depicted in the Bible.”

  • Beau Quilter

    I think that Christians (and other religious peoples) tend to view the universe in the same way they view scripture. They pick out “evidences” that support their personal mythology, and ignore the rest.

    Far more coherent in this matter than Collins is David Attenborough:

    ” … when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Indeed, I often ask whether those who talk of “Intelligent Design” are happy to go as far as Michael Behe does, and talk about the intelligent design of malaria.

      • Kaz

        @James F. McGrath: Do you believe that God created the universe and put in place the potential for the emergence of life? If so, then why, in your view, is God blameless for malaria?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          It isn’t so much a matter of “blamelessness” as the difference between being responsible for a process which ultimately gives rise to both malaria and human beings, which might seem a process that is worthwhile from a human perspective despite its tragic aspects, and being responsible for specifically crafting malaria to do the harm it does to humans with deliberate intention.

          • Kaz

            @James F. McGrath: I don’t know of any ID advocate who argues that God created malaria deliberately to harm humans (not even Michael Behe). Do you? If so, then please provide the reference(s).

            So the question remains: If God created the circumstances in which both humans and malaria might emerge, then how is he blameless for malaria?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Are you saying that ID advocates think God created malaria without realizing the harm it would cause to human beings? Do you have any evidence for that?

              • Kaz

                @James F. McGrath: I’m not saying anything about ID advocates right now. I’m asking you a question. It is a difficult question, and I can understand your reluctance or inability to answer it. The problem for you, which you apparently sense only too acutely, is that if a God who creates malaria is a God that Christians wouldn’t be happy to contemplate, then a God who creates the conditions in which malaria will emerge is equally a God that Christians wouldn’t be happy to contemplate.

                I think that you are suffering from the influence of the ill-thought-out theological views of folks like Francisco Ayala. I’ve pointed out before that Ayala’s view that if ID were true then God would be a monster is philosophically unsound, and the basis of your reluctance to answer my question illustrates why.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  I think this is the second time that someone has answered one of your questions, and you responded by talking of their reluctance to answer your questions. Any idea why you might be perceiving the answers of others as non-answers? Any thoughts as to whether there may be things that you are assuming that others are not, or vice versa, that might account for these differing perceptions?

                  • Kaz

                    @James F. McGrath: My question was:

                    If God created the circumstances in which both humans and malaria might emerge, then how is he blameless for malaria?

                    Can you provide the quote of your answer? You responded to my question with a question about what ID advocates believe, not with an answer about how a God who creates the conditions in which malaria will emerge would be someone we’d be any happier to contemplate than a God who creates malaria directly.

                    Attempting to blame me for your evasiveness should have been beneath you.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Kaz

                      You obviously have some silly “trap” in mind for James with this question. For crying out loud, why don’t you answer your own question?

                      Whatever ridiculous point you are trying to make is quite lost on the rest of us.

                    • Kaz

                      @Beau Quilter: A trap? The reason for my question should be obvious, and probably is to James, which is why he is reluctant to answer it.

                      However, you’ve asked, so I’ll break it down for you. James had said:

                      Quote
                      Indeed, I often ask whether those who talk of “Intelligent Design” are
                      happy to go as far as Michael Behe does, and talk about the intelligent
                      design of malaria.
                      End Quote

                      The premise that under-girds this statement’s rhetorical force is something like this: To allow that God designed malaria would be an uncomfortable prospect for a theist.

                      My point is that it is no less uncomfortable to allow that God created the conditions in which malaria would emerge. If Christians might be inclined to contemplate whether God is culpable for designing malaria, then I would argue that they should be no less inclined to contemplate whether God is culpable for creating the conditions in which malaria was to emerge.

                      So the question, or, the contemplation of the question, reveals that, notwithstanding the perceived rhetorical force of James’s comment, careful consideration reveals that it is philosophically unsound.

                      The answer I gave to the question, whether right or wrong, seems to be more philosophically coherent for a Christian. Why? Because it provides a rational basis for harmonizing two Christian propositions: (i) God is love, and (ii) suffering and death exist in the world. My answer is based on the belief that man’s suffering is the result of his sinful rebellion against God. In my experience, liberal Christians like James don’t have a rational basis for harmonizing the propositions. In my worldview, God allows suffering because of a greater principal; in the liberal Christian’s worldview there is no apparent reason why God should allow suffering. Apparently he just doesn’t feel compelled to bother lending a hand.

                    • Kaz

                      I had said:

                      “in the liberal Christian’s worldview there is no apparent reason why God
                      should allow suffering. Apparently he just doesn’t feel compelled to
                      bother lending a hand.”

                      Another possibility that the liberal Christian might offer is that God permits suffering because man learns valuable lessons as a result, which is often true. However, if this is the case then causes for suffering, such as malaria, would be part of that process, and so neither the Christian materialist nor the ID advocate would have cause for concern vis a vis where their respective positions might lead.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      My worldview:

                      There is no evil at work here.

                      Malaria viruses reproduce and take advantage of the resource provided by humans. Humans do what they can to survive and reproduce. Over time, the mutations in both that survive are passed on the next generation.

                      Both organisms die to be replaced by the next generation.

                      If there is a god, he is at best disinterested in the whole process. If there is a god – it is unlikely that he has revealed himself in a collection of ancient, contradictory texts.

                    • rmwilliamsjr

                      re:
                      Malaria viruses

                      how informative is someone who says such wrong things.
                      at least take a few minutes to read the wiki before you expound on a field new to you.

                      “Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by protists (a type of microorganism) of the genus Plasmodium. ”
                      from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaria

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Thanks for the correction rm – malaria is caused by a protozoan not a virus; but the basic evolutionary process of mutation and adaption occurs in all microorganisms, which is the clear point I was making.

                      I wasn’t delivering new information; i was laying out an opposing world-view.

                      But thanks for the friendly correction.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Beau, I think you mean “adaptation” not “adaption” .

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Thanks for the correction, Beau.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Hopefully it is clear that I did in fact answer the question. It may not be an answer you accept, but that is not the same thing as not answering. Creating a system that results in multiple things, some wonderful, some terrible, is not the same as starting with a situation where there is only the wonderful and deliberately introducing the terrible. It is as though creating the system which guarantees freedom of speech in our country is the same thing as causing Westboro Baptist Church to engage in hate speech.

                      It may not have been as clear as it could have been that I am not wedding myself to any particular metaphor for God and the relationship of the divine to this process. Depending on one’s theological views, one may think of God (1) creating a universe which gives rise to life through natural processes, (2) deliberately creating the first living cell and leaving the rest up to evolution, (3) doing the best God can with pre-existent matter, or (4) transcending but not being separable from these processes or the cosmos in which they occur. But on none of them does God take a malaria-free world and say, “Let me add some misery.”

                    • Kaz

                      @James: Well, if you believe that you’ve answered the question I guess I’ll have to leave it at that. I asked how God is blameless for malaria from your perspective and I still don’t know whether you consider him blameless. All I know is that you feel that there is a difference between designing something that eventually causes suffering and allowing that thing to emerge in light of circumstances you put in motion.

                      Your illustration about freedom of speech is highly flawed. The citizens of the Wesboro Baptist Church have free will, and it’s not possible to allow them to express themselves yet simultaneously keep them from expressing themselves. On the other hand, in the typical Christian view God is sovereign over his creation, and I at least would assume that a God like that could have put measures in place to ensure that malaria doesn’t hurt us. After all, if humans can have confidence that they will eventually cure various diseases then the almighty God of the universe could certainly have structured things so that cures would not be needed.

                      Apparently in your view God does not have control over the universe he created. He was able to create a universe in which vast forms of life might emerge, but he was unable to put in place safeguards to protect humans from disease. I’m afraid that I can’t relate to that perspective.

                    • Mary

                      I see that you are trying to say that since you believe that origional sin has lead to disease, that God is off the hook for letting it happen.
                      How is that more theologically satisfying than any of the other scenarios you have mentioned? If God created disease to punish people who were not even born yet then that wouldn’t be any different from a God who created disease just to cause suffering.
                      You mentioned that God doesn’t protect us from disease, presumably again because of sin. If you consider that Christians have been redeemed from the effects of sin then why wouldn’t he protect them from disease?
                      I don’t have all the answers but I am just pointing out that your explanation doesn’t provide any good answers either.

                    • Kaz

                      @jamesfmcgrath:disqus: Years ago I saw a movie called “Winter People”, that involves two rival families, similar to the Hatfields and McCoys. In this movie Wayland Jackson (played by Kurt Russell) gets into a fight with Cole Campbell (played by Jeffrey Meek) to protect his new girlfriend, Collie Wright (played by Kelly McGillis). Cole is quite a bit bigger and stronger than Wayland, and so, to gain an advantage, Wayland ends up pushing Cole into freezing water, which he was used to but Cole was not, and hitting him until he was unconscious. He then puts Cole on his horse, slaps the horse’s butt, and sends him on his way.

                      In another scene we find Cole, hanging from his horse in the river, on the verge of death, when Gudger Wright (Collie’s brother, played by Lanny Flaherty) comes along. Cole appeals to Gudger for help, but Gudger spitefully refuses to help and lets Cole die.

                      The Campbell clan does a bit of detective work and pieces together what happened. Since Cole was killed, they demand the life of someone form the Wright family. They give the Wright family the opportunity to decide for themselves who from their clan is to be sacrificed. William Wright (played by Lloyd Bridges), the father of the Wright clan, calls a family meeting to discuss what is to be done. He interrogates Wayland and his children to get at the bottom of what happened. He finds out that Gudger stumbled upon Cole, and he asks his son if he killed Cole. Gudger denies it, after which William asks,

                      “Did you let him die?”

                      I don’t know whether that question was in the original book by John Ehle, or whether it was introduced by the screen writer, Carol Sobieski, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the writer realized that if Gudger let Cole die, then he was not blameless, and that made Gudger a candidate for the sacrifice.

                      My point? If Gudger was blameworthy for remaining passive and allowing Cole to die, then how is God blameless for actively creating the circumstances in which malaria would emerge? Whether right or wrong, I’ve given my answer. I still have no idea what answer the liberal Christian would offer.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Kaz

                      Yes, here I am again, answering a question you posted to James. But let me explain something to you. Demanding an answer from just one person in an open forum (and asking others to stay out) is a bit like pushing your way into a group conversation, and telling everyone else to shut up or leave while you interrogate one member of the group. That’s rudeness.

                      There’s nothing new about the question you are posing. It is the age old “problem of evil” which is still a subject of debate to philosophers and theologians today.

                      You seem to maintain the Augustinian theodicy, which basically says that evil exists as a corruption of good because of the free will that God has granted mankind. This approach to theodicy can be supported with some scripture (for those who give weight to scripture), but it’s an interpretation of scripture that has been debated for centuries – not so clear-cut as you might like to think.

                      And this conversation makes clear to me the real difference between a liberal Christian like James and, well, a Christian like yourself.

                      James, apparently, can live with mystery. I imagine that his answer to many questions about God is a humble “I don’t know”.

                      Whereas you seem to be the type of Christian that demands answers, and makes accusations when answers aren’t forthcoming.

                      I am not a Christian. But if I were, I would prefer to be James’ type of Christian. Happy to concede mystery, More interested in the universal altruism indicated by the golden rule, than in self-righteous demands for rigid theological answers to questions that have stumped wiser men throughout the ages.

                    • Kaz

                      @Beau Quilter: You said:

                      “Demanding an answer from just one person in an open forum (and asking
                      others to stay out) is a bit like pushing your way into a group
                      conversation, and telling everyone else to shut up or leave while you
                      interrogate one member of the group. That’s rudeness.”

                      You seem to be operating under some really odd assumptions. I have neither asked nor expected others to butt out. In fact, I would be delighted to see any liberal Christian answer the question I asked. However, it was James who offered a statement rhetorically designed to suggest some weakness in the the position of ID proponents, and I wanted to help him see that the premise upon which his rhetorical statement is founded is faulty.

                      You continued:

                      “…And this conversation makes clear to me the real difference between a
                      liberal Christian like James and, well, a Christian like yourself… James, apparently, can live with mystery. I imagine that his answer to many questions about God is a humble “I don’t know”…Whereas you seem to be the type of Christian that demands answers, and makes accusations when answers aren’t forthcoming.”

                      If James doesn’t know the answer and chooses to defer to mystery, then the truly “humble” thing would have been for him to simply say so. I could live with that. Or, he could have simply acknowledged the point I was trying to make in context, i.e. that those who deny intelligent design in biology are subject to the same sorts of difficulties that served as the basis for his rhetorical point. That would have been fine, too. But what James did was evade the question and then attempt to suggest that my inability to recognize that it was answered is my fault. That is not an example of humility, IMO.

                      You concluded:

                      “I am not a Christian. But if I were, I would prefer to be James’ type of
                      Christian. Happy to concede mystery, More interested in the universal
                      altruism indicated by the golden rule, than in self-righteous demands
                      for rigid theological answers to questions that have stumped wiser men
                      throughout the ages.”

                      The problem is that James didn’t concede mystery, but instead blamed me for not recognizing that he had answered a question that he hadn’t actually answered, as far as I’m concerned. I can guess that as a Christian he would consider God blameless for human suffering, but guessing and going away wouldn’t help James realize what he apparently overlooked. Guessing and going away wouldn’t help James contemplate the issue more carefully, thereby helping him realize that his students should be offered a better question vis a vis ID then the one that started this whole fiasco.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Kaz

                      This isn’t a fiasco. It’s an internet forum, but you’re treating it like an interrogation room.

                      If you want answers, and don’t feel you’re getting them, have a little patience. Show a little kindness.

                    • Mary

                      If God created the circumstances for life, then it follows that the same conditions would bring forth disease as well. So there is a difference here that you are obviously missing.
                      Since single-celled organisms existed before multi-cellular organisms it follows that bacteria and viruses have existed long before there was a human to infect so the whole question of God creating disease makes no sense.

                    • andom

                      “Since single-celled organisms existed before multi-cellular organisms it
                      follows that bacteria and viruses have existed long before there was a
                      human to infect so the whole question of God creating disease makes no
                      sense. ”

                      So, according Mary, God did not know that a day in the world there would be humans who could be infected by viruses created before them?

                    • Mary

                      “So, according Mary, God did not know that a day in the world there would be humans who could be infected by viruses created before them? ”
                      I think you need to rephrase because I can’t tell what you mean by that.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Finally – a real answer. If you would “use your words” as my wife used to tell our toddler daughters, you could save a lot of time. Trying to make James respond to innuendo instead of a clearly stated argument is just a confusing waste of time.

                      I’ll let James answer this one for himself.

                      Since I don’t share your beginning assumptions, your worldview doesn’t even approach the realm of possibility for me.

                    • Kaz

                      @Beau Quilter: “Finally – a real answer”? Beau, _I’m_ the one who asked the question! It’s often considered rude to answer questions posted to other people, esp. when it is the other person’s view that is being sought! Why you would think that I should answer a question I asked James when it is James’ view that is being sought by me is a bit of a mystery.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      “it’s often considered rude to answer questions posted to other people”

                      Ah … no, Kaz, this is an open forum. If you want to introduce a private conversation, email James privately.

                      Blog commenting is not a spectator sport. Neither is it a debate with rules.

                      James gave you multiple answers; you just didn’t like them.

                    • Kaz

                      @Beau Quilter: You missed the point. I, me, Kaz, posed a question to James, because I, me, Kaz, wanted to know James’s view. I didn’t need to know my view, as I already knew it, and so it is absurd to expect me to answer a question I posed to James in an effort to determine James’s position. Got it?

                      With that said, does James consider God blameless for malaria? If so, why? As far as I can see, he didn’t say whether he considers God blameless for malaria; he merely suggested that there’s a difference between actively causing suffering and allowing suffering to happen. Of course, in light of his assumption that God created the universe, God’s part in human suffering isn’t strictly passive, because he didn’t just passively allow malaria to emerge but he actively created the conditions in which that would happen.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Kaz, I think you are perhaps hitting problems because you are assuming that I think certain things about creation that I do not, or at least, would not say I am certain about. I also wonder whether you are assuming that even within the view of things that I do have, one has to envisage God intervening and making evolution follow a particular path that includes malaria. Without such assumptions being made, I think that it will be much easier for you to understand what I wrote previously as a response to your question.

        • Beau Quilter

          Sin, guilt. blame.

          Such a sad view of the universe.

          The universe is a wonderful, but deadly place. I don’t blame anyone for it, any more than I blame the stone for stubbing my toe.

      • Dr. David Tee

        Malaria would be considered part of the corruption that entered the world at Adam’s sin. Remember the words of Paul–death entered the world through 1 man’s sin.
        In studying genetics, it is fascinating to read how a slight coruption can lead to a disease but that just provides evidence for Adam’s fall. Under evolution, there is no source for how death and illness came into the world.
        Their alternative thinking just has it all here magically.

        • rmwilliamsjr

          re:
          Under evolution, there is no source for how death and illness came into the world.
          Their alternative thinking just has it all here magically.

          prokaryotes don’t have a “natural death” like eukaryotes do. eukaryotic cells die because of terminal differentiation and the fact that each cell line has a limited number of division before the telomeres are snipped away.

          illness is getting an infection.

          nothing magical here. btw, adam&eve eating a piece of fruit and then (as a direct result) having lions becoming carnivores when a few minutes before they were vegetarians DOES seem like magic.

          or falciparum becoming obligate intracellular parasites when moments before they were free living, now that’s magic.

          • Beau Quilter

            Excellent wiki research, rm!

            Isn’t the internet fun!

          • Dr, David Tee

            They did not become carnivores a few minutes later but you should produce the evidence to support your point. You are making a wild claim and it needs proof.
            I find it amazing how unbelievers decide what they think took place actually took place then blame the believer for believing in magic. We made no such claim, so stop putting the blame on believers for what you assume took place.

            • rmwilliamsjr

              are you arguing when the lions and all other meat eaters become carnivores after the fall, or if(in AiG’s great scheme of things)?

              re:
              I find it amazing how unbelievers

              i am a Christian and resent your name calling, it is unbecoming a Christian, don’t you think?

    • Kaz

      @Beau Quilter: The traditional Christian view is that man was created perfect, and that imperfection and death emerged because of sin. You are welcome to reject this view, but, if one assumes it to be true then your objection is not relevant, because a perfect man would not be susceptible to the worm or any other malady. That’s because “death” (and all illness) is the result of sin, biblically speaking.

      • Beau Quilter

        You’re welcome to believe this view, Kaz, but the horrific pain and suffering that is possible in the natural world (and all life suffers death – both innocent and “sinful” creatures) hardly seems a just punishment for the taking of a piece of fruit in a mythological garden.

        Biology paints a different picture. Death is a necessary element of life. Poorly adapted creatures die out. Well adapted creatures survive long enough to pass their genes to their offspring, but then they die as well to make way for the young and become the food or fertilizer of other creatures.

        These days, we power our automobiles with the remains of eons of biological death.

        • Kaz

          @Beau Quilter: I would call human suffering and death a consequence of human rebellion against God. Just what that rebellion was — i.e. eating literal fruit or some disobedient action for which the forbidden fruit is a metaphor — I couldn’t say.

          “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death
          through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (The Apostle Paul)

          • Beau Quilter

            Just human suffering and death? How about animal suffering and death?

            Are you saying that before the “fall” or “rebellion”, the earthly paradise was a place where all life was immortal? Or maybe plant life wasn’t immortal? Or maybe only human life was immortal?

            Despite the fact that, at the molecular level, human bodies work pretty much the same way all life on earth operates?

            This is fantasy. You might as well sacrifice to Apollo or Odin. Those mythologies are just as rational.

      • rmwilliamsjr

        re:
        The traditional Christian view is that man was created perfect, and that imperfection and death emerged because of sin.

        i be very curious for support for this contention. i’d be interested in any quote from a theologian before 1900 using the term perfect rather than good or suitable or complete, which are the proper translations for “very good”. for traditional you could check out the RC notion of the donum superadditum gifts, which do not make Adam perfect.

        there is a decent intro at http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/02/donum-superadditum-and-doctrine-of-man.html

        but in any case, i do not believe you are correct in the assertion that traditional Christian theology teaches Adam was created perfect, only that he was created very good. perfect is a modern YECist extension of the text for their own system’s coherence. but i’d be interested in seeing your data concerning traditional theologians asserting perfect.

      • Ken Gilmore

        The ‘traditional Christian view’ has been invalidated by genomic and fossil evidence. There is no evidence of a sharp genetic bottleneck in the human genome as we would expect if the entire human race originated from two people living 6000 years ago. The fossil record – a record of predation, disease and death stretching back hundreds of millions of years before the earliest hominid appeared on earth – refutes the idea that death and disease began with Adam’s sin. Once again: when a particular interpretation of the Biblical narrative is flatly contradicted by the scientific data, the only credible option available is to reject that reading of the Bible.

        • Kaz

          @Ken Gilmore: How do you harmonize the Christian view that God is love with the view that human death and disease has always afflicted man and is not the consequence of human sin? Is God blameless for malaria, and, if so, why?

          • Ken Gilmore

            How do you reconcile a loving God with horrendous evil, be it the extermination camps of Nazi Germany, toddlers dying from inoperable cancer or the hundreds of thousands who died in the 2004 tsunami? Genocide, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and paediatric cancer are rather hard to ascribe to one man’s failure, unless human sin created plate tectonics, oncogenes and cursed humans with free will. Michael Ruse has a point when he argues “an all powerful, all-loving God simply would not allow small children to die in screaming agony.” [1] Irrespective of whether Christians accept or reject evolution, the problem of evil still exists.

            If anything, the problem is even more acute for special creationists. Darwin put his finger on the problem in his letter to Asa Gray on parasitic wasps and a benevolent God:

            “I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae.”

            Even if you attribute animal death and suffering to Adam’s sin, the degree to which some parasitic organisms are adapted to their task is exquisite. Intelligent design? More like malevolent design. Take the nematode Onchocerca volvulus which causes onchocerciasis or river blindness. Apart from the black fly – the insect vector involved in spreading the nematopde – there is another actor in this intricate relationship – the Wolbachia bacteria. These are a genus of bacteria that live within the cells of various invertebrates and are passed down the maternal line. They are essential for nematode development:

            “Wolbachia bacteria are essential symbionts of the major pathogenic filarial nematode parasites of humans, including Brugia malayi and Wuchereria bancrofti, which cause lymphatic filariasis, and Onchocerca volvulus, which causes river blindness. Wolbachia spp. are abundant in all developmental stages of filarial nematodes, including the hypodermis and reproductive tissue of adult parasites. In contrast to their relatives in arthropods, Wolbachia spp. in filarial nematodes appear to have evolved as an essential endosymbiont. Antibiotic therapy in humans and experimental filarial infection has shown that embryogenesis is completely dependent on the presence of Wolbachia. Furthermore, parasites recovered from tetracycline-treated animals are stunted, and larval development is attenuated.” [2]

            Special creationists love to talk about the yucc / yucca moth relationship being too complex to have evolved. How about the Onchocerca / Wolbachia relationship, which appears to have been specially created just to inflict exquisite suffering on humans. The theological implications, as Darwin observed are hard to avoid for special creationists.

            The free-will defence is often invoked by Christians to counter the problem of evil. Evolution allows one the possibility of extending that defence to the natural world. Far from being specially created by God to cause blindness, the relationship between the black fly, Onchocerca volvulus and the Wolbachia bacteria arose via evolution. I don’t want to ascribe to evolution the role of a demiurge. Evolutionary creationists such as myself believe in a creator God who employs evolution, so at the very least, the evolution of predation happened under his watch. However, if you argue that God is not morally culpable for the evil caused by humans exercising free will, then one can argue that God is not morally culpable for the suffering caused by organisms that have evolved to exploit a niche. Be fruitful and multiply would apply to bacteria and nematodes, as well as lions, tigers and bears.

            Again, I don’t want to invoke a ‘best of all worlds’ theodicy, but on a rotating, water-covered, geologically active world with a temperature differential and selfish replicators, you will end up with storms, earthquakes, evolution and suffering. There’s a cost to creation, and when you add human agency to the mix, suffering is inevitable. I don’t pretend this solves the problem of evil. It doesn’t.There are things about which I remain ignorant. However, the fact that an evolutionary process lies behind the diversity of life can’t be ignored. Likewise, suffering and death predated the appearance of anatomically modern human beings by hundreds of millions of years. However the problem of suffering is answered, we can’t ascribe it to Original Sin, as the evidence flatly rules it out.

            1. Ruse M “Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy” (1998, Prometheus Books)
            2. v. Saint André A et al “The Role of Endosymbiotic Wolbachia Bacteria in the Pathogenesis of River Blindness” Science 8 March 2002: Vol. 295. no. 5561, pp. 1892 – 1895

            • Kaz

              @Ken Gilmore: So, in short, you really don’t know. Fair enough. See James, that wasn’t so hard;-)

              • Ken Gilmore

                >>So, in short, you really don’t know.

                Not quite. :) I know that any theodicy which is predicated on Adam’s sin bringing suffering and death into the human and animal world won’t work as the scientific evidence rules it out. That much is certain. I don’t claim that an evolutionary theodicy solves every problem. It doesn’t, but it’s a necessary starting point.

  • Carl W. Conrad

    Aristotle somewhere (De Partibus Animalium) says something like, “God may be found in the entrails of a fish.”

    • Kaz

      @Carl W. Conrad: Are you the Carl Conrad from b-greek? If so, let me offer you a hearty hello, it’s good to “see” you!

  • http://digestofworms.blogspot.com/ admiralmattbar

    I hope you gave whoever posted that some karma.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Oh, of course!

  • Dr. David Tee

    “The Bible doesn’t know God as “God of the genome” because it doesn’t know the genome.”
    This statement is wrong. Since God created all things and fashioned all animals and humans the way he wanted them to be, the Bible does know God as the God of the genome.
    God will not use the specifics the supporters of alternatives theories want simply because 1. it would be redundant, 2. dumbing down, 3. impractical. Using every word that som epeople want to see would make the Bible so large that the majority of the people would never read it.
    It is a good thing that people like Drs. McGrath and Collins are not in charge of what is contained in the Bible for they would turn into a book for the elite only and that is not its intention.
    The Bible was not written for scholars and scientists alone, it was written for the uneducated as well.This fact is lost on people like McGrath, Collins, West and others who think they are the bees knees and God’s gift to the world.
    They just do not know what they are talking about.

    • Beau Quilter

      Well, you’re right that the bible wasn’t written for everyone.

      The old testament was written by and for an ancient middle eastern tribe that was ethnocentric, kept slaves, celebrated a genocidal god, and kings and patriarchs with multiple wives, and had no tolerance for other religions.
      The new testament was written for small, scattered populations around the Roman empire, who believed that their apocolyptic founder would return within their lifetimes to destroy the world and take them all to heaven.

      • Mary

        Very well put. Context is everything.

      • Dr. David Tee

        You missed the point and you are wrong

        • Beau Quilter

          I didn’t miss the point. You missed the biblical context.

        • Mary

          It is interesting that when someone makes a point that you cannot answer you just fall into the mode of “you’re wrong”. No proof is offered of your point of view.
          Why don’t you check your bible and prove your point?
          This attitude is exactly why confidence in organized religion is at an all-time low.

    • Mary

      “The Bible was not written for scholars and scientists alone, it was written for the uneducated as well”
      Actually for most of Christian history it was solely for educated people. Most people could not read. The church decided how to interprete scripture.
      Now we are educated enough to read it for ourselves, however it is not easily interpreted. If it were, we would not have thousands of denominations, many of them claiming to have sole access to “the truth”.
      Basically it comes down to the fact that there is simply no co-herent theology in the bible. It contradicts itself. No harmony between the OT and the NT and not even harmony between the NT books. Because of this, arguments can be made for many points of view.
      As far as the reason why the bible does not mention modern science, your argument is speculative at best. You are attempting to get in the mind of God and discern why he would not mention it. Since you can’t do that it simply amounts to an opinion, not fact.

      • Dr, David Tee

        YOu do not know what you are talking about and use one church section, the r.c.c., to apply a very large generalization to all people.

  • skeptic150

    The god of the Bible doesn’t exist outside the minds of Judeo-Christians. The genome does.
    Collins can “believe” what he wants. I work in a lab, as long as he doesn’t ask me to worship in my lab, I won’t ask him to think in his church.

  • skeptic150

    I work in a lab. As long as he doesn’t ask me to worship in my lab, I won’t ask him to think in his church.

  • skeptic150

    And so then the key question becomes, “How must we think differently about God – the same ultimate reality that both the Biblical authors and we ourselves point to inadequately – when viewed in light of the genome and other scientific knowledge?”
    How would readers answer that question?
    Simple, we realize the concept of god is just like Santa Claus – at some point, we just realize he/she/it doesn’t exist, accept it, and move on.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Indeed, many people have realized that their concept of god was akin to Santa Claus and have accepted that a deity so envisaged does not exist. But when they move on, some move on to simply reject the terminology of God and the divine altogether, while others find it not merely useful but indispensible when used in a different way, but one for which there is a huge historic precedent, as a way of denoting that which is ultimate, the mystery that transcends and envelops us, a reality which for all we know may be infinite, but at the very least whose boundaries, if there are any, lie beyond the bounds of what we can currently explore, and perhaps may ever be able to explore, although within that approach, unlike that of some traditional theists with the much smaller view of god you mentioned, this way of using the terminology does not shut down exploration of mystery, but quite the opposite.


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