Evolution and Natural Theology

Evolution and Natural Theology September 15, 2010

I want to dabble in a topic outside my expertise, and I do so to generate a conversation. The topic is this: natural theology is the belief that nature is the “theater of the glory of God” and that means nature reflects God. Well, yes, and much there is that evokes our admiration, our wonder, and our praise. Our trip this summer to Northern Ireland gave us opportunity to skirt along the coast to see things we have never seen, and nothing quite like Giant’s Causeway. It was like standing atop ages long ago. Yes, much there is that evokes the sense that creation is the theater of God’s glory.

What does natural theology teach us about God if evolution is part of the process of creation? To me, this is a big question and I hope lots of folks weigh in on this.

But, yet, that same created order is filled with decay and death. It’s how it works. Which now pushes natural theology and the very belief that creation is the theater of God’s glory into new corners.

Alister McGrath, in his new book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, explores this theme. He says there are two options: we can deal with the discomforts of the real world and the aesthetic ugliness of what we observe in nature, or we can avoid the whole and pretend another story. He goes for the first and then suggests a standard proposal: God created all things good and God will restore all things to goodness. Thus, the old creation, fall, incarnation, redemption and consummation.

I was surprised he didn’t explore some kind of theistic evolutionary theory in his belief about how God created all things good. For me the question of goodness pushes itself onto the front burner, but for me the theory that God simply created all things good doesn’t deal adequately with the real world or the aesthetic ugliness that we find.

What happens to natural theology if evolution is true? What do you do with “red in tooth and claw”? Does death become more “natural”? How do you explain this? What do you think of my suggestion and what would your suggestions be?

Admissions must be made: I’m not a scientist, but let me take the stand that if God chose to create through an evolutionary process, then it’s not quite as simple as “God made all things good” and we sinned and that got things all fouled up. To be sure, I affirm creation and fall, but it’s the how of creation that science brings to the table and that natural theology will face more squarely.

What it brings to the table, and natural theology always deals with the empirical sciences, is that death was around long before God “stepped in” to make Adam and Eve and render us as Eikons of God.

If we take this view of an evolutionary development then we admit to the presence of death well before the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus, if we see death as part of the cycle of nature and if we then have to factor death into the cycle of natural theology, what do we get in our natural theology?

My suggestion is this: that death is a sacrament [sign, token] of mortality. That death is not simply an invasion into the natural world after the fall but is inherent to the natural world because the natural world is mortal and only God is immortal. God wrote death into the fabric of things because all created things are mortal.

Furthermore, the Eden story of Genesis 3 teaches that God placed a tree of (everlasting) life in the garden and then banned Adam and Eve from eating it in order to prevent them from living everlastingly in a cracked Eikon state.  Adam and Eve were not, perhaps, in a golden state of immortality but in a probationary state of learning to live in an everlasting way (but they’d have to choose that tree to get it) or in a deathly way (and they chose that way). But perhaps behind that choice was mortality and that the death they chose was a spiritual death coupled with physical death (morality).

So, let me post this as a suggestion for those of you who consider natural theology: natural theology in this framework teaches us that death is inherent to the created order and that death, so I’m suggesting, is a sacrament of the mortality of the created order. What takes on immortality then are those who choose the Tree of Life.

What other elements of natural theology could be developed if evolution is how God chose to create? I can think of elements like potentiality in development, etc..

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  • Scott, thanks for the posting. I sure would like for you to address Thomism and its contribution to theology and the church. I think this model might be a way through the creation-evolution debates. I am wondering more and more if the Roman Catholic confidence in the power of reason gives it a surprising flexibility that keeps its intellectual life vital. Note its openness to evolution as a scientific model. Us Evangelical Protestants go ballistic fairly easily when anything comes close to our “Bible only” hermeneutic. I think we end up short-circuiting and not getting to the real heavy lifting we need to do. I am listening to Peter Kreeft’s lecture on The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and reading his Summa of the Summa. I am also reading Coppleston’s The History of Medieval Philosophy. I find an intellectual vigor and pleasure in the life of the mind in these works that seems to be absent in the approaches of my tradition that always are suspicious of the power of reasoning. Norman Geisler is the only evangelical I know who is publishing on Thomism,but I am sure there must be others.

  • Interesting point, that death was already part of the created order. I’d offer as confirming evidence that the Tree of Life was required (suggesting death was the normal destiny of people and creatures, but that the tree reversed the normal). I guess that’s what you were saying when you said, “What takes on immortality then are those who choose the Tree of Life.” So, the Tree of Life opposes the common reading in which death did not yet exist.

    I have to ask, though, why the word “sacrament”? It seems like a foreign idea read into the equation. But that is not like you, so I am missing something.

    Derek Leman

  • scotmcknight

    Derek,

    I’m using “sacrament” loosely, so I put “sign, token” in brackets to define it. Death is a way of God communicating to us that all of life is inscribed with a reminder of death.

  • Robin

    I don’t know if this pertains directly to natural theology, but I think it would definitely color the way we think about the miraculous in the bible.

    I have read several times, and I think even on this site (RJS) that ‘miracles’ in the bible don’t represent a God who does magic tricks for the fun of it, but God temporarily restoring the original, sin-free creation, and giving a sneak peek at what things would be like in the new heavens and the new earth. So Jesus’ healings, his raising Lazarus from the dead are meant to make us recall the sinless perfection of the creation and anticipate the time when every tear will be wiped away and lions will lay down with lambs.

    I don’t guess theistic evolution actually takes away our ability to hope in future glory, but it certainly removes the longing for the original, perfect, sinless, deathless creation.

    Then again, if there was no creation and fall (in the way we typically consider it) then why would we still assume a somewhat ‘literal’ redemption and consummation?

    If I’m too far off topic just tell me. I think I get my natural theology implications mixed up with other theological implications.

  • Scott, this is a very timely topic for me. Thank you for taking it on. I don’t have anything to offer yet. I’ll lurk a bit before responding. I do affirm that the topic is important though. My interest is in cultural apologetics, aesthetics, creativity, creation, evolution, and natural theology. Always hoping for more grace and light in all these areas.

    cp

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    If we deal with the two stories which science and the bible have for us, I think we need to understand clearly if and how they relate to each other or can be mapped to each other. I think that both narrations, the scientific one and the mythological-theological one are true – but each in its own way.
    I would not be too quick to affirm or even to assume that trajectories of causality or temporal order could be mapped from one onto the other. If we “affirm creation and fall” on biblical and theological grounds, who says that they need to have an (easily identifiable) corresponding counterpart in the realm described by science? In other words, what if “fall” corresponds to a universal state of human fallenness, brokenness; and “it was very good” corresponds to a universal state of “bliss”; and both these states are concurrent in this space-time universe, today as they were eg 700Mio years ago? Would that make theological sense?

  • Robin #4:

    Something I have long thought about this, first heard it from Mark Kinzer, is that the consummation of creation is not restoring to original paradise but taking creation where it has never been. Eden was idyllic, but not perfect and not yet consummated. Plenty of hints. Death was the rule and the the Tree of Life the exception. They did not yet know good and evil. All was not yet consummated.

    Derek Leman

  • DRT

    I am going to go for a morning run and think some more, but this always strikes me as a glass half full/half empty sort of thing. I was raised to appreciate the life we have as a gift from god. That we get to experience the wonders of this life and get to participate with him in delivering his will on earth. I have confidence in the life to come, but this life is still a gift in any way that we get to experience it. Sure the glass half empty has death, and pain, and is not always fair, but the half full glass allows me to appreciate the gift.

  • jkg

    Lewis and Tolkien appear to have had discussions on this topic, though perhaps not in the specific context of theistic evolution. In the creation myth he wrote for the Silmarillion, Tolkien speculated that death was a gift of God to men, to release them from the cycles of this world. Lewis supposed in The Great Divorce that this flesh cannot see God’s presence because it is too weak, not because it is too rank.

    JKG

  • Tim

    Scot,

    Do you think it likely there was an actual Adam and Eve, an actual tree of life, and an actual spiritual fall of man?

    Humans have been around for at least 100,000 years. During this time, death, disease, pain, and fear were hallmarks of biological existence.

    We have anthropological evidence that not just the early homo sapiens, but also the neanderthals buried their dead – which would seem disharmonious with the idea that early primitive man had no soul until some later “spiritual creation” via Adam and Eve.

    Going another route, the idea that God allowed humans to evolve to a certain point, then decided to form a covenant with two of them and stuck them in a garden, just seems a little specious and silly – particularly given how the account in Genesis is described.

    Personally, I see the doctrine that man fell from some perfect state thus leading to all the disharmony and immorality we see in the world today as considerably rendered unlikely by evolution.

    What are your thoughts?

  • Dan Pack

    Scot, you said: “…let me take the stand that if God chose to create through an evolutionary process, then it’s not quite as simple as “God made all things good” and we sinned and that got things all fouled up.”

    Maybe it is that simple, but we’re just misunderstanding what is “good.” In other words, why must the deaths of creatures–at least those not graced with the imago dei–be not good?

  • Kay

    This is a very interesting discussion. I’ve struggled with how to understand the Genesis accounts of creation and fall in light of natural theology (which I affirm).

    I’m learning so much by reading the posts that touch on these topics. Thanks Scot and RJS!

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    Tim,

    I guess this is basically what I wanted to say. It seems to be the sort of thing that happens, when one confuses the theological-mythological narration (Adam, Eve etc), with the historic / scientific (origin of humankind etc) one. We need both. The latter to describe in scientific terms the world we are in; the former to make sense of it and describe our being in an existential and moral sense.

  • DRT

    I am curious. Scot, is your belief that we are created as beings with a soul at conception (or there abouts) or is there the possibility that we are immortal beings that have been born to this world as part of our journey?

    I guess I don’t really feel compelled to believe that we can actually understand the physicality of the creation of people and that it could easily be much more wondrous than we perceive. For example, I believe that the existing universe we experience was created in an inflationary event around 14 billion years ago and if I am going to compare that process with the process in Genesis it becomes obvious that the mechanics of creation are considerably different from the physicality presented in Genesis. Therefore, I would have to assume that the physicality of the human creation story can be equally incredible.

    There are many other religions in the world that speculate as to the supra-natural state of beings with life (Buddhist karmic propensity, Hindi cycles of reincarnation) that it seems, well, natural to me that there probably is an aspect of human existence that is more eternal. In Christianity we obviously believe in an eternal life in future time periods, but why not past time periods?

    I feel perfectly comfortable assuming an eternal existence, or at least a created existence of us that pre-dates our physical birth in this world. There is precedent for this in Christianity since it is obvious that Jesus predated his conception and birth. So wouldn’t that then be a model for our existence?

    In light of this we are still left with the question of the meaning of the physical events portrayed in Genesis. I am willing to assume that none of it is physically true. This has some advantages. First, it makes the literal Adam and Eve much more plausible. They could easily be the spiritual beings first created by god and thereby be literal. That solves a lot of problems.

    The choice they made was then a choice with spiritual consequences. Perhaps they are the ones who decided to take on corporeal form, hence the fall. Makes total sense to me. God then is working to help that choice work out.

    Is there anything that rules this approach out?

  • scotmcknight

    DRT, I’m a bit nervous about creation with a “soul” as if it is some kind of thing and can be found in the body. I write about this a bit in my Fasting book (see to the right in the sidebar). Just what “soul” refers to or means is not clear to most biblical scholars these days, at least that I read.

    Having said that, we are a combination of the physical and spiritual and we have a connection to God who is Spirit etc and so, yes, there’s something referential about the “soul” and we are created that way.

  • Tim

    Scot,

    …bye the way, nice photo of the Giant’s Causeway! I visited Northern Ireland a couple years back and probably stood in roughly that very same spot 🙂

  • Chet H.

    I like N.T. Wright’s approach in Surprised By Hope, where he speaks of creation in a transient state. Creation has always had a sort of forward look to it. Adam and Eve, then, were not created to be immortal, and their sin brought about spiritual death rather than physical death. God has planned for a new creation from the beginning, meaning that a new creation has always been needed and is not some alternative or Plan B to what God was originally hoping for in creation.

    For me, this makes for a much more seamless understanding of God’s plan in creation from the beginning. I think it also fits nicely with the long development of life in the world. From the beginning, this world has had a forward look, continually developing towards the ends which God has in mind.

  • Great post. I think one problem that is lurking underneath the post is exactly what we mean by “natural theology” (and whether there is any such thing).

    Let’s start with the locus classicus, Romans 1:20. What exactly does creation reveal? “His eternal power (aidios autou dunamis) and divine nature (theiotes).” Likewise, Psalm 19 states that the heavens declare the “glory” (kabad – lit. “weightiness”)of God.

    Thus, to the extent the Bible supports a natural theology, it is one centered around the revelation in nature of God’s divinity and power. It is not the revelation of a God whose “goodness” makes Him sterile, squeamish, or offended by “nature red in tooth and claw.” It is the revelation of a God whose appearance causes even great Apostles to “fall at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

    So, to the extent the “violence” of the natural world reveals something about God, I’d suggest that it shows God “is not a tame Lion” (to use C.S. Lewis’ phrase).

  • rjs

    Scot,

    I really like this post – it puts on the table some questions that need serious consideration.

    One thing I find helpful to remember is that history and nature may be red in tooth an claw – I remember the Sunday afternoon nature shows with scenes like lions stalking prey in the African Savannah and polar bears eating seals. Both predators and prey are out there and have been.

    Yet, evolution as creative mechanism doesn’t rely on this kind of competition. It is a much more neutral method for exploring the realm of possibility within creation – potentiality in development. A rock falling down a hill can kill, but a rock falling down a hill generically is a neutral natural process.

  • Also — it probably would be helpful to separate the question of theodicy from the question of natural theology.

    Natural theology is simply the question of what, if anything, is “revealed” about God in creation.

    The theodicy question goes further and asks “assuming God is indeed great and powerful and good, why did He employ / allow such suffering?” That God wanted to reveal His qualities of power and greatness might be one answer to this question, but probably isn’t a very satisfying one. After all, what kind of being creates enormous amounts of suffering just to show off its own power?

  • scotmcknight

    rjs,

    Thanks for the point. I have probably equated the food chain with the evolutionary chain, and I see that natural selection etc are gentler and kinder in process. Into that process is the food chain I’ve observed and I think I was thinking more of that kind of death than the former.

    Which raises dopderbeck’s point: theodicy — why did God do it this way? — is a bit different than natural theology: what do we see of God in nature and nature’s process?

    I like the point about mortality still, but the whole idea of process and change and growth and … the explosion of potentiality in the process boggles in its almost infinite intricacy as well as profound simplicity. It’s the one and many observation. God is a multiplying God.

  • I’ve been reading John Muir recently, and he seems to wade into these waters. In My First Summer in the Sierra, Muir repeatedly refers to the natural world around him (the breathtaking Yosemite valley) as a “mountain manuscript” or “sermon in stones” that provides a window to the divine. The created world is the second book of revelation for him. What he sees revealed in creation, however, might surprise us. He certainly sees the grandeur and beauty of the creator, but toward the end of the book he has a climactic realization. He states:

    “Reading these grand mountain manuscripts displayed through every vicissitude of heat and cold, calm and storm, upheaving volcanoes and down-grinding glaciers, we see that everything in Nature called destruction must be creation–a change from beauty to beauty.”

    In other words, the forces that seemingly destroy nature are actually tools in the hands of the creator that he uses in his continually creative work.

    Muir recognizes the dark side of the created order, the seemingly destructive side, and finds there his deepest insight into who the Creator is and how he works.

    I haven’t tried to tease out all of the implications of Muir’s thought, but he does seem to reflect directly on the questions that you have raised in this post.

  • “Furthermore, the Eden story of Genesis 3 teaches that God placed a tree of (everlasting) life in the garden and then banned Adam and Eve from eating it in order to prevent them from living everlastingly in a cracked Eikon state.”

    This has been a critical piece of the Genesis narrative for me and I think something along the lines of a probationary period is the case.

    Henri Nouwen is another voice to bring into the conversation. He describes life as a process of dying. With each passing year the options for our life become fewer. Dreams die. Then friends die. Our bodies and minds begin to decay. Life is the process of surrendering one thing after the other about ourselves. Finally, we surrender our very life.

    I think Nouwen’s point is that through this process of death and decay we surrender one thing after to the other to God. At the final surrender all is given back and so much more. It seems to me that God wants us to deeply understand we are mortals with eternal life. Within the context of the Genesis narrative there seems to be a theological point that humanity refuses to embrace mortality and an unwillingness to surrender what they have to God … in fact seeking to become as God themselves.

  • Dan Pack

    dopderback’s point about theodicy gets at what I was (weakly) trying to say above (#11) when I questioned why we must considered death in general as not good.

    We have no problem accepting that, in the present, God uses even our suffering to bring about the greater good of our sanctification (although we may not like it). So it seems at least plausible that throughout the ages, He could use (or allow?) animal suffering within the evolutionary process to bring about a greater good, which could include, at least, the evolution of sentient creatures capable of love and worship.

    The thought of a cute, furry baby animal being ripped apart by a carnivorous predator sure seems like suffering and something less than good to me, but perhaps only from our very limited perspective. Am I being callous?

  • Dan (#24) — I don’t think you’re being callous. There is probably a sense in which “suffering” as applied to non-human animals is an anthropomorphism. At the very least, a bacterium doesn’t “suffer” as an ant, an ant doesn’t “suffer” as a bird, a bird doesn’t “suffer” as an elephant, and so on.

    The other interesting thing is that we feel empathy for the cute furry rabbit that is killed and devoured by a fox, but we never seem to think of the good that has been provided for the fox. I wonder if some Native American / Indigenous / Eastern spiritualities can help us out a bit here. In a material universe, it’s difficult to think of how “good” can come about without some corresponding “loss.” Matter and energy are conserved after the initial “moment” of creation — so the fox must obtain the energy it needs from something already in existence.

  • Rick

    Dan and Dopederbeck-

    But why then are we repulsed and saddened by such suffering? Many attribute our appreciation of love and goodness as part of the Imago Dei (I realize that others, such as Scot and Enns, see it as more an authority/responsibility description), so why do we separate out suffering as unloving and bad? We is our natural instinct to reject such aspects of creation and of the Creator? Likewise, how is the natural(?) dislike of suffering impacting our theology?

    I could understand more a painless death than I do a suffering experience. I am not disagreeing with you two, just asking some questions.

  • Josh Mueller

    Is it possible that our own concept of the incompatibility of suffering and biological death in the animal kingdom with the agency of the goodness of God in creation is flawed? Was the Psalmist uninspired when he described God providing meat for the predators as part of God’s good creation and benevolent provision (Psalm 104:20-28)? Maybe Verse 30 in that same Psalm points to the new creation by God’s Spirit in the same way Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:54 – which would affirm what Chet (#17) said earlier about the “forward look” of the original creation.

  • Rick

    Josh #27-

    “Is it possible that our own concept of the incompatibility of suffering and biological death in the animal kingdom with the agency of the goodness of God in creation is flawed?”

    That is what I am wondering as well, but then why do we have that “concept of the incompatibility of suffering and biological death”? Are we wired that way? Is it because we are cracked Eikons? Is it societal indoctrination?

  • Rick (#26) — great question. One thing I’d wonder about is how much of our feelings about “natural” animal suffering are culturally conditioned. In the West, most of us live insulated from nature and even from the food we eat. But in most cultures for most of human history, no one would blanch at wringing a chicken’s neck or sacrificing a lamb or bull. Even in indigenous cultures in which nature is revered as divinely infused, there tends to be a belief in the “rightness” of the sacrifices required for higher animals, humans, etc. to eat and survive. The “circle of life” thing is a cliche, but there’s a real sense of that sort of idea in many cultures.

    Still, I think you’re right that there is an inherent sense that the infliction of some kinds of suffering on animals is “cruel” – i.e. immoral. Even the Biblical systems of animal sacrifices recognized that there was a “cost” to the animal killed.

    If this tension is part of the imago Dei, and I’d agree that it is, we might ask whether this says something about the provisionality of this present creation. This world was created “good” — it was created to function well and to bring glory to the creator and to provide for all the creatures in it, particularly humans. But built into this world also are hints of the world yet to come. From the start, this world was created in anticipation of the eschatological world to come.

    In terms of formal theological reasoning, at least in Reformational terminology, the issue we’re pecking at here is the order and nature of God’s decrees. It’s fair to say that the majority view of Reformed theology has been that the decree of election — the decree that God would provide redemption through Christ — follows the decree of creation. Thus, in a sense, election and salvation are a “response” of God to human sin. This is the “infralapsarian” view.

    But there is a minority view in historic Reformed theology in which the decree of election precedes the decree of creation. In this “supralapsarian” view, God knew the Fall would happen and decided to redeem the world in Christ before He decreed the creation of the world. For some people wrestling with the theodicy of an evolutionary creation and/or an “old” earth, supralapsarianism is very attractive. Bill Dembski’s recent attempt at a theodicy of an old earth, for example, is basically supralapsarian. In this view, at least some of the “suffering” of animals and so on that we find difficult is built into the creation as a sort of anticipation of the Fall.

    As another alternative, there is Karl Barth’s approach to election, particularly as interpreted by someone such as Bruce McCormack. Basically, Barth’s view is supralapsarian, and the subject of election is Christ and all of humanity in Christ, not other specific human beings. This can (but doesn’t have to) tie in nicely with various “theologies of the cross” as well as with certain varieties of open theism and quasi-open theism in which the suffering of creation in general is taken up into the being of God from eternity past through the election of Christ to redeem the creation for the eschatological future.

    Anyway — this is all a long-winded way of saying that evolutionary theodicies may not be quite as necessary as we think, but are indeed necessary, and that what they are all about is the extent to which the final plan of redemption was part of God’s intentions for creation from the start.

  • Josh Mueller

    Rick, wouldn’t you agree that we have all kind of flawed concepts when it comes to suffering, including the suffering of the Son of God? For me, it’s not in the end a question of how the term “goodness” can still make sense but how it does make sense in seeing the bigger picture. There is nothing “good” in what happened on the cross either apart from what it accomplished.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck-

    Good thoughts. Having been leaning towards more of a Arminian/Wesleyan theology, I had long ago filed away consideration of infralapsarian and supralapsarianism. I may need to bring those back into consideration. Thanks.

    Josh-

    “There is nothing “good” in what happened on the cross either apart from what it accomplished.”

    And we should be uncomfortable with that suffering. We are saddened by it, partly out of love and partly out of our responsibility in it. It was restoring what was lost. However, the suffering in creation was not an attempt at restoration, but was actually part of creation. Yet we are still saddened by it. Why?

    Yes, “we have all kind of flawed concepts when it comes to suffering.” By how and why is it flawed? If we can determine that, perhaps it will help with our theology.

  • Brian in NZ

    I think physical death has always been present – even in the Garden of Eden. There were two trees that God told A&E not to eat – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. After they had eaten the apple, God decided to kick them out of the garden before they ate from the other tree and lived for ever.

    I believe that we focus on physical death as the consequence of sin, but God is actually focused on spiritual death.

  • DRT

    I have to say, as one who has seen his fair share of human physical injury, that much of the natural suffering is nothing compared with the human induced suffering to the natural and human world.

    There are a lot of physiological elements that come into play when one is injured. Some eliminate suffering.

    But I must say, the most suffering I have seen in my life is the suffering that is made by emotion and human thought. People suffer more than I think any natural animal suffers.

    My dog brought half a rabbit into the house yesterday. I bet that rabbit did not suffer much. My best friend from High School and roommate in college was kept alive with colon cancer for a year at age 30, then died. He suffered. His family suffered.

    Our materialistic society sees suffering from a different point of view than the natural world. What is the nature of suffering? Perhaps the brain suffers more than the body.

    My Point: Granted, physical suffering is not something that we want to endure, but the naturalistic suffering experienced in nature is miniscule compared to the man-made suffering of this world. We feel bad for the little bunny not so much for what it was, but for what it could have been. I go back to my cup half full or half empty.

  • Josh Mueller

    Rick,
    You asked why we are saddened by suffering in the animal world even though this suffering seemingly was willed by God apart from any sinful distortion. I guess the main reason is our way of analogous thinking. It may remind us of our own tendencies to predatorism and our own experience of suffering although the two are hardly the same. We can’t really know for sure how and to what degree an animal may “experience” suffering the same way we do apart from the biological parallels. One thing is for sure though: an animal kills out of necessity and instinct, never out of a sinister intent.

    Another reason why we are confounded by suffering in general is the time factor We see suffering as a snapshot in time and judge it based on the feeling it produces at that moment. Again it’s the inability to see the bigger picture that easily can lead us to false conclusions about whether God is good or not and can be trusted.

    Ultimately, it’s this issue of trust where it becomes relevant for us, not a necessity to be able to figure out why we think the way we do.

  • JKG,
    Lewis explores this also in the Space Trilogy.

    Scot and fellow Creedites,
    What are the implications of this theory on the immortality of the soul?

    Good stuff!

  • AHH

    Josh #27 beat me to the mention of the Psalmist (and other passages) seeming to indicate that “nature red in tooth and claw” (predation) is something to praise God for, something seemingly “good” from God’s perspective.

    Perhaps part of what is “fallen” is our perspective on the death (human and otherwise) that seems to have been wired into God’s creation from the beginning.

    It can also be noted that, on a finite planet, “be fruitful and multiply” is not really a blessing unless there is some death to make room for future generations.

    Also agree with those who have noted that the idea of God’s final kingdom being merely a return to Edenic conditions does not do justice to the Biblical witness.

  • There is no reason to assume that Psalm 104:20-28 refers to the pre-fallen state or anything other than God’s provision for animals in the fallen world. In the vision we are given of the future state, the lion does not eat the lamb but they both lay down together in peace.

    The fact that the Bible teaches a future bodily resurrection (which would be on earth) should alert us that physical death is not God’s original or ultimate intention for man. The mandate to be fruitful and multiply does not require death in order to accommodate future generations because the mandate is also to “fill the earth.” When the earth is full, there is no need for more, therefore no need for death.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    Why then the tree of life and the exile away from the tree of life?

  • God offered Adam told Adam they could eat of any tree in the Garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So He wanted them to eat of the Tree of Life and did not withhold it from them until after they rebelled against Him. At the end of the Book of Revelation, we find the Tree of Life ~ it was God’s desire for them to have it from the beginning. It was not an afterthought.

  • Good post Scot and I’m enjoying the comments. My own position is that natural theology at best leads to a deistic God. The awe and wonder of the way the natural world “works” is every day more revealed to be the “works” of laws that seem to function in the absence of God, (although we can’t test God’s absence, of course). Therefore, one may find God revealed in the creative potential with which the world was endowed from the beginning.

    But you and I know that’s not good enough. A god who is rational and orderly is one thing, but the Biblical God is a Creator (some would say continual Creator) who interacts with the world and as RJS was quote above, not just randomly via magical acts. This interaction is probably better described as a theology of nature, but I haven’t read anything that does it justice that isn’t just grasping at quantum fluctuations, God-ordained mutations, or a rather broad modeling of it as similar to mind and brain in humans. Perhaps someone else has a book recommendation or two on theology of nature that does better?

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    No not an afterthought. But the fact that the tree of life was in the Garden certainly suggests that immortality was not part of the nature of being for Adam and Eve in the story. It was an external gift from God.

    If immortality was not a part of the nature of being for humans, why would we think it was part of the nature of being for other creatures?

  • I believe there is a continual interaction between the spiritual and the physical realms, and that the physical realm is dependent upon the spiritual (because the physical realm was created and is sustained by God, who is spirit).

    We often think of this interaction as an interruption to the natural physical order, but I believe it is part of the normal interface God intended from the beginning. Because of the Fall, man died spiritually and consequently lost contact with the spiritual realm. It is only the grace of God that enables man to perceive it at all.

    But now in the redeemed state, those who are in Jesus the Messiah have received a new, spiritual birth and the Spirit of God indwelling us. The Spirit manifests the fruits of love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) but also numerous spiritual gifts ~ signs, wonders and miracles ~ and believers are able to operate in the physical realm in a new way.

    So I don’t think we can reduce it all to merely “natural theology.” Not when God is redeeming mankind and reconnecting us to the realm of the Spirit. That is why, as Paul says in Romans 8, the whole creation groans waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God. In the Fall, creation came under the curse; in redemption, even creation itself is being redeemed.

  • The fact that God placed the Tree of Life in the Garden and told Adam that he could eat of it should tell us that God wanted Adam to be immortal. God did not withhold eternal life from Adam at all until Adam decided he would rather go a different route. Adam was created for immortality, and though there was a detour along the way, Adam, and all who in the Second Adam receive that immortality, not just as “disembodied spirits” (to use N. T Wright’s words) but as fully physical, fully human beings. We were created for that.

  • Jeff — there is every reason to conclude that Psalm 104 is a “creation” hymn and no reason to think it describes “post-Fall” conditions only.

    Verse 24 is crystal clear on this: “How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

    In fact, Psalm 104 is properly understood as a reflection on the first creation account in Gen. 1.

    Verses 5-9 are a reflection of the separation of the primal waters in Gen. 1:9, verse 19 of the Psalm is a reflection of the creation of the celestial lights in Gen. 1:14-18, verse 25 of the Psalm is a reflection of Gen. 1:20, verses 14-16 of the Psalm reflect Gen. 1:24-28, and so on.

    Thus, verse 21 of Psalm 104 is properly understood as a Biblical affirmation of the created goodness of predatory lions. There is no way to get around this without doing violence to the text.

  • I had meant to add this: “wisdom” in Psalm 104:24 often is personified in later Jewish and Christian literature as being God the creator Himself. This is reflected also in the great creation hymn of the New Testament, John 1, in which Wisdom is Hellenized as the “Logos”. This further demonstrates that Psalm 104 is properly understood as a creation hymn. Verse 24 provides a foundation for the Christological perspective on God’s creative activity developed in John 1.

  • Dop, though there are references to creation acts ~ what God did ~ the psalm writer is talking about the world in its present state, how God sustains creation. So we cannot conclude from this hat the psalm writer is suggesting that pre-Fall animals preyed upon each other. Psalm 104 is a creation hymn, but about creation as it stands now.

  • Jeff — Psalm 104 clearly is referring repeatedly to Gen. 1 and it does not suggest that “creation as it stands now” is radically different than creation as described in Gen. 1 — indeed it assumes continuity between Gen. 1 and “creation as it stands now.”

    There is no discontinuity, BTW, either in this Psalm or elsewhere in scripture, between God’s calling of creation into being and His sustaining of creation. The underlying theological principle is that creation is “contingent” — there is no necessity for it to have been brought into existence or to continue to exist. It depends ever and always on God’s power and will.

    We obviously are going to continue to disagree, but IMHO this is another powerful example of how YEC apologetics do not at all reflect a “literal” reading of the Bible but rather distort the meanings of the Biblical texts.

  • Percival

    Just a few thoughts on the topic.
    1) Pronouncing something “good”is not necessarily talking about morally good. It could just mean it works well. Dopderbeck has alluded to this here.

    2) We seem to have suddenly forgotten that the Genesis account was written to answer the the questions of the ANE and not 21st century. Perhaps a natural theology of “creation” does not need to be centered on Genesis. Perhaps Revelations is just as good a place to start.

    3) Nobody has mentioned Satan as a factor in the state of creation. I wonder why. Is there not a whole spiritual reality that is just as much a part of creation?

    4)Maybe the current state of creation, warts and mosquitos, is designed to produce a people of faith and holiness. An idyllic world would provide no impetus for these developments. So we, as co-regents over creation, may have a role in the redemption and future perfection of creation. We, as individuals, are born as babies and we develop. The world as it is may be in a state of infanthood of sorts. Infanthood is not all milk and soft blankies, it is also ignorance, foolishness, and selfishness. We hope humanity, under the tutelage of Christ can put away childish things. If not for the foolishness of humanity, the world would already be a kind of paradise.
    I realize this sounds like premillenialism and reintroduces the myth of progress, which the horrors of the 20th century has supposedly done away with.

  • Percival

    Did I really just call it the Book of Revelation-S?

  • Percival — good point #3. Many people refer to a primoridial non-human fall (i.e., the fall of Satan) as the source of evil in creation prior to Adam. It is an attractive idea on some levels, but it raises some tricky questions — particularly the question why the creation is called “good” by God in Gen. 1 if it is already corrupted by Satan. (There is also a serious question whether the popular notion of the “fall of Satan” is really Biblical — most of the OT passages used to support this probably having nothing to do with any such idea).

    Nevertheless, in the Gen. 3 narrative the “serpent” lies and tempts the humans prior to the humans’ sin — and thus the Biblical text apparently portrays evil as being present and active in creation prior to human sin. Which maybe suggests that Biblically the basic question of how and why “evil” became present in the “good” creation is far more complex than that Adam ate a bad apple.

  • Dop, notice the many present tense verbs in Psalm 104. It is no distortion of the text, no abandonment of the literal principle, to note that the psalm writer is speaking not only of God’s creative acts in the past (pre-Fall) but also of God’s continued providence in creation in his own day (post-fall).

    Notice particularly the verse that is most pertinent to what you have suggested in this thread, verse 21: “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God.” Notice that this is in the present tense. IOW, it does not speak of what was pre-Fall, but what was contemporary to the psalm writer.

    In view of the present tense in regard to the young lions preying on other animals, one cannot insist that it must be speaking about before the Fall, for which the past tense would be the appropriate one.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff — the point is that the present tense references are tied to the clear allusions to Gen. 1 and in particularly to the past tense of God’s creative act in Psalm 104:24. The present creation is not radically different from the original “good” creation, carnivorous lions and all. There is simply no way to read this Psalm and to come away with a radical distinction between the original and present created order or with any sense that carnivorous lions reflect some sort of departure from God’s original creative design.

    I won’t respond concerning Psalm 104 any further because folks can read it and the commentaries on it for themselves and form their own judgments about what the text is actually saying.