18 July 2006

Dembski's Theodicy: God's Preemptive War on Nature

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. -- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden

In a previous post (Behold, it was very good 4 June 06) I listed five ways that Christians try to explain natural evil. Here's a summary:

  1. The original creation was perfect and would have remained that way if Adam hadn't of sinned. But he did, so God changed everything. The natural world was good before Adam's fall, but worse after.
  2. Death and suffering are all a part of God's grand design. Nature is red in tooth and claw because God likes it that way.
  3. God's creation was perfectly benevolent, but then Satan snuck in and ruined everything.
  4. God created the world, but he (she, it, them) can't control it. He didn't know how it would turn out and he is not responsible for it. He's just an innocent bystander.
  5. Natural evil does not exist. Nature, like God and the Bible, is kind and gentle. (Ignore it when it appears otherwise.)

But William Dembski has come up with a whole new theory: God's preemptive war on nature. Here's how it goes (with quotes from Dembski's article).

God created the universe billions of years ago.

I accept standard astrophysical and geological dating (12 billion years for the universe, 4.5 billion years for the earth). -- p.15

It was screwed up from the start because God knew Adam would sin in the end.

God is able to act preemptively in the world, anticipating events and, in particular, human actions, thereby guiding creation along paths that God deems best. -- p. 32

God ... brings about natural evils (e.g., death, predation, parasitism, disease, drought, famines, earthquakes, and hurricanes), letting them run their course prior to the Fall. Thus, God himself disorders the creation, making it defective on purpose. --p.39, Dembki's emphasis

So for hundreds of millions of years, untold billions of sentient creatures were purposefully tormented by God. How can that be true, if God is good?

Well, it's all about us. We are all that God cares about. (J.B.S. Haldane was wrong about God; God doesn't give a shit about beetles.)

God's activity in creation is ... principally concerned with forming a universe that will serve as a home for humans. -- p.37

A world that exhibits natural evil becomes an instrument for revealing to us the gravity of sin. -- p.47

God, in his preemptive war on nature, has purposefully created elaborate methods for systematically tormenting animals. And he's been doing it for hundreds of millions of years while no one but him could watch. But he did it all just for us, to teach us a lesson about the gravity of sin. Kind of makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it?

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