Sunday, November 29, 2009

Serpentine Logic

That devolved legless reptile is doing its damnedest to stay in the picture

Interesting is this post on Uncommon Descent concerning ID guru William Dembski’s book “The End of Christianity, Finding a Good God in an Evil World”. This is what Dembski says about the book.

My book attempts to resolve how the Fall of Adam could be responsible for all evil in the world, both moral and natural IF the earth is old and thus IF a fossil record that bespeaks violence among organisms predates the temporal occurrence of the Fall. My resolution is to argue that just as the salvation of Christ purchased at the Cross acts forward as well as backward in time (the Old Testament saints were saved in virtue of the Cross), so too the effects of the Fall can go backward in time. Showing how this could happen requires extensive argument and is the main subject of the book. As for my title, “End of Christianity” involves a play on words – “end” can refer to cessation or demise; but it can also refer to goal or purpose. I mean the latter, as the subtitle makes clear: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.

The link to the interview with Dembski also worth looking at.

Some comments
1. Although he minces his words and hedges (Not surprisingly given his particular Christian sub-culture) my guess is that Dembski is an “Old Earth” believer; otherwise his attempt to explain pre-fall evil as a “retroactive” result of an anthropocentric fall would seem rather futile. (Note: If the act of God in Christ is a powerful symbolic declaration of covenant by God and revealed in the fullness of time, then its ability to dispense grace retroactively is less enigmatic, whereas I can make little sense of a retroactive fall in this light)

2. In line with Young Earth Evangelicalism’s world view Dembski assumes evil and suffering to be largely sourced anthropocentrically. And yet the serpent in Genesis 3 could be construed as a symbol of the presence of extra-human evil. The person(s) who penned Genesis 3, as is the wont of arcadian folk, would be ever aware of the lurking presence of evil in an unseen world. There is also the question over the interpretation of the enigmatic Romans 8:18-23 , a passage which hints that the cause of evil and suffering is not quite so crisp and clear cut as traditional Young Earth Evangelicalism would have it.

3. The problem Dembski is addressing comes out of contemporary Young Earth Evangelicalism’s world view and is thus very pressing in his own intellectual circles. Some of us, such as myself, who feel that there are deeper mysteries surrounding the source of suffering and evil have a less pressing need to explain pre-fall suffering. According to my concordance the word “good” of Genesis 1 is not quite the same as the word perfect (~ completion). I wonder what Dembski teaches his seminary students?

I have been a close witness of evangelical philosophy for over thirty years and its sometimes cursory and shallow treatment of suffering and evil is not its only short fall. So much about standard evangelical explanations fail to make sense of the world around us, not to mention its inconsonance with aspects of my own personal experience. It’s no wonder that when pressed the fallback position of many evangelicals is fideism: Viz: “Faith is not always logical, if it was it would not be faith.” In the fideist mind the ability of faith to accommodate mystery is conflated with the ability to swallow illogicality. But I’ll hand it to William Dembski, he is brave guy (and a nice guy as far as I can tell) and he is making a very valiant attempt at being be logical. Pity about some of his fellow pilgrims.

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