Natural Evil and the Classical Christian School

One of the central arguments that materialistic atheism offers against the Christian faith is that the reality and universality of suffering is inconsistent with the doctrine that we were created by, and are loved by, a gracious heavenly Father. If we intend to do our job in training our students to be able to defend their faith as they go out into the world, it seems to me that we ought not to begin by granting the foundational premise of unbelief.

Believe me, the pressing reality of natural evil is a major argument that the atheists use, and the theistic evolutionists will have to do a lot better than they have done thus far in mounting a reply.

If evolution was God’s means of creating, then this means that pain, struggle, suffering, agony, and torment were His means of creation, and He pronounced all of it “good.”

There are two kinds of evil that we have to consider — natural evil and moral evil. While moral evil is more horrendous, it is a little easier to handle because we are doing so much of it to ourselves. We can handle that another time. But natural evil is a different thing altogether, and on the theistic evolutionary account natural evil cannot be considered evil at all.

Here we have to posit millions of years of death-dealing events — volcanoes, floods, tar pits, and so on — without anybody having done anything wrong such that it would bring this state of affairs about. This is just how God likes to do things.

This means that the pain and suffering of sentient animals has to be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is no longer the problem of evil, but rather “evil? no problem!”

Their Temples of Reason

It is usually no fun when people play the race card, but when evolutionists do it, the results can be highly entertaining, at least after a few million years.

My brother Gordon is Senior Fellow of Natural History at New St. Andrews. He was recently engaged to teach a one-off course in microbiology at the University of Idaho, which drew this protest, and then this one.

There is a kind of evolutionist who insists that his theory can only be falsified with rabbit fossils in the precambrian, and then rests easily in the full assurance that anything with a rabbit fossil in it can’t be precambrian by definition. This method works swell for them, and so they try to use a similar approach to journal articles, terminal degrees, and teaching slots. Creationists are clearly not equipped to be in the proximity of any of those things — for are they not all cornpones? — and so whenever they see a creationist they chase him out promptly, and then use his strange absence as an argument. His absence is an argument, and his presence is an outrage. What my net don’t catch ain’t fish, and if it does catch one on accident, we can always throw it back immediately and pretend it didn’t happen.

So Go Nomo to the Pomo

So I have written about the problems of postmodernism, what I have called the problem of European brain snakes. This might seem a little dismissive, but it all works out, because it actually is dismissive. Allow me to collect my thoughts on this in one place.

First, postmodernism, and all the posturing and posing connected thereunto, is utterly inconsistent with the spirit of testimony that faithful Christians love to exhibit. Our testimony (marturia) is to the truth, and the truth is personal and ultimate. When I say the truth is ultimate, I do not mean ultimate in the concerns of our own little faith community. I mean Lord of all that is, Lord of Heaven and earth, and King of all nature. The truth is Jesus, and He is eternal life — and there is no other.

“And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (1 John 5:10). “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 John 2:27). “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6).

Anyone who can reconcile the aroma of these passages with the stench of postmodernism has already had too much graduate school, and should be sent home immediately.

To Obligate Belief

The classic beginning of Calvin’s Institutes rightly assumes that it is not possible to know God without knowledge of ourselves. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. But it runs the other direction as well. It “not easy to discern” which knowledge precedes and brings forth the other. They are interdependent. “Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him” (Institutes 1.1.1).

The same kind of thing is true of other sets of complementary assumptions. I cannot know my Cartesian pinpoint self without assuming something about the authority of logic. I think I think, therefore I think I am, I think. I cannot know the Bible without assuming something about the nature of the world in which I learned to read it, along with the reality of Miss Robinson who taught me how to read in first grade. I cannot know one thing without knowing something about all things.

This, if true, means that the whole world is a package deal. God did not give us the world piecemeal. He places us in an integrated reality, and it is only sin that wants to pretend that we are anywhere else.

That sin wants to say that so long as it is willing to continue the argument, there must be something to the argument. But that is what Hell will be like — endless gnawing, endless rationalizations, endless argument. The worm does not die.

Seven Theses on the Age of the Earth

I recently came to the conclusion that it was time to set down in one place my reasons for approaching Genesis the way I do. I have noticed that the topic has become a matter of increased debate in classical Christian circles — and because schools cannot honestly stay out of it — it matters a great deal what we teach and why. So here are seven theses on the age of the earth.

1. First, the age of the earth, considered in isolation, is neither here nor there. The issue is always what God said, and not how old something is. If the earth is six thousand years old now, it will eventually be one hundred thousand years old at some point, about ninety-four thousand years from now. Will theologians at that time still be required to hold to a “young earth” view? So the issue is not age, or day, or young, or old, but rather the substance of what God actually said. Whatever He actually revealed should be what we use as the foundation for all our subsequent thought. After we have our foundation, we may incorporate truth from other sources — natural revelation included — but we must take care that we never privilege what we think we know over what God actually told us.

2. Therefore, the debate — which is most necessary — should be conducted primarily between Christians who accept the Scriptures as the absolute Word of God, perfect and infallible in all that they affirm. This is because debate is pointless between parties who are appealing to different authorities. The fact that the debate is now being conducted with many of the participants openly saying that the Bible “has mistakes in it” tells us why we are not really getting anywhere.

3. Once we have limited the participants in this way, we have simplified things considerably. Everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a flannel graph version of the Flood, giraffe and all, if that is what the Bible taught, and everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a planet creaky with age, if that is what the Bible taught.

That said, the prima facie evidence for the traditional view of Genesis is very strong (historical Adam, continuous genealogies, etc.). Alternative approaches to the text, such as the framework hypothesis or the gap theory, seem like special pleading in order to make room to shoehorn in a cosmology from elsewhere. We should always smell a rat whenever someone notices an anomaly in the text (e.g. the different creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis) and someone else is immediately at your elbow with millions of years he wants to pour in.

I am not saying this because I am automatically categorizing any views contrary to my own as special pleading. One alternative view, grounded responsibly in the text, views the days in Genesis as days of revelation, which Adam was recording as God was teaching him how to write. But even this view would simply require someone to stop affirming “six-day creation,” and is not at all inconsistent with “young-earth creation.” So the prima facie evidence for the traditional view is strong enough for me to consider that the burden of proof lies with those who would question it.

Pink Entropy

I recently wrote on the subject of entropy here, and set off a maelstrom of comments. Some people just have that gift, and other people don’t. That appears to be just the way it is for me, and I try to be humble about it. Sometimes I think my comments section is a good example of entropy.

If I might, I would like to supplement my initial observations with a few quick follow up jabs, and see if it happens again. These are just quick responses to a couple of basic questions that were raised, and which I would like answer outside the thread.
Since I speak English, let us go with a dictionary:

Entropy is “a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.”

Now I don’t see anything in my argument or illustrations that would constitute a howler when it comes to that definition. Assuming that this is a reasonable English expression of what entropy means, it also means that applications to the question of evolution are entirely reasonable. Entropy increases over time, meaning that disorder and randomness are also increasing. But evolution requires us to believe that the disorder and randomness are decreasing.

In order for that disorder and randomness to decrease, it is necessary to have a transfer mechanism that can utilize available energy (in a closed system) or newly imported energy (in an open system) into mechanical work that is productive.

Otherwise, any energy, new or old, will simply dissipate. The energy will get tired and take a nap. The energy will go bye-bye. We might exhort that energy not to take it lying down, and we might urge the energy to “not go gentle into that good night.” “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Sure, rage all you want. Rage against the heat death of the light, for all the good it is going to do you.

Now the point of my illustration in the previous post is that the transfer mechanism that can make energy useful is itself an example of decreased randomness, and hence it is also something that must be accounted for.

Building Things With Sunshine

I have said in the past that I think evolution is a hoot, and moreover, I have given reasons for thinking this. One of the reasons is that the idea of evolution runs clean contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. In response to this view of mine, an anti-theist web site (read more here) has offered the following:

“To finish this argument (hopefully once and for all) I will give a similar example but in relation to life.-

In ‘open’ thermodynamic systems energy is imported to turn simple compounds into complex ones, a perfect example of this is photosynthesis in which; water and carbon-dioxide are turned into complex carbohydrates.

The energy for this is imported from the sun, because the earth is not a ‘closed’ system, it is an open one.

If evolution is impossible relating to the second law, so is photosynthesis, which is obviously not the case.”

Let me go straight to my conclusion, state the problem, and then work back to the argument. My interlocutor is trying to explain things with photosynthesis, when what he needs to do is give an accounting for photosynthesis.

The Way It Looks on the Screen

So I am a presuppositionalist. That’s true enough, but what do I need to presuppose? This will require more development, but what needs to be presupposed is the way things actually are. You don’t need to know all the precise details of how things actually are — you don’t begin at the end — but you do have to be committed to the truth a priori, knowing that such objective, unmovable truth, which is so necessary as the foundation of every form of knowing, is not possible apart from the bedrock of the true and living God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 9:10). But beginning with the fear of the Lord does not mean beginning with the Lord alone, the Lord solitary, the Lord isolated. No one can know the Lord that way — it is incoherent — oxymoronic. God cannot be known from outside God unless there is a creation, in which the knower lives. And if he lives in a created order larger than himself, then he also knows things other than God simultaneously with his self-knowledge, and these other things also testify to the majesty of the God who created them all.

So prior to the creation, there was no fear of God. In order to have the fear of the Lord (which is the beginning of knowledge), it is necessary to have a knowing subject who does the fearing, and who knows himself to exist as a fearing creature. Moreover, he lives and moves and has his being in a world within which that fear makes sense.
That fear makes sense to the creature because he presupposes the whole shebang. He presupposes the God who is, the world that this God spoke by the word of His power, the holy law that our first parents disregarded, and the Scriptures which declare to us His spelled out explanations of all that has come to pass.

If I presuppose a Creator, then heaven and earth must be contained within that presupposition. If I presuppose a Savior, then a Word containing gospel is contained within that presupposition. If we say that God wrote two books, His Word and the world, it makes no sense to pit those books against each other. God is perfect, and the books He wrote need to be perfectly harmonious.

Not only can I not consider God independently of the created order, I cannot successfully isolate His Word to us from that created order. In order to read a Bible, I have to reckon with a cascading series of things like learning to read, a cow that contributes leather for the cover, paper, ink, the light that strikes the page, the physical eyes that receive that light, the brain cells that remember what I read yesterday, and so on. How shall they distribute tracts without a typesetter?

It is not the case that the world comes to me through this portal, and the Word through that portal. God is the living constant, and He is speaking at all times and through all things. This is something precious I learned from Van Til. At the same time, I do want to run with some of this and apply it in ways that perhaps Van Til would have been uncomfortable with. The computer that is my brain can (I think) run two operating systems — Van Til 1.2. and Lewis 5.2. The code in the back room can look pretty funky sometimes, but I like the way it looks on the screen.

So, like all presuppositionalists, I try to reason from Scripture instead of reasoning my way to the Scriptures. I don’t want to presuppose a neutral space, from which I try to get others to become Christian. But when I presuppose Scripture, there is another foundational layer underneath that. I must presuppose a God who is absolute, and who has revealed Himself in absolutely everything. In the words of Schaeffer’s great title — He is there, and He is not silent.