Home » Intelligent Design, Religion » Granville Sewell on theodicy

Granville Sewell on theodicy

Is God Really Good?
Granville Sewell

Mathematics Dept.
University of Texas El Paso
                                                                                           .  

In debates over the theory of intelligent design, the “problem of evil” is frequently brought up by opponents of design: if we are the products of intelligent design, why is there so much evil and misery in the world? From a purely logical, or scientific, perspective, this problem is easy to deal with: Nature offers evidence of design–the question of what the designer is like is a separate, more philosophical, issue. But for most of us humans, this is a very unsatisfactory answer.

In two other articles on my web page (here and here, both highlighted by Discovery.com in the last few months) I have outlined the evidence for the belief that living things are designed, and not entirely the result of unintelligent forces such as natural selection of random mutations. This evidence is so overwhelming that I am convinced that opposition to the theory of intelligent design is not primarily due to any shortage of evidence for design in Nature, but to the fact that it sometimes so hard to see evidence that our Designer cares about us, and many people prefer not to believe in God at all than to believe in a God who doesn’t care. Although the problem of evil may not be a “scientific” issue, ID proponents cannot afford to ignore this very difficult problem.

MORE

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

26 Responses to Granville Sewell on theodicy

  1. The problem of evil is not the only problem facing evangelical Christians who are also ID proponents. I personally think, as I mentioned to you in Memphis Dr. D, that a much more potent objection, given ID as you have formulated it, is the query “Whence the specifications / background knowledge to which God conformed his creations?” This regress is, in my view, unanswerable from a classical theological perspective. Why should we expect, given classical presuppositions, a universe which contains algorithmically compressible information in any respects?

    The problem of evil is unresolvable and ought to be prima facie evidence that classical theology is self-contradictory and cannot be an accurate description of reality. But that’s not a problem with intelligent design theory; it’s rather a problem with a vacuous theology held by some design proponents.

    It appears to me that scientific naturalism commits a category error when it assumes matter is the ground of all being; it appears to me also that classical theology commits the same error when it asserts intelligence is the ground of all being. There is middle ground which, to me, appears to make sense of the data – and that is LDS theology, in this context.

  2. *unresolvable from within classical theology.

  3. Jaredl: If LDS theology can improve on Augustine and the Cappadocian Fathers on the question of theodicy, please write up a paper on the topic, post it on the Internet, and link to it from this thread. If you have cogent criticisms of my own theodicy (“Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science” at http://www.designinference.com), post them on this thread. But your facile dismissal of what you call “classical theology” and its proposed resolution of the theodicy problem will not do. One more crack about the “vacuous theology held by some design proponents,” unreferenced and with no elaboration, and you’re out of here.

  4. The “problem” of evil is the crux of many of the Darwinian arguments (example: “Why would a good God allow 99.9% of species become extinct?”). Cornelius Hunter points this out in “Darwin’s God”. In the end, Darwinism is more theology than science.

    However, I do have to disagree with how Sewell solves the problem of evil (using the free-will defense). There’s a number of problems with the free-will defense:

    1. God doesn’t have to override someone’s free-will in order to stop them from doing evil. He could just blast them (Isaiah 37:36).
    2. If we’re talking Christianity, the free-will defense is not found in the Bible.
    3. In fact, it’s contradicted by the Bible (Genesis 20:6).

    The real solution lies in the fact that all men have sinned, fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), are enemies of God (Romans 5:10) Whose wrath is against us (Ephesians 2:3), and the only way to be saved from a just punishment is to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

  5. Perhaps I\’m just a simpleton, but it seems to me that there is a perfectly satisfactory explanation for the evil and suffering which we are subject to in this world. An explanation found in the Hebrew scriptures which details man\’s rebellion against his creator and the subsequent sin and decay. A Fall whose deliterious effects would permeate all of creation and leave nothing untainted. Man chose to be his own god and thus introduced sin into the world. And here we are.
    But what do I know.

  6. Interesting point, Ryan. Two passages come to mind pertaining to this:

    Romans 8:20-22

    20 For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but because of him who subjected it, in hope

    21 that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

    22 For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.

    2 Corinthians 5:19

    19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

  7. jaredl said, “I personally think, as I mentioned to you in Memphis Dr. D, that a much more potent objection, given ID as you have formulated it, is the query “Whence the specifications / background knowledge to which God conformed his creations?” This regress is, in my view, unanswerable from a classical theological perspective.”

    The problem with this is that it results in an infinite regress (just like the polytheism of LDS theology). Logic was part of the mind of God from eternity past (when there was no such thing as time); it is part of His nature.

    jaredl said, “The problem of evil is unresolvable and ought to be prima facie evidence that classical theology is self-contradictory and cannot be an accurate description of reality.”

    He’s obviously never read works of the Reformers or the Puritans. Then again, you don’t need to. All one has to do is read Job and Romans to know that the *eternal*, *immutable* God of Scripture has no problem with evil since evil is *man’s problem*.

  8. No offense was intended by my use of the word “vacuous,” by which I meant simply “empty or devoid of content.” To wit: exactly what would it take to falsify classical theology, in your view? I submit that there is nothing which could. To me, as I said, the problem of evil is quite good enough on logical grounds once we concede, as we must if we are true to our observations, that real evils exist – or, restated, if classical theology were true, why aren’t we in heaven already?

    For a very good reason I will not address your paper in detail. The assumptions you carry into it are those of classical theology, and I don’t share them. The discussions must take place on first principles, not conclusions.

    As far as a paper on LDS theodicy, I will try to get back to you on this thread with a link. It won’t be original to me, if that’s ok.

    On the other hand, if you wish me to be silent on theological issues, I will be silent. I personally think your work on the design inference is sound and I support that publicly. I don’t, however, believe your work on the design inference supports your theology, and I have stated one of my reasons in my first post in this thread. It is the conflation of ID with your theology that’s getting the design movement into trouble in the PR sphere, which is why the problem of evil is such a potent rhetorical argument against ID – all they have to do is falsify the consequent (classical theology) to falsify the antecedent (design theory).

    I mean these things with no disrespect intended towards you, Dr. D. I personally count that lecture at the U of M to be one of the highlights of my past year, and felt it a great honor to meet and talk with you. I apologize for being so forthright in stating my views. It is your blog, and I am here at your sufferance.

  9. jaredl: I’m not sure how you arrive at this conclusion:

    “if classical theology were true, why aren’t we in heaven already?”

    Also, I’d be interested in hearing about the first principles which cause you to reject classical theology and why.

  10. 10

    If I may add a few thoughts, and I would welcome dialog. I never commented on this site before, and I responded to Bill on his essay, but perhaps it would be helpful to write on this forum. First, my respect to all those whose beliefs differ from mine, and whose path to discovery takes them to roads I may not travel. With that in mind, despite the fact the scholar Robin Lane Fox may not be a deist, I still believe he is a man of integrity. In his book, The Unauthorized Version, he wrote that ‘Original Sin’ derived from an error in translation. This is an excerpt, from a weird Internet site, but it agrees with the book, which is published by Penguin:

    # #

    These famous verses have inspired whole theories of sin and original sin which have changed many Christians’ perspective on human nature. It seems clear that the Fall of Adam and Eve was just not the moral tale of a single couple’s after: the story was meant to be the origin of a change for all subsequent humans. It is not, however, stated that what originated was sin or sinfulness, words which occur nowhere in the Hebrew text. It was St. Augustine who ended by arguing that original sin had been transmitted to each of us through Adam, a view which he backed up by Paul’s language in Romans 5. However, he followed a mistranslation of it, based only on a Latin version of the text. Paul’s Greek had merely said that ‘death passed upon all men, because [in that] all sinned’; Augustine followed an author who mistook it to say ‘death passed upon all men because of Adam, [in whom] all sinned . . .’ Original sin was read unnecessarily into Genesis and was then forced on to Paul by a wrong translation of his writings. In Genesis, nothing prevents us from thinking that Adam and Eve from the start of their lives had been expected to make love, reproduce and eventually die.

    # #

    Therefore, I would be delighted to hear from scholars who can confirm or refute the above.

    In reading, for example, Dr. Dembski’s work THE DESIGN REVOLUTION, I see analyzing and interpreting of facts. However, his essay is written from the perspective of faith. Personally, the concept of ‘Original Sin’ does not appeal to me, any more than reincarnation. As I wrote above, however, that does not mean I do not respect the adherents of their respective faiths.

    So, how do you explain ‘evil’? I think the short answer is that human beings should, as Dr. Dembski did admirably, do their best, consider the problem and find answers that they are comfortable with. My own thoughts are that this environment is difficult but allows us to make choices. I cannot see how the intervention of God on earth would benefit humanity; God cannot be Superman. If we do have immortal souls, then we must choose between good and evil, I think, here, and prove ourselves.

    Therefore, Sewell’s essay, to me, has merit, especially the latter parts.

    If I am wrong, so be it.

  11. Terrific essay.

  12. Scott: the story of the origin of sin in the Hebrew Bible doesn’t satisfy the criteria “a perfectly good explanation…” if there is no knowable or understandable mechanism for the transmission of sin from one generation to the next. If no such mechanism exists, then the story violates a basic quality we associate with God, namely justice. Why should ever new generations of humans be born who must continually suffer under the faults of others? How, even theoretically, does “the world” become tainted? If each new child who is born has an immortal soul which is “fresh, new”, how does that soul become tainted by the sins of previous humans? If it doesn’t become tainted, then is it theoretically possible that a human could be born who could fully resist the evil of the world? If not, why not? I am not saying that there is no answer to these questions, just that the Bible story offers only the general (and I think wholly correct) notion “sin entered the world” while not in any way offering an explanation as to why the creation remained completely unprotected from the disastrous effects of the choices of “Adam and Eve”.

  13. P. Phillips,

    No Christian doctrine is ever founded upon a single verse. There are plenty of verses and entire passages on the inherent evil of man as a result of the fall:

    Genesis 6:5
    Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

    Jeremiah 17:9
    “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

    Ecclesiastes 9:3
    This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

    Psalm 58:3
    The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.

    Ephesians 2:1-3
    And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

    The list could go on and on (Genesis 8:21, Jeremiah 13:23, John 3:19-20, John 8:34, Romans 1:28-32, Romans 3:10-18, Romans 8:7-8, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Titus 3:3, etc.). Second, the doctrine of original sin can be found in the writings of the earliest Christians, long before Augustine. Take Tertullian (3rd century) for example:

    “The truth is, the human race has always deserved ill at God’s hand. First of all, as undutiful to Him, because when it knew Him in part, it not only did not seek after Him, but even invented other gods of its own to worship; and further, because, as the result of their willing ignorance of the Teacher of righteousness, the Judge and Avenger of sin, all vices and crimes grew and flourished.” (Apologeticum 40.10)

    The book you cited is probably just another piece of revisionist literature like “The DaVinci Code” that is popular these days. In the end, it’s nothing more than an excuse not to repent and believe the gospel.

  14. tinabrewer said, “if there is no knowable or understandable mechanism for the transmission of sin from one generation to the next.”

    Just because the mechanism is not stated in Scripture or can be detected through empirical means does not mean that one does not exist.

    tinabrewer, “If no such mechanism exists, then the story violates a basic quality we associate with God, namely justice. Why should ever new generations of humans be born who must continually suffer under the faults of others?”

    Who defines what justice is? The only one can define what true justice is is God. Otherwise, you end up in the quagmire of relativism (i.e. “one man’s good is another man’s bad”, etc.).

    Most Westerners look at this through a cultural lense of democracy and individualism: one person, one vote. However, God sees responsibility through “federal headship”. A country’s people can be punished for what its king does. A family can be punished for what the father does. Just because YOU, in your culture, don’t think it’s fair, doesn’t mean it’s not fair in God’s eyes.

    Second, where do you get the idea that God is just? Might it be that you get it from the Scriptures? If you accept that God is just, why can’t you accept federal headship?

    One thing that the history of philosophy has shown is that man’s reason (i.e. humanistic rationalism; I’m not referring to the laws of logic) is personal, subjective, and emotive. The only way to escape the quagmire of relativism is to submit to the revelation of the Transcendent One, the Scriptures.

  15. 15
    John A. Davison

    Hesitant to characterize God, I have chosen to describe the architects of evolution as BFLs which stands for Big Front Loaders. There seems to be no good reason to assume only one and it makes it much easier for me to understand the world by postulating two, one benevolent the other malevolent. Of course there may have been several for all I know but I am hard pressed to see either evidence or need that they are still with us.

    Of course in a determined universe they need not be present anyhow but a prior existence cannot be denied by any unencumbered mind.

    “However that may be, the existence of internal factor affecting evolution has to be accepted by any objective mind…”
    Pierre Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms, page 209

    So much for the objectivity of the Darwinian mind!

    “Everything is determined… by forces over which we have no control.”
    Albert Einstein

    I take determined to be synonymous with “prescribed,” ergo the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis.

  16. I think it is difficult if not impossible to reconcile the “scientific” approach to trying to make sense of our environment with one using a religious approach. I think Ian Johnstone’s remarks below, on the origin of scientific thought, are releveant. When Dr. Dembski writes his scientific works, he is wearing, in my opinion, a different “hat” then the one he wears when he wrote his essay on Christian theodicy. Believing in ‘original sin’ is that: *believing* in the validity of statements and doctrine made by other human beings in another time.

    In fact, I don’t know that the concept of ‘free will’ is addressed in the doctrine cited above. I believe Robin Lane Fox’s books is genunine scholarship, although one can argue, perhaps, with his facts, if one has contrary evidence.

    Clearly, it is a matter of faith whether such thoughts and beliefs which have been cited as authority are in fact divinely inspired.

    My own personal “philosophy” is perhaps more Socratic, and thus to question all received ‘wisdom’. That does not mean, however, that I am hostile to the Abrahamic faiths; to the contrary, if any adherent uses that faith to achieve the “good”, I am all for it. Being human, it is difficult.

    Now, in this environment, this world of matter, we are creatures of flesh and blood, are we not? We lack the teeth and claws, to borrow a phrase, of the beasts. Are human beings, then, more violent because of the environment in which we live?

    However, as Dr. Dembski wrote, not completely, but interestingly, on consciousness, how much truly is external to our bodies? How can human beings with brains smaller than rabbits, for instance, still be human beings? I can’t answer those questions. But I do think if human beings have a natural predisposition towards self-interest and violence, perhaps that nature may be reigned in, by an appropriate environment. I think part of that enviroment is ‘the culture’ we create, and as has been discussed on this essays on loneliness, I think, and perhaps Dr. Dembski agrees with me, our ‘culture’ is flawed.

    Beside Ourselves: The Lonely Lost in Our Social Labyrinths
    By James G. Poulos

    http://www.spectator.org/dsp_a.....t_id=10132

    Perhaps rediscovered faith, should it lead to humility, compassion, and resolution of differences without violence is of great merit!

    Here is the link from Prof. Johnston’s Internet site:

    http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnsto.....ations.htm

    My way of understanding “evil” in the world agrees, I think, with Prof. Seward, but I see such questions as unanswerable by the kind of inquiry employed to determine if ID theory is valid. I disagree that human self-awareness is a ‘sin’ or ‘punishment’; if it is Hellenic to consider the ability to question a Divine Gift, then so be it.

    # # # # #

    It is tempting to link this self-assertive spirit and tragic vision of life to both the high and low points of Greek history. The most triumphant moments were undoubtedly the two defeats of the Persian invaders, one at Marathon in 490 and the other at Salamis and Plataea in 480. Faced with what looked like impossible odds (especially in the second invasion by Xerxes) the Greeks set aside their frequently quarrelsome differences and marched out to confront a foreign enemy. Thanks to the heroic conduct of particular individuals (most famously the Spartans at Thermopylae) and the bravery of the citizens, the Persians were defeated, and Greece was saved. The lowest point of Greek history was the Peloponnesian War (which started in 431 BC and ended in 404 BC), in effect, a savage conflict between groups of Greek states who could or would not reconcile their differences more peacefully because their shared traditions were insufficient to check their fear of each other and their leaders’ quests for power. The war ruined Athens (although its cultural achievements by no means ended then), and the victorious power, Sparta, soon went into a permanent decline. Many of the great works we read now were written in the light of these events. Aeschylus fought at the Battle of Marathon, and the great optimism of his Oresteia may well be a product of his sense of the astonishing achievements of the united Greeks. Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes wrote during various stages of the war, and their treatments of the old stories and traditional customs are decisively shaped by that event. The last and most pessimistic works of classical Greek culture (Thucydides’ Pelponnesian War and Euripides’ Bacchae) were written when the disastrous results of the civil war (especially for the Athenians) were clear for all to see. Within about seventy years (by 338 BC), the Greek states had been defeated by the Macdeonians and about one hundred years later by the Romans.

    # # # # #

    Now, this wedding of mathematics to explanations of nature is of enormous importance. It is, in effect, the start of science and a major advance for philosophical speculation. For example, using geometry to plot the movements of the heavens makes modern astronomy possible (it enables one to move beyond observation into precise modeling of the cosmos on mathematical principles). It’s curious, in retrospect, that the Babylonians, who were mathematically much more sophisticated than the Greeks and whose observations of the stars went back thousands of years, never thought of putting the two together, any more than did the Egyptians, from whom the Greeks derived much of their knowledge of geometry.

    To put mathematics at the heart of one’s understanding of dike is to demand a fundamentally different form of reasoning, and some of the philosophers were clearly seeking to do this as a way of countering the frequently irrational (and, in their eyes, immoral) behaviour associated with traditional rituals, cults, sacrifices, and so on. However, it is not necessarily demanding the abandonment of a religious sensibility. For mathematics came to be seen in many quarters as a spiritual training, a way to discipline the mind, so that knowledge of the higher order of things might be attained through geometry, rather than through the various methods used in traditional religion (e.g., fasting, drink, group chanting, sex, sacrifices, prayers, and so on). Plato (in the Republic) gives the greatest importance to an understanding of geometry as a spiritual training and is deliberately subverting the tradition in order to insist that we can only arrive at an understanding of dike by thinking in a new way. His goal, however, is still an inspired insight into how the cosmos works, what the highest divine powers have to reveal (what he calls the Form of the Good) (8).

    It’s probably fair to say that rational philosophy (or rational enquiry generally) tends to flourish, if at all, at critical periods when the traditional religion is failing in some important ways (as in Europe after the Thirty Years’ War). So it’s no accident that the greatest surviving works of Greek philosophy come, like Thucydides’ great work which marks the emergence of a historical enquiry based on thoroughly rational principles, after the Peloponnesian War, by which time many of the most important social organizations responsible for traditional religious faith and communal customs had been badly discredited and traditional Greek society was in shambles.

    While these philosophical speculations were obviously different in significant ways from the old religious traditions, in one important respect they were alike: both were spatial explanations which emphasized the visual order of the cosmos, without reference to any notion of historical development. What matters in the search for dike are the formal properties which make the world the way it is. Such a way of looking at the world is crucially different from the Jewish (and later Christian) way of seeing the world as primarily based on an unfolding, linear story, a unique and divinely guided history.

    These differences have led some thinkers to speculate about our divided inheritance. In our explanations for natural things (including ourselves) we can think like Greeks, or we can think like Jews. We can, that is, explain things with reference to their formal properties, the way they are arranged, the mathematical structures which make them what they are, or we can explain them with reference to their history, a story of how they have developed into what they have become. The first is the basis of the scientific imagination; the second is the basis for the historical imagination. Much of the modern history of Western civilization arises from the combination of these two visions, when, starting in the seventeenth century, we turned our scientific imaginations loose in the service of a vision of our historical destiny. But that’s another story.

  17. 17

    Oops, maybe my recent post was too long. I think Prof. Ian Johnstone, who is “anti-design”, and unwilling to engage in dialog, does make good points in the below essay, on Ancient and Modern Science:

    http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/essays/histsci.htm

    # # # # #

    But that knowledge has, as most of us realize, come at a price. For we have lost what was central to the old science of the Greeks and medieval thinkers: the sense of an activity guided by shared moral principles and a desire to satisfy our sense of religious wonder. Science now, for the most part, moves under a new imperative: the desire for power. We do not pause (as we should) to think about whether that power is something we ought to have, something that will bring us closer to God. We plunge ahead, because gaining power over nature has become an imperative in itself, and all sorts of reasons other than a pure desire to know are in play (especially military and commercial factors). Many of those in the best position to raise some questions about these matters, professors in university science departments, have themselves turned their professional activities (frequently accompanied by the students’ curriculum) over to corporate or governmental interests (their sources of funding), institutions whose immediate priorities do not include radical questioning of their entire mission.

    When people express, as they often do, a certain anxiety about science, about what it is doing or may do to how we live our lives, they are frequently lamenting the loss of that shared sense of the moral purposiveness of all human activity. Simply put, they are acknowledging that we do not know how to guide or what to do about the scientific genie we have released from the bottle, and developments in reproductive technologies, cloning, stem cells, genetic engineering, nuclear physics, and computers, among other things, provide all sorts of things for us to worry about.

  18. Ryan: In my opinion, it is simply untrue to claim that unless we submit ourselves unquestioningly to the doctrines of the Bible, we are then on the slippery slope towards relativism. I am not interested in, or inspired by relativism. I am, however, deeply inspired by the people who surrounded Jesus and who were able, through some inner faculty innate to their humanness, to recognize their saviour because they recognized, and resonated, with the truth. “my sheep hear my voice”. While it is certainly true that we humans err, it is also true, in my opinion, that we possess the capacity to perceive truth, and that our secondary duty (second, of course, to loving God with our entire being) is to keep this perceptive capacity, which is a function of our living spiritual core, awake. If we do that, then we can have some hope of being, like the followers of Christ, finders of what we seek.

    This relates to theodicy because a human is, no matter when he lives, in a quandry with regard to truth. It might have been considered acceptable, for example, to stone a woman to death because of adultery (at the time of Christ). This would have been something which, in the spirit you describe, people would have to “submit” to because it was proper according to the religious authorities. Whether you liked it or not, it was the proper thing. However, Christ came along and said “its not the proper thing. Its disgusting. Its backward. Its wrong. Don’t do it.” Now, did the universe suddenly just change when He said this? Did the laws of creation and right and wrong just get relativised? No. He was clearly saying that “the truth” was something entirely other than what people had convinced themselves was righteous. That is why only a few people could follow his train of thought on many things. And they argued with him now and then, saying “it says this in the scriptures, it says that in the scriptures…” and this wasn’t good enough. The ones who really wanted to learn from Christ had to be willing to LET GO of their pre-conceived notions of truth and just hear him. So, if you say that its Gods version of justice to punish innocents for the sins of others, I can just bury my own inner sense that this is, by definition, unjust and submit to this old idea. Or, I have a choice to say “Maybe this idea is really NOT how God is, and this is just a misrepresentation, perpetuated throughout the ages.” I don’t think this quandry represents a direct slide into relativism. It represents a fork in the road of moral seeking.

  19. tinabrewer,

    “In my opinion…”

    Your first three words prove my point. It’s YOUR opinion. Where did you come to know that men possess absolute libertarian free-will (commonly just called “free-will”)?

    [I need to note that I'm fairly new to the blogosphere, and when I capitalize words, my intent is that of emphasis, not yelling. Second, it is not my intent to be rude, just to have a philosophical/theological discussion. I write this lest you assume otherwise.]

    ““my sheep hear my voice””

    In its context, Jesus is speaking about those whom he has predestined unto eternal life. If you read another part of John (6:35-65), Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…”

    “If we do that, then we can have some hope of being, like the followers of Christ, finders of what we seek.”

    “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks after God…” (Romans 3:11)

    “Christ came along and said “its not the proper thing. Its disgusting. Its backward. Its wrong. Don’t do it.””

    Actually, Christ said that he did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Jesus’ point in John 8 is to point out that stoning was the maximum punishment that could be dealt out. The men who wanted to stone her were self-righteous. Rather than dealing with someone by enforcing the maximum punishment, the congregation is to call that person to repentance first to give them a chance to change. He never said it was wrong to stone someone for adultery. He was merely challenging the current rabbinic interpretation of that law. In fact, throughout John, Jesus claims to be the very one who gave those laws to Moses (8:54-59; 10:30, etc.).

    “He was clearly saying that “the truth” was something entirely other than what people had convinced themselves was righteous.”

    You’re assuming a disconect between the Old and New Testament. Several times, Jesus stated that the Old Testament was completely inspired by God (Matthew 22:29).

    “So, if you say that its Gods version of justice to punish innocents for the sins of others”

    That’s the whole point: they’re not innocent. They inherit the sinful nature of their father. Without God’s common grace, every utterance from our lips would curse God in some way. This has become our nature after the fall.

    “I can just bury my own inner sense that this is, by definition, unjust and submit to this old idea.”

    Again, your begging the question. The whole idea of original sin means that your intellect and intuition has been darkened (Romans 1:21). To quote Jeremiah: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)

    Of course, I know you can’t submit to this, and that’s the whole idea. “…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:7)

    “I don’t think this quandry represents a direct slide into relativism. It represents a fork in the road of moral seeking.”

    And what is the basis for your beliefs? If you answer that it is your own intuition, then I must point out that other peoples’ intuitions are different from your’s. I watch what happens in the world, and I am fully convinced (my self-intuition) about what the Scriptures say. What makes your’s better than mine (or anyone elses)? What makes your morality better than theirs? Again, with no absolute source of authority from which to submit to, you’re left in the quagmire of moral relativism.

  20. Ryan: I don’t know if it would be productive to go through a blow-by-blow argument over every line of scripture which you want to say one thing, and I another. I will admit upfront, by way of simplification, that varying interpretations of scriptural passages are possible, even probable. This is precisely why I don’t think one should be so certain that one understands right and wrong based upon their interpretation of scripture. For example, you counter my use of Christ’s identification of those who “hear my voice” with a quotation from John which refers to the Father who sent Christ “drawing” them to him. You interpret this as a process of “election” by which certain individuals are picked out by God. I could interpret it to mean that the power of the human free will descends directly from the will of the Father which created them, and is thus dependent upon a sustained connection to this source of all power.

    Similarly, you quote the passage from Romans in which it is pointed out that no one seeks after God. You interpret this to mean that we are inherently incapable of seeking after God because of our fallen nature, whereas I would read this as a condemnation of the overwhelming failure of humanity, which when coupled with Christ’s persistant attempts to teach people HOW TO CHANGE THEIR WAYS, is like a mother saying “YOU NEVER CLEAN YOUR ROOM!” Is it outside of the inherent capacity of her children to clean their room? No. THey consistently make the free-willing choice to disobey, for which she chastises them precisely because they could choose otherwise. Chastisement of those who do not choose to do wrong is useless. If our sinful nature is so inherent and so global as to preclude any meaningful hope of personal change, and is transmissible from generation to generation, then it is simply foolish to admonish and correct, as the prophets have done and as Christ himself did. Do we admonish the mentally retarded for their inability to perform intellectually? Of course not. We accept their limitations and work around them in a helpful and supportive manner (if we are compassionate, decent humans anyway)

    In this regard, I could quote Jesus, from John, when he says to the man whom he healed at the well “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Now why on the green earth would Jesus say this to someone who was inherently incapable of turning, through the correct exercise of his free will, away from sin? In my view, he would not. Interestingly, this same scene contains an element which I referred to earlier, in that Christ deliberately disobeyed the law “and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’”… I don’t assume a disconnect between the testaments. I assume a disconnect between the absolute truth, which derives from God, and our human ability to preserve that truth in a written record which is subject to varying interpretations. The passage from Matthew, (22:29) far from solidifying your own view, goes directly to mine: they had these scriptures right in front of them and failed to understand them. And Jesus chastised them for this, because he expected that they could have chosen to do better and have a more complete understanding. When he taught them the correct interpretation, “they were astonished at his teaching.”

    the following passages (John 5:28-29)hint at yet another common difference in interpretation, because it is here that Christ says about the judgement (with regard to the issue of salvation by grace or by faith) “those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” and a little ways on down the line (John 5:39-40) “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”

    I didn’t mean to go on for so long. sorry. This is just a brief listing of differing passages from the Bible and the very different views we can take from them. For me personally, this in no way leads me to relativism. Instead, it leads me to the view that faith, understood as a passionate inner committment to God, strenghtened through prayer, is the surest anchor in a confused and chaotic world.

  21. A short citation on LDS theodicy: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=1644

    I don’t have consistent i.net access. Sorry for the delay in posting.

  22. “Nature has some perfections to show that she is the image of God, and some defects to show that she is only His image.” — Pascal, Pensées

  23. “I will admit upfront, by way of simplification, that varying interpretations of scriptural passages are possible, even probable. This is precisely why I don’t think one should be so certain that one understands right and wrong based upon their interpretation of scripture.”

    Differing interpretations of Scripture only occur when people take the words of Scripture out of their grammatical/historical context and, instead, insert their philosophical or personal beliefs into the text. For instance, there were Gnostics in the second century who interpreted John 1:14 (“And the Word became flesh…”) to mean that the Word did *not* become flesh!

    For instance, your example in John 9:27 (“My sheep hear My voice…”) is preceded by: “I told you, and you do not believe…But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” He does not say, “You are not my sheep because you do not believe.” Instead, He says, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” The difference is subtle, but it is still a big one. The reason they don’t believe is because they were never predestined to eternal life.

    “I could interpret it to mean that the power of the human free will descends directly from the will of the Father which created them, and is thus dependent upon a sustained connection to this source of all power.”

    However, your interpretion makes not sense in the *context* of the passage. At the beginning of the dialogue, Christ says, “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe” (v. 36). Thus, it is clearly implied that the following verses will explain *why they don’t believe*. They don’t believe because “No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (v. 44). The implication is that these unbelieving people were not drawn by the Father. This becomes even more clear in verses 64-65.

    “If our sinful nature is so inherent and so global as to preclude any meaningful hope of personal change, and is transmissible from generation to generation, then it is simply foolish to admonish and correct, as the prophets have done and as Christ himself did.”

    I never said that the image of God in man was destroyed. Rather, it is marred. People can do good things (humanly speaking), but they can never bear *true* fruit for God (Romans 8:7-8) without God’s grace. God gives what is called “common grace” to all men so that they can do some good things (such as temporary repentance). The only way someone can have true repentance and faith toward God is to be regenerated (commonly called in our culture being “born again”; John 3:7). [I know that's a lot of theology, but I had to clear up some misconceptions.]

    “why on the green earth would Jesus say this to someone who was inherently incapable of turning, through the correct exercise of his free will, away from sin?”

    He was regenerated (i.e. “born again”) by the power of God.

    “in that Christ deliberately disobeyed the law…”

    He didn’t disobey the Law. He merely corrected the common rabbinic interpretation of the Law. [He was arguing against the legalism of the Pharisees which was *not* derived from the Scriptures but from the Rabbinic tradition.]

    Also, notice that He asked the woman where her accusers were (because they had left). Because she had no accusers (eye-witnesses), she could not legally be charged with the crime.

    “For me personally, this in no way leads me to relativism.”

    Then, where do you derive your truth from? Are you a mystic? Do you derive your truth from within yourself?

  24. 24

    Ryan, thank you for your reply. I believe the work of Robin Lane Fox is an attempt at genuine scholarship, and not a “piece of revisionist literature”. If Fox’s statement of “fact” that the translation was in error, then that is important. His opinions, however, should always be subject to scrutiny.

    Since I don’t have your knowledge of “the gospels”, then if I may ask, what are your thoughts on Prof. Sewell’s essay? Do they conflict with any teaching that you hold?

    Personally, I found the essay most moving and compelling. “Free will” — would you find that equivalent to self awareness? Is that sentience, which so many of us, perhaps all of us, try to subsume so many ways (too much surfing the web, but certainly all the major vices) a blessing or a punishment?

    I don’t have answers, yet I think asking the questions is important. I didn’t mean the Superman comment to be glib; if any of you remember STAR TREK, perhaps the “Prime Directive” is a better analogy.

    Thanks again!

  25. 25

    Links to Robin Lane Fox, if any one has an interest, and yes, I don’t think his getting involved with Oliver Stone was a good idea (I’ve read Fox’s book on Alexander, but have no intention of seeing the movie!)

    http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000004269,00.html

    Here’s a little more of what Fox wrote, and again, his opinions are only opinions, I believe:

    # # # # #

    After sentencing them, God tells Adam that he will sweat for a living . . . Toil, not death, is to be his punishment; death had always been part of the couple’s dusty nature, and even now, it befalls them only after long years outside Eden. Through Adam toil is added to man’s work, the toil of hoeing, weeding and back-breaking labour on every plot of ground. Through Eve comes woman’s pains of childbirth. The two of them transgress by disobeying and eating from the tree of knowledge: ‘disobedience: man’s original virtue’, remarked Oscar Wilde. They are expelled from Eden not in order to die, but so that they will not go on to further crimes and taste the tree of life (Genesis 3:22.) Through Adam and Eve’s misconduct, we are not condemned to death. We are condemned to hard gardening and painful childbirth; we are also denied the chance of stealing eternal life. . . . The fruit of the tree was an aphrodisiac, in Augustine’s opinion, and caused sexual lust to conquer our will. Many artists, including Durer, placed a cat, about to pounce, beneath the tree from which our parents ate; cats (respected by Muslims) had become symbols of sexual desire in early Christian literature . . .

    # # # # #

    The excerpt is from my Google search seeking the quote on Original Sin, and the site seems adversarial, and a little crazy, but F.Y.I. Even those who are “adversaries”, I think, as perhaps Dr. Dembski agrees, may become inadvertent teachers:

    http://www.adishakti.org/proph.....dicted.htm

    http://www.adishakti.org/proph.....dicted.htm

  26. Ryan: I appreciate your careful responses. I have to continue to disagree most strongly on a couple of points.

    One, I think the doctrine of election, or predestination for salvation, (or whatever you call it) is, according to the impulses of my darkened intuition, repulsive. I suppose, however, that if that is how it works, then my darkened views are irrelevant, as is the issue of moral relativism, etc. I have read up on this doctrine, but I admit I am ignorant about what its total implications are. Does it mean that all of us here either are or aren’t, and there’s nothing we can do about it? If so, then why worry about stuff like relativism? Why worry about biblical interpretation? Why should anyone bother with anything, really, if he/she is powerless to affect his ultimate spiritual fate? Its an enervating doctrine, to say the least, and I have to say that as many times as I have read the gospels, I have never ever gotten this impression. Help me out here…

    Second, I see no support in the passage with the stoning of the adultress, for your view that the reason Jesus doesn’t condemn her is because of a lack of eyewitnesses. On the contrary, He makes it explicitly clear that he is sending them away not because they didn’t “see her do it” but because they have no place, as sinners themselves, to single out her sin and punish it publicly. This is entirely different, and in my view represents a spiritual quantum leap forward: one of the consistent messages of Christ is that it is our duty to look inward in judgement and leave the judgement of others to God.

    Also, I disagree in principle that people only make interpretive errors when they take things out of context and insert their personal beliefs. If what you are saying is correct, there would be only one Christian church. While ideally this might be true, it is also true that a lot of very sincere and earnest Biblical scholars, who know a lot about context, disagree importantly enough to justify the generation of numerous denominations. To me, this is evidence of either the deficiency of our ability to understand something which is, in its actual form perfect( here I mean the Bible) , OR it is evidence that the form itself is unreliable and imperfect. In either case, your certainty that YOUR sect(whichever it is, I have no idea) has it all right, seems bold. Bold is good, but for me, at this point, this discussion cannot continue fruitfully until you give me some more information about “election” and its implications for ME. Thank you…

Leave a Reply