June 10, 2010

Seventh-day Darwinians, Redux

2010 1516 page14 capNY HONEST ADVENTIST WHO WONDERS IF OUR FAITH COULD EVER BE reconciled with evolution must read Physics and Cosmology (Nancey Murphy, Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, SJ, editors; Vatican City State, Vatican Observatory Foundation: 2007). A compilation of papers presented at a symposium in Italy in 2005, the book is crammed with scientists, philosophers, and theologians (Catholic and Protestant) who seek to explain the goodness of God in the face of the world’s evil (in this case, “natural” evil). Each contributor, though, worked from the premise that natural evil and suffering were “built into the universe from its origin” (p. 264). Why such a horrible, and wrong, start? Because all believe that evolution is the means God used to create us.
Their gist is this: natural evil and suffering (both human and animal) need to exist in order for God to “have living, intelligent, free, loving partners” (p. 140). Far from being aberrations, suffering and natural evil are allowed because “God’s intention is to create life through the processes of evolution” (p. 110). Talking about the “suffering built into the universe,” one scholar wrote that things such as “predation, death, and extinction” are “intrinsic to the processes that give rise to life on Earth in all its wonderful diversity” (p. 248). Another argued that: “Rather, natural evils may occur simply as a necessary consequence of establishing a lawful system of nature that provides the required context, or background conditions, for achieving the good that God intends” (p. 171, italics supplied). In short, “no biological account of the transmission of original sin is necessary, and the idea of the creation de novo [from new] of morally perfect free beings is dismissed as incoherent” (p. 134). Indeed, “toil and death are the consequences of the finely tuned laws of physics that allow us to be here” (p. 151).
2010 1516 page14Of course, the view of earth’s creation as “very good” (Gen. 1:31), of Adam and Eve as once perfect (of their existence, even), and of a fall are, by default, dismissed. Evil, pain, and suffering are, instead, the “unavoidable by-product of conditions” that the natural world has to obtain “in order that there be intelligent life at all” (p. 131).
In this scenario the God of Scripture is reduced to the God of deism, because He purposely doesn’t intervene in the natural processes of creation. This noninterventionist God had decided “not to violate the ‘natural rights’ of created entities to be what they are” (p. 135). Or, as another said: “A benevolent God could not intervene even once without incurring ?the responsibility to intervene in every case where doing so would prevent an instance of innocent suffering” (p. 183, italics supplied).
Even if we ignore the obviously interventionist teachings that permeate all Scripture (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Second Coming, et al.), who can’t see how destructive these views are to Adventist theology? Suffering, death, and natural evil, instead of being the result of free beings who abused that freedom, were wired into the creation by God Himself. In this theology the Lord didn’t speak the world into a perfect existence; rather, He spits and coughs out random natural processes that, of necessity, include evil, suffering, and death.
The whole purpose of the great controversy scenario is to vindicate God from the responsibility for the evil that theistic evolution attributes to Him by virtue of how He created. “A world allowed to make itself through the evolutionary exploration of its potentiality,” wrote a contributor (quoting another author), “is a better world than one produced ready-made by divine fiat” (p. 163). Really now?
However wrong, however ridiculously far from the text these scholars have drifted, at least they have the intellectual honesty not to play word games and make broad statements about believing in the Genesis “creation” when they don’t. They have taken their premise, theistic evolution, to its inescapable conclusion: God is responsible for the natural evil that He, Himself, built into the universe.
Physics and Cosmology powerfully reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: Seventh-day Darwinism isn’t about “academic freedom” or “tolerance” of divergent views, but is a full-frontal assault on Adventist beliefs and should be treated as such. 
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published June 10, 2010.