Deep Time and Theodicy
(Week 5 of SBTS 28960)
A. Biblically, it would seem that moral and natural evil did not precede, but came as a result of man’s sin:
1. ‘Before’ the creation there was only God. Since there was no evil in God there was no evil of any sort; since there was no physical world there could be no natural evil.
2. It seems that spirit beings were created without sin and did not sin until after the Creation Week.
a. God, speaking to Satan, claims Satan was ‘perfect in all your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you’ (Eze. 28:15).
b. Satan was without sin in the Garden of Eden (Eze. 28:12-15), which was planted (Gen. 2:8) after the creation of Adam (Gen. 2:7) and before the creation of Eve (Gen. 2:21-22) on Day Six of the Creation Week (comp. Gen. 1:26 and Gen. 2:7-22).
c. The fallen angels seem to respond to a fallen Satan, so it would appear that the first of the spirit beings to fall was Satan.
è there seems to have been no moral evil in the spirit world through the Creation Week.
3. Humans were created without sin and did not sin until after the Creation Week:
a. Adam and Eve seem to have been without sin (moral evil) before eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
A) At their creation Adam and Eve were without shame (Gen. 2:25), becoming ashamed only after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6-11).
B) Adam and Eve were created with access to the tree of life and being able to live forever, dying only after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:22).
b. The first sin (moral evil) of humans seems to have been the consumption of the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
A) The first recorded sin in the Bible is Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:17)
B) Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam (Rom. 5:12-21), and the only disobedience of Adam mentioned in the Bible is eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
c. The fall of man seems to follow the Creation Week:
A) The account of the Fall (Gen. 3) textually follows the creation account (Gen. 1-2).
B) Events of Gen. 3 leading up to the Fall seem to have taken multiple days
1) There is a hint in the text that God walking in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve was a habitual event (Gen. 3:8).
2) The temptation of Eve (Gen. 3:1-5) was probably over an extended period of time as was the temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1) and as suggested by the fact that the serpent seems to be interacting with Eve alone (without Adam), whereas Eve’s eating of the fruit is done with Adam in her presence (‘the man with her’: Gen. 3:6)
4. It seems that no form of death preceded man’s sin:
a. Biblical life (and thus Biblical ‘death’) is probably restricted to God, animals, and man (and not include plants, fungi, protists, algae, bacteria, or even individual cells of a living organism’s body):
A) Whereas God, man, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even insects are described as ‘living’ in Scripture (e.g. Genesis 1; Genesis 6-9; the Levitical laws), nothing else (including plants) is never described as living (Wise, 2002) (NOTE: only the verse which describes the planted seed as ‘dying’ would be an exception... but this is probably just a picture of burial – especially since the seed does not die!);
B) ‘living’ is a common adjective for animals; ‘green’ tends to be the proper adjective for plants – see, e.g. Gen. 9:3
C) God told Noah that every living thing on the surface of the dry land was to be represented on the ark. He also said that their food (the plants) was to be included with them. Plants were not included among the ‘living things on the surface of the dry land’ (Wise, 2002);
D) Although every living thing on the face of the land was killed in the Flood (Gen. 7:4), an olive branch lived through the Flood to picked up by the dove (Gen. 7:23), so an olive tree is not considered living (Jones, 1993; Wise, 2002); and
E) The physical characteristics often associated with the words translated ‘life’ or ‘living’ in Scripture (e.g. dām, translated ‘blood’; nepeš, often translated ‘soul’; bāśār, translated ‘flesh’; and rūach, translated ‘breath’) are more comfortably associated with animals than with plants (Stambaugh, 1992; Wise, 2002)
b. In the initial creation no animals died due to carnivory.
A) All animals were herbivores in the original creation (Gen. 1:30)
B) In the new creation (paralleled with Eden, see above) there will be peaceful cohabitation of wolf & lamb, leopard & kid, lion & calf, bear & calf (Isa. 11:6-7)
C) In the new creation (paralleled with Eden, see above), the wolf, bear, and lion will eat grass (Isa. 11:6-7; 65:25)
A) is called an enemy (I Cor. 15:24-6), as if introduced after the initial creation and foreign to the initial creation.
B) ‘entered the world’ with man’s sin (Rom. 5:12-21).
C) Although the I Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 passages are explicitly referring only to human death, the overall sense of these passages (and Scripture in general) is that man brought more death into the world than merely the death of humans. Consider, for example, the ‘groaning and travailing’ of the entire creation (Rom. 8: 22) in the larger context of Romans.
D) will not be found in the new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:20; Rev. 21:4), and the Isaiah passage indicates that animals will be there.
d. When the Bible explains why death occurs, sin is the cause given:
A) Jesus died only because of human sin (e.g. I Cor. 15:3).
B) Humans die because of human sin (Gen. 2:17; 3:19, 22-24; Rom. 5:12-21).
e. Animal death results from the punishment of man’s sin:
A) Before the shedding of the blood of Christ, God used the blood of innocent animals to cover the sins of man.
B) God used the Flood to destroy both man and animals (Gen. 6:7) from off the face of the earth.
Which would imply the absence of anything that might cause human or animal death before the Fall (e.g. the natural evils of famine, drought, earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, disease, predation).
5. It seems that no form of suffering preceded man’s sin:
a. The curse explicitly
A) increased the pain of human childbirth (Gen. 3:16)
B) introduced serpent-human conflict (Gen. 3:15)
b. In the new heaven and earth there will be
A) ‘no more pain’ (Rev. 21:4)
B) no more sorrow (Rev. 21:4)
C) no animals harming humans
1) child leading wolves, leopards & lions (Isa. 11:6)
2) child playing on asp den (Isa. 11:8)
D) no hurt or destruction (Isa. 11:9; 65:25)
E) no tears, crying, weeping (Isa. 65:19; Rev. 21:4)
c. The entire creation is groaning in pain (Rom. 8:22), being subjected to this until the glorification of humans, suggesting excessive pain was placed upon the entire creation because of human sin.
d. God’ love (e.g. Rom. 5:8), mercy (e.g. Ps. 108:4), and compassion (i.e. pained by pain) (e.g. Ps. 86:15) would suggest He would not subject His creation to suffering before there was need to do so (in judgment).
e. There seems to be a universal tendency for humans to consider physical suffering (of animals and humans; not so for viruses, bacteria, protists, algae, or plants) to be evil and discordant in the created world.
Which would imply the absence of anything that might cause human or animal suffiering before the Fall (e.g. the natural evils of famine, drought, earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, disease, predation).
6. It seems that no unrewarded work (toil) (and implicitly physical weariness and emotional frustration and sorrow associated with it) preceded man’s sin:
a. The curse explicitly introduced
A) toil into farming (Gen. 3:17, 19)
B) a curse onto the ground (Gen. 3:17) so that it was less productive
C) thorns and thistles (weeds) into cultivated fields (Gen. 3:18)
b. The entire creation is travailing or toiling in pain (Rom. 8:22), being subjected to this until the glorification of humans, suggesting the entire creation was subjected to frustrating loss and waste of energy because of human sin.
c. In the new heaven and earth there will be no unrewarded work (Isa. 65:21-23)
Which would imply the absence of anything that might frustrate the work of man (by destroying human products or resisting human efforts to produce) before the Fall (e.g. the natural evils of famine, drought, earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, disease, predation, weeds).
7. It seems consistent to say that everything that God initially created (spiritual, physical, living, non-living) was without evil of any sort (natural or moral):
a. Good Creation
A) Since God is good and He created a creation reflecting His attributes it seems likely that the initial creation was without evil of any sort.
B) As He created, God repeatedly labeled the creation ‘good’ (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and finally ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), suggesting perfection of all kinds – including physical and moral.It seems reasonable to assume that because of God’s sinless perfection, everything He created would have been without evil. In contrast, it’s hard to imagine that a creation which contains disease, suffering, toil, and animal death could be repeatedly described by God as being 'good' and then ultimately 'very good'.
b. Incorruptible Creation
A) The fact that the current creation is suffering under the ‘bondage of curruption’, and was ‘made subject’ to that bondage corruption’ (Rom. 8:18-22) suggests that the original creation was not subject to that bondage. This suggests that it was incorruptible.
B) If man had not sinned he would have lived forever, as implied
1) by obedience to the command of Gen. 2:17
2) in the ‘return to the dust’ portion of the curse (Gen. 3:19)
3) by ‘and he died’ at the end of every bibliographic note (except Enoch’s) from Adam through Noah (Gen. 5:3-32; 7:6; 9:28-29), but not in later genealogies.
4) by the need of expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22-4)
5) by death passing upon all men due to Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12-15; I Cor. 15:21-22)
è the earth, the sun, etc. had to have existed forever as well. This suggests the entire creation was incorruptible.
c. Restored Creation
A) There seems to be a creation/fall/redemption megatheme in Scripture. If redemption is buying back or restoration (vs. making perfect that which was never perfect), this suggests that the creation was perfect before the Fall as it will be perfect again with redemption (i.e. in the form of the new heaven and earth).
B) The future (new) heavens and the new earth (e.g. Isa. 11 & 65; Rev. 19-22)
1) demonstrates that a perfect physical universe can (somehow) persist forever.
2) by being ‘new’, suggests a return to the newness of the first heaven & earth.
3) is likened to the Garden of Eden in perfection (e.g. Isa. 51:3; Eze. 36:35)
4) is similar to the original creation in that they were both created to exist forever and they both lacked
a) the curse (comp. Gen. 3:14-24 with Rom. 8:18-22 & Rev. 22:3)
b) carnivory (comp. Gen. 2:17 with peaceful cohabitation of wolf & lamb, leopard & kid, lion & calf, bear & calf (Isa. 11:6-7) and with the wolf, bear, and lion eating grass (Isa. 11:6-7; 65:25)
c) toil (unrewarded work) (comp. Gen. 3:19 with Isa. 65:21-23)
d) excessive pain (comp. Gen. 3:16 with Rev. 21:4)
e) sorrow (comp. Gen. 3:16 with Rev. 21:4)
f) death (comp. Gen. 2:17 etc. (above) with Isa. 65:20 & Rev. 21:4)
C) The traditional understanding by the Hebrews and the church (up to the introduction of the scientific concept of deep time) has been that death, suffering, and toil, and thus all evil (natural or moral) was absent from the pre-Fall world.
B. The ‘problem of evil’ (the origin, existence, and quantity of evil in a world which also has an all-powerful, all-good God) is perhaps the greatest philosophical challenge to a Christian perspective of the world. An attempt to offer a Christian explanation for the origin of evil is called a theodicy. The dominant theodicy in Christianity up through the middle of the 20th century, and the favorite theodicy of conservative Christianity is that of Augustine:
1. ‘Before’ the creation, only God existed, so no evil existed at all.
2. Evil is not a substance, so God did not create it, and nothing created was evil.
3. Moral evil is a free-will being choosing the lesser good (usually choosing good for one’s self rather than God’s good).
a. Satan was the first to sin:
A) Very possibly the greatest being of God’s creation, Satan was likely to be the fastest to fall (if he was going to) (Augustine).
B) Since the fallen angels seem to respond to a fallen Satan, Satan was probably the first spirit being to fall.
C) Since the curse on the serpent (Gen. 3:14) seems to go beyond what is possible for an animal (Gen. 3:15: to be able to bruise the heel of Eve’s Seed, Who we understand to be Jesus, living 4000 years later!), and Satan is said to have been in the Garden of Eden (Eze. 28:13) and is called the ‘old serpent’ and ‘deceiver’ (Rev. 12:9; 20:2), Satan tempted Eve before the sin of Adam, indicating that Satan fell before Adam’s sin. Since Satan was unfallen at the end of the Creation Week (above), Satan must have fallen between the end of the Creation Week and the beginning of the temptation of Eve.
D) The first moral evil was Satan’s desire to be God rather than being what God created him to be.
E) Since Satan was a spirit which was not given dominion over the physical world, Satan’s sin did not impact the physical world.
b. As the first human to sin, Eve was deceived (Gen. 3:1-6; I Tim. 2:14) to chose the lesser goods of good taste, beauty, and knowledge over obedience to God (Gen. 3:6).
4. Natural evil is part of God’s curse on the physical creation in response to Adam’s sin (i.e. in response to human moral evil).
a. Because God placed man in authority over the creation (Gen. 1:26-28), God’s judgment of human sin should impact the physical creation. For example,
A) ‘by one man sin entered into the world’ (Rom. 5:12; see above)
B) In the Flood, God destroyed all life on the earth in judgment of man’s sin (Gen. 6:7).
C) God will destroy the entire universe in judgment of man’s sin.
b. The curse (Gen. 3:14-24) explicitly introduces physical changes (including natural evils) into the creation in response to man’s sin:
A) God cursed the serpent (the entire species or just one animal?) to crawl upon his belly (Gen. 3:14)
B) God cursed all cattle and beast of the field, for He cursed the serpent more than the cattle and the beast of the field (Gen. 3:14). This is possibly the origin of animal corruption (resulting in animal aging, genetic diseases in animals, animal parasitism, animal violence) and mechanisms to minimize the natural evil (e.g. animal overproduction, protective behavior and designs, carnivory, animal death)
C) God increases the pain of Eve (and probably all women) in child-bearing (Gen. 3:16). Along with the origin of marital conflict, the curse on Eve probably represents the origin of suffering throughout the creation.
D) God curses the ground (at least outside the garden and probably worldwide) so that it requires toil to produce food (Gen. 3:17-19). This may represent the corruption placed upon the whole creation (Rom. 8:18-22), which begins the aging of all physical objects of the universe, including our sun, the earth, and the earth’s soil. This is probably not only the origin of toilsome work, but also the beginning of the deterioration of the earth to the Flood (including the beginning of climatic and geological natural evils), and (as part of the earth) the origin of viral and bacterial diseases.
E) God causes thorns and thistles to invade human cultivation (and perhaps to come into being for the first time?) (Gen. 3:18). This may represent the impact of the curse on the plant kingdom (plant aging, genetic diseases in plants, plant parasitism, plant overproduction, protective designs)
F) Humanity is made to experience physical death (Gen. 3:19)
c. The first death recorded in Scripture was the death of the animals implicitly needed to make clothes to cover Adam and Eve’s shame (Gen. 3:21) – the beginning of animal sacrifices for human sin.
d. Sometime after the creation – contextually it would seem to be coincident with man’s Fall, as it will be lifted with man’s glorification – the ‘whole creation’ was ‘made subject’ to the ‘bondage of corruption’ and, as a result, ‘groans and travails together in pain’ (Rom. 8:19-22)
è Biblical theology cannot have natural evil (or presumably evidence of it) preceding man’s sin.
C. Modern science introduced the concept of deep time
1. By the beginning of the 17th century fossils were generally understood to be objects created or grown in rock by God to look like living organisms, and thereby demonstrate that the Creator of rocks was also the Creator of organisms and to create a spectrum of entities from inanimate rocks through living plants, soulish animals, spirited humans, and spirit angels. This meant that the rock and fossil record represented no creation time (created in an instant or formed since the creation).
2. Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), following a 1667 treatise on the anatomy of a shark’s head, argued (in his 1669 De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus) that rocks formed around tongue-stones (fossils which looked like shark teeth) – i.e. that fossils pre-date the rocks. This in turn suggests that a single fossil suggests a historical sequence of an organism living, then dying, then getting covered in sediment, and then being fossilized. Each layer of rock then has its own history, following that of the layer beneath and preceding that of the layer above. This means that that the rock record was not created instantaneous, but rather represents the passing of substantial time.
3. Following Isaac Newton’s (1643-1727) suggestion (fleshed out in his 1687 Principia Mathematica) that God sustains the entire universe by natural laws, several ‘theories of the earth’ – attempts to explain the time evidenced in the rock record according to the outworking of natural law – were proposed in the late 17th century (e.g. William Whiston in 1682, John Woodward in 1695, Thomas Burnet in 1697).
4. As part of the enlightenment agenda to exclude God from academia, George LeClerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) created a naturalistic theory of the earth. In 1749 he suggested that the earth cooled from a molten condition and implied it was older than the Bible indicates. By 1788, based upon cooling experiments on molten cannon balls, Buffon (as an unbeliever!) argued that the days of the Creation Week were thousands of years long in order to allow the earth enough time (he believed 75,000 years) to cool down from such a molten state.
5. James Hutton (orally in 1785; in print in 1795), inferred the existence of the rock cycle and deduced that ‘there was no vestige of a beginning and no prospect of an end’ to earth history. This, in turn, suggests that the age of the earth will end up much, much older than Buffon’s tens of thousands of years.
6. Geology quickly arose as its own academic discipline in the first half of the 19th century:
a. The first geological society (the Geological Society of London) was founded in 1807
b. Stratigraphy (dating rocks with fossils) was initiated in 1811 (with Georges Cuvier and Alexander Broignart’s Description Geologiques des Environs de Paris)
c. Geological mapping was introduced in 1813 (with William Smith)
d. The first geology professorships were created in 1818 (by William Buckland at Oxford) and 1818 (by Adam Sedgwick at Cambridge).
e. Beginning with Buffon’s rejection of biblical chronology in the middle of the eighteenth century, and encouraged by the formalization of geology as a discipline in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the great depth of fossiliferous sediments around the world (in some places more than 5 miles deep!) led to an increasingly old earth (100’s of millions of years by the end of the 19th century).
7. William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), for a time, slowed the ‘aging’ of the earth by arguing for an earth history of less than 100 million years based upon the cooling rate of the earth (1864) and the shrinking of the sun (1887). However, on the heels of the 1896 discovery of radioactivity, Ernest Rutherford suggested that the energy released by radioactivity could allow the earth and the sun to have existed much longer than 100 million years. In the next couple decades radioactivity would become the foundation of a dating methd. By the late 1950s, the age of the earth settled in at about 4.6 billion years, the age of animal life on earth at about 500 million years, and the age of humans at between 2 and 4 million years.
D. Adopting deep time leads to
1. the acceptance of deep paleoevil: not only do rocks and fossils directly evidence 500 million years of natural evil (animal death, disease, suffering, climatological and geological catastastrophes), but if these rocks and fossils actually represent 500 million year of time, then there are thousands of times that much natural evil which is not preserved in the present (because it has eroded away).
2. a rejection of Augustinian free-will theodicy (with no adequate Christian theodicy to replace it)
3. a challenge to God’s mercy and compassion
4. a challenge to the veracity of Scripture:
a. The creation order in Genesis 1 (earth before sun; plants before animals; flying animals before land animals)
b. The creation ‘days’ (Gen. 1) and the creation ‘week’ (e.g. Exo. 20:11)
c. Humans not being derived from animals (Gen. 2:7)
d. the accuracy of Eden’s description (Gen. 2:10-14)
e. Adam naming all the animals and birds (Gen. 2:19-20)
f. Eve created from Adam as the origin of marriage (Gen. 2:22-24)
g. Eve’s pain in childbirth increasing at the Fall (Gen. 3:16)
h. Thorns and thistles not preceding man’s sin (Gen. 3:18)
i. Man ever being immortal (Gen. 3:19)
j. A substantial physical change in the creation at the Fall (Gen. 3:16-20)
k. City-building beginning with Cain (Gen. 4:17)
l. Nomadic herding, musical instruments, and metallurgy originating in Cain’s line (Gen. 4:20-22)
m. Humans living for many centuries in Genesis 5 & 11
n. Global Flood (Gen. 6-9)
o. All terrestrial animals descendant from animals on the ark
p. All humans descendant from Noah
q. Human languages all derived from Babel.
5. a challenge to all Christian doctrine (because it is based upon the historical truth of the first chapters of Genesis)
è Deep time is to be rejected as contrary to biblical theology.