Over the last couple weeks we’ve been wrestling with aspects of the problem of natural evil. Today we’re going to consider a solution to the problem of natural evil as it relates to animals which is proposed by William Dembski in his book The End of Christianity. We can summarize the problem in two parts: suffering and sub-optimal design. If creation is the product of a perfectly good and all-powerful deity, why does creation have so much suffering? And why does it have so many instances of sub-optimal design (or, as they are called, kluges)?
The traditional Christian answer is that things were fine until Adam and Eve blundered in and spoiled everything. Of course that answer has always had one significant problem. Since this problem has always been around we can call it the Old Problem. Consider an illustration. Imagine that a parent is sued because their fifteen year old crashed the family sedan into the neighbor’s living room. The parent might respond in court: “I never said my kid could take the car. He stole my keys so I’m not responsible.” But the judge can reply “By failing to secure the keys where your child could not get them you unwittingly provided the opportunity for the crime, and for that you’re responsible.” By analogy, even if Adam and Eve messed up creation it was still God who left the car keys where they could get at them (hanging on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as it turns out).
In the last one hundred and fifty years (i.e. post-Darwin) the New Problem has also emerged, and it consists of two parts. First, the suffering and death of creation predates the appearance of human beings. Second, the living products of creation evince an abundance of adaptive but still sub-optimal design. Neither of these would you expect from a creation produced by a perfectly good and all-powerful God. So how do we explain this natural evil?
Enter Dembski with a thesis that is, if nothing else, creative. He begins:
“To make us realize the full extent of human sin, God does not merely allow personal evils (i.e. the disordering of our souls and the sins we commit as a result) to run their course subsequent to the Fall. In addition, God allows natural evils (e.g. death, predation, parasitism, disease, drought, floods, famines, earthquakes, and hurricanes) to run their course prior to the Fall. Thus, God himself wills the disordering of creation, making it defective on purpose.”
This is a striking claim. Dembski retains the idea that the suffering and sub-optimal designs of creation were woven into the original fabric of creation precisely because God knew there would be a fall. And why? The purpose is instructive: to help us realize the extent of sin. Thus Dembski concludes:
“God wills the disordering of creation not merely as a matter of justice (to bring judgment against human sin as required by God’s holiness) but, even more significantly, as a matter of redemption (to bring humanity to its senses by making us realize the gravity of sin….).”
So the reason that the bat bug engages in traumatic insemination is as a matter of justice and redemption for human beings. The same goes for the reason a tuna was eaten by a shark off the Cape of Good Hope forty million years ago. And it also explains why a T-Rex tore into the hide of a triceratops seventy million years ago. And it even explains why ichneumonidae, that family of parasitic wasps that gave Charles Darwin such a headache, engage in their nasty practices.
This thesis raises some rather glaring questions. Consider the tuna that is eaten off the Cape of Good Hope by a shark forty million years before Adam and Eve ate the fruit off the tree. How is the shark’s consumption of live prey a just result from the anticipated fall of future human beings? Imagine that after your son drives your car into the neighbor’s living room you retailiate by injecting a serum into his dog Spot that turns Spot into Cujo. Would that have any discernable logic? Presumably the only logic it would have is a punitive measure where you are essentially destroying your son’s loving dog due to his action. Even if we accept the justice of turning Spot into Cujo as punishment for your son’s action, what does that have to do with the poor tuna (let’s call him Mr. T) who was eaten by a marine version of Cujo forty million years before human beings appeared on the scene? And how does the consumption of poor Mr. T serve the cause of human redemption?