Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred

God’s Sovereignty and Nature’s Freedom


Today’s entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. Applegate is completing her PhD in Cell Biology at The Scripps Research Institute.

Genetic switches that act during development to produce a newborn baby seem, like Michael Behe’s mouse trap, irreducibly complex. As Darrel Falk pointed out recently, however, irreducibly complex switches also drive the proliferation of bacteria and viruses which kill millions of people each year. Christians must wrestle with a difficult question: is God responsible for designing these killing machines?

Falk says no–evil in the world is a by-product of the freedom God has given his creation. According to Christian theology, Satan is not a co-creator with God, so we cannot attribute to him the existence of harmful microorganisms. But to say that God hand-crafted each irreducibly complex structure in a virus would seem to make him the author of evil. Falk argues that God’s creation has freedom built into it, such that natural selection produces both darling babies and deadly bugs.

Bill Dembski, a prominent figure in the Intelligent Design movement, responded to Falk’s piece with a post of his own. He argues against trying to absolve God of specially creating bad designs: “for the Christian it does nothing to resolve the problem of evil by passing the buck to a naturalistic evolutionary process (a process, in that case, created by God).” In his eyes, whether God creates “directly by intervening or indirectly by evolution,” God is responsible, just as a mugger is responsible whether he uses his own hands or a vicious dog to assault his victim.

This week Karl Giberson countered Dembski, contending that Christians have always shifted the responsibility away from God when it comes to the problem of evil. He reiterates the need to invoke human freedom by reminding us of the Holocaust: “The freedom God gave humans was exercised most effectively in the construction of gas chambers at Aushwitz and Dachau. But, because humans have freedom, we do not say that God created those gas chambers. God is, so to speak, off the hook for that evil.”

The belief in a good and sovereign God seems to be at odds with the realities of death, disease, and evil we experience in this life. This apparent paradox exists at least in part because of our near-sighted view of God’s purposes for suffering. Consider the this familiar verse, Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (emphasis added). God always works to bring good out of human suffering, whether that suffering is caused by people or by nature.

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament illustrates how human evil can be used for good. Years after Joseph’s brothers beat him and sold him into slavery, he saves them from starvation during a famine. Upon realizing who Joseph is, they fall down before him in fear, but he reassures them, saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

On multiple occasions, Jesus affirms that physical suffering is neither meaningless nor necessarily the result of sin, but an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed. In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. His disciples ask whose sin caused the man’s blindness, and Jesus tells them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” In Luke 13, Jesus asserts that a terrible tragedy is not punishment for sin but a wakeup call: “…those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Surely the best example of God using evil for good can be seen in the death and resurrection of Christ. We don’t like to think that God actively willed the murder of his own son, but from the earliest chapters of the Bible we see God’s promise of redemption from sin (Genesis 3:15). Indeed, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, considered primitive and bloody by our culture today, pointed forward to the atoning work of Christ. Thus our greatest blessing as Christians–the promise of salvation–came through a horrific act of violence.

In Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” It is alarming to realize that God is not as predictable as we might expect. He is completely and utterly sovereign; he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). This would be terrifying if God weren’t also good. Even in his goodness, though, he does not prevent us from doing evil or experiencing suffering. That is why Falk and Giberson are right to emphasize man’s and nature’s freedom. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:

If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata–of creatures that worked like machines–would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other…

God’s sovereignty and nature’s freedom will forever be in tension. But we can keep testing our assumptions and looking at the evidence on various topics like evolution. The conclusions we come to may be different, depending on our theological and philosophical positions and our differing levels of scientific knowledge. That’s fine, as long as we keep seeking truth and acting in humility and love. Personally, I find the evidence for evolution of all living things by natural selection extremely compelling. Yet my understanding of nature would be grossly impoverished without the rich depths of truth found in Scripture. I am grateful for forums like this where both scientific and theological truths are sought after and celebrated.


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posted October 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

Evolution is Intelligent Design. My children are in a private Luteran School and know more about evolution than their counterparts down the street in public school. They also know more about other religions than most adherants do OF those religions.
The biggest problem Biologos has, is to convince ID supporting Christians that you are not part and parcel, just another Liberal/Heresy machine of whack job lefty activists working a new angle for the Democrat party.
Usually what is hooked on to evolutionISM is abortion for birth control, sexual depravity celebrated IN the Church: gay activism, condom morality in schools, and universalism.
If it science you seek, then evidence is important.

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posted October 6, 2009 at 12:13 pm

This is a good article. As a person who loves God,my first reaction is to defend Him and say God doesn’t create evil or suffering.But after thinking about this and doing a little research. I came to these conclusions.
God is sovereign and is the Creator and maker of ALL things.That said,I don’t believe he has bad or evil in him. He is good, merciful and abounding in grace. By his very nature He is the definition of honor and glory. But in saying that it does not mean he doesn’t choose to let things happen both good and bad that are orchestrated by his will.I don’t know why God does some of the things God does,who can understand the mind of God? Do we really need to?
Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster I,the Lord do all these things”.

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posted October 8, 2009 at 8:39 am

Bill Dembski, a prominent figure in the Intelligent Design movement, responded to Falk’s piece with a post of his own. He argues against trying to absolve God of specially creating bad designs: “for the Christian it does nothing to resolve the problem of evil by passing the buck to a naturalistic evolutionary process (a process, in that case, created by God).” In his eyes, whether God creates “directly by intervening or indirectly by evolution,” God is responsible, just as a mugger is responsible whether he uses his own hands or a vicious dog to assault his victim.
Demski is of course correct here.
This week Karl Giberson countered Dembski, contending that Christians have always shifted the responsibility away from God when it comes to the problem of evil.
So is Giberson: Christians have indeed always used this feeble cop-out. They claim their God is omnipotent, so logically he must be responsible for absolutely everything.
The belief in a good and sovereign God seems to be at odds with the realities of death, disease, and evil we experience in this life.
Seems? Nay, it is! “Theodicy” is just another word for special pleading.

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posted October 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Are you suggesting EVERY evil event has some form of good from it?What good comes from someone being struck by lightning and dying? There are instances where this is not preventable and we as a society learn nothing from it.

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posted October 13, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Also, just to let everyone know, gene regulation is not irreducibly complex. Fluconazole, a drug invented in the 80’s, is a substrate and induces expression for, an estradiol pump Cdr1p. This shows how gene regulation is not irreducibly complex.

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posted October 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm

why is death and disease bad? Is it because it is undesirable? So a good God will not give what is undesirable to mankind? Now, here is a problem. Humans like to define ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ based on desirability. Satanists find God as a Tyrant, being undesirable and does that make God evil?
The problem is how do we define an absolute ‘good’ and ‘evil’? We definitely cannot judge this by desirability. Sexual immorality is desirable for many but for Christians, we know it is undesirable to God hence it is evil. ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’, the definitions for them are not defined by our feelings towards them whether or not they are desirable to me. Rather, it is defined by God’s feelings towards them.
In a single phenomenon, every social being will have different feelings toward it depending on which perspective they will view it. Take for example, Jesus’ death on the cross. To some, they felt it is disgusting in which God made His Son to die on the cross. After all, according to Leviticus 5:11, God does not need blood in order to forgive sin but rather God preferred blood. God is not a blood thirsty vampire. Sin offerings such as animal sacrifices according to some views are done in such a way to make insignificant sin being significant to us that the innocent had to die on our behalf. Take the good Samaritan parable said by Jesus for example. The Priest left so as the Levite. People will assume it is their rights and nothing wrong or extremely bad as it is just ignoring and someone else will help anyway. In Social Psychology, this is termed as ‘bystander effect’ and there are incidents that a mass of people noticed a murder taking place but did nothing about it. You can read up on Kitty Genovese murder case. When we are in a group, the sense of responsibility is diminished and we assume others will do it or someone has called the police. What resulted from this? Death of someone! If the Samaritan did not turn up and the Levite is the last person and he chose to ignore the one being robbed, will this person not die? Galatians 5:14 said that the entire law of God is summed as “love your neighbour” or in short simply ‘love’ as 1 John 4 said clearly that the nature of God is love and whoever loves come from God and whoever does not love does not know God.
Hence, anything that is not love is in fact a sin. If we look at the definition of ‘love’ according to 1 Cor 13:4-7, we can see the origin of sin happened when this definition is broken. Love is not self-seeking but Eve sinned by self-seeking wanting to be like God, equal with God. Adam too sinned which is obvious when he did not protect his wife when love always protect. To say the truth is one thing, to die on behalf of another is love.
‘Evil’ then is not based on desirability but must be judged according to God’s intention of creating us and God’s purpose for us to love one another. Why makes a handicap imperfect? Is it not because majority are not handicap? If majority are handicap and it becomes ‘normal’, then the one who is odd one out that is normal, does it not make him like a ‘handicap’?
So, sin offering made the sins that are very insignificant to us very significant to us. The poor in Leviticus 5:11 did not require animal sacrifice cause the poor cannot afford it. It is not about the sacrifice but it is about making us aware of the consequences of sin if we do not repent. More innocents will have to suffer because of that! According to 2 Tim 1:9-10, God’s grace was not given on the cross. It was way before it that His grace was already given to us but it was on the cross that it is ultimately being demonstrated to us so that we know God loves us deeply and being aware and know the significance of sin that even Lord Jesus Christ had to suffer for our sake, we became aware of the consequences of sin and hence repent and being touched by Lord Jesus, we feel love and it is so great that we want to share this great love that we benefited from to others.
How we define things are often shaped by our culture in which we undergo the process of Socialization. Cultural conflicts happened because we are brought up with certain set of beliefs and the social pattern became repeated over time that it became internalized to us to become ‘truth’ although it is not. So we are quick to judge others as ‘wrong’ simply because they differ from our ‘truth’ and equally they will judge us as ‘wrong’ simply because we differ from their ‘truth’. This ‘truth’ is only based on ‘what’ or at most till ‘how’. You cannot really go into ‘why’ simply because you do not know why it is bad. In saying “because it is bad” is not answering why it is bad. In saying “because majority in my society think it is bad” does not make it bad as well or false. In the past, majority believes the earth is flat but that does not make it the truth. Postmodernism though rejected by most Sociologists is still valid to an extent in area of subjectivity human thoughts.
In saying absolute definition, we cannot rely on human subjective definitions that differs from one another, from culture to culture but solely on God’s definition of why He created us and the Bible is obvious in emphasizing love again and again. How are we to love? Jesus shown us well. What is love? Paul explained it. John reemphasized why we must love because God is love and we are to love. Love makes us perfect (1 John 4:18).
Social Sciences seem to me to testify this doctrine of love as the source for social order. Be it Social Psychology, Sociology or even Economics or Business Management, love is the emphasis indirectly. Biologos then is not wrong in emphasizing on the Moral Law that is objective. Love seems to me to be the Universal Morality that is objective. What is subjective is only how it is being practiced.
It is my own assumption and current stand though. Everyone has their own perspective but we need to explain why to convince others, not with “because other says so”.

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