Thoughts on Dembski’s The End of Christianity

by Max Andrews

The following is a review I did of Bill Dembski’s The End of Christianity a couple of years ago.

The book was a fairly light read, easy to get through, yet deep and informative at the same time. I would recommend this to those who are somewhat familiar with modern cosmology, geology, and theological exegesis. If you are an adamant young earth creationist you will either dislike this book or be engaged to find more answers (which ultimately he believes to be untenable). To state the theodicy in a nutshell, both natural and personal/moral evil is a result of the Fall and God acted in anticipatory manner, though retroactively, to show the gravity of sin. I appreciate Dembski’s attempts to reconcile evil with sin and to exalt God’s grace and glory in the midst of suffering and evil.

The only objections I had:

  1. Dembski continually refers to the pre-fall creation [or prior to the effects of sin] as “perfect.” I don’t find this to be a biblical description of creation, rather God calls physical creation “good” (i.e. the end of the fourth day Gen. 1.25). The best thing God labels in creation is the creation of man, that creation is “very good” (Gen. 1.31). I constantly took note of this throughout the book. I would be interested to see if this would affect his theodicy at all.
  2. I disagree with Dembski’s philosophy of time (though I can’t be certain from reading this book). Dembski seems to align himself with the [seemingly] majority of Evangelicals by claiming God is “outside of time” [B-theorist, static theory]. I may part way with this as I am an ardent A-theorist [dynamic theory]. I don’t see this as effecting his theodicy at all though. He uses it to show the retroactive effects of sin from the initial beginning of the universe. That doesn’t seem to necessitate an omnitemporality of God, rather middle knowledge [or even mere foreknowledge].
  3. I disagree, exegetically, with his interpretation of Romans 5.12. I believe that “death” only refers to human death. I think to read in all death [to plants and animals] one must do leaps and bounds.
  4. In the end, I find Dembski’s theodicy to be plausible (no need for exegetical gymnastics either!). I find it complementary to a free will defense, and appropriately so (I appreciate his dismissal of Hick’s soul-making). I hope that Dembski writes another book expounding on more details behind the core argument (as well as incorporate anything related to my three objections, though not pertinent to the actual argument).The book is also seeker-friendly in the sense that those who hold the problem of evil as an intellectual or emotional hurdle in believing in God or allowing a closer relationship to him may find answers.

5 Comments to “Thoughts on Dembski’s The End of Christianity”

  1. I’ve not read this particular work by Dembski, but I have heard him speak concerning the retroactive effects of the Fall. If the science turns out right, then I like this idea. This leads me to what I wanted to mention. Your first disagreement is with respect to his use of the adjective ‘perfect’ with respect to pre-fall creation. This is simply a matter of settled doctrine. Of course, even ‘settled’ doctrine is never really settled–but, Dempski isn’t saying anything much debatable in the realm of theology and biblical studies. The reason the earliest fathers deemed creation ‘perfect’ prior to the fall is because the fathers refused (and I think rightly so) to think that any death was deemed as ‘good.’ Death is always an evil–the death of animals, the death of plants, the death of man, the death of creation in general. Considering your knowledge of evolutionary biology, I’m not surprised you don’t see the problems with labeling the normal evolutionary occurrences as ‘good’. For example, there are insects that parasite on other insects such that the larvae hatch in other living organisms and eat the host insect alive–saving the vital organs for last. That’s what we might properly term a natural evil–a pretty hideous one, at that. Presumably, there is a good chance that brutal acts of death and natural cruelty happened countless times in the 10 billion years leading up to the appearance of earth. I think it’s probably easier and more natural to suggest that God wouldn’t look on suffering with any inclination toward ‘good.’ For example: I don’t think he’d look at our present world and say ‘it is good.’ That seems to be the point of the Christian hope of resurrection–both for us and the cosmos. What was once good will be made good plus some–all of it.

    Further, it seems to me that one of the main points of the Fall narrative, regardless of whether it’s a literal picture or figurative picture, is to demonstrate how death–in itself–if a heinous thing. In fact, it seems to suggest that death–in itself–is a consequence of man’s sin. Death isn’t good though good things can come out of it. It seems that this is intuitive, even in the animal world. Animal’s instincts, particularly in a darwinian model, is built to escape death. Death is what all creation strives to avoid, survival is seen as good. So, in an old earth scheme based on darwinian biology and big bang cosmology–if it’s right–can’t simply suggest (it seems to me) that God saw billions of years of death and destruction as good. This intuition is, I believe, shared by our atheist interlocutors. It’s precisely why the problem of evil isn’t restricted to the moral dimension but is shared and observed in the world of nature.

    I don’t want to be dogmatic about this, of course. But, I would be shocked if God pronounced hideous natural evils ‘good.’

    • Well, this is one of the gray issues for me. I have a hard to recognizing natural evil as evils (properly defined of course). I had a post on the blessing of have a disease. Antecedently, death was never intended, which affects my infralapsarianism. However, because death would have happened it has a consequent design to it. I’m not sure about animal suffering either–I’m open to the discussion. I see good and bad in all of this. I think that creation with death already in it is still good by God’s standards. I do have qualms with saying it was perfect because I’m fairly confident things could have been better. This is an existential issue of mine because it’s personal for me having an incurable disease and other health issues. This summer I was laying on a bed in the ER in pain and Leah leaned over and asked me, “Do you still believe this is a blessing?” I wanted to say No so bad because it’s so easy to say yes afterwards. It’s a tough issue but I’m not so dogmatic about it because of the existential sensitivity. I feel all the scientific evidence, and biblical evidence, suggests that death did occur before the fall (increase in entropy, decay, etc.). I have to follow the evidence but sometimes I don’t always like where it leads. I think if Dembski’s model is feasible and compatible with Scripture I think it may solve the problem.

      • I hear you on the existential issue regarding perfection. I mean, I think the resurrection world is the perfect world–that is, a world where sin isn’t so much as possible. That said, it’s just hard to get around the focus of the text and the overreaching blemishes that are supposedly thrust upon the earth by man’s sin. For example: thorns and thistles. Now, if Dembski and most scientists are right about the true condition of the world from Big Bang forward, there wasn’t actually a pristine condition; however, it seems proper to suggest (as Dembski does) that all of the intrinsically bad things in this world are a direct result of man’s rebellion–either retroactively, as in the case of nature, or prospective as in the case of morality.

        I can also empathize with your medical condition. The way I see my own medical condition in this respect is that 1) it allows me to see God work in some pretty fantastic ways 2) It keeps me humbled 3) all conditions of health I can happily recall on a day to day basis and give glory to God in thanksgiving 4) it reminds me of the consequence of sin 5) it gives me hope for the resurrection 6) it allows me to meditate on the depth to which God condescended to assume the sort of finite human nature that we know and, well, the list could go on and on. My point is this: one of the fundamental truths, I think, in Scripture and Christian theology is that God works good out of evil. I think my medical condition, and yours, is just two such instances of this.

  2. *er…I should say, given your knowledge of evolutionary biology I AM surprised that you think God would call it good.

  3. To comment on your objections:

    1) I agree. The creation was not “perfect” before the fall and will not be until all creation is made new at the return of Christ (I am not premillennial). This is another reason I would agree with Alvin Plantinga and count myself a supralapsarian.

    2) I am somewhat in the dark on this point. I would be classified as a B-theorist, as I have always considered God (and eternity) to be “outside of time.” Have you previously posted on how you, as an A-theorist, would disagree with this position? If not, I would appreciate it if at some point you could shed further light on this subject.

    3) I agree with here also. I have always considered Romans 5:12 to refer to spiritual death as only man is created in the image of God and is a “living creature.”

    4) I, too, found Dembski’s ideas to be plausible. While I may not agree with everything he says (eg. as a Reformed Christian I would have expressed myself in a more explicitly Calvinistic manner), I have no problem with his hypothesis as a whole.

    Thank your for the post. I was glad to read your reaction to the book (I haven’t found anyone locally who has read it yet).

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