Intelligent Design Scholar-Historian Dr. Thomas Woodward in Tauranga in December

Dr. Tom Woodward
Intelligent Design scholar Dr. Thomas Woodward (Wikipedia) will be visiting Tauranga for a few days in the second week of December 2012.


Dr. Woodward is Research Professor at Trinity College of Florida in Tampa Bay, where he has taught for 23 years. He has spoken on the topic of evolution, Intelligent Design and the existence of God at over 80 colleges and universities in 25 countries. His campus presentations include a lecture series at Princeton University and Dartmouth College, and an Intelligent Design seminar at Cambridge University (UK) hosted by Ranald Macauley, son-in-law of L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer.

A graduate of Princeton University (in History), he received a Th.M. from Dallas Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of South Florida. His doctoral specialty was in the “Rhetoric of Science,” and his research focus has been the history of the scientific controversy over Intelligent Design and neo-Darwinism.

Dr. Woodward is the author of Darwinism Under the Microscope (co-edited with Dr. James Gills) and two other books which trace the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. The first, Doubts about Darwin (Baker 2003), won a national book award from Christianity Today. His second book on the “design controversy” is Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design.  His latest book, also coauthored with Dr. James Gills, is The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA (2012).

CS Lewis Society

Tom Woodward is also the founder and director of the C. S. Lewis Society, which hosts lectures, conferences and debates on university campuses and in heavily secular countries.

Radio debate

You can listen here to his friendly debate / discussion with Peter Hearty on the Unbelievableradio program from the UK.

Well known USA Intelligent Design advocate Tom Woodward takes on the National Secular Society’s science representative Pete Hearty.  Does the new evidence in biological science point towards an ultimate creator?  Other guests also join the fray…


New Zealand Events

Dr Woodward will be delivering the following four presentations in Tauranga while visiting New Zealand:

1. Does God Exist?  Old Questions and New Ideas

This talk explores the theism/atheism debate from both philosophy and science.  The explosion of the “New Atheism” is traced, and major responses are touched on.  Special attention is given to the recent discoveries in the origin of the universe and the origin of life.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Friday 7th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

2. Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: What’s the Fuss All About?

This is an overview of the last 30 years of controversy over origins, especially as the ID movement roared to life in the late 1980s and began spreading after Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” was published in 1996.  Recent developments in the period 2000-2012 are covered.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Saturday 8th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

3. Passionate Apologetics: Five Keys to Confident Sharing the Truth of Christ

Apologetics has a primary key:  the “Foundation of Scripture” that is the main engine/fuel of presenting Christ.  Building on top of this “concrete slab” of scripture are four strong pillars: Science (Evidence of Design), History (Evidence of Biblical Reality), Philosophy (Clear, Logical Thinking), and Transformation (Changed Lives of Christ’s Disciples).  Through these five keys, we can have confidence when explaining and defending the truth of Christ.
WHAT: Lifezone Sunday morning service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 10:00am – 11:30am
WHERE: Lifezone Church, 19 Amber Crescent, Judea, Tauranga

4. C.S. Lewis: Pointer to God and Christ

Non-Christians, even atheists, have a high opinion of C. S. Lewis as a scholar and writer.  Yet few know about his transformation into one of the greatest modern apostles of Christ.  We quickly trace his conversion to Christ from atheism, and shows four ways that Lewis presented Christ – and the truth of God and salvation – to a skeptical world.
WHAT: Bethlehem Baptist Sunday night service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Baptist Church, 90 Bethlehem Rd, Tauranga



Online Videos

Dr. Woodward and Dr. James P. Gills M.D. on The Mysterious Epigenome. What lies beyond DNA.

Dr. Woodward interviews Princeton Chemistry Professor Dr. Andrew Bocarsly

“Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?”

Richard Weikart:

I have spoken with intelligent Darwinists who admit point-blank that they do not have any grounds to condemn Hitler, so I am not just making this up. Many evolutionists believe that since evolution explains the origin of morality — as Darwin himself argued — then there is no objective morality. The famous evolutionary biologist and founder of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson, and the prominent philosopher of science Michael Ruse co-authored an article on evolutionary ethics in which they asserted, “Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate.”

Read the full article here.

Seven Days That Divide the World: John Lennox on Creation, Science, and Scripture

John Lennox’s latest book, Seven Days That Divide The World, launches next month. In it, he sets out to answer one of the most fiercely debated questions of our day: can science and the Bible co-exist? Writing for a popular audience, Lennox examines the Genesis account of creation and addresses some of the issues that typically arise when trying to understand the Biblical narrative in light of contemporary science.

A Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a recent visitor to New Zealand, Lennox argues in Seven Days that science and faith can in fact peacefully co-exist and that Darwinian evolution and young-earth creationism are not the only two positions available to Christians.

Read more

Scientist talks morality, slips on banana peel

There’s been some backslapping and cheerleading in the scientific community lately about morality, and particularly about Sam Harris’s view as opposed to William Lane Craig’s. At SciBlogs, Ken Perrott ruminates on the foundations of human morality and draws some strikingly entertaining conclusions, again indicating that these sorts of questions are well above the paygrade of the average scientist.

Read more

The Atheistic Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution, because it is a well-established scientific fact, somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. God, as the title of the evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that belief in God is the same as belief in Santa Clause, which directly opposes our best scientific knowledge. Read more

The Problem of Evil: Part Two

In Part One I explored different articulations of the Problem of Evil and sought to remedy the force of those arguments. In this, Part Two, I will look at the theodicies of Christopher Southgate and William Dembski that take into account animal suffering in an evolutionary history as a part of the problem of evil, and in doing so develop a framework for my own theodicy.

Southgate’s Not-so-easily Dismissed Dismissals

Christopher Southgate is an example of a Christian Theologian grappling specifically with the problem of animal suffering from a theistic evolutionary perspective. Before offering his own theodicy in The Groaning of Creeation, Southgate dismisses three strategies for an evolutionary theodicy. I will argue these strategies are not so easily dismissed and in fact, suitable for inclusion in an evolutionary theodicy.

Augustine provides the first stratagem.[1] Southgate’s reply is that we have a far greater understanding of the suffering in the nonhuman world than we did in the pre-scientific age. This dismissal is more of a confirmation of Augustine’s point; that due to our epistemic position we cannot see the divine purpose of the suffering we perceive in the natural realm. But if evil is magnified in our comprehension, then our view of the good that God has brought and will bring about is too small.

The second stratagem Southgate dismisses is that nonhuman creatures do not really feel pain.[2] His appeal to the science is misleading and misdirected. It is a question for the philosopher of science to answer if the appearance of pain in nonhuman creatures should be equated with the type and intensity of pain experienced by humans. Michael Murray, a philosopher at Franklin and Marshall College, distinguishes three levels of pain experienced by different organisms depending on the development of their brains.

Level 3: a second order awareness that one is oneself experiencing (2).
Level 2: a first order, subjective experience of pain.
Level 1: information-bearing neural states produced by noxious stimuli resulting in aversive behavior.[3]

Spiders, Bumble Bees, and possibly even the larger reptiles, plausibly only experience the first level of pain. At most the evidence suggests that vertebrates, such as dogs, cats and horses experience Level 2 but not Level 3. The part of the brain that is most closely associated with the consciousness of pain, is also the part that was last to arrive among mammals – the pre-frontal cortex.[4] Accordingly, all can experience pain, but only the higher primates are aware they are in pain. Alexander Pruss, philosopher at Baylor University, after giving examples of phenomena such as being able to be distracted from pain, suggests “… it really could turn out that it is our ability to conceptually focus in on mental phenomena in a second-order way that is crucial to pain’s being really bad.”[5]

The third stratagem Southgate dismisses says the suffering of animals is just a fact of nature. Kenneth Miller is a proponent of this stratagem, which argues that animals have no moral character, and we should not project onto them moral categories that properly belong to the sphere of human beings.[6] Southgate’s reply again fails to address the pertinent point. That creatures have value to God does not explain why we should consider their suffering to be wrong.

Indeed, it is not immediately apparent that animal suffering is wrong.[7] First, humans have value to God – yet suffer. We trust that there is a sufficient reason for human suffering, though we may never discover it in this life. Why should we believe then that God does not also have a sufficient reason for suffering in the animal kingdom, though we may no see it? Second, the argument that natural evil is morally evil is dubious. Showing animal suffering is wrong from mere natural facts, such as suffering, breaks the Humean principle and commits a deontic fallacy by deriving an “ought” from an “is.” Third, on the Divine Command Theory of ethics God does not have moral duties, and so is under no obligation to spare animals from suffering, let alone their lives in mass extinction events. Any perceived cruelty on his part is wrong thinking on ours. Fourth, we naturally fall victim to what is termed a Hyper-active Agency Detection Device (HADD): that is, the human tendency to ascribe to nonhumans personal agency.[8] Ascribing moral significance to actions of an animal is to run afoul of the fallacy of anthropopathism. Craig quips, we are “being had by HADD.”[9]

Southgate’s Compound Evolutionary Theodicy

Southgate’s proposed “compound evolutionary theodicy” suffers problems of its own, however my criticisms here will focus on the place from where his theodicy sprung. This is his denial of a cosmic fall as responsible for the pain, suffering, death, extinction and predation (P) in the natural world. I shall describe his second objection to such a doctrine, and then give reasons why that objection is erroneous, then do the same with his first objection.

Southgate’s denies a cosmic fall on the grounds that P is instrumental in the Darwinian process for producing values, such as consciousness, rationality and the “range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced.”[10] Here is where Southgate’s “only way” argument–really just an assertion[11]–enters the picture, the major plank in his evolutionary theodicy. It is that for God, the P intrinsic to the Darwinian process was the only way in which God could bring about the many good values that have arisen. This reason immediately suffers from the following criticisms. First, it presupposes natural evil is morally evil.[12] Second, a world without P may indeed be unimaginable, but that does not make P untenable. His solution is successful in protecting God’s benevolence, but unfortunately at the expense of divine omnipotence.[13]

The first reason for Southgate rejecting a cosmic fall is that there is no evidence that any state of perfection existed at any time in earth’s history. He sights the uniformity of the fossil record as evidence. The dismissal at once suffers from three flaws. First, the “very good” of Gen 1:31 does not mean the absence of P. Southgate himself notes that this should be interpreted as aesthetic and functional, but he implicitly interprets it as moral and pragmatic in his critique.[14] Second, Genesis reports that Adam and Eve inhabited “the Garden,” gives a description of where Eden was, and were told to subdue and bring dominion over all the earth. This strongly implies the planet at large contained “thorns and thistles” where man had to toil to feed himself, and that Eden was a small localized area (and perhaps time) of safety and provision. Third, the narrative does not commit one to the belief that the consequence of a cosmic fall will present itself in the geologic record or somehow falsify a uniformitarian perspective. [15]

Dembski’s Proposal

Southgate is aware of this, for he continually positions his criticisms against a chronological reading of the fall narrative with an initial state of perfection, and footnotes the theodicy of William Dembski,[16] who advocates a kairological reading Genesis 1-3.[17] Dembski’s theodicy suggests that the effects of the fall are retroactive in history just as the salvific effects of the cross of Christ are.[18] On this scheme, God foreknew the human response to temptation and created a world that would reveal to humanity the gravity of the consequences of their sin in the natural world after the expulsion from Eden.

Southgate objects to this on the grounds that it is “weird” and “theologically extremely problematic.”[19] Weird it may be, but weirdness is not an adequate test for truth.  It is theologically problematic for on Dembski’s scheme God is responsible for P, and thus the creator of natural evil.[20] We have already responded to the way Southgate conflates natural evil with moral evil. But this objection is further ill conceived, for God is the creator of the same amount of natural evil on Southgate’s theology. Unlike Southgate, Dembski is up-front about this weakness. He says the fact that God created this evil (whether actively or by permission) is “a bitter pill to swallow.” Yet it is a pill that brings us the promise of redemption.[21]

Wrapping Up

If a defence manages to show that there is no POE, this will greatly diminish the need for a theodicy. Our review concluded that there is an external POE in a probabilistic form, the potency of which is severely diminished by the resources of Christian theism. Thus, apart from the emotional force of P given evolutionary theory,[22] Southgate’s evolutionary theodicy is strictly unnecessary. We have considered Southgate’s dismissals and objections, and constructed a framework for a theodicy that preserves Christian orthodox teachings regarding God’s omnipotence, benevolence and a cosmic fall that traces back to human sin, in the current mental environment that accepts evolutionary theory and a long history of predation. This compound theodicy proceeds by arguing there is no reason to think that natural evil is actually morally evil or that animal suffering is wrong, and good reason to think that it is not wrong by distinguishing different levels of pain and affirming the possibility that God has sufficient reason for allowing P in the animal kingdom.

In Part Three I will include the Appendices and Bibliography.


[1] Southgate quotes; “. . . this is the appointed order of things transitory. Of this order the beauty does not strike us, because of our mortal frailty we are so involved in a part of it, that we cannot perceive the whole, in which these fragments that offend us are harmonized with the most accurate fitness and beauty.” The City of God, 12, 4, quoted in A. Richard Kingston, “Theodicy and Animal Welfare,” Theology 70 (November 1967): 485. Also in Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation; God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KE.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 3.

[2] He states, “It is true we can never see into the mind of animals. But we do know some. We have scientific examples of animals under not merely physiological response but actual suffering . . . intense and protracted pain and/or fear among creatures, particularly when the creature senses there is no chance of relief, may justifiably be termed suffering, and there is ample evidence that exists, particularly in creatures that have complex brains processing information from pain-detection systems.” Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 4.

[3] Cited in William Lane Craig, “Nature’s Flaws and Cruelties” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 134. Cited 8 November 2010. Online: See Also Michael Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[4] William Lane Craig, “Animal Suffering” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 113. Cited 8 November 2010. Online:

[5] “Or take that weird experiment that showed that looking at a paining body part through the reverse side of the binoculars, and hence making the part appear smaller, made the pain feel smaller.  . . . One might, for instance, come to one of two conclusions: (a) human conceptual abilities make pains less bad than they would be in a critter without these abilities; or (b) human conceptual abilities make pains worse than they would be in a critter without these abilities (or one might think that sometimes (a) is true and sometimes (b) is true).” Trent Dougherty, “Animal Pain and Animal Resurrection and Humanization: Somewhere between theodicy and defense” n.p. Alexander Pruss, comment 30 September 2010, Cited 8 November 2010. Online:

[6] In response he affirms the nonhuman world is of value, because God (A) created it, (B) pronounced it good, (C) sustains it in existence, (D) nurtures it with love. He concludes that the sufferings of the nonhuman world must be involved in theodicy. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 4.

[7] The following reasons would all apply if P were comparable in type and intensity to human suffering. However, as I have argued, by distinguishing Levels of pain, there is no reason for us to think that it is so, thereby eliminating the need for the following considerations.

[8] Richard Dawkins provides an amusing example. His bicycle had broken down and with it his temper. Yelling at the bike he realized that it really couldn’t understand him. Some psychologists believe HADD is a tendency that is hard wired into our brains.

[9] William Lane Craig, “Nature’s Flaws and Cruelties” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 134. Cited 8 November 2010. Online:

[10] Christoper Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 29.

[11] Ibid., 16.

[12] I have already argued that this is dubious with three reasons that could assume animal suffering is similar in type and intensity to human suffering, and with one reason that argues animal suffering is not similar.

[13] For an explanation see Stuart McEwing, “Southgate’s “only way” the Wrong Way: God’s Omnipotence and Benevolence in the Problem of Natural Evil,” n.p. Thinking Matters. Citied 18 December 2010. Online

[14] His critique is of Michael Lloyd’s two papers. Michael Lloyd, “Are Animals Fallen?” in Animals on the Agenda: Questions about Animals for Theology and Ethics, ed. Andrew Linzey and Bdorothy Yamamoto (London: SMC Prress, 1998), 147-60; “The Humanity and Fallenness” in Grace and Truth in a Secular Age, ed. Timothy Bradshaw, 66-82 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). A breakdown of these categories is given by Daniel J. Dyke, “Was Evil Present in God’s Very Good world?” n.p. Reasons to Believe. Cited 2 November 2010. Online:

[15] Some theologians (C. S. Lewis for example, as well as Michael Lloyd) hypothesize Satan’s fall as responsible for natural evil. If this is the case, Satan’s fall could have been before the foundation of the planet and thus show no different modus operandi of the biosphere in the geological record. This would also preserve the idea that natural evil is the result of a personal agents moral evil. Dembski finds this solution difficult exegetically and problematic theologically, for on this scheme God nevertheless is still responsible for allowing Satan to ravage an innocent creation. God’s inaction is a necessary condition for any evil occurrence.

[16] Southgate refers to Demski’s online paper “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science.” This work is no longer available, however his thoughts have been expanded and developed in a full length book, The End of Christianity; Finding a Good God in an Evil World, (Nashville, TE.; B&E Publishing, 2009).

[17] This is based on the insight that there are two Greek words that translate for time. Chronos, which means approximately a duration, i.e. “he took his time,” or “at the time of the changing of the guards,” and Karios, which signifies intentionality, i.e. “in the fullness of time,” or “at the appointed time.”

[18] As Newcomb’s paradox demonstrates, the usual metaphysical rule of backwards causation does not apply when dealing with an omniscient God.

[19] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 146.

[20] Southgate’s nomenclature is “ontological evil,” which is at once philosophically problematic; evil has no ontos, just as ice has no warmth. Evil is privation.

[21] William Dembski, The End of Christianity, 150. Dembski leaves this thought largely undeveloped. He does minimally state that God brings about natural evil to free us from the more insidious evil in our hearts.

[22] For further development of this see Stuart McEwing, “Why Southgate’s “co-suffering” Argument Suffers: The Intrusion of the Emotional Problem of Evil in Evolutionary Theodicy,” n.p. Thinking Matters. Citied 19 December 2010. Online

The Problem of Evil: Part One

The task of reconciling the evil in this world with the goodness of God and his creation belongs to a branch of Christian theology called Theodicy. This task has been exacerbated in the past century and half by evolutionary theory that makes us acutely aware of the long-ages past filled with animal suffering. Developing a theodicy is of particular interest to the Christian theologian who seeks to make Christianity credible in the mental environment and requires the analytical tools of the Philosophy of Religion.[1]

The need for a theodicy is directly proportional to the force of the Problem of Evil (POE). Part One of this essay will therefore briefly survey different articulations of the POE and strategies that seek to explain or refute the force of those arguments. In Part Two, I will develop a framework for my own theodicy.

The Logical Problem of Evil

The logical POE has endured throughout the centuries until recent years. Its goal is to show that God does not exist. It is best put forth by David Hume, “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”[2] From this the following premises can be articulated.

1)       An all-powerful and all-loving God exists.
2)       Evil exists.

It is claimed by the proponent of the logical POE that both these premises are incompatible. Alvin Plantinga’s work has significantly developed discussion on the problem such that today it is largely considered by philosophers to be solved.[3] First he points out that the hidden assumptions needed to draw out an explicit contradiction are not necessarily true and their proof is a load far too heavy to bear. These hidden premises are the following.

3)       If God is all-powerful, then he can create any world he desires.
4)       If God is all-loving, then he prefers a world with less evil than the actual world.

Secondly, he provides reasons why we should consider both (3) and (4) as possible[4] – reasons which we shall explore in responding to Paul Draper and Christopher Southgate. Thirdly, he provides a fifth premise that shows that (1) and (2) are actually consistent. This premise is as follows.

5)  God could not[5] have created a world that had so much good as the actual world but had less evil, both in terms of quantity and quality; and, moreover, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists.[6]

The Probabilistic Problem of Evil

The probabilistic POE is more difficult to dispel. This argument admits there is no logical contradiction between (1) and (2), but submits that their compatibility is extremely unlikely. It seeks to show that God’s existence is not impossible, but improbable given the amount of evil and suffering in the world. Three considerations are available that offset the force of this argument.

First, probabilities should always be assessed with respect to the background knowledge. If evil were to be taken in isolation, then the theist could freely admit that it provides grounds for the improbability of God’s existence. However, the theist should insist that evil be assessed relative to the full scope of evidence for God’s existence. Second, we are not in any position to know or assess if God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting the evils in the world. God’s foreknowledge extends perfectly into the distant future, while we are limited creatures who can only guess at the ripples effects any purported evil will accomplish in time. Third, there are certain Christian doctrines that render the compatibility of evil and God’s existence more probable.

That is to say, Pr(Evil/God & Other Christian doctrine) > Pr(Evil/God). William Lane Craig explicates four such doctrines. First, that the purpose of this life is not human happiness, but the knowledge of God. Second, humans are in a state of rebellion against God. Third, God’s purposes do not cease with the grave but are eternal. Fourth, the knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.[7]

The External Problem of Evil

These previous two arguments are internal[8] and have largely been abandoned. However, an external POE remains. This argument argues that God’s existence[9] and the existence of gratuitous evil are incompatible. Although the Christian theist is not committed to the premise that gratuitous evil exists, the objector will nevertheless try to show in an evidential fashion that it is true that gratuitous evil exists. (This is where evolutionary theory and a long primordial history of the world enter into our discussion, for with these the amount of evil and suffering in the world is dramatically increased.) The considerations given to answer the probabilistic POE will equally apply to natural evil as it does to moral evil.[10]

Paul Draper, an atheist philosopher at Purdue University, has used evolutionary theory as evidence to support his POE argument. Taking Theism (T) and Naturalism (N) as hypotheses, he asks which best explains the amount of evil we observe relative to the evolutionary process (E) and the distribution of pleasure/pain (P). By evaluating the simplicity and the explanatory power of each hypothesis he concludes that Naturalism is more probably true.

Draper’s argument is based on three dubious assumptions.[11] First, that the intrinsic probability of Theism and Naturalism are equal; i.e. Pr(N) = Pr(T). Draper admits his case depends on, “all things being equal,” but this judgment depends on the background evidence that should include any independent reason for or against God’s existence.[12] Second, that the probability of the distribution of pleasure/pain in a world with evolution and Naturalism is greater than a world with evolution and Theism, i.e. Pr(P/E&N) > Pr (P/E&T). However, as creatures with limited knowledge we have no reason to suppose that we are in any epistemic position to accurately weigh the distribution of pain and pleasure with any good that has or may yet result. Third, that the probability of evolution on Naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution is on Theism, i.e. Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T). However, the evolution of biological organisms is dependent on the existence of biological organisms (B). He is thus actually arguing for Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B), which with dubious in light of insights gained from the Intelligent Design community.[13]

In Part Two, while examining the evolutionary theodicy of Christopher Southgate and William Dembski interesting theodicy a framework for my own theodicy will develop.


[1] Plantinga has distinguished a difference between what he calls a “defense” and a “theodicy.” A defense will show that the proponent of the POE fails to carry his objection, while a theodicy will be an attempt at explaining why there is evil and suffering in the world.

[2] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980), part 10, p. 198.

[3] Evidence of this is its absence in professional philosophical literature. See William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL.; InterVarsity Press, 2003), 541.

[4] For the logical POE, these reasons need not be plausible. They only need to be possible and the alleged incompatibility is broken.

[5] The “could not” should not be considered a limitation in divine omnipotence, but should be construed as there being no feasible world of free-creatures that God could have created.

[6] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL.; InterVarsity Press, 2003) 541.

[7] Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 544-8

[8] An internal argument is a versions of the POE that is formulated with premises (1) and (2), both of which the orthodox Christian community is committed to. It seeks to expose an inner tension within the Christian worldview and thereby show that God’s existence is either impossible or implausible.

[9] God here defined minimally as an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being.

[10] I include animal suffering as one aspect of natural evil, which would also include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, mass extinction events, pestilence, etc.

[11] The most fundamental flaw in Draper’s argument is his affirmation that gratuitous evil exists with his definition of Naturalism; namely, the affirmation that nothing but the “natural world” exists. (natural world = def. “By the “natural world,” I mean the collection of all existing physical entities (past, present, and future) together with any entities whose existence depends (either causally or ontologically) on the existence of those entities. “Natural” entities are entities that are part of the natural world so defined, and a “supernatural” entity, if there is such a thing, is simply an entity that can affect the natural world despite not being a part of it.”) Evil is however a non-physical property whose existence relies on objective moral values which cannot rightly be assigned to set of things natural. Naturalism does not, in principle, have the explanatory resources for the existence of evil. His argument is then, at bottom, a non-starter by begging the question.

[12] For instance, evidence accrued from Natural Theology or from personal experience.

[13] This would include the origin of complex and highly specified information in biological organisms, as well as the fine-tuning of the conditions necessary for existence of biological life, a life-sustaining planet and universe. See Hugh Ross, “RTB Design Compendium,” Reasons to Believe. Cited 8 November 2010. Online:

Can we Love Jesus and Accept Evolution?

James Anderson, assistant professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, reviews “I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution”, the latest book by Denis Lamoureux:

“A full critique of Lamoureux’s evolutionary creationism cannot be given here. I will, however, indicate some of the major reasons why I don’t find his arguments compelling. In the first place, his approach to interpreting Scripture is highly problematic. He professes to acknowledge both the “Book of God’s Works” (revelation in nature) and the “Book of God’s Words” (revelation in Scripture) but it’s clear that he gives the former unqualified priority over the latter; if there is any apparent conflict between nature (for which read: modern science) and the Bible, Lamoureux concludes that the Bible is mistaken due to its accommodation to ancient science. On this way of thinking, the Bible must always be judged in the light of modern science. Yet this prioritization is the very opposite of the view that Christians have historically taken on the issue. As Calvin famously put it, the Bible functions like a pair of spectacles given to correct the distortion of natural revelation by our fallen intellects. Scripture has authority over science, whether ancient or modern.

Furthermore, Lamoureux’s separation of theological statements and scientific statements in the Bible is impossible to apply in practice. Take, for instance, the claim that God judged the world by sending a great flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6). Is that a theological statement or a scientific statement? On the face of it, it’s both—at the very least, it has theological elements and scientific elements that cannot be teased apart.

A further concern is raised by Lamoureux’s central claim that the Bible is accommodated to ancient science and therefore makes scientific statements that are false. Why think that the accommodation only pertains to science? Why not suppose, for much the same reasons, that the Bible is accommodated to ancient morality too? Indeed, that’s precisely the argument used by many liberal theologians today who argue that Christianity is compatible with monogamous homosexual relationships. If Lamoureux wouldn’t accept their position, why should we accept his? What do modern scientists have that modern ethicists don’t?

The point can be pushed further still. If the Bible is accommodated to the fallible scientific outlook of its original audience, perhaps it is also accommodated to their fallible religious outlook. Perhaps all those claims in the New Testament regarding Christ’s substitutionary atonement are merely a concession to the religious outlook of ancient people who were used to thinking in terms of animal sacrifices, propitiatory atonement, and so forth. Presumably those claims would be no more immune to error than the Bible’s scientific claims. But then how much confidence could we place in the gospel message preached by the apostles?

The point is this: accommodationist theories of biblical inspiration such as Lamoureux’s are like a universal acid that burns its way through everything. Once we argue that the Bible is unreliable in one area (science) due to its accommodation to ancient ignorance, we can have no principled basis for insisting that it is still reliable—never mind inerrant—in other areas such as ethics and theology.

So much for Lamoureux’s doctrine of Scripture. What about his scientific arguments? I’ve noted already some of the weaknesses in his case: circular reasoning, selective evidence, and conclusions that go far beyond what the empirical data support. Equally problematic is the fact that he doesn’t even mention, let alone address, some of the many significant scientific difficulties faced by the theory that all living organisms have gradually evolved from rudimentary life forms by purely natural processes (e.g., the lack of a plausible mechanism for large-scale evolutionary development, the so-called “Cambrian explosion” in the fossil record, the origin of sexual differentiation, and the existence of irreducibly complex biological structures). The uninformed reader will almost certainly be misled into thinking that the scientific case for evolution is beyond question. Still, perhaps we should cut Lamoureux some slack on this point. After all, if the biblical authors can be excused their misleading or false statements on the basis that they were captive to the science-of-the-day, presumably so can he!

Finally, I suspect many evangelical readers will be unconvinced by Lamoureux’s plea that his position preserves all the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. He speaks several times of “non-negotiable” Christian beliefs, but never explains what criteria he uses for treating some traditional Christian beliefs as non-negotiable and others as dispensable. One can’t help but suspect that his list of essential doctrines is rigged so that his own views fall safely within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Lamoureux’s rejection of the doctrine of original sin, which follows of necessity from his rejection of the historical Adam and Eve, is particularly problematic. If Adam never existed then obviously no human being could have inherited a sinful nature from him. Lamoureux suggests that this traditional doctrine originated with Augustine (who was, of course, misled by the science-of-the-day) but he fails to acknowledge that Augustine argued his position from Scripture. What Lamoureux recommends in place of the traditional doctrine might be dubbed “Original Sin Lite” (or perhaps “Original Sin Zero”): every human being is a sinner and that’s all we need to affirm. Yet surely this falls far short of the doctrine taught in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, which offers both a coherent theological explanation for universal human sinfulness and a profound parallel (and contrast) between Adam and Jesus. It’s remarkable that Lamoureux makes no reference to these passages in his discussion of original sin, and his treatments elsewhere in the book require him to hold these texts at arm’s length. One has to wonder whether he would have so quickly concluded that Adam is a dispensable mythical figure had he been more exposed to the Reformed tradition in his theological studies. There is far more at stake here than whether Paul was mistaken in certain incidental historical facts.

I have to conclude that despite its irenic approach and the undoubted expertise of its author, this book fails in its goal of reconciling biblical Christianity with modern evolutionary science. Nevertheless, it is very useful in this respect: it makes clear what price has to be paid in order to make peace with evolution, even if one takes a relatively conservative approach. The first casualties are the doctrines of biblical authority, clarity, and inerrancy, closely followed by the doctrine of original sin; and once those are sacrificed it’s inevitable that more will follow, for no doctrine is an island. The doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, to cite two examples, are intimately connected to the nature of the fall and its consequences.”

Read the whole thing here (or an abridged version at Discerning Reader here).


Audio from Our March 11 Forum: Has Science Disproved God?

If you weren’t able to make our first panel event at Auckland University last week, I’ve uploaded the audio:

Has Science Disproved God? (There’s been some problems with downloading the audio so I’ve hosted it on zShare until we fix the problem)

On the panel were Jeff Tallon, Matthew Flannagan, Robert Mann and Neil Broom. Dale Campbell, associate pastor at Northcote Baptist Church and blogger at Fruitful Faith, kindly moderated the exchange for us.

For the first hour, the speakers addressed four issues:

1. Should a working scientist operate as a methodological atheist? Or, in other words, does the scientific project necessarily exclude God? – Jeff Tallon
2. Scientific beliefs are based on measurable, verifiable evidence. Is belief in God any different? – Matthew Flannagan
3. Does evolution threaten belief in God? – Neil Broom
4. Science and free-will. – Robert Mann

The second hour consisted of questions from the audience.

We’ll have video from the panel available soon. Don’t forgot our second panel (“Christianity on Trial”) is tonight, again at 7pm at Auckland University.

R.C. Sproul Interviews Stephen Meyer

Ligonier Ministries have uploaded several videos on YouTube of R.C. Sproul in conversation with Stephen Meyer, author of the book Signature in the Cell. They discuss philosophy, evolution, education, Intelligent Design, and other issues.

The interview is in five parts.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Genesis, Myth and History

Wright makes some good points here. The Genesis 1-3 debate is stalked by generalizations and false antitheses. There is always a real danger in distorting and domesticating the Bible via the preoccupations of our own modern situation. As much as possible, we should start with Scripture and the priorities and structures within the text itself, instead of those of our own context. We should always seek to faithfully and accurately embed the text in its own literary, historical, and canonical context.

Understanding the genre is crucial. Just as, today, different literary genres have different means of making rhetorical effects and of taking about reality, so do the varied Biblical genres. And this diversity of literary forms means we must sensitive to the fact that the Bible contains more (though not less) than propositional truth. This isn’t to say that all literary genres convey truth plus something else but that some genres shape their purposes and priorities differently. Wright is correct to point out that if we reduce a passage (say, a narrative passage) to a number of propositions or single notes we miss the way the (narrative) genre can speak through themes, character development, plot, etc.

Furthermore, the ancient literary categories do not neatly overlap with ours and that is why we must be careful when we talk about biblical genres (I think this cuts against the the current definition of “myth” invented by modern anthropologists as much as it does against a scientific reading). Whatever category we do use for the opening chapters, a fair amount of nuance is necessary.

Even if we do understand the purpose of Genesis 1-3 as primarily theological/mythical, we haven’t escaped the question of whether it belongs to a matrix of thought that implies or is undergirded by historical events and characters (the “primal pair” that Wright affirms). Just because the message is theological, this does not mean that it is not also historical (or that it can be disentangled from the historical). Take some examples in the New Testament (some borrowed from D. A. Carson), where, although the writer is making a theological point, in each case the argument is grounded in and inseparable from a historical claim:

– In Galatians 3, Paul’s theological argument is made via appeal to the order of events in redemptive history. He argues that the law is relativised by the fact that both the giving of the promises to Abraham and his justification by faith preceded the giving of the law.

– In Romans 4, Paul makes an argument about the relation between faith and circumcision that again depends on the historical sequence of which came first.

– In Hebrews 3:7-4:13, the author argues that entering God’s rest must mean something more than merely entering the Promised Land because of the fact that Psalm 95 (which is still calling for God’s people to enter into God’s rest) is written after they were already in the land.

– Again in Hebrews, the theological point of chapter 7 is that because Psalm 110 promises a further priesthood and is written after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, the Levitical priesthood is therefore obsolete.

-Paul’s argument about the reality of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:12-19.

Wright is correct to say that we must read Genesis for all its worth. And to do this, sooner or later we are going to need to ask what the ancient readers (and other Biblical writers) themselves thought about the correspondence between the Biblical account of creation and what actually happened. It won’t fly to say that the ancient Biblical writers weren’t concerned with history or couldn’t distinguish between fable and reality (observe how much Judges 9 stands out from the rest of that passage). The early chapters of Genesis are certainly not a scientific treatise, but even if we understand that the point of these chapters is explain that all of creation is God’s tabernacle and that creation itself is finite and not divine, are we completely off the hook? We need to ask if the writer is telling us true things about God, and about real people and events that took place in history.

Teleology in nature: biology's next paradigm shift?

The debate over the presence of design in nature is a fierce and intractable one. Not everyone, however, accepts that Intelligent Design theory or Darwinism offer the only positions in this debate. Some have argued that there is room for a recognition of intentionality in nature that does not depend on the notion of a designer.

J. Scott Turner, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at State University of New York in Syracuse, has written a recent book called The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself, arguing for a position in this middle ground. With the inadequacy of modern evolutionary biology to explain certain biological phenomena (as pointed out even by evolutionists such as Stephen J Gould), Turner defends the indispensability of the notion of unconscious intentionality in nature and tries to show how this arises.

Turner is not alone, and in fact suggests that “we’re on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology”. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on the current debate. Some Christian theists have welcomed this renewed thinking in the classical teleology of Aristotle and Aquinas. Edward Feser, who contends that the Darwinian criticisms of William Paley do not necessarily count against Aristotelian teleology, follows Aquinas’s belief that the existence of natural teleology is clear but that we must supply additional arguments to show that this teleology requires God.

John Farrell has posted an interesting discussion with Scott Turner on Farrell’s blog:

John Farrell: Ed Feser had an interesting post a while back about how both sides of the ID/evolution debate misunderstand classical teleology. The ID types think proving teleology in nature means the existence of a Agent Designer (i.e., God) will be much easier to demonstrate, and the militant atheists shun teleology basically because …they agree. But Ed argues–rightly in my opinion–this is because both sides misunderstand Aristotle and Aquinas.

My first question is, as a scientist, do you feel based on your experience that this is true: i.e., that your colleagues who are materialists/atheists react to the subject of teleology negatively because they think it is intrinsically tied to an ID perspective?

Scott Turner: I’m inclined to agree with Ed Feser, but not completely. It’s obviously true that the ID issue is pretty polarized, needlessly so in my opinion, and I agree that there has been a bit of “closing of minds” on “my” side about purposefulness (or teleology), largely because ID has been pushing the issue so publicly, and also because of a bit of a “those icky creationists are back” mindset. Yet the whole issue of purposefulness and teleology has been at the heart of evolutionary thought since before Darwin, and there’s been quite a lot of deep thought about it since, I think. Unfortunately that’s all been submerged by the heat of the current rhetoric (Richard Dawkins and his cult followers have done us no favors in that regard.). This has pushed the more superficial arguments to the fore which can easily give the impression that the two sides are largely ignorant of the issue. So Ed Feser is correct in that regard. It does not credit the fact that there’s a pretty large body of biological thought that has grappled seriously with the idea.

I decided to write The Tinkerer’s Accomplice in part because I thought biological design was a serious and unsolved problem, and in part because I thought both the Neodarwinist and ID camps were missing something essential about the problem. In short, I wanted to write a book that took the issue of design seriously and proposed a scientifically credible way forward. Even the hint of design was a red flag, however. I had people refuse to review the book, and reviewers who branded it a “stealth ID” book. One reviewer opined that I was a “closet deist”, and I recently found myself described as a “known creationist.” I never knew that about myself! And there has been some private correspondence from colleagues that, to put it mildly, surprised me. So the issue itself does seem to unhinge people a bit. But on the positive side, there have been many people who have taken the time to consider the book seriously and to work through the ideas carefully and to tell their friends. So, even though the reception of the book was a bit negative at first, it’s slowly getting more positive.

John Farrell: Do you think teleology gets short shrift because–from a methodological stance– most evolutionary biologists think it’s really not much use anyway? In other words, unless teleology can make some predictions or offer some obvious questions worth researching (something the Intelligent Design movement has repeatedly failed to do), scientists just can’t be bothered with it?

Scott Turner: We biologists are trained to think very skeptically about teleological arguments, and rightly so, I think. Again this mindset has long predated the ID issue. In fact, I think ID is so emotive because it has inflamed already latent tensions in our thinking rather than caused them.

While there is clearly a radical materialist/Neodarwinist school of evolutionary thought, evolutionary biology is not monolithic in this regard. Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is probably the most prominent area that has grappled seriously with the issue of teleology. Niche construction theory is another…

John Farrell: In an earlier email, you wrote: “Right now, I think we’re at a very exciting time in evolutionary biology because the idea is emerging that we are now bumping up against the limits of the materialist/atomist philosophy, and are coming to realize that there is indeed something special about life that simply must be understood. There are various opinions out there about just what that special quality is (my two cents is the special quality of homeostasis), but no matter how it comes out, I think we’re on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology.”

I assume you see specialists like Sean Carroll (Evo Devo) on this side? And Kirshner and Gerhart (The Plausibility of Life). In your experience is there already a clear cut divide, for example, when biologists get together at conferences and symposiums, where the reductionists are more vocal and hostile to teleology and the other side content to keep working away at the research and entertaining different theories of how designedness comes about?

Scott Turner: I’m not sure I’d describe it as a divide so much as a re-emerging perspective. Ever since the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics, there’s been this debate about the role that genes play in Darwinian evolution. At first, of course, the rediscovery of the Mendelian gene was thought to be the death knell for Darwinism. This is what makes the Neodarwinist synthesis–the reconciliation of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian natural selection–one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time. Once that was achieved, though, the question became whether genetic natural selection could explain everything (what might be called the “parsimonous” explanation), or whether there is something else involved. Richard Dawkins, of course, has been the most vigorous defender in our time of the “parsimonist” idea. But even though, for much of the 20th century, the scientific case seemed to be swinging decisively in favor of the “parsimonists”, the other side never really went away, and it has re-emerged in schools like evo-devo, or niche construction theory, or in Simon Conway Morris’ ideas about the importance of convergence. Most of these ideas that are bubbling up are, in fact, rooted in older ideas–evo-devo draws heavily on the work of D’Arcy Thompson, for example, who was a trenchant critic of Darwinism–that were part of an incredibly rich intellectual debate over evolution that was thriving prior to the modern synthesis. Those other perspectives submerged for a while, just because the modern synthesis seemed to settle so many things. But we’re seeing now that even though it solved a lot, it didn’t settle everything. And that is why, in my view, we’re seeing these ideas emerging anew.

Of course, that’s not to say the debate isn’t heated. For the most part, that’s fine–it helps keep us all honest. But it does have its down side. For example, I often run into criticism of my notion that homeostasis makes evolution a far more intention-driven process than the Darwinist idea can comfortably accommodate. Nearly always, the criticism is that intentionality is not necessary, that we can explain everything without it–the parsimonist idea. Never mind that it actually can’t explain everything–there’s no good Darwinist explanation for the origin of life, for example–but there’s a deeper issue. The parsimonist defense of Neodarwinism usually invokes Occam’s Razor–always go for the simpler explanation. But this is a fundamental misreading of Occam’s Razor, which really says that you must not make hypotheses without necessity. If you don’t believe intentionality is a real phenomenon, than invoking it is indeed unnecessary. But what if intentionality is real, actually is a necessary attribute of living things? Then in this case Occam’s Razor becomes Occam’s blinders. Which is never a pleasant thing to hear.

Read the whole thing.

The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself is available on Amazon.

(Source: Edward Feser)