I flew back home this weekend to preach a couple sermons, then flew out to re-join the science and theology conference in Quincy -- and I am frankly sick of FLYING!! But, at the same time, it was wonderful seeing my adorable wife and son again, as well as my friends and my dogs. And, of course, I'm always blessed to worship and crack open the Word at Woodland Hills Church. So the trip was well worth the trouble.
Anyway, yesterday all of us theologians and philosophers had an excellent discussion with Dr. Ross Stein, Professor of Chemistry at Harvard Medical School. He's a very interesting bird. He was a hard core atheist up until about 5 years ago when the apparent inexplicability of abiogensis (the origin of life) and magnificent complexity of even the simplest life forms convinced him there had to be intelligence directing the evolutionary process. At the same time, the existence of complex forms of life that serve only to harm humanity (such as the AIDS virus) convinced him that God can't be omnipotent. In fact, Stein confessed it was the existence of natural evil that kept him from believing in God in the first place. So, Dr. Stein embraced a form of theism known as Process Theism.
Process Theism says that God is forever evolving along with the world. God didn't create the world ex nihilo, and so never exercises unilateral control over the world. But God INFLUENCES the world, moment-by-moment, steering it as best he can toward ever-increasing complex forms of life and higher forms of consciousness.
At the same time, the world is composed of "units of experience" (called "actual occasions" in Process thought) that have some minimal degree of decision making power. Everything -- literally, EVERY DISTINCT THING from people down to electrons -- is at its core an experiential center. (This is called "panpsychism" or "pan-experientialism," and I blogged about it several posts ago). So God can't ensure that every actual occasion will fully cooperate with his good plans. In Stein's Process view, evil arises from the unfortunate decisions of actual occasions.
Stein then proceeded, in great (and always interesting) detail, to use Process Thought to explain abiogensis and the evolution of increasingly complex chemical processes that produce "emergent properties." (If you don't know what this means, don't worry about it).
Now, as I argued in my book Trinity and Process, I find a lot that is valuable in Process thought. But, as I also argued in this work, I also find much that is theologically and philosophical problematic. Among other things, the God of the Bible is depicted as an omnipotent Creator. He does miracles throughout biblical history (and yet today) and became Incarnate in Jesus Christ -- things Process thought simply cannot allow for. But the objection I had today concerned its explanation of the problem of evil.
Here's the gist of my argument: Stein appeals to God's intelligent creativity to account for the origin of life and the ever increasingly complexity of living organisms. Creation reflects Intelligent Design. I agree. But when it comes to accounting for natural evil, Stein and Process thinkers in general appeal to nothing more than the micro-scopic random decisions of actual occasions.
The trouble is, natural evil is as complex as natural goodness. A virus with the capacity to quickly mutate in ingenious ways as it works its way into the human system with the purpose of harming and destroying is INCREDIBLY COMPLEX. So, if good complexity is evidence of a benevolent intelligence, why shouldn't we conclude that destructive complexity is evidence of an EVIL INTELLIGENCE? (I know this is simplistic in as much as some viruses and bacteria have over-all beneficial results. Fine. But you'd be hard pressed to see the positive results of things like the AIDS or INFLUENZA viruses.)
The Bible ascribes incredible (though not omnipotent) power to Satan and his legions. Satan is "the god of this age" and the "principality and power of the air" who is "in control of the world" (2 Cor. 4:4;Eph 2:2; I Jn 5:19). This is why I'm a bit puzzled by the fact that, when it comes to explaining evil, hardly any theologians seem willing to give Satan any "credit" for natural evil. But given the Bible's witness, together with its testimony that some "natural processes" like DEATH are described as being due to Satan (Heb 2:14), and given the difficulty of accounting for natural evil any other way, I submit we are justified in concluding that God isn't the only intelligence at work in steering natural processes (including the evolutionary process, if you believe in that). Satan is also involved.
I think the main reason for the strange hesitancy of contemporary theologians to ascribe anything to Satan is that most are embarrassed by the concept of an evil cosmic being influencing the world. But why is believing in an evil cosmic being any more difficult than believing in a good cosmic being? Personally, because of the problem of evil, I'd have trouble believing in the latter if I DIDN'T believe in the former.
If you accept my Satan-in-nature theory, there's no longer any problem trying to explain why a good intelligent designer would design the AIDS virus or any other complex destructive organism. Natural process, as much as human beings, are under the influence of not only a good intelligent designer, but also of an evil intelligent anti-designer.
And folks, WE are called to align ourselves with the former, against the latter.