Thursday, April 10, 2008

Evolution As Cosmic Warfare

Well, believe it or not, I'm going to take a break today from obsessing on the problem of violence in the Old Testament and instead obsess on the problem of violence in nature. (I promise to return to the O.T. soon -- we'll deal with Peter Craigie's The Problem of War in the Old Testament).

Some of you who have been visiting this blog for ten months or more may recall that I was part of a three week science and theology conference last summer. It focused on integrating science with the open view of the future. (I blogged on the conference and topics surrounding it from June 18 to July 30, 2007). Among the many topics we discussed was the issue of explaining how an all-good Creator could have designed -- or at least allowed for -- a system of evolution that contained, if not necessitated, horrific violence, suffering and waste. This is the problem of "natural" evil, and it's eloquently expressed by Tennyson in his famous poem In Memoriam.

Man…trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law –
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrek’d against his creed.
In Memoriam

Neither nature today, nor the evolutionary process that led up to it, look like they they were designed and governed by a non-violent God of love!

Why am I obsessing on this now? Well, in about an hour I'm catching a plane to California to attend a follow-up conference to the one I attended last summer. All who attended last year's conference will be delivering papers on aspects of science and the open view of the future that were in whole or in part inspired by that conference. These papers will then be edited and (hopefully) published in a book. My essay addresses the problem of violence in nature and is entitled "Evolution As Cosmic Warfare: A Biblical Approach to So-Call 'Natural' Evil." (I know this will aggravate some readers who hold to a young earth creationist view, but my paper assumes that the earth is roughly 4.6 billion years old and that some form of evolution was involved in bringing about humans and the animal kingdom as we find them today).

As my title suggests, the rather controversial thesis I will defend in my essay is that, given what the Bible has to say about Satan and other fallen angels, Christian theists have no reason to assume that the carnage and waste that characterizes the evolutionary process and nature today is all the result of how God designed nature. Indeed, I suggest we view evolution as a sort of epoch-long warfare between the life-affirming creativity of an all-good God, on the one hand, and the on-going corrupting influence of malevolent cosmic forces, on the other. The fact that God is nevertheless able to achieve his creational objectives (for example, the creation of humans in his image) through this corrupted process reflects God's sovereign wisdom in bringing good out of evil and overcoming evil with good.

I end my paper by defending and tweaking a proposal put forth by Ralph Winter and a team of colleagues at the Roberta Winter Institute that reconciles this evolution-as-cosmic-warfare perspective with Genesis 1 and 2. Some of you may recall that last summer I announced I felt I had to modify my "gap" interpretation of Genesis 1 because it conflicted with the geological evidence. At the same time, I began to consider an alternative reading of Genesis 1 that I'd recently come across, proposed by Ralph Winter (I posted on this topic 7/30/07). Well, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Ralph Winter's interpretation offers the most plausible way of resolving the problems my old "gap" theory faced. (You can read Winter's proposal -- entitled "Unfinished Epic" -- here).

I don't necessarily agree with everything Winter proposes, but in my essay I use the basic framework of his work to depict Eden as the first expression of "the mustard seed kingdom." It was a supernaturally created "Kingdom oasis" that God carved out in the midst of a demonically oppressed and corrupted world. Eden was to function as a sort of beachhead from which humans were to partner with God, expand his Kingdom against the kingdom of darkness and ultimately transform the whole earth to become the domain over which God reigns -- the Kingdom of God. The beachhead was unfortunately lost to hostile forces, thanks to the failure of the original humans. But defeating malevolent forces, winning back the earth, and having humans reign with Christ over the earth (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10; 20:6; 22:5) remains God's primary objective and the primary calling of humans.

One of the things I'll be doing out in California is meeting with Ralph Winter and his team to brainstorm about the evolution-as-cosmic-warfare thesis and this new way of reading Genesis. It should be a very interesting time. I'll let you know how it goes.

Right now I've got to go catch a plane!

Blessings on all you co-rulers with Christ!!