Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Emberger on Evil
Denis O. Lamoureux PhD, PhD (cand)
Department of Oral biology
Faculty of Dentistry, Univeristy of Alberta
Edmonton, AB, CANADA T6G 2N8
From: PSCF 47 (June 1995): 147-148.
If the value of a paper is judged by its ability to stimulate thought despite whether one may espouse its thesis, then Gary Emberger's "Theological and Scientific Explanations for the Origin and Purpose of Natural Evil" (PSCF, Sep 1994) meets this criterion for me. His paper was an encouragement to reexamine four important aspects of the relationship between theology and science.
(1) Most importantly, the issue of theological authority arises with Emberger's acceptance of the Augustinian notion (later held by C. S. Lewis1) that fallen angels account for natural evil. Certainly this approach is attractive since God appears to be absolved of any responsibility. However, it lacks a firm biblical foundation. To be sure, as Lewis notes, this position once had wide appeal in the Church, but a distinctive of Reformation theology worthy of consideration is the primacy of the biblical text in the construction of theological doctrine. I would suggest that the Augustinian fallen angels thesis with its far reaching implications is too important a doctrine to be upheld without solid biblical support.
(2) The fallen angels theory has serious implications for a number of scientific disciplines. As Emberger correctly concludes, if physical and biological evils are due to the fallen angels, "then scientific explanation for the origin of those events will always be incomplete" (p.158). In essence, this position is like the God-of-the-gaps theory, and it bears the problems of that theory. This is not to say I am philosophically opposed to a God-of-the-gaps view, but the greatest difficulty with this position is establishing the reality of a "gap" in nature and being certain that it is not a function of a scientific discipline's ignorance. More specifically, consider comparative odontology and my research regarding the evolutionary implications of dental embryology.2 Currently, I am examining the origin of the upper canine, the prominent tooth positioned on the maxillary bone near the premaxillary-maxillary suture. This long, sharp, and recurved tooth is usually featured in carnivores and is used for puncturing and slashing prey. Recognizing Emberger's (and in particular Lewis's) contention of the evil nature of carnivory, he probably would attribute the appearance of this killer tooth to the activity of fallen angels. But appreciating some of the latest work on the mechanisms of developmental biology, an argument employing completely natural mechanisms could possibly be made for the appearance of an incipient canine as early as the late Pennsylvanian-early Permian with Paleothyris and Hylonomus followed by full blown manifestations of this tooth in the early mammal-like reptiles (e.g., Archaeothyris).3 To emphasize this point even further (and maybe to push it too far), should I as a committed evangelical and a scientist announce to my scientific colleagues that attempts at explaining the origin of the maxillary canine with natural mechanisms are in vain since we cannot quantify the activity of fallen angels in a test tube?
(3) The importance of biblical hermeneutics, as reflected in the exegesis of the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, is clearly demonstrated in Emberger's theodicy. He quickly dismisses "recent creation" (i.e., Young Earth Creationism) as "biblicist," and even charges that this position is "presumptuous" for rejecting an old earth. Instead Emberger appears (though he never directly states it) to espouse some concordist formulation between the scientific record for an old earth and Genesis 1 (maybe Day-Age?). However, he clearly upholds a literal "originally perfect creation" upon which fallen angels launch their ministry of corruption and a literal Adam and Eve. The question quickly arises, though, as to why these elements of Emberger's exegesis are not also deemed as "biblicist." Not only is this an apparent inconsistency in his hermeneutical program, but like all attempts at concordism it fails under the weight on serious scrutiny.4 For example, when exactly is the paradisiacal state manifested (i.e., a time free of natural evils like carnivory), and what is the biblical support for it? If the dental fossil record is employed as a criterion, then Emberger would have to place this period at least as early as the Devonian (408-360 million years ago) with the flesh-eating cladodont sharks5 ó supposedly chondrichthyans corrupted by fallen angels who were instrumental in the development of this primitive fish's slashing dentition. That is, since sea life was created on the fifth day/age of creation, the paradisiacal state would have to be hypothesized sometime during or prior to that period. Historical theology, which generally places the paradisiacal period between the sixth day of creation and the fall, fails to offer a hint of support for such a view. Moreover, the biblical text records that God gave the vegetarian mode of diet to "everything that has the breath of life in it" after He had created humanity (Gen. 1:30). However, the fossil record clearly reveals that carnivory comes well before the appearance of the first humans.
(4) Finally, the principle empowering Emberger's theodicy is simply stated: "It is only necessary to show that evil ultimately does not originate with God, and that he has his purposed for allowing it to continue" (p. 157). Positioning God a step away from the origin of evil may prove mitigatory for some, but it would clearly question the responsibility and compassion of such a bystander all-powerful Deity. On the other hand, the Irenaean theodicy as Emberger exposits it (and certainly seems to appreciate) claims that the presence of evil is God's wise and righteous will for humanity's development and perfection.6 I can only speculate that should Emberger reconsider what I deem are biblicist elements in his exegesis of the early chapters of Genesis, he may retract his contention that Irenaeus fails to "[do] justice to the veracity of the biblical revelation," and come to fuller acceptance of the Bishop of Lyons' view.
To conclude, I quite appreciate Gary Emberger's contribution to PSCF. As never before he made me aware of how theodicy plays a critical role in the origins debate, and further investigation into this theological concept will certainly advance our understanding of the relationship between our science and our faith.
1Lewis, C.S. (1962). The Problem of Pain. NY: Macmillan. pp. 122-143.
2For an introduction on the current synthesis between evolutionary and developmental biology see Hall, Brian K. (1992). Evolutionary Developmental Biology. London: Chapman and Hall.
3Clark, J., and Carroll, R.L. (1973). Romeriid reptiles from the Lower Permian. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zoo., 147:353-407. Carroll, R.L. (1988). Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. NY: Freeman, 1988. pp. 193-194, 363.
4A theme of my doctoral dissertation on the impact of Darwinism on 19th century evangelicals is that concordist theories like the Day-Age Theory generated little scholarly discussion and were short-lived in academic circles. See Lamoureux, Denis O. (1991). Between "The Origin of Species" and "The Fundamentals": Toward a Historiographical Model of the Evangelical Reaction to Darwinism in the First Fifty Years. Ph.D. Dissertation. Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto School of Theology, Toronto, Ontario.
5Carroll (1988), pp. 67-68.
6See Ward, Keith, and Allen, Diogenes, "Natural Evil and the God of Love," in Marilyn Adams and Robert Adams (1990) The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press. I owe this reference to Rev. Chris Barringar.