Re: [asa] Does nature leads you to believe or to reject God?

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009 - 12:49:27 EST
I'll offer another perspective. I know that this corruption of the earth notion is fairly widely held, but it is likely to be troublesome for someone like your advisor. I do agree that theodicy is a central issue to be dealt with. However, there are big questions that arise with the corruption notion.
First, if God created this place, who has the power to power to distort or corrupt it based on a single action? Does it make sense that God would would let this fairly important option rest in the hands of a man, in his very small physical place in the universe? Why would some entity like Satan have the power in God's presence to unstring that which God had created?

Why do we extend our "knowledge and evil" to infer that the world is corrupt? Would it have continued in perfection and innocence and some sort of bloodlessness if the "fruit" had not been eaten?

But more to the point, living things are distinct from other sorts of things in the created universe (in at least one way) by their quality of being able to store and give up energy in remarkably concentrated and recoverable form. Without this form of energy storage, and without our ability to recover and make use of this concentrated energy (by consuming and digesting living, or formerly living, things), we simply could not live.

In that light, we could not live without "tooth and claw", in part because we could not consume enough of those sources of energy without consuming larger things (which presumably would include both vegetable and animal sources based on our teeth and digestive system). [Of course, that omnivore configuration may have evolved, but larger critters still require larger amounts of energy to live and I'm not so sure how successfully we can argue in this context that animals are fundamentally distinct in their form of "living" from vegetation.]

There also exists "hurt" that occurs as a consequence of natural disaster (trip and fall, avalanche, etc) which are the actions of a dynamic non-living creation. It would be hard to argue that such damage to us is evil in any way other than it is inconvenient (at least) to us if we are the recipient of the hurt.

Finally, if we truly have free will in this world, we are going to make some lousy decisions. One might ask what would constitute a lousy decision if not resulting in certain circumstances in hurt/damage/death in a major way. What exactly would free will look like without the capacity to create harm on the down side?

From this perspective, "nature red in tooth and claw" is just nature doing its thing. It may offend our more tender sensibilities, but it is what it is, apparently operating as intended (at least in my humble opinion). It does not offend us when we consume vegetables and fruit, but that is consuming living stuff nonetheless, so any such good-vs-evil discrimination is a matter of kind (and perhaps likeness to us). We are also not offended as we consume or kill smaller living things (unless we are of a Buddhist mind), as we unavoidably step on, inhale, or ingest organisms of smaller scale. So any such good-vs-evil discrimination is a matter of scale.

For me, it is a much easier and logical path to understand "red in tooth and claw" as just nature as it evolved or was designed (or both) or simply "is". The critical points appear to be that (1) there could not be life without consumption of living or once living things, and (2) freedom of choice by its very nature leads to sometimes bad choices.

This isn't "bearable" to me. It is just the downside of that which otherwise blesses, nurtures, and intrigues me.

This line of thinking has the theodicy effect of freeing God from intent or cause of what we might otherwise classify as "evil". It also frees Creation from a very questionable "corrupted" status, places us in realistic relationship to the workings of an incredibly large physical Creation. Moreover, it invites us to understand our interaction with God on terms that transcend these "workings"-level issues, finding our place in the world in terms of the spiritual, and focusing on relationship, stewardship, and yes, altruistic love, redemption, and creation of that which has never been before. In those latter ways, it strikes me that we can elegantly and faithfully reflect the "image of God", and His real intent in us and for us.

My Jewish friends view their mission in the world in terms of "repair", not in the sense of fixing up things that are broken (corrupted), but as dealing constructively and redemptively in the face of dumb things that people do, and unfortunate consequences of what sometimes happens in the normal functioning of Nature (God's benevolent Creation).

That's the way I would approach this - I don't think the hell and damnation approach would have much traction in this situation.

Oh, and don't think in terms of "preach". That just fulfills a preconceived stereotype. This is a place for conversation, humility, and respectful patience. Such weighty thinking can take quite a bit of time.

Or so it seemeth to me.

Respectfully, JimA [Friend of ASA]

John Walley wrote:
Welcome to the list and I appreciate your spiritual concern for your advisor. I think the "nature red in tooth and claw" issue is a serious one and one that all thinking Christians have to have a response for to be relevant.
I am not a theologian but I will gladly offer you what I see as being the best response to this. I have shared this before on the list but not everyone agrees with it. I think Christian apologetics first and foremost have to be based in theodicy. No matter how much we extoll His love and blessings and His exquisite design of nature, all that is out the window to someone who has suffered cruelty abuse or in the case of your advisor has just witnessed it as a third party, and has chosen to adopt it as a justification for his unbelief. But that is understandable.
I think the only way to get someone from that state to belief is for them to be able to see some utilitarian purpose to their suffering that justifies a loving God to allow it. In milder cases like losing a girlfriend or boyfriend, you tell yourself that you can still make it because they weren't the right one for you and someone else will be coming along that is better and you may have just dodged a bullet, etc. Of course this gets more challenging as you have to deal with harder real life scenarios like parents splitting up, economic hardship, health issues and accidents and tragedies, war, famines, natural evil, etc, but ultimately it comes down to us being in a spiritual warfare between good and evil and wherever there is evil these bad things happen. I believe that God attempts to make the best of all the suffering that people endure but sometimes the best is not revealed until the next life. But as Christians, whose focus is not on this life anyway, then that is still ok too.
We have to be prepared to deal with this right off the bat because if life was just about love and fellowship with God which we often hear, then why didn't He create us in some other venue where we weren't in the presence of a tempter? And what was fair about Adam getting beguiled by his wife?  Those easily undo all the love and fellowship arguments and we have to have something better than that.
I think the clue is in the story of the book of Job where God accepts a wager from Satan concerning Job and his family. God shows us that the point of our life and existence is to be used as pawns in the game of a quest of cosmic judgement on Satan. I think He spoke all of creation into being after the fall of Lucifer for a stage on which to play out this cosmic drama. That explains the Lamb being slain from the foundations of the world which makes no sense otherwise. And because Christ was chosen to suffer as well, it makes our sufferings a little more bearable.
So in short, nature is red in tooth and claw because nature is corrupted on earth because the presence of evil corrupts it, and that was the condition on which God agreed to allow creation to be controlled by Satan while they played out their drama. God will show Satan that even selfish, fallen creatures born into a cruel world of competition and survival of the fittest can rise above that and will worship Him and will show Satan that God alone is worthy of worship. In contrast Satan gets to be the God of this world and directs and controls the worlds systems and attempts to exploit worship from the selfish people he owns via an antichrist and a one world government system, but it never is true genuine worship like the followers of God give Him, even in the midst of their suffering and affliction. So Satan sees the error of his rebellion before he is cast into the lake of fire and we partake of God's presence for eternity.
There are real theologians on the list that may have differing opinions but I think this contrast explains why nature is the way it is and to me, this makes it understandable and somewhat more bearable. Although I admit I don't have any sufferings compared to what some poeple have so this explanation may not be as simple and easy for them. But it is what makes sense to me and what I choose to believe and I am happy to share it with you if you think it may help you reach your professor.


From: Oscar Gonzalez <>
To: AmericanScientificAffiliation <>
Sent: Sat, November 28, 2009 2:02:23 AM
Subject: [asa] Does nature leads you to believe or to reject God?

Hello Asaers.

I ask this question in this forum for this reason: I have started this year my PhD studies in Ecology; and this topic appeared while I was talking with my advisor. He is a well known ecologist with several years of experience in the Neotropics. Mean while I was discussing my research proposal, which is in the effects of climate change on birds, we swifted to social causes of environmental degradation and he expressed his interest in how religious communities impact the environment.

I told him how I worked with a faith-based institution in my country to get christians towards nature conservation and the opennes that we found in poor rural communities; also explained him what is the responsible stewardship of creation and how to interpret the bible. He defined himself as a atheist but not a "hard-core" hater of religion. He was raised as a baptist, his parents are christian; but he lossed his faith while studying nature and as he told me, understood how cruel, irrational and  senseless the interactions of animals are.

Then I felt free to share how I became a christian a year before I entered the University when I was 16, to study my bachelor's degree as a biologist. I did see Biology as the wonders of God's creation; also how I became a young earth creationist (It was impossible to be an evangelical christian and not be a creationist in the fundamentalist environmment where I lived) and later a Theistic evolutionist.

The time for the interview reached an end, but he wants to talk more about this, I know that he has a strong spiritual need.

I will not advocate intelligent design or something similar to convince him that God is present in nature, I know that ID is not science. But if he thinks that nature led him to reject God, what can I say? Any advice of how to preach to your advisor?


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