THE END OF CHRISTIANITY UNDER THE MICROSCOPE - A Book Review
The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World. By William A. Dembski. Nashville, TN: B&H Academics, 2009. 238 pp. $12.98. ISBN 978-1-4336-6851-7.
The problem of evil is one of the most important difficulties for any philosophical or religious attempt to explain the existence and purpose of the universe. Many books have been written on this problem, by Christians of all denominations, and almost all Christian theological and philosophical positions. As such, any author who wishes to contribute to this domain of research must, necessarily, interact with a veritable ocean of academic and popular works treating this subject. The only way to avoid this impossible task is to take on particular aspects of the problem of evil. This is exactly what William A. Dembski seeks to do in this highly acclaimed book. One of the first things that the reader will notice, upon picking up this book, is that it receives advance praise from a virtual who’s who in the world of Christian apologetics and Christian philosophy. In this review we will begin by noting the purpose and intended audience of the book. We will also note the primary argument of this book, and, through a brief overview of its contents, explain how the author attempts to prove his argument. We will finish with some comments on the relative worth of this book.
The purpose of this book, in the author’s own words, is “to resolve the problem of evil”, and this by proposing “a kairological reading of Genesis that looks to the intentional-semantic logic by which God acts in creation.” This “resolution” of the problem of evil is proposed with the purpose of meeting the challenge “to formulate a theodicy that is at once faithful to Christian orthodoxy…and credible to our mental environment.” Dembski’s basic response to the problem of evil is to propose a form of Christian theodicy in which all evil (of all kinds) is ultimately traced back to human sin in the Garden of Eden. Dembski claims that this is what makes his theodicy original, namely, how he makes human sin the original cause of all evil in the world. The originality of his theodicy, however, is not in its claim that human sin is the cause of all evil in the world (as he rightly notes), but in his argument that this claim can be maintained even if one does not adhere to young earth creationism. In other words, the basic argument, that Dembski wishes to prove, is that the following 2 claims can be coherently held together: (1) Evil (at least natural) existed prior to the fall of man (i.e. - animal death). (2) All evil is directly caused by the fall of man. Though Dembski does not claim to be aiming at any one audience, the reader will come to the conclusion that this is a book that is intended for popular audiences. Mark Fitzmaurice, who wrote the foreword, claims that this book should be necessary reading for all pastors.
In order to prove that these two statements are not inherently contradictory Dembski develops, in chapter 20, what he calls a kairological reading of Genesis 1. Dembski builds up to this crucial chapter, which does not appear until the end of part 4 of this book, by dragging the reader through an unending series of seemingly unrelated chapters. The introduction introduces the reader to the main challenge that the author wishes to take on – the contemporary mental environment. He notes that a mental environment is “the surrounding climate of ideas by which we make sense of the world…It includes our ideas about what exists, what can be known, and what counts as evidence for our beliefs. It assigns value to our life and work. Above all, it determines our plausibility structures – what we find reasonable or unreasonable, credible or incredible, thinkable or unthinkable.” In part 1 (chapters 1-4) Dembski deals with the question of evil. In chapter 1 the author argues that the cross was the necessary divine response to evil. In chapter 2 the author argues that the only explanation of how a will created good could turn against a good God is that the created will had essential freedom to choose good or evil. He goes on to give pithy critiques of some common Christian theodicies. In chapter 3 Dembski begins by noting the response of Open Theism to the problem of evil. He rejects without argument the claims of Open Theism, and moves on to consider why the notion that all evil traces back to the fall of man was rejected. He considers each reason in turn and seeks to show that they fail to prove that all evil could not be traced back to man’s fall. In chapter 4 he considers the Christian view of the horrid nature of sin. He attempts to bring us to the conclusion that the answer to “why a benevolent God would allow natural evil to afflict an otherwise innocent nature in response to human moral evil” is that “it is to manifest the full consequences of human sin so that when Christ redeems us, we may clearly understand what we have been redeemed from.”
In part 2 Dembski points out that one’s view of Genesis must be taken into account when dealing with the problem of evil. In chapter 5 he presents the strongest case, which he is able to muster, for youth earth creationism. Young earth creationism seems to make sense to all those who claim that all evil was essentially caused by the fall of man. In chapter 6 he states that “I myself would adopt it [young earth creationism] in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it.” Indeed, in chapter 6, Dembski goes on to lay out what he thinks is the most important difficulty (and inconsistency) with young earth creationism – the question of the constancy of nature. In chapter 7 Dembski presents a further problem with young earth creationism – its Achilles heel – the theory of ‘appearance of age’. In chapter 8 Dembski provides the reader with a very simplistic introduction to the idea that Nature can be a reliable source of knowledge about God. In chapter 9 Dembski notes that Old-earth creationism also has its difficulties (though they are of a different nature than those of young earth creationism).
In part 3 Dembski defends, primarily, the thesis that information is the “rock-bottom” of the universe. In order to defend this theory Dembski lays out, in chapter 10, the view that the transmission of information can be used as a model of the trinity, and that this is no accident. In chapter 11 the author uses the fact that information transcends matter to show that there must be more to our universe than just matter. In chapter 12 he seeks to show why God created, relying on the claim that logos means a revealing. In chapter thirteen Dembski answers, as far as he is concerned, the question of Being. Being just is to be in communion with God. Therefore, metaphysics is not the primary science, communication theory is. In chapter 14 he claims that God could have create the world a long time before Adam & Eve, and allowed death to happen prior to Adam & Eve, but as a consequence of their actions. In chapter 15 he explains how God gets information into the world.
In part 4 Dembski lays out his theory on how it is possible for evil to exist prior to the fall, but to be caused by the fall. In chapter 16 he distinguishes 2 types of time: Chronos (clock time) and Kairos (the time of divine action). He uses these two types of time to interpret the Genesis account as follows: “God first creates in kairos and then implements this first creation as a second creation in chronos. Once humanity falls, he acts to restore the second creation.” In chapter 17 he claims, based on the notion of retroactive prayers and Newcomb’s paradox, that God can know future contingent propositions without removing the freedom of free creatures. In chapter 18 he claims that there are two logics in nature (the logic of nature – causal-temporal logic – and the logic of divine creation– intentional-semantic logic) which must be understood in order to understand creation. In chapter 19 he claims that God engages in an infinite dialectic with the world. God acts anticipatively which causes an effect; God acts anticipatively for this act, which also causes an effect; this goes on ad infinitum. Chapter 20 is the key chapter where he explains the interpretative key to Genesis 1-3. “The key to this reading is to interpret the days of creation as natural division in the intentional-semantic logic of creation. Genesis 1 is therefore not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God’s purposes (kairos).” He then proceeds to elaborate his basic theory.
In part 5 Dembski seeks to answer a number of questions that one might ask about his theory. In chapter 21 he deals with the relationship between evolution and his theory. Chapter 22 is a list of answers to a number of questions that are related to other areas of theological research. In chapter 23 he seeks to claim that true freedom is found in creatively redeeming the circumstances in obedience to Christ, and for his glory. Chapter 24 seeks to elaborate on our purpose in the world, in light of his theodicy.
This book includes three indexes (names, subjects and bible references) which makes it easy to find important claims. The interest of this book is that Dembski seeks to provide a coherent way of claiming both (1) Evil (at least natural) existed prior to the fall of man (i.e. - animal death), and (2) All evil is directly caused by the fall of man. Unfortunately this book is so riddled with difficulties, unsupported claims and pithy refutations of views that might cause a problem for his theory that it is a wonder that it both (1) made it to print, and (2) received so many recommendations. An example of his pithy refutations of different views can be found both in chapter 2, where he does away with other types of theodicies, or in chapter 3 where he rejects open theism without argument, or in his interaction with Young earth and old earth creationism. He does understand that youth-earth and old-earth creationism pose problems for his view (if either one of them is true, then his is not.), but his pithy dismissal of old-earth creationism seems unworthy of a scholar such as Dembski. Furthermore, he does not interact with other interpretations of Genesis 1-3, such as John Walton’s view, which he officially published in his book The Lost world of Genesis 1 (that was also published in 2009), but which he had been talking about for much longer, and which, if true, would seemingly destroy Dembski’s theory entirely. The entire book is filled with unsupported claims that are highly debatable. As for the many difficulties, though we could go on for quite a while about the difficulties, suffice it to note that his treatment of the question of Being is deplorable, as is his attempt to explain why God created the world by looking at the etymology of the Greek term logos. All in all I was almost offended by the amount of time that it took to read this book in relation to what I was able to get out of it. In the end I found myself wondering if either (1) I had entirely misunderstood the book, or (2) if the people who wrote such amazing endorsements of the book had actually read it. As much as I’d like to give the author (and those who endorsed the book) the benefit of the doubt and accept the first option, I tend to lean towards the second. I rarely write scathing reviews of books, as I can often find a number of interesting points in a book that would allow me to recommend it to someone, but in this case, I am afraid that I cannot recommend this book, except as an example of how NOT to write this type of book.
William A. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Nashville, TN: B&H Academics, 2009), 174.
Ibid., 6-7, 9.
Ibid., 8, 9.
Ibid., 1. In his third endnote Dembski distinguishes a “mental environment” from the well-known term “world view” primarily by stating that a mental environment applies to whole countries or cultures (regardless of the different worldviews they may contain), and that worldviews apply to individuals. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not Dembski is following in the very subtle steps of Scotus.
One wonders if it is, indeed, the strongest case.