Originally published in Creation 21, no 4 (September 1999): 42-45.
Does the Bible teach that disease, bloodshed, violence and pain have always been ‘part of life’? What would this say about God?
The late Carl Sagan, in his book Contact, wrote:
“If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he start the universe out in the first place so it would come out the way he wants? Why is he constantly repairing and complaining? No, there’s one thing the Bible makes clear: The biblical God is a sloppy manufacturer. He’s not good at design, he’s not good at execution. He’d be out of business if there was any competition.”1
It’s easy to understand why Carl Sagan viewed the God of the Bible this way. Sagan believed that the fossil record, with all its death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence, represented millions of years of Earth’s history. He also saw a world full of death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence today. So he concluded that any “god” responsible for this seeming mess of life and death could not be all-powerful and all-knowing.
Sagan’s view of God is consistent with his belief in an old earth. Once one accepts billions of years for the age of the earth, whether because of belief in slow and gradual processes to form rocks and fossils — and/or a trust in radiometric dating methods as giving accurate ages of rocks2
— it follows that the fossil record was laid down during hundreds of millions of years, before there were any people (and thus before human sin).
Sagan’s writings show he was familiar with Genesis. What must he have thought when he read that at the end of the sixth day of creation, God pronounced that everything He had made was very good (Genesis 1:31)? How could a very good earth contain diseases like cancer? Didn’t the Bible state that thorns came after the curse because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:18)?
Sagan is not the only one to recognize the true nature of the god of an old earth. Irven DeVore, a Harvard anthropologist, said:
“I personally cannot discern a shred of evidence for a benign cosmic presence … I see indifference and capriciousness. What kind of God works with a 99.9 percent extinction rate?”7
DeVore recognizes that the fossil record is one of massive extinction. If this has stretched over millions of years, enormous numbers of creatures have become extinct — without such a reason as a Flood judgment on man’s wickedness. What kind of god would create such a scenario? The god of an old earth can’t be a loving God.
The issue was a major one for Charles Darwin, too.8 How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering and death for millions of years?
Christians who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to come to grips with the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible. Even many conservative, evangelical Christian leaders accept and actively promote a belief in millions and billions of years for the age of rocks. Many have been influenced by the Progressive Creationist movement9 as represented by its main spokesperson, Hugh Ross. In his book Creation and Time, Ross states:
“Could it be that God’s purposes are somehow fulfilled through our experiencing the ‘random, wasteful, inefficiencies’ of the natural realm He created?”10
Interestingly, the liberal camp points out the inconsistencies in holding to an old earth, yet trying to cling to evangelical Christianity.
For instance, Bishop John Shelby Spong, the most senior Episcopal Bishop in America, states:
“…The Bible began with the assumption that God had created a finished and perfect world from which human beings had fallen away in an act of cosmic rebellion. Original sin was the reality in which all life was presumed to live. Darwin postulated instead an unfinished and thus imperfect creation … Human beings did not fall from perfection into sin as the Church had taught for centuries … Thus the basic myth of Christianity that interpreted Jesus as a divine emissary who came to rescue the victims of the fall from the results of their original sin became inoperative.” 11
“The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.” 12
Evolutionist Spong obviously believes in millions of years for Earth’s history. Like the Progressive Creationists, he rejects a global Flood. Because they interpret the rocks in this way, neither Spong nor the Progressive Creationists can hold to a perfect world before sin. Spong makes it clear that the god of an old earth cannot rescue people from a so-called Fall, when no such Fall as Genesis describes really occurred.13
The recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Ian Barbour, professor emeritus at Carleton College, also said recently:
“You simply can’t any longer say as traditional Christians that death was God’s punishment for sin. Death was around long before human beings … .”14
This is an obvious reference to the millions of years associated with the fossil record. The god of an old earth is one that uses death as part of creating —death therefore can’t be the penalty for sin — or “the last enemy’(1 Cor. 15:26).
In 1994, Tom Ambrose, an Anglican Priest, in an article in The Church of England Newspaper, succinctly portrayed the real god of an old earth when he stated:
“…Fossils are the remains of creatures that lived and died for over a billion years before Homo Sapiens evolved. Death is as old as life itself by all but a split second. Can it therefore be God’s punishment for Sin? The fossil record demonstrates that some form of evil has existed throughout time. On the large scale it is evident in natural disasters. The destruction of creatures by flood, ice age, desert and earthquakes has happened countless times. On the individual scale there is ample evidence of painful, crippling disease and the activity of parasites. We see that living things have suffered in dying, with arthritis, a tumor, or simply being eaten by other creatures. From the dawn of time, the possibility of life and death, good and evil, have always existed. At no point is there any discontinuity; there was never a time when death appeared, or a moment when the evil changed the nature of the universe. God made the world as it is … evolution as the instrument of change and diversity. People try to tell us that Adam had a perfect relationship with God until he sinned, and all we need to do is repent and accept Jesus in order to restore that original relationship. But perfection like this never existed. There never was such a world. Trying to return to it, either in reality or spiritually, is a delusion. Unfortunately it is still central to much evangelical preaching.”15
Spong makes it plain (and it’s implied by Ambrose) that the Bible clearly teaches that there was a perfect creation, but it is now marred by sin. But they accept the millions of years history for the fossil record, so to be consistent, they have to throw out original sin, and death being the penalty for man’s rebellion. The god of an old earth cannot therefore be the God of the Bible who is able to save us from sin and death.
Thus Christians who compromise with the millions of years attributed by many scientists to the fossil record, are in that sense seemingly worshipping a different god — the cruel god of an old earth.
The problem with people like Sagan and Darwin was that they didn’t understand (or wouldn’t accept) that there was a perfect world to begin with — it was very good.
However, in Adam we rebelled (Romans 5), and the resulting judgment of death and the Curse changed the very good world into one that is groaning in pain till now (Romans 8:22).
When looking at this present world, these men weren’t looking at the nature of God, but the results of our sin! What a difference.
The God of the Bible, the God of mercy, grace and love, sent His one and only Son to be a man (but God nonetheless), to become our sin-bearer so that we could be saved from sin and its final effect of eternal separation from God:
“For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There’s no doubt — the god of an old earth destroys the Gospel.
Let this be a challenge to the Church to return to the loving, holy, righteous God of the Bible.