Can you comment on Polkinghorne’s book "Exploring Reality: the Intertwining of Science and Religion " he writes “The attempt to justify the ways of God in the face of the actuality of evil is called theodicy?


(RZIM Connect Member) #1

Hi Max, me again! Sorry to throw so much at you as your week comes to an end and the clock ticks on, but I wonder if you would have time to comment on something Polkinghorne writes in his book "Exploring Reality: the Intertwining of Science and Religion " (2005)

He writes “The attempt to justify the ways of God in the face of the actuality of evil is called theodicy. It is a task of considerable importance and difficulty for theologians. Christians over the centuries have followed one of three basic strategies. The first is one that the advance of science has made untenable for us today, although it was treated as very significant in the early Christian centuries. A plainly literal reading of Genesis 3: 14-19 led to the idea that the Fall, understood as the original act of moral evil, also resulted in a curse upon creation that was the actual source of natural evil. Paul appears to write within this kind of understanding when he speaks of Adam as the one through whom sin came into the world “and death came through sin” (Romans 5:12). It is obvious that our knowledge of the long history of life, with the mass extinctions that have punctuated it, does not permit us today to believe that the origin of physical death and destruction is linked directly to human disobedience to God. However, if we understood the story of the Fall to be the symbol of a turning away from God into the self that occurred with the dawning of hominid self-consciousness, so that thereby humanity became curved-in upon itself, asserting autonomy and refusing to accept heteronomous dependence, we can today interpret those words in Romans in the sense of referring not to fleshly death but to what may be called “mortality”, spiritual sadness at the transience of human life. Because of their self conscious power to look ahead into the future, our ancestors had become aware that they would die. This was an emergent recognition of something always present, namely the finitude of life in this world. Christian belief embraces the idea that God’s purposes will find ultimate fulfilment beyond present history in the everlasting life of the world to come, but the Fall meant that our ancestors had become alienated from the One who is the only true ground of hope for that post- mortem destiny.” (138-140)

  1. He seems to suggest that limited life span was always inherent in creation this side of heaven, and that the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in spiritual death in their alienation from God, but not in physical death. I wonder could you comment on this Max? Might it also be helpful to bring that distinction of natural and moral evil to bear on Romans 5, such that death had come to creation prior to the human Fall, but not maybe to men and women themselves??

  2. I recently read a book by a Jewish author, Zion Zevit (What really happened in the Garden of Eden) that suggested much the same thing, namely the awareness of finitude but not the actual introduction of finitude. He argued from the semantics of the original language used.

  3. Further in his book, Polkinghorne suggests that creation must necessarily lie in a two-step process, the first step being this present creation existing at some epistemic distance from its creator, whose divine presence is currently veiled from our sight. He suggests that the truly free exercise of human free will requires such divine distancing. Could you comment also on this Max? I’m not sure why this has to be the case, and what is actually achieved by such a defence?

Thank you again. And again, my apologies :slight_smile:

(Max Baker-Hytch) #2

Great question. I’m quite sympathetic to Polkinghorne’s suggestion that the death that occurred at the fall of Adam and Eve was spiritual rather than biological. For one thing, all the evidence suggests that animals have been killing and eating each other for much longer than humans have been around, so the fall of human beings can’t account for the phenomenon of biological death in general. I’m not a biblical scholar, but the sense I get from Romans 5 is very much that the kind of death that Paul is talking about there is principally spiritual alienation from God, and not biological death. This way of reading Paul seems justified in light of the way that elsewhere he often speaks of being “dead in your transgressions” (Eph. 2.1) or “dead in your sins” (Co. 2.13) prior to being made alive in Christ. Being dead in sin the way that Paul intends this phrase quite clearly doesn’t mean being biologically dead, and so I think it’s entirely appropriate to take him in Romans 5 to be speaking in a similar way of our standing in relation to God. In line with this reading of Paul, I would think that the way in which Adam and Eve died had to do with their being alienated from God, due to their choice to attempt to elevate themselves to the status of gods and masters of their own destinies.

(Kay Kalra) #3