Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Osborn's "literalist dilemmas": Stasis, Deceiver and Divine Curse

But it is left to creationists who attribute all of the dysteleological and troubling realities of animal existence to God's "curse" upon the animal kingdom to explain why a fully just, fully loving and omnipotent Creator would not simply permit but positively demand such suffering among uncomprehending and morally innocent creatures who were previously unexposed to pain or death or any kind. [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 127]

The Creator God of Genesis clearly takes joy in untamed creaturely flourishing and procreation. All living creatures are commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and to spread out and fill the earth. In a spatially finite and deathless world, however there could not be endless procreation. At a certain point in time, all births would cease and there would be no new species or changes in the precise number of creatures in existence. Sexual differentiation would then become superfluous and all reproductive organs in the animal kingdom would become vestigial oddities like tonsils or appendices. A "perfect" world in the sense some believers demand would, it seems, be a world without any young or old (or perhaps with young creatures that never grew to adulthood). ... A flawless engineered world without growth, without new birth, without change and without death might be "perfect"—like a finely calibrated watch. But "perfect" in this sense might not be good at all for God's creative purposes. (Ibid., 128-9)

What should we make of a God who creates a universe, an earth, planets, animals and humans with the appearance but not the actuality of age? ... Existence at a very foundational level, in this way of thinking, cannot be believed or trusted. It is at bottom an artificial stage production. Reality has the ontological properties of unreality or surrealism and did so from the very start. (Ibid., 133)

Entirely apart from the scientific evidences for predation before the emergence of human beings, we are confronted all around us by the plain fact of animals killing in order to survive. The natural world is filled with creatures that are anatomically "designed"—in their internal organs, their instincts and practical every fiber of their physical structures—to exist by consuming other creatures. (Ibid., 134)

Osborn poses three major dilemmas for the creationist position: the problems of stasis, deceiver, and divine curse. In the stasis dilemma, Osborn states that a "perfect" creation according to the YEC scenario would result in an endgame situation of stasis throughout the world, which is contrary to the design of creation. The deceiver dilemma uses things like the appearance of age to claim that YEC makes God out to be a deceiver through creating things with a false appearance of age. The divine curse dilemma claims that it is strange to say that animals which are naturally suited for their habitats are a result of the curse, following which Osborn explores some supposed creationist explanations, none of which are mine.

The first objection by Osborn is a mere variation of the question "how can a good God decree evil." I have no idea how far towards Pelagianism Osborn is, but he certainly rejects the notion of predestination and embraces a concept of libertarian free will in some sense. For those who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God however, there is nothing untoward in claiming that God cursed the creation even though creation is not at fault. God does whatever He pleases, and being cursed is not the same as being guilty and punished. Furthermore, animals are not "morally innocent." They are amoral in the sense that morality does not apply to them at all. If Osborn claims that morality applies to animals, then I guess he should be standing up for prosecuting animals for moral crimes

The stasis dilemma is based upon a faulty view of creation. According to Osborn, creationists hold that God created the world and that it is. God however created Adam and Eve under the Covenant of Works, therefore obedience to God's commandments would have ushered in the Eschaton. There would have been no possibility of stasis occurring therefore in the Reformed creationist scenario.

The deceiver dilemma might apply to some versions of Creationism, but by and large it is inapplicable. First of all, things do not come with an age tag. There are plausible creationist explanations for tree rings involving the creation of multiple tree rings per year based upon drastically different climates that were the fallout from the Flood and the subsequent Ice Age. Radiometric dating, a tool normally used to measure age, has lots of problems. When diamonds can have C-14 readings, you know that their traditional datings must be false. C-14 has a half-life of about 5,730 years, so about 573,000 years (or 100 half-lives), there should be no discernable C-14 left in a sample. The most recent cosmology involving cosmological general relativity has a plausible solution for starlight without the need for millions and billions of years. In other words, the deceiver dilemma is based upon outdated creationist science at best. Yes, there is a sense in which the deceiver dilemma might apply, but not in the way Osborn conceives it. If God encodes false information in phenomena, then that would make God a deceiver. Light from a non-existing "supernova," that was created in transit for example, would be a legitimate candidate for such an accusation against God. It is not so much the appearance of age that matters, but the creation of false information that would result in the accusation of deception.

As it is said, created things do not come with an age tag. When God created Adam fully mature, there is no intention to decceive. Rather, it is those who accuse God of deception who have bought into a naturalistic paradigm. Was Jesus trying to deceive when he created wine de novo from water at the wedding of Cana? I would hope not. Osborn's usage of the appearance of age fails because the "age" is preconceived from naturalistic premises which do not always apply. As such, Osborn's deceiver dilemma fails.

The last divine curse dilemma fails because it fails to distinguish between curse, and punishment. I have written before on the design features of animals, but here I would expound on the issue further. There is a sense in which Osborn thinks that the development of carnivory etc must be a bad thing for the YEC. However, that is far from the case. The issue is not carnivory as much as death. The curse of God is not meat-eating, but human and animal (the nephesh chayyah) death. It is God's good pleasure that animals would adapt to their habitats throughout the world. God is God, and although suffering and death is evil and a result of the Fall, God does decree them for His purposes. Thus even in parasites, God uses them to fill up the ecological niches in the earth's ecosystems, the ecosystems of a fallen earth.

Osborn explores some possibilities that the creationist might take. Possibility one states that God gave the animal world over to such cruelty. This however is false. Creation is cursed, but cursed does not imply abandonment. Possibility two is God's curse transforms peaceful animals into ferocious predators, but again this is false. The ecosystems of a fallen earth is different from the ecosystem of Eden and the pre-Fall world, and the development of carnivory is natural and good in this post-Fall world. Possibility three claimed that the cause was demonic, a possibility that does not even warrant a discussion.

In conclusion, Osborn's three "literalist dilemmas" are anything but problems for the YEC. The second and third dilemmas especially show an ignorance of contemporary YEC literature, an ignorance that could be remedied if Osborn had actually talked with intellectual YECs instead of anti-creationist scholars and the rank-and-file creationists.

[Thus ends my interaction with Ron Osborn's book]

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