What Does It Mean To Live In A Fallen World?
In my travels here and there over the great wide blogosphere I occasionally am struck with inspiration for a post of my own. This is one of those posts.
I was over at Randal Rauser’s blog, flipping through the archives, when I came across a post about the possibility of demons being responsible for natural evil. Now by natural evil I mean evil that has no obvious human perpetrator. We can blame mass killings and the like on the choices of fallible and often corrupted human beings, but we can’t do the same for a hurricane or an earthquake. It’s obvious that many terrible natural disasters occur around the world causing pain, death, destruction, and suffering. This creates an objection toward the idea of that a good and powerful God exists. If God is good then why do such disasters happen?
One possible explanation that some apologists and theologians have presented is that natural disasters are caused by demons. This may seem like a pretty backward and superstitious belief for modern philosophers to have, but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. If you already believe in God, and angels, and demons, then why can’t demons be responsible? To be more clear, if demons exist at all then they could possibly be blamed for natural disasters. If a Christian believes in demons already then it is not at all an implausible argument. This works logically (I: If demons exist then they could be responsible for natural disasters II: Demons exist, therefore III: Demons could be responsible for natural disasters).
Of course that leads to the question “Why would God allow demons to cause natural disasters?” But then, why does God allow anyone to cause harm to any person whatsoever? The traditional answer to this is that God prizes free will. He did not want to create a world of robots incapable of choosing anything that God didn’t choose for them. So he created beings with free will, and the consequences of that is that some beings are going to choose badly. They are going to choose to hurt other beings. As usual C. S. Lewis puts it better than I ever could:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying (The Case for Christianity).”
So there we are. Demons, like humans, are beings with free will. They also have powers we do not understand. Therefore it is possible that they are responsible for natural disasters, and God is off the hook. However we have two major problems. Firstly this is a terrible argument for convincing people who do not believe in demons. It’s downright awful. It’s persuasiveness grows exponentially worse the father you get from conservative Christianity, and it’s people who are far from Christian belief (atheists, agnostics, etc.) who are the ones who need the question of natural evil to be answered before they’ll consider believing.
That’s where Randal Rauser comes in. In the post I linked to above he expands on the problem I just pointed out. One passage in particular caught my eye and my thoughts. He writes:
“It is possible that natural evil might be due to demonic agency. It is possible that legions of demons are employed every June-to-January in the “Atlantic Ocean Hurricane Task-Force” (AOHTF) while others are employed full time at the “Pacific Rim Committee for Earthquakes” (PRCE), even as others labor at the “Department for Evolving Predators” (DEP) and still others moonlight at the “Institute for Spreading Cancer” (ISC) or the “Society for Droughts and Floods” (SDF). So come on Mr. Mephistopheles, roll up your sleeves and get to work. There’s misery to be spread about like so much fresh manure.”
When you actually start thinking about the ramifications of believing that demons cause natural disasters the results are pretty ridiculous sounding, aren’t they? And that got me thinking: what if demons really did cause hurricanes? How would they do that? I mean hurricanes aren’t mysterious events that come out of the blue without warning or expectation. Meterologists know pretty solidly what weather patters will cause a hurricane, and exactly how one forms. I don’t know much about the subject at all, but doesn’t it all have to do with hot air and cold air meeting in a certain way? That’s probably the understatement of the year, but the point is that hurricanes are part of a chain of cause and effect, a chain we can track pretty clearly. At what point did demons get involved? Did they heat or chill the air with supernatural powers? Have we ever had a hurricane appear without being able to trace it back to certain weather events which themselves were bound to happen based on the events that occurred before them? I don’t know if I’m being clear or not so I’ll try saying it another way; wouldn’t the hurricane form regardless of any supernatural intervention as long as hot air and cold air met in the way that we have proven causes hurricanes?
That got me thinking about cancer. Isn’t cancer too caused by natural occurrences? We may not know how all cancers develop but I don’t know anyone who thinks there is anything particularly supernatural about them. Take lung cancer, for example. We know that if you smoke your chances of getting lung cancer go up. Does any of us (and I’m definitely including Christians who believe in the existence of demons, like myself) believe that tobacco causes cancer because the leaves are infested with demons, and tomatoes don’t cause cancer because demons just don’t like them? It’s just silly. So in some cases at least we know for a fact that cancer is caused by substances in tobacco. If you smoke tobacco you increase your risk of cancer. That’s just the way it is.
Now how many other things in our environment cause cancer just by being themselves? Let’s look at UV radiation from the sun. We know that UV rays can cause cancer. Does that mean every ray of sunshine is infested with demons? Of course not! It’s just natural laws at work. If UV radiation didn’t have properties that caused cancer then it also wouldn’t be able to cause our bodies to produce vitamin D.
And what about earthquakes? Earthquake are the natural result of tectonic activity, activity that is beneficial in numerous ways. If you have tectonic plates then you will have earthquakes, and if you don’t have tectonic plates then you don’t have the Earth as we know it.
All that got me thinking.
You see, I was never taught that natural disasters were caused by demons when I was growing up. I heard that opinion from other people later in life, but in my own family and church it wasn’t taught. Instead I was told that such disasters happened because we lived in a fallen world. In Eden, before the fall of man, everything was perfect. Because of Adam’s sin all of creation suffered. That’s what I was told, and that was what I believed. But the problem with that belief is that it’s very vague. What exactly does it mean to live in a fallen world? Why would God cook up such terrible things as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and cancer just because Adam sinned? How did Adam’s moral actions cause nature to be thrown out of whack? It’s something I’ve never fully understood. But after reading that blog post I think I understand it better now. When you really look at natural disasters you see that, with things the way they are, there is no way they could not have occurred. The only way to have a world without hurricanes is to have a world that is radically different from our own, a world with less water, heat, and rain. The only way to have a world that doesn’t have earthquakes is a world that doesn’t have mountains, along with a dozen other things that make our world such a beautiful and amazing place to live in.
So what if man never fell? What if humanity stayed as Adam and Eve where; immortal, beautiful, intelligent, and made after God’s own image? I think that even if humanity never fell there would still be earthquakes and hurricanes. The only difference is what the results of those natural events would be. Imagine experiencing the intensity of a hurricane without the fear of death or injury. Imagine witnessing the sheer power of an earthquake without the dread of destruction. In a world without death such natural occurrences would be incredible events. Sure some houses may be knocked down. Houses can be rebuilt! But in an unfallen world death would not be in the cards. Similarly, I imagine cancer and would be far easier to cure and prevent in a world where man and God live in communion. Perhaps we’d quickly learn which foods and substances to avoid. Perhaps our own bodies would be strong enough to resist corruption and mutation.
In the end I prefer this explanation to the demon one. I find it also fits in nicely with what I already know to be true. I believe that God felt free will was worth the risk. It’s hardly a jump at all to believe that he might have felt that hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, and famines were worth the risk as well. A world without the possibility of those things happening would be a bubble wrap world, completely alien to the one we know today and far less capable of sustaining life.
Posted on July 15, 2013, in Apologetics, Christianity and tagged do demons cause natural disasters, fallen world, living in a fallen world, natural disasters, natural evil, the fall. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.