In a recent post on his blog, he discussed the particular problem of animal suffering. He writes:
What are we Christians to make of the evidence of animal suffering (e.g., predation and horrible death) before the Fall?. . . In my research, however, I found precious little explanation of natural evil. I found a few clues, to be sure, and I pass them on in the book, but nothing like the much more extensive discussion of human/moral evil in the theological and philosophical literatures. So I’m still on the hunt for answers and I would be glad for any help you can give. I think it is the most difficult issue remaining in the whole problematic of “evil and an all-good, almighty God” (emphasis mine).After 38 comments on his blog Stackhouse writes:
Thanks for the pushback, friends–as well as for dopderbeck’s creative suggestion about our squandering via the Fall the resources by which we could have dealt effectively with natural evils (an idea with which I have considerable sympathy). I have no scientific reason to doubt that animal (including hominid) suffering and death preceded the Fall. I agree that the current consensus is strong on those counts, so far as I (a scientific layman) can tell. In the face of this evidence, the very variety of theological hypotheses advanced for the origins of natural evil shows that there is no consensus on our side of the problem (emphasis mine). Did God create the natural world pretty much the way we see it today? Did God create a world without suffering and death but Satan subsequently interfered with it–yet under God’s providential control? Did human evil somehow retroactively affect the natural world (which I understand to be Wm. Dembski’s thesis)? And what do the eschatological visions of the Peaceable Kingdom have to say about the way the world was originally created, if anything? Y’all keep working on it, and I will, too. I look forward to this blog community sorting this out once for allNatural evil, including animal suffering, is a vexing problem for evangelical Christians (the ones who think about it). Many will take the easy way out and say that God created the world in six days and that initially everything was perfect, there was no natural evil and no death, not even animal death, until the fall of Adam. R. C. Sproul, recently shifted his position from Old Earth Creationist (OEC) to Young Earth Creationist (YEC) because of his inability to reconcile natural evil with his belief in an omni-benevolent God.
However, many evangelicals recognize that YEC is not scientifically respectable, and thus, they are forced to deal with the issue of God creating the world with natural evil as part of it. In an article by John C. Munday, Jr. entitled, "Creature Mortality: From Creaton Or The Fall?" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35/1 [March 1992] 51-68), the argument is made from Scripture and Science that animal death preceded the Fall of Adam. Munday writes:
Since animals do not have the moral capacity to sin, their death cannot have arisen because they sinned, as in the above prescription. Therefore either animal death came with creation or it arose indirectly through the Edenic curse. Calvin apparently thought the former, because in commenting on creation he said that "all things were liable to corruption" and that some populations (of animals) were bestowed with "a power of continuing their race, so preventing it from perishing at their own death ." Ramm believed likewise: "Ideal conditions existed only in the Garden. There was disease and death and bloodshed in Nature long before man sinned. "Rev. Lee Irons, in an article on apologist Hugh Ross' website, entitled, Animal Death Before The Fall: What Does The Bible Say? also argues that the biblical position favors animal death before the fall. He examines a number of passages commonly thought to teach that death, including animal death, came as a result of Adam's fall (Rom. 5:12-14; 8:18-21; Gen. 1:29-30; 9:1-4; Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25; Psa. 104:19-28; 1 Tim. 4:1-5) and concludes that they do not in fact teach that position.
If Adam was not immortal by nature (see earlier discussion), there is no reason to expect that the first animals were immortal by nature either. Moreover the animals, like Adam, were created with physical sensitivity to pain and suffering as well as susceptibility to death. Unlike Adam, however, the animals were not offered access to the tree of life. This is especially so for beasts outside the Garden. Therefore they had no possible way to achieve immortality. On such considerations one may conclude that animals were created mortal by nature.
The consequences of deciding in favor of original animal immortality are enormous. The main one is the view that the fossil deposits of the geologic record, which preserve a history of animal death, must have occurred in their entirety after the fall of man. Only one post-fall Scriptural passage can encompass such an immense record, and that is the account of Noah's flood. Pre-fall animal immortality is coupled by its advocates with the fossil death record and a Scripturally argued young-earth position to produce the view known as flood geology. In this view, all or nearly all the world's present-day fossil and stratigraphic sequences were deposited during and soon after Noah's flood.
By contrast, those who reject original animal immortality will usually be found also rejecting young-earth age and consequently rejecting flood geology. In addition to reasoning from Scripture in favor of original animal immortality and flood geology, Morris rationalizes that evolution, described by Tennyson as "Nature, red in tooth and claw," is a "heartless process" inconsistent with a loving God. He "could never be guilty of such a cruel and pointless charade as this!" For Morris, millions of years of animal death constitute "tortuous aeons."
In response: Eons of death may be offensive, but that is hardly grounds for contrary belief. After all, human death itself is extremely offensive, described in Scripture as an enemy, but it still is a fact. We cannot protest; God, after all, pronounced the death sentence. But he also sent his Son as our Redeemer.
So, if the Bible and science teach that natural evils, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, disease, parasites, and animal death and suffering, have been present on the earth since its beginning, how can one still believe in a perfectly good God? When it is all said and done, the only conclusion an honest evangelical can draw is, as Stackhouse says, "I don't know."
My conclusion? There is no omnibenevolent deity.