Paul Copan On “Evil and Primeval Sin: How Evil Emerged in a Very Good Creation”
As announced earlier I’m planning on reviewing every chapter in the new anthology on the problem of suffering titled, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain, edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew. This time up is Paul Copan’s chapter, “Evil and Primeval Sin: How Evil Emerged in a Very Good Creation” (pp. 109-123). The problem he addresses is how sin and suffering originated. The possible suspects are Adam, Eve, Satan, the environment, or God himself. Copan argues that he has the answer, Adam and Eve dunit, even though Adam and Eve are two separate potential sources for the origination of sin and suffering. Many sexist and misogynist theologians have simply blamed Eve. Others who only blame Adam deny that Eve could actually make such a choice on her own. If Adam had not made the same choice as Eve there wouldn’t have been a fall into sin, they’ll say. This is a male religion plain and simple folks. Why any woman would embrace the religion of their oppressors baffles me. Copan ignores this problem saying instead they are both to blame.
Those of us who don’t have a problem with the origination of suffering (or “evil”) are reasonable people who accept the fact of evolution. Suffering is part of the process whereby life evolves. The tales of an Adam and Eve are pure myth. Again, I recommend the book, Evolving out of Eden.
But it’s a problem for believers given their belief in a good omnipotent omniscient God who created the world. In this chapter Copan first takes issue against R.C. Sproul Jr. (yes, the Sr’s son) whom Copan describes as an hyper-Calvinist. Sproul argues that God himself “introduced evil into the world.” Now get this, Sproul argues that the reason God wanted Adam and Eve to sin is because of God’s eternal attribute of wrath: “God is as delighted with his wrath as he is with all of his attributes.” So with this attribute God must create objects of wrath, or as God would say, “something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath.” Without these objects of wrath God would not be able to display his glory in the fullest way. Sproul says, “It was God’s desire to make his wrath known. He needed, then, something on which to be wrathful. He needed to have sinful creatures.”
Sproul’s case can be found in several biblical passages.
7 I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.
37 Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both disasters and good things come?
6 When a trumpet sounds in a city,
do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
has not the Lord caused it?
4 The Lord works out everything to its proper end—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.
The Hebrew word for “disaster” as translated in these texts means war, famine, drought, floods and so on. But Copan says this isn’t “evil” presumably because God cannot do evil, and even if so, God didn’t actually cause it despite the obvious meaning of these texts. Such gerrymandering baffles me.
Maybe Copan and Sproul should both listen to biblical theology professor Walter Wink, who informs us in his book, Unmasking the Powers (Powers, Vol 2) that,
The original faith of Israel actually had no place for Satan. God alone was Lord, and thus whatever happened, for good or ill, was ascribed to God. “I kill and I make alive,” says the Lord, “I wound and I heal” (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 45:6–7; 1 Sam. 2:6–7). It was not inconsistent, on the one hand, to believe that God might call Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, and on the other hand, for God to want to murder him on the way (Exod. 4:24–26). When Pharaoh resisted Moses it was not ascribed to his free will, but to God’s hardening of his heart (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17; Josh. 11:20, etc). Likewise, it is God who sent an evil spirit on Saul (1 Sam. 16:14–16, 23), and it was God who sent a lying spirit to enter the mouths of the four hundred prophets of Ahab (1 Kings 22:22; see 2 Sam. 17:14)….One possible translation of “Yahweh,” God’s name, is “He causes to happen what happens.” If, then, God has caused everything that happens, God must also cause evil. But God was also the God of justice (Gen. 18:25). So how could God be just and still be the one to cause evil? This was the terrible price Israel had been forced to pay for its belief that God was the primary cause of all that happens. Gradually God became differentiated into a “light” and a “dark” side, both integral to the Godhead. The bright side came to be represented by the angels, the dark side by Satan and his demons. This process of differentiation took a long time to complete. (See pp. 11–44).
So I think both Sproul and Copan are right, and they are both wrong. They both fail to understand the evolutionary trajectory of the texts they are dealing with. Sproul is right that given some earlier texts God does do evil, or cause suffering. He is wrong however, not to see that such a view was eventually ascribed to Satan because an evil-doing God was thought to be irreconcilable with a loving sovereign God. Given the destruction put upon the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanies in the 2nd century BC, they just couldn’t understand why a good sovereign God would do this to them. So they concluded there must be another source for that evil and Satan was born. So if later biblical writers had to create (or adopt) Satan because of the problem of suffering then Sproul is out of touch with their evolved moral intuitions, the ones I share without punting to a mythical creature like the Devil. Sproul is out of touch with reality.
Copan is right when he argues that Sproul’s view is barbaric to the core, that it denies God’s goodness, and espouses divine neediness. Copan is wrong however, to argue that Adam and Eve are the culprit (singular) with their so-called free-willed choice in the garden to disobey God. Almost unbelievably all Copan can do is to quote from creeds, Augustine, and other biblical passages and argue for them to support this bald-faced assertion. It’s quite obvious that’s what he’s doing, at least to me. Given the creeds and the Bible, therefore their sin was culpable, avoidable and voluntary. He’s quoting myths to explain how the primeval couple was led into sin. He totally avoids questions like: Why were they created as curious people in the first place? Why was the serpent allowed to tempt them, especially if God knew they would sin? Even if God didn’t know the outcome with certainty, he surely knew the probabilities were very high. Why weren’t they given enough evidence to take him at his word that eating the fruit was a bad thing that would lead to serious consequences for all subsequent life on earth?…and so on. So Copan too is out of touch with reality, not unlike Sproul.
What we have in this myth is nothing but etiology. These stories are told for the purpose of helping people know why things are as they are, not how things originated. How did we gain knowledge and wisdom? Why is there sin in the world? Why do men and women marry? Why do snakes crawl on the ground? Why do women fear snakes? Why do men rule over women? Why are women subservient to men? Why do women experience pain in childbirth? Why is it so very painfully hard to work the land? Why are there weeds? Why is there famine, disease, and death? Why do we clothe ourselves rather than run around naked? Why do we die? It’s all here. Etiological stories to explain why things are liter the ancient archives. There is no historical truth to such tales at all.
If you really want to know what the Jews thought was the real fall into sin it’s told in Genesis 6:1-4. It opens up with a description of the evils that had finally taken place on earth. There is a new and horrible evil. The divine “sons of god” were having sex with the “daughters of men” and producing semidivine offspring giants called Nephilim. This biblical text tells us that divine beings have genitalia and produced offspring, yep that’s right, nothing but myth. This was viewed as a deliberate act of rebellion which Donald Gowan tells us was understood by early Jewish commenters to be “more important than the story of the sin of Adam and Eve….For several authors this was the true ‘Fall Story,’ the account of how evil came into the world by means of the descent of certain rebellious angels.” [From Eden to Babel, 1988), p. 82].] The fact is that if the story of Adam and Eve in the garden was that big of a deal there are plenty of places in the Old Testament where it could be used, specifically in Proverbs for instruction, and in Job when dealing with the problem of suffering. But it’s not referred to except in a nebulous way in Ezekiel.
The truth is that the origin of sin is never traced back to Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. This concept didn’t emerge until the intertestamental period, especially in the apocryphal and the forged literature. It is in these texts that we first find this as the point of the story. We find such a viewpoint expressed in noncanonical writings like the Wisdom of Solomon (2:23ff.), where we read, “For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.” Claus Westermann similarly argues: “The teaching of the Fall and of original sin rests on the late Jewish interpretation (compare Edras 7:118). It has no foundation at all in the [Genesis] narrative.” [Creation, 1974), pp. 108–109].