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Book Description

Traditional Christian theology has sought to root the origins of suffering and evil in human sin. The big problem with this is the fact that contemporary science clearly indicates that earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, animal suffering, and disease long pre-date the appearance of humanity. How can Christians take science seriously and yet hold on to traditional theology? One solution is to defend young earth creationism but Dembski argues that the science does not allow us to take this way out. Is the only alternative to abandon the historic Christian position? In this highly original and innovative book, which is sure to be the subject of much discussion, William Dembski argues that there is a third way for theology. We can, argues Dembski, affirm that natural evils are the result of human sin whilst at the same time maintaining that such evils chronologically precede their cause! This book is devoted to the defence of this surprising claim.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Trust Media Oto
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433668513
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433668517
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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This book is an example of philosophical theology at its best. It contains fascinating and even exciting new perspectives on the problem of evil. --Stephen T. Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College

I have read very few books with its depth of insight, breadth of scholarly interaction, and significance. From now on, no one who is working on a Christian treatment of the problem of evil can afford to neglect this book. --J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

William Dembski is Research Professor of Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking Origins... 31 May 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
William Dembski is an excellent writer. Whatever he is communicating, he does so with clarity, whether you agree with him or not.

This is an important book, because it seeks to set out a 'theodicy' to "resolve how a good God and an evil world can coexist."

Most of the book seeks to re-examine, from a fresh perspective, the thorny problem of accounting for moral and natural evil - introduced by mankind at the "Fall" in Genesis - whilst accepting a scientific approach to the age of the cosmos, as given in the disciplines of astrophysics and geology.

On page 55, Dembski acknowledges that "[t]he young-earth solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense.... I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it."

He also admits that "the young-earth position" has been his "principal foil"... (page 169).

It seems clear that he makes his case for a revised theodicy simply because he accepts that the "universe is 13 billion years old" and that the "earth formed 4.5 billion years ago", meaning that the "bulk of natural history predates humans by billions of years."

To understand his resolution, he explains how God acts across time or "transtemporally". In Genesis 1, God creates a perfect world (as a concept rather than in physical reality). In Genesis 2-3 God implements the actual plan, but in modified form, in anticipation for mankind's Fall. In other words "natural evil" is introduced during this 'second creation' ahead of the Fall in the Garden of Eden (which is effectively the perfect part of creation in which Adam and Eve are tested).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Natural evil? 9 Oct 2010
By John B
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dembski begins with the premise that certain aspects of the created order - (death, predation, parasitism, disease, drought, floods, famines, earthquakes and hurricanes) - could not possibly be part of God's original design for our planet. He constructs an argument that these 'natural evils' are the result of the Fall of Adam and Eve. We live in a particular time/space compartment, but God does not. The effect of the Fall was not only to bring about personal evil and spiritual death for mankind proactively, but also physical consequences for the Universe retroactively. The consequences that the author lists include "vipers, viruses and vermin", pathogenic microbes and natural disasters. He sees natural evil in the world as an instrument to us for revealing the gravity of sin.

This 'cosmic consequences' argument should be read by anyone interested in reconciling belief in God with the problem of pain. At the end of the book I found that Dembski had persuaded me to support an alternative hypothesis: one he had rejected. In this hypothesis earthquakes are not the result of evil, but of the movement of tectonic plates; a movement that is essential for the well-being of a planet designed to sustain life over a long period of time. Earthquakes are inevitable and unavoidable consequences of the planet's design. My own interest is Genetics. Why should the DNA that underpins carbon-based life contain so many repetitive sequences, transposons, alleles, polymorphisms and mutations (including those that cause human disease)traceable through millions of years? They are necessary to explain the rich variety of life on our planet, the emergence of new species, the interaction within complex ecosystems, and adaptation to changing environments.
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103 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Probative. Theologically and Scientifically Uncompromising. Patristic in Content and Scope. An Absolute Must-Read. 18 Dec 2009
By Stephen Ashley Blake - Published on
In the final paragraph of The Consequences of Ideas, RC Sproul writes: "We need to reconstruct the classical synthesis by which natural theology bridges the special revelation of Scripture and the general revelation of nature. Such a reconstruction could end the war between science and theology." Though a dizzying number of syntheses have been proffered in recent years, William Dembski's The End of Christianity is a watershed in Christian theological thinking, a landmark contribution that looks to resolve the science-faith divide with what I will call a particularly evangelical robustness and manifestly high regard for biblical integrity that are all-too-rare in the forum of recent discourse. In this compelling, eminently credible treatise on how God's two primary sources of revelation - the record of Scripture and the record of nature - harmonize, Dembski engages in a deeply probative, carefully thought-through, exceptionally well-reasoned discourse of the kind we're used to encountering in the early Church fathers, and of the sort one would only wish more commonly occupied Church leadership today.

To fully appreciate what I predict will be the rather unique and considerable appeal of Dembski's theological assertions, it's crucial to bear in mind this reality: Evangelical and conservative mainline Christians take the Bible very seriously. For them, it is not merely a book of wisdom, encouragement, and hope, but a peerless communiqué from God to mankind. Divine in ultimate origin, it is absolutely error-free, affirming nothing that is contrary to fact in any category of information, including history and science. Inasmuch as the biblical authors are believed to have been "moved" and "inspired" by the Holy Spirit to write precisely what they did, the Bible serves as the prism through which all truth propositions must be viewed, assessed, and finally judged.

This brings us to the issue addressed by The End of Christianity. The Bible has long been understood by traditionalist Christians as asserting that all evil in the world - not only moral evil (stemming from human misdeeds) but natural evil (stemming from impersonal acts of nature) - is the result of Adam's sin against God ("the Fall"). In this view, the earth and its living populations, as initially created, were completely free of all suffering, death, and danger - until the first man succumbed to temptation and defied the will of God, an act of rebellion that brought divine chastisement upon himself, his future progeny (i.e., all of mankind), and the world over which he had been appointed master and covenant head. Hence, it was Adam's sin that caused the agents of physical suffering and death - including killer earthquakes, tsunamis, cancer, carnivorous activity, etc. - to befall planet Earth and its inhabitants. As disturbing as this scenario might at first seem to the non-Christian, the affirmation of man - and not God - as the culprit for all natural evil, coupled with an understanding of the divine plan of redemption, deliverance, and healing from that evil, has offered tremendous comfort to suffering, sorrowing believers throughout Church history.

This view has, however, been forcefully challenged by modern scientists, who roundly dismiss this Christian chronology and rather assert, based on a myriad of evidences from a variety of disciplines, that life-claiming natural disasters and diseases within the animal world were present and widespread long before the first humans existed. That is, by the time "Adam" arrived on the scene, the earth had already long been filled with suffering and death.

This clash of assertions about the ancient past is today playing out in epic proportions. For Christians, what's at stake is nothing short of the reliability of the Bible, the very character of God, and the Gospel itself. After all, how could a God who from the outset deliberately incorporates life-killing natural disasters and deleterious genetic mutations into the very fabric of His creation - indeed, who makes such "natural evil" the very engine of the development of life and the appearance of humans (as evolutionary theories require) - rightly be called "good," let alone loving or compassionate? And how could Genesis record with any credibility this benevolent God calling such a bloodstained creation "very good"? And if from its opening chapters the Bible so grossly mischaracterizes God and misrepresents Earth's history, how can its assertions about salvation through Christ be trusted? Indeed, to many Christians and skeptics alike, the scientifically-demanded perspective that natural evil has been an integral part of the world from the beginning makes its creator something of a sadist, the Bible patently false in its assertions, and faith in Christ questionable at best and mythological at worst.

Not surprisingly, evangelicals and conservative mainliners have been loathe to embrace these scientific truth claims, and with the preponderance of scientists convinced of their validity, a high-stakes standoff between two apparently warring epistemologies has emerged, a clash that has made a large swath of Americans skeptical of science and at the same time a large number of scientists equally skeptical of Christianity. Among the most vulnerable victims of collateral damage in this war of perspectives are the children of evangelicals who have been trained up by their families and pastors to believe that scientific claims of an ancient earth (which necessitate natural evil before Adam) are heretical and utterly antithetical to claims of Scripture, and that the veracity of the one categorically annuls the other - only to enter university and discover that in fact the empirical evidence for an ancient earth is not only overwhelming but ever-increasing, a sobering and devastating realization that, as the result of lifelong preconditioning, has for many shattered their confidence in the Bible and its Gospel claims.

Fortunately, Dembski, a theologian and professor of philosophy as well as mathematician and statistician, takes his Bible very seriously as well, as richly and reassuringly reflected in The End of Christianity. Its opening chapters deal with the issue of evil, specifically its origin, quality, and implications. The author surveys and rejects various prominent modern theodicies that, in turn: deny that evil actually entered the world through the Fall; admit evil's origination via the Fall but recast the event as positive and even edifying; regard the presence of natural evil rather benignly as simply the necessary cost of God bestowing true freedom upon every element of creation, elements which include the body's cells and the earth's crust. In contrast, Dembski affirms the traditional understanding that all evil of every stripe is indeed a "horrible tragedy" that does trace back to man's first sin, which then "propagates through nature and brings about natural evil" such that "the disordered state of nature mirrors the disordered state of our souls."

As to why a benevolent God "would allow natural evil to afflict an otherwise innocent nature in response to human moral evil," Dembski again upholds the traditional view that God uses natural evil in order "to get our attention, to impress on us the gravity of sin, and, most significantly, to bring us to our senses and thereby restore our sanity." He continues: "The gravity of sin consists in offending a holy God. [...] Because God is all that Christian theology teaches that He is, offending this God is the worst thing imaginable and trumps all the offenses that we commit against each other."

Yet such is the benevolence of God that despite man's (our) culpability for the presence of evil, we do not suffer in isolation, but God Himself joins and commiserates with us in our afflictions through Christ's Incarnation and Passion. Most gloriously, after sharing in human suffering, God ultimately vanquishes it altogether through Christ's Atonement. Thus, Dembski affirms the traditional Christian view that the presence of tragedy within the world was not brought about by a capricious or uncaring deity, but by a loving God who purposed to starkly reveal the depths of our fallen condition, and having done so eternally restore the damaged divine-human relationship.

Having affirmed these pillars of Christian orthodoxy, Dembski then turns to two of the most prevalent science-faith syntheses within modern Christendom: Young- and Old-Earth Creationism, both of which he finds fatally flawed. The former is seen as hinging upon a number of patently untenable scientific positions that manifestly disqualify it. The latter, while agreeing with science in affirming widespread suffering and death within the animal world before the arrival of man, in an effort to stave off any accusations that God is cruel or malevolent refuses to regard this bloody mayhem as truly evil or even morally significant, a stand Dembski sees as injurious to the character of God inasmuch as it "portrays the violence and cruelty of nature as a form of divine self-amusement." Hence, this view is dismissed on theological grounds.

By this time, having made a series of apparently irreconcilable assertions, Dembski appears to have painted himself into an ideological corner. On one hand, he has affirmed the traditional Christian view that man is culpable for all natural evil, an assertion that would appear to refute scientific geologic chronology. Yet at the same time he affirms the scientific claim that natural evil did in fact precede the appearance of man, which would appear to discredit the traditional biblical understanding of man's sin preceding suffering. In fact, this apparent conundrum - namely, how to reconcile two simultaneously asserted, apparently mutually exclusive claims in a way that preserves the integrity of each - precisely mirrors Christendom's current quagmire, and although a flurry of solutions have lately been proffered, to my sensibilities not one of them avoids doing some manner of violence to either Christian fundamentals or scientific integrity, an unfortunate situation that has only served to estrange both Christians and scientists from the other's realm of inquiry.

The End of Christianity looks to resolve this conundrum, and does so refreshingly, with exceptional theological reasoning. Dembski begins by calling into question our core instincts about the workings of cause and effect, namely our underlying assumption that "human sin must precede all appearance of evil in the world; otherwise it cannot be responsible for it," adding that this "may seem axiomatic, but it can be legitimately questioned. Why, in the economy of a world whose Creator is omnipotent, omniscient, and transtemporal, should causes always precede effects? Clearly, such a Creator could act to anticipate events that have yet to happen. Moreover, those events could be the occasion (or "cause") of God's prior anticipatory action." Hence, in Dembski's theodicy, all natural evil is the direct consequence of Adam's sin (per traditional Christian theology), yet God brought these consequences to bear upon creation long before that pivotal event had temporally occurred (a chronology demanded by science). He refers to this as "backward causation" and argues that "we should understand the corrupting effects of the Fall [not just proactively] but retroactively (in other words, the consequences of the Fall can also act backward into the past). Accordingly, the Fall could take place after the natural evils for which it is responsible."

Dembski acknowledges that such a concept strikes us as counterintuitive, but attributes this to our creaturely confinement to space and chronologic time, "embedded as we are in the world's nexus of cause and effect." He goes on to point out that the Bible clearly depicts God as being unbound by time, "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done," as Isaiah records. In demonstrating the consistency of this line of thinking with theological orthodoxy, he cites the long-held Christian belief that "many an answered prayer requires that God have prepared the answer before the prayer was actually offered," and cites a salient example involving a well-known missionary.

He further buttresses this point by discussing "the saving effects of the Cross, which are held to act not only forward in time but also backward. Christians have always attributed the salvation of Old Testament saints to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross at the hands of the Romans even though Old Testament times predate Roman times by hundreds of years. In this way, an omnipotent God unbound by time makes a future event (Christ's sacrifice) the cause of an earlier event (the salvation of Old Testament saints). Likewise, an omnipotent God unbound by time can make natural evil predate the Fall and yet make the Fall the reason for natural evil." The chapters that follow fascinatingly and compellingly flesh out this view from theological, philosophical, and scientific perspectives.

Dembski then revisits Genesis 1-3 and interprets these widely-debated chapters not through the prism of the chronological time to which we are bound and through which we have traditionally read these texts, but from the vantage point of God's eternal intentions and the non-chronologic time of His realm. What follows is a highly intriguing, well-considered treatise on the implications of Adam being born into a world that is already rife with natural evil, and within which he has in fact already suffered as the result of that evil, evil which stemmed from the sin he has yet to temporally commit. Dembski reasons that inasmuch as it is crucial that when Adam actually does fall from grace it be from a pristine, holistic experiential and spiritual state and not the broken condition that the evil-filled world would have been inflicting upon him since birth (just as it does us today), God's methodology was to remove Adam from the fallen world-at-large, plant him in the paradisiac Garden of Eden ("a segregated area in which the effects of natural evil are not evident"), erase the effects and memory of the fallen world from his being, elevate his consciousness, and breathe into him the breath of life. As for who "Adam" actually was, Dembski stresses that "the theodicy developed in this book is certainly compatible with a literal Adam and Eve. But it does not require a literal Adam and Eve," and proceeds to explain it in a macro-evolutionary context.

The book's closing chapters - Thanking God for All Things and Luminous with Purpose - are welcomingly inspirational, exhortational, and doxological in character.

The obvious product of deep biblical reflection and solidly grounded in well-established traditional theology, The End of Christianity is an incalculably valuable contribution to the forum of Christian thought on the subject of theodicy, and as such, in my view, is a must-read for theologians, pastors, elders, and laypersons alike. No other theodicy that I have studied more uncompromisingly or persuasively or with greater integrity reconciles God's records of Scripture and nature. And perhaps most importantly for evangelicals and conservative mainliners, Dembski's synthesis in no way compromises Christian orthodoxy or paves the way for liberalism. In fact, this premise resonates with such a fundamental simplicity and theological elegance that its emergence rings with an air of inevitability. Indeed, the reasoning found here is not merely Christian but Patristic in quality, scope, and intent. Not surprisingly, in considering The End of Christianity on balance, one has the sense that what has been presented is in reality but a runway, a launch point for far more extensive explorations and discussion yet to be undertaken (and sure to follow). Still, this is a fantastic and powerful starting point, and indeed, my sense is that the ideas set forth here may well be what is more or less commonly believed by evangelicals within a few generations.

In looking ahead to the emergence of a new and successful natural theology and considering its benefits, Sproul closes his own work, The Consequences of Ideas, with these words: "All of life, in its unity and diversity, could be lived coram Deo, before the face of God, under his authority and to his glory." This is indeed the aim - or end - of Christianity, an end which in my view finds robust, even profound furtherance in William Dembski's latest offering.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Treatment of the Toughest Problem 29 Nov 2009
By Douglas Groothuis - Published on
In The End of Christianity, William Dembski, one of the most gifted Christian thinkers addressing Christianity and science today, tackles one of the most vexed issues facing the Christian worldview: the problem of evil. The result is a clear, challenging, and profound treatise that is equally at home in the Bible, science, theology, and philosophy. Dembski's ingenious approach to explaining natural evil (particularly animal pain and death before the fall) will not convince everyone, but all who read it will benefit from a mind crackling with intelligence, insight, and expertise.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and powerful theodicy for our time 3 Dec 2009
By Michael A. Flannery - Published on
Writing to Asa Gray on May 22, 1860, just six months after the publication of his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin stated, "With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasps] with the express intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice." Thus a big issue that caused Darwin's theological doubt--indeed practical denial--was the problem of pain and suffering.

Enter William Dembski's The End of Christianity. I should begin by saying up front that this was a very rewarding read although not a "light" one. This is tough stuff. That is by no means a criticism. Some things can't--and shouldn't--be simplified. It was C. S. Lewis who reminded us that "It is no good looking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. . . . If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple. Very often, however, this procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable to a child of six and make that the object of their attack" (Mere Christianity, pp. 40-41). This is precisely what I think Darwin did. Thus, The End of Christianity establishes a theodicy in answer to Charles Darwin's suffering Caterpillars and dreadfully playful cats.

Now dismantling a child's answer to evil (even a childish one proposed by the great Darwin himself) would hardly warrant publication. But there is much more here. I can best approach this by summarizing how I originally handled the question and how this book changed it. I must confess that I dealt with it only half successfully. First of all I've always been an old earth Christian. It's the science that compelled my conviction here not Scripture. But it wasn't just the science. Philosophically "the appearance of age" argument so frequently offered by YECs bothered me; not so much because it didn't comport to the science, but because of the epistemological ramifications of such an argument. If things really aren't what they seem, what does that suggest about God's creation and how we interact with it? If the apparent age is illusory, how do we interact with other aspects of God's creation? Where does the "illusion" or mere "appearance" stop? For that matter, is this the nature described in the Bible? In the end I concluded (perhaps too glibly and with little expertise) that this notion was more suitable for a Buddhist monk than a Christian. Things are what they are; time is what it is. Reconciling an old earth creation with Scripture didn't seem that problematic. After all, if a figurative interpretation of "days" in Genesis was good enough for Augustine it was good enough for me, and I could see no reason to leave Bishop Ussher the sole authority on the matter.

However, there's another resolution to the matter than just favoring one theologian over another. Clement of Alexandria, Origen's teacher, pointed out sometime around 200 AD that creation was not an "in time" event because creation itself established time. In similar fashion Dembski resolves the "YEC/OEC" debate by realizing the trans-temporality of God. Perfect creation, the fall, imperfection, and death are all readily resolved in this provocative book by stepping out of the lockstep chronological world that dominates us conceptually and experientially. Dembski's discussion of chromos and kairos is most helpful in this regard. The strength is that Dembski explicates his position through what I see as a thoroughly even-handed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of old-earth and young-earth positions showing that in the end neither is the central issue. It was as epiphanal a moment for me as when I realized that the age of the earth simply didn't matter in terms of random selection. As Marcel Schützenberger and Murray Eden demonstrated long ago, you just can't get Darwinian randomness to work whether the earth 6,000 or 4.5 billion years old. There's just not enough time in either case. Actually this epiphany is more powerful because it makes sense of what in my opinion is the most difficult section of the bible, namely, the first three chapters of Genesis.

Dembski correctly locates natural evil in our own sinfulness emanating from our prideful rebellion and fall, precisely what our orthodox forbearers have said all along. Indeed that first act of disobedience "opened the door to Satan to ravage the physical world." Eschewing the popular concessions that typify the theology of modernity, The End of Christianity presents a theodicy without employing the intellectual gymnastics of modifying nature to comport with the theory or by allegorizing Scripture into myth and fable. Dembski's statement that "sin propagates through nature and brings about natural evil," is well said. Indeed "the disordered state of nature mirrors the disordered state of our souls"--no wonder that nature groans! As Dembski says, "It is painful to accept that God is fully responsible for natural evil and that he introduces it in response to human sin." Of course, I completely agree that this "bitter pill" carries with it the "promise of redemption." But once we sinned, how else could God have dealt with us? Indeed how else could He redeem? To privilege our rebellion with perfection and immortality would, in fact, be an abomination contrary to His very nature.

Of course, this book is needed but it will likely not be appreciated in our current "mental environment." We live in a world that increasingly seeks blame everywhere but ourselves, indeed dismisses, ignores, and/or excuses sin itself. This, of course, is the environment that gives free reign to that pride which elicited the fall. We live in a world that exalts human-centered choice and untrammeled "freedom" and then complains about its consequences. It has forgotten Joseph de Maistre's famous observation, "I do not know what the heart of a rascal may be; I know the heart of an honest man; it is horrible." Sadly I have noted this attitude as much from the clergy as from the secular world. Yet in the last chapter, "Luminous with Purpose," Dembski's wife Jana offers the necessary antidote to this poison of the modern and postmodern age (for all the postmodernists attempts at distinctions they are for all intents and purposes two sides of the same counterfeit coin of self-deception). Finding that sense of purpose beyond ourselves in and through the agape love of God is indeed our chief end. The human heart may be horrible but it is redeemable through Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For those who have ears let them hear! Thanks for a wonderful read!
69 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and challenging, but not young-earth friendly 30 Oct 2009
By P. W. Deaver - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"The End of Christianity" is a new book by William A. Dembski, published in 2009 by B&H Publishing Group. Dembski is a philosophy professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth) and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (Seattle). As both a philosopher and mathematician, he is on the front lines of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement among scientists. His list of credentials and accomplishments impresses. With postdoctoral work at MIT, University of Chicago, and Princeton, Dembski has written over a dozen books, appeared on ABC News Nightline, BBC, CNN, PBS, NPR, and Fox News, and been cited by The New York Times and Time Magazine. He was interviewed for the Ben Stein documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

The book's subtitle is "Finding a Good God in an Evil World," and it is a theodicy, attempting to demonstrate that God's goodness is compatible with the existence of evil on earth, or, in other words, "to resolve how a good God and an evil world can coexist" (p. 4). Divided into five sections, it contains twenty-four chapters and 238 pages, including introduction and various indices.

More than mere theodicy, Dembski's goal is to outline a specifically Christian theodicy that defends three particular claims: "God by wisdom created the world out of nothing...God exercises particular providence in the world...All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin" (p. 8).

The eye-catching title has nothing to do with Christianity's demise, but, rather, its effect. "The end of Christianity, as envisioned in this book, is the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God's goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world" (p. 11).

One might suspect an author trained in mathematics and philosophy should not be the most interesting to read, but Dembski is no dull writer. He excels at casting deep theological and philosophical truths in easy-to-understand, creative, and thought-provoking ways, perhaps even reminiscent of C. S. Lewis.

The initial four chapters treat the topic of evil, and Dembski offers many keen insights. In the face of critics who say Jesus could not fully identify with human suffering, Dembski defends the Cross as far more than the Lord taking a few hours of pain. "In particular, Christ on the Cross identifies with the whole of human suffering, and this includes the ignorance and uncertainty that intensify human suffering" (p. 20). "The extent to which we can love God depends on the extent to which God has demonstrated his love for us, and that depends on the extent of evil that God has had to absorb, suffer, and overcome on our behalf" (p. 23).

Humans are to blame for both the presence of personal sin (i.e. disobedience to God), and the existence of natural evil (e.g. floods, disease, animal suffering, etc.). Says Dembski, "We started a fire in consenting to evil. God permits this fire to rage. He grants this permission not so that he can be a big hero when he rescues us but so that we can rightly understand the human condition and thus come to our senses" (p. 26). Sin forced souls into a state of disorder, which, in turn, came to be reflected in nature (p. 28). The evil and disorder apparent in nature are designed to impress people with the magnitude of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Thus, "humanity must experience the full brunt of the evil that we have set in motion, and this requires that the creation itself fully manifest the consequences of humanity's rebellion against God" (p. 44). It is not that we serve a petty God who holds grudges, but, rather, that we must come to terms with the seriousness and consequences of human sin. "The problem isn't that God can't take it but that we can't take it--in offending God, we ruin the image of God in ourselves and so lose our true self" (p. 45).

Chapters 5-9 deal with creationism from a young-earth and an old-earth perspective. "God gave humanity two primary sources of revelation about himself: the world that he created and the Scripture that he inspired. These are also known as general and special revelation, or sometimes as the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture...We study science to understand the first of these books, theology to understand the second" (p. 71). Further, "God is a God of truth. As the author of both books, he does not contradict himself" (p. 72).

Admitting that "Young-earth creationism was the dominant position of Christians from the Church Fathers through the Reformers" (p. 52), Dembski says he "would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it" (p. 55). He sees a problem in that today astrophysics and geology posit an age of 13 billion years for the universe, 4.5 billion years for the earth. This model results in a world where animals predated humans by eons, and in which this animal planet was suffering the effects of natural evil. In other words, according to the current climate of accepted science, long before man arrived there were animals eating each other, dying slow deaths, suffering from parasites, drowning, falling in tar pits, etc. If humans are responsible for the existence of all evil on earth, then how could such evil exist before there were humans? The answer to that question is the gist of the book. More on that in a minute.

Young-earth creationists have no dilemma in which the need arises to account for evil before man, since everything was created in the span of six 24-hour days. But Dembski thinks this cannot--at least in the current scientific atmosphere--be made to harmonize with accepted facts of geology and astrophysics. "Christians, it seems, must therefore choose their poison. They can go with a young earth, thereby maintaining theological orthodoxy but committing scientific heresy; or they can go with an old earth, thereby committing theological heresy but maintaining scientific orthodoxy" (p. 77).

Taking young-earth creationists to task, Dembski accuses them of adopting a double standard, appealing to nature's constancy when it helps their case, and denying nature's constancy when it appears to hurt (p. 63). According to him, "Young-earth creationists, it would seem, hold to a recent creation not because of but in spite of the scientific evidence" (p. 70).

Chapters 10-15 are about divine creation and action. Writing on the creation week, he notes, "At the end of the six days of creation, God is exhausted--not fatigued, as we might be, but exhausted in the sense of having drawn out of himself everything needed for the creature to be what it was intended to be" (p. 99). However, Dembski does not take the days of Genesis 1 to be 24-hour days, which brings us to his unique solution.

Chapters 16-20 cover what he calls retroactive effects of the Fall. If, as Christians believe, the efficacy of Christ's blood at the Cross could flow backward in time, as well as forward, then why not also the detrimental effects of original sin? Because God is not bound by chronological time, he could engineer the world to account for sin's consequences, and allow those consequences to begin to play out long before Adam and Eve (who were the reason for sin's consequences) appeared in the Garden of Eden. This intriguing suggesting would allow for an old earth, in which animals and natural evil existed long before humans. Evolution's timetable could fit nicely, and even evolution itself since, as Dembski suggests, it is possible that part of sin's result is that God had man evolve from lower forms, not because it was the original plan, but because evolution would itself be a form of evil brought on by man's sin in the Garden, with God initiating evolution long before the Garden as a response to Adam's sin (which was yet to be committed, chronologically speaking).

As he puts it, "in the theodicy I am proposing, our evolutionary past would itself be a consequence of sin (i.e., evolution would be a retroactive effect of the Fall)" (p. 162). Remember, Dembski is not saying we got here by evolution, but he is saying that, with his proposal, theistic evolution is welcome at the table, along with old-earth creationism (with young-earth creationism seemingly the odd-man-out).

It's a bit of a mind-twister to think about this idea, somewhat akin to figuring out a time-travel plot in a science fiction movie. Writes Dembski, "God is under no compulsion merely to rewrite the future of the world from the moment of the Fall (as assumed by young-earth creationism). Rather, God can rewrite our story while it is being performed and even change the entire backdrop against which it is performed--that includes past, present, and future...In other words, the effects of the Fall can be retroactive" (p. 110). So, in a nutshell, natural evil is chronologically prior to man, but man is logically prior to natural evil.

This proposed solution harmonizes modern scientific belief about the age of the earth with the biblical account of the Fall, thus preserving the doctrine that all evil on earth traces back to man's sin, which is the third plank in Dembski's theodicy. And this, even though the beginning of evil on earth predates the arrival of man. "Young-earth creationism attempts to make natural history match up with the order of creation point for point. By contrast, divine anticipation--the ability of God to act upon events before they happen--suggests that natural history need not match up so precisely with the order of creation..." (p. 137).

But, if he is right, what about the creation account of Genesis 1? Dembski does not want to deny a literal interpretation of Genesis, nor does he want to suggest the day-age theory. He says, "Accordingly, the days of creation are neither exact 24-hour days nor epochs in natural history nor even a literary device. Rather, they are actual (literal!) episodes in the divine creative activity" (p. 142). But if the days are not days as we normally think of days, what are they? "They represent key divisions in the divine order of creation, with one episode building logically on its predecessor. As a consequence, their description as chronological days falls under the common scriptural practice of employing physical realities to illuminate spiritual truths (cf. John 3:12)" (ibid.).

The days of Genesis 1 are, thus, to be taken literally, but not as composed of either hours or eons of time. Rather, they describe chapters of activity by a God unconstrained by chronologic time. Chapter 16 is titled "Chronos and Kairos," taken from two New Testament Greek words, and Dembski uses them to distinguish between two concepts of time. "The visible realm thus operates according to chronos, the simple passage of time. But the invisible realm, in which God resides, operates according to kairos, the ordering of reality according to divine purposes" (p. 126). Again, "Chronos is the time of physics, and physics has only been around as long as the cosmos. But kairos is God's time, and God has been around forever" (ibid.). "Thus God responds to the Fall by acting not simply after it, as held by young-earth creationism, but also by acting before it" (ibid.).

So, the world we inhabit--affected as it is by sin--is greatly marred, for "God himself wills the disordering of creation, making it defective on purpose" (p. 145). But why should the earth and animals suffer the effects of human sin? "The broad principle that justifies linking human sin and natural evil is humanity's covenant headship in creation" (p. 147). Since man is creation's apex, God holds man responsible for the results of his sin on himself, as well as the world. "God's dealings with creation therefore parallel his dealings with humanity" (ibid.)

Refusing to question God's justice in allowing nature to suffer for human sin, Dembski turns it around to suggest it would be unjust if God were to allow man to sin without its consequences coming down on nature. "Sin has ignited a raging fire in our hearts. God uses natural evil to fight fire with fire, setting a comparatively smaller fire (natural evil) to control a much larger fire (personal evil)" (p. 148).

The last part of the book, chapters 21-24, attempt to tie up "Loose Ends." Dembski freely admits that "the present theodicy attempts to make peace between our understanding of Genesis and the current mental environment" (p. 170). The "mental environment" to which he refers is the current conception of a universe that began billions of years ago with a Big Bang.

It is important to note that Dembski himself is not an evolutionist. And, as stated, he is a leader in the field among those in academia subscribing to Intelligent Design. Nor does he deny the verbal inspiration of Scripture. We appreciate his effort to defend God, Christ, the Cross, and the Genesis account of the Fall, as well as the existence and nature of evil. And, to his credit, Dembski rejects process theology, which reduces God's infinity in order to account for the existence of evil (making God himself an evolving, and in some ways helpless, being). Dembski believes in and defends the God of Scripture.

Thus, it is disappointing to see young-earth creationism endure a broadside (albeit a sympathetic broadside) from this proponent of Intelligent Design. Disappointment continues when Dembski writes, "Noah's flood, though presented as a global event, is probably best understood as historically rooted in a local event (e.g., a catastrophic flood in the Middle East)" (p. 170).

Though this review, in the main, describes a thesis of Dembski's with which we disagree, he does offer helpful insights and thought-provoking analyses, especially in Part I ("Dealing With Evil") and Part III ("Divine Creation and Action"). Among many of note who praise the book, Douglas Groothuis, philosophy professor at Denver Seminary, writes, "Dembski's ingenious approach to explaining natural evil (particularly animal pain and death before the fall) will not convince everyone, but all who read it will benefit from a mind crackling with intelligence, insight, and expertise."

In the final analysis, we think Dembski goes too far in an effort to accommodate what parades under the rubric of modern science. His "kairological" interpretation of the Genesis creation account loads the text with more meaning than the language can bear (e.g. "the evening and the morning were the first day...the second day...the third day," etc.), giving rise to this question: If God had wanted to convey the idea of his having created the earth in six 24-hour days, how might God have written that?

Further, Dembski's proposed retroactive effects of the Fall (and even making room for the evolutionary timetable) does violence to the understanding of Bible believers across the centuries. Are we to think that truths as fundamental as the origin of man and earth were necessarily misunderstood by Christians until the advent of modern geology and astrophysics?

We'll continue to occupy and defend our acre where evolutionary theory is untenable, unwelcome, and unable to be harmonized with Genesis. If it comes to a duel between science (or, what passes for science) and Scripture, we defer to the apostle Paul's timeless principle, "let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). God is the God of true science, and of all knowledge. All truth (i.e. whatever accords with reality) harmonizes with all Scripture (since all Scripture is, itself, true).

But science does not know everything it says it knows. And it is difficult to read some of Paul's statements without the hubris of modern science springing to mind: "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Cor. 1:19-20). "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called" (1 Tim. 6:20).
30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough Overview of the problem of Evil 14 Oct 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Dr. William Dembski's book is set to start many heated discussions about such issues as the goodness of G-d, the relevance of evil in the world to G-d's character, and the ultimate origin of man. Some will dismiss this book simply because it deals with questions from a theological perspective. Yes, this is a book about theological questions answered from a theological perspective; if that approach doesn't interest you, then don't bother wasting your time on this book or on this review. Unless you have nothing else to do, that is...then by all means, preoccupy yourself with something that doesn't interest you.

For those who believe in both the existence of G-d and in the existence of Evil in the world, this book provides a good discussion of some major themes in theodicy, as well a providing an original theodicy developed by Dr. Dembski himself. (At least I've never come across it before.) Dr. Dembski deals with questions such as the origin of death, whether or not it is possible to reconcile the existence of death before the Fall with the Biblical record, and whether or not the various forms of creationism (YEC, OEC, TE) resolve the issues in a coherent manner. Dr. Dembski shows the breath and depth of his knowledge in these areas, while giving fair treatment to each of the possible views.

Dr. Dembski's novel paradigm of Kairos vs. Chronos and retroactive effects of the Fall were the most interesting parts of the book for me. The book will be remembered, if for nothing else, by the new theory he puts forth to solve the riddle.

The book is quite readable and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to family and friends. It is just the right length to be a quick read, without being so small that it lacks substance. It gives you enough details and background without giving you too much.

Overall, I think the book is great, even if you don't find the conclusion fully persuasive. I especially appreciate the fact that Dr. Dembski avoids setting up straw-men with dealing with rival views and treats them in a detailed, respectful manner. For example, he is not dismissive of the YEC view of origins (as many are), but tries to fully expound both the strengths and weaknesses of that view in dealing with questions of theodicy and earth history.
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