Backward Causation: William Dembski’s Desperate Ad Hoc Move, Ctd

One more thought on William Dembski’s recently published idea of “backward causation,” a term that he designates for salvaging the idea that death really did come into the world by the sin of Adam and Eve.

Would you propose such a thing, and misread an etiological narrative like Genesis in such a wild fashion, if the plain reading of Genesis could reasonably be sustained?

Obviously, the original Genesis writer was trying to account for something in his environment: why is death pervasive? His explanation was a simple one: it wasn’t always like this, then the first human couple sinned and things went bad in God’s good creation.

To preserve a literalist religious doctrine (death really came into the world because Adam and Eve sinned), Dembski has to engage in a preposterous distortion of a Bronze Age writer’s plain didactic intent and overlay it with contemporary ideas about God’s foreknowledge and the nature of time in physics. Clearly, the Genesis story is more akin to fairy tale than history, but the text has to be distorted for the sake of fundamentalist doctrine.

This is an example of why secular people should intellectually take back the Bible from fundamentalists and literalists and claim it as part of our collective Western cultural heritage again. We shouldn’t just leave it to fundamentalists to say what it means, or what its importance to contemporary cultural life is. The third chapter of Genesis is an origins story—an etiological narrative. It is not science or history. It is time we grew up.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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