Evolution and the problem of evil

Sorry if this question has been asked before, I have been unable to find an answer for it anywhere.

People often talk about finding God in the beauty of nature. I listen to a wide variety of speakers and teachers and they always mention the power in the stars, the ocean, a sunset etc. As displaying God’s character.

So what about maggots eating a rotting carcass? What about flesh eating parasites that kill the host? What about the ugly side of evolution? Is this all part of God’s good creation? Evangelicals say that creation fell into sin and was cursed, and so these negative aspects are proof of the Fall. But what is the theistic evolutionary response?

1 Like

I will start from my post from a closed thread.

Yes, you can see goodness in nature, but over the long run, you see a beautification of His creation, consistent with a slowly rising amount of goodness in nature and humanity. Just 12,000 years ago, cannibalism in humans was widespread, and today we only find cannibalism in some of the deep sea creatures.

Welcome, @PilgrimsPromise. Good question. The Biologos website has lots to do with this; @jstump has written on this quite extensively, and @DOL Denis Lamoureux has discussed it as “horrid natural realities.” The following is one of Dr Stump’s posts.

https://biologos.org/articles/series/old-earth-or-evolutionary-creation-a-new-book-shows-fruits-of-multi-year-dialogue/evolution-and-the-problem-of-natural-evil

My own take is that those who believe in a Fall (I do not think I do) tend to think of a fall from grace, with YEC believing that physical death started then, and a wide variety of variations from there–some believing that the Fall is simply sin, and not a physical consequence. That’s the most tenable one, I think. However, I don’t know and the jury is still out for me.

What would you call evil? Pain? Death?

Thanks.

2 Likes

The problem of evil is due to man’s sin and selfish nature that causes all the evil. Now on the “ugly side of evolution” I see death and those types of stuff as neutral with God and they in some way are apart of His Sovereign plan. Of course these things have taken on a negative light due to sin entering the world and how the can remind us of our separation from God.

1 Like

The problem largely comes from the conception of God as a watchmaker designer who would never relinquish power over anything to let others make decisions of their own. Or there is the idea of a dreamer/author God whose “creation” has no autonomy or reality outside of Himself – only existing because He sustains it. I think the latter thinking makes God rather pathetic and incapable of authentic creation, like a carpenter who has to hold his furniture together because He doesn’t know how to make them properly. The former is hardly any more admirable, for then we have a control freak incapable of love and thus having no use for living things let alone relationships with others.

Instead we might believe in a God who chooses love and freedom over power and control, who creates a universe operating on its own according to a system of rules, in order to make possible the self organizing process of life. He does this because it is all about having relationships with other who have a life of their own according to their own choices. In this case we would discard the power obsessed theology which ironically has to make God incapable of so many things – one who cannot take risks, cannot relinquish control to others, cannot give privacy, cannot share decisions and who is ultimately incapable of a relationship of love because that would requires all of these things.

So lets consider the oldest formulations of the problem of evil. Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” To Epicurus we answer, God is able to prevent evil but not wiling, not because He is malevolent but because He chooses a relationship of love over absolute control and thus allows others to make their own choices even if it is not how He would choose to do things. Taking the risks of those who embark on relationships, God subjects Himself to the regrets of those who face disappointment of a love not reciprocated and the devastation of a parent with a child who chooses a self-destructive way of life, and yet unwilling to take their lives away from them to make them do as He sees fit.

Because of this, I find evolution more compatible with Christianity than creationism because evolution accepts this nature of life as a process of self-organization rather than a product design by a controlling deity.

2 Likes

Interesting how we see beauty in some things but not in others. Without maggots and buzzards, we would be knee deep in dead bodies. It is our nature as created to return to dust, and God provides the means.
You bring up a good point, as it is inconsistent to claim to see beauty and God’s nature in creation and at the same time to see it as cursed, yet there is a scriptural basis for both views. I sympathize with Randy’s view, for the most part. It seems in Genesis, the ground was cursed from the standpoint of Adam and the toil and sweat he would now have to produce to continue to live.

1 Like

@PilgrimsPromise

One thing seems abundantly clear: evangelicals misunderstand Eden.

God created human beings. But he didn’t create them to be immortal. If he had, there would not have been a need for the Tree of Life.

Adam and Eve were not dead … but they were still mortal, and always in the “process of dying”, like any other creature made of normal mortal flesh.

1 Like

Either the trees were figurative, as in a figurative account, or they were trees that were special, but not necessary. The tree of life is supposed to be in sight in eternity as well, but not necessary to give immortality. The tree named knowledge of good and evil did not impart knowledge. As a counter part, the tree of life did not impart eternal life. While being literal trees, they were not magic trees. They represented a choice, that God would change existence if they were eaten. The tree of life, more than likely only reversed God’s action, after eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The lie of Satan was that the forbidden fruit would give them wisdom and knowledge that God was withholding. The result was not what the fruit would accomplish. It was the act of disobedience that caused a result.

Humans were immortal because they were the image of God, not because they had an Immortal body of flesh. The part about entropy was that if there was decay, it was at a slower pace than we have today. Was that because the effect of the sun was different, and not that entropy did not exist?

If we are going with the earth is billions of years old, and God is a being of light, then humans as part light beings could have lived for billions of years as well. We call it spiritual, but if it was a body that the physical did not change, then this spiritual side was something that would keep the flesh constantly regenerating with this other body aspect. But it was not because of some physical aspect of the material universe.

Unless Adam was harvesting this tree and offering to all the other humans, or they all had a tree like it in all their dwellings, this was just a decorative tree, that took up space in the Garden. Adam and Eve were not the only humans. They were either in charge over the others, or at least some spiritual go between God, and the other humans. At some point God took Adam from living with the other humans and placed him in charge of naming the animals and tending to the Garden. Adam and Eve were the major contributers to the current human genetics. There is no way to tell if the spiritual side had a genetic makeup that would alledgedly mix with Adam and Eve’s dna. Other than Genesis indicates there was some genetics that gave some offspring an enhanced physical body.

During the course of a few thousand years, with a new generation every 20 years, Adam and Eve’s offspring would be significate, especially if there was offspring from Cain and other human families introduced into Adam’s genetic dna, even if they had a slightly different dna, because of the spiritual body they existed in. Obviously after the Flood this original dna effected humans thousands of years later.

The situation before the Flood was probably there were more of Adam and Eve’s descendants, than any of the original human’s. The original humans would not need to have as many offspring because death and decay was negligible. The need to reproduce was not there after a few generations. A generation could even represent thousands, and even millions of years if we are going with 4 billion years passing since they were given charge over the earth. They have to be viewed as God living on earth, as in God’s image. They were in part light beings, not just physical flesh.

Hi Pilgrim’s Promise,

I think there are a few different layers to the question you’ve asked, so it takes some time and effort to pull apart the onion, so to speak.

One layer speaks to the reality that we, as human beings, probably don’t see Creation from the perspective that God sees it. So it’s quite likely that some of things we don’t understand about evolution make perfect sense from the Divine point of view. All we can do in this instance is trust that God knows what God is doing.

Another layer challenges us to expand everything we think we know about beauty and perfection. It’s very easy for us to love the beautiful butterfly, but can we see the beauty that God sees in each and every creature on Planet Earth? Probably not, because we’re only human. But we can try. And each time we try, our experience of love expands.

A further layer teaches us that God intends all biological life on Planet Earth to be temporary rather than eternal. The eternal parts come only through the soul. But if we’re experiencing a temporary biological life here, then there are probably some important things God is trying to reveal to us despite the pain and suffering we experience. So perhaps we’re called to use our free will to look past the pain and suffering, and discover what transformation means to God. (I personally don’t accept that our amazingly loving God created the “evil” we call the Fall, but I do believe that God expects us to push our free will to its very limits.)

The Book of Job – especially the last few chapters – speaks to these questions and more. What Job has to say really pushes the envelope on all the big questions about trust in God. Job tells us it may not be easy but it’s doable.

1 Like

If evil is “that which causes us harm”, we probably assign evilness to things in nature to the degree that they represent harm against us or things we care about. Phobias can be innate (evolutionarily entrained) or learned, but I don’t know if we have to say that anything in nature is inherently evil.

God intends for us to dwell in goodness. God is good and he defines goodness as obedience to Him. To me the story of creation and fall of man describes how we at the advent of consciousness came to see the world as a savage realm where we are helpless and vulnerable to harm (even from God). To me, Original Sin is moot, we should let Adam off the hook— by nature we are all sinful without exception due to imperfection. We are not fully able to see things God’s way. When I see an adorable, innocent fawn being born in the Serengeti only to be savagely shredded by a predator, I cannot help seeing it as cruel and unjust. But is it really?

1 Like

If that is the case, something like human pregnancy and childbirth is evil. Not only does it sometimes result in death for the mother, but even in normal cases, it causes pain, discomfort, and lasting physical deterioration.

1 Like

I define evil is anything that causes spiritual harm, not physical harm. The predator you mentioned is doing his part to maintain a heathy herd, he is doing God’s will. When that predator needlessly massacres more than he can eat, then he is violating God’s will. The spirit of the fawn is not harmed by this death, only if it holds malice for the leopard that killed him does he suffer spiritual harm. Being the prey is God’s way of teaching the soul humility.

I mentioned beforehand the cannibalism that God wiped out with the flood. Cannibalism is evil as it violates God’s Laws. Rape is evil for the same reason.

Here are some reflections from now retired and occasionally controversial professor of theology John Schneider at Calvin:

1 Like

I think we can wrap things up with that sentence…

That certainly was concise and yet thorough. For those more accustomed to the theological terminology it may also be helpful for sorting all of that out.

My own impression regarding the original post is that the seeming cruelty in nature is a consequence of the fact that life can only feed on life, apart from plants I suppose. When you see a pack of lions, hyena or wild dogs feeding on a still living herbivore, you’re not witnessing cruelty - just feeding. If we were to draw out the pain and suffering of a creature we meant to feed on that would be cruel. But when other animals do so there is no intention to cause suffering or indifference to any suffering they knowingly inflict. They’re simply feeding.

Evolution is gory but I see no reason to lay that at God’s door. The miracle is that in the cold, inhospitality of space their should arise the conditions necessary for the possibility of life. That life should transform to the point of recognizing the suffering of others and be repelled by it is pretty doggone good. Could it have been otherwise? I doubt it but those who are sure they know the measure of God’s power often want to criticize. I’ll just be grateful for what we have and admit I don’t know enough about what could have been.

2 Likes

It’s a loose definition but I thought it fit in the context of the question.
If “pregnancy” evokes “harm” in your mind, perhaps you are assigning evil to it, but usually I don’t consider pregnancy as causing harm despite pain, suffering, death being involved in varying degrees (Gen 1:16, lol). Malaria is harmful and does nothing good, but I think it is only evil to the extent that we assign evil to something that is part of nature. I think true evil manifests when conscious beings evoke harm. In this sense, it is in the story of Cain that we see the devastating manifestation of evil.

The nature created by God cannot be inherently evil. The constant rebirth in nature is beautiful and good, even though it is fed by death and disease - these are an important part of life. Evil behavior (sin) can beget disease, and therefore the disease is not evil, the sin is.

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matt 15:11)

I use Matthew 15 as guide for these thoughts. It is how we react to God’s Nature that is sinful or evil.

I don’t think pregnancy is evil. But it does cause harm, which is why I think “causing harm” is not a good definition. My back is permanently damaged from three pregnancies. Talk to any woman about how her bladder works after pushing out a few babies. I think it is interesting that the groaning of creation in Romans 8 is a metaphor from childbirth. Creation longs for it’s “deliverance” in the same way a laboring woman longs to be “delivered” of her child. But the birthing process is inherently regenerative and life bringing, not some kind of broken, evil, thing. When people talk about all “natural evil” as some kind of broken perfection I think they are imposing a worldview on Scripture. According to Job, God delights in the apex predator prowess of some of the carnivores he created. Death, pain, and suffering are part of the cycles that bring health and new life. Suffering in the Bible is often portrayed as a purifying and strengthening process that God uses and that God’s people are to expect and even welcome.

I agree. Evil is thwarting God’s just righteousness which is summed up in love. It seems silly to talk about nature in terms of justice and love.

3 Likes

Christy, your quote above is central to my conception that evolution, rather than posing a threat to Christian Faith, is, instead, gives it rational support, since it fosters a belief in Original Blessing rather than Original Sin. The concept of ‘natural evil’ as evidence of some kind of ‘broken perfection’ (not substantiated by any of the physical sciences) is too ingrained in Christian Faith to be lightly cast aside. However, evolution in no way weakens the belief that God uses pain & suffering as means to strengthen human willpower to make the necessary sacrifices in order to conform to His plan: God has used evolution to create a Moral Creature with a Mind/Conscience capable of acting freely to build an Earthly Kingdom in His Image.

I don’t have the word skill to express this belief in theological lingo. Early in the 20th century, unsuccessful attempts to do so (within the Catholic Church) were made by Teilhard de Chardin and later by Mathew Fox. Perhaps @AntoineSuarez can inform me if there are any (approved) ongoing efforts within the Vatican along these lines.
Al Leo

3 Likes

I think in this point the standard catholic view is that of Thomas Aquinas in Summa theologiae I, q. 48, a. 2, Reply to objection 3:

“many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed. Neither would avenging justice nor the patience of a sufferer be praised if there were no injustice.”

In support of his argument Aquinas quote Augustine: “God is so powerful that He can even make good out of evil” (Enchir. 11).