Faith in light of mass extinction events

Assuming multiple mass extinction events have occurred (I have no reason to assume otherwise) how is your faith impacted? Are you able to reconcile this with a Creator who loves His creation?


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To answer your question with a question …

Assuming no mass extinction events had ever occurred: where would those same creatures who lived then - where would they be today?

Answer: all dead. Had an extinction event not killed them - something else would have.

Point being … As long as physical death is part of creation, it doesn’t help theodicy any even if all such spectacular events got ruled out or divinely prevented. Everything still died. Whatever damage my faith may suffer from all that, it already suffered from death alone.

Now … yes, that is a callous answer to give to catastrophy that wipes out so much life prematurely. One doesn’t speak of the Lisbon earthquake or wars or … any catastrophe by callously responding “Oh well! They would have died anyway!” No. We weep and mourn ours and others’ losses. And do our best to prevent or mitigate future catastrophes. But meanwhile, my faith - like Job’s - can express sadness and anger, and yet also realize that our trust and hope remains in God. And if we can do that with events that impact us and our loved ones directly, then how much easier to trust all of distant geological history to God?


Words of wisdom here. But they are sandwiched in between some very questionable statements.

Callous and I’d say logically problematic. Imagine a murderer saying “everyone dies anyway” or a pedophile rapist saying “she would have lost her virginity eventually anyways.” Surely the how matters very much in how events come to pass. A funeral can bring people together. So can a celebration of the birth of Christ.

How can living and dying of old age be compared to dying unexpectedly from a natural disaster? Just because we have death in creation that means we have to also accept untimely death not due to the actions of free will individuals? I think we can easily distinguish between these two. Where exactly is the dividing line between timely and untimely death some might ask? My honest answer is I don’t know but I can walk into a children’s cancer ward and tell you where that line is not.

Is God incapable of making a universe where creatures can die of old age without natural disasters? Or are natural disasters and this state of affairs exactly what God wants?

How much more easier is it for Christians to just trust what scripture teaches and what other Christians have believed for thousands of years? Human sin brought this evil into the world.

Our pastor called us the other day because my wife is going through cancer. And he was on the phone with me telling me how cancer is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. I rolled my eyes but appreciated his reaching out and concern. At the end of the day, a God who intentional makes a universe with cancer and destructive hurricanes and calls it good is at best, a paradox, and at worst, a contradiction in terms. Our faith has not waivered one instant. We go through the range of emotions and we rely on God but I certainly don’t have a satisfying reason I can give for natural evil.

I can speculate. At best I’d say we could blab on about soul building. We were meant to face trials and persecution in this life. Growing pains. And that is what makes creation good. So I guess yes, even cancer and a tsunami that kills 200,000 people somehow serves the will of God. I’m not comfortable with it and I’ll have questions upon entering the pearly gates…but it’s all I got for now.


  • For a long and informative review of extinctions check out The DEADLIEST Pattern in Nature
  • My summary: Extinction is the general rule; and we’re all going to die!!!

I’m sorry to hear about your wife and sorry the pastor tried to explain away your suffering. I sometimes think people do this so they don’t have to enter into that dark place with you.

I was recently in a dark place, and I am kind of out of it, but not really. I don’t think we ever are on this side of heaven and hell. It was really dark and I could have so easily cursed God. I even toyed with the idea and fantasized about it. I do have a friend who I was able to weep with. I called him for something else and he asked how I was doing and I just broke down. He is a good friend and wise enough not to try and rationalize the pain.


Thank you. I think he just genuinely believes what he said. He also said it’s God’s will for my wife to be healed. He has more certainty than me (since children do die of cancer all the time) but I appreciated the optimism. I appreciated him calling and praying and showing concern multiple times. That is 1,000,000 x more important than correct theology to me and what a pastor should do. He is quite good at delivering sermons and intelligent. Just not a scientist. But I wish more Christians accepted the existence of natural evils before Adam and Eve because then more minds would be devoted to the problem rather than so many of them just blaming a couple in the garden. I wish more Christians also had a more realistic look at the world when it comes to prayer and healing.



I was in a very dark place when my dad nearly died and was taken to the hospital and they didn’t know if he would make it through the night. I called a friend about a (university) class issue and he could tell something was wrong. One thing he said that really struck me was, “None of us are going to make it out of this alive, and God isn’t any happier about it than we are”.


Not to rationalize not rationalizing pain… but yeah, a person with you who cares about you is better than any logical syllogism. Company, a phone call or a hug goes further in my humble opinion. We have an emotional and spiritual side and sometimes we just need to feel (we often don’t have a choice in it). When I need that intellectual comfort, I always go back to Jesus in the Garden and Jesus on the Cross. I wish you the best on your journey!


It does not affect my faith anymore than kids dying. I don’t think God’s role in “creation” is to manipulate and control it. Often when we feel sad, or something, we will pray and feel peace. Sometimes when we gather together with the saints and we all share and pray we feel peace. I think God interacts with animals in that way. So it’s not deism despite many confusing it for such. I simply think the Holy Spirit interacts with all life in some way that is not measurable.

I don’t think God actually causes natural disasters.

What is bizarre to me and I’ve mentioned it several times, is that Jesus, the author of life, the incarnation of love, caught and killed and are dead fish. The biggest hurdle in my faith is looking past that. I can’t imagine a creator eating its own creation by taking its life. It’s really bizarre to me.

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Yes. God’s role in dealing with His creation is corrective not controlling. Controlling is incompatible with a desire for relationship and love as is simply watching uninvolved with what is happening. Death and suffering is an essential and unavoidable part of the process of life itself right down to the biological and chemical level of our existence. Ideas of a mythical past without death and suffering is an unrealistic childish fantasy inconsistent with the very nature of life itself.

Stronger. I only find Christianity believable because of evolution. Otherwise the problem of evil and suffering is a fatal flaw. The flaw is resolved by the fact that life is not a product of design by its very nature and only exists because of death and suffering as part of the process by which it learns, develops, and makes its own choices.


I wouldn’t either except He plainly claims He does:

There is no one besides Me:
I am the LORD, and there is no one else,
The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating disaster;
I am the LORD who does all these things.

– Isaiah 45


I like how a nuclear engineer at Hanford put it once, though he was speaking of the nuclear reactor: controlling doesn’t mean making it do what you like, it means making sure it runs as it is supposed to.

That sort of control informs us that God is trustworthy, as opposed to operating on whim like the pagan gods.


Yet we know the reality is that he does not. So it’s either just wrong, accommodation, hyperbolic or badly translated. What we do know it’s not, is that weather is not supernaturally influenced, there is no dome over the earth, prayer changes nothing according to studies almost 100% of the time.


Now you have a divine-o-meter?

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We misconstrue love for love of each particular. Or ability to sense pain keeps us alive; at the same time it provides the torturer with enormous leverage. Jesus’ death on the cross was one of the most cruel of Rome’s catalog of torments.
Each individual dies. Species also fade away and go extinct. When that process is sudden, it is not novel. The parable of the talents (10 makes 10 and generates a reward; ditto 5 makes 5; but the servant with 1 talent, who buried it in the ground and made nothing, is chastised - “Do you not know that I, your master, reap where I have not sown?” To me this says that God does not “sow” demise, because a world full of deathless organisms is not sustainable. Death is necessary for change.
By the same logic, death of species is necessary for change (or is merely the outer husk of change since species morph as well as go extinct.)
Death and pain are inseparable from a “fallen” world; in the severest sense, the ability of species to evolve is part of God’s love for Creation.
Who, then, are we, to pick at nits like death.

I struggle with this. There was obviously the “old testament” view that God does everything. The question for me is: was this Jesus’ view of the Father? The quick and flippant answer is: “yes - of course! Because Jesus viewed the scriptures of his day as being unassailable.” Or so the dogmatic ‘purists’ would react - being quick to shut down any curiosity in that direction. But I’m not so sure.

If we are to view Christ as merely “doing what he sees his Father doing”, then looking at how Christ lived becomes indispensible to me if I want to know what God is like (… and I am much more certain that this is the hill I should plant my flag on – or perhaps more appropriately, my cross). I scan the gospels in vain for signs of Christ wreaking havoc and evil (chaos) on people as a form of retribution. Yes - he does relay some disturbing parables that (almost as an aside) would portray God as a torturer or a tyrant - if one tries to build theology on such details despite their periphery to the main point of the parable (another exercise that seems dubious to me at best). But then look at how Jesus lives and reacts to everybody around him. The most chaotic or physically ‘destructive’ thing he’s recorded as doing is upsetting tables in the temple and driving animals out. Apart from maybe a few Pharisees who might disagree, there is no setting himself up as a tyrant who must exercise power over everything and everyone - his own disciples’ efforts in that direction notwithstanding. And that to me seems to be the primary characteristic of relevance for us as human beings as we ponder just how we are to be image bearers for God.


It is a tough one for me!
You are right. Death is necessary, but we’re given a healthy distaste for it. “Nature, red in tooth and claw” --does seem to shriek against my creed.

In medicine, we try to prevent a premature death, but admit we all will die. The death rate of children under the age of 5 prior to about 1900, primarily from infectious disease, was 50%. Most people had lost at least one sibling, if not several, in infanthood. It is much less than that in the West now. I’m still hoping to get a satisfying answer from God about all this. Some, @Klax among them, noted that it’s Christ’s suffering and dying among us that makes the most sense out of what doesn’t make sense.


But the Isaiah passage isn’t about retribution. Indeed it’s universal, asserting that all well-being and all disaster (specifically natural disaster) comes from God, thus also denying that any other gods do or even can do any of that.
By the way, where the border of natural disaster lies is a tough question. Jesus commented that the man blind from birth was born that way so God’s glory could be shown; if that fits into the parameters of the Isaiah 45 passage then we could conclude that all natural disasters happen so God’s glory can be shown – and on the flip side, all well-being might happen for the same reason.
Though at a different level the assertion might merely express the fact that God controls the whole of Creation down to its smallest parts, so whatever happens comes from Him.


It is a fallen world according to Genesis - hence stuff goes badly wrong.

Necessary in what sense?

I don’t believe there is death in heaven so I don’t see how it is necessary. God can clearly make a realm where death is not. it would seem then that death serves the purpose for which God intends it. As does natural disaster and cancer. Horrifying in some ways but I’d say “soul-building”, heaven and the Cross are the best answers.

Amos 3:6 “Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it?”

I’d love to not take this stuff literally. But with sickness, disease, death and natural disasters occurring billions of years before humans even showed up on this planet, can we? It we look at what happened to God’s Son and understand an eternity of heaven, it may temper how objectionable this seems.

If we take scripture seriously as inspired by God, how much can we say is myth, metaphor and incorrect beliefs God accommodated? What does scripture even intend to teach if we dismiss these thoughts as as mere Jewish belief God caused everything? Are we just dismissing scripture at that point? How one ultimately approaches the Bible may dictate how one answers this dilemma. It’s not easy. The Bible says God also establishes all the governing authorities does it not? Nazi Germany? I’m not sure.

At a bare minimum, God is the creator of our universe and chose the underlying constants of reality. Hurricane’s don’t form because they want to. Atoms do not have volition or free will. The laws of physics dictate the behavior of nature. For most of us, those clearly go back to God. Thus, God is responsible for things like cancer and untimely death. This is how He designed the cosmos. But if I recall you don’t even see God as a Creator so this is a moot point to discuss.