New Article: Does Evolution Make the Problem of Evil Harder?

Jim wrote this piece to wrap up our monthly focus on suffering and the problem of evil.

Do you think this can help someone to understand further how their faith can align with EC/evolution?

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Dear Hillary,
Thank you for the post. I was disappointed with the article from the first point onward “Evolution does not require death.” Death is an integral part of evolution and furthermore, there is nothing all evil about physical death. Death is required to insure the unfit mutations do not persist, how else can natural selection happen without the inferior dying out?

God’s creation is Good, and that means that nature is inherently good, not evil. Death is an integral part of His creation and not some negative side effect. In nature, plants die to feed animal and animals die to feed other animals - nothing is wasted. From bacteria to vulture, there is no waste of life in nature - death feed new life.

Evil is only a product of consciousness and therefore cannot be associated with anything in nature beside sentient beings. Jesus came to give His physical life for our eternal life, how can that be evil?

You misunderstood Jim’s point about that. He wasn’t insisting that death cannot be woven into the fabric of a good creation. He was simply highlighting an inconsistency from a YEC perspective in which they attempt to single out evolutionary-minded creationists as the only ones who have this problem. They aren’t. To the extent that they insist on seeing physical death as being a problem requiring explanation, it is a problem for them every bit as much as for anyone else - even more of a problem for them in fact!

Indeed, Jim spends most of the rest of the article speaking to just that premise - that it is difficult to read the bible and not see death as being granted its special and necessary place in the long (or short) history of the universe. You have to remember, he is considering points-of-view of people who think very differently about earth’s history and prodding them to join all of us the much needed practice of self-reflection about our own viewpoints.

Please step in and correct if I misrepresent you here, Jim.

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Yes, Jim please clarify. I read it three times before writing what I did.

But many people today think that Darwin’s proposal of evolution has made the problem harder. Is that really true? I don’t think so, for at least four reasons.

  1. Evolution does not require death

I don’t see Jim portraying another viewpoint here, just his own.

Yes, his intention was to highlight “what the critics say.” We reworked some of the subtitles to help that, but I’m sorry the first one was still unclear. But @jstump can chime in to defend his own work, if he’s got the time. :smile:

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Well, yes - this is all Jim’s view, to be sure - but a view that encompasses the nuances, technicalities and implications of other people’s beliefs as well.

First I’d like to note that evolution is not fundamentally about death and suffering. …

This is a subtle point, but evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth doesn’t technically require that organisms die. If resources weren’t limited, natural selection would still occur as long as there was variation in the population. Darwin’s insight was that some things reproduce more successfully than others and pass on their characteristics to their offspring. That doesn’t necessarily require death.

[my own emphasis added to a few words above so that you don’t miss them.]

The “necessarily” in that last sentence is a heavily conditioned one - in that Jim is only speaking of a highly hypothetical situation where philosophically speaking you could have reproduction, variation and change without needing to invoke death. But of course in our real world with the way things really work, death is seen to be necessary as you see he acknowledged as his next paragraph begins:

Now of course when you have life evolving over billions of years, things better die or we are going to run out of room!

But of course you are correct to see if Jim himself will clarify (and I see now that Hillary has paged him for clarification.)

@Mervin_Bitikofer is doing a good job of defending me so far!

The point is that animal death is no more a problem for evolutionary creation than it is for old earth creation. Animals don’t evolve BECAUSE other things die.

But didn’t predators evolve by killing? There have been five major die-offs that have resulted in a very resilient and beautiful nature. There is no way that this could have happened without death and killing. All of the studies show that the fasting growing organism cannot survive in the long run by dominating nature. Predators are the most important part of the balancing act in nature.

Only in a very indirect way… Predators eat and survive by killing, and eating and surviving is necessary for procreating, and procreating is necessary for future generations. It’s not like killing made their DNA mutate.

This is a fair point. For the particular line of evolution that has in fact occurred on our planet, these major extinction events certainly had a major role in shaping the kinds of things that evolved.

My point, though, was the hypothetical point that death is not necessary for the process of evolution itself, which only requires variation among offspring, differential reproductive rates, and heritable characteristics. If you throw in greater competition for resources or other environmental challenges, you can accelerate changes for sure. But that stuff isn’t necessary for evolution to happen. That’s all I was saying.

Now, if I were to argue against myself (which I’m not averse to doing), I might try to leverage the K-T extinction event 66 million years ago, saying “that had to happen in order for there to be evolutionary space for mammals to evolve into primates. God made a system where he had to kill off a bunch of things in order to get what he wanted.” Does this make the problem of evil harder? My best response to that might be reason #4 about the lavishness of creation. Look how much more got to exist? The dinosaurs had a good run. Is this a fully satisfactory response? Nope. That’s why we have a problem of evil. Anyone who says there is no problem isn’t thinking hard enough.

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It is the predator that shaped the DNA of the prey. But also the best hunters are the ones who survived. This is the point I was making that without death you do not have natural selection.

I guess we will agree to disagree on this point. For me, physical death is the central point for material creation to overcome spiritual death (evil).

I enjoyed the pic of the crocodile fronting the article. It looks as though those teeth are not ideal for salads.
While death is common to all life, certainly natural selection occurs through many other ways than predation. Competition for food is frequently a driving force. In the case of antibiotic resistance in bacteria as well as for higher organism, it is the ability to process and tolerate toxins in the environment. Ultimately, death is a very individual event that is experienced by the organism, and evolution is something experienced by populations over time, so are quite different things.

@jstump and @Shawn_Murphy, what do you think of this theory of phenoptosis? Death of the organism benefits the species as a whole–and how it relates to evolution. Thanks.

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I don’t see how the Wikipedia article does anything to undermine my claim that death is not a necessary part of evolution. I’ve not claimed that death never has any role to play in what actually evolves.

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@jstump, I am sorry. You are right. I carelessly did not read the posting well. I had misunderstood. I had recently returned from a long trip camping and was cleaning up. I apologize!

Your points are well put. Once YEC acknowledge the actual functioning of the world as it is, it’s very true that EC is less of a problem than YEC in terms of evil.

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@jstump, your training shines through very well with this parsing out of evil. Thanks for this concise note.

It seems that much of the YEC view is built on defending God’s goodness and does so by placing an inordinate amount of blame for human suffering and evil on human actions (and Satan) and ends up following into many of the errors of Jobs friends.

Certainly human actions result in a lot of the suffering and evil we see, but watching my children learn to walk made it pretty obvious to me that God never intended a world without pain and suffering.

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Good point.

Are the concepts of good and evil innate? Do atheistic evolutionists have consciences?

We cannot keep ourselves from evil. Sin is irresistible. We cannot reform ourselves. Evolution offers no explanation for this dilemma and no hope for a solution. The doctrine of evolution ends with a denial of the reality of evil because there is no God and no moral universal principles and no moral accountability.

If evolution is true, good and evil would be meaningless concepts. So, who wired us to distinguish between good and evil? Culture? Where did the human conscience come from? And why is human nature universally drawn to evil? Evolutionists are clueless.

Evolutionists will speak of signs of altruism in some animals but not evil.

Dear Paul,
You are pointing to the polarization that we seem to surrounded with today. On the one end, creationists who cannot explain why God created corrupt humans and evolutionists, as you state, don’t believe in evil. These are polar positions, and neither are true or logical. Enlightenment means seeing how both sides exist, and finding the truth that logically explains the corruption of humanity and the slow evolution of the soul from evil to goodness.

Absolutely! Many put me to shame with their kindness, honesty, and self examination. Sometime I think it’s these things that have driven them to atheism. That’s one more reason I believe that God will be more just than I am in assessing a person’s heart.

C S Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity” of the universal moral law or conscience. Many argue that this is not only evolutionarily adaptive to believe in good and evil, but also to believe in God and Heaven. Evolution confirms rather than denies these concepts.

I am a Christian, and I do believe in God and Heaven; sometimes, though, there are things in this world that don’t make sense from what I understand.

The whole concept of evil and morality is very complicated. You might enjoy reading or watching Justin Barrett, a Christian who specializes in the cognitive science of religion.

Thanks. God bless.

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