Evolution and theodicy go hand in hand. A huge problem or perhaps better stated, potential or presumed problem, for belief in a Christian and loving God is the rampant death, extinction, apparent wastefulness in life, etc. that accompanies creation by evolution. While I think that this vision is way too bleak and narrow, that’s a post for another time.
Some of these issues are such no matter what the mechanism of creation. Other issues are more prevalent post-evolutionary theory because it becomes easier to rationalize that God did not have some divine purpose behind each of the creation events. Thus, the issue of wastefulness. Nevertheless, the problem of theodicy has been around forever so even though evolution may pose a new angle to the problem, theodicy does not rest solely on the evils associated with evolution.
But, let’s get back to the issue at hand… how could a “good” God create in this manner? Absolving God of the responsibility by saying that Adam’s sin (and thus not God) caused the death of animals may have been permissible centuries ago but is clearly untenable today. So what do we do? How do we “reconcile” a loving and good God with the “horrible” history of evolution?
There have been many stabs taken (for instance, see summary in http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/10/theodicy-and-evolution.html) and I got to thinking about this issue when reading Mark Vernon’s blog post on Big Questions Online from this past August (http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/columns/mark-vernon/the-evils-of-evolution). As Vernon describes, one view is that put forward by Francisco Ayala, who says that natural processes are not inherently “evil” because there is no intent by an agent to be evil. Presumably, though, if God is who we think God is than God could have foreseen the “evils” that evolutionary creation involves. Some will say that God does not possess foreknowledge but even in those camps adherents believe that God can in some sense predict what would happen. In the post linked to above, Vernon argues against Ayala’s position in a different way by applying the just war parallel. Either way, I too think Ayala is wrong.
Vernon then discusses another view of evolution and theodicy, which John Polkinghorne (and others) propose. In this view, which I myself am in favor of, evolution as a mechanism is observed as the freedom to explore all of the potentialities (i.e. species diversity, richness, and complexity) and this necessarily requires order and disorder. What this means is that the “evils” that we observe are required to generate the world that we experience.
Of course, this isn’t good enough. That’s just the way that the world is not going to win any argument or put us to asleep on a restless night. Where I agree with Polkinghorne and where my belief in Christianity augments my position is that God suffers with us. We see in the Bible a God that walks alongside of us, experiences our suffering, and comforts us as we struggle with the way the world is. We can argue all day long whether God could have achieved the ends with different means but these are the means that we observe. In this writer’s mind, the prime example of God sharing in our suffering is observed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. My atheist friends will disagree and say that I’m just sharing my wishful thinking out loud. I would counter by saying that my reasons for this belief would fill many other posts but they’re there (and Polkinghorne’s works explain where I’m at quite well, see especially http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Physicist-Theology-Sciences-Polkinghorne/dp/0800629701).
Enough from me. What do you think? Do you like either of these responses to evolution and theodicy? There are many others surely, do you have another one that you prefer? Perhaps if you’re honest with yourself, you don’t have a proper response or explanation at all?