That is why Evolutionary Creationists must turn our attention to the theological adjustments made necessary by the truth of evolutionary science. And these adjustments are not limited to the question “What about Adam?” discussed in an earlier post on this site. Perhaps the most troublesome obstacle for evolutionary Christian theology is related to theodicy, or the problem of evil. Evolution involves untold suffering, bloodshed, and death. As life slowly arose, and took on increasing complexity and diversity, it did so at the expense of an endless stream of predation, pain, and extinction. An estimated 99% of all species that have lived on this planet are now extinct. To many, this seems wasteful and unnecessary, if a divine designing influence is granted. Worse, the entire process (if intended by a Creator) would seem to be the work of a cold, calculating, and sadistic god, one who capriciously unleashes random processes, arbitrarily assigning victim status to the vast majority of living things. In addition, these same random processes bring many malevolent organisms (such as the malaria parasite) which are, in turn, the cause of much suffering and death.
Christian theology once had a handy container for natural evil. All the horrifying rages of Nature, everything from animal predation to tsunamis, were viewed as consequences of the Fall of man. We now understand that this cannot be without a contortion of chronology. Natural evil predates the Fall by billions of years.
I applaud the observations of evolutionary Christians like Francis Collins who extol the virtues of evolution, its amazing ingenuity, remarkable elegance, and intricate mechanisms. But the beauty of evolution comes with a huge price tag of pain and suffering. Life rises up, but not apart from the grim specters of death and extinction.
A recent commenter to this site boldly declared:
“[T]here is NO way that the God of the bible used evolution as a method to create humanity- it is too slow, brutal, random. As Obi Wan would say ‘Nasty thing – not the tool of a Jedi’.”It is the view of many such atheists that the loving, providential God of the Bible cannot be squared with the evolutionary history of life. Such a God as Christians espouse would never utilize so ruthless a mechanism as evolution for creating life. So the argument goes.
My atheist friend objects to mixing evolution with Christian theism because evolution “is too slow, brutal, and random.” What of those three counts? Too slow? Not a problem to most theists. God, as the Bible and our experience reveal him, is never in a hurry, and he never lacks for time. A day, we are told, is as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day in divine time accounting (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). Too random? Not a problem for Evolutionary Creationists, who accept the necessary role of randomness in the processes of natural selection. (See my review of Richard Colling’s, Random Designer.) Too brutal? That’s a little harder to dismiss.
A phrase re-popularized by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, is often invoked by 1) Christians who object to evolution, and by 2) atheistic evolutionists who object to theism: “Red in tooth and claw”. It speaks of our bloody, predatory ancestry, the fierce and brutal history of evolving life. The phrase actually originated about 170 years ago, in the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He introduced it in his seminal work, “In Memoriam: A. H. H.”
Strange. The man who coined the phrase was neither a Christian objecting to evolution, nor was he an atheist. He was a Christian who accepted evolution (which had already gained considerable favor even in those pre-Darwinian days) but who grappled with the problem of evil, especially natural evil. Tennyson was, of course, deeply troubled by the untimely death of his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, for whom the poem is named. Evolution, and its brutality, was just another of the manifestations of natural evil that profoundly impacted Tennyson, and challenged his faith. At the core of his faith was his undying conviction that love was and is the basis of Christianity; that love was “Creation’s final law,” a law which Nature seems to violate both now and in the ancient past by what he witnessed in the paleontological record ...
Who trusted God was love indeedDid Tennyson solve the riddle of Creation’s final law set against the backdrop of nature’s heartless, savage fury? Did he negotiate détente in the apparent strife between a loving God and a brutal Nature?
And love Creation's final law,
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed.
Are God and Nature then at strife,Did he ever come to peace with the blatant lack of economy in nature, with its troubling and excessive wastefulness?
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhereOr did he continue to stumble over these phenomena, nearly losing his footing as he sought after God?
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,The apparent conflict stretched and challenged, but never quenched Tennyson’s faith. He never lost hope that someday, in some way, a harmony would emerge between the ravages of nature and the goodness of God.
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope thro' darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,His trust may have been faint, his hands of faith, lame. But Tennyson was confident the apparent dichotomy would ultimately resolve. I share his optimism. When I approach this problem, Scripture, science, and reason converge upon some fascinating possibilities, some ways in which the puzzle pieces interlock. I will address those possibilities in part 2, but before I do, I’d like to hear from you. Have you sorted the data in a way that satisfies your mind? Or are you content letting the riddle persist, unsolved, glaring though it may be? Or do you take the skeptics road, remaining convinced, with my atheist friend, that no possible solution exists, and the dilemma can only lead to a reasoned denial of God’s existence? I look forward to your comments ...
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.