Rarely do these two divergent groups agree on anything. But here they find common ground: God, and his creative purposes, as typically presented by traditional church teachings, is wholly incompatible with evolution.
What of the growing population of Bible-believing Christians who accept the evidence of evolution. Are we caught up in a sea of schizophrenic denial? Is there no way to bring into harmony the creative purposes of a loving God, and the modus operandi he apparently chose for creation?
In part 1 of this post, I discussed the originator of the phrase, “Red in tooth and claw,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Compelled by the untimely death of friend to deal with the dilemmas of a cruel Nature and a loving God, Tennyson is left only with a faith-shaken hope that the mystery will somehow be resolved.
[Not all believers see a problem here that needs solving (see, for example the Stephen Douglas exchange with Tom in the comment thread following part one.) But the arguments that death, animal pain, thousands of species extinctions, and other examples of natural evil pose no theodicy problem fail to convince me, and many other theists and atheists alike.]
If we posit the premise of atheist and Creationist, that a loving and personal God, and his creative purposes, as typically presented by traditional church teachings, are incompatible with evolution, Christians who accept evolution are left with few choices. Either,
- Evolution has not, in fact, been a brutal display red in tooth and claw, or
- God is not loving and personal, or
- the traditional church teachings have failed to tell the whole story, or to tell it accurately.
My personal search is guided by Scripture, reason, and principles we can glean from the on-going exploration of God’s creative work. To leave out this ever-expanding source of “General Revelation” is to doom Christian theology to the dustbins of history. When we discover something about the cosmos, something that profoundly impacts theology, and when the discovery is confirmed again and again by science, we must be prepared to adjust our understandings of Scriptural truths where those understandings have been errant. History yields abundant testimony: the church has been painfully slow in learning this lesson.
Earlier in this series, in this post on Theodicy, I addressed the need to adjust traditional theology in light of entropy’s timeline. There I noted that entropy (which is the driving force of the cosmos, a force of degradation, decay, and death) has been functioning since the very dawn of creation. It is not the result of the Fall, as theologians have long held. Decay, disease, and death predate the Fall of man by billions of years! God created the universe to be entropic from the very start.
In that earlier discussion, I suggested that the creation of the cosmos must have been a divine response to evil. If God created the cosmos with built in concessions, characteristics such as death and decay, from which he planned later to deliver his cosmos, we must ask,
Enter the processes of evolution. Viewed in the light of a cosmic battle that has raged for billions of years, the processes which at first seem heartless and cruel can be seen in a different light. They are necessary. We live in a cosmos in which the forces evil have been granted freedom and dominion. These forces are arrayed against everything good, including life itself. And the death principle wielded by the forces of evil (Hebrews 2:14) has had much success in its endeavor to destroy life. For every living species alive today, one hundred or so have become extinct. And yet, here we are. Living beings, capable of faith, capable of relationship with the Creator.
Scripture suggests that the culmination of God’s plan to annihilate evil involves faith-filled living beings such as ourselves, beings who are the end result of this long process, beings whose very existence proves what God knew all along: Life is more powerful than death (see 1 Corinthians 15) and does win out in the end.
The struggle of life has not been painless. It is indeed “red in tooth and claw”. But when viewed as part of the price of the annihilation of evil, all pain and suffering takes on meaning. There is an overriding purpose which will, in the end, render significance and purpose to all suffering, to all pain, to all death.
I am aware that this explanation is incomplete. There are pieces of the puzzle which are not yet understood. And it does not tell the whole story. As others have noted, there is value in suffering on many other levels. But when I consider how essential pain, suffering, and death have been in the Creative purposes of God, I believe such an understanding as I have suggested must be part of the answer. I invite your comments.