As I stated at the end of the previous post, most of the traditional responses to the problem of evil have significant problems. A lot of those problems are with internal consistency, but a significant piece of the problem is that they tend to rely on the intent of creation to make their case. I would like to argue that evidence about the intent of creation is scant at best, and non-existent at worst. However, we can pretty easily discern the mechanisms present in creation and work towards a solution to the problem of evil. This isn’t an idea that originated with me. John Feinburg, in his book “The Many Faces of Evil” advocates that Christians, “Look at what He has done, and that will show what He intended.”
Another issue that I have with the historic views is that they don’t seemed to be influenced by outside philosophies. The assumption about intent drove the conversation, and the only way to know about intent was through theology and scripture. There wasn’t much room for things like other religious systems or science to influence the conversation. In fact, the synthesis of science and theology was so lacking that when Teilhard de Chardin started working to understand the theological implications of evolution in the early 1900s, it generated a ton of buzz. No one was really doing meaningful, high-quality integrations of theology and science. Even though the Roman Catholic church eventually censured his works (mostly because of his views on original sin) Chardin’s work really served to get people thinking about the implications of science for parsing though theological problems.
While I don’t go nearly as far as Chardin, an integration of evolution by means of natural selection with the theological question “Why evil?” can open up new space. But first, some ground rules.
Ground Rule #1 – Blocher’s “T”
Henri Blocher, in his book “Evil and the Cross” discusses that any Christian theodicy must contain three fundamental elements – 1.) that evil is truly evil, 2.) that God is truly sovereign, and 3.) that God is good, which Blocher organizes into a “T”. These three rules are crucial for any truly Christian theodicy, because without them you could describe the presence of evil in the cosmos by saying that evil doesn’t really exist, or that God sometimes loses control of creation and bad things happen, or that God is actually sadistic and enjoys seeing us suffer. Or, you could say that God doesn’t actually exist.
The problem with these rules is that they are debatable. What does it mean, for instance, for evil to be truly evil? What, exactly, are the boundaries of God’s sovereignty? At what point does God’s allowance for suffering override goodness? Unfortunately, I won’t be able to resolve those debates, but will only be able to open up the possibility to think about things differently.
Ground Rule #2 – When the Stones Cry Out
Here’s what’s going to rub a lot of my evangelical friends the wrong way – I think the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is a huge help to navigating the problem of evil.
I’ve read many things and talked to many people, both “pro” evolution and “con”, and have come to a place where I’m in agreement that evolution is the best interpretation of the data. That’s why I’ve been so pleased with the Biologos project, which is trying to encourage Christians to think in more accurate terms about evolution. But evolution by no means cuts God out of the equation for me. I’m theistic to the core.
Over and over again in scripture when God is without someone with whom to work, He calls people out, and woos them into relationship. God called Abram out of paganism, He called Isaiah into faithfulness, and continually widened the circle to include gentiles. The rule of blood and law evolved into faith and love as God continually woos humanity. And what happened when, in the book of Luke, the Pharisees tried to keep people from shouting praise to God for what had been done? Jesus said that if the people were silent, then the stones would shout out.
Is it so much of a leap to believe that all life – and the universe itself – is shouting out to God? From the Big Bang to the coalescence of the stars, to the production of heavy elements and the organization of galaxies – the universe was crying out. And when this tiny dust-ball formed, orbiting an average star in a backwater arm of an average galaxy – complexity and chance combined to give rise to life, and ultimately the sort of creatures who could be in relationship with God. We are made of the stuff of the universe, and yet we transcend it. We are the very stones, brought to life to shout out to God.
This view of the universe is so exciting to me. Within it, I get to be less worried about demons and evil around every corner which turns the world into a dark and cynical place. Instead, I get to look for the working of God – the way in which creation always has and always will call out to the creator, and participate in the “very good” that God has declared this cosmos.
And yet, we’re left with a nagging sense that something is not right. The cosmos seems to contain at least something that feels like evil.
In the next post, I’ll start to explore the first piece of Blocher’s “T”, and ask the question “What is Evil?”