Evolution, God and Suffering

For a long time I have believed in theistic evolution, the notion that evolution is the mechanism by which God brought life into being. One thing that has always bothered me about this is that evolution is a process that involves pain and suffering, which is difficult to square with the loving grace of God. I’ve just been reading The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins (IVP 2011) and found their insight very helpful.

Giberson is a physicist and Francis Collins a geneticist who led the human genome project from 1993-2008. Both are committed Christians. They argue that modern science has overturned the Newtonian view of the world. Newtonian science assumed that if we knew everything about the present we would be able to perfectly predict the future, that everything followed a simple pattern of cause and effect. Quantum physics and chaos theory have turned this on its head, so that even if we had perfect knowledge of everything in the present we would still not be able to predict the future.

The actual future is open and cannot be known simply as a predictable extension of present processes. On the other hand, nature’s freedom is constrained in ways that assure the world will be stable. Planet Earth will not suddenly plummet into the sun, and Mount Everest will not detach and float off into space.

That nature has freedom is highly provocative and theologically suggestive. God created the world with an inbuilt capacity to explore novelty and try new things, but within a framework of overall regularity. This is the way the world is.

The key point here is that the gift of creativity that God bestowed on creation is theologically analogous to the gift of freedom got bestowed on us

I’ve read this before in the writings of John Polkinghorne, but somehow it just seemed to come together for me reading Giberson and Collins.

Of course this does not resolve the problem of evil: why did God choose to create life by a process of evolution if he knew there was the possibility would throw up suffering? What it does do however is place the problem of suffering in evolution on the same plane as suffering caused by human beings. Both are the consequence of God granting freedom.

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John Olley
John Olley
7 years ago

A similar perspective is in Tom McLeish, Faith and Wisdom in Science (Oxford University Press, 2014). McLeish is a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Durham University and a prominent physicist who is at home in science, the Bible, history and philosphy and has a great writing style. He shows the interplay of order and chaos (“constrained freedom”) in the natural world and the Bible. Here are some of my notes: Ch. 3 (pp. 55-74): Creation, Curiosity and Pain: Natural Wisdom in the Old Testament. Discusses Proverbs 8, Psalms 33, 104, Jeremiah 10 (creation and correction), later Isaiah [creation and care; ch 28,… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  John Olley

Thanks John. Very helpful.

Andris Heks
Andris Heks
7 years ago

Hi Scott, I met you at your Blackheath Baptist presentations and bought your book etc and we chatted. I am a member of our local Catalyst group, which I know was inspired by your initiating the Catalyst movement. I gave a brief talk to our Church on last Sunday on Jenny Bawden’s, our local Convenor’s request. The following was inspired by that presentation. Hope to see you soon and to keep in touch through writings, God bless, Andris THE CATALYST 30.5.’16 Andris Heks, Blue Mountains NSW Christianity is the biggest world religion with 2.2 billion adherents, constituting 31.50% of all… Read more »

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