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.