Evil and Evolution: A Theodicy

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Darwin, dealing with natural evils, simply distanced God even further. And though Darwin made repeated references to the Creator, he never needed to define his terms, for the modern view of God was widely accepted. In constructing the arguments for his theory of evolution, Darwin repeatedly argued that God would never have created the world that the nineteenth- century naturalists were uncovering. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice.

Darwin had a long biological quandaries that did not fit with the view of God that was popular in his day. There was, for example, the problem of hybrids. Why should species cross so easily if they were created separately? And if fauna and flora were specifically created for their environments by a wise Creator, how is it that plants that are introduced into a new region may be successful though they have little in common with the indigenous flora?

What seemed to be specialized fauna or flora sometimes flourished in foreign environments. Why were the inhabitants of similar but separated environments, such as cave- dwelling creatures on different continents, often so vastly different? Then there were the ill-adapted species, such as the land with webbed feet and the marine creatures with nonwebbed feet.

Insects that spent hours underwater differed little from their terrestrial cousins. Why was the water ouzel, a member of the thrush family, so active underwater, and why were woodpeckers found in treeless pampas? We may never know, but for our purposes the point is that Darwin was significantly motivated by nonscientific premises.

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He had a specific notion of God in view, and as it had for Milton, that view defined the framework of his thinking. Though biology was young and little was known about how organisms actually worked, Darwin believed he had sufficient evidence to show that God would not have created this world. This view was not peculiar to Darwin. Today this view continues to be evident in evolutionary literature, from popular presentations of the theory to college-level textbooks. Evolutionists sometimes claim that religious ideas play no role in their theory.

It is true that Darwin addressed the idea of creation that was influential at the mine. Evolutionists use negative theological arguments that give evolution its force. Evolution is a solution to the age-old problem of evil. The problem of evil states that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then he should not allow evil to exist. For centuries theologians and philosophers have tried to solve this problem. As Milton showed in Paradise Lost, moral evil can be explained as the result of human autonomy, but natural evil is more difficult to rationalize. He coined the term theodicy for any explanation to the problem.

One strategy was to try to show that God was somehow disconnected from creation. The carnage in nature had always been obvious, but the scientific revolution was revealing it in increasing detail. Also, naturalists were finding the created order to be full of apparent inefficiencies and anomalies.

This facet of natural evil began to be addressed in the eighteenth century when early theories of evolution appeared. They were crude in detail, but they suggested that nature is best explained as the result not of a divine hand but of some combination of unguided forces. His theodicy had a strong scientific flavor, to the point that most readers lost sight of the embedded metaphysical presuppositions.

Where earlier solutions laced details. God was constrained to benevolence and was distanced from the evils of creation through the interposition of natural laws. But his overall approach, to distance God from evil, was predictable. Our strong inner sense of right and wrong seems to go beyond personal opinion or preference. For the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, our innate moral sense is sufficient to prove the existence of God.

He was at different times president of the Geological Society of London, president of the British Association, and vice-master of Trinity College. Scientists and philosophers have for centuries argued that the created order is proof of an almighty Creator. Sedgwick consistently focused on morality and its link to the natural sciences.

Evolution and the Problem of “Natural Evil”

He believed that God governed by general, fixed laws in both the moral and physical worlds. This moral imperative, for Sedgwick, meant that we must keep God in view. He believed that exploring the created order is a privilege for naturalists, which they should not abuse by denying the divine hand behind creation. In one of his summer field expeditions to Wales, Sedgwick took on the young Charles Darwin. It was a good experience for Darwin, and the two men remained friends, but as Darwin matured in his studies of nature he increasingly viewed nature as anomalous, inefficient, and downright brutal.

How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to exist?

How could and all-good God create such a gritty reality? The problem was aggravated by the rather two-dimensional God the Victorians had in view. Few people promoted this doctrine of God more avidly than the orthodox Sedgwick. His main point of application was how these positive attributes are manifest in creation. The student of nature, according to Sedgwick, should find the natural world full of beauty, harmony, symmetry, and order. What are the material actions but manifestations of his power? Indications of his wisdom and his power co-exist with every portion of the universe.

They are seen in the great luminaries of heaven- they are seen in the dead matter whereon we trample. According to Sedgwick, nature was never anomalous or fortuitous. When he quoted Scripture he consistently avoided the passages that link God and evil. Sedgwick quoted the passage in Job where God reveals his power but not the passage where God reveals that the ostrich treats her young harshly because he has deprived her of wisdom.

Sedgwick and his generation had rather idyllic expectations for the natural world. What was a young naturalist like Darwin to think when he found parasites slowly torturing their hosts? Nature was turning out to be less pretty than Sedgwick had predicted, and Darwin searched for an explanation.

His solution was to distance God from creation by interposing a natural law — his law of natural selection. The problem had confounded thinkers for centuries. Little or nothing good came out of Auschwitz , for example, and nothing can compensate for it. Many thinkers, therefore, appeal to mystery at a certain point or cast their discussions as defenses rather than as theodicies. You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. Article Media.

Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Introduction Types of theodicy Common strategies Conclusion. Written By: Patrick Sherry. See Article History.

Types of theodicy According to the English philosopher and theologian John Hick , Christian theology offers two main approaches to theodicy, one stemming from the work of St. Facts Matter. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. His theodicy is thus a blend of Neoplatonic and biblical themes and shows clearly the immense influence of Neoplatonism upon Christian thought during its early formative period.

Cosmic Evolution and Evil (Chapter 8) - The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil

Both attempts have occupied the intellectual efforts of Western theologians and have inspired the highest of intellectual achievements. These attempts, however, often presumed that human reason could define the transcendent. Although theologians creatively addressed the issue, it was often simple Christian piety that served….

This creed also addresses the ever-present problem of theodicy see also evil, problem of. The change was clearly made to…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox!