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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 4)
This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class. Here is the second question and part one of my answer.
Click HERE for Part 1.
Click HERE for Part 2.
Click HERE for Part 3.
Exam Question: This entire course has been aimed at addressing the particular problem of evolutionary suffering. As precisely as you can, describe this problem in relation to evolutionary theory (its cause, its range, its challenge, its distinctiveness, etc.).
[its distinctiveness] There seems to be a bit of a difference regarding the fact that there is suffering in the world of nature versus the fact that there is suffering in humans. Whether or not there should be a difference is the topic of another essay. However, one thing is certain. More work has been done theologically with the problem of suffering in humans than has been done with analyzing suffering in all the rest of creation.
This points to one aspect of the problem which is that humans are basically anthropocentric. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve looked at the human piece more than the other. I myself have spent most of my time studying the problem of evil in relation to humankind and almost no time in relation to nature. Even when I did spend time on nature it was usually things like natural disasters that had a disastrous effect on humans, usually ignoring the devastating effects on others in God’s creation.
However, I don’t think that the fact of selfishness is a distinctive feature. I see that in evolution there is rampant selfishness, as pointed out by Dawkins in Foster’s work. However, even though there is selfishness that has infected both humans and non-humans, it’s only on the human side that we should expect to see a rising out of this conundrum. More on that in a second.
One question we need to ask first is whether there is evil in nature? I agree with Reynhout’s assessment that to call disvalues in nature evil is a category mistake. I don’t see animals having the same moral ability and therefore responsibility as humans have. Because of this ability and responsibility humans also have the ability to sin. Sin is evil. However, animals can’t sin in my theology. So, when a lion brutally attacks, kills and eats a gazelle, or when an orca playfully kills its prey, I don’t think it is evil. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that there is something not right in all of that, though. I’m different in my thinking here than people like Rolston and Sideris. I am hopeful that someday those disvalues will no longer be a part of creation.
So, the most salient difference that I see between the human realm and the non-human realm as it relates to this question is the existence or the type of free will. Presumably, at least some, although not all, suffering in the human world can be attributed to human sin. But this can’t so easily be done in the animal kingdom, for example. Nor can it be done in a single celled ameba (I hope I’ve gotten my science right here!) It seems impossible to make a case that these forms of life have the same kind of free will, if they have any free will at all, as humans do. So, I suggest that the main difference in the suffering topic on the nature side is the existence or type of free will.
McFague, whom I criticize but whom I also regard as a person with great erudition, seems to have tapped into at least a bit of my idea of responsibility and accountability here. She says, “The only difference between us and the rest of creation is that the others reflect God, tell of God, simply by being, whereas we must will that it be so (The Dearest…, 113). She assumes here that both humans and non-humans are in a state that is not full, there is something missing, something that we are striving towards. However, humans have the extra responsibility, due to the extra capacity we have, to align our actions with the Trinitarian God’s character.