Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Outside the Box has a post on the problem of death, disease, starvation, animals eating one another, and other such facets of the natural world that drive evolution. Can such a process be viewed as the work of a benevolent God?

Here’s what I wrote in response to his post (I also left it as a comment on that blog):

It is not simply evolution that poses this problem. The fact that countless organisms starved to death, were eaten by other animals, and so on may be a key part of the mechanism of evolutionary development, but the mechanism is clearly there all around us, visible and undeniable, regardless of whether one accepts evolution or not. So denying that something good came of all this through evolution doesn’t really mitigate the problem, and may make it worse.

Of course, young-earth creationists would claim that God gave T-Rex teeth and made harmful viruses and bacteria at the fall as a punishment. But once again (ignoring for a moment the other reasons why such a viewpoint is problematic), I have to ask whether that claim, rather than these being natural products of a world that is capable of giving rise to intelligent life, really helps lessen the problematic character of what we find in nature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07225890125470949454 Bad

    The more and more I think about it, the more I think that the confusion of justice and moral good with what is essentially revenge is the central ethical problem of our times. The idea that somehow causing harm is an ethically appropriate, “deserved,” and just response to harm caused in the first place, rather than a necessary or practical evil (for deterrence), is deeply embedded in our culture, and yet deeply insane when considered ethically. The embrace of ideas like eternal suffering for unbelief is something I hope will one day be seen as shocking and primitive. For now, though, the idea that having things tear each other apart and suffer is a sensible and meaningful consequence of them not being perfect in the first place will continue to be taken seriously by all too many theologians and politicians.

  • Anonymous

    I have heard this variation on it:It isn’t so much that suffering and death occur in nature, but that the theory of evolution makes those into the productive force in the world of life. It is a greater problem than merely the existence of evil in the world, for that evil to be the source of life as we know it.(By the way, I do not ascribe to this point of view. I am merely reporting it.)Tom S.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    To me, this is where process theology comes in handy. Instead of seeing God as having magically created from scratch a world with all these various rules involving the pain and suffering that we experience (thus making God directly responsible for such suffering), I instead see God luring into existence the evolutionary world by offering creative possibilities. If God is not a magical omnipotent deity, then he/she is not the cause of the suffering per se; rather, God’s modus operandi is to call forth the evolution of the universe, and it is through the collective creative processes of the world itself and of God’s call of the world that we have what we ended up with. It is not that God chose the suffering to happen, but rather that God saw the possibilities of suffering that might occurs through the evolutionary process as a cost that was outweighed by the possibility of evoking into being ever greater forms of self-organization and self-awareness. For God to do nothing, to not evoke the universe into being at all, was less desirable than evoking a self-organized, creatively expanding world. If God had his/her way, my guess is there would be no suffering in the world, but the suffering took place as part of the world that creatively emerged during these processes.

  • http://blogs-r.us/bioblog/ gillt

    Your position Mystical makes impossible the ideal of an omnipotent god who creates from nothing. What I don’t get though is this strange justification for evil (or whatever you call what spongiform prions do to a calf’s brain) to novelty or divine creativity: we’re all working on our masterpiece, but not atop a mound of corpses. I can’t write off the immense amount of suffering in the world with the “break a few eggs” truism.I say if god is only the first cause–if he’s not directly responsible for second cause activities–then subpoena him for questioning before he gets any more bright ideas.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Your position Mystical makes impossible the ideal of an omnipotent god who creates from nothing. That’s correct. I don’t believe in an omnipotent God who creates from nothing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    I can’t write off the immense amount of suffering in the world with the “break a few eggs” truism.I say if god is only the first cause–if he’s not directly responsible for second cause activities–then subpoena him for questioning before he gets any more bright ideas.That seems to suggest that it would have been better off if we had never existed. I disagree. Despite the suffering and evil that exists in the world, I think that it is a better thing that we exist than that we didn’t exist. My suggestion is that this is God’s point of view as well. This is not, however, a justification for evil. On the contrary, my position is that God does not approve of the evil that emerged out of the creative processes of the universe, and that God at every step has tried to lure the universe away from all forms of evil. But the fact that evil exists despite what God intends is not in and of itself a reason for God not to have lured the world into being. God would prefer that no eggs be broken, but unfortunately some did get broken. God’s position is that it is better to have made that omelet anyway, and I agree. I am glad that I am alive, even if the world is imperfect.As for the last part of that statement, think I need to be clearer on what you mean by “first cause” vresus “second cause”. Since I don’t believe in creation ex nihilo, I don’t see any distinction between “first cause” and “second cause.” My view is that God’s role has always been the same, from the beginning until now, and that this role is as not coercive interventionist who created the universe out of nothing, but as that which offers possibilities towards the creative activity of the universe.

  • http://blogs-r.us/bioblog/ gillt

    For a more complete explanation of causes I’ll direct you to this explanation. read John Wilkin’s blog “Evolvihng Thoughts” the post on Darwin, God and ChanceAnd not that we have never existed, but that if god was a beneficent creator then he could have created the best of all possible worlds. Ours, I would argue, isn’t the best of all possible worlds. Therefore god is evil or not a creator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10828225180668865911 Mystical Seeker

    Ours, I would argue, isn’t the best of all possible worlds. Therefore god is evil or not a creator.I would agree with you if I believed that God were omnipotent. But since I do not believe in an omnipotent God, that argument doesn’t follow.


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