Providential Evolution (RJS)

The current issue of Books and Culture contains a review of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis S. Collins provided by Alvin Plantinga, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University Notre Dame. I worked through this book a bit over a year ago (March 2011) and you can find links to the posts in the Science and Faith Archive on the side bar (this one is easy to find as it is the first book on the page). The book by Giberson and Collins is an excellent book – one I would recommend to anyone who is beginning to think through the issues raised by science.

Plantinga’s review is something of a mixed bag, some excellent points mixed in with some not so useful comments and observations, the kinds of comments and misunderstandings I wish we could move beyond. You can (and should) read Plantinga’s review itself, available here. An excellent reflection on Plantinga’s review by David Opderbeck is also worth reading.

Plantinga meanders through a number of different issues that are raised by the intersection of evolutionary biology and the Christian faith. In rather annoying fashion he emphasizes “Darwinism” and separates it from evolution, he doesn’t appear to have read what Giberson and Collins actually wrote at places, rambles off on tangents (like the vitriolic nature of some of the internet world), and throws some asides I would not expect from a scholar of Plantinga’s reputation. As an example of the latter, he notes that many will think Giberson and Collins “a bit unduly sanguine about science” … well yes, that is true, “many” generic persons probably will; but Plantinga appears to endorse that thought and gives little reflection to the fact that Collins is both an expert on evolution and a Christian, while he is a Christian and a philosopher, but quite clearly not an expert on evolution. And then there is the ever annoying “An important feature of science is that it keeps changing in the face of new evidence; this very virtue, however, makes it a bit dicey to invest total confidence in its current deliverances.” While the statement is true in a fashion, it is not true in any way that has bearing on the intersection of science and Christian faith.

On the issue of Darwinism and reading what Giberson and Collins actually wrote:

Another thesis often included under the heading of evolution is Darwinism, the thought that what drives the whole process of descent with modification is natural selection working on some form of genetic variation: the most popular candidate here is random genetic mutation. I’m inclined to think C&G endorse Darwinism, but whether they do is not entirely clear.

… As far as I can tell, they don’t present any evidence for Darwinism as distinguished from evidence for (1)-(4). And indeed the evidence for Darwinism is much more tenuous.

Giberson and Collins note that the term “Darwinism” is a misnomer, and it certainly doesn’t apply the way Plantinga uses it (p. 41). Darwin had a profoundly wrong view of inheritance, he knew nothing of genes, genetic mutation, epigenetics, or any of the multitude of “random” chemical and physical processes that provide the mechanism for the changes on which natural selection operates. Darwin’s view was qualitative, provided important new insight, but has been expanded enormously in the ensuing 150+ years. Plantinga should be more than “inclined to think” Giberson and Collins endorse the generally accepted mechanisms for evolution. The book makes it entirely clear that they do – except, of course, for the assumptions of scientific naturalism that are tacked on to the data by many, if not most, atheist or agnostic scientists. But this is a worldview assumption separate from the scientific description of evolutionary processes.

Separating “Darwinism” from evolution is one of those things we simply must move beyond. It is a rhetorical maneuver with no scientific significance.

Plantinga raises two significant issues, however. One, concerning providence and evolution, is not really an issue with the book by Giberson and Collins. It is a philosophical worldview issue of the kind Plantinga has contemplated in much of his work. Here Plantinga, Collins, Giberson, and all of Christians who look at evolutionary creation agree. The other, on death and disease as a part of the process of evolution, is a more significant issue that confronts any serious consideration of the implication of evolution for the Christian faith. Here there is not as much agreement and more nascent speculation.

Providential vs. unguided evolution. The first issue raised by Plantinga has to do with the guidedness or unguidedness of evolution. After talking around the issue for awhile, Plantinga ultimately comes to the point:

Well, does the scientific theory of evolution, apart from naturalistic glosses, include unguidedness? This question isn’t entirely easy to answer. There is no axiomatic presentation of the theory engraved on the walls of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. How does one tell precisely what the scientific theory includes? The fact (if it is a fact) that most biologists take evolution to be unguided isn’t definitive—even if most physicists thought the laws of physics were established by God, it wouldn’t follow that current physics includes the proposition that the laws of physics were established by God. …

Still, perhaps C&G don’t really have to answer this question. If the theory doesn’t include unguidedness—if unguidedness is a bit of metaphysics or theology added on to the theory by the likes of Dawkins and Dennett—then C&G have no special problem here. On the other hand, if the scientific theory does include unguidedness, C&G can properly say that they don’t endorse that theory, but only the result of subtracting unguidedness from it.

Here it seems to me that Plantinga misses the point – and that he should know better.  There is no way to attach unguidedness to any physical or natural process in a fashion that eliminates room for the action and providence of God except as a metaphysical assumption. In fact Plantinga does know better and as his comments demonstrate just a bit further down:

C&G prefer to think that God seldom if ever acts specially and directly in the world, i.e., acts beyond creation and conservation; they prefer to think that God nearly always acts through natural laws. But why think that? Perhaps God is very much a hands-on God; perhaps he is constantly acting beyond conservation and creation; and perhaps the natural laws are really no more than accounts of how he ordinarily treats the things he has made. (emphasis added)

We don’t need gaps, openness, or miracles to leave room for the action and providence of God. Room for his action is there at all times, whether through the ordinary processes of his creation or through the acts of special relationship where we see the actions of God (or his messengers) more directly.

Evolution is no more a problem for the providential action of God than any other “ordinary” process – from the development of hurricanes to the growth of an infant in its mother’s womb to the death of a sparrow.

Predation, Death and Suffering. The second issue Plantinga raises is much harder – the role of death and decay in the world. And here I think he makes an excellent point – on a problem that has not been dealt with well as of yet in any source I’ve read or heard.

There is also at least one substantial issue where C&G seem (to me, anyway) to be mistaken. On their account, of course, the world was full of predation, death, suffering, and the like long before there were human beings; hence it is hard to see how (as the tradition has usually had it) death and suffering enter the world as a result of human sin. Their suggested solution: just as God gave human beings freedom (freedom that gets regularly abused), so God gives freedom to nature and natural processes. … They think this idea has theological advantages when it comes to the problem of evil: “when nature’s freedom leads to the evolution of a pernicious killing machine like the black plague, God is off the hook.”

All of this seems dubious. …

A God given freedom in nature does not seem a satisfactory solution to the problems raised by predation, the Black Plague, cancer and more. But I also find problems with the “traditional” story that places all at the feet of the wrath of God in response to Adam’s sin. Here we need theologians and scientists and philosophers wrestling with the issues.

Perhaps we can only rest with the message given by God to Job:

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.

And respond as Job responded:

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

What problems do you find hardest when it comes to the relationship between evolution and the Christian faith?

Do you agree or disagree with Plantinga’s critique of  Giberson and Collins?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Kyle

    Hey RJS —

    Great post. I think the “freedom in creation” defense may have more potential than Plantinga thinks. It has been developed much more carefully and comprehensively by other authors (such as William Hasker) who have more philosophical training. This remains a tough issue, though, just as the preponderance of moral evil does not always seem plausibly explainable via God just “letting human free will have its run.”

  • Bev Mitchell

    I agree, our very poor understanding of  “the role of death and decay in the world” is an embarrassment, at many levels.

    “The God I Don’t Understand, Reflections on tough questions of faith” by Christopher J.H. Wright is a great help in this regard, though not in the way of providing easy answers. It does seem, however, that the spiritual warfare motif will be necessary for any satisfactory theodicy. Not many writers take this on directly, nor do they tend to extend the battle backward in time sufficiently to get the job done. Greg Boyd makes a good beginning in “Satan and the Problem of Evil”. I’m sure there have been others, and would like to hear what this group has found helpful in this area.

    As for physical death (as distinct from spiritual death) it does indeed come to us in ugly ways that cannot be God’s doing, if he is first and foremost a loving God and not, at heart, just all powerful. Biologically and chemically, the severe limitation of space (habitat) and available carbon makes recycling (death and rebirth) necessary. From a theological point of view, and still focusing on physical life, we can at least say that life itself does not die. It is sustained by a loving God in a marvelous way that involves, carbon, oxygen, cell membranes, DNA, chloroplasts, mitochondria, complex protein systems that allow cells to fix carbon, respire, regulate gene expression…….. really quite amazing. Actually life is a majestic defiance of entropy (complete disorder) and chaos.

    The touch of this loving God is everywhere in and on all of it, not in a deterministic manner, IMHO, but in a ‘making it all possible and sustaining it” manner. Disorder and chaos, physical and spiritual, can be seen as the enemy, but, according to Scripture, these are just symptoms caused by a spiritual enemy who has been in rebellion against what God wants to bring to fruition for who knows how long. Maybe we would make more progress in ‘understanding’ all of this if we see creation as a s long series of amazing possibilities made real by a loving God and, since the beginning, an unfolding, a work in progress. This unfolding made possible by God is purposely in defiance of all opposition, and, ultimately, unstoppable. If we work from the Incarnation and Resurrection backward, through the eyes of faith we can just glimpse a solution.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    Thanks for some thought-provoking insights. Since I was a philosophy major and you are a scientist, this may be the Plantinga/Giberson and Collins thing all over again 🙂 I will dare to go where angels tread (that one is for Scot 🙂

    First off, I think you taking on Plantinga is like taking on a sacred cow today. Most people put this guy on such a pedestal so I am glad you did what you did. Okay, here comes the “after saying that . . . ”

    1. I would be interested in some of your own critique of Giberson and Collins if you have any? The reason I ask is it seems or sounds like you agree with everything they say while appearing to be more critical of anything that Plantinga has to say (this is just my perception RJS and I know perceptions can often be wrong).

    For example, I really don’t see any problem with Plantinga’s words about not be overly confident in science because of new discoveries. You say Plantinga is right but what does that have to do with the exchange between science and the Christian faith? One, that might not even been Plantinga’s point specifically and I think it does have something to say about the interaction (we should hold our theology and science with some tentativeness should we not?).
    Humility and confidence need to be joined together.

    As far as separating darwinism from evolution, this is what Christian evolutionists do. Whether the conversation is more nuanced or people have evolving or different definitions of darwinism, this seems to be the move I see in Christian literature all the time. You may have a point here RJS (I really don’t know enough of the details here like you do) but all I know are Christians are trying to rightly separate their science origins view of evolution from what they see as a worlview of darwinism or scientism or naturalism or call it whatever? Is it possible that the theory of evolution can morph so much that it is something very different than what Darwin even postulated? I’m just asking because I see people who do this today with Christianity? I mean, I have run into a number of evangelists on the Internet for the idea of reconstructing Christianity under the banner of atheism. I believe you would agree with me RJS, that is not Christianity. So when you say its a rhetorical maneuver with no scientific significance, you may be right but you are going to have to unpack that one a whole lot more at least for this guy who is scratching his head.

    I do get your point about providence and unguided evolution and that made sense (and a good point at that!).

    Anyhow, I’m still processing all this!

  • Hi RJS — great post, and thanks for the link love. Plantinga is certainly an incredibly important Christian philosopher, but I agree that his review is problematic.

    Kyle — Personally I don’t think Hasker’s open theism approach works as a theodicy and I don’t think ultimately that it’s good theology. It seems to me that deterministic approaches leave you with a sadistic God, while open theism approaches leave you with a negligent God. I think we have to revert to the grammar of historic Christian theology: God’s providential ordering of creation does not exclude — indeed, includes — the causal properties of the various kinds of creatures He created, appropriate to their own natures. Analytic philosophy simply can’t resolve this tension — and personally I think this is where Plantinga’s program regarding natural theology fails. Analytic philosophy can’t abide mysteries. I think we just have to accept that God’s being is fundamentally unlike our own, so that even when we speak of Him as “final cause” we are doing so analogically.

    In fact, the language of “final cause” doesn’t even imply temporal priority — as if God was the “first” in a string of time-bound causes. It really means that God, who called creation into being, is the end towards which all creation moves and is moving. And so, I do think it’s appropriate to use some language of prolepsis — that is, the “perfection” of creation is properly viewed from its end in God, and the mystical space of the “Garden” anticipates what in God’s providence will not fully be realized until the eschaton. But I don’t think this means God set some things in motion, gave them some “freedom,” then stood back to see how they would develop (oops! things turned out badly!).

    The thing is, if we read the Fathers and Doctors, none of these issues are new. Even Augustine, who gets lots of “blame” for his view of original sin (and maybe in some respects rightly so), has a deeply nuanced philosophy of time and causation that goes way beyond simplistic historicizing.

  • CGC (#3) — good comment. Shameless plug for myself — see the link RJS posted to my reflection for some thoughts on where I think both Plantinga and Giberson / Collins go wrong!

    Let me also plug, if you’re really into philosophy, my Doctorvater Conor Cunningham’s book “Darwin’s Pious Idea.” It’s not an easy read, and it doesn’t offer satisfying answers to many questions, but it reflects a kind of philosophical theology that (I think) avoids both rationalism and fideism.

  • CGC

    Hi dopderbeck,
    Sometimes I am clueless, where specifically is the link?

  • AHH

    I agree with Kyle #1 that one should not dismiss freedom of creation (free process, kenotic, etc.) approaches to the “problem of evil” too casually. Polkinghorne has written a lot about some of these. I’m no theologian but there are smart, orthodox theologians who seem to think they have merit.
    And it’s not like the problem of evil is trivially solved in the traditional view either — one gets questions like why did got create the serpent or how it jibes with the character of God that we are made to suffer for the sins of people hundreds of generations ago.

    CGC @3, I think the “rhetorical maneuver” that RJS is referring to is the use of “Darwinism” as a pejorative metaphysical term. In science, “Darwinism” is most often used simply as a synomyn for “evolution by natural selection on variations”, with no implication one way or the other about metaphysics. The use of “Darwinism” as a synonym for “scientism” or “metaphysical naturalism” is mostly confined to Christian propagandists who then pivot and say that scientists advocating “Darwinism” (who usually are just talking about the science, not metaphysics) are advocating atheism.

    Similar rhetorical moves are made with the term “naturalism”, where anti-evolution propagandists blur the important distinction between methodological naturalism (a description of how science works, that it is limited to studying natural causes) and metaphysical naturalism (the position that only natural causes exist).
    Because of the damage done by these rhetorical tricks, our discussions on these issues would be better if the term “Darwinism” was avoided completely, along with use of the word “naturalism” without a modifier.

  • CGC

    Thanks AHH,
    That is helpful . . . .

  • CGC

    Okay David,
    I read your reflection (excellent!). Hey, sometimes I am dislexic and can’t tell people’s names from their email abbreviations 🙂

  • John W Frye

    As a pastor, neither scientist nor philosopher, I think (Hasker, Sanders, Boyd) open theism gives space for both guided and unguided evolutionary processes which find their places in the overall purposes of God. I can imagine predation, death and suffering prior to the in-breaking of the Bible’s Grand Story in which God frames the processes in a “from paradise to paradise” structure. As God reveals himself, the realities of predation, death and suffering are reframed in reference to God and the redemptive Story unfolds as we have it in the Bible. The ANE writers observed reality *as it was at their time* and shaped cosmologies and stories of destinies that made sense to them. This would be expected in the Old Testament writings as well even with our belief that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures have a unique revelatory and salvific leg up on all the competing cosmologies and eschatologies.

  • dopderbeck

    AHH (#7) and John (#10) — I don’t dismiss open or process theologies lightly, but in the end I think they don’t offer a helpful picture of God or of creation. At their worst, particularly with some process theologies, they seem to me clearly to offer a different being than the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures — i.e. they are not “orthodox.” (Before anyone jumps on this, I’m not accusing anyone of “heresy.” In the deepest sense, I mean that at the edges some of these theologies are simply “wrong thinking” and therefore “missed worship”).

    Take, for example, Moltmann’s “The Crucified God” along with his “Theology of Hope” — important sources for many of the open / process thinkers in the faith-and-science field. I very much enjoyed, learned from, and profited from both of these books. But, at the end of the day, Moltmann clearly introduces an ontological division into the Trinity — the Father does one thing, the Spirit another, and the Son another, in a way that essentially makes them three beings. The Tradition eschews this sort of division, for good reason: we worship one God, three persons in one essence, without division of will or purpose. This is important because it means the same good and beautiful and loving God who became man and died on the cross is the same good and beautiful and loving God who created the world is the same good and beautiful and loving God who is redeeming and re-creating the world….

    All that said, I would make some distinction between open and process theologies and the “kenotic” theologies AHH mentions. The notion that creation should be viewed from the perspective of the self-emptying love of God made manifest in the incarnation and the cross, I think, is valid and has deep roots in the Tradition. This in itself doesn’t imply open theism or process thought (nor does it imply anything like Moltmann’s division in the being of the Trinity). In fact, I think the only way to make sense of the kenosis is if the incarnation is God’s design from eternity, flowing always from his Triune fellowship, and not an afterthought or a “response” to some crisis. It seems to me that open theism ends up with a God who becomes incarnate to “fix” an experiment gone awry, and process theologies end up with a God who only “grows into” incarnation sort of organically. Neither of those pictures give me much confidence in God’s design for creation and new creation, and neither to me seem to reflect the Triune God revealed in Christ whom we love and worship.

  • CGC

    Hi David
    I appreciate your comments so much so I want to explore this a little more. My own limited view of open theism (and Clark Pinnock was an amazing Christian who is greatly missed), is there are three main pillars to it from my studies. One is a critigue of a static divine immutability. God can suffer and love but not as humans do. Another is God can change his mind (not His Character or being). And lastly, God does not know the whole of the future but chooses to limit himself in the area of his knowldege or foreknowledge. It is this last area that I have the greatest problem myself with open theism. I just don’t understand all of what you mean when you say open theism is about ‘fixing the world’ (couldn’t someone say that about classical theism?). I just don’t know what this is based on since there is no monolithic view of open theism?

  • RegentTim

    Someone’s insight who I have found helpful in wrestling with the existence of Predation, Death and Suffering as part of God’s good creation (presuming it can not all be attributed to sin and the fall) is Loren Wilkinson at Regent College in Vancouver. Far from providing a definitive answer, Loren Wilkinson is still very good at teasing out new ways to think about these issues from within a biblical/theological framework. Many of us wish Loren would get some of these thoughts published (he’s been working on a book for some time now), but for those interested in hearing a bit of what he has to say here’s a link to a free audio dowload from a lecture he gave back in 2003:

    It’s far from a definitive answer but I think many interested in this discussion would find value in

    Trying to find a definitive answer on the Loren Wilkinson at Regent College has been doing

  • Kyle

    It is possible to believe in “freedom of created order” theodicies without embracing open theism, I think, though the open theists of course disagree (as they disagree that human freedom is not compatible with exhaustive foreknowledge). I myself know someone who embraces a freedom of creation theology, but is not an open theist. My point is that this theodicy–setting aside for a moment the issue of foreknowledge–can be expressed much more completely and persuasively.

  • RJS

    CGC (#3),

    I’ve been quite critical of Giberson at times in the past. Some things he writes are excellent (this book and The Wonder of the Universe for example), while other things have an edge to them or overstate. I haven’t been as critical of Collins, not out of deference, but because he is quite careful about what he says (or so it seems to me). David is correct that his theological reflections are not always as well thought through as his scientific statements. This book is a general audience book though, so it isn’t exactly fair to expect a theological treatise.

    AHH addressed the question about the term “darwinism” quite well.

  • I think that the biggest problems between evolution and faith all stem from bad science.

    That is, bad theology. As cliche as its becoming to say it, to search for knowledge of God by treating the Bible like an archeological dig and comparing findings against naturalistic science is absurdly pointless.

    There is NO scientific truth who’s discovery could overturn my faith in God. Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not because I have such a firm grasp on God. It’s not that I bury my head in the sand and refuse to believe “contradictory” findings. Rather, it’s because I choose to grasp “God” so lightly, if I try to hold him at all.

    Over and over in scripture those who claim to “see” are shown to be blind and those who enter into blindness see.

    Again, please don’t misunderstand. I find great pleasure in searching scripture and trying to understand. There is great wisdom to be learned by studying “theology”. However these are not scientific truths but truths that lay in understanding an other’s true experience of God and meeting Him there. I believe ALL Truth I ultimately wrapped up in experiencing God in community with an Other. Knowledge that helps learn this is exceptionally valuable.

    As for the problem of death before “the fall”, there are many barriers in contemporary theology that must be worked through before much headway in thought will be made I’m afraid.

    I don’t see natural physical death or natural physical suffering as being directly related to sin in any way that would preclude them from existing before “the fall”. In fact, I believe that knowledge of God would be impossible without an experience of “not-God”. As light is only visible when it collides with “not-light” and creates shadows so the goodness of God only appears “good” when we have experienced what it I to lack “good”.

    In short, to create a world where He could be known as God, He has withdrawn Himself just enough to make himself visible. This felt absence of God is the common ground of all humans and the origin of the “God shaped hole” we always talk about. It seems obvious that before eating the fruit Eve still felt a distance from God. He wasnt distant, he walked with her daily, yet in some way she felt his absense. Even then she saw him only “in a mirror dimly”. She didn’t “know” him like the NT says we will in the end. It’s ironic to me that the first sin was an attempt to bridge the gap between man and God via acquiring knowledge, yet I struggle every day with this same sin.

    Creation was called “good” because it was perfectly designed to make things about God clearly known within the interplay of God’s absence and presence. But the story of the fall in the Garden teaches that all humans, though seeing the truth about God’s intimate presence in perfect relief, (Romans 1)exchange them for the lie that He is distant and Continue to “fall” so long as they reject the truth of his Nearness and Love and worship creation; seeking knowledge of the good that it merely reflects.

    Again, these are the lines of my thought of late and I hold these words lightly, knowing that He who I try to understand and describe can’t be understood or described but only compared and alluded to.

  • Tom F.

    The problem of death is a big one, but I really agree that simply laying at Adam and Eve’s feet is not a perfect solution either.

    1.) In the traditional view, God either causes or allows creation to suffer as a result of the first human sin. But surely creation itself is innocent? Isn’t it morally wrong for God to allow the evil of human beings to corrupt creation? I mean, why exactly should a lamb have to get eaten by a lion because we rebelled against God? On the other hand, if its okay that God allows creation to be affected by our sin in the traditional view, why is it such a problem when God uses death in an evolutionary view? Either way, God is using death amongst plants and animals for His purposes, and in both cases, the animals and plants are innocent and undeserving of that death. (By the way, “good” creation does not mean perfect creation in Genesis 1- there is anticipated development and elaboration.)
    2.) As RJS had pointed out previously, the presence of the snake in the garden suggests that evil already had already made an “in-road” into creation. Why? The orgin of evil is a mystery that seems to have occured before the pages of scripture begin (or at least its buried inbetween verses in Genesis 1). Why couldn’t that evil be responsible for death, and why couldn’t God use the results of that evil towards his created purposes. I mean, it doesn’t seem a problem when God makes good things out of evil circumstances today, so why not previously in creation history?

  • dopderbeck

    CGC (#12) and Kyle (#14) — so what I’m referring to re: theodicy is the notion that “natural evil,” as well as human sin and evil, are necessary possibilities if creation is given some freedom (particularly in human free will); and that if God genuinely gave some freedom to creation, again particularly in the possibility of human free will, then God would in some sense have to leave the future “open.” God is then in a sense taking a “risk” by allowing creatures to interact freely in ways that might cause harm. The fact that some creatures do in fact act freely in ways that cause harm, then, is not God’s fault; in fact, God is to be lauded for taking the “risk” of creating free creatures that are capable of love. It seems to me that this sort of theodicy fails on numerous levels — it isn’t satisfying or coherent at all, IMHO.

    First, if God really doesn’t know what will happen when he unleashes free creatures, then he shouldn’t unleash them. It’s worse if God has reason to believe such free creatures might wreak havoc, but isn’t really sure.

    Imagine that I leave a young child unattended in the woods for an evening, and that the child is eaten by ravenous wolves. I’m hoping to do some good — that the child will learn some important lessons about self-reliance, let’s say. Am I morally off the hook merely because I wasn’t sure whether the wolves might show up? Of course not. I’d be guilty of gross negligence.

    Second, a being who is not God over history is not the God of the scriptures, the God revealed in Christ, or the God of the Christian tradition broadly construed. Open theists will disagree, but I think they’re wrong on this point. The climactic vision of the scriptures is of the Triune God revealed in Christ bringing all of history to culmination in resurrection, judgment, and new creation. I don’t think that jives with open theism’s God. It most certainly doesn’t jive with process theology’s god.

    Finally, I think the epistemological and theological assumptions of open theism — and, for that matter, of any “analytic” approach to the problem of human freedom and Divine foreknowledge — are mistaken. The assumption, I think, is that we should be able to explain God’s thoughts and actions as “causes” in the same way as human thoughts and actions. But that simply isn’t so; God in His being is fundamentally different than us (transcendent).

    We can speak analogically — God's thoughts and actions as causes are like human actions and causes in some sense. But an analogy is not the thing itself. Any analogy we offer concerning God is exceeded infinitely by God in Himself. When we say "God is Love," for example, we offer a meaningful analogy that references the human experience of love, but we also have to say that God-as-Love so far exceeds human love that the analogy pales in comparison to the reality. The same is true of God's "foreknowledge" and of God as a "cause": we can speak analogically based on what we know of human knowledge and causation, but we can't simply compare Divine and human knowledge and causation in some sort of algebraic formula. Thus, to say that Divine foreknowledge is “incompatible” with human free will is really to make a category mistake. It’s not really a question of “compatibility” in some mathematical or analytic-logical sense.

    Now, to be fair, I’m staking out some particular positions here. Frankly, I see the modern project of analytic philosophical theology as largely misguided — an effort to justify God according to a standard of secular reason that already strips away God’s transcendence. I am studying and working in a vein of philosophical theology that is more “post”-modern, or really more “pre-“modern. In this sense I appreciate some of Plantinga’s work on epistemology (his notion that God is “properly basic”), even though I still go in different directions.

    Anyway — all this is contestible and controversial, but it seems to me that the better thing is to let some of the tensions lie without trying too hard to explain them away.

  • dopderbeck

    Tom (#17) — it’s not really the case that “the traditional view” lays the blame for all evil at Adam’s feet. In fact, the Fathers and other early Christian theologians recognized the evil ultimately is inexplicable, and many of them also recognized that the serpent in the Garden represented an evil of some sort prior to Adam’s fall. In fact, they did not think of “evil” as a “thing” or “substance” at all, but rather as “nothing,” an absurdity, a sort of “anti-creation.”

    It’s true that they understood “death” to have been introduced by Adam’s sin, but even here, their views are more nuanced than you might think, particularly among some such as Irenaeus who understood immortality as not inherent but conditional. Some of the early Fathers also had interesting views about “Paradise,” which they understood as in some way outside the space and time reality of the Earth as we experience it. While they certainly had no idea of “evolution” as we do, neither did they have a simplistic, entirely linear view of creation and Fall in the context of what we’d today consider “natural history.”

  • RJS


    When I mentioned the “traditional” in the original post I wasn’t getting quite as far back as the early church fathers – who were more nuanced and varied as you note. It was more a reference to the “traditional” story of 20th century evangelicalism (the traditional story so many of our contemporaries were raised with).

  • CGC

    Wow David,
    Thanks for unpacking that for me. Your divine action and causes explanation is also the same problem I have with open theists (it seems like the Calvinist worldview is still where these “consistent Arminians” as Pinnock said end up as if God knowing the future means there is no freedom and its determinism). Or maybe open theism is a kind of knee-jerk reaction to calvinism?

    As far as analogies go, I will say Open theists have their own. The classical view of God having to know everything is like a football game where God is the quarterback and has the playbooks from both teams and knows exactly what is going to happen before it happens. The Openess view is God is such a good quarterback, that no matter what the other team does, he will make a better play. At least from their perspective, this is not a view of God’s negligence.

  • dopderbeck

    CGC (#21) — I’d probably say that both “Calvinists” and “Arminians” to one extent or another inherit categories relating to the being and will of God that are distorted versions of earlier Christian theology. It’s a long story, but basically there’s a movement through the end of the Scholastic period whereby God’s will is given priority over His being (nominalism and voluntarism). The sense that creation “participates” in God starts to get lost in the shuffle. Catholic theology starts to become highly rationalistic or highly fideistic. The Reformers react against various aspects of Catholic theology and practice, but remain in this soup of nominalism and voluntarism. And so you can end up with a God who is either austerely arbitrary (some kinds of Calvinism) or a God who is so immanent that he is basically just like us (some kinds of Arminianism). All of this sets the stage for the crisis of modernity, from which we’re still recovering. Obviously that’s a gross oversimplification of a complex history, but I think it has some descriptive force. The “golden mean” recognizes the limits of our speech in these areas.

  • dopderbeck

    CGC (#21) I wanted to note this too: “The Openess view is God is such a good quarterback, that no matter what the other team does, he will make a better play.”

    That would defeat the whole program, wouldn’t it? At the end of the day, there’d be no real “risk” — God knows he can “win” and the game is rigged by the Cosmic Ringer. And there’s no “libertarian freedom” either — again, the game is rigged.

  • Kyle


    It is important to keep in mind that open theism is quite distinct from process theology. But at any rate, I was plugging more the notion of probabilistic/indeterministic laws (natural-order theodicies) than I was open theism as a theodicy. There seems to be nothing wrong with the former theologically–just as there is indeterminism in human freedom, there can be indeterminism in nature.

    You said: “I think we have to revert to the grammar of historic Christian theology: God’s providential ordering of creation does not exclude — indeed, includes — the causal properties of the various kinds of creatures He created, appropriate to their own natures.”

    Natural-order theodicies are consistent with this, and indeed affirm this very thing: the causal laws from from God, just as human freedom, and the concomitant causal powers, come from God. However, just as with human freedom, natural-law theodicies suggest that there is some indeterminacy built into the rest of creation as well. Here we have to be careful to distinguish between ontological and epistemic indeterminacy. It may be that God knows the future of the unfolding of creation (and guides it) just as He knows future free choices of human freedom. But that is compatible with free choices, and creation, having metaphysical indeterminism and “freedom” built in–freedom that is said to justify certain goods that can only happen if such a system were in place.

    You said: “Analytic philosophy simply can’t resolve this tension — and personally I think this is where Plantinga’s program regarding natural theology fails. Analytic philosophy can’t abide mysteries. I think we just have to accept that God’s being is fundamentally unlike our own, so that even when we speak of Him as “final cause” we are doing so analogically.”

    Well, as an analytic philosopher, I have no problem with mystery–and I suspect Plantinga has no problem with it as well :). We recognize the classical theological that all language about God is analogical, and we realize that there will always be tensions and mysteries in Christian faith. At its best, analytic philosophy and theology just seeks to use clear terminology and careful inferences.

  • Kyle

    “The sense that creation “participates” in God starts to get lost in the shuffle.”

    Again, this *precisely* the kind of thing natural-law theodicies are after. Creation–both non-humans and humans–“participates in God” in its unfolding. As such, it is given some freedom to do that very thing. This freedom allows for certain goods, but it means God must permit certain evils as well. God still providentially steers the world, of course, but He does not determine everything that happens, either in creation or in human beings.

  • Kyle

    “First, if God really doesn’t know what will happen when he unleashes free creatures, then he shouldn’t unleash them. It’s worse if God has reason to believe such free creatures might wreak havoc, but isn’t really sure.”

    I’m not an open theist, but couldn’t a ready response be: “Yes, but is it any better if God knows exactly the evils that will certainly happen, including perhaps the damnation of some, and yet He creates anyways?” I don’t think either view is straightforwardly better, here.

  • CGC

    Hi David,
    I think you are brilliant and on this issue, I think we are in the same place. I will add, be careful in your own reasoning towards others. Not only your response in #23, but it seems several of them could be said by others from different theological traditions to even atheists against Christians in Christians conceptions of reality, creation, and God.

    For example, if God is the superior or best player, does that mean that any superior or better player in sports mean the game is rigged? I think your point about “risk” is well taken but I do fear that some of us who have been greatly educated use arguments that at the end of the day, I for one at least am not sure are always the best much less fair?

    Many open theists are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would even contend that I probably am closer to some of them theologically than I am to some of the hard-core Calvinists I run into. I understand about pushing others towards consistency but I often think many of our own arguments just as much cut against our own positions as they do others. So all I am saying is be careful.

    I say all this with fear and trembling because I would rather just sit back and learn from others like you who bring such wonderful insights and helpful and corrective perspectives to the table. I for one really am humbled by so many on this list who bring great wisdom and so much knowledge to so many topics.


  • dopderbeck

    CGC (#27) — I hope I’m not coming across as overly harsh. Clear and assertive, yes; harsh, no. BTW I think it’s important that we learn from atheists and other critics — sometimes their concerns are real ones that we need to hear. (A good book on this — Merold Westphal’s “Suspicion and Belief: The Religious Uses of Atheism).

  • dopderbeck

    Kyle (#25) — I don’t think what you’re calling natural-law theodicies are interested in “participation” in the theological sense that I’m using it. As I understand it, a natural law theodicy says a universe with stable natural laws must unavoidably produce some suffering; and God is not responsible for something that is unavoidable. Of course there are at least two major objections in terms of the assumptions here: (1) God was not required to create anything and if suffering is inevitable God shouldn’t have created at all; and (2) God could continually intervene to suspend the natural laws when suffering will result. Objection (1) seems to me pretty strong (objection (2) not so much, since a world in which God constantly intervenes wouldn’t be very stable).

    But even aside from those objections, it seems to me that the supposed “natural laws” here are in some sense independent of God’s being. They operate like a priori rules that govern God. Whereas, in the classical and Patristic Christian tradition, creation is ontologically distinct from God, but participates in God’s being, as it unfolds towards its telos, in which God will be “all in all.” “Natural laws,” then, are always and ever “contingent” on God’s being and will — which really is the meaning of creation ex nihilo.

    BTW are we confusing “natural law” and “freewill” theodicies here? A “freewill” theodicy seems one of the stronger ones to me, but it can’t work as Plantinga suggests, because it manifestly is not empirically the case that all natural evil follows temporally upon human sin (the “Fall”).

  • CGC

    Thanks David,
    Yes, I really enjoyed Westphal’s book. I don’t know what you or others may think about this but as one who believes being a Christian needs to be first self-critical, I have not liked how Christians have used the Bible verse about the fool has said in his heart as a ploy to ridicule atheists. Actually, I have always suspected in its larger context, especially the prophets where Israel says they follow God but their hearts are far from him, that this scripture is really aimed at God’s people who say with their lips they follow God, but their hearts are far from God and thereby we are the fools.

  • dopderbeck

    Kyle (#24) said: At its best, analytic philosophy and theology just seeks to use clear terminology and careful inferences.

    I respond: fair enough! But I do think there’s a tendency (a strong tendency, I think!) in analytic philosophical theology to place the grammar of human logic above any other source of truth. Obviously this is a thicket of weeds, but I think this is tied to some theories of language and epistemology that inform analytic theology and that are overly rationalistic.

  • CGC

    Hi David and Kyle,
    Wouldn’t Wittenstein be better model to follow than A. J. Ayers?

  • dopderbeck

    Kyle (#26) said: couldn’t a ready response be: “Yes, but is it any better if God knows exactly the evils that will certainly happen, including perhaps the damnation of some, and yet He creates anyways?” I don’t think either view is straightforwardly better, here.

    I respond: right. There’s no slam dunk answer. Putting my “Continental” philosophy of religion hat on: the project of “theodicy” is ultimately mistaken and doomed to being with. You can’t rationally explain “evil,” which by definition (I would argue), is irrational and absurd.

    That said, I do think the eschatological perspective of Christian theology begins to put some of this in perspective: this creation, with its suffering, is not the end of the story. Yes, we certainly have to deal with the problem of judgment and damnation, and to the extent we can try to make sense of it I think some sort of “freewill” response is helpful (I tend to like the Eastern Orthodox view of Hell as the experience of the pain of God’s love when one tries to fight against it). Yes, we have to deal with consequentialist-type objections that no final joy is worth the burden of the suffering of the present (honestly, this seems impossible to me to assert — who but God could know?).

    I’d offer things like this tentatively and then turn to Job and to Paul’s doxology in Romans 11. And ultimately — isn’t all this about a more basic question: “Can the God revealed in Jesus Christ be trusted?” Channeling my “Continental” side again: Kierkegaard, etc., as well as Barth, etc.: there is an existential point of surrender (“point” is a bad word — an ongoing, daily, moment-by-moment experience) at which all the mysteries simply must be laid at the foot of the cross, or not.

  • Tom F.


    Thanks for the interactions, I was somewhat caricaturing the “traditional” view, for sure. I guess by traditional, I meant the sort of story that I hear most folks who are really concerned about evolution talk about, the sort of view that sees any death at all that is pre-fall as being a threat to Christian orthodoxy.

  • John Inglis

    I’d say that the “grammar” of human logic is a reflection or refraction of God’s own being, which is logical. God is transcendent, but also immanent and so our logic is not entirely unlike God’s.

    It seems to me that Opderbeck’s dour view of analytic philosophy is suggestive of a focus on the anti-metaphysical viewpoints of the Vienna Circle, their emphasis on the formality of logic and mathematics to determine truths /Truth, and their turn toward logical empiricism with a concomitant view that a post-Kantian distinction between analytic and synthetic would be able to combat foundationalism and do some useful epistemological work (especially with “a priori” knowledge). The Vienna Circle had an important influence because of its members’ distinctions between philosophy and science (though not all approached or developed the distinctions in the same way).

    Analytic philosophy is, however, much wider and more varied than Opderbeck’s criticism of it suggests. Furthermore, since language is essential to communication an analysis of language in the forms undertaken by analytic philosophers is a very important step in developing and understanding of something or someone (e.g., God). G.E. Moore is an analytic philosopher who practised an “informal” rather than “formal” approach, and who undertook very careful examinations of philosophical and related problems. It is this aspect of analytic philosophy–the careful delineation and investigation of a problem–that one of its most useful fruits.

    I find that Opderbeck often caricatures and stereotypes arguments, positions and people with which he disagrees and so gives short shrift to their concerns and is too quickly dismissive of the arguments involved. For example, he calls young earth creationists “quacks” and “IDers” “flacks” and states that the project of “theodicy” is ultimately mistaken and doomed. In regard to the latter, it obviously depends on what one defines the project to be, and neither I (nor many others) hold such a pessimistic view about theodicy(ies).

    I’m not quite as confident as Opderbeck, nor as RJS, about evolution either way. I don’t think Plantinga is either, but that circumspection is what he is being faulted for, as well as the nature of his argumentation. Plantinga’s works and style of argumentation make extensive use of defeaters to arguments and the concept of defeasibility. Consequently, Plantinga’s approach is to raise arguments that are possible defeaters without necessarily working them out. RJS’s criticisms on that point are, therefore, an exercise in missing the point. Missing the point is also what comes to mind in her evaluation of Plantinga’s “review” of the book, as if failing to write the kind of review she wanted is blameworthy error. Plantinga was not, evidently, to write a standard book review that one might find at the end of an academic quarterly (see his 10 April 2010 letter to the editor in which he address that claims by Michael Ruse that he (Plantinga) doubts the veracity of evolution).

    It is not accurate either to say that Plantinga’s use of “Darwinism” is a misnomer, since it is used in a wide variety of ways by scientists, including as a short hand for evolution and modern evolutionary theories. The Biologos website defines evolution simply as “descent with modification”, claims that Darwin also believed in it and that his major contribution was the concept of natural selection.

    Plantinga has previously stated that he could go either way on evolution (God could’ve used it; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t). Hence Plantinga’s project in writing about this issue is not to argue for one view or the other, but to probe the thinking at work.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    John (#35) said: God is transcendent, but also immanent and so our logic is not entirely unlike God’s.

    I respond: Right; and that is why I stressed that theology is analogical. But still, the analogy is not the thing itself. I am channeling Aquinas here, or at least my take on Aquinas, so I’m certainly not against reason.

    John said: It seems to me that Opderbeck’s dour view of analytic philosophy is suggestive of a focus on the anti-metaphysical viewpoints of the Vienna Circle

    I respond: Interesting, but no. It’s meant to be reflective of the metaphysical viewpoints of the Church Fathers and Doctors. Undoubtedly, I fail miserably in articulating it, but I’m precisely the opposite of “anti”-metaphysical.

    John said: I find that Opderbeck often caricatures and stereotypes arguments, positions and people with which he disagrees and so gives short shrift to their concerns and is too quickly dismissive of the arguments involved.

    I respond: probably true, particularly in blog comments.

    John said: but that circumspection is what he [Plantinga] is being faulted for

    I respond: sort of. Really, it’s more about his way of defining “evolution.” There’s nothing to be “circumspect” about with respect to well-established empirical realities, unless one is a non-realist, which Plantinga is not. The general paradigm of descent with modification over deep time is too well supported for “circumspection.” My problem with Plantinga is that he seems to import well-founded doubts about the question of teleology in evolution into ill-founded doubts about the empirical facts of evolution, all by playing with the meaning of the term “evolution.” Frankly, I think it’s a tiresome trope.

    John says: Plantinga’s works and style of argumentation make extensive use of defeaters to arguments and the concept of defeasibility. Consequently, Plantinga’s approach is to raise arguments that are possible defeaters without necessarily working them out.

    I respond: And to me, this illustrates one of the great problems with his method of analytic philosophical theology. His free will theodicy with respect to natural evil illustrates this in spades, I think. So, sure, if God had created a perfect paradise without predation and so on, and if human free will were the only cause of that paradise being spoiled, then the logical argument against God based on natural evil might be defeated. But so what? Manifestly, none of those “if” conditions are empirically true. I think philosophical theology has to be phenomenological — that is, to describe phenomena as we observe them — and not hermetically logical.

    John says: It is not accurate either to say that Plantinga’s use of “Darwinism” is a misnomer, since it is used in a wide variety of ways by scientists, including as a short hand for evolution and modern evolutionary theories.

    I respond: I think this is a fair point, but it illustrates in my mind a problem with Plantinga’s work on evolution as well as a problem with atheist scientists who are would-be philosophers. Instead of continuing to perpetuate this confusion, shouldn’t we be clear about articulating a metaphysic that coheres with the phenomena of creation as they are observed? Fair game to criticize scientists who use “Darwinism” as a metaphysical system. Not helpful to perpetuate that confusion.

    Finally, to be clear, as I said above, there’s no doubt that Plantinga is an incredibly important Christian philosopher, and I’m sympathetic to his view that God is “properly basic,” though I wouldn’t express it just that way. And as I’ve also said, he is right to criticize the often sloppy theology and philosophy of folks like Giberson and Collins. But I find his work on faith and science really disappointing.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW I just saw this article on ABC Religion and Ethics from Conor Cunningham, with whom I study, on similar themes:

    Note that he does reference Plantinga’s argument against naturalistic epistemology, which I agree has some merit, though maybe it tries to prove to much. But what I like about what Cunningham does is that he isn’t questioning the phenomenon of “evolution” but rather takes it in and turns naturalism on its head using those very phenomena — with reference to figures like Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor.

  • John Inglis

    I thank Opderbeck for his thoughtful reply.

    Opderbeck and I agree on the importance of logic in this world. My reference to logic was intended to emphasis how deep the connection is between our logic and God’s logic. In this regard, see for example, “The Lord of Noncontradiction” by James N. Anderson and Greg Welty in “Philosophia Christi”, v. 13, n. 2 (2011). I believe that God has given us a great deal to work with in order to enable us to understand and relate to him immanently. Of course, this does not mean that we can understand all, and so much of God remains transcendent and beyond us.

    I apologize for not being clear enough re early analytic philosophers; I did not mean to imply that Opderbeck was anti-metaphysical. What I meant was that Opderbeck seems overly negative to and disparaging of analytic philosophy. It seemed to me this could be because of the well known anti-metaphysical stance of the Vienna Circle and other early analytic philosophers. However, the initial philosophical commitments of many in the movement (logical positivism, etc.), are no longer shared by contemporary analytic philosophers—nor have they been for decades. Nowadays, analytic philosophy refers more to methodology, and so has a very positive connotation. Indeed, even so-called continental philosophers have applied the careful methodology to their craft.

    The apparent confusion with respect to the persons, movement, philosophy, and methodology of analytic philosophy arises again in Opderbeck’s reply when he writes, “one of the great problems with his method of analytic philosophical theology”. The statement seems to conflate methodology with philosophical commitment and perhaps with the movement in general.

    Analytic philosophers no longer have core philosophical commitments the way early members of their movement did (which I would start with B. Russell and G. Moore, though Frege was obviously a heavy influence). However, the general method of analytic philosophy is careful delineation of problems and defining of terms and relations. I fail to see how Plantinga is any different in this regard from other analytic philosophers or how such a method moves him to a particular theodicy. One can combine analytic methodology with “continental” approaches that focus on phenomenology, etc. (Husserl and the like). The two are not mutually exclusive

    Not only does Plantinga’s analytic philosophy methodology not drive him to a particular theodicy, it is not the case that he posits an initial perfect paradise without predation. Plantinga’s thinking did not end with his 1974 article “God, Freedom, and Evil” and, moreover, he was addressing at that time a particular framing of the problem (the logical problem of evil). In later writings Plantinga has put forth the possibility that natural evils are the result of the immoral actions of non-human agents (Satan, etc. See also R. Allen, “St. Augustine’s Free Will Theodicy and Natural Evil”, Ars Disputandi , Volume 3 (2003), wherein he references Plantinga and further develops this idea). Hence the critique of Plantinga on this count fails.

    Opderbeck’s concedes that “Darwinism” is used by scientists to refer generally to evolution, though he appears to suggest that this is primarily in a metaphysical sense (scientists trying to philosophize, etc.), and that confusion has resulted. I disagree. And I disagree that Plantinga or other theologians are furthering a confusion about this word (but I’m not denying methodological and metaphysical issues in evolution). Words are like empty cups, which have to be filled to have meaning. We have to look at how the term has been used for there is no definition in the abstract. “Darwinism” has been used in various senses, but primarily it has been used by scientists to refer to evolution generally (in the sense of common descent, natural variation, natural selection, fitness) without regard to or worrying about whether metaphysical commitments are entailed.

    Plantinga has observed this fact, and noted that Darwinism does not necessarily entail a materialist commitment, that commitment being a separate aspect of the secular university approach to science. For example, in Depew and Weber’s paper, “The Fate of Darwinism: Evolution After the Modern Synthesis” they use this definition, “Darwinism refers to its author’s proposed causal explanation of evolution — natural selection — and to theories in which this process plays the dominant role in evolution, including human evolution” (Biological Theory, v. 6, n. 1, 2011). Even apart from the definition, the title puts the two terms in apposition, assuming that scientists reading the journal will get the meaning.

    Though Plantinga’s writings about evolution are not his core interest, and not the main part of his oeuvere, I do find them insightful and useful. So, on this point, Opderbeck and I will have to agree to disagree.

    Lastly, “probably” Opderbeck caricatures other viewpoints? No, in fact he has (young earth quacks, etc., on his blog and in his posts and comments). I suppose that his response could be taken at least two ways: he is excusing his behaviour because it’s blogging (though I doubt this was what McLuhan meant by the substantive nature of the medium), or he is acknowledging that he falls short of a normally higher standard. I hope it is some variation of the latter, as I believe that even in blogging we should aim for what S. McKnight writes in his post on “Theologians Thinking with Scientists”: “What can we do at the local church level? I begin with this: if we want to influence a generation with an intellectual embrace of orthodox Christian faith and responsible science, we have to avoid satire, insults, and ridicule.”

  • robert bridges

    When I first saw the topic headline I had to suppress a chuckle. “Does God Evolve?” One would like to think so – one would like to think that our god ideas could and would evolve as we evolve. Obviously, that isn’t happening. So, next question: “Does god direct evolution?” See above.

    The “problem’ does not lie in either theology or science. It lies in our limited and largely fear-based human mind. Of course theology is grounded in this same flawed human mind as is science. Put simply, we do the best we can considering that we operating mostly in the dark.

    A while back I started to re-read old seminary and grad school theological texts. Specifically, I started re-reading works by John Cobb (a process theologian). It was clear after a bit that while the theoretical speculations and flights of fancy Cobb was reaching for was internally consistent with God-talk as long as JC was left out of the picture. But when Cobb and others try to show the need and logical necessity for JC and the whole salvific journey and to plug that into a decidedly post-modern theological re-construction – it all comes crashing down like a house of cards.

    Theology is simply not capable of answering these questions – science moves slowly – the human mind demands instant answers – instant gratification – and ours’ is a life based on fear and a desperate clinging to what is “known.” God cannot be grasped – theology attempts to know god and to wrap the concept neatly up and be done with it. We the people like certainty – we like good endings to our stories – living by faith is damn difficult and not a lot of fun. So, does god evolve or has a hand in evolution?

    Does such a question truly matter?

  • Kyle


    “There’s no slam dunk answer. Putting my “Continental” philosophy of religion hat on: the project of “theodicy” is ultimately mistaken and doomed to being with. You can’t rationally explain “evil,” which by definition (I would argue), is irrational and absurd.”

    I think you have misunderstood the project of theodicy. Theodicy does not purport to be able to *explain* fully the nature of evil. Surely there will always be mystery surrounding evil. Nor does theodicy deny that evil is fundamentally irrational and absurd on many levels. Nor does theodicy pretend to be able to plumb the depths of divine wisdom in order to provide, with certainty, the actual and sole reasons God has permitted evil. Rather, what theodicy aims to do is seek out *possible morally sufficient reasons* for God’s permission of evil. In other words, theodicy hopes to show that God’s reasons to permit are morally justified. Though evil is irrational, surely *God* is not irrational, and surely God must have good reasons for permitting evil. *That’s* the point of theodicy.