Evolution Doesn’t Make the Problem of Evil Worse

Evolution Doesn’t Make the Problem of Evil Worse December 27, 2012

I continue to encounter – and to find incredibly puzzling – the claim that depicting God creating through evolution portrays God less favorably than depicting God creating directly and instantaneously. Here is why:

In either view of creation, the world includes suffering, starvation, carnivores eating other animals, parasites devouring hosts alive, illnesses of a variety of sorts, and much pain.

While there is no evidence that the world ever contained living things but lacked the above, even if one accepted that, one would still have to envisage God creating all of the above, allegedly in response to human sin. That is, the “curse” mentioned in Genesis 3. That these things are brought about by sin directly is not only unbiblical but baffling nonsense that no one actually believes. No one thinks that by sinning human beings can themselves turn herbivores into carnivores, or actually bring into existence a flesh-eating virus, do they? The only way to posit that disease and earthquakes and tornados and death and everything else came into the world “as a result of sin” is to say that God deliberately willed or allowed those things into the world in response to human sin as a punishment.

How does that make God any less the author of those things? It doesn't. And so why does envisaging God doing that deliberately, precisely in order to inflict pain and suffering, seem more appropriate to some creationists than the view that God creates that way because it produces the sort of world full of diverse life and freedom that Christian theology says is a central purpose of creation?

The attempt to say that evolution is a problem for theology or for the philosophical problem of evil, or even that it aggravates theological and philosophical problems related to God, is in my opinion a sham. The suffering that evolution talks about is there anyway. The question is whether, as the Bible itself suggests, there is a God who works all things together for good and brings good out of suffering, or conversely, as according to young-earth creationists and their ilk, there is a God who inflicts harm simply for the sake of causing pain and suffering.

But either way the suffering in the world is there for us to observe, and so needs to be accounted for by both views of God and creation. It is time to stop letting young-earth creationists and other prompters of pseudoscientific and pseudobiblical nonsense get away with pretending that the pain and suffering in our world are not a problem for their viewpoint as they are for others.

Because in actual fact, if anything, they should be more of a problem for them than for anyone else. If you don't see a problem with claiming that a loving God selectively inflicted cancer on all varieties of living things for generations to come because two human beings sinned in the past, then you clearly have not grasped what the theological issues are, or given the issue the thought that it is due.


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  • Tim

    This post shows a severe lack of the theological understanding of sin. Sin distorts everything. It’s not humans sinning that has produced a fallen world. It’s sin itself.

    • How does human sin, on your view, bring into existence parasites that lay their eggs in other organisms, which are then devoured alive? How does human sin bring malaria and polio and smallpox into existence? I do not think that you have thought this through.

      • Tim

        James you are missing my point. Human actions do not cause those things. Creation is fallen which means that sin has distorted everything including nature. In the Garden nature was not adversarial to humanity or to itself. Now it is. Not because of daily human sin but because of the fallen nature of creation.

        • How do you envisage that taking place? How does human sin affect the nature of other organisms, in your view?

          • Tim

            I feel like we are talking past one another.

            Humans chose to reject God. Because of that choice all creation fell since the earth was created for us. So now we have an adversarial relationship with nature and nature itself is fallen which is why there is much ugliness in nature.

          • rmwilliamsjr


            Because of that choice all creation fell since the earth was created for us.

            this only makes sense in a cosmology that is: very young & very small. as humans discovered not only the immensity of the universe but the existence of deep time these ideas that the earth was created for us, or that humans could somehow effect the whole world became more problematic.

            the fundamental issue is how do we learn about this universe? by studying it or by trying to believe the same as the ancient Hebrews that wrote the book of Genesis.

          • Tim

            No it makes sense in the long view as well. Of course you can just dismiss Genesis but then you might as well just dismiss all of scripture.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            step back a moment from your understanding of genesis. why must someone who asks the question: is God teaching a very young earth or is He using the existing dominant cosmology? be “dismissing” Genesis? why does challenging the worldview of the ancient authors of Genesis be “dismissing” all of Scripture? why must you believe in an ancient cosmology in order to honor God?

            see how brittle you make your interpretation of Genesis? you essentially say that unless someone takes your specific interpretation-YEC- then not only is Genesis at stake but the whole of the Bible? you are building this enormous interpretation right on the edge of a slippery slope by your own design, so that any challenge to the smallest part of your interpretation is a challenge to the whole edifice. this is brittleness, this is the slippery slope to unbelief, i believe it is a deliberate attempt to stifle thought, to prevent people from questioning anything in the system because they are afraid of losing faith if they doubt any piece of the puzzle.

            i find such thinking not only dangerous but literally brittle.

          • Tim

            I never said I was yec. I said the view of sin, original sin and the fall are not dependent on it as you suggested.

          • Tim, we are not talking past each other, at least not yet. You just keep asserting your view. I am asking you to actually explain what those words you are using mean, what they imply, what you envisage having happened. I am asking you to justify your assertion and to explain why anyone ought to accept it. It doesn’t fit what the Bible says, what science uncovers, nor logic. It doesn’t even seem that the words you are using actually make sense. I am waiting for you to offer an explanation amd justification of your view. At that point, perhaps we shall find ourselves talking past one another. But at this point you seem to just be repeating language you have heard without reflecting on what if anything it means. You will need to do that before we can actually be said to be having a two-way conversation.

          • Tim

            I don’t know how to say it any other way. The words are as clear and as simple as they can be IMO.

            You make a terrible assumption by thinking I have not studied this myself extensively. The only thing I can think of is that you reject a
            Original Sin. If so then we are at an impasse. Everything I said is backed up scripturally.

          • Just saying that your view is backed up Scripturally is something that any and every sort of false teacher claims, and so is obviously not enough. If you cannot explain what you mean and what you envisage happening when you say that sin can cause new life forms to come into existence, then why should anyone accept that claim? It isn’t found in the Bible, and even you yourself seem not to understand what it means.

          • Justin Boulmayj


            If that’s the only thing that you can think of, then I’d respectfully suggest that you keep reading and looking for answers. I think James has raised some good points in his post that deserve further discussion.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            Humans chose to reject God.

            look carefully at the story in Gen 2-3. all humans are not disobeying God. a single pair is. from this episode much(but not all) of Christianity has built a theory of federal headship, a primarily legal system idea that God somehow sees all of humanity in these 2 people. this idea of federal headship is woven primarily from ideas of Paul in romans 5 and 1cor 15, it (afaik) never occurs in either temple Judaism or rabbinic. it has it’s roots in roman legal theory, and taking eponymous heads as literal roots of a people,

            but again look carefully at the story of adam&eve, your theology is “filling in the gaps”, it’s a simple story of a single couple, not the story of all humanity, not even the story of all humanity alive at that time, just a representative couple. from them you wish to hang death and suffering for the whole universe? a large burden indeed for a story that seems designed to answer the question for the jews of where did we come from?

          • Tim

            As is said to James. If you reject Original Sin then we remain at an impasse.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            there are many ideas of original sin, the roman catholics have one, as do mormons, most american evangelicals share yet another one. my interest in merely in understanding the ideas as best i am able. i don’t see striving to understand as an impasse, just a beginning. i hope i don’t reject things without first trying to understand them.

          • Just Sayin’

            I think the only “answer” you’ll get is that it just happened — as if by magic.

    • Ian

      You seem to be suggesting that nature is able to create new species (such as Polio, Malaria, Helminths, etc), without God. Who created Malaria? God (if so, to what end?) or fallen Nature?

      If you think that God created Parasitic Worms for some unknown other purpose, but sin caused them to be harmful to other species, then James’s question stands. Exactly how did human sin cause a fluke to change its entire lifecycle and decide to impregnate and eat alive the young of other species?

      • Tim

        God may have created it or it may be a mutation. Our fallen world due to sin caused that protozoan to have a dangerous effect on humanity.

        • Ian

          Which is James’s question. If God didn’t will that to happen, how did it happen? Do you see Sin as a force that was allowed into the world?

          • Tim

            Therefore, just as through aone man sin entered into the world, and bdeath through sin, and cso death spread to all men, because all sinned—
            13 for 1until the Law sin was in the world, but asin is not imputed when there is no law.
            14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned ain the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a 1btype of Him who was to come.

            Romans 6

          • But Tim, do you not think that Paul there was talking about the story in Genesis, and thus that his meaning is best understood in light of that text? Just quoting prooftexts doesn’t help when it is clear that you are reading strange modern meanings into them. You need to explain how you understand the text, and why. You still seem ill-prepared to have a conversation about the Bible, since you are not aware of how much you are reading into it that a historically and contextually informed reading would not find there.

          • Tim

            Yes of course James. Paul is talking about Genesis. I fail to see what your problem is and frankly I find your tone a little too highbrow. You seem to want to complicate the simple. Based on some of your other posts I see you still have much to work out in your faith. I’ll leave you to it. You can assume I don’t know what I am talking about if it pleases you.

          • I can only get an impression of what you know based on what you write, and since you have made no attempt to actually understand the Biblical texts that we should be discussing, and insist on things being simple when they are complex, it does indeed give the impression that you simply a not aware of the complexities, psumably because you have never studied the Bible in a deep, detailed, and serious way. I recommend getting hold of an academic commentary on Genesis, and/or Romans, and beginning to explore the topic. If you are ever ready to actually grapple with the text in a serious way, I will always be happy to resume the conversation.

          • Tim

            And I only know you by what you write. When you are ready to see the simple you will find the answers you are looking for.

          • Well, you cannot have read very much of what I have written. I used to be a young-earth creationist. It is above all else the fact that the Bible resists being twisted in that fashion that led me to view things differently.

          • Having explored the topic, I agree with Cranfield (CEB Cranfield Romans ICC, vol 1) who says in his introduction to Rom 5:12ff when making a comparison with the work of Christ that the effect of Adam’s sin is universal. Not only that, Cranfield states that for Paul, death was the result. Clearly Paul has Genesis in view here.

            ‘Διὰ τοῦτο’ Paul gives reason for the greater power of grace over sin and in his reasoning points back to the sin of the first man ‘ὥσπερ δἰ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν’ One man is responsible for the entry of sin into the cosmos ‘καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, ‘ Death comes as a result of sin. Before sin there is no death. ‘καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν,’ Death spread to all people because of sin. Why? – ἐφ̓ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον All sinned.

            I like the way the Peshitta puts it:
            For thus by the hand (ܕܱ݁ܒ݂ܝܰܕ݂) of one man (ܚܰܕ݂ ܒܱ݁ܪܢܳܫܳܐ) sin entered the world (ܠܥܳܠܡܳܐ) and by the hand of sin, death (ܡܰܘܬܴ݁ܐ).

            Romans 8:20f shows how sin and the fall has affected the universe/creation (ἡ κτίσις). In verse 19 Paul says that creation awaits the eschatological outcome of Christ’s salvation. Why? Because creation became subject (ὑπετάγη) to corruption and decay (ματαιότητι) on account of the curse (διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα). Ultimately creation will be released from corruption (φθορᾶς).

        • Lucreza Borgia

          Why is sin some nefarious outside force?

  • D88isaac

    Actually the theological understanding of sin is way off. Even in your own post. Transgression leads to misery, sin is an archery term meaning literally to “miss the mark”.

  • Saskia

    I’ve never thought of it as God doing it deliberately, more like that humans, as God’s chosen caretakers of the world, let sin into the world through their actions. This then led to a progressive decay. I (as someone who thinks evolution is probably true) think that death and decay before the fall really is an issue. It’s really the only issue that gives me pause about evolution.

    But of course you are correct – suffering is a problem for every believer in God, not just some.

    • Thank you for your comment. The truth is that, without death, the Earth would have become jam-packed with living things incredibly quickly. Here is a link to a satirical post I wrote on that topic: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2011/12/the-creationist-vision-of-paradise-is-like-living-on-a-crowded-tokyo-subway.html

      But beyond that, it is not death alone which is the issue, nor decay. Much of the suffering we experience is due to the activities of other organisms, which on a young-earth creationist account, God must have made or modified specifically to cause harm. If creation through evolution is the best way to create free beings like ourselves then the fact that other harmful organisms emerge through the process seems to me far less theologically troubling than what young-eqrth creationists say happened.

      • Kaz

        Why must God have modified organisms to cause harm? Because you don’t know how else it could have happened?

        • I think that on the young-earth creationist viewpoint, unless they are going to say that human beings can, through sinful acts, create organisms in a manner for which there is neither Biblical nor scientific evidence, that is the only explanation available to them. Do you see another?

    • Ian

      “let sin into the world ” – let it in from where? Sin was an external force, waiting to be allowed into the world? “progressive decay” forms of life that are biologically structured to be parasites on other species are not decayed forms of anything, they are highly optimized organisms hugely specialized to their niche. Again, how did this organism originate. Was it designed by God to be a parasite, but given other food before the fall? Did it evolve into a parasite when a couple of people on the other side of the world disobeyed God. Its all very well to wave your hands and say “sin did it”, the point is how?

  • Craig Wright

    Ps. 104 is a creation psalm. It shows the OT view of creation, in which “young lions roar after their prey” (v21), and wine is created by God for man (v15). The OT does not blame Adam and Eve for any of the problems of the earth, or for violence among animals, or for fermentation.

    • A thorough reading of the Psalm shows that the writer is describing God’s care for creation from his present perspective and though mentioning aspects of creation and the universal flood, he is expressing in verse God’s care even in a fallen world.

  • I think the problem is not so much evolution itself as the immense age of life on Earth. (Of course the two are connected: evolution requires a time much longer than YEC allows). In the YEC story humans were there shortly after the moment of creation, so it’s not impossible that something humans did could be responsible for almost all the suffering on Earth. In the evolutionary perspective, almost all the suffering that has happened on Earth happened before humans existed.

  • Marshall

    I think actually evolution, the idea that the cosmos is still “unfolding”, emerging out of itself, means that at least all this pain and suffering is in the service of something. Not just terrestrial biological evolution, but the big bang, galaxies, planets, all that stuff. The in-breaking Kingdom.

    So we can think of “sin” as unreconstructed chaos. It arises because things have not yet found their proper places/relationships. Why we find ourselves unable to do the things we want, and doing what we don’t want. This is sorta like (what I take to be) Tim’s point, Adam and Eve’s mistake was not the cause of the world’s fallen nature, but an expression of it; how sin/chaos/disharmony intrudes itself everywhere.

    This viewpoint isn’t acceptable to YECers and other fundamentalists because they don’t want to acknowledge that society, the world ecosystem, and the entire universe are constantly changing. Changing it is for sure; going somewhere is my faith.

    • Deacon Razorblades

      Or we can consider sin as simply a human construct.

  • T. Webb

    Evolution actually solves the problem: There is no problem. With evolution, there is no right or wrong, no morality, just blind chance and mutation. Thus, evolution is actually superior – or it would be, if there was some morality.

    • Kaz

      I think there’s a disconnect in your logic.

      • To put T. Webb’s comment another way, for example, when humans die from the explosion of a volcano, there is no inherent “evil” involved in the geologic forces that drive volcanoes. A volcano may cause human suffering, but we can’t judge the “morality” of a volcano.

        • rmwilliamsjr

          i’d recommend _evil in modern thought_


          she looks at this distinction between natural evil-lisbon earthquake and human evil-the holocaust in depth. to many conservative Christians a volcano, or the boxing day tsunami is just as much an expression of God’s nature and therefore an issue in theodicy as the deaths of so many 100’s of millions in the 20thC at the hands of other men is a question of God’s character. i find modern Christian explanation’s like all sin/death/suffering begins with adam&eve, shallow, unthinking and simply unworthy as serious engagement with the depths of evil we see around us and in history. i almost prefer s.neiman’s a-theist historical & philosophic questions as answers during some late night struggles with these issues.

          but the bottom line is that the distinction of natural v human evil is not a good answer for a strong theist position.

          • I agree. If there is an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god, then “natural” forces become a matter of good and evil.

  • Daniel Simonson

    I’m curious, Dr. McGrath, how exactly do you view sin? What do you think the Biblical position is on it (if there’s any one position to take). Honestly, the idea that sin is some magical evil force that distorts the world makes no sense to me. 1 John 3:4 defines sin as “lawlessness,” which makes it an action, not a thing in itself. What do you think?

    • Jaime Owl

      I would be interested in reading your position on this as well, Dr. McGrath. Or, if you have addressed this issue on your blog in the past, if you could kindly link to said post(s). I don’t wish to argue; I’m merely curious.

      • Sorry for not getting back to this sooner. On the one hand, sin can be seen as a violation of a religious teaching or commandment, but I suspect that both of you may be more interested in the question of what sin is from God’s perspective, which of course is something that only God could answer. 🙂 But I find helpful, reflecting at the intersection of evolutionary biology and religion, the Rabbinic notion of the good and evil impulses. The “evil” impulse is explicitly said by at least one rabbi not to be inherently evil. It is when they are unchecked by consideration and compassion that our perfectly good and appropriate and natural instincts to eat, survive, procreate, etc. become “evil” and thus “sinful.”

        But I’m not sure if that is the sort of answer you were interested in.


  • It is true that in the worldviews of both biblical creationism and evolution the present does include suffering, carnivory, parasites and disease but you are viewing the past using a uniformitarian paradigm which precludes full scale change or universal catastrophism.
    There are lots of things in science for which there is a lack of evidence but that does not mean that evidence will not come to light or more importantly, that there will be a better understanding of the evidence to hand.
    Looking at Genesis it is clear that herbivory was the initial norm for animals including humans (Genesis 1:29f) and the environment was in a state of harmony. Something changed as the result of sin and life became much more difficult and disharmonious (Gen 3:17ff). The effects of human sin grew and influenced everything (Gen 6:5-7) and the ancient world was destroyed by a universal flood (Gen 7:17ff). In the new and denuded world which emerged there was a shift in animal behaviour (Gen 9:2) and carnivory was introduced (Gen 9:3). This was the beginning of the world we inhabit where competition for survival and adapt or die reign. It is true that now God works in all circumstances to bring about good but it is also true that at the initial creation all was not just good, but very good (Gen 1:31). Something happened.