LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Theodicies and the Problem of Evil: Theodicy as Affected by the Theory of Evolution
Submitted to Dr. John F. Jones, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course
THEO 525 D05
Systematic Theology I
August 15, 2014
This paper will seek to show that the theory of evolution has affected theodicy because those who embrace the theory must redefine God and therefore undermine his character rather than defend his character.
Table of Contents
Definition of Theodicy..................................................................................................................... 2
Evolutionary Theodicy.................................................................................................................... 2
The Definition of Evil............................................................................................................ 3
The Responsibility for Evil.................................................................................................... 4
God’s Goodness........................................................................................................ 7
God’s Power.............................................................................................................. 8
Historical Christian Theodicies....................................................................................................... 9
Augustine’s Theodicy............................................................................................................ 9
Calvin’s Theodicy.................................................................................................................. 10
Barth’s Theodicy................................................................................................................... 11
The age of enlightenment requires empirical evidence to substantiate beliefs. This spawned scientific study that resulted in the theory of evolution. This one theory has unsettled the theology of many Christians because of supposed empirical evidence that substantiates a theory of creation that is in opposition to the biblical account of creation. This has affected theological debate, including the area of theodicy. Rather than attempting to prove God’s goodness and omnipotence in the face of evil as do historical Christian theodicies, theodicies that uphold the theory of evolution usually seek to prove that evils in the world can be explained because God is somewhat different from the conservative Christian’s concept of God. Still others deny the existence of God. This paper will concentrate on the theodicies of evolutionists who do not deny the existence of God and how evolution affects their view of God in their theodicies. These theodicies meet the requirements of a theodicy as defined by J. S. Feinburg. Evolutionists who deny the existence of God also propose theodicies. However, they do not fit completely within the definition of a theodicy because they deny the existence of God.
This paper will examine the logic of these theodicies in order to show how they meet the requirements of a theodicy and include evolutionary ideas. It will also review historical Christian theodicies in order to show that evolutionary theodicies have changed their focus. This will seek to show that the theory of evolution has affected theodicy because those who embrace the theory must redefine God and therefore undermine his character rather than defend his character.
Definition of Theodicy
This paper will use Feinburg’s definition of theodicy, “A term used to refer to attempts to justify the ways of God to man. A successful theodicy resolves the problem of evil for a theological system and demonstrates that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and just despite evil’s existence.” Feinburg provides six points for a theodicy as summarized here: (1) The theodicy must demonstrate that the propositions of the definition are logically consistent. (2) It cannot resolve natural evils with answers to moral evils and vice versa. (3) The solution must be completely within the concepts of its theological system, which means theodicy is not restricted to Christianity. (4) The theodicy cannot expect God’s power to do something illogical such as turn a square into a circle while remaining a square. (5) It cannot demand moral responsibility of one who cannot do something nor does something under duress. (6) A theodicy seeks to demonstrate that there is a value that occurs that is greater than the evil analyzed.
In applying this definition to theodicies, it would seem that all theodicies must render the same conclusion, that God is good, he is omnipotent, and that there is value in the rampant evil in the world. For one who is accustomed to this outcome of a theodicy, it is hard to imagine that an adherent to evolution would have any desire to defend God’s character. One would assume that an evolutionist would start with a premise that there is no God, or would want to discredit any notion of a good and all-powerful God in order to ridicule a theistic belief. While this may be true, there are many Christian theologians, including conservatives, who believe in an evolutionary means of creation. While it may be obvious that evolution has affected an atheistic evolutionist’s theodicy, it may not be as obvious that Christians who support evolution have theodicies that are different from traditional theodicies. Nor is it always evident what the logical consequences are of holding an evolutionary view.
The Definition of Evil
Each theodicy starts with a definition of evil. Evolutionary theodicies most often depict evil in the suffering and death of sentient beings. Some present the suffering in graphic details, as does George John Romanes:
Some hundreds of millions of years ago some millions of millions of animals must be supposed to have been sentient. Since that time till the present, there must have been millions and millions of generations of millions of millions of individuals. And throughout all this period of incalculable duration, this inconceivable host of sentient organisms have been in a state of unceasing battle, dread, ravin, pain. Looking to the outcome, we find that more than half of the species which have survived the ceaseless struggle are parasitic in their habits, lower and insentient forms of life feasting on higher and sentient forms; we find teeth and talons whetted for slaughter, hooks and suckers moulded for torment—everywhere a reign of terror, hunger, and sickness, with oozing blood and quivering limbs, with gasping breath and eyes of innocence that dimly close in deaths of brutal torture!
It is not possible to say that all proponents of evolutionary theodicies use as much detail as Romanes did. However, authors often elaborate on different aspects of suffering in the animal kingdom. Christopher Southgate states, “It is important to recognize the reality of creaturely suffering. This is not to suppose that nonhuman suffering is exactly like human suffering.” He follows this with observations of slow deaths that predators often inflict on their prey as well as a description of a film where a lion starves to death.
Southgate only sees human suffering as an extension of animal suffering. Evil in evolutionary theodicies seldom address moral evils of humanity. Sin is not a consideration; they also argue that man’s free will works against evolution because God would have to intervene countless times over the eons to counteract the free will actions of human beings to ensure the world as it is. Evolutionary theodicies are consistent in their definitions of evil; they avoid assigning evil to any moral problems by completely avoiding the suffering of humans other than in the same context as being predators and causing suffering without any moral distinction.
The Responsibility for Evil
Having established that there is evil in world and that it is prevalent, evolutionary theodicies turn to the question of who or what is responsible for the evil. The debate will naturally seek to prove one of two conclusions: (1) There is a God who created the world and he did so in such a way to bring about the world as it is today, including the evils. (2) The alternative is that there is no God and the whole matter of assigning responsibility is inconsequential. With regard to the latter, arguments that take this position are not theodicies as there is no God to defend.
The first conclusion has several variations. The first is to ignore the suffering of the animal world. These arguments admit to the sufferings but dismiss them as the way things are. They have no moral basis of evil and presumably, this would relieve God from the responsibility for evil. The difficulty with this argument is the Christian response that God made the earth, pronounced it good, and sustains it; therefore, God must care about suffering of animals. In addition, Robin Attfield reveals that there are theorists who maintain that human valuers are the only ones who can assess value or disvalue (evil). If these valuers were not in existence then evil could not exist. Ignoring evil is not logical since the theodicies that try to do this have already established that animal suffering is evil.
Another answer to evil in the nonhuman population is to attribute to matter the ability to have free will. John C. Polkinghorne states, “God no more expressly wills the growth of a cancer than he expressly wills the act of a murderer, but he allows both to happen. He is not the puppetmaster of either men or matter.” If an evolutionary theist uses this argument, he could use the same arguments that pertain to human free will to apply to matter. Southgate disagrees with this concept not based on this implausibility, but because it relates more to human suffering than nonhuman suffering. Evolutionary theodicies place a high importance on the evil of non-human suffering. They do not equate it with human suffering and do not assign responsibility to humans either. There is not empirical evidence (which evolutionary theists hold in high value) to support the free will of matter.
A third variation clearly places the responsibility for evil on God, but tries to alleviate the problem by its definition of God. Southgate explains, “God self-empties of mind and power in giving the creation its existence and then allows the interplay of chance and natural law to take its course.” This description of God fits with the definition of deism, “Belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.” Deism is not new; it was a belief even before the introduction of evolution. It is not the Christian view of God, but fits within its own theological system. However, it does not grant relief to the question of why God would create a universe that would result in the suffering of nonhumans, one that has gone on for ages and will continue until the earth becomes uninhabitable.
There is also the theistic view as described by Millard Erickson. “Some Christian theologians, even a few quite conservative ones, have adopted a view termed ‘theistic evolution.’ According to this view, God created in a direct fashion at the beginning of the process, and ever since has worked from within through evolution.” One aspect of this view is that creation occurred as described in Genesis but then God intervenes to preserve each species, requiring constant intervention through the ages. Erickson prefers a modification of this concept that he labels “progressive creationism.” This theory requires long periods of time where God creates a member of a kind and then develops into subgroups through the natural process of evolution. This view has its detractors who object to the concept that there needs to be any intervention in the process of evolution and in some cases, it would actually hinder evolution.
Mankind is often blamed for the presence of evil in the world. However, evolutionary theodicy soundly eliminates the possibility that this could be the case. Whether one supports deism, theistic evolution, or progressive evolution, the fact remains that there was untold animal suffering before the creation of Adam and Eve. Nicolaas Vorster states, “Nature always contained a dark side. Suffering, predation, death, and pain were there before the arrival of the human.” One cannot use the fall in Genesis 3 to account for the current state of the world and believe that evolution has been continuing for countless years with predators and parasites causing pain and suffering until humans came on the scene. The evolutionary solution is to assign responsibility to the creator. However, one could state that the fall applies both forward and backward in time in the same way Christ’s atonement applies. One might even say God subjected creation to futility and decay (Rom 8:20-21) in anticipation of the fall.
Evolutionary theodicies that ignore evil or do not hold God responsible for evil are not within Feinburg’s definition of a theodicy, as they are illogical. The evolutionary theodicies that acknowledge a creator and that nonhuman suffering is evil claim that by the act of creation, the creator is ultimately responsible for evil. If there had not been a creation, there would be no evil. Whether these theodicies uphold the creator’s goodness and omnipotence is the next consideration.
To this point, evolutionary theodicies that conform to Feinburg’s definition assign the responsibility of evil to the creator. Since a theodicy must defend God’s goodness, it is now evident that these theodicies must show that in spite of or because of the suffering of nonhumans, this suffering achieves a higher good that demonstrates God’s goodness. Evolutionary theodicies that defend God’s goodness point to the outcome of evolution, the world as it is. The value of the world today, even with human beings, is a much greater alternative than other possible worlds. Attfield states it clearly:
I conclude that the evolutionary system of nature has vast overall value, and that although there are widespread evils within it, the only alternatives are a lifeless world, a world without sentient life, and a world of constant supernatural intervention, all of them probably worlds without such a positive balance of value as the actual world. Indeed the system of nature is such as not to preclude its being created by a good creator.
This concept of a good God does not set well with all. Vorster asks several redundant questions to criticize John Hick’s view that, in Vorster’s words, “All the unjust and apparently wasted suffering in the world may be regarded as a divinely created sphere of soul-making.” Vorster asks, “Would a good God allow so much suffering only for the purpose of creating mature human beings?” Jayna Ditty and Philip Rolnik appear to share this opinion as they wonder how we can believe a God of love would create a world with the evils of evolution. Yet they also appear to alter the notion of a good God by stating, “One thing is clear: an overly sentimental view of God is called into question by evolution.” Vorster proposes to exonerate God by applying the fall forward and backward in time. Though not the only view, the prevalent view of evolutionary theodicies is that God is responsible for creating evil but for good purposes.
A paradox happens in evolutionary theodicies. While granting God the power to create ex nihilo, they tend to demand that this is the end of God’s involvement with creation. Those who do not support theistic evolution from a Christian standpoint have a problem with the concept that God continues to intervene in creation. Joseph Corabi argues this in his discussion of intelligent design. The primary complaint is that this intervention would cause a world with massive irregularities; these would require an explanation or cover up. Intelligent design would require God’s intervention billions of time since creation to create complex biochemical organisms. God is either prohibited from miracles or he is labeled ineffective in his creation. He could not create the world as he wanted, without any predatory creatures, so he was forced (because he is not able) to create it with evil and then bring good out of it.
Explanations then proceed to say that God does not care, is impotent in these matters, or has self-limited his powers. The first case is deism, which does not defend God’s character from a Christian standpoint of a personal God who is vitally interested in his creation. The second case obviously does not defend God’s omnipotence, for if God is able but not willing, then God is malevolent. Arguments that conclude God is not able to prevent evil do not conform to the definition of a true theodicy; they do not uphold God’s power. The self-limiting answer is the only logical answer but is acceptable only if it upholds God’s goodness at the same time.
Historical Christian Theodicies
This section will briefly describe historical Christian theodicies. It focuses on Christian theodicies since theodicies have existed before Christianity started addressing these issues and other religions use theodicies. Christian theodicies developed to confront the influence of the non-Christian theodicies such as Manichaeanism and some even adapted elements of Neo-Platonism. These brief explanations show how theodicies have changed since the introduction of the theory of evolution.
Vorster summarizes the theodicy of Augustine:
His doctrine on God resolutely affirms two basic premises: First, that God is an omnipotent being who is able to do whatever He wants insofar as such actions are consistent with His being, and secondly, that God is a good being and therefore not the direct cause of evil whatsoever. His doctrine on creation, accordingly, maintains that God created ex nihilo and therefore is sovereign over all things, and He created all things good because He is a good being.
Augustine argued that evil came about because of the fall. At the time of creations, humans were good and possessed a free will. Because Adam and Eve had free will, they had the capacity to sin and their sin extended to the rest of mankind. Evil is the fault of all human sin as Augustine’s belief is that all were in the seminal body of Adam. An important aspect of Augustinian theodicy is that he apparently argued from a literal interpretation of the Bible. Hick concludes that Augustine believed “in the sight of God all things, including even sin and its punishment, combine to form a wonderful harmony which is not only good but very good.”
While John Calvin did not develop a specific theodicy, his theology shows clear applications to a theodicy. In this, he is clear that God is absolutely sovereign. As Vorster summarizes, “He does not simply permit earthly occurrences, but commands the entire course of nature and history. God’s providence is not merely general in nature, but He is deeply involved in the particulars of history.” This concept steadfastly upholds God’s omnipotence.
Calvin maintains God’s goodness, but supporting it depends on agreeing that God did not create man sinful; he did not create evil in nature. “Yet, God did not prevent the Fall, but allowed and permitted it to serve his good purposes.” Calvin reconciles his view of God’s sovereignty and his non-prevention of evil by accepting that his purposes of good are beyond human reasoning. Trying to understand this betrays human conceit in questioning God.
While some question Barth’s theology, he did not include evolutionary principles in his theodicy. Vorster also provides a brief summation of Barth’s theodicy:
According to Barth evil, sin, wickedness, the devil, death and non-being exists in its own way by the will of God. Nothing exists outside of the will of God. He distinguishes between God’s voluntas efficiens and voluntas permittens to explain the way in which evil exists by the sovereign will of God. God’s voluntas efficiens is that what God positively affirms and creates, while His voluntas permittens consists in His refraining, non-prevention and nonexclusion.
This argument maintains God’s power, which in some ways is similar to Augustine and Calvin. Each maintains that God has the power to prevent evil but they believe God permits evil to exist and it starts with man’s free will.
Barth maintains God’s goodness by centering his theology on Christ. Creation is good because it exists for Christ. Christ’s redemptive work ensures that creation is perfect even though there are evils. However, evil takes on a form of itself called das Nichtige. This void or nothingness is something other than God or God’s creation. It is responsible for evil. This nothingness is what caused the fall by affecting man’s free will. While not consistent with much of Christian theology, it exonerates God.
There are several biblical principles that evolution has affected as revealed in evolutionary theodicies. The first is the concept of creation. Evolutionary theodicies that affirm an omnipotent and good God confirm creation ex nihilo. However, they also claim that God continues in his creative efforts through evolution. Whether they claim God creates new species or species are only diversified, these changes occur through evolution or natural selection. These are God’s continued creation. This concept of God’s continued creation is not found in historical Christian theodicies.
One effect of evolutionary theodicies is to change the definition of evil. Augustine, Calvin, and Barth were all concerned with evil as described in terms of sin and its consequences. If they considered animal suffering, it was a result of the fall. While some of the evolutionary theodicies acknowledge evil in connection with humans, their primary concern it not with human suffering, but with animal suffering.
Evolutionary theodicies uphold God’s goodness by the contention that God had to make the world the way it is in order to bring about life on this planet as it is today. This is the greater good that justifies God allowing evolution to continue his creation with apparent evil.
While these theodicies may have satisfactory arguments as defined by Feinburg, the effects subtly undermine God’s character rather than affirm it. First, by denying that God could create the earth without evil, they bring into question God’s power. The claim that he was unable to create the earth without predatory or parasitic creatures emphasizes his powerlessness; they contend that this is the only way he could have created.
Secondly, they question God’s goodness. The Bible claims in Genesis 1, that all of creation was good even after the creation of man and woman. If evolution is true, then there had to be animal suffering from the creation of the first animals, which came before the creation of humans. Since they define evil as animal sufferings, then this implies that God does not know what good means. Whether modification of the evolutionary theory insists that God tweaks creation through evolution or through supernatural intervention, initially, God had to create an environment that contained evil.
In addition, they usually deny the concept of humanity’s contribution to evil in the world through the fall. With evolution, the physical human body is simply a product of evolution. At some point God gave humans his image and continued to call creation good. Then came the fall with the result that God cursed the ground (Gen 3:17) because of human sinfulness. It is illogical to impute the effects of the fall back in time and still call creation good.
While theodicies do not directly require any mention of the value of human beings, it is important to understand that the effects of evolutionary theodicies devalue humans. Humans are nothing more than sentient beings that have more intelligence than others do. They ignore or consider accountability for sin unimportant.
The creation of the earth, flora, and fauna over a very long time, with evil a part of its framework before the appearance of humans is foundational to evolutionary theodicies. Why would God call it good with this evil present? This casts dispersion on the Bible, God’s word. The account of Genesis explains a day in three ways for each day of creation. An evening after the first light, a morning, then the day is numbered. Detractors of this account rely on empirical data to deny a twenty-four hour day. Science therefore, becomes a higher authority than the Bible even though scientific attempts to discredit creation “are embarrassed by inevitable reversals of scientific opinion.” They acknowledge God could have created the earth with apparent age but deny God’s goodness by saying that would be deceptive. Yet apparent age is a logical explanation for creation. Would it not be more deceptive for God to lie about the six days when he could have explained evolution? As has been pointed out, the fall could not explain the evils of the world before the introduction of humans. This puts Genesis 1 – 3 in question. If this is in question, then all miracles in the Bible are in question as empirical evidence denies every one. If these are in question, then even the need for a Savior is in question as humans are no more than animals. The solution for evil through Jesus Christ is in question, as is his resurrection. Christian are to be pitied more than any others as we have no real hope and have even made God out to be a liar (1 Cor 15:12-18). Pushed to this logical conclusion, all evolutionary theodicies deny the existence of the Christian God, whether they explicitly say so or not.
 J. S. Feinberg, “Theodicy,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1184.
 Ibid, 1184-85.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 353. Kindle.
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 Ibid, 809.
 Robin Attfield, “Evolution, Theodicy and Value,” The Heythrop Journal 41, no. 3 (July 2000): 283.
 John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence: God's Interaction with the World, Templeton ed. (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2005), 78.
 Southgate, “God and Evolutionary Evil,” 809.
 Ibid, 810.
 The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “Deism,” Kindle.
 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 353, Kindle.
 Ibid, 353-354.
 Attfield, 288.
 Southgate, “Re-Reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 372.
 Nicolaas Vorster “The Augustinian Type of Theodicy: Is It Outdated?” Journal Of Reformed Theology 5, no. 1 (2011): 31.
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 Ibid, 27.
 Ibid, 28-29
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