Evolution and the Problem of Evil
One question that human beings come face to face with time and time again, as they face the trials and struggles of life on this earth is the question of evil. Why would God – an all good, all powerful, and all knowing creator – allow evil and suffering to haunt His creation?
As we travel life’s road, we work hard – sometimes too hard – to feed ourselves. In our families and communities, we see illness and accidents take the health and lives of those we love. Sometimes violence affects us in terrible ways, whether that violence is inflicted by chance, or by the intention of others.
Why? Why does life seem so hard? Why does death come too soon?
Through all of these challenges, throughout history, people have turned to a being (or beings) larger than themselves for the answers.
Huston Smith reminds us that historically, religion has been an important part of life’s struggles:
“Wherever people live, whenever they live, they find themselves faced with three inescapable problems: how to win food and shelter from their natural environment (the problem nature poses), how to get along with each other (the social problem) and how to relate themselves to the total scheme of things (the religious problem). If this third issue seems less important than the other two, we should remind ourselves that religious artifacts are the oldest that archeologists have discovered.” (Smith 11)
Not only has religion played an important role, it has also and guided how we have attempted to relate to the other two problems – human beings have turned to religion for assistance in our social and natural interactions - whether that plea for assistance has been making sacrifices to a python god in ancient South America, or following the laws of God in living out the Ten Commandments.
When we struggle with the problem nature poses – whether we cannot find food, or a flood has destroyed our home, we ask: “Where is God in all of this?” When we are hurt (either emotionally or physically) by other people, we cry out, “Why has God permitted this evil?”
Scientists have asked this question and some believe they have found their answer in the place where science and religion collide.
What is Evil?
What we call “evil” is usually contrasted with what we call “good.” Evil is a pervasive reality of existence – a sense of “that which should not be.”
“Moral evil” limits this “not-rightness” to events caused by a moral agent – deliberate violence to the peace of life. “Natural evil” shows us the reality of this fallen world in a way that has no perpetrator. There is no moral agent on which to blame “natural evil”, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.
Further, “natural evil” includes the interaction between species which some humans find unnecessary or even cruel. Add to this the seemingly whimsical or wasteful way that nature has in the variety of living creatures that we share this planet with.
Lord Alfred Tennyson grappled with this in his poem, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”:
Are God and Nature then at strife,
that Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
do careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
her secret meaning in her deeds,
and finding that of fifty seeds
she often brings but one to bear…
Who trusted God was love indeed
and love Creation's final law—
tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
aith ravine, shriek'd against his creed—
--- Lord Alfred Tennyson
The Problem of Evil” according to Darwin
This “natural evil” is the question that some scientists have asked – and believe they have solved in the theory of naturalistic evolution. Charles Darwin wrote to Asa Gray in 1860:
“I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” (Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II 49)
Many of Darwin’s letters reflected this thinking. He agonized over the “natural evil” that he saw in nature, evil that he believed was incompatible with his understanding of a beneficent, omnipotent God. In his theory of natural selection, Darwin attempted to explain his own struggles in understanding this broken and fallen world.
Darwin did not explicitly reject the existence of a creator, but his theodicy attempted to distance the creator from his creation. If possible to define, Darwin’s creator was content to set the world in motion and then sit back and watch without intervening, or at most intervening in sporadic and inconsistent ways. Darwin went on in that same letter to Gray:
"I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion AT ALL satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can. Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical.” (Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II 49)
When observing what he saw as inefficiency in nature, he quoted Professor Owen as saying, “There is no greater anomaly in nature than a bird that cannot fly…” (Darwin, The Origin of Species 50)
This line of thinking creates an expectation of God, and a presumption of how God should create and then puts forth an argument that God must not have been the designer, since the design does not fit what we expect God to do.
Cornelius G. Hunter responds to this reasoning:
“Nowadays, with evolution firmly implanted, it may be difficult to see just how nonscientific Darwin’s pithy remark is, but it tells much of how the modern age molded the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ view of creation. Nature and its species were expected to be efficient and optimal, according to our understanding of those virtues. Birds were expected to fly and there was something wrong with those that couldn’t. Though Darwin and his peers did not understand nature’s inner workings, they were bold in their pronouncements about what virtues nature should and should not exhibit. And nature’s failure to fulfill our ideals and expectations was considered clear proof of evolution. All birds should fly, but since some don’t, there must be a crude law of nature rather than a Creator behind such incompetence.” (Hunter 105)
Darwin is not the only scientist to go down this road. Hunter also quotes Douglas Futuyma, “What could have possessed the Creator to bestow two horns on African rhinoceroses and only one on the Indian species?” (Hunter 83) and Kenneth Miller, “This designer has been busy! And what a stickler for repetitive work! . . . We are asked to believe each one of these species [of Indian elephants] bear no relation to the next, except in the mind of that unnamed designer…” (Hunter 83)
In summary, the arguments that these evolutionists have against “special creation” (the belief that each species was individually and intentionally created in the form in which it exists today) was that “God would not have done it like that.” Darwin struggled less conclusively, ceding that any such creator would likely exist, and thus act and create, beyond our confines of our understanding and perception.
Does the Theory of Evolution Solve the Problem?
When we consider the response, “God wouldn’t have done it like that,” the logical reply is, “Why not?” What these evolutionists teach is that any creator must, in their minds, comply with their understanding of the way God would, in fact, create.
Is it the arrogance of human beings that tells us that — assuming the existence of a designer — the design must be sensible to us? If it can be said that God could not have created orchids because they are a hodge-podge of parts borrowed from other plants, one can ask, “Would an orchid be less or more lovely, if it only contained original parts?” How would an evolutionist think that God would create an orchid to appear, if they appeared differently than do?
If (in their minds) logic cannot be seen in the function of the design, the function must not have been logically designed…opening the way for naturalistic evolution. Random chance replaces the belief in a all-wise and all-knowing creator.
Can humans know and understand the mind of God, to the extent that we can see into His mind, and thus know how He would have…or more directly, should have designed His creation?
Immanuel Kant addressed this in his essay, “On the Failure of All Attempted Philosophical Theodicies.” When God showed God the beauty and wonder of creation to His servant, Job, He also revealed “harmful and terrible things.” In doing so, He made His full power manifest. While pain and suffering do not appear compatible with the goodness of God according to human judgment, they do show an order of the whole of creation that the human mind cannot comprehend. All attempts to understand the purposes of creation must be seen from the knowledge that mankind that cannot fully know the mind of God. William A. Dembski quotes Kant from this essay:
“The conclusion is this: Job confessed not that he had spoken sacrilegiously, for he was sure of his good faith, but only that he has spoken unwisely about things that were above his reach and which he did not understand.” (Dembski 14)
In a modern vernacular Kant might have simply said, “You’re asking questions that are above your pay grade.” The very definition of God is a description of a being so perfect, so great that we cannot imagine one greater. If we accept this definition of God, if His ways are perfect beyond our understanding, it follows that if we do not understand his purposed in designing His creation the way that He accomplished it, the fault lies with us.
Either “natural evil” is part of a randomly evolved world with no designed purpose…or there is a purpose to these “evils” that our limited perspectives cannot conceive.
Naturalistic evolution does not solve the problem of evil so much as it contradictorily attempts to redefine evil by denying it. With its foundations of random chance and survival of the fittest, naturalistic evolution does not explain pain or death extant in nature beyond the acknowledgement of such conditions as the mere mechanics of nature—no more or less moral or immoral, good or evil than the laws of physics.
The naturalistic evolution of Darwin and later proponents embrace the idea of “survival of the fittest” as the unyielding engine of progress. As such, evolution presents a natural economy of unbridled capitalism in the extreme. For every winner there is a loser; any victory requires destruction of the competition and the unquestioned dominance of the successor. Nature affirms, with a tacit (if morally indifferent) endorsement of both the victors and means used to achieve victory. Survivors, if there are any, must adapt to evade, submit, or else ultimately suffer and die for the betterment of the greater ecosystem. Life arises through random chance and competition…only to be improved through death brought by some stronger foe. If any moral message may be drawn from the economics of evolution, one may conclude that might always make not only right but betterment.
“Natural evil” become “good.” The thief is justified in his ability to steal from (i.e., defeat) those too weak to protect their property. Genocide can only improve the species, by removing the inferior humans who are unable to defend themselves – instead of a slow, but sure dying off of the inferiors, mass murder accomplishes this species evolution on a grand, accelerated scale – cementing the future of a stronger, fitter branch of humanity.
The near universal presence of religion throughout history has called people to systems of right and wrong and accountability to those systems.
Evolution asks us to dismiss any sense of designed morality, and invites us to turn from the inescapable presence of deity and the continuity of religion throughout human anthropology. We should set aside the concept of a designer as a mere primitive notion, in favor of a strictly animalistic view of all things, including our treatment of those around us.
Naturalistic evolution may be fact. But it cannot explain evil; it can only dismiss it as a natural process of evolution. We may ask a creator “Why do You allow this?” or (more importantly) “How are You using this?”
Evolution accepts pain and suffering as a neutral event, a natural avenue to progress – and that does not answer the question, it can only acknowledge the reality.
It cannot be the solution, for it offers no problem.
Darwin, Charles. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume II. Classic Literature Library (Public Domain), n.d.
—. The Origin of Species. New York: P F Collier and Son Company, 1909.
Dembski, William A. "Making the Task of Theodicy Impossible?" Spring 2003. Design Inference. 26 April 2010 <http://www.designinference.com/documents/2003.04.CTNS_theodicy.pdf>.
Hunter, Cornelius G. Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2001.
Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters. New York: Harper One, 2001.