"Why Evolution Does Not Make the Problem of Evil Worse"

Hi Peaceful Science

The idea that evolutionary theory makes the problem of evil somehow worse has been a mainstay of both YEC and some atheistic interpretations of evolution. Against this common view, my paper on this titled “Why Evolution Does Not Make the Problem of Evil Worse”, just got published on March 15 in the journal Faith and Philosophy. (Although the official date of publication was backdated to 2022 because F&P is late with their issues). My article is mostly philosophy of religion and theology, but there is a bit about evolution in there as well.

I figured some here might enjoy this, and I would be curious to hear what people think of the arguments. I think most of what I say does not require any specific view on origins (whether YEC, OEC, TE, atheism or theism etc). The journal is open access nowadays.

https://place.asburyseminary.edu/faithandphilosophy/vol39/iss3/3/

Rope Kojonen

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Welcome back, @Rope, and thanks for the link to your paper. Coming from a YEC background, this topic always interests me.

I hope you will let us know in posted updates what kind of reactions you get from colleagues and others.

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I do have one point. When you say “evolution”, you almost always mean merely “deep time”. The suffering over millions of years happens regardless of whether any evolution results, and in fact you could claim that natural selection acts to minimize suffering to some extent by making organisms better adapted to their environments. Nor was Darwin the discoverer of deep time or of the lengthy history of life. This doesn’t affect your argument significantly, but the misapplication of terminology may make the paper less clear.

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@Rope,

I havent read your article yet, but I’ve always questioned the ancient so-called wisdom that God was a tripartite godhead of noble traits:
1- all loving;
2- all knowing;
3- all powerful.

The Book of Job didnt seem to embrace this system.

The most a God could be was “all powerful” in only TWO (2) realms!

The Greeks and Romans saw even their most powerful god (Zeus & Zeu[s]-Pater) as embeded WITHIN a Universe of higher powers (rather than the all powerful endower/creator of such a Universe) - - hence Pandora’s role with that notorious box of evils!

As for Eden … death certainly came before the bite of the apple: eating fruits and vegetables is unavoidably lethal to plant life.

3 posts were split to a new topic: Side Comments on "Why Evolution does not … "

Hello @Rope , it’s nice to see you here again. I haven’t had a chance to give your article a proper read, but I will do so soon.

A thought occurred to me; If evolution were somehow related to the Problem of Evil, and evil exists because Man has Free Will to choose, does this imply a connection between evolution and Free Will? My intuition is this is no useful connection here, but I haven’t thought it through yet. Have you considered this?

The article appears to be dealing with Natural Evil rather than Moral Evil. See also Problem of evil and animal suffering and Evolutionary theodicy.

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This is just a thought I had while reading your comment, I don’t know if it’s actually meaningful. But if there is no libertarian free will, can one even make a genuine distinction between natural and moral evil?

Baldly, yes.

Whilst the moral implications of the distinction may change, I think the distinction still exists.

“Moral evil” is an “event caused by the intentional action or inaction of an agent, such as a person”, whether that agent or person has libertarian free will or not. It includes acts such as murder, genocide and torture that would not be meaningful if the agent lacked a degree of self-awareness.

“Natural evil” includes such phenomena as predation, death from starvation, death from thirst, and extinction that require no such self-aware agent.

Moral evil only existed since self-aware agents did. Natural evil would have existed for millions of years, if evolution (including Evolutionary Creation) is posited, but only as long as moral evil if a Young Earth Creation is posited.

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Thanks! I actually made this point in the paper on the second page (p. 389). There, I say that the argument that suffering predated the Fall “is not dependent on evolution, however, since the ideas of deep time and pre-human animal death were already accepted before Darwin.”

Many people think the problem of scale is related to evolution, though, because evolution as a method of creation requires deep time. Whereas a supernatural creation as in the YEC model would not require deep time. So, if deep time increases the severity of the problem, one could try to argue that God should have created the species supernaturally, rather than through evolution.

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Hi Dan, nice to see you too!

The free will defense is not the only response to the problem of evil around, and the approach of my article is a bit different. People have applied the free will defense to evolution in three ways though:

(1) A free process defense: Maybe evolution as a process of creation has value partly because it allows non-human creatures to participate in the process through their free actions (akin to niche construction theory). See Bethany Sollereder, God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering. One problem is that animals don’t seem to have free will and moral responsibility in a robust sense, so it’s hard to see how this would be analogous to the free will defense in the human case.

(2) An angelic free will defense. Think of Tolkien’s creation story in the beginning of the Silmarillion, where God creates in collaboration with the angels, and some angels try to insert discord into the “song” of creation. The biblical material seems to give the unseen realm of angels a substantial role in the world, which makes it possible to argue that angels may have influenced evolution too. See John Peckham, A Theodicy of Love.

(3) Retroactive human Fall. Seeing as God knows future events, maybe God created the world in a way that anticipates this in the way finiteness and death are part of nature as we know it. This has been defended by William Dembski of ID fame, in his book The End of Christianity, but also others before him. Most people who discuss theodicy do not think the human fall is in itself a sufficient response to natural evil, but maybe it could play a role.

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There’s definitely room to debate how to understand those properties, and alternative models of God. I think the traditional definitions are quite compatible with the Book of Job though.

Going in depth on this would be off topic, but theologian R. T. Mullins has a lot of good interviews on God’s properties on his podcast at https://www.rtmullins.com/podcast.

Agreed. But that point should have permeated the entire paper, most of which confuses evolution with mere time. Note that there are old-earth creationists, with each species separately created. And the problem, if it were a problem, is not in any way altered. Deep time doesn’t jus increase the severity of the problem; deep time is the problem. Evolution is irrelevant.

You could always write your own paper, :wink:

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I see that my stray thought has already occurred to others. Nothing new under the sun, as always. :wink:

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So, it just sounds like you think I should have pressed the point I made on the second page (and a few times later on in the paper) even harder. But this would not have affected the conclusions. In the end, it seems we both agree that it’s false to say, as Phillip Kitcher claims, that “Darwin’s account of the history of life greatly enlarges the scale on which suffering takes place.”

I note, though, that only the first full section, p. 390-395 is about the problem of scale. The preceding introduction, from p. 388-390 makes it clear that evolution is not necessary for the problem of scale, while explaining why it is nevertheless important to deal with here. The second part, from p. 396-401 is about the alleged cruelty of evolution as a process of creation, while the third part, from p. 401-403 is about how evolution might affect theodicies and natural theology. So, it seems false to say that most of the paper “confuses evolution with mere time” - and hopefully most readers will remember the clarification on the second page.

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Hello @Rope, it’s nice to meet you and to see you on the forum. I haven’t yet read your new paper but I have a good excuse: I am reading (intermittently) your recent book (The Compatibility of Evolution and Design) and I am (on orders from my doctor) allowed only one religion-related reading assignment at a time. :slight_smile: But I am keen to read all your thoughts on the concept of design because it seems that my positions are very similar to yours. I have had little success getting others on the forum to see design the way I do even though I give Dan Dennett the proper credit!

Anyway, I hope you’ll drop in occasionally, and I’ll tag you if/when I have questions or applause for the book.

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Hi Stephen

Nice to hear from you, and glad you are reading my book. It may be our positions ultimately disagree, because the position I defend is closer to Asa Gray’s old argument than Dan Dennett. :slight_smile: But it would be interesting to read what you think!

I hope to start a new thread on The Compatibility of Evolution and Design sometime in the next half year or so, so maybe that will give an opportunity to discuss your thoughts as well. It will be about a recent long Discovery Institute critique of my argument, which the DI have given a lot of attention through a series of blog posts and podcasts. I have a response in peer review, but I would like to get it published before bringing it to discussion here. The preprint is here though, for those who want a sneak peek. It is off topic for this thread though, so I won’t go more into more depth on it.

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Well I’m sure we’ll disagree about things like gods, but when I was still a believer I pointed to Gray’s position as often as I could. Re Dennett, I’m an atheist like him but I think that is separate from the question of whether it is possible (or even coherent) to have design without a designer.

Looking forward to more, and I’ll have a look at the preprint after I’ve read the book.

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The idea that at least 1 billion years of animal suffering doesn’t make the problem of evil worse is fatuous on it’s face. Here assuming the preceding 2.5-3 billion years of single-celled life was incapable of suffering.

In order for evolution to work many more organisms have to be born than can survive to reproductive age, because they have to compete for a limited resource whatever that may be (nutrients, living space, mates etc.).

Then there’s the fact that the average mutation is negative, and a literally uncountable number of organisms have been born with debilitating growth defects, heritable diseases, flaws, etc.
I suddenly recall the mammals that grow horns that eventually grow back until they pierce their own skulls and kill them. Evolution hasn’t solved that problem because by the time this happens they’ve long since reproduced. So now they get to live their last years in agony as their impressive ornaments eventually kill them.