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2. Theodicy

What about the problem of ‘natural evil’, i.e., the presence of biological disease, physical disaster and evolutionary wastefulness in nature and the suffering, death of organisms and extinction of species which result? Is it merely to be understood as a precondition both for the evolution of life and consciousness, and for the possibility of genuine freedom and moral capacity in humanity --- even if that leads to the problem of human sin?For a conservative perspective on evolution and natural evil see Gary Emberger, "Theological and Scientific Explanations for the Origin and Purpose of Natural Evil," Perspectives on Science and...Or does the vast domain of natural evil, now written into the billion year history of life on earth, undercut the goodness and power of God as immanent Creator, and thereby exacerbate the problem of theodicy beyond response?

In exploring a non-interventionist account of objective divine action in the context of evolution, Thomas Tracy first defines ‘pointless’ instances of natural evil as those which do not appear to generate particular goods but are mere by-products of preserving moral freedom and the integrity of nature. They will seem to be unnecessary, but a world that includes the possibility of a personal relationship with God must apparently include them as well. In addition, we profoundly lack a view of the overall course of cosmic history; the limits of human comprehension force us to accept ‘epistemic humility’, as the Book of Job teaches. We simply cannot expect to solve the problem of evil, but instead we must proclaim that God suffers with and redeems the world.Tom Tracy, "Evolution, Divine Action, and the Problem of Evil," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, S....

The struggle and pain of evolution leads Edwards to face the challenge of theodicy.

Following Tracy, he first suggests that natural selection needs to be considered in non-anthropomorphic and non-moral terms as an objective process in nature, like nucleosynthesis in stars. Theodicy is no more intense a problem for natural selection than it is to all such processes, including death when understood as essential to evolution and life. The Trinitarian God who creates through natural selection is both relational freely accepting of the limitations found in loving relationships with creatures. The incarnation and cross point to a conception of God related to natural selection through unthinkable vulnerability and self-limitation. The God of natural selection is thus the liberating, healing, and inclusive God of Jesus. This God is engaged with and suffers with creation; at the same time, creatures participate in God’s being and trinitarian relationships.Denis Edwards, "Original Sin and Saving Grace in Evolutionary Context," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger,...

Peacocke’s treatment of theodicy is directly correlated with his response to the problem of suffering and thus to his christology. As suggested already, Peacocke adopts a kenotic theology, seeing God through Christ as “suffering in, with and under these (natural processes) with their costly, open-ended unfolding in time.”Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 301-10. Recall that Peacocke has already adopted a highly temporal view of the world, in which God cannot know the future because the future is not ‘there’...He then responds to the challenge of theodicy by extending Moltmann’s concept of the ‘crucified God’ to include the suffering of all creation. Barbour, too, begins with God’s self-limitation as voluntary, given for the sake of our moral growth, as developed by John Hick out of the Irenaean tradition. Still following the lead of David GriffinDavid Ray Griffin, God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).and other process scholars, he goes further in seeing God’s self-limitations as metaphysically necessary, though a necessity belonging to God’s divine nature and not external to God.

John Polkinghorne has developed a “free-process defense” in response to the problem of natural evil. Traditionally the free-will defense was deployed to address the problem of moral evil: the cost of creating genuinely free creatures in terms of human sinfulness outweighs the cost of creating a unilaterally deterministic world of “blindly obedient automata.” By analogy, Polkinghorne argues that the ‘anthropic’ conditions required for the evolution of creatures capable of free agency lead, in turn, hinge on there being genuine chance in nature. God does not intervene to overrule the consequences, but grants the world independence, “Love’s gift of freedom to the one beloved.” Through Christ God is a ‘fellow-sufferer’ with the world. “The cross is the fundamental basis of Christian theodicy.”John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence: God's Interaction with the World, 1st Shambhala ed. (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1989), Ch. 5, esp. pp. 65-68.

In my own writingsRobert John Russell, "Entropy and Evil," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 19.4(December 1984): 449-68; Robert John Russell, "The Thermodynamics of 'Natural Evil'," CTNS Bulletin...I have explored the complex role entropy plays in nature. It fuels those physical, chemical and biological processes which drive biological evolution, and yet it ultimately leads to the dissipation, decay and death that pervades these same processes. The production of entropy is thus associated with both those aspects of nature which we would call good and beautiful, and those which fall within the category of natural evil. This ambiguous and unavoidable role of entropy in physics and biology, in turn, seems to prefigure what, in the full context of moral evil, we understand as sin.

More recently I have suggested that the generation of entropy plays a key role in the conditions of nature which are encompassed in Polkinghorne’s free-process argument.GET REF. FROM CTNS BULLETINThis argument fits nicely with the recent work by Nancey Murphy and George Ellis on what they call the ‘moral universe.’Nancey Murphy and George F. Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics, Theology and the Sciences Series (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1996).Murphy and Ellis claim that what we should seek to explain by an expanded version of the Anthropic Principle is not only consciousness, intelligent life and free agency, but life capable of moral agency. A kenotic doctrine of God is key to their argument. My suggestion is that entropy is then part of what God bequeaths to the universe in its ‘design’. In essence, if God is to create an Anthropic universe, it must also be a thermodynamic one.For responses to the Murphy/Ellis proposal see Richard O. Randolph, "Environmental Ethics and Its Implications for a Hierarchy of Sciences," CTNS Bulletin 18.4(Fall 1998); Kirk Wegter-McNelly,...

Finally, I have stressed how the problem of natural evil and thus theodicy is radically escalated by the claim that God acts in the whole sweep of biological evolution, particularly when this is discussed (as I do) in terms of non-interventionist, objective, special providence. My proposed response is to relocate theodicy from the context of a theology of creation to that of a theology of redemption, stressing the cruciform character of nature and God’s suffering with nature, and more importantly, the eschatological consummation of the universe by the coming of God. But this, in turn, serves to underscore the centrality and essential importance of eschatology to the Christian message, and it is here, in the confrontation between eschatology and scientific cosmology, that we will find the project of ‘theology and science’ facing its greatest challenge.Robert John Russell, "Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of Theistic Evolution," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert...

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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