God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering

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Is evolution impossible to reconcile with God’s work? A process based on competition, violence, and selfishness seems an odd way for the God of love to create the world.

The objection I hear raised most commonly about evolutionary creation is whether God could really have subjected countless generations of innocent animals to the sort of suffering that the natural world as we find it entails. No good God could do that.

And so, people look for theological alternatives. They look in particular to theories of fallenness. For the reformers, like John Calvin, it was human fallenness that was to blame. God had created a world without animal suffering, but Adam and Eve’s transgressions brought the perfect system crashing down. It works theologically, but it causes some severe chronological problems. Death and suffering have had a much longer history on earth than humans—how do we account for all the pre-human bloodshed?

Some have turned towards spiritual explanations—or, rather—fiendish explanations. Satan’s fall could posit a likely culprit for “nature red in tooth and claw.” The motivation is present and the opportunity, since Satan’s fall is primordial, there is no reason not to think that he could have influenced the early stages of evolutionary development down violent and self-serving paths from which it has never recovered.

What if we bite the bullet and attribute the natural evolutionary world to God’s work? Is this consistent with a God of love?
Or is there a reason to reject this approach? The fiendish thing about evolution is that it is precisely the violence and competition that cause the strength and the beauty. Fleet footed deer catch our breath with their agility precisely because they have spent millennia in flight from hungry jaws. Our resource-hungry brains, with which we contemplate the wonders of the world and ask such questions in the first place, are the result of saving room and energy on digestive processes by eating meat. The power of the stalking lion, the majestic flight of the eagle, the quick-silver dart of the fish are all results of creatures eating and trying to avoid being eaten. Make Satan the cause of violence and competition and you must chalk most of the beauties of creation to devils as well.

What if we bite the bullet and attribute the natural evolutionary world to God’s work? Is this consistent with a God of love?

That is what I set out to explore in my new book, God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: Theodicy without a Fall. It is a look at the nature of love in light of the evolutionary process. It is a story of creation, divine action, and redemption sketched in light of contemporary theological debates.

Bethany Sollereder is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Science and Religion. She specialises in theology concerning evolution and the problem of suffering. Bethany received her PhD in theology from the University of Exeter and an MCS in interdisciplinary studies from Regent College, Vancouver. Bethany is also a former member of the CSCA Executive Council (Student and Early Career Representative).