Creation and Theodicy

Creation and Theodicy


Theologians, challenged by science, are responding in various ways to the reason for human suffering.

Adriani Milli Rodrigues

There are different positions regarding the understanding of the doctrine of creation in the face of the challenge of the evolutionary concept of origins. In broad terms, while some deny the theory of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of Creation, many attempt to comprehend this doctrine in in some degree of consonance with that theory.

Nevertheless, considering that the understanding of Creation affects the comprehension of other doctrines, the conception of God’s character and His purposes seems to be significantly impacted by the notion of evolutionary creation. In fact, it appears that the most perplexing task for those who adopt this concept of creation is to construct an evolutionary theodicy.

As Christopher Southgate and Andrew Robinson emphasize, although the best theodicean arguments are usually based on eschatology, “any theodicy that rests purely on the promise of some future compensation would be, in effect, to separate the God of creation from the God of redemption.”1 To put it differently, a legitimate theodicy must draw connections “between God’s purposes as creator and God’s purposes as redeemer.”2

Theodicy in the Context of Evolutionary Creation

In spite of the fact that the term theodicy was used for the first time in 1710, by Gottfried W. Leibniz, the necessity of defending God’s goodness and power in the face of the existence of evil did not begin in the modern period. In fact, several centuries before Leibniz, Lactantius indicated that the Greek philosopher Epicurus (342–270 B.C.) questioned these divine attributes because of the existence of evil: “God . . . either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does He not remove them?”3

These questions seem to indicate the basic premises implied by the logical problem of theodicy: (1) God is omnipotent; (2) God is perfectly good; (3) Evil exists. This problem assumes that “a good being will always eliminate evil as far as it is able.”4

Hence, the understanding of God is fundamental to theodicy. For instance, in Reformed theology, God’s sovereignty is beyond questioning. It means that the acceptance of the second premise (the perfect goodness of God) does not necessarily demand human comprehension. On the other hand, “some versions of process theology modify” the first premise (the omnipotence of God) “by suggesting that, by virtue of the divine nature rather than by voluntary self-limitation, God’s power over nature is limited.”5 In both cases, the problem of theodicy seems to be avoided, whether because God’s goodness does not need to be understood or because God is not omnipotent. That avoidance is incompatible, however, with several instances of theodicean questions found in the Bible, which assume and claim God’s power and goodness.

Another essential notion for theodicy is the concept of evil. Traditionally, theodicists maintain a distinction between moral evil (sin) and natural evil (suffering). The former refers to human actions, such as “cruel, unjust, vicious, and perverse thoughts and deeds,” whereas the latter defines the evil that seems to originate “independently of human actions: in disease bacilli, earthquakes, storms, droughts, tornadoes, etc.”

Obviously, natural evils appear to be the most problematic category in the context of theodicy, which may be exemplified by the following question: Why does not God eliminate the suffering of innocent victims of diseases, natural disasters, and so forth? Nevertheless, the task of evolutionary theodicy appears to be even more formidable, because it needs not only to explain why God does not eliminate natural evil, but also why God uses natural evil in His method of evolutionary creation.

Models of Theodicy

Considering the fundamental importance of the relation between God’s goodness and natural evil for the theodicean task, three broad models may be drawn from three different conceptions of good-harm analysis: (1) property-consequence, (2) developmental, and (3) constitutive models.7

According to the first concept, “a property of a particular being or system, is the possibility that possession of this good leads to it causing harms.” Following this perspective, traditional theodicies based on free will defense assume that “the existence of the property of free will in humans (a good) gives rise to the possibility of its deliberate or accidental use in such ways as may cause harm.”8 In this way, moral evil is the fundamental cause of natural evil. The names of Augustine and most recently Alvin Plantinga have been associated with this position.

On the other hand, the developmental approach conceives that “the good is a goal which can only be produced by a process that may or must give rise to harms.”9 Whereas in the property-consequence view the good is a property that already exists, in the developmental understanding, the good is being produced via a process. In this context, suffering plays an educative role, since it “is necessary to our individual moral or spiritual development.”10 As Niels Hvidt highlights, “in developmental theodicies, God allows destruction and suffering as means towards the refinement of both biotic and non-biotic nature, and especially human character, both individual and collective.” Hence, “destruction and suffering [are understood] as fruitful catalysts in the development towards greater goods.”11

In its turn, the constitutive position presumes that “the existence of a good is inherently, constitutively, inseparable from the existence of harm or suffering.”12 It means that, in opposition to the developmental understanding, “the good does not derive from a process leading to a goal, with the suffering as instrumental to the process: the good finds its meaning only in relation to the harm.”13 In other words, suffering is intrinsic to life, rather than an instrument to the good. Furthermore, according to that notion, God is not normally regarded as a loving personal agent, but is conceived as the “ground of being,” that is, “the ground of both creation and destruction.”14

Generally speaking, proposals of evolutionary theodicy adopt the developmental and/or the constitutive model, but tend to reject the property-consequence conception and the free-will defense. Robert Russell points out that “traditional Augustinian theodicy” is not “intelligible to contemporary theology as it wrestles with biological evolution,” because of the fact that “it seems too closely tied to the now abandoned Biblical depiction of the Fall as an actual event in the past.”15 Similarly, although acknowledging that the free-will defense is logically undefeated, Terrence Tylley criticizes Plantinga’s explanation of natural evil because it implies the action of fallen angels. For evolutionary theodicy, the idea of the Fall is part of a pre-scientific worldview.

According to John Hick, this idea “is radically implausible,” since “most educated inhabitants of the modern world regard the biblical story of Adam and Eve, and their temptation by the devil, as myth rather than as history; and they believe that so far from having been created finitely perfect and then falling, humanity evolved out of lower forms of life, emerging in a morally, spiritually, and culturally primitive state. Further, they reject as incredible the idea that earthquake and flood, disease, decay, and death are consequences either of a human fall, or of a prior fall of angelic beings who are now exerting an evil influence upon the earth. They see all this as part of a pre-scientific world view, along with the stories of the world having been created in six days.”16

In contrast, the developmental and the constitutive models are considered coherent with biological evolution. To Hvidt, scientific theories portray “destruction and subsequent suffering as part of” the “inherent fabric” of the natural world.17 This concept is associated with the constitutive model. Moreover, he points out that in agreement with evolutionary biology, “destruction is a necessary requirement for the refinement of races and species.”18 This notion is more related to the developmental model.

Proposals of Evolutionary Theodicy

Many scholars deal with evolutionary theodicy. However, not all of them work on the protological issues—the study of origins and first things—as a fundamental part of that theodicy.

• John Hick. John Hick is one of the most important theistic evolutionists to articulate theodicy and protology. His theodicy is presented prominently in the book Evil and the God of Love (1966). Hick’s approach is normally known as the soul-making theodicy. In fact, he claims to follow an Irenaean theodicy. According to his perspective, Irenaeus built “a framework of thought within which a theodicy became possible which does not depend upon the idea of the fall, and which is consonant with modern knowledge concerning the origins of the human race.”19

Basically, there are two protological ideas in Irenaeus’ theology that are particularly important for Hick: (1) the purpose of creation and (2) the method of creation. First, the fundamental purpose of God’s creation is the development of creatures. For Irenaeus, he points out, “man was created as an imperfect, immature creature who was to undergo moral development and growth and finally be brought to the perfection intended for him by his Maker.”20 Consequently, the fall of Adam is not “an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God’s plan.” Rather, “Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an understandable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt.”21

Second, Hick emphasizes the Irenaean two-stage method of human creation, which is based on the distinction between the image and the likeness of God. In his modern interpretation of this method, Hick thinks that “the first stage was the gradual production of homo sapiens, through the long evolutionary process.” Therefore, “existence ‘in the image of God’ was a potentiality for knowledge of and relationship with one’s Maker rather than such knowledge and relationship as a fully realized state. In other words, people were created as spiritually and morally immature creatures.”22 Afterwards, in the second stage, “of which we are a part, the intelligent, ethical, and religious animal is being brought through one’s own free responses into what Irenaeus called the divine ‘likeness.’ The human animal is being created into a child of God.”23

In the context of the development of this second stage of human creation, natural evil is necessary because “with no interaction with a challenging environment there was no development in its behavioral patterns.”24 To put it in another way, “the development of human personality—moral, spiritual, and intellectual—is a product of challenge and response.”25 Hence, “sin and suffering are instruments by which God is gradually creating children for himself out of human animals.”26

Furthermore, Hick thinks that God creates on the basis of “epistemic distance.” This means that the world “functions as an autonomous system and from within which God is not overwhelmingly evident.” Actually, he argues that only in that situation “there is the possibility of the human being coming freely to know and love one’s Maker.”27 Indeed, this idea assumes that freedom and development demand distance.

In short, Hick adopts the developmental model for his theodicy. Suffering exists because it is an essential instrument used by God in His creation. Thus, natural evil precedes moral evil, since natural evil constitutes the environment in which human development takes place. And that development is characterized by the practice of moral evil.

Roughly speaking, Robert Russell and Nancey Murphy attempt to provide scientific arguments for evolutionary theodicy. It seems that, in comparison with Russell and Murphy, Hick’s ideas are essentially based only on philosophical and theological assumptions. However, in spite of differences between them, they agree with Hick in some important points.

• Robert Russell. To Russell, the most relevant aspect of Hick’s theodicy is the idea of epistemic distance. He argues that this concept is not only necessary for “faith and moral freedom,” as Hick maintains, “but also for scientific research.” Since science is based on methodological naturalism, “a scientific explanation of the processes of nature should rely on natural causes alone without the introduction of divine causation.”28 Nonetheless, Russell prefers to refer to it in terms of “non-interventionist divine action,” which means that “God acts not by suspending or breaking into the processes of nature but by acting in, with and through them.”29

On the other hand, he disagrees with the instrumental understanding of natural evil. In his perspective, the gravest challenge to Hick’s “‘moral growth’ theodicy . . . is both excessive suffering in the world and the attempt to justify it by a ‘means-end’ argument.”30 According to Russell, God did not choose natural evil as a means for the development of His creation, rather “natural evils are an unintended consequence of God’s choice to create life through natural means.”31 In other words, “God had no choice but to permit biological natural evil because God’s intention is to create life.”32

The fundamental presupposition that underlies this argument is the idea that the present biological conditions, which are characterized by natural evil, represent the only possibility for life in this world. In a sense, Russell’s conception of suffering assumes the constitutive model of theodicy, since suffering is intrinsic to life.

• Nancey Murphy. Whereas Hick explains natural evil essentially in terms of moral growth, and Russell attempts to understand suffering on the basis of scientific arguments, Nancey Murphy seems to employ both approaches. She agrees with Russell’s conclusion that a moral conception of suffering is insufficient for theodicy. In opposition to Hick’s suggestion that God permits suffering “in order to create a morally challenging environment for human development[,] . . . the disorders of nature seem to go far beyond what is needed for human learning.” In addition, natural evil “cannot be justified as leading to moral development for themselves or for the human race,” because “the disorder and waste in natural processes long preceded human existence.”33

Hence, in consonance with Russell, Murphy argues that “suffering is seen not so much as a means to good for humans but as an unwanted but unavoidable by-product of conditions in the natural world that have to obtain in order that there be intelligent life at all.”34 Thus, she assumes that “any rich and complex world will be one in which there will be waste, damage, destruction.”35 Nevertheless, Murphy also agrees with Hick that this condition is necessary for a loving response to God.

In this sense, she indicates the choices of God as Creator in terms of non-interventionist action, with its necessary results and implications: (1) a fine-tuned world necessary for the existence of life, but requiring the presence of the second law of thermodynamics; and (2) complex life necessary for the existence of free will, but demanding the reality of pain. Overall, these choices are necessary for a free response to God, nonetheless the “unwanted but necessary by-products of those choices”36 are the existence of moral evil (sin), of metaphysical evil (limitation), and of natural evil (suffering).

Therefore, it appears that Murphy combines the developmental and the constitutive models of theodicy by saying that suffering is inherent to complex life (a constitutive idea), and that this heavy cost for the existence of complex life is, in a sense, an instrument to achieve a goal of “the free and intelligent cooperation of the creature in divine activity”37 (a developmental idea).

• Wesley Wildman. Even though Russell and Murphy conceive suffering from a constitutive perspective, they seem to describe God as a moral and personal entity who makes choices. For them, God made the good decision to create life, and that choice implied the existence of natural evil. In opposition to that notion, Wesley Wildman asserts that God must be understood as the “ground of being,”38 which implies the “rejection of a personal center of divine consciousness and activity,” and consequently the “refusal to align God with a particular moral path.”39 This comprehension allows “both suffering and blessing to flow from the divine nature itself.”40 As a result, Wildman adopts a radical view of the constitutive model of theodicy. According to his idea of creation, suffering “is part of the wellspring of divine creativity in nature.” In contrast to Russell and Murphy, “suffering in nature is neither evil nor a by-product of the good.”41

Taking into account the assumptions that God is the ground of being and that suffering is “fundamental to the whole of reality,”42 Wildman does not need to defend the goodness of God. Rather, his purpose is to suggest that people must accept “the world as it is.”43 Perhaps Wildman’s proposal could not even be considered a theodicy, since the character of God is not at stake. Even though his ideas do not represent the traditional understanding of evolutionary theodicy, they will be helpful in the analysis of the use of the constitutive model in evolutionary theodicy, especially in the context of its theological implications.

Protological Presuppositions of Evolutionary Theodicy

On the basis of the discussion above, the main protological presuppositions underlying evolutionary theodicy may be divided in three parts: (1) the concept of evil; (2) the understanding of the world; (3) the notion of divine activity.

• The concept of evil. The concept of evil comprises many specific assumptions. First, evolutionary theodicy essentially denies the existence of malevolent spiritual entities, namely, Satan and the fallen angels. As a result, natural evil seems to be caused by God’s activity in His creation, which means that evil is part of divine creation. In this context, there are four possibilities for the meaning of natural evil: (1) an instrument for human development [Hick]; (2) a byproduct of God’s creation [Russell]; (3) a byproduct of God’s creation and, in a sense, an instrument for human development [Murphy]; or (4) fundamental to the whole of reality [Wildman]. The first option seems to imply that God intended natural evil in order to achieve His moral goals for His creation. In contrast, the other options appear to suggest that natural evil is physically necessary for creation, but not intended by God.

In the first case, Hick’s developmental approach needs to show how God’s moral goals for humanity justify the presence of natural evil in His creation. Three main arguments may be drawn against this kind of justification: (1) if natural evil existed before the creation of humans, there is no developmental purpose for this evil; (2) the amount of suffering in the world goes beyond what is needed for human learning; (3) there is lack of evidence for a progressive spiritual and moral development in the world.

With regard to the first argument, following an evolutionary perspective, David Griffin argues that “Hick provides no reason why God should have wasted over four billion years setting the stage for the only thing thought to be intrinsically valuable, the moral and spiritual development of human beings. And the high probability that hundreds of millions of years of that preparation involved unnecessary and unuseful pain counts against Hick’s defense of the omnipotent God’s total goodness.”44

Frederick Sontag considers Hick’s theodicy as a bizarre training program, due to the amount of suffering involved: “If God designed this training program we need a new coach. We would not be able to develop without danger, it is true, but my problem is why the dangers were designed so that they actually break and destroy so many?”45 In addition, John Roth asks, “How is the Holocaust compatible with the plan of person-perfecting that he describes? How does Auschwitz fit the claim that there is divine intent ensuring evolutionary progress where human character is concerned?”46

The third argument highlights the fact that there is “no convincing evidence that the human race is improving morally or spiritually” in terms of “a gradual spiritual evolution till human beings reach a full state of God-consciousness.”47 Griffin emphasizes that “our lives are simply too short for the soul-making process to reach completion, at least for most people.”48

Concisely, these assertions reveal two major flaws in Hick’s developmental theodicy. The first two arguments indicate that this theodicy tends to legitimatize evil through a means-end logic, while the third argument implies that this approach is heavily dependent on eschatology.

In order to avoid the risk of justifying evil, most recent evolutionary theodicists have concluded that natural evil must be understood in consonance with “natural law, and not in conformity to a moral principle.”49 In this way, the developmental model needs to be replaced by the constitutive approach, which allows the possibility of conceiving natural evil as physically necessary for creation, but not intended by God. However, by using the constitutive model, Russell, Murphy, and Wildman need to deal with the premises and implications of the belief that the existence of any form of complex life is not possible without suffering. Actually, this belief is related to another significant presupposition of evolutionary theodicy, namely, the evolutionary comprehension of the world.

• The understanding of the world. According to the constitutive model of theodicy, complex life cannot exist without suffering. Hence, suffering must be an essential factor in the understanding of the world. Murphy maintains that “the better we understand the interconnectedness among natural systems in the universe, and especially their bearing on complex life, the clearer it becomes that it would be impossible to have a world that allowed for a free and loving human response to God, yet one without natural evil.”50 Likewise, Russell emphasizes that “biological and physical evils” are “constitutive of life and not the consequences of a primordial human choice.”51

This conception comprises two basic notions: (1) suffering always existed in the world; and (2) there is no creation without suffering. Nevertheless, even though it is possible to say that suffering is part of life as we know it now, it is not possible to affirm with absolute certainty that suffering was, and always will be, part of life. In order to support this concept, it is necessary to assume the principle of uniformity, which is “the belief among scientists that the natural processes we witness today also operated in the past and will continue as they are into the future.”52 As Reijer Hooykaas points out, uniformity is “the methodological principle underlying modern geology and evolutionary biology.”53

Second, if the creation of the world automatically implies the creation of suffering as well, it is impossible for God to create complex life without suffering. According to that perspective, God’s power in creation is limited by the current assumptions of evolutionary biology. Indeed, Russell acknowledges this problematic implication by saying that “in principle any biologically framed response to natural evil must ultimately be an insufficient response to natural evil,” since “God’s choice is not grounded in the stand-alone requirements of evolutionary biology.”54 Still, his theodicy tends to be essentially restricted to eschatology, because he believes that currently there are “limitations in fundamental scientific theories in physics and cosmology”55 for a theodicy somehow framed by protology.

• The notion of divine activity. A significant presupposition related to the principle of uniformity in the world is that of non-interventionist divine action. As Thomas Tracy indicates, “Creation involves a particular sort of divine kenosis, a self-limitation or restraint in the uses of God’s power.” Hence, “God creates an order of natural causes and respects the integrity of that order by allowing it to operate according to its own immanent lawful structure with little or no divine intervention that would disturb its causal history.”56 In this way, evolutionary theodicists tend to think about God’s action at the quantum level. This notion of divine action is fundamental for evolutionary theodicy to support God’s creation in an evolutionary framework.

Theological Implications

These several protological presuppositions produce theological implications for the doctrines of creation and eschatology.

• The doctrine of creation. The idea assumed by evolutionary theodicy that natural evil precedes moral evil has a major implication: Death is part of God’s creation (whether in the developmental or constitutive approaches). As Murphy indicates, “natural history shows that there must have been millions if not billions of years of death before humans entered the scene.”57 In this sense, John Baldwin correctly points out that, “generally, theistic evolutionists claim that God indeed is somehow involved in the creation of species and the development of the geologic column over 3.7 billion years.”58

The development of the geological column portrays a terrible story. According to David Raup, “There are millions of different species of animals and plants on earth—possibly as many as forty million. But somewhere between five and fifty billion species have existed at one time or another. Thus, only but one in a thousand species is still alive—a truly lousy survival: 99.9 percent failure!”59

This picture of creation seems to be incoherent with two biblical ideas usually affirmed by Christians: (1) the goodness of God, and (2) the goodness of creation. The first incoherence raises theodicean questions about the character of God, such as “Does God create through death and extinction as His method of choice? Is God, thereby, involved in the serial genocide of species?”60 As a matter of fact, evolutionary theodicy does not seem to provide “a satisfactory response to the problem of evolutionary suffering and extinction.”61

Furthermore, the Genesis account affirms the goodness of creation. After God finished His creative work on the sixth day, He declared His creation to be very good. As a result, He rested and blessed the seventh day. However, for the sake of consistency, evolutionary theodicy needs to reinterpret this biblical teaching. In this case, the goodness of creation is “understood in terms of fruitful potentiality . . . rather than initial perfection.”62 In other words, “creation is good in its propensity to give rise to great values of beauty, diversity, complexity,”63 and so forth. Second, creation is interpreted as “a continuous process, rather than something completed at the beginning.”64 Following this conception, the goodness of creation can be affirmed “only in the light of the eschatological consummation.”65 To Southgate, creation “will finally be very good at the eschaton . . . and God’s Sabbath rest will be with God’s creation.”66

According to that interpretation, the doctrine of creation is basically absorbed by eschatology. This means that it is almost impossible to see God’s purpose with creation apart from eschatology, which implies that theistic evolution seems unable to find arguments for theodicy in creation, apart from eschatology. As David Hull emphasizes, “What kind of God can one infer from the sort of phenomena epitomized by the species on Darwin’s Galapagos Islands? The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror. . . . Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural selection may be like, he is not . . . the loving God who cares about his productions. . . . The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.”67

The incoherence of evolutionary theodicy appears to be evident when the conception of creation as a continuous process, which reaches its completion only in the eschaton, is compared with the understanding of natural evil as a byproduct of God’s creation. If the whole creation will be very good in the eschaton, which implies the extinction of natural evil, how can Murphy and Russell say that suffering is intrinsic to complex life and that God did not intend evil in evolutionary creation? If life without natural evil is possible in the context of eschatology, why did God include suffering, death, and extinction in His creation? These questions appear to push evolutionary theodicy to developmental arguments, but Murphy and Russell know that Hick’s soul-making approach is not a consistent position.

Finally, theistic evolutionists generally claim that the Genesis account of origins is a “primeval saga,” because it has “the same pre-scientific view of the visible universe as the Mesopotamian creation stories.”68 However, at the same time, they believe that death is part of God’s original creation. In a helpful comparative study between Mesopotamian texts and the Eden narrative presented in Genesis, Tryggve Mettinger indicates that the fundamental difference between the biblical and the Mesopotamian theodicies is the understanding of death. “What we have in Mesopotamia is a type of theodicy in which death is not the result of human guilt but is the way that the gods arranged human existence. . . . On the other hand, what we have in the Eden Narrative is a theodicy that derives the anomic phenomena from human guilt. Death is not what God intended but is the result of human sin.”69

Ironically, by affirming that death is part of God’s creation, evolutionary theodicy seems to be closer to Mesopotamian creation stories than the Genesis account of origins.

• Eschatology. This is probably the most important issue for evolutionary theodicy. Since eschatology is the final step in the process of evolutionary creation, only the last things may reveal God’s purposes with creation. In other words, evolutionary theodicy appears to be totally dependent on eschatology. Nevertheless, as Russell acknowledges, the prognosis indicated by physical cosmology is that “the future of the universe is endless expansion and cooling, and with the eventual and irrevocable extinction of all life in the universe.”70

Considering the presuppositions of a non-interventionist divine action and the principle of uniformity, “how can Christian eschatological hope be reconciled with cosmology’s bleak predictions about the future of the universe?”71 Russell’s response to this question is based on Jesus’ bodily resurrection: “Just as Jesus’ body was transformed into a risen and glorified body, God will transform . . . the universe, into the new creation.”72 However, that answer raises the following challenging question, “how precisely can resurrection be thought of in noninterventionist terms?”73

Based on his developmental approach, Hick describes his conception of eschatology by saying that the “person-making process, leading eventually to a perfect human community, is not completed on this earth.” He assumes “a continuation of our lives in another sphere of existence after bodily death.”74 Therefore, Hick avoids the scientific challenge for eschatology by using the concept of immortality of the soul, which presupposes a dichotomous human nature. However, it seems that this option is not viable for current theistic evolutionists such as Nancey Murphy and John Polkinghorne.

Nonetheless, the constitutive approach does not offer a solution either. If natural evil is intrinsic to life, the logical conclusion is that the eschatological hope (understood in terms of complete eradication of death and suffering) cannot be accomplished. In this sense, Wildman presents a conclusion coherent with the presuppositions of the constitutive model: “There is no science-supported basis for picturing a new heaven and a new earth that is free of suffering.” To put it differently, “a new heaven and a new earth without suffering would be so spectacular a transformation that it would have to be supernatural in character, so we should probably assume that our scientific knowledge should be ignored as irrelevant.”75

Since the complete eradication of death and suffering is the core of biblical eschatology and the center of the Christian hope (John 3:16; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:26; Rev. 21:4), Wildman’s position does not fit as a Christian approach to the problem. However, his conclusion reveals the inconsistency of evolutionary theodicists who assume a constitutive understanding of natural evil and attempt to defend an eschatological goal of God’s creation.


Protology is essential for evolutionary theodicists because they need to explain why God uses natural evil in His evolutionary creation. Nevertheless, their basic presuppositions—such as the non-existence of Satan and fallen angels, evil as intrinsic to life and/or as an instrument to human development, the non-interventionist divine action, and the principle of uniformity—imply that God’s creation does not have any purpose apart from eschatology. According to the developmental approach, God’s purpose with creation is the moral development of the creatures. This approach tends to legitimize evil, and its means-end logic is highly dependent on eschatology.

By affirming that evil is a byproduct of creation and that God did not intend evil, the constitutive model (as employed by Russell and Murphy) implies that God’s purpose with creation is found only in eschatology. Yet, its protological presuppositions prevent the possibility of a world free from death and suffering. Conversely, if its proponents want to affirm this possibility, they must explain the fact that if life without natural evil will be possible in the context of eschatology, why did God include suffering, death, and extinction in His creation? The response to this question probably will be developmental, which means that this answer will ultimately attempt to justify evil, and will be unable to explain why the suffering in this world goes beyond what is necessary for human development.

The inconsistency of evolutionary theodicy calls for a different model of theodicy. However, such a model needs to carefully articulate the foundational concepts of evil, the world, and divine activity.


Adriani Milli Rodrigues, PhD, is a Professor of Theology at the Adventist University of Sao Paulo (Brazil).



1. Christopher Southgate and Andrew Robinson, “Varieties of Theodicy: An Exploration of Responses to the Problem of Evil Based on a Typology of Good-Harm Analysis,” in Nancey C. Murphy, Robert J. Russell, and William R. Stoeger, eds., Physics and Cosmology: Scientific Perspectives on the Problem of Natural Evil (Vatican City State; Berkeley, Calif.: Vatican Observatory Publications; Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 2007), 83.
2. Ibid.
3. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., “A Treatise on the Anger of God,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Albany, Ore.: AGES Software, 1997), 7:564, 565.
4. Southgate and Robinson, “Varieties of Theodicy,” 68.
5. Ibid.
6. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 12.
7. Southgate and Robinson, “Varieties of Theodicy,” 70.
8. Ibid., 70, 71.
9. Ibid., 70, Italics in the original.
10. Ibid., 75.
11. Niels Christian Hvidt, “The Historical Development of the Problem of Evil,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 30.
12. Southgate and Robinson, “Varieties of Theodicy,” 70.
13. Ibid., 76.
14. Ibid., 77.
15. Robert J. Russell, Cosmology: From Alpha to Omega, the Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 15.
16. John Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Stephen T. Davis, ed., Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (Atlanta: John Knox, 1995), 40, 41.
17. Hvidt, “The Historical Development of the Problem of Evil,” 30.
18. Ibid.
19. Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 41.
20. __________, Evil and the God of Love (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 214.
21. Ibid., 214, 215.
22. __________, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 41, 42.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., 47.
25. Ibid., 46.
26. Ibid., 45.
27. Ibid., 43.
28. Russell, Cosmology: From Alpha to Omega, the Creative Mutual Interaction of Theology and Science, 262.
29. __________, “Eschatology and Scientific Cosmology,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 12.
30. Ibid., 21.
31. __________, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 109.
32. Ibid., 110.
33. Nancey C. Murphy and George Francis Rayner Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 245.
34. Nancey C. Murphy, “Science and the Problem of Evil: Suffering as a by-Product of a Finely Tuned Cosmos,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 131.
35. Ibid., 138.
36. Ibid., 137.
37. Ibid., 135.
38. Wesley Wildman, “Incongruous Goodness, Perilous Beauty,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 280.
39. Ibid., 279, 282.
40. Ibid., 279.
41. Ibid., 294.
42. Ibid., 285.
43. Ibid., 280.
44. David R. Griffin, “A Critique of John Hick’s Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 53.
45. Frederick Sontag, “A Critique of John Hick’s Theodicy,” in ibid., 56.
46. John K. Roth, “A Critique of John Hick’s Theodicy,” in ibid., 61.
47. Stephen T. Davis, “A Critique of John Hick’s Theodicy,” in ibid., 58.
48. Griffin, “A Critique of John Hick’s Theodicy,” in ibid., 55.
49. Thomas F. Tracy, “The Lawfulness of Nature and the Problem of Evil,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 165, 166.
50. Murphey, “Science and the Problem of Evil: Suffering as a by-Product of a Finely Tuned Cosmos,” in ibid., 132.
   51. Robert J. Russell, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Davis,Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 123.
   52. Ted Peters and Martinez J. Hewlett, Evolution From Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2003), 206.
   53. Reijer Hooykaas, Natural Law and Divine Miracle: A Historical-Critical Study of the Principle of Uniformity in Geology, Biology, and Theology (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1959), 1.
   54. Russell, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 123. Italics in the original.
   55. Ibid., 128.
   56. Thomas F. Tracy, “The Lawfulness of Nature and the Problem of Evil,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 162.
   57. Nancey Murphy, “Introduction,” in ibid., xii.
   58. John T. Baldwin, “Telos and the God of the Geologic Column: Toward Mapping Theodicean Questions as a First Step in the Discussion of What God Purposes to Do, Chooses Not to Do, or Cannot Do,” a paper presented at the Gloria Patri Creation Conference (June 4-8, 2009), 7.
   59. David M. Raup, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 4.
   60. Baldwin, “Teleos and the God of the Geologic Column,” 7.
   61. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 15.
   62. J. C. Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology (London: SPCK, 1991), 99.
   63. Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil, 15.
   64. Ibid.
   65. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 645.
   66. Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil, 16.
   67. David L. Hull, “The God of the Galapagos,” Nature 352 (1991), 486.
   68. Denis Edwards, “Evolution and the Christian God,” in Hilary D. Regan, Mark William Worthing, and Nancey C. Murphy, eds., Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cosmology and Biological Evolution (Adelaide, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 2002), 175, 176.
   69. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Eden Narrative: A Literary and Religio-Historical Study of Genesis 2–3 (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 133. Italics supplied.
   70. Russell, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2. 
   71. Denis Edwards, “Why Is God Doing This? Suffering, the Universe, and Christian Eschatology,” in Regan, Worthing, and Murphy, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cosmology and Biological Evolution, 265.
   72. Russell, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 25.
   73. Edwards, “Towards a Creativity Defense of Belief in God,” in Regan, Worthing, and Murphy, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cosmology and Biological Evolution, 265.
   74. Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 51.
   75. Wildman, “Incongruous Goodness, Perilous Beauty,” in Murphy, Russell, and Stoeger, Physics and Cosmology, 291.