For theists who accept evolution …

January 31, 2011

… a very serious problem arises:-

“But Darwin had noticed something that most religious believers simply have not even considered. It is said that after his beloved daughter Annie died of tuberculosis at the age of 10, Darwin stopped attending church. He would accompany his family to the church door, and then carry on with his morning walk. Why? Scarcely anyone asks this question. Why did his daughter’s death topple whatever semblance of faith he had managed to preserve, mainly for his wife’s sake, over whose letter expressing her sense that life would not be worthwhile if she could not believe that they would be reunited after death, he had so often cried? I think I know the answer. It was not just that someone deeply loved had died. The reason was that Darwin had seen, in the death of his ten-year-old daughter, the process of natural selection at work, and the horror of that process, the pain and suffering and the snuffing out of a bright life and all its hopefulness, made it brutally clear that this was an impersonal process, indifferent and blind to the suffering it caused. This was not the product of a caring or benevolent being. It was a mechanical process in which life was indifferently selected for or selected out, much like a stock breeder will choose between the animals that are chosen as studs for breeding and those that are turned into steers for slaughter. And Annie had been selected out. Belief in God could not survive that.

[Many miss] the new dimension that Darwin’s theory adds to the problem of evil. Evolution plans suffering and death into the very process of “creation” itself. Indeed, evolution is the problem of evil magnified. It is one thing to recognise that there is suffering, violence and death in the world, and that, in itself, has been a virtually unsolvable problem for religion. Epicurus’ argument, quoted by Hume, seems to be decisive. “Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? then he is incompetent. Is he able but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? whence then is evil?” (Dialogues of Natural Religion, Part X) But if God has planned additional suffering into the very process by which he creates life, then the problem of evil is simply magnified. Not being able to create life without suffering, violence and death is problem enough. But creating life by means of suffering, violence and death: that’s another problem altogether.”

Anyone who understands the theory of evolution is forced (by sheer power of plausibility) to accept it as the truest account we have of the origins of human and non-human animals. The problem of suffering discounts any role for a benevolent god.


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