Theistic Evolution and Evil

William Dembski writes about the response to the problem of evil known as theistic evolution. [1] Theistic evolution in general tries to reconcile evolutionary theory with theistic belief. The position holds that God engineered the origin of species utilizing the evolutionary process.

Gerald Rau further breaks down theistic evolution into two categories: planned evolution and directed evolution. [2] Planned evolution, says Rau, is the position that God baked in the potential for the evolutionary process at the moment of creation. On this view God need not intervene in nature because of how perfectly he orchestrated its origin. One might imagine a pool player firing off the cue at such a perfect angle that it strikes each of the intended balls in turn and sends them to their targets. God “fired off the cue ball” at the Big Bang, but then need not intervene further. Directed evolution is Rau’s other model. On this view God does intervene directly to raise the probability of otherwise improbable events. Critics of evolution, for example, may attack the radical improbability of various stages of the evolutionary process. While planned evolution entails that God set things up at the origin so that the combinations are not really by chance, directed evolution holds that God intervenes directly at the moment of such a chance event in order to bring about the desired result.

Whichever form of theistic evolution is in view, Dembski describes the desire to use this theory to relieve God of moral responsibility for the evil we encounter in this world. This is done by a move from God’s direct action in creation to God’s indirect action by means of the evolutionary process. One might think of an engineer who faces certain design constraints that prevent the possibility of a “perfect” structure. God makes certain trade-offs, as it were, as he brought about the diversity of life we find in this world. God is not therefore responsible for all of the evil that we find.

Dembski does not find this explanation persuasive. His primary argument is that it the move from God’s direct action to his indirect action does not remove God’s moral responsibility for the results. He illustrates this by imaging an attacker who attacks someone with his hands versus one who brings a dog and sets the dog on his victim.

This does not seem to be a satisfying response. In Dembski’s illustration, the attacker need not attack the victim at all. So the choice between attacking with ones hands and attacking with his dog misses the mark. It also places the intention of the attacker in the attack itself, whereas the theistic evolutionist would hold that natural evils are an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of a world that is optimal for God’s purposes.

It seems that Dembski’s argument may prove too much as well, as it is difficult to see how it would not similarly impact the free will defense. God may not bring about moral evil directly, but he creates humans who he knew would commit moral atrocities.

It seems that the overall type of argument that the theistic evolutionist would bring is not objectionable. William Lane Craig makes a similar argument. [3] He argues that it may be the case that a world suffused with the type of evil we have in our world today may be the most optimal world in which God’s purpose (redemption) is accomplished. God knows this beforehand and actualizes the world anyway. In other words, God has a morally sufficient reason for creating a world in which we see the kinds of evil that we do today.

While I do not disagree with the type of argument that the theistic evolutionist is bringing, I must agree with Dembski that the position does not seem to be faithful to scripture. As Dembski points out, the author of Genesis stipulated that creatures reproduced “after their own kind”. The theistic evolutionist, however, is committed to the notion that through successive generations creatures reproduce after every kind. It is beyond the scope of this brief response to explore the validity of the evolutionary theory, but Dembski is correct in saying that the prima facie appearance is that theistic evolution is not faithful to scripture.


[1] William Dembski, Evil, Creation and Intelligent Design in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain – Kindle Edition by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2013), Ch 18.

[2] Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything – Kindle Edition (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), Ch 2.3.

[3] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision – Kindle (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), Ch 7.

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