Posted by: stumpffk | May 3, 2009

Is the waste and suffering in evolution compatible with God?

So in an effort to better answer a question Jen asked me at the Senior Legacy Symposium a week and a half ago, I thought I would try and post a more clear response.  Jen asked me something along the lines of, “if a Trinitarian view of God is compatible with evolution, how do you account for the suffering and waste present in the process?”  

The first response I would make is one along the lines of Teilhard’s theology.  Teilhard observed that the university is increasing in complexity and consciousness.  This complexity-consciousness relationship is a general increase as the world evolves, not species specific or every creature, but on the general order.  I argue in my paper that God creates through evolution because it is a free, autonomous process and this allows the world to be ‘other’ than God and he respects this process.  One could argue then that in order for complexity and subsequently consciousness to arise, that certain species had to die out or make way for new ones.  For example, if the Dinosaurs had never gone extinct, humans would not be present on earth.  Therefore what seems like waste is more like just a step in the process along the greater purpose and plan for God’s creation.  It is also important to realize that a lot of the extinctions that have occurred over the last 200,000 years or so have been a result of human activity and not natural selection.

The second point I would argue come via John Haught.  I believe that Haught would take question with using the word suffering in relation to evolution.  First, animals obviously feel pain, but to say an animal suffers may be a stretch.  Suffering is a human construct and to me suffering presupposes consciousness.  For Haught, what seems as suffering or waste to humans may not be so in the eyes of the creator, they are, just as I have said, human constructs.  God upholds the integrity of the laws he governs and so in the random wanderings of natural selection species disappear as new ones emerge.  This however does not need to be waste but part of the freedom of the process.  Waste may be too strong of a word and just a human misperception of the consequences of evolution.

I am sure that this is in no way a satisfactory response or answer but hopefully it is a start or someone can disagree with me and have some good discussion.



  1. this is a tuffy (and I don’t mean the autoshop). To me the most satisfying answer lies in Haught’s response: he also says something along the lines of if God had created a perfect world from the beginning there would be no story, no adventure, no uncertainty…it wouldn’t have been worth creating in the first place because it would have been static perfection with nothing interesting about it.

    For some reason I always think about Romeo and Juliet…in case you (collective you) forgot they both die-on the surface the story sucks, it’s a tragedy and why on earth would we elevate tragic endings above the happy ones, why do they move us in a way loves that work out simply cannot? I think something about human nature finds beauty in tragedy, in brokeness and in sadness. Life means something because it ends, love is more passionate when it shakes you out of the everyday.

    Maybe this is a reflection of God’s nature- on the surface it seems to suck: we yell at romeo not to drink the poison, we feel cheated, his life was a waste-but the story is timeless and it inspires us to live our lives, love our loves in a different way than before.

  2. This is a really interesting post. I had never thought of waste in the way it is described here, as a human construct. I have recently been struggling with the way humans treat the earth and the life around us. It seems wrong how we often “destroy” our environment and take advantage of our surroundings as if we are the gods of the earth. I’m not sure the implications of my thoughts, but perhaps it is something irreconcilable. Throughout this semester I’ve come to find that we may never decide on what is the “moral” thing to do. I was speaking to Jen about this a bit, mainly discussing animal cruelty and my brief contemplations on becoming vegetarian. As she pointed out, even eating vegetarian cuisine could lead one to consuming food that has been mass-produced by workers who are being oppressed. Anyway, I enjoyed this post as a more in-depth response to a difficult question.

  3. I tend to agree with Kelly’s notion of waste in the evolutionary process. It can be seen as a step in the process, and we would never have come into existence if other species had not died out. One idea I want to add to this concept is that we might be able to view the extinction of species in the same way we view human personhood. In end-of-life issues (like the case studies from a medical ethics class), I feel it is necessary to view people has being full persons. Humans have special endowments that make them human and no condition- mental status, consciousness, physical abilities- can take this away from them. Therefore, despite any condition at any point of life (no matter how long that life is) a person has the ability to life a full and meaningful life. I think it could be helpful to view all species the same way. All of the species that came before us lived out full and meaningful existences. Their extinction was not a waste, but just the end of their unique contribution to creation.

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