Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, July 02, 2007

Evolutionary Evil

Evolutionary Evil
Will G

What Is Evolutionary Evil and Why Is It A Problem?

There is quite a large difference between natural evil, like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and unpreventable diseases, and natural evil that has nothing to do with humans and cannot plausibly be related to humans in any way. This post concerns animal suffering that cannot be related to humans or humans' existence, because it existed before humans existed or before humans sinned. Although many philosophers would also classify that as natural evil, I am making a distinction here between human related and non-human related evil.

Evolutionary evil is a problem distinct from natural evil, because evolutionary evil existed before the Fall of Mankind, which is described in Genesis, and thus existed before, and exists independent of, any evil that humans have done, including sinning for the first time. Thus evolutionary evil seems to exist without humans doing anything to bring down any judgement on either humanity or the animal kingdom. This is puzzling. If evil existed before humans, and before the Fall, before the first human sin, then why would God create a world with evil in it before any sin?

Creationists have an easy answer to the problem of evolutionary evil - it never existed, and there is no evil apart from natural evil. Evil came into the world through the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden and from nothing else. This explanation is a complete refutation of evolutionary evil, since obviously if evolution didn't happen, then you can't have evolutionary evil. Since I don't believe in creationism, the task for me is to explain why God created evil before any sin, before humanity's Fall, since it is so strange and inexplicable from any Christian perspective as to why God would allow evil in reality before sin.

Must Some Evil Necessarily Exist?

One response to evil I have lately come to appreciate as being particularly effective has been to argue that God is limited in creating morally perfect creatures outside himself. This approach, which I discuss here, is to basically say that apart from being unable to do some logically impossible things like make 2+2=5, God is limited by other logical limits. This is not to argue that God is logically limited in some ways, and is also limited in non-logical ways, because that would imply God is restricted from doing more than what is logically impossible. What I mean to say is, that if we understood reality and our own concepts better, we would know that just like making 2+2=5 is logically impossible, these other limitations on God are logically impossible in a similar way. It's just that due to our lack of understanding about logic and necessary concepts of God, or God's nature, or what-have-you, we don't immediately grasp why God cannot create perfect beings outside himself. But this limitation does exist.

Now, I have no evidence from the Bible that God cannot create perfect characters outside himself, but why not if it doesn't undermine Christianity to say this, or any Christian doctrine, and also is possible from our perspective? What I am doing is limiting God more than others have limited him, but unlike some others, like process theologians, my limitations actually don't interfere with Christian theology. So it doesn't hurt my faith to believe that God cannot create perfect characters outside himself, as long as we can be perfected in the future by receiving the Holy Spirit, which connects us to God. It also is possibly true since we don't know that much about God except in a very intuitive and Biblical sense and for all we know these strange logical limits do exist. I mainly take this route because it is possible and helps explain why a lot of evil exists.

Based on this perspective, I would say that God is logically limited in creating perfect creatures outside himself, which explains why there is any moral imperfection in any creature at all, because God would definitely try as hard as possible to create creatures with perfect characters. The question is, can this be applied to God also being limited in having to create evil in any universe he makes that could be plausibly described as evolutionary evil?

The next step of my argument would be to apply the idea that God is logically limited in creating perfect characters, to somehow argue that any reality God creates must contain some evil, as a matter of logical necessity.

For one thing, I find it plausible if we're allowing a limitation that God cannot create perfect characters, that we might, via the same kind of thinking, believe that any reality God creates has to be imperfect but with experience as opposed to character. Like with morally flawed characters, you somehow get a morally flawed experience - a reality containing suffering. That would explain evolutionary evil, since any universe God creates must contain some 'background' evil, which is explainable as evolutionary evil.

Another explanation could be that the reality of all creatures is determined by their moral goodness, so since any creatures God creates are slightly morally imperfect, their reality is slightly morally imperfect. This is panentheistic, an approach I touch on in this article here. In this panentheistic view, the structure of reality is determined by the minds of the people inhabiting it - reality is fundamentally like an idea. And because of our moral badness, and the fact that reality ultimately is contained in God, then our reality possesses imperfections in it which come across to us as evil. So when God created Adam and Eve (or the original humans) they were slightly morally imperfect and hence their reality contained a slight amount of evil - let's say evolutionary evil, as a background thing.

A third explanation would be that just not being in God's presence leads to a small amount of evil in reality, since being away from God's presence leads to suffering inherently, for creatures made in the image of God, and we have to be away from God's presence because of our necessary imperfection. Our necessary imperfection explains why we cannot 'live with God' and inhabit a world without any evil, either now (natural evil) or in its past (evolutionary evil.)

Whatever the answer, I take as valid the idea that God is logically limited in creating some evil in any reality that he creates, regardless of whether any creatures in that reality have sinned. So when God created our universe, to place humans in it, he necessarily had to create it slightly imperfect with some evolutionary evil, which is the background evil we observe, which is the long history of animals suffering by evolution up until now. This is my basic theory in this essay.

Given this theory, there are some questions.

Problem 1: Isn't There A Bit Too Much Evolutionary Evil for This to Work?

Now, in this idea, just like God is logically limited in creating perfect characters outside himself (i.e. any character that is not God or connected with God is slightly imperfect) so God is limited in creating a perfect reality without any suffering. Now, if you recall my original article here detailing why God can't create perfect characters, I said that God can create characters that are *very* good, but not absolutely perfect. In other words, Adam and Eve or the original humans were 99.999% good, but very slightly evil, just enough evil to lead to the Fall of humanity. But if you apply the same kind of standard to a moral experience of reality, then it is obvious that nature is not 99.999% good, but is in fact 'red in tooth and claw' (Mill) and is filled with all kinds of evil of animals inflicting pain on another animals. So even though hypothetically my explanation might work to explain why there might be some evil in any reality God creates, it does not explain the vast scope of evolutionary evil.

One response to this is to say that once you remove from God an absolute burden to prevent evil, that is, once we're speaking in terms of proportions of evil to good in the world rather than God preventing all evil or not existing, then the situation could change radically. One issue with the problem of evil is that any gratuitous evil at all spells the necessary nonexistence of God because a good God would prevent any unnecessary evil. But we see here how a small amount of gratuitous evil might be necessary, so it is no longer a question 'Why would a good God create a world with evil in it' the question is 'Why is the proportion of good to evil so small?' But is it small? Consider all the good experiences in your life versus all the bad experiences of your life. Most people would surely have vastly more good than bad, as recorded as individual units of contentedness and pain measured somehow. For animals, years of peacefully grazing for a gazelle is not outweighed by one minute of pursuit by a predator and a quick death. And many animals cannot experience pain, or not to the extent certainly of humans. See a very good article on this here by Glenn Miller. I think that we have a bias in thinking there is really much more evil in the world than there actually is, because evil is so horrible we tend to remember it more than good things, but ironically this is that case because evil is so rare. Just like the way people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket by reading the daily paper, when in fact people in the world have generally never been better off and society is actually going OK.

A second response would be to say, so? Maybe God is logically limited not in creating creatures 99.999% perfect, but maybe let's say, 90% perfect, much less perfect. We really don't know. It could be true that the necessary imperfection is actually quite significant.

I take it that these two responses offer good possibilities to rebut this point.

Problem 2: How Does This Fit in with the Fall?

Now, under this explanation it seems you could explain a certain amount of evolutionary, or 'background' evil in reality, before and independent of any sin by any creature. But then what if you factor in an actual Fall as well - an actual sin by a creature and Fall by humanity? Under this model, it would seem to be the case that there would be a massive increase in evil in the world with the Fall of humanity. But actually, animals are not any worse of, if evolution is to be believed, after the Fall, whenever that happened, because there's still just as much animal suffering now as 500,000 years ago. So why doesn't the Fall lead to more evil for animals?

I think we probably can explain how the amount of evil in reality went up significantly after the Fall, but not its directionality - i.e., only towards humans. Evil in the universe went up significantly because evil suffered by humans is much, much greater than evil suffered by animals, even for the same physical happening. For instance, an animal caught in a bear trap might suffer 100 units of evil, whereas a human caught in a bear trap, because of our greater cognitive ability, our intelligence, etc., suffers more units of evil. So after the Fall, for whatever reason, the amount of natural evil in the world did actually increase massively, because for the first time humans began to experience great amounts of natural evil. Instead of natural disasters not affecting humans, they started to affect humans greatly. But why did all this new evil only affect humans and not make life more painful for animals? I don't really know, the best I can say is that's just a property of the Fall for whatever reason. On this point, I'm strongly inclined to say it's not a judgement from God but is just something that has to happen. Somehow, as a result of the Fall, we began to experience what animals had been experiencing until then, and the reason why is contained in a much fuller understanding of the Fall.

Problem 3: How Is It Necessary from My Argument That The Universe Be 14 Billion Years Old?

What I have hoped to establish here is an argument for why God would have to allow a certain amount of 'background', which I understand to be 'evolutionary', evil in any reality he creates for intelligent creatures. This is a good thing if true for understanding why God allowed evil in our reality without humans sinning. However, does it explain why the universe is 14 billion years old, which science indicates it is?

Consider, under my explanation all that is necessary in terms of evil is that God creates the world and has to allow a certain amount of suffering in it. But why would he create that world in 14 billion years rather than 6 or so days? Why not create the world in 6 days, and let humans live in bliss with low levels of animal suffering relative to animal happiness, until the Fall? In other words, there is no necessity in my view that the world be as old as it is, although it is necessary in my view that it contains the same good/evil ratio under either model of God's creating, with or without evolution.

One answer to this problem I might suggest, is that this objection/question is irrelevant. The point is - why does pre-Fall evil exist. The question of how long that pre-Fall evil has existed for, 6 days plus the length of time before the Fall, or 14 billion years, is irrelevant, because no less or greater evil results from creating the universe quickly or slowly. And since the amount of evil relative to good would be the same however long God took to create the universe, then we may in this instance, since there is no real problem of evil, simply shrug our shoulders and say, well, there may be an explanation. Not knowing this explanation know doesn't matter that much, because we know that however long God took, the world would still contain the same amount of evil, so we can be released from the obligation of having to come up with an explanation in this instance and refer the matter to the mysterious ways of God.

Another response might be to say, as a very sketchy explanation, that actually it makes more sense for God to take a very long time to create the universe, with very many generations of animals, in order to create more happiness overall if there is more good than bad in such a world for animals. Now, given the imperfection argument, you cannot eliminate all evil in reality, but you can ensure a very high ratio of goodness to evil. So from God's point of view, it is justified to create a universe with necessary evil because perhaps one gazelle peacefully grazing for all its life would rather live and experience that joy even though it experienced a few minutes of being killed by a predator much later on. This makes sense, I believe. I mean, if you have 99 seconds of happiness for one second without happiness, I believe that most people would rather enjoy those 99 seconds if they have to experience not being happy for that one second. So in other words, it's a very profitable transaction for God, from the perspective of happiness, to create an animal world with more good than bad overall, and prolong it for a long time. I mean, it's like investing in a company. If you invest a certain amount of money in a company, and you get a high return, then it stands to reason if you had much more money you'd do the same thing for an even greater return. So just like the investor massively expands the amount of his investment if he is sure he will receive a more profitable return - in order to make that return much greater, so God massively expands the experience of animals in the universe by making the universe older, because he is sure he will receive a profitable return on animal happiness, that is, there is more good than bad in the animal world. So maybe a universe that is 14 billion years old has much greater absolute levels of happiness, than a universe that is only 6 days old.


This is an interesting exercise in a hypothetical theodicy for evolutionary evil. Although, at this stage, I think this article is very speculative, it may be that it can be used to create a sound defense against the existence of evolutionary evil in the world.

I should also note as an addendum, that I think if you could explain evolutionary evil under a Christian worldview, then one of the two great reasons why Christians don't like the theory of evolution could be effectively rebutted, which is that evolution does imply an evil God in a sense, as a God who creates life in a process involving great suffering. The other objection to evolution from Christianity of course being, that scriptural inerrancy seems to imply a non-evolutionary view.


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