Above is a reading from a scene between Ivan (a skeptic) and his religious brother Alyosha from Fydor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov regarding the difficulty of believing in a loving God in the face of the abuse and suffering of innocent children.
Though Southgate’s book focuses primarily on the suffering of animals, he uses the illustration above in this chapter to convey his thesis that “[T]he crux of the problem is not the overall system and its overall goodness but the Christian’s struggle with the challenge to the goodness of God posed by specific cases of innocent suffering.”
We will finish Chapter 1 and answer one of the following questions:
- In Section 1.6 “Responses to the Problem of Darwin Onward” do you agree with naturalist Asa Gray’s response to Darwin that evolution “gave a reason for the suffering”? And that because of evolution, “theology was thereby liberated from a model of God as the distant designer of every detail of the natural world.” Do you think old models or theologies about God made him seem distant from creation, as Aubrey Moore stated that “Science has pushed the deist’s God further and further away”? Do you see “evolution as opening up a model of God as immanent in creation, and as giving that creation freedom to generate its own forms”? State your reasons as to why or why not.
- In Section 7 “A Key Move in Evolutionary Theodicy”, he states that the real crux of the problem isn’t with the natural order of things but rather our struggle, as Christians, is the challenge it poses on God’s goodness, especially in cases of innocent suffering. He uses the powerful example from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to illustrate his point. Summarize in your own words what Ivan Karamazov’s problem is with God. Does he make a strong case with his illustration? How would you respond to his questions? Would you agree with him? Why or why not? What possible explanation or answer could you give him? Does he give good reasons to seriously doubt God’s goodness? Could this be applied to animal suffering as well? Or is it different? Why or why not? In other words, is human suffering distinct from animal suffering and thereby more important in the grand scheme of creation?
- In Section 1.7, Southgate writes about the problem of extinction. He acknowledges that “extinction is a necessary part of the process that drives innovation and complexification.” He then illustrates the existence of an extinct hominid species that was recently discovered in 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores called Homo Floresiensis. Out of all the hominid species that have lived, our species, homo sapien sapiens, is the only one to have survived and thrived till this day. What do you think it says about God and the rise of our species at the expense of other hominid species having gone extinct? Do you believe God was involved or guided the extinction of other human species in order for our homo sapien sapiens species to dominate nature as it has for the past 200,000 years (for homo sapiens and 50,000 years for our current sub-species homo sapien sapiens)? Did God privilege our particular human species at the expense of all other hominid species? Or was it all by chance that homo sapiens did not go extinct? As Kropf writes, “Can the emergence of even one new species, one showing greater spontaneity and intelligence, be said to justify the disappearance of a hundred others that are less gifted?”
- In the last section of the chapter, Section 1.8 “My Own Approach: A Compound Evolutionary Theodicy”, he states that he sees “creation as a continuous process, rather than something completed at the beginning of time… [and] that creation is ‘unfinished.’” Do you agree that an eschatological viewpoint of creation is necessary to justify all the suffering and pain that is inherent in creation – that is, “Creation then will finally be very good at the eschaton, when God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28), and God’s Sabbath rest will be with God’s creation”? Do you believe that at the End, God will redeem all the suffering and death of creation and create something new out of it? Why do you believe that? Or why don’t you believe in that? Is it just a metaphor? Would it all be a waste if there is no eschatological redemption of creation and all of life died billions of years from now as the sun dies?
- In Section 1.8, Southgate outlines his approach to evolutionary theodicy. In his last point, he writes about “divine fellowship with creatures… [may be] the goal of evolutionary creation.” Do you agree with him that “humans are of very particular concern to God” and that “humans have a crucial and positive role… [as God’s] ‘co-redeemer’”? If you do, how can humans cooperate with God as co-redeemer? Does it relate with the Imago Dei? Do you believe that “divine fellowship” can be achievable within creation? If so, what do you think will need to take place for this to happen?
Submit your responses by this Saturday, March 4.