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Chapter 3: “Strategies in Evolutionary Theology”

Image result for god suffers alongside us

Job suffers and mourns alongside Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Does God suffer alongside us as well?


We will go over Chapter 3: “Strategies in Evolutionary Theology” in Christopher Southgate’s book The Groaning of Creation.

Please answer one of the following questions:


  1. In section 2 “Good-Harm Analyses”, Southgate, along with Andrew Robinson, lists three ways in which good-harm analysis (GHA) may be formulated: (1) Property-consequence GHA (2) Developmental GHA (3) Constitutive GHA. Summarize each way and state which one you agree with or more strongly lean towards and why.
  2. In section 2 “Good-Harm Analyses”, Southgate mentions the “free-will” explanation of human-caused evil. He points out a major weakness in that argument when he states, “[I]t is hard to extrapolate this to animals, since they do not, as far as we know, possess freedom of choice as humans do.”  Furthermore, he quotes C.S. Lewis: “So far as we know beasts are incapable either of sin or virtue: therefore they can neither deserve pain or be improved by it.”  Are animals capable of free will, or is it a feature exclusive to humans?  State your reasons and or evidence to defend your claim.  Are animals capable of “sin”?  If so, will they be judged for their actions like many believers think will happen to all humans in the Last Judgment?  In general, is sin an exclusively human phenomenon, experience, action, or state of being?
  3. In section 2 “Good-Harm Analyses”, summarize Richard Kropf’s theology of suffering. How does he relate human suffering and the new creation?  Does he view suffering as a necessary part of existence?  Is there an aim to suffering for him?  Do you agree with his viewpoints?  Why or why not?  Explain.
  4. In section 2 “Good-Harm Analyses”, Southgate mentions Holmes Rolston III, an ecological theologian. What are Rolston’s views on suffering and predation?  Explain where redemption fits in with his overall theology.  What does Rolston mean that creation is “cruciform” or “that it is a passion play”?  Summarize Southgate’s critique of Rolston.  How does Southgate’s view of extinction distinguish with Rolston’s?  Who’s position do you most side with and why?
  5. In section 3 “The Centrality of a Developmental Approach to the Goods and Harms of Evolution”, Southgate introduces the “only way” argument that God’s use of evolution along with all the suffering that it entails was the only choice he had in creating the world. He asks, “Why did God choose to create this universe with these laws and constants, knowing they would then make neo-Darwinian evolution unavoidable and with it the sweep of natural evil?”  Do you agree with the “only way” argument?  Why or why not?  Could God have created in another possible way that did not involve suffering and death?  If so, then what could God have chosen to do?  Explain your reasoning.
  6. In section 4 “A Focus on the Suffering of the Individual Creature”, describe the depiction of God in the book of Job (particularly Job 38-41). Do you agree that “it is not for us to question the ways of the Creator God”?   Must one just resolve to the fact that God doesn’t need or owe us an explanation at all for the suffering in the world?  Or must we continue to ask because “God still bears the responsibility for all that to which God has given rise, including apparently pointless suffering”?  Is it a sign of weak faith the ask these questions about God?  Is it too presumptuous?  What benefit, in any, do we get by questioning God and his actions or his inactions?
  7. In section 4 “A Focus on the Suffering of the Individual Creature”, Denis Edwards sees creation as a Passion play when he points out that the Cross of Christ “ought not be seen as simply the following out of a preordained divine plan, but more as God bringing life out of what was in itself a sinful and destructive act.” Is this a better model of atonement rather than the more traditional views of atonement?  Does this model fit well with answering some questions of evolutionary suffering?  Why or why not?  In Southgate’s critique of Edward’s cruciform view of creation, he writes that “the cruciform life was chosen by Jesus, and from this choice came the saving power of his love.”  Do you believe that Jesus death was something pre-ordained by God and that Jesus had no choice in the matter whatsoever?  Or was it a free choice for Jesus?  If so, could he have abandoned the Cross and his ministry?  Is salvation possible without a bloody atonement or sacrifice, or could Jesus have saved through his continued miracles, healings, and teachings?
  8. In section 5 “God’s Co-Suffering with the Creature”, Southgate mentions “the divine pathos” in that God suffers alongside his creation, or that “God suffers in and with the sufferings of created humanity and so, by a natural extension, with those of all creation” as Arthur Peacocke states. However, Southgate responds, “But it also begs that question so vital in theology: So what?  What does it matter to the suffering creature that God suffers with it?”  Furthermore, “if God was powerless to prevent the suffering in the first place, then ‘to the person in urgent need of succor, it would conceivably be just as efficacious to look to unicorns and centaurs for salvation’” as Kenneth Surin remarks.  Do you believe that God suffers alongside his creation?  Why or why not?  If so, what difference does divine co-suffering make?
  9. In section 5 “God’s Co-Suffering with the Creature”, process thinker Jay McDaniel concludes: “As God lured advanced forms of life into existence, there was a risk involved, even for God.” Do you agree that creation was a risky endeavor for God to take action in?  Do you believe that there was a certain element of uncertainty involved in God’s part in the act of creation or in the decision to create the world?  Or did God go in knowing full well everything that was to occur in creation and the process of evolution?  If so, then does God bear the responsibility for all that he has given rise to, including pointless suffering?  Or is he not involved at all, hence the seemingly deafening divine silence at times?  Did he just “wind” everything up and left creation to fend for itself with no involvement or interference on his part?


We will submit our responses this weekend.




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