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Home » The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil » Chapter 3: “Strategies in Evolutionary Theology”

Chapter 3: “Strategies in Evolutionary Theology”






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?


“Do you think so little of your own life? Do you think that no one would mourn your death? I would mourn you!”

  • “X” the series


There was an article of a family looking to adopt a dog.  Being socially conscious they decided on a rescue.  The shelter was filled with energetic, yapping dogs looking for a home.  There was a dog in the back that wasn’t barking.  It was a pitbull, although it was a lot different than the aggressive dogs that was usually depicted in tv on news stories.  The dog was in rough shape having been liberated from a dog fighting ring and was just lying in his cage waiting to die.  He just wanted to be touched, to get any sort of love before the end.  Of course it ends happily with the family adopting him and the dog thriving.


Yes, it matters that God suffers with you.  One of the most terrible experiences is to die alone.  Entertainment cliche is a parent losing a child, well meaning person offers condolences “I can’t imagine what you’re going through”.  The parent angrily snaps ” You have idea what I’m going through!”


One of the most painful things for any parent is to see their child hurt.  They would rather suffer than their child.  Even worse when they have to hurt them to help them.  A young child doesn’t understand why their parent allows painful needles to stuck in for vaccination.


I don’t have completely satisfactory answers on why God allows suffering.  I can only hope that the God who seems to float outside of reality can descend down from his throne in heaven, sit down next to me and cry with me.




Question 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?


It does appear that sin is an exclusively human phenomenon, experience, action, or state of being. But as Thomas F. Tracy points out, so is our capacity for despair and self-hatred. And, I would add, our capacity for love and compassion as a choice (in contrast to a reflex, a survival instinct). It appears that we also have needs that animals do not share such as our need to feel we matter and that we are loved. We are hardwired for connection and will lose our will to live without it. We have the capacity (and perhaps freedom) to experience and inflict emotional as well as physical pain on each other. We also have the capacity and freedom to inflict suffering as well as compassion on non-human creatures.  We also play a big role in extinction of every kind (including genocide). I believe these capacities and traits are the price way pay toward consciousness and free will as Kropf concludes (links to Question 3 below).

Questions and responses (in blue) for Doris and her responses (in red).

For Question 2. In your first response, I take it that you believe that humans are the only beings capable of free will (and therefore culpable of sin) and that animals, more or less, act out of instinct.  CorrectSo would it be appropriate to say that animals are “sinless” and are therefore, not in need of redemption and God only cares about homo sapiens?  I believe animals are sinless. However, there are cases of rape in the animal kingdom for instance, where groups of male dolphins will often attack and isolate a female dolphin from its group and each take turns “raping” the female.  Is this sinful behavior?  Dolphins are one of the more intelligent of animals species out there and there are some who would advocate classifying them as “persons.”   As per the case of a certain species of orca that appears to ‘torture’ its prey before killing it, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that these dolphins are engaging in gang rape and therefore in amoral behavior. That would only be my perception, a human projection on the behavior. We cannot interview dolphins to find out. It is more likely instinctual, herd behavior that may have survival/evolutionary benefits but is not premeditated.

I found this article by a biologist on the subject He concludes: “calling any of this behavior rape trivializes the word rape. It either downplays the horrific human behavior of rape by jokingly misapplying it to quirky animal behavior, or unnecessarily vilifies what is, for dolphins, a diverse catalog of behaviors that might not cause the dolphins involved very much stress, and might even be consensual 100% of the time. In most cases involving male dolphins using aggressive strategies to mate with females, the correct term is sexual coercion, which is NOT synonymous with rape. Unlike rape, sexual coercion might involve consent on the part of the female, and involves many indirect coercive behaviors (e.g., herding, infanticide), and not just forced copulation. In any event, forced copulation as a sexual coercion technique has never been observed in dolphins. In cases where males are directing their penises at the bodies and orifices of other dolphins where reproduction is not the goal, or engage in mounting behavior, the correct term is probably socio-sexual behavior. Again, socio-sexual behavior might involve consent, and does not always involve penetration or forced copulation. The dolphins are rapists meme easily lends itself to being a trendy t-shirt, or link-bait headline, but rape is undoubtedly the wrong term to apply to dolphin behavior. It is a loaded term that really should be used solely to describe the fundamentally horrific, and uniquely human crime of rape as defined by the law. There is no dolphin equivalent”.



Question 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.


I intuitively agree with Richard Kropf’s theology. Kropf sees human suffering as “instrumental to the final birthing of the new creation, just as evolutionary suffering was instrumental in developing the first creation”. Suffering “remains the basic law of all existence that seeks greater being”. And Southgate states that for Kropf “suffering here is not seen as a “trial” or as an unavoidable by-product in the evolutionary process, but as “catalyst of the process itself, and at all levels” (all creation).  As Paul states in Romans 8:22-24 (NIV): “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (links to Question 5 below). God created us in His image but apparently, we have had to evolve into that image—through Darwinian evolution— but that was not enough—we still needed to be transformed into a new creation— to be fit for adoption as His sons and daughters. Jesus had to complete the redemption. I relate this to the model presented in Chapter 2 “of a God who sets up evolutionary processes” (from reptilian-survival/safety, to mammalian-satisfaction, to human/primate-connection brain), “but also intervenes” for the final transformation (deflating the ego that is never satisfied and filling us with himself). Nonetheless humans must exercise their free will and consent to this internal transformation.


Question 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.


In His infinite wisdom, God chose to allow suffering, perhaps as “instrumental to the final birthing” as hypothesized by Kropft, but perhaps also because evil was already present and had infiltrated the creation. Mythologically, the serpent was already present in Eden. As T.F. Torrance states, evil “has infiltrated these functions and features of nature, thereby giving them a malignant twist (…)” and God “makes any obstruction or evil misdirection in nature to serve a fuller and richer end” than otherwise possible. At the same time, God does not interfere with the laws of nature he has created. This is a reflection of his dual attributes of responsiveness and consistency as we have seen in Chapter 2.


For Question 5, so it wasn’t too clear to me that you believed that this was the only way God could’ve created the world through the evolutionary process.  Do you believe this to be so? Rather, the best way we can explain it.  Also, it seems as if you believe that evil was some sort of external, alien, or foreign entity that “invaded” creation.  Is this correct?  If so, then what is the source of this evil?  Is it from God?  If not, then where does it originate from? Evil appears to be a necessary part of the creation formula. It is said that darkness is the absence of light. As such, it is not an entity, it is the absence of an entity. It is where the light is not allowed to enter and shine. But since God is omnipresent, there cannot be any place where He, the light, is not present. Evil is perhaps where the Light is not welcome. CS Lewis’ explanation, that it is free will that makes evil possible but also makes love and goodness possible, resonates with me.

I quote: “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it that it is worth paying.”



Question 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?


Job also came to mind as I read this section. Job’s three friends also came to mind… they assumed that Job must have sinned against God to deserve what he got. They failed to believe that God knew what He was doing. Amen.


And for Question 6, I don’t think you addressed whether you thought it was ok or not to question the ways of God.  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?  In your brief reply, is it not proper or right to question the ways of God?  Should we just accept things as they are and cease questioning?  No, it is not a sign of weak faith to ask question about God.  Not at all. Although God knows everything and wise, and as such, has nothing to learn, humans have everything to learn and ‘evolve’ (intended) through questioning, choices and experience. We ask God to guide and enlighten us as we search for truth and understanding but we need to accept that a full understanding will not take place until the ‘veil’ is lifted and we are allowed to eat from the tree of eternal life.




In section4 “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?


Any serious interaction with God, I would argue, must include the acknowledgement that God bears responsibility for the outcomes of creation as long as he merits credit for it. To deny this is to be intellectually, or theologically, dishonest.


I re-read Job 38-41 in order to answer this question. It is a wonderfully laid out list of creation’s awesomeness, and of the limits of human comprehension. Of course, many of its details can now, in fact, be explained in purely scientific terms, which takes away some of its intended mystery. It is now mathematically possible to “comprehend the vast expanses of the earth”—still, it doesn’t make it any less amazing.


I think the point of Job 38-41 is not that we shouldn’t question God. It is that we cannot question him with the expectation that all answers will be revealed, or that, indeed, he owes us an answer. He does not. But if the purpose of creation is the expression of God’s love, love itself is not a one-dimensional scheme; its give and take aspect is intrinsic to it. If we are serious about God and his love, asking questions is part of the equation. I’d say the weak faith resides in the opposite—never questioning, because never questioning is necessarily afraid of the answers, and if we are serious about God, we cannot be afraid of the answers. Thus the benefit may not necessarily be consolation; in fact, I suspect most answers are unpleasant (thus the never asking questions branch of religion). The benefit, rather, is a better understanding of our Creator and a richer experience within existence and creation.






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?  Whose position do you most side with and why?



Holmes Rolston once wrote, “The cougar’s fang has carved the limbs of the fleet-footed deer, and vice versa.”  In other words, the pressures and stresses caused by natural selection and predator-prey actions give rise to particular features and traits that benefit the survival to both parties.  Rolston believes that without these evolutionary pressures, complex social interactions and advanced brains (therefore human beings) would not be possible. In other words, “Though individuals suffer, the species as a whole becomes better adapted… in which suffering is an instrumental to the development of creatures.”  His theology falls within the second category of good-harm analysis (GHA), Developmental, in which “the good is a goal that can only develop through a process which includes the possibility (or necessity) of harm.”  One outcome of this could be that a virtue can be learned through a process of suffering, or another outcome could be that harmful effects unavoidably occur as by-products that also give rise to goods.


Another aspect of Rolston’s theology is that he sees the divine in the natural order of things, an aspect which he describes as being “cruciform.”  Our natural order “if full of suffering, suffering that reminds us of the Passion of Christ, and… that God suffers with the suffering of his creatures.”   In his words, life is a passion play where, just as Christ suffered and was crucified, “the good does not have its meaning without the suffering intrinsic to it.”  He even refers to the “slaughter of the innocents” as a type of sacrifice. For instance, pelicans usually hatch two eggs, one being an insurance.  The “insurance” chick’s purpose is to ensure that one viable chick survives; it normally has a 10% chance of surviving. Rolston sees this as a “sacrifice” the insurance chick performs in order that its species survives.  Out of this chick’s death, like Jesus sacrifice on the cross, life can regenerate.  These victims “share the labor of the divinity. In their lives, beautiful, tragic, and perpetually incomplete, they speak for God, they prophesy as they participate in the divine pathos,” as Rolston claims.


One criticism that Southgate proposes is that Rolston’s theology fails to address individual suffering; it’s an overall good explanation on larger scales, but at an individual scale, it’s difficult to find any form of redemptive quality in his theodicy.  In a rebuttal to this criticism, Rolston claims that “he sees redemption in the regeneration of other creatures” and that “renewed life comes by blasting the old.”  He sees redemption as a continuous process rather than a singular event. Southgate counter-argues that “the regeneration of life out of the suffering of other life does not of itself ‘redeem’ the suffering experienced by individuals… Regeneration does not comprehend all that is connoted by the word ‘redemption,’ and the suffering of individual organisms.”  Although extinction of one species of animal may benefit the flourishing of another, what redemption is there for the extinct species that had to suffer and die out?  It still doesn’t answer the question of suffering.


Rolston’s view that the evolutionary process is “cruciform” is intriguing in that it would imply that “God is in these events, with the sufferers, in a way that somehow makes the suffering more and other than itself.”  Indeed, there are many other instances of sacrifice on the part of animals, so that other members of its group can survive.  For instance, a head bull moose will often get a pack of wolves to chase after him so that his group can escape to safety, even at the cost of his life.  There is a certain nobility within this view of nature and can definitely see the redemptive, Christ-like characteristic within these actions.  Does God suffer when the “insurance” chick is left to starve as it is neglected by its parents, I’m not so sure.  At the same time, if the pack of wolves fail to catch the moose, then that would mean that the pack could possibly starve to death, especially when food is scarce.  Is God suffering with them too?  I think Rolston would say “Yes.”  But does that mean that God only sides with the side that fails and suffers to death at the end?  It becomes relative and mixed at the end I believe.  However, I can sympathize with Southgate’s critique of Rolston’s theology.  Another problem I see is that Rolston’s view seems to be very utilitarian in many respects where the needs or pleasures of the many outweigh the sufferings of the few.  One major criticism of utilitarianism is that it cannot predict outcomes or consequences that are inherently unknowable.  For instance, the survival of two strong chicks into maturity could lead to more flourishing for the species as a whole.  Or the prevention of the extinction of one species could benefit the survival of other species in the ecosystem as a whole.  And of course, it devalues the intrinsic worth of the individual as just a means to an end.  With that, it’s hard to choose which side, Southgate’s or Rolston’s, I agree with more.


Patricia’s remarks:


Re: “Christ-like” and the idea of victimhood. I said how much it bothered me for suffering to be associated with “Christlike” because it implies a victim, and a victim is almost always, by definition, the weak, and in that structure there is necessarily a victor + a power structure in which someone (the victor) gets to decide who the victim is. What I realized is just how flawed “Christlike” is in this context, by noting two further aspects of Christ: 1. Christ was no weak creature (therefore the “insurance” pelican baby is automatically not Christlike–if we were to have a Christlike figure in this example, it would be the dad or the mom sacrificing themselves, not the baby.). 2. Christ, in fact, spent most of his time on earth alleviating suffering, not condoning for the sake of the “greater good.” The homeless, the sick, the dying, the lepers, etc etc–those were people whose existence could have easily been relegated as unnecessary, if not outright harmful, in the greater scheme of things. But he made it a point to heal and lift them out of victimhood.

So, the more I now think of the idea of suffering correlated to Christ, the more it bothers me, because its implications are very serious. Historically, so many groups have been marginalized in its name that it’s impossible to count. And the more I think about it, the more I do believe that true Christlike suffering only exists when those in a position of power sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

So evolution, then, in strictly Darwinian terms, is pretty much the antithesis of Christlike (since it’s the strong who win at the expense of the weak).

Huh. Never thought about Christ like this…
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