Project Augustine

The Groaning of Creation” – Chapter 1 “Introduction”: Part II





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?”



I’m reminded of the Statue of Liberty.  If you take a helicopter ride, you can actually see top of the crown of the statue, its hair is surprisingly detailed.  Keeping in mind that the statue was designed and made before we had anything like air-flight, it might have been frustrating to put some much work into something that no one conceivably see.  It must have been tempting to scrimp or take shortcuts.  Even though no one would see it, it was painstakingly finished.


Image result for statue of liberty hair detail

Detail of hair on the Statue of Liberty.


Does something only have value if there is an audience to applaud?  When we do a good deed, are we to draw attention to it or do it in a corner (Mathew 6:1)? An unseen act of kindness may not be recorded in a Bible for masses to learn for hundreds of years, but perhaps a good act is its own reward? The private act has a glowing beauty that is worth it, even if no one else sees.


Just because something went extinct does not mean it was a waste or had no value because it wasn’t known for posterity.  Because a species is no more, while humanity still is, doesn’t mean that extinct species had no value.  Even the lives of simple people who lived Godly lives mattered greatly while not being famous.






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?


Southgate reaches that conclusion after a series of very interesting bullet points. Notably, he starts his list with the idea that “the good of creation” is “in giving rise to all sorts of values.” That he wraps his list with humans is not accidental; it shows both his belief in the progression (evolution) of activity/creation and the importance of humans as its epitome. His progression also goes along with the two accounts of creation of Genesis, which seem to culminate with humanity.


I take “divine fellowship with creatures” to be a form of pantheism. If this is true, and if humans do indeed represent some sort of culmination in creation, starting from a point of values that God would have infused into his creation, then human cooperation with God as co-redeemers makes sense. Specifically, God would have created based on a foundation of values—either static or evolving, so values are built into the very nature of creation. If we (as the surviving Homo species) represent some culmination in that construction process, it makes sense that God could use us to better his creation. How? Ethics, religion, mores, civilization—all the ways in which our natural capacities and instincts are funneled, the greatest, and ultimate one, being love.


Yes, this does relate to Imago Dei. All of creation is some aspect of Imago Dei. If what I wrote above holds true, human evolution is a fine-tuning of Imago Dei in creation, an imperfect world.





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?


This is an interesting way of looking at the problem of suffering in creation. Since God transcends time and sees all of eternity past and future at once, He would certainly be in a good position to assess the ultimate ‘goodness’ of his creation. The suffering of creation would then be seen as a necessary evil, so that the necessary changes in matter (evolution) could take place and humans and other creatures could emerge according to God’s natural laws. Our destiny was planned “before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) and “before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20).  Once we did emerge, we could act on creation and influence survival of the less fit…. or extinction of the fit…and to add to or alleviate the suffering.  So, it appears that humans have a special role in God’s creation – both potentially positive and negative. In our fallen state, left to own, we are likely to do more harm than good, hence the need for an eschatological redemption of creation ensuring that it has been/is/will be “very good”.  (I’m out of my depth!!!)






InSection 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?




Summary: Is the existence of humanity (possessing free will) and the possibility of good, worth the existence of evil, worth the injustice perpetrated on the innocent?


“Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God’!”


As I keep on bringing out the standard responses to the problem of evil (e.g. allowing for the possibility of good, or mitigating evil through punishment in hell or through forgiveness, etc.), Ivan keeps on shooting them down.


And so, I would agree with him. Even if I can come up with arguments that make sense intellectually, I think that Ivan’s objections “make sense emotionally.”


The only other responses I can think of to tell Ivan are that (1) it cuts both ways – with the problem of evil comes also the problem of good. What right do we even have to claim injustice unless justice and goodness exist? And (2) have faith that God somehow is absorbing the evil and is transforming it into goodness. (In fact, the rest of the book is a response to the questions Ivan raises.)


As for animal suffering, I think that these arguments for innocent humans do apply to animals if you consider them to be lacking in free will and thus are also “innocent.” Just like how Ivan argues that the 5-year old child doesn’t even know what is being done to her, neither do animals know what system God has constructed (natural selection) that produces such cruelty and violence. And so, if I use the criteria of innocence, then I think that animal suffering is on par with the suffering of human innocents.


Another way to compare animal vs human suffering is to ascertain the worth of animals relative to humans. Are humans worth more because they possess free will?  I guess so, but the converse – “animals are worth less because they don’t possess free will” – seems cruel. It feels to me that cruelty is cruelty, no matter the worth or status of the victim.







Same question as Howard’s above.



In current paleoanthropology, it is believed that the first primates came about 25-30 million years ago (mya) in Africa.  The first primeval humans or hominids appeared around 6-7 million years ago – their bipedalism being their distinguishing characteristic; the common ancestor of humans and orangutans split off from a common ancestor over 15 mya, with gorillas around 10 mya, and with chimpanzees around 7 mya.  Some hominins became the ancestors to homo sapiens, but many other hominin species became extinct without giving rise to new species.  As evolution over millions of years progressed, natural selection, geographic isolation, genetic mutation, and other processes changed the genetic profile of populations over time and produced new hominid species as well as drove other species to extinction.  By counting the rate of mutations of a certain gene, it’s possible to determine when a person shared a common ancestor.  Genetic studies have shown that all living humans (homo sapiens) are closely related, sharing a common ancestor (called an anatomically modern human) who lived about 200,000 years ago, and research into Neanderthal DNA has revealed possible interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals.  Then 100,000 years ago, the first cognitively modern humans appeared, where the first appearance of art, fire, cooking, burial of the dead, and perhaps the inklings of religion or a belief in an afterlife came about.  Then 70,000 years ago, humans began speaking and used symbolic language to communicate ideas with one another.  Around 12,000 years ago, the oldest temple found, Gobekli Tepe, in present-day Turkey, was constructed.  Then around 5,500 years ago, the first evidence of writing was found.  And then 5,000 years ago, the oldest surviving religions developed.  That in a nutshell, is a very condensed history of the rise of our human species.




Around the time homo sapiens appeared, there were at least five other types of human species thought to have lived at the same time.  But out of the known six species, only the homo sapien species survived and flourished.  Why did they die out?  Was it our bigger brains?  Our ability to create superior tools?  Our complex social societies?  Better adaptation to the changing climate and environment?  More resistance to diseases?  As humans mated with other hominid species, did our gene pool dominate others to give rise to a singular superior species – homo sapien sapiens?  Or did homo sapiens wipe out the competition by exterminating other hominid species?  (As you know, humans are masters at committing genocide on massive scales.)  As of yet, we don’t know why our species thrived while the others went extinct.


Now where was God’s hand in the evolution of our human species?  To put it bluntly, I really don’t see an active, guiding divine hand in the 7 million years of human history.  I would like to entertain the thought that God was somewhat interested in the development of our species, but I think he had a more hands off approach to things and let the mechanisms of evolution by natural selection take over. And as one can see, there were a lot of mass extinctions along the way for us to arrive where we are today.  But as Kropf says in his observation, was that long path of death and extinction justified just so it could give rise to homo sapien sapiens?  Those who might hold onto a strong view that humans alone bear the image of God or are specially privileged by God might have no qualms about it, but then it begs the question of what kind of love God has over his creation.  Did he love homo sapiens more than he did homo floresiensis?  Did God prefer that a Neanderthal boy starve to death during a famine over a homo sapien boy who just happened to be “blessed” with higher cognitive capacity and be surrounded by more intelligent humans and therefore have a better chance at surviving a famine?  In other words, is God’s love really not unconditional as many claim it to be?  Does he choose sides?  Does he love one group more than another?  There’s biblical evidence for both sides.  When I look back at the long history of our human species I can’t help but see an element of random chance and luck somewhat being played out – or to put it in a theological framework, a very non-interventionist divine active way.  Much of my conclusion is based on the reality of free will.


Whether we like it or not, evolution is what God chose to use to bring about life in this universe as far as we know.  As a result, extinction, suffering, and death are brutal realities of the mechanism of evolution.  Without it, there would be no innovation or complification as Southgate puts it.  And yet in a weird way, without evolution, there would be less aesthetic beauty and meaning to the world as well.  If the earth didn’t change and remained stagnant without competitive evolution, we’d all still most likely be single celled organisms clinging off the thin slime mold on the side of a rock near hot water somewhere.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: