Theodicy and Evolution

Karl Krienke

School of Natural & Mathematical Sciences
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA 98119

Many Christians have wondered at the role played by biological evolution in providing non Christians a plausible way to escape from having to think of any form of creator to account for the origin of life. Having a construct such as biological evolution available disrupts otherwise neat world-views. As we struggle with this we may ask in all sincerity, "Why does God allow this? Would it not be a simpler, neater, cleaner and more compelling revelation if God, the Creator, had omitted biological evolution as a possibility in his creation?"

We may ask, "Why did God allow that?" But we must immediately ask the same question about a much more profound and difficult part of our experience . . . "Why did God allow human suffering, why did God allow sin in his creation?"

This is the question known as "theodicy." It asks how a God who is holy, just, righteous, and omnipotent can allow sin and suffering in his presence, in a universe he created and sustains. Theologians have struggled with this difficult problem over the years. A rigorous analysis of the problem of evil and the attendant "free will argument" is found in God and Other Minds, by Alvin Plantinga.1 At a more popular level, A.E. Wilder-Smith addresses just these concerns in his book, Why Did God Allow It?2 Let us briefly outline his line of thought on these questions, then relate the result to a part of science.

We are troubled by those who claim to be atheists and do not realize that unless they are themselves omniscient, God could exist outside the limits of their knowledge. Thus their position of atheism is logically untenable. But we are much more deeply troubled by those who know and understand all of this, yet find that they must choose atheism because they cannot understand how a holy and loving God could allow sin and suffering. We cannot easily ignore their concerns.

Theologians recognize the difficulty of the problem posed by theodicy. A theological solution is based on the following components. God created the universe with a certain purpose. From the Bible we conclude that God put us in this universe, created in his image and thus having the attributes of his personality, including knowledge and will. God has chosen to give us the opportunity to recognize his existence, his greatness, our need of him, and his way of atonement and reconciliation. In particular, God does not force his will on us, he does not take away our choice in the matter.

So, we find ourselves unable to produce an airtight proof of the existence of God, with which we may compel all to believe in him. We find deductive proofs and "sound" arguments of God's existence not available. But we do find sufficient inductive evidence of God's existence and presence to realize that he exists, that he is worthy of worship, and that we are in crying need of reconciliation to him and restoration of our broken lives.

The crucial point is that, while God reveals himself, God does not force us to believe in him--he does not make us into automata. But the fact that God chose to allow the possibility of a human choice not to believe in him led to sin, to suffering, to separation from God, to the incarnation and the suffering of Christ on Calvary, and to reconciliation in Christ. God was willing to pay a high price indeed to maintain our unrestrained possibility of choice!

When God takes a matter this seriously, we must also, and must seek to understand why. The answer lies in the fact that God gives us the opportunity for true love, the access to divine love, and the possibility of true worship. If there is no choice, there cannot be true love in its fullest sense. Though this question is approached differently in certain non-western cultures, the highest quality of love is only manifest when freedom of choice exists.

God's love is so far beyond human experience that to glimpse it we must understand human love in its highest form, then extrapolate. Divine love is reflected by human love in the biblical illustration of bride and bridegroom. Love originates in a one-sided fashion, but must be reciprocated. If it is, true love can grow totally and completely, and the persons may entrust themselves to each other. Love is built on mutual respect and consent. That is, love has freedom as its basis--absolute free choice on the part of both partners. Wilder-Smith cites examples from the Old Testament of both freely chosen love and a disastrous attempt to achieve love by force.3 What would be the result if God made us so that we could only obey his will? If we could not hate, could we truly love?

Thus absolutely free choice is a prerequisite for true love. God has chosen to give us divine love, and desires that we freely choose to love him. God does not force us to return his love, because to do so would destroy true love. Of God's own free will, he died to free us from guilt and re-establish fellowship, a costly love, and indeed truest love.

The conclusion is that God has chosen to place a very high value on preserving our free choice so that true love remains possible. This includes revealing himself in the way he has chosen. He has given us sufficient, even abundant evidence of his presence, but has not allowed us to lose the chance to say, "no," because with that we would lose the chance to love as well. If we could derive proof of God through science, thereby losing the choice to believe in God or not, we would be negating a fundamental purpose of God's creation.

How does this relate to science? The scientific method works extremely well within its limits. But its paradigm of observation-hypothesis formation-prediction-experimental design-experimental testing, plus repeatability of testing both in time and place, limits it severely in scope, and makes it less than fully applicable, if not inapplicable, when dealing with unique events. Scientists form conclusions by carefully applying scientifically acquired knowledge in making inference about such events, but this is not full application of the scientific method, and lacks the confidence in the hypothesis attainable from full application of the method.

In the light of the biblical doctrine of God as Creator and Sustainer, Christians receive the laws of science--and their continued regularity--from God, and find in them evidence of His faithfulness. If God were to disrupt that regularity in causing a unique event, properly understanding it would be outside the paradigm of the scientific method. It cannot be tested experimentally at other times and places. We would then appropriately call it a "miracle," in the narrow sense of the term.

Since the goal of science is to explain and understand all of this physical and biological universe that it can, science should be given its opportunity and be expected to seek understanding of any such event, but to do so within the scientific method.

We may understand God's action to be an intervention in the regularity of the universe in the case of a unique creative event. However, seeking only within the scientific method, scientists will attempt to give an explanation that does not include God. (Though in the complexity and beauty we as scientists find in the universe may make us stand in awe at the "miraculous" structure God has made, there are no miracles (in the narrow sense of the term) that are within science or to which the scientific method applies.)

There are Christians who wish to demand of science evidence for God and a rigorous proof for His existence. Scientists find abundant inductive evidence, but a rigorous proof is strictly lacking. If such a proof were forthcoming, then mankind would be compelled to accept the existence of (believe in) God.

This represents an unacceptable contradiction to what we have seen that theologians have found in the doctrine of free will and the role of evil in a universe that contains true freedom. God has gone to great lengths and tolerated much sin and suffering to assure our freedom and the true love that can result. So it is clearly a mistake to try to force science into giving us a derivation of God. This is not just because such is contrary to the paradigm and limitations of the scientific method, but because God, in His wisdom, has chosen a plan for the universe that precludes it.

To take a specific example, those Christians who would devote their time and effort only to "refuting evolution," should consider the implications of these limits. Divinely implemented explanations are ruled out by the limitations of science. Scientists will form their best possible hypotheses within the rules of science. To explain life from non-life in an "evolutionary" fashion is the most accepted of these hypotheses, while intervention by an advanced civilization with space travel is another. A scientific method that, by its epistemological paradigm, excludes the possibility of finding God should be expected (allowed) to work only within its realm and not be condemned for not finding God. Were it ever able to derive the necessity for God, it would just have defeated God's purpose in allowing free will. From theodicy we can also now see why God has not given us some other "scientific" paradigm that includes him.

Why does God allow such an idea as evolution? God allows sin and suffering, within the purpose of his creation, in order to make possible true love. As a result of this choice, God bore the suffering of all mankind! Similarly, to allow true freedom and true love, God also allows a system such as evolution to exist, free of the requirement of God's existence, as necessary in order to preserve that same purpose of creation, free choice, true love. Then let us concentrate on God's great love, on God's great love as demonstrated in his suffering for us. And let us concentrate on appreciating the greatness of God as revealed by science, by revelation, and by our personal reconciliation to fellowship with him. Rather than making our primary effort the arguing of the details of the relationship of various versions of evolution to various understandings of creation, let us first acknowledge the subservient nature of all these constructs to God's greater plan to reveal himself and extend his true love to mankind. Then we can move a step closer to full appreciation of God and to true worship.


1Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds, Cornell University Press, (1967, 1990).
2A.E. Wilder-Smith, Why Did God Allow It?, Master Books, San Diego, (1980).
3 See note 2. See also Genesis 24:58, II Samuel 13.

Found in Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith 44:4 (December 1992): 255-7.