The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil
Pain, suffering, and extinction are intrinsic to the evolutionary process. In this book Christopher Southgate shows how the world that is very good is also groaning in travail and subjected by God to that travail. Southgate then evaluates several attempts at evolutionary theodicy and argues for his own approachan approach that takes full account of Gods self-emptying and human beings special responsibilities as created cocreators. Christopher Southgate is Honorary University Fellow in Theology at the University of Exeter, England, and Visiting Scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Originally trained as a biochemist at the University of Cambridge, he is the general editor and principal author of God, Humanity and the Cosmos (3rd ed.).
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Southgate: Groaning of Creation
A major challenge to the claims Christianity has always been the problem of evil: how can an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God permit the levels of pain, suffering and general evil that we see in the world? Over the centuries a huge amount has been written about this, mainly (and understandably) focussing on human suffering. But 150 years ago, with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a whole new aspect of the problem became apparent given that evolution itself is shot through with considerable pain and suffering: the very process that gives rise to the values of life, complexity, beauty, sentience and self-consciousness also gives rise to the disvalues of individual pain, suffering, premature death, and species extinction. How can a loving God use such “clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!” (to quote Darwin) to bring into being the “endless forms most beautiful” (to quote Darwin again).
It is this under-explored branch of theodicy that Southgate tackles, drawing upon an impressive range of both theological and evolutionary literature. A committed Christian himself, he does not go for the easy option of some Christian apologists of blaming all suffering (both human and non-human) on ‘The Fall’, pointing out that what he terms ‘evolutionary evil’ was endemic in the world long before Homo sapiens appeared on the scene. He also critiques other approaches to the problem before offering his own (speculative – to use his term) suggestions which draw upon both the Trinitarian understanding of God and the metaphysics which underpins the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, with its concept of ‘selving’.
It is not possible to summarise his position in a sentence, for his argument is theologically sophisticated (in the best sense of that term) and both needs and deserves close study. He is clear, however, that what he is offering is not in any way a last word on the subject, but an opening-up of a problematic area that should not be neglected.
This is an excellent book. Intelligent, thought-provoking, and substantial despite being less than 200 pages. As a contribution to the lively science-religion debate in general, and evolutionary theodicy in particular, I think it is a must-read.