The Pitilessness of Nature and the Problem of Good
Facing the Facts of Evolution
Any view of reality worthy of belief takes account of the facts that confront human beings in every aspect of our individual and communal lives, aspects such as those studied by natural science, social science, and history. These disciplines do not tell us where we should go from here, or how to get there, but they form the basis for understanding how we arrived at our present state of reality.
The present discussion will focus on the facts revealed by science. Since 1859, when Darwin published his Origin of Species, the notion of evolution has impacted not only biology, but also philosophy, theology, politics, and economics. Nothing in our intellectual life has been the same.
What does evolution reveal about reality?
“Our materialistic age” in the title of this series of posts flows from the prevailing interpretation of Darwin. In this interpretation, there is no longer a need to deal with the problem of evil, a problem that vexed those who believed in a good and almighty Creator. Now, the things that we call evil are seen as simply things that we do not like, as an animal in the jungle does not like being eaten up by a predator.
But the plight of the prey and our plight constitute the same process of evolution, which is blind and indifferent to the fate of all of us beasts. The problem that we must encounter is “the problem of good,” beginning with whether there is such a thing as good, beyond the enjoyment that an animal or human predator takes in eating its meal, finding its mate, or other such pleasures. This investigation must be undertaken in the context of Darwinian evolution.
Is anything really good?
The question that defines these posts is whether the term “good” refers to an objective reality rather than to merely a subjective point of view as when a big fish eats a little fish – The big fish likes it, the little fish doesn’t.
Theologians use the term theodicy, which literally means the justification of God, to describe the problem of believing in a good God in an evil universe. Our question is whether we can maintain the reality of good in a Darwinian world.
The two questions, of God and of good, are closely linked since both theists and atheists, who disagree on the reality of God, generally agree that if God is real, He She, or It is the source of goodness. If God is real how do we explain evil? If God is not real, how do we explain good?
Can a modern person believe in God and the reality of the good?
This investigation proceeds with an examination of whether a Darwinian understanding of biological evolution and its application to the genesis of the cosmos, forces an atheist conclusion.
Some religious believers agree with the hypothetical connection, “If Darwin is right then God does not exist,” and conclude that Darwin therefore must be wrong. Materialists, of course, take the opposite position – “Darwin is right, therefore God does not exist.” But I will take up the premise that Darwin is in principle correct, and ask whether atheism necessarily follows.
The case for atheism in summary.
The atheist argument has three main premises: First, evolution stands as a sufficient explanation of the present world, and so any appeal to a Creator is superfluous. Second, the randomness, waste, and slow pace of evolution exclude the presence of a purpose that would be the signature of a Creator. Third, and most powerful, the violence, pain and suffering of evolving life are incompatible with belief in a decent, much less an all good, Creator.