One of the central arguments that materialistic atheism offers against the Christian faith is that the reality and universality of suffering is inconsistent with the doctrine that we were created by, and are loved by, a gracious heavenly Father. If we intend to do our job in training our students to be able to defend their faith as they go out into the world, it seems to me that we ought not to begin by granting the foundational premise of unbelief.
Believe me, the pressing reality of natural evil is a major argument that the atheists use, and the theistic evolutionists will have to do a lot better than they have done thus far in mounting a reply.
If evolution was God’s means of creating, then this means that pain, struggle, suffering, agony, and torment were His means of creation, and He pronounced all of it “good.”
There are two kinds of evil that we have to consider — natural evil and moral evil. While moral evil is more horrendous, it is a little easier to handle because we are doing so much of it to ourselves. We can handle that another time. But natural evil is a different thing altogether, and on the theistic evolutionary account natural evil cannot be considered evil at all.
Here we have to posit millions of years of death-dealing events — volcanoes, floods, tar pits, and so on — without anybody having done anything wrong such that it would bring this state of affairs about. This is just how God likes to do things.
This means that the pain and suffering of sentient animals has to be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is no longer the problem of evil, but rather “evil? no problem!”
Having said this, I want to give two qualifications. The first is that the “absence of death” means the absence of agonistic death. I happily assume that when leaves fell to the forest floor in Eden, they rotted, and that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit that was permitted them, the fruit was broken down in their stomachs by enzymes. Is that not a form of “death?” Sure, if you always remember to use the scare quotes. The fall gave us deranged entropy, not the simple arrival of entropy. Could Adam have shuffled a deck of cards, or would he have gotten a royal flush every time?
The point I am making concerns sentient life, animals with a central nervous system, capable of experiencing excruciating pain. The atheist wants to say there is something wrong with that, but he cannot give an account for why it is wrong because he believes there is no God. The creationist wants to say that there is something wrong with it, that something has gone terribly wrong, but that the sin lies with man. The theistic evolutionist has to say that it is all good. That’s just how God rolls.
At the same time, given the reality of the fall, and granting a high view of God’s sovereignty, I am willing to grant that there is a grim and glittering beauty in the severity that is pervasive in the animal kingdom. “Who provideth for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, They wander for lack of meat” (Job 38:41). “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God” (Psalm 104:21). And who among us has not bowed the head to say grace over meat from the grill?
But it will not be this way forever. The place we are going tells us something about the place from which we came. Man did not become carnivorous until after the flood (Gen. 9:3), and a time is coming when there will be no carnivores at all. “And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: And the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Is. 11:7) “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25). This is an idyllic vision, and it is also a “return-to-Eden” vision.
But if there was no Eden, if Adam and Eve were the two lucky primates who got smarter than their ancestors, but who also died in exactly the same way as their ancestors, then we discover that what we have done is simply declare death a friend. This is instead of what Scripture does, which is to declare death an enemy.
Adam brought death into the world (Rom. 5:12). The theistic evolutionist has to say that millions of years of dying and death brought Adam into the world. But if that is the case, then why on earth would death — even human death — be considered an enemy? Why then should death be conquered? Why did Jesus bother to come back from the dead? What was the point?
The creationist has answers for these questions. People may not like the answers, but they are solid and defensible answers. Adam was established as the covenant head over all the created order. When he fell, the whole created order fell also. Since that time, the whole created order is longing for the day when everything will be put back to rights. When the children of God are finally revealed for who they are in Christ, then the created order will be restored. Restored to what? Restored to the Edenic glory, and then some.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18–23, ESV).