Saturday, July 7, 2012

God, Pain, and Why Christianity Struggles to Accept Evolution

There exists a popular misconception about Christianity and evolution, namely, that Christianity refuses to accept evolution because it runs contrary to the account of humanity's origin in Genesis. "Misconception" is probably the wrong word because for many Christians that is precisely why they do not accept the theory of evolution, but preserving a literal reading of Genesis is not that critical to many Christians who would still have a hard time meshing the theory of evolution with their Christian faith. It seems to be that the reason evolution is so offensive to the Christian is that it implies one of two unacceptable concepts: either the world is not broken, or God created a broken world.

Evolution does not work without death. If there is no way of removing traits that do not aid in reproduction and surviving until capable of reproduction, then evolution will not occur. It implies brutality. Christianity, however, teaches that God made a perfect world without death and teaches that death occurs only because the perfect order was broken when Adam sinned. If brutality existed prior to humanity - and therefore prior to sin - there are only two explanations. Either the world is not broken and death is just a part of the universe that God created; or the world is broken, death is an abomination, but God created a broken and abominable universe.

In the Christian narrative, God is blameless. It's all humanity's fault. Of course, the potter hath power over the clay, but still, Christianity makes humanity the cause of the pain in our existence, not God. Evolution states that death and brutality is the world's natural state. Consequently, the battle over a literal interpretation of Genesis is just a surface conflict for the Christian, even if it is conceded that Genesis does not need to be literally true there is still the deeper issue of the universe being essentially deadly while death is thought to be the wage of sin.

What would it take for Christianity as a whole to be reconciled to evolution? I suppose they would need to do away with the notion that the world is broken or shattered or in some way deficient from its proper design. To do away with this notion is to do away with the Christian narrative, though, it makes Christ's death superfluous. Is it possible to believe that the world is as God intended it to be and also believe that there was a need for Christ crucified? I do not know. From my vantage point, it seems that Christianity presupposes a diseased world. Besides all this, though, there is the fact that if the world is not broken and the world contains suffering and death, then that means God is the one who added suffering and death to the universe, which implies that God has a dark side to him that most of us would not want to contemplate while seeking comfort on a Sunday.

There does exist the alternative possibility that the world is broken, but that God intentionally made a broken world while intending to heal it later. This certainly makes more sense for someone who thinks that an unintentionally broken world implies incompetence on God's part, but it retains the implication that suffering and death exists because of God, not because of sin. Again, this causes friction when Christians try to think of God as the enemy of their pain.

So, can Christianity ever be reconciled to evolution? I think so. But to have a worldview that robustly embraces both the Christian faith and the theory of evolution would mean radically rethinking the relationship between God, death, and human suffering. It would have to accept pain as being an instrument and creation of God rather than an affront to Him.

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