In his book Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, Francisco Ayala suggests that evolution supplies the answer to a serious theological conundrum. I alluded to this in my first post on this book: Things that Seem Wrong About the World:
When I was studying theology in Salamanca Darwin was a much-welcomed friend. The theory of evolution provided the solution to the remaining component of the problem of evil. As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life. They were not a result of deficient or malevolent design: the features of organisms were not designed by the creator.
Related to that is evolution’s explanation for imperfections in nature (pages 22-23):
If functional design manifests an Intelligent Designer, why should not deficiencies indicate that the Designer is less than omniscient, or less than omnipotent? … We know that some deficiencies are not just imperfections, but are outright dysfunctional, jeopardizing the very function the organ or part is supposed to serve…. Even if the dysfunctions, cruelties, and sadism of the living world were rare, which they are not, they would still need to be attributed to the Designer if the Designer had designed the living world.
He returns to a similar theme later in the book (p. 154):
One difficulty with attributing the design of organisms to the Creator is that imperfections and defects pervade the living world…. Defective design would seem incompatible with an omnipotent Intelligent Designer.
Another motive for adhering to theological naturalism is a desire to protect God from having to take responsibility for all the nasty things in nature. It is all very well to give God credit for designing the beautiful things, but what God would have designed the mosquito? I fail to see, however, how theological naturalism protects God from responsibility for everything that exists. Granted that God created by natural laws, should he not have designed the laws of nature so that mosquitoes would not come into existence?
Ayala’s solution is no solution. He posits something like a deistic God in relation to natural history (I don’t know where he stands on God’s intervention in salvation history). This God kicked off a world and let it run. Some of it ended up looking nice and fine, but much of it’s a mess; an especially, painfully obvious mess in this month of a devastating cyclone and a horrible earthquake in Asia. And not just that; there have been terrifically damaging tornadoes and floods near my own home, and even worse to the west. I was near enough to see the smoke of a major brush fire earlier today, near Orlando where I’m visiting for a few days; it’s one of many threatening homes in Florida this week.
God cannot get off the hook for these things the way Ayala says he can. He would have us believe God has just let things be this way. Maybe God couldn’t do any better–he doesn’t know how to fix the mess he has made. Or maybe God feels that getting his hands dirty by touching his creation just isn’t very nice. Or is God is letting natural law and chance run their course, because he’s just dying with curiosity to see how it will come out in the end? Which is it? What kind of God does Ayala suppose this Creator is? Which of those options absolves God of responsibility for evil?
There is a solution to the problem of evil, but this is not it. We’ve discussed it at length before (this Google search may be the best guide to those links I can provide you, or you can explore further here). If I were to try to outline it in brief, I would run the risk of doing as much violence to the real answer as Ayala has done with his facile resorting to an evolutionary solution. (Any easy, brief answer to the problem of evil is guaranteed to be wrong.) I own up to having a purely critical purpose in mind for this post: to show that if evolution is supposed to be a gift to religion, in the sense of solving a certain theological problem, it fails to do so. We have better solutions than that, and thank God that we do.
Ayala wants to bridge a perceived gulf between science and religion. That’s a noble goal, and it certainly ought to be achievable, provided that we interpret both revelation and nature accurately; for if Christianity is true then its truths must be consonant with truths of nature, and vice versa. The bridge Ayala has tried to build here, however, won’t bear the required weight.
Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, by Francisco Ayala. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2007. 256 pages. Amazon price $24.95.