What is the difficulty about living with God and Darwin? If we ask Darwin himself, he gives a clear answer in the quote above: Natural selection appears to be a process of waste, cruelty, suffering, and destruction of the weak. Ichneumonidae are wasps that lay their eggs in the larvae of other insects, after which the young wasp eats its living host from the inside. If we believe that God is both good and omnipotent (which is an important prerequisite for this problem), the question arises: Did God create the world using a method that is intrinsically contrary to his own nature? This post is about that question from the book by Charles Foster.
It’s not obvious for everyone that the suffering of animals is a problem. A difference can be made between sentient and conscious beings. The first category would only have separate painful experiences, while the second group can experience ‘real’ suffering. In fact there is increasing evidence for consciousness in certain animal species. But even if we only ascribe consciousness to ourselves, it remains morally bad to hurt an animal. If there is a chance that God did this to generate evolution, there is indeed a problem.
It is a variant of the problem of pain, in particular the suffering of morally innocent beings. The book The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis is often cited by Foster. For example when he mentions that the Fall of Men can’t have been the origin of suffering. Millions of years before humans appeared on the scene, pain and death were already part of nature, and thus even of our origins.
Possible solutions to the problem are all very anthropocentric: Suffering is necessary for free will, God suffers along with the creation, pain protects us, no pain means no joy. Charles Foster maintains that God, especially in the manifestation of Jesus, does not consider death and suffering acceptable, and thus can never be responsible for the design of the Ichneumonidae.
According to the author, a closer look at natural selection shows that it has only one intrinsic element that is inconsistent with the character of Jesus: The sheer selfishness of organisms. For example, death is only necessary if the ecological niches and resources are depleted. Nature is a mixture of beauty, fear, joy and pain. Foster’s argument is that nature also abounds with cooperation and altruism. He calls upon biologists to take these phenomena seriously and not always reason them away with theories like kin/group selection. Once altruism exists, it can indeed bring benefits and thus be transmitted through natural selection. But the fundamental question you can ask is how it could get a foothold in the first place. This could be where a force alongside natural selection is at work.
This more nuanced picture of evolution fits within the traditional Christian view of nature: it is an “essentially good thing twisted.” Selfishness in evolution is a production of the evil power, in the Bible and the Quran referred to as Satan. God is not the author of evil. He does however allow it, so perhaps the question has only shifted.
I am afraid that this shift is about as far as we get. It does not mean that God is an indifferent spectator of suffering. From his Christian faith Foster points to Jesus who has become part of his creation, and has overcome evil by selflessly sacrificing himself. With his resurrection began a new creation. What I do not understand is why Jesus eats fish after his resurrection while the suggestion is that predation is not a part of the new creation (the wolf beside the lamb, etc).
Darwin found it difficult to live with God and himself. The daily occurring horrors in nature don´t make me brim with enthusiasm about a creating God either. This post has attempted to unravel some of this; without providing ready-made answers. Later on I want to write about Fosters ideas regarding the origin of the morally conscious man.