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Evil, Evolution, and Original Sin-scholarly article

Evil, Evolution, and Original Sin-scholarly article

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Published by Chad Whitehead
Article about Evil, Evolution, and Original Sin.
Article about Evil, Evolution, and Original Sin.

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Published by: Chad Whitehead on Jan 14, 2013
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EVIL, ORIGINAL SIN, AND EVOLUTION
RICHARD J. PENDERGAST, S.J.
Fordham University, Bronx, U.S.A.
This article has three sections. The first discusses the problem of evil; the second, the sins of both angelsand men that originally introduced evil into the world; the third, a teleological theory of evolution thatclarifies the relationship between the first two sections. At present there is a great deal of discussion aboutthe nature of the evolutionary process. Some argue that ultimately it is a strictly random one. But it isquite impossible to prove scientifically that evolution is strictly random. From a Christian point of viewthe best way to view it is to see it not only as the result of divine intelligence, but also as due to a ferociousconflict between superhuman powers – the biblical angels and demons to whom God in the beginninggave the power to guide and develop his creation.I. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
In Christian theology, the benevolent and omnipotent God is the principle of unity andorder in the world. How is it, then, that the world has so much disorder and suffering? Andwhy are organisms, and indeed the whole biosphere, so clumsily designed? The world isgood and beautiful butit is also evil and ugly. In aChristian culturethe existence ofgood isthe subject of praise and thanksgiving, but intellectually it can be taken more or less forgranted as something obvious in view of the Creator’s perfect goodness. However, theproblem of evil is difficult. Someone has said that the problem of evil is the great rock onwhich Christian faith founders. Its classic formulation was given by Epicurus andreformulated in modern times by Hume:
Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is hemalevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
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This classic atheistic claim is that divine omnipotence, divine goodness, and the existenceof evil are incompatible. Christians know, of course, that this cannot be true. Their faith inGod is founded on divine revelation and personal religious experience, not on abstractreasoning. Nevertheless, the question remains, how can atheistic skepticism be refuted in acoherent, strictly intellectual way? Before Darwin it was thought that this had already beendone, at least partially, by the doctrine of original sin. In my opinion the original sins of angels and men is indeed the answer to the problem of evil, but in our age it needs to bereformulated in a way that takes account of modern science. Otherwise, in an age of science the Christian worldview loses some of its convincing force.Evil is, of course, a problem not only for Christians but also for every human being.However, it is especially acute for Christians because they believe that the world wascreated ‘out of nothing’ and is now sustained by an infinite and omnipotent God who islove itself. How can omnipotentlove that is responsiblefor everything permitthe atrociousevils we see in the world? Indeed, how can he tolerate the many clumsy designs one finds in
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The author 2009. Journal compilation
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Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
HeyJ L (2009), pp. 833–845
 
the biosphere? Darwin devoted an entire book to such mechanisms in the case of orchids.These contrivances are, from one point of view, extremely ingenious, but as Stephen JayGould pointed out:
Orchids were not made by an ideal engineer; they are jury-rigged from a limited set of availablecomponents. Thus, they must have evolved from ordinary flowers. . . . Odd arrangements andfunny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that anatural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.
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As Gould said, evolution seems, prima facie, to be more like an ingenious tinkerer than anomniscient and omnipotent designer. At one time the Christian explanation of evil seemedfairly persuasive to most Western people. I do not mean, of course, that they found it easyto put up with evil. No one does. But unlike agnostics and atheists they were able to situateit in a positive context that made it easier for them to endure it. This context was essentiallyconstituted by faith, but faith was supported by a seemingly rational and coherentunderstanding of evil. Nowadays, however, the discoveries of modern science, especiallyevolution, casts doubt upon the validity of that traditional understanding. As a resultChristians find themselves left with a naked faith that is harder to sustain because of theirinability to rationalize evil as well as before. Consequently it is worthwhile trying toformulate an adequate understanding of evil and its origin. Christian tradition has theresources to do so. In fact, I believe that the traditional explanation only requires updatingand some additional clarification of the issues.
II. THE DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN
Catholic doctrine about the origin of evil is stated in a number of passages of the Bible andin authoritative statements of Popes and Councils over the centuries. Notable among thelatter are the solemn profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and thedecree of the Council of Trent regarding the original sin of Adam, the first Man, in 1546.
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The Lateran Council intended to affirm directly the traditional doctrine of the one Godwho is the first cause of the universe and created it out of nothing, as well as the doctrinethat responsibility for evil is entirely due to creatures.
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Thus, it tells us that moral evil, orsin, entered into the world through the original rebellion against God by Satan and someof the angels who followed him; and that later the human race also sinned at theirinstigation. Although the explicit teaching of this decree was concerned more about moralrather than physical evil, it was aimed against heretics of the day, the Cathars, whobelieved that matter is ontologically evil and was created by the evil god, Satan. Incombating this heresy the Council Fathers must have had in mind the teaching of Genesisthat the world as God first made it was ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31).
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In that context theimplication is that matter was not created intrinsically evil, but has been corrupted by sin.The decree of the Council of Trent on original sin focused on the fall of the human race,which was attributed, of course, to the sin of Adam, the first man. Like Lateran IV, thisCouncil was also mainly concerned about moral rather than physical evil. However, itstated explicitly that the sin of Adam left the human race subject to suffering and deathand in a worse condition in body as well as soul. This teaching is coherent with the theoryof the original human sin that had been worked out by Augustine and others. Withoutspelling out the precise connection between moral and physical evil, Trent seemed to implythat most, if not all, human suffering, moral and physical, is due to the sin of the first834
RICHARD J. PENDERGAST, S.J.
 
human being, Adam. In any event this was the common belief of Christians before themodern period.It seems, then, that before Darwin, Christians generally supposed that if Adam had notsinned his descendants would have been able to live without evil, either moral or physical.On the other hand, modern science seems to tell us that physical evil is deeply rooted in thefundamental constitution of matter, and originated long before the human race existed.Therefore it is hard to believe that all the physical evil that afflicts humanity is due tohuman sin. Indeed it is easy to understand how one might think that sin is due to priorphysical evil, which was in turn due to the will of the Creator himself.Some modern theologians have tried to accept the current opinion of evolutionarybiologists and at the same time to preserve the essential elements of the traditionaldoctrine. But some have taken a more radical approach to the problem. Outstanding wasthe attempt made by a school of north European theologians,
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who at about the time of the Second Vatican Council developed the ideas suggested by Teilhard de Chardin.
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Thisradical approach takes seriously the new knowledge science has given to us about thehistory of the universe. As Teilhard pointed out, evil seems to be not a mere accident in theuniverse but a necessary element in the structure of the system. Apparently, it is somethingwritten into the basic laws of nature and the history of cosmic and biological evolution. Tosay that at the beginning of our race God intended to exempt us from all, or at least most,evil, means that he planned to work a never-ending series of miracles in order to avoid theconsequences of the system that he himself had set up. His intentions written into thenature of the world and the fundamental physical laws that govern it are, according to thisview, in conflict with the traditional account of his providential intentions towardhumanity. Furthermore, supposing that he intended to exempt humanity from evil, whydid he not carry out his decision? Surely the sin of one or a few human beings does notseem to be an adequate reason for not doing so. Once again the traditional theory makesthe providential guidance of God appear contradictory and inconsistent.Therefore, according to the radical revisionists, we must assume that some evil does notcome from sin butfrom the physical nature of the world. It seems to beinevitable. They tellus that our dream of perfect happiness must be projected into the future rather than thepast. Perfection is the goal of development, the supreme achievement of the evolutionaryproject in which God, the world, and humanity are involved. It is not somethingwhich was real in the beginning and was lost, but the hope that inspires us and every beingin our striving for the future. They argue that the ancient theory of original sinwas the best explanation of evil at a time when the human race had a static worldview.But now, supposedly, it is counterproductive and obscures the greater and moreinspiring explanation which is ours, thanks to the dynamic worldview science has given tous. Thus, it is argued, dynamic science has given the human race the great gift of adynamic theology which enables us not to blame God for evil but to praise him forsustaining us in the painful but magnificent project of spiritual progress in which we areengaged.It is well remembered that before the Second Vatican Council the conservativementality of Rome rejected the thought of Teilhard. In the more open climate thatfollowed the Council the position of the revisionists was able to get a hearing. It was notofficially accepted, but nevertheless the cogency of their position did not allow it to beforgotten. It is said that many Catholic intellectuals, perhaps even a majority, no longerbelieve in the traditional theory of original sin. (I have never taken a poll, but many claimthis to be the fact.) Official doctrine and the beliefs of many of the Catholic intelligentsia
EVIL, ORIGINAL SIN, AND EVOLUTION
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