Why is there evil and suffering?
Why is Old Testament Biblegod so mean and nasty?
Why doesn’t God stop the injustice?
Does God have a right to create an evolutionary universe?
Audio of this presentation
Everyone asks: “Why is there evil and suffering in the world?”
Christians and Jews answer: “Because love cannot exist without free will. Free will necessarily presents evil as an option.”
The next question is, “But why would God make a world where millions of years of pain, competition and death are necessary to get where we are now? Isn’t that wasteful and cruel?”
Some Christians solve this by saying there was no death before the fall. Suffering came as a result of human sin. Anthropology and archaeology do not support this. Only a minority of Christians believe the earth is 6,000 years old; there is no debate about the age of the earth in the wider world of science. Adherents to a young earth, no death before the fall view are limited to certain subgroups of Christians.
That leaves us with a puzzle about pain and suffering occurring long before man appeared, thus Christians are still unsure of how to think about God and nature. This is because even if evolution itself is purposeful… even if evolution is part of God’s divine plan… most modern people (not just Christians!) are still bothered that this should be necessary. They are bothered that, while the universe appears fine tuned for life, it is also hostile to life.
Life is a constant struggle. “Do plants and animals really deserve this?”
C.S. Lewis said, in Mere Christianity, “We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody [behind the Moral Law]. One is the universe He has made. If we used that as our only clue, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place).”
This is to say that when we claim that an all-powerful God is behind the universe, we solve a fundamental scientific problem while simultaneously introducing a fundamental moral problem.
Christianity still lacks an adequate response to the problem of evil. This is because it has failed to recognize that the freedom which is necessary for love also makes the conflict inherent in evolution a necessity.
I wrote this article to address that problem.
The Christian answer of “Love demands free will, therefore evil is inevitable” is correct. But the problem of free will, pain and suffering is a billion times bigger than the sorrows and traumas of human beings. The standard answer isn’t anywhere near large enough. Traditional religious and atheistic approaches to this problem are myopic. Few of them grapple with the vast scope of suffering in the universe.
I am not advocating old fashioned Neo-Darwinism. The scientific community has moved beyond that. (Watch this 15 minute video shot at Darwin’s Downe House in Kent, England, by Voices from Oxford.) This is further reinforced by two papers by James Shapiro (University of Chicago) and Denis Noble (University of Oxford), “Illusions of the Modern Synthesis” and “What Prevents Mainstream Evolutionists From Teaching the Whole Truth About How Genomes Evolve?“
An infographic shows that the five best-selling evolution books tell you almost nothing about the real mechanisms of evolution. These omissions are hindering cancer and disease research. Go here for a list of books that accurately depict cellular evolutionary mechanisms.
Evolution 2.0, a.k.a. “Evolution Alpha,” is synonymous with cognition. It’s not just chance and selection. Evolution is purposeful. Teleological. Evolution is not random events, it’s response to random events. This is reinforced by a long-standing body of literature on cellular agency, information theory and basal cognition. Evolution is only possible because all organisms have agency. See Shapiro 2020, Lyon 2015, Levin and Baluska 2016, Marshall 2021 and papers cited by these authors for a century of literature supporting this.
Watch professional football players chasing each other in the Superbowl. Then watch your dog chase a rabbit in your back yard. Then watch white blood cells chase bacteria in a YouTube video. The behaviors are similar at all three levels of scale.
This might strike some people as unexpected, yet is a crucial point because evolution is driven by Natural Genetic Engineering, not Natural Selection. All life forms actively participate in their own evolution, so the issue of free will extends to the cellular level. It literally applies to a trillion organisms on earth.
You cannot so much as create an acronym (i.e. “DNA”) without free will! Choice is the basis of all symbols and language, including genetics and biology. No free will, no language. This video illustrates the power of a narrow range of choices in a tightly constrained system.
The only structure in which love can exist is a structure where agency, or free will, can exist. Evolution and struggle are necessary components to a universe where love is possible.
Neither ‘side’ takes evolution seriously enough
Free will and consciousness are necessary for code to exist and evolve. They are both necessary for language.
No one knows any way for deterministic processes to create codes. Language itself is proof that we do not live in a deterministic universe. The fact that no one has won the $10M Evolution 2.0 prize supports this.
So this problem takes us to the very roots of biology. Biophysicist Howard Pattee, who has been writing papers about this since the 1960s, is right – the subject/object problem goes all the way down to the first cell. The Mind/Body/Consciousness problem extends to every living thing, not just us!
And this brings us to…
|Evolution Alpha||Evolution Omega|
|Survival of the fittest||Meek shall inherit the earth|
|The first shall be first and last shall be last; The greatest among you is the leader.||The first shall be last and last shall be first; The greatest among you is the servant|
|Group / kin selection||Hospitality to strangers and foreigners|
|20% of the people get 80% of the resources||“They would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need”|
|Winner takes all||Affordable health care for all|
Dobzhansky, the famous biologist, said: “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution” but we have to correctly understand evolution in the first place. Evolution must be redefined: Evolution 2.0 instead of 1.0, because the organism is the agent of its own evolution.
Once this new understanding is made clear… Not even the Old Testament makes sense except in the light of evolution. The Bible is the story of man’s evolving relationship with God, which deepens as man progresses.
Jesus’ sermon on the mount is THE anti-Darwinian manifesto. It turned the entire world order on its head. It opposed the most fundamental laws of nature. It defined human evolution in a fundamentally new way.
You can’t skip Evolution Alpha and go straight to Omega. Not if you want free will. Omega doesn’t exist without free will. Evolution Omega must be CHOSEN. Love is always a choice and it usually pushes against the natural forces of the world.
The two are diametrically opposed. When we say, “A truly evolved society would provide affordable medical care for even its poorest citizens,” or mandate facilities for handicapped people, we have utterly departed from any notion of Darwinism (or the eugenics that comes along for the ride). In fact you are opposing Darwinian evolution. This is not Evolution Alpha, it is Evolution Omega.
Note that Evolution Alpha always requires a choice too – but Evolution Alpha is a choice based on one’s own individual desires (competition), where Evolution Omega is a choice favoring the other being (love).
Evolution Omega leads us into far more complexity. Evolution Omega is the battle between Good and Evil. Good and Evil do not exist in Evolution Alpha. The only thing that exists is “superior outcomes” from the standpoint of surviving, thriving and allocating resources.
Evolution Omega gives you epic stories and sagas. Lord of the Rings and Sauron. Evolution Omega gives you a devil and an enemy.
Without Evolution Omega there is no sense of “story” whatsoever such as we see in all books and movies, because all stories have a moral component that stands taller than pure Darwinian concerns.
God meets people where they’re at. From cave men to German philosophers.
God’s is the quietest voice in the universe. He will never make you listen to him. You have to still yourself to hear God.
One thing I have discovered from years of prayer counseling is that God will not violate your belief system. You have to willingly surrender every belief. God will generously help you untangle the whole mess, but you have to initiate the untangling. He points the way.
God granted the cosmos freedom to develop as it wishes. It is not merely humanity that is free to love or reject God; the entire cosmos is endowed with some lesser degree freedom. The cosmos has the constraint of conforming to the laws of physics but it also has the freedom to evolve as well.
In this I am also saying that nature has a way in which it wants to develop, a course that it wants to take.
The Bible records MANY levels and degrees of spiritual awareness and sophistication. All the way from the book of Judges (near-anarchy, summarized by the last verse Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes”) to the Sermon on the Mount; to Paul’s pronouncements about equality; to the church in Acts 2 where people freely share their possessions; the grand visions of the OT prophets and the New Jerusalem in Revelation.
There is no empirical measurement or established fact that would confirm the equality of all human beings. The 80/20 principle guarantees that one guy (i.e. Bezos) not only can, but will amass more money than the bottom 100 million people in the world combined. Equality is a metaphysical concept. We are unequal in every quantifiable way.
This is why the effort to reduce human morals to objective scientific measurements is doomed. We are so unequal that the notion of all humans being equal was never taken seriously before the New Testament.
Yet the drive of western civilization is to bring equality to every corner of the earth.
Not all manifestations of spiritual awareness in the Bible are equal. Not all conceptions and descriptions of God in scripture are equally helpful. Far from it! Jesus and NT authors go out of their way to say the Mosaic law is an imperfect document. God meets people at their level. The God you meet in the OT is God as people at the time understood him.
Evangelical Christians often conceptualize the Law and the Bible as “perfect.” But nothing on earth or in scripture except God Himself as an unknowable “Other” is perfect. YHWH is so perfect that the ancient Israelites dared not even pronounce his name.
Yet the resurrected Christ has scars on his hands, feet and side. Even Jesus’ resurrection is an imperfect miracle! This speaks volumes about the significance of processes and not merely end results.
The notion of a platonically perfect scripture, miracle or human simply does not exist anywhere in scripture. Christians speak of a “perfect” garden of Eden. Scripture does not. The garden of Eden is staffed with a serpent from the beginning. This all by itself makes it not only imperfect, but incredibly dangerous: a being far more malevolent than any child molester is burning with rage and roams free… and God doesn’t even warn the humans.
A perfect Mosaic command is similarly not to be found.
Of course some OT commands and rules seem silly to modern people. But we will do well to remember that this is still the history of the oldest intact civilization. The ancient Hebrews weren’t on the brink of destroying the planet, and we are. Let us exercise some humility.
The Mosaic Law is the second rung on the ladder from animal morality to Evolution Omega. The revelation given to Adam is the first. The Bible is unflinchingly honest about the flaws and detours of the human journey.
The Bible itself is absolutely inspired but it similarly cannot be categorized as “perfect” in a practical sense.
The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is man’s God-breathed testimony to our experience and journey with God.
What About Mean Nasty Old Testament Biblegod?
Literature is replete with horrified reactions to the Hittites and Canaanites:
- These incidents are nothing compared to what God warned Israel of, if they abandoned their covenant! Israel suffered 10X more judgment than any Canaanite nation. Exile in Babylon and Persia; the disasters of Israel and Judah post-Solomon. Captivity, rape, murder, genocide. Oh, and let’s not forget the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, an event so horrific it made 9/11 look like a birthday party. Jesus did foretell it. We are not dealing with the full force of scripture until we reckon with this. Note that the Biblical writers always assign blame for these horrors on Israel and their indulgence in injustice and idolatry, not God.
- We cannot judge the OT by NT standards. NT standards did not exist before the NT. “Equality” did not exist (not anywhere on earth – at all.) Unconditional love did not exist. Equality is Evolution Omega. OT is Evolution Alpha with foreshadowings of Evolution Omega. The early outlines are certainly present but they are not developed.
- The OT was a necessary precursor to the NT. There’s no way to skip straight from caveman to sermon on the mount. Humanity must wrestle with these questions. Don’t forget that Jesus referring to God as “Abba father” was revolutionary at the time.
- We can only judge the OT by Evolution Alpha standards. In the OT God deals with humanity within Evolution Alpha. It’s the law. “Evolution is wonderful when you obey the rules.”
Adam wasn’t the first human.
Adam was the first prophet.
Meaning: Adam was the first man to receive a revelation from God. There were plenty of other humans before Adam. But God breathed the breath of life into the man and he became a living being, and that breath was not oxygen. It was spirit.
The book “Historical Genesis: from Adam to Abraham” by Richard Fischer documents evidence that Adam is a real person who is referred to in Ancient Near East and Sumerian literature. Fischer provides a plausible framework for reading the opening chapters of Genesis and integrating them with known history and archaeology.
Adam, as we all know, bailed on his assignment, choosing the Tree of Knowledge instead of the Tree of Life. (This is a textual signal that there was death before the fall. Why would anyone need a Tree of Life if we were already immortal?)
Definition of “the fall”: Man abdicating his God-given spiritual authority. Adam’s higher spiritual consciousness, once awakened, is now subsumed by Evolution Alpha priorities. Which leads to all manner of spiritual abuse – religion becomes a tool for justifying Darwinian priorities, reinforcing tribalism etc.
Definition of Original Sin: Inescapable awareness of our inadequacy, shackled to Darwinian imperatives. Inability to solve these problems through any human instrument, even though we long for a better world.
We haven’t faced up to the real problem of evil in the world until we acknowledge the fact that the serpent was in the garden and God did not warn them about this fact. It’s a setup.
Evil is not an abstraction or arbitrary human construct. Evil is a living conscious entity. Evil actively hates God, hates man, and hates nature. Satan is far worse than cholera and fires and earthquakes.
Cain kills Abel. Genesis 4:
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”
And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.
A city for who to live in? The only other humans mentioned are Adam and Eve… right? Where did Cain get a wife? Who are the “lest any who came upon him” people? Implication: there were plenty of other people around. Humans were scattered across the earth; archaeology and anthropology make this clear.
Nevertheless we see an explosion of culture and literacy and religious activity in Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent around 10 to 12 thousand years ago. Recorded history begins in the ancient near east.
12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
The “law” here is not the Mosaic law. It’s Adam’s law!
Paul is saying: Even before Adam, all the other people were sinning, but no law had been given. Why? Because they had no knowledge of how God wanted man to live.
Sin is transmitted by knowledge not genetics. (The same way salvation is.)
God is as good as Evolution Omega, and Evolution Omega is as good as God. But where did we get this idea? You could never derive any of the highest ideals of mankind from Evolution Alpha. Evolution Omega aspires to our highest conception of God.
So how do we someday escape evil and still possess free will? What is God’s plan for the future?
Some propose we will someday surrender our free will so we can live a perfect life in heaven. I think this is antithetical to the nature of God. I believe the solution is something more like this: God takes away our susceptibility to deception. It seems to me that what would make this possible is a new degree of revelation of His own nature. But we have to want and choose that for it to happen.
Meanwhile, on this earth, we live in the struggle between Evolution Alpha and Evolution Omega.
Addiction is when spirit is ruled by body. Spiritual disciplines and fasting are spirit ruling over body. When a protester or political prisoner goes on a hunger strike, he or she is asserting their free will over the dictates of their own biology. Hunger strikes show humans have free will.
Interesting historical aside: Alan Turing believed that humans were deterministic Turing machines, biological computers who have no free will. Kurt Gödel, whose incompleteness theorems were contemporaneous with Turing’s ideas, believed in free will and starved himself to death to prove his point. Each embraced the implications of their greatest theories.
Genocide in the Old Testament
Finally let’s circle back to this question of God ordering the destruction of the Canaanites. Modern sophisticates react with horror as they sip their caramel lattes. But we must ask: On what basis do we judge this as being wrong?
Can we judge this as wrong according to Darwinian standards?
Of course not. Darwinism is amoral. If the Israelites were smarter or stronger than the Canaanites, Darwinism is always ready to supply a rationale for why they should kill them and take their stuff. Darwinism might even suggest that their belief in God increased their fitness and that religious beliefs confer a substantial survival advantage.
Can we judge this as being wrong according to the moral standards of 1500 BC?
No. The normal and expected springtime sport in 1500 BC was: just as soon as the roads are dry enough to drive a chariot, you truck on down to the next village, burn it down and take everything. Because if you don’t, your kids are gonna go hungry next winter.
On what standards are we now judging the God of the Old Testament as morally reprehensible?
By the standards of the Sermon on the Mount. By the standards of western equality and modern liberalism.
But where do those ideas come from?
Alexis De Tocqueville definitively answered this question in Democracy in America in 1835. He traced modern notions of equality to St. Paul: “In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. All are equal in Christ Jesus.” Tocqueville points out that this idea took root in western civilization and gradually developed for 1800 years until it attained juggernaut force.
De Tocqueville coined the term “individualism” to describe Americans. He said America was founded on two principles standing in great tension with each other: Equality and individualism.
All Americans, he said, are endowed with certain inalienable rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that this equality was derived from Galatians 3:28. Americans are born equal, with the right to become as unequal as they desire. You could say he defined the United States itself as an experimental stir fry of Evolution Alpha and Evolution Omega.
Even though humans are ostensibly un-equal, the idea of equality is so powerful that it defies all empirical data. It defines what modern educated people regard as the ideal society.
Remember, that idea was nowhere to be found in 1500 BC. No one had any higher moral authority than the local beliefs of their particular tribe and its gods. Even though humans are made in the image of God, not even God treats us with equality until Christ! It is essential that we grasp this, otherwise the Old Testament sounds like a bunch of barbaric, bronze-age nonsense.
While the Old Testament does not establish universal equality of all human beings, it does establish man as a moral creature. When Genesis 1 says “Let us make man in our image” and when Genesis 2 says “God breathed the breath of life into the man and he became a living being,” you may choose to read the stories as archetypal and metaphorical, but modern people implicitly take the divine spark as seriously as any scientific fact. This idea is as central as any in western civilization.
The Old Testament is perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that Darwinian principles and the tribal loyalties necessitated by biological “altruism and cooperation” (just as we see in the animal kingdom) were the iron law before Christ.
And that God revealed Himself to a tribe – through which He would eventually eradicate tribalism itself.
The Old Testament is also perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that God entered into contact with real, tribal, evolving human beings and met them on terms that they (we) could understand. These humans, just like us today, wanted a home that would belong to them for all time and that their genes would be passed to future generations without end.
Modern pronouncements that the Old Testament is barbaric murderous bronze age nonsense sidestep the biggest question of all: Where did we come up with this idea of equality in the first place? Where did you get the idea that it is NOT OK to drive your chariot to the village down the road and burn it down?
This idea comes from the Son of God.
Yes, of course the village atheist will object that Jesus wasn’t really the son of God and it’s all mythology. But at that point he loses all moral authority on which we base our modern notion of equality. This is because Christianity has an intricate logic that says because God became man for the purpose of making ALL human beings immortal, which is possible through resurrection, the old Darwinian rules are demolished.
Because God now judges all human beings by how they treat the poor and the downtrodden – not how well we enforce the dominance hierarchy. In fact, the most guilty offenders are those who invoke GOD to enforce tyranny! That’s who Jesus waged war with and that’s the group that killed him.
When Jesus talks about hell and the people who go there, he never says hell is for people who reject Christian doctrines like the virgin birth. He says hell is for rich men who have no compassion for the Lazarus who eats the crumbs that fall from their table.
If this isn’t a reversal of Darwinian principles, I don’t know what is. Please notice that the mechanism for establishing and enforcing kingdom values is resurrection. The rich man and Lazarus are both brought to life and judged.
If there is no resurrection, human equality is a myth. A vague ideal that sounds romantic but has no “teeth.”
The tyranny of a Darwinian world is broken by resurrection. This is how man evolves beyond evolution.
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