DIALOGOS Issue #4:
Additional Comments and Responses Continued (updated 8/1/2000)

Comment 5: Would it not be more accurate to designate your evolutionary explanation of evil as a "Cosmodicy" (credit to Patrick Stonehouse for the neologism as well as the question) rather than theodicy inasmuch as it stands on its own feet as an explanation of evil in the universe pretty much without reference to God?

Reply: Yes perhaps so, but I see no great problem, with that. Other than the problem of the origin of its existence -- or more accurately the origin of existence to begin with (which is ultimately THE God-question) -- I think any theodicy, in order to be adequate, should be able to stand on its own feet as a natural explanation of evil without any direct reference to God. Otherwise, like Job, we end up putting God on trial. But notice that I say "adequate" -- meaning by that word the quality of rational consistency. I do not say, however, that it is satisfactory. Indeed, by itself this explanation at best gives only cold comfort. (Look to the final paragraph or two of the reply to comment #7 for something more.)

Comment 6: Was it not St. Paul who really formulated the idea of "original sin"? Why blame St. Augustine for it?

Reply: True, Paul seems to have been the first to draw a parallel contrasting the sin of "the first Adam" and the redemption wrought by "the second Adam" (Christ), but the correct interpretation of the passage in question (Romans 5:12-20) has long been controversial. In particular, the linkage that Paul, following Genesis, made between sin and death (also found in the Book of Wisdom 2:24) has been interpreted quite differently by various theologians from almost the very beginning, with some (especially in the Christian East) seeing this as referring to a spiritual rather than a physical death or others seeing fear of physical death as causing sin, and not the other way around. Only western European theology (both Catholic and Protestant) seems to have followed Augustine so closely as to deduce from all of this some kind of inherited guilt or sinfulness.

Today, it seems much more reasonable to describe humanity's proclivity for evil as the effect of certain kinds of "evolutionary baggage" (like unbridled libido, propensity towards violence, etc.) that, like "wisdom teeth", the appendix, and other remnants of our pre-human past, cause more problems than they're worth. Actually, although Aquinas ascribed this to other causes, this view of "original sin", or at least of its effects, seems closer to the medieval idea of "concupiscence" (disordered human passions) than they are to any inherited "guilt". For an update of this latter view in terms of Darwinian psychology, see Robert Wright's recent essay, "Science and Original Sin" in the Oct. 28, 1996 issue of TIME magazine.

Some additional reflections on the nature of "Original Sin" from Dave Beckman:

We hear about "original sin" and the Genesis story as the source of the human predicament, but I think there is a more scientific basis for the existence of evil tendencies. Two common drives (we can even use the term "instincts") among many creatures are survival and procreation; these are genetic instructions buried down in our thinking and acting parts of the brain. The human ability to think and reason opens the door to a creative elaboration to be built on these two basic drives; greed, for instance, may have been an individual's way of satisfying the urge of self-preservation, and rape is an (improper, of course) elaboration on procreation. Unless we do some genetic engineering or are assisted by evolution, humans are stuck with these drives. The only solution is for individuals to use their mental abilities to overcome these self-centered drives by adopting a perspective and control that emphasizes the needs of society and human relations (i. e., moral codes). People who do evil things are unwilling or unable to subvert these urges in favor of the greater good. So what is God's role in this category of evil? I am tempted to say that, based on scientific evidence, it is no different from natural evil; yet there is a chance -- purely speculative on my part -- that the human intellect may be influenced by outside forces that we have not yet discovered. (Dave Beckman)

Comment 7: If St. Paul's account of "original sin", or at least Augustine's interpretation of it, is no longer feasible, how can Christians retain their belief in what they consider the redemptive role of Jesus Christ?

Reply: My own approach to this follows more along the "restorationist" or "recapitulationist" themes introduced by Irenaeus and Origen in early Christian times. These saw Christ more as redirecting creation to its true goal rather than following the emphasis placed by Augustine as it being a remedy for sin or, later, by Anslem's emphasis on the Incarnation as a necessary prelude to Christ's atoning death on the cross.

Instead, as the medieval theologian John Duns Scotus saw it, the Incarnation of God in Christ is an act directed towards the completion of God's creative activity in a way that does not depend on humanity's sinfulness as a necessary cause, even though it obviously addresses it as a barrier that needs be overcome. Even Aquinas (in his final Compendium Theologiae, Chap. 201) eventually came to admit this broader perspective which Scotus had lately revived. And of course, this alternative approach has its modern parallel, as rethought in evolutionary terms, in the concept of the Christ- Omega -- the union of God and Universe -- as proposed by Teilhard de Chardin.

However, in addition, to address the problem of evil in any satisfactory way, I think that this depiction of the "Cosmic Christ" also needs to be counterbalanced by a renewed emphasis on the suffering humanity of Jesus, particularly on his own faith in the face of his impending death. I feel that is only when he -- whom Christians believe to be "the Image of the Invisible God" -- is taken seriously in his psychological and spiritual suffering, as well as his physical torment, that we can come to a fresh understanding of how evil and suffering can somehow be redeemed. For it is only when we can understand, as did the Anglo-American philosopher, A.N.Whitehead, that God is "our fellow sufferer" in the process of evolution, that we can also begin to understand that we, even while we undergo the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" are not alone nor have we been abandoned entirely to an uncaring universe. (RWK, 1/28/97)

Comment 8: How can it be said (in issue #3) that natural evils or even (in issue #4) moral evils or the events that bring about evil are inevitable? If evolution is accepted as the process of our development toward freedom, then we are developing dynamically. That is, what we do now determines the path which our development as a species will take in the future. The situations we put ourselves in cause certain "random" mutations in our genetic codes which are passed on to our offspring, predisposing them to certain attributes. Also, where we choose to be and the relative value we place on various objects (or even people) which or whom fall prey to natural disasters impart evil to these events. For instance, a water spout on a lake is a very benign (and beautiful) thing. However, if one's child is killed while on a boat sunk by a water spout, then this beautiful display of nature becomes an agent of evil. So, in this respect, our freedom makes the inevitable avoidable.
(from Chad Atzemis, student, John Carroll University)

Response: No question but there is always bound to be some paradoxes in our use of language, especially in a subject like this. The fundamental indeterminicy or randomness of nature, in a certain sense, "determines" (in the sense of making possible) our individual freedom or, even more paradoxically to the extent that, as the existentialist philosopher, Sartre, put it, we are "condemned" to be free. Yet, once achieved, this same freedom (as you correctly note) to a large extent freely determines the future. Now, within that future, the occurrance of at least some evil is, for all practical purposes, inevitable. "Inevitability" in this case (or in the argument I have presented) is meant to be taken statistically, in much the same way that Aquinas pointed out that what is fallible is bound, sooner or later, to fail. Yet to the extent that we might have, or could have done otherwise, we are nevertheless at least partially responsible. If, in the example of the child killed by a water spout, the boat operator had failed to check weather conditions or to carry the requisite life preservers before venturing out, the operator should be judged negligent, and a contributor to the tragedy that occurred. But even if in fact no harm did occur, would not such negligence in itself be wrong? I ask this because I think it is not only important to distinguish between the natural event (the so-called "acts of God") and the tragedy occasioned partly by that event, but also between those two elements and the human failing or negligence that we deem to have been "wrong" -- whether intended ot not. "Evil" is no simple phenomenon. (RWK, 1/20/97)

And still another comment (#9), taken from a longer file from someone whose name got misplaced (do you care to identify yourself?)

I don't want to sound simplistic but every theory we put forth really has no absolute foundation. In the begining of the human race, words were used as a form of communication or to describe what one was experiencing. We as a race have taken these words and created absolute definitions. The most obvious misconceptions are the opposites and their meanings. For example: good and evil, right and wrong, fortunate and unfortunate, etc. We assume that all forms of pain are what's not supposed to be. The problem is that only God, whatever you deem that concept to be, knows the beginning and reason for all things. The most accurate concept I've come across is the understanding that understands nothing.

Reply: Well, maybe... No doubt we often over-attempt to define or categorize. But there is also a point where the enigmatic can become an appeal to obscurantism. We should know that people do needlessly suffer and die -- otherwise we can too easily become indifferent to or paralyzed in the face of such crimes as the world's genocides and the Holocaust. (RWK, ed. 10/21/97)

More Comments: This time from Australia:

Saint Augustine's statement that either God cannot abolish evil or He will not, quoted in the first paragraph of Kropf's essay, does not present us with a complete disjunction. There is at least one further alternative, that God should not prevent evil. If God can not prevent evil then He is not all-powerful, if he will not, but he should not, then he is not necessarily not all good. If he should not, then the important question becomes `Why should God not prevent evil?'

If we adopt the process perspective of Cosmogenesis, and we regard this process as one determined by God, it is difficult to devise a reason for numerous other facets of the process besides the problem of evil. But if we accept the idea suggested by Whitehead, that the process is one involving self-creation, we can satisfactorily explain the problem of evil as well as many other problems.

Both Aristotle and Aquinas agreed that God, in his activity, would only seek the production of `another God'. As the essence of divinity is self-existence, He could only initiate a process of self-creation to make such an outcome possible.

If we examine the stages of Cosmogenesis in the light of Nicolai Hartmann's stratified ontology, we perceive a process involving increasing freedom at each stage, from the deterministic laws of the initial physical stage to the total freedom of humans in relation to the operation of the moral law. As Hartmann says, the moral law commands but can not compel. God should not interfere with a self-creating process, except to initiate new stages, and in particular should not interfere in the totally free moral stage.

Anthony B Kelly

Kelly's approach is argued much more extensively in his 1999 thesis, published as "The Process of the Cosmos: Philosophical Theology and Cosmology" (see Dissertation.com).


For a fine recent addition to this issue, see Gerald DeVoe's essay on Evil & Entropy.

See also the editor's review of Annie Dillard's book For The Time Being.

For still more on this subject, see question #3 in the next issue of DIALOGOS (issue #5).

For a moving account ilustrating how an overwhelming sense of evil can seem to destroy faith, see the following essay by Wayne Paquette

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