Here is a link to chapter 9 of my book.
This fills the gap that KJ noted in responding to an earlier chapter, and shows how the “problem of suffering” as applied to the natural world has been grossly exaggerated: by naturalistic apologeticists for evolution as a blind and merciless force; by believers in a “cosmic fall” eager to identify the manifold evils of our world; and by academic theologians combining the two into a naturally-fallen world.
All three positions concur in being more obvious from an armchair than by long firsthand exposure to the ways of nature.
What I haven’t overly stressed, that not being the purpose of the chapter, is how widespread has become the change in the focus of modern theology overall, as it relates to God’s purposes in the world. Keep your eyes open, and you’ll notice how nowadays, from the pulpit to the professorial chair, the big issue to be dealt with by God is “suffering”. That ranges from the subject of our study – the implacably hostile face of nature (as we are told) – to the psychological sufferings we face as we grapple with inner demons, external criticisms of our deepest selves (usually defined in terms of sexuality, or perhaps rejection of orthodox beliefs resulting in perceived ostracism), or a Freudian concept of guilt as a pathology (leading to suffering).
In the end, this is often identified as an ontological set of problems – we are as God made us, but them others won’t accept us as God does. “Inclusivity” is the mantra of the age.
It is interesting how the historic faith called “Christianity” sees the problem quite differently – as human beings alone being alienated from God and creation through their wilful sin – a cause of death to themselves, and suffering to those on whom we inflict it – including the natural world. In Scripture, suffering is not an absolute evil – it is sinful when inflicted on the innocent, good when inflicted by God in judgement, and redemptive when undergone vicariously by Christ or by his saints.
I strongly suspect that there are strong emotional preferences for the former explanation over the latter. Certainly “the relief of suffering” is more fashionable than “the cleansing of sin”. That may be why so much emphasis is placed on “unjustified” and “useless” suffering in nature, and why the evidence that I have presented in this chapter, and that others have done elsewhere, will no doubt face an uphill struggle in the marketplace of ideas.
I blame Prometheus.