God’s Good Earth – Chapter 7: Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal-Cellar

Here is a link to chapter 7 of my book.

Here I move from theology and the history of theology to the theological baggage that has become attached to the daily perception of the world, which I have loosely associated with the “scientific” view.

The title of this chapter might suggest one of those “theory in crisis” anti-evolutionary articles, but in fact I take the fact of evolution for granted, and the issue I’m addressing is just the same as that explored in the previous chapters: that Christians have adopted, from a non-Christian world view, a pessimistic and unbiblical view of Creation that deeply affects the way the world is seen. It affects theology, and it affects science too (or more generally, since this is more than an academic issue, it affects the way ordinary people, some of whom are theologians or scientists, experience nature and pray about nature).

I’ve discussed on this blog, and in the book’s Introduction, how much of the secular apologetics for evolutionary theory depends on theology rather than theory. Theodicy is so pervasive that it’s thought to be part of science rather than, as it actually is, an invalid application of biased aesthetics to science.

There are no doubt links in this phenomenon back to the Promethean worldview discussed in the previous chapter, but I haven’t laboured that. It’s sufficient that perceiving darkness in every aspect of creation has become so entrenched that it’s hard to realise there are other ways of seeing – ways which were followed by those in the past and, especially, by Christians.

So though this chapter focuses on popular examples familiar to any high school theodicy biology student, it is mainly aimed at theistic evolution in its modern form, which has tended to adopt that negativity uncritically, and sought to explain it by theological gymnastics.

Better, I argue, to challenge the negativity itself with orthodox doctrine.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to God’s Good Earth – Chapter 7: Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal-Cellar

  1. Avatar photo Sy Garte says:

    I loved this chapter, Jon. It resonates with how I have felt about this subject for a very long time. My 2007 book, Where We Stand takes a similar view of the environment, that contrary to popular belief, is actually in pretty good shape and getting better. Sheer heresy of course, and it didnt sell well. But now that I live in a house that borders woodland, this city born boy has been sending some time out in real nature. And I have once again had the same thought about the world, that I always had. “Gee, it aint so bad around here!”.

    I think the key is not to say (and I know you dont say this) that evil cannot be found, both in humanity and in nature. My own take is to say that violence, death, predation, suffering, are all what one should expect in a natural living world. A world without death would have a short half life. What I find remarkable is that the prevalence of beauty, joy, peace, satisfaction, and just goodness, is as high as it is, and I take that as a sign of God’s benevolence. I have never cursed God for my woes, but always thanked Him for my blessings. (Among which is reading your brilliant words).

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      Thanks for expressing your approval – it’s a great encouragement as I begin to stray into the area of science. Your book is excellent, by the way, and has probably shifted many more copies than mine!

      To deny that there is death, and so on, in nature would simply be crazy. Where the fault-line occurs is in applying the word “evil” to it, especially now that “evil” has become almost entirely a moral term, rather than also a mere description of adverse effects with respect to some particular party.

      Thus, God’s judgement (by deposing a tyrant, say – or even at the final judgement) has an evil effect on that tyrant, whilst being an unmitigated good in God’s eyes. My reading in Isaiah 54 this morning has God describe how he “created the destroyer to work havoc”, and elsewhere he even “creates evil” – meaning in that case, the harmful judgements of his righteousness.

      Nature’s “evils”, even so, are of a different order, once we bracket off their punitive effects on rational humans (see ch 1). Death is only an evil if one had reason to expect unending life, and suffering is far from a straightforward question (to which I devote Chapter 9). In other words, I don’t go along with the common idea that God “had” to permit evils to be able to make the world work, as if his choices were limited.

      Rather, I say that we moderns have erroneously applied our own human moral standard both to non-human nature, and what is worse, to God himself – the subject of a supernumerary post which I shall get to in just a minute!

  2. Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

    I’ve enjoyed these chapters very much, Jon. They are well-written, in an accessible style, and the contents are very rich. This book should be published. I know a lot of people who would buy this book if it were available. I will let you know privately if I get any leads for you.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Thanks Eddie. Enough that you’re enjoying it. But of course should you discover any publishing contacts in the Rastafarian Science Press or Action Comics, please let me know…

      Interestingly, my web hoster has just given me a new package of web-stats, which shows more clearly that the traffic on the blog is 10 times greater in the US than in the UK. Indeed, the second most interested country turns out to be Sweden. So maybe any publication ought to be that side of the Atlantic rather than this anyway.

  3. KJ says:

    I’m finally catching up. This was a delightful read. The academic in me wants more (with tons of footnotes), but that’s not your intent and would distract from the flyover perspective (and would hurt the prose and humor, both of which are fantastic). You give life the normal apologetic accusation of “just-so” stories.

    This may be tangential, but what came to mind as I was reading was W.L. Craig’s discussion of Murray’s book (http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Red-Tooth-Claw-Suffering/dp/0199237271), which discusses the levels or intensities of “pain” in various creatures. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently Murray shows that only in humans and higher primates is the full awareness and sensation of pain “felt.” If so, this would mitigate against much of the anthropomorphic talk.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi KJ

      Once again, you’re ahead of me – without referring to Murray I deal with the same topic in the next chapter (ie ch9). As ever, there is a difference between “the truth being out there” and “the same old myths being trotted out as facts”.

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