I’m flattered that our discussion of natural selection and its mindless and purposeless nature has inspired a very nice post by Eric MacDonald at Choice in Dying: “Darwin Meets Job.” For years MacDonald, an Anglican priest, struggled with the problem of evil, trying hard to rationalize it to his congregation as part of God’s plan. Then he read On the Origin of Species:
It is simply impossible to read Darwin and come away with the idea that the process of evolution is directed or supervised. The completely contingent character of the world is fully revealed, and it’s hard to understand how one did not see this before. It should have been obvious? But not only is contingency obvious. It becomes obvious that, if the way the world is is contingent, then knowledge itself, if not contingent, must be a fully human project, the product of millennia of trial and error. And then, it becomes pellucidly clear that morality itself is human, that goodness is a purely human product, and very fragile, not something simply built into the process by which we came to be, but an extrapolation from that process, and, to the extent possible, a determination to bend the process to ensure better outcomes. . .
. . . Darwin was a modern Job. All he could do in the end was to submit to the forces that were at work in Anne’s body [his daughter, who died at ten of scarlet fever]. Anne was struggling for survival, just as every living organism does, and she lost. She died without leaving any descendents. In the struggle to survive and propagate, she lost. By all accounts, Anne was a bright, happy child. Certainly Darwin’s memorial to Anne tells us that she was. But however happy she may have been, her death spelled the end of faith for Darwin. After that he could not really even pretend, and ceased going to church with the family. I can understand that.
Faith can’t survive the realisation that the whole of the life world is built on struggle and failure, with a glacially slow accumulation of small successes. It is a constant struggle, a struggle that has been going on for billions and billions of years, in which organisms come into being, struggle for survival, and then die, many of them, perhaps most, not leaving any issue, only a favoured few — those selected by a completely indifferent process — surviving to pass on their genes to the next generation. And in that process, billions and billions of living creatures struggle to pass on their genes, and fail. What is the sum of all that suffering, struggling multitude? Can faith in a god survive the knowledge that we are the product of all that misery and affliction? In the Epic of Gilgamesh even the gods do not know why so many had to suffer. That there is no reason should make us much more sensitive to and caring, but it should spell the end of gods.
Read the rest, and if you haven’t yet bookmarked his site, I recommend doing so.
An afterthought: I’m surprised that accommodationists and the National Center for Science Education don’t criticize evolutionists for describing the evolution and natural selection as “purely natural and materialistic processes,” for that steps on the toes of the faithful just as hard as saying that evolution is “unguided and purposeless”. In both cases divine intervention is explicitly ruled out.