I’m going to try to divide this one up, because the topic promises to get a bit long. Also, objectors please note that I am aware of various approaches to theodicy and am not discussing them here. My point is simply that we assume some good explanation will be available for certain things, while do not do so for one particular topic.
One of the regular objections I hear to a Christian believing in evolution is the violent nature of the process. And indeed many creatures have died in the course of the evolution of life on this planet including more than one major extinction. It seems to be a very bloody process.
The objection then may take one of two directions. The first is that the example of survival of the fittest (the expression most commonly used in these cases) provides a violent and bloody example, and thus that those who think they are the product of such a process will feel justified in being violent, weeding out the week as nature does, and generally doing a bunch of other unloving things.
The second is that if we believe God is love–and we know from the Bible that he is–then we cannot imagine him using such a violent process in creation.
There is a third angle, but it is not as closely related to my topic. The [partially] random nature of the process is said to remove our sense of purpose, and thus make us into immoral beings. I’m not addressing this last point, though it is closely related.
The question that comes to me in these cases is this: In what way is the God potentially portrayed by evolution (the God who would do things that way) any less loving than the God portrayed in scripture? After all, in scripture we have a God who decides to destroy all of his creation except for eight human beings and selected pairs of varies animal groups (Genesis 6-9). Further on, in Numbers 31, we have the same God dissatisfied with the amount of killing carried out by the Israelites in battle, and ordering them to kill many more. In Joshua we have the depiction of the invasion of Canaan, with the command to kill everyone in the country. Finally, we have a God who is willing to throw a substantial portion of the people he created into hell. Just how many we’re not told, but lots.
Now the issue is not whether there is any way to read these chapters in a way consistent with a loving God. There are in fact, quite a number, with quite variable degrees of plausibility. The issue, rather, is why it is that we feel that we should construct such explanations for these Bible stories, but somehow if evolution is true, it is an indelible stain on God’s reputation.
Whether evolution has taken place or not, and I’m convinced it has, there are quite a number of violent events that need to be explained, always presuming we can explain them at all. Theodicy is alive and kicking, even if often not in such good health. I do have to say that the concept of theodicy occasionally amuses me. What can we do with God if we find we can’t justify his behavior?
It seems to me that evolution is one of the most minor issues of theodicy. The flood (even if it didn’t happen as such) or the Canaanite genocide (even if that didn’t happen either), require much more explanation in the light of God’s character.
What I’m calling the God exception here is this: There are a group of violent events that are part of the Christian scripture and tradition that we tend to protect from blame in influencing evil events. We do not allow the process of evolution such a free pass, or assumption that there is, somewhere, an adequate explanation. We make exceptions for some of the most difficult material, and then get hung up on the relatively easy.
(I describe this as an opening shot because I expect to say more on the topic.)