How Good is Nature? The Fall, Evolution, and Predation

Authored by: Ryan Patrick McLaughlin

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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In this paper, I de- and re-construct the doctrine of the cosmic Fall in a manner that takes seriously both its central theological claims and the scientific evidence concerning the nature of biological reality. This reconstruction takes the form of a reinterpretation of both the Fall as an historical event and the theological schema of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. To facilitate my aims, I first briefly survey views regarding the Fall and nonhuman death. Next, I critique those views which are represented in contemporary Christian theology. Finally, I offer a constructive proposal that both retains the theological significance of cosmic fallenness and accounts for an evolutionary narrative of cosmic emergence. This proposal rejects tracing the origin of death to a free agent, whether divine, angelic, or human. The act of creation requires consecratory distance in order for the cosmos to be a genuine other with which God can seek communion. This distance requires God to allot the cosmos its own space and integrity, which in the absence of freewill take the form of randomness and chance. These elements of creation’s integrity entail the risk that the cosmos will not develop toward communion as God desires—that it will rather wander from the path toward its divinely intended end. In this schema, the Fall is the risk of creation’s alterity coming to fruition when God releases the infinitesimal and infinitely dense mass of the original creation in its integrity. That is, the Fall is the Big Bang itself—the very forming of the laws of nature in the randomness of the space God allots the world. It is not a breaking of perfection or the distortion of an already ordered creation. It is rather potentiality gone awry—a cosmic wandering into isolation away from the path toward communion with God.

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