Evolution, Animal Suffering, and Ethics

A Response to Christopher Southgate

Authored by: Neil Messer

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:




The theological problem of evil – how can we speak of the goodness of God in the face of the existence of evil in the world? – is raised in a powerful way by neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology, because natural evils such as pain, death and species extinction are intrinsic to the creative evolutionary process which generates new forms of life. Non-human animal suffering is a particularly acute problem, because some factors that might mitigate the problem of human suffering do not apply to (most) other species. In an important recent book, Christopher Southgate attempts to address the problem by arguing that (1) such a process is the only means by which even an all-powerful God could create a world containing complex life; (2) God suffers with suffering creatures; (3) God will compensate the victims of evolution in the world to come. However, Southgate’s account entails some deep theological difficulties, in the light of which I argue for a theological response to evolutionary evil which understands the created world both as God’s ‘very good’ creation and as ‘fallen’ – radically affected by evil. God’s promised good future is understood as one in which all creatures find their true fulfilment, and the evils intrinsic to the evolutionary process in this world will be no more. This paper will defend my position against Southgate’s criticisms of it, and explore the implications of this debate for human responsibilities in respect of other animal species. The ways in which we make theological sense of animal suffering in this world and understand God’s promised good future have an important bearing on the responsibilities we recognize towards non-human animals here and now.

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Evolution, Animal Suffering, and Ethics

Stating the Problem

Biological evolution raises the theological problem of evil in a distinctive and particularly sharp way, as was recently stated in a particularly arresting fashion by the actor and comedian Stephen Fry. During an episode of his BBC Television quiz show QI, he suggested that anyone who likes to sing “All things bright and beautiful… the Lord God made them all” faces a particular challenge from the life cycle of the jewel wasp, whose larvae parasitize cockroaches. Having described in gruesome detail the cockroaches’ fate, he concluded,

Now you ask me if there’s a benign, divine God who looks down on creation and loves it all. You just ask him how the hell he came up with something so cruel, so unpleasant, so vile. Only evolution could cause that kind of horrible, horrible life cycle. 1

Stephen Fry was not, of course, the first to notice this problem. A few years before, the philosopher David Hull posed the question of what a God who created a world of Darwinian evolution – the “God of the Galapagos” – would be like. His own answer could be described as forthright: “The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” 2 And long before Hull, Darwin himself raised the problem in a manner almost identical to Stephen Fry. Writing to his American friend, fellow biologist and evangelical Christian Asa Gray, who had urged him to see the hand of the Creator at work in evolution, Darwin replied,

I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. 3

A century before Darwin, the problem of evil was framed more systematically by the philosopher David Hume: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” 4

Philosophy of religion textbooks usually divide the field into the problems of moral and natural evil – respectively, the evil and suffering caused by the actions of responsible agents such as ourselves and the evil and suffering that result from natural processes such as earthquakes. Biological evolution raises the problem of natural evil in a particularly acute way (though it also blurs the distinction between natural and moral evil, since human agency and behavior are themselves the products of a natural evolutionary process). The acuteness of the problem arises in part because in Darwinian theory, “disvalues” such as pain, waste, death, and the extinction of whole species are intrinsic to the creative evolutionary process that generates the wonderful variety of life in the world. You cannot have “all things bright and beautiful” without the death of the dinosaurs and countless other bright and beautiful creatures besides.

Discussing the problem of evil in the context of Darwinian evolution also foregrounds animal suffering as a philosophical and theological problem, as we have already seen. If we make two assumptions that philosophers and theologians have not always made but that seem entirely reasonable – that animal suffering is real suffering and that nonhuman animals have intrinsic, not merely instrumental, value – then this seems a particularly hard aspect of the problem, for one common response to the problem of human suffering is to argue that a world in which responsible agents have the freedom to mature and grow toward God has to be a world with the likelihood of suffering: “a vale of soul-making,” to use the phrase John Hick borrowed from Keats. 5 Now this is problematic enough in relation to human suffering, but it does not even begin to make sense of the vast majority of nonhuman animal suffering caused by evolution.

If one wishes, as I do, to address the problem within the frame of a mainstream Christian tradition that understands God as the all-powerful Creator of all things and as perfectly good and loving, then the theological problem of evolutionary evil will likely be framed in some such way as this: Is it possible to speak of the goodness of a God who creates a world where life depends on evolutionary suffering and destruction? If it is indeed possible, how should we go about it?


The most popular answer among recent authors finds its best expression in Christopher South-gate’s important book The Groaning of Creation. 6 At the heart of this answer is what Southgate calls the “only way” argument: the only way complex life can come into being is through some evolutionary process involving natural selection. Even an all-powerful God could not create life any other way. The crucial point of this response is that God therefore willed the existence of the evolutionary “struggle for life” because the value of a world populated by complex life outweighs the disvalue of evolutionary suffering. To that central argument Southgate adds two others: first, God is not indifferent to the suffering of creatures but suffers “in, with and under” the suffering creation. We see this most fully in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Second, God will “compensate” the victims of evolution in a promised future life: borrowing a phrase from Jay McDaniel, Southgate refers to this future hope as “pelican heaven.” 7

Heaven for animals will mean the ultimate fulfillment of what it is to be that kind of creature, fulfillment of that species’ distinctive way of being in the world. 8 Southgate suggests that for predators such as lions and leopards, this will include predation, since a central part of “lion-ness” or “leopardness” is having been honed by evolution into an exquisitely well-adapted hunter. With the help of James Dickey’s poem “The Heaven of Animals,” he imagines a “leopard heaven” that will include hunting and killing. 9

Southgate’s response to evolutionary evil has the basic argumentative structure of many mainstream theodicies (attempts to demonstrate the goodness of God in the face of evil in the world). That structure is to argue that God was justified in creating a world that includes evils because the goods of such a world could not have been achieved without those evils and because the goods are great enough to justify the evils. As such, his account is vulnerable to some of the criticisms leveled at mainstream theodicies by critics such as the philosopher D. Z. Phillips and the pastoral theologian John Swinton. 10 Phillips points out the oddness of this kind of God-talk: it portrays God as “a moral agent who shares a moral community with us,” 11 whose actions are to be assessed by a consequentialist calculation of benefits and harms. Phillips finds such God-talk not only muddled but also morally dangerous: “The problem of evil should be discussed with fear and trembling. This is because it is easy for us, as intellectuals, to add to the evil in the world by the ways in which we discuss it.” 12

In a similar vein, John Swinton complains that theodicies can actually become sources of evil by seeking to explain its presence in the world, justifying it and in so doing, silencing the voices of innocent suffering (though it should be emphasized that Southgate’s evolutionary theodicy is an explicit attempt to resist the last of these dangers, by attending to the animal suffering too often ignored in Western thought). 13 Rather than explaining or justifying the presence of evil, Swinton argues, the business of Christians is to resist it by means of distinctive – sometimes scandalous – practices such as lament, forgiveness, thoughtfulness, and hospitality. 14


In an earlier essay, partly motivated by critiques such as these, I set out an alternative response to evolutionary theodicy – one with less support than Southgate’s in science and religion circles, though it does have some distinguished precedents. 15 My approach denies that a good and loving God willed the existence of evolutionary suffering. Rather, evolutionary suffering is an aspect of evil, something that in the words of the theologian Karl Barth “does not correspond with the true and original creative will of God.” 16

My approach has one or two difficulties to negotiate. One is that the evil is so closely tangled up with the good: in this world, the good is inconceivable without the evil part of the package. Yet that is not so very different from many ways in which we experience the world as an inextri-cable mixture of good and evil. This is one way of reading the “Fall” narrative of Genesis 3: not as a history of our origins, but as a mirror reflecting back to us the world as we actually inhabit it – good and beautiful but also tragically flawed and broken.

Another tricky aspect to negotiate is how we conceptualize evil. It is all too easy to think of it as a cosmic power opposed to God – like Voldemort opposed to Dumbledore and Harry Potter or Chancellor Palpatine opposed to the Jedi. That would be a great mistake, one that mainstream Christian theology has for the most part tried hard to resist. In another part of his work, Barth uses the term “nothingness” to speak of evil. 17 By “nothingness,” he does not mean “nothing.” Rather, he means what God rejected – did not will – when God created all things and declared them “very good” (Gen. 1:31). As such, “nothingness” has a strange, paradoxical, negative kind of existence: it is the chaos, disorder, or annihilation that threatens God’s creation, to which God is implacably opposed, which has been decisively overcome through the work of Christ. My proposal was that whatever in the evolutionary process is opposed to God’s good creative purpose, we should identify with “nothingness”: an aspect of the disorder and annihilation threatening the goodness of creation.

Southgate versus Messer

Southgate has paid me the compliment of a lengthy critique, 18 much of which is taken up with the claim that I misread Barth or at any rate read him “contestably.” Apart from that, Southgate makes three other main criticisms: I defend God’s goodness at the expense of God’s sovereignty, I set up a cosmic dualism in which evil is a power opposed to God, and my approach does “grave harm” to the science–theology conversation. I shall attempt to respond to each of these points in turn.

Misreading Barth

According to Southgate, Barth’s account of evil as “nothingness” does not support the move I make, to attribute the disvalues of the natural world to evil. He offers a quotation from Barth that he claims condemns this move as a “great deception.” 19 He believes that Barth’s account of evil should instead be read in a way “that regards evolutionary disvalues as part of the ‘shadow side’ of creation, but comprehended by, fully in relationship with, the creator God.” 20

It is perfectly true that Barth affirms there are both light and dark, “Yes and No,” in creation, and this reflects God’s good creative purpose. He does indeed robustly condemn the “great deception” of confusing the shadow side of creation with “nothingness” or evil. He does so precisely because such a confusion obscures the existence and nature of real evil. 21 This is one reason that he is so careful to distinguish between the two. 22 The key question, therefore, is on which side of that distinction evolutionary suffering falls. Southgate wishes to place it firmly on the shadow side of creation, to deny that it is an aspect of evil or “nothingness.” In support of this, he attempts to read Barth as saying that “the impact of [‘nothingness’] on ‘the creature’ [emerges] only with human creatures’ deliberate sin.” 23 But whether or not Southgate himself wishes to argue this, it will not do as a reading of Barth. It is clear from Barth’s account that sin is an aspect of evil, but not all evil is a consequence of humans’ freely chosen sin. As Southgate himself acknowledges, Barth regards disease as an aspect of “nothingness” 24 – and knows perfectly well that not all disease is a consequence of sin.

Southgate thinks that Barth offers no warrant for attributing evolutionary disvalues to “nothingness,” but in fact one of the few passages where Barth does allude to biological evolution makes precisely this connection. This is his discussion of the ethical treatment of animals, part of his ethics of creation. Alluding to Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom, he writes of the “last time… when there will be no more question of the struggle for existence and therefore of slaughter between man and beast.” 25 The violence associated with the struggle for existence “does not correspond with the true and original creative will of God.” 26 The use of a characteristically Darwinian phrase (“struggle for existence”) in this context has to be deliberate, 27 and he uses rather similar language about that violent evolutionary struggle that elsewhere he uses for “nothingness.” 28

In short, Southgate describes my reading of Barth as “contestable.” No doubt it is: almost anyone’s reading of such a prolific, original, and subtle thinker will be. But Southgate’s reading seems to me by far the more implausible.

I have dwelled at some length on Southgate’s criticism of my reading of Barth because that is where he trains most of his fire against my account, and it does bring out some of the important issues between us. But of course, on its own, it is a little beside the point. My reason for proposing my view was not that Barth said it, or could or should have said it. I have given the account I have because I think it makes good Christian theological sense of the problem of evolutionary evil. On that score, Southgate has three main criticisms.


First, Southgate charges me with defending God’s goodness at the expense of other core Christian doctrines, particularly God’s sovereignty. He puts the following question to me:

If creatures who do not… have freedom of will commit acts of violence on each other… and God is unable to prevent this, then can this God really be regarded either as the creator ex nihilo, or indeed as the sovereign Lord of creation? Put simply, we are left supposing that such a God apparently desired to create straw-eating lions, and was unable to do so. 29

As Hume – like many others before him and since – recognized, reconciling a good God’s sovereignty with the existence of natural evil is right at the heart of the mystery. So it is not too surprising if my account raises a question at this point. That said, I am not sure Southgate’s fares much better. In his scheme, “God creates as sovereign Lord,” but “this creation is under a constraint – only an evolutionary process can give rise to creaturely selves.” 30 In other words, it seems that God is reluctantly obliged to use an evolutionary process with all its “disvalues” to create “selves” because no other means will get the job done. This argument requires some bold and highly speculative claims about the kinds of universe an all-powerful God could create and what such a God could or could not do with any of those universes. In this light, the “only way” argument at the heart of Southgate’s account no longer looks quite so securely grounded – to say nothing of the problems that, as I suggested earlier, it shares with many mainstream theodicies.


Next, Southgate accuses me of “graft[ing] an excessively dualistic account of creation into [the evolutionary] narrative”; he quotes a passage of mine that he says “in effect admits the charge of dualism – there are opposing powers in creation.” 31 For the record, I had no intention of admitting any such thing, though on rereading the passage quoted by Southgate, I can see how it could lend itself to that misconstruction. 32 In any event, the charge is simply erroneous. The error is to imagine that I think evil is a “power”: as I have already made clear, it is not. It is a negation, a contradiction of God’s good creative purpose. In Barth’s words, “it is nothing but a receding frontier and fleeting shadow. It has no substance. How can it have when God did not will to give it substance or to create it?” 33 What Barth is doing in this account of “nothingness,” of course, is taking up and creatively developing the long Christian tradition that understands evil as a “deficit” or a “privation of the good” (privatio boni) – an understanding that was of course developed precisely to oppose dualistic views of the cosmos incompatible with Christian faith. Moreover, he makes it clear that this “non-being” has been decisively overcome through Christ, and before its final disappearance from creation, even “nothingness” is made to serve God’s good purposes, despite itself. 34

Harm to the Science – Theology Dialogue

Finally, Southgate thinks that my approach “does grave harm to the conversation between theology and the sciences. It is, at the end of the day, not open enough to what those sciences might be telling us about God’s ways with the world… it runs the risk of making theology appear too defensive, too bent on mysterification, to be part of an authentic conversation.” 35

The question, however, is what sort of conversation theology ought to have with the sciences. Southgate wants one in which science can tell us about “God’s ways with the world.” In other words, he wishes to do a kind of natural theology – albeit altogether more cautious and nuanced than the kind done by such theologians as William Paley in the eighteenth century. Among twentieth-century theologians, one of his natural conversation partners might be Paul Tillich with his “method of correlation.” 36

I have various reasons for thinking that this kind of conversation is at risk of serious cross-purposes. One has to do with the character of modern science as an intellectual project. Briefly, since early modern times, the natural sciences have achieved their extraordinary success by excluding questions of purpose and value from their purview, but it is precisely such questions that we are raising if we wish to discern “God’s ways with the world.” 37 Another reason is theological: one of my main conversation partners, Barth, would have vehemently denied that science as such can tell us anything about “God’s ways with the world.” He insisted that we finite and sinful creatures can know anything about God or God’s ways with the world only insofar as God discloses Godself to us. This does not mean, however, that science is irrelevant to theology: it can tell us things that are really true about the world, which we know – theologically – to be God’s creation. It can also be used by God as a means of self-revelation. 38 Southgate thinks this theological approach does “grave harm” to the science – theology conversation. To be sure, it rules out the kind of conversation he wishes to have, but that is not the only kind of conversation one can imagine. There is plenty of muddle and bad argument in conversations between science and theology; I am inclined to think that a good deal of this could be avoided if we were as clear as possible about the kind of thing theology ought to learn from science and the kind of thing it ought not to learn. 39


Southgate concludes his evolutionary theodicy by outlining its ethical implications: what kind of relationship are we called to have with other species, and what kinds of practical action might that entail? 40 He cautiously endorses humankind’s “priestly” role for creation, gathering up and offering creation’s praise of the Creator. For him this has a “contemplative” aspect: a reverent willingness to see other creatures as they really are, making use of scientific as well as theological understanding to aid that contemplation. In this role humankind would also have an “activist” mode, participating as “created co-creators” and “co-redeemers” in the healing and future development of creation. One practical consequence of this approach is that we should do what we can to combat species extinctions, natural as well as anthropogenic. Another is Southgate’s stance toward vegetarianism, which he rejects as a general ethical obligation, partly because he thinks the breeding of animals for food makes possible some forms of human community with other species that would otherwise be lost.

My alternative approach also has ethical implications. It is worth emphasizing that these will have a good deal in common with Southgate’s, since he and I have plenty of theological common ground, for all our differences about theodicy. However, to outline the ethical outworking of my approach, I return to the four Christian practices of resistance to evil commended by John Swinton.


Lament calls for a willingness to see and hear truly the suffering of our fellow creatures and to acknowledge it properly in our own speech and imagination – not to be too quick to follow Monty Python’s advice “always [to] look on the bright side of life.” I share with Southgate a love for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Perhaps Hopkins’s best-known sonnet serves as an example of such Christian lament, which can look the suffering of creation squarely in the face (albeit, in this poem, suffering caused by human activity) and then speak words of hope and trust in God’s goodness: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs – Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. 41


Forgiveness is a controversial and difficult practice and moreover one that might seem relevant only to human relations. However, consider its role in truth and reconciliation processes in places such as South Africa. 42 Part of its meaning in such situations is the renunciation of the stories that communities tell to legitimate an ongoing cycle of violence and revenge, stories in which the “other side” is an enemy and a threat. Consider also how much human violence against other animals is legitimated by time-honored stories in which so-called wild beasts are enemies and threats – as we conveniently forget that our species is a far bigger threat to lions, leopards, cobras, and crocodiles than they are to us. Perhaps Swinton’s practice of forgiveness has a counterpart in repenting of, and renouncing, the stories by which we represent our fellow creatures as enemies and threats.


Swinton cites Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt to diagnose the “strange interdependence” (in Arendt’s words) of inattention, thoughtlessness, and evil. 43 “Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass,” asks Arendt, “be of such a nature that it ‘conditions’ men against evil-doing?” 44 There are important connections to be made here with Southgate’s “contemplative” stance: the willingness to see our fellow creatures and their conditions of life as they truly are. Like Southgate, I see a role for scientific as well as theological understanding in such thoughtful attentiveness, even if I disagree with him about just what we can and cannot expect science to contribute to our theological knowledge of our fellow creatures.


Some nuance is needed when it comes to hospitality because we humans should not think of the earth as our home exclusively, into which we graciously invite our fellow creatures. But at any rate, destroying other species’ homes through (for example) deforestation or climate change must count as massive in hospitality on our part. It surely behooves us to do all we can to protect other species’ habitats from destruction. And perhaps, as Southgate suggests, hospitality to our fellow creatures should extend to making artificial homes such as reserves and captive breeding centers, where species threatened with extinction might survive and begin to flourish again. 45 On the other hand, I differ from him in regard to his other practical example, vegetarianism. One way of expressing my disagreement is to say that I am not persuaded that killing animals in order to eat them can ever be described as an act of hospitality toward them.

This chapter has engaged with what might appear to be a rather abstract philosophical-theological discussion about the problem of evil (albeit one rehearsed not only in academic journals but also in popular cultural arenas such as TV comedy shows, as my opening examples illustrated). But in the course of this discussion, and in particular my ongoing debate with Christopher Southgate, it has become clear that the various visions we might have of the kind of world we inhabit have very practical implications for the ways in which we live and act in that world – including the obligations we recognize to our fellow inhabitants, of other species as well as our own. I have tried to articulate a theological vision of the world as God’s good creation, tragically flawed by evil but redeemed by God’s love in Christ and promised ultimate fulfillment in God’s good future. Such a vision, I have suggested, should inspire honest lament for animal suffering and an ethic of thoughtfulness, forgiveness, and hospitality toward our fellow creatures.


QI, first screened on BBC Two, November 2, 2012.

David L. Hull, “The God of the Galapagos,” Nature 352 (1992): 486.

Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, including an Autobiographical Chapter (London: John Murray, 1887), vol. 2, 312.

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), part 10, accessed December 2, 2015, www.gutenberg.org/files/4583/4583-h/4583-h.htm.

John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (London: Macmillan, 1966).

Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008).

Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 87, citing Jay B. McDaniel, Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 45.

Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 78–91.

James L. Dickey, “The Heaven of Animals,” accessed December 2, 2015, www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171425. Quoted by Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 88–89. In response to my critique of this vision, Southgate has more recently remarked that he considers a heaven without predation “equally compatible” with his approach to evolutionary theodicy, though he still finds the kind of vision expressed by Dickey more “imaginatively persuasive”: Christopher Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John and Job: A Christian Response to Darwinism,” Zygon 46, no. 2 (2011): 393n17, citing Neil Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin,” in Theology after Darwin, ed. Michael Northcott and R. J. Berry (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2009), 152–53.

D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (London: SCM, 2005); John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Phillips, The Problem of Evil, 35.

Phillips, The Problem of Evil, 274.

Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 17–28.

Swinton, Raging with Compassion, chaps. 4–8.

Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin.” Southgate cites T. F. Torrance, among others, as a source of a similar view: Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 28–35.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, English translation ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956–75), vol. 3.4, 353.

The remainder of this paragraph is taken with modifications from Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin,” 149.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job.”

Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.3, 300, quoted by Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 382.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 384.

Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.3, 299–301.

I am not sure that Southgate has always kept Barth’s distinction clearly in view in his own discussion. There is at least a hint of confusion, for example, in his description of the shadow side of creation as “comprehended by… the creator God” (Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 384, emphasis added; see also 382). In Barth’s discussion, the language of “comprehension” is used in relation to evil or nothingness: God’s sovereignty even over evil is seen in that “God Himself comprehends, envisages and controls it” (Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.3, 302), so that even nothingness is forced to serve God’s purposes despite itself. The shadow side of creation is spoken of in much more positive terms: it praises its Creator.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 383.

Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.4, 366–71.

Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.4, 353, emphasis added.

Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.4, 353.

The German is der Kampf ums Dasein, the phrase used to translate “the struggle for existence” in German translations of the Origin.

He does say that the killing of animals by other animals and humans is permitted or commanded in the present age but that this is a divine concession to the fact that we live in the time of the “struggle for existence” and need not be taken to indicate divine approval of the latter.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 381–82.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 381.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John and Job,” 383, citing Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin,” 150–51.

The offending sentence reads, “I might seem to have re-invented two of the oldest heresies in Christian history: a form of Manichaeism, in which there is a cosmic conflict between equal powers of light and darkness, and a form of Gnosticism, in which the material world is irretrievably flawed and salvation lies in escaping from it.” Messer, “Natural Evil after Darwin,” 150–51, emphasis added. The passage goes on to explain – not entirely successfully, it seems – why I do not think I have in fact reinvented those heresies.

Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.3, 360–61.

Church Dogmatics, vol. 3.3, 366–68.

Southgate, “Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job,” 384.

For Paul Tillich’s own account of the method of correlation, see his Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951–63), vol. 1, 59–66.

See further Neil Messer, “Humans, Animals, Evolution and Ends,” in Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans and Other Animals, ed. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM, 2009), 211–27. The classic statement in favor of excluding questions of purpose and value (in Aristotelian terms, final causation) from the purview of natural science is Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. David Price (London: Cassell, 1893), book 2, chap. 7, accessed December 2, 2015, www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/adlr10h.htm.

See Philip Chapman, “Barth and Darwin: What Is Humanity?,” Theology and Science 12, no. 4 (2014): 362–77. doi:10.1080/14746700.2014.954399.

In a forthcoming essay (“Cosmic Theodicy,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), Southgate canvasses the possibility that our two positions might be closer than they appear, suggesting that my view treats the possibility of evil as “part of the logical fabric of reality”: if God wills to create, then “nothingness” follows as a logical consequence. It is therefore an inevitable constraint on God’s creative activity, as is the need to create by means of an evolutionary process in Southgate’s “only way” theodicy. One problem with Southgate’s suggestion, though, is its implication that evil is (so to say) entitled to exist. This, I think, misunderstands the privatio boni tradition, which insists rather that evil is an anomaly, a surd. To adapt Southgate’s metaphor, it is not so much part of the logical fabric of reality as a tear in that fabric. I am indebted to Dr. Southgate for sharing a prepublication version of his essay with me and remain most grateful to him for his readiness to continue in dialogue over these questions.

Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, chaps. 6, 7.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” in The Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Ware: Wordsworth, 1994), 26.

See Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (London: Rider, 1999).

Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 179–83.

Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture,” Social Research 38, no. 3 (1971): 418, quoted by Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 183.

I am wary, though, of Southgate’s use of the language of humans as God’s “created co-creators” and “co-redeemers” to describe such activity (see The Groaning of Creation, chap. 6 and 124–32), since this language seems to me to misstate the relationship of human creatures to their Creator and to their fellow creatures. See further Michael S. Northcott, “Concept Art, Clones, and Co-creators: The Theology of Making,” Modern Theology 21, no. 2 (2005): 219–36. I prefer to echo Bonhoeffer in speaking of human creatures’ responsibility before God for the “penultimate” sphere of life in which creatures are encountered by God’s redeeming word and work: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6, ed. Ilse Tödt, Eduard Tödt, Ernst Feil, and Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 146–70.


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Southgate, Christopher. “Re-reading Genesis, John and Job: A Christian Response to Darwinism.” Zygon 46, no. 2 (2011): 370–395. doi:10.1111/j.1467–9744.2011.01186.x.
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