Science & The Bible: Evolution and the Problem of Evil

Hello and thanks so much for joining me today as we talk about essentially the crux of the science and religion debate. If the God of Creation is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then why is there evil in the world?This week we will be reading Ayala’s Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, Job 3-14; 32-42.6 (RSV), and Ferngren’s Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (pp.245-298).


  1. What is the problem of evil?
  2. What is intelligent design (ID)? How has this argument developed?
  3. According to Ayala, what is the relationship between the argument from design and the problem of evil?
  4. How does Ayala describe Darwin’s most significant contributions? What is natural selection?
  5. In what way does Ayala think Darwinian evolution “solves” the problem of evil? Do you find this argument satisfying? Why or why not? How does it compare to Gould’s notion of NOMA?

Intelligent design, with the proof of irreducible complexity, is the idea discussed in Paley’s book, Natural Theology, where the contrivances of nature are too complex to have arisen by chance, therefore necessitating a Designer for the Design.

However, Paley had a rather naive outlook on the personality of God – if each animal was perfectly crafted to its way of living, why are there sill deficiencies? Is God really omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent?

Ayala talks about the three types of evil. The first is moral (human) sin, the second is the experience of pain and suffering, and the third is physical disasters and imperfections in the world. The first two types can be explained away as consequences of free will, however the problem of evil arises when we look at the third and final type.

“Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?” David Hume

The answer…EVOLUTION!

It seems like these imperfections are built in the structure of the world itself, from the physics to way the natural world evolves. The existence of imperfections is not simply “theodicy”, since they are a fundamental part of our world.

Ironically, while Darwin’s theory was supposed to remove the need for a God in the world, it also explained how the world’s imperfections were not a result of God’s failed design.

The Protestant theologian Arthur Peacocke has referred to Darwin as the “disguised friend,” by quoting the earlier theologian Aubrey Moore, who in 1891 wrote that “Darwinism appeared, and, under the guise of a foe, did the work of a friend.”

Darwin’s main contribution was the idea of natural selection. Natural selection is a cumulative, random sequence of changes that allow a species (not an individual organism) to survive and adapt.

While these changes can be creative, making an organism more complex, this is not necessary the case – for example, bacteria are some of the oldest organisms on earth, yet they still have the same basic structure as they did when they emerged millions of years ago.

The mutations are by chance, but the individuals who go on to further that gene are not.

During the first week of the course, we talked about Gould’s idea of NOMA – nonoverlapping magisteria – the idea that science and religion are two different ways of understanding the world, so they do not need to contradict. The argument is obviously too idealistic because it ignores the gray areas about the ethics of science, or the science of religion, but Ayala also expresses something similar towards the end of his book.

Ayala says that science is methodologically naturalistic – it can’t derive the existence of values, meanings, or purpose, but it can’t deny them either. Therefore, Darwin doesn’t exclude religious beliefs with his theory.

On the other hand, the bible doesn’t deny Darwin’s theory either – Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 are very different iterations of the creation story – both of them can’t both be historically and scientifically true. According to St. Augustine, the only important thing we need to learn from the bible is how to get salvation. Like Galileo, we are saying that we can’t take the bible literally all the time.

I am convinced that it is unscientific to say that if there is a single loophole in the theory of evolution, that the whole argument should fall, and intelligent design must be the standing answer. I am also convinced that there cannot be a way to “prove” that God made defective designs on purpose – because this would just be a “one-size-fits-all” theory to explain everything without the scientific method.

We would rather think of imperfect design as a result of evolution than a result of an incompetent designer, I hold. What else would you hold accountable for stillborns, birth defects, and other illnesses?

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below! There is no definite right or wrong answer, and I would love to get a conversation going!

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2 thoughts on “Science & The Bible: Evolution and the Problem of Evil

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