The Origin of goodness?
C.S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, tells us that before his conversion to Christianity he chewed endlessly on the problem, “how can it (nature) be so beautiful and yet so cruel, so wasteful and so futile?” This is a problem for the atheist and Christian alike: How come there is good, love and beauty in the world at the same time as evil, hatred and ugliness? To define ‘good’ is a major exercise in classic ethics, and scientists write articles on the origin of altruism in animal behaviour.
Richard Dawkins sets out to explain the evolutionary origins of selfishness and altruism. His thesis is: “our genes made us … we are their throwaway survival machine.”
“The world of the gene machine is one of savage competition, ruthless exploitation and deceit.” He continues: “In this book I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour. However, we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish ends best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals. ‘Special’ and ‘limited’ are important words in the last sentence. Much as we may wish to believe otherwise, universal love and welfare of the species as a whole are concepts which simply do not make evolutionary sense.”1
Darwin, in his autobiography, gives as one of the reasons for his waning belief in God that: “it revolts our understanding to suppose that an omnipotent and omniscient God … whose benevolence is unbounded should have formed the biological kingdom by a method which required the sufferings of millions of animals throughout almost endless time.” Here Darwin is asking why a loving and all-powerful God—who could have created by any method He chose—selected cruel evolution. So, Darwin concludes, there can be no God; or, at any rate, not a loving one.
The Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) in his work In Memoriam A.H.H. (1849) put the problem this way:
Man trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed—
The atheist evolutionist finds no difficulty in accounting for pain, hatred and evil. These are woven into the fabric of evolutionary theory. His problem is: where did love, altruism and good originate? And to this he has no satisfactory reply.
The Christian, on the other hand, whether he believes in creation or evolution, can easily account for goodness, love and beauty. Jesus said: “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” (Matthew 19:17). “Jesus of Nazareth … went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38). “God is love.” (1 John 4:8). “He (God) has made the world beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
The whole Bible is full of such themes. So when we read that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31), the goodness He saw is essentially linked with goodness of His character as revealed through Scripture. (e.g. Exodus 34:6,7) (Even the word ‘good’ in English is derived from the word ‘God’.)
But, the Christian has to come to terms with the question: Why is such a ‘good’ world also full of evil, hatred and ugliness?
Here the Christian who believes in evolution has a problem; if even atheists believe evolution to be cruel (though some try to deny it); if there is even the remotest possibility this might be so; ‘if it might even be necessary to exculpate God from responsibility for evil’,2 then this, I suggest, denies the very character of God. The good God turns out to be a fraud. It is just not conceivable that the God whose name is love could, without reason, perpetrate the cruelty demanded by evolutionary theory.
You may argue that God ordered acts of violence and death to be carried out by the children of Israel (e.g. 1 Kings 18:40; Exodus 32:27). That is true. But these acts were after the sin of Adam had brought death into the world. Also, they were always in punishment for blatant wrongdoing. This is very different from gratuitous violence performed in the establishment of the peaceful earth which God described as ‘very good’.
The theistic evolutionist has difficulty with the Fall also. To fall it is axiomatic that you once had to be high up, and from that state you fall. God reveals in Genesis that the world was created good, and that death entered the world through the sin of Adam. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23); “Sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12ff); “Since by man came death … For as in Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:21,22).
The historical Adam had to die physically and spiritually, thrust out of the garden because of his sin. Similarly the historical Jesus had to die physically and spiritually (hear his cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”). But evolutionary theory demands the death of millions of creatures before sin came into the world by Adam, including the deaths of Adam’s immediate forebears.
But if death did not enter the world with sin, there was no need for the Saviour to die. A good man to lead us to higher evolutionary realms is all that is required. If these words strike too harshly, may I add that most sincere theistic evolutionists, though believing God used the evolutionary method, in fact make here an illogical, existential leap to believe in the Fall and the gospel of salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. I know. I did it myself for 35 years. However, since the foundation for this belief rests on sand, the whole building is tottering, as is obvious in so much evangelicalism today which ignores the first chapters of Genesis.
Only by accepting as a rational act of faith (Hebrews 11:3) the historicity of the Genesis narrative as revealed by God can we answer the questions, why evil and good? Why ugliness and beauty? Why selfishness and altruism?