Evolution, Creation, and the Sting of Death
This month our Southern Baptist Voices series continued with a dialogue between theologian John D. Laing and biologist Jeff Schloss. An associate professor of systematic theology and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston, Dr. Laing focused on the oft-repeated idea that death is at the center of evolutionary theory and is required for the creation of new life. Laing argued that, in contrast, Scripture depicts death only “as an invader, disturber of peace, and a force of evil.” Laing concluded that these two views are at odds and cannot be reconciled in a way that is fair to both biblical text and evolutionary thought; therefore, death remains a critical stumbling block for Christians considering evolution.
As a testament to the importance of this dialogue and this topic in particular, Dr. Schloss—biologist, director of the Center for Faith, Ethics, and the Life Sciences at Westmont College, and a member of the BioLogos Advisory Board—provided a three-part response touching on both theology and biology. In part one, Schloss agreed with Laing that the Bible persistently presents death as an enemy of God’s purposes for humanity. But he pointed out that the Bible does not clearly present biological death as alien to the natural ends of all creatures, or as something that entered into the creaturely world only recently through the sin of Adam. That realization shifts the theological conversation from evolution itself to the problem of natural evil more generally, and in part two, Schloss argued that while evolution does not make the problem of theodicy any easier to solve, it doesn’t make it harder, either.
Finally, Schloss applied his expertise as a biologist to the issue of death in evolution, noting that there have been huge strides in the scientific understanding of life on earth over the past 150+ years, including the recognition that while death is certainly a part of the evolutionary process, it isn’t the whole story. In addition to competition, cooperation is also “a primary creative force” and “a fundamental principle of evolution” recognized by biologists today. Though conceding that death is a real and troubling part of the natural world, Schloss still concluded that “through evolution, God may be seen to confer life and confer it in greater abundance.” Because it suggests that evolutionary science can inform the Church’s thinking about even centuries-old theological problems (but not solve them!), Schloss’s essay is another significant contribution to the science-and-faith conversation to come from the Southern Baptist Voices series.