God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, Chapter 9 – Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal Cellar

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey

Chapter 9 – Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal Cellar

We will continue our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey.  Today is Chapter 9 – Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal Cellar.  We are now in Section 3- The Science.   In Section 3 he looks at the evidence for “natural evil” in the world itself as science observes it, and why nature is now so widely perceived as cruel and malevolent, when once it wasn’t.  This section is also a study on how ideas gain or lose plausibility, and how evidence comes to be considered significant or to be disregarded.  

Jon begins this chapter by quoting from scientists, including Christians, who have emphasized nature’s “darkness”.  He quotes Robert J. Russell, physicist and theologian (Russell, Cosmology, p.242):

… it is hard to deny that nature “red in tooth and claw” is a suffering nature, full of agony, of pitiful and often senseless death, blind alleys, merciless waste, brute force.  Is it entirely anthropomorphic to recognize in pre-human nature something which eventually becomes that which in the human realm is evil?

Karl Giberson, cofounder with Francis Collins of the evolutionary creation organization Biologos said:

The natural world has some terrible creatures in it, and it is hard to imagine God intentionally designing such nasty things.  In 1860 Darwin even raised this in a letter to the American biologist, Asa Gray:

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae (wasp) with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

Creationist have long tried to wiggle off this particular hook by arguing that the nasty features of the world are the consequences of human sin—by-products of the curse.  But the truly nasty stuff precedes the appearance of humans, which makes this argument suspect at best.

Another claim that God sits at arm’s length from a morally dubious evolutionary process (which is also the sole means of biological creation) comes from theologian Keith Ward:

If natural science shows that many genetic mutations are fatally harmful to organisms, that is a strong indication that any theory of creation that attributes every event to the directly intended action of a good and omnipotent God is mistaken.

Ichneumon Wasp

Jon has already made the argument that such sentiments ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and historic theology that God is the sole Creator and sustainer of everything in the world, even of those things that might appear wild or even harmful to us.  Now he attempts to show that such rhetoric is just that—rhetoric overblown with hyperbole.  He notes that if you are committed to a belief that the existence of anything harmful in nature cannot be consistent with God’s existence or with his love, then you will not be impressed with his counter-arguments.

His basic argument then, is that even though suffering certainly exists, the polemic of “nature red in tooth and claw” is wildly exaggerated and not a true representative picture of reality.  He deals with the specifically “evolutionary” problems such as extinctions, evolutionary “blind alleys”, merciless waste, arms races, and evil design.  In the next chapter he deals with what he calls the “myth of selfish evolution”.

ExtinctionsIt is routinely said to be wasteful for God to create so many departed species, but that is meaningless; God can create things for their own sake, to last for a season.  Besides the average lifetime of a species is estimated as upwards of a million years—150 times as long than the age granted to the whole earth by young earth creationists.  And he can justly create them for a temporary role, such as the species believed to have “terraformed” the earth’s atmosphere with oxygen in the Precambrian era.

Blind Alleys – Evolutionary “blind alleys” and “failures”, it is held, demonstrate the existence of purposeless evolution.  How would we even recognize such a “failed experiment” if we did find its fossil.  It would represent a species that once lived, and a live species is, by definition, more or less successful.  Low or declining numbers might be because a species is a failure—but more likely because the species occupies a niche that is disappearing.  How would we tell that any fossil is a “dead end”?  Extreme body plans are no guide.  We can have little idea of the entire world a strange fossil creature lived in, so it’s impossible to be sure how rare it was, because all agree the fossil record is at least somewhat patchy. Plenty of today’s common plants and animals are weird, but highly successful.

Merciless Waste – Critics point to the vast reproductive rates, and almost equally vast mortalities, of certain species as evidence of criminal waste in the world.  Examples might be the immense number of mosquitos devoured annually by migrant birds in Siberia, or the huge clouds of plankton consumed by shoals of billions of sardines that in turn, largely succumb to predators like dolphins and sharks.  But this is pure anthropomorphism.  We humans produce a few children—each a rational soul—and hope all will live long and prosper, but these other species were created as the basis of the food chain.  The idea of “waste” is plausible only because of the biologist’s artificial focus on the individual struggle to survive.  But ecologically, nothing whatsoever is wasted, since everything depends on everything else, including plankton species recycling dolphin and shark waste.

Arms Races — An evolutionary “arms race” is seen as the progressive mutual adaptation of a predator and its prey, and therefore as textbook evidence for adaptive evolution.  A common example is the cheetah and Thompson’s gazelle, whose evolution has increased the speed and agility of both, it is said.  This process is somehow seen as evidence against God as Creator.  Richard Dawkins (Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, p.384) has said:

The cheetah, if we are going to talk design at all, is superbly designed for killing gazelles.  But the very same designer has equally strained every nerve to design a gazelle that is superbly equipped to escape from those very same cheetahs.  For heaven’s sake, whose side is the designer on?

But we have seen that the biblical God provides prey for the lions, so presumably for cheetahs too.  And in the same passage he plays midwife to the mountain goats, so presumably to the gazelle as well.  The “designer” is therefore on the side of both species, for the good of all—and that has been known from antiquity—and if that troubles our human sensibilities that is our problem.

Evil Design – Carnivores, parasites, spiders eating their mates or lions their rival’s cubs, bonobos being promiscuous, chimps waging war, and Venus flytraps utterly perverting the Genesis 1:8 command by eating animals.  Are these things evil or the work of a fallen creation?  But parasites play the same role as top-level predators in many ecosystems, keeping numbers in balance. Aren’t we exhibiting a double standard base on mere prejudice?  Jon says:

Theologically, the key to all this is to understand what theologians like Augustine knew long ago, that the moral law given to us by God was just that — given to us.  It was the law suited specifically to our human nature, which had we not sinned would have natural to us still, as those made after the image and likeness of Christ, and which will again become natural once our salvation is complete.  It is the law of human nature, as that nature was created to be… And if he is so much higher than us that the law of our lowly nature does not reach up to him, why should we expect our moral law to apply to lower natures?

…We do not, of course, have to imitate the example of the beasts – their law is not our law.  We may even, like some Bible writers and many medievals, use them proverbially as examples to emulate or avoid.  But “evil”?  In God’s good creation?  Perhaps we should remember the words of God to Peter: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” Especially when he long ago pronounce it “very good”.


46 thoughts on “God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, Chapter 9 – Bogeys in the Evolutionary Coal Cellar

  1. Sci-Fi Catholic said the same thing years ago about Eschatology:

    “Eschatology should pass the Cool Test. Since none of us know how The End will come, our speculations on the subject should at least be Cool.”


  2. Reducing old forms of suffering in modernity has made room for new forms of suffering.

    It just pushes the suffering further up Maslow’s Heirarchy.


  3. Makes as much sense as any.
    (And more sense than a lot of the Heavy Duty Theology you see these days.)


  4. Re your second point: I saw an interview with the director and producer of the first John Wick film, where they said that when they had to choose between ‘cool’ and ‘realistic’, they went with cool.

    I like to think God is the same 🙂


  5. I will keep vigil prayer for Lauren tonight, Dana. May God bring peace to your hearts as I know you and the family are very worried.


  6. Praying.

    Not a fan of motorcycles. Lost my father in law to a motorcycle accident, and too many other people I know have had close ones, including amputations and hospitalizations.


  7. Reducing old forms of suffering in modernity has made room for new forms of suffering. All sentient beings suffer, as the Buddhas First Noble Truth asserted, and humans with the rest of them. But it is a good thing that people live to 80 rather than 45, and it is good thing that these new forms of suffering happen because individuals and populations have access to more life rather than less of it.


  8. Changing the subject…

    I ask the community here, of your kindness, to remember my daughter Lauren in prayer. She had a motorcycle accident – only herself, having run into a tree for as yet unknown reason – and is in the hospital in Savannah. She has facial bone injuries and will have surgery later today (jaw wired shut, etc) – could have been much worse. Husband and friends are with her there. Thank you.



  9. It might be that the care-taking of creation that God charges humans with in Genesis involves shaping it without violating it, working with and through its inherent created qualities. That would include the human and nonhuman facets of creation.

    Or something like that.


  10. To the degree that being human involves living in interdependent relationship with the rest of creation, with myriad porous boundaries between the human and the non-human, theologically severing the fate and condition of humanity from the nonhuman world fractures the perceived unity of creation, and results in an inability to recognize the spiritual and physical commonality between the human and other beings. That results in a broken relationship between the human and the nonhuman, wherein it is hard to recognize that that which is good for the nonhuman creation is also good for humans beings.


  11. When I read posts and comments like these, it brings back to me that beautiful, mysterious film by Maleck, ‘The Tree of Life’ with its great questions and biblical references from Job, Chapter 38; and from explosive natural images, and the film’s exploration of a family with all of its problems and loss, of the troubled father, and of the gentle mother, who was ‘an icon of grace’ in a world that was starving for it.

    I think we have no problem laying blame for suffering caused by human hands;
    but when it comes to suffering in nature, we stumble there, and we don’t understand, no.

    But if WE have questions, must there not also be answers???? But then there is this, always, always this response to us from God concerning our demand to know ‘why’?: ‘Answer Me’ from Job, chapter 38 for those who demand to know what they could never comprehend:

    and towards the ending of Job 38, we find this:
    “When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together? Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill
    the appetite of the young lions,
    When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
    Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.”

    answers? no
    wisdom? out of the sadness, a pain-filled wisdom emerges


  12. The problem with the “Genealogical Adam and Eve” as parents of us all is that the Y-chromosome Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve” were not contemporaneous in time or geography.


  13. Not sure if this exactly relates to today’s post, but maybe…

    As I was watching the documentary “March of the Penguins” way back when, I remember thinking that it kinda destroyed both evolutionist and creationist concepts at the same time. First, regarding evolution, as I watched the penguins live through their harshly bizarre cycle of life I thought, There’s no way any creature evolves into this. This creature should be extinct.

    But then as I watched the penguins live through their harshly bizarre cycle of life i thought, But why in the world would a Creator CREATE such a creature?!

    I think there are many instances we can point to and say neither evolution nor creation seem to make any sense. Not sure what we (*I*) do with that, but it’s something I ponder.


  14. –> ““good” in that context didn’t mean perfection but “doing what it was supposed to do”, “being what it is”.”

    I’ve heard that, too. “Good” as in “perfect in its designed to do something.” The analogy I heard was, if you are designed to be a pen, the be as “good” a pen as you can be. This will make you “good aka “perfect.” An IMPERFECT pen would be one that thinks it is chalk and thus tries to write on a chalkboard.

    Like any analogy, it only goes so far, but I like it for its limitations.


  15. Isn’t that what schooling and training is all about… to be “re-purposed”? (I say that not in regards to wolf-to-dog, but child-to-adult.)


  16. –> “If human activities result in the extension of a species that God created, are we denying that what God made is good and that our actions are is more important than God’s creation? ”

    I’m with ATW in his response. Not sure if you can make that leap.

    –> “I am not saying that the creatures that God has created are equal to humans but what is our responsibility to what God has created?”

    We are to be good stewards. That, to me, is pretty clear. Ironically, there are some who treat animals better than they do humans, and likewise some who treat humans better than they do animals, and some who are good to neither.


  17. Of course, humans “created ” dog to be dog. Hence dog is no longer wolf.

    Teleology is in the eye of the beholder. And this would explain Garvey quite adequately.


  18. “”” are we denying that what God made is good”””

    I don’t see how.

    “””what is our responsibility to what God has created?”””

    Best considered, IMNSHO, in the context of impact on our fellow human beings.


  19. “””A Dog’s Purpose’ to Be a Dog”””

    And that is a very good purpose.


  20. “””have a world where superficial happiness and absence of suffering are considered the ultimate good”””

    Fortunately (???), in light of “” whole of history points to it [suffering] being completely normal”. Such a world will never exist.

    “”” the key to why we modern western people are so hung up about suffering”””

    Are “we modern western people” that hung up on suffering? I am skeptical. I’d assert there is a narrow slice of “modern western people” with some serious hang-ups which they in turn project onto the teeming masses of “modern western people”.

    The “modern western people” much discussed in online think pieces do not bear much resemblance to the “modern western people” I encounter at the coffee shop, in the park, or on the bus/train. Almost every one of those people on the bus, if I asked “Is suffering normal?” would look at me like I was an idiot for even asking. I find that reality to be very encouraging. Mr. Huxley should have gotten out more.


  21. I have been thinking about this question and let me know what you think:

    If human activities result in the extension of a species that God created, are we denying that what God made is good and that our actions are is more important than God’s creation?

    I am not saying that the creatures that God has created are equal to humans but what is our responsibility to what God has created?


  22. > it could also be seen as a justification for racism.


    Someone may be able to use it that way rhetorically, but Evolution is Science, not Rhetoric.

    Many many many people have tried to gin up a Scientific foundation for Racism – – – notably none have succeeded. Not that some won’t keep trying.

    At this point it appears to be an entirely settled point that Human suckage is universally distributed across all blood lines.


  23. Two weeks ago, this subject came up when I was visiting my writing partner (the burned-out preacher). He was telling me about The Lost World of Adam and Eve and told me in the ANE of the time, “good” in that context didn’t mean perfection but “doing what it was supposed to do”, “being what it is”.

    Like my comment to that book and movie title A Dog’s Purpose:
    “Isn’t ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ to Be a Dog?


  24. “If all of this is “good” and as God intended – the disease, suffering, death, etc. are doctors and medical researchers “fighting God’s will” by trying to make us better?”

    I think the prevalence of healing miracles in Jesus’ ministry is a good clue to the answer to that question. 😉


  25. I also wonder: if it is possible that everyone is not descended from that single couple, doesn’t that leave room for a religiously based form of extreme racism?

    Branham’s “Serpent Seed” with Pseudoscience backing?
    Or “Just like 19th Century Scientific Racism, Except BIBLE!”?
    Lot of ways this can go Grimdark.


  26. He doesn’t actually go very far into “what this might mean”, that’s kind of left as an exercise for the reader. Which I think is probably a good thing, though it left me frustrated, because ultimately it really IS an exercise for each one of us. What does this suffering mean? Does it mean anything? If not, does anything mean anything?

    I found this quote from The Road to Wigan Pier fascinating in this context: “The truth is, many of the qualities we admire in human beings can only function in opposition to some disaster, pain or difficulty. But the tendency of mechanical progress is to eliminate disaster, pain and difficulty.”

    Maybe the second sentence is the key to why we modern western people are so hung up about suffering – we’re just not used to it, so we’re convinced it’s “not normal”. But the whole of history points to it being completely normal – or at least the norm.

    This was my big unanswered question after finishing the book: if all of this is “good” and as God intended – the disease, suffering, death, etc. are doctors and medical researchers “fighting God’s will” by trying to make us better?

    Another book I read recently was Brave New World – which shows (my synthesis) what it would look like to have a world where superficial happiness and absence of suffering are considered the ultimate good. Very thought provoking.


  27. Inasmuch as evolution “explains” racism, it could also be seen as a justification for racism.

    In several of your posts you seem to be arguing ‘backwards’: “I can see where this stance leads and I don’t want to go there, so it can’t be true.” That’s not an accusation, we all do it, just pointing it out (and reminding myself) that there’s no intrinsic reason that what is true should be agreeable to us.


  28. I think the otherworldliness would be more likely to be motivated from the ‘bad creation’ (let it all burn) than the ‘good creation’ point of view. I don’t think that the idea that “the only thing wrong with creation is us” maps too badly onto reality.


  29. Fair point. But Garvey seems to be arguing against a fallen creation (it’s in the title of the book): there’s a perfectly decent argument (which I agree with) that the imperfectness of creation is exaggerated, but the impression I get so far is that Garvey is trying to argue that it’s not there at all. Maybe we’ll get later to where he deals with this.


  30. Something like that.

    And/Or he is saying that people use systematic thinking derived from poetry and myth to frame rhetorical constructs. Which is entirely accurate when talking about either Creationists or any brand of Big Picture pundits.


  31. Or not a single person is “descended from that single couple”.

    > doesn’t that leave room for a religiously based form of extreme racism

    Shrug, People who want to find that room will either find it, or contract to have it built. They have to discard almost everything other than Genesis to make it work ‘theologically’.


  32. > …. arguing that creation *as it is now* is perfectly good

    Moved goal post: you inserted the word “perfectly” before the word good.

    I do not see where there has been an argument for a Perfect creation.


  33. I also wonder: if it is possible that everyone is not descended from that single couple, doesn’t that leave room for a religiously based form of extreme racism? Bifurcating humanity into the progeny of Adam and Eve and the offspring of primordial parents is not a good idea, anymore than bifurcating humanity from the rest of nature.


  34. Suffering sucks. It hurts. We don’t like it. But perhaps, *perhaps*, it just might be an essential building block of the universe as it is currently constructed. And it is our own distaste for it that makes us categorize it as “fallen”.

    Does that sum up the book fairly? 😉


  35. The problem with having a dim view of humanity + positive view of creation is that you isolate the human condition, and human nature, from the rest of creation. What you end up with is a truncated understanding of human physicality, a less holistic understanding of the body and ultimately the resurrection, and the disincarnate spirituality typical of so much Protestantism that diminishes humanity’s relationship to the nonhuman creation.


  36. Is a dim view of humanity + positive view of creation closer or further from the truth than a dim view of creation + positive view of humanity?

    If I’ve read correctly, I think he does believe that Adam & Eve are historical parents of the *current* human population: but he separates the two creation accounts: general (including humanity) for the first, and specific to Adam & Eve in Eden for the second.

    According to this theory, statistically everyone on the planet *could* be descendants of a single couple, but not solely of that couple. It’s called Genealogical Adam and Eve, if you want to look it up.


  37. Garvey seems to isolate human nature and the human condition and situation from the rest of nature in a way that is very similar to the routine understanding of most Western Christianity. While it is good that he accepts evolution, and rejects the typically jaundiced view of many Christians toward the condition of nature now, I think he does not provide a remedy to the typical bifurcation of human nature and the rest of creation that is so common among Christians today as well as in the history of Christian thinking. He has the same problems.


  38. I’ve noticed that Garvey has mentioned Augustine approvingly several times in the material reviewed in this series of posts. After reading his blog, I wouldn’t be surprised if his view of human nature includes a very Augustinian understanding of fallenness, including original sin as inherited guilt passed from Adam and Eve (I also wouldn’t be surprised if he views Adam and Eve as the historical parents of the human race) to every subsequent generation of humanity. It also wouldn’t surprise me if, though he views the rest of nature as maintaining the design God intended for it as shaped by biological evolution, he sees the human race and human nature as having fallen into collective depravity due to inheriting original sin from Adam and Eve. If that is so, it means he would keep most of the Reformation Protestant attitude to and negative estimation of human nature, even as he has a more positive view of the rest of nature. Hes sounds like a thoroughgoing Augustinian, from what I can see. Except in regard to his acceptance of evolution, I”m not sure such an understanding would make an improvement over the negative view of our condition held by fundamentalist Protestantism.


  39. To my mind, evolution itself poses a severe problem for anyone arguing that creation *as it is now* is perfectly good. Evolution is a process of change, adaptation and improvement, and one which continues, meaning the world as it is is in a state of flux and is still moving towards its final form (if there is one). If the Jurassic earth were perfectly good, is our current earth a step down, or what?
    Any description of earth as being “good” has to refer to earth seen in its entire historic expanse as a whole, from ancient beginnings to unknown future, not as describing everything as it is right now in our current moment. We don’t have to tie ourselves in knots to call parasitic wasps and the cruelty of cats “good” to hold creation “good” if things such as these are necessary (if unfortunate) by-products of creation’s granted (and undoubtedly to my mind good) freedom to evolve itself into ever more new forms.


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