RE: [asa] red in tooth and claw

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Sun Nov 29 2009 - 12:14:05 EST

Schwarzwald said:
"I'm going three steps beyond: I'm saying that pain and suffering, particularly in terms of natural evil, plays an instrumental role - and insofar as we know that God can turn evil into good, evil is not only to be endured, but celebrated."

That sounds like loonyligion to me. Celebrate natural evil. A Tsunami kills thousands, and you want to celebrate it. That is sick.


From: [] On Behalf Of Schwarzwald
Sent: Sunday, November 29, 2009 6:10 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] red in tooth and claw

Heya John,

Actually, my response is meant to be very different from what you've taken from it, at least in part.

Yes, I am saying that Christianity has an answer to these questions of natural evil, and the cross is where this answer is most striking. Christ's death with a tremendous tragedy, a reason to scatter and hide and be sorrowful - before He was resurrected. After the resurrection, his death and torment were not merely coped with. They were changed completely. What was previously grave evil was not only soothed, but itself became downright instrumental and - I would maintain, in some ways - actually good. I'm oversimplifying here, of course. But Christianity does not push Christ's suffering under the rug and simply talk about the resurrection and the life of the world to come. It is, at least in my experience, regarded as something good, a gift from God itself.

I'm not merely saying 'well, we shouldn't worry about death and pain and suffering, because all that is going away someday!' I'm going three steps beyond: I'm saying that pain and suffering, particularly in terms of natural evil, plays an instrumental role - and insofar as we know that God can turn evil into good, evil is not only to be endured, but celebrated.

That's probably going to make me stick out like a sore thumb in this discussion, but I'm going to stand by it to the end. And I extend this even to the natural world - whatever pain and suffering is present in nature, it is a mistake to call it senseless and irrational, and doubly a mistake to regard it as the whole story. I disagree that as Christians (or even as theists in the broader sense) we should or have to judge nature by what we know is an incomplete picture - in fact, I think this incomplete state of affairs is precisely what must be stressed again and again. As should the fact that God is not merely the God of men, but the God of all - nature and animals certainly included. And that acting as if this isn't the case (as if God has a plan for man, but - because we aren't privy to all of God's thoughts - He apparently has no plan for nature) is a grave mistake.

Keep in mind, I also (if I recall right) pointed out how it was difficult to respond to Oscar's adviser's query, lacking more details about what problems he saw in nature - so I'm not going to pretend my answer is even directed squarely at his adviser's worries. But I'm giving an answer in the direction I see it heading, broad as it is.

And I'm also not going to pretend that what I'm saying here is common Christian orthodoxy, and certainly not that I'm chastising everyone for not adhering to it. While I think thoughts along these lines are found throughout Christian writings (even Aquinas, with his thoughts on evil, goes in a direction I'd say is close to this - and Leibniz comes very close), I realize I'm very likely the odd man out here. Indeed, from my perspective the problem of evil (natural and moral both) does not exist - it is a non-issue. That alone would put me at odds with even the boldest modern theologians.
On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 6:31 AM, John Walley <<>> wrote:

I think Schwarzwald's right in that Christainity is unique because Christ has conquered death and we no longer have to fear it. So death where is thy sting? And I guess that could be extrapolated to pain and suffering as well, "to live is Christ, to die is gain", but these are all pragmatic, coping strategies. They don't get to the root issue at hand which is why this suffering exists in the first place.

Notice Oscar's advisor did not query which God has the most practical offering or most fulfilling theology, he wanted to know why he should be lieve in God at all. And none of these responses have really dealt with that head on in my opinion. This discussion may be an interesting apologetic for people who are already Christians and trust God, but for those on the outside looking in with cruelty in nature as the stated objective, I suggest we have to be able to deal with this more directly.


From: Schwarzwald <<>>
Sent: Sat, November 28, 2009 10:10:45 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] red in tooth and claw

What if nature isn't actually as brutal as we take it to be? And really, of all the religions that could or should cringe because of any 'brutality' we project upon nature - and a lot of it is projection - doesn't it seem odd for Christians to do it? The religion with the incarnate God who was betrayed, tormented, and executed? Isn't ours the one religion, regardless of particular sect, which makes it abundantly clear that one should not judge a reality by its incomplete history?

The one lesson I take from Christ's death and resurrection is that it's a drastic mistake to regard torment and death as the final lesson in history, whether it be human history or the greater, natural history. And the idea that Hitler's eugenics was in any way a correct reflection of evolution as we know it - particularly given what we've learned since then - seems dramatically naive.

Count me in the apparent minority of Christians who don't think the habits of the natural world pose a problem for our theology, and in fact bolsters it. The problem isn't the facts on the ground, but the perspective.
On Sat, Nov 28, 2009 at 9:57 PM, David Clounch <<>> wrote:
>Sculptured indeed! Well-stated, Bernie. You are exactly right that this is something for Christians to struggle with, and I wish I had a complete answer.

People say Christianity is brutal and bloody. And God is a mean inhumane jerk for acts like slaying an entire enemy army in one night.

Well, why then do they think evolution is kinder and gentler? The bloodiness and brutality of Christianity is a matchstick in a firestorm compared to the competition in biology.

What about te ideal of the lion laying down with the lamb? What if nature is brutal because it is corrupted by the rebellious? And God would have it be different?

On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 7:49 PM, Merv Bitikofer <<>> wrote:
Dehler, Bernie wrote:

However, and I had glimpses of this as a Christian even, I think the 'red in tooth and claw' is a tremendous acknowledgement of how evolution works. The ruthlessness of nature, even Hitler eugenic-style thinking, is how evolution created the wonderful life forms that we witness today. Nature/evolution isn't just 'red in tooth and claw' as some unfortunate thing, but it is the way life is SCULPTURED. Life is SCULPTED by evolution by "tooth and claw."

I'm not saying Hitler and eugenics are right. I'm saying that the ruthless nature of evolution being 'red in tooth and claw' is a major component for getting life as beautiful as we know it today.

For example, why are so few creatures born blind? Because they quickly get eaten, with not much chance of their genes being passed on. Same thing with many other defects.


Sculptured indeed! Well-stated, Bernie. You are exactly right that this is something for Christians to struggle with, and I wish I had a complete answer. But I do have part of an answer that is of course, unavailable to you at the moment. And that involves God's use of suffering to craft us. Christians have long lived with the paradox of accepting suffering, yet while praying to be delivered from it. None of us wants it, by definition, and yet we realize (usually only in retrospect) that we were made stronger for having gone through it. This is only the human element and makes no pretension of addressing all of nature. But if I was to begin to craft an answer, I would start with the incarnate Christ entering into humanity, indeed, into nature. George Murphy's book "Cosmos in the Light of the Cross" is helpful in this regard.

By the way, you seem to want to remain morally above things like eugenics or the whole "tooth & claw" scenario. If these things are but the brutal tools that sculpted beauty (according to you), then why do you find them so objectionable? On what basis do you object? You'll note that I object to them too even while I acknowledge their existence. Christ calls me to live above any such natural law and to reject "survival of the fittest" as a means of living with my neighbor. But you have rejected Christ, and that basis is not available to you (unless you want to engage in the irrational practice of cherry picking things you like about Christ's teachings while yet thinking Him and his disciples as deluded fools or power-hungry frauds.) Since you no longer have the Christian basis available and yet regard Evolutionary wisdom as a kind of guiding light, on what rational basis do you wish to continue objecting to nature's enlightened evolutionary teeth & claws whether they come in the form of eugenics or otherwise? Do you not quite trust the capable hands of evolution to do what needs to be done?


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