Evil and Creation
Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian Dogmatics
- ISBN: 9781683594345
- Published By: Faithlife Corporation
- Published: December 2020
Evil and Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian Dogmatics contains a variety of essays which discuss how the doctrine of creation relates to the topic of evil. Edited by David Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis, this collection’s approach stands in distinction to the standard approach of theodicies, which aim to reconcile God’s existence with the existence of evil. While some essays in this collection address theodicy, the aim of the collection is to develop a deeper understanding of evil in the context of the doctrine of creation. The doctrine of creation is an appropriate starting place to understand evil because (traditionally at least) evil is a disruption of God’s good creation; this means that one must first understand creation before one can understand evil.
I shall limit myself to two prominent themes throughout: the nature of evil and animal suffering. Regarding the nature of evil, there are two notable chapters. Paul L. Gavrilyuk provides a tour de force on how modern thinkers differ from patristic thinkers in their approach to the problem of evil. Among the various differences, many patristic authors understood atonement as an objective dilemma of reconciling God’s character with a certain state of affairs. For example, Gregory of Nyssa discusses how Christ’s works provides a ransom to rescue humanity from the Devil. In contrast, some modern thinkers conceive of atonement as a mode of God “suffering with us” and enduring the same injustices as fallen humanity. Gavrilyuk discusses each topic and thinker with considerable care. Indeed, this chapter is indispensable to achieving the collection’s aim.
Jared Ortiz picks up the theme of the nature of evil in relation to human frailty in his essay on intellectual disability and the Sabbath. Ortiz places the topic of disability in conversation with fallen human nature and the sabbath. Regarding the former, persons with an intellectual disability exemplify the brokenness common to all fallen humanity. Regarding the latter, intellectually disabled persons are susceptible to God's work and presence. Ortiz argues that sabbath and rest are necessary for flourishing as humans. To argue this, Ortiz maintains that God’s commandments in the Decalogue coordinate with human nature and indicate who humans are rather than being foreign and extraneous to human nature. Consequently, sabbath and rest are necessary to fulfill human nature. In arguing this, Ortiz is putting forth a teleological view of human nature in which rest is not merely necessary to prevent exhaustion, but moreover, rest is necessary to flourish as a human being. Because disabled persons are susceptible to God’s work and presence, disabled persons exemplify (in some sense) the sabbath and thus reflect Christ who is the fulfillment of creation, the one in whom all are at rest. Ortiz’s chapter thus offers a fresh theological perspective on disability.
The second theme of animal suffering is interesting because it raises the question of when evil is introduced into creation. There are two chapters of disparate quality. Gavin Ortlund addresses Augustine's view that animal suffering is not a result of the Fall but it reflects God's wisdom in creation—animal suffering is not bad insofar as it contributes to the beauty and wisdom of the whole. Ortlund details Augustine’s view on animal suffering to shed light on a “contemporary evangelical debate” about creationism and evolutionary theory, the latter of which claims that suffering (and thus evil) existed prior to the Fall (84).
While interesting, Ortlund's chapter suffers from a lack of scholarly attentiveness and displays a dearth of philosophical understanding for being an essay on Augustine. For example, when discussing the topic of “measure,” a concept which refers to an object’s value and mode of being for Augustine, Ortlund fails to consult any literature and only offers a brief, surface-level reading of the concept (93-4). Consulting either John Rist’s or W. J. Roche’s work would have substantially improved Ortlund’s reading. Instead, throughout the piece Ortlund engages with sources such as “Answers in Genesis” and C.S. Lewis, only to briefly reference two pieces of Augustine scholarship. Ortlund is also unfamiliar with some standard concepts Augustine deploys, such as Aristotle’s table of opposites. Ortlund only considers Augustine's use of opposites as "metaphor[s]", a "literary phenomenon” (100). But opposites aren’t metaphors (and it is not clear what literary phenomenon amounts to). This incorrect classification is aggravated when Ortlund discusses the concepts ‘opposite,’ ‘contraposition,’ and ‘contrary’ without discriminating their differences. These are but two examples, and there are other issues, such as citing Augustine’s early and late works without outlining a clear methodology for approaching continuity in Augustine’s thought. Thus, while the general theological picture is certainly intriguing, this piece could have been substantially improved as a piece on Augustine’s thought.
Regarding the second essay on animal pain, one is met with clear structure and thought-provoking analysis from Marc Cortez. Cortez analyzes the question of whether animals suffer like humans, lays out a taxonomy of possible viewpoints, and argues that the problem of other minds is salient for the problem of animal pain. Just as one analogically infers that other human beings have minds because they exhibit similar biology and behavior, so too can one infer that animals experience suffering based on similar biology and behavior. So, if one denies that animals suffer, then it seems that one loses the basis to infer other human beings have minds.
These two themes are important for developing the topic of evil in the context of creation. While scholars frequently discuss evil and concede that evil exists in the context of theodicy, it is not clear what it means for evil to exist and to what such a concession amounts. Indeed, the nature of evil receives little attention aside from the traditional discussion of the privation theory. The topic of animal pain is of relevance for conversations with evolutionary theory, the Fall, and the introduction of evil in the world. The edited collection is thus a welcome addition to an important discussion.
Unfortunately, the essays in this collection vary in quality. Some chapters do not state a thesis until the third page (Ch 8, “Creation and the Problem of Evil After the Apocalyptic Turn”), and other chapters rely upon secondary literature to make claims about undiscussed and uncited primary texts (Ch 2, “Judgment of Evil as the Renewal of Creation”). These scholarly infelicities are compounded by the collection being slightly unfocused and unwieldy because of the breadth of topics covered. It is consequently difficult to imagine the single collection would serve as a core text in an undergraduate course (or even a specialized text in a graduate course.) Even so, it is an immanently important topic, and there are some worthwhile essays that successfully meet the aims of the volume.
Parker Haratine is a PhD candidate in divinity at the University of St Andrews.T. Parker HaratineDate Of Review:June 30, 2022