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Theology, Tragedy, and Suffering in Nature

Toward a Realist Doctrine of Creation


Joel C. Daniels

The discovery by Charles Darwin of natural selection as the principal mechanism of biological evolution sharpened the classical theological issue of suffering in the natural world. Darwin’s discovery revealed predation and starvation to be the engine of biological development. Theological responses to evolution within the Christian tradition have typically failed to come to terms with these features of biological evolution, focusing instead on romantic notions of nature or assumptions about the benefits of progress. As a result, many doctrines of creation have operated with a limited understanding of the created world that is their subject. As Joel C. Daniels shows, however, this shortcoming can be remedied by utilizing the ancient resources of dramatic tragedy in a theological vein. By drawing together a theological interpretation of tragedy and a scientifically accurate understanding of nature, a realist doctrine of creation can achieve a high degree of realism with regards to suffering, respecting the unique characteristics of individual experiences while situating them in a theologically meaningful frame of reference. The theological category of tragedy does not solve the problem of natural evil. However, it has the double virtue of attending closely to the specifics of the natural world and maintaining a principled tension between experiences of suffering and Christian claims about the possibility of redemption. This book thus makes a unique contribution to Christian theology by drawing on multiple disciplines to address this issue of existential importance.
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1 Scripture and Tradition


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Scripture and Tradition

The purpose of the present chapter is to describe the theoretical background of mainstream Christian theology in 1859 regarding the issue of natural evil. Natural evil has classically been understood as the suffering that is not a result of a direct moral fault, but is suffered as a result of the state of the physical world being as it is. Religious responses to the problem of suffering can be seen throughout much religious literature, globally. Max Weber identified the problem of suffering as one of the motivating factors of the advent of the phenomenon of religion in all human societies, and posited that answers to that problem are a significant contribution to the specific traits of individual religions.1 Even if his interpretation reflects a passé religious perennialism, it is nonetheless undoubtedly true that reflections on suffering are a constituent part of many religious traditions. The present book will only trace the history of responses in the Western Christian tradition as a matter of expediency, since the goal is to describe the intellectual climate in which Darwin’s work was received. Many, though not all, of the theological and philosophical responses to Darwinism were in cultures for which this heritage was the prevailing ethos. ← 1 | 2 → 2

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