There’s a philosophical problem that is often levelled at Christianity as evidence against its truth, called the Problem of Evil. Anybody who has done any theology or philosophy would be well acquainted with it, but for those who aren’t already inducted into such folds, I’ll explain. The problem of evil says that if there were such a good and powerful God as we Christians assume, there wouldn’t be any evil, or at least there wouldn’t be as much evil as there is in the world, for such a God would have prevented at least a large portion of it. And yet, here we live in a world with an unfathomable depth and breadth of suffering. So, the critic says, it’s at best unlikely that such a God exists.
That’s the problem of evil. And most theologians believe it deserves some kind of response, the most notorious of which is called the “free will defense,” which says that the evil in the world is compensated for by the great good of being able to choose good over evil. At least, says the free will defender, this kind of freedom goes some of the way to compensate for all the evil in the world, even if it may not go all the way. Perhaps there are other goods we don’t know about which, when added to this freedom, compensate fully for all the evil in the world. But either way… those who give a free-will defense believe that this freedom is at least a necessary part of explaining how it can be reasonable to believe in God given the depth and breadth of suffering in our world. I plan on evaluating free-will defenses from an Open Theist angle on this blog, and perhaps developing some nuances of my own of how to respond to the problem. How Can there be a Perfectly Good and Powerful God when there is so Much Evil Evidencing His Nonexistence?
However far free-will goes in compensating for all the suffering in our world, the problem gets even more difficult when it comes to trying to find a compensating good for all the suffering of animals predating the existence of humans. For then, the free-will defender cannot justify God’s goodness in allowing this suffering by appealing to the most obvious bearers of free-will who come to mind – humans. Pre-human animals would be another candidate, but most people would not want to bite the bullet and say that animals benefit from and bear the ability to choose good over evil. So the theologian is in a pickle. Call this pickle, the problem of animal suffering before the fall. This is another problem I would like to sift through in these blog posts, especially since several Open Theists have said things of interest to the subject. How can God be all-powerful and all-good when there was no obvious good compensating for the animal suffering which predated the human fall?
The latter question is of particular interest to me because many theologians provide a response which minimizes the suffering of animals. This seems to me objectification of the first degree. My challenge then, will be to ascribe to all the animal kingdom the full dignity it already possesses, while keeping my theology whole. I’m sure this will involve some adjustment to my theology, but hopefully without cutting any corners. To those who travel this path with me, I’m glad for your company.