Young-Earth creationists have an easy answer in Genesis 3: it’s all man’s fault, but this conflicts with the overwhelming consensus in several scientific fields.

Theistic evolutionists can accept that consensus, but they have a problem explaining how suffering and death arose in a world made by a benevolent, omnipotent creator, and pronounced by him to be “very good”, long before man came along to spoil things.

They only attempt I’ve seen is by Michael Lloyd in his ‘Cafe Theology’, where he suggests that, after Satan fell, he caused the problem, long before man came on the scene. But are there any other ideas?

For Christians who completely reject the story of Adam and Eve in any literal sense, the scriptures don't provide any definitive alternative. Thus you are entering into the realm of conjecture. Indeed, even if we were to take all of Genesis at face value, there isn't a lot of detail.

That said, I think I would approach this problem by questioning the axioms of the argument. Namely: is it true that if God is benevolent and omnipotent that there thus cannot be any suffering/death in a perfect world?

I would argue that a certain amount of suffering is actually beneficial to our growth as individuals and, at a more basic level, to our survival. A little cut from a knife teaches you that a knife is dangerous and to be handled with care, for instance.

Additionally, death is necessary for new life. You constantly hear about how we are running out of resources due to our growing populations - imagine if nothing ever died! Thus death enables the possibility for new life. Even if we didn't need to eat, the planet would quickly get overcrowded with life and we'd be miserable.

If we are focused on Theistic Evolutionists, they will further argue that God used evolution as the means through which he created life in all its various manifestations - which requires reproduction and ultimately death (as noted above).

Let us also note that physical death is not the end from a Christian perspective; merely a necessary step in transitioning from our natural bodies to spiritual bodies.

Finally, both God and Christ are believed to have suffered and, in the latter case, even died despite being sinless. So Christianity would appear to reject the notion that perfection = no suffering/pain/death.

  • "For Christians who completely reject the story of Adam and Eve in any literal sense" Isn't that an oxymoron, given that Adam is a real, single man who passed on death to every man after him according to the New Testament (Christianity)? – Sola Gratia Nov 8 at 16:34
  • @SolaGratia I would agree. I was going to an extreme for the sake of argument, as there are definitely plenty of Christians who flat out reject the story of Genesis. This could cause some problems interpreting the New Testament, of course, given that Adam is referenced in a number of places. That said, I think most modern Christians, other than the most fundamentalist Christians, reject the story of Genesis as a literal account to varying degrees. Apart from contradictions with science you also have to address the Documentary Hypothesis, which, for Genesis, has considerable evidence. – Ryan Pierce Williams Nov 8 at 21:26
  • "Apart from contradictions with science" Triggered Some argue that evidence of macroevolution (and more specifically abiogenesis) is entirely lacking, and methods of interpreting raw fossil data wholly fallacious regardless—arguments from authority notwithstanding. As for the Documentary Hypothesis, that is another more than questionable theory dependent on a naturalistic view of the Pentateuch, something not open to the Christian who actually believes in the words of Jesus, who expressly ascribed both the so-called 'J' and the so-called 'P' co-called 'authors' to simple old Moses... – Sola Gratia Nov 8 at 23:48
  • Haha, I mean no offense @SolaGratia. I'm a Christian myself and when I was younger I had my share of debates against evolution. There are definitely gaps in the theory, but it doesn't change the fact that the current scientific consensus is to accept the theory. Those who argue that evidence is lacking are usually the Creationists/Fundamentalists, and their own theories/hypotheses have scant evidence. – Ryan Pierce Williams Nov 8 at 23:52
  • One doesn't need any evidence to demonstrate the invalidity of a theory/reject it. And 'But then how would you explain it' is a form of the Tu Quoque fallacy. We don't even know the exact composition of wine. How can anyone claim to be 'sure' on the origins of life, for example? Consensus means lots of scientists agree. Nothing more. If I can show you instances where scientists agreed on all kinds of things now rejected, I shall have proved that consensus is something quite meaningless outside the present moment... But we digress. I'll let you get some answers for your question :) – Sola Gratia Nov 9 at 0:12

There are few options I've heard:

  1. God foreknew the fall of man and thus allowed the consequences to occur temporally prior.
  2. The doctrine of the fall's true meaning is that creation as a whole fell, not that man has fallen. Allegorical readings of the Old Testament are necessary for this view.
  3. The fall of the angelic realm is what principally caused most of creation's corruption. Allegorical readings of the Old Testament are necessary for this view.
  4. It is philosophically impossible for God to create a "perfect" creation because God is the only perfect thing, therefore, any creation would be imperfect from the start. (Though this may not explain what the fall in Genesis 3 is about.)

As to the statements by God that the world is "very good," I would point you to the early Christians who denounced the heretical docetists who typically believed material is inherently evil. I presume most theistic evolutions stand in line with Jewish thinking that while this world is indeed broken, it is still "good."

  • I personally am a theistic evolutionist and waffle between (2) or (3). I also think most of the Old Testament should be read allegorically. – Joseph Hinkle Nov 12 at 22:27

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