One of the common objections to evolution put forward by Christians is that:
A) The evolutionary process is dependent on death and
B) God would never use a process dependent on evil to accomplish his purposes
Now B) is a theological statement that can be disputed on many levels (eg. equating death with evil, or implying that God can not utilize bad situations for his purposes – one of the major themes of the bible clearly contradicts this implication eg. enslavement of Joseph, death of Christ). However, it is statement A) that I’d like to address here.
The Problem is Limited Resources
Paradigms on Pilgrimage is a book written by paleontologist Stephen Godfrey and Baptist minister Christopher Smith. Both are former YEC advocates who now advocate an evolutionary creationist position. In his chapter on dealing with the theological implications of evolution, Smith directly addresses claim A) above. It is not primarily evolutionary mechanisms like genetic mutations, or even natural selection, which is the problem. It is in fact, the limited amount of resources available to God’s creatures.
It is true that new characteristics take root in a population, under circumstances where they confer some survival advantage, as organisms with those characteristics displace those without them. But the effective cause of the demise of the organisms without the new characteristics is not the emergence of these characteristics themselves, through genetic variation, but rather the availability of only limited resources for the population as a whole. When resources are abundant, a greater range of organisms will survive, even those with less of a survival advantage. And finite resources pose just as great a theological problem for the [old or young earth] creationist. (page 167)Evolutionary Mechanisms: A Creative Tool
With respect to the Fall and death in God’s good creation, I am not going to deal with the many (theological & scientific) arguments against young earth creationism (A very interesting paper somewhat related is Randy Isaac’s The Chronology of the Fall). What should be noted is that an OEC position has the exact same theological challenges as an EC position with regards to physical death before the fall, and the fact that pain, death, and extinction have been going on for a very, very long time. In many ways an EC position is much easier to defend; the evolutionary mechanism of genetic variation is an excellent strategy for the continuation of life in a changing environment.
Far from being dependent on death, the evolutionary process as seen in the fossil record is actually the antidote to death. If new species were not formed by the process of genetic variation, there would be no survivors when environmental conditions did change and existing species proved so poorly adapted to the new conditions that they became extinct. So death is not necessary for evolution, but evolution has been necessary for the continuation of life. (pages 167 and 168 – emphasis mine)Evolution is not dependent on death and extinction; rather, given the world we have, it is the antidote to death and extinction. In the world God has created, evolutionary mechanisms enable the continuation of life. They are one of the tools God uses to accomplish his purposes.