“Evolution, evil and epidemics” was the title of the paper that opened the seminar. The academic presented the SARS-CoV-2 and its mutations as the outcome of natural selection and then sought to present ways in which it might be presented by theologians.
The spectrum of mainstream Christian understandings of God as creator was discussed, the gradations of belief that ranged from the Deism that suggested God was the prime mover who set the universe in motion and then allowed it to develop in a random way, through to the idea of “intelligent design” that suggests that the complexity of creation points to purposeful design.
The focus upon the Covid-19 virus and the evil it represented meant that theodicy was at the centre of the argument, how can one justify the behaviour of a creator God who appears indifferent to suffering? What defence can be offered by Christians who insist that God is the creator and responds to prayer?
The conventional Christian answers to the question as to why there is suffering in the world focus upon human free will and responsibility. The argument is that human beings are not automatons, that a God who eliminated suffering would be a God who prevented humanity achieving its potential through using its capacity to make choices between good and evil.
Reflecting upon the inexorable processes of natural selection that led to SARS-CoV-2 and its mutations, the presenter conceded that he had no answers to the “why?” of suffering, and he believed there to be no answer.
It is unlikely that many church leaders would adopt such a position, preachers might not find appreciative congregations if they stood and admitted they had no idea as to the answer to the fundamental questions of life. Yet perhaps the church would have more credibility if it stopped trying to explain the inexplicable
Evangelical domination of the church has led to a faith of propositions, a faith of pre-packaged answers. In 2019, columnist Matthew Parris wrote in The Times, “as the evangelicals have moved in, the average IQ has dropped.” The assertion is without any evidential foundation, but there has undoubtedly been a loss of the openness that once characterised Anglicanism.
The profile of the Church of England is now so low that perhaps the overwhelming majority of people will be completely indifferent to whatever theologians say, but if the Church of England still maintains its right to be the Established Church, then something needs to be said, and, if it needs to be said, then it might as well have intellectual integrity.