Theology, tragedy, and suffering in nature: toward a realist doctrine of creation
Daniels, Joel C.
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This dissertation proposes the adoption of the concept of tragedy as a theological category, as a way to address the traditional problem of suffering in the natural world, customarily known as the problem of natural evil. The theological utilization of the concept of tragedy enables a Christian doctrine of creation to remain accountable to the structures and processes of the natural world, including evolutionary development. Many traditions evince an awareness of the intractability of suffering in nature and there have been various religious responses to it. Within some Christian communities, the discovery by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) of evolution by natural selection proved disruptive to established ways of addressing that issue. This disruption has been especially significant in the area of theological interpretations of creation. This is the case in part because of the way evolutionary theory reveals the role of starvation, predation, and constrained stochasticity in the development of ecosystems and organisms. Theological responses to evolution within the Christian tradition have typically failed to come to terms with these features of biological evolution. However, Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), Donald MacKinnon (1913-1994), and Rowan Williams (b. 1950) have, in different ways, shown how theological interpretations of tragedy can achieve a high degree of realism in regard to suffering, respecting the unique characteristics of individual experiences while situating suffering in a theologically meaningful frame of reference. These thinkers have also identified an awareness of tragedy within the Christian tradition itself, particularly as it is reflected in liturgical practices. This dissertation employs these insights to address the issue of suffering in the natural world, in order to contribute to a realist Christian doctrine of creation. The theological category of tragedy does not solve the problem of natural evil. But 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.