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Why did God create humans and other organisms through an evolutionary process that entails competition, extinction and great suffering? This is the problem of “evolutionary theodicy”. The intellectual credibility of Christianity and other theistic traditions would be strengthened if a plausible hypothesis could be provided. However, the existing evolutionary theodicies are less than satisfactory, which a pilot study to the present project has shown.

The aim of the proposed project is to explore a new approach to evolutionary theodicy, which will appropriate insights from Martin Nowak's work about the evolutionary emergence of cooperation and "sacrifice". The project will integrate these insights with a hypothesis inspired by the ascetical and mystical traditions within Christianity. Many mystics see a close connection between self-giving love, sacrifice, and suffering. One interpretation of this connection is that the willingness to bear suffering for one’s beloved is an intrinsic element of love itself. This perspective, if sustainable, can shed light on why a God of love created a world where suffering and death are inevitable elements in the evolutionary emergence of complexity. The evolutionary mechanisms that favor "altruism" and costly sacrifice can be interpreted as natural preparations for self-giving love. The latter is, according to the project's hypothesis, the main goal of the evolutionary process.

The proposed project will develop and evaluate an approach to evolutionary theodicy built on these ideas, by using philosophical and systematic-theological methods. The intended deliverables are an academic monograph, three research papers, and a popular article. Since the approach is original with respect to its use of the mystical tradition (as well as with respect to its main hypothesis), it will enrich the current debate about “theistic evolution”.