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Does Self-Giving Love Require an Evolutionary World? Evolutionary Theodicy in Light of the Mystical Tradition

Research project Why did God create humans and other organisms through an evolutionary process that entails competition, extinction and suffering? This is the philosophical/theological problem of evolutionary theodicy. The aim of the project is to explore a new approach to evolutionary theodicy that draws on the ascetical and mystical traditions within Christianity and on insights from recent work on the evolutionary emergence of cooperation and “sacrifice”.

The main objective of the project is to develop and evaluate a new approach to evolutionary theodicy – an area of philosophical-theological research in which the classical theodicy question is asked with reference to the evils of the evolutionary process. An important element of the project’s new approach is the hypothesis that disvalue – in particular, suffering and competition – are metaphysically necessary preconditions for the existence of agape-love in bodily beings. This hypothesis can potentially support new theological interpretations of the disvalues inherent in the evolutionary process. The hypothesis will be developed and evaluated in dialogue with scientific perspectives on the relationship between competition (“selfishness”) and cooperation (“altruism”, “sacrifice”) in the evolutionary process. The main dialogue partner, however, will be the Christian mystical tradition, which seems to posit an intrinsic connection between self-giving love and costly sacrifice.

Head of project

Mats Wahlberg
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2018-12-01 2020-11-30


This project has received funding from the John Templeton Foundation.

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Research area

Religious studies and theology
Latest update: 2019-09-18