On Suffering, Evolution, and Humanity

Contrary to the calendar, summer has officially ended. I am all finished road-tripping across the country, my children started school this week, and I now have predictable slots of time to work on this blog.

This week, I want to share with you this On Being interview with Xavier Le Pichon, “Fragility and the Evolution of Our Humanity.” I listened to the podcast last week, and was touched and challenged by many of Le Pichon’s ideas, as well as the depth of his thoughtfulness and compassion.

While many people, myself included, have pointed to the problem of suffering as a major roadblock to faith in God, Le Pichon sees it as a touchstone for entering into the deep mysteries of life, and a catalyst for further advances in human evolution.

“Our humanity is not an attribute that we have received once and forever with our conception. It is a potentiality that we have to discover within us and progressively develop or destroy through our confrontation with the different experiences of suffering that will meet us throughout our life,” writes Le Pichon in his paper “Ecce Homo,” on which much of the interview is based.

For a recovering Christian fundamentalist like myself, it does my heart (and mind) big-time good to hear someone so obviously committed to his faith intelligently discuss this issue of human suffering in the context of biological evolution.

Whenever I dredge up the problem of “suffering and God” in thought or conversation, a tiny thought recurs in the back of my brain: “what do you really know of suffering?” This interview amplified that thought. Beyond philosophy and reason, there is love and presence with “the other” – and if I am not willing to truly search out these aspects of my humanity, what do I really know after all?


  1. Like you, when I ask questions about suffering and God, I usually answer myself with another question. But mine is, “Why do I assume that the absence of suffering is the way things ‘ought’ to be?” Haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast, but that’s the thought that came to mind while I was reading this post.

  2. Good question, Jodi. Sometimes I feel that suffering in life is acceptable only if immortality also is possible. But then I remember being a little girl and trying to comprehend immortality, and every time I thought about it for too long, getting terrified. It all succeeds in infernally stumping me. And again, I am reminded that there is so much more to life than trying to figure it out.

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