Can Darwin be Saved? 2 (RJS)

Karl Giberson in his recent book Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution has devoted several chapters to discussion of Darwin’s dark companions and to the history that has led to the culture war we find today.  This discussion is particularly relevant in light of Ben Stein’s recent exposé Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Stein has crafted a film that connects Darwinian evolution by natural selection with elitism, eugenics, soviet militarism, and Hitler’s concentration camps – sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly.

But is this connection justified?

Darwinian evolution by natural selection has been accused of leading to social Darwinianism. Social Darwinism – survival of the fittest – suggests that programs to feed, cloth, and heal the poor are misguided, that racism is justified, eugenics laudatory, and extermination – Hitler’s “final solution” – a reasonable approach.

While the causal relationship is a fiction – and a dangerous fiction – there is no doubt that many in both Europe and the US found Darwin’s theory a welcome scientific support for racism and classism. As Giberson writes:

Incorporated into Darwin’s theory, Malthus’s principle was promoted from depressing socioeconomic insight to full partner in the grand creative process that had sponges competing to see. who could be the first to turn into a supermodel. Famine and pestulence went upscale, joining chisel and sandpaper as tools that create through destruction.  Defenders of the status quo, in love with the idea that their exalted status derived from their competitive prowess, had been accused of being heartless and uncompassionate.  They now leaped enthusiastically onto this shiny new Darwinian bandwagon, arguing that it was unnatural and ultimately cruel to enable the swelling of the ranks of the poor.  Do nothing and let nature take its course, unless the idea of mass starvation is somehow attractive to you. p. 71

The many inflammatory passages in writings of prominent thinkers, scientists, and scholars of the 19th and early 20th century amaze and shock our 21st century minds.

Darrow Bryan Scopes Trial.jpg

That William Jennings Bryan, lawyer, congressman, Secretary of State and three time Democratic nominee for president opposed Darwinian Evolution is well known. He eagerly offered to prosecute the Scopes case in Tenessee.  It is less well known that his opposition was driven by by his politics – his concern for the people – more than his concern for Genesis.  He was an old-earth day-age proponent, even willing to accept a limited evolution, excepting of course for the creation of Adam and Eve.  His opposition to Darwinianism was driven first and foremost by a distaste for Social Darwinianism.

Phillip Johnson, champion of Intelligent design, carries on the battle against evolution, not from scientific evidence – but from moral and religious conviction.  The general argument repeats: (1) the institutions of modern society are based on science; (2) science is based on atheism; and (3) a society with atheistic foundations will quickly go to hell in a handbasket, just as Western civilization is presently doing. (p. 110 Saving Darwin)

Ben Stein is not a Christian – and has no overtly religious agenda.  His film “Expelled” is motivated primarily (it seems) by a distaste for Social Darwinianism and Darwin’s dark companions.

Such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and others have turned the tables on Bryan and Johnson and Stein claiming that it is religion and the church that are responsible for most of the atrocities in the world from time immemorial including those of the 19th and 20th century.  Unfortunately – as for Social Darwinianism – there is plenty of evidence to support their claim.  One need only bring up Luther who encouraged Christians to destroy Jews and Kant who found the epitome of the human race in whiteness and warned against the enemies without (other races) and the enemies within (the Jews) to realize that the church is far from innocent in this regard.

It is unreasonable to blame the Christian faith itself for the misguided notions of sinful humans. The faith is not wrong because Christians have failed. But we must face the past with humility and repentance, and face the future with resolve and prayer.  Our daily prayer should be that God reveal our cultural blind spots and human failings as we try to walk in his way.

It is also unreasonable to blame the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection for the dark companions that have occasionally tagged along.  The theories of modern physics are not wrong (scientifically) simply because they can be used to build a hydrogen bomb.  The theory of evolution by natural selection is not wrong because it was appropriated to justify greed, genocide, eugenics, and racism.

What do you think?

Is the “problem” with evolution by natural selection a clash between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins?  Or is the clash bigger than this, a clash between worldviews with moral, ethical, and philosophical ramifications?

  • Your Name

    I attended a Sunday School class last year in which different theories/understandings of origins were examined in light of the question, “What does it mean to be made in the image of God?” In the class I was one who represented what could broadly be described as “the ID (Intelligent Design) crowd.” This, for me, meant not so much about how one reads Genesis as much as how one does science: can we discuss the questions/gaps/weaknesses in the theory of evolution or can we not? The science classroom is no place for doctrine, IMHO. The teacher asked a significant question: What would proof (or evidence that I found compelling) for evolution do to my faith? I feel comfortable saying that I could live with that. Just as in matters of faith, it is true in matters of science that when the proper answer to the question is, “I don’t know,” then we should say “I don’t know,” and learn to live with the uncertainty.

  • Rick

    “Such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and others have turned the tables on Bryan and Johnson and Stein claiming that it is religion and the church that are responsible for most of the atrocities in the world from time immemorial including those of the 19th and 20th century.”
    I may be wrong, but hasn’t that argument been around longer than Dawkins and Hitchens? I would assume a lawyer like Johnson anticipated it.
    Of course the problem with their argument is that true Christianity actually breaks down and remove harmful attitudes and practices. Those ugly mindsets and actions of the past (and unfortunately present) were the result of sin and pride (found in us all), and antithetical to Truth.
    “Is the “problem” with evolution by natural selection a clash between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins? Or is the clash bigger than this, a clash between worldviews with moral, ethical, and philosophical ramifications?”
    Does one not contribute to the other? Does not one’s view of origins impact his/her outlook on life, goodness, sin, others, etc…?

  • Rob

    brief hijack – Is anyone else’s RSS feed for JesusCreed broken?

  • Craig

    Rob, yes.

  • Your Name

    Could the “problem” with evolution by natural selection be a clash between scientific descriptions of origins? Fine Tuning arguments are ok in astronomy, but why not biology? Why are Dawkins and company able to make arguments about ultimate origins and remain credible in science while believers who do likewise are seen as going beyond the limits of biology? For far too many teachers the Blind Watchmaker is credible, but William Paley has held no relevance for quite some time now.

  • http://drock-hos.blogspot.com/ derek

    the “problem” with evolution seems to be the former for most people, but those same people then claim the latter as an obvoius implication. the reason the real “problem,” however, is the former for most people is because even if the latter were null, i suspect evolution would still be opposed.
    also, the implications of natural selection seem to only be important to christians with regard to humanity. we do not really seem all too concerned with natural selection as it applies to the rest of the world. this seems interesting since natural selection could be argued as least active among humans. we go to extraordinary lengths to preserve lives that would otherwise perish in the natural world. and, oddly enough, the field used to preserve and better life in this way is science. and it seems that the overwhelming amount of people in this profession embrace evolution. it is clearly possible to believe in evolution and also have a very high value for all humanity.

  • Dan

    RJS. Social Darwinism is a very real reason for opposition to evolutionary thought in my mind. I agree that there is no necessary causal link between a belief in natural selection as the mechansim by which all living things devoloped. On the other hand, there is a significant lack of a logical barrier to one moving to the conclusions of social Darwinism. The Humanist Manifisto I stated “the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.” There’s the rub. The rapid rise of moral relativism as a viable philosophy of life does correspond with the rise of the belief that the universe is impersonal, that there are no moral absolutes built into the fabric of the universe by God and that it is up to man to create his own set of values. As Humanist Manifesto II puts it: “Ethics is autonomous and situational needing no theological or ideological sanction.”
    While both manifestos speak glowingly of the dignity of the individual, if there are no “cosmic guarantees of values” and if ethics are “autonomous and situational”, there is no philosophical moral barrier that restrains the ruling elite from determining that what is good for the species or the planet may make certain individuals or groups expendable. Stalin’s starvation of his own people comes to mind. Sure other philosophies like militant Islam can be used to justify atrocities, but that does not mean that “survival of the fittest” coupled with moral relativism can have no connection to mass murder. As C.S Lewis put it, once man is reduced to nature, man’s conquest of nature means man’s conquest of man.
    (As an aside, I find it endlessly intriguing that the Humanist Manifestos describe humanism as a secular religion – an attempt to squeeze meaning and significance out of a truly impersonal existence.)
    But I also find the baptizing of Darwin into Christian theology or the “saving” of Darwin, objectionable for this reason. Christianity, long before the creation/evolution debates, portrays physical death as the consequence of sin. Evil includes death, disease and infirmity. We all question why evil and suffering exist. There is tremendous explanatory force in the belief that the universe was created “good” and was corrupted by rebellion against the creator. I do not see a good way of explaining death as a result of sin being only “spiritual” death. Certainly Jesus’ weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, Paul’s triumphal cry “O Death where is thy victory, O grave where is thy sting” connect the curse to physical death. Genesis itself connects physical consequences to sin, the curse upon the ground, the pain in childbirth. The great hope of the future is a universe where the lion lies down with the lamb, which seems to portray a righting of the wrong of the effects of the fall. To deny that the scriptures teach that sin led to real consequences that corrupted the physical realm is to radically alter the faith.
    In short, if I were to become convinced that macroevolution by natural selection is an incontrovertible fact, that death of animals and proto-humans occurred before the fall of man, that humans descended from lower forms of life – my honest intellectual response would not be to adapt my faith to this way of thinking but to slip into agnonsticism. The Christianity that embraces Darwinism to that extent would be a different faith altogether and one that lacks an answer to the existence of evil. It would have no appeal to me emotionally or spiritually and would seem to be a completely irrational act of seeking some sort of meaning that has no connection to reality or truth. It would seem far more reasonable and honest to shrug my shoulders and walk away.
    Fortunately, I think other approaches to origins are defensible, but I have had my moments.

  • http://www.donheatley.com Don Heatley

    http://www.donheatley.com
    Although I understand the historical role of Social Darwinism, I have never understood the argument equating evolution with atheism. As Giberson and others have pointed out, there are so many other options. For me, evolution inspires more not less respect for life, community and connectivity. It is refreshing to see this conversation taking place among Christians, without resorting to proof-texting or apologetics.
    As for evil, perhaps “survival of the fittest” and original sin have some connection. Is Dawkin’s “selfish gene” the biological embodiment of our sinful nature? That would open a whole host of questions since in addition to being responsible for so much violence in creation (e.g. predatory instincts, eating one another, the consequential suffering, etc.), our DNA is also responsible for life, reproduction and all the good things of existence. This could be problematic to fit into Christian theology since it would introduce a certain ambivalence about evil. I would not be entirely comfortable with that.
    However, just as the evil of nuclear weapons does not negate the laws of physics, heading into uncomfortable territory should not prevent us from asking new questions and rethinking old concepts.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    RJS,
    You may need to defend the statement that “the causal relationship is a fiction.”
    I think the journey from naturalistic evolution to social darwinism is a quite natural one.
    If we are the product of undirected natural forces, we are no different from the animals. Our morals are simply social conventions or even “instincts” that have helped the species survive, but they are not binding and may even hinder our further development.
    If naturalistic evolution is true, why shouldn’t we try to improve the species by weeding out the weak — a little chlorine for the gene pool?
    The only reason this isn’t more common is that we do have an inborn sense of right and wrong and people oppose social darwinism on moral grounds, but if, as Dawkins et al suggest, that morality is simply an evolutionary quirk, there is no reason why we should persecute those who take evolutionary theory to its natural, logical conclusion.
    The reason the comparison to “religious” evil fails is that those who do these things in the name of their religion — certainly Christianity — are deviating from the teachings of their faith where those who run atheist regimes are simply taking their philosophy to its natural endpoint.

  • Your Name

    Good post, RJS. I think the connection between Darwinian evolution and social Darwinism is completely irrelevant to the question whether Darwinian evolution is a true account of how life developed on earth. Either organisms developed gradually from a common ancestor through mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection, or they didn’t. This has nothing at all to do with whether some people, 4 million years after life first started developing on earth, translated those facts into a pernicious social theory.
    ChrisB (#9) — the answer to the “why shouldn’t we” question is that human beings are capable of exercising intelligent moral agency. When you use the word “should,” you are asking an “ought” question. The facts about how life on earth developed are “is” questions. I don’t think “is” questions are completely divorced from “ought” questions, but neither are they co-extensive. Further, from a Christian perspective, biological evolution might be a “how” answer — an explanation of “how” God created — but it is not a complete answer, nor is it a “why” answer. We do (or at least I do) part ways with those uber-Darwinists who think evolution is sufficient to explain everything.
    Dan (#7) — I sympathize with what you’re saying about the problem of death. However, I don’t think it’s helpful to work through that theologically by construcing an alternate history of the universe that just plainly isn’t true. Now, I’m going to venture off the “theistic evolutionst” grid a little here and suggest that maybe some of the “answers” here might have to do with a thicker metaphysic. I don’t buy Origen’s notion of the preexistence of souls, but can we understand Reality, including the meaning of “death,” as something much more than just physical?

  • ron

    Responding specifically to RJS last two questions –
    First: To the extent there is a legitimate problem, the nexus of it is in the interpretive methods that religious people bring to their texts. There is no a priori reason that an interpretation of scripture that contradicts Darwin should be preferred over one that does not. Indeed, one can find in the history of Biblical interpretation statements by interpreters who would argue the other way around — that is, if there are options in interpretation, the choice that would most conform to our best understanding of the natural world is the one to be preferred. To say the least, this leaves YEC’ers out on the end of a limb, sawing away.
    Second: Perhaps the clash is bigger, indeed. But I think it is a clash between pragmatic thinking and fundamentalism, rather than “atheistic science” and a “moral world view”. If “social Darwinism” has been used to justify racism and classism, it also should be obvious – to note merely one example — that “revealed” Biblical religion has been used to justify slavery and later the segregation of the post-bellum Jim Crow South. Indeed, while modern evangelical ethical notions in this area have “evolved”, there is nevertheless a strong theological line connecting today’s “Bible believing” evangelical denominations with those of 150 years ago which asserted Biblical justification for keeping particular people in conditions of indefinite servitude.
    One of the profound myths of modern evangelicalism is that religion makes one more moral. The skepticism of the rest of the world to this claim to greater moral clarity is quite sensible; besides the facts mentioned above, one can note that today it is the evangelical demographic which most strongly continues to support the invasion of Iraq and the indefinite detention and torture of “enemy combatants”.

  • Rick

    Ron #11:
    “One of the profound myths of modern evangelicalism is that religion makes one more moral.”
    No, but followers who abide in Christ should become more Christlike through the power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  • ChrisB

    #10, I used the “naturalistic” qualifier for a reason — there are those who believe in theistic evolution, and that variant doesn’t have the social darwinism problem.
    But if naturalistic evolution is true, there is no “should” or “ought.” You’re correct that this has no bearing on whether or not the theory is correct, but it might have bearing on whether or not we would permit it to be taught and at what ages.

  • RJS

    Dan (#7)
    The issues you bring up are the issues that we need to consider. I find discussions of science and faith that ignore the theological implications to be deceptive (although it is usually not intentional). You’ve set the bar very high though when you include the idea “that death of animals and proto-humans occurred before the fall of man” in the mix. This leaves young earth creationism, mature earth creationism, or perhaps a variation of a gap theory, as the only “Christian” options. But young earth creationism is intellectually untenable. Mature earth creationism with the mature earth we see sets up a theology with God as deceiver (tester) i.e. He created the world to look as though gradual creation was correct and then gave us the Bible so we would know the truth. The kinds of gap theories tenable are highly speculative and find no support in the nature of the world or in scripture.
    I think when we tell the story you outline – with physical biological death in God’s creation a direct consequence of the fall – we are telling the wrong story and extrapolating beyond scripture. To begin with we have the genre wrong for Genesis and we misinterpret Paul’s argument. But in this conversation we must look at all of the scripture passages to which you allude – and that is my intent (slowly).
    As a broad brush stroke overview: I see the core story related in scripture in the rebellion of mankind; the action of God in forming his people culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through which we are redeemed; and the inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom of God – both now and not yet – with the promise of final judgment and full establishment of the Kingdom.

  • Dan

    #10 wrote: “.. I don’t think it’s helpful to work through that theologically by construcing an alternate history of the universe that just plainly isn’t true.”
    That is exactly the point in question. I remain unconvinced that Darwinism as an explanation of all things for all time is true. Darwinism offers a plausible explanation for how things could have occurred given the assumptions of naturalism, but does not finally establish in my mind that that is how they must have occurred or did occur. We cannot observe events in the past. The naturalistic definition of science is at fault in my mind, for insisting not just that science deals only with natural phenomena but also that science must admit only natural explanations of those phenomena. Remove that constraint of purely naturalistic causes and a good many alternatives do appear that many folks in the ID or creationist camps find to be consistent enough with the evidence. Sadly, many Christians, in my mind, are schizophrenic on this matter, in that they are supernaturalists in theology – God exists, but naturalists when they approach the natural world – God is excluded except as a potential first cause. They insist on all things being explained in terms of natural cause and effect and do not allow for divine intervention in any meaningful sense.
    Now, if I were to become convinced of Darwinism as THE explanation for all natural life, I would not construct an alternate history to fit my theology. I would abandon that theology as false. I find atheism more intellectually consistent than theistic evolution. An alternative theology seems to me somewhat pointless. What would be the power of a theology that is completely divorced from and unnecessary to life as we know it? A belief in a “creator” who left no evidence of actually doing anything in creation? Who was powerful enough to create, but incapable of intervening in a way that we would classify as “miraculous”. It would seem to me a purely irrational mysticism. A belief with no purpose and no reason for believing.
    Third, if I became convinced that Darwinism was in fact true, that all life including human life progressed through struggle, death and forces that can ALL be explained by purely natural cause and effect, I would see no real point in arguing that Social Darwinism was wrong, much less an inevitable conclusion to Darwinism as an origins theory.

  • Rebeccat

    Part of the supposed link between Darwinism and social darwinism comes from some very erroneous assumptions about the role of social and moral behaviors on evolution. While it is true that many animals live by amoral rules, more and more evidence is finding that there is a direct relationship between what we would consider moral impulses and the intelligence and survival of a species. There is some fascinating research being done with primates right now which shows that many primates are capable of moral behavior and will be shunned (which often means death) if they violate the community’s moral expectations. In addition, the more nuanced a specie’s moral thinking is, the more intelligent that creature is. And certainly, from a biological POV our intelligence is almost entirely responsible for our survival as a species. If our moral thinking and our intelligence are directly linked, then our moral thinking and our survival are likewise intertwined.
    Now, I’m not going to venture into exactly how or why homo sapien made the light year leap from smart primate to image bearers. However, my point is that the connection between Darwinism and social darwinism depends on a faulty understanding of the relationship between moral behavior and our sucess as a species. Knowing what we now know about the role of moral thinking and evolution, the line between acceptence of evolution and social darwinism isn’t astraight line, but a u-turn.

  • Your Name

    Dan (#15) — ID doesn’t help with the sin-death problem, and it perhaps exacerbates it. Remember, in his most recent book, Mike Behe offers the malaria virus as something that cannot have evolved, i.e., that is “designed.” So even if ID is otherwise true, it simply suggests that the physical death and decay that have been inherent in life on earth for over 4 million years was directly designed by God in detail.
    I think RJS (#14) is right — you’re left with young earth creationism, which is plainly untrue, or a “mature creation,” which seems to make God into a deceiver.

  • Eric

    To answer RJS’s original question, I don’t understand Chrisitan resistance to evolution on grounds of social Darwinism. Evolution’s suggestion that at their core humans are selfish — only interested in promoting themselves and their descendants or immediate community — is in line with the Chrisitan view that we are selfish and fallen. Perhaps naturalistic evolution leads to social Darwinism — it suggests that survival of the fittest is all there is. But theistic evolution, particularly the Christian version, offers a different story: Christ radically calls us to love our neighbor (very broadly defined — my neighbor goes beyond my own “tribe”) — or to care about more than myself and my descendants/community. In other words, He calls us to overcome the selfishness that is at our core based on evolution. So naturalistic evolution may lead to social Darwinism, but the Christian version of theistic evolution not only does not, but actually offers the solution to the problem. In fact, this is one of our most effective responses to atheists like Harris and Dawkins, and it resonates with a lot of people I’ve talked to.
    I’m also don’t understand the resistence to evolution on other grounds noted by some people above. To those who think the science isn’t clear, have you read or listened to Francis Collins (a conservative Chrisian, former head of the genome project) on the subject, or read RJS’s post on the subject a couple weeks ago? The genetic evidence is overwhelming. If we want to move the discussion forward — i.e., join in the important discussions regarding theologicial implications — we can’t ignore the science any longer.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Just to throw this into the mix, decay at least biological decay HAS to have been a part of the plan right from the start. Even the Genesis account acknowledges this with humans eating fruit. After all, what happens to fruit in the human stomach?

  • Eric

    Rebeccat (#16) — as I understand it, the natural morality you suggest extends only to those within my family or community — i.e., those who I can expect to get some sort of advantage from (promotion of my genes, either through family or reciprocal cooperation). See my post above (#18) — I think there is some element of social Darwinism in naturalistic evolution, despite this sort of natural cooperation for those within my “tribe.” But Christ (and Christian theistic evolution) is the answer to this problem — He calls us to radical love toward others who are not in my family or community, from whom I can expect no benefit in return.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Dan #15;
    I know this isn’t a perfect analogy, but whatever is…
    A natural explanation for an activity doesn’t necessarily exclude the work/intervention of God. After all, we happily accept the notion that God “knit us together in our mother’s womb”, whilst fully accepting the natural and biological processess at play.
    -credit for the analogy belongs to another, not myself (I think it may be George Murphy, but I cannot recall)

  • Mark Z.

    ChrisB: If naturalistic evolution is true, why shouldn’t we try to improve the species by weeding out the weak — a little chlorine for the gene pool?
    There’s nothing in evolutionary biology that implies that “weeding out the weak” is an improvement. Darwin described survival of the fittest–where “fitness” has the precise meaning of “ability to survive and reproduce”. This is a very contingent concept. The obvious next question is “in what environment?” In much of the world, a dairy cow or a stalk of rice has a better chance of reproducing than a tiger. That doesn’t imply that they’re better, or that the world would be better if it had more cows and rice and fewer tigers. (In my experience, the biologists who study this stuff are likely to favor the continued survival of tigers, despite their evolutionary unfitness.)
    “Social Darwinism”, like “Intelligent Design” or any other pseudoscience, is an ideology cloaked in the language of science. If we resent science for making pseudoscience look respectable, we have it backward. We ought to resent pseudoscience for making real science look sleazy.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt

    To be fair, one of the scientists in Expelled made the qualifier that naturalistic evolution is not a sufficient cause of social Darwinism/Nazism, but it is a necessary one.
    While I don’t think negative implications of a philosophy necessarily demand rejection of said philosophy, I think people need to be honest about what their beliefs imply. Does naturalistic evolution inherently lead to social Darwinism? Logically, I don’t see how it can’t. Perhaps consistent naturalistic evolution is both a necessary and sufficient cause of social Darwinism.
    But I guess the question of the hour is whether theistic evolution is necessary and sufficient for social Darwinism. I don’t think it is, but I think the only way that you can justify it philosophically is by saying that evolution is part of the natural order that Christians have been called to live above. Sure, the world operates by survival of the fittest, but the world does a lot of things that we are supposed to leave behind.
    If you allow that evolution is part of the world as God intended it, so that He saw it and said, “It is good,” then I think you would have difficulty avoiding social Darwinism as an implication.
    I guess as a scientist you have to go where the evidence takes you, regardless of the implications. Why the need to harmonize Darwin and Christianity? I don’t think he felt the need to be “saved.” Maybe the Bible is wrong. Are we open to that possibility, or are we too afraid of what lies behind that door to consider it as an option? Personally, I think you need to shoehorn the Bible into evolutionary thought to make it work. Maybe the Bible doesn’t contradict evolution, but you wouldn’t conclude “God differentiated the species by means of evolution” after reading it unless you were looking for a harmony.
    To me, theistic evolution is clearly accommodation. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but I think we need to be honest that the theory makes Scripture justify what scientists already believe to be true.

  • RJS

    Matt,
    But you wouldn’t read scripture and conclude that the earth revolves around the sun or that many stars are bigger than the sun or that the planets (and stars) are bigger than the moon either.
    I don’t think that it is a matter of shoehorning observation of the world into scripture. I think that it is a matter of being honest and consistent about genre and perspective when we read scripture.

  • ChrisB

    Mark Z,
    The superior “ability to survive and reproduce” includes being stronger, healthier, smarter, and/or faster; outlasting your competition is part of being better able to spread your genetic material.
    That rice reproduces better than tigers is not the question. We’re talking about tiger1 vs tiger2. The stronger tiger is likely to outbreed the weaker which results in better tigers in the long run.
    Taken into human terms, some ask whether the unintelligent, the blind, or those who get cancer at young ages should be removed from the gene pool to create a stronger species.
    The contribution of naturalism to this equation is that it cannot say this is “wrong.”

  • CJW

    I find it fascinating that many conservatives who say they are opposed to biological Darwinism in fact practice a kind of social Darwinism – economic Darwinism. Just replace ‘natural selection’ with ‘The Market’ as the means of economic selection.
    So no, I see no inherent link between Darwinism and social Darwinism. I see the latter as far more problematic than the former, especially in undermining the doctrine of the imago dei.

  • Mark Z.

    The superior “ability to survive and reproduce” includes being stronger, healthier, smarter, and/or faster; outlasting your competition is part of being better able to spread your genetic material.
    The first statement is completely wrong (tigers are stronger, smarter, faster, and often healthier than rats, but rats are everywhere). The second is trivially true. Neither of them have anything to do with what’s better.
    The stronger tiger is likely to outbreed the weaker which results in better tigers in the long run.
    Once again, you’re pushing moral (or at least aesthetic) judgments into this that the science doesn’t support. The ability to outbreed does not equal “better”. We’re not better than the dinosaurs simply because we’re alive and they’re dead.
    The contribution of naturalism to this equation is that it cannot say this is “wrong.”
    Neither can astronomy. Obviously, astronomy is therefore worthless and dangerous and needs to be banned from public schools.
    For that matter, non-naturalism as such can’t say that this is “wrong” either. By all accounts, Genghis Khan (probably the most reproductively successful human ever) believed in a divine creator who wanted strong and ambitious men like Genghis Khan to rule the world.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt

    RJS #24,
    Thanks for the response.
    I don’t think that it is a matter of shoehorning observation of the world into scripture. I think that it is a matter of being honest and consistent about genre and perspective when we read scripture.
    I don’t think “honest” and “consistent” are the right words to use here, unless you are accusing those who reject your position as being “dishonest” or “inconsistent.” You can have a perfectly “honest” and “consistent” approach to the genre and perspective of the Bible and not come to the conclusions to which you have come.
    To me, the question is one of authorial intent. What was the original author trying to communicate? The question isn’t, “Can Genesis 3 be read figuratively,” but “Should it be read figuratively.” I don’t think the genre card wins the hand for the theistic evolutionists since the rest of the Scriptures and the early church interpreted Genesis 1–3 pretty literally. (And I’m not talking about the earth only being 4000 years old, but that the differentiation of the species occurred by God’s creative act and not by means of natural selection.)
    The “genre” argument asserts that Genesis 1–3 was never meant to be taken literally. This seems like a tough case to make when most of the early interpreters took it literally.
    All of that is not to say that the theistic evolution position is not true. Maybe it is. Maybe God did differentiate the species by means of naturalistic evolution. But even if He did, that is not what is communicated in Genesis 1–3.
    And I go to great lengths to be “honest” and “consistent” with my approach to genre and perspective, even if my conclusions differ from yours.

  • Anton M.

    If we are the product of undirected natural forces, we are no different from the animals. Our morals are simply social conventions or even “instincts” that have helped the species survive, but they are not binding and may even hinder our further development.
    Morals are not binding no matter where they came from; it’s an empirical fact that people often do bad things. As for “hindering our further development,” that itself is a value judgment. If it’s worth doing evil in order to “further our development”–whatever that means–then you’ve already made the moral decision that furthering our development is a good thing. That’s not moving beyond morality, it’s just following a different moral code–one which is not supported by evolutionary theory.
    If naturalistic evolution is true, why shouldn’t we try to improve the species by weeding out the weak — a little chlorine for the gene pool?
    Because “weeding out the weak” is morally unacceptable to most of us. Darwin himself was quite clear on this:
    “The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered,in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind…”
    The only reason this isn’t more common is that we do have an inborn sense of right and wrong and people oppose social darwinism on moral grounds, but if, as Dawkins et al suggest, that morality is simply an evolutionary quirk, there is no reason why we should persecute those who take evolutionary theory to its natural, logical conclusion.
    Sure there is: we do have an inborn sense of right and wrong. It doesn’t matter whether our morality is the result of evolution or socializing or divine tinkering with our brains…either way, modern humans do have it and it directs our actions. To say “there’s no reason why we should do what is right” is incoherent–we should do what is right by definition. That’s what “should” means.

  • RJS

    Matt,
    I didn’t mean to suggest that those who disagree with me are dishonest – I am sorry if it came off that way.
    I meant that I don’t see myself trying to shoehorn theistic evolution into the text. Rather I am trying to develop a consistent understanding of how we (or I) can interpret this part of Genesis. In doing so we should take into account past interpretations by our forefathers in the faith, but we should also consider how they dealt with the conflict spots of their day. It would be unreasonable to expect them to confront the conflict spots of our day. So the astronomy comparison I gave is pertinent because this example illustrates how Calvin dealt with a conflict point of his day.
    I also think that we have to look at the insight old testament scholars and experts in the Ancient Near East can provide as to the genre, development, and intent of Genesis.
    I think that we need to consider all of these factors along with the knowledge we have gained about the nature of God’s creation as we ponder the interpretation of Genesis.
    Does that make more sense?

  • Ken

    Thank you, RJS, for continuing to help us pursue these issues.
    In Philosophy there is an ongoing, historical discussion of the “naturalistic fallacy” (G.E. Moore) or the “is-ought problem” (Hume). The application in this discussion is that it is not appropriate to use principles true for the natural world as a basis for ethics. For example, because certain behaviors are practiced by animals does not make them a metaphysical basis for an ethical system. This seems to me to be what Social Darwinism would involve. Therefore, I think the conflict is between scientific and scriptural accounts of origins, not primarily a clash between world views. There are still, however, a multitude of complicated interconnections.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt

    RJS #30,
    Thanks for responding again.
    I also think that we have to look at the insight old testament scholars and experts in the Ancient Near East can provide as to the genre, development, and intent of Genesis.
    I agree with you on this, but I disagree with you that the Old Testament scholars are in your camp. I think the majority of them would say, “the ancient Hebrew believed that the world was created by God in six days. But we know better now.”
    What if we conclude that the Old Testament scholars who say, “The message of Genesis 1–3 is a literal 6 day creation” are right? Are we open to this possibility, or is it thrown out a priori because of what we believe about evolution and our desire to harmonize the Bible with that theory?
    I think that we need to consider all of these factors along with the knowledge we have gained about the nature of God’s creation as we ponder the interpretation of Genesis.
    I agree. I think the root of our disagreement is probably in that, since I am not a scientist, I am more convinced of my interpretation of Genesis 1–3 than I am of the scientific community’s opinion of the origins of my species.

  • Mark Z.

    What if we conclude that the Old Testament scholars who say, “The message of Genesis 1–3 is a literal 6 day creation” are right? Are we open to this possibility, or is it thrown out a priori because of what we believe about evolution and our desire to harmonize the Bible with that theory?
    If they’re right, then Genesis is wrong. Are we open to that possibility, or is it thrown out because of what we believe about the Bible?

  • Tom

    Very encouraging post. Thank you.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    It is a legitimate question to ask of naturalistic evolutionists: what purpose love, sacrifice, and protection of the weak. Human nature is not so easy to explain apart from the idea that there is more to life than life. The moral argument for God is not so easily dismissed.
    Furthermore. C.S. Lewis had what has been called a dangerous idea: that if our brains are simply random collections of molecules formed to maximize survival, what meaning could truth have? What is the basis of knowledge if our only organ to receive it is not about truth, but survival? Random, purposeless origins undercut epistemology.
    So, what I am saying is, don’t dismiss a more nuanced argument that evolution has a philosophical dilemma. I know I am still reeling, RJS, from the very persuasive case you made last week for Common Descent, a theory I very much want not to believe.
    Derek

  • RJS

    Derek,
    I think that an entirely naturalistic worldview has a moral and philosophical dilemma. Random purposeless origins can explain much – but it is hard to get abstract thought, truth, beauty, morality, love, and sacrifice. And any explanation for these eliminates all of these as “truth.” They are rationalized away. Only facts are true (or physical laws) and they have no meaning. Purpose, meaning, transcendence are intrinsically ruled out.
    But I also feel that the way to wrestle with theology and meaning is not to ignore the facts…and as a Christian, I believe that God created the world – so ignoring the facts means ignoring the work of God as we try to understand God.

  • Mariam

    #2 Does one not contribute to the other? Does not one’s view of origins impact his/her outlook on life, goodness, sin, others, etc…?
    First of all, altruistic behavior is not inconsistent with evolution. Even if you believe in naturalistic evolution, that is that there was no involvement of God in our creation, altruism makes sense to ensure the survival of the family unit, the tribe, the nation and the species. We observe it in higher mammals and we observe it in humans, regardless of their religion or lack, thereof. In fact I would be surprised if, as a whole, those who believe in God, act any more morally, than those who don’t. There is certainly a good deal of evidence that religion causes as many moral problems as it solves. I see no reason why a belief in evolution leads us to be less moral than a belief that we are “fallen” and incapable of good. What if our worldview includes a God who created humanity so he could separate us into into those he elects to save and those he intends to destroy? What if our worldview includes a God who we believe is being holy and good when he practices genocide or even the destruction of humanity? Or ignores slavery? Or allowed a mistake by a mere mortal who had no knowledge of sin or death to irrevocably damage creation and imputed the guilt from that mistake onto all his descendents? A God who either could not foresee that his own perfect creation wasn’t capable of obedience, or knew his failings but tempted and condemned him anyway? How does that sort of view of the origin of our species inform our feelings about ourselves and our treatment of other human beings? How does it inform our morality?
    Our altruism has evolved from concern only for ourselves and our progeny to concern for the survival of our tribes and our nations. In theory we can also imagine the brotherhood of man and the altruism necessary for bringing about the peaceable Kingdom. That is the image of himself that God gave us that separates us from lower animals – to be able to sacrifice our own selfish needs and wants to take care of our neighbour. That is the bit of evolution that God put in motion in Eden, that has not yet happened, because evolution takes time. The moral bit of us has not evolved sufficiently to overcome the selfish genes.
    What if God used evolution in order to create and is continuing to use it? What if He knows that despite the blind alleys, the pain and the suffering that ultimately evolution will produce the strongest, the most beautiful, the most harmonious creation? What if suffering and pain really do have a purpose and it is not punishment? What if God stamped us with his image so that we might become not only part of creation but co-creators? What if we are still struggling as Adam to learn obedience to God’s laws of respect, compassion and forgiveness and creation groans in labour as it waits for us to grow into the Image of God? What if God has given us the tools – free will, intelligence, a conscience, a moral code to make that leap but we are still clumsy primates with a residual reptilian brain who keep dropping them? Everyone talks about free will as if it was the fly in the ointment – that everything would be perfect except for that darn free will of ours. But free will means that we have the capability to rise above instinctual behaviors. Unlike lower animals who can only ever produce automatic responses to environmental stimuli we can choose how to behave. We can choose to behave selfishly or altruistically. We can choose to hoard or to share, to defend ourselves with violence or to turn the other cheek, to flee from pain and death or to accept and face it. Free will is the most blessed tool God has given us. We just haven’t learned how to use it very well yet. What if our disobedience in Eden was a necessary part of our evolution and God our Father watched our fall into guilt, shame and the knowledge of mortality with sorrow for our pain but the knowledge that the struggle was a necessary part of us becoming truly human? What if, in the fullness of time He came to earth and dwelt among us so that we might understand what being truly human meant?
    If we believe this, that God used evolution in our creation and that we continue to evolve and when we finish evolving we will be like Christ, how will that make us less moral than someone who believes that God created us perfect but since “the fall” we are incapable of doing or being good?

  • G J

    RJS – 36 “Random purposeless origins can explain much” – To say those origins are random and purposeless seems to go beyond the what evolution can do, which is explain the process. If the origins are random and purposeless or specific and purposeful how would science know? If selection is natural or “God” selection, how would we know? What if the process looks the same?

  • RJS

    G J
    Exactly. To use terms such as unsupervised and purposeless goes beyond science. To describe evolution as an unsupervised, purposeless, random process is to make a philosophical, religious statement – not a scientific statement.
    To make such a statement is also, I think, to deny any ultimate reality to such “truths” as love, beauty, morality, …

  • Diane

    Matt,
    I agree with you: “evolution is part of the natural order that Christians have been called to live above. Sure, the world operates by survival of the fittest, but the world does a lot of things that we are supposed to leave behind.”
    It can be useful to look at the scholars, etc. (keeping in mind, however, how “great thinkers” such as Kant, as mentioned above, led generations astray) but above all that “there is one, even Jesus Christ, who can speak to our condition.” We need to read the Bible, first and foremost, in the light of the Holy Spirit. As Paul pointed out, science and philosophy will change, but love (ie, God) will remain the same. We can’t disqualify people’s Holy Spirit-led interpretations of the Bible, no matter how low their education level, (that’s a temptation of Social Darwinism!) if they are reading the Bible in love and openness to God’s spirit. I don’t think you mean to do this, RSJ, but reading the Bible as a “genre,” in it’s proper place, can become a form of apartheid and a way to try to control it. Even though I am not a biologist, I have spent time reading about evolution, looking at I.D., and talking with some top evolutionary scientists about faith and evolution. And, I did conclude that the specifics of ID are hogwash (they don’t bear up under scrutiny) and that evolutionary science, as we frame it, is compelling. Is our framing story for evolution correct? I don’t know. But the discreet facts are compelling. However, that being said, I’m fascinated that the one group that dares challenge the idolatry and hegemony of science is the devout, right wing “People of the Book:” Jews, Christians and Muslims. As a culture we should welcome the challenge. The logic of science can (even if it shouldn’t) have quite frightening implications for human culture and the value of human life. The thing about science, however, is that today’s scientific truth (as Paul pointed out) is tomorrow’s trash. I grew up believing dinosaurs were the ancestors of reptiles and lived sluggish solitary lives. Now we believe they are birds’ ancestors and ran in herds, because of evidence scientists have found. In Galileo’s day, even some of his closest friends (who were highly educated and intelligent people) were saddened by his absolute insistence on the earth revolving around the sun, because it seemed completely self-evident to them from their senses that the sun crosses the sky in an arc around the earth. And Galileo tried to use the tides to explain this theory! He had no idea that gravity causes the tides because he had no idea of gravity! The man who famously dropped feathers and rocks (or whatever) from towers to measure their speed of descent never even conceived of gravity! The point of all this is that we can get worked up over trying to reconcile the Bible with evolution, but we have to keep in mind that there are all sorts of things science may never have considered or even discovered. In the end, the Bible will be standing. Science, as we conceive it today, I don’t know. I think if it is true to itself, it will be something very different indeed.

  • http://vanguardchurch.blogspot.com/ Bob Robinson

    Ben Stein should have little credibility with people. He has relentlessly been one of the biggest apologists for the Richard Nixon being a great president. When Watergate’s “Deep Throat,” FBI agent Mark Felt, was revealed a few years ago, he wrote in The American Spectator,
    “Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POW’s, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel’s life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad? Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable.”
    And, most shockingly, he blamed Mark Felt and Bob Woodward (the Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate scandal, along with Carl Bernstein) for the Genocide in Cambodia.
    “So, this is the great boast of the enemies of Richard Nixon, including Mark Felt: they made the conditions necessary for the Cambodian genocide. If there is such a thing as kharma, if there is such a thing as justice in this life of the next, Mark Felt has bought himself the worst future of any man on this earth. And Bob Woodward is right behind him, with Ben Bradlee bringing up the rear. Out of their smug arrogance and contempt, they hatched the worst nightmare imaginable: genocide. I hope they are happy now — because their future looks pretty bleak to me.”
    So, now we are supposed to believe his “documentary” on how Darwinism leads to eugenics, soviet militarism, and Hitler’s concentration camps? Hmmm…


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