Can a Christian be a Social Darwinist?

Can a Christian be a Social Darwinist? May 16, 2012

I don’t have a definite answer to that although I tend to think Social Darwinism is incompatible with biblical Christianity.

My point here, however, is simply that many American Christians seem to be able to embrace Social Darwinism while rejecting (often vehemently) biological Darwinism.

I live in a social context strongly influenced by Christian fundamentalism. It’s very common to see anti-evolution bumper stickers. Books and seminars against evolution abound. Not far from where I sit there is a “Creationism Museum.” Letters to the editor often express outrage at evolution taught in public schools.

And yet, Social Darwinism seems to be the default philosophy of economics in this social context. “Survival of the fittest” is rejected as a biological explanation of the creation and survival of species, but it is embraced as the basis for proper economics.

A good example of this contrast and even contradiction appears in today’s local newspaper–owned and operated by a Christian family who, when they bought the paper, immediately put “In God We Trust” immediately beneath the paper’s name on page one. Numerous letters to the editor applauded that.

Today’s edition contains an unsigned editorial (which always reflect the editorial board’s opinion) defending “free-market” economics: “Americans should allow Darwinian, free-market dynamics to continue in the ebb and flow that so characterize this [capitalist] system.” (Waco Tribune-Herald, May 16, 2012, 6A)

I have written a letter to the editor simply asking how this affirmation of social Darwinism is consistent with “In God We Trust.”

What I really wonder is how so many even educated Christians fail to see the contradiction inherent in belief in the Christian God, the God of Jesus Christ, together with belief in Social Darwinism. Surely “In God We Trust” (in this newspaper) does not mean “In the God of Deism” we trust. Or at least that is not what most readers who applauded the motto’s inclusion thought it meant.

I am willing to bet that I am only one of a tiny number of readers who will notice this contradiction. I am willing to bet that IF the newspaper published an editorial including an affirmation of biological Darwinism there would be a huge outcry and many subscribers would drop their subscriptions. I doubt there will be even a ripple of dissent in this case.

Why do I say “contradiction?” I assume that should be obvious to any reflective Christian (or person!). The God of Jesus Christ does not endorse survival of the fittest; he endorses care for the poor, the widows and the orphans.

Now, I can just hear someone screaming “separation of church and state!” I am not recommending that Christians enforce Christian economics (whatever that would be); I am simply criticizing Christian endorsement of Social Darwinism as state policy.

This seems to me to reveal a failure of integrative Christian thinking. I have taught now in three Christian universities in which there has been controversy over “integration of faith and learning.” I can see why–when some Christians want to follow a “two truths” approach to the world of knowledge. This is, however, a failure of discipleship and a betrayal of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all aspects of reality and truth.

I suppose an argument could be made that a Darwinian approach to economics is pragmatically best in that, overall and in general, it works better than any alternative approach. But that seems like an impossible argument for a Christian to make if it is intended as a defense of survival of the fittest.

Even Adam Smith, the quintessential philosopher of capitalism, argued that capitalism can only work if there is an “invisible hand” (clearly a covert reference to God and/or government) to regulate it. Without that, extremes of wealth and poverty will inevitably develop in a totally unregulated free market economy. It as only AFTER Smith and Darwin that some economists applied survival of the fittest (not Darwin’s term but a good description of natural selection nonetheless) to economic life and argued against government regulation of business on that ground.

IF a Christian is going to embrace and endorse free-market capitalism, he or she should AT LEAST explain how “the least of these” are going to be cared for in that system. Reference to “Darwinian, free-market dynamics” seems to me to imply no care for the least, the unfit, the weak and powerless.

This whole incident simply supports my argument that Christian churches have largely failed to inculcate any serious understanding of Christian truth in their members. We have largely adopted the Kantian distinction between “facts” and “values” and cordoned off Christianity from things like economics.

Integration of faith and learning does not mean there is one “Christian economics.” It means there are some economic theories that are absolutely contrary to a Christian world view. The vast majority of American Christians think that about socialism and communism, but not about Social Darwinism. That is a failure of Christian teaching.

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