Reiter's Block

Evolution versus Darwinism

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This entry was posted on 12/13/2006 3:24 PM and is filed under Faith and Doubt, Politics and Culture.

Books & Culture: A Christian Review has just posted a thorough and compelling article by Edward T. Oakes tracing the intellectual legacy of social Darwinism - the belief that societies have the right and obligation to weed out their weakest members in order to advance human evolution. Oakes points out that the premises of ethical naturalism are bound to conflict with the Christian belief that every life is equally sacred because made in God's image:

[S]ome of the most vicious Darwinian apologists [of the Victorian era] were quite willing to declare war on Christianity precisely because of its total incompatibility with Darwinism.

Among the most egregious of these anti-Christians was Alexander Tille, who taught German language and literature at the University of Glasgow until 1900 but regarded his work on evolutionary ethics as his real calling. One must at least credit Tille for seeing the real issue in all its starkness: "From the doctrine that all men are children of God and equal before him," he said, "the ideal of humanitarianism and socialism has grown, that all humans have the same right to exist, the same value, and this ideal has greatly influenced behavior in the last two centuries. This ideal is irreconcilable with the theory of evolution … [, which] recognizes only fit and unfit, healthy and sick, genius and atavist" (emphasis in the original).

Where Christian critics of Darwinism go astray, I think, is in opposing evolution as a scientific theory, instead of questioning the project of drawing our ethical lessons from biology. According to the Bible, the natural world has been tainted by original sin, so why should we be surprised that the lessons of nature are contrary to the lessons of grace? What Darwinism tells us about physical power is no different from what the stories of ancient Israel tell us about political power. We want to put our trust in obvious displays of material strength instead of trusting the one whose "strength is made perfect in weakness".

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    • 12/29/2006 2:45 PM Hank Rodgers wrote:
      To accept the, essentially anti-nature, doctrine of "original sin", as the proximate cause of the end of an earlier, "perfect" order; is to believe that "God" was/is capable of a "mistake", requiring correction.

      We can agree that Harris and Dawkins, as discussed on another post here, express some flawed reasoning (and the latest number of The New York Review has an exxcellent criticism of Dawkins new book). These flaws, however, need not lead us to acceptance of any of the old "mythologies", either.


      In this universe of mortal conflict,
      Exploding planets born of dying stars --
      The spin and hum of worlds at nature’s work;
      New hungry peoples rise to interdict
      The older states with trade, alliance, wars;
      Egyptian, Greek; then Roman, Goth and Turk.

      Prevailing winners dare not spare the blade,
      Serve or die - the loser’s lot to labor;
      Survival, procreation’s first contest.
      Our justice adversary and our trade,
      Aggression, deception finds much favor;
      While kindness, grace and pity go unblessed.

      Love among, between, the genders tempered;
      Seed freely seeks withheld, close-cherished, eggs;
      Affection cannot bar self-interest.
      Growing sons, the patriarch resented,
      The older drinking first, the youngest, dregs;
      Fledglings, driven, flee the family nest.

      Bursting with life, in number beyond need,
      New squirm of larvae, embryo and fry;
      The faster may escape the common rule.
      As massing predators in frenzied feed,
      Forgotten fear, brief, plenteous, surprise;
      Devour the multitude of swarm and school.

      Tribes, faiths and genders, species, clash; though most
      Survive to bear, and then bequeath, the scar –
      All specimens endangered, so to speak.
      The, hapless, human form itself plays host
      To micro-worlds at work, and much at war;
      Germs, anti-bodies, fighting, fever peak.

      Competing seeds of chaos, planted, dropped,
      To sprout and spread, unruly, until death;
      Strong feeding, to extinction, on the weak.
      We fight to drink, then find the bottle stopped;
      Would not a loving blower of life’s breath
      Mold us a vessel not so dark and bleak?

      With our bright knowledge, hoping to achieve
      Some vision, absolution from the dark;
      With hopeful dreams and heightened senses cursed.
      Unlike the lower forms, to love and grieve;
      To know too much and see our future, stark.
      With all the best of blessings, too, the worst.

      Are these the scraps of some discarded plan --
      An accident not meant to see the light;
      Designer’s loss of interest, or dismay?
      ‘The proper study of Mankind is Man’;
      While in the dark the blind imagine sight,
      Our wisdom, common sense, must guide our way.

      This scheme may be designed, evolved, or both,
      But it most clearly spurns detail, result;
      We cannot simply think what’s given’s good.
      To care, the feckless architect seems loath;
      There either is no grand design -- no fault,
      Or evil planner’s plan, misunderstood.

      © HANROD SYSTEMS, October, 2005
      Reply to this
      1. 12/31/2006 11:14 AM Jendi Reiter wrote:
        I've heard your point of view expressed before, Hank, but not in such well-crafted verse!

        My reaction: the world is full of evil, often to the point where it's hard to believe in God, but how would the absence of God make it any better? The only advantage of the Ivan Karamazov position, and it's a big one, is that traditional defenses of God verge perilously close to invalidating the victims' pain and injustice. You're right, it's NOT all for the best.

        Original sin seems to me like the only Christian doctrine that's really obvious. It means there is a gap between the way human beings actually behave, and the way we know in our hearts would be right. AND that this is a problem we can never finally solve by our own efforts, because we're all equally implicated in it. Holy wars come about when we forget the universality of human imperfection and decide the problem is "those people."

        I don't know why God didn't create us incapable of sinning. That's not a question that He's ever asked my opinion on! I'm more interested in how we can remain hopeful in the world we've got. Take God out of the equation and either this misery is the last word, or somehow human beings will have to perfect the world by ourselves (despite a batting average of .000 thus far).

        Jesus-as-God alone resolves the paradox for me. You want someone to be angry at for all the injustice in the world? You want God to take the blame? "Crucify him, crucify him!"
        Reply to this
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