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 pestilence 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.
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?
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