Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Darwinism, or materialism

Skeeter and I have recently had an interesting discussion on whether atrocities linked to evolution are attributable to Darwinism itself, or to materialism. Specifically, are genocide, abortion, 20th century wars, eugenics, and such the result of Darwin's theory?

Certainly the perpetrators used Darwin; that much is not debateable by informed men. It also should be noted, however, that Darwin himself allows for an initial Creation in Origin of Species. He afterwards posits that the species as we know them evolved--really an application of the deism common among Unitarians (which Darwin was) to biology, more or less.

So we should at least admit that the closing chapter suggests that those who would misuse his hypothesis would at least face judgment after death. So it was materialism, right, that led to the Holocaust?

Not so fast. Let's examine the implications of gradual (or even punctuated) evolution and "survival of the fittest." The first will tend to blur the definition of "human"--who am I to say that the Neanderthal or Lucy is, or is not human? It's heavily debated even today. In the same way, who am I to say that we may not define superior and inferior subspecies based on evolved characteristics? Why not use the trail of descent to define us a bit?

In a similar way, "survival of the fittest" will tend to obscure traditional morality. Who am I to say that Bob's death was a tragedy? Doesn't getting eaten by a bear indicate that he was simply unfit? Why not use this principle to organize society? Wouldn't God, who organized the world along these lines, approve of things working out this way?

One can see that, while those who led the atrocities generally were materialists, philosophically speaking, the theoretical and moral framework for them really can be attributed predominantly to Darwin.


Skeeter said...


Sorry I've been incommunicado for a while. My Grandma died and I took a week off of grad school to go to the funeral and have been busy catching up. I've also been trying hard to find ways to talk about this subject that don't turn into a useless argument.

Two things that release me from being forced into the moral box you describe here are:

1. I believe that each man's spirit is a special creation of God's and not a result of biological evolution. Hence evolutionary fitness is not the only criteria I have available to me in making moral decisions about people's worth. In practice, though, even though it is a criterion available to me in making moral decisions, evolutionary fitness means nothing to me in assigning worth to people. I literally don't ever think of people that way, wondering whether they are "fit" or not. I'm having a hard time even imagining myself thinking that way.

2. I don't believe that "fitness" is the only explanation available for human death. Death can also result from willful action: God can take people's lives directly, and sin has perverted the free will we have all been given. It can also happen accidentally, although depending on your views on God's soverignty that may be only a subset of the above. (As an aside on accidental death, the principle of survival of the fittest does not preclude the accidental death of more fit individuals. It is applied statistically, not deterministically as you seem to be thinking.)

Neither of these outs are available to the materialist, so they end up where you claim, but I don't have to, and I don't.

You argue that Darwin forces me to this conclusion, but even though I believe in evolution I am not bound by The Origin of Species any more than I am bound to believe in an ether because Maxwell did. A lot has happened in evolutionary theory in the past 150 years. Darwin's basic idea has stood the test of time but the details of it have gotten more sophisticated in ways that he could never have anticipated. For example, a lot of our modern evolutionary taxomony is based on the sequencing of essential proteins, but Darwin wrote decades before Mendel, let alone Watson and Crick. I'd like to ask you to stop chastizing me for discrepancies between what I believe and TOS, I don't feel like it accomplishes anything.

Despite your admirable efforts in this post to separate evolution from materialism, you are still not talking accurately about what I believe. I hope you don't take that the wrong way--I really do appreciate your efforts to try to see where I'm coming from, and I hope you'll continue to seek to understand me instead of seeking to convert me to your view.

- Joe

BTW you may as well remove the link to my website, it's just a placeholder for a time when I may get something to put up on it.

Bike Bubba said...

Joe, sorry to hear about your grandma--will be praying for you as you catch up & all.

Regarding your comments, I tend to agree with most of it, but gradual change and survival of the fittest are the concepts taught in schools today as representative of evolution--as well as Lyell's uniformitarian hypothesis, for what it's worth. To dispute that this is representative of evolution is really to assault the credibility of the Ph.D. biologists and geologists who write the textbooks.

A second point where I differ from you is the degree to which the bulwark you claim protects us. Let's face facts; 90% of Americans believe in God, and about 50% of Americans under age 50 have been involved in an abortion. Every SS soldier in Hitler's army had been given religious instruction in school, as had most of the officers of Stalin's KGB (in the Czarist era).

Put gently, the bulwark you claim is clearly being breached routinely.

Will keep the link, BTW--hoping to see something there soon.

Joe said...

Thanks for the sympathy. Everyone had a lot of peace about her passing.

I'll grant you your two observations of the consensus of evolution. You seem to keep trying to fit me into certain labels, and complain when I don't fit your preconceived notions. What matters to me on this subject is whether I can reconcile my faith in God and in Scripture with my observation that organisms are indeed evolving. If the way I do that ends up being unorthodox in both camps, so be it.

In the context of your last point, the bulwark is my personal bulwark, and so it doens't matter to me if it doesn't work for other people, it works for me. I see this as the Rom 14:4-5 bargain on disputable matters: I should be fully convinced in my mind of my views, and God will in response make me to stand. I am indeed fully convinced; this means that I am confident they are correct in an absolute sense, but much more important than that rock-solid certain that they are right for me in the context of my relationship with God. That may smack of (gasp!) relativism, but I'm not bothered by that. If this was a subject on which there was broad consensus in the Body of Christ, I would be hesitant to tread near relativism, but this is most definitely a gray area and so I feel free and indeed justified in adopting a pragmatic approach.

In other words, since this is a gray area we are each accountable to God and not to each other for what we beleive about it. Later in Romans 14 of course he says that we should not put a stumbling block in the way of each other, but I don't see how me believing differently than you about natural history tempts you to sin against your conscience, unless I'm pressuring you to believe my way instead of yours. The upshot of it all is that I need to respect your freedom to have a position on this subject that enables you to stand with a clear conscience before your Master, even if it is a different position than mine. This has been hard for me because I think your view is as loony as you think mine is, and as harmful to the cause of Christ as you think mine is. But God has shown me that I need to let go of my desire to fix you and my desire to defend myself, and I'm glad of that because I had been afraid that this subject would permanently come between us and ruin our reunion after so long out of touch. I just wish I'd figured this out before you found me, but as it happens it was this recent conversation with you that brought me to this point so I'm sorry, you're the poor guy I learned this lesson from through the abuse I gave you.

- Joe