Critic says evolution is not to blame for atrocities committed by evil regimes
Steve A. from the U.S., wrote in with the following request.
My 20-yr-old son who is away at college and is a committed evolutionist. He has lost his Christian faith over this issue. I forwarded to him your excellent article, "Darwin's Impact—The bloodstained legacy of evolution." He responded that none of the despots mentioned in the article actually adhered to evolutionary theory; for instance, evolution says nothing about agrarian communism or class struggle. He argues that what they did was try to adapt evolutionary theory to socio-politics. He also says the author of your Darwin article, "(unintentionally or otherwise) confuses descriptive scientific theories and prescriptive policy. The very existence of technologies like sunscreen is evidence that we don't always do what nature "wants" us to do, and for good reason!"
I am hoping one of your staff can give a good reply to this or perhaps point me to a good resource that addresses the issue.
CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:
Sorry to hear that your son has departed from his Christian upbringing. I hope that as you lovingly minister to and dialogue with him, you can help him to see the mistakes in his thinking.
The first of your son’s points sounds like a contradiction—at least as you communicated it to me. On the one hand, he says these evil tyrants didn’t adhere to evolutionary theory, but on the other he says they tried to adapt evolutionary theory to socio-politics. Well, clearly then, they did believe in evolution. Indeed, the article your son is responding to demonstrates that they were strongly influenced by evolution.
But perhaps your son only meant to say that these men didn’t adhere to evolution in the implementation of their policies. Well, again, this would be a contradiction if your son meant that they violated some evolutionary principle, since he later says that evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive (and CMI is on record agreeing, by the way). You can’t break evolution’s moral code if it doesn’t have one. In fact, as I’ll discuss below, this is actually part of the problem.
So, perhaps your son only meant to say that the policies of these despots went beyond (but did not violate) the limited claims made by a narrowly-defined theory of evolution. Well, then we would agree, and I think the author of the article would too. The article your son objects to is actually more nuanced than he gives it credit for. But, to admit that wicked leaders based their policies on other ideas alongside evolution doesn’t absolve evolution of any culpability. As I’ll explain below, evolution is still at fault.
I wonder, though, does your son think that evolution has any worldview-related ramifications? If not, then why did he lose his faith over this issue, as you indicated? And, now that he has lost his faith, I wonder whether his morality or politics is any different as a result. It’s hard to imagine that it would not be. But, if so, then it would seem that he tacitly agrees with us that acceptance of evolution can influence one's morality and politics. Also, would your son be just as critical of atheists like Richard Dawkins, William Provine, and Peter Singer, who claim that evolution has moral and political implications? Perhaps he would, but you might want to check to see whether he is consistent here.
Now, let’s come back to your son’s recognition that evolution, if true, would not provide us with any prescriptions—duties to behave one way or another. We agree on that. In fact, the article specifically mentioned the lack of any absolute moral standard in Darwinism. We also agree with your son that human beings have the power to resist various inclinations and urges, which socio-biological evolution supposedly ingrained in us. If you think about it, these two points reveal that evolution, if it were true, could not give us objective morality, but only a subjective morality. And subjective morality is really no morality at all. It is preferences masquerading as morality.
Does your son believe in real, objective morality? It would seem so, because he thinks there is a “good reason” we don’t always follow our natural impulses. ‘Good'? Isn’t that a moral category? If we had moral anarchy, so that everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25), would that be ‘bad'? Or would it be nothing worse than distasteful to him personally—no different than a dislike for brussels sprouts?
If your son does believe in genuine morality, then I’d want to know on what basis such a thing exists. Where do our moral obligations come from? By what authority are we obligated to follow these transcendent moral prescriptions? The Christian has an answer; we say morality is grounded in God. The ultimate ‘good' is based on the necessarily existent, eternal, unchanging nature of God Himself. And evil is a privation of that good.
I don’t know whether your son believes in God, but if he does not, then he will certainly have a hard time providing a basis for real morality (not knowing that it exists, but explaining why it exists). But if he opts for subjective morality instead, then he’s also in trouble, since then he has no basis for condemning any of the aforementioned despots and the atrocities they committed. Your son seems to want to distance himself from Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., but on what non-arbitrary basis can he do so if there is no higher morality than the fleeting whims of human beings? If God isn’t the basis for morality, then all moral judgments are spitting into the wind. Some people gas termites and others gas humans, and nobody has the authority to condemn one as truly worse than the other.
This is the type of problem that the article was highlighting. It’s not that evolution or non-monotheistic worldviews force us to be immoral. It’s that they can’t give us a solid footing for morality at all. As Russian novelist Dostoyevsky put it, “Without God, everything is permissible; crime is inevitable.”
It’s no accident, then, that the atrocities committed by these dictators grew out of evolutionary soil. Evolution has tended to go hand-in-hand with atheism and other non-monotheistic worldviews, because evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and it is put forward explicitly as an alternative to divine Design. We’ve shown (and your son apparently agrees) that the evolutionary account of history is contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which is where we get the idea that humans are made in the image of God. But without this basis for the belief that all human beings have intrinsic value, why shouldn’t we regard some lives as “unworthy of life”?
Frankly, it’s not only the Nazis who took some classes of human beings to be undeserving of life. We’re still fighting the same battle against those who think the unborn are disposable humans—especially baby girls and those with disabilities like Down syndrome. You might ask your son, “Is your typical evolutionist more or less likely than your typical creationist to think that a woman should have the right to kill her unborn child?" Hmm, I wonder if there could be a connection there, too.
In sum, the biblical worldview provides us with a basis for morality and treating others with respect, but because evolution is widely seen as the justification for rejecting the biblical worldview, it frequently and tragically does lead to horrific evils. As others have said before, "ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims”.