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Evolution exonerated?

Critic says evolution is not to blame for atrocities committed by evil regimes

Published: 6 May 2017 (GMT+10)

Steve A. from the U.S., wrote in with the following request.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Richard Freimark

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.

Thank you,
Steve A.

CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:

Hi Steve,

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”.

See also: Is evolution to blame?, The Darwin-Hitler connection, and ‘Christian’ vs evolutionary atrocities.

Keaton Halley

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
US $10.00
Is Human Life Special?
by Gary Bates and Lita Cosner
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

George T.
With Hitler, the other side claims Hitler was influenced by Christianity when he clearly disavowed it as a youth. They claim Hitler based it on "divine right" and give examples of Hitler making statements to this effect. This is a couple of the false pretenses they use to blame Christianity. Darwin's ideas went to social Darwinists who chose to use it to weed out the less desirables in society. The scientific racism of the time promoted these ideas, but Darwin's ideas were able to galvanize it. This led to the fascism of social Darwinists. Darwin's cousin, Frances Galton, created eugenics which Hitler's scientists were interested in. There was communication regarding that from Galton to Hitler's scientists and even Hitler himself to the eugenicists. Not only that, Darwin was linked with Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, and led to the forced sterilizations of black Americans and black genocide. The links tying Darwin and his ideas go back to his The Descent of Man book. There, he goes into his racist thinking of blacks and aborigines being considered lower than that of whites. Even the drawing of the ubiquitous evolution of man graph shows the ape and lower ape-human as that from Africa while miraculously the end product is a handsome white male. The idea that we (blacks included) descended from apes would be racist today.
Doug L.
In a lot of ways this issue is a distraction. What his son is arguing is that these political leaders misused evolution for their own ends. That's not really an argument against evolution because people are forever misusing true things for their own (evil) ends. People have misused the Bible countless times over the ages.

So getting into an argument over whether or not evolution is responsible for Hitler's actions is just a distraction. It just seems to me that this is a spiritual problem. The student WANTS to believe in evolution, for whatever reason. You can argue until you're blue in the face and he won't listen. The scientific arguments against evolution are so overwhelming (if one takes the trouble to investigate them!) that no one who objectively investigated it, would cling to it! But that's the problem. Once you have an intellectual or "religious" dependence on it, it's very hard to really be objective.

The thing is though, that evolutionists avoid considering the fundamental, critical issues which falsify evolution. They get lost in a morass of technical details, like endogenous retro viruses (ERV's) as one example, and accept the explanations offered by evolutionists. These such things are all very murky because of our acute lack of understanding so people jump to unwarranted conclusions. Not true? On the other hand there are numerous, fundamental and irrefutable arguments AGAINST evolution. Genetic entropy is one such argument.

My thought would be to try to avoid distractions, side issues, and murky technical details. If you want to argue science, stick to those fundamental things, combined with a lot of patience and prayer.
Keaton Halley
In a given conversation, it might be more pragmatic to talk about the empirical evidence, but the best course of action depends on the views of the person with whom you're conversing. For some, it might not be a distraction at all to talk about the wider worldview issues. And this young man in particular lost his faith over evolution (according to the correspondence). So, if he can be helped to see that a rejection of Scripture and an embrace of evolution naturally leads to abhorrent practices (without the misuse of evolution), then that could well lead him to the realization that he's made a misstep somewhere in his reasoning.
Don D.
I will be sharing this on Facebook and I often do so using a quote from within the article to highlight what is said. It will be hard to choose just one quote to highlight! Brilliant!
R. M.
Dear CMI –
In this article you seem to have lost sight of the fact that evolution (despite your continuous denials) is a well-supported scientific theory with evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines. Whether or not it has been co-opted by evil persons has nothing to do with the empirical evidence supporting it. Would you have the tens of thousands of scientists whose work has supported the theory suppress or renounce their findings because you claim that this knowledge, regardless of the evidence supporting it, could be used for evil purposes? And what of the work of evolutionary scientists that has proven to be of immense value to mankind? Should this also be denied or suppressed? You need to come to grips with the fact that the villains of history found that a distortion of valid science (which they have understood poorly) has provided a handy tool to further their evil ends. And what of those who use a distortion of religion to justify their terrible actions? Does it follow that religion should be suppressed because it can be (and has been) misused? You will have to reconcile yourselves to the fact that the workings of nature, much as you may dislike them, are what they are and are not the root of the evil that you so rightly decry.
Keaton Halley
As you well know, R.M., we've dealt with the alleged evidence for evolution and your other questions throughout our website. See Is evolution relevant or helpful to real science? and What about bad things done by the church? Those who commit atrocities in the name of Christ are acting inconsistently, while evolutionists who commit atrocities are not, as explained.

But you've completely ignored the arguments I made in the article. You go on asserting that evolution was misused and distorted instead of interacting with the reasons I gave why textbook evolutionary orthodoxy undermines human value.

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