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The deep inconsistency of evolutionism, revealed amid the COVID-19 crisis


Stephen Asma

As of the time of writing, we are in the midst of a global viral outbreak (a pandemic) known as COVID-19 (the “coronavirus”). The majority of us are being confined to our homes in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease (“shelter in place”), with the goal being to save human lives, and protect the most vulnerable in our communities such as the elderly or immunocompromised people.

Commenting on this situation, the New York Times featured an article called:

Does the Pandemic Have a Purpose? Only if we give it one. The coronavirus is neither good nor bad. It wants only to reproduce.

Yes, that is a lengthy title. This is an opinion piece by Mr. Stephen Asma, a professor of philosophy. Obviously an attempt to capture an uplifting tone in the midst of this crisis, Mr. Asma’s opening line is, “Nature doesn’t care about you.”1

If nature doesn’t care, why should we bother?

From his evolutionary perspective, this is probably the most accurate thing he has to say in this article. Within an evolutionary worldview, he is being consistent because human life is not intrinsically valuable, and it has no deeper meaning. His next line is:

“That may seem harsh, but strictly speaking, nature doesn’t care about anyone or anything, except passing genes into the next generation.”

But this still doesn’t go far enough, because nature doesn’t care about anything at all! Nature is not a sentient individual that thinks. It is just an abstraction, which means this is a fallacy of reification (acting as if something abstract is something concrete). The same is also true about viruses—he has anthropomorphized them by suggesting they “want” to reproduce. But they cannot even reproduce on their own! They require hosts to do this, meaning technically they are not alive at all. Machines do not have wants and needs.

In any case, the author’s next step is to reinforce his point (that nature doesn’t care about us) by way of some examples of vicious behavior by parasites. “Why would a loving God create dangerous parasites?”, is the implied point here. Why would God allow the existence of viruses such as the coronavirus? The answer is found in the Fall and the Curse in Genesis 3. This ‘nature’ we see around us is not as it once was; it is not the same as it was when God declared it all to be “very good” in Genesis 1. In fact, when we see bad things occurring in the natural world it should remind us what went wrong, and cause us to consider how fragile our lives are.

Mr. Asma writes:

It’s obvious that our struggle with other organisms matters a great deal to us – causing real despair and tragedy. But from the more general evolutionary perspective, this drama is value neutral. Strictly speaking, it isn’t even a drama because there is no plot in nature.

Keep these statements in mind because they will become very ironic when we discover what Asma is arguing our response should be. Notice also that Asma has created a dichotomy that his own worldview cannot logically support. How can there be “real despair and tragedy” if humans are part of nature, and there really is no drama, caring or love in nature? Evolutionists cannot live consistently with their worldview. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. What would consistent evolutionism look like?

Consistent Evolutionism

Darwinism, hailed by Mr. Asma as a “great achievement”, is very clear on one central point: “survival of the fittest” (actually reproduction) is what drives evolution forward. Asma in his own words on this:

Disease and death are not bugs in the system, but features. In fact, the cold-bath truth is that natural selection works only because many more organisms are born than can survive to procreate.

So how should people who really believe that react to a global viral pandemic? Certainly not by “sheltering in place” and caring for the sick! That notion spawns from Christian morality. Rather, if he were being consistent, he should suggest that nature (evolution) should take its course. Just carry on as normal and let people be exposed. Ideally, this would cause a great deal of death among the lesser-fit—but surely that would be a good thing that would benefit the human species by making us stronger and fitter. That is, after all, how evolution supposedly works. Yet, paradoxically, that is not what Mr. Asma is suggesting we do. Instead, he suggests we make believe we are at war.

Imagining that we are at war with an enemy will help us make the difficult personal sacrifices (like social distancing and sheltering in place) that go beyond our own egoistic hedonism.

Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure above all else) would certainly not dictate that we expose ourselves to a virus. Hedonism, in this case, would be on the side of sheltering in place to avoid the virus for our own selfish benefit. But, shouldn’t some simply have to die in the struggle with nature? Isn’t that what Asma just got finished saying a few paragraphs earlier in this same article? If Mr. Asma wants to suggest a heroic sacrifice in the face of this virus, then from an evolutionary perspective he should be saying the opposite: that we should ‘sacrifice’ by going about our lives as if there is no virus. Which is it? One cannot have it both ways and still be consistent.

How is it a benefit to the human race, evolutionarily speaking, to shelter in place? It seems that, despite all his macho rhetoric about ‘cold bath truths’, Mr. Asma really cannot face up to the consequences of his own worldview. He lauds evolutionism but then tries to ‘get it off the hook’. He pretty much admits this when he states:

Since we cannot find our species’ value objectively by looking at the neutral laws of nature, then we must just assert it. And simply affirm that the universe is more remarkable with us in it. [Emphasis added]

Asma has actually been featured by the New York Times writing on the topic of religion previously. A couple of years prior, he had an article published by the title, “What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t)”.2 In it, Asma’s not-so-subtle anti-religious attitude is yet again on display, but with a patronizing bent; Asma feels that, even though religion is foolish nonsense, it is still necessary for society as a kind of emotional painkiller (i.e. “the opiate of the masses”, to quote Marx):

I do not intend to try to rescue religion as reasonable. It isn’t terribly reasonable. But I do want to argue that its irrationality does not render it unacceptable, valueless or cowardly. Its irrationality may even be the source of its power … We need a more clear-eyed appreciation of the role of cultural analgesics.

In other words, Asma wants to try to take advantage of the placebo effect. He is suggesting, rather callously, that we continue to allow people (really, Asma seems to mean the unsophisticated masses) to believe in religion, just to keep them happy.

Using the pandemic to belittle Christian thought

God did not want His Creation to suffer like this, and it is not CMI’s aim to gloat during a global crisis. As Christians, we can see the obvious logical evolutionist inconsistences in the efforts being made to save human lives. But when a major newspaper that has previously displayed its antipathy to Christians abuses this pandemic to ensure the flag of evolutionism does not fly at half mast, we felt we must respond.

After talking down to religious people as having a “pre-scientific” worldview, he turns around and says that we must simply assert things to be true because we want them to be true. This is because, despite his soul-less Darwinian outlook, he is still a human being with a soul living in God’s universe. He cannot help but to see the inescapable fact that human life really is valuable for its own sake. Since his worldview provides no basis for this, he turns to existentialism—irrational leaps of blind faith. But the Christian worldview requires no such irrationalism. Perhaps this may be why he went out of his way to take a swipe at the Christian worldview early on in his article. The Bible gives us the basis for understanding how we got here (it was no accident!) and why our lives have intrinsic value, and why Jesus advocated healing the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, etc.

Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Our lives have intrinsic value, greater than any animal or inanimate object, because we are a special creation of God in His own image. That is why we must try to preserve lives in the midst of this crisis. Asma claims,

Some might argue that a human victory is not what’s needed here, that the neutrality of nature free of concepts of good and evil obviates a winner or loser. That may be true, if we view it from a distance, but in the thick of it, the imperative of our genetic survival remains. It is our unique Darwinian legacy.

But surely he must know that even the most dire, worst-case predictions about COVID-19, while potentially devastating in terms of lives lost, would never suggest the total annihilation of the human race! The remaining survivors would undoubtedly be the most fit. Plus, we’d all have lower healthcare costs as a result of fewer sick (and sickly) people to take care of! And that is the essence of Darwinism. It is only with a Christian ethic of “love your neighbor as yourself” that we can respond with care and empathy in this situation. In fact, it could be argued that social distancing, wearing face masks etc. are part of this ‘loving your neighbour’ mandate, to ensure that you do not potentially spread the virus to others.

From an evolutionary perspective though, it might help the genetic makeup of our species for the weakest among us to die. But what if that were your grandmother? Or father? Or brother? This crisis is an opportunity for us Christians to show the compassion and truth found only in the Bible; this is in sharp contrast to the spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of those like Mr. Asma who promote the Darwinian worldview—which has been reduced to irrational, illogical and inconsistent assertions in the face of cold hard facts they simply cannot live with.

Published: 5 May 2020

References and notes

  1. Asma, S., Does the Pandemic Have a Purpose? Only if we give it one. The coronavirus is neither good nor bad. It wants only to reproduce, The New York Times, nytimes.com, 16 April 2020. Return to text.
  2. Asma, S., What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t), The New York Times, nytimes.com, 3 June 2018. Return to text.