evolution-2Is debating about the validity of the evolutionary paradigm a waste of time? My Facebook friend Deb, an atheist, thinks so. After I posted a brief critique about human evolution, she left this comment out of frustration:

Instead of hitting each other over the head about evolution, maybe we could work together to solve some of this planet’s pressing problems (climate change, poverty, war, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, lack of health care and educational resources, prejudice, discrimination and so forth).

Does Deb have a point? Does the creation-evolution controversy detract us from more weighty concerns?

I would say no. In fact, I assert that our concern about humanity’s social ills and our planet’s environmental catastrophes—and our motivation to act—are deeply connected to what we think about human origins.

Let me explain.

Scripture teaches that God created human beings to bear His image (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6). Accordingly, all human beings have intrinsic worth and dignity. All human beings are equal. The way we treat image bearers equates to the way we treat God. Serving others likens to serving God. These ideas—so clearly taught in Scripture—inspire Christians to good works. They rouse Christians to action against the injustices in our world.

On the other hand, while individual atheists are as capable of good deeds as Christians, atheism itself provides no genuine motivation for such acts. If human beings are the product of unguided evolutionary processes, then we are one among countless species that have existed on Earth. From an evolutionary standpoint, human beings are a historically contingent accident of an indiscriminate, natural process. Human life has no intrinsic value; there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to human life.

From an atheistic perspective, why should we care what happens to other human beings? In an atheistic framework, it really makes no difference if human beings suffer from poverty, lack of health care, or injustice. In fact, one could argue that an atheist showing compassion to the sick and weak is “immoral” because it disrupts the evolutionary process, in which survival of the fittest serves as the engine for evolutionary advance.

I’m not saying that atheists can’t be good or aren’t good. Many nonbelievers do good works, and I deeply admire and applaud the caring things that they do. It is wonderful to see people of different worldviews lock arms and work together to confront injustice.

But what features of an atheistic worldview justify good works? Deb explains that atheists “feel it’s the compassionate thing to do….We’re not doing this because we expect any reward in the afterlife, as we do not believe in anything beyond death. We do it because we love life in the here and now so much.” However, an atheistic worldview doesn’t require compassion or kindness or acknowledgement of human dignity. It is just as valid for an atheist to reject good works as it is to embrace them. In an atheistic framework, it is not clear what justice actually looks like; it is not clear what distinguishes a “right” action from a “wrong” one. There is no objective standard for good and evil in atheism. Without that standard, what is wrong for one society (or even one person) could be right for another.

In contrast, the biblical God, through scriptural teachings, clearly defines how and why we should live and how we should treat each other.

In my view, the reason that atheists can extend compassion toward others and place high value on human life arises from the fact that all human beings bear God’s image. We inherently know that all people have dignity and worth. We have a “law written on our hearts” that guides our behavior if we let it. The moral code many atheists adopt is designed into their DNA, as it is in all humans. Atheists are, unwittingly, borrowing from a Judeo-Christian worldview, when they express a commitment to combat poverty, end war, provide health care, and end discrimination. That is why believers and nonbelievers can work together to improve our world.

When atheists do good works, they are defying the logical outworking of their worldview. As a case in point, in The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins states emphatically:

Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.1

Again, if atheism is true, we should ask why we would want to “upset the designs” of our selfish genes, because to do so, would be to upset the evolutionary process. Why should we stand in opposition to biological nature? Like all atheists, Dawkins’ morality is at war with his worldview.

In the end, it is only the Christian worldview that provides the necessary framework to truly justify addressing the evils of this world.

And that is why it is important to “hit each other over the head about evolution.” What we think about human origins really matters. And the good news is that a scientific case can be made for credibility of the biblical account of human origins.

Notes

  1. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 3.
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3 thoughts on “Why Argue about Evolution?

  1. I honestly don’t see how Evolution is threatening our Christian beliefs in the slightest!
    Before I started reading Catholic philosophy and theology. Before I started reading Protestant and Catholic apologetics. Before it all. When someone proposed to me that evolution disproved God; the first thought that occurred to me was ‘Quite the contrary!’

    Let me put it this way. I write stories. I’m terrible at it; but I love doing it. And when I write about a certain event in my story; I always love to, as a creator, to add background to it. Is this background relevant to my current event? Not at all. I could as easily just add the event without the lead up to it; and it’ll be the same effect.
    But that would detract my worth and prestige as a creator.

    Think about it. Who are the greatest authors? Those who can write the best narrative; or those who write the most well-rounded stories. C.S Lewis, Tolkien, GRRM; these are the greats we talk about, because not only did they create a story, but they created everything around it.

    So for me, Evolution proclaims the glory of God way more than Creationism can possibly do so.
    For me (And the Catholic Church), it’s Evolution under the guidance of God; but still evolution!
    (And I also believe, like my Church, that the soul of the first human was created directly by God; as well that humans first emerged in a single pair, Adam and Eve.)

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I still don’t see where Evolution threatens Christianity in the slightest of ways.

  2. We engage in stupid bantering, believing that we represent Gods Kingdom by wit and reason. Jesus never backed down from the religious, and neither should His people. When He did answer to those opposed, there was no trace of kindness in his deliberation. Stop buying the “political correct” manner of representing according to mans standards, and begin to impose the policies of the Kingdom by “compelling” them. ” We are not politicians, but prophets, and we do not offer a compromise, rather, and ultimatum”.

  3. Fuz,

    I always enjoy reading your outstanding posts here on RTB. As one of a select few of todays most respected Christian Scholars and apologists your entries into the written record are significant and influential for many.

    However, I remain puzzled by your reaction to what I read as the equivalent of Deb, your atheist Facebook friend’s waving of a white flag, a sort of battle weary offer of an olive branch that she had extended to you. I did not look at any past history between you two, so in this context alone, I interpreted your remarks, as a rather cold rebuke of a “friendly” adversary’s offer to attempt to find some common ground.

    Again, unless I have really misread something- I believe you missed a rare opportunity to publicly demonstrate to those with whom we have disagreements the enormous power intrinsic in the love of our “opposition” that Jesus Christ demonstrated time and again in His earthly mission that was/is the best and most effective method of resolving disagreements/disputes in a meaningful long term way.

    As followers of Christ, aren’t we duty bound to seize upon these extremely rare, brief, temporary lapses in our most rigid, hard-core opponents lines of defense by becoming like Christ- warmly welcoming even an opportunity like this likely long shot, and thereby at least giving Jesus’ methods a chance to show the Debs we encounter what it is like to do battle with an adversary filled with mercy and compassion, and one who is openly ready to reveal the truth in a gentle, patient, more loving way- a closer reflection of the light of God’s love for all who seek Him?

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