Effects of the Evolution Theory
IN THE early 19th century, religion and science enjoyed a fairly amicable relationship. Just two years before The Origin of Species was published, biologist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz wrote that the living world shows “premeditation, wisdom, greatness” and that a major purpose of natural history was to analyze “the thoughts of the Creator of the Universe.”
Agassiz’ viewpoint was not uncommon. Many people viewed science and religion as compatible. Discoveries of science were often perceived as evidence of a Grand Creator. But a subtle rift was developing between religion and science.
Skepticism Takes Root
Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, the first volume of which appeared in 1830, cast doubt on the Bible’s creation account. Lyell claimed that the creation could not possibly have occurred in six literal days. Physicist Fred Hoyle wrote: “Lyell’s books were largely responsible for convincing the world at large that the Bible could be wrong, at any rate in some respects, a hitherto unthinkable thought.”*
A foundation was thus laid for skepticism. In the minds of many, science and the Bible could no longer be harmonized. Faced with a choice, many opted for science. “Lyell’s work had thrown the early chapters of the Old Testament into doubt,” Fred Hoyle wrote, “and Darwin’s book was there to replace it.”
The Origin of Species came at an opportune time for those who did not want to accept the Bible as the Word of God. A romance had already blossomed between man and science. An infatuated public was wooed by the promises and accomplishments of science. Like a gallant suitor, science showered man with innovative gifts—the telescope, the microscope, and the steam engine and later, electricity, the telephone, and the automobile. Technology had already fostered an industrial revolution that was providing the common man with unprecedented material advantages.
In contrast, religion was perceived as a roadblock to progress. Some felt that it held people in a stupor, unable to keep up with the rapid advances of science. Atheists began to proclaim their views loudly and boldly. Indeed, as Richard Dawkins wrote, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Science was becoming mankind’s new hope for salvation.
At first, religious leaders opposed the theory of evolution. But as the decades passed, the clergy in general yielded to popular opinion, accepting a blend of evolution and creation. A 1938 New York Times headline announced: “Church of England Report Upholds Evolutionary Idea of the Creation.” The report, by a commission under the Archbishop of York, stated: “No objection to a theory of evolution can be drawn from the two creation narratives in Genesis I and II, since it is generally agreed among educated Christians that these are mythological in origin and that their value for us is symbolic rather than historical.” The archbishop’s commission concluded: “You can think what you like and still be Christian.”
For many, such attempts to reconcile the Bible with evolution only diluted the Bible’s credibility. It resulted in widespread skepticism of the Bible, and this still exists today, even among some religious leaders. Typical are the comments of an Episcopal bishop in Canada who asserted that the Bible was written in a prescientific age and therefore reflected prejudice and ignorance. He said that the Bible contained “historic errors” and “blatant exaggerations” regarding Jesus’ birth and resurrection.
Thus, many, including members of the clergy, have been quick to discredit the Bible. But where has such skepticism led? What alternative hope has been offered? With weakened faith in the Bible, some have looked to philosophy and politics.
Effects on Philosophy and Politics
The Origin of Species offered a fresh outlook on human behavior. Why does one nation succeed in conquering another nation? Why does one race prevail over another race? The Origin of Species, with its emphasis on natural selection and survival of the fittest, gave explanations that stirred the leading philosophers of the 19th century.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) were philosophers who had a profound effect on politics. Both were fascinated by evolution. “Darwin’s book is important,” said Marx, “and serves me as a natural scientific basis for the class struggle in history.” Historian Will Durant called Nietzsche a “child of Darwin.” The book Philosophy—An Outline-History summarized one of Nietzsche’s beliefs: “The strong, brave, domineering, proud, fit best the society that is to be.”
Darwin believed—and wrote in a letter to a friend—that in the future “an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.” He used as a precedent the European conquest of others and chalked this up to “the struggle for existence.”
The powerful were quick to latch on to such statements. H. G. Wells wrote in The Outline of History: “Prevalent peoples at the close of the nineteenth century believed that they prevailed by virtue of the Struggle for Existence, in which the strong and cunning get the better of the weak and confiding. And they believed further that they had to be strong, energetic, ruthless, ‘practical,’ egotistical.”
Thus, “survival of the fittest” took on philosophical, social, and political overtones, often to an absurd extent. “To some war became ‘a biological necessity,’” said the book Milestones of History. And this book noted that during the next century, “Darwinian ideas formed an integral part of Hitler’s doctrine of racial superiority.”
Of course, neither Darwin, Marx, nor Nietzsche lived to see how their ideas would be applied—or misapplied. Indeed, they expected that the struggle for existence would improve man’s lot in life. Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species that “all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.” Twentieth-century priest and biologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin agreed with this, theorizing that eventually there would occur an ‘evolution of the minds of the entire human race; everyone would harmoniously work toward one goal.’
Degradation, Not Improvement
Do you see such improvement occurring? The book Clinging to a Myth commented on De Chardin’s optimism: “De Chardin must have been quite oblivious of the history of human bloodshed and of racist systems such as apartheid in South Africa. He sounds like a man who is not living in this world.” Rather than progress toward unity, humanity in this century has experienced racial and national division on an unprecedented scale.
The hope held out in The Origin of Species, that man would progress toward perfection, or at least improvement, is very much unfulfilled. And that hope keeps receding with time, for since the general acceptance of evolution, the human family all too often has descended into barbarism. Consider: More than 100 million people have been killed in the wars of this century, some 50 million in World War II alone. Also consider the recent ethnic slaughter in such places as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Is this to say that there were no wars and brutalities in past centuries? No, there certainly were. But the acceptance of the theory of evolution, this brutal struggle-for-existence mind-set, this survival-of-the-fittest idea, has not served to improve man’s lot. So while evolution cannot be blamed for all of man’s ills, it has helped push the human family into ever greater hatred, crime, violence, immorality, and degradation. Since it is widely accepted that humans descended from beasts, it is not surprising that more and more people act like beasts.
Actually, the Bible does not teach that the earth was created in six literal days (144 hours). For more information on this misunderstanding, see Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, pages 25-37, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 6]
‘Darwin’s book serves me as a scientific basis for the class struggle in history.’—Karl Marx
[Blurb on page 6]
‘Lower races will have been eliminated by higher civilized races.’—Charles Darwin
[Picture Credit Line on page 6]
U.S. National Archives photo
[Picture Credit Line on page 6]
Copyright British Museum