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Reason and Revelation Volume 17 #10

The Implications of Evolution

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Origins. The mere mention of the word evokes in people deep-seated emotions, because this is one issue on which almost everyone has an opinion. From earliest times, men have inquired about their origin, and the question, “whence have I come?,” rarely has been far from either their thoughts or their lips. Today, discussions about origins frequently stir quite a controversy as proponents of competing theories battle each other in public debates, in the news media, in the classroom, in the courtroom, and through the printed word.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that as people explore scenarios intended to explain their origin, they may discover (sometimes to their dismay) serious implications encompassed within those scenarios. These implications, it turns out, are of no small consequence, because they relate to such matters as ethics, morals, truth, values, and a host of other concepts of importance to humankind. Without doubt, these implications bear investigating.

One of the explanations for man’s origin is known popularly as evolution. The term “evolution” derives from the Latin evolvere, which means to “unroll, unfold, or change.” The word evolution may be used legitimately to speak of a bud’s development into the flower, the metamorphosis of the butterfly, or the production of new varieties of organisms (e.g., Brangus cattle, or cockapoo dogs). However, this is not what the average person generally has in mind when he speaks of evolution. In everyday parlance, the word carries quite a different meaning.

In 1960, British physiologist G.A. Kerkut authored a small volume titled The Implications of Evolution, in which he defined not one, but two theories of evolution. One of those he labeled the Special Theory of Evolution (often known as “microevolution”). There is no controversy over this theory, as it merely describes small changes that do not cross what biologists call “phylogenetic boundaries.” While the Special Theory of Evolution allows for change within groups, it does not allow for change between groups.

In addition to the Special Theory, Kerkut also identified, defined, and discussed what he termed the General Theory of Evolution (often known as “macroevolution”). He wrote: “On the other hand, there is the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form. This theory can be called the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ ” (1960, p. 157). This is what we today know as “organic evolution,” or simply “evolution.”

THE IMPLICATIONS OF EVOLUTION

It is a well-known and widely-admitted fact that actions have consequences. But no less true is the fact that beliefs have implications. Prominent humanist, Martin Gardner, devoted a chapter in one of his books to “The Relevance of Belief Systems,” in an attempt to explain that what a person believes profoundly influences how a person acts (1988, pp. 57-64). In his book, Does It Matter What I Believe?, Millard J. Erickson, wrote that there are numerous reasons

...why having correct beliefs is important. Our whole lives are inevitably affected by the real world around us, so what we believe about it is of the utmost importance.... What we believe about reality does not change the truth, nor its effect upon us. Correct belief, however, enables us to know the truth as it is, and then to take appropriate action, so that it will have the best possible effect upon our lives. Having correct beliefs is also necessary because of the large amount and variety of incorrect beliefs which are about (1992, pp. 12,13).

Erickson is right. Having correct beliefs is important. Consider, for example, the position of the person who believes in evolution. By definition (since evolution is a completely naturalistic process—see Simpson, 1960), a Divine Creator is ruled out. Acknowledging this causes certain issues to spring to mind: “If there is no Creator, if everything springs ultimately from natural causes, and if this life is all there is, why ought I do/not do certain things, or act/not act in certain ways?”; “If man is merely the latest in a long chain of animals, why should he be viewed as different from any other animal?” These, and other similar questions, inevitably arise from a belief in evolution.

But if a person freely chooses to believe in evolution, what, then, are the implications of that belief? And how does that belief translate into the reality of daily living? Though it is rare to see evolutionists actually admit it, the simple fact of the matter is that belief in evolution produces a society that is not a very pleasant one in which to live. Several years ago, British evolutionist Richard Dawkins [who has described himself as “a fairly militant atheist, with a fair degree of hostility toward religion” (see Bass, 1990, p. 86)] authored a book titled The Selfish Gene, in which he set forth his theory of genetic determinism. In summarizing the basic thesis of the book, Dawkins said: “You are for nothing. You are here to propagate your selfish genes. There is no higher purpose in life” (Bass, 1990, p. 60). Dawkins explained:

I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.... My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live. But unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop it being true (1989, pp. 2,3, emp. added).

Dawkins is correct in his assessment that a society based on the truthfulness of evolution would be “a very nasty” place to live. But why is this so? The answer has to do with the implications of belief in evolution.

Evolution and Ethics

Ethics generally is viewed as the system or code by which attitudes and actions are determined to be either right or wrong. But the truth of the matter is that if evolution is correct, and there is no God, man exists in an environment where “anything goes.” Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov (1880), had one of his characters (Ivan) say that in the absence of God, everything is allowed. French existential philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, wrote:

Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.... Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimize our behavior (1961, p. 485).

Sartre contended that whatever one chooses to do is right; value is attached to the choice itself so that “...we can never choose evil” (1966, p. 279). These men are correct about one thing. If evolution is true and there is no God, “anything goes” is the name of the game. Thus, it is impossible to formulate a system of ethics by which one objectively can differentiate “right” from “wrong.” Agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell observed:

We feel that the man who brings widespread happiness at the expense of misery to himself is a better man than the man who brings unhappiness to others and happiness to himself. I do not know of any rational ground for this view, or, perhaps, for the somewhat more rational view that whatever the majority desires (called utilitarian hedonism) is preferable to what the minority desires. These are truly ethical problems but I do not know of any way in which they can be solved except by politics or war. All that I can find to say on this subject is that an ethical opinion can only be defended by an ethical axiom, but, if the axiom is not accepted, there is no way of reaching a rational conclusion (1969, 3:29, emp. added).

With no way to reach a rational conclusion on what is ethical, man finds himself adrift in a chaotic sea of despair where “might makes right,” where “the strong subjugates the weak,” and where each man does what is right in his own eyes. This is not a system of ethics, but a society of anarchy.

Evolution and Morality

Morality is the character of being in accord with the principles or standards of right conduct. Interestingly, evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson argued that “man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind,” yet admitted that “good and evil, right and wrong, concepts irrelevant in nature except from the human viewpoint, become real and pressing features of the whole cosmos as viewed morally because morals arise only in man” (1951, p. 179, emp. added). Simpson was forced to conclude: “Discovery that the universe apart from man or before his coming lacks and lacked any purpose or plan has the inevitable corollary that the workings of the universe cannot provide any automatic, universal, eternal, or absolute ethical criteria of right and wrong” (1951, p. 180).

If such concepts as “good and evil, right and wrong” are “real and pressing features,” how, then, should morals be determined? Since man is viewed as little more than the last animal among many to be produced by the long, meandering process of evolution, this becomes problematic. In his book, Origins, Richard Leakey wrote: “There is now a critical need for a deep awareness that, no matter how special we are as an animal, we are still part of the greater balance of nature...” (1977, p. 256, emp. added). Charles Darwin declared: “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” (as quoted in Francis Darwin, 1889, 1:64). A lion is not plagued by guilt after killing a gazelle’s infant offspring for its noon meal. A dog does not experience remorse after stealing a bone from one of its peers. Since no other animal throughout evolutionary history has been able to locate and live by moral standards, should we somehow trust a “naked ape” (to use zoologist Desmond Morris’ colorful expression) to do any better? Darwin himself complained: “Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” (as quoted in Francis Darwin, 1889, 1:282).

Matter—in and of itself—is impotent to evolve any sense of moral consciousness. If there is no purpose in the Universe, as Simpson and others have asserted, then there is no purpose to morality or ethics. But the concept of a purposeless morality, or a purposeless ethic, is irrational. Unbelief therefore must contend, and does contend, that there is no ultimate standard of moral/ethical truth, and that morality and ethics, at best, are relative and situational. That being the case, who could ever suggest, correctly, that someone else’s conduct was “wrong,” or that a man “ought” or “ought not” to do thus and so? The simple fact of the matter is that infidelity cannot explain the origin of morality and ethics.

Evolution and Hedonism

Hedonism is the philosophy which argues that the aim of “moral” conduct is the attainment of the greatest possible pleasure with the greatest possible avoidance of pain. In an article titled, “Confessions of a Professed Atheist,” Aldous Huxley wrote eloquently about why he, and others of his generation, purposely chose to flout both convention and established moral/ethical principles to “do their own thing”:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently, assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.... The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do.... For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom (1966, 3:19, emp. added).

Such statements do not leave much to the imagination. Huxley’s goal was to be ready for any sexual pleasure. Humanists of our day seek the same thing. One of the tenets of humanism, as expressed in the Humanist Manifesto of 1973, suggested:

...we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.” Without countenancing mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity, a civilized society should be a tolerant one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire (1973, pp. 18-19, emp. in orig.).

What have been the consequences of this kind of thinking? Sexually-transmitted diseases are occurring in epidemic proportions. Teenage pregnancies are rampant. Babies are born already infected with deadly diseases such as AIDS, because their mothers contracted the diseases during their pregnancies and passed them on to their unborn offspring. In many places divorces are so common that they equal or outnumber marriages. Jails are filled to overflowing with rapists, stalkers, and child molesters. What else, pray tell, will have to go wrong before it becomes apparent that attempts to live without God are futile?

Evolution and the Value of Human Life

Having grown up under a father who was a veterinarian, and personally having served as a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University for a number of years, I have seen firsthand the fate of animals that have suffered irreparable injuries, have become riddled with incurable diseases, or have become too old and decrepit to control their bodily functions. I have had to stand by helplessly and watch my father, or my colleagues, discharge a firearm to end the life of a horse because of a broken leg that could not be healed. I have had to draw into a syringe the life-ending drug to be inserted into the veins of someone’s pet dog to “put it to sleep” because the combination of senility and disease had taken a toll that not even the ablest practitioner of the healing arts could reverse. It is neither a pleasant task, nor a pretty sight. But while a pet dog, or champion 4-H gelding, may have held a place of esteem in a child’s heart, the simple fact of the matter is that the dog is not someone’s father or mother, and the horse is not someone’s brother or sister. These are animals—which is why we shoot horses.

In the evolutionary scheme of things, however, man occupies the same status. He may be more knowledgeable, more intellectual, and more scheming than his counterparts in the animal kingdom. But he is still an animal. And so the question is bound to arise: Why should man be treated any differently when his life no longer is deemed worth living? Truth be told, there is no logical reason that he should. From cradle to grave, life—from an evolutionary vantage point—is completely expendable. And so it should be—at least if Charles Darwin is to be taken at face value. In his book, The Descent of Man, he wrote:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skills to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed (1870, p. 501)

In Darwin’s day (and even in the early parts of this century), some applied this view to the human race via the concept of eugenics.

By January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided that the human embryo growing within the human womb no longer is “human.” Rather, it is a “thing” that may be ripped out, slaughtered, and tossed into the nearest garbage dump. And the lengths to which evolutionists will go in order to justify such a position defy description. As an example, consider the position of the late evolutionist, Carl Sagan, and his wife, Ann Druyan. In an article on “The Question of Abortion” that they co-authored for Parade magazine, these two humanists contended for the ethical permissibility of human abortion on the grounds that the fetus, growing within a woman’s body for several months following conception, is not a human being. Their conclusion, therefore, was this: the killing of this tiny creature is not murder.

And what was the basis for this assertion? Sagan and Druyan argued their case by subtly employing the concept known as “embryonic recapitulation,” which suggests that as the human embryo develops, it repeats its evolutionary history, going through ancestral stages such as an amoeba-like blob, a fish, an amphibian, a reptile, etc. So, watching the human embryo grow is like watching a “silent moving picture” of evolution. They stated that the embryo first is “a kind of parasite” that eventually looks like a “segmented worm.” Further alterations, they wrote, reveal “gill arches” like that of a “fish or amphibian.” Supposedly, “reptilian” features emerge, and later give rise to “mammalian...pig-like” traits. By the end of two months, according to these two authors, the creature resembles a “primate but is still not quite human” (1990, p. 6).

The concept of embryonic recapitulation, which was first set forth in the mid-1860s by German scientist Ernst Haeckel, long since has been discredited, and shown to be without any basis in scientific fact (see Simpson et al., 1957, p. 352). But so desperate were Sagan and Druyan to find something—anything—in science to justify their belief that abortion is not murder, they resurrected the ancient concept, dusted it off, and attempted to give it some credibility as an appropriate reason why abortion is not murder. Surely, this shows the lengths to which evolutionists will go in attempts to substantiate their theory, and the inordinate practices that the theory generates when followed to its logical conclusion.

According to Darwin, “weaker” members of society are unfit and, by the laws of nature, normally would not survive. Who is weaker than a tiny baby growing in the womb? The baby cannot defend himself, cannot feed himself, cannot even speak for himself. He (or she) is completely and totally dependent upon the mother for life. Since nature “selects against” the weaker animal, and since man is an animal, why should man expect any deferential treatment?

Once those who are helpless, weak, and young become expendable, who will be next? Will it be the helpless, weak, and old? Will it be those whose infirmities make them “unfit” to survive in a society that values the beautiful and the strong? Will it be those who are lame, blind, maimed? Will it be those whose IQ falls below a certain point, or whose skin is a different color? Some in our society already are calling for such “cleansing” processes to be made legal, using euphemisms such as “euthanasia” or “mercy killing.” After all, they shoot horses, don’t they?

CONCLUSION

Christ, in His “Sermon on the Mount,” warned that “narrow is the gate, and straight is the way, that leads unto life, and few are they that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The majority ultimately will abandon God’s grace and mercy in favor of their own “wisdom.” In Romans 12:2, Paul admonished Christians: “be not conformed to this world.” His command had its basis in both Christ’s teachings, and those of Moses. In Exodus 23:2, Moses commanded the people of Israel: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” In speaking of this divine injunction, Guy N. Woods observed that it

...was designed to guard the Lord’s people from the corrupting influences of an evil environment, as well as from the powerful appeals of mob psychology to which so many in every generation succumb....
Man, by nature, is a social and gregarious being, tending to flock or gather together with others of his kind.... The disposition of man to desire the companionship and association of others of his kind has many advantages. It enables man to enjoy the accrued advantages of the many, and to have legally and properly the fruits of the labors of others as well as those of his own. But there are grave dangers attending the privilege. Man may, and often does, imbibe the evil characteristics of those about him as readily, and often more so, than the good ones (1982, 124[1]:2).

It is true that there are many who reject the biblical account of creation and accept the atheistic system of organic evolution. But, as Woods noted: “It is dangerous to follow the multitude because the majority is almost always on the wrong side in this world” (1982, 123[1]:2, emp. added). The “wisdom” with which we sometimes are impressed is not necessarily the wisdom with which we should be impressed. We must not fall prey to mob psychology—the idea which suggests because “everyone is doing it,” that somehow makes it right. The cartoon character Lucy was correct when she said to Charlie Brown, “You’re not right; you just sound right!”

The simple fact of the matter is that we are responsible for what we believe. Using the personal volition with which God has endowed us, we may freely believe in Him, or we may just as freely reject Him. The choice is up to each individual. Once the unbeliever has closed his mind irrevocably, God will not deter him, as Paul made clear when he wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians. In that letter, he spoke of those who “received not the love of the truth” (2:10), and then went on to say that “for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Indeed, actions have consequences. And beliefs have implications.

REFERENCES

Bass, Thomas (1990), “Interview with Richard Dawkins,” Omni, 12[4]:57-60,84-89, January.

Darwin, Charles (1870), The Descent of Man (New York: Modern Library). This is a two-volume edition in a single binding that also includes The Origin of Species.

Darwin, Francis (1889), Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (London: D. Appleton).

Dawkins, Richard (1989), The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Erickson, Millard J. (1992), Does It Matter What I Believe? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Gardner, Martin (1988), The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).

Humanist Manifestos I & II, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).

Huxley, Aldous (1966), “Confessions of a Professed Atheist,” Report: Perspective on the News, June.

Kerkut, G. A. (1960), The Implications of Evolution (London: Pergamon).

Leakey, Richard (1977), Origins (New York: E.P. Dutton).

Russell, Bertrand (1969), Autobiography (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan (1990), “The Question of Abortion,” Parade, April 22.

Sartre, Jean Paul, (1961), “Existentialism and Humanism,” French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, ed. Leonard M. Marsak (New York: Meridian).

Sartre, Jean Paul (1966), “Existentialism,” Reprinted in A Casebook on Existentialism, William V. Spanos (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell).

Simpson, George Gaylord (1951), The Meaning of Evolution (New York: Mentor Books).

Simpson, George Gaylord (1960), “The World Into Which Darwin Led Us,” Science, 131:966-969.

Simpson, George Gaylord, C.S. Pittendrigh, and L.H. Tiffany (1957), Life: An Introduction to Biology (New York: Harcourt, Brace).

Woods, Guy N. (1982), “’And be not Conformed to this World’,” Gospel Advocate, 124[1]:2, January 7.



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