Books & Culture: A Christian Review has just posted a thorough and compelling article by Edward T. Oakes tracing the intellectual legacy of social Darwinism – the belief that societies have the right and obligation to weed out their weakest members in order to advance human evolution. Oakes points out that the premises of ethical naturalism are bound to conflict with the Christian belief that every life is equally sacred because made in God’s image:
[S]ome of the most vicious Darwinian apologists [of the Victorian era] were quite willing to declare war on Christianity precisely because of its total incompatibility with Darwinism.
Among the most egregious of these anti-Christians was Alexander Tille, who taught German language and literature at the University of Glasgow until 1900 but regarded his work on evolutionary ethics as his real calling. One must at least credit Tille for seeing the real issue in all its starkness: “From the doctrine that all men are children of God and equal before him,” he said, “the ideal of humanitarianism and socialism has grown, that all humans have the same right to exist, the same value, and this ideal has greatly influenced behavior in the last two centuries. This ideal is irreconcilable with the theory of evolution … [, which] recognizes only fit and unfit, healthy and sick, genius and atavist” (emphasis in the original).
Where Christian critics of Darwinism go astray, I think, is in opposing evolution as a scientific theory, instead of questioning the project of drawing our ethical lessons from biology. According to the Bible, the natural world has been tainted by original sin, so why should we be surprised that the lessons of nature are contrary to the lessons of grace? What Darwinism tells us about physical power is no different from what the stories of ancient Israel tell us about political power. We want to put our trust in obvious displays of material strength instead of trusting the one whose “strength is made perfect in weakness”.