Morality Paradox

Does accepting evolution lead to immorality?

by John UpChurch on January 16, 2009
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Countries where evolution is generally accepted often show great acts of charity. Does this mean that morality doesn’t require God?

One of the claims espoused on your website is that the “belief” in evolution can (and most often will) lead to immoral behavior, both on a personal and social scale. Then why is it that the most prosperous, healthy, peaceful, liberal and sustainable societies also happen to have the highest levels of public acceptance of evolution? These nations include Iceland, Sweden, Japan, France, Australia, Finland, Norway and Denmark; nations which also happen to be the most charitable and egalitarian worldwide, according to rankings such as the UNDP’s ‘Human Development Index’, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s ‘Global Peace Index’, and the Legatum Institute’s ‘Prosperity Index’. Also, these countries have greater life satisfaction and perceived levels of openness/friendliness (‘Satisfaction with Life Index’ & Nation Brands, respectively), and their education systems outperform the rest according to the annual ‘Programme for International Student Assessment‘. Can AiG please explain this paradox?

—G.F., Australia

From humanity’s perspective, the issue that you point to does seem to be a paradox. However, there are several underlying assumptions that I pray you will reconsider.

Since you did not specifically define what you mean by moral or immoral, I can only pull from the examples that you gave of what morality looks like. That is, your claim is that moral behavior implies prosperity, health, peacefulness, charity, equal rights for all, life satisfaction, friendliness, and educational success. Since some nations that generally accept evolution have these qualities,1 then an evolutionary worldview obviously does not lead to immorality—if we were to rely upon your definition. After all, those are certainly qualities that any country should strive for.

But I would suggest there is a fundamental problem with the definition that you imply. Essentially, you are saying that morality depends upon two important factors: 1) actions and external characteristics of an individual or a society and 2) societal approval (whether universal or local) of that action, characteristic, or deed. In this case, the nations you list exhibit certain traits that you—and many others—applaud.

However, as I hope you will see, such a foundation for morality is essentially untenable because it is based on an arbitrary and inconsistent definition. If society’s opinions change, then what is immoral today could be moral tomorrow. Morality would completely depend on the subjective attitudes of humanity. For example, alcohol consumption was once considered immoral and illegal by a majority of those in the United States; only a decade later, it became, according to the same American society, at least morally tolerable. In fact, even some of the countries that you listed once prohibited alcohol and later repealed the interdiction.2 So, the question is this: did the consumption of alcohol become more or less moral simply because societal opinion changed? Does the morality of the issue suddenly shift when one enters a nation where it is still prohibited and considered reprehensible by a society (e.g., some Muslim nations)?

Most people can come up with a list of what actions or characteristics they deem moral. And some peoples’ lists would vary considerably from yours. For example, one could say that countries with the most farming and ecological protections are the most moral; or predominantly conservative countries are the most moral; or countries with the fewest homicides are the most moral.

The point is that while you may find the countries in your list to have certain characteristics that are commendable right now (as do I), there are other characteristics of the same countries that are not as savory. As of May 2003, the World Health Organization reported that Japan, France, Finland, Norway, and other countries you listed all have a high rate of suicide.3 Should we applaud this? In addition, many of those nations have an increasing crime rate, including violent crimes.4 If we depend on human actions to determine morality, then what do we do with those numbers? Are they given less weight because of all the other “good” aspects that you pointed out?

One country where evolution appears to be generally accepted in scientific circles (though data is tough to come by) is conspicuously absent from your list: China. Perhaps it is because the nation is infamous for human rights violations, viewpoint suppression, and religious persecution.5 Those in power in China obviously consider their actions to be justified at the least. Should we exclude them from the list of “moral” countries simply because we do not agree with how they treat people? Or should we look for a different understanding of what morality is?

Furthermore, if we rely on your definition, we run into a problem with minority views. AiG has supporters in almost every country in the world, and—much more importantly—there are Bible-believing Christians who have lived in each of those countries for years. Though they may be few in number, we must assume statistically that they too are involved in the actions that you deem morally upstanding. But that would put us in a quandary. That is, even though those Christians are involved in some of the actions and have some of the characteristics that are “good” (charitable giving, educational success), they do not subscribe to the majority view on evolution. And, in fact, if morality is determined by societal approval, then we would have to consider them to be immoral because they are not acting within the bounds of what their society deems appropriate (namely, the acceptance of the evolution myth). On one hand, then, they are moral because they participate in the actions that you lauded, but on the other, they are immoral for teaching or believing something contrary to what society deems acceptable.

After all, if Bible-believing Christians are living the life that God tells us to live (loving Him and loving others as ourselves), then on one hand we’d be applauded for helping the poor and giving of ourselves, but scorned for loving God’s Word and abiding by His commands—and, most importantly, teaching that Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6–7). Of course, in actuality, the label Christian is a mixed bag in itself, as going to a church does not mean that the person will live by biblical principles or do things that win societal acclaim. So, even that label is not a litmus test for what morality is.

What I hope you see is that if we depend upon humanity to discover what it means to be moral, then we will never have any sort of consensus or foundation. To deal with this problem, some claim that there are universal (from a human perspective) moral codes. For example, most societies—if not all—would say that murder is wrong (i.e., immoral). But then we run into the issue of defining murder. After all, some (including me) think that abortion is murder; some think that “honor killings” are morally justifiable; and some think capital punishment is murder. How do we judge? Who decides?

If we depend upon humans to determine what is moral or immoral, then what’s the point of even having a moral code? After all, human tastes and expectations change—sometimes becoming more “strict,” and sometimes becoming more “relaxed.” Without belief in an unchanging Judge of ethical decisions (John 5:28–30), morals are based only upon the whims of humanity and will continue to “evolve.” Some qualities you listed might even become immoral. In fact, the idea of equality among different people groups is an idea that flies in the face of evolutionary ideas. If humans evolved, then different groups must have evolved with different characteristics and should be treated as such (if we were intellectually honest and consistent). From a biblical perspective, human rights and dignity are founded in the principle that all men are created in the image of God. We only find a basis for moral claims if there is a moral absolute. The Bible provides this moral foundation without being arbitrary or inconsistent.

When AiG makes claims about the morality of individuals and nations that accept evolution as fact, we are not arbitrarily referring to just any moral code (including our own personal opinions), but to the code—the way of living—that God, whom we believe is Creator and to whom all humans are accountable, gave us in the Bible. If we look at the nations you mention by God’s standard of morality, which He has revealed in His Word, they do not fare so well. We’ve already mentioned the high suicide and crime rates, but we could also cite the high rate of babies born out of wedlock6 and the high divorce rate.7 Also, it is important to point out that many in the United States, and even those who claim to be Christians, suffer many of these same failings, though the acceptance of evolution is much lower. The point is that if morality is based on what humans consider appropriate or right, we’re left with the uncomfortable fact that no nation—no human—is exempt from moral failings (no matter how “good” we think we are). This is why we require something—or Someone—greater than ourselves to determine moral rectitude. After all, beings who exhibit such amazing outward charity and also such brutal atrocities hardly seem equipped to determine a moral code.

All of those countries you listed, while excelling in the characteristics you mentioned, fall far short in other ways and, more importantly, in the expectations that God laid out for us. We all love to extol the things that we can see—charitable giving, calls for peace, academic excellence. But according to God, those things can simply be a covering for the filth underneath (Matthew 23:25–28). God does not look at our actions or our outward appearances. He looks at our motivations and our desire to do what He created us to do (1 Samuel 16:7).

Humans, because we cannot see beyond the physical, can only infer motivation. When we see people doing things that we deem worthy of praise, we have to assume that they are doing them for “the right reasons.” But according to God, our “good deeds” (even the ones society applauds) are essentially filth if we don’t acknowledge Him (Isaiah 64:6 and Romans 4:1–5). The paradox, then, only exists in the eyes of men. God wants our good deeds to be an outworking of our faith—our faith in the fact that He created us and will save us from the destruction we deserve when we repent and place our trust in Christ alone (James 2:22,26).

Accepting evolution is not the root of immoral behavior; instead, the idea of evolution was born of the rebellious nature of man wanting to remove God from the morality equation and for humanity to justify their actions in their own eyes (Judges 17:6).8 As we have seen, human-based morality is no morality at all because it depends on ever-changing ideas about what is “good” and upon human beings who exhibit both valor and villainy—sometimes simultaneously. Yes, evolutionized nations may show great humanitarian spirit, but should we ignore the problems lying under the surface? Conversely, the U.S. has more who reject evolution for a belief that God created humans. Why, then, are there still moral failings?

The answer to both is that human actions and ideals are not enough to establish a consistent and universal moral code. None of us are impartial enough to judge morality. If we act as if there is no God (as do many evolutionists), we have absolutely no basis on which to objectively determine what is right. Ultimately, a godless view of morality breaks down to might, social attitude, and enforcement—or, to be even more base, whim with a sword—as that which determines who and what is acceptable.

One important aspect to keep in mind is that God’s standard of morality was given to us because He knows how He created us. He knows how our bodies work, how our emotions work, etc. (Psalm 139). The expectations and requirements laid out in His Word are for our good—not for “holding us back.” His Word is not a book about the things we should not do (although He does give us lists of some particulars); instead, it is a Book that tells us the best way to live in a fallen world from the One who knows all about us.

I pray that you will read God’s Word, the Bible, and consider His promises for this life and the life to come.



  1. However, the picture is a bit more complex than you imply. See “Evolution Less Accepted in U.S. Than Other Western Countries, Study Finds,” National Geographic online. Even here we do not know how well these types of surveys gauge the variety of public opinion.
  2. Prohibition,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. Suicide Rate,” WHO.
  4. Crime Rates Around The World,”; see also “Countries with the Highest Reported Crime Rates.”
  5. For more, see the Human Rights Watch page about China and Voice of the Martyrs.
  6. For example, see “Swiss birth rate lowest for 25 years” and “Births out of Wedlock ‘Pass 40%’” concerning just two of the countries you listed. See Genesis 2:24 and 1 Corinthians 6:12–20.
  7. See “World Divorce Statistics” for more, though stats tend to vary depending on which factors are considered. See also Mark 10:2–12.
  8. In the words of an evolutionist, “[Darwin] understood immediately that if natural selection explained adaptations, and evolution by descent were true, then the argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely the existence of a personal god, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life”; from William Provine, “Dare a Scientist Believe in Design,” in Evidence of Purpose: Scientists Discover Creativity, ed. John Marks Templeton (New York: Continuum, 1994).


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