Tragedy in a Godless Universe

by John UpChurch on January 18, 2010; last featured September 11, 2018

If we take the idea of “survival of the fittest” to its logical conclusion, it seems almost absurd for anyone who accepts the story of evolution to think of death as being the enemy.

“The secrets of evolution are time and death. Time for the slow accumulations of favorable mutations, and death to make room for new species.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, program entitled “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue.”

Evolution requires death. At its core, Darwin’s postulate appeals to the power of death to remove those less able to survive so that the “more fit” can take their place. Natural selection, in this Darwinian sense, toils mindlessly on, removing individuals, populations, and even entire species. Whether something—or someone—lives or suffers, Darwinism offers only the cold machinations of time and death. Anything more would require existential purpose, after all, and that cannot be allowed.

Evolution, in an atheistic worldview, is morally neutral. When tragedies strike, evolution cannot tell us something is detrimental. Death, after all, can neither be untimely nor tragic, since death is the means by which “progress” is made.


If we take the idea of “survival of the fittest” to its logical conclusion, it seems almost absurd for anyone who accepts the story of evolution to think of death as being the enemy. Whether through human actions, animal attacks, or natural disasters, what value can we attach to those lives if they are nothing more than “stardust” after billions of years?

In fact, the consistent atheist could even rejoice that nature has eliminated competitors for resources with the death of those unable to survive such events. Of course, few, if any, rational humans would hold this viewpoint, and atheism certainly doesn’t remove compassion. However, this is the ultimate fruit of Darwin’s anti-God philosophy: no death can be bad according to evolution.


But what then are we to make of compassion? If evolution requires death in order to operate, why should humans suffer feelings of loss when others die? Evolutionists spin yarns about how compassion builds social cohesion and promotes survival, but ultimately, this misses the underlying issue. Evolution doesn’t care who lives or who dies; it doesn’t care if that person is related to you or not. It is a cold thing that toils, eats, and destroys. One death is as good as the next. Making up stories about why compassion exists does not and cannot explain away what accepting evolution really means: life is fundamentally meaningless—nothing more than matter that takes up space. Compassion, in fact, goes against the churning of a godless universe.

If we prevent deaths from happening, are we really just hindering the engine of a naturalistic universe?

Some might claim that compassion can lead us to make social reforms that prevent future deaths, but this too is antithetical to the work of evolution. If we prevent deaths from happening, are we really just hindering the engine of a naturalistic universe? Are we, as Darwin feared (though he, too, had much compassion), causing more harm than good to humanity when we let our concern lead us to save others?1

Though very few people would take such a cold look at horrific events, one must wonder how atheistic evolutionists can deny the very tenets they claim to espouse. Death, to them, cannot have moral value. It is what it is—there is no afterlife, no judgment, and no intrinsic worth to anything (after all, matter and energy are all there is—whatever the form they take). There is no room for compassion when nature has no scruples for who or what is removed.

Something Borrowed

Who, then, would honestly say that a teenager struck down in a car wreck is morally neutral or even good? Who would claim that thousands of people dying in terrorist attacks or earthquakes was beneficial to the human race? We say things like, “He was only 34 when he died” and “She left behind two young children.” If we had truly learned the lessons of an atheistic worldview, we shouldn’t care. Matter has simply been transformed.

But we do care. We care because all of us realize that death is not quite right. People shouldn’t die at an early age; thousands shouldn’t be swept away by a tsunami; and children in other countries shouldn’t starve. We care because we know that death is the enemy: doctors seek to overcome it, social activists seek to stamp it out, the young seek to defy it, and the elderly seek to avoid it.

Why should anyone think that way? If there really is nothing after death—if evolution is all there is—then death should be just another human life event, like cutting the first tooth. And if that’s the case, then avoiding it or preventing it would be pointless.

When evolutionists talk about compassion in the face of tragedy, they are essentially denying their own beliefs. They, too, will mourn the loss. But on what basis are they mourning? Death is all a part of the evolutionary lottery.

On the other hand, the biblical worldview is clear as to why death is tragic: death was not a part of the original creation. We mourn those who die, especially prematurely, because we know that God did not create a world of death, disease, and suffering. Genesis tells us that death came into creation after sin—not before. That’s why death seems like an enemy—it is. When evolutionists talk about preventing death, they are, by necessity, borrowing from the biblical worldview. For them to act as if tragedy is somehow wrong or “out of place” means that they have to accept that death is an interloper. They have to defy the gnashing teeth of the ambivalent universe they believe they inhabit.

The End of Evolution

The good news is that evolution isn’t true, and death isn’t the final answer. Tragedy strikes home so poignantly because all creation groans. Each of us can take comfort in knowing that there is no evolution machine that chews species up and spits out their remains without caring what or who they are; instead, there is a loving Creator who made provision for us—even though we sinned against him.

If we start with the Bible, we have a reason for having compassion for all humanity: we are all one race and we are all living in a fallen creation. With God’s Word, we have a sure foundation of right and wrong, of moral value, and of worth. The myth of evolution is, at its core, a means of devaluing human life, but that’s not what God says about us. God says that we are so valuable to him that he sent his only Son to die in our place and to offer eternal life to all who believe.

Thanks Be to God

It is sometimes easy for people to claim that evolution is just a scientific philosophy based on the interpretation of evidence, as if there were no moral issues involved. But accepting the validity of evolution has a deep impact on our beliefs and worldview. After all, who are we to claim that the machinations of evolution (as tragic as they may seem) are necessarily bad? In that worldview, humans are simply cogs in the great naturalistic experiment.

But Carl Sagan was wrong. Time and death are not all there is. When you see people mourning over tragedy or you yourself are, remember that there is a reason that death seems out of place. It is not a permanent part of this creation. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:1–8) and restore perfection. Death will be no more.

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:54–58)


  1. See “Darwin Versus Compassion.”


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