What makes evolution persistent has little to do with fossils or mutations or puzzles about the past. In fact, it has little to do with the many papers and tomes written in celebration of Darwin’s pontifications. What makes evolution so perennial, ironically, is the malleability of the possible interpretations of this belief in non-teleological origins. If there are no absolutes and there is no set standard of ethical behavior, then conceivably any action can be justified. That is, one person’s “version” of evolutionary outcomes is no less valid than any other person’s view.
Test Case: Evolution and Racism
Much furor has been caused by creationists and members of the Intelligent Design Movement because of claims that Darwin was either racist himself or that his beliefs led to or exacerbated racism. For example, Dr. Jerry Bergman examines Darwin’s writings and posits:
Although known as a kind and gentle man, Darwin openly supported the racism that his theory permitted. Darwin also generally supported eugenics, even though he opposed some of the extreme forms espoused by many in his day. A major source of the racism inspired by Darwinism came, not from Darwin himself, but from the pen of Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. Darwin was fully convinced that eugenic theory was valid. . . .
Darwin and many others agreed with Galton on the issue of biological determinism of both intellectual and moral traits. The coercive ideology was primarily what later created the controversy over eugenics. Although Darwin’s support for Galton and eugenics did not directly extend to overt racism, Darwin’s works have inspired many coercive eugenic advocates, including current prominent racists . . . .
The fact that Darwin was not consistent, indicating he held mixed views at different times in his life, does not negate his racism. It is clear that Darwin’s racist ideas were exploited by his followers, especially those who already had developed racist ideas and prejudices, to support their own racist beliefs.1
From the IDM, Darwin Day in America explores some of these same issues and examines how:
[P]olitics and culture were dehumanized as scientific experts in thrall to the assumptions of philosophical materialism began treating human beings as little more than animals or machines. In criminal justice, these experts denied the existence of free will and proposed replacing punishment with invasive “cures” such as the lobotomy. In welfare, they proposed eliminating the poor by sterilizing those deemed biologically unfit. In business, they urged the selection of workers based on racist theories of human evolution and the development of advertising methods to more effectively manipulate consumer behavior.2
Of course, evolutionists often dismiss such claims, realizing the damage such an interpretation of Darwin’s work would cause. After all, if Darwin himself was racist or his ideas can be shown to promote racism, then goo-to-you becomes even more unpalatable.3 In fact, AiG receives a great deal of mail accusing us of twisting Darwin’s theory and chastising us for “the lies [we] are perpetuating about [its] racist implications.”4
So, how is it that two groups of people can read the same writings, see the same evidence, and come to such polar opposite conclusions? Even going beyond this example, how is it possible that a young man in Finland can use Darwin’s theory as justification for his murderous rampage—and yet we hear so much about how this is not a necessary outcome of teaching evolution?
Turning to Textual Criticism for Clues
In the study of English literature, currently much power is given to the reader for interpreting the work. For those of you who waded through the treacherous waters of literary criticism in college, you know that the papers you wrote focused a great deal on two major things: 1) what other critics say about this work and this author and 2) what you think the author is trying to tell us. You break down stanzas and paragraphs, pluck out themes and character motivations, and attempt to weave a lucid explanation of your premise. In such a paradigm, the force of the work itself shifts from what the author is saying to what subtext one can pick out.5
Understandably, such a method of criticism tends to betray quite a bit more about the critic and the critic’s time period than it tells us about the work being examined. For example, if you have the stomach for such things, examine Samuel Coleridge’s writings on Shakespeare and notice how well the Bard spoke about Romanticism (the literary milieu of Coleridge’s time).6 Then, for comparison’s sake, examine the work entitled Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945–2000.7 You will be amazed how well Shakespeare spoke about the World Wars, the “liberation” movements in 1970s America, psychoanalysis, materialism, and other more-recent cultural moments.
Darwin’s theory is much the same. Sadly, there was a time when racism was tolerated, and many, such as David Duke,8 still use On the Origin of Species as their justification for such acts. And others, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, justified atrocities in Darwin’s name.9 If they can see such things in Darwin’s writings, even though others might disagree, are not their interpretations of what Darwin taught a justifiable outcome of evolutionary dogma?
Justification: Bringing It All Together
Racism is abominable in any form (of course, I have a solid foundation for believing this). While racism is not a necessary outcome of Darwin’s teachings, it is a potential one. The same is true with those who murder as a means of “natural selection.” This is not something that is explicitly stated in Darwin’s work (or the work of those who followed him), nor something they would have condoned in any form (though there was a great deal of support for eugenics), but it is a potential interpretation of those writings, made possible by the malleability of the theory. After all, evolution, by evolutionists’ own admission, constantly changes to “fit new facts.”10 There is no solid foundation on which the theory rests because everything can be completely transformed by an influential writer (the only exception, of course, being that it must have happened). As with most fields, the “party in power” determines the “correct” way to understand what Neo-Darwinism is all about.
However, the foundation of the Bible is a God who does not change.
Some would say that others have interpreted the Bible to justify atrocities as well, and this is sadly true. However, the foundation of the Bible is a God who does not change. He told us not to kill—not even to secretly hate. He told us that we are all one blood and related (since He created us that way). His message is unchanging and unchangeable. Those who pervert that message have no justification for their actions—and have often let secular and other non-Christian ideas alter the clear teaching of God’s Word. Those who promoted (and still promote) racism by twisting certain biblical passages, for example, let their prejudices cause them to close their eyes to what the Bible says (including the fallacious, evolutionary teachings of Ernst Haeckel). God is clear in what He means about all humanity being one race. He always has been, and He always will be.
With evolution, however, there is no ultimate lawgiver who could possibly say that one interpretation is invalid while another is correct. If one person wants to see evolution as an excuse to justify immoral behavior, they can certainly interpret it as such. Others may denigrate such a position, but there is no arbitrator of evolutionary dilemmas who decides which is acceptable and which is not. Peer review may weed out some such claims, but even there, peer review is based on the ideas that are currently accepted by the reviewers and/or the editor—and not objective truth. After all, we are all bound by our subjective view of the world. We cannot somehow escape our own existence to see objectively.
The fact of the matter is that many people have used evolution as an excuse for immoral actions—and many have used the Bible in the same manner. However, within the evolutionary belief system, there is no way for one to objectively examine the issue, since the brain examining the issue must also be a result of that non-teleological evolution and since there is no solid foundation upon which “truth” can be determined. (That is, an evolved brain has no better chance at determining truth than an evolved arm, toe, or hair.) On the other hand, the objective truth of the Bible is not determined by humanity, but by God—through His eyewitness account and through the Holy Spirit guiding believers into truth.
Do Christians mess up and let passions blind them to what the Bible clearly teaches? To our shame, yes. This is well documented. However, the reason we can document such things and can say for certain that Christians have fallen short of Christ’s standard is because we have a solid, unchanging standard that we can trust to be always true. Whereas one Galton or one Gould or one Dawkins may alter the “meaning” of evolution, no one can alter God. They can, of course, try, but He has promised—and fulfilled the promise—never to change.
Reading Nature as a Text
Nature, the foundation of any naturalistic theory, in itself cannot be a reliable giver of truth. Though we may try to start from nature to “determine origins” or use it as some sort of “extra” book of the Bible, reading nature is much like textual criticism. What we “read into” nature depends quite a bit on the opinions of those whom we trust (i.e., how they interpret nature) and our own cultural moment (i.e., our beliefs, prior experiences, expectations). We live in time and space—we exist in this universe. There is no way for us to escape the confines of our existence and view nature objectively. Instead, we examine what we see, compare it to what we believe, and interpret the results.
How many of us, when studying a work of literature, have relied upon Cliffs Notes or others’ interpretations of a work in order to comprehend it? (I would say that many have used such methods in lieu of actually reading the work.) We often use such aids as introductions to get our bearings on an unfamiliar story, book, or play (especially those that seem foreign to us). This is true also of the “natural” world.
For example, if a child were raised without having been exposed to any ideas either of creation or evolution or the age of the earth, what chance would that child have of seeing the world and the life in it as being unimaginably old and un-created? Teach that same child from birth that everything she sees is the result of non-teleological change, and the chances are much higher (see The Power of Ideas for an example of how beliefs shape outcomes). I would argue that evolutionary beliefs are not a necessary outcome of viewing the world around us; such beliefs, instead, are reinforced and shaped by others. People “read” age and Darwinism into the world because they have been taught to do so. Darwin himself stood upon the shoulders of others, and those who gave him the “deep time” evolution needed saw their work as the antithesis of biblical morality (i.e., a reaction against and not a necessity of the evidence).11
The reason that Christians start from the Bible and work outwardly—though skeptics ridicule us—is because without an objective source of truth, there is no sure foundation upon which to build our lives. If a person doesn’t have an objective vantage point, then that person is free to interpret the world and read anything into the theory of the moment he or she sees fit. Others may criticize such an interpretation (e.g., reading racism or violence into evolution), but the system itself allowed that person to construct such an interpretation. In other words, because there is no solid foundation, one is free to get what they want out of it. To be sure, there may be “heretical” views of Darwin’s conjectures, but the amorphous nature of the theory allows such an interpretation.
Some would claim that science itself is an objective source of knowledge, but this is certainly not a tenable position in the case of origins science. After all, evolutionary science is not performed by those who exist outside of a subjective existence but by those within it. Science can perhaps self-correct to an extent (i.e., flawed results can be caught), but self-correction does not apply to an overarching paradigm. All evolutionists work under the assumption that evolution is the source of all life (even if they accept some sort of divine intervention at some point); within such a framework, the only self-correction that will take place stays within that framework. All correction is still subjective to their initial belief. That is, there is no objective, naturalistic yardstick by which to measure if the initial assumptions are correct.12
I stand upon God’s Word unashamedly because I know that within myself, I cannot determine objective truth. I cannot “read” nature without applying my own interpretations. If it were not for God’s revelation and correction, I could interpret everything as I saw fit. I do have a yardstick, per se, a Lawgiver who is objective. Do I stumble? Do I treat others badly sometimes? Yes, but I have a firm foundation for believing this to be wrong. The question is: do you?
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the members of CRSNet for their input, thoughts, and ideas on this project.
John UpChurch is a web editor for Answers in Genesis–U.S. with a B.A. in English, a minor in English education, and post-graduate work in English literature. He has a great interest in literary theory and the power of words to frame debates.