Evolution, Brutality and Christianity

Next week on TGI Monday we talk about creation and genesis. We don’t really talk about evolution much and it is an issue for many Christians. In my experience, nearly all Christians accept the science of evolution. This is backed up by survey data, I know that is not what is reported in the media. That isn’t what is taught in schools either, but it is a fact. The vast majority of Christians accept evolution scientifically. Yes, there are some that violently oppose evolution, yes there is even a whole industry devoted to creation research. This is mostly in the US but some in the UK. There is a theme park where you can ride a dinosaur too. But just like last week’s Silly Vicar show, the media only tells their story. There is never a documentary showing rational Christians, talking evolution. Why is that? Is it because these people don’t exist or is it that the media believe these people cannot exist?


Why do Christians have a problem with evolution?


I don’t think it is because the bible says the world was made in 6 days and they feel they have to believe that. I think it is because Christians see evolution as a brutal system. A system that is in total opposition to Christian values. We ask why would God create the world using the brutal system of survival of the fittest. It is true that survival of the fittest goes directly against all Christian values of humility and cooperation. Survival of the fittest is about holding onto power and strength, not giving up power and embracing weakness. The essence of Christianity is to give up power for the good of the other. Our faith is based on the sacrifice of Christ for us, Jesus’ weakness is his strength. This is the polar opposite of survival of the fittest.


Why is evolution so unpopular in American churches?


Partly this is about the culture war and the polarising nature of society. But where did all that come from? What is little known today that Evolution was fairly popular in the US up until the 1920s. In fact, even some early Christian Fundamentalists embrace it until the 1920s. So what happened? Two things, Robber Baron Capitalism and the Eugenics movement. Back in the early 20th century, American business was run by a group of ‘robber barons’ who amassed immense wealth and exploited their workers. They used brutal practices to take over and monopolise various industries. Oil, Steel, Railways and so on, each one of these industries became a monopoly as weaker smaller firms were taken over by the big firms. How did they justify these practices? survival of the fittest. It was natural for this to happen so therefore could not be immoral. They used evolution as a justification for exploiting the weak. The American churches were not happy about this.


The other part of secret history is the American history of eugenics. Those with disabilities were forcibly sterilised across many states and some of the rhetoric had distinctly racial overtones. The Nazi’s based many of their early eugenics policies in the US. At the centre of the Nazi ideology is a nasty form of Social Darwinism, even down to Hitler’s final orders to destroy the German state. He said it did not deserve to survive as it was too weak. Even in the UK because of this dark history many Christians found evolution problematic.


People believe what makes them feel good


Powerful people love this type of evolutionary theory. If it is natural for the powerful to conquer the weak, then that justifies that behaviour. Even more than that, if our genetics predestine us to have power, through our intelligence or strength then again why not, its natural. It feels great to be powerful and to have that power preordained by our genetics. It makes us feel special, part of an elite and allows us to look down on the biologically inferior. Is it any wonder that such ideas as survival of the fittests and fitness being predestined is so popular in elites? It’s not hard to convince a cambridge genetics professor that his intelligence is preordained and he is the fittest. We all want to believe that. If your life has worked out well if you are at the top of the tree and someone says, it was predestined by your genes. That is something you really want to believe. I always hated this idea, not because of the science, but because I was a Christian. These Ideas went against everything Christianity stood for, it was naked power and fatalism.


The rise of a Heretic to the rescue


In university we were told that natural selection only works on individual organisms. We were also told that everything about an organism is predestined at conception. To suggest anything else was heresy. There was a theory called group selection knocking around, it was the sort of theory that is only whispered about. It was ridiculed for decades and while I was in university was definitely, absolutely definitely, totally and utterly wrong. It was hated by many because perhaps it tells us that power is not the answer. It doesn’t make powerful people feel good and it doesn’t justify brutality in the same way.


The truth is that natural selection is not survival of the strongest or most powerful at all. Natural selection is about the survival of the fittest group, not the fittest individual. Selection happens not just on the individual level but at the group level too. This is especially true of humans. Human beings are a physically weak animal. Most animals are stronger, faster and physically adaptable than us. So if evolution only selects those who are physically strong or fast, then how on earth are we still here? If we think about humans purely as individuals we are very weak, our strength comes not as individuals but our ability to form groups. In fact, the evolution of a religious inclination in group formation has been shown to be our greatest advantage. Every human society has a temple, be that the Trafford shopping centre, St Paul’s Cathedral or a Babylonian pyramid. Our ability to come together and work in unity is our primary advantage in natural selection.


To demonstrate this type of selection consider a rugby team and Wales’ recent poor performance. The welsh winger, George North is the best winger in Wales, even in the world. To get a place on the team he had to compete with hundreds of other players. This is the individual selection. But there is another level of selection, how does George North work with his teammates? Further, than that too, how does the whole team work together as a group. The six nations is a form not of individual selection but group selection. Yes, Wales have some of the best individual players in the world, but they lost against Scotland because they were a poor team.


The same type of group selection happens all through the natural world, but humans are the best at it. Newer understandings of evolution have shown that these outdated views of evolution are false. Evolution is not brutal, it is often cooperative, because as a species, like rowers we are all in the same boat.


Evolution and Jesus


We are told that humans are the body of Christ, that together we are all essential and valuable. The outdated individualist evolution said no, the strongest are the important ones. Group selection evolution shows that we are all valuable, we have evolved to work as a team as the body of Christ. Also, we have seen that worship brings people together to form more effective teams.


So why are humans the best at cooperating? The answer is found in our evolution of empathy, through our childbearing. Human babies are the weakest of all animals. They take a huge investment in time and resources to bring up. Through bringing up babies we learn empathy and the ability to work together. If our babies were stranger, if we were stronger we would have to work together. It is our very weakness that enables us to work in unity and that unity is our greatest strength. St Paul says that we are the Body of Christ and that our weakness is our strength. We see that these two truths are shown not just in the bible but in our own evolution too.  


At Easter Jesus shows us this truth in the cross. It is through his weakness that we are saved and it is our weakness that we came to be human in the first place.   



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