Darwin and Social Change

Randall Hardy

There can be no doubt that the years since Charles Darwin published his book "The Origin of Species" have witnessed immense changes in social attitudes in Britain and all other Western nations. Whether or not the majority of these changes have been for good is a matter of argument. However, it cannot be disputed that the increase in murders, child abuse, violent crime and many other ills of society, have paralleled the wider acceptance of the theory of evolution. Is this coincidence or is there a direct link between the two? Simply put, is Darwin responsible for the moral and social changes in the West? Many readers may find the conclusion of this article surprising.

Standards we donít want

For many years Britain was considered a "Christian country", with many of our laws and much of our thinking being based on the values taught in the Christian Bible. The underlying foundation of the Christian gospel is that by nature all people are selfish and need help to live in a way which pleases God and benefits others without causing harm to anyone. Hence Israel was given both moral as well as practical "Health and Safety Laws", before they even had an Executive to administer them. They were told to put guard-rails around their hearts and minds as well as the flat roofs of their houses. The Bible is however more than a rule book - for example, it records the continual struggle which individuals and societies have had to keep even the simplest of The LORDís commandments.

Last century a process started in many countries through which Godís Health and Safety Laws are being discarded one by one. This change is apparently regarded by the majority as progress and liberation - the old restrictions being considered nothing more than repressive folk religion. Tolerance and personal freedom are at present the rallying call of our modern societies, whilst sin is no longer a relevant concept. Yet we struggle to permit personal choice in morality without witnessing widespread selfishness in the community at large. An important question is, "Is the journey we are on going to lead us to the destination we hope for, or are we already finding ourselves in the wrong place?"

Standards we donít like

There is little doubt that an important factor in the "liberation" of Western societies has been the door opened by the popularisation of the theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986, p6) stated, "Although atheism might have logically been tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." In recent decades this atheism has filtered out of academic institutions into the mind-set of ordinary people, who are now living with an "eat, drink and cavort, for tomorrow we die" philosophy. Self-preservation and personal amusement are two key motivators for the start of the 21st century. This is the freedom for which many have campaigned in the wake of the rejection of God. We are told that society has come of age morally; we have been enlightened and no longer need the legend of a wrathful God whose rules tell us that the things we want for our own pleasures are wrong. Why is the desire to deny His existence so strong in us?

We have noted how readily the Bible records the continual failure of the human race to keep to the standards set by the God who claims to be our creator. The impossibility of attaining these standards by our own efforts is one reason why many wish to discard them as out-dated. It is not many years since a government minister suggested we needed a new set of ten commandments. Did he consider the originals just too difficult or was he also implying that they ask us to conform to criteria we donít like? This indeed seems to be a second factor which has motivated the continuing stream of change away from the Christian definition of right and wrong, in both our laws and our attitudes. God has always ruled out the things which attract us, the things which seem to be most pleasurable and convenient. Without Him as our designer we can decide amongst ourselves what is and isnít good for us. It is this strong desire to be accountable to no-one which underpins the agenda so successfully moving Western societies off their Christian foundations onto ones which are god-less in every aspect.

Evolution - theory or doctrine?

Darwinís theory of evolution, as admitted by Richard Dawkins, has provided intellectual credence for those who wish to consider the human race as independent and therefore able to define our own morals. In this light we should seriously question if its popularity today is due to its scientific robustness or because it suits our moral turpitude? Certainly, the vigour with which it is promoted today more often resembles propaganda than serious, scientific explanation. Those who question its scientific validity are increasingly pressurised to conform quietly to the perceived wisdom of the masses. In most other scientific disciplines the gaps in supporting evidence would demand further research before conclusive statements were published. Why has this not been the case with Darwinís theory and subsequent developments of it? Dare we ask such questions or is the demand to co-operate with the moral liberalisation of society too strong for us? Is this the other jaw of the vice which would squeeze every thought of a God to whom we are accountable out of our minds?

In Britain there may be a few institutions left which prevent us from being fully described as a secular society. It is interesting to note that our corporate rejection of the Christian faith has turned into a search for a religious humanism where we can design our personal god and give him or her qualities we are comfortable with. We have exchanged "the faith" for faiths where there is no absolute good or bad. Is it fair to suggest that all this has followed on from the work of one man, published in 1859? Were Darwinís pronouncements so radical that in under 150 years they have shaken a vast proportion of the world? Whether we consider his theory liberating or a dangerous lie, are we right to credit this one person with sowing the seeds of moral revolution?

Early pioneers

Evolution was not originally Darwinís theory. It was an established concept well before his day. Thales of Miletus (640-546 BC) is the first person on record who suggested a "water to man" evolutionary chain. Plato and Aristotle also espoused such thoughts - thoughts which made their mark on Erasmus Darwin, Charlesís grandfather. It was in respect to this Darwin that the term "Darwinism" was first coined. However, as Erasmus died before Charles was born, his only direct influence on his grandson would have been through his writings. Erasmus Darwin was not a lone voice, but part of a group which regularly discussed the possibility that life on earth had evolved - their biggest difficulty was defining a mechanism through which it could have occurred. Lamarckís theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics followed up suggestions made by Erasmus and was in the public arena 45 years before Charles published his book. There were other authors publishing evolutionary works at this time, men such as Herbert Spencer who in 1852 wrote a pamphlet promoting natural selection as a possible mechanism of evolution. In 1858 Alfred R. Wallace published a paper which contained all the essential elements of "The Origin of Species". Why then is it Charles Darwin alone who is remembered as the author of the theory of evolution?

First, he never really acknowledged the work of his grandfather or any of the other men who had written on this topic before him. The reason for such omissions we shall never know, but it has left the majority with the impression he was more of an original thinker than he clearly was. However, like all good inventors Charles Darwin had detected that there was a perceived need amongst certain people of his day. They were looking for an alternative to divine creation as an explanation of the origin of the universe and of the diversity of life. There were many aspects of this alternative already in place, but a key component was lacking. This was the mechanism by which the different species had developed. Charles, it seems, determined to meet that need. We cannot be sure if it was Darwin himself or his close friends who encouraged him to adopt the attitude of a shrewd salesman, but this he did when he failed to recognise the pioneering work of others and left us with the impression that his was the only "brand" available. This is why we remember his name, but not why we have embraced his theory.

All is revealed

It is important to understand that when Darwin presented his theory, society was not taken by surprise. As we have seen, there was already a significant number of people involved in the search for an alternative to the Bibleís explanation. In the light of the moral implications of such an alternative, we need to consider carefully if the acceptance of Darwinís thesis was due to its scientific excellence or religious expedience? I suggest the latter and for this reason believe we cannot lay the blame for all that has followed on Darwin alone.

Just before Moses died, he warned the Israelites that from time to time The LORD would raise up false prophets who would say things which could lead them away from God, (Deuteronomy 13). Moses explained why their God would do this: "The LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love The LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." This is the standard God expects of all people. It is reflected in what Jesus described as the greatest commandment. Yet it is a standard we cannot achieve by ourselves, and throughout history people have sought to circumnavigate it instead of asking Him to help us be the people we were designed to be. When The LORD tests our hearts it is not because He wants to condemn us, but because he wants to wake us up to what we are really like. It is certainly true that Darwin continues to provide us with the justification to love ourselves much more than we love our Creator, for it tells us He is a myth. Yet it is not Darwin or any other person who has led us this way, but our own selves. It suits many of us to be accountable to no-one but ourselves.

Nothing new under the sun

The parallels between the spread of atheistic humanism and the moral decline in Western societies are too strong to be ignored. Whilst this change has been eased by the widespread acceptance of evolution, that is not the root cause - our selfish, sinful desires are. The Apostle Paul warned Christians in 1st century Rome of what happens when a society refuses to recognise The LORD as God and values created things more than the Creator. God allows them to have what they want, but the resulting process spirals down and down to show that we are not the masters of our own destiny. Depravity, especially sexual, becomes the preoccupation of the people. This course is clearly seen today in Britain and other societies around the world. Even though many have declared God irrelevant, their light entertainment, their night clubs and their newspapers are daily confirming what Paul correctly prophesied would happen when people call evil good, and good evil. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, but there is hope for those who will turn themselves around against the flow of the majority to seek The LORD and ask for His help to keep to his standards.

This article was first published in The Christian Standard, the journal of the National Council for Christian Standards in Society.

This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer. To send an email click here.

© Randall Hardy, November 2001. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.

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