WORLD-VIEWS, EVOLUTION, AND THE 1990s ETHOS
EVOLUTION AND WORLD-VIEW
Our actions are based on our beliefs, and the collective actions of groups and societies are based on their collective beliefs. Such collective beliefs constitute a world-view. This can be defined as the whole complex of ideas held by a society or group by which they relate themselves to the cosmos. Our world-view to a large extent governs our behaviour. In order to understand behaviour, we must understand the beliefs which underlie it.
Much that we do today derives from scientific ideas which have developed over the past century and a half. An important component of this is Darwin's theory of evolution. It is therefore important to understand what it says, how it arose, and what its effects have been. This book begins by considering the last of these. We can best appreciate the relevance of the pros and cons of the theory when we see the range of its effects on the beliefs and actions of our own society.
World-views consist of sets of paradigms. These are smaller sets of interrelated ideas which together form the whole. The European medieval world-view, for instance, included such paradigms as belief in the Christian revelation, the divinely-ordained authority of Church and State, and the finality of Greek science. The Renaissance modified this by reintroducing a paradigm of classical culture.
History shows a persistent human search for a unitary world-view which co-ordinates ethics and science into a single explanatory system. Some periods have seemed to approach this objective. For example, the Roman Empire under the Antonines and Europe at the height of the Middle Ages appear to have achieved a sort of synthesis, but this did not extend beyond their boundaries and was never universally accepted within them. The same search for a unitary world-view continues today, and has Darwin's Theory of Evolution as one of its basic paradigms.
At any time there seem to be three sorts of paradigm: those that contribute to the current world-view, those that can be harmonized with it, and those that cannot be harmonized with it. The third category, if pursued, can generate a change in the world-view, sometimes called a 'gestalt switch'.1
Darwin's theory is twofold: a special theory of intraspecific micro-evolution and a general theory of trans-specific macro-evolution. Micro-evolution teaches that the survival of the fittest by natural selection caused significant changes to occur within many types of living creature. He obtained convincing evidence for this on the voyage of the Beagle, and it was abundantly confirmed by subsequent work. Geographical isolation was seen to cause species to develop divergently in different environments and ultimately to deny them the ability to breed with cousins. Such changes have been claimed, for example, for the peppered moth, the European gull, the Drosophila fruit fly.
Macro-evolution goes much farther. It states that all living things have arisen by a naturalistic, mechanistic, evolutionary process from a single living source which itself rose by a similar process from a dead inanimate world. It has been called the 'amoeba-man theory'. It goes beyond the limited variations of micro-evolution. It transgresses the limits of what the King James Version of the Bible calls 'kinds'. This word is a translation of the Hebrew word min which is used to describe the main divisions of plants and animals. It is not possible to tie this term to a specific scientific definition. In Genesis 1 it refers to broad group, such as fruit trees, herbs, cattle, and fowls. In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 it concerns somewhat narrower classes such as beetles, storks, mice, and tortoises. It is never used of humans. It seems most reasonable to conclude that a 'kind', when applied to the animal kingdom approximates to a group of creatures that are interfertile where the chromosomes of both parents contribute to the offspring, and therefore can hybridize. Hereinafter, the word 'evolution' will be used in the sense of macro-evolution which transgresses these limits.
The idea of macro-evolution questioned the biblical record in a way that few earlier scientific ideas had done. If all life was ultimately descended from simple mono-cellular creatures, humans were not created by a special divine act, but were the product of a long random process, and the Earth must be more than a few thousand years old.
The theory appeared in an environment which already questioned biblical authority in science. The eighteenth-century Deists rejected the Bible as a source of knowledge, looking to mankind's own powers of reasoning to determine what we should believe and how we should act. They did not disbelieve in God but restricted His role simply to the opening acts of creation, after which the world operated as a vast machine controlled by scientific laws, such as Newton's law of motions.
Biblical authority had also long been questioned by geologists. The early nineteenth century witnessed a debate between Vulcanists, who saw volcanic activity as the dominant factor in forming the Earth's landscapes, and Neptunists who ascribed them mainly to a flood.
Evolution's intellectual triumph has led to the acceptance of its ethical and philosophical implications. It has altered our whole world-view. The change in the idea of the fixity of species has led to a change in our view of the nature of truth and ethics. It has led to a belief in the conditionality of moral principles and encouraged the acceptance of 'situation ethics'. We have lost concept of absolutes. Where there are no absolutes there can be no truth; where there is no truth there can be no justice; and where there is no justice there can be no hope. Thus an absence of absolutes leads to a paradigm change that Schaeffer2 called falling below a 'line of despair'. The change in thinking has been profound and world-wide.
It came after about 1890 in Europe and after about 1935 in the USA. Before these dates people had operated on suppositions essentially the same as the Christian's. Absolutes counted. If something was true, the opposite was false. If one told somebody to be good, they might not obey, but at least they knew what one meant. Or if one said something like 'this is true', it would be taken in an absolute sense. Since these dates, however, terms such as 'good' and 'true' have lost meaning, and have become relative and conditional.3 The criteria of virtue and merit have become evolutionary success or practicality rather than accordance with absolute standards.
Geographically the change occurred first in Germany, then on the rest of the Continent, then in Britain, then the USA. Socially it occurred first among intellectuals, then among workers, then in the bourgeoisie. Intellectually it began in science and then moved to philosophy, the arts, general culture, education and, last of all, to theology.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE EVOLUTIONARY WORLD-VIEW
Certain specific consequences have followed from the acceptance of evolution.
In science, humanity is seen as not differing fundamentally from animals. Not only our physical characteristics but also our mental and moral outlook have all evolved. We do not differ from animals in kind, only in degree. Nature is a struggle. Cells and organisms do not collaborate but compete and fight. Progress is random, deriving from natural selection and the survival of the fittest.
In philosophy, the change can be seen in the destruction of the concept of fixity, an absence of absolutes. As natural forms change, so does knowledge and reality. Ethics develop from situations. There is a generally hopeful view of human progress, a belief that we are moving forwards and upwards. Conflicts between individuals and groups may sometimes be justified on the ground that this is the path of evolutionary progress.
In music and the arts, there has been a loss of structure. The emphasis is on personal experience and expression. There is a frustrating search for universals. Because absolutes have been lost, there is a striving for something to take their place. Picasso, for instance, changed his forms of self-expression throughout his life. He saw a solution in the Marxist synthesis, but towards the end of his life tended to retreat into hedonism. Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Munch all in different ways illustrate a search for the lost universal, but moved towards despair in not finding it. Modern music and drama tend to favour unconstrained self expression and show an absence of structure. The criteria of merit are the originality and forcefulness of the imagery.
In psychology, human behaviour patterns are seen as deriving from animal origins. Freud's emphasis on the sexual explanation of psychology was based on this idea. Appleton,4 for instance, has suggested that our aesthetic reactions to the environment are atavistic, deriving from a remote animal ancestry. We evaluate landscape features from the point of view of their suitability as prospects for finding food and necessities, or as refuges from danger.
In the social sciences, the concept of sin is rejected. Man is seen as basically good. His circumstances are determined by economic needs. His relationship to his environment is analogous to that of animals to their habitats, without a supernatural component. Evolutionary success through natural selection and survival of the fittest becomes the social as well as the biological imperative. Consequently, the emphasis in practical work is shifted away from personal regeneration towards the improvement of relationships and 'social engineering'. Our responsibility to our society comes to preceae, ana wnere necessary to replace, any higher claim.
In business, there is a tendency to esteem strife and selfish competition. Two well-known industrialists who became outstanding philanthropists illustrate this. Andrew Carnegie was first deeply troubled by the consequences of evolutionary theory, but came to accept it as desirable when he saw the law of competition as biological. He said, 'It is clear we cannot evade it. While the law may sometimes be hard for the individual, it is best for the race.'
John D. Rockefeller said:
There has always been a tendency for universities, first founded to teach religion, to become secularized. This process has accelerated over the past decades. Within academic disciplines the penetration of evolutionary thought has led to secularization, first of the sciences, then of the social sciences, and now increasingly of liberal arts subjects such as languages and literature. This is because the secularization of science leads to the appearance of the same ideas in non-scientific writing. Early examples of this trend in literature were Wells, Shaw, and Ibsen.
Evolution has, by its emphasis on random processes, encouraged the concept of a world without God. This has had three discernible results in modern fiction and drama. First, it has contributed to a widespread avoidance of moral absolutes, so that attitudes and behaviour which in the past would have been considered taboo, have become acceptable. Secondly, it has encouraged a stress on social, rather than individual, morality; organizational restructuring rather than personal redemption. This inspired some socially idealistic literature and drama, especially in Communist countries, but its inadequacy in practise to solve many human problems formed a theme for such novels as Conrad's Heart of Darkness,6 0rwell's Animal Farm7 and Golding's Lord of the Flies.8 In these, an underlying human bestiality dooms utopian idealism to failure. Thirdly a belief in evolution is linked to Existentialism through its scientific justification of a purposeless world. It has thus indirectly influenced fiction which draws its inspiration from Existentialism. This can be seen in the novels of Orwell, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, and the plays and novels of Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Kafka's The Castle9 and The Trial10 and Orwell's 1984,11 for instance, illustrate a final effect of Existentialism - a failure to establish personality, a sort of reduction to nothingness.
Evolution has had a profound influence on politics and war. A philosophical justification for authoritarianism had come from Rousseau's concept of the 'general will'. This was a consensus to be determined by majority voice. Once determined all must obey it. It provided a rationale for the authoritarianism of the French revolutionary government. Evolution has probably increased the potential of this concept for oppressive ruthlessness by implicitly accepting that ends justify means that it is creditable to be unscrupulous in a good cause.
In every European country between 1870 and 1914 there was a war party demanding armaments, an individualist party demanding ruthless competition, an imperialist party demanding a free hand over backward peoples, a socialist party demanding the conquest of power, and a racialist party demanding internal purges against aliens. All of them, when appeals to greed or glory failed, or even before, invoked Spencer and Darwin as providing the scientific justification. War itself was regarded as beneficial. Earlier commanders such as Napoleon, Nelson, and Wellington had seen war at first hand and described it for what it was, in simple, unpleasant words. By contrast some writers in the second half of the nineteenth century poeticized war and luxuriated in the prospect of it. They took it for granted that all struggles were struggles for life and the death of the loser its 'natural' goal. The ability of English colonists to defeat and kill native Australians was, for instance, regarded by some as a mark of their superiority.12
Engels believed strongly in evolution:
Karl Marx believed that religion was mainly a social phenomenon resulting from social structures, and would collapse when they did. It was therefore undesirable. His ideas had considerable affinities with Darwin's. Both thought they had discovered the basic law of development, and that struggle was the means. Both supposed that nothing good is really lost in this struggle, and that things happen automatically and for the best14.Marx preached a doctrine of philosophical materialism, which his successors called 'dialectical materialism'.15 This claimed that quantitative changes in matter also yield qualitative changes (for example the emergence of mind); that nature is a result of contradictory opposites; and that the result of one opposite (thesis) clashing with another (antithesis) is a synthesis that preserves and transcends the opposites. This view has clear affinities to the evolutionary theory. It is no surprise, therefore, that Marx saw Darwin's Origin as very important since it provided a basis in natural science for this historical process. He sought permission to dedicate Das Kapital to him, which Darwin declined.
In pre-World War II Europe, Social Darwinism was a commonly held philosophy. Its underlying idea was that in the course of a ruthless competition and battle, a natural selection takes place which prevents or offsets aberrations and makes for a proper balance between population and available resources. According to the immutable laws of heredity, the unfit cannot be educated and therefore must be eliminated. 16
At the opposite political pole, Mussolini's attitude was completely dominated by evolution. In public utterances he repeatedly used the Darwinian catchwords while he mocked at perpetual peace, lest it should hinder the evolutionary process. For him the reluctance of England to engage in war only proved the evolutionary decadence of the British Empire.19
In England at the turn of the century Karl Pearson wrote, 'You pray for a time when the swords shall be turned into ploughshares, but believe me when that day comes man will no longer progress.'20Evolution was thus seen as something creditable. Nietzsche saw Christianity's defence of the weak as retrograde and as reversing the beneficial effects of natural selection.
Prince Bfilow, later the German Chancellor, spoke along the same lines when he said, 'We must realize that there is no such thing as permanent peace, and must remember Moltke's words: "Permanent peace is a dream and even a beautiful one. War is an element of the order of the world established by God in God's scheme of the world.''23 Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf wrote, 'He who lives must fight; he who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.24 Immorality, craftiness, ruthlessness and brutality are thus raised into virtues. Euthanasia of unproductive individuals is justified.
In translating these concepts into grim reality, some idea of the mentality of the Nazi leadership can be gauged from the remarks of Heinrich Himmler during World War II to SS leaders:
Theology was the original mainstay of creationist beliefs in the Christian world. But it became deeply influenced by evolutionary ideas. Although the appearance of Origin provoked violent controversy, attempts were soon made to show it was compatible with religious faith. The concept of the Bible as a special authoritative revelation gradually yielded before the impact of evolutionary thought. The proponents of evolution suggested that all religions were the result of an automatic developmental process, and the Bible was a product of natural evolution - a collection of books displaying man's progressive understanding of God. This new interpretation became allied with the theological movement called higher criticism, which called for a complete repudiation of the concept of the complete inspiration of the Bible. The principles of historical criticism were applied to the Bible, and its books became regarded as human and fallible, with the mistakes and contradictions that often characterize ancient writings. The history of Israel came to be seen as representing various stages through which Hebrews went in their quest for God.26
This changed view of the Bible led to a radical transformation of the old Christian position on the source of religious authority. Instead of being bound by what was written, the Christian could use the Scriptures in subjection to his own reason, the latter being the ultimate guide in cases of doubt.
This fundamentally reduced the place of Jesus Christ. He was seen mainly as providing the example and inspiration for ethical living. The stress was on His humanitarian teachings and a social gospel which alleviated suffering in harmony with the inevitable progress fostered by evolution. Concern was concentrated on this life, more or less repudiating the life to come.
The changed theology also brought a new attitude to non-Christian religions. Since all religions were evolutionary products, none could be considered right to the exclusion of others. This, coupled with the realization of great material and social needs of much of the world, contributed to a shift of missionary emphasis towards establishing hospitals, developing agricultural programmes, and fostering education.28 These had previously been seen as the fruit rather than the root of religious regeneration. They were now increasingly seen as the path to such regeneration.
Finally, evolution contributed to a changed attitude to biblical research. This became more detached and critical, and less aimed at discovering hitherto unrevealed truths in the text. The early nineteenth century had seen a great revival of Bible study, notably in connection with prophetic interpretation. This had been associated with a far-reaching religious awakening and a foundation of the Baptist, Wesleyan, and Anglican missionary societies.29 A lessened interest since the mid-nineteenth century has coincided with the triumph of Darwinism.
The behaviour of societies depends on their world-view. A change in this can result from a change in one of the major paradigms which composes it. The theory of evolution in the mid-nineteenth century caused such a change. Until then, mankind had generally believed that all major types of living thing were separately created a few thousand years ago. Since then, they have generally believed that all were descended from the simplest organisms by a process of evolution over millions of years. This change has had profound and far-reaching effects on all aspects of human thinking and behaviour. These effects can be seen in changed views in science, philosophy, music, the arts, psychology, the social sciences, education, politics, and theology.
*This material is taken from Chapter 1 of The Case for Creationism by Dr. Colin Mitchell
1eg Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. page 117. 2Ladd, H. S. (1957). Paleoecological evidence, chapter 2 in Treatise on Marine Ecology and Paleoecology, Geological Society of America Memoir 67, Volume 2. 1962. 2 Schaeffer, F. A. (1969). The God Who is There, Hodder and Stoughton, London.969, page 20f. 3Ibid, pages 41-44. 4Appleton, J. (1975). The Experience of Landscape, John Wiley and Sons, London.975, pages 65-68. 5 Clark, R. E. D. (1972b). Darwin: Before and After, The History of Evolutionary Theory, Paternoster Press, Exeter., page 106. 6 Conrad, J. (1917). Heart of Darkness, in Youth: a Narrative and Two Other Stories, J. M. Dent and Sons, Limited, London.. 7 Orwell, G. (1951). Animal Farm, Penguin (and many later printings), Harmondsworth, England, also (1972). Heineman Educational, London.. 8 Golding, W. G. (1965). Lord of the Flies, Faber and Faber, London. 9 Kafka, F. (1986). The Castle, translated from the German by W. and E. Muir, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex.. 10 Kafka, E (1955). The Trial, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex.. 11 Orwell, G. (1980). Nineteen Eighty-four, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex. 12Barzun, J. (1958). Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage,Doubleday Anchor Books, Garden City, New York., pages 92-95.13Engels 1975, quoted by Keane, G. J. (1991). Creation Rediscovered, Credis Pty Limited, PO Box 451, Doncaster, Australia. 1991, page 218. 14Barzun 1958, page 100. 15Chadwick, O. (1975). The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1975, page 59. 16Keane 1991, page 216. 17 Zajdlerowa, Z. (1989). The Dark Side of the Moon, 3rd edition, Harvester Wheatsheaf, New York., page 71. 18Clark, page l12f. 19ibid, page 115. 20ibid, page 114. 21Brinton, C. C. (1941). Nietzsche, Cambridge, Massachusetts, page 146. 22quoted by Barzun 1958, page 93. 23Hayes, C. J. H. (1941). A Generation of Materialism, Harper Torch Books, New York. 1941, page 340; Barzun 1942, page 101. 24quoted by Clark 1972, page 116. 25quoted by Keane 1991, page 217. 26Zimmerman, P. A. (ed.) (1966). Darwin, Evolution, and Creation, Concordia Publishing House, St.Louis, Missouri.1966, pages 173, 174. 27 Fosdick, H. E. (1926). The Modern Use of the Bible, Student Christian Movement, London, page 11. 28 Zimmerman, P. A. (1966)., pages 175, 177. 29Froom, L. E. (1946-48). The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 4 volumes, Review and Herald Publishing Company, Washington D.C.