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Is Acceptance of Evolution Evil? (2016)

Michael D. Reynolds

Most religious arguments against biological evolution consist of statements of (putative) facts or of denials unsupported by facts. However, one species of attack on evolution consists of ethical criticism. In the present essay I will describe, analyze, and respond to one such attack—that presented in the book The Battle for the Beginning by Reverend John MacArthur (MacArthur, 2001), a work popular among Christian biblical literalists. In what follows page citations refer to this book unless otherwise stated. Comments about this work may apply also to other, similar criticisms.

For fuller understanding of MacArthur's arguments, it is important to know that none of them is new. The present attack by American Christian fundamentalists on the concept of evolution began after the First World War. Then, as now, it focused on preventing the teaching of biological evolution in public schools and colleges. The notorious 1925 trial in Dayton, Tennessee—of high school teacher John Scopes for violating a state law against teaching evolution[1]—is just the best-known instance of the suppression of education by biblical literalists. The precedents of MacArthur's views are described in two 1920s responses to the attack on evolution: Charles Sprading's Science Versus Dogma (Sprading, 1925) and Maynard Shipley's The War on Modern Science (Shipley, 1927).

One should note at the outset that the ethical criticisms considered here are different in kind from arguments against the logic, explanatory power, or scientific validity of theories of evolution. The ethical criticisms do not attack the rationality of those theories, but instead impute to them immorality and harmfulness—namely by alleging propositions about the consequences of accepting evolution as a fact (or of believing that theories of evolution are true). These propositions, unlike the ethical value judgments themselves, are subject to assessment in terms of their truth and logic.

MacArthur makes seven chief assertions about the ethical consequences of acceptance of evolution. I will now evaluate each of these in turn.

1. Naturalism, and Particularly Its Acceptance of Evolution, Entails an Absence of Morality

MacArthur makes two kinds of statements on this matter. The first consists of allegations that naturalism removes the basis of morality. Here are some representative examples:

[Naturalism] erases all moral and ethical accountability.... If the impersonal cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, then morality is ultimately moot. If there is no personal Creator to whom humanity is accountable and if the survival of the fittest is the governing law of the universe, all the moral principles that normally regulate the human conscience are ultimately groundless. (p. 15)

Having already rejected the God revealed in Scripture and embraced instead pure naturalistic materialism, the modern mind has no grounds whatsoever for holding to any ethical standard, no reason whatsoever for esteeming "virtue" over "vice," and no justification whatsoever for regarding human life as more valuable than any other form of life. (p. 17)

[Evolutionary theory] means that impersonal matter is the ultimate reality.... Goodness, and evil are ... merely theoretical notions with no real meaning or significance. (p. 43)

The second class of statements asserts that accepting naturalistic evolution in fact causes people to abandon morality. MacArthur writes, for instance:

Moral chaos ... results from naturalism. (p. 19)

By embracing evolution, modern society aims to do away with morality, responsibility, and guilt. (p. 25)

We are witnessing the abandonment of moral standards.... These trends are directly traceable to the ascent of evolutionary theory. (p. 32)

MacArthur's 1920s predecessors similarly asserted that evolution abolished the ground of morality and resulted in immoral behavior:

[Evolution] undermines all moral responsibility as it recognizes no accountability to anyone or anything beyond our own "natural instincts." (Shipley, 1927, p. 353)

The spread of belief in evolution was accompanied by a wave of animalism. (Sprading, 1925, pp. 118-119)

It is the theory of evolution which has swept the country that is causing the very foundations of liberty, morals and Christianity to totter.[2] (Shipley, 1927, p. 46)

William Jennings Bryan went so far as to assert that "all the ills from which America suffers can be traced back to the teaching of evolution" (Shipley, 1927, pp. 254-255).

The key to all of these assertions is found in MacArthur's statement that "Scripture offers the only accurate explanations that can be found anywhere about ... where our moral sense originated" (p. 30). He presupposes that the only possible basis for moral principles is precepts from the Christian god. It is, however, obvious that such principles do not depend upon belief in this deity; non-Christian monotheisms, polytheisms, and nontheistic philosophies all propound moral principles, and they are not "groundless" for those who follow them.[3]

MacArthur's statements imply that persons who accept naturalism, and those who accept the truth of evolution, are necessarily amoral. This is plainly untrue. Such persons can adhere to Christian or other ethical systems. Moreover, people who accept evolution cannot be distinguished from those who reject it by the moral character of their beliefs and actions.[4]

When Christian apologists allege that the century-and-a-half since the theory of evolution was published has been a period of "moral chaos," "abandonment of moral standards," and "animalism," they probably have in mind the widespread rejection of restrictive notions about sexual behavior, and of sanctimonious prudery. Sexuality, rather than good and evil, has always been the focus of Christian ethics. MacArthur offers no evidence that acceptance of evolution has contributed to the change in sexual mores. And contrary to his allegations of immorality, the past 150 years have in fact been a period of substantial moral progress, to which the weakening of impositional and intolerant Christianity has contributed (Pinker, 2011, pp. 129-188, 556-569).

The theory of evolution consists of factual propositions, not judgments. But it is capable of explaining the existence, persistence, and content of ethical systems, and thus it offers a rational alternative to MacArthur's attribution of morality to extramundane agency (Boyer, 2001; Hobhouse, 1906; McCabe, 1926; Westermarck, 1924-1926). The reasons people "esteem virtue over vice" are naturalistic and the product of biological evolution in the context of human societies. The "meaning or significance" of "goodness and evil," and the functioning of moral principles, do not depend upon their having otherworldly underpinnings.

2. Acceptance of Evolution Prevents Belief in the Spiritual

MacArthur asks: "If we evolved from sheer matter, why should we esteem what is spiritual? In fact, if everything evolved from matter, nothing 'spiritual' is real" (pp. 32-33). The phrase "evolved from sheer matter" seems to combine two different concepts: that of materialism, and that of evolution. These are, however, independent of one another.

The answer to MacArthur's first question above is that acceptance of evolution does not entail disesteem of the spiritual. It is perfectly possible to think that the universe, the Earth, and living organisms undergo evolution, and even that they were created by an evolutionary process such that "everything evolved from matter," and simultaneously hold spiritual beliefs such as that these things were created by God and that human beings have souls. Many adherents of biblical religions do accept that biological evolution has occurred. Soon after Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published, some eminent American Protestants constructed theories of evolution "congenial to various forms of Christianity" (Lightman, 2009). MacArthur devotes about 8% of his text to decrying fellow Christians for accepting biological evolution (pp. 17-27, 56-60).

MacArthur's remarks ignore the fact that scientific theories in themselves do not directly address any subject, such as whether immaterial beings exist, that is not susceptible to at least indirect observation. (They can, however, be used in argumentation against assertions that things that are observable provide evidence for the existence of the extramundane. They also can explain why people believe in nonexistent extracosmical beings.)

In the opening quote in this section, MacArthur seems to assert a causal relation between accepting evolution and disbelief in spirits: if a, then b. It is true that acknowledging that biological evolution has occurred may be part of a broader naturalistic worldview that excludes belief in spirits. But accepting evolution as a biological fact does not cause a person to adopt a naturalistic worldview.

In the 1920s Christians often alleged not only that granting the reality of biological evolution was associated with unbelief about God, but that evolution was specifically and explicitly an attack on Christianity. They asserted that the theory of evolution was "hell-born, Bible-destroying, deity-of-Christ-denying German rationalism"[5] (Shipley, 1927, pp. 171-172; Sprading, 1925, pp. 116-117), "blasphemous, Bible-undermining, God-denying, Christ-cursing and faith-robbing" (Shipley, 1927, pp. 176-177), "God-denying, Christ-repudiating, Bible-scorning" (Shipley, 1927, p. 314), and that it "denies the Divine Creation of Man, the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and disparages and belittles the Christian religion and the Creative Powers of God" (Shipley, 1927, p. 381). They averred that "[s]cientific statements on the descent of man and survival of the fittest are simply camouflage for infidelity" (Sprading, 1925, pp. 115-116; see also Shipley, 1927, p. 206, 240), and that teaching evolution would "destroy the faith of ... children in a personal God and in Jesus" (Shipley, 1927, p. 93; see also Shipley, 1927, pp. 64-65, 148, 220, 255).

MacArthur agrees that the concept of evolution is an opponent of Christianity. He writes of "anti-Christian theories about human origins and the origin of the cosmos" (p. 16), stating:

Evolution was invented in order to eliminate the God of Genesis. (p. 25)

The evolutionary lie is ... pointedly antithetical to Christian truth. (p. 25)

If Genesis 1-3 doesn't tell us the truth, why should we believe anything else in the Bible? (p. 29)

In these remarks MacArthur echoes the demagogism of William Jennings Bryan in the 1920s (Shipley, 1927, p. 154).

3. Evolution Entails the Belief that Human Beings are not Superior to Beasts

MacArthur states:

If evolution is true, human beings are just one of many species that evolved from common ancestors. We're no better than animals, and we ought not to think that we are.... We ourselves are ultimately no better than or different from any other living species. (pp. 32-33)

If we got where we are by a natural evolutionary process, there can be no validity whatsoever to the notion that our race bears the image of God. We ultimately have no more dignity than an amoeba. (p. 34)

Similarly, in 1926 a Mississippi clergyman advised the state legislature that "the teaching of the evolutionary theory of the origin and ultimate end of man does not create in the minds of our youths any laudable pride of ancestry" (Shipley, 1927, p. 83), while other clergy called the idea of human evolution "bestial" (Shipley, 1927, pp. 285-286, 291).

By invoking the phrase "better than," MacArthur leaps from factual statements to judgmental ones. Using the theory of evolution, one can describe the development of the species Homo sapiens from nonhuman and hominid ancestors, and explain why human beings acquired their attributes. Evolution, however, has no bearing whatsoever upon how one values human beings in relation to other species. The fact that all species of organisms have developed as a result of evolution dictates nothing with regard to the relative values a person might assign to them. MacArthur's remarks presuppose a belief that human beings are not valuable unless they are the result of a separate act of creation by God in "his" image.[6]

MacArthur's point is that we human beings tend to view ourselves as superior to other species, even biologically very similar apes. The most obvious reason why we perceive ourselves in this way is because we possess much greater intelligence than even the most intelligent beast. The concept of the evolutionary origin of Homo sapiens does not deny the reality of any attribute, such as intelligence, that a member of that species can claim as making the species "better" than others. On the contrary, it explains the existence of those attributes.

If MacArthur (and the Mississippi clergyman) are distressed by the thought that "we're no better than animals, and we ought not to think that we are," they should heed the words of Ecclesiastes 3:18-20:

So I decided, as regards men, to dissociate them [from] the divine beings and to face the fact that they are beasts. For in respect of the fate of man and the fate of beast, they have one and the same fate: as the one dies so dies the other, and both have the same lifebreath; man has no superiority over beast, since both amount to nothing. Both go to the same place; both came from dust and both return to dust. (Jewish Study Bible translation)[7]

4. Evolution Entails Belief that the Human Species has No "Meaning"

MacArthur states that according to naturalism, "there can be no personal Creator. That means there can be no design and no purpose for anything.... We are witnessing ... the loss of humanity's sense of destiny.... These trends are directly traceable to the ascent of evolutionary theory" (p. 32). He decries "the belief that humanity is simply the product of evolution—a mere animal with no purpose" (p. 34). He asks: if a human being "is just one more animal that evolved from amoeba [sic]," then "where is his meaning? What is his purpose?" (p. 35). Finally, he alleges certain results of "modern evolutionary theory. If true, it means that impersonal matter is the ultimate reality. Human personality and human intelligence are simply meaningless accidents produced at random by the natural process of evolution" (p. 43).

One presupposition here is that there is a purpose or significance of humankind. Something has a meaning only in the ideas of a thinking being; MacArthur's belief is that the Trinity has a purpose for humankind. Another presupposition is that only if the creation tales in Genesis are literally true can one conceive of God as having a purpose in creating the universe:

I am convinced that Genesis 1-3 ought to be taken at face value as the divinely revealed history of creation. (p. 18)

All sorts of theological mischief ensues when we reject or compromise the literal truth of the biblical account of creation and the fall of Adam. (p. 19)

The creation of the human race was the central object of God's creative purpose from the beginning.... Every step of creation up to this point had one main purpose: to prepare a perfect environment for Adam. (p. 157)

Adam, as we see from the text [of Genesis] was specially and personally created by God. (p. 158)

This is a notion with which many adherents of biblical religions disagree; the existence of a divine plan does not depend upon people's interpretation of biblical creation tales. The theory of evolution itself has nothing to say about these ideas regarding an extramundane being.

The notion that "evolutionary theory means that impersonal matter is the ultimate reality" again erroneously conflates materialism and evolution. MacArthur's remarks presuppose a belief that "human personality and human intelligence" have no "meaning" unless they are the result of a separate act of creation by God.

From a naturalistic viewpoint one can substitute ourselves, collectively and individually, for any otherworldly being as the source who gives meaning to our species. A person determines the purposes of his or her own life, and we band with others to effect more comprehensive purposes. Our ability to do these things developed through evolution, but the theory of evolution does not assign purposes to us.[8] Our having purposes does not depend on our being agents fulfilling the plan of a superhuman person.

Perhaps the greatest social problem during the Common Era is the insistence, by persons who believe that God has a purpose for humankind and that they know that purpose, on imposing their beliefs on everyone else. This has been a major (or even the most prevalent) cause of war, persecution, oppression, and injustice. The perception of "meaning" in human life very often results in evil purposes.

The remark that "human personality and human intelligence are simply meaningless accidents produced at random by the natural process of evolution" suggests that MacArthur regards that process as desultory or chaotic. Biological evolution, however, is not random; Darwin's great contribution was to explain the principle that determines evolutionary events. The mutations that produce the genetic variability required for evolution are unpredictable, but not random; they have particular causes and probabilities. They are partly inherent in the mechanism of the replication of genes itself, and not entirely dependent upon external events. So the characters of humans that resulted from evolution were "accidents" in the sense of being undesigned, but not in the sense of being fortuitous (without known cause). Humans are intelligent because intelligence is an adaptation that promoted the survival and reproduction of hominids as they were evolving (Tooby and Cosmides, 1992). And "an adaptation is, by its nature, an improbably good organization of elements and so will not often spontaneously come into existence merely by chance" (Tooby and Cosmides, 1992, p. 77).

As seen in the four assertions just discussed, a chief thesis of MacArthur's book is that unless people believe the creation story of Genesis, they cannot possess ethics, believe in spirits, value their humanity, or lead purposeful lives. But underlying his and other Christians' distress about evolution are two circumstances separate from these alleged results of accepting the theory of evolution.

First, the facts of cosmogonic, geological, and biological evolution destroy the standard teleological argument for the existence of God.[9] (MacArthur uses this argument extensively [pp. 100, 127-133, 143-152].) Second, the religion focused on Jesus that Paul (Saul) created indissolubly tied the central concept of redemption by Jesus' sacrificial death to the story of Adam. As MacArthur states, "everything Scripture says about our salvation through Jesus Christ hinges on the literal truth of what Genesis 1-3 teaches about Adam's creation and fall" (pp. 19-20). In addition, "Paul regarded both the creation and fall of Adam as history.... To question the historicity of these events is to undermine the very essence of Christian doctrine" (p. 23). Thus, the most fundamental reason why Christians attack the concept of biological evolution is that it destroys the essential doctrine of their religion. Allegations of undesirable moral effects stemming from accepting evolution can be viewed as a technique to try to prevent Christians from acknowledging that evolution occurred. What is now called Christianity is in fact Paulinism greatly modified by later theologians (Teeple, 1994). Christians whose commitment to truthfulness enables them to acknowledge that this religion is counterfactual might be moved to study the actual teachings of Jesus!

5. Naturalism, Particularly Its Acceptance of Evolution, Entails Negative Feelings

In other comments, MacArthur swings wildly:

All naturalism inevitably leads ... to a sense of utter insignificance and despair. (p. 14)

An utter sense of futility is sweeping over society. [This trend is] directly traceable to the ascent of evolutionary theory. (p. 32)

If Genesis is false, nihilism is the next best option. (p. 43)

To demonstrate the truth of the first two passages, one would have to perform studies showing that those who accept naturalism and evolution are more prone to "despair" and a "sense of futility" than those who do not accept them. It seems likely that these allegations are conclusions MacArthur draws from the premise that life has no "meaning" if one does not share his personal religious beliefs—a premise expressed by the third passage above. That sentence embodies the idea that only on the theory of creation of the universe by the Trinity do human beings "have real answers to anything that is truly important" (p. 42). Such statements are made frequently by Christian apologists, but what they actually convey is: "I am unwilling to accept as 'answers' any propositions that do not agree with my closed system of belief."

6. Evolution Provided the Philosophical Basis for Communism

Citing Stephen Jay Gould (Ever Since Darwin, 1977, p. 26), MacArthur states:

Philosophers who incorporated Darwin's ideas ... [conceived] new philosophies that set the stage for the amorality and genocide that characterized so much of the twentieth century.

Karl Marx, for example, self-consciously followed Darwin in the devising of his economic and social theories. He inscribed a copy of his book Das Kapital to Darwin "from a devoted admirer." He referred to Darwin's The Origin of Species as "the book which contains the basis in natural history for our view." (p. 15)

Here also MacArthur (and Gould) are treading an old path. In 1925 a resolution submitted to the California State Board of Education averred that the concept of evolution "tends to ... Bolshevism, Socialism, and even to Anarchy, as historically demonstrated in those countries where it has been tested and proven" (Shipley, 1927, p. 266). The next year, a minister in North Carolina stated: "After many years of study I have found that every Bolshevist of Russia, Socialist, ... and Anarchist, believes in evolution" (Shipley, 1927, p. 100).

But MacArthur's allegations do not correspond to the facts. Darwin's theory of evolution appeared in On the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859; the ideas expressed therein were previously made public only in a brief article the preceding year. When and from what sources, then, did Marx develop his theories? According to Robert Daniels:

By 1845, when he was 27, Marx had assimilated the three main intellectual sources of his theory—German philosophy (Hegel), French utopian socialism, and British classical economic theory. In his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx concluded that man was alienated from his own true nature by the class system and the exploitation of the lower class by the upper. In 1845, in The German Ideology, he formulated his materialist conception of history, and in 1847, in The Poverty of Philosophy, he produced his first systematic statement of the dialectical breakdown of capitalism and the predicted triumph of the proletarian revolution. (Daniels, 1970, p. 345b)

The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848. Unless he were prescient, Marx could not possibly have "incorporated Darwin's ideas" or "self-consciously followed Darwin" as he developed and published his thoughts more than a decade before On the Origin of Species. Naturally, Marx was pleased when a theory of natural history that could be viewed as resembling his own social theory appeared. But there is no obvious reason to think that the development of Communism would have been altered if Darwin had never existed.

7. Evolution Provided the Philosophical Basis for Nazism

MacArthur's argument that the concept of biological evolution grounded Nazi ideology runs thus: "Friedrich Nietzsche's whole philosophy was based on the doctrine of evolution," and "Nietzsche's philosophy laid the foundation for the Nazi movement in Germany" (p. 16). By attempting to connect the concept of evolution with conditions in Germany, MacArthur follows in the footsteps of his 1920s predecessors, who declared that the concept had "degraded the youth of Germany" (Shipley, 1927, p. 80) and was the cause of the First World War (Shipley, 1927, p. 40, 119).

Even slight acquaintance with Nietzsche's works suffices to rebut the assertion that his "whole philosophy was based on the doctrine of evolution," however. Nietzsche perceived Darwin's ideas in a social rather than a biological context. He called Darwin "mediocre" and denied that he was "creative" (Nietzsche, 1886/1989, §253). His attitude toward Darwin has been studied repeatedly[10]; the following conclusions are typical:

[Nietzsche] thought he had in the will to power a scientific discovery that underpinned the rest of his philosophy, and that this contrasted significantly with Darwin's theory of evolution. (Moore, 2001)

[Nietzsche] argued that Darwin's blind species-struggle of the masses for existence needed to be replaced by his own discovery of the individual struggle of a few human beings for self-creation as well as excellence in art, science, and philosophy. (Birx, 2003, p. 4)

What about the relation between Nietzsche and "the Nazi movement?" Nazism was created by Adolf Hitler, who published his doctrines in Mein Kampf. Hitler had little interest in philosophy, and his lengthy book does not mention Nietzsche. In the annotated English translation of Mein Kampf published in 1939, there are two footnotes relevant to a connection between Hitler's philosophy and Nietzsche:

Nor is the affinity [of Hitler's ideas] with Friedrich Nietzsche, often taken for granted, in any sense real. It may well be that ... Nietzsche [that is, his works] induced many German intellectuals to join the Nazi movement, but the reasoning was clearly erroneous. Hitler subscribes to no doctrine of the superman. His strength and originality lie in the fact that he identifies himself with the masses.... The leader is he who most strongly senses the needs and desires of the unified nation, and not he who as Nietzsche ... believed makes use of the "slaves." (Hitler, 1939, pp. 127-128)

Here Hitler departs from Hegel, to whom his "totalitarianism" seems to owe very little. In so far as it has a philosophic foundation, it derives from [Johann Gottlieb] Fichte and Plato [Nietzsche is not mentioned]. The State is an instrument for the realization of a Weltanschauung. (Hitler, 1939, p. 579)

In Mein Kampf Hitler does, however, make repeated references to God and to the Bible, and states that he believes that he is acting as God's agent (Hitler, 1939, p. 84). The anti-Semitism of contemporary German Christians is evident in the ideas expressed in the book; Nietzsche and Darwin are not. Hatred of Jews was a cornerstone of Nazi doctrine.[11] Nietzsche, in contrast, repeatedly denounced anti-Semitism and suggested that "it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country [Germany]" (Nietzsche, 1886/1989, §251). When the Nazis did make use of Nietzsche's works, they did so illegitimately.[12][13]

8. Conclusion

MacArthur asserts that "all the philosophical fruits of Darwinism have been negative, ignoble, and destructive to the very fabric of society"[14] (p. 16). To demonstrate even a few of the "philosophical fruits" that refute this assertion is beyond the scope of this essay. Evolution is the most important organizing principle in biology, and its role there extends into all fields dealing with organisms, including medicine, psychology, farming, breeding, and ecology. Anyone familiar with Western thought since Darwin is aware of the manner in which the concept of evolution informs disciplines other than biology, including astronomy, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, economics, philosophy (including ethics), and even religion.[15] One should note also the practical use of the principle of evolution as described by Darwin in the design of artifacts and systems in many fields including aeronautics, cybernetics, engineering, telecommunications, decision-making, visual art, and music.[16]

When MacArthur alleges certain adverse ethical consequences of theories of evolution, in most instances he is presupposing that his personal religious beliefs are the only correct views. He commits factual and logical errors. In the Introduction to his book he claims: "my goal is not to write a polemic against current evolutionary thinking" (p. 29). Yet his assertions about the philosophical and social results of Darwin's ideas have the character of polemics and do not always regard the truth. Both his general thesis and many of his specific arguments are manifestations of a rejection of rational, evidential thinking in favor of unquestioning credulity.


[1] The lower house of the Tennessee legislature that had passed the bill prohibiting the teaching of evolution had simultaneously approved a resolution stating that its members "were neither monkeys nor descendants of monkeys" (Sprading, 1925, p. 161). Thereafter similar prohibitions were instituted in Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Discussion of evolution was largely omitted from or minimized in American biology textbooks until the late 1950s (Grabiner and Miller, 1974), when the public became frightened by the possibility that the Soviet Union had achieved scientific superiority (Robinson, 2011). Thereafter state laws whose intent was to oppose the teaching of evolution were repeatedly struck down by the courts. Such laws have since been replaced by attempts to cast doubt on the fact of evolution using curriculum guidelines, stickers attached to textbooks, and similar alternatives.

[2] Here Shipley is quoting a 1926 address at the inaugural meeting of the fundamentalist organization the Supreme Kingdom. Its leader at the time was Edward Y. Clarke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan—self-described as a devout Protestant organization—was a leader in attempts to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

[3] Although a Christian might state that the Trinity is the author even of non-Christian ethics, this is nothing more than a commonplace sectarian assertion that one's doctrines are true and that the grounds for all other religious and secular ethical systems are false.

[4] MacArthur does not address the morality of the numerous Christians who accept evolution. He might say that they are guilty only of misinterpreting the Bible, but then his entire argument about the ethical consequences accepting evolution would amount to nothing more than a sectarian dispute.

[5] The speaker's characterization of the theory of evolution as German rather than British may reflect the influence of Ernst Haeckel's The Riddle of the Universe: At the Close of the Nineteenth Century (Die Welträthsel). Haeckel wrote that no other scientific advance of the 19th century "has had so profound an influence on the whole structure of human knowledge as Darwin's theory of the natural origin of species" (Haeckel, 1900, p. 78). The English translator of the work, Joseph McCabe, later commented: "No book has been more violently assailed in the religious world than Haeckel's Riddle" (McCabe, 1933, p. 147; see also Shipley, 1927, p. 180, 188). Other critics also seem to have thought that the theory of evolution came from Germany (Shipley, 1927, p. 191)—which tells one something about the opponents' knowledge of the theory.

[6] The reader may find some irony in the fact that secular humanism affirms the dignity and worth of humankind, while Protestant Christianity commonly regards humans as vile, detestable, and unworthy of whatever kindness God deigns to grant them.

[7] The New King James Version translation preferred by MacArthur weakens the sense of this passage by inserting like ("like animals") in the first sentence, as well as by translating umowtar as advantage rather than superiority (which the original King James Version rendered as preeminence).

[8] For a statement by a biologist about life "lead[ing] somewhere" and the role of biological science in promoting "a future destiny ... for higher life, both physical and mental," see Maynard Shipley's The War on Modern Science (1927, p. 265).

[9] Evolution also invalidates philosophical arguments like that found in Descartes' Fourth Discourse of his Discourse on the Method—namely, that it is "manifestly impossible" that "the more perfect should proceed from and depend on the less perfect" (Descartes, 1637/1998, p. 55).

[10] For one expression of Nietzsche's thought, see §14, "Anti-Darwin," of the antepenultimate section ("Skirmishes of an Untimely Man") of his Twilight of the Idols (Nietzsche, 1954, pp. 522-523). For discussion of Nietzsche's response to Darwin, see Chapter 5 of Walter Kaufmann's Nietzsche (1974, pp. 121-156) and Chapter 16 of Daniel C. Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995, pp. 453-493).

[11] A much more appropriate coaptation than that of Nietzsche and the Nazis is the Nazis' campaign of extermination against Jews and the Inquisition of the Christian Church; those oppressive campaigns had many features in common.

[12] Nietzsche's views about Jews are described in Chapter 10 of Kaufmann's biography (Kaufmann, 1974, pp. 284-306). For an example of Nazi "perversion of Nietzsche," see Kaufmann's footnote 27 to §251 in his translation of Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche, 1886/1989).

[13] If a person is culpable when his or her ideas are used for evil purposes by others in ways that the originator never intended, it would seem that Jesus and the authors of the Bible ought to be blamed for the persecutions and wars carried out in the name of Christianity (see the following note).

[14] Consider the fruits of Christianity: its role in the destruction of classical civilization, especially literature and art; its wars both against non-Christians and between Christian sects; its long-continued persecution of Jews, alleged heretics, and supposed witches, with extensive use of torture and judicial murder; its constant alliance with repressive governments; its support of slavery; its practice and support of sexism; its opposition to public literacy and education; and its opposition to the acquisition of scientific knowledge and to the use of knowledge, including medical discoveries, to improve people's lives (Armstrong, 1987; Cohen, 1931; Foote and Wheeler, 1887; Gage, 1893; Housley, 2002; Lea, 1993; McCabe, 1935; McCabe, 1946; White, 1896). All of this ought to be weighed against a modest amount of charitable activity, which also was provided by non-Christian societies. Ought not one say that its fruits have been "negative, ignoble, and destructive to the very fabric of society"?

[15] For examples see Parts VI ("Darwinian Patterns in Social Thought") and VII ("Darwinian Influences in Philosophy and Ethics") of Philip Appleman's anthology Darwin (Appleman, 2000). Concerning the evolutionary basis of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, see The Adapted Mind (Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby, 1992).

[16] Examples of websites discussing and illustrating these applications are Complexity & Artificial Life Research Concept for Self-Organizing Systems and Principia Cybernetica Web.


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Barkow, Jerome H., Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby. (Eds.). (1992). The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Birx, H. James. (2003, January). "Nietzsche, Darwin & Evolution." Paper presented at the Hawai'i International Conference on Arts and Humanities, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Retrieved from

Boyer, Pascal. (2001). Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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