Society, Science and Evolution


"Do You Fear What Might Happen If The World Believed In Evolution?"


LAURIE: Ed, you began your article by stating:

"Some conservative religious believers fear that teaching evolution breeds immorality and also invites 'God's judgment' to fall upon society as a whole. But what were the morals of society like in the 'good old days' before Darwin? And did the Creator refrain from smiting believers in creationism with horrific diseases? The answer in both cases is, 'No.'"

But isn't it a matter of the relative LEVEL of immorality? After all, Cain murdered his brother Abel, didn't he, and with a small population at that time.

ED: I am happy to discuss different levels of immorality in different cultures and different nations over time. But before we go there, let's point out a few similarities between us that neither of us should take for granted in any discusssion of "immorality." Neither you, nor I, is a barbarian. We each have a philosophy and/or theology, prize reason, and support the benefits that civilization holds over barbarism. Most of the folks who go to church or who belong to freethought organizations are highly interested in ethics and education on a worldwide scale, and do not join such groups in order to become criminals. (In fact self-declared "atheists" apparently comprise a smaller proportion of the American prison populations than they do in society at large.) Our common interests being pointed out, here are a few things worth pondering...

Compared with the rest of the world, America has a very high percentage of regular churchgoers, Protestant, Catholic and Pentecostal evangelists, Christian cable shows, Christians in government, etc. Yet America also continues to suffer relatively higher crime rates and higher numbers of people in prisons, per capita, than any other nation on earth. We also have the highest rate of obesity, and relatively higher rates of teenage pregnancy, and relatively lower average test scores, compared with several other industrialized nations. So what has Christiantiy truly done for America? Maybe we are spending too much time and money on building more churches when we ought to be spending it on children's health (vitamins, minerals, protein), and children's education, during the crucial early years, or on other social programs, such as those other nations do?

Even some heathen nations like Japan (50% of whose populace doesn't even believe in a higher spirit, and the remainder are mostly gentlemanly Buddhists and Shintoists) have lower rates of crime and obesity than the U.S.

And Check out the Czechs:

Atheism in the Czech Republic May 03, 2004 as reported at The Czech Republic appears to be one of the most disbelieving nations in Europe. According to one poll, only 33.6% of Czechs belong to a religion and only 11.7% attend services once a month or more. That's the lowest rate for any country in Europe aside from Estonia. So how does the Czech Republic compare in terms of things like crime to other, more religious nations? Someone at alt.atheism was kind enough to collect some data using NationMaster, posting comparisons between the Czech Republic, Poland (95% Catholic) and America:

Crime: Murder

Czech Republic 0.01 per 1000 people

Poland 0.05 per 1000 people

United States 0.04 per 1000 people

Crime: Rape

Czech Republic 0.04 per 1000 people

Poland 0.06 per 1000 people

United States 0.30 per 1000 people

Crime: Robbery

Czech Republic 0.39 per 1000 people

Poland 1.38 per 1000 people

United States 1.41 per 1000 people

Health: HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate

Czech Republic less than 0.1% (2001 est.)

United States 0.6% (2001 est.)

Poland 0.1% - note: no country specific models provided (2001 est.)

Health: Infant mortality rate

Czech Republic 5.46

Poland 9.17

United States 6.69

Education: Scientific literacy

Czech Republic 511

United States 499

Poland 483

You can visit NationMaster to create your own graphs to compare a variety of things.

And what about Christianity in America? It's just as secular and kitschy as American society in general, with Christian t-shirts, books, records, stadium-filled rallies, Christian theme parks, and apologetics cruises, not to mention bestselling books about promises of growing rich (Prayer of Jabez), as well as Christians voting to divert increasing funds to the military industrial establishment, while Jesus warned that "All who take up the sword shall die by the sword."

Jim Wallis, the Christian editor of Sojourner's magazine and author of God's Politics, asks, "How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-American and pro-war?"

See also the book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider who details further evidence of Christian worldliness. Sider admits, "Poll after poll by Gallup and Barna show that evangelicals live just like the world... Evangelical Christians and born-again Christians get divorced just as often, if not a little more, than the general population. And Barna has discovered that 90 percent of the born-again Christians who are divorced got divorced after they accepted Christ [The Barna Group, The Barna Update, 'Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just As Likely to Divorce,' August 6, 2001,]... Or take the issue of racism. A Gallup study discovered that when they asked the question. 'Do you object if a black neighbor moves in next door?' the least prejudiced were Catholics and non-evangelicals. The next group, in terms of prejudice, was mainline Protestants. Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were the worst." [Ron Sider speaking in Christianity Today, April, 2005, Vol. 49 Issue 4, "The Evangelical Scandal"]

And what about the BIG picture of "moral and immoral" human behavior over the eons? One scholar has tried to measure that picture after studying archeologist sites from all over the world. See Lawrence H. Keeley's, War Before Civilization (Oxford University Press; 1996), in which Keeley cites archeological evidence to argue that human beings used to kill each other more often in the past than today, percentage-wise.

Keeley's charts of relative mobilization rates and casualty rates among tribes and modern nations are fascinating. He suggests that the terrible Twentieth Century wars would have had a death-rate twenty times higher "if the world's population were still organized into bands, tribes, and chiefdoms": the typical tribal combat casualty rate of .5 percent per year, during the course of the century would translate to "more than 2 billion war deaths."

Keeley also pointed out that a higher percentage of the populace of Europe was killed in the 17th century (during religious-related warfare, when everybody was a creationist and believer in the Apostle's Creed) than during World War 2.

I also read elsewhere that evidence of cannibalism in the human past continues to surface in ancient archeological digs and even has been discovered inside human genes.

So if you take the long view, and agree with Keeley (though I have read some scholars uncertainties concerning Keeley's conclusions), deaths due to intertribal warfare and murder were more prominent in the past than in the present, i.e., percentage-wise per total population. So if "Adam fell," and Keeley's hypothesis is correct, that "fall" may have been "upward" over time, not downward.


LAURIE: Ed, You stated in your article:

"Simply rent the DVD, The Gangs of New York, or read the books, Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Les Miserables, Candide, or just about anything by Charles Dickens to get a taste of the immorality and diseases that ran amuck in the 'good old days.'"

Are you really trying to say that believing in evolutionism might bring about some sort of improvement or are you saying that it will not make ANY change one way or the other?

ED: I am certainly not saying that believing in evolution is as detrimental to society as some young-earth creationists claim it is, laying the blame for nearly every harmful "--ism" they can name, on "evolution." And I also point out that immense wars erupted in Europe in the 17th century, long before Darwin, when everyone was a Bible believing Protestant or Catholic creationist. The problem appears to be humanity's temptation toward getting caught up following alpha male leaders with narrow aggressive ideologies. See my article, "Religion is Not the Problem"


LA: Can I ask if you are aware that it was the BELIEF in a Creator that was the underpinning of the "Golden Era of Science?"

An evolutionist of all people has pointed this out. i.e.: "Although we may recognize the frailties of Christian dogma and deplore the unconscionable persecution of thought which is one of the less appetizing aspects of medieval history, we must also observe that in one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself. Many things undoubtedly went into the amalgam: Greek logic and philosophy, the experimental methods of craftsmen in the arts as opposed to the aristocratic thinker - all these things have been debated. But perhaps the most curious element of them all is the factor dwelt upon by Whitehead - THE SHEER ACT OF FAITH THAT THE UNIVERSE POSSESSED ORDER AND COULD BE INTERPRETED BY RATIONAL MINDS. For Whitehead rightly observes, the philosophy of experimental science was not impressive. It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He has set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond men's wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian concept of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origin to an act of faith that the Universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption."

(Darwin's Century, Dr. Loren Eiseley, 1959, p.62) (A.N. Whitehead, "Science and the Modern World, Mentor Book., 1948, pp 4-17)

ED: The question of "the origin of science" was not what my original paper was focused upon. The question was whether the teaching of evolution necessarily must make mankind more criminal, murderous and war-like. There are even Christian evolutionists whom I cited at the end of my article who answered "no" to that question.

Also, science poses its own peculiar dangers to humanity and the planet, and if in the end we die of too many dangerous and/or polluting inventions that owe their creation to scientific knowledge, what will people say of the invention of science then? It appears to be a double-edged sword. (Not that either of us would relinquish the incredibly interesting knowledge of the cosmos that science has provided, nor relinquish its beneficial aspects in agriculture and medicine, not to mention plumbing and sewer systems. Speaking of plumbing, most agree it was more important than medical science in eliminating huge outbreaks of disease since with plumbing you need not live near a body of water where disease and mosquitoes may breed, nor do you have to go down to that body of water to fill your jug each day, but can receive clean water from the tap.)

But to directly answer your question, above, there are authorities in history other than Loren Eiseley and Whitehead. And such authorities do not agree that science owes its rebirth in the Western world primarily to theism.

One recent book, Aristotle's Children, argues that only after Western man gave up on Platonism and it's "ideal world" concepts, and re-discovered the works of Aristotle's more practical and earthy philosophy, was scientific investigation reborn in Europe. Another new book tells the tale of how the heretical Nestorian church had preserved writings of ancient Hellenic alchemy that were revived and became popular at the time when science was reborn in the West. Newton wrote thousands of pages on alchemy, and many scientists were fascinated by it, since it involved certain formulas, and an emphasis on different types of matter. And so modern day chemistry apparently owes a lot to alchemical ideas that stretch back to Hellenistic days. Other historians have pointed out that farming practices had improved in Europe, and outbreaks of plague were diminishing, and the population of Europe was increasing along with the rise of a prosperous Middle Class, and printing had also been invented. Men were joining and forming societies and had lesiure time and wealth to pursue scientific interests, and publicize such knowledge in mass produced literature.

Moreover, Christianity alone did not create science. Scientific ideas and investigations preceded Christianity and Judaism, and began in ancient Babylonia, Egypt and Greece, and also taught in academies of the Hellenistic world. However, after Christian Roman Emperors ruled Rome, and began battling paganism, Christians closed such academies.

See the works of one of the premier historians of the later half of the Roman Empire, Ramsay MacMullen, Dunham Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at Yale University. He is the author of Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D. 100-400, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries Corruption and the Decline of Rome (Christianizing Rome didn't keep the corruption out--E.T.B.), all published by Yale University Press.

"MacMullen discusses the shifiting attitude from the rational world view of Pliny, Seneca and Plotinus and the increase in credulity throughout the third and fourth centuries. MacMullen argues that this was a result of changes in the elite as more vulgar and less literate people increased their predominance (and Christianity spread). Whatever the merits of this thesis, MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about appartitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the everpresent existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross." reviewer


Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

In the century opened by the Peace of the Church, more Christians died for their faith at the hands of fellow Christians than had died before in all the persecutions.

Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperors' attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529. ["529 A.D." was the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian, the same Justinian who also outlawed sodomy, because, "It is well known that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited."--E.T.B.]. As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato's books, in Aristotle's, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world. Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders' urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.

Lastly, No matter what the religious views were of the culture in which scientific investigation first blossomed most heavily, today the pursuit of scientific research is not limited by one's religious beliefs or lack thereof. Scientific research is now a truly universal pursuit, one of the few such universal pursuits in the realm of knowledge that mankind has ever developed.