Once again I would like to extend my profound thanks to Friend of the Blog @IbrahimKaher for pointing me toward this particularly idiotic meme.
Darwinism refers to the theory of evolution by natural selection as published by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. According to Darwin, the great variety of life on Earth is attributable to a few simple tenets:
- There are limited resources, so there will always be competition, between and within species.
- There are variations within a species that can be passed from parent to child.
- If one of these variations enables an organism to gather resources more effectively than her competitors, then she will be better nourished, and consequently live longer and produce more offspring.
- Over many generations, favorable traits will multiply within a population while unfavorable traits will diminish, if not disappear entirely.
Darwin went on to explain how the long-term aggregation of small changes could lead to large-scale changes, and eventually to the immense biodiversity evident in Earth’s panoply of life.
There is nothing particularly atheistic about Darwinism. Darwin’s theory neither supports nor refutes the existence of God, which is the only question that atheism addresses. The only way you can convince yourself that Darwinism is atheistic is if you staunchly refuse to budge from your position of literal Biblical creationism. If you believe that Earth and all of its modern life was spoken into existence by a divine creator, and if you believe that any statement to the contrary is against God, then there is no end to the branches of science which you will interpret as atheistic. In that case, you should remove yourself from the scientific conversation altogether, because you are in no position to offer helpful contributions.
Perhaps the meme’s author is confusing Darwinism with social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the application of the phrase “survival of the fittest” to all aspects of human culture, including economics, politics, and ethics. There is no overarching definition of fitness with which all social Darwinists agree, but in general, the strong (or fit) thrive while the weak (or unfit) languish. Social Darwinism has been associated with (and blamed for) ideas from laissez-faire capitalism to eugenics, racism, and Nazism.
The main idea here is that atheists are not inherently social Darwinists, nor are Christians inherently selfless altruists. Both atheists and believers count good and bad people among their ranks. If an atheist performs a selfless act, it’s because he wants to do so (and most likely, because his social upbringing conditioned him to do so); not because he fears an eternal punishment for not doing so. In my opinion, the same is true for believers. Yes, the faithful justify their good deeds (if such things require justification) as manifestations of God’s grace, but strip away the layers of ingrained belief, and you find that they are simply good people who are emotionally rewarded for doing good things.
Now let’s address the meme’s claim that selflessness is inconsistent with Darwinism. If you wish to apply Darwinist principles to explain altruistic behavior, you can easily do so. Humans are social animals. We live in groups because it benefits us to do so. For social animals, tribal cohesiveness is key to our survival. Altruism stems from a time when a person’s social group consisted of closely related individuals. If you perform a selfless act, perhaps even one in which you risk personal harm, in defense of a tribal mate, then you have ultimately strengthened your bloodline. You have perpetuated your kind, and in doing so have served the single greatest purpose that evolution demands.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t claim ownership of morality any more than an atheist, Muslim, Jew, or Hindu can. Your morality – my morality – all of our moralities – stems from the fact that we are human. We do good by helping others because it strengthens us as a species to do so. Whether you believe you are serving God or Darwinian principles, selfless devotion to our species is your birthright.