How Charles Darwin Became the Patron Saint of American Christianity

July 17, 2013

Charles Darwin, long the bane of evangelicalism, the author of Origin of Species.survival_of_fittest_02

Evolutionary theory has always been hotly debated.  It’s existence in science classes is seen as an affront and attack on Creationism and Bible-believing Christians.  Every fish with legs is personal insult to Christians.  Charles Darwin might as well be satan himself to Six Day Creationists, his theories conceived in the dark bowels of hell.

But for all of the scientific discussions, all of the angry protestations to the contrary, it is clear to me that while we may publicly decry Darwin, we secretly love him.

What has come to my attention is that while there are plenty of Christians who denounce Darwin in their beliefs, everything about our society, our culture, our churches demonstrate the opposite.  Jesus might be nice, but Darwin is our real teacher.

There’s nothing left to do but own up to it:

our Darwinian Christianity. 

Survival of the Fittest

The foundation of Darwinism is, of course, the concept of survival of the fittest or natural selection.  By this phenomenon, the strongest and best genes survive and are passed to offspring, while weak genes are eliminated from the population.  In this way, incremental changes can happen in a species over very long periods of time.  (Whether you believe this phenomenon can make a fish evolve into a dog, I’ll leave to you to decide.)

But the idea of survival of the fittest is quite observable in nature and among people.  Weak, sickly animals die and don’t have as much of a chance to reproduce.  Strong animals dominate weak animals and produce more offspring.

Survival of the fittest is the way of human society too.  The strongest, most resourceful humans thrive in difficult circumstances, while people who lack resources or advantages struggle in life.  Strong societies with lots of advantages thrive and dominate weak societies.  It’s not about who “deserves” to survive either.  It’s just about racing to hoard the most resources and advantages.

Why Jesus Is the Anti-Darwin

What makes Jesus the antithesis to Darwin isn’t that He created the fish without legs, or the suggestion that Adam and Eve were white-skinned, hairless Europeans with perfect teeth, or that the Earth was created in six literal days and all the dinosaur bones were placed in the ground by God to make the Earth appear to be old.

Jesus is the un-Darwin precisely because of his rejection of the survival of the fittest phenomenon that governs nature.

Everywhere Jesus went, he was concerned about the people who nature, society deem unfit.  These were the weak, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged.  

And everywhere he went, Jesus is confronted by the fittest, the powerful, the leaders, the wealthy, the people who nature has seemingly arbitrarily selected to thrive.

By natural selection, the weak and disadvantaged are playing their role quite well, making room for the fittest to rise to the top.  But Jesus is not content to let nature take its course.  He reverses natural selection, healing the sick, embracing the outcast, defending the weak and powerless.

And in upsetting the natural balance, he pissed off a lot of really “fit” people.

The Essence of Darwinian Christianity

So can we just admit that we may preach Jesus, but secretly we live Darwin?

Let’s be honest. Most of you, as well as I are among the most advantaged people in the world.  We are the “fittest” by way of the resources available to us.  We were “selected” by nature.  And we like it that way.

We may pay lip service to Jesus, but our actions shout Darwin…

…When we consistently give the benefit of the doubt to the abusers and hush the victims, that’s Darwin.

…When we are so outraged about our own rights, but can’t be bothered to care about the rights of people who are undeniably oppressed, that’s Darwin.

…When we hoard power and influence, just to restrict the freedom of others, that’s Darwin.

…When we collect suspicions about our neighbors instead of compassion, that’s Darwin.

…When we believe that God loves us because of how great our faith is rather than how great He is, yes, that’s Darwin.

We preach a God who seeks out the weak and unfit, but we worship a god who favors the fittest.

What do you think?  Do we have a “Darwinian Christianity?”  How do you observe it?

21 responses to How Charles Darwin Became the Patron Saint of American Christianity

  1. Great perspective. I think we do have a ‘Darwinian Christianity’ because sadly it seems that a great majority of Christianity is more about what God can do for us than what we can do for God.

    Can the idea of ‘Accepting Christ’ without the need to produce positive fruit or make a difference in the lives of others be the ultimate form of Darwinism ? I believe it is because ‘accepting Christ’ in a religious way, or as a ‘get out of hell free card’ (something to benefit the person only) defeats the purpose of manifesting the love of God to others. It is the ultimate form of ‘Darwinian Christianity’ because it guarantee us the ultimate solution for survival of the fittest- a guaranteed seat in heaven and the ability to eternally survive and be the fittest.

    • You know, this is one post where I wish that everyone who commented would disagree with me and prove me wrong, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. :) One can dream, right?

      Holy cow, your ultimate Darwin card is spot on. What do we think the fruits of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit are supposed to do? Benefit and enrich our lives. Ultimate spiritual selfishness.

  2. I agree Darwin has influenced American culture and the Church, and not necessarily for the better; you’re right that Jesus was about serving the least of these and generally messing up hierarchies, and we’ve got plenty of work left continuing this radical deconstruction and Kingdom building. But to be fair: systemic oppression and individual ambition were around a long time before Darwin. He didn’t invent oppression or selfishness, just gave a scientific explanation for it.

    • I like what you said here: ” we’ve got plenty of work left continuing this radical deconstruction and kingdom building.”

      it is a two- phase process that is happening simultaneously. There is so much work to do it can overwhelming at times.

      One of the greatest obstacles to the kingdom building process is this idea that Christians are to huddle together in fear and passively wait around for Jesus to physically come back and make everything better. While i do not deny Christ’s second coming, i do deny this notion that we as Spirit filled believers are powerless to change the lives of those around us.

      Passive faith is the enemy of kingdom building. IMO.

  3. shall I leave the disagreeing comment then? 😉 While what you want to convey about the church could very well be true, I think this piece misses the mark here and there because the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ in a Darwinian sense was used as ‘best adapted to its immediate surroundings,’ rather than ‘strongest’. It has to do with what features make an animal most capible of surviving and reproducing in a particular, changing environnement – not so much with weak and sickly animals. Just thought I’d throw that in there. Might be a whole new analogy in there this way and some of your piece can stay intact, but I’ll leave that to you!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

  4. I’ve often found myself thinking the same way. It becomes especially obvious when certain organizations and churches will spend so much time and effort fighting evolution, but then turn around and act very “Darwinian” (even understanding that this isn’t a product of Darwin, but rather human nature) about those who they don’t view as on the same level as them. Whether it is just selfishness of salvation and God as enabling their lives to be able to be more adaptable or in using their own fitness and adaptability to keep others who lack this fitness and adaptability down. It sadly seems pretty pervasive.
    Jeremy M. recently posted..Wanderings of the Week 7/14/13

  5. I get what you’re trying to say, but I kinda wish people would quit interpreting evolutionary theory this way. Not only are you misinterpreting what “survival of the fittest” was supposed to mean, but you’re stretching it’s purpose to situations where it was never meant to apply. “Social Darwinism” has nothing whatever to do with Darwin or his theories.

    I know–it was used to illustrate a point but the bio major in me has a problem with it!

  6. This is going to be confusing… I get what you’re saying here, and largely I agree with it but you’re wrong on Darwinism and survival of the fittest. If there’s away to edit your blog where it represents Darwin, science, and the state of the church, that’d be great.

    I love Darwin. I love evolution. And I’m a pastor. What’s evolution about: change in a species over time. And Darwin didn’t come up with this concept, nor did I appear in Origin of Species until the 5th addition in 1869. The dude who came up with this concept was Herbert Spencer. Plus the concept for Darwin isn’t about who is the most ruthless and strong… instead it’s about those with the most adaptable genes. And evolutionary biology has taken the concept even further showing that species with high levels of social cohesion, cooperation, and compassion often have individuals who are the “most fit.” If that doesn’t sound like traits found in the kingdom, I don’t know what does.

    Furthermore, I agree that “Darwinism” is a bad thing. Any “-ism” usually is. But Darwin isn’t part of Darwinism, it came later.
    Luke recently posted..How Not to Judge Other Parents

  7. Oops… in my haste, I screwed up.

    Second paragraph should read: “And I’m a pastor. What’s evolution about: change in a species over time. Survival of the fittest was a later edition to explain this change over time. And Darwin didn’t come up with this concept, nor did I appear in Origin of Species until the 5th addition in 1869. ”
    Luke recently posted..How Not to Judge Other Parents

  8. Christianity is not about change (although change does happen)…the proper paradigm is death to life.

    We must die. Over and over again. Self-help gurus keep prodding Christians on to become ‘better’.

    Not only is our worst not good enough…neither is our best.

    The patient must die.
    theoldadam recently posted..Just who IS your neighbor? And are up to helping them when you are able?

    • In the spirit of love, I must boldly disagree that Christianity is not about change. It is all about change. From death to life, from glory to glory, from Adam to Christ, from blind to seeing, from sick to well, from darkness to light, from asleep to awakened.

      In modern terms, change from being an abusive father to a loving father, from someone who steals from someone who gives, from someone who is selfish to someone who is selfless, from alcoholic or drug addict to clean. Like the tax collector Nicodemus who repented(changed his mind about his past actions) and once took from others, changed his mind and wanted to give to others. Then, at that moment, when that change in his heart took place, Christ said, “NOW, has salvation come to this house…)

      Change IS salvation.

  9. Whoever is nitpicking the interpretation of Darwanism is missing the overall point of the article. The point of the article was to look at the behavior of the species in Darwin’s survival of the fittest and then compare it to the behavior of many social classes and Christians.

    Christ cared about the ‘weaker genes’ (weaker from the social and religious perspective at that time) by giving to the poor, taking care of the sick,feeding the hungry and just living a selfless life dedicated to the well being of others.

    Whereas so many Christians today care only about their own survival or the survival of those in their particular church group or denomination (the people in their opinion have ‘stronger genes’)
    In doing so, they are mimicking the species or those with ‘stronger genes’ in Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

    • As one of the “nitpickers”, I would like to say that I did get the overall point of the article, and I agree that it’s a good one. It’s just that evolution was in my field of study for a while so it kind of bugs me when people get it wrong–particularly when such misrepresentation allows crappy pseudoscience to exist in public schools and other arenas where it has no place. Scientific literacy in this country is sucky enough as it is.

      Didn’t mean to hijack the conversation–just threw it out there because biology is a subject I tend to nitpick. (Those who know me will tell you that I’m pretty insufferable during sci-fi movies too!)

  10. Dustin, as another nitpicker, GET YOUR SCIENCE RIGHT! And then we’ll talk. Evolution is about change over time. Survival of the fittest is NOT about stronger beating weaker, it’s about adaptive beating non-adaptive.

    The church should be all about change (we call it resurrection) and adaptation (we call it being all things to all people, or relevant, or evangelism, and a whole host of other things).
    Luke recently posted..How Not to Judge Other Parents

  11. It’s an interesting point, and even though you and others may think less of me when I say that I’m a literal 7-day creationist (He created rest on day 7 – one of my favorite things, and VERY important!), it’s one that I agree with and that I think many “young earth”ers would agree with.

    I think the world has infiltrated the church in MANY ways that we’re not even really aware of because it’s so “normal” for us. Not talking conspiracy theories here, but things like retirement accounts. We’re being “good stewards” by setting those up, aren’t we? We’d be stupid not to pay into one! There’s that Proverb about the wise man planning before he builds his tower! Even Dave Ramsey says to! That makes it Gospel, doesn’t it?

    Except Jesus says to give us _today_ what we need for _today_. So what do we do with that? (Full disclosure, I currently contribute to a retirement account, but am not sure that it’s the right thing to do anymore.)

    I think this sort of thing is a constant battle that believers should ALWAYS be on guard against – verifying our actions/thoughts/motives against the truth of Scripture, winnowing away the parts that are cultural and keeping the parts that are Scriptural.
    Melissa Jones recently posted..MommyBee Designs

    • “Survival of the fittest” is Social Darwinism which is a SOCIAL CONSTRUCT not an idea that came from Darwin, himself.
      In the late 1800’s the Industrial leaders, and William Randolph Hearst, began this campaign to prove that the reason people were poor was because they were “weak” and the reason they were rich is because they were genetically superior. It is how they kept the lower classes in line.
      Darwin’s theory never came up with this.
      Darwin’s theory states that IT IS THE MOST ADAPTABLE THAT SURVIVE.
      In fact, the creature, and the species, that has the most genetic material (a genetic Swiss Army Knife, if you will) hidden ready to be used in case of environmental change will survive.
      Over the years, ecologists have looked at this and shown that cooperative species do better in times of change and stress than species that don’t. They have shown that the species with the “genetics” for co-operation survive the best.
      THERE ARE NO WEAK GENES. Just ones that aren’t particularly useful at the “moment”.
      Please stop blaming Darwin for inability OF YOUR FAITH TO ADAPT.

  12. If this blog was listed as a parable, I believe it would have been accepted more for what it was intended to be. The human condition is hell bent because of our sinful nature. Regardless of how many years humans have roamed this planet, we simply eat each other alive while we go about claiming what is “rightfully mine.” Though your lack may not equate to my gain, at best of my sinful nature will simply wish you good luck as long as you aren’t affecting how I can still get mine.

    Of course I want to get to heaven. As Christians who continue to be slaves to their sinful nature, we want that at all costs. When we say the magic prayer, we breathe a sigh of relief and go about our business without much concern for our neighbor!

    But Jesus did insert some indicators on who His real followers actually are, He did tell us how we can tell who we (Christians) really are. He did say that many will call His name and He will say that He does not know them! We will know them (Christians) by their fruits!

    What fruits?

    The two commandments: Love God with everything, and the second like the first which is to love our neighbors (which, by the way includes loving our enemies).

    Jesus tells us that He didn’t come to this world to be served, but rather to serve. He also told us to be just like Him. This absolutely goes against the human nature–sin nature–which is illustrated in that Darwin parable so nicely. In this case, the only way to grow stronger as a Christian is to grow weaker in our human (sinful) nature! The best measure to use would be where I am on the “I put the needs of others above my own needs” scale. The ultimate measure of my love for Christ would be whether I would be willing to put my own life on the line for another.

    The sum of being a follower of Christ is the measure in which we love each other. We are known by our love. It is by our love that others become willing to follow us as we follow Christ. “You will know them by the love they show to one another.”

    To be selected by Christ, I believe, means we need to admit our weakness. Our weakness is sin. Sin is the “nature” that condemns us. Sin is a killer. The only “resource” at our disposal that will make us strong is Jesus Himself. We must shrink so that He may increase, we are weak but He is strong….

    I like the analogy. Literal extrapolation isn’t necessary to illustrate the point. It does reflect the most popular thinking of most regular people of this day therefore it becomes a good illustration that folks can understand. Nice post and good discussion.

  13. Hi,

    It is a severe stretch to twist Darwinism into Christianity when Darwin proposed a worldly philosophy totally opposed to Jesus and the bible. Darwin’s theory rejects the truth we know to be absolute. So in a sense it is wasteful of time to even bring Darwin into any discussion of Christianity, even to make a point.

    Second, nature doesn’t seem to arbitrarily seem to make anyone thrive. God does. (Daniel 2:21)

    Third, where you say “And everywhere he went, Jesus is confronted by the fittest, the powerful, the leaders, the wealthy, the people who nature has seemingly arbitrarily selected to thrive” is not accurate. God raised up wealthy people too, and used them for His name. Job, Abram, David, Solomon, Paul, Nicodemus, Lydia, Susannah, Joseph of Arimathea, the three Magi, Matthew/Levi, and so on were in turn very rich. Jesus even raised up and used rich men for His name who were not believers, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar (who became a believer) just as he raised up poor men who confronted Him (Judas).

    God is not concerned with social justice, He is concerned with souls. Darwin was a man clinging to a worldly philosophy (Colossians 2:8).

    “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

  14. A person who is doing a project on Charles Darwin November 12, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Why is he a saint though? And how did he become one?

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