Mars Hill Forum #151: Can Darwinian Evolution Produce a Healthy Society?

Opening Presentation by John Rankin
Conard High School, West Hartford, CT, April 22, 2012
Guest: David Silverman, President of American Atheists

Can Darwinian evolution produce a healthy society?

Good evening, thank you Dave, thank you to Calvary Fellowship as sponsors, and thank you to all who have joined us for this conversation.

The simple answer is, by definition, no. Yet, too, I have no basis to say no to something without giving a prior yes upon which the no is based. To be positive, not negative, to be proactive, not reactive, is the only basis to produce a healthy society.

But, too, this already introduces a dilemma for Dave. Namely, the word atheist, from the Greek roots a + theos is a negative, a reactive term. It means to be “without God.” But if there is no God, then atheism cannot exist – it has nothing to negate. To be without Something is to be without anything. Atheism’s only alternative is Nothing. [For] if Something, God, does not exist, then it must be Nothing that exists. But Nothing by definition cannot exist, and thus, we cannot exist. But here we are, pondering it all. Oxymoron and double entendre. Thus, if Something is really Nothing, then atheism means “without Nothing.” But then, to be without Nothing is both redundant and non-existent on the one hand, yet on the other, it is a double negative. In quantitative reasoning a double negative equals a positive, and thus God must exist.

Well, yes, I am having some fun, but also being serious. And I have much higher hopes for Dave than the pursuit of the non-existence of Nothingness. I take note this evening that indeed, he does exist. Right there – I can see him. And even though he may not want to admit good theology (yet), he is still an image bearer of the one true Creator, seeking peace, order, stability and hope; to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. Dave is my friend, and I honor that deeply.

Here I will sum up the positive, the proactive assumptions in the biblical order of creation, which provide the basis for a genuinely liberal arts education, followed by questions for atheism. Darwinian evolution and atheism share common assumptions, so I will use these terms interchangeably. I do this while recognizing that many who subscribe to Darwinian biology are theists, including orthodox Christians. But Dave is a professing atheist, hence my purposes tonight.

I invite Dave, and any skeptics present: Do these assumptions reflect honest intellectual and social concerns? Do they treat you as you wish to be treated as free people?

It has been said, by others, that listening to me preach or teach can be like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant. Well, okay, here we go. Rigorous thinking is necessary to produce a healthy society.

In Genesis 1-3, the Bible sets forth the storyline defined by creation, sin and redemption, or put another way, goodness, broken trust, and rescue. The good order of creation in Genesis 1-2 equals all that is positive and proactive, in what I call Only Genesis. We need first to understand such goodness, so as to grasp the depths of evil, and thus the height of being rescued from the depths.

Thus, two questions:  

  • Can atheism produce any storyline that addresses similar issues such as goodness, its brokenness and its reclamation?
  • Can atheism properly conceive of such issues, since it assumes a cold and purposeless cosmos that spits us forth and swallows us up without awareness of our humanity?

The original goodness of Only Genesis involves ten positive assumptions:

1]   Only Genesis has a positive view of the Creator’s nature. The Hebrew language for the one true Creator is Yahweh Elohim, and it uniquely defines the One who is greater than space, time and number. His power is unlimited, his nature is good and his purpose is to bless all people equally. This leads to the triune understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From this point, as manifest in human community, checks and balances on power are derived in tripartite forms of government. This equals diversity in service to unity, and thus a healthy social order.

Thus, three questions:

      • Can atheism conceive of any definition of a universal concept of the good?
      • Can atheism produce any understanding of that which is greater than space, time and number?
      • Can atheism provide checks and balances on political power?

2]   Only Genesis has a positive view of communication. The first words spoken by the Creator in Genesis are “Let there be light.” This is the nature of revelation or communication – where by definition, light reveals what is truly there. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declared himself to be the one true Creator in human form, to communicate with us as the living Word, as the Light of the world. Light provides transparency, and by definition, darkness always flees the light.

Thus, two questions:

      • Can atheism satisfy the human soul since no communication with a cold and uncaring cosmos is possible?
      • Can atheism provide an ethic of communication that is transparent and honest?

3]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human nature. The whole structure of Only Genesis is designed to highlight the creation of man and woman as the image-bearers of God, the purpose for his creation. We were made to govern the good creation and take care of it with satisfaction in building families and nations.

Thus, one question:

      • Can atheism define any unique value to being human?

4]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human freedom. The first words spoken by Yahweh Elohim to Adam in Genesis, 2:16-17, are rooted in the Hebrew akol tokel, “in feasting you will continually feast.” In other words, a metaphor of an unlimited menu of good choices in all of life is presented, so long as the poisonous fruit is not eaten. To eat the poisonous fruit means “in dying you will continually die” (moth tamuth). Thus, feast on what is good, or eat poison and die – the Creator gives man and woman dignity in giving us such a freedom to choose. Unless we are free to say no, we are not free to say yes. There is no coercion in the Gospel. We are not puppets of pagan deities or a cold cosmos.

Thus, two questions:

      • Can atheism define any concept of human freedom that is entirely proactive in nature?
      • Can atheism proactively oppose coercion in all forms?

5]   Only Genesis has a positive view of hard questions. Yahweh Elohim made man and woman to learn in his presence, a central part of which was asking questions. The power to pose hard questions in the presence of Yahweh Elohim and one another is seen repeatedly across the Bible, through the prophets down to Jesus as he modeled the rabbinic teaching method. No questions were ever prohibited. Yahweh Elohim allowed himself to be directly challenged, and Jesus also invited the same in the face of his plotting enemies.

Thus, one question:

      • Can atheism profile an unlimited freedom for man and woman to pose their toughest questions of the universe and one another?

6]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human sexuality. Genesis 1 and 2 focus on man and woman as full equals and complements, as image-bearers of the Creator. They are joint stewards of the creation, and joint heirs of eternal life. Healthy human sexuality is defined by chastity outside of, and fidelity within the marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime. It is within faithful marriage that trust is first learned, between man and woman, then modeled for their children, then to the extended family and local communities, and then to the nations.

Thus, two questions:

      • Can atheism treat women as the full equals and complements of men?
      • Can atheism define any sexual ethic that sets boundaries to behavior?

7]   Only Genesis has a positive view of science and the scientific method. In Genesis 1, the sun, moon and stars are treated as inanimate objects, as opposed to being deities as in pagan religion. From there on the Bible views creation as it is, setting the table for honest scientific observation of the universe. The Law of Moses also provides the ethical basis for the scientific method, the principle of falsification, where 100 percent accuracy is required of Hebrew prophets. If there is one mistake, then the prophet is not a true prophet. In science, if an experiment to prove a theory produces the same result 1,000 times, then a different result the next time, it has been falsified, and must be reviewed to find the error. This is science’s most exacting standard, coming from the Bible’s most exacting standard.

Thus, three questions:

      • Can atheism name any source other than Only Genesis for science and the scientific method?
      • Can atheism embrace scientific inquiry when it presses the bounds of the temporal, e.g., what precedes and provides for the reality of cause and effect?
      • Can atheism have any intrinsic moral code for maintaining the principle of falsification?

8]   Only Genesis has a positive view of verifiable history. Beginning with Adam and Eve, the biblical revelation is always ratified by multiple eye-witnesses, rooted in the Law of Moses, all the way to Jesus, along with very detailed genealogies; then from Jesus to the end of the New Testament. Indeed, when Jesus appeared, he did so in accordance with millennia worth of recorded history rooted in multiple eye-witness checks and balances to certify truth. This commitment to verifiable history has informed all Hebrew, Jewish and Christian scholarship.

Thus, two questions:

      • Can atheism name any source other than Only Genesis for verifiable history?
      • Can atheism produce within itself the necessary value of verifiable history?

9]   Only Genesis has a positive view of covenantal law. Here, Yahweh Elohim first holds himself accountable to being just, fair and loving, before he requires man and woman to obey his laws. The original covenant in the Garden of Eden was one of freedom, and all subsequent covenants aimed to restore such freedom, finally fulfilled in the Messiah. Covenantal law on this basis is a bulwark against human despotic governments. Then, central to this biblical witness is the reality that the covenantal people are held to higher standards than are the pagans.

Thus, two questions:

      • Can atheism define a basis for law that prevents despotic governments?
      • Can atheism define a high moral legal standard that it first requires of itself before it does so for others?

10]   Only Genesis has a positive view of unalienable rights. Yahweh Elohim gives the gifts of life, liberty and property (stewardship of the creation) to all people equally in Genesis 1-2. “Unalienable” refers to rights given by the Creator, rights that cannot be alienated, rights that are above the power of human government to define, give or take away. These unalienable rights are simply to be honored. The unalienable right of liberty means religious, political and economic freedom for all people, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs. Biblically faithful Jews and Christians celebrate these liberties for all people equally, including atheists, under the rule of law.

Thus, one question:

    • Can atheism define any concept of original and unalienable rights that are higher than the claims of human government?

In 1983 I spent the summer studying Charles Darwin and the theory of macroevolution as part of my graduate studies. I wanted to know Darwinian evolution on its own terms before I drew any conclusions. Here are some salient observations:

  1. The idea of unexplainable and already existing atomic material, colliding by chance and producing life, started with the Greek philosopher Democritus, and made popular by his disciple Epicurus. A pagan notion.
  2. Charles Darwin, apart from any reference to Democritus or Epicurus, made the same assumption.
  3. Yet, too, one constant theme at the center of his life was the theological problem of evil and suffering, especially with the death of his ten-year old daughter Annie.
  4. Darwin was increasingly critical of the Bible’s trustworthiness.
  5. In coming up with his theory of “descent through modification,” and thus “natural selection,” Darwin made a central and dishonest change of the language from scientific observation to that of philosophical conclusion. In the Descent of Man, Darwin said the only explanation for structural similarities between lower forms of life and man, was due to a “common descent,” a “common organic source” tracing back to an unexplained origin of all things. He discounted the idea of a Common Designer, and for those who know these terms, he did so by exchanging morphology for homology arbitrarily, by a linguistic sleight of hand, to suit his presuppositions.
  6. Darwin’s famous “bulldog defender,” T.H. Huxley, in an 1893 lecture series on Evolution and Ethics, concluded that Darwinian evolution cannot produce a healthy social order. Thus, he proposed that mankind now needed to somehow evolve beyond evolution in order to define any ethics.
  7. Jacques Barzun, in Darwin, Marx and Wagner and From Dawn to Decadence, showed how Darwinian evolution, and the absence of the biblical Creator, led to a cruel and bloody social order in so many ways. Paul Johnson observes the same in The Birth of the Modern.
  8. Marxist politics and economics, Nietzsche’s nihilism, Sanger’s eugenics, Hitler’s “final solution,” Stalin and Mao’s genocides, socially permitted sexual predations and the abortion ethos, all trace back to the assumptions in Darwinian philosophy. No one would accuse Darwin of being intentional here, but once the one true Creator is abolished in the construction of the social order, once unalienable rights are vanquished, there only remains “might makes right,” the outworking of a godless “natural section” of the strong over the weak.

The positive and proactive power of Only Genesis produces the only possible healthy social order. Negative and reactive atheism, and Darwinian evolution, cannot. And Dave is invited, along with all of us, to choose the former.

Thank you.