“An introductory level biology class probably isn’t your idea of a good time. And if you’re a Christian, the topic of evolution may very well be cause for concern. We should definitely educate ourselves on this major scientific theory, David Hill says, but we must be aware of the theory’s real-world consequences: moral relativism.
Losing Our Religion?
Students from Christian homes are often warned about the dangers of secular lifestyles in college, especially those relativistic worldviews rooted in humanism and evolutionary theory. Many parents sending their kids off to school are not only concerned with the temptations of the social atmosphere, but they also fear the potentially more damaging outcome from an intellectual culture hostile to Biblically-based perspectives.
One course that is sure to raise red flags among concerned believers is a first semester course in biology.
One course that is sure to raise red flags among concerned believers is a first semester course in biology. Within a typical 16-week class, meeting two to three times a week, a modern university professor can present a strong and consistent case for an evolutionary view of nature. Honed by years of banter and research, a professor bent on doing so can wallop many an unprepared student’s faith by presenting the ideas of evolution as self-evident and beyond question.
In years past, the warning that college will destroy the faith of the youth was broadcast throughout the Christian community. Recently though, a survey of factors that lead to the decline of faith among young people revealed that college may not be the bane of faith that it was once thought to be.1 This study suggests that college students fair better than those who do not attend school. This may come as quite a surprise to anyone who ever participated in an “evolution intervention”-like session held by well-meaning churches and ministries. Does this mean that these faith-buttressing efforts are in vain?
This study, however, does not mean that Biology 101 poses no philosophical threat to those trying to hold onto the tenets of Christian thought. Every year, more textbooks are rewritten from a unified evolutionary paradigm, presenting a unified system of thought for Christian students to contend with. The truth is that it would take a rigorous education in the intelligent design/evolution debate to be able to go toe-to-toe with an aggressive professor, especially one who rests on the authority and security of their tenure.
It is a battle that many professors will ensure that students lose.
Fortunately, there really isn’t a need to engage in this kind of fixed fight; instead, a student-believer can adjust their focus and expectations for their biology course. Doing this, they’ll be able to walk away four months later appreciating modern scientific theories about the universe and have their faith strengthened because they understand this conflict more deeply.
The Moral Consequence of Evolution
Within the Christian community, evolution is often described as if it were an affliction to be safeguarded against, one of the horrors — alongside binge drinking, drugs and STDs — lurking in the shadows of university life. No one wants to unknowingly fall into a trap that will lead them away from God. On the other hand, our culture values science and technology as virtuous and authoritative sources for truth. It can make it difficult, then, to have a proper perspective about modern scientific theories and avoid anti-science, knee-jerk reactions to anything that seems opposed to Christian beliefs.
So, on what basis should believers have a problem with evolution?
Beyond its contradiction to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, most Christians should take issue, not so much with the scientific claims of the theory of evolution, but with its moral consequences.
Truth be told, much of the evidence used to support evolutionary theory is meaningless to many Christians, simply because they are not concerned with or equipped to argue about the details of the scientific evidence cited. However, beyond its contradiction to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, most Christians should take issue, not so much with the scientific claims of the theory of evolution, but with its moral consequences. It is not the Darwinian interpretation of the distribution of beak sizes among Galapagos finches (the famous birds that served as part of Darwin’s evidence for how survivability, reproducibility and resource accessibility affect populations) that are contradictory to Biblical principles. In and of itself, the idea of competition in nature is fairly self-evident. That this competition can affect a population’s genetics doesn’t really stretch the imagination.
An evolutionary paradigm describing the result of competition and environmental stress within nature can be stated very simply: the fit survive, mutations arise and new species arrive. According to this mode of thought, humans are no exception to this rule, being an ordinary product of the machinery of natural selection, as much as daffodils, flounders, or pigeons. This indifference and utter accidentalness in the origination of living things is unnerving. It proposes that everything is relative, that nothing under the sun — least of all the human race — is special in any way.
The main problem is that an evolutionary paradigm results in a morally relativistic worldview.
Rock-Paper-Scissors: A Useful Analogy for Evolutionary Relativism
Relativism is sometimes difficult to appreciate, so to make it more conceptually accessible, a useful analogy can be introduced. Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) is a familiar game; it can be played at almost any age and is useful in objectively resolving a conflict while ensuring fairness in the method. The rules of RPS are (1) rock, paper or scissors must be chosen, (2) paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and (3) a tie results in no resolution.
There are a few points about the RPS game worth considering. First of all, it doesn’t matter that we use “rock”, “paper” and “scissors;” it could just as easily be A, B and C. In other words, the rock of the RPS game is not a representation of an actual physical rock in any way. Also, there is no inherent value in any of the choices, that is, there is no absolute correct choice. Furthermore, there is direct competition between two players and the winner doesn’t win as much as the loser loses by being predictable. One player telegraphing his choice to a perceptive opponent is his undoing. Finally, if both players make the same choice, no one wins.
In many ways, the RPS game is a good analogy for the sort of relativism that arises from evolutionary thought.
Now, consider a person with a relativistic worldview who repeatedly steals books from the library and has not been caught. Just as in RPS, a true relativist would argue that stealing and not stealing are equivalent, morally neutral actions. In other words, it can be “right” for the thief even if you think it’s “wrong.” Just as in the RPS game, there is no absolute correct choice, only a choice that is right for you because it allows you to win.
For a thief, “winning” means not getting caught, and therefore anyone who might catch them is an opponent. By outsmarting everyone and not getting caught, the thief has anticipated all opponents’ moves. This is not necessarily difficult to do since an observant thief can determine how campus police, librarians and other students determine if anyone is stealing books. In one sense, the opponents have lost the game because they have telegraphed their methods to the thief, who then figured out how to steal and get away with it.
Finally, from the thief’s point of view, stealing is what the thief must do to in order to get the needed books. In one sense, stealing aids in the thief’s survival. Each of the campus police officers, the librarians, and the other students are doing what they do — not stealing — to survive as well. In that sense, the thief considers his chose to steal as a “tie” with everyone else choosing not to steal. They are morally equivalent acts.
It is clear how the moral relativism inherent in evolution is detrimental.
Stated in this way, it is clear how the moral relativism inherent in evolution is detrimental. Within this worldview, humans are pitted against other humans in a game of survival as well, one that has three “rules:” (1) all choices are morally neutral, (2) the winner is the person who better anticipates an opponent’s choice, and (3) do what it takes to win. The fit will survive, and the weak will die.2
The Baby and the Bathwater
Ultimately, an evolutionary worldview demands we acknowledge that either moral systems are merely contrived human conventions or morality is relative. For anyone who has found the truth in the biblical worldview and has experienced its life-changing consequences, these two options ring hollow.
However, just because one rejects the moral consequence of evolutionary theory does not mean that the whole subject of evolution must be avoided, academically speaking. The truth is the science of evolution poses no threat and can be scrutinized for what it is — a scientific theory.
We do not need to repeat the error the Church committed when, on supposedly moral grounds, it threatened to reject Galileo for his scientific assertions about the universe. We can, however, contemplate the science and morality of evolution separately, considering one for what it is, and rejecting the other for its fundamental inadequacy.
- Jeremy Uecker, Mark Regnerus, Margaret Vaaler, “Losing My Religion: The Social Sources of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood,” Social Forces, Vol. 85, No. 4 (2007), pp. 1667-1692. Back^
- Needless to say, you can recognize that our culture is embracing moral relativism by identifying these three guidelines embedded in the comments made by people through their words and actions. Just watch a reality TV show. Is it any wonder that our culture has become increasingly obsessed with long life (survival), sex (reproduction) and wealth (resources)? Back^
About the author
David J. Hill is an instructor at Colorado Christian University where he teaches and develops online courses in the biological and physical sciences for the adult studies program. He is also a freelance writer/editor in science and medical education. He attended graduate school in chemistry at the University of Illinois and did his undergraduate work at Point Loma Nazarene University. He and his wife, Angel, have three children and live in Florida. “