Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Would Darwin Do? Random Selection Favors Religion

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Charles Darwin: Prophet of an angry god
     Let me say at the outset that I am not taking issue in this post with the theory of evolution in general, or even with Darwin's specific take on it in particular.  I am interested in a different discussion, which takes as a starting point the curious fact that many people who reject religious belief treat Darwinian evolutionary theory with almost religious awe, and have turned the man himself into something of a god (Darwin Fish, anyone?), or at least a prophet.  The irony is, Darwinian natural selection seems to have "selected" atheists in particular for extinction.
     Let me start at the beginning. Over the past few years, I have engaged in ongoing dialogue with young students who are enamored of proselytizing atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (whom I refer to as “Cacangelists”, that is, messengers of bad news, an appropriately ugly word).  In the course of these discussions, I came to an interesting realization: in Darwinian terms, atheism is a negative trait.  In strictly materialist terms, that is, based on the clear, straightforward evidence, if we all became atheists, humanity would cease to exist in short order. 
      I soon discovered that I’m not at all the first person to come to this conclusion: the Scilogs site has a report [here] on the work of German researcher Michael Blume, who says that

It is a great irony but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists and favor those with religious beliefs . . . Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century.

Blume’s research shows that not just atheist societies, but unbelieving individuals consistently undermine their own posterity:  

Blume took data from 82 countries measuring frequency of worship against the number of children.  He found that those who worship more than once a week average 2.5 children [2.1 children per woman is the “replacement rate”, the minimum necessary to maintain a population at its current level] while those who never worship only 1.7 – again below replacement rate.  There was also considerable variation in religious groups . . . Those without a religion, however, consistently averaged less than two per woman below the replacement , whereas those with the strongest and most fundamental religious beliefs had the most children.

What would Charles Darwin say?  It would appear that Evolution is an angry and capricious god indeed, as it has clearly selected its most ardent adherents for extinction.

An Endangered Species?
    The curious hostility of the process of evolution to the materialist worldview casts a bright light on a contradiction that lies at the heart of the project of atheist proselytization: even if you believe it, why would you want to convince other people? The Dawkinses of the world will reply, as the Blume post says, “that religions are like viruses of the mind which infect people and impose great costs in terms of money, time and health risks.”  This, it seems to me, actually defies reason:   as I ask my unbelieving students, is it logical to conclude that a world populated by those who think we are nothing but matter created by meaningless, random natural forces will be a better, kinder place than a world that is the home of people who believe we have been created intentionally by a loving God? Who have been commanded by Him to love one another?  It just doesn’t make sense.
    And not surprisingly, the empirical evidence agrees.  In addition to the demographic data above, anyone who has studied the history of Rome, before and after the Christianization of the Empire, can attest to the humanizing effect of Christianity, and that it was that same Christian Church that civilized the barbarians who eventually overwhelmed the Roman state.  Modern day sociological evidence shows the same thing: religious believers (especially Christians) report higher levels of personal happiness (see here, for instance), and as in the demographic data above, the more devout the believer, the stronger the effect.  Also, as Arthur C. Brooks copiously documents in his book Who Really Cares, believing Christians are much more involved in building up their societies, and are much more willing to spare their wealth and their time to help others.  The Catholic Church alone has founded and runs thousands of hospitals, schools, and countless other charitable projects around the world; can you think of any founded or run by atheists? I submit that the reasonable view is the one that fits the evidence, not the one that contradicts both the empirical data and common sense.
     A final point involves getting beyond narrow materialist ideas of what constitutes reason and taking a more expansive (and more traditional) view.  Is The Truth about humanity more likely to be something that diminishes humanity, that tears down our societies, makes our lives meaner, and maybe even leads to our annihilation?  Or does it lift us up, does it promote flourishing societies and happy productive people?  Jesus Christ says “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life” (John 14:6): doesn’t the evidence bear him out?

An earlier version of this Thursday Throwback was published on 6 February 2015.