Essay:Christianity, Survival of the Fittest, and Intelligent Design

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Debates on evolution and intelligent design are commonplace, but largely focus on biological systems. However, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that these same principles can be applied to non-biological systems. Computer programmers, for example, routinely apply what could be considered "evolutionary algorithms" in software design, demonstrating two things: one, that certain of the mechanisms ascribed to evolution do indeed exist (something which is not debated by Creationists) and, two, that an intelligent agent can employ those mechanisms to achieve a desired goal.

Keeping this in mind, we can then ask the question: how is it that Christianity has prospered for two thousand years, whereas countless other religions have withered and died? The simplest answer to this, of course, is "God wills it so." Need we leave it there, though? Can we, through diligent inquiry, determine some of the mechanisms by which He has caused His Will to be realized?

I propose that Christianity itself is an illustration of the ways in which an intelligent designer can use limited evolutionary mechanisms to achieve a desired goal.

The Old Testament and the Mosaic Law

The Mosaic Law is lengthy, and contains many provisions that, from the point of view of a pagan living at the time, must have seemed capricious and without purpose--laws of ritual cleanliness, laws restricting which animals may and may not be eaten, laws concerning the disposal of waste. "These laws are a hodgepodge!" our hypothetical pagan might say. "They make no sense! They serve no purpose! They appear random and without design!"

However, viewing these laws in hindsight, we are struck by how amazingly practical they were, and how focused on a single goal: preventing the spread of disease. The washing of hands, the avoidance of pork (and thus trichinosis,) the insistence on keeping human waste away from living areas--all of these would combine to increase the "fitness" of a people practicing them enormously.

The New Testament and Christ's Commandments

Likewise, consider the New Testament and Christ's lessons concerning the sick. Matthew 25:36 makes it clear that we are to care for the sick; likewise, Christ, through His deeds, showed time and time again that caring for the sick was a Christian duty commanded by God.

Was this more than simply an example of His infinite compassion? Was it also an example of intelligent design?

Consider: historically, the first reaction to illness has often been to avoid the sick. In one respect, the commandment to visit and care for the sick seems counter-intuitive and unwise. However, coupled with the Mosaic strictures concerning hygiene, caring for the sick would, again, tend to raise the overall survival rate among Christian communities during times of plague or pestilence. Christianity, then, is a survival trait, and being a Christian would make one more "fit" in an evolutionary sense.

The Practical Side of Mercy

The early history of Christianity is one of proselytization--the faithful going out into a pagan world to teach them Christ's Word. On the surface of it, this seems a daunting task. Why would wildly diverse pagan peoples abandon their long-held beliefs and embrace the Word of God?

Here, again, we can see the immense practicality--the design--inherent in the cumulative commandments of the Old and New Testaments. Many pagan traditions were immensely pragmatic: they wanted results. If a given god's followers were victorious in battle, they would adopt worship of that god. If a given god's people suffered from hardships, they would abandon worship of that god.

Consider, then, the case of such a people with a Christian minority living among them. Being neither stupid nor unobservant, they would be able to see that, during times of disease, the Christian community was far less afflicted than their own. In short, they would be able to see that praying to the God of Abraham gets results. This would make them inclined to adopt such worship themselves. In a competing marketplace of ideas, the idea of Christianity would prove "more fit" and would gradually supplant other ideas and other faiths.

Evolution or Design?

Can we simply ascribe this to fortunate happenstance? Well, yes, in the sense that you can ascribe anything to happenstance and coincidence. You could come across an arrangement of stones spelling out the word "HELLO" and claim that the stones simply fell that way by coincidence--but it is unlikely that most reasonable people would agree.

The fact that there are so many laws in the Bible which, to an uninformed observer, seem illogical, disconnected, and of no value, yet which combine to ensure the propagation both of the faith and the faithful, COULD be a coincidence--but it would be a coincidence so large as to stagger the imagination.

Clearly, the more reasonable conclusion is that these "unrelated" passages--written centuries apart--combine so well because they were designed to do so, by a guiding and exceedingly wise Designer.