User:Philip J. Rayment/Evolution

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Evolution and "meaning"

The argument is often made that evolution just is; it has no meaning, or, to put it another way, it is not prescriptive. Therefore evolution could not, for example, be said to be a racist idea.

We really have two questions here:

  • It is proper to use the "facts" of evolution (or any idea for that matter) to derive meaning, purpose, or justification for actions?
  • If it is proper, are any particular given claims the correct or incorrect meanings, purposes, or justifications?

Is it proper to derive meaning?

I argue that it is normal for people to draw meaning from facts. For example, Carl Sagan was, if I recall correctly, fond of pointing out how small this planet is in relation to the universe. No, it wasn't just how small in kilometres this planet it, it was how insignificant we are in the universe. He was drawing meaning from the facts. Similarly, the behavior of animals is often used to justify similar behaviour in humans. For example, homosexuality is said to be natural because various animal species act in homosexual ways. And even rape has been implicitly justified by evolution[1]

To support the idea that it is widely accepted that it is proper to draw meaning from evolution, here are several examples of people doing just that:

Mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer: If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…[1]
Suicidal Gerard: ... I think that some people may have an inability to cope, and maybe this might sound a bit extreme, but that might be Darwinian theory, the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to survive, maybe some of us are meant to kill ourselves …

‘There’s too many people in the world as it is. Maybe it is survival of the fittest, maybe some of us are meant to just give up, and maybe that would help the species.[2]
Finnish school shooter Pekka-Eric Auvinen: I am prepared to fight and die for my cause. I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of the human race and failures of natural selection.—[3]

So it is clear that people do draw meaning from the "facts" of evolution. But am I being unfair in quoting a selection of people who clearly had problems? Then how about I quote some others without such problems?

Sir Julian Huxley: In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created: it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion. [4]
Lanier: There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.

Richard Dawkins: All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.[5]
Atheist Richard Bozarth: Christianity has fought, still fights, and will continue to fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing.[6]
William Provine: Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.[7]

This should be sufficient to make clear that it is quite normal for people to draw meaning from evolution. And therefore that any claim that evolution cannot be used to support views is without foundation.

So the remaining question is whether particular claims are reasonable to draw from the "facts" of evolution.

Are particular meanings proper to derive?

The point is, ideas have consequences. People do draw meaning from facts. The only question is, "are they drawing a correct meaning?".

Moral values in general

The Christian view is that because God made us, He owns us, and He sets the rules, or the standards. That is, He decides what is right and what is wrong.

The opposing view is that there is no God (i.e. no creator who made us), so nobody owns us, so nobody (other than us) gets to set the rules, or the standards. Nobody but us gets to decide what is right and what is wrong.

But this means that we are deciding these things on the basis of our opinion, and opinions vary. So what one person might consider right, another might consider wrong. And each opinion is as valid (has as much authority) as the next.

Some argue that right and wrong are decided on objective tests, such as whether someone else is harmed, but this merely begs the question. That is, whether that is the correct test is itself a matter of opinion. Or to put it another way, it is merely a matter of opinion that harming someone else is wrong (see also the link above regarding rape).

So at the very least, even if evolution doesn't provide justification for given acts, neither does it provide any objection to those acts.

If a person murders and claims that it was the Christian thing to do, the person is clearly acting inconsistently with the belief he claims to follow, as the Bible considers murder to be wrong. But if a person murders and claims that it was the evolutionarily correct thing to do, the person is not acting inconsistently with the belief at all, as evolution provides no objection to murder (see quotes from Lanier and Dawkins above).


Racism was not invented by evolution. It already existed before Darwin (although evolution did also). But that evolution encouraged racism is clear from this this comment from Stephen Jay Gould:

Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.’[8]

Or this from Richard Hofstadter:

Darwinism was one of the chief sources of racism and of a belligerent ideology which characterized the last half of the 19th century in Europe and America …[2]

Various evolutionists considered some humans to be more evolved than others. It is true that biology (not evolution) has since shown that this evolutionary idea is incorrect, but the damage has been done.

Charles Darwin himself:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.[2]

Thomas Huxley:

No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.

Textbook author George Hunter:

At the present time, there exists upon the Earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos, and finally the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America[3]

Since Hitler's atrocities, and with the help of true science (biology, not evolution), most now accept that there is only one human race, and racism has no foundation. That is, true science (biology) has shown that this evolutionary conclusion was wrong. But racist the idea is at heart.


The consequences of racism have been appalling, from Hitler's slaughter of the "non-Aryan" Jews to being a factor in the massacres in Rwanda, and include the Ku Klux Klan[4] and apartheid[5].

Rwanda was officially taken over by Belgium in 1917. There followed a program of intense missionary activity by Belgian Roman Catholics, which established a number of worthwhile social projects. However, one of the legacies of this Belgian state/church alliance was a declaration that one of the tribal groups involved was superior to the others, which were ‘less evolved.’ This social Darwinist concept became ‘official colonial ideology.’ Not surprisingly, such ideas generated bitter resentment of one group by another.[6]

Sir Arthur Keith:

The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.[9]


It is perfectly legitimate to claim that evolution has has terrible social consequences. The argument that you can't blame evolution for these problems is baseless.

This does not, of course, mean that evolution is false. An idea is not false simply because it has bad consequences. But there is plenty of evidence to show that evolution is wrong. And it's quite legitimate to point out that the truth or otherwise of the idea is a very important issue, and not just an academic exercise for the scientists.



  1. Lofton, 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 DeMar, 2006
  3. Hunter, George William, A Civic Biology (1914), p.196
  4. Bergman, 2005
  5. Wieland, 2004
  6. Anon., Evolution of the Hutu-Tutsi slayings Creation 21(2):47, March 1999.