Evolution and Society, Part 2

by Wayne Spencer
From the June 2015 Creation Answers Newsletter

    “Darwinism undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being. Furthermore, if Darwinism is correct, it is unlikely that any other support for the idea of human dignity will be found.” (Quote from James Rachels, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, from his book Created from Animals.).  

    The statement above is not something taught to children in public schools, or mentioned in popular-level science articles or media about science.  Yet I think it is accurate.  It is saying human dignity is undermined by evolutionary ideas.  So why would people accept such an idea?  Is it that scholars do not want the public to have a concept of there being a dignity in being a human being?  Not really.  I think it is more that scholars and various leaders want the society to abandon the Biblical world view and put something else in its place.  So evolutionary ideas become a justification of nonbiblical ideas and a means of inculcating most of society with an anti-christian philosophy.  You can’t really teach philosophy to first graders.  But you can teach them about dinosaurs.  So if you teach them about dinosaurs from an evolutionary viewpoint and leave the Bible out of it, you have influenced children toward accepting a nonbiblical philosophy.

    Similarly if you were to flatly tell the average person on the street, “Did you know you have no free will?”  They would give you a strange look and wonder what you’re talking about.  But there are ideas that can be pushed through the media, the internet, and even through the government, that can accomplish the purpose of moving society toward downplaying or rejecting the concept of free will.  The same can be said of other important concepts that are part of a Christian world view, like the idea that our existence has a purpose, or that we must answer to a Creator-God.  Society is steered or manipulated toward accepting certain ideas, largely without people being aware of it.  It seems slow and often subtle, and therefore harmless.  But the consequences of the drift in values and beliefs has a way of popping up now and then.   

    The principle that people are responsible for their choices is rooted in our being made in the image of God with free will.  It would do no good to treat an animal as if it were morally responsible for it’s actions and punish it for something it did wrong.  We can teach animals how to behave, but that is not  a moral issue.  An animal is not a moral creature as human beings are.  Human beings make moral judgements about all sorts of things.  Why?

    What if human beings are treated as if their behavior is determined by a combination of heredity and environment, just like animals?  Now, for human beings “environment” can include a variety of influences such as family, education, and socioeconomic factors.  You can teach a dog good behavior or teach it bad behavior.  So what is it that human beings do that is beyond what a dog does in learning how to behave?  Is it only that humans are more intelligent?  A dog may learn bad behavior but even if the dog becomes dangerous to people, it is still not considered morally responsible.  It’s just dangerous and has to be controlled or possibly even killed.  But a human being engaging in bad behavior is not the same as a mad dog because a human being has a moral choice.  As human beings we are not limited to what we are taught, we make choices of our own.  Also, being responsible as human beings means we must live out the consequences of our choices.  Our choices matter both to ourselves and to others.  

Crime and Evolution

    There have been attempts to explain human criminal behavior by applying evolutionary concepts and science.  Some have believed that science should make it possible for us to be able to predict and control human behavior.  These attempts have not been very successful.  The attempt to explain human behavior by evolutionary science goes back to Charles Darwin himself, primarily in his book The Decent of Man.  Applying evolutionary ideas to explain human experience is dangerous because it reduces man’s motives to self-preservation, the competition to survive, and producing more offspring.  Even today scientists still study animal or insect populations to learn about social behaviors.  This sort of research is not necessarily bad, unless it does not acknowledge how humans are different from other living things.  

    Darwin would have said that morality has been learned by human beings to promote survival.  One of the problems that comes up in applying evolution in these ways is that nature tends to give  ambiguous examples.  For example, it might seem reasonable to say that maternal instinct is natural for survival, thus humans and animals do it for the same reasons.  Human mothers protect their young for the same reasons animal mothers do.  But you could equally argue that infanticide, killing infants (such as those with a birth defect), is a natural thing from our evolution also.  Animals sometimes kill young who cannot survive.  Does this mean it would be acceptable for humans?  Certainly not!  Darwin believed humans acquired both good social behaviors and bad behaviors from evolution.  Thus humans have “instincts” that are both good and bad.  Note that Charles Darwin in many respects apparently lived according to traditional morality.  He would have been appalled at some of the ways his ideas have been applied in justifying various negative behaviors and even crimes.  But whether Darwin himself intended it or not, evolution does undermine the logic of Christian morality.  

    There was one area of thinking in which Darwin differed with many today, on the question of population growth.  Darwin thought that it was better to have a large human population on Earth, and not desirable to restrict population growth.  Darwin’s reasoning was that there is more likely to be improvement of our species from the larger numbers and the action of natural selection on large numbers.  Darwin generally tried to minimize the differences between humans and animals, so that his evolutionary ideas could be applied to humans.

Leopold and Loeb, 1924

    An example of how evolutionary ideas have been applied to crime comes from a well-known court case in Chicago from 1924.  Clarence Darrow was the defense lawyer for two college students (Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb) who brutally murdered a 14 year old boy named Bobby Franks.  (Clarence Darrow later became known for defending the evolutionist teacher John Scopes in the famous Scopes trial of 1925.)  Leopold and Loeb were caught and they confessed to the crime.  Darrow had Leopold and Loeb plea guilty and concentrated on the sentencing.  Darrow’s goal was to prevent them from being executed.  

    Darwin’s evolution theories were being discussed much at the time, and Darrow considered evolutionary science to be a new voice of reason.  Darrow presented traditional Christian ideas as if they were superstition.  The Christian view was “old” and evolution was considered a “new” more “enlightened” idea.  The “old” Christian concept was that a man does a crime because he willfully and with a malicious heart chooses it.  But the new view from “modern” science was that men were the product of their heredity and the many environmental factors around them.  Darrow treated Leopold and Loeb as if they were victims.  Somehow something had gone wrong in them that couldn’t actually be identified.  So Darrow was applying blatant scientific materialism to the two murderers, exactly as if they were imperfect machines that had malfunctioned.  Darrow asked the court about one of the two murderers, “Is he to blame that his machine is imperfect?”

    Darrow picked out things in the two men’s lives as possible bad influences, related to heredity and environment.  For Richard Loeb Darrow focused most of his argument on heredity but also mentioned his reading detective stories.  For Nathan Leopold, Darrow focused more on environmental factors.  Darrow said Leopold had a “diseased mind” largely from the time he spent studying the philosophy of Nietzsche, from his time as a student at the University of Chicago.  Darrow said to the judge regarding Leopold, “it is hardly fair to hang a nineteen-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university....”  Darrow went on to say that the university was not to blame either.  The prosecution, in criticism of Darrow, presented statements that Darrow had made to prisoners on another occasion.  Darrow told the prisoners in prison, “You did these things because you were bound to do them.”  Darrow continued, It looked to you at the time as if you had a chance to do them or not, as you saw fit; but still, after all, you had no choice.”  The prosecution in the case considered Darrow’s ideas to be dangerous to society, and I agree.  The final end of the case was that the two young men were sentenced to life in prison.  Darrow’s comments and arguments in the case were controversial, yet they had influence on society.  They did not really have much affect on the judicial system at the time apparently because judges did not believe all of Darrow’s scientific evolutionary arguments.   

Evolution and History             

    Attempts to explain crime using an evolutionary view of man has taken different forms through history.  In the early 1900's there was a focus on heredity and this led to the evils of eugenics and efforts to try and restrict certain people from having children.  Because it was often believed that criminals had some genetic defect there were efforts to try and prevent criminals from having children.  But with the end of World War II this line of thinking fell out of favor.  Then there were scholars who argued that there were biochemical imbalances in people’s bodies that caused them to commit crimes.  Endocrine glands were blamed for bad behavior for a time.  Low blood sugar and low calcium levels were also thought to be related to bad behavior.  But these type of ideas have largely been abandoned today.  Psychoactive drugs have been developed as well but these have limited applicability to criminal behavior.   Occasionally there are still medical researchers who claim there is some genetic predisposition to some particular behavior.  I believe these kind of claims often involve questionable science.  

    Today there is more attention on psychological and sociological explanations for crime.  These ideas are often still based on an evolutionary view of man.  Thus free will is de-emphasized or denied and moral responsibility is not allowed for.  Thus man’s real problem, the sin problem from our sinful nature, is not dealt with.  Biblically, as fallen beings with a sinful nature we all have a tendency to avoid facing up to our responsibility for our sin.  This tends to lead much scholarship and research in an unprofitable direction.  Sigmund Freud took Darwinian evolution as the foundation of many of his ideas and for some time Freud’s ideas were prominent in criminology.  Today psychologists would not consider Freud’s ideas that valid or important.  The well-known psychologist B. F. Skinner also rejected the idea of free will in developing his Behavioral psychology because of his acceptance of the evolution of man.  Skinner’s ideas still have great influence in Psychology and Education.  A psychology professor at Duke University in the 1990's (John Staddon) said “Nearly all psychologists believe that behavior is completely determined by heredity and environment.”

    Which view of Man has had more success in explaining crime and the rehabilitation of criminals?  I think the Christian view of Man is more realistic than modern evolutionary science. First, in a Christian ministry you approach someone with the understanding they have the responsibility of their choice.  So you try to persuade them and help them understand the truth about themselves and God.  (Note that this is how God dealt with Cain before Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis 4:6-7.)  They may not be convinced, but you give them the dignity of a choice because they are made in the image of God.  There is a mysterious aspect in that God has to enable someone to believe and become a Christian.  But it is also their choice.  Christian faith deals with the person’s root problem (sin) and helps them understand the difference their choices can make in their life.  God honors this kind of effort, at least for those who respond to the truth.  Environment is certainly a factor, but people can change if they decide to.  An evolutionary view of what it is to be human tends to give up on someone being able to change.  It also downplays their accomplishments and progress.  Good progress in overcoming personal problems is explained away by saying, it was the environment or circumstances around them and not due to their own choices and hard work.  Much of what I am saying here can also be applied to dealing with mental illness, though there are physiological factors to some mental illness.  God values the whole person, so you treat the whole person.

    The Biblical teachings about creation are vital to how we view ourselves and others. Evolution downplays the uniqueness and value of being human.  It also often becomes a subtle means of manipulating public opinion away from Christian values.  Evolutionary ideas have influenced society in many ways including ideas on crime and punishment.  It can be countered however by a Biblical perspective and God’s grace.



Smith, Wesley J., The War on Humans, Discovery Institute Press, 2014.

West, John G., Darwin Day in America:  How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, ISI Books, 2014.


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