The Philosophy of Evolution

A Matter of Identity

As an armchair Platonist, I find the philosophy behind Darwinian evolution not only intellectually unsatisfactory, but also self-contradictory. On the one hand, it asserts constant change, that, given enough time and proper conditions, anything can change into anything else; on the other hand, it asserts identity, that there is a “struggle for existence” of the individual and/or group. It is a self-contradiction to state that something must undergo changes in order to preserve its identity.

The law of the conservation of energy ensures that energy remains constant in a closed system. Matter and energy always exist, though in diverse forms. On the material level, the “struggle for existence” is superfluous, if not meaningless.

Evolutionists have attempted to explain away the altruistic acts observed among living beings in terms of survival, that the individual sacrificed himself for the survival of the group, the extended self. But where does this sense or notion of self come from? How is its boundary defined? If it can be extended to a group, why not all the species? After all, we are all nothing but matter, with the same “selective advantage”. From the materialistic perspective, the ideas of “survival”, “individual” or “race” are mere fantasies, and have no more material underpinning than the ideas of justice and morality.

Nature, Good and Evil

From a naturalist perspective, there is no such thing as natural evil. All things come into and pass out of existence according to the laws of nature. Death is no more evil than birth, and pain is no more evil than pleasure. The bacteria and viruses that cause diseases in men have the same rights of existence as men do.

From a philosophical perspective, evil can be defined as a privation of good or falling short of the good. The definition implies a standard of good, without which evil is meaningless.

According to Aristotle, a thing is evil if it falls short of its purpose, i.e., what nature intends it to be. We do not attribute blindness to stones, for they are not meant to see, having no potential for sight. Likewise, if something is not meant to live for a long time, its death is not evil. The Stoics believe that life is not a right of man, but a loan from God, and it is the duty of men to live responsibly. Death is to be preferred if it is impossible to live virtuously any longer, and to extend one’s life by unjust means is evil. An example of the latter in biology is cancer.

From a Christian perspective, God alone is good. Evil is falling short of the glory of God, or, which is the same thing, His manifested will for the created being.

When devastated by the death of his dear friend, Augustine found consolation in contemplating the meaning and coherence of the Creation: “That is the law limiting their being. So much have You given them, namely to be parts of things which do not all have their being at the same moment, but by passing away and by successiveness, they all form the whole of which they are parts. This is the way our speech is constructed by sounds which are significant. What we say would not be complete if one word did not cease to exist when it has sounded its constituent parts, so that it can be succeeded by another…There would be more delight in all the elements than in individual pieces if only one had the capacity to perceive all of them. But far superior to these things is He who made all things, and He is our God. He does not pass away; nothing succeeds Him.”

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27 thoughts on “The Philosophy of Evolution

  1. “Evil is falling short of the glory of God, or, which is the same thing, His manifested will for the created being.”

    I recently read Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright. He argues that the earth will not be destroyed, but redeemed. He argues that evil does not consist in transience, or in decay. “There is nothing wrong with the tree dropping it’s leaves in the autumn.” This isn’t really a question. I guess I am just thinking about your point of God’s will for creation in relation to Wright’s comments.

    1. On the one hand, I would agree with Wright that transience and decay are not evil in and of themselves, but only if they are against the will of God; on the other hand, I think it is quite clear that God’s will for us is incorruption and immortality.

      For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O Death, where is your sting?
      O Hades, where is your victory?”
      1 Corinthians 15:53-55

      1. Yes. What do you think he means by “incorruption” and “immortality”? Do you picture a Platonic soul flying off to heaven? And does putting on incorruption and immortality apply to humans only or to all of creation?

      2. I think we will have a visible but incorruptible body, like Jesus after His resurrection, and incorruption will apply to all creation.

      1. I would put a link to my review here, but I’m not sure how. 🙂 Basically, he challenges our assumptions about soul and redemption. He argues that fire signifies purifying and that God will redeem creation instead of destroying it. Really interesting stuff. Completely different from what I was taught. I recently ordered a copy of the book so I could go through it again…

  2. I think that is exactly his point. God’s fire will destroy evil in the world (including works of straw), and will purify and redeem gold. I think gold would refer to works done in His name for His kingdom. They are good,but are not perfect. On the day God redeems creation, they will be made perfect. or something like that. I can let you know for sure once I get my copy.

    Maybe it is because of the environment I grew up in and the people I grew up with (whom I happen to be living around again). There is a prevalent attitude that God is going to destroy the world and they are just waiting it out until He does. The Platonic, disembodied soul is in full force. I think this attitude is pretty strong among fundamentalists everywhere. I find this mentality disturbing and not sound Scripturally. Perhaps this is why Wright’s work made such a strong impression on me. It helped me answer a lot of questions I have had for a long time concerning creation and eschatology.

    1. The Platonic, disembodied soul is in full force.

      If that were true, the world would be a fine place indeed. 🙂 It would be a world in which everyone pursue justice, wisdom and virtue above material goods and sensual pleasure.

      I think Wright’s argument that the Platonic attitude hinders Christian participation in social justice is very unsound, if not a straw man.

      1. Please don’t dismiss his arguments based on my clumsy attempts to briefly summarize them. I think this is an empirical observation and not the basis for his argument against the disembodied soul. He does argue against the disembodied soul, but he does so based on exegesis of scripture.

        “If that were true, the world would be a fine place indeed.:) It would be a world in which everyone pursue justice, wisdom and virtue above material goods and sensual pleasure.”

        If what were true? The Platonic disembodied soul? Or a purifying power from God?

      2. I’m mot dismissing all his arguments, only the one correlating Platonic belief with the lack of participation in social justice. Plato himself advocated social justice.

  3. Well, like I said, it wasn’t really the basis of his argument. It was more of an observation, and one that I could readily relate to. 🙂

    1. If I’m not mistaken, the purpose of his book is to promote social justice in this world. He argues against the belief in immortal soul because he thinks that is what keeps people from pursuing social justice. I think he is barking up the wrong tree.

      1. I certainly have not done well in explaining this. He does want to promote social justice. But he does not argue against the belief in immortal soul because he thinks that is what keeps people from pursuing social justice. Furthermore, he does not argue against belief in immortal soul. He argues again immortal DISEMBODIED soul. he builds a case on scripture. This is exactly why I purchased my own copy! 😛 I will share the verses with you when it comes in if you would like me to.

      2. Setting aside biblical exegesis for the moment, does he think the belief in the immortal disembodied soul keeps people from pursuing social justice? If not, what does he think is the cause?

  4. Ok, yes. He does think it aids in apathy. You know Plato better than me and seem to believe pretty strongly that Plato’s interest in social justice was a direct result of his belief in an immortal disembodied soul. Do you have any passages in mind that would speak to this? I would like to compare them to what Wright says when the book gets here.

    1. The subject of one of Plato’s best known works, The Republic, is justice, both personal and social justice, and immortality of the soul. As I understand it, for Plato, justice and immortality are logically connected. Some scholars even say that Plato didn’t really believe in immortality, but only used the idea to promote social justice.

      1. “The subject of one of Plato’s best known works, The Republic, is justice, both personal and social justice, and immortality of the soul.”

        I KNEW you were going to say the Republic. When I read the dialogues last year, I did not reread this one and should have.

        “As I understand it, for Plato, justice and immortality are logically connected.”

        How are they logically connected?

        “Some scholars even say that Plato didn’t really believe in immortality, but only used the idea to promote social justice.”

        Do you agree? Or do you think this is highly speculative? It seems to fly in the face of the obvious sincerity of Phaedo, doesn’t it?

      2. How are justice and immortality of the soul logically connected?

        For starters, as Socrates argues in Phaedo, if a) justice is true and not just wishful thinking, and b) most people don’t find justice in this life, there must be an afterlife where justice is executed.

        I wrote a post about it, based on discussions with GRers: Plato’s Conception of God

  5. I have read the post. So you do think that they are being speculative. And you did a great job of summarizing the connections in Plato’s thought. As usual, you have given me something to think about.

  6. I hope I’m not bothering you, but I have another question. Is survival of the fittest simply an explanatory theory or has it been proved? do you know?

    1. It is like the argument from fine-tuning. Are we here because God wills it or because of some blind chance? It cannot be proved scientifically either way.

      1. But to point out that it has not been proved is perceived as “going against science” or something. I’m David, and big, bad science is Goliath. Only I’m no good with a slingshot.

      2. Do you remember the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13? The seed thrives on good soil, but not on rocky places. Yes, the Bible taught “survival of the fittest” long before Darwin. 🙂 But if you look deeper, it is grace and free choice in action, always.

  7. Actually, that sounded weird. I’m not trying to take down science. I don’t think science contradicts the Bible. I mean, the Bible never claims to be a scientific tome, right?

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