I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
An Angry God
Random selection appears to have doomed its most enthusiastic promoters to extinction.
I want to be clear that I am not taking issue in this post with the theory of evolution per se, or even with Darwin’s specific take on it in particular. Just as there is a “Spirit of Vatican II” that doesn’t concern itself overmuch with what the Second Vatican Council actually decreed, there is a Spirit of Darwinian Evolution that invokes evolutionary theory as a sort of charm that wards off the need for a Creator, but doesn’t feel the need to explain how. It’s that totemic use of evolution, with a quasi-mythical Darwin as its high priest, that I’m referring to here. My whole point, in fact, is that if materialist atheists were actually to apply evolutionary theory to themselves, they would have to admit that unbelieving humanity is doomed.
Let’s start with atheism itself. Atheism and the related materialist philosophy are often described as religions, or as quasi-religions. There’s something to that. For unbelievers, a dogmatic adherence to the tenets of their ideology often seems to play the role that religion and devotion to God fulfills in other people’s lives. It certainly is the case that many of those 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. If he is a prophet, however, he’s a prophet in the mold of the mythological Greek prophetess Cassandra, whose prophecies were never believed. The evidence is pretty clear: random selection likes religion, but is not a fan of atheism.
Before I look into the matter more directly, I should provide a little context. In my years teaching in Catholic schools I often engaged in dialogue with young unbelievers who were enamored of proselytizing atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (if a messenger of good news is an evangelist, what’s the messenger of bad news? A cacangelist? Just a thought.). 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.
Believe the Science
I soon discovered that I was not at all the first person to come to this conclusion: I found a report on a site called Scilogs* about 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.
Other researchers come to similar conclusions, and not only on the replacement of populations. On the most basic level, their own individual existence, unbelievers fall short of believers: statistically, those who are actively religious live four years longer.
Viruses of the Mind
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.
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 interlocutors, 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? Can we reasonably expect that those who believe that we are answerable to nobody and morality is just a social construct will be more loving and generous than men and women who are convinced that we have been commanded by a benevolent Creator to love one another? It just doesn’t make sense.
God is Love (1 John 4:8)
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), are more likely to join community and voluntary associations (even non-religious ones), and are more likely to vote. As is the case with the data cited by Blume, the more devout the believer, the stronger the effect. Arthur C. Brooks copiously documents the same results with a wealth of statistical evidence in his book Who Really Cares: believing Christians are much more involved in donating their time and talents for building up their societies, and are much more willing to spare their personal wealth to help others. The Catholic Church alone has founded and runs thousands of hospitals, schools, and countless other charitable projects around the world. Is there any organization founded or run by atheists that even comes close? 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?
*The article to which I refer has since been removed. You can find the same information, and more, on Blume’s own website: http://www.blume-religionswissenschaft.de/english/index_english.html