Darwin, Evolution, and God

Contrary to what is often said, Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t atheistic. It was all about creation by natural laws.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/darwin-evolution-and-god

What would you like to talk about this week?

Scientific theories of course are not atheistic or theistic because they are not people. They are true or not true according to experimental methodology. We mean to say that its implications do not exclude an orthodox understanding of God’s creation of the world, and Darwin affirmed this. Further, Darwin’s affirmation of this fact is separate from his most private views of God–an area no branch of history can fully uncover.

@TedDavis, The issue is not whether Darwin’s Theory or Dawkins’ understanding of it is atheistic, but whether a) it is compatible with Christianity and b) whether it is scientifically verified.

_a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/darwin-evolution-and-god#sthash.i3GW3it5.dpuf_

The basic understanding of reality behind Darwin’s Theory is a dog eat dog world, where the “winners” take all and the losers die. Social Darwinism is a reasonable working out of this concept, but it has been almost universally rejected except by some libertarians.

It does against the Christian view that God the Father created the universe through God the Son and God is Love, not struggle.

Dawkins’ Selfish Gene concept if true would prove that the universe was not created by the God Who is Love /Logos.

The problem then is bad science or the fact that Nature is not based on struggle, but on Symbiosis. Please Ted point this out.

I believe that it is a metaphor. All metaphors used as explanatory devices (not as arguments) in science break down.

1 Like


The Selfish Gene is the name of a specific model of evolution.

If it is mistaken, you need to say how the model is mistaken, which is what I have done.

No, it is not. It is merely a metaphor, an explanatory device.

1 Like


A model is an explanatory device. The question is How does it succeed or fail to explain the science of evolution?

So is a metaphor. The “Selfish Gene” is a metaphor, not a model.

Note that I wrote “merely,” because a model is much more than a metaphor.

1 Like

Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/darwin-evolution-and-god#sthash.R0Vl2fCS.dpuf


\The statement quoted above in italics is the basis for Natural Selection or the Survival of the Fittest. owe3ver I know of no scientific verification of this supposed scientific fact. Where is the evidence that all organisms are in a life and death struggle for survival against their peers? And if so how does this struggle result in evolutionary change?

This statement might seem reasonable, but the genius of science is that it does not rest on what is reasonable ALONE. Everything that can be proven experientially, must be proven experientially, including this fact, if it is gong to be considered sound science.

@Relates (Roger),

It’s hard to know where to begin with a reply. I’m not a biologist, obviously, but I’ll do my best to give an accurate and short reply. If you (e.g.) consider organisms such as fish, frogs, or insects, it’s clear that they reproduce at exceptionally high rates: that is, one adult female can produce hundreds or even thousands of offspring in her lifetime. Suppose that those offspring had no competitors–no other creatures in their environments that might destroy them or eat the same food. Even in that situation, the individual offspring would have to search for food along with many others of their type. Perhaps for several generations the supply of food would be sufficient for all of them, but in time if unchecked the population would explode, eventually filling the whole earth, at which point obviously some of them would be unable to find food and the planet would become too crowded to support them. Surely all this is obvious–is it not? Even some of the natural theologians prior to Darwin recognized the need at least for one generation of creatures to die, making way for the next generation. Indeed, Paley considered predation morally justifiable (for God), since it offered a relatively quick death, as opposed to a prolonged death from starvation or disease.

Darwin realized the reality of this situation, which he called the “Struggle for existence.” How this leads to evolution is another matter that I won’t try to address presently.

1 Like

Okay, survival of the fittest does not speak to other species competing for food and survival, but competition within one species for food and survival. As you pointed out, the competition is not from within the species, but from other species or the environment which fashions the genetic forms of a species. Therefore the theoretical foundation of Darwinian Natural Selection is false and that is why I have not found anyone who is able to say how the struggle for existence leads to evolution.

I was musing on this the other day, comparing evolution and the competition to sporting events, and realized that it is most comparable to golf: while you may have others competing, the real competition is with the course, and you have to play it, adapt to different conditions and with different clubs etc. in hope of doing well, regardless of what others are doing.

Thank you for your comment.

I am not into golf, but I think sports analogies are very good. A game is life in miniature with its own rules and boundaries.

I am more into team sports and really I see the contrast of symbiosis with survival of the fittest the strongest here. Team sports emphasize working together as a team, while survival of the fittest emphasizes struggle between individuals for predominance.

Teamwork is what Paul taught in 1 Cor 12 as the expression of Koinonia in the Church. One might think that sports which are based on competition between teams would highlight survival of the fittest, but not so. Even the concept of “iron sharpens iron” emphasizes that competition strengthens everyone, rather tan destroys those who do not measure up. God’s plan is that there is place for everyone, not just the “fittest.”

A good team is a thing of beauty. A team that has good players, but does not play like a team is an abomination.

Wilson’s The Social Conquest of the Earth is a tacit repudiation of Survival of the Fittest.

Actually, Roger, I meant for my comments to include both types of competition–both within a given species and involving individuals from other species. Partly this is a red herring: new species are formed by populations of individuals of the same species, which gradually diverge in character from other populations of individuals of that same species over time. Darwin understood that the most intense competition in nature occurs between/among those individuals that are highly similar and are therefore competing for the same resources. However, once a given group of individuals becomes noticeably different in their characteristics, while they are still competing for the same resources, they can become (as a group) better adapted to their environment (which includes other creatures) than another group, and selection can push them further over time, resulting in a new species eventually.

That’s how Darwin saw it.

I interpret your concern with this notion as a strong expression of theological preference for Paley’s view of a harmonious balance in nature, vis-a-vis Darwin’s view of heavy competition. Am I understanding you correctly?

Well, it’s true that Darwin turned Paley on his head, as far as this particular idea is concerned. However, he was deeply influenced by Paley’s emphasis on the inter-relatedness of the “economy of nature” (a term that both men used), and both realized that predation is part of the creation as we find it–however it might be interpreted theologically.

Roger, I believe that E. O. Wilson is giving an atheist’s view of how Darwinian evolution produced in Homo sapiens a brain circuitry that fostered social cooperativity, a feature highly developed long ago in the insect kingdom (albeit outside the brain) and more recently in mammals, such as wild dogs and some whales. Cooperation in hunting gave Homo sapiens a great advantage over the Neanderthals who were, at first, using tools of very similar design but hunted in small family groups with poor communications. In terms of team sports, cooperation encourages survival as a team, but winning the Word Series is still a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’. A sadder example is the bitter dispute between our two political parties in the recent election, which can be described in Tennyson’s terms as “bloody in tooth and claw”.

To me, it is obvious that Darwinian evolution requires a combination of competition and cooperation. When this type of creative process develops sensate animals that suffer because of the competitive fraction, we question the justice and goodness of the Creator. The hypothesis that I offer–that the Great Leap Forward marks the point in time that humankind rose above simple Darwinian evolution–does not totally solve all the problems of justice and goodness, but it at least offers the alternative that as images of our Creator we can try to become the agents of an ‘improved’ creation–the new Jerusalem?? the Kingdom of heaven?? Is it possible that this is what Jesus asks of us?

Heaven knows that this is NOT orthodox Christianity. But orthodox religion of all sorts–Islam, Judaism, Hindi, Budhism, etc–do not seem to be leading humanity towards the ideal of a cooperative social order that preserves human freedom._Is that an oxymoron?
Al Leo

[quote=“TedDavis, post:15, topic:5956”]
I interpret your concern with this notion as a strong expression of theological preference for Paley’s view of a harmonious balance in nature, vis-a-vis Darwin’s view of heavy competition. Am I understanding you correctly?


I never read Paley, I so hesitate I was influenced by him. However as far as I can recall science as we know it has emphasized the harmony of nature as indicated by the cosmos and ecology. It seems very strange to me that one aspect of science and a very important aspect of science should radically differ from the rest of science. That should not happen.

If it does happen, it should be very carefully examined and documented, which it has not. @aleo uses the conflict between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalis as an example of how conflict takes place, but we really do not know that history. There is evidence that modern humans intermarried with Neanderthals, so the conflict must not have been total if it existed.

On the other hand it seems to me that Darwin and his peers were very possibly influence by the imperial ethos of England who sought to stretch its power over the world and assume “the white man’s burden.” If God evolved life on the basis of survival of the fittest then racist ideology makes sense and Social Darwinism was practiced in the US until recently.

If common ancestry is the best evidence for evolution, there is no reason why it is not compatible with evolution by symbiosis, so I am very puzzled as to why there seems so much resistance to even examining this point of view, unless maybe it feeds our feeling of superiority.

Now let us look at some evidence. The current edition of Scientific American, Nov, 2016, contains at article, Species in Making, pp. 54-61, about killer whales. It points out that killer whales are one species, but they have developed into 10 distinct “ecotypes” with each its own “culture” and preferred foods.

The question that arises from this is that evolutionary theory has said that creation of new species results from geographical separation of members of a species, which leads to division. The fact is that these ecotypes of killer whales live together in the some ocean without any physical separation.

They see these groups emerging as changes in culture because these groups have learned new ways of hunting their prey. Killer whales are a predatory form of dolphins, who are intelligent and social animals.

I see it as a form of a division of labor. Karl Marx said t6hat the division of labor into workers and capitalists was the origin of evil and sin. I would say that the division of labor so that everyone has a specialty is a rational and effective adaption to ecosystem.

In the south some families of killer whales adapted to better hunt penguins, others to hunt seals, and still others to hunt Minke whales. In the north one group adapted to hunting sharks, another adapted to hunting sharks, a third adapted to hunting salmon, a fourth to marine mammals, and a fifth to herring and mackerel.

My point is that here and elsewhere the primary impetus to evolutionary change is the ecology. In most cases it is a changing ecology which caused the dinosaurs’ niche to disappear and them to die out. Here is the gradual diversification of the killer whales to better harvest the diverse resources of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans.

@aleo There is a huge difference between competition and the4 struggle for survival which is survival of the fittest, as you noticed in our recent election which people saw as not competition to see which candidate was best for America, but a struggle for the soul of America. As I see it Trump & Co. waged all out war against the Democrats with a very loose regard for the truth.

Good competition is good. It allows us to test our skills against others. We can learn about ourselves and about others, which is good by putting our skills to the test. Science is good when we put our ideas to the test by conducting experiments or field studies, which we haven’t with Darwinian Natural Selection.

Sports is not a struggle for survival like the battles of the gladiators. They are a drama in real life and real time.

Sports have rules that need to be followed, unlike a struggle for survival. There is an old saying, All is fair in love and war. We know that this is not true unless we see love and war a struggle for survival, but when they are a civilized, moral competitions love and war do have real rules, which are sadly being broken as we speak.

Selfish individuals and teams are losers in the long run, even if they are athletically more gifted. That is God 's Law that no one can change, not Darwin’s.

I am not an expert on either the mechanism or the history of evolutionary theory, but my reading has led me to believe that symbiosis is considered an integral part of that mechanism–al least since the work of Lynn Margulis. Why do you consider that it meets with so much resistance? Or why do you consider that symbiosis seems to act to the exclusion of competition? Could it be that, if God encouraged competition, He would be acting somewhat like the humans who enjoy watching dog fights to see which is the victor?

From what I have read, such interspecies conflict could be so subtle that the ‘contestants’ might not even been aware any conflict was happening. The best evidence has the Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interacting over a period of thousands of years, and they did interbreed to some extent. The experts in the field think it likely that the Neanderthal DNA that survives in modern Europeans must have conferred some protection against disease. This indicates they are looking for symbiotic changes rather than conflict. It appears that the Neanderthals may have picked up some cultural advances through this interaction, but they did not (apparently) pick up enough language for more effective cooperative hunting. And they were gradually out-competed. IF God let this sort of thing happen, would it offend your sense of morality?
Al Leo


To continue our discussion in a different vein. If change is based on competition or conflict, then it follows that the rate of change is based on the rate of conflict. A simple example of this is found in the heating up of water. It heats up faster the more heat applied to it.

Now the issue here is that Darwin seemed to think that the Struggle for Survival was constant, and evolutionary change was also constant. The evidence indicates evolutionary change is not constant, but is tied to ecological change. The death of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals are connected to climate change. The rise of modern humans is connected to the end of the Ice Age.

If evolutionary change is dependent upon co0mpetition which is relatively constant, then life forms would all be changing as the same rate. However some life forms like lichens, sharks, and crocodiles have changed very little over very long periods of time, Again some ecological niches have not changed and life forms living in them are very well adapted.

@aleo, God is the God of History. History is the process of change, not of competition. We are moving toward the Kingdom of God, when God’s Will of Love will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We do not know how this will take place. It would be nice if humans evolved or progressed in this direction. However the Bible seems to indicate that the Kingdom of God will take place when God cleanses the earth of all death and human evil leaving only the redeemed to live forever praising and serving God.

The best explanation as to why people resist the idea of symbiosis as the basis for evolution is because our thinking is based on Western dualism, which encourages conflict as opposed to cooperation. Jesus preached Love a long me ago, but we still have not really have not made it the basis of our lifestyle for the most part. Christianity is not easy, but we need to try if we really want to live by the faith that Jesus taught.

Roger, I fear that you are using an analogy that (pun intended) does not hold water. If competition is one factor which influences evolutionary change, there is NO reason to expect the relationship to be linear. Absent any data, I would expect it to have a bell shaped curve with an optimal value if, indeed, it could be measured. Especially on islands with limited resources, it has been observed that an animal with a strongly preferred food source will compete with others of its species to the point of eliminating that food source. If the ecology of that island is such that no new source is provided, the population of the highly competing species will crash, perhaps to the point of extinction.