Is evolution driven by violence?

Roger, When one member of a litter kills a weak sibling, or when a female zebra gets a new mate and he kills the offspring of the previous male, what do you call that? Or when one pride of lions takes the kill of a smaller pride. There are countless examples here. Cannibalism by killing another member of the species. The stronger sibling makes sure it gets most of the food. Males are known to compete for the right to mate in countless species. Often the female lions make the kill and males come in and take the first and best part.

The short summary is that for every individual, part of its environment is the other members of its own species. Sometimes they are cooperative, as in pack hunting and a group of females taking care of each other’s young, but competition and even killing other members of their species also happens frequently. These are not rare aberrations. We may find these shocking (and try to teach our kids not to act that way) but they are part of nature.

There is violence in nature.

Then there must be strong evidence of how those we who are stronger are evolutionarily favored

Roger, well the immediate point is that there is intraspecies violence, competition for mates, which is usually not lethal, although it can be on occasion, and when resources are limited, competition for resources among different family groups or even within groups.

There is a vast literature on the subject. How could the stronger, faster, flashier individuals who get most of the food, kill or defeat their rivals, get the richest territory and get most of the mates, not be favored in the game of reproductive success? The weak ones die young without offspring, being picked off selectively by predators, killed by members of their own species, or simply fail to mate very much because the members of their species of the opposite sex find them less promising as mates.

You can do simple rigorous experiments with microbes like yeast or bacteria where you mix equal numbers of cells of two strains that differ only by the presence or absence of a known mutation. Then grow the culture and sample at intervals and see what the proportions of the two strains become at succeeding times. Their environment is exactly the same since they are in the same medium, and there is no other species present. If the proportions change over time in a reproducible way, that’s competition and a fitness difference. By letting them grow for a substantial number of generations, even a small difference in fitness will become a large change in proportion. If you take it long enough, the slower strain will disappear. Of course you have to check to see if new mutations have occurred along the way that had any effect.

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The notion of fitness and survival of the fittest has been oversimplified in debates, especially when this is equated with a “law” such as natural selection (NS). To be blunt, if it is a simple as fitness, than I cannot see how any offspring could survive, since these are the most vulnerable – I am not suggesting another notion, just showing how simplistic discussions may appear nonsensical. An interesting discussion which deal with questions if natural selection as a scientific mechanism is found, for example, in : Philosophy of Science, Vol. 75, No. 3 (July 2008), pp. 306-322, “Natural Selection as a Mechanism”. This paper is a reply to a previous one that questions natural selection, so I am referring to a paper that supports NS (so no need to get excited). These papers provide greater depth, and point out why NS still remains a controversial idea, and that it must be somehow intertwined with other aspects, such as stochastic processes, adaptation, and another paper in which the author suggests a type of directionality – my point is to show how simplistic NS may be used in debates and disputes.

To get back to this topic, I think we should seriously consider models which can deal with the planetary system before we decide that ancient samples may provide a clear picture “…that :digs up God’s story…”


So it is your position that difference results in competition. While it can it can also result in cooperation, symbiosis.

Now I hope that you are familiar with experiments with one strain of e. coli grown in a culture, which was rich in nutrients, but poor in oxygen. After many generations, one batch of e. coli “learned” to use the nutrients without the oxygen, and thus flourished in what had been a stressful environment.

The question is this, Did this new type of e. coli flourish because it was more fit than the other, or because it found a way to adapt to its environment better than the others?

In another example black pocket mice are flourishing while brown are not. A quick assessment of the situation suggests that most of the mice are living in an area with black volcanic soil, as opposed to brown sandy soil. Are the black mice more fit because they happened to be born a different color from the brown and thus have more protection from predators or because of some struggle for survival?

Dinosaurs disappeared because change in climate made the hot swampy marsh environment in which they lived disappear. There was not struggle against mammals for survival, but just an end of an era. Pandas are in danger because the bamboo they need is disappearing in the wild, so they are being fed in captivity.

Yes, of course two strains of microbes which are genetically different might grow differently in the same environment, if that genetic difference enables one to use the culture better than the other. The factor is not that there is a genetic difference, but how that genetic difference helps or hinders the strains to adapt to their environment.

If we take identical twins are tested for academics and athletics, they are genetically identical, but I they will not test identically because adaption to the environment is affected by genetics, but beyond genetics.

Roger, maybe I can add something that helps. Even while I don’t accept macro-evolution, I think I understand the theory well enough in this area of symbiosis vs competition. Part of the confusion centers around a survival of the species, vs survival of the individual. Both are part of the evolutionary theory. Survival of the individual supposes that the individual carries small barely perceptible differences compared to less “fit” individuals within the same species. This process is supposed to slowly change the dominant characteristics of the species or genotype. So for example, if an original tiger had offspring that were white and yellow, then in a snowy environment, the white tigers might survive better because they could sneak up on prey, while the yellow ones would survive better and become dominant in the wooded jungles because they could sneak up on prey better there. This could happen even if generally only 5% of the offspring were white tigers. You see the adaptation is that the yellow are eliminated due to starvation in the snow, while the white cannot get enough to eat in the jungle. Something similar would apply to white foxes vs red foxes, and white bears vs brown bears. The animals most likely to survive, are selected by their environment.

With bacteria, they do not “learn” to adapt. What happens is when a population of ecoli are in a culture that is not generally favorable, most of them die off. But there may be one or two cells that survive due to a mutation, or due to the genetic variability in the population. They may not survive as well as the others when there is oxygen, but they are the only ones to survive in anoxic conditions. They are selected by their environment. Individuals do not adapt, but the population as a whole adapts.

We can see the correlations of animals in function and color to their environment. We know this happens since we can observe it. What we cannot observe is that this process creates distinctly new species.

Not every form of natural selection would be a struggle between various species, in that I agree with you. Sometimes they are simply in the wrong location, where food or temperature are not conducive.

Symbioses is generally just an expansion of a way of acquiring food, or in some cases protection from predators. Those who live in symbiotic situations are more likely to survive again. The pilot fish that clean the sharks benefit from the sharks desire to be cleaned. Sharks that do not get cleaned get sick more often and don’t survive as long. The pilot fish who clean sharks get more food than other pilot fish who ignore this food supply. Behaviour is certainly a learned behaviour sometimes, although sometimes it is also somewhat instinctive. Or it can be taught. That is a form of adaptation as well. But again, it cannot lead to biological evolution unless there is a genetic cause or association. The fish will continue to be a fish, and its appearance will not change merely because its behaviour changes. On the other hand, evolutionists will claim that genetic changes within two species might lead to a new symbiotic behaviour that benefits both species.

Cooperation is another example of natural selection or survival of those who adapt. When wolves hunt together, they cooperate as a pack to find and bring down food. It is more likely in difficult times, that a lone wolf will not be able to bring down a large moose for supper. So cooperation enables survival. Natural selection selects against the lone wolf. In a similar way, a herd of water buffalo can defend against a pride of lions by cooperating in numbers. The lone buffalo will be conquered by the lions. So cooperation is real, but does not really change the precept of natural selection.

However, natural selection does not create new species, it only ensures the survival of some species, and usually the survival of the healthy and strong and best adapted within that species. As a general rule, it works against the survival of off-types, and against survival of new mutations, which are usually deleterious.

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I appreciate hearing about the many ways that symbiosis help to guide and make possible evolution.

The problem is that people do not give examples of conflict that can be analyzed and accepted or rejected. Close examination has already rejected predation which everyone thinks is the basic source of evolutionary struggle. Sexual conflict might have some merit, but I can see that in one important case this is based on ecology also.

Do not take Dawkins’ and Darwin’s word for it. See for your self if evolution is based on struggle for resources or adaption to make the best use of resources.

The question is not what God can and cannot do. God can do whatever God chooses to do. However from the Bible and basic logic we know that evil does not produce good. God did not create sin and evil, although it is true that God did create the situation where humans were able to choose to sin, the choose wrong over right. God created a good universe, which humans corrupted.

Darwin and more importantly Dawkins claims that the universe is not good and that evolution is based on conflict and chaos. Many Christians are willing to accept this point of view like my sister-in-law and say that selfish genes are responsible for the Fall and the plight of the unsaved. That is the easy way to reconcile evolution with Christianity, but like most easy answers it is also the wrong way. Humans are not sinful by nature, They are sinful because they sin.

If anyone can show me that evolution is based on struggle against others members of the species, pleased feel free to offer some examples.

Our points of disagreement may not be separated as far as it might first appear. You say: “Humans are not sinful by nature. They are sinful because they sin.” As Genesis puts it: ‘they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good an Evil.’ In other words they acquired a conscience. Sin is the result of a moral choice, and so prior to possessing a conscience they could ‘do what comes naturally’ without sinning. We can all agree that infanticide is a grievous sin, but a male lion, newly dominant in the pride, kills all the baby lions than do not carry his genes. He is ‘doing what comes naturally’ and so does not sin. Humans, having been gifted with a conscience, are challenged to rise above these ‘selfish genes’–to seek out God’s will (which may NOT always coincide with the direction evolution takes) and to follow it.

Dawkins may overstate the evolutionary importance of Selfish Genes, but, if you haven’t read the last chapter of his book of that title, please do so. In it he discusses memes (ideas that taken a life of their own) and states: “We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth…We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism–something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” If Dawkins had not turned his back on his Anglican upbringing, he might have added: “By giving humans the Gift of Conscience, God has challenged us to become co-creators with Him, to create the New Jerusalem on this earth–something the original evolutionary method of creation would never accomplish.”

Why don’t you run this email by your sister-in-law. I’ll bet she will agree with it.

"We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

Richard Dawkins


Albert, I am glad that Richard Dawkins is not subject to selfish genes, but that is not the question. The question is: “Does the systematic world view that he created using the “science” of Darwinism have any place for a mind and spirit (or Conscience) which would enable humans to rise above self centered sin?” By his own statements, the answer is NO.

Thus his opinion not backed by fact contradict his science. What is dangerous is that Dawkins seems to claim that one can have a rational morality without objective right and wrong. What is dangerous is that Dawkins seems to think that he can make valid ethical statements that contradict his scientific and philosophical views.

Dennett on the other hand says clearly that humans do not have freedom of choice, based on some current scientific evidence. He as far as I know does not say that genes determine what we think and do, but it certainly would be a reasonable conclusion if we are not free.

By the way concerning lions a report on NPR claimed that female lions who are supposed to be the sole mate of the Alpha male actually see other males on the side and said that a large proportion of the offspring of the females were actually from the non-Alpha male. This was done by genetic testing, so there could be no question of the parentage. If this is so it indicates that a) there is no innate sense of who are and who are not genetic kin as Dawkins seems to think , and 2) the importance of sexual selection may be overblown. Again to me this is evidence that things that seem to be solid scientific facts at first glance are not so solid when carefully examined.

The real question is how does God or Nature work. In today’s (4/23/15) New York Times there is a wonderful article under the by line of Carl Zimmer entitled > Ancient Viruses, Once Foes, May Now Be Friends.

The article indicates that very old genetic material appearing to be remnants of ancient viruses are now being used by the human body to create babies. It clearly demonstrates the symbiotic nature of life, where nothing is wasted and everything is recycled. Nature does not need to wait for mutations to produced needed genetic material, but can use whatever is at hand perfect the working of the human body. It clearly demonstrates the statement of Paul, “All things work for the good of those who love God.”

This is the wonder of how God created through ecology which goes far beyond the genetics and conflict of Darwin. Dawkins is right , Darwin did make atheism intellectually respectable. Dawkins and Darwin are wrong in that evolution is not a simple mechanistic trial and error process. Evolution is a system guided by Ecology.

Creationists are right to be very concerned about Darwinian evolution. The problem is they and we became sidetracked on the Science vs. Bible issue. That is a diversion from the real issue as to whether life has meaning or not. As long as Christians allow ourselves become diverted from the real issue, the other side is winning.

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Roger, at times we seem to be ‘talking past each other.’ But then, in the last paragraph of the above, you hit the nail on the head: You say don’t be mislead by “a diversion from the real issue as to whether life has meaning or not.” There have been many existentialists (more famous than Dawkins) whose worldview is that life has NO meaning except what we ourselves give to it. I was most impressed by Jacques Monod, who presented to us at Pomona College that view which was the theme of the book “Chance & Necessity”(he was just completing it) No one present from the Department of Religion or the School of Theology made any rebuttal. But I knew he was wrong! Just a gut feeling, but I knew his expertise in biochemistry did NOT extend to philosophy or theology.

In my search for a rebuttal to his existentialism I read most of what Teilhard de Chardin had published in this country. (Difficult reading, but clearer than Whitehead’s Process Theology and easier to grasp.) Once you accept the reality of the Noosphere–a mental sphere populated by evolving ideas that followed upon the earlier Cosmosphere and Biosphere–many metaphysical concepts could be expressed more concisely. Certainly the progress of human evolution in the future should be more in the realm of Noogenes rather than Biogenes. And this is where Dawkins’ and Teilards’ metaphysics overlap, albeit unknowingly to both men. Teilard refers to these lasting, evolving ideas (like government constitutions, religious dogmas, famous music) as Noogenes; Dawkins calls them Memes. Dawkins never claimed to be free of subjection to selfish genes; he just said that memes, if wisely used, could free humankind from many of their worst influences. As I see it, his biggest error is assuming that enough humans will possess the willpower to guide themselves and their societies (via evolved memes) in the right direction. Sam Harris (“The Moral Landscape”) has been much more vocal in proclaiming the belief that science provides a better foundation for morality than does religion. I don’t buy that, even though most of my colleagues (including the atheists and agnostics) seem to be as moral as my Christian friends. What is your experience along these lines?
Al Leo


I am glad that something clicked. It seems that we have been looking at the same material, but from different perspectives. I certainly read existentialists also, but I read Tillich, Buber, and Kierkegaard. I even took a lone course in Heidegger. I never had much interest in de Chardin. For me it was a counter to the then current political philosophy of Marxism.

Now Dawkins and Monod are not existentialists. Monod was a Communist who fought in WW2 in the French underground against the Nazis as many did. After the war he won a Nobel Prize in biology and ceased to be a Marxist, but remained a materialist as he explains in the important book you cited. Dawkins also is not an existentialist, but a materialist. You need to believe in philosophy to be existentialist and Dawkins does not. Dennett was an nihilist before he was converted to materialism following Dawkins.

I agree that Whitehead is impossible to understand even though I tried. I did study Process Theology before I gave up on that also. It is interesting that an offshoot from Process Theology led by Thomas Jay Oord calls itself Relational Theology, but it is not based on the Trinity and a relational cosmology like my Relational Theology.

Even though no one admits this Philosophy must play a essential role in fitting Science and Theology together. As of now the system is broken. If you are interested in working to figure it out, please join in. If you want to see my thoughts in how it works, read my book, Darwin’s Myth. I will send it to you if you tell how.

I would enjoy reading your book. You can send it to the address attached below. If you like, we could trade books, if you give me the address to send it to. However, my subject is not philosophy but rather is a historical (and romantic) novel set in California in the last half of the 19th century. It is definitely not the sort of reading material that would normally interest you, but you can get some idea from the material on my web site: There you can also access the presentation I prepared for the adult confirmation classes I taught for a couple of years on the subject of Science & Religion in our local Catholic parish.

The physical sciences and mathematics have always appealed to me, because the definitions and terms were (almost) universally accepted and applied. Why can’t philosophers do the same. They often use the term ‘existentialism’ but cannot agree on its definition. You say the Monod was not an existentialist, but when he visited here in 1969 he considered himself both a materialist and and existentialist. Jacque was quite a remarkable fellow. In just a few days, I came to admire him and like him a lot. Strange, but I often like and admire people that I strongly disagree with.

Certain experiences in my life have made it imperative for me to ask: “What, if any, is the Purpose in Life?” Not only Human Life in general, but my life in particular? As a buck private infantry scout in the 103rd Div. my life should have been cut short at 19 by a rifle grenade in the Saar. Years later, upon returning to France and visiting a military cemetery with its thousand of crosses in neat rows, the thought was overwhelming: “Why am I not resting under one of those?” Yes, I agree that there are major problems in reconciling science and human ingenuity with a peaceful, sustainable philosophy of Life. So what have I done with the extra 70 yrs. of life that I have been granted? It seems I was given the Time but not the Talent to do something worthwhile.

My address is: 311 Armsley Sq., Ontario, CA 91762

Al Leo

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Thank you for sharing your story. I will be pleased to send you my book.

I am glad you are drawn to ask the question, “What, if any, is the Purpose of Life?” In my understanding this is the same question as posed by Heidegger and others, “Why is there Being (understood as Meaning) instead of Nothing? (or Chaos?)”

Existentialists ask that question, which is why they are important. Materialists like Dawkins do not, because they already know the answer, which is there is no Meaning or Purpose of Life. Or maybe if there is it is purely subjective.

In large part they use Monod’s rationale which has been adopted also for the rationale of materialism in science. It is rather simple. Matter/energy does not think. The Universe is composed of matter/energy do it does not think. Thought is necessary for meaning and purpose and since the universe does not think, the universe has no meaning or purpose.

The problem with this train of thought is that it is false. While it is true that the universe cannot think, it is not true that it has not purpose and meaning. Everything we experience in life tells us that it does have meaning and experience. If that be true and of course it is, then there must be a Source of Meaning, Purpose, and Rationality beyond the universe. Thus when we turn this syllogism around because it is false, it points to the existence of God, rather God’s nonexistence.

I do not know why exactly that Monod claimed to be an existentialist, when he was not. Maybe because it is more romantic and “French” to be an existentialist like Sartre, rather than be a materialist like Marx. Also many people who say that they are materialists have a much richer intellectual life than superficial materialism would justify. In other words their lives do not match their ideology. Often the problems never really occur until people take ideologies seriously as did Stalin and Mao.

Do not get down on yourself. I am sure you have done many worthwhile things. Some problems are not really solvable, but the important thing is to try. On the other hand I hope you can help me to get BioLogos to address the problem of teleology that it does not seem to want to address.





I just noticed this thread. In answer to your original question… certainly violence can be a part of the evolutionary process.

But at the very minimum, violence isn’t required.

What is required is that two groups of inter-breeding individuals somehow separate themselves… allowing
changes in DNA in separate gene pools to head in different directions.

Separations in inter-breeding populations can happen by means of a river’s course changing its path - -
cutting through what used to be a single breeding area.

Or an earthquake creating a chasm in the middle of a breeding populations.

Australia’s separation from the rest of the continents is a CLASSIC example of evolution
favored in this way. Until humans brought dogs and rabbits to Australia, all the mammals
were Marsupials, instead of Placental mammals.

I’m pretty sure some studies have been made about whether inter-breeding populations can
"divide themselves" simply because of changes in preferences: for example, song birds sometimes
create a sub-generation that prefers a different song. And those birds who sing and prefer that
song tend to avoid the rest of their population. If this situation continues long enough, one group
with one song will no longer be able to have fertile generations if they breed with the original
group. This is at the engine of Speciation over time…


George Brooks



Thank you for you comment.

You are right, it is separation that actually causes speciation. What people overlook is that separation is caused by ecology. The obvious example that you mention is Australia, where a whole continent became a separate environment isolating marsupials from mammals. Then we had the rats, dogs, and rabbits coming in to be the classic invasive species. The rabbits disrupted the environment, until the environment struck back.

It is the ecological niche that that separates and creates a species, that is acts a Natural Selection. It is also the ecological niche that shapes a species. Evolution is not driven by violence, except where violence is an element in adaption to the environment, which is relatively rare. We must not forget that (non-violent) plants play a central role in evolution, so we are not talking about just fauna when we discuss evolution, even though most thinking centers on fauna.

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I’m new here and basically skimmed this thread to see"Is evolution driven by violence?" I appreciate the comments but I’d like to return to a question which is usually behind the question: “Would God really do that?” I find it interesting that many Christians believe that they are in a position to judge what God would and would not create. That is, if they see something in evolutionary biology which they believe violates their presuppositions of what God as creator would create, they simply deny it. (I’m not saying anyone in the thread did that. I’m just speaking to the issue in general as I’ve seen it debated in many forums.)

Do we truly know God so well that we can know exactly what he would and wouldn’t create? It concerns me that so many Christians apply logical fallacies like “God would never have created ‘evolutionary processes’ because they involve randomness and that is chaotic…and God is a God of order!” Many of the same individuals will say “God loves us and would never create destructive things like tornadoes and hurricanes, so I believe Satan makes such things.” Do they truly trust their “feelings” about God to determine what realities they will and won’t accept from the evidence?

I see many pitfalls in presuming to judge what God would or wouldn’t do. After all, when reading the Bible I have often been surprised that God did various things, like judging sinners by inflicting such very terrible consequences on them. I’m a fallen sinner and I don’t have the mind of God. So I expect God to make decisions which I don’t understand.

So when I see scientific discoveries based upon evidence, I don’t say to myself “I refuse to believe that is true because God wouldn’t make the world to be like that.” I can hardly imagine anything more foolish on my part. If God in his wisdom chooses to do X, I choose to believe that God in his wisdom did X without in anyway compromising his holiness, even if it blows my mind or confuses me.

Does my sunday school background predispose me to be comfortable with evolution? Perhaps not. But how could that possibly be relevant to what the overwhelming scientific evidence actually indicates happened?

I abhor the terrible destruction and suffering which atomic bombs inflict upon people. Yet, I would never deny Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation and Theory of Gravity based upon the fact that atomic bombs depend upon the reality of gravity. Such science is true even if the consequences of such truths can include terrible suffering. Likewise, the Theory of Evolution stands or falls based upon the overwhelming evidence, regardless of whether or not I like everything that evolution has produced.

tell me how you reopened that thread because after 4 days of silence I thought the threads were closed. Do you just reply?

It is indeed a bit of a naive thought in the idea here. Are plants non-violent if the starve other plants of their nutrients or destroy them by suffocation?

We interpret violence as causing death or suffering of others,but you can only suffer if you do not love thy neighbour like thyself as for thyself you would sacrifice yourself as the act of love that prevails. It is the symbol of the submission of the lamb to give itself so we can live that has been understood by this ancient culture in a way that we still struggle to understand more and more the more selfish we look at nature. As such you can see that evolution is not driven by violence, but by the ability to love thy neighbour. Those who give more to the existence than what they consume survive, being more powerful in their ability to serve than the “strongest”. Those who are primarily selfish delete themselves.


It’s my impression that Young Earth Creationists are not worried about this kind of question.

So … if I’m right in this perception … this is only an issue for Atheists. Not our circus. Not our
monkeys, right?

What are your thoughts on this distinction?


I too am baffled as to why some threads close and others do not. This one appeared open despite the silence…so I simply replied.

You are quite correct that many organisms survive by enriching their environment which thereby improves growing conditions for entire communities of organisms.

Indeed, this is yet another example of how the critics of the Theory of Evolution know very little about how evolution works. (Indeed, when someone denies evolution simply because “It’s selfish and violent!”, logic as well as facts have gone right out the window.)

That is exactly the people I’m talking about! I hear it regularly from Young Earth Creationists.

I occasionally hear it from atheists but not nearly as often as from YECs.

Ken Ham is one of many Young Earth Creationists who complain that evolution “depends on death and violence” and therefore he denies that God would ever create such a thing as evolution.