Chapter 9: Christian Morality and Darwinism
Adrian uses this chapter to justify his dissent from most aspects of traditional Christian teaching on righteousness and sin. Starting by elevating science to a place of supreme authority in matters of morality, which is the logical progression from all his previous arguments, Adrian works his way through a variety of sins, dismissing each as he passes it by. At the core of his unbelief however is his insistence that his god does not involve himself in life at all. For Adrian, the incarnation and the resurrection are the only exceptions to this stand-off in millions of years of history. Having previously reduced humans to a collection of molecules devoid of a soul or spirit whose behaviour is completely determined by their biology, he here excludes spiritual causes from other areas of life including disease and illnesses. In the process he makes some very bold claims as to what “science” has established as fact. I don’t intend addressing every issue raised, but will simply point out a few key issues from this chapter for my readers to ponder.
Initially, Adrian lists conditions which he considers to be explained sufficiently by modern medicine. This is not always the case. For example, he places ADHD alongside autism and dyslexia as alternative diagnoses to lazy or naughty behaviour. However, ADHD is much more controversial than the other two and there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not diagnosis of it is often made too hastily and therefore fails to recognise behaviours that are not due to the condition at all; children may simply be over-boisterous, unruly or difficult to manage for other reasons to do with their family and environment. Next, Adrian turns his attention to things which some have claimed to be God’s judgement – AIDS, tsunamis and the lightning which set York Minster alight in 1984. To Adrian, all these can be explained as natural phenomena rather than judgement. Whilst he is correct to criticise some Christians for pouncing on every “disaster” as divine judgement, he is completely mistaken when he seeks to exclude the Creator from any intervention in life today. Most Christians overlook the fact that The LORD has promised to first announce any actions He is to undertake to one or more of His prophets. In Amos 3:7 we read “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” In context, this is a complaint by The LORD that Israel was ignoring Him. Taking responsibility for all the calamities which have fallen upon them whilst promising that there is more judgement to come, He makes clear that they have been warned by Him of the consequences of their actions for He always announces His judgements in advance through His prophets.
God’s prophets may be present-day ones or they may be those who were used by the Holy Spirit to write the works which are now collected together in the Bible. This is not the place to discuss how to test modern prophets, but one important point to make in this context is that correctly prophesying disaster does not validate the prophet. Many mistakenly assume from Deut. 18:17-22 that any prophet whose prophecies come true has been sent by The LORD. However, alongside this we must consider Jer. 28:1-9, where Jeremiah is contending against Hananiah who was prophesying victory over Babylon at the same time as Jeremiah was warning that The LORD was judging Israel through this pagan nation. Jeremiah ends his rebuke of Hananiah with these words, “The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms – of war and disaster and pestilence. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.” The real test of a prophet is not the one who can predict disasters, but the one who successfully promises peace. This of course excludes people like Nostradamus whose predictions are repeatedly of disasters. However, this does not mean that The LORD will not warn of disasters, and if it were His specific judgement to bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, to send AIDS or to hit Japan with a devastating tsunami, then each would have been announced by one of His prophets in advance of the event. Yes, I agree with Adrian that it is all too easy to claim divine judgement after such events, but what are we to do when disasters are announced in advance?
In previous sections I have twice (here & here) pointed out that Isaiah warns of the earth being destroyed by the sins of its inhabitants. Adrian, on the other hand complains that no such warning has come from The LORD, claiming that today’s ‘prophetic voices’ are secular scientists and economists, not Christians (p. 45). Adrian is in step with the majority of Western society when he dismisses the Scriptures as having no meaningful relevance to today, consequently he brushes aside the promise of Christ’s return and the end of this universe. He may claim that he was unaware of Isaiah’s description of an earth ruined by sin, but as an ordained minister he should have read the whole of the Bible at least once, even though that may not be a requirement of the church authorities. Today, we are living in the period predicted by Peter who wrote that people would make light of the promised return of Christ, because they “wilfully forget” that in the past The LORD judged the whole earth in a cataclysmic flood (2 Pet. 3:3-6). I don’t know if it will reassure Adrian to know that in this respect at least he is personally fulfilling one Biblical prophecy.
This chapter also emphasises Adrian’s willingness to superficially repeat arguments made by others with little personal research of his own, and therefore without thinking them through for himself. For example, when seeking to justify homosexuality he states, “A study by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 showed that people didn’t always fit neatly into categories of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’, but there was a large grey area in the middle.” (We should note that the modern terms ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ were not in common usage at the time, homosexual and heterosexual being the words that Kinsey used.) Whilst his two reports are still influential today, it is again remiss of Adrian not to at least describe Kinsey’s work as controversial both then and now. It is acknowledged that Kinsey was himself bisexual and that a significant amount of his research, and that of his colleagues, was more experimentation than interview. Questions have also been raised about the pool of people interviewed in the course of his research. The main problems cited with his methodology are firstly that unreasonably high proportions of the samples came from prison populations and male prostitutes. Secondly, that those who volunteer to be interviewed about a taboo subject are likely to be unrepresentative of the whole community because of the way self-selection influences the demographics of the group interviewed. (Those who wish to understand these issue further will find these two Wikipedia articles helpful places to start: Alfred Kinsey & Kinsey Reports.)
However, the main problem for Adrian in quoting Kinsey is, as he highlighted himself, that the research identified a large grey area of people who were not exclusively heterosexual nor homosexual. Of course we cannot say how much Kinsey’s own bisexual lifestyle influenced this finding, but it does challenge the modern idea, which Adrian favours, that our genes control our sexual behaviour. In identifying that many people have different sexual preferences at different times of their lives, Kinsey actually supports the argument that sexual behaviour is a choice we make, just like thieving, lying, gluttony and violence. For a significant portion of his book Adrian has argued that sexual drive is a survival strategy, but as I mentioned previously there is no survival advantage in same-gender sexual activity. History also tells us that bisexual promiscuity is not a new phenomena, for it was practised for example in Rome, growing in popularity in the years before its fall. Perhaps this fall was the subject of Paul’s prophetic warning in Romans 1:16-32. That warning however is as relevant today as it was in the first century, and I explore this further in my article, “The Question Christians are not Asking”.
Collective bisexual promiscuity pre-dates the Roman empire by a very long time. Genesis 19 tells us that Lot offered his own daughters to the men of Sodom rather then let them defile his male visitors. Whilst the crowd rejected this offer, Lot must have been aware that they were not exclusively homosexual predators and could equally have satisfied themselves with women as well as men. The Bible also records a later instance where something similar happened, but this time in Israel itself. Judges 19 tells how an ill-disciplined Levite ends up along with his concubine late one night in Gibeah, a town belonging to the Benjaminites. They are offered lodgings by an old man. As in Sodom, a mob gathers outside the house demanding to have sex with the Levite. Again the crowd turns down a offer similar to Lot’s, but the Levite forces his concubine outside to them. They have sex with her and abuse her in other ways, leaving her dead on the doorstep by the morning. Like Rome, both Sodom and Benjamin ended up being destroyed, which of course begs the question of whether Paul’s prophetic warning in Romans 1 should not be taken far more seriously today!
Another example of Adrian’s superficial use of data is his citation of “recent research by Henry Harpending of the University of Utah, USA, shows that, during the last 10,000 years, human evolution, far from slowing down as races has become more mixed, has in fact speeded up.” Here he is quoting an article in The Times from December 2007. The article may have been called “‘Peace’ gene in our time?” and it can be found here by those with a Times on-line subscription; otherwise, the BBC reports it here. In 2009 Harpending co-authored a book with Gregory Cochran called, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, which seems to follow up his research at a popular level. What Adrian again omits to tell his readers is that Harpending’s and Cochran’s view is a minority one in scientific circles. Whether he is intentionally misrepresenting scientific opinion or whether he himself is simply too willing to accept every scientific report at face value, I cannot say. However, I think it very likely that he is misleading himself as well as his readers with his eagerness to endorse every research claim without testing one against another. Harpending is an anthropologist and population geneticist, whilst Cochran is a physicist and anthropologist. Steve Jones is a leading evolutionary geneticist, having twice been the Head of Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. He is also a well-known atheist who was awarded the Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year in 2006 by the National Secular Society. Since 1991 he has been arguing that in humans “Natural selection has to some extent been repealed” and in one of his lectures entitled “Is Human Evolution Over?” he says the short answer is “Yes”. He expressed his convictions on Radio 4’s Today Programme of 7th October, 2008 and I made a transcript of part of the interview at the time:
Sara Montague: What about – for some people say look, the way we are headed is bigger brains; and I think there is some evidence that we already have bigger brains than we used to have. Not least when you look at chimpanzees. Is that not a direction, you know that in the future we will have bigger brains still?
Steve Jones: To be frank with you, I don’t think so. The odd thing is we certainly have bigger brains than chimpanzees but we have smaller brains than Neanderthals. And the actual odd thing is our brains haven’t grown very much since we appeared on earth. They have got a bit more connected – they may be working a bit harder, but they are no bigger. I don’t think there is any evidence that we are intrinsically any smarter than the Greeks were or the Victorians were, we are just better at making connections. And I think that is the process which will help us move forward. We are the only animal that evolves in its mind compared to its body and I hope that would be our future.
I have taken time to demonstrate that scientific opinion is often not the same as fact because Adrian has consistently failed to acknowledge this, not just in this chapter but throughout his book. In the three scientific examples I have highlighted – ADHD, sexuality and human evolution – readers of his book are presented with information as if it were established fact. He has fared no better with his knowledge of the Bible. Such an approach is simply misleading and highlights the dangers of the way information has been tendered with no testing. He has even failed to acknowledge the different opinions amongst evolutionists. Through his approach Adrian has shown that he is a lover of rhetoric rather than solid Biblical or scientific research. His ignorance is therefore not a reliable foundation upon which to build any moral framework, for it is so flimsy that should a society attempt it, it would surely collapse just as Rome did.
Adrian’s logic fails to provide even himself with a consistent response to moral issues. When discussing embryology for example, he is torn between treating genetic material as simply a collection of elements with no rights or as a potential future human which will one day merit them. “There is nothing intrinsically sacred about the particular coded system sequence of amino acids that form the DNA which could grow into a human. Of course, human embryos should not be tossed aside lightly: they are potential children after all. But they can hardly claim the same rights as a human with a nervous system.” (p.62) This leaves me very unclear as to whether Adrian considers abortion as acceptable or not, and if so on what grounds. Further, though he sees the drive to ensure the survival of our genes as central to his moral values, Adrian also argues that Darwinism has made contraception necessary. Citing the work of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), he states that contraception has replaced “predators and parasites” in limiting population growth and preventing us from outgrowing our food supply. It seems to me that in this matter, Adrian wants to have his cake and eat it. Sex, he has repeatedly argued, is driven by the need to ensure our genes’ survival. Now he is saying that sex for pleasure rather than reproduction is a consequence of evolution! Heb 3:13 warns that sin is deceitful, and we should all be careful not to be confused by our own unbelief.
Adrian’s uncertainty also makes him unclear whether the Old Testament Law was a good or a bad thing. He mistakenly describes Jesus as “advocating a new morality, based on love of God and neighbour.” (p.64) I say mistakenly because he fails to acknowledge that both of these “greatest commandments” are first found in the Books of Moses. Deut. 6:5 reads, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” whilst Lev. 19:18 states, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” God has not changed His mind in the New Testament; His standards have always been high. Later Adrian returns to the passage from Numbers 5:11-31 mentioned earlier in Chap. 5. Jaundiced it seems by modern feminism, Adrian distorts the Biblical view of women, “Science also challenges the assumption, found here and elsewhere in the Old Testament, that women are mere chattels to be treated like pieces of furniture.” (p.65) From the beginning, the Bible portrays women as of equal worth with men; as Adam expressed it “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23) Adrian however has already made it clear that he considers these chapters of Genesis to be irrelevant, so it comes as no surprise that he ignores them. When asked about divorce (Mt. 19:3-10), Jesus responded by quoting from the first two chapters of Genesis, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” What can be more equal than husband and wife being “one flesh”?
Matthew records how the Pharisees were taken aback by Jesus’ answer and objected that Moses had allowed divorce. Jesus retorted, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Now, between the time of Moses and Christ many Jews had indeed treated their wives badly (in which they were no different from other nations), allowing men to initiate divorces for almost any reason. Jesus responded to their protests by saying that it was His Father’s mercy which had permitted them to divorce; perhaps this was so that a woman was not tied to living with a man who had set his heart to hate her. He emphasised that divorce did not please His Father, but His mercy recognised how sinful the human heart can be, and how resentment and hatred can be an unbearable weight in someone’s life. As I have commented previously, the passage in Leviticus which offends Adrian so much does not necessarily have to be understood in the way he portrays it, “Recall the horrific trial by ordeal, mentioned in Chapter 5, involving the eating of soil and water, through which the Old Testament allows the husband to put their wives if they suspected them of adultery.” (p.64/65) Clearly, Adrian can see this only as equivalent to the medieval ducking stool trial for witchcraft. However, could it be that this was as much a provision of God’s mercy as was the permission to divorce? Imagine the innocent wife whose husband had become wrongly convinced that she had been unfaithful to him. Was she to live with his resentment for the rest of her life? It is very hard to prove innocence in such circumstances – especially when her husband has convinced himself of “the facts”. How could a wife demonstrate that he was mistaken? Might she not volunteer to go to the priest and drink dirty water in the hope of demonstrating her innocence? If Adrian had read the passage carefully, he should have seen that understanding it as God’s mercy and His desire for justice is central to its provision. It shows this by identifying that the cause of the situation which needed resolving was not the wife’s possible unfaithfulness, but her husband’s reaction – “if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him,” whether or not she has been unfaithful (v14). Perhaps Adrian distorts this passage because he has convinced himself, and is trying to convince his readers, that the God of the Bible does not get involved in day to day life on earth. Adrian denies both that He did so in the days of the Old Testament and that He does so today. Biblical Christianity declares without hesitation that it is The LORD God who every day sends His sun to shine and His rain to water, when and where He decides; Mt 5:45, Amos 4:6-11 & Haggai 1:10-11.
This brings us to a key issue for Adrian. As I have shown, he has convinced himself that apart from the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, the God and Father of Jesus Christ has not intervened in the universe since creation. Adrian offers his readers no evidence that his god did have a finger in the pie of creation, asking us to assume that this was the case, whilst insisting that the birth and death of Jesus were God’s apology for starting everything off in the first place. Towards the end of this chapter he asks a most important question, without offering an answer of any type. Perhaps that silence expresses his own unbelief. It is a question which must not go unanswered however, and I will offer my response in the next section. The question is a simple one:
“Or is it really possible to live a human life transformed by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, in the way the New Testament envisages?” (p.64)