The evolution of right and wrong


I am responding to the Dan Steyn’s April 20th letter Earth At 6,000 Years Is Still Going Strong.

The letter was responding to a previous article that said natural selection could account for the existence of morality, and that God need not be posited to account for our sense of right and wrong. 

I will not rehash the argument for morality as a product of natural selection. If you are interested, please read the original article by Tristin Hopper, or The Science of Good & Evil by Michael Shermer.

Steyn asserts the standards by which we live were established by the Ten Commandments and that all of the laws in our country were based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. 

Of the Ten Commandments, there are only two that are laws in Canada, murder and theft. Both are detrimental to a functioning society and are considered immoral everywhere in the world despite culture or tradition, as supported by natural selection. 

Considering that the Bible condones slavery (LEV 25:44-46), the subjugation of women (EPH 5:22-24), and genocide (DEU 20:12-17), it is my opinion that if Christians are moral it is despite the teachings of the Bible, not because of it.

Steyn then describes how liberalism is causing the downfall of society and specifically mentions sex, sexual abuse and care for the elderly. 

While there is a direct correlation between unsafe sex and STDs, statistics show where abstinence-only education is taught, the rate of STDs is higher than where safe sex education is taught. 

It is only a few generations back that most people used to get married and start families in their teens.

Because modern medicine has nearly doubled our life expectancy we are planning our lives differently. We are extending our childhood into the years when natural selection has programmed us to be our most sexually active for reproduction. As our culture evolves, we need to build our ethical framework around the new reality we find ourselves in, rather than clutching to outdated beliefs which are no longer relevant.

I don’t know where Steyn got his statistics on sexual abuse, but states the University of Victoria’s Sexual Assault Centre posts that one in three females and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse by the time they reach 18. This is clearly unacceptable, regardless of which statistics are correct, and is one of our society’s challenges.

Given the patriarchal structure of the biblical family unit and the biblical attitude towards women, I’m not sure the Bible offers any real solutions to this problem. Abuse has always existed, although it was rarely dealt with in previous generations.

As for care of the elderly, this is essentially a new problem because of medical and dietary advances. We live longer lives – so long our offspring can’t effectively care for us in our later years. We aren’t going to find any real solutions in the Bible for this particular problem, but I’m sure we all agree that the dignity of the elderly is important and they deserve the best care possible. 

Steyn then makes many misstatements about evolution and the age of the Earth.

1) “…evolutionary theory is only a theory as it has not yet been proven as fact…”

In science, a theory is not a guess, it is a body of knowledge and principles that account for a body of evidence. A theory must make accurate predictions and be falsifiable.

Scientists have been able to predict where they would find particular transitional fossils, and in what geological strata, and then found them where they expected.

Scientists create new flu vaccines for constantly evolving viruses based on evolutionary theory.

Genetics, which was discovered after Darwin died, confirmed evolutionary theory and was itself the realization of a prediction made by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Despite 150 years of attempts, no one has been able to falsify evolution. To say that we shouldn’t accept evolution because it is “just a theory” is as silly as saying we should not accept gravitational theory or germ theory because they are “just theories.”

2) “If you hold to true science, all theories need to go through the process of being proven correct….” 

Sorry, that’s just plain wrong. Science can never prove anything 100 per cent correct. Scientific theories are always tentative. Scientists must always be willing to change their theories if the evidence warrants it. Evolution is supported by mountains of evidence.

3) “…on his deathbed, Darwin recanted of his theories….” 

Not likely.

4) “Evolutionists state the world we live in and the human race is millions of years old….”

The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and Homo sapiens originated in east Africa about 200,000 years ago, both of which are confirmed by multiple lines of evidence.

5) “So where are all of the people that should be here? If you do the math, you will find that the human race is somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 years old.”

Humans didn’t develop agriculture until roughly 7000 BC in the fertile crescent. Until then, we lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and couldn’t survive in large numbers. The advent of agriculture was the turning point for our species.

6) “When you do the math and start 4,500 years ago and start with the eight people that came off Noah’s Ark…”

Mitochondrial DNA contradicts your hypothesis. We did not descend from eight people 4,500 years ago; we descended from Mitochondrial Eve, a woman who lived approximately 150,000 years ago.

7) “Look at our DNA and cell structure, how it is made up and how cellular instruction programs its placement and function. This has been documented by scientists today, involving some atheists. At the conclusion of their studies, they have stated, ‘There has to be intelligent design.’”

I am not aware of any such statement, but I am aware of many statements which are the complete opposite.

A source of this quote would be nice. There is a strong scientific consensus, even among Christian scientists (Ken Miller for example) that evolution is the only explanation that fits the evidence.

It is an extreme minority in the scientific community that share Steyn’s opinions regarding evolution and the age of the Earth. It is a vocal minority, but even in the Christian community, more and more people are beginning to accept evolution.

Pope John Paul II officially stated that, “Evolution is compatible with Christian faith.”

I would like to conclude that, while I disagree with Steyn’s opinions, I respect his right to have them and to share them publicly.

This is an important cultural debate that has been going on for a long time.

There is a lot of misinformation out there being propagated by creationists, like the Discovery Institute. They are well funded and only have to succeed in creating doubt to divide the public on this issue.

This is why I feel compelled to respond.

Thank you for your time.

James Bennett