altruism and evolution

First, a bit of background, from John Crane’s post entitled “Who Really Believes in the Virgin Birth”

Who really believes in the virgin birth?

A recent survey by the Barna Research Group, asked adults what they believed about the virgin birth of Jesus—Was this story literally true or not? Across all demographic spectrums most adults said they did believe in the truth of that biblical story. In fact, 3 out of 4 (75%) of all adults said they believe that Jesus was born to the virgin, Mary.


I have been intending to post something about this research myself, and John’s post gives me a good place to start. Both because his always well-written and well-thought-out posts are a very good summary of the Christian worldview (like there’s “a” christian worldview…) but also because he consistently (though never maliciously) misunderstands the agnostic/atheist outlook of the universe.
Now, I don’t begrudge him this. I myself totally misunderstood what the universe must look like to those who do not believe in god, before I came to not believe in god myself. It is one of those “walk a mile in their shoes” kinda things — until you really experience life from this side of the belief fence, you can only take mad stabs at what unbelief is really like.
And, as usual, John makes some gross simplifications about how an atheist or agnostic will or won’t think about the world.
I would like to clear up some of those misconceptions here, because I believe they are common ones.
Let us get started, shall we?

John goes on…

As one might expect, a large majority of those who do not profess religious faith or belief in God did not believe the story to be true.

Here we agree. I also think that we can expect a large majority of those who do not profess religious faith to believe in a virgin birth. In fact, I think we can be downright suprised that there are any, but then, human beings have an incredible capacity to holding conflicting beliefs. In another recent survey it was shown that twenty-five percent of Americans believe both that the Earth is around 10,000 years old and that evolution is true.
That warrents a repeat: they believed both to be true, at the same time.
No, really.
So we need not be all together surprised when we find that:

Only 15% of atheists/agnostics said they believe in the virgin birth as a literal story.

John then goes on to state:

But that is what is so particularly surprising, not so much because of the agnostic responses. One can understand a varying set of beliefs based on their “I’m not sure” agnostic perspective. But it was more specifically the responses of the atheists which caught my attention. Shouldn’t the percentage of atheists who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ be?

Again, this surprises me as well, but do we have a breakdown of what percentage of atheists believe this versus the agnistics answering the question?
My conjecture is that few-to-none of the atheists expressed a positive belief in the virgin birth, while agnostics could have, and both are lumped together in the research.
Back to John:

I hesitate to conjecture too much about this,

…but I’m going to anyway:

but this inconsistency seems to indicate a desire to “have your cake and eat it too” as it were. I’ve talked about this in the past as it relates to morality in particular, that those who don’t believe in God (and who interpret the world through the lens of evolution) then want to embrace aspects of the world that are desirable, yet inconsistent, with their belief system (e.g. the notion of altruism—that noble idea that one sacrifices him/herself without expecting anything in return).

Here’s where John’s conjecturing has led him down the wrong path. He has picked up the ball on the 20 yard line and run the wrong way back towards his own endzone.
He shows a simplistic understanding of evolution in general and in survival of the fittest specifically, and this has brought him to the wrong conclusion.
Altruism is a great concept for a sentient species to develop, and it is one of the main attributes humans display that has helped us survive and adapt and, yes, evolve, to be the species we are today.
Without altruism, and the ability to sacrifice one’s self for others, we as individuals would be so selfish that we would consistently make decisions that are ultimately harmful to the species as a whole.
Self-sacrifice helps humans get a next generation born and raised. Of course, if we all sacrificed our very lives, the specieis would eventually die out. But there’s plenty of evidence that humanity is not in any danger of becoming too willing to die for one’s friends.

The inherently Christian idea of sacrificial love for others…

Sacrificial love for others is an older idea than Christianity is. It was co-opted, not created, by Christians.

…(as epitomized in the death of Christianity’s founder, Jesus)…

It was Paul of Tarsus that founded Christianity, not Jesus of Nazereth. It happened almost a full two generations after Jesus suposed ressurection, of which Paul states clearly he did not witness himself.
The organization that eventually became known as the Christian Church would be wholly unreckognizable to Jesus, whom John sets up as its founder.
Anyway, John’s still talking about sacrificial love for others…. certainly desirable and should be lauded in our society. And indeed it is, by Christians and non-religious people alike.


But I still haven’t been able to figure out in my own mind how one can embrace this noble idea of sacrifice for the welfare of others while holding to the theory of evolution for the explanation of the world—a worldview which is inherently built on the guiding principle of self-preservation above all else.

This last sentence of his is the major telling factor.
I know of no human being who believes in “self-preservation above all else”.
Every human being has an amazing drive to keep on living, just like every other living thing in the univsere that we have yet encountered.
But above all else?
Beleiving in evolution is like some magickal potion, in John’s view, that suddenly makes one selfish to the point of completely disregarding of life and other people’s right to it.
This view is clearly not squaring with reality, where athiests, agnostics, notional christians, Hindus, Muslims, and people of every kind of faith (or non-faith) exhibit laudable attributes every single day.
Morality is possible without belief in the Christian god, and to claim otherwise is to be unwilling to face the plain facts.

2 thoughts on “altruism and evolution

  1. (Note: I want to apologize ahead of time for any comments that seem to be too forward or offensive. My intention is not to offend anyone but rather to challenge others to think and consider ideas through a lense different than that which they normally bring to the discussion; I suppose, if anything, it is an attempt to challenge everyone to be more open-minded.)

    First off, I just want to express how much joy stumbling across this website has brought me. Here in the United States we live in a culture that, in my opinion, places way too much emphasis on things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things; materialism, if you will. So when I stumble across blogs like this one, it brings contentment to my heart, knowing that there actually ARE people out there thinking for themselves, contemplating and searching for Truth.

    So here goes my first attempt ever to participate in an on-line blog…

    Regarding the Barna Survey:

    Can’t you guys both agree that, given the manner in which the results of the survey were reported, it is impossible to know who were agnostic and who were atheist, regarding the 15% that said they believed in the virgin birth?

    John: “If even one atheist out of the 15% designated they believed in the virgin birth, something’s amiss.”

    Yes, indeed it would be amiss! However, this is mere speculation and you are basing your conclusions on a hypothetical and not fact.

    Regarding the notion that sacrificial love is an “inherently Christian idea”:

    Yo, Chris! You are absolutely right in your viewpoint of this notion. However, at the same time you are also wrong. (Can that be logically possible?) Let me explain…
    Sacrifical love is something that began at the beginning of time, with the creation of the world. It became a reality from the moment God decided to “breath life” into Adam. I believe that God has foreknowledge. Therefore, he knew what we would do with freewill, which in turn meant He would ultimately have to become human to suffer and provide a sacrifice for all to have the opportunity to truly receive redemption and salvation. Due to God’s foreknowledge (which is a notion extremely difficult for the human mind to grasp) he knew ahead of time what each and every person would do with their freewill. This is how God knew us before we were even born. He knew would choose Him and who wouldn’t; and He had to save His children!
    For “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
    This brings us to the issue of God’s nature; what is the nature of God? Is He Good? Is he Perfect? Is He Love? Is He Holy?
    Indeed He is all of these things!!
    Therefore, and as much as this reality breaks God’s heart, He cannot be associated or dwell in eternity being in the presence of any sinful creature.
    So He came down to our level to save us!!!
    Basically, the way I see it, the Old Testament is just as part of Christianity as the New Testament; it just plays a different role. It’s PROPHETIC. It’s a time of preparation in God’s will.
    So why didn’t Jesus come sooner? I’m not God! Don’t ask me! It’s His movie. I’ve just been lucky enough to have been given a part in it.

    Regarding Altruism and Creation:
    (This is a response to John’s response to Chris’s response to John’s first blog.)

    This is really a question of a First Cause. And I’m definitely going to agree with my fellow brother in Christ on this one. Where DOES this notion of altruism come from? The answer is from our Creator. Because we were “made in God’s image.” So we have instilled in us some characteristics of the nature of God, ALTHOUGH WE ARE NOT ON THE SAME LEVEL AS GOD.
    Chris, you’re obviously an atheist. And that’s a bit sad to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put you down. I wholeheartedly respect your right to believe whatever the heck you want! After all, you aren’t a robot. You were created in God’s image just like I was. And we both have been given the freedom to choose.
    What it comes down to is that I want the best for you, just as I want the best for everybody. But how can your life have any meaning? What do you live for? Whether the Earth has been in existence for millions of years or thousands of years, we only live to be at most 100 years or so. Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair? Shouldn’t we be able to live longer? Since afterall, as I’m sure you have no choice but to claim, when you die you simply cease to exist. No mas!
    I understand that this is your worldview, and I respect your right to cling to it. But all I’m saying is that it’s very sad and depressing to me. If God doesn’t exist, then what or who gives our lives meaning and purpose? It’s just a very negative, pessimistic mindset.
    Sorry, this isn’t supposed to be an attack on you. I’ll admit, perhaps I did just get a little carried away there. But it’s because I’m a lover of Truth, and the Truth has to be that if we aren’t with God in the end then we’re going to be cast out of His presence. After all, it’s God! I believe He calls the shots.
    Ever heard of a dude named Pascal and his infamous wager? What if you are wrong?
    Now let’s say you’re right about all this worldview, God, eternity, and morality stuff. Well, according to your belief system, you most certainly won’t be around to affirm it. Because you, whatever you believe YOU consists of, simply won’t exist anymore!
    I love you man. I’ll be praying for you. May you seek after Jesus, to know him, befriend him and start to have a relationship with him. (A relationship IS logically possible due to the fact that, although being God, he is a human being too.)

    But don’t look for answers from mortal man! What do we know? Maybe something but not even close to what God does!
    The Church has so much wrong with it today. But don’t base your eternal destiny solely on how these particular hypocritical, judgemental Christians are messing it up! The reality is that these particular Christians are not loving God with all their heart, mind, body and soul nor coming close to loving their neighbor as themselves!
    But rather, seek to base your destiny solely on how one man, who is truly God, came and showed us how to live.

    Posted by: Jason Courtney | January 05, 2008 at 12:19 PM

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