Survival of the Fittest: Lessons of the Costa Concordia

Ideas have consequences.

Just a few months shy of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground and rolled over off the coast of Italy back in January. The two shipwrecks have a much in common. Both were state of the art luxury liners that suffered a glancing blow along the side of the hull below the waterline. Both required passengers to flee the ship on lifeboats. Thankfully, due in large part to safety precautions that resulted from the Titanic tragedy, modern vessels carry many more lifeboats, and the death toll from Costa Concordia was much lower.

But there were also some big differences, which Anne Morse documents in this article. In the case of the Titanic, a disproportionate number of lives lost were men. With the Costa Concordia, the numbers were skewed the opposite way. Women, children, and the elderly were the ones who never made it off the ship. Is this the result of a century of evolutionary theory teaching that natural selection — the “survival of the fittest” — is beneficial? That women and men are equal in every way? Morse makes a compelling case:

Some two thirds of those who died or went missing were among the most vulnerable: women, a little girl (five-year-old Dayana Arlotti), and elderly passengers. By contrast, as Rich Lowry writes in National Review Online, when the Titanic foundered 100 years ago, “More women from third class—deep in the bowels of the ship, where it was hard to escape and instructions were vague or nonexistent—survived than men from first class. Almost all of the women from first class (97 percent) and second class (84 percent) made it,” while “men from first class who were lost stayed behind voluntarily, true to their Edwardian ideals.”

As for the men of the Costa Concordia, shoving aside the weaker passengers to save themselves “appears to have been the natural order of things,” Lowry observes.

In a sense, it was natural—natural, that is, if you’ve been brought up, not with Edwardian ideals bolstered by Judeo-Christian beliefs, but in the Culture of Death, as John Paul II described it: a culture that long ago declared war on the weak, the vulnerable, and the sick.

In the Culture of Death, it’s part of the “natural order” to kill inconvenient unborn babies by the millions, allow imperfect babies to starve, and pull the plug on sick, elderly parents who are using up too many of the family’s resources.

The sexual revolution of the sixties, legalized abortion of the seventies, and the violent pornography of today have gone a long way in destroying respect for women, turning them into re-usable sex objects and victims of savage assaults.

Add to this the teachings of feminists who insist that males and females should be treated exactly the same, snapping the heads off men who dare to hold a door or pull out a chair for them. Men have learned this lesson so thoroughly that many now refuse to give their train or bus seat up even to heavily pregnant women.

As for the “survival of the fittest” teachings of evolutionary theorists—well, what happened on the Costa Concordia is what survival of the fittest looks like. It may be “natural” these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Read the rest here.

If, like me, you’re disgusted after reading the article, try cleansing your palate by reading a story of heroism at sea that was published last year, called The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down With the Titanic. Here’s the book’s trailer:

Debating Who Made God

One of my favorite books of the last couple years is Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God? Searching for a Theory of Everything (my review is here). If you’re at all interested in the origins debate, I highly recommend checking out this book.

You might also be interested in two recent debates, in which Andrews took on a pair of atheists on related subjects. Andrews also famously debated Richard Dawkins in 1986. Here are links to the audio from these recent debates:

What Created the Universe? — A debate with Robert Stovold, an atheist with a background in evolutionary biology. They discuss fine tuning of the Universe, whether God could be behind the Big Bang and why the laws of nature are so elegant and intelligible to humans.

Did Man Make God, or Did God Make Man? — A debate with Lewis Wolpert, Vice President of the British Humanist Association. He argues tht belief in God is purely a result of evolution. They debate what constitutes “evidence” for God, and whether science is the only admissible type of evidence.

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

“The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John H. Walton

This book stirred up quite a bit of controversy when it was published in 2009. Unfortunately, I let it gather dust on my bookshelf for a year before I recently picked it up to read it. I wish I’d gotten to it sooner! I enjoy a challenge, and this was a challenging book for me — not because of it’s readability (it’s quite approachable) but because it forced me to think hard about a perspective on Scripture I’ve never considered. Any book that can do that is worth reading, no matter whether I end up agreeing with it in the final analysis.

I’ll admit that I approached this book with a lot of skepticism. Any time someone claims to have discovered a new (or, in this case, lost for millenia) way to interpret Scripture, my first reaction is to doubt the “new” interpretation. Though I believe Scripture to be authoritative and inerrant, I have great respect for the theologians, pastors, and scholars throughout Church history who have come before us. Though not everyone in history has come to the same conclusions (far from it!), I found it difficult to believe that someone today could have uncovered an entirely new approach to something as important as the account of Creation in Genesis 1, which every scholar for the last several thousand years has missed.

That said, Dr. Walton’s arguments are quite compelling; much more so than I anticipated. His basic proposition is that Genesis 1 is NOT an account of material origins at all, but of “functional” origins. He argues that, because in the modern world (even as far back as in Jesus’ day) we think of the word “create” in terms of physical manufacturing, we read that ontology into the Genesis 1 account. However, Genesis is an ancient document, written for an ancient audience which, according to Walton, did NOT have the same understanding of “create”. In the ancient world, creation (the Hebrew word “bara”) had to do instead with the assignment of function. Thus, Genesis 1 is the account of God giving function (specifically, “anthropocentric” functions designed to make the world suitable to human life) to an already materially-existing world.

The author does, however, affirm God’s physical creation of the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), which was something I did not expect him to say. His argument is not that God was not the material/physical Author of creation, only that Genesis 1 is not that account.

Walton calls his view the “Cosmic Temple Inauguration View”, because he contends that the language of Genesis 1 is similar to the language used to describe the inauguration of other temples, both in Scripture and in other documents of ancient cosmology (Egyptian, Sumerian, etc). One example he gives is Solomon’s temple, contrasting the building of the temple with the creation of the temple. We can read the account of the construction of the temple in 1 Kings 6-7, which took 7 years. However, the physical building didn’t “become” a temple until the temple was inaugurated (with a 7-day feast) and God came to dwell there. In Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8, he tells of the various functions of the temple, and that language finds parallels in the Bible’s first chapter.

In the ancient world, Walton explains, temples didn’t have function until a deity dwelt there. Furthermore, a deity’s power was thought to be restricted to the place where his/her temple was located. It follows, then, that Genesis 1 gives the account of the entire cosmos being the temple of the one true and living God. He has assigned function to all that is, and his power is absolute throughout the universe because the cosmos is his temple. Walton sees confirmation of this in other OT passages, such as Isaiah 66:1-2, which speaks of heaven as God’s throne, and earth as his footstool.

Much of the book is devoted to addressing the topic of evolution. Walton stresses that his book is not intended to support biological evolution, though many will undoubtedly read it this way. His point is that if his interpretation of Genesis is correct, there is no reason on theological grounds to reject biological evolution as a method; science should be able to speak for itself without being forced to fit into perceived biblical restrictions that aren’t there. He is careful to describe several very nuanced positions, such as differentiating between “methodological naturalism” and “metaphysical naturalism”. The first is a biological process that may or may not be substantiated by scientific study, but would not necessarily conflict with biblical teaching if found to be true (though he does appear to hold out Adam & Eve as historical figures who, as the first humans, were specially created in God’s image and did not evolve; this point was a bit unclear to me on my first reading). Most modern scientists, though, subscribe to “metaphysical” naturalism (what most people think of when hearing the word “evolution”), which begins with a presupposition that the universe is “dysteleological” — it has no ultimate purpose. This, says Walton, is NOT science but faith, and is not compatible with Scripture.

Along the same lines, Walton does not estimate age of the earth, because he believes the Bible does not address the issue. I have become increasingly unwilling to be dogmatic about the earth’s age myself, but this is bound to be a problem for readers with strong convictions on this particular issue.

The book’s greatest strength, in my view, was a distinction Walton makes between exegesis and theology:

“Even if the reader is not inclined to adopt the proposed interpretation of Genesis 1, his or her theology could still be greatly enhanced by the observations offered here by embracing a renewed and informed commitment to God’s intimate involvement in the operation of the cosmos from its incipience and into eternity. We all need to strengthen our theology of creation and Creator whatever our ciew of the Genesis account of origins. Even though it is natural for us to defend our exegesis, it is arguable even more important to defend our theology.”

He goes on to list four theological affirmations that are expected of us once we come to see that God’s role as Creator is more than simply the “builder” of everything; He is also the ruling sustainer of the cosmos. Each of these ought to be able to be affirmed by Christians of all different exegetical persuasions, and I agree that this book was helpful in focusing my attention more on these ongoing aspects of God’s creative work:

  1. The world operates by Yahweh’s design and under his supervision to accomplish his purposes.
  2. The cosmos is his temple.
  3. Everything in the cosmos was given its role and function by God.
  4. Everything in the cosmos functions on behalf of people who are in his image.

In comparing his view to other views (including Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and the Framework Hypothesis), the Cosmic Temple Inauguration View comes across as a “miracle” interpretation, offering answers to the problems offered by the other views. It certainly seems to “work”; that is, it is internally consistent. Personally, though, I’m not interested in whether something “works”. I want to know if it’s true, and here I’m just not sure I can come to full agreement with John Walton.

Perhaps it’s just because material ontology is so engrained in my thinking, but I am not fully convinced by Walton’s claim that Genesis 1 is about only functional and not material origins. Unfortunately, my knowledge of science, ancient cultures, and the Hebrew language are insufficient to allow me to do much more than rely on other experts in such fields to interact with Walton, and see whether his research can be refuted or corroborated. And so it is with great interest that I will watch the ongoing dialogue between theologians and other intellectuals more knowledgeable than I that will inevitably crop up in response to this book. (For instance, this exchange between the author and respected biblical scholar Vern Poythress.)

In the meantime, I highly recommend reading this book yourself. At the very least, it will give you plenty to think about! Buy it here.

An Evolutionary Hymn

Recently I came across this wonderfully satirical poem, written in a letter from C.S. Lewis to Dorothy Sayers in 1954:

By Clive Staples Lewis

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there’s always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it’s god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
‘Goodness = what comes next.’
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Wolves in Dogs’ Clothing

According to a study published yesterday in the British science journal Nature, today’s dog breeds share a common ancestry. They seem to have descended from wolves originating in the Middle East.

This is nothing new, of course. Ken Ham (and others who affirm the Biblical account of Creation) has said the same thing for many years! Rather than being evidence for Darwinian (macro)evolution, this canine study presents results more in line with microevolution, which is change within a species.

While no one would claim that this is “proof” of the Genesis account of the Flood, it does add more corroborating evidence to the idea that a male and female member of the “dog kind” emerged from Noah’s ark (in, you guessed it: The Middle East!) to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17).

You may not agree with everything the comes out of Answers in Genesis, but I encourage you to check out Ham’s fascinating articles dealing with speciation and genetics. Here are just a few examples:

National Geographic “Woof” Worse Than Its Bite – The AiG response to a similar article published in 2002

“Species” and “Kind” – How do creationists account for all the diversity of life we see today?

Did God Create Poodles? – A canine example of genetic mutation