go home Christianity

Source: Evolution and Ethics, 1947


By Sir Arthur Keith

The conclusion I have come to is this: the law of Christ is incompatible with the law of evolution - as far as the law of evolution has worked hitherto. Nay, the two laws are at war with each other; the law of Christ can never prevail until the law of evolution is destroyed.

If we bring in a world wide Universalism, we destroy Nature's scheme of evolution; a fatally new order of things is introduced. Mr. Wells has recognized this difficulty and has expressed it in the following passage:

"The Universalist idea . . . runs counter to the normal instincts of mankind. Nationalism is in our bones - in our tradition, in our habits, in our blood."

All my inquiries had led me to the conclusion that the ethic of Christianity is in fierce opposition to that sponsored by human nature - the human nature which has been fashioned in the course of evolution for evolutionary purposes. (p. 64)

Christianity has not conquered nationalism; the opposite has been the case - nationalism has made Christianity its footstool.

And if I am right in regarding nations as units which the law of evolution has brought into being to fulfill an evolutionary purpose, then we may also assert that so far evolution has triumphed over Christianity.

The failure of Christianity may be due not to any defect in the code of human behavior taught by Jesus of Nazareth, but to corruptions of his original text introduced at later times by his followers. We shall go to the Gospels according to St. Matthew and to St. Luke for the original code of Christian morals. We must also look rather closely at the Palestine into which Jesus was born, and especially must we note his nation, one of the most tenaciously exclusive the world has ever seen. Some sixty-five years before Jesus was born, the Roman Empire threw its eastern arm round Syria and Palestine, and thus the doors of ordered Europe were opened to Jew and Gentile and to Eastern religions and beliefs. For six centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene his nation had been broken and dispersed; they had been under the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek harrow in turn, and were in Christ's time under the protection of Rome. Under six centuries of such treatment most nations would have disappeared in the general mass of local population. How did the Jews manage to survive that ordeal and come down, still nationally minded, to this day? It is because their religion, their law, and their mentality are conformable to the law of evolution; isolation and inbreeding are the chief factors in the production of special peoples or races. The Jews were God's chosen people; they were commanded to keep themselves apart from all other peoples and to replenish the earth; they were forbidden to contract marriage outside their own ranks. It was into this bigoted race, fanned and winnowed for centuries by the winds of evolutionary adversity, that the Savior of the world was born.

We shall never understand the ethical system taught by Jesus unless we realize that he was a Jew, not only by birth, but that he lived and taught as a Jew; the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to his distracted fellow nationals. He upheld the law of Moses: "On these two commandments [to love God, to love your neighbor] hang all the law and the prophets." "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfill." He was the Messiah, but not the Liberator so earnestly longed for by his people - a Messiah who would restore for them the material Kingdom of David. The kingdom he offered them was one of the spirit. "The kingdom of Heaven is within you," they were told. The Jews were intensely national; the new doctrine never became deeply rooted in the land of its birth; within a century of its birth Christian Judaism was dead in Palestine.

Before making a brief review of the items included in the code of ethics taught by Christ it is necessary that we look more closely at the nature of his promised "kingdom." It is a kingdom based on Jewish family life. The Jewish family is now, and always has been, distinguished by the strength, warmth, and intensity of the bonds of affection and of love which unite all of its members into a co-operative whole. The kingdom pictured for us by Christ is a limitless expansion of such a family ? one in which love abounds and from which hate is excluded. In this family or kingdom, God takes his place as the loving Father; Jesus is the Son, the mediator, the redeemer; all who believe do automatically join the Christian family circle. Such a conception is clearly capable of a Universalist application. The Christian ideal, then, is to knit mankind, from pole to pole, into a single family by the bonds of love. The Roman Empire provided Christianity with a flying start. (p. 65-66)

General Smuts has proclaimed the universal rule of law as the major aim of the Allies, and the Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Stafford Cripps) has brought forward Christianity as a scaffolding on which a peaceful international settlement might be built, but admitted "that the application of Christian ethic to our daily living conditions was not easy," an admission which bears on the proposal made by Drs. Waddington and Needham. One thing is certain: a system of ethics which is to serve an evolutionary purpose must be in harmony with the deepest desires feelings, and instinctive reactions of human nature.

The Sermon opens by commending, and also offering comfort to, certain moods and dispositions - the downtrodden (poor in spirit), the mourners, the diffident or meek; the men who hunger and thirst after righteousness; the merciful, the honest-minded (pure in heart), the peacemakers. Self-reliance, independence of judgment, happiness of disposition receive no commendation. Anger "without a cause" is condemned. Adultery is condemned, and so is the mere thought of it. The old tribal law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is replaced by Christ. (p. 67-68)

Christ's teaching is at variance with our human predispositions, and is in direct opposition to the law of evolution. On the other hand, it is in harmony with our conception of civilization. Christ's way, as always, is a way of appeasement and of peace. In this amendment of the tribal law Christ annihilates the law of evolution; he throws a bomb right into the very heart of the machinery by which and through which Nature has sought to build up races or breeds of mankind. (p. 69)

Every tribe has a core and a crust; the core, which holds a tribe together, is compounded of love and co-operation; the crust, which safeguards the separation and independence of the tribes, is a compound of antagonisms, of rivalries, of ill feelings which reach their climax in hate. If under the sunshine of Christ's teaching the crust of tribal hate were to dissolve, then tribe would fuse with tribe, nation would merge with nation, and in course of time the population of the world would become one flock and the earth one fold. After nineteen centuries of Christianity the tribal crust of hate is as strong as ever. Is not this failure due to the fact that Christian ethics are out of harmony with human nature and are secretly antagonistic to Nature's scheme of evolution? (p. 70)

Tribal or national opinion, in so far as it regulates the behavior and actions of tribes and nations, is a powerful factor in evolution. Here again we find Christian ethics seeking, not to favor evolution, but to bring it to an end.

The opposition between evolution and Christian ethics has been neatly and truthfully epigrammatized by Sir Charles Sherrington thus:

"Nature represents in the case of man a revulsion of the product against the process."

Here product stands for modern or evolved man; the process for the means used by Nature in his creation. The civilized mind, fuming round and marking the repellent nature of the rungs of the ladder by which it has made its ascent, desires to kick that ladder down and substitute one with Christian steps. The Sermon on the Mount is a condemnation of the evolutionary ladder. "Christian religion," wrote Edward Carpenter, "as a real inspiration of practical life and conduct is dead." In The Gospel of Rationalism, by Charles T. Gorham, will be found this verdict: "Christianity's peculiar precepts are its least practicable and sensible precepts." (p. 71)


THE ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIANITY IN EUROPE AND ITS spread westward from city to city of the Roman Empire present matters of interest to the student of evolution as well as to the historian. Christianity sprang from the loins of Judaism; both the Jews and the Gospel which they rejected gradually filtered out from Palestine, both passing westward along trade routes; their fates were very different. The Jews, a chosen people, were safeguarded from outside contamination by their religion, by their law, by their system of marriage, and by their spiritual and national exclusiveness. From the European turmoil of nineteen centuries they have emerged still a separate people and greatly multiplied in numbers.

One of the chief effects of Christianity is to dissolve the crust of tribalism and to permit tribal peoples to fuse in a fellowship of mutual love. The Gospel was offered by St. Paul to the Gentiles; it was he who proclaimed (Col. 3:11):

"There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision - Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free" but Christ is all and in all."

The new creed was thus thrown open to all mankind. Christianity makes no distinction of race or of color; it seeks to break down all racial barriers. MISCEGENATION. In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce? May we not say, then, that Christianity is anti-evolutionary in its aim? (p. 72)

Good men, whether they be Christians or rationalists, do not desire to discriminate between races, but the distinctions implanted by Nature are too conspicuous to escape the observation of our senses. Even the late Lord Bryce, a statesman and historian of sober judgment, let this escape from him:

"In the meeting of White and Black, Christian brotherhood does not work." (p. 73)

With the breakup of the Roman Empire, all the local forces of evolution, which had been suppressed in the greater part of Europe for a period of four centuries or more, broke loose, and in the course of time brought into existence the national states we now see in Europe.

Each and all profess to be followers of Christ, but each and all have modified the practice of his doctrine to suit their national needs. The group of experts who issued A Report on Nationalism (1939) came to this conclusion: "No political action can be fully Christian" (p. 301). The late Sir Martin Conway, a statesman and scholar, came to the conclusion that nationality and Christianity are incompatible. The churchman who edifies the readers of The Times every Saturday confessed that "the Christian Church is faced with two powerful and insidious foes: Nationalism and Secularism." In 1934 Lord Lang, then Archbishop of Canterbury, got very near to the cause which makes nationalism antagonistic to Christianity when he said:

"Nationalism feeds on the most primary and still untamed instincts of the human race."

Human nature, as manifested in tribalism and nationalism, provides the momentum of the machinery of human evolution. The Church has failed to bend human nature so as to make it subservient to Christianity; nationalism, on the other hand, finds it easy of exploitation. (p. 75-76)

The Old Testament is the checkered history of a chosen people, set apart from all others, and encompassed by a special system of divine laws, all of them so framed as to ensure the Children of Israel a successful and isolated evolutionary journey in the millen-nia which loomed ahead of them. In the Old Testament we are in an evolutionary atmosphere; life is regulated by the dual code. Even the nature ascribed to Jehovah is of the dual order. He is a God of Hate as well as of Love; he can be moved to anger and to vengeance. He is a God of War. Toward his chosen people his behavior is ethical; toward all neighboring nations it is cosmical.

Into this people ? rigid observers of the dual law, factious, contentious, holding themselves aloof from all who were not of their faith and blood ? Jesus was born. In the New Testament, which is a history of his life, teaching, and works, we breathe another atmosphere, one suffused through and through by a code of conduct which is single, rigid, and ethical. Jehovah is now a God of Love: affection, forgiveness, and humility have been made the basis of a system of ethics never before practiced in Palestine. (p. 136-137)

Now, every state which exists at the present time, or has existed in the past, has practiced the dual code and defended itself by armed force. Thus it came about that some three centuries after the death of Christ his followers had to find a way of reconciling their creed with the dual code and the bearing of arms. Out of the chaos which followed the collapse of the Western Empire arose the nations of Europe, every one of them professing to be Christian, every one of them practicing the art of war. Here, then, is a strange thing: the ethical creed of a peaceful sect now serves the needs of the warrior nations of Europe. "A good religion, says Bagehot, "makes a winner among nations." (p. 137)

My opinion is that Tolstoy gave the right interpretation of Christ's doctrine of ethics, and his courageous but vain attempt to put it into practice is a proof that human society on a unicodal system of ethics is an impossibility. Our brain, our mentality, is organized to subserve a bicodal system of ethics. (p. 138)

Christ sought to impose a single code of morality on his followers - the ethical code. Yet his modern followers, even the most devout of Christian clergymen, become double-codists when the war fever sweeps their nations, so strongly entrenched in human nature is the double code of morality. (p. 214)

A nation is an isolated group; it is an evolutionary unit. (p. 145)
The nations of Europe claim to be under the law of Christ: in reality they are under the law of evolution. The nations of Europe are evolutionary-minded; they are emulative, envious, jealous, selfish, and, above all, competitive. It has to be remembered, too, that the nations of the northern half of Europe are the progeny of tribes noted for their fierce warlike qualities. Nowhere else in the world of humanity has the battle of evolution been waged so hotly as in Europe; war is being used to force the pace of evolution. No wonder, then, the evangel of peace has made so poor progress in Europe.

National behavior is bicodal: internally, a nation moves on co-operative, ethical lines; externally, on cosmical, antagonistic lines. If, then, nations were to become unicodal, if the ethical code were to become dominant, cosmical antagonism would disappear and nations would become friendly and cooperative. Alas, this plan has been tried and has failed; for twelve centuries and more Europeans have had preached to them the single code of Christ, and yet wars have gone on. An international authority has declared: "Christianity has had no influence in the present war." In times of war, clergymen preach and practice the bicodalism of the Old Testament. (p. 222)