In a naturalistic world in which there is nothing supernatural, nothing other than the material world, and everything there is can be summed up by what we can touch, see, hear, feel and measure, survival of the fittest reigns. In a world like that, what is wrong with genocide?
Genocide is like the ultimate survival of the fittest. The superior people group dominates, overcomes and wipes out the inferior people group. What could be more Darwinian? What could be more natural in a naturalistic world?
This, in fact, is largely the history of the world. Why, then, is this expression of survival of the fittest wrong?
Thankfully most people today recoil from such a notion, but on what basis?
When Darwin wrote the Origin of Species, people embraced the idea of survival of the fittest; and some began to implement the idea into the fabric of societal change. Darwin’s full book title is actually On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. We would call Darwin a racist today, but most people were racist in the eighteen-hundreds by today’s standards.
We seem to have come far since then. Although we (rightly) denounce Hitler and his attempt to create a superior, Aryan race, on what basis do we judge Hitler? Why was Hitler wrong? Why is something like genocide wrong if it might result in the elimination of the weak and survival of the strong?
One might be tempted to say that genocide is intuitively wrong. Most people know that genocide is wrong, but intuition doesn’t explain naturalistic phenomena. Darwin viewed his own intuition with supreme skepticism. Since man’s intuition evolved from the minds of lower life-forms, Darwin cautioned that intuition is not to be trusted.
Richard Dawkins stated in his first debate with John Lennox that mankind’s greatest achievement, helped along by the theory of evolution, was to throw off the notion of God and to find a system of thought independent and without need of God. If Dawkins is right, and if God is not the supreme moral law giver, on what basis do we have morality, and how do we judge something like genocide?
Through the ages, the morality of cultures has been influenced by the dominant people group in power at the time. This was true with the Nazi regime. It was true of Stalin in Russia. It was true of Mao Tse Tung in China. According to Hitler’s morality, Jews were vermin to be exterminated. According to Stalin’s morality, anyone threatening his power was to be isolated and killed. According to Mao Tse Tung’s morality, anti-communist forces had to be eliminated for the good of the state.
Without God, where is the foundation of our morality? Why is genocide wrong when it is arguably the natural outgrowth of survival of the fittest? In fact, Charles Darwin’s book, Origin of Species, became the philosophical and scientific justification for Hitler’s Germany. Doesn’t genocide naturally flow from a naturalistic, evolutionary survival of the fittest paradigm?
Jerry Bergman writes, “Of the many factors that produced the Nazi holocaust and World War II, one of the most important was Darwin’s notion that evolutionary progress occurs mainly as a result of the elimination of the weak in the struggle for survival. Although it is no easy task to assess the conflicting motives of Hitler and his supporters, Darwinism-inspired eugenics clearly played a critical role.”
If we are all just animals with no souls, no spirits, just material beings marching to the tune of DNA that has determined who we are, what difference does it make that only the strong survive, and why should we feel any moral repugnance for the idea of survival of the strongest race or people group?
Before Hitler, “’scientific racists’ such as Charles Davenport, Havelock Ellis, Margaret Sanger, and George Bernard Shaw used the same doctrine to justify eugenics programs.” If these folks might be called social Darwinists, the Marxists and Nazis might be called “totalitarian Darwinists”. Karl Marx admired Darwin. Marxism is “a profoundly Darwinian political system”.
The Darwinian roots of Marxism led to mass genocides like the world has never seen. The Lenin/Stalin era resulted in upwards of 70 million people killed for the betterment of the state; estimates of 20 million to 40 million people were killed during Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward”; the “Marxist war lord” Pol Pot massacred 2 million Cambodians; and Marxists in Ethiopia murdered over a million Ethiopians – all for the “advancement” of evolutionary ideals underscored by an homage to the notion of survival of the fittest.
Many will say, and perhaps rightly so, that the social Darwinism that fueled Hitler (and others) is a perversion of the evolutionary idea of the survival of the fittest. Darwin, himself, was perplexed that some people extrapolated his scientific theory into philosophy and politics as a means of justifying a kind of social Darwinism that later inspired the Hitlers, Mussolinis, Stalins and Lenins of the world.
But, again, on what basis do we make any moral judgment about these things? Is it that we have now evolved, merely 70 years hence, into a superior society that no longer values genocide as a natural imperative?
Are we any different today than the people of the last two generations who gravitated into totalitarian Darwinism in various places around the world?
Without God, the objective overarching moral law giver setting morality on the foundation of treating others as we would have them treat us and demanding that the strong protect and nurture the weak, what restraints keep us from repeating history?
If our greatest achievement is throwing off the shackles of God or gods, on what basis do we make any objective, moral judgments? Is it simply that we no longer value war, genocide and dominating cultures lording over weaker cultures? And if so, why is that these things no longer have any value within an evolutionary framework of thought? Why is this new moral outrage over the wars of the past (like the Crusades or Europeans displacing Native Americans) superior to the rule we see operating in most of our history in which dominant people groups drove out or subjugated weaker people groups?
The answer lies only on one foundation, and it isn’t found in the material world. We do intuitively know that genocide is wrong, because an objective standard of morality does exist. Science and the study of the natural world don’t lead to the answers, because the answers are transcendent. Morality transcends this natural world.
An objective moral standard, that we all concede exists every time we feel the sting of injustice ourselves, can rest only in God, who is the moral standard.
 The book’s full original title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In the 1872 sixth edition “On” was omitted, so the full title is The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. This edition is usually known as The Origin of Species. The 6th is Darwin’s final edition; there were minor modifications in the text of certain subsequent issues. See Freeman, R. B. “The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist.” In Van Wyhe, John, ed. Darwin Online: On the Origin of Species, 2002.