Biological Darwinism has lost its popularity as evolutionary theories do not match the actual data, but Social Darwinism continues to be the default philosophy of economics in countries that adopt laissez-faire capitalism. Social Darwinism is based on “Survival of the fittest”, a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) who is credited for starting the concept of Social Darwinism.
Social Darwinism is generally understood to be based on the concepts of struggling for existence and survival of the fittest resulting in social policies which make no distinction between those able and unable to support themselves. It stresses competition between individuals in laissez-faire capitalism; and the ideology has also motivated ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism, fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups (Wikipedia). Objectivism is a similar concept created by Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982). The concept of Objectivism is best described in Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.
Can Christians embrace Social Darwinism and Objectivism?
I tend to think that Social Darwinism and Objectivism are incompatible with Christianity. Our God, Jesus Christ, did not endorse survival of the fittest; he endorsed care for the weak and poor (Psal 82:3; Matt 25:40). In Christianity, everyone belongs to God (Rom 14:8; 1 John 4:6), and God will provide for His people regardless of their “fitness” as measured in our world (Matt 6:25-34). Christians also believe that they are baptized into one body, and everyone has a role to play like the different parts of a body (1 Cori 12:12-14). God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it (1 Cori 12:24-26).
Instead of struggling and killing one another for existence, Jesus proposed: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:33-34). Jesus wants us to be able to live life in its fullest, rather than worry about our security and future. He wants us to build God’s kingdom on earth (Matt 6:10) so that love, peace and justice shall overcome selfishness and elitism. Worrying about the future achieves nothing and instead robs us of our present time.
Christians believe that God is in control of everything (Pro 19:21; Rom 8:28), and they just have to submit to His will and be faithful to Him (Matt 6:10; Mark 3:35). Jesus asked: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt 6:27; Luke 12:25) and James (4:14) said: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” There is nothing man can do to ensure his existence, even business and political leaders (“Atlas”) like Steve Jobs (1955-2011) and John F Kennedy (1917-1963) could not add a single hour to their lives given the power and resources they had. Most people would consider them among the “fittest” as measured in our world based on their wealth and social standing, but both died in their prime and no one could have prevented it.
For Christians, having eternal life (John 5:24; Matt 25:46) in God’s presence is more important than being “successful” in this temporal world. Jesus asked: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36; Matt 16:26) He also said: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28; Luke 12:5) Jesus’ teaching tells us not to conform our lives to appease people around us, but rather to follow God’s commandments and counsels (Acts 5:29). If one dies at the hands of men or society, it is only a temporary death. If God deems a person unworthy to be in His kingdom or if a person chooses not to be part of God’s kingdom, the person will be separated from God for eternity. To have eternal life, every Christian has to hear the word of God and believe in God the Father who sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to save us (John 5:24).
To hear the word of God requires the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This is best described in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again from above.” (John 3:2-3) Nobody gives birth to himself, and just as we received our life in the flesh from our parents so, too, we receive the life of the Son of God from the Holy Spirit. The awakened believer who is led by the Spirit discovers what motivates his actions and ambitions, and strives to lead a faithful life in Christ Jesus. He experiences that it is not so much he himself who orients his life, as another who lives within him. Hence, Jesus likens the action of the Spirit with the passing of the wind which we can feel but cannot see (John 3:8).
In conclusion, although Social Darwinism and Objectivism are the default philosophies of economics in countries that adopt laissez-faire capitalism, they are absolutely contrary to a Christian world view. Pope Pius XII was confronted with Social Darwinism during World War II. To refute Nazism and fascism, the Holy Father repeated time and again the simple statement of the Church: God created mankind in His own image, and every human is part of one family, and has enormous value. May we see the face of Christ in every person, and love our neighbour as Christ loved us.