The Survival of Religion

It’s been said before that quoting Chesterton can become a bad habit, or even worse, an addiction that is nearly impossible to overcome. As he is so darn quotable, I have not been able to overcome the dreaded temptation, and I fear I may spend the rest of my life as an addict. Are there support groups for this sort of thing? Apologies aside, here is more G. K. Chesterton, this time on the proper understanding of Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” and how it relates to religion. I just couldn’t help myself.

From The Well and the Shallows:

Among the innumerable muddles, which mere materialistic fashion made out of the famous theory, there was in many quarters a queer idea that the Struggle for Existence was of necessity an actual struggle between the candidates for survival; literally a cut-throat competition. There was a vague idea that the strongest creature violently crushed the others. And the notion that this was the one method of improvement came everywhere as good news to bad men; to bad rulers, to bad employers, to swindlers and sweaters and the rest… The great Jefferson, when he reluctantly legalized slavery, said he trembled for his country, knowing God is just. The profiteer of later times, when he legalized usury or financial trickery, was satisfied with himself;  knowing that Nature is unjust.

But, however that may be (and of course the moral malady survived the scientific mistake) the people who talked thus of cannibal horses and competitive oysters, did not understand what Darwin’s thesis was. If later biologists have condemned it, it should not be condemned without being understood, widely as it has been accepted without being understood. The point of Darwinism was not that a bird with a longer beak (let us say) thrust it into other birds, and had the advantage of a duelist with a longer sword. The point of Darwinism was that the bird with the longer beak could reach worms (let us say) at the bottom of a deeper hole; that the birds who could not do so would die; and he alone would remain to found a race of long-beaked birds. Darwinism suggested that if this happened a vast number of times, in a vast series of ages, it might account for the difference between the beaks of a sparrow and a stork. But the point was that the fittest did not need to struggle against the unfit. The survivor had nothing to do except to survive, when the others could not survive. He survived because he alone had the features and organs necessary for survival. And, whatever be the truth about mammoths or monkeys, that is the exact truth about the present survival of religion. It is surviving because nothing else can survive.

Religion has returned; because all the various forms of scepticism that tried to take its place, and do its work, have by this time tied themselves into such knots that they cannot do anything. That chain of causation of which they were found of talking seems really to have served them after the fashion of the proverbial rope; and when modern discussion gave them rope enough, they quite rapidly hanged themselves. For there is not a single one of the fashionable forms of scientific scepticism, or determinism, that does not end in stark paralysis, touching the practical conduct of human life.

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