A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
20th June 2008
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The theory of Evolution is on the side of the Christians. In the crude formulation known as “the survival of the fittest”, or better “the advantage of the most adaptable”, the Christian is a winner.
Rodney Stark is an American sociologist who has argued that the early growth of Christianity came as a by-product of the Christian lifestyle. The Christians, unlike their Roman neighbours, believed in life and mercy. So Christians had large families, did not practice abortion or euthanasia, or leave unwanted children to die of exposure but cared for the sick, the widows and orphans. All these practices meant that over time (several centuries), the Christians basically out bred the alternatives.
If this hypothesis is true there is great hope for Christianity in the future.
Once again, compared to our secularist atheist friends, Christians are making choices in the modern world that lead to growth. Atheists have the lowest birth rate amongst religious groupings. Bible believers marry more and have more children than the irreligious. Christians oppose life-taking decisions like abortion, suicide, and euthanasia. The care of the aged is often in the hands of Christians at retirement villages, aged care facilities, and hospices.
The advantages of Christian living are great even if they are not intentional but only a by-product.
Look at our marriages and you can see why Christianity will survive better than atheism. Christians do not follow the current fashion of de facto marriages. Rather we undertake the formal promise to be committed to each other. This creates a more stable environment to maintain the relationship necessary to have and to raise children.
De facto relationships produce fewer children and even fewer grandchildren. Women who co-habit in their twenties are far less likely to be married or even in a de facto relationship later in life. Furthermore, they are much more likely to be childless or to have only one child. If they do marry, they are far more likely to divorce. The children of divorce are less likely to marry or have children. The predicament compounds.
The problems of the modern uncommitted life-style go even further. Those who have multiple sexual partners have significantly increased risk of cervical and throat cancer through the spread of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Add to this the other advantages of healthy relationships and it is not surprising to see better long-term health outcomes for religious people.
Professor Harold G. Koenig of Duke University has been researching and publishing the health advantages of religion for the last twenty years. Such research and conclusions are statistical in nature. They can be illustrated by the lives of individuals but are about whole populations. Any individual case may not fit the population norms. An atheist can have a dozen children and a Christian can die early of cancer. But overall, Christians have bigger families and live longer.
Another issue that shows the long-term advantage of Christianity is alcohol abuse. Bible believers have a great reputation for being wowsers in this matter. Temperance has always been associated with Bible believers. Even in today’s more relaxed attitude to drinking amongst Christians, we continue to be opposed to drunkenness. Still many Christians do not drink at all. Those who do so, drink in moderation. Those with dependency problems are encouraged to seek and receive help. We opposed the culture of binge drinking long before the politicians even noticed a problem.
Alcohol abuse seriously reduces life span. Heavy drinkers are known to have a shortened life span because of damage to their livers. Pregnant women are warned not to drink alcohol because of the damage to the unborn child. This month the State Government has published a summary of research papers which show alcohol as a key contributing factor to a wide variety of cancers—such as colon, breast and mouth cancer.
The damage that flows from alcohol abuse—such as car accidents, drownings, assaults, domestic disputes, etc—do not affect Christians anywhere as often as the population. Recent research shows that the level of drinking thought to be risky or dangerous is much less, than previously considered. Overall, the Christian bias towards temperance has protected us so that we enjoy longer life, fewer accidents and better health.
But alcohol consumption is only one health issue. Smoking tobacco, though not a moral issue like drunkenness, is generally avoided by Christians in our culture. And Christians continue to oppose the recreational use of mind-altering drugs and other chemicals of dependence.
The kind of long term advantages of Christian living that Professor Stark pointed to as the reason for Christian growth in the ancient world are still with us today. It is a wonderful irony that in evolutionary terms Bible believers are more likely to survive and flourish than the irreligious and atheists.
But it may be more than irony. It may indicate that living God's way is the way to live in the world that God created. It may indicate that God actually knows best. It may indicate to our society that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” after all.