Nearly all of the most conservative preachers today are staunch and vocal supporters of free enterprise, by which they mean that big corporations have a right to crush ordinary people. In doing so, they are directly contradicting Jesus and the prophets. What, for example, would the prophet Amos have said about this? You can read it for yourself.
Evolutionary scientists, however, are not supporters of this doctrine, which is called Social Darwinism. It is the application of an incorrect and disproven version of evolution to the social and political world. It is Herbert Spencer’s, not Charles Darwin’s, version of evolution. Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary writings are, according to Ernst Mayr, of no consequence to modern evolutionary science.
Modern “free enterprise” preachers are not the first to have espoused this oppressive doctrine. In 1877, Henry Ward Beecher, fresh out of a scandal about the open secret of his extramarital affair, gave sermons that said essentially the same thing as modern conservative preachers. Workers’ riots were erupting all over the eastern United States, with deadly conflicts between workers and the National Guard in several cities. Workers earned only enough money (a dollar a day), it was said, for bread and water. Beecher, while overseeing the construction of his Hudson River waterfront mansion in Peekskill, New York, announced that workers should be satisfied with this. “The man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.” The poor, said Beecher, will “reap the misfortunes of inferiority.” He added, melding God and evolution together, “God had intended the great to be great and the little to be little.” He ignored Amos, who said that God had not intended the great to crush the little.
In so claiming, Beecher apparently did not notice his inconsistency. His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which has been considered the most famous denunciation of American slavery. He did not recognize that big corporations can economically enslave the working poor. This was particularly true in 1877, and still almost as true today.
The difference is that Beecher openly admitted his doctrine was a spiritual adaptation of Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary ideas. Modern preachers, in contrast, denounce evolution and claim to get their ideas straight from Jesus. In so doing, these preachers are not only just as wrong as Beecher was, but are insulting Jesus on top of it. Beecher at least claimed to take a figurative interpretation of scripture.
I obtain my historical information from Berry Werth’s excellent book, Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America (Random House, 2009). This essay will also appear on my author website.