Rape and Evolution

On February 12, 1998, William Provine, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the distinguished Cornell University, took to the podium on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was invited there to deliver the keynote address at the second annual Darwin Day, a day dedicated to commemorating the life and teachings of Charles Darwin. In an abstract of that speech, on the Darwin Day Website, his introductory comments are recorded in the following words:

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent (Provine, 1998).

Provine’s ensuing message centered on his fifth statement regarding human free will. Prior to delving into the “meat” of his message, however, he noted: “The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them” (Provine, 1998).

It is clear then, from Provine’s comments, that he believes naturalistic evolution has no way to produce an “ultimate foundation for ethics.” And it is equally as clear that this sentiment was so apparent to “modern naturalistic evolutionists” that Mr. Provine did not feel it even needed to be defended.

Provine’s comments provide an excellent springboard from which to examine the logical consequences of belief in naturalistic evolution. If it is true that naturalistic evolution cannot provide an ultimate foundation for determining the difference between actions that are right and ones that are wrong, then the door is wide open for subjective speculation about all human behavior.

Working under this assumption (of naturalistic evolution), and knowing the ethical implications of such, Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer co-authored a book titled A Natural History of Rape, published by the MIT Press in 2000. In their preface they state that they “would like to see rape eradicated from human life” (p. xi). A noble thought—to eradicate such a detestable practice. Their self-professed purpose is to educate their readers as to the causes of rape. They feel this education will help their readers understand rape better, and be better equipped to initiate programs that will prevent it more efficiently than the current programs.

Yet, as noble as their suggested aim may be, Thornhill and Palmer embark on an impossible task. Since they apply naturalistic, evolutionary thinking to rape, they are forced to say, in essence, that there is really nothing ultimately wrong with the practice (although they do not like it and want to see it eradicated). In the third chapter titled, “Why Do Men Rape?,” the authors note:

The males of most species—including humans—are usually more eager to mate than the females, and this enables females to choose among males who are competing with one another for access to them. But getting chosen is not the only way to gain sexual access to females. In rape, the male circumvents the female’s choice (Thornhill and Palmer, p. 53).

Comparing humans with animal species, the authors view rape as a natural way for males to circumvent the selection process. In fact, they claim: “Human rape arises from men’s evolved machinery for obtaining a high number of mates in an environment where females choose mates” (p. 190, emp. added). They further state that “[e]volutionary theory applies to rape, as it does to other areas of human affairs, on both logical and evidentiary grounds. There is no legitimate scientific reason not to apply evolutionary or ultimate hypotheses to rape” (p. 55). In their proposed “scientific” evolutionary reasons why men rape women, they suggest that in some cases heavy metals such as lead “disrupt psychological adaptations of impulse control,” which may lead to a “higher rate of criminality” (p. 58). They state, “[l]ead may account for certain cases of rape, just as mutations may” (p. 58). Thus, rape may simply be caused when a male of a species is exposed to an excess of some type of heavy metal like lead.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it flies in the face of everything humans know about moral and immoral decisions. Furthermore, it transforms a vicious, morally reprehensible activity into something that may occasionally be caused by too much lead in the environment. Such “scientific” explanations for an immoral action like rape are absolutely unsatisfactory. When boiled down to its essence, as Thornhill and Palmer have so well illustrated, naturalistic evolution can never claim that any activity is wrong in an ultimate sense. This being the case, any action that a person chooses to do would be considered just as morally right as any other action, since all human behavior would be the by-product of evolution.

Such a quagmire of moral misconception would ultimately lead any society to utter ruin. Every civilization in the history of humankind has recognized certain actions as ultimately right and other actions as ultimately wrong. This recognition is only attainable based on the idea that there is an ultimate moral standard that is higher than any single individual and that wields jurisdiction beyond any regional boundary. The concept of God is the only rational explanation behind an ultimate moral standard.

When the concept of God is eradicated from a philosophy or society, that philosophy or society cuts off its ability to make any moral decisions. In turn, it forfeits the ability to “eradicate” such actions as rape, theft, murder, or any other immoral vice. When the Bible succinctly stated, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’ they are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1), it offered accurate divine commentary on every person, society, or philosophy that would abandon the notion of God—“They are corrupt.”

In truth, the false philosophy of naturalistic evolution fails on many accounts, not the least of which is its inability to provide a foundation for ethics. The denial of a divine ultimate standard of morality throws one into hopeless confusion about how actions such as rape should be viewed. Naturalistic evolutionists who are honest with their theory’s implications can say they don’t like things like rape, or they think its best that rape be stopped, or that they think it might be more beneficial to the majority for the action to be limited or eradicated, but they have no grounds on which to say it is absolutely, morally wrong.

In stark contrast to the foundationless ethics of naturalistic philosophy, the concept of God provides the perfect rationale on which to base moral determinations. There is a God who sees both “the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). He will call every person into account for his or her actions (Revelation 20:12-15). Therefore each individual is responsible to that God for any actions he or she has committed in violation of His moral standard found in the Bible (Ephesians 3:3-4). Rape and other such heinous crimes against humanity are not biological, evolutionary by-products passed down to humans from some mammalian precursor, nor are such crimes biological “malfunctions” caused by exposure to an excess of a certain heavy metal like lead. Such actions are sinful, morally reprehensible crimes against humanity and against God by individuals who have chosen to ignore the ultimate moral standard God manifested in His Son Jesus Christ and recorded in His Word, the Bible.


Provine, William (1998), “Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life,” [On-line], URL:

Thornhill, Randy and Craig T. Palmer (2000), A Natural History of Rape (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).


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