Evolutionary theory, the idea that life began by chance and proceeded through natural selection toward some higher order, has long since gone mainstream in American culture. Gambling, games of chance, has also taken the culture by storm, more recently but just as thoroughly. While one didn’t cause the other the relationship is nevertheless interesting.
Evolutionary theory’s story has a long arc, but the tipping point came in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life and 1871 with The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Evolutionary theory quickly gained recognition as the dominant paradigm in the biological sciences and many other fields of intellectual and social endeavor. Evolutionary theory, evolution for short, remains the accepted scientific if not social metanarrative today.
Nevada legalized commercial gambling in 1931 and Atlantic City in 1979. Other than a few racetracks that was it: two states with legal commercial or casino gambling. While reintroduction of state lotteries in the 1960s and 1970s set off a “third wave” of gambling in the United States, gambling hit critical mass with the passage of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. Now, only two states remain in which commercial gambling is still illegal: Hawaii and Utah.
Evolutionary theory roots its interpretation of the world in closed-order naturalism. It assumes away the need, then the existence, of a Sovereign Creator God, i.e., replaces intentional divine creation design with chance. While there are many ideas about how this chance works, in the end, it’s just biological happenstance that somehow always moves species toward higher, more complex, and, mysteriously, better organisms. In the case of humankind, begin with protoplasm, become self-aware intelligent human beings.
At its core, gambling, or gaming as it’s now called, encourages people to suspend their faculties in favor of chance, luck, fate, or the “gambling gods.” In this way, gambling at its core is a celebration of irrationality (the “House” or gambling operation owners always work with an “edge”—They’re the only ones in the gambling process who aren’t gambling). Gamblers know this, saying, “You can win a race but you can’t beat the races.” Ultimately, gambling is largely an experience in futility, a vehicle for entrusting ones resources and perhaps future to chance.
In a culture that embraces the idea that life begins by chance is it any wonder that gambling has been enthusiastically adopted as both (harmless?) entertainment and a (harmless?) source of government revenue? As I said, one didn’t cause the other, but the philosophic outlook is neatly aligned.
It isn’t much of a stretch to jump from the idea life began by chance to the idea life is just a gamble, that nothing rational let alone moral guides life, and ultimately nothing invests life with meaning. Evolutionary theory and gambling share a “faith,”—and that is what it is—in chance detached from God and meaning.
If life is meaningless it must be “morality-less.” There are no objective standards, no absolute values, just moral relativism. It therefore doesn’t matter what a person does, much less who he or she is. We know what we want to do, when we want to do it, with whom we want to do it, and why doesn’t matter. We can do what is right in our own eyes because “what is right” is (objectively) assumed out of the equation.
This is what we now think of the human condition. We may be higher order animals but ultimately we’re just animals, ethically as well as biologically. Life is just a crapshoot. It’s just chance.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2013
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