Benjamin Wiker – The Darwin Myth

August 07, 2009

Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. His books include Answering the New Atheism and Ten Books That Screwed Up The World. His Newest is out now titled The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Benjamin Wiker talks about his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. He argues that Darwinism is a distortion of evolution, and based on the secular and atheistic influence of the “radical Enlightenment.” He shares his skepticism of other historians’ accounts of Darwin’s anguish over the implications of his views for religious belief. He contends that Darwin was a third-generation religious skeptic, and that he had an atheistic agenda from early in his life. He relates Alfred Russell Wallace’s critiques of Darwin’s atheistic account of evolution by natural selection, and defends Wallace from the charges of Spiritualism. He compares evolutionists who accept natural selection with neurologists who think neuroscience may or will entirely account for the human self (without a soul), and suggests both views are based on ideology. He explains his motivations to criticize Darwin based on what he argues are the immoral effects of Darwinism in society. He links Nazism, Social Darwinism and eugenics to Darwinism. He talks about abortion in the context of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. He discusses the “is-ought problem” in philosophy, and the “naturalistic fallacy.” He criticizes Darwin’s accounts of how human morality may have evolved. And he argues against creationists who reject evolution, even while he himself attacks “evolution by natural selection.”

This is point of inquiry for Friday, August 7th, 2009. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe growthy point of inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grass roots. My guest this week is Dr. Benjamin Weicker. He is a senior fellow at the St Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. He’s written several books, most recently answering the new Athie ism, Dismantling Dawkins Case Against God and 10 Books That Screwed Up the World. He joins me on the show to talk about his new book, The Darwin Myth The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. Welcome to the show, Dr Benjamin Weicker. 

Glad to be here. Doctor Weicker. So what exactly is the Darwin myth? 

That’s a very good question, because it actually has kind of a simple and a complex answer. And in the Darwin myth, I mapped this out in terms of Darwin’s biography. Of course, this is the year of Darwin, so it’s a good time to do that. And what I’m trying to do is separate the facts from the fancy. And one of the aspects of the myth is sort of the overarching interpretive one is that somehow Darwinism is simply equivalent to evolution. That is one man’s account of evolution is simply identical with the facts of evolution. And one of my principal arguments in this is that Darwin gave us a kind of a distortion caused by his particular views, which which come from the radical enlightenment, which excluded God on principle and tried to set up a materialist account of evolution. And that doesn’t have to happen. 

That is, there are other ways to handle evolution, the facts, so that somebody who is theoretically bent can affirm evolution and have no problem with evolution at all, even though it may he may have a problem with Darwinism. 

So for you, Darwinism is kind of atheistic Darwinism necessarily. And that’s the myth. You say this incompatibility of science and religion was kind of orchestrated by Darwin, pushed by Darwin, and you don’t by other historians accounts of how much anguish Darwin suffered over the decision to go public about, you know, his theory. 

I certainly buy less of it outright by by much less of it, because if you look back in Darwin’s own life, this is why his biography is important. You find out he’s a third generation religious skeptic. His his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was one of the best known late enlightenment thinkers. He put out his own version of evolutionary theory that was published right at the end of the seventeen hundreds. And and he was part of the radical enlightenment click. Darwin inherited that view of evolution from his grandfather and the larger secular world view from Darwin’s own father was an atheist and also an evolutionist. 

But Darwin early on wasn’t you. You’re skeptical of the idea that there were many Darwin’s that you know, that there was the pre bit, you know, voyage of the Beagle, Darwin, then, you know, and and the historians imagine he what he described himself as a biblical literalist at that time, absolutely skeptical. Then there was the post beagle Darwin, who was a religious skeptic. You think he was a skeptic of religion, kind of steeped in the Enlightenment from the get go? 

Yeah, absolutely. Because one of the things that we know are several things we know about them is before he ever stepped foot in the Beagle. He had read his grandfather’s zoo, Gnomeo, which was the evolutionary treatise. Of course, he was his father’s son. I mean, he spent all that time with him and his father was a skeptic. Darwin’s brother also called Erasmus. Darwin was a religious skeptic. So that was the background that he imbibed. He also when he went to Edinburgh, that is to medical school, before he ever stepped foot in the Beagle or went to Cambridge. He he was immersed in the most radical folk at Edinburgh, one of the being, Robert Grant, who was a lamarche and evolutionists and a social radical. So that’s who Darwin hung around with. It sort of doesn’t make sense as he himself reports it as autobiography. He was he was some kind of a profound believer, believing every word of scripture is literally true. I at that point, I say that’s just a lie. 

So Darwin was not just confused. He was a liar. You’re making Darwin out to be disingenuous and with an atheistic agenda from the get go. 

Well, certainly this can’t have been he can’t have been accurate about his own belief because we find in the same autobiography says, oh, one day Robert Grant came to me when I was in Edinburgh and and he spouted all this stuff about evolution. And I was so surprised, you know, as if he’d never heard of it before. But it didn’t make any impression on my mind. Well, that’s that’s just false. Even Janet Brown, the two volume biography of Darwin, says he’s being disingenuous here because he had read LaMarche Redland Zoo in Gnomeo. He worked with Robert Grant for some time at Edinborough and he couldn’t have helped it to know his his radical evolutionary views. And by this, I mean a secularist version of evolutionary views. He was steeped in them. So it doesn’t make sense for him, as Janet Brown points out, to say, oh, well, gosh, you know, this this took me by such surprise, but it made no impression on my mind. Well, Darwin was steeped in evolutionary theory before he ever got on the Beagle. And that explains why when he got off the Beagle, he immediately hit the book, said as he started writing in his private notebooks and a purely materialist account of evolution, just literally almost right off the ship. You know, and if there had been some great transformation that was radically incongruous with his original character, you wouldn’t you would affect us from ruffling time. 

You mentioned that this is the year of Darwin course. And there are there’s a lot of stuff coming out about this wrestling time of Darwin, you know, this time where he was grappling with the implications of of his spin on evolution, you know, evolution by natural selection. The implications of it for God, belief, for the orthodox religion of his day. That’s what a lot of people are talking about this year. There’s a new PBS documentary coming out. Oh, yeah. There’ll be a new feature film. And you’re saying this is all just part of the propaganda surrounding Darwin’s biography? 

Yeah. And let me put it in larger historical context, because this is important for understanding. Darwin is not isolated from that larger context. If you stood back and looked at the century before and the century during Darwin, you would see it’s a very common theme, what I call the secular enlightenment myth, where you’re moving from the an age of religious superstition and darkness to an age of enlightened, rational, secular light. I mean, that’s such a common theme during that period predates Darwin by one hundred years. Erasmus Darwin was steeped in this view. I argue in the Darwin myth that that that defines the context of Darwin’s own self understanding. He wanted to see himself as manifesting this kind of enlightenment view of the story of history away from religious superstition to scientific enlightenment. And that would make sense of them being disingenuous about his own religious beliefs or or lack of them. 

Well, I would say lack of them. I mean, when he married his Alma Wedgwood fairly soon after he got off the HMS Beagle, one of the things he did before he married her was he confessed to her that he didn’t believe this was a lifelong tension with Darwin is also a very kindly man and a very good husband and father. 

Any he it grieved him to cause anyone, you know, harm in that way through a psychological harm and including and especially his own wife. And so he held back his own beliefs, which his father told him to do. You know what? Don’t don’t tell them, you know, your wife or anyone else in English, polite society, what you may really happen to believe about God, because it will harm your wife. She’ll become distraught. And she was. Plus, it’ll harm your ability to make it up. English Tory dominated Anglican society. 

Okay, explain that disconnect for me, though. If you’re saying from early on he had an agenda to advance this atheistic version of evolution. How’s that, Joe, with his, you know, his desire to kind of a fair well in polite society and keep all that under wraps? You’re just saying he’s a complicated man. Yes. Both of those things were going on at the scene. 

They really are. That, I think, is the real torment. There’s the Adrian Desmond book, Darwin A Life. A Tormented Evolution is, I think, captures that in that 20 year period after he got off the HMS Beagle. He’s he’s making it up those society rungs, but it’s Anglican Tory dominated society. And he’s making it in a way that that his prestige is associated with his not, you know, ruffling feathers of of the orthodoxy in society. And in fact, his own father was good at that himself. He kept his, you know, 80s in private. And, you know, he publicly supported the Anglican Church. So it’s not it’s a pattern that you see among many sort of closet radicals during the period. And that’s Darwin’s own political intellectual background. At the same time, he doesn’t want a society to turn into something like the French Revolution. He’s not that kind of a person, I think. What do you what do you envision was a slow transformation of society at. It caught up with science and science was essentially secular. So he was he was a kind of man and I think this kindness defined how he told his message. And one of the reasons why he waited so many years to tell it and the audience species. 

One of your other criticisms of Darwin in the book is that he wasn’t original. And we you know, we’ve just talked about how evolution was the mill. You the kind of that he was. Evolution was a story already being told. And if you look at the history of Western intellectual thought, it’s it’s not a new idea. You know, the ancient Greeks and an ax. Amanda Roman thinkers. You mentioned Erasmus Darwin, of course, Lamarck. But surely you’d give Darwin credit for independently coming up with evolution by natural selection. That’s what sets him apart. So he was original in that sense, even if Alfred Russel Wallace also came up with the idea on his own. 

I don’t know. I mean, there are too many contributions. Well documented. Of all the pieces being put together, you know, as you were intimating, that evolution was in the air, at least for a hundred years, not going all the way back to Greece. So the parts were there. And I list the various people that had contributed something even to setting out the theory of natural selection itself. So I’m less inclined to affirm that you can really credit him in the way that people want to, but willing to concede a little on that. Yeah. 

And but I also give a kind of a harsh reason that he wanted to find a way to explain evolution that excluded God by the principle that didn’t need God to wind it up and keep it going. 

Exactly. In other words, there were many theistic views. In fact, his own best compatriot and getting the evolutionary news out there in his time, you know, like Alfred Russel Wallace credit Asako Discover were a theistic and criticize Darwin for trying to explain everything by natural selection alone. In other words, they understood the attempt to confine it only to natural selection as a way to exclude God from the account. 

Right. Well, in in Alfred Russell Wallace’s case, he was I consider him maybe even more than theistic. He was a spiritualist and an actively sought proof of the spirit world and spirit communication. You were talking about how kindly Darwin was. Wallace kind of outed himself as a believer in ghosts in the spirit world. And spiritualism was the rage of the day. It really harmed his reputation in science and late in his life when he was kind of hard up. Darwin showed a great kind of humility and kindness and regard for Wallace and helped him out, kind of helped rehabilitate his reputation. 

But I think that’s that’s half true. I think Alfred Russel Wallace has gotten a bad rubbing by historians because they’re inclined to they’re inclined to want to see anyone that disagreed with Darwin as a sort of haywire intellectually. So to describe as a spiritualist is in one sense correct because he wasn’t an orthodox theologian. What he argued was that I find so much evidence for human capacities that go beyond pure materialism that I’m going to perform scientific experiments and ferret them out. No, that’s that’s what sort of brings him to the weirdness of his spiritualism. Jim Underdown. 

Mm hmm. Well, and he speaks openly about, you know, his involvement with with spiritualists, say, and stuff like that. We don’t need it. You know, that’s not the topic of your book, nor of this conversation. 

Although I do say something about it. It’s important, but I think he’s been maligned. And what we really need to do is look at his account of his criticisms of natural selection alone, in other words. What you have is somebody who’s a you could say he’s a devout evolutionist, but very skeptical of Darwinism. He doesn’t he doesn’t reject natural selection. He just looks at his woefully inadequate, especially to explain the evolution of human beings. And by the way, he was joined in this, again, by Darwin’s own compatriots, Aissa Gray and and Charles Lyell, you know, with a history of look at their at their hesitations to go the full Darwin as a kind of inadequacy when they saw Darwin himself as inadequate and that natural selection needed to be expanded. That is, it was too exclusive. It couldn’t explain everything Darwin esthetic could. And I also think it’s no accident that the greatest acknowledged critic of Darwin in his time was St George Movado, who is not a so-called spiritualist but but a keen critic of Darwin. And and evolutionists at the same time and are sort of Whig view of history in this period, doesn’t allow these figures. They have to be presented as somehow, you know, wacko or off the off the deep end when actually what they were doing is providing coded criticisms of Darwin, yet affirming evolution, Jim Underdown evolution, but not relying solely on natural selection. Yeah, exactly. That’s the way to put it. So when they criticize natural selection, they aren’t rejecting natural selection. It would be like if if I if I criticized Karl Marx, I wouldn’t criticize Karl Marx because he didn’t get anything right. Why criticize him? Because he saw a whole lot, but he didn’t go far enough because he had a purely reductionist view of human life and human being and human economics. In other words, that’s the same kind of criticism the St George Movado art made of Darwin. The problem is that for him, Darwin didn’t go far enough and he didn’t go far enough because he was bent on excluding God from evolution on a kind of a principle that is natural selection or nothing. 

Ben, I want to talk to you about morality and some of the other things you focus on in your book. But one other quick thing on natural selection. You look at the culture of science today, biology, but really all of science that the vast majority of scientists maybe you’ll take exception with this. I hope not. So we can really engage on the point by not only evolution, but evolution by natural selection. Do you think that this is a kind of ideological conspiracy, that that all of these people who accept evolution by natural selection, these people who say that evolution by natural selection is enough to explain how life got here in its complexity? Do you think this is just kind of a conspiracy of ideologues? 

Well, it may have started out that way. That is, you can’t if you step back and look at the historical period of the last two to three hundred years, you see a very serious secular revolution going on in Darwin’s own day. Darwin himself was very adamant in ensconcing his own particular materialist account of evolution in the academy. And, of course, Huxley was was essential in getting that to occur. So there is a kind of, you know, Dawkins ask aspect of it where you have a few very voiced different levels, you know, mouthpieces to find. This is science and nothing else. 

Yeah, but I’ve I’ve spoken with a lot of kind of colomb soft spoken or less. Dawkins ask me if you want to use that phrase. You know, biologists and scientists, evolutionists who really don’t seem to have a big atheistic agenda. They might happen to be naturalists or atheist. It might take them at their word that they’re just looking at the evidence, following the evidence where it leads. And in fact, evolution by natural selection explains it all. 

Well, I think that they certainly are very sincere in that. I don’t I don’t have any problem with that. But if you look back through the you know, the sort of the the sociology of science, that phenomenon is not difficult to explain. Dawkins and people like Dawkins or Huxley are usually the most prominent, but they’re the only ones that carry the weight forward. So. So, yes, I think there are many sincere people say, you know, that you must confine the principles to this and nothing else. You would find out, I’m sure. For example, in regard to people in psychology who argue that in a very calm way, that you you will explain everything about human beings in accordance with the neuronal fire firings of their brain Jim Underdown. In other words, they work very diligently. They’re really working on something. Our brains really do have neurons. They really fire. So they’re really doing something in the same way that somebody studying natural selection in regard to evolution is really doing something and finding out new things all the time. 

Right. In both fields, neuroscience and in evolution, there’s new evidence every day, new research going on that seems to further the cause of this naturalistic worldview. 

Yeah, and that would make sense. And from every aspect of it, unless you’re unless you’re kind of a strange Gnostic and believe, you know, by contrast, the human beings are entirely spiritual beings, sort of, you know, tucked into a body like a a kind of a suit of armor disconnected with the soul. You would expect to find a lot of evidence that way. In fact, you would want people to find evidence for the material foundations of things. The question is whether you can justifiably exclude anything beyond particular kinds of materialistic arguments. In other words, it’s the Marxian thing. I think Mark’s mark, his disciples have written incredibly important and insightful things about human economic life, but they’re still radically deficient. But they could. We’ll continue to work on them because they’re working on a real aspect of life. Let me give you a larger context for this. Somebody like Simon Conway Morris as an evolutionist is very critical of Ultra. Darwin is right. And I think he’s that he’s a far better scientist’s by leaps and bounds than Richard Dawkins. 

And there are folks like Michael Ruess and others who as Darwinists or at least as evolutionists, are critical of the culture of Darwinism. So, yeah, your points there. Yeah. 

Yeah. So so the point is, it isn’t an all or nothing thing. And I think that’s how people get confused. I think that creates the very kind of clash in the culture where people are saying, you know, I don’t like what Darwin implied and Darwinism implies. Therefore, I reject evolution. Well, whoa. No, no, no. That’s the misconception. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the Darwin myth, was to make that distinction between Darwinism, which does end up being kind of an ideology, you know, all or nothing, materialist natural selection or it’s not an explanation and evolution itself. The real facts that we’re trying to explain by whatever is necessary to explain them. 

And I want to finish up with that eventually, you know, talk about how you plant yourself squarely in this almost no man’s land. And, well, you’re you’re a. a creationist in a sense. 

But then also you’re a. a natural selection. But, you know, before we get to that, I want to talk about the really interesting part of your book to me. And that’s when you get into morality and you make the Origin of Species descent of man, you make these two texts almost as a. morality text. You try to show how they undermine Judeo-Christian morality. Is that really your big motivation? You see these A.I. morality implications and that’s why you want to expose these quotes lies of Charles Darwin? 

Well, there’s a couple of motivations. I mean, that would certainly be one of them, because people are you know, this is the year of Darwin. And one of the things you we have heard for some time now is Darwin just put out a theory of biology. He’s not responsible for all those lunatics that that hijacked it and turned it into a, you know, a political eugenics program. 

That is he’s he’s not responsible for social Darwinism. That is a myth. Anyone who’s read is descent of man and understood the real history from 1870 on would have to affirm that Darwinism and social Darwinism go together like the origin of Species and Darwin’s descent of man Jim Underdown. 

Right. You make social Darwinism be the same thing as just Darwinism. 

It’s applied to human beings. 

Sure. And that’s the argument. But if Darwin was a social Darwinist, did that used the term didn’t exist. It didn’t exist then. But I get your point. 

If he was a social Darwinist, how do you account for the the argument that’s reported he had with Captain Fitzroy on the Beagle where he comes out against slavery? Wouldn’t he be for slavery if he were a social Darwinist? 

You actually made the comment of Bishop Wilberforce, interestingly enough, and I’ll put that in context. Yes, Darwin was, by his background, reaching all the way back to his grandfather, adamantly opposed to slavery, a deep, deep hatred. 

And in fact, Araf, this Darwin joined forces with William Wilberforce, one of the great religious skeptics of the day, Erasmus Darwin, with William Wilberforce, one of the great evangelical forces in England. Don’t eliminate slavery from the British Empire. 

And why would the Darwin’s want to do that if they were social Darwinists? 

The question is maybe might be more properly put it in the way that Bishop Wilberforce. That is the son of William Wilberforce. Put it to Darwin himself. And this is actually before Darwin published The Descent of Man, which came out with a eugenics and racial views. He said to Charles Darwin, In making your account of evolution, which there is no distinction at all made between human beings and other living species that has no moral distinction, you thereby affirm that if we find natural slavery in the animal kingdom, then slavery must be natural for human beings. 

That is, it must be one more way in which one particular society or tribe can manifest superiority over another and extinguish it. Mm hmm. And of course, Bishop Wilberforce was pointing to the natural slavery among ants where larger red ansen slaves, smaller black ends, a point which Darwin both noticed and was very surprised at. So Bishop Wilberforce’s point with Darwin, you’re in contradiction to your own best principles. 

And just on that point, of course, there might be something like natural slavery in the collar animal kingdom. But the big point when you’re talking morality and looking at nature is that you don’t try to derive you know, the old is a distinction. You don’t try to derive how we should be by how the natural world is. We have reason. We have empathy. We have you know, we can argue against what’s natural. It may be natural to murder someone that you’re angry at, you know, but just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it’s right. It may be natural to be jealous or to hoard or to not use a commode. You know, that’s that’s technology. That’s culture. That’s not natural. Natural is, you know, going in the words sorry for the vulgar example, but you get my point. The moralists, the secular moralists say you don’t derive how we should be by how nature is. Yes. Learning how nature is may tell us more about how we are, which gives us more understanding about what we can be. But you don’t get the art from the ears. 

Yeah. And in fact, in one way, Darwin himself completely disagrees with you. And another way, he tried to affirm what you’re saying. Right. So. So I think that’s important place that goes back to Darwin. Darwin did not believe in that notion, which actually came from. Well, it actually had roots in Calne prior to Darwin. But that’s another story. 

But there it is. Yeah. 

Derive an art from an is is not in Darwin’s descent of man. That’s exactly what he wants to do. He in fact, he sets out the descent of man to explain how natural selection gave us the various human moralities that we find historically and which, in order to be picked up by natural selection, had to be proved to be some kind of a benefit that allowed one’s one tribe, and I’ll use his words, one tribe to extinguish another tribe that had less of these moral capacities. 

And these are the prosocial things, you know, taking care of your of your own and but also slaughtering those who are of a lesser tribe. 

I mean, in other words, you can’t pick and choose. And that’s what many Darwin is today. They want to explain or Darwin can explain where altruism comes from. But that’s true. Evolution can explain where murdering your children come from. In other words, that’s what it tries to do. It it explains what people do. And in terms of some some notion of how natural selection could have brought that about and continue to do it in the gene pool. Mm hmm. Right. So altruism doesn’t gain any any higher standard or lower standard? It’s not a standard at all. 

It’s one more thing that natural selection has affirmed is somehow beneficial. But it also affirms a whole lot of other things, as Darwin points out in previous history, from infanticide to, you know, burying your sickly grandparents or shooting them out or an ice floe or whatever happens to contribute. 

And when you talk about beneficial, you’re not saying beneficial to a person’s thriving or community striving. You’re you’re saying beneficial to propagation? 

We are. Well, it’s for him. It’s always got to be directly or indirectly related to that. Otherwise you wouldn’t get more of it. But it can be it can benefit the tribe as a whole. In other words, he tried to explain things in terms of tribes rather than individuals. And so, you know, he was trying to describe how you got morality through natural selection so you could have something like, I guess, what modern kinship selection tries to affirm. Right. 

But but it but he’s very clear. Doesn’t you know, in one sense, altruism or sympathy, as he would call it, is not the goal of any of these things that may be the result of them. And the problem, I point out with Darwin’s theory is that on his own terms, you can’t have a goal like that. That is, evolution can’t have a goal just to affirm sympathy over other traits, which may also contribute to the survival of a particular tribe. And the followers of Darwin in Germany and also in America and in England saw that clearly no one said, you know, if altruism gets in the way of a particular nation’s survival and prospering, then so much the worse for altruism. 

Right. And that’s the that’s the straight line you draw that I have an issue with. You draw a straight line from Darwinism to not only social Darwinism, but a kind of nationalistic program. You talk about Nazi ism coming out of Darwinism, eugenics, of course, I grant you and maybe this will be to the consternation of some of my evolutionist friends. But I grant you that in descent of man, there are a couple sentences that sounds maybe a little racist or if not racist, at least, you know, he says things in ways we would never say things to. Babe, but I don’t see that he’s arguing for a kind of social Darwinism. So there’s the part where he talks about kind of lazy Scotsman who have a lot of kids. But, you know, they’re not good for society because they’re not working hard. They’re not industrious and sorry. 

I think that will be. That was the Irish for ya. 

And then the Scotsman is the frugal one. He’s self respecting, ambitious, all that stuff. But he doesn’t have as many children. And Darwin says, well, you know, according to natural selection, it’s the Irishman who’s going to thrive. That’s exactly the opposite of social Darwinism, though, isn’t it? Social Darwinism says the superior class of person or the superior race is going to succeed, not just the one who out breeds the other. 

Well, actually, you went to see the two go together, and that’s why he was adamantly against birth control, because if you if you act like the Scotsman, the problem is you will be swamped by the you know, the the the the Irishman know that that’s his point in putting that out. 

And you read books today like The Death of the West and others. You know, the something like that. Yeah. 

The white Western world, as racist as that sounds, is not reproducing itself fast enough to continue. You know what you need to point one children, each couple to have the next generation or something. 

Yeah. And Darwin was fully aware of the implications. And that’s why he you know, he what he said and it’s more than more than sentences. It’s many long paragraphs. One of the things that he said was, you know, you’ve got to get the better people to breed more. And by law or custom somehow to get the the less fit to breed less. It would be best if they didn’t marry and propagate at all. 

So that’s where you’re getting eugenics coming straight out of Darwin as well. 

He said things were much more eugenic. And I quote those passages. I mean, he talked about, you know, how how bad it was that the weak and sickly and deformed were being saved by inoculations in hospitals and that we would never allow breeding like this to occur on the farm. I mean, those are just his words that he backs off from that as well. Hard reason would tell us to get rid of the weak and sickly into form, which is ironic because, you know, Darwin himself would. We can simply. But we can’t we can’t do that because it would clash with another thing. We want an evolved trait called sympathy. Mm hmm. So we have to put up with these, you know, the weak, sickly and deformed. But whatever you do don’t want to breed. 

But that’s the big question. You say that he himself says eugenics would jut up against the natural human sympathy that we have. How do you account for widespread rejection of eugenics among the the atheistic scientists who also widely affirm or accept natural selection? So if you’re saying eugenics come straight out of Darwinism? Well, it doesn’t seem to have persuaded any of the Darwinists today. 

I’m going to have to readjust that because after Darwin’s theory came out, eugenics spread all over Europe and America. 

Sure. In fact, it was bigger in the United States. Early on even then in Nazi Europe. 

Absolutely. And much to our shame. And in fact, the one of the great ironies in that and in the Scopes trial, the biology text at issue was very eugenic. And I have a copy of it myself. So eugenics was spread all over. So to say that it didn’t form, you know, the the the background of the scientific elite Jim Underdown. 

No, I guess I mean, today. 

But, you know, what happened was this two things and I’ll Albi I’m sure this will raise hackles, but I’ll say it anyway, so why not? Nazi ism gave a bad press to eugenics, but eugenics has been is reinstated in the forms of prenatal screening and genetic engineering is just the same thing again. Now you can find out through various tests if you have a deformed or somehow defective or unfit baby in the womb. And if you don’t like that, then you just use the board Jim Underdown. 

Yeah. And this just shows how different our world views are. I would say abort the fetus if if the test reveals that there will be just really painful suffering throughout that that eventual person’s life. You’re saying, yeah, unfit to live. So abort aborted. 

Yeah. Well, I’m saying that this this is a sign of a great moral shift. And what it what it means is that abortion is done today and the same eugenic principles that occurred in Nazi Germany on the auction T4 program. And by the way, just for the same, you know, to make clear in pointed is not abortions, neither eugenics program in Germany and the abortion program in the United States. Both operate on the assumption that anything, not some really horrifying deformity that would cause pain and misery. But even the most mild deformity is that person is subject to abortion. So we do want to make a sound, you know, more drastic than it is, because just like the Nazi Germany program, you could get it boarded for slight deformity in our aborted gas, for slight deformities or even excessive acne, you can get an abortion legally. The parent can judge any kind of imperfection. Even the possibility of some kind of imperfection makes it makes the child in the womb subject for eugenic extermination. 

Well, and in fact, you don’t need any deformity. You know, because of privacy rights. And, you know, some of us have a concept of the fetus as not being a person. Therefore, sure, it’s human life, but it’s not a person. Therefore, the woman’s not only her privacy rights, but her own other interests and plans would trump the in quotes. Right. Of a non person fetus. So that’s obviously that’s a whole other discussion. 

It is. But it does stem from Darwin. In other words, the great divide usually comes between people who regard human beings as coextensive with the animal kingdom. That is this is this is how you would. This is how you would treat any other animal. And you would be humane to do so. And those who are arguing and this would be what puts them outside Darwinism, but not outside evolution. Again, that human beings are. Yes. An animal, but a very strange one that has essential spiritual aspects to it. And so that would be the foundation that would define their moral approach to abortion and eugenics. 

One more point on this. Eugenics or even Naziism, you know, all these bad things coming out of Darwinism before we talk about. I think the big news in your book. So you’re drawing a straight line from Darwinism to all this bad stuff and the intellectual historians and historians of science, you know, have done a lot of work on that. Now, they might not draw a straight line, but at least they see the progression of thought and how what a one constellation of ideas was used by this other movement over here. Yes. So that’s real question to you. Benjamin. Hasn’t Christianity been misused? Similarly, there are people who read the Bible and read into it or out of it justification for slavery or for subjugation of women or for the stoning of homosexuals. And I think you’re you know, from the conversation so far and from some of your other books, you’re an enlightened Christian enough to to not see that Christianity means death to infidels. 

Yeah. No, there is. I think that it is not good ever to pretend that Christians have never done any bad thing and that the background of everything has always been, you know, sort of, you know, sort of an anti Christian conspiracy. It isn’t that at all. And it’s a hard thing to correct, because that’s how, you know, I also meet atheists as a way to stereotype Richard Dawkins that an atheist has never done anything wrong and innovative. And that’s just that’s just nonsense. Two Jim Underdown. 

That response means that when a Stalinist has done the horrible things in the name of Stalin ism or Mao Tse Tung or Pol Pot, those weren’t done in the name of 80 ism. Those were done in the name of those totalitarian ideologies. You know, some some religious studies people consider those state religions. 

In fact, I don’t I think that that’s just as disingenuous as for Christians to say, well, that wasn’t really done by good Christians, those were done by bad Christians, and they were acting on principles other than Christianity. So Christianity still has nothing to answer for. And, you know, both sides have to come to the confessional and say we both done bad things, face up to it, like men that back and forth stuff. You know, Hitler is really, you know, religious. No, he wasn’t. You know, everybody. You know, this to me is affirmation of the doctrine of sin that everyone you know, that all of Cendon fall short of the glory of God. 

You stink everywhere. And so while it grieves us, you know, it’s no unfortunately, it’s no surprise. And I don’t think we get anywhere by trying to whitewash anyone’s tomb. 

So if bad stuff comes out of Christianity, but not necessarily and bad stuff comes out of Darwinism, do you think it necessarily will come out of Darwinism evolution by natural selection? Or can you similarly draw a distinction between people doing bad things in the name of Darwinism and Darwinism as a as a scientific theory? 

Well, I guess I would say this. Why why can’t we just distinguish between evolution? That is what happened. And to say that Hitler came from evolution is nonsense. 

But you say Hitler came from Darwinism, not from evolution, but from Darwinism. 

In other words and I mean that in the full sense that as you can fully affirm evolution and entirely reject something like eugenics. And I think that’s what many evolutionists really mean to do. Now, whether they have the principles to do, that’s another story. I think, however, that you can draw a direct line. I’d say it’s more like a wavy, fuzzy splayed out line from Darwin’s principle as he himself laid them down in the descent of man and of the various kinds of eugenic movements of the 20th century. So, yeah, you you know, you can distinguish those two. And I think there’s been a lot that’s been quite miserable that’s come from Darwinism. But that should be distinguished from evolution otherwise. Otherwise, people would get their feathers up and they they try to defend Darwinism. 

And in fact, that leads into this other big issue. I want to talk to you about that. The I think the real news in your book is that while you’re so anti Darwinism and you attack those who want to defend Darwinism because of these implications, you think Darwinism has, you know, eugenics, Nazi ism, whatever. You’re not necessarily anti evolution. You’re not a creationist. You’re kind of pro evolution. But anti Darwinism. 

Yeah, I would have said it. I’m not. I’m not. We don’t need to hem and haw about evolution. Properly understood, could be released from chains that have been dragging it down for some time. And people get confused about that distinction. And the Darwin myth was meant to clarify that. So, yeah. And then when you say that people just don’t even know how to fit into the evening news. 

Right. So let’s zero in on it. You empathize with anti evolutionists because you see how they’re afraid that evolution leads to Athie ism. You say that’s a legitimate concern. I get where you’re coming from. But then you are you. I mean, you kind of ridicule creationists for being anti scientific, for appearing kooky and irrational. So evolution is true. But for you, God did evolution and it doesn’t have to lead to atheist. 

Yeah. You know. No reason to exclude God from evolution in the same way, and this was only a kind of strange way to say it, that there is any reason to exclude the divine from cosmology. And they come in in similar points not to be to to abstract, but I don’t see any. I mean, I see every wonderful connection between the work that is done in regard to the anthropic principle in physics and astronomy and the notion that the universe has a definite starting point and it’s a fine tune orchestrated Big Blue, my call, not a big bang. And that evolution itself. You know, I would say this to Darwin is the problem with evolution is not that it occurred, but it’s so incredibly effective. It’s extraordinarily effective and I think to effective to be explained by natural selection alone. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m invoking Ghost his or direct miraculous intervention. I just think the view of nature held to by most reductionists is inadequate to explain nature itself. It also is the same view that excludes God. It’s a purely mechanical view and that if we have a much more robust view of nature, it’ll give us a more robust view of evolution, which doesn’t rely on the miraculous. 

So let me get in there. You mentioned cosmology and the fine tuning arguments, anthropic principle, that sort of stuff. Those arguments are generally used by creationists who say, look how this universe was so wonderfully designed just for us. So you’re okay using some kind of creationist arguments over there. But when you’re talking biology, you say you don’t need the kind of no nothing creationism. You can you can get into evolution. You can accept it. You can even accept evolution by natural selection as long as you don’t say it’s the only game in town. You say evolution by natural selection, but also other things happening. It’s it’s so amazing evolution that God had to have done it. 

Yeah. And of course, it would need to be, you know, I mean, in the cosmological aspect of things, I argue this more fully in a book called The Meaningful World. Mm hmm. Which which was a book about how science is really pointing toward toward a kind of a theistic conclusion. But it but it’s you know, and one I just want to correct one thing. I’m not anti creationists in regard to biology. What I don’t think they should do is try to try to make the facts of biology conform to a particular kind of literalist, fundamentalist biblical account. 

So the facts of biology should instead conform to the best we know in biology or the best we know of the natural world. And that’s called evolution. 

Well, it will be evolution understood in a much more expansive way, that is. And again, here I use this parallel with Marxism. You know, I imagine, you know, that Marxism held the day in economics for years here, two years, years. And so all you have is Marxist stuff. Well, a lot of it’s very good, but it’s extremely inadequate to describe what human beings are really like, you know? And the same thing with Freud, you know, you really can’t explain everything by the Oedipus complex. But he may be onto something there in regard to the way that the human psyche works. So the same is true for evolution. You know, there’s a lot of wonderful things in there. The question is, can natural selection at own? That is random variation in the genetic pool and a few other principles explain how it is that that’s complexity arises or are there other principle, even in the natural level, that we would need to add? And I’m arguing, yes, I think there’s a lot of them, but we’re sort of like recovering from Marxism in biology. You know, there’s a long way to go. 

Are you open minded enough that evolution by natural selection, Darwinism as Darwinism, not this broader version of evolution that you just talked about, can Darwinism you think ever? Are you open minded that it will ever completely explain our origins without needing to invoke unseen causes or the supernatural? 

Well, that’s that’s a false dichotomy for me in one way. If if if if Darwinism if Darwinism has to affirm some kind of very crude naturalism, reductionist view in order to exclude God, then I think that opening up our view of nature to go beyond that is the best thing for science. So it’s not an either or in that sense, it’s just you’ve got to shake off these kind of blinders. So that the science can take in. Greater things about human beings themselves. 

Right. But Labor’s explanation. But my question was, if you’re telling the Darwinists to shake off those blinders, are you open minded enough that you might have blinders on, that you might begin with the commitment that God exists and that you need to leave room for him in evolution? 

Yeah, I guess I would say this. I would make an historical point at the at the break of the late seventeen hundreds. There were still many flaws, Justinian out there. 

That is those that believe in chemistry believed in phlogiston, including Joseph Priestley, by the way. And Lavoisier’s came about and said, no, it’s not that way. It’s this way. I can take what you have put forward and I can transform it and come up with a much more cogent explanation that doesn’t run into the same kind of horrible anomalies and confusion. The phlogiston theory was but was a is now today understood is the real founder of modern chemistry. So yeah, I think we’re in the position right now that phlogiston denialism is the equivalent of Darwinism and we need a new account. And I think and I’m betting on that new account will vindicate itself. And I take it as a sign that Darwinism is broken down and that I’m in the right here by how absurd some of these explanations turn out to be. In trying to reduce everything to natural selection. So, yeah, it’s possible that natural selection might explain everything, but I think it is extremely unlikely. And there is there is, I would say, a kind of crisis in the science that somebody like Simon Conway Morris has been pointing to. 

Okay. I love how writers were finishing up. You open up a whole can of worms. But of course, I don’t share the view that there’s a big controversy over evolution within science, that there’s a big crisis within the theory. Sure, there are debates over all kinds of little things all the time. But obviously, big can of worms opened up. Writers were ending. So I want to end with the one last question I. I wanted to ask and you touched on it a bit just now, but in a more concrete way. Tell me where you see all this heading, the Darwinism that you’re attacking in this book. You think what, it’s going to go away in five years because of this crisis or in 25 years? Are the forces of goodness going to prevail against the evils of godless science? Or is it just gonna be this unending war till Jesus comes back? 

Well, who knows? Mike, you know, given my reading of human nature, I’m especially opposed to Grandview’s of historical schemes that have to turn out. This is that way. Right. Everything depends on what people do. You know, it would have been possible for people to sit in the Soviet Union for another three centuries and nothing ever happened in the same way that we could all still be phlogiston and have a very elaborate and strange chemistry. But all believe in it. So I have no idea. Everything depends on what people do. I do see some signs of hope and my end of things and the kinds of arguments that are coming out of anthropic the anthropic principle. 

Moreover, books like yours are an attempt to get people to do things to bring about change. Exactly. So this is kind of an activist primer as well. You’re trying to motivate people to get off their duffs and advance your Christian evolutionist agenda or I don’t know how you’d characterize it. I mean, you’re not a creationist, but you’re not just talking to academics in this book. You’re trying to get people to do stuff. 

Yeah. And I think, again, the book that I wrote, A Meaningful World How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, is really an attempt as to in broad brush strokes, but also in particular arguments show where science should head to expand properly. So it’s an attempt to show what does it mean to have a much broader, much more profound account of science that doesn’t have reductionist blinders on what it is, as you say, a kind of revolutionary program? 

Well, Dr Benjamin Weicker, really appreciate the discussion. Thank you for joining me on Point of Inquiry. 

Well, I appreciate it very much. You know, I can say that has been one of the best interviews I’ve had. I’d like a little more teeth in things. And that was fun. 

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DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.