Is Darwinism Finished?

(This article first appeared here in Christian Today.    Already the Fundamentalist Darwinists have provided proof of paragraph 3 – the mockery, outrage and abuse have begun.   The apple of their idolatry has been touched!) 

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that ‘of making many books there is no end and much study wearies the body’ (12:12). As someone who reads many books every year I can testify sometimes to the weariness as well of the refreshment of it. Sometimes you wonder, with tens of thousands of new books being published every year whether there is anything left to be said. But occasionally one pops up that is genuinely a game-changer.

In this scene from the upcoming movie “Creation,” Charles Darwin (played by British actor Paul Bettany) arrives at Tierra de Fuego.

AN Wilson’s Charles Darwin – Victorian Mythmaker is one such book. The fact that the man who wrote God’s Funeral is now writing about the death of Darwinism is sure to have ruffled feathers. And it has.

The prophets of Darwin have gone berserk. Darwinian scientists from Steve Jones to Adam Rutherford have questioned the book’s science and challenged its history. Actually, to say ‘questioned’ is somewhat of an understatement. Their apoplexy at Wilson makes even the most vehement Christian disagreements seem like the proverbial storm in a vicar’s teacup. Rutherford calls the book ‘deranged’ and states that Wilson would fail basic school biology.

But there is much for the church to learn from this book. It is, as always with Wilson’s books, superbly written and well researched…and of course provocative. I loved it.

The Science

Let’s deal with the science first. Strangely enough, this was not the most important part of the book for me. The basic thesis is that Darwin was a superb naturalist but that his evolutionary theory of natural selection was largely plagiarised and ultimately has proven to be wrong. Wilson doesn’t question the age of the earth, nor the theory of evolution as such. But he does suggest that the theory of evolution as taught by Darwin is deeply flawed, and that modern science owes more to Mendel’s genetics than Darwin’s view of natural selection through sex and the strong overcoming the weak. He cites well-known scientists such as the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and the biologist EO Wilson in support of his position.

Justification without Guilt

What fascinated me was the suggestion by Wilson that Darwinism became so popular because it suited the needs of the Victorian middle classes who wanted to be able to enjoy their superiority and wealth and justify it without guilt.(Wilson wrote the definitive book on The Victorians and has a great grasp of Victorian society).

Darwinian evolution provided that justification. The consequences of this were to have an incredible impact in the 20th century. As Wilson puts it: ‘It remains fair, however, to say that Darwin was a direct and disastrous influence, not only on Hitler, but on the whole mid-20th century political mindset.‘ Wilson documents and evidences the direct line between Darwinism, eugenics, and the Nazi philosophy that ultimately led to the Holocaust.

A few years ago I read the memoir of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary. Speaking of Hitler she testified:

‘Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened. He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said. ‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first.

‘Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.’

Darwin’s influence on another great mind whose influence would affect the 20th century profoundly was witnessed at Marx’s funeral in 1883 in Highgate cemetery in London, where Frederick Engels declared: ‘Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in human nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.’

The Consequences

Darwin, Freud and Marx were the three great influences who made the 20th century to be what the historian Niall Ferguson called ‘Atheism’s failed century’. Freud and Marx have largely been discredited. Wilson now seeks to do the same to Darwin. You will have to read the book for yourself to see whether he succeeds or not.

Be Careful

But Christians need to be very careful here. If you are a young earth creationist don’t jump for joy too quickly! Wilson is not challenging what he regards as the accepted science – that the earth is billions of years old and that mankind was created by evolution.His specific challenge is to evolution by natural selection, through a gradual process, and involving the strong overcoming the weak.

What is however fascinating about his book is that it shows that ideas have consequences and that sometimes people hear what they want to hear. Darwinism, he says, ‘succeeded for precisely the reason that so many critics of religion think that religions succeed. Darwin offered to the emerging Victorian middle classes a consolation myth. He told them that all their getting and spending, all their neglect of their own poor huddled masses, all their greed and selfishness was in fact natural. It was the way things were.’

The Poor, the Wicked and the Religious

Darwin’s granddaughter Gwen asserted of her Darwin father and his brothers that they were ‘quite unable to understand the minds of the poor, the wicked, or the religious’. Darwin himself wrote: ‘It has been truly said that all nature is at war; the strongest ultimately prevail, the weakest fail…‘ That is not the philosophy of Christ.  Hitler was right.  The Church does indeed seek to keep alive ‘the weak, people unfit to live and those of an inferior kind’. Amen to that.

 David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter’s Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea


20 thoughts on “Is Darwinism Finished?

  1. Some on Amazon, though they’ve not read it, have rated it 1 * while at the same time posting a castigating review. Scientific method at its best.

  2. It’s not only Darwinism that’s been deconstructed of late but also Neo-Darwinism. As shown by the Royal Society meeting last November “Developments in evolutionary biology and adjacent fields have produced calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution”.

    The latest discoveries in Epigenetics have shown that many animals change programmatically instead of by random mutations. A good example of this can be seen here: https://sciencebulletin.org/archives/6478.html. The child changes because the parent has programmed it to do so in reaction to the environment (“The next generation is not only getting nutrition, it’s also getting information.”). This is clearly not a random process and random mutations simply can’t plan into the future like this.

    An issue I believe the church faces today is that many in the church, probably unknowingly, worship a different god. Any process that says God used death and suffering to create us makes God an ally of death, but scripture is clear (Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:26) that death is an enemy of God. Basic logic dictates that a god who is an ally of death cannot be the same God who is an enemy of death.

    To stand before God and accuse Him of being an ally of death is a terrifying thought. You’d have to have absolute proof that He created us that way, and with the latest evidence from Epigenetics that proof simply doesn’t exist. Yes, animals do change, because God has programmed them to adapt to different environments, perhaps mirroring the command to Adam and Eve to fill the earth.

    1. I’m sorry, James,
      but your convictions about death are both inadequate and overextended. You fail to notice that Romans 5:12 is very specific about human death being caused by the Fall. Your reasoning from death being an enemy produces a very shaky platform IMHO: we are not meant to base our faith on having the mystery of death sorted out but on hearing Jesus say both ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ and ‘Lazerus, come forth.’
      We do far better when we acknowledge that Scripture employs language about death that is either contradictory or can all-too-easily be made to appear to contradict. When we come against Biblical teaching that seems self-contradictory, it is usually a signal to us that we don’t understand the mystery that has yet to be revealed to us. Thus Death can both be the last enemy and ‘precious in the sight of the LORD’ because it is, in the end, mysterious.
      Yours,
      John/.

  3. The problem with the book is that it is full of factual errors aside from the actual science.

    The Science – the problem is actual scientists disagree with the basic stuff that AN Wilson has written because he got the science wrong. To think AN Wilson got anywhere close to actually backing up the assertion that Darwin was wrong is like me proclaiming the Jesus said Same Sex Marriage is biblically OK and everyone believing it.

    This is from a review on Amazon – “Wilson writes (twice) of an “ornithological society of London” where Darwin sent specimens. This was in fact the Zoological Society of London. For a writer on Darwin and his context to not know well the ZSL shows breathtaking ignorance.

    Equally breathtaking ignorance is shown of the large scholarly literature on Darwin. Wilson repeats the 1960s claim of anti-Darwin conspiracy theorist Loren Eiseley that the first 50 pages of Darwin’s first evolution notebook were suspiciously missing. They aren’t. They were located and published by 1967. How could anyone even vaguely competent to write a book on Darwin know so little of the literature on him?

    Wilson even describes and ridicules a “Darwinian” scenario with the ancestors of giraffes “straining their muscles in order to elongate their necks”. What!? Even the most casual research would show that this is Lamarckism, not Darwinism. But for Wilson, Darwin’s theory was the same as Lamarck’s and Vestiges.”

    Clearly facts are not important to AN WIlson

    “What is however fascinating about his book is that it shows that ideas have consequences and that sometimes people hear what they want to hear.”

    Oh come on. This is hardly revelatory. How many religious acts of terror throughout history have been justified by the “faithful” acting in a way they wanted, justified because of what they thought they heard in the pulpit. You think the kill the gays law proposed in Uganda was not the consequence of what people heard Christians preach?

    “People of an inferior kind” – I suspect that Hitler wasn’t just talking about the sick or unwell.

    1. Much to agree with, Douglas,
      about the sloppiness of some of the work. One would have thought that the missing pages error should have been picked up in the editorial process. I think, though, that David puts his finger on why the book will not and should not be ignored: Wilson knows about the Victorians and the reasons he gives about why Darwinism got such a good reception should cause us to examine ourselves. I don’t know if Wilson goes there, but much of the anti-Darwin response was also fatally undermined by Victorian vicious thinking. Instead of attacking Darwin’s flawed argument denying design, Victorian clergymen stood on their supposed dignity and objected that being descended from an ape was not a respectable notion. What about having been made from the dust of the ground?

      But just where is your evidence that Uganda is thinking about extreme sanctions against homosexuals because they have been listening to Christian preaching? It is more likely that such laws will be passed where people have not listened to Christian teaching on the subject. (Yes I know you can produce evidence of extreme anti-gay preaching in America but is it on the ground in Uganda? I think not.)

      Yours,
      John/.

      1. That’s interesting. Could you let us know which ‘basic’ facts he has got wrong? I have asked a few scientists and they think with a couple of small errors he has got it basically right. Of course the Dawkins types- for whom Darwin is a prophet are furious. But fury doesn’t equal fact or reason.

      2. Thanks for the wikipedia link, Douglas,
        At least one of the contributors to the article seems to have been more intent on presenting the views of Western Journalists than with primary sources. The journalists seem to have made a couple of errors in their turn: in assuming that three Western speakers at one conference would have more influence than the entire Ugandan Anglican communion; and by failing to notice that at least one of the Americans is an advocate of therapy rather than punishment. Complain about that if you will but it rather weakens the argument to say that when he said ‘cure’ the Ugandans thought he meant ‘kill.’

        Darwin’s denial of design was based on a misunderstanding. The Biblical narrative is one of Creation and Fall but the regnant natural theology of the day attributed to the created order a perfection that ignored the effects of the fall and a plenitude that denied the possibility of extinction. Darwin’s theory was a theodicy, since he wished to absolve God from responsibility for the errors in what had hitherto been thought of as his Creation.

        Yours,
        John/.

  4. Not one for the wish list. The ad hominem nonsense about Hitler is both insulting and irrelevant. The modern theory of evolution is either true or it isn’t; the fact that Hitler believed in his own twisted and absurd version of evolution does not determine its veracity or non-veracity – science does. And the fact is that the data overwhelmingly support the theories of evolution and natural selection. Either evolution happened or God made it look like evolution happened, just as young earth creationists believe that God made the earth look billions of years old, for reasons of his own. Is evolution a problem for Christianity? Many Christians say no, not at all. Personally I think it is a problem for evangelical Christianity, but it just has to be faced up to. It is true, simple as that, as true as the Copernican theory of the solar system, which most Christians now seem to accept without much trouble. I still find it almost impossible to believe that anyone who has properly studied the theory of evolution can believe that it is wrong. The problem, and it’s a massive problem, is that Christians are ‘studying’ evolution by reading Answers in Genesis and various anti-evolution books. I’m not saying don’t read them; ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ is quite good, I certainly learned a lot about Biochemistry from it. But please learn about the real theory. The website ’29 evidences for macro evolution’ is good, if a bit dated. ‘Is Darwinism finished’? No, of course it isn’t, not in either sense. A good journalistic title I suppose, but a silly question. ‘Intelligent Design’ on the other hand is finished. The only good thing about it was that it stimulated evolutionary biology in a rather similar way to the way ‘The God Delusion’ stimulated theology. Not a perfect analogy, because despite the claims of many of its detractors, evolutionary biology is science, not religion. Of course many secularists treat it as part of their quasi religious world view, but the strange thing is that none of the several atheists, humanists and secularists that I have discussed it with really understood the theory. Any more than Hitler did.

    1. Oh dear. I wish you would read what you are commenting on before you set off on a wee rant. Just a few points.

      1) Hitler didn’t believe in his own theory of evolution- he followed standard Darwinian ‘survival of the strongest’.

      2). Which ‘modern’ theory of evolution are you talking about? You do realise that many have moved on from Darwin and the Wilson is not disputing evolution?

      I would suggest that you take your time and read what you are commenting on before you comment?

    2. Mr Bevan – Are you suggesting that people such as myself didn’t properly study the theory of evolution, in my case during a degree course? The perspective used during this study was palaeontological and this thoroughly confirmed for me the validity of speciation and microevolution but was underwhelming when it came to macroevolution. I can assure you that the required reading didn’t include any material from “Answers In Genesis” or any other “creation ministry”. My views were (and are still) formed on the basis of “orthodox” scientific literature.

      I have not and do not read materials such as those of Answers in Genesis, as they are of no interest to me. You may find it (almost?) impossible to believe, but there are Christians who don”t seek to live in an echo-chamber where they will only encounter affirming views.

    3. O course the word ‘Evolution’ is a problem for evangelicals, Rhys,
      if only because it has been personified and overloaded to the point of idolatry. If someone wants to say that evolution is an abomination then I can see where they are coming from; the word itself has become a shibboleth and it sticks in the craw of many to pronounce it.

      This trap is now being set quite deliberately by those who should know that scientific progress is put at risk by their preoccupation with their semantic wargames. These pit diggers should know better: the Germanic contribution to physics, for example, was reduced from world leadership to also-ran simply because of the decision that German Science could ‘do without’ its Jews; and the point of the evolution trap is to exclude from science anyone tainted with a trace of Creationism. Also, pit diggers tend to fall into them temselves and they should know that.

      So it’s no good saying that evolution is ‘as true as the Copernican theory of the solar system’ when any fool in the street ‘knows’ that ‘evolution’ means ‘there is no God.’ When teachers of science want to bring their evangelical students on board with the scientific programme they can simply state that it is an established fact that there is a phylogenetic relationship between all living things thus far discovered and there are very good reasons why God should have created organic life in this way. We ought to know what at least some of these reasons are, of course, but that’s another story.

      Yours,
      John/.

  5. Darwinian orthodoxy was finished with a long time ago but the framers of modern evolutionary theory have been careful to honour Darwin by adopting the title ‘Neo-Darwinism’ for their position. Nowadays we would call Neo-Darwinism a paradigm and admit it as scientific thinking because it is ‘falsifiable.’ Paradoxically, Neo-Darwinists were unaware that the now-fashionable show of humility before inevitable change would be such a useful stick to use against ‘arrogant’ Christian claims about Truth and they’re landed with something called ‘the central dogma of molecular biology.’

    Now, just as calling something a central dogma gives contrarians, reactionaries and radicals a reason to attack it, so, attacking a revered figure for what he got wrong gives admirers a reason to shout all the louder about what he got right. If by ‘Darwinism’ we mean the sort of Darwin cult that saw his statue moved from the refectory of the Natural History Museum to the top of its staircase, then I suppose Wilson’s book is more likely to reinvigorate filiopietistic Darwinism than to finish it.

    Yours,
    John/.

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