The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (2009)
by Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D.
Regnery Publishing, Inc.
Hardcover: 196 pages
We entered the nineteenth century with Christian assumptions for the most part intact: that we were fallen but redeemable creatures made in the image of God. We exited in a godless cosmos, as mere animals who had managed, through much luck and struggle, to climb from unimaginably low origins to a little above the apes.
We couldn’t let The Year of Darwin elapse without giving some attention to the most overrated scientist of all time. In sharp contrast with Charles Darwin’s overblown scientific reputation, history has proven him to be perhaps the most effective of atheism’s field marshals in the long war against God. And as our book demonstrates, this was far from accidental.
The problem with Charles Darwin is not evolution itself, but his strange insistence on creating an entirely godless account of evolution. That evolution must be godless to be scientific is the Darwin Myth, so profoundly misleading that it must be called a great lie, one that is unfortunately at the heart of his life and legacy.
Benjamin Wiker’s The Darwin Myth is a very readable account of the development of both Charles Darwin as a man and Darwinism as a theory. Wiker admirably compresses Darwin’s personal history and the larger intellectual currents of the time into a relatively small space.
One of the more interesting aspects of Darwin’s life is the major and minor turning points in it which almost certainly resulted in important differences in the development of Western thought. If he had not been deflected from the course his life had been taking towards idle and aimless Bohemian dissipation (as it did with his brother Erasmus, a veritable real-life incarnation of Dorian Gray), the world might have been radically different from the one we know.
As the third-generation scion of well-to-do liberal Whigs (all atheists to the core), Charles Darwin was expected to make his mark on the world in whatever fashion he could, as long as he brought no discredit to the family. Steeped in the Enlightenment skepticism he inherited from both his boisterous grandfather Erasmus (author of Zoönomia, a treatise on biological evolution—called “transmutationism” in 18th century parlance) and his less flamboyant, more profit-oriented father, Charles was a relatively late bloomer.
Wiker strives to give a rounded picture of Darwin as a personally admirable individual who nurtured a morally repugnant theory. As a person, Darwin was generous to a fault to everyone around him and, except where “his” theory was involved, unfailingly kind and forthright in his interpersonal relationships. True, he was a lifetime trial for his Christian wife, but there is no record of him harming anybody else either physically or emotionally. As an able but ferocious naturalist who unremittingly collected specimens at every opportunity, however, he was a threat to all the flora and fauna that might be in his immediate vicinity.
“His” theory? Darwin’s chief failing, according to Wiker, was his unflagging determination to appropriate evolution as his own idea, despite the fact that the theory had been around, in one form or another, for centuries. Yet Darwin would become alarmed when some contemporary (such as Wallace) published anything in this area. It’s tempting to play amateur psychologist here and claim that Darwin was trying to compensate for feelings of inadequacy in failing to leave his mark on society, as his father and grandfather would have expected, but we shall forgo that. All Darwin could do was tweak the theory, able only to add details to a pre-existing framework established by other, more capable predecessors and colleagues.
In the final two chapters, Wiker connects Darwinism with Nazism and the eugenics movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wiker believes Darwin would have been appalled at Hitler and Stalin (no mention of Mao), but the social and political implications of Darwin’s godless theory would prove irresistible to ruthless dictators. Consciously or not, Darwin laid the foundation for people and nations to conquer and rule others because, according to him, amoral nature favors the strongest and fittest.
Wiker finishes his book by briefly sketching a theory of theistic evolution that he finds more congenial than either Darwin’s version or the anti-evolutionary worldview adhered to by combative Biblical literalists. In brief, it would appear that Wiker believes that evolution does occur, but is directed in some fashion by some kind of god.
Now for a show of hands: Who’s in favor of a year-long celebration of the life and accomplishments of a real scientist, Isaac Newton? The quadricentennial of Newton’s birth is only thirty-three years off, so there’s plenty of time to prepare.
Chapter 1—A Very Ordinary Boy
“Nothing in the childhood of Charles himself would have appeared to indicate future greatness. He was born on February 12, 1809, the very day that, half-way across the world in a log shack in Kentucky, Nancy Lincoln gave birth to Abraham, a boy with a likewise hidden destiny.”
Chapter 2—Theology School
“Had Darwin followed down this path [of natural theology] and pursued the more detailed theological training that would have led to his ordination, had he become a country parson propounding a theory of God-guided evolution, it is possible that the entire intellectual history of the West might have turned out differently.”
Chapter 3—The Great Adventurer
“Darwin seemed only dimly aware that his theory and his sincere humanitarian compassion, which expressed itself in his hatred for slavery, might be in some sort of essential conflict. It was an ambiguity he carried with him throughout his life, and one he bequeathed to us as a legacy.”
Chapter 4—Hatching the Evolutionary Plot
“Death, Darwin thought, was the key to life, a complete inversion of [his wife] Emma’s superstitious belief in a creator God and the idea that death was the punishment for original sin. Death was, is, and always will be, the creator. Unlike the biblical God, it does not pronounce everything good, it does not demand peace; instead it is the winnower of dross and imperfection, and by this means of culling surplus populations it creates a fitter species. War, the incessant struggle of creature against creature, species against species, is the true furnace of creation and progress.”
Chapter 5—One Long Argument, Two Long Books
“The problem was, of course, that Darwin himself had designed the theory to eliminate any connection to God whatsoever. He disagreed with [American Asa] Gray’s theological spin entirely, and was perhaps peeved by some of Gray’s implicit criticisms of his atheism, and the materialistic foundation of his argument.”
Chapter 6—Darwin Meets His Maker
“All the while, Darwin’s fame grew. He became completely identified with his theory; in fact, with evolution itself. In that identity, that fusion of one man’s account of evolution with evolution as such, Darwinism was born. The man and his theory became one in the popular mind, and since the popular mind is both the cause and effect of the more sophisticated minds, evolution came more and more to be defined in exactly the way that Darwin demanded. Even if the particular ‘mechanism’ of natural selection was criticized as inadequate to the task (which it soon was), the fundamental assumption that evolution had to occur by means that excluded God became a law of science.”
Chapter 7—What to Make of It All?
“Darwin’s account of the origins of religion was not the result of thoroughly sifting anthropological, evolutionary, and historical evidence; rather, the two-century old secular goal of eliminating religion by disparagement was the cause of people like Darwin searching for evidence to support it …. The truth of the matter is this: the methodical exclusion of divine causation was an assumption deriving from the particular secular Enlightenment goal of systematically excluding the divine as a matter of human progress. Darwin shared that vision and hence that goal, and it determined the way that he defined evolution …. The fundamental problem with Darwinism is not that it leads to Nazism, but that it can lead to anything …. What Darwin’s life proves, however, is that if evolution is godless then it cannot be moral. It proves it, not because Darwin himself was immoral, but because Darwinism cannot help but collapse morality into the survival of the fittest.”
Chapter 8—Darwin and Hitler
“Darwin was partial to considering Englishmen übermenschen rather than Germans as the chief candidates for übermenschenhood, but that was a matter of national pride rather than science, and it was the purported science that was important, because Darwinism provided powerful, scientific grounds for anti-Semitism.”
Chapter 9—Christianity and Evolution
“Evolution is a fact, the marvelous and still largely mysterious complex of evidence that gives every indication that nature is a spectacular work in progress. This distinction allows me to say a most astounding thing: one can heartily accept evolution on scientific grounds and roundly reject Darwinism on scientific, philosophical, moral, and theological grounds.”