Sunday, January 31, 2010

Noted Review: Darwinian Danger

Wiker, Benjamin. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2009. 196 Pages. Cloth. $18.45. (N)

On the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary of his birth, and the 150th anniversary of his publishing Origin of Species, Benjamin Wiker sorts through the life of Charles Darwin and gives a more historically accurate assessment of this influential man. For those who are bent on only demonizing Charles Darwin, Wiker gives a fair picture of Charles Darwin and gives credit where credit is due. Wiker shows also, however, that supporters of Charles Darwin have overestimated him and his work to the extent that true science has been affected. Wiker states in the introduction his purpose: “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” [x-xi]. Evolution is greater than Darwin.

The scientific community of the nineteenth century in England could be divided into two groups. One group is the Whig, and the other the Tory. Even though historic Christianity had been deconstructed in both groups, the Whig disregarded any form of religion. The Tory, in either form of Deism or Theism, saw the need of including God as an influence in science, creation, and society. Christianity was valuable only as promoting morality among the masses. Charles Darwin and his family were Whigs. This was influential in Charles Darwin life in that when he developed the theory of evolution it had to be mutually exclusive to any involvement of the supernatural. Even though there are passages in his writings where it seems that Charles Darwin was open to divine involvement, albeit minimal, Wiker shows the greater context of Darwin’s background and views and shows how such references of Darwin in the Origin of Species was to show his movement from superstition towards science. Wiker shows however that Darwin had long followed his father’s and grandfather’s view of not involving God in one’s view of creation.

Wiker illustrates that many renowned scientists of Europe did not agree with Darwin completely, only in part. Yet Darwin was determined to publish an account of evolution that included transmutation without any superstition. Wiker shows that it is here that Darwin was disingenuous. Darwin presented the theory of evolution as his theory, even to the exclusion of those who had similar ideas decades before. Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus, expressed similar views as his grandson’s in a book titled, Zoonomia. Wiker illustrates that there are a lot of ideas expressed by Charles Darwin that had been espoused by others, some centuries before that had become entrenched in European thought. The ownership that Charles Darwin took in the theory he would popularize even kept him from listening to his allies. Wiker writes, “The great historical irony is that even among his closest allies – Hooker, Huxley, Gray, Lyell, and Wallace – there were doubts about Darwin’s theory. It is precisely here, among his allies, that we find the most interesting evidence to contradict the notion that all good, intelligent, and honest men leapt immediately to the conclusion that Darwin was completely right” [107]. Wiker shows that a small group of scientists, who advocated Darwin’s theory, was able to eventually influence the scientific community so that his theory was the only theory of evolution that would be acceptable. Yet, to this day it is still presumed that “all good, intelligent, and honest men” will immediately leap to the conclusion that Darwin was completely right. For example, anyone who attempts to explain anything according to Intelligent Design, {a term not used by Wiker}, is automatically discounted. {See Ben Stein’s Expelled.}

Wiker shows how even the Whig’s point of view has been conceded and promulgated by those who would disagree with Darwin’s theory of evolution. For example, he talks about the debate between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley over evolution. The Whigish account of the debate makes Wilberforce look as though he was condescending and ignorant towards Huxley. Personally, I had a seminary professor share this interpretation of the debate with a class on creationism. I appreciated it very much that Wiker provides evidence and argument to the contrary on pages 100-103. Samuel Wilberforce was very much informed, civil, and winsome in his debate with Huxley. Even though Wilberforce would have spiritual concerns with Darwinian evolution, he ably presented scientific concerns with Darwin’s theory.

Wiker shows the connection of Darwin with Hitler. Though defenders of Darwin try to distance his theory of evolution to social engineering, Wiker shows that there is a definite connection between Darwin’s two books, Origin of Species and the Descent of Man with Hitler’s design of social engineering, that is establishing the Aryan Race. Wiker, though, speculates that Darwin himself would have been “absolutely mortified” with Nazism. But he wonders if it would have been enough for Darwin to give up Darwinism itself, [164.]

He indicates that there were other forces at play that allowed the Holocaust. In passing, Wiker includes in the same sentence anti-Semitism and Luther. Just as it is important to address the Darwin myth, so is it important to finally acknowledge and dismiss the Shirer myth. For that task I refer readers to Uwe Siemon-Netto’s book, The Fabricated Luther: the Rise and Fall of the Shirer Myth. I am not sure what Wiker’s particular view is on this matter, since his comment is only in passing and tangential to the argument of his book.

In the last chapter of Wiker’s work he breaks down how Christians today respond to evolution. Wiker addresses and distances himself from those “fideist” Christians who outright dismiss any kind of evolution and believe in a young earth. In fact, he says on page 166, “Needless to say, Christians of this camp appear entirely irrational and unscientific.” This reviewer wonders if Wiker is aware that today there are some scientists who argue for a young earth for scientific reasons. If one were to apply Wiker’s premise in addressing the Darwin myth, then it would be fair to listen to all scientists regardless if one is associated with “literalist” view of scripture.

He also addresses and distances himself from that group of “rationalist” Christians who uncritically have accepted the Darwin Myth that the theory of evolution must be a godless theory. One may apply what Wiker says to the problem of a liberal church that has given up divine revelation. If God no longer sets the agenda for the church through His Word, then culture and government are left to fill that void. Countless Christians who had accepted the Darwin Myth had no basis to resist Nazism.

Wiker offers a third option to the “fideist” and “rationalist” Christians with the “reasonable” Christian. The “reasonable” Christian avoids both extremes. Revelation and a theory of evolution can coexist. However, God’s revelation in scripture has precedence over nature.

The Darwin myth continues to be perpetuated in academia and Christianity to this day. Wiker serves us well by presenting in one hundred seventy-one pages information that helps us see more accurately the life and work of Charles Darwin. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, by Benjamin Wiker is well written, easy to read, and very informative. This would be a great resource for any High School or college student of history, science, and religion. I am glad it is now in my library.

Reviewer: The Rev. Richard Neugebauer is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Gering, Nebraska and serves as First Vice President of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.