Separating Darwin from Evolution

Below is a transcript from a Georgene Rice KPDO FM interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker, author of “The Darwin Myth:  the Life and Lies of Charles Darwin”. Dr. Wiker received his PhD from Vanderbilt University, taught at several universities and now writes full time as a senior fellow at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow at Discovery Institute.  He is also the author of several other books.

Georgene: Charles Darwin spread the myth that anything scientific could not include God; a myth which has grown to define science for the last 150 years.  He thought everything could be explained through natural selection without the help of a divine hand. So he deliberately left God out of his version of evolution known as Darwinism.  As Dr. Benjamin Wiker reveals in his new book, “The Darwin Myth:  the Life and Lies of Charles Darwin”, it was in this moment that science and God could no longer peacefully co-exist.  Dr. Wiker, this book takes a bit of a different approach in that you focus on Charles Darwin himself and some of the elements of his personality and priorities—not  necessarily the theory on its face, but what his contribution to the understanding of science has been over these last 150 years.

Wiker: Yes, I thought I would focus on his life as the backdrop of the Darwin myth. This is the year of Darwin.  It’s the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book, “The Origin of the Species”.  I wanted to show you the man behind the theory.  That’s the key: what was this man really like and why did he put forth the version of evolutionary theory he did?  We tend to identify Darwinism with evolution, and there are important reasons not to identify the two.

Georgene: You write 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, which is so profoundly misleading that it must be called a “great lie”.

Wiker: Yes, absolutely, because it’s still with us and going strong.  If you are currently a scientist, you are not allowed to express any wonder at creation because it may lead you to suspect that there is a creator.  In other words, you can’t mix religion with your science.  Darwin was part of a larger, secularizing movement that believed we were moving away from the dark ages—the religious ages, the age of superstition—to an enlightened, secular future.  And his version of the theory fit right in to this.  In other words, if you believe this, you realize you don’t need God anymore.  That has been the effect:  it has become entrenched in the scientific establishment.

Georgene: You make the point that this has distorted our understanding of the scientific evidence and debates about it.  It’s just as distorting to science as idealistic Marxism is to the study of economics.

Wiker: That’s the kind of connection I want people to make.  We so identify Darwinism with evolution that you think they are synonymous—one is the same as the other.  But it isn’t true any more than Marxism is the same as economic life and facts that we see out there. In Darwin’s own time, his allies pointed that out to him: that he did not need to have a Godless account.  In fact, on their take of evolution, it seemed to demand a creator, and that made Darwin furious because he did not want that.  And ever since, those who see God in the evolutionary detail and have no problem with the relation of science and religion are shut out or shouted down.  It’s time to reverse our understanding of evolutionary theory because we are going to find a lot of believers who affirm the theory.

Georgene: In your opinion, the worst lie was the one Darwin told himself: that he could have his moral cake and eat it too, pushing forward a Godless account of evolution that made morality a mere transient effect of natural selection, and at the same time, holding up particular moral traits.

Wiker: This is an interesting story.  “The Descent of Man” was written a little over ten years after “Origin of the Species”.   It came about because Darwin’s own allies pointed out to him that his theory of natural of selection did not explain the development of human beings—their moral and intellectual development, their aesthetic development in music and art—that natural selection was not sufficient.  They then began to take a theistic approach on the issue.  But Darwin attempted to explain it—that’s “The Descent of Man”—it made him reduce morality to the survival of the fittest.  When you do that it turns out pretty ugly.  For example, he hated slavery, but his own theory supported it.

Georgene: You make the point that Charles’ grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a preponderer of “transmutationism”, which was evolution by another name.  Please talk about his grandfather and the history of evolutionary thinking that predated Darwin by a significant amount of time.

Wiker: As it turns out, evolutionary theory is old—it goes all the way back to ancient Greece.  Charles’ grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, put forth a well-defined theory of evolution in a book 50 years before “Origins of the Species”.   It wasn’t a secret book in Europe.  Erasmus was very famous.  Robert Darwin, Charles’ father, also affirmed a kind of evolution.  So it was no shock when Charles Darwin came up with the evidence he did. He had a ready theory.  The question was:  what version would he put forth?  He definitely wanted evolution associated with his name, but he later confirmed others made contributions before him; however, he held that his version was unique. He was forceful about orchestrating a European-wide program for affirming his version of Darwinism in the scientific establishment.

You point out that his family heritage allowed him to breathe in evolutionary doctrines that had been in the air for almost a century—his upbringing sort of spawned the man he was and the way he moved his theory forward.

Wiker: Once you tell his story, you see why he came out with his theory.  What’s his background—religion?  No, he was a third generation enlightenment skeptic.  Erasmus, Robert and Charles were all part of the radical intellectual set.  The notion that he was a secret or open Christian is nonsense.

Georgene: “The Descent of Man”, which was an irrational reflex of ignorance in his treatise on religion was simply a revival of ancient Greek and Roman pagan philosophical views that downgraded religion as superstition and that was revived during the enlightenment and used directly against Christianity, so even that was not really original with Darwin.

Wiker: He had a ready made account of the rise of religion that itself was independent of evolutionary theory, and he put it out there as if it depended on natural selection when, in fact, it did not.  Again, that’s part of his radical skeptical upbringing.

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