Darwinism and its effects

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 17th. Thanks for listening to WORLD Radio. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Darwinism and its effects. 

John West is vice president of Discovery Institute based in Seattle. That’s a think tank best known for its research and advocacy for Intelligent Design. 

West is also the author of several books, including Darwin Day in America. It tells how Charles Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution influences our culture today. 

WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick recently talked with West in Seattle. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.

DERRICK: So where have we seen Darwinian thought have an impact on society today?

WEST: I think the biggest impact actually has been in the area of faith. So, Darwin’s theory wasn’t just about change over time. It wasn’t just that things took a long time. It was that there was an unguided process, a mechanism that can’t see the future, that the way we developed—we’re part of an accidental process. 

So I think Darwin has been sort of the greatest gift to the people who would like to deny that God exists. Because you know, Darwinism doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but if you really think we’re the product of a blind, unguided process that didn’t have us in mind, that science proves it, then that really is the inspiration of what I’ve been calling the new atheist or the scientific atheist, people like Richard Dawkins, like Sam Harris, like Daniel Dennett, garden variety people, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

So I think that’s one of the biggest things. But I think people don’t realize that it’s gone way beyond that. So it’s not just sort of a denial or discounting of faith. We’ve seen Darwinism used to devalue human life. So Darwin thought basically there was no fundamental difference between humans and the higher animals and that humans, really, we’re just basically an animal. And also that we were developed through this process of survival of the fittest. 

As he talked about at the very end of his first book, On the Origin of Species, he basically says that it’s through things like death and disease and starvation and famine that the best things have come about in nature. So our creator is not a loving God who created and planned us from eternity, but is death, disease, starvation. 

Well, think about that and think about if you start applying it to how you treat human beings and to social policy. And that’s what people did. Because again, if we are just animals, and if the way that you determine what’s moral is by what you find in animal nature and then you apply it to human beings, that also has huge repercussions.

DERRICK: Well, it seems like perhaps some of these ideas tracing back to Darwin  aren’t as fully recognized because while people read On the Origin of Species, they don’t read The Descent of Man, where he sort of fleshed out some of the impacts of these ideas.

WEST: Exactly right. I have met even other scholars who have never read The Descent of Man, and they will pontificate about, “Oh, Darwin has nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with morality, it’s just about science.” And I say, “Have you read The Descent of Man?” Oh…no. 

Well, maybe you should read it, because that is where Darwin talks about religion, morality, mind, social policy, about how he actually thinks that we’re destroying the race, the human race, by inoculating people against smallpox. By vaccinating people, we’re destroying the race. By helping the poor, by saving the sick. These are things that—

DERRICK: We should let the weak die on their own.

WEST: —Correct. And now, Darwin was a kind and compassionate man and so he was somewhat ambivalent about these implications of his own theory, and he was sort of, you know, worried about it, but that’s what he thought the theory meant. 

And so he actually set up something where, if we followed what reason told us, we probably shouldn’t be doing these things to help the people he thought were defective. But our sympathy made us want to do it. And he was torn, but he really set up some nasty things in society by the way he framed things.

DERRICK: Right. Let’s drill down with a few of those areas that you mentioned, starting with the sexual revolution. How has Darwinian thought contributed to that?

WEST: Yeah, in The Descent of Man, Darwin talks about human mating practices. And he argues that the original form of human mating was not monogamy, it was basically community marriage by which he meant that you had lots of different sexual partners, maybe only pairing for one child, and then went on to someone else. His overall claim was that the appropriate mating practice was determined by whatever survival needs you had. And so it will change radically over time. 

And so although Darwin himself favored monogamy as something in 19th century Victorian England as a good thing, he set up the system that basically said that, well, you can’t say it’s always the right thing because depending on how nature changes, then you may have a radically different thing that is moral as a mating practice. And what many people don’t know is that the people who then started to make these arguments more widely of what became known as the sexual revolution were influenced by Darwin. 

Number one is Alfred Kinsey. Most people don’t know that Alfred Kinsey was trained as an evolutionary biologist. And in fact his first expertise was in the life of Gall wasps. And only later did he look at the human animal and human sexuality and he applied a very Darwinian framework of human behavior, which was basically if it happens anywhere in some subpopulation of human beings, then it’s equally natural with any other behavior and that that’s your standard. 

And so Kinsey, who is known as the godfather or father of the sexual revolution, was an evolutionary zoologist and got his framework from his training as an evolutionary zoologist. And he had huge impacts on how we understand, or I would say, misunderstand human sexuality.


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