The effects of Darwinism on society, part II

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 25th. Thanks for listening. Good morning to you!  I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: More from author John West. 

West is the vice president of Discovery Institute, a think tank based in Seattle. He’s also the author of Darwin Day in America. It’s a book that explores the effects of Darwinian thought on modern culture. 

Last week we aired the first part of a conversation West recently had with WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick. Today, part two.

DERRICK: What about crime and punishment? How did Darwinian thought, how has it affected that?

WEST: Darwinian thought was like a lot of 19th century scientific thought, which was known as reductionism, which tries to reduce everything about us, our beliefs, our moral beliefs, our actions, to just the product of blind matter in motion. It’s not our free choice, our environment dictates it, or our heredity dictates it. Today we say our genes made me do it.

And Darwin himself talked about, in his own private notebooks, about the delusion of free will. Really particularly in criminal justice. There was a noted evolutionary criminologist who wrote a book called Criminal Man that basically argued that crime was a relic of natural selection, that basically people murdering, raping, stealing, those things were bred into us by evolution for survival. 

And then, so now, when our environment has changed, where those aren’t as functional, they’re a throwback to our earlier stages of evolution. And so that people who are engaged in crime were these evolutionary throwbacks and they should be treated as that.

DERRICK: What about issues related to race, like racial superiority?

WEST: Yeah. Darwin certainly was not the world’s first racist. There were many Christians who’ve been racist. There were people who doubted Darwin’s theory who were racist. Having said all that, you’re really avoiding history if you don’t understand the role that Darwin played in the flourishing of virulent scientific racism. 

So in Darwin’s view, everything about humans ultimately can be explained by this process of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, acting on these random variations in nature. And the point here is that natural selection acts on a population of individuals according to the environment they’re in. So it selects for things that help you survive in a particular environment, in a particular population. 

And so Darwin said, we shouldn’t expect that natural selection—because it acts on different populations differently according to different environments—that it produces races of equivalent capabilities. We should in fact expect races to have significant differences in their mental capacities, among other things. 

And so it wasn’t so much that Darwin was just a residual racist like everyone was racist at his time. It was that he actually provided a scientific agenda, a research agenda, if you will, for several decades of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists and people enamored with IQ testing and all sorts of people to actually look into, try to show, just how the races were inherently unequal because in a Darwinian sense, that’s what they were expecting to find.

And fortunately, mercifully, that is not the mainstream scientific view today. It was for a long time. And pretty much it wasn’t because of the scientists that it’s not today. I’d say the civil rights movement, many religious leaders like Martin Luther King and many others who, based on Christian convictions, really pushed back on this, made that unfashionable.

DERRICK: Shifting gears a little bit now, as scientific research continues to undermine Darwin in certain ways and strengthen the Intelligent Design case, I’m wondering if we’re seeing any sort of reevaluation of some of these associated ideas?

WEST: I think the challenge is that although there are a growing number of voices in the scientific community and outside the scientific community who are raising questions about Darwin’s theory and who are pointing to the evidence of design, that it’s still true that the cultural cache of this Darwinian reductionism is pretty powerful and particularly powerful in the social sciences and in the nonscientific realm. 

And in fact in some ways, more powerful in the non-scientific realm. Because once it entered culture, I mean things like political science, sociology, psychology, these all took their presuppositions from 19th century natural science, including Darwin. And they’re just accepting them as a truism. 

And so I would say, I guess, in the area of faith, that some of the garden variety claims that you still get from people like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, that science, particularly Darwinian science, shows that we’re the product of this unguided process, I do think have been being pushed back more. And that sort of village atheism I think is getting harder to sustain. 

And you see certainly in the area of physics and cosmology, lots more people talking about the exquisite fine tuning that leads to life. And then in biology you talk about the exquisite molecular machines, the exquisite fine tuning in fact of our protein structure and things that is making it harder to sustain that sort of claim that science supports atheism. So I do think you’re seeing some positive things there.

DERRICK: How can the average Christian affect the cultural conversation around Darwinian evolution?

WEST: I think the number one thing that any Christian can do is be responsible for those in your circle of influence. Don’t fret if you don’t have 100,000 people listening to you on YouTube or on Facebook or something, but pay attention to your own kids. Pay attention to the kids of your friends.  

I have to say that even in evangelical conservative churches, a lot of parents, bluntly, farm out the raising of their kids to someone else. 

And now it may be that if you’re a parent, you’re doing that because you feel ill-equipped. And that I can really understand. There’s good news for you. There are lots of great resources with various groups on how to talk about these things and watch things with your kids. There are great videos and documentaries out there that you could just spend—you don’t need to be an expert, but just watch with your kids once a week and engage them in discussion around the dinner table and ask them some questions. And you’d be surprised. If you get them young enough, you really have more influence on your kids than anyone else. 

And if you only do one thing with your life, if you invest yourself in your kids, our culture would be tremendously better.

(Photo/Ganjiro Kuma)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “The effects of Darwinism on society, part II

  1. Terese Hummel says:

    Terrific mini-series with practical application! More on this, please?! Maybe the effects of other major cultural/thought shifts, if you feel that the Darwinian-influence angle has been tapped enough, for now?

    Thank you!

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