How evolution challenges Christian ethics (01.03.12):
The notion that evolution undermines any objective morality is widespread in academic circles. Darwin taught this in The Descent of Man, and many contemporary evolutionists agree. Last summer I attended a conference on “The Evolution of Morality and the Morality of Evolution” at Oxford University. One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Michael Ruse, one of the most prominent philosophers of science today. He famously wrote in a 1985 article co-authored with E. O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology: “Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate.” Ruse has reaffirmed this position many times since then.
At that Oxford conference I presented a paper about the history of evolutionary ethics, showing that many evolutionists from Darwin to the present have rejected objective morality in favor of evolutionary ethics. Indeed I became interested in studying the history of evolutionary ethics when I was working on my dissertation in the early 1990s on the reception of Darwinism by German socialists. While researching this theme, I noticed that many Darwinists, both scientists and other scholars, wanted to replace Christian ethics with some kind of evolutionary ethics. Some hoped to construct a whole system of morality on evolutionary theory. Others dismissed this as misguided. However, most—including Darwin himself—tried to explain the origins of morality through evolutionary processes.
How Evolution Undermines the Judeo-Christian Sanctity-of-Life Ethic (01.04.12): Of six ways:
6. Darwinism revised people’s views about life and death. While the Christian worldview regards death as an enemy to be overcome, Darwinism presents death as the engine of evolutionary progress. Darwin stated in Origin of Species: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” Thus, in the Darwinian vision of the world, death is a good thing, and the more death, the more progress (because more death results from increased reproduction, which means more possible variations for natural selection to work with).
And third, in “How evolutionary ethics influenced Hitler and why it matters,” Third Reich historian Richard Weikart writes,
Hitler, like many other contemporary biologists and psychiatrists, argued that moral traits were biologically determined. He believed that the Aryans had the most advanced morality, as they were allegedly more loyal, honest, diligent, etc. On the other hand, he deemed Jews biologically immoral, since he blamed them for being lazy, mendacious, sexually lascivious, greedy, etc. Thus, by ridding the world of the Jews and replacing them with Aryans, Hitler in his own perverted view thought he was improving the world by banishing immorality and increasing morality.
Why does this matter? As many of my critics have pointed out, most Darwinists are not Nazis. So why should we care if the Nazis used Darwinism for their own perverted purposes?
While it is unlikely that anything quite like Nazism will ever spring from Darwinian premises again, there are many other ways that Darwinism is being used to devalue human life today (as I showed in my previous piece). Abortion is rampant, and eugenics and euthanasia are once again becoming fashionable in academic circles. While Darwinism is by no means the sole cause of this devaluing of human life, many prominent scholars, such as Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins, admit that it plays a significant role.
Here, we can’t wait to see how the Christian Darwinists will reconcile this sort of thing with Christianity.
Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress.