Intelligent Design

Ben Wiker lists 10 books that screwed up the world and explains how

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If you got a bit of birthday money, Ben Wiker’s 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: and 5 Others That Didn’t Help would be a good use of your dimes.

Wiker, senior fellow at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, is also the author of Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists.

Wiker makes clear that he is not saying that the books he criticizes should be censored, still less that you shouldn’t read them. He encourages us all to read them – critically appreciating the fundamental defects, warps, and wrongness of the ideas. These ideas underlie and help to explain many disorders of popular culture today. Unfortunately, however, they are usually treated with sanctified solemnity in hushed lecture halls, presided over by establishment figures who may be alarmed by criticism.

For example, we often hear people say “If it feels good, do it!”, “Feelings matter way more than facts,” or “He can’t help doing that, it’s his genes/hormones/upbringing/society.” One aspect of fixing the problem is exploring the origin of such ideas and asking people to think critically about them.

It is amazing how many of these key works relate to the intelligent design controversy.

Wiker starts with four books that he considers “preliminary” screw-ups (books that didn’t help):

– Machiavelli’s The Prince (on how to govern without morals and get away with it)

– Descartes’s Discourse on Method (a failed attempt to rescue us from materialism),

– Hobbes’s Leviathan (on why morals don’t really matter), and

– Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men (more of same).

Wiker discusses the books in order of writing, not “worst”-ness)

About the worldview offered by The Prince specifically, Wiker says,

As we shall see in subsequent chapters, yielding to the temptation to do evil in the service of good will be the source of unprecedented carnage in the twentieth century, so horrifying that to those who lived through it, it seemed hell had come to earth (even though it was largely perpetrated by people who had discarded the notion of hell). The lesson learned – or that should have been learned – by such epic destruction is this: once we allow ourselves to do evil so that some perceived good may follow, we allow ever greater evils for the sake of ever more questionable goods, until we consent to the greatest evils for the sake of mere trifles. (p. 14)

As an example, he cites a recent report that women in the Ukraine were being paid $180 for their babies – to be aborted and used in beauty treatments. Few, even among the most strongly pro-choice, would want to think of abortion as a means of making some spare cash – yet that is apparently what happened.

Machiavelli, whose style is copied by many modern politicians, counselled the importance of merely appearing to be religious – appearing at prayer breakfasts, endorsing “values,” and … and then … enacting what sort of legislation?

Discussing Descartes’s Discourse on Method, Wiker addresses Descartes’s famous claim, “I think, therefore I am”:

… it is simply ridiculous to single out thinking as the act by which I know I am existing. One could just as easily use hearing, smelling, or coughing … I am not denying that thinking is more fundamentally human than hearing, smelling, or coughing, but only calling attention to the point that Descartes’ argument is not somehow essentially tied to thinking. It is only this: that while I am doing X (whatever X is), I cannot doubt my existence because I have to exist to do X.

Many people who have awakened from deep unconsciousness to considerable pain will understand what Wiker means: You hurt, therefore you exist. The nature of your existence remains to be determined.

Also, he asks,

If Descartes is the father of modern dualism, what does dualism itself beget? A walking philosophical bipolar disorder, a creature who dwells in dual extremes, either as wholly a ghost or entirely a robot. One day he feels that he is a god, a purely spiritual being, capable of completely mastering and manipulating all nature (including his own body) as he would any machine, and the next day believes that he is a purely material being, a helpless machine entirely mastered by the mechanics of nature. Our culture has seen plenty of both phases.

About Rousseau and Hobbes, he comments,

If we might be a bit glib, whereas Hobbes’s men in the state of nature were gorillas – nasty, brutish, and curiously short – Rousseau’s primitive men were suave, peaceful, innocent, carefree, and cheerfully libidinous bonobos. Rousseau therefore gave us a new Adam, a carefree, make-love-not-war ancestral archetype who became the societal ideal of the “free love” movements. (p. 45) The modern “evolutionary psychology” movement is largely dedicated to giving Hobbes’s and Rousseau’s imaginings the veneer of science, by explaining how these conflicting origins of human behaviour supposedly promoted our survival.

But now, here are Wiker’s ten key books, and a brief comment on their relation to the current intelligent design controversy, as it plays out in popular culture:

Ten Worst Books 1: Marx and Engels’s The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)

Ten Worst Books 2: John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism (1863)

Ten Worst Books 3: Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871)

Ten Worst Books 4: Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Ten Worst Books 5: V. I. Lenin’s The State and Revolution (1917)

Ten Worst Books 6: Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization (1922)

Ten Worst Books 7: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925)

Ten Worst Books 8: Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927)

Ten Worst Books 9: Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

Ten Worst Books 10: Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)

The fifth book that didn’t help? Betty Friedan’s the Feminine Mystique (1963)

15 Replies to “Ben Wiker lists 10 books that screwed up the world and explains how

  1. 1

    As a Libertarian, I strongly agree with Wiker’s inclusion of Marx & Engels, Mill, Nietzsche, Lenin, Sanger, and Hitler in his list. As a sociobiologist, I also agree with his inclusion of Sanger, Freud, and Mead in his list, as their “science” wasn’t empirical, and was driven primarily by ideology. I think that Kinsey’s work, while flawed, set the stage for the empirical analysis of human sexuality, which has resulted in the betterment of many people (e.g. people with sexual disfunctions, such as dyspareunia and impotence).

    The interesting case is, of course, Darwin’s Descent of Man. As I take pains to point out to my students, this book is inferior to his Origin of Species, which I note is not included in Wiker’s list. The difference between these two books is essentially the difference between speculative inference (in the case of the Descent) and empirical inference (in the case of the Origin). At the time Darwin wrote the the Descent) not much was known about either anthropology or primatology, and so his speculations were based on what, on hindsight, was pretty thin evidence. There are multiple places in the Descent where Darwin walks out onto thin ice on the basis of meager anthropological evidence (often further compromised by Victorian racial and gender stereotypes).

    By contrast, his Origin of Species is the paradigm for 19th century science. In it, Darwin proposed an empirically testable hypothesis for the origin of adaptations and descent with modification, an hypothesis that resulted in the transformation of the “hobby” of natural history into the science of biology. The fact that his theory has been superceeded in some respects detracts not at all from its importance, and it is therefore quite fitting that Wiker did not include it in his list.

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    Well, Allen, nine-and-a-half out of 10’s not bad.

  3. 3
    rocketsurgeon says:

    What, no mention of “Catcher in the Rye”, or “Huckleberry Finn”, or “Book of Mormon” or “Quran”?

  4. 4
    allanius says:

    Thanks, Denyse! Great list! Brought a smile of joy to my face just to hear them outed in a public way.

    When I see a list like this, it makes me hopeful that there’s remnant somewhere out there that hasn’t succumbed to postmodern madness.

    And Tribune…you kill me.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Allen_MacNeill @ 1

    As a Libertarian, I strongly agree with Wiker’s inclusion of Marx & Engels, Mill, Nietzsche, Lenin, Sanger, and Hitler in his list.

    I can understand why Wiker included it but I am a little surprised to see Allen MacNeill – as a self-proclaimed libertarian – applauding the inclusion of Mill’s Utilitarianism on that list.

    As a minor point and with no intention of minimizing the significance of Mill’s little book, how many people, I wonder, have actually read it? I would argue too few to have any significant effect on the world, whether by screwing it up or otherwise, and that works by Marx or Hitler have had a far more devastating effect than the entire body of Mill’s work. And, although I would not have expected Wiker to have included it, what shall we say of the Bible where – probably misguided – interpretations of what it teaches have been responsible for far more suffering over the span of human history than, again, all of Mill’s work put together.

    The major point, however, is that it is, on the face of it, incongruous that any human being could deplore a philosophy which advocates human happiness as a foundation for justice and morality. While there are legitimate criticisms of it on the grounds of the difficulty of implementing it in practice – we do not have a felicific or hedonic calculus with which to quantify human happiness as yet – if you do not use happiness what would you put in its place, some atavistic Puritanism which regards all pleasure as sinful and that suffering is good for the soul?

  6. 6
    tribune7 says:

    And, although I would not have expected Wiker to have included it, what shall we say of the Bible where – probably misguided – interpretations of what it teaches have been responsible for far more suffering over the span of human history . . .

    I would say that you don’t know history.

  7. 7
    jjcassidy says:

    And, although I would not have expected Wiker to have included it, what shall we say of the Bible where – probably misguided – interpretations of what it teaches have been responsible for far more suffering over the span of human history . . .

    I would say that you don’t know history.

    I second that.

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    Tribune7 @ 6

    And, although I would not have expected Wiker to have included it, what shall we say of the Bible where – probably misguided – interpretations of what it teaches have been responsible for far more suffering over the span of human history . . .

    I would say that you don’t know history.

    As mentioned in another thread, the well-documented persecution of the Jews over many centuries in Europe, with Martin Luther’s diatribe being a prominent, although by no means the only, example.

    The Crusades

    The Albigensian Crusade

    The Inquisition

    The Thirty Years War

    Granted that these examples do not represent what Christianity means today for most of its followers and it says nothing about all the good work that has been done in its name. But the fact remains that nothing Mill wrote has inspired anything remotely like that amount of bloodshed and suffering. For Wiker to include Utilitarianism in that list but not the Bible, while as I said not unexpected, nonetheless shows a strange sense of proportion.

  9. 9
    tribune7 says:

    Seversky

    It’s funny when those who hate Christianity — and those who imply that it is better that the Bible had not been written hate Christianity — invariably bring up the same tired points, as if wars and oppression due to cultural conflict somehow did not exist before Christ (or Moses).

    They fail to even consider how many people were not killed who would have been otherwise. Consider the Roman policy towards conquered people. Consider the Roman policy towards undesired infants. And Rome was a civilized pagan society.

    The slaughters mandated in the Old Testament? That was SOP in pre-Christian societies. Kill the men enslave the women and children. Or just kill everybody.

    To even imply the Bible was not a huge advancement in decency is ignorance, arrogance and emotional blindness.

    With regard to Mill, his concept that social policy should be to maximize happiness has led to tens of millions of dead babies.

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    Tribune7 @ 9

    It’s funny when those who hate Christianity — and those who imply that it is better that the Bible had not been written hate Christianity — invariably bring up the same tired points, as if wars and oppression due to cultural conflict somehow did not exist before Christ (or Moses).

    It is possible to hate some of the acts that have been committed in the name of Christianity – and the people who have committed them – without hating the religion itself. As you say, wars and oppression existed before Christianity, just as racism and genocide existed before Darwin.

    The slaughters mandated in the Old Testament? That was SOP in pre-Christian societies. Kill the men enslave the women and children. Or just kill everybody.

    …which was why I did not cite pre-Christian atrocities.

    To even imply the Bible was not a huge advancement in decency is ignorance, arrogance and emotional blindness.

    There is no question in my mind that the Bible contains some fine teachings and unimpeachable moral prescriptions but you do have to ‘cherry-pick’ them. There are other parts that are deeply offensive to our way of thinking today. A Christian acquaintance of mine explained it on the grounds of Christ making a New Covenant with Man on behalf of God which replaced much of the Old Testament law. Whether other Christians would accept this as sound doctrine I cannot say.

    With regard to Mill, his concept that social policy should be to maximize happiness has led to tens of millions of dead babies.

    If you are referring to abortions, I have never heard Mill being quoted as a justification although that does not mean he hasn’t. He did not believe that we should maximize our happiness at the expense of that of others, though.

  11. 11
    tribune7 says:

    Seversky

    It is possible to hate some of the acts that have been committed in the name of Christianity – and the people who have committed them – without hating the religion itself.

    If you think the Bible is a book best not written, you hate the religion itself.

    There is no question in my mind that the Bible contains some fine teachings and unimpeachable moral prescriptions but you do have to ‘cherry-pick’ them.

    Firstly, it is the justification for war and oppression that requires the “cherry picking”

    Secondly, if you have to say the commands to love your neighbor, your enemy, do unto others, show mercy, forgive, he who is without sin etc. are ancillary to commands about not letting witches live and slaughtering Jebusites then such selective interpretation completely makes the case about having an irrational hatred for the religion.

    If you are referring to abortions,

    I’m not saying Mill was a bad person, I’m agreeing that he wrote a bad and destructive book, that caused damage he may not have foreseen, and policies that perhaps he would not support.

    The notion that it is somehow merciful to kill an unwanted child is a utilitarian view, and one I think we’ve all heard expressed.

    And if you raise children with the view that happiness (i.e. satisfaction, personal fulfillment) is the goal you will end up with a far different culture than one if they were raised to beware of the broad path to the wide gate, and to do what’s right even if it hurts.

    And ironically, I think, you would have much more happiness in the latter type of society.

  12. 12
    StephenB says:

    —–tribune 7 “And if you raise children with the view that happiness (i.e. satisfaction, personal fulfillment) is the goal you will end up with a far different culture than one if they were raised to beware of the broad path to the wide gate, and to do what’s right even if it hurts.”

    I like the way you put that.

  13. 13
    tribune7 says:

    Thank you, SB.

  14. 14
    Seversky says:

    Tribune7 @ 11

    If you think the Bible is a book best not written, you hate the religion itself.

    Neither is true for me.

    The notion that it is somehow merciful to kill an unwanted child is a utilitarian view, and one I think we’ve all heard expressed.

    Yes, but it is also a very narrow view of utilitarianism and not one to which Mills would have subscribed, I suspect. Quite apart from the fact that it is far from certain that aborting an unwanted pregnancy actually makes the parents much happier, there is also the possibility that it deprives another couple of the great amount of happiness that raising the unwanted child would have brought them.

    And if you raise children with the view that happiness (i.e. satisfaction, personal fulfillment) is the goal you will end up with a far different culture than one if they were raised to beware of the broad path to the wide gate, and to do what’s right even if it hurts.

    What makes you think that wanting happiness for yourself must exclude wanting happiness for others as well?

  15. 15
    tribune7 says:

    Seversky–

    Neither is true for me.

    Fair enough

    What makes you think that wanting happiness for yourself must exclude wanting happiness for others as well?

    I do not think that and there is certainly nothing wrong with being happy. The problem comes in declaring happiness to be the goal rather than doing what’s right.

    Sometimes doing what’s right makes you very unhappy along with most other people.

    Did Mill surplant sacrifice with selfishness in our culture? I think for many he did.

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