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Darwin matters

The influence of evolutionary thinking reaches far beyond biology

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Our Books of the Year story assumes that teaching about creation or evolution is important-but is it? After all, we are entering a campaign season in which the debate will focus on healthcare, government spending, and other hot issues. We don't have time to discuss theories, do we?

We should make time for one big reason: If Darwin was right the Bible is wrong, and we are foolish to follow it. But evolutionary thought that ignores God also has other effects of which we may be unaware. (Ask a fish about water and he's likely to reply, "What's water?"-if he's sufficiently evolved to be a talking fish.) The theological objections to macroevolution are literally crucial because they tell us whether the Cross was necessary, but some secondary issues are also worth pondering.

Politics. Woodrow Wilson started federal government expansion in 1912 by opposing the "Newtonian" view that the government should have an unchanging constitutional foundation, somewhat like "the law of gravitation." He argued that government should be "accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. . . . Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice." Wilson was the president who started the modern pattern of disregarding the Constitution, and in the 2012 election we will either start a second century of governmental expansion or yell, "Stop!"

Economics. Evolutionary thinking influenced not only Social Darwinists but socialists like H.G. Wells who thought it was time to advance beyond competitive enterprise. (Karl Marx in Das Kapital called Darwin's theory "epoch making" and told Friedrich Engels that On the Origin of Species "contains the basis in natural history for our view.") Many books and articles have linked Darwin's thought to Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Hitler: Darwin is obviously not responsible for the atrocities committed in his name, but evolutionary theory plus his musings about superior and inferior races provided a logical justification for anti-Semites and racists.

Sex. The mid-20th century's most influential academic was probably Alfred Kinsey, whose high-school classmates half-jokingly called him the "Second Darwin." Kinsey's 1948 and 1953 books on sexuality contended that adultery is normal and homosexual experiences not uncommon, for "the mammalian backgrounds of human behavior [made it] difficult to explain why each and every individual is not involved in every type of sexual history."

(Later, researchers found that Kinsey's stats were cooked, but in the meantime the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code, published in 1955, had a major effect in eliminating or reducing penalties for sex crimes: "Virtually a Kinsey document," one biographer called the Code. More recently, John West's Darwin Day in America cites textbook claims that casual sex is an evolutionary adaptation that gives "obvious reproductive advantages"-and we should not raise our standards because "we cannot escape our animal origins.")

Abortion. Evolution proponents contributed mightily to its legalization, and in a way more direct than the general teaching that human life has no intrinsic value. Robert Williams, president of the Association of American Physicians, said in 1969 that "the fetus has not been shown to be nearer to the human being than is the unborn ape." He talked of "the recapitulation of phylogeny by ontogeny"-the mistaken theory that an unborn child's development mimics purported evolutionary progress. The most influential pro-abortion legal expert during the 1960s, Cyril Means, argued that babies are sub-human-and the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision played off his mean-hearted briefs.

Infanticide. I debated Princeton's Peter Singer in 2004 and had several conversations with him about his defense of infanticide. That year he said, "All we are doing is catching up with Darwin. He showed in the 19th century that we are simply animals. Humans had imagined we were a separate part of Creation, that there was some magical line between Us and Them. Darwin's theory undermined the foundations of that entire Western way of thinking about the place of our species in the universe."

We could run through many more areas. Daniel Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea hit it right: Darwin created a "universal acid" that eats through any "meaning coming from on high."

Email molasky@wng.org

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Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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