Over the years I have written books and articles explaining how scientific materialism and Darwinism have had a dehumanizing impact on us (most recently, in The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life, which includes a couple of chapters dealing with Darwinism and other chapters dealing with materialist philosophies more generally). I am persuaded that viewing humans as merely a chance conglomeration of chemicals thrown together over eons has profound implications for how we treat each other.
This is not just a theoretical point. In From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany I provided much historical evidence demonstrating that Darwinism and scientific materialism influenced the way that its adherents thought about ethics and humanity. Many leading Darwinists have themselves insisted that Darwinism undermines any notion of human rights. Many atheists and materialists have likewise insisted that disbelief in God entails disbelief in any objective morality or human rights.
My work has often been greeted with howls of protest. How dare I suggest that Darwinism influenced eugenics, the euthanasia movement, and Nazi ideology, among other things?
A new sociological study, What Is a Human? What the Answers Mean for Human Rights (Oxford University Press), provides powerful corroboration of my position. John H. Evans, a sociologist at UC San Diego, wanted to figure out if people’s vision of humanity influenced their position on human rights. He identified three main views of humanity that dominate the academic debate: the theological view, the biological view, and the philosophical view. The theological view is the Judeo-Christian position that considers humans created in the image of God. The biological view is a materialistic vision of humanity that considers humans nothing more than their biological makeup. This view tends to see human behavior as biologically determined. The philosophical view is the position that humans are defined by specific traits, such as rationality or self-awareness.
Evans notes that critics, especially those espousing the theological view, have long argued that the other two perspectives are dangerous, either because they reduce humans to objects (the biological view) or to certain traits they have (the philosophical view). I am one of these critics he discusses, but he also mentions other Christian bioethicists.
In order to gauge people’s position on human rights, he devised five scenarios and asked whether they agreed or disagreed. These were: 1) whether we should intervene in another country to try to stop a genocide; 2) whether anyone should be permitted to buy kidneys from poor people; 3) whether terminally ill individuals should kill themselves to save money; 4) whether we should take blood from unconsenting prisoners; and 5) whether we should torture terror suspects, if it would save other people’s lives. What he found was that people upholding the biological point of view (and the philosophical view) were less likely to support human rights than those embracing the theological perspective.
He admits point blank that the critics (including me) are correct: “From the normative perspective of the critics, this all seems quite damning, and the conclusion is clear — the critics are correct to be concerned about the spread of these anthropologies” (p. 70). This is a powerful and fascinating confirmation for those of us who claim that materialist views of humanity are inconsistent with human rights.
Dr. Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, and author of The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life.