Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Evolution Icon Evolution

Darwinism and Scientific Totalitarianism: John West’s Darwin Day in America

Charles Darwin statue Shrewsbury
Photo: Statue of Charles Darwin, Shrewsbury Library, by Bs0u10e01 / CC BY-SA.

I have been reviewing Darwin Day in America: How Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, by Discovery Institute Vice President John West. See my post from yesterday, “Darwinism and the ‘So What?’ Question.”

In the following section of the book, Dr. West considers a subject near and dear to me as a surgical oncologist, and that is life and death. He covers abortion and pre-birth issues, but also euthanasia, various forms of assisted suicide, and every moment in between birth and death. In my work, I was surrounded by the possibility of death on a daily basis. In an ethical context, the prolongation of the dying process can be as evil as its acceleration. As a physician, I found it easy to identify those colleagues who had a low view of human life, with their callous disregard for the patient as a person. In the academic setting, the unnecessary prolongation of life in order to support the effectiveness of an experimental treatment plan, or perhaps in order to improve hospital statistics, or to increase federal reimbursements, was the norm and not the exception. 

The Beginning of Life

It seems bewildering that there would be perplexity as to when human life begins. No one is uncertain about that in the breeding of a racehorse or in the gestation of an embryo belonging to an endangered species. So, what’s different about the human embryo? What is so difficult about recognizing the beginning of a human life, such that the pundits of this age have excused the slaughter of the unborn, and even of the born, as Dr. West documents? There is trouble only when an ideological fog inhibits the cerebral function of the Darwinist. If humans really are nothing more than the product of chance events in the primordial slime, then perhaps it doesn’t matter how we treat each other. 

It’s odd that so many Darwinists demean humanity even as they aver that humans represent the pinnacle of evolution,  given the “evolution” of speech, superior intelligence, ingenuity, and creativity. In a “nature rights” perspective, these are all to be trashed in order to spare the lower forms of evolution, whether animals or plants. Stranger is the fact that only humans are sentient and able to appreciate the lower forms of beings on our planet. Beauty does not exist in the mind of an endangered yellow-legged frog as he glances at a flower-covered meadow, or foliose lichen growing on the side of a tree that overlooks a majestic mountain scene. 

The Law of the Jungle 

The chapter on death is a difficult and troubling one. West presents and discusses the Shiavo and Cruzan cases. These are two exceptional cases, both of which were mismanaged (in my estimation), and neither of which should set a precedent for medical ethics. The main point that West tries to drive home is that the personal worth of the individuals, Shiavo and Cruzan, was devalued by those who thought that the termination of life was the most viable option for their care. Does this mean that virtually every effort must be extended in order to prolong life? I mentioned above that the prolongation of death can be as immoral as the prolongation of life. In addition, the patient’s quality of life becomes a confounding issue that muddies any discussion. Respect for life remains of utmost importance. However, in a world where the survival of the fittest selects out who shall live, the law of the jungle (West’s term) prevails. Financial, social, personal, and other concerns are judged to be more important than the life of the patient.

The Rise of Totalitarian Science

In his conclusion, West offers a succinct and well-written summary of his thesis, including a defense of the theory of intelligent design. It would have been the best chapter in his book had he not added a later addendum. 

The afterword, on “Totalitarian Science,” published in 2015, shows John West as a prophet of things to come. We now see “science” wielded in defense of any sort of nonsense and untruth imaginable. In my years as a doctoral student in the cell biology laboratory, I heard many lectures on integrity in research. This was because the notable academies of science were finding evidence of a troubling trend toward fraud. 

This was in the 1980s, and the situation is much worse today. It’s a perfect example of Darwinism in the performance of science. The publish or perish mentality among academics is simply another form of survival of the “fittest.” Before the Enlightenment, theology was known as the Queen of the Sciences. Rather than being in competition with science, theology was understood as the foundation for all science. Indeed, science did quite well as long as there was understood to be a theological basis for it. With theology stripped from its place at that foundation, we must not be surprised that the house of science is crumbling around us. 

West wrote this afterword before the Covid crisis, in which the name of “science” has been tossed about as a support for any sort of government oppression. Meanwhile, the mega-media complex aggressively strips the population of free speech, all in the cause of defending the edicts of those who call themselves scientists. West was able to see all of this coming a few years before it happened. Yet prophets most often go without honor, and I don’t expect West to get the acclaim that he deserves. If he did, his book would be on the New York Times bestseller list.