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Darwinism and the “So What?” Question: John West’s Darwin Day in America

Photo: Darwin’s statue, Natural History Museum, by [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Many books have been written about scientific problems with the theory of evolution. Neo-Darwinism, as the leading construct of evolutionary theory, has its fierce supporters as well as its opponents. Few topics have the capability of generating heated conversations and of turning friends into foes. Few people, though, ever ask the “So what?” question. How does Darwinist thinking affect the man on the street? Or is Darwinism simply a neutral scientific doctrine? How does Darwinism influence what we do once you or I wake up in the morning? 

At first glance, it might seem that whether we believe in evolution as a purely material, unguided process should make no difference to values or morality. Yet, in his 2007 book Darwin Day in America: How Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, Discovery Institute’s John West looks at the question more deeply and shows otherwise. In a nearly encyclopedic manner, he documents the numerous impacts Darwinism has had in the public square. It has had a distinctively destructive effect on our society. Dr. West provides a plethora of examples in each chapter of how Darwinism has changed the courts, the schools, the medical establishment, the conduct of the scientific community, and, indeed, the man on the street. 

A War of Worldviews

As the book shows, Darwinism is a Weltanschauung at war with the Judeo-Christian theistic system on which Western civilization and scientific inquiry are based. Many of Dr. West’s examples were unknown to me, and will be news to many other readers. In a skillful and scholarly fashion, he unearths the contest between faith and “science,” while providing references for any claims that he makes. The book is divided into sections, with each oriented around a specific theme. I’ll be as brief as possible in this two-part review. 

I took a psychology class in college and wrote a book review and rebuttal to B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity. I got an “A” on that paper, and still have it in my files. This was back in the day when colleges (I attended the hyper-liberal Portland State University) still had free speech. Looking back on this paper recently, I noted that I had used what John West calls the “nothing buttery” argument, and could not remember where I picked up that phrase since I did not provide references in my paper. It was thus with great surprise that I noted the title of the first chapter of Darwin Day in America, “Nothing Buttery.” Thankfully, Dr. West referenced the book that is the source of the phrase, a book I had first read between high school and college. It is A Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science, by Donald MacKay. 

Nothing buttery is when a “scientist” makes the preposterous (and impossible to prove) claim that the world is “nothing but” what we can detect and observe through science. Truly, it is science-of-the-gaps thinking which forces a pseudo-scientific explanation on the entirety of the world. So much of what we see and know is unprovable and so much more is simply unknowable, yet advocates of nothing buttery use science to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Out of this nothing-buttery scientific materialism, there emerged the Darwinist Weltanschauung that is currently deconstructing our society. West, in a subsequent chapter, gives a brief and instructive summary of the rise of Darwinism as a picture of reality.

Crime and Punishment

In the next section of the book, he addresses the themes of crime and punishment. When Dostoevsky wrote his masterpiece Crime and Punishment, there was still a Christian Weltanschauung, and the novelist knew that his readership would comprehend the sense of guilt after committing murder. If written today, his book probably would not pass muster with critics, though Woody Allen’s 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors could still play on the residual Judeo-Christian worldview of 30-plus years ago. Through a number of examples, West shows how the Darwinian mindset removes responsibility for crime, or turns the criminal into nothing more than a victim of mental illness. Rather than punishment or restitution, rehabilitation becomes the recommended treatment. “Science” is claimed as the guiding beacon for the new management of criminal offenses. However, it strains the imagination to see how injustice and recidivism reflect a scientific approach. 

On our journey through the dismal night of Darwinian conceptions, West turns next to wealth and poverty. This section covers big finance, eugenics (and though only indirectly mentioned, critical race theory), utopianism, advertising, architecture, and more. All have been heavily influence by a materialistic worldview deriving from Darwinism. West offers multiple examples, and I believe that he succeeds in his argument. 

As Leaky as a Colander

The section on how Darwinism has affected education is fascinating. The establishment does NOT want you to know how campus free speech has been stifled, and this is especially true in the context of teaching students, or not teaching them, about the controversy that still exists about Darwinian theory. Though it is a theory as leaky as a colander, educators feel that to admit problems with the theory would be troubling to young people, who might then even dare consider intelligent design as an alternative. How horrid that would be! On the other hand, sex education and the new thinking on sex, including any sexual deviancy under the sun, is permissible, should we be in reality functional blobs generated by a few accidents in the primordial slime. 

Next, “Darwinism and Scientific Totalitarianism.”