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Linking Darwin Skepticism with Anti-Communism, Historian Offers a Misguided Attack

Richard Weikart
Image: Marx and Engels, by E. Capiro, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

As I explained in two previous posts (here and here), in his book Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America (Cornell University Press, 2021), Carl Weinberg tries to take a minor feature of anti-evolutionism — the claim by some that communism is an evil fruit of evolutionary theory — and portrays it as the central, guiding principle of anti-evolutionary thinking. In the final chapter Weinberg, an Indiana University historian, even tries to shoehorn Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture into this misguided framework.

Not only is his evidence that Discovery Institute uses intelligent design to bash communism completely lacking, but he shows little understanding of Discovery Institute or the intelligent design movement.

First, he deflates his own argument by admitting that Phillip Johnson, one of the founding fathers of the ID movement, “did not take the trouble to show how intimately Marx and Darwin were connected.” (259) OK, so who in the ID movement did link Marx to Darwin? 

The Smoking Gun!

Sleuth that he is, Weinberg discovered that one of the Senior Fellows of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, Jay Richards, has written books defending capitalism. Aha! The smoking gun! Never mind that Richards never argues that Darwinism produced communism or that intelligent design supports capitalism. Thus, Weinberg’s argument here is extremely weak; he never shows that ID proponents at Discovery Institute link intelligent design with anti-communism.

Second, Weinberg mistakenly claims that the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial about teaching intelligent design in schools divulged the deceptive nature of Discovery Institute’s position. Unfortunately, however, Weinberg doesn’t even seem to realize that Discovery Institute did not support the Dover school district’s policy of mandating the teaching of ID. Indeed, he accuses Discovery Institute of deception based on actions exposed at that trial that were done by other actors, not by Discovery Institute. Thus it is Weinberg who is being deceptive, probably not intentionally, but because of his ignorance about Discovery Institute and the intelligent design movement.

The Elephant in the Room

Finally, Weinberg forgot about the elephant in the room — me. No, I’m not that large, but I am a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture who has written extensively about the moral and political implications of Darwinism. My dissertation, Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialists Thought from Marx to Bernstein(later published and available here) never blamed Darwinism for spawning communism. On the contrary, I explained that Marx developed his communist ideology before Darwin’s theory was published.

Further, my historical scholarship has focused much more on the way that Darwinism helped fuel the Nazi movement, as well as various programs and policies favored by the Nazis, such as eugenics, euthanasia, racism, and racial extermination. My latest book is Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism. If Discovery Institute is using its anti-Darwinian position to combat any political movement, it is Nazism and white nationalism, not communism.

Primarily About Science

However, even though Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture has supported my scholarship related to the implications of Darwinism on morality and society, their primary thrust has been about science. They sponsor scientific research, publish scientific writings, and report and comment on scientific matters. Weinberg cannot seem to wrap his head around this, but most people who embrace intelligent design are not motivated by politics or morality.

I’ve met many people who do not believe in biological evolution, i.e., the theory that all organisms descended by unguided processes from primitive microbes. However, I have never met anyone who told me that he or she disbelieves it because of its moral or political implications (let alone because of seeing it as a communist plot). Rather, many reject evolution on scientific grounds, pointing to the mind-boggling complexity of life, or the impossibility of life’s arising from non-living forms in the absence of design, or the impossibility of producing the immense amount of information in biological organisms through random mutations, or similar problems with evolution.

Others tell me that they have religious objections to evolution. However, contrary to Weinberg’s mistaken claim, neither I nor anyone I have ever met has, as far as I know, been motivated by anti-communism to embrace anti-evolutionism. Sure, Weinberg is correct that quite a few anti-evolutionists, especially during the Red Scare of the 1920s and at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, have appealed to anti-communism to warn of the dangers of evolution. However, they also appealed to many other deleterious effects of belief in biological evolution (especially Nazism), not just communism.

In short, Weinberg’s claims notwithstanding, opposition to evolution is not a bourgeois ploy to undermine communism and oppress the working class.