Thursday, November 15, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 10)

Darwinian Naturalism for All of Life

"It is amazing how unquestioningly and enthusiastically American Protestants embraced Darwinism. This ought to tell us something about the shallowness of their religious beliefs, together with their belief in the progress of democracy."

John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his seminal work On the Origin of Species. It purported to explain how life arose on Earth in all of the expressions which we see today. A few years earlier, in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had published The Communist Manifesto. Darwin became a celebrity, Marx died in obscurity, but the two of them became perhaps the two most influential thinkers for people in the twentieth century (in competition with Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Freud). Their thinking actually fit together very well, for both of them assumed a naturalistic world. There had been naturalism around before Darwin; indeed, it has been around since not long after the Garden of Eden. But Darwin provided naturalistic thinkers with a key mechanism that seemed to unlock the door to a world in which no supernatural deity was needed, at least certainly not the God of the Bible. Darwin’s ideas of gradual evolution through natural selection and survival of the fittest dealt with biology. But it was not long until they were applied across the board to all fields of human thinking.[i]

In science, biological evolution and geological evolution took over the field, which had been well plowed by Enlightenment thinking. Even though today’s scientists for the most part no longer hold to Darwin’s ideas precisely as he articulated them, these ideas still form the unquestionable foundation of thought for most scientific endeavor. Listen, for example, to the effusive praise of Edward O. Wilson, writing an introduction to a reprint of four of Darwin’s works: “Great scientific discoveries are like sunrises. They illuminate first the steeples of the unknown, then its dark hollows. Such expansive influence has been enjoyed by the scientific writings of Charles Darwin. For over 150 years his books…have spread light on the living world and the human condition. They have not lost their freshness: more than any other work in history’s scientific canon, they are both timeless and persistently inspirational” [ii] In the early part of the twentieth century, many Christians actually went along with Darwinism to some degree, but in recent years a creationist movement has helped to alert Christians to this danger and to teach the truth of a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.

However, many Christians are not so aware of the impact of Darwinian naturalism in our government, law, and economics. Politically, secular humanists tend to push for globalism and Marxists believe in a coming new world order. Their whole concept of justice, freedom, the role of government, and more is framed in terms of their ethical relativism and belief in self-realization. The twentieth century provides grizzly examples of what happens when these ideas are carried out consistently; one only need look at Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-dong, and Pol Pot. Marxism in the political realm always ends up with centralized control of everything and a program to eliminate all opposition.[iii]

In America, our institutions, traditions, and Christian influence have limited the amount of influence that thorough-going Marxists or secular humanists have been able to exert on our government. Nonetheless, the U.S. government is much more statist and socialistic today than it was 100 years ago, in large measure because of Darwinian naturalism. In his introduction to the fiftieth anniversary edition of F. A. Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom, Milton Friedman accurately observed what was happening in the latter part of the twentieth century.

“Unfortunately, the check to collectivism did not check the growth of government; rather, it diverted its growth to a different channel. The emphasis shifted from governmentally administered production activities to indirect regulation of supposedly private enterprises and even more to governmental transfer programs, involving extracting taxes from some in order to make grants to others – all in the name of equality and the eradication of poverty but in practice producing an erratic and contradictory mélange of subsidies to special interest groups. As a result, the fraction of the national income being spent by governments has continued to mount.”

He concluded, “On both sides of the Atlantic, it is only a little overstated to say that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism, and practice socialism.”[iv]

In the realm of law, naturalism leads to a belief in positive law. Since everything is evolving, there is no fixed order, no fixed standard of justice (such as the Ten Commandments), no eternal Law Giver (such as God), and not even any natural law. The law is what we make it. Crime becomes the fault of society, and criminals must be re-educated, which explains why prisons are now labeled “correctional facilities.” This also leads to the centralization of power in the state, for the state is the instrument used to make and enforce laws.

Economically, naturalism often proceeds to socialism or communism. Notice what the Communist Manifesto promotes:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c.

As can be seen from this list, Marxism also has ramifications for society and the family. The same could be said for any naturalistic system. Marx’s collaborator Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. In this work, he described how to do away with monogamy and advance a “return” to group marriage. He basically described four steps to be taken:

1. Put all women into outside labor. “The emancipation of women is primarily dependent on the reintroduction of the whole female sex into the public industries.”

2. Socialize property. “With the transformation of the means of production into collective property the monogamous family ceases to be the economic unit of society. The private household changes to a social industry. The care and education of children becomes a social matter.”

3. Institute free love. “Will not this be sufficient cause for…a more unconventional intercourse of the sexes and a more lenient public opinion regarding virgin honor and female shame?”

4. And start with ‘no fault’ divorce. “If marriage founded on love is alone moral, then it follows that marriage is moral only as long as love lasts.”[v]

Thankfully, our country did not succumb to a Marxist form of government and society. However, the ideas of Darwinian naturalism have percolated and spread to become ubiquitous. And, in fact, the major public alternative to socialism in America is libertarianism or individualism, which is also rooted in naturalism. This thinking says that personal autonomy is the ultimate good; therefore, morality must conform. Moral discussions in our country now debate not what is right and wrong per se, but what is right for me and wrong for me. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do in my own private life?” is the common refrain. Therefore, for example, we can legally justify murdering millions of unborn babies in the name of personal choice. Such evidence points clearly to the fact that America is effectively naturalistic in its form of government and society, even though we reject Marxism.

The major engine for the spread of these ideas has been the public school system. As children of the Reformation in Europe, American Christians from the very beginning have stressed education. Thus most evangelicals supported public schooling in America in its initial stages, without recognizing that it was, in effect, the social replacement for the disestablished churches. It was the institution which was to transmit and inculcate the vision of life which would unify the nation. Public education of necessity sought to incorporate generic moral principles stripped of their doctrinal foundations. D. G. Hart is correct that that this “generic religion dissolved fairly rapidly the vestiges of Christendom….”[vi] Yet some far sighted American Christians recognized this problem long before most people. A. A. Hodge lectured on this in the 1880’s:

I am sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.[vii]

Other theologians like R. L. Dabney and J. Gresham Machen saw equally clearly the threat.

It is virtually impossible to overestimate the impact these ideas have had on our society. As Phillip Johnson says, “What has really happened is that a new established religious philosophy has replaced the old one. Like the old philosophy, the new one is tolerant only up to a point, specifically the point where its own right to rule the public square is threatened. When I want a long and fully descriptive name for it, I call the established religious philosophy of late-twentieth-century America ‘scientific naturalism and liberal rationalism.’”[viii] This is really just another way of saying that America believes in pagan Man, especially as he is expressed in liberty, equality, and democracy.

Roaring Twenties, Depression, and War

The established religious philosophy of late twentieth century America spread its roots deeply in the early twentieth century. The mainline Protestant denominations no longer provided spiritual truth to the nation. Their social gospel had gutted the real gospel, and thus they led the way into the meaningless moralism of which Prohibition was the biggest example. The “roaring twenties” gave a true taste of the moral sensibilities of Americans who had money to burn. The freewheeling exuberance came to a crashing halt with the Great Depression, but the moral sensibilities were not permanently altered. Fischer accurately states, “In the 1930s, Hollywood promoted a vision of liberty and freedom as sensual gratification.”[ix] The crisis of the depression induced Americans to complete the project which had been building since the Civil War and abandon federalism. They put their trust in the federal government to deliver them. President Roosevelt, a genuine leader and skillful politician, truly believed in collectivism, and along with other progressives he was able to centralize the control of federal government. He promised “greater freedom, greater security,” including even freedom from want and freedom from fear. That any human government would promise all of its citizens freedom from all want is arrogant in the extreme, but Roosevelt was able to convince many Americans to transfer their loyalties to the federal government above families and local communities. His New Deal and other policies actually prolonged the great depression,[x] but the detrimental effects were partially obscured by the great war which followed.

The American victory in World War II was certainly one of the high points of our nation’s history. The unprecedented mobilization of the entire nation for the war effort and the sacrifice of millions of Americans who defeated the evil Axis powers stand as high tribute to the courage and character of the American people. Sadly, however, the war also became the entry point for more permanent expansion of government powers, such as withholding income tax from wages. The amazing economic progress which followed the war cemented in many American minds the materialist dream of happiness through consumption.



[i] David Noebel discusses the ramifications of this kind of thinking for 10 areas of study: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history (Understanding the Times [Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1991]). Other areas, such as education and art, could also profitably be examined. On this score, Julian Huxley wrote, “The concept of evolution was soon extended into other than biological fields. Inorganic subjects such as the life-history of the stars and the formation of the chemical elements on the one hand, and on the other hand subject like linguistics, social anthropology, and comparative law and religion, began to be studied from an evolutionary angle, until today we are enabled to see evolution as a universal and all-pervading process” (cited in Henry Morris, The Long War Against God [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989], 19). He put these ideas into practice as the first Director-General of UNESCO.

[ii] From So Simple a Beginning [New York: W. W. Norton, 2006], 11.

[iii] It is estimated that over 100 million people have been put to death by Communist regimes since the Bolshevik revolution.

[iv] I would like to note that from a biblical perspective, Hayek and Friedman’s ideas of freedom need correction. Nevertheless, their critique of socialism is penetrating.

[v] Outlined by Allan Carlson, “Two Becoming One Flesh: Marriage as a Sexual and Economic Union,” Intercollegiate Review 40:1 (Fall/Winter 2004), 15.

[vi] A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 81.

[vii] “The Dangers Inherent in Public Education” in James W. Deuink, ed., A Fresh Look at Christian Education (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1988), 37.

[viii] Reason in the Balance (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 37.

[ix] Liberty and Freedom, 510. Of course, this vision was promoted by others besides Hollywood. Literati like Earnest Hemmingway and Edna St. Vincent Millay lived out the ideals of sensual gratification.

[x] See Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

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