Ideas have consequences, and Darwin’s theory of evolution is no exception to that rule. Many books recounted the negative impacts of Darwin’s ideas upon culture and society, but few have attempted to demonstrate those impacts them in a comprehensive scholarly fashion like Darwin Day in America: How our Policies and Culture have been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. Written by Discovery Institute senior fellow John G. West, Darwin Day in America carefully documents how Darwinian evolution has done profound harm to society in areas ranging from law to medicine, politics and education.
West grounds his arguments about the implications of Darwin’s ideas by looking at Darwin’s own work and how it devalues human life. West takes the reader through extensive passages of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, showing the consequences of applying natural selection to humans and society. According to West, Darwin argued not just “that man’s mind could have arisen naturally from the capacities of animals” but also that “the development of man’s moral faculties” resulted from natural selection. (p. 29) Though Darwin himself was often too squeamish to admit the full logical consequences of his own ideas, West explains that Darwin revolutionized our understanding of morality:
While according to Darwin nature has led to the golden rule, it did not do so because the golden rule is somehow intrinsically right. It did so because the golden rule ultimately is connected to self-preservation. At the base of the golden rule, in Darwin’s view, are the social instincts, and these developed primarily because they promote survival … In the conclusion to The Descent of Man Darwin made this point even more clearly, stating that “the … origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.” But what happens in cases where traditional morality does not happen to promote survival? If human morality is ultimately grounded in the struggle to survive, it seems optimistic in the extreme to think that the byproduct will always be something akin to traditional Judeo-Christian morality. (pp. 29-30)
West explains the radical implications of shifting the basis of human morality from an objective standard to biology: “Darwinian theory in particular supplied a powerful justification for evolving standards in politics and morality. … As the conditions for survival changed, maternal love might be moral; in another situation, infanticide.” (p. 366)
Darwin Day in America also documents numerous scholars who were more than willing to apply Darwin’s ideas to remake society according to deeply misguided visions of utopia. West recounts how these Darwinists have committed deeds and imposed values that strongly violate traditional morality.
For example, the book tells the story of Clarence Darrow, the famous defense attorney who got two men acquitted of murder on the grounds that “every influence, conscious and unconscious, acts and reacts on every living organism, and … no one can fix the blame.” West adds that, “The belief that men and women could be reduced to their physical capacities plus their material inputs could be profoundly dehumanizing” and even “robbed the criminal offender of the dignity of being treated as a rational being whose choices matter.” (p. 365) Is the modern-day victim-mentality that permeates society the fruit of such thinking?
Darwin’s ideas weren’t just used to let the guilty go free—they have also been used to harm the innocent. Darwin Day in America provides a carefully documented treatment of the Eugenics Movement of the United States in the early 20th century, and how it was inspired largely by evolutionary thinking. After all, Darwin’s own cousin, Francis Galton, coined the term “eugenics” as a means of improving society through breeding. Inspired by evolutionary biology and pushed by evolutionary biologists, eugenics policies ultimately resulted in the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of innocent Americans. And these policies were often deeply racist:
Eugenicists applied their concerns about “race-crossing” with special virulence to blacks, who they thought represented a more primitive stage of human evolution, or at the very least, the product of evolution gone awry. (p. 146)
Darwin Day in America also documents how modern pro-abortion defenders of “family planning” retain connections to eugenics arguments and invoke evolution to justify their views. As West explains:
It was only a matter of time before someone resurrected an explicitly Darwinian defense of family planning, and in 2004, Alexander Sanger—[Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger’s grandson—did precisely that. Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, Sanger published a provocative book arguing that the opponents of abortion ignored the facts of evolutionary biology, because they fail to recognize that human beings have evolved through natural selection the capacity to control their own reproduction. In his words, “humanity has evolved to take conscious control of reproduction and has done so in order to survive….We cannot repeal the laws of natural selection. Nature does not let every life survive. Humanity uniquely, and to its benefit, can exercise some dominion over this process and maximize the chances for human life to survive and grow.” Claiming to disavow the old eugenics because of its junk science and coercion, Sanger nonetheless made what is essentially a eugenics-based argument: Abortion on demand is biologically justified because it aids the human race in its struggle to survive. Thus, “abortion ins good,” and “we must become proud that we have taken control of our reproduction. This has been a major factor in advancing human evolution and survival.” “We live in a Darwinian world, like it or not,” Sanger later explained… [p. 160]
As former chair of the Department of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University, West understands politics and political movements. His chapters on public education expose the Darwin lobby’s political efforts to subjugate the science classroom to censorship and pro-Darwin dogmatism. He tells the stories of multiple scientists whose careers have been injured because of their doubts about Darwinism or support for intelligent design. As West explains, “Although evolutionists portray themselves as the victims of fundamentalist intolerance, in most places today it is the critics of Darwin’s theory who are being intimidated or silenced.” (p. 368)
Another novel contribution of Darwin Day in America is its exposé of the Darwin lobby’s efforts to push religion into public schools. Yes, that’s right—pro-evolution activists like Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education would use taxpayer dollars to promote religion—provided of course that it’s a whitewashed brand of evolution-friendly theology. Meanwhile, they try to censor views that challenge their position of power. West explains why this is dangerous for society:
Defenders of evolution who claim to fear blind zealotry might want to look in the mirror. The new “Darwinian fundamentalisms” have become just as intolerant as the religious fundamentalists they despise. Such intolerance should raise concerns for thoughtful citizens from across the political spectrum. True liberals—those who favor free and open debate—should be appalled by the growing campaign of intimidation against academic critics of Darwinism. Whatever one’s personal view of Darwinism, the current atmosphere is unhealthy for science, and it is unhealthy for a free society. (p. 369)
Perhaps most shocking, however, is West’s discussion of how Darwin-inspired scholars have sought to force sex-ed programs on children which would violate the social norms of virtually every American. Darwin Day in America provides fresh insights into the work of Darwinian zoologist Alfred Kinsey who studied sexuality in children from an evolutionary perspective. According to the book, Kinsey’s methods amounted to nothing less than pedophilia and resulted in the sexual molestation of multiple children.
Not only was Kinsey’s work morally repugnant, but it has turned out to be junk science: Kinsey manipulated data to overstate the degree of sexual activity among children. Unfortunately, many have taken Kinsey’s bogus evolution-based theories and tried to apply them to public school curricula. Darwin Day in America explains how these activists have sought to reshape social norms about sex:
The ultimate result of Darwinian moral relativism can be seen in the sex research of zoologist Alfred Kinsey and the moral pluralisms embraced by the sex-education reformers at SIECUS and similar organizations. Their efforts to convince the public that all variations of sexual behavior are “normal”—including adult-child sex and even incest—were a logical culmination of the approach Darwin pursued in The Descent of Man. (p. 367)
If you think the debate over Darwinian evolution is an intramural one with no real-world implications, you need to read this book. If you’re already convinced this debate is important, then this book will still open your eyes to the horrific the social implications of Darwinian ideas. There is probably no book that offers a more comprehensive and scholarly investigation into the negative cultural impacts of Darwin’s vision of humanity. Darwin Day in America is a must-read for anyone who is concerned that a 20th century full of tragic deeds done in the name of Darwin could repeat itself.