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Moral Darwinism

How We Became HedonistsBenjamin Wiker

In this book, Senior Discovery Institute Fellow Benjamin Wiker does a brilliant job of tracing the roots of hedonism. Insofar as traditional theists sense an underlying cause for the moral decline of Western culture, all roads lead to Epicurus and the train of thought he set in motion. For Epicurus, pleasure consisted in freedom from disturbance. For Epicurus, to allow that God might intervene in the natural world and to take seriously the possibility of an afterlife, (with the moral accountability and judgment it implies) were incompatible with the good life.

To short circuit belief in such a God, Epicurus proposed a mechanistic understanding of nature. Accordingly, Epicurus conceived of nature as an aggregate of material entities operating by blind, unbroken, natural laws. God or the gods might exist, but they took no interest in the world, played no role in human affairs and indeed could play no role in human affairs, since a material world operating according to mechanistic principles leaves no place for meaningful divine action. Moreover, since humans belonged to nature and consisted entirely of material entities, death amounted to a dissolution of a material state and thus precluded any sort of ongoing conscious existence.

Epicurus’ most prominent disciple is without question Charles Darwin. Darwinism is not only the most recent incarnation of Epicurean philosophy but also the most potent formulation of that philosophy to date. Darwinism’s significance consists in the purported scientific justification it brings to the Epicurean philosophy. But the science itself is weak and ad hoc. As Wiker shows, Darwinism is essentially a moral and metaphysical crusade that fuels our contemporary moral debates. Further, Wiker argues that the motivation behind Darwinism today is its alternative moral and metaphysical vision rather than the promotion of science.

Is reality at its base purposive and intelligent or mindless and material? Wiker brilliantly traces this divide to its metaphysical foundations. In so doing, he shows how the challenge of intelligent design to evolutionary naturalism is not the latest flash in the pan of the culture war but in fact constitutes ground zero of the culture war. If you really want to understand why our culture is in its current state, you must read this book.

(Adapted from the Foreword by William A. Dembski.)