There is one more 19th century philosopher I want to draw our attention to: the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). When Kierkegaard died in 1855, Darwin had not yet published Origin of Species, Nietzsche was merely 11 years old, and Marx, still smarting from the failure of a full-fledged proletariat revolution in 1848, had been living in London a mere five years, having accomplished nothing. That’s right, Kierkegaard came before Darwin, Marx, or Nietzsche had even begun to make their mark on history.
Kierkegaard is often called the father of existentialism, but that is somewhat misleading. Modern existentialism should be traced to Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century—and Kierkegaard really was nothing like Sartre. Kierkegaard lived in early 19th century Denmark, in which Christianity, specifically Lutheranism, was the “state religion,” and the institutionalized church was as shallow and dead as could be. If you want to think of it this way: what Kierkegaard experienced in the State church of Denmark was a result of Luther’s Reformation.
As we discussed earlier, when Luther revolted against the Catholic Church, he appealed to the secular leaders of various kingdoms and countries to support him. The result was that various states ended up not only sponsoring a particular religion—or more precisely, a particular denomination or branch of Christianity—but actually enforcing that particular strain of Christianity on its subjects. This resulted in the “wars of religion” throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
By Kierkegaard’s day, though, those tensions had calmed down, and people were largely fine with the idea of state-sponsored religion. Of course, by the 19th century (again, as we’ve seen in earlier posts), Christianity was being fashioned into more of a deistic, rationalistic, proper sort of tame religion that could “benefit” society. Many people are well-aware how Nietzsche savaged that notion; but the fact is, so did Kierkegaard. Although both men were sickened by such a tepid form of Christianity, the answers each man gave could not be more far apart. Nietzsche wanted to destroy Christianity; Kierkegaard wanted to remind people what the heart of Christianity really was.
The heart of Christianity, Kierkegaard argued, was not “reasonable.” The heart of Christianity was living, passionate faith-filled relationship with the living God…and the choices that stem from such a faith-filled relationship often will not seem “reasonable” or even “moral” to the prim and proper, deistic, rationalistic, liberal theologians (and institutionalized church) of early 19th century Europe.
Now as it turns out, as with Nietzsche, I have already written a number of posts on Kierkegaard. I think my posts do a very good job crystalizing just what Kierkegaard was about. And so, this post really functions as the doorway to these other posts. I hope you take the time to read them.
Deism, Enlightenment thought, the influence of the industrial revolution, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx…with a little bit of Darwin thrown in—with all this going on in the 19th century, onto the world stage stepped Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was to 19th century European thought what the atomic bomb was to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the thing one must realize about Nietzsche was that he was the only thinker in 19th century Europe who had the guts to push the “Christianitzed-Enlightenment-Deistic Worldview” to its logical conclusions. Or more properly, Nietzsche took the watered-down brand of 19th century liberal-theology Christianity that was more akin to deism than it was to historical Christianity, and he crucified it, completely.
Now, I’ve already written a number of posts on Nietzsche, so allow me to reference them here, and invite you to read a little more of the details and nuances about Nietzsche’s philosophy, particularly how it relates to biblical Christianity.
19th Century Liberal Theology: Keep the Morality, Lose the History By the mid-to-late 19th century, the European outlook regarding religion was this: “Well, if there’s one thing the French Revolution taught us, it’s this—we can’t completely do away with religion! If we do so, we’ll end up with the guillotine and the Reign of Terror.”
Enter modern 19th century liberal theology. It basically said, “Let’s all agree that hardly anything in the Bible—at least the miraculous stuff—ever really happened. After all, we’re influenced by deism, and the deistic worldview acknowledges there’s a God, but rejects the idea he interacts with the world—it’s just the laws of nature that guide us, with no help from God. And so, since our presupposition is that God doesn’t interact with the world, and that the world is run by the laws of nature, it goes without saying that miracles do not and cannot happen—for that would entail (a) God intervening into human affairs, and (b) the laws of nature being broken….
“BUT…since we would like to stay living in a moral and stable society, we’ll agree that although the historical claims and the miracle stories in the Bible didn’t really happen (at least in any supernaturally-influenced way), the moral lessons in the Bible are very good and should be followed! It’s the Good Book! We’ll honor its moral teachings, but we’ll agree that science and our advances in philosophical thought has proven that none of that biblical stuff really happened in the way the Bible claims it did!”
And there you have 19th century liberal theology in a nutshell: the Bible is good for its moral teachings (after all, it reflects Enlightenment thinking of natural religion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—sound familiar?), but otherwise, it is pretty useless when it comes to finding out about actual history, or what Jesus really did. A perfect example of this mentality can be seen in Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. He cut out all the miraculous stories, and was left with just the wisdom and moral teachings of Jesus. For the most of the 19th century, nominal European Christians were all too happy to adopt this view: Jesus, the nice, moral teacher…but miracles? Ehhh….
Nietzsche, the Big, Bad Dionysian Ubermensch Then along came Friedrich Nietzsche, a man who made it his life’s goal to completely annihilate such a worldview. He called himself “the philosopher of the hammer”—and he proceeded to smash every vestige of 19th century Christianity (or moralistic deistic-thought) he could find. As Andrew Hoeffecker states, “Nietzsche foreshadowed the postmodern tradition that effectively eradicated the easy confidence in human nature and in rationality that was trumpeted by his Enlightenment predecessors” (Revolutions in Worldview, 301).
Simply put, Nietzsche’s message was this: Enlightenment thinkers have essentially killed God by denying he has any interaction with human kind, but they are too weak and scared to actually live out those implications.
And those implications are huge, especially when it comes to morality. For Nietzsche made it clear: if there is no God, then moral law is a fiction; moral absolutes do not exist; morality is completely arbitrary. Or to put it in Platonic/Aristotelian terms: without universals, then the particulars have no inherent, fixed meaning.
Yet most people, Nietzsche said, are simply too afraid to admit this, and therefore, they fall back on unsubstantiated truth claims about morality. Most people simply are too afraid to live out the implications of their worldview. In his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche essentially laid out the two fundamentally opposed worldviews in the world: (1) The Logic of Reason, as exemplified in the Greek god Apollo, who wishes to bring order and balance, and (2) The Logic of Life, as exemplified by the Greek god Dionysius, who celebrates life to excess, and damn the consequences.
For Nietzsche, it was Dionysius all the way. He insisted that it was up to human beings to create their own meaning, regardless of what others might say. After all, all truth is relative, so be Dionysius-like, and live out the truth as you see fit. Put yourself and your wants and desires first; refuse to be a slave to anyone; exercise your will to power, and be the Ubermensch (Superman) who makes and lives out his own morality, despite the inherent chaos of life.
Nietzsche’s Hatred of Christianity Not surprisingly, Nietzsche hated Christianity—at least the 19th century brand of liberal/deistic Christianity. He saw Christianity as slave morality; he saw Christianity emphasizing meekness, humility, and love of neighbor, when people should be living boldly, reaching for their greatness, and loving themselves first and foremost. For Nietzsche, if one was to become great, one had to reject all things Christian, and become a true atheist—not one who claimed not to believe in God, but then clung to some idea of moral absolutes or truth. A true atheist not only rejected the idea of God, but also the idea of absolute truth and morality. And a true atheist had the guts to live such convictions out.
…and as far as Nietzsche could tell, there weren’t too many of those around.
Conclusion Like I said, I wrote six posts on Nietzsche’s philosophy, and how it (surprisingly) relates to actual Christianity. I invite you to read them. I personally find Nietzsche fascinating—I don’t there has ever been a thinker who has been more right and more wrong at the very same time. But if you want to begin to really understand our society today, you have to get a grasp of Nietzsche. If nothing else, he has some amazing quotes…
Nietzsche ended up going insane. He had contracted syphilis, as a result of his many sexual encounters, suffered a mental breakdown in 1889, and then a number of strokes in 1899. In his insanity, he would just repeat over and over again, “I am dead because I am stupid…I am stupid because I am dead.” And when he died, he was hallucinating that he was Jesus Christ.
As fascinating as Nietzsche is, his deterioration, insanity, and death, I believe, foreshadow much of the madness in our postmodern world today. Indeed, Nietzsche was somewhat of a prophet in that regard. Unlike anyone else at the time, Nietzsche was able to see into the future what ultimate implications for 19th century Enlightenment thinking were going to be.
In the last few posts, I have been going into detail about Charles Darwin, and his books, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. And whereas I have tried to emphasize that the theory of evolution is a valid scientific theory that is not a threat to the Bible or Christianity, I have also touched upon the very dangerous and dark philosophical assumptions that can be seen in The Descent of Man. The threat to the Bible, to Christianity, and indeed humankind itself, is not the theory of evolution, but rather philosophical materialism that attempts to hijack evolution to justify its atheism, and then is pushed to its logical conclusions.
Let’s be clear: if there is no God, and if human beings are nothing more than slightly more evolved animals, and if all that matters is the health and propagation of the human species, then you simply are not too far away from justifying things like the sterilization or even killing of human beings who are weak, genetically flawed, or retarded. Not to sound alarmist, but we need to realize those were the kinds of conclusions that many people came to in the early part of the 20th century, and that regimes like the Nazis and Communists sought to implement on a worldwide scale.
My simple point is that even though it is imperative that we take a meat cleaver to the notion that the theory of evolution and atheism are joined at the hip, we need to admit that for the better part of 150 years, not only has the general opinion throughout society been that those two things were joined at the hip, but the worst atrocities in history have occurred precisely because people believed they were joined at the hip.
I submit that the real reason why so many in the Evangelical world are opposed to evolutionary theory isn’t so much they disagree with its scientific claims (most don’t really understand them); and it’s not even really that they think it is a threat to biblical authority (even though this is the common mantra among YECists like Ken Ham). The real reason is because they fear that evolution leads to things like moral anarchy and eventually mass genocide. And let’s be honest, why do so many Evangelicals think that? That’s easy: because that is exactly what has happened in the past. Evolution has been used as the justification for everything from your garden-variety perversion and promiscuity to forced sterilization, racism, Zyklon-B, the concentration camps and the gulag.
Those who read my blog will be shocked to read what I’m about to write: in a way, Ken Ham has a valid point. But I’ll come back to that point in a bit. First, I want to go back to the Scopes Monkey Trial…stay with me, it’s related.
A Civic Biology
Most people know, at least vaguely, about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. It was where the issue of evolution was debated in a show trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The two major combatants were William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. I touch upon the specifics of the trial in my book, The Heresy of Ham, but in this post, I want to draw attention to the textbook that created the ruckus in the first place: A Civic Biology, by George William Hunter.
To the point, if I was alive at the time, I’d have a big problem with this textbook as well. In it, in anAmericanhigh school biology book, it wasn’t just the scientific theory of biological evolution that was covered and endorsed. There within its pages, right alongside the presentation of Darwin’sscientific theory, was a thorough discussion and endorsement of the philosophical worldview of Social Darwinism and Eugenics.
It advocated that the same breeding methods used on animals shouldbe applied to human beings, for the betterment of the health of the human race.
It claimed that the human race should demand of anyone who gets married “the freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring.”
It claimed that certain diseases were “not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” It described eugenics as “the science of being well born.”
A Civic Biology even went so far as to characterize people who cannot contribute to society as “parasites.” It actually contemplated killing those “parasites” off as a means to cleanse the gene pool. But it quickly lamented, “Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.”
That’s right—in an American science textbook in the 1920s, students read how successful eugenics had been in Europe in preventing “degenerate races” from being allowed to propagate. In the same year A Civic Biology was praising European efforts to rid the world of the degenerate races, Adolf Hitler was publishing Mein Kampf, in which he too endorsed those same efforts. Let’s be clear: Hitler was not an anomaly—he was a product of the times. What he did was what the Eugenicists of Europe and America were calling for—and they made it a point to use evolution as their justification.
Make no mistake, A Civic Biology was not simply a science textbook. It was a propaganda manual that advocated the very things that later Nazis and Communists enacted. It had a clear agenda: treat human beings in the same way you treat your dog. Now, we rightly condemn the Nazis for their “final solution” and their horrific treatment of not only Jews, but also of the weak, infirm, and mentally retarded. But we need to come to terms with the fact that Hitler merely put into practice the very things American biology textbooks were advocating in the 1920s.
It’s Not the Scientific Theory…It’s the Presuppositional Worldview Such thinking should chill any rational person to the bone. Benjamin Wiker claims that eugenics “was and is a direct implication drawn from Darwin’s account of evolution, one that Darwin himself drew quite vividly in his Descent of Man” (91). I need to amend that comment on one point though: the eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only ifone starts with the presuppositional worldview of atheism, and the ontological assumption that human beings are nothing more than highly-evolved animals.
AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: Now, I should make clear that I am obviously not saying that a tenet of atheism is the desire to commit mass genocide, and so therefore, saying the “presuppositional worldview of atheism” might not be quite right. I asked one person who commented on this how he would phrase the above statement, and he put it this way:
“The eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only if one starts by naively applying evolution to morality, with a moral system that evolutionary fitness is a moral good, while evolutionary weakness is a moral evil. In this naive evolutionary morality, if humans are nothing more than highly-evolved animals, then breeding better humans is a moral good, and culling unfit humans is also a moral good.”
I think that is very well said, and deserves to be mentioned. I would only add that such a mindset is one that denies the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, and values only the health and welfare of that State as whole. Back to the original post…
We must be clear: Darwin’s theory of evolution alone does not, and cannot, get one to eugenics, the Nazi concentration camps, or the Soviet gulags. All evolution does is describe what, in fact, happens in the biological world. But what the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists of the early 20th century did was they combined Darwin’s theory with a presuppositional atheism and rabid racism, and then they claimed evolutionary theory justified the atrocities they committed.
Eugenics, the gas chambers, and the gulags are the logical conclusion of those who deny the dignity and inherent worth of human beings, for they say the worth of someone is dependent on that person’s health and ability to contribute to society. The individual is inconsequential; society, or the State, or the Communist utopia, or the Third Reich—that is what matters. The Eugenicist takes the Enlightenment notion that society will “force one to be free,” to the next level, and simply adds, “…if not, society can sterilize you, lock you away, or kill you—it’s all about what’s good for society.”
And in the 1920s, that presuppositional worldview was prevalent throughout Europe, the Soviet Union, and America as well. Therefore, given that dark history, it should not surprise anybody that so many Evangelical Christians are scared to death of evolution—it really was used as the justification for the worst genocides in human history.
The challenge, therefore, is to try and get people to realize that the scientific theory of evolution and the presuppositional worldview of philosophical atheism are two different things. We need to point out that it wasn’t evolution that was the problem; the problem was the way that the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists wrongly used evolution to justify their actions.
Now, I don’t know how successful anyone can be at getting people, especially the YECist segment of Evangelicalism, to make this distinction. Consider the two pictures here. The Eugenics movement promoted itself as a veritable “Tree of Life,” and eugenicists intricately linked their movement with evolution. Should it be all that surprising that the Creation Science movement then pictured itself as chopping down that very tree that claimed evolution as its trunk? I think these two pictures say it all: if you want to know why there is such a hatred and fear of the scientific theory of evolution, these two pictures clearly illustrate all you need to know.
That’s why arguing science with a YECist, by the way, never will get you too far. The real concern isn’t science. And, as I’ve come to realize, you don’t get much further trying to get them to see that Genesis 1-11 isn’t giving scientific information, because you’ll just be accused of trying to twist Scripture and lead people astray. The real reason there is so much hatred and fear of evolution among many Evangelicals is because they are convinced that it lies at the root of all of society’s ills. And where did they get that idea from? From the very people who used evolution to justify the worst atrocities in history.
Was Darwin a Racist? Does Evolution Promote Genocide? There is one final thing I want to note, specifically about Darwin. For all practical purposes, it does seem that Darwin was probably quite racist. For that matter though, most everyone throughout human history has been racist, and if you know anything about the British Empire at its height, you know that it had a pretty racist attitude towards all the people it subjugated. If you grew up in 19th century England, chances are you’d probably hold some racist views as well.
And thus, when we read this following quote from Darwin in his book, while it should obviously shock us at how racist it is, it also shouldn’t surprise us, given the prevalent attitudes of 19th century England. When speculating about the future evolution of species, particularly human beings and other ape-like creatures, Darwin said:
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes…will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”
This quote makes it quite clear that Darwin viewed negroes in Africa and the aborigines in Australia as just lower evolutionary forms of life—no doubt “higher” than your average ape, but also certainly “lower” than European Caucasians. And he thought it was only a matter of time that white Europeans simply “won out” in the great evolutionary battle. I wonder where those eugenicists and Nazis got their ideas? That is why The Descent of Man is so horrific and dangerous. It laid the foundation for the 20th century carnage and genocide that done in Russia, Europe, and even flirted with here in America. It is what happens when people try to take the descriptive task of science and turn it into a prescription for how to “better breed the human animal.”
We need to realize that one of the reasons why Evangelical Christians have traditionally been so hostile to the theory of evolution is not the theory itself, but rather of the kinds of atrocities I’ve talked about in this post. They think “evolution = gas chambers and euthanasia.” They think that because the people who advocated for those atrocities used evolution as justification for them. I know many get frustrated with Evangelicals for making that leap from “evolution” to “genocide,” and claim that Evangelicals are just using scare tactics, and trying to slander evolution as being inherently racist (Ken Ham and the YECists at Answers in Genesis do this all the time).
Before we just dismiss such claims, though, we have to realize that they’re not just making this connection up. They are pointing to the very statements of those who made that very connection in order to justify those very atrocities. That is why it is so important to divorce the scientific theory from the philosophical worldview that tries to attach itself to evolution, like a parasite.
Deep down, despite the rhetoric that “human beings are no different than animals,” despite that biologically-speaking that is true, human beings know that there is something ontologically unique and special about human beings that make them distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t consider the atrocities of the 20th century to be atrocities and we wouldn’t consider forced sterilization to be a problem—but they are atrocities, and those are problems.
We may indeed share our biology with the rest of the natural world, and evolutionary theory certainly does explain that relationship between human beings and the natural world, but human beings are not just animals. Our very humanness and our sense of morality, testifies to the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Author’s Note #2: Another comment a few people had about this post is that they felt I was saying that evolutionary theory was the sole reason for atrocities done under Communism, Nazism, and the Eugenics movement, and that I did not take into account a host of other cultural and societal factors. So I wanted to be clear: of course there were other factors involved. But what I was seeking to point out that once evolutionary theory was introduced, those “other factors” seemed to attach themselves to it in order to justify their own agendas.
Or to put it another way: the Enlightenment had hailed science and reason over religion; it had promoted Deism, the idea that if there was a God, He wasn’t really involved with the world anyway; it had even held up “the general will of the people” as “the deity;” and it had promoted the idea that our morality is derived from nature itself.
Put all that together, along comes evolutionary theory–what impact will it have on those Enlightenment ideals and assumptions? Let me suggest the following: evolution explains how nature works without the need of God; it is survival of the fittest; and so, since we need to seek what is best for the fitness and survival of society, and since we should take our moral cues from nature itself….what should we do with all these unfit people who are obviously threatening the fitness of society?
Enter Eugenics, Communism, Nazism, Scopes’ A Civil Biology…and there you have it. Now obviously, using evolution as philosophical justification for committing those atrocities is wrong–but that is what happened. And that is the point of the post–that is why I think there still is a segment of Evangelical Christianity that is so hostile to evolution: they associate it with those things.
If my previous two posts about Charles Darwin has come across as a validation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it should, at least partly. The point I wanted to make was that one must make a clear distinction between the biological/scientific theory of evolution and the philosophical/naturalistic worldview of Social Darwinism. The two are not the same. Failure to make this distinction has led to 150 years of unnecessary conflict.
To be clear, Origin of Species puts forth the biological/scientific theory of evolution, and that theory rises and falls on the weight of the natural, scientific evidence. And since it is a scientific theory, both the Christian and the atheist (and anyone in between) can analyze, debate, doubt, and be convinced of the entire theory, or parts of it, for it is a theory that is limited to the natural world, and has absolutely nothing to say regarding the existence of God or the dignity of man.
Darwin’s Other Book But in 1871, twelve years after Origin of Species, Darwin wrote another book, The Descent of Man—and that book is, so to speak, quite a different animal. It is a book in which Charles Darwin contemplates the possible impact his scientific theory may have on understanding the society mankind, and this immediately brings philosophical issues into the mix. Benjamin Wiker cites The Descent of Man as one of the top ten books that has screwed up the world. And after reading Wiker’s take on The Descent of Man, I just might have to agree.
My reason is simple: The Descent of Man essentially starts with the assumption that human beings are not only biologically no different than the animal kingdom, but ultimately, they are no different ontologically either. Therefore, any concept of human beings being uniquely made in the image of God goes out the door, and human beings are assumed to be “just animals.” Wiker puts it this way: “The deep-down nastiness of the Descent is eugenic: the idea that the ‘survival of the fittest’ should be applied to human beings” (Ten Books that Screwed up the World 88).
Now it is true: if there is no God, and if the laws of nature are the only things guiding a natural, evolutionary process, and if human beings are inherently no different than anything else in the natural world, are ontologically no different than apes, and thus have no special dignity and are not created in God’s image (which would go without saying if one already didn’t believe in God)—if all that were true, then yes, “survival of the fittest” should be applied to human beings, because that would mean human beings are natural, biological organisms…nothing more.
But as I’ve mentioned in the earlier posts, it must be stated again clearly: Darwin’s theory of evolution is completely impotent when it comes to answers those larger, metaphysical questions, just as, let’s say, a technical manual explaining the construction and inner workings of a computer—however technologically fascinating it may be—it still completely unable to tell you anything about the person who first designed and built the computer, or what the internet is, or what “the cloud” is, or who Bill Gates first kissed, or what is love anyway? …you get the picture.
Or to put it another way: biological descriptions do not determine ontological significance. Those who attempt to do so are using science to do something it cannot do; they are, in actuality, hijacking science to push a particular philosophical agenda. It was The Descent of Man that essentially gave the eugenicists of the early 20th century license to (in the name of “science”) commit some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.
Communists, Nazis, Shaw, and Sanger…Descent, Indeed The problem with The Descent of Man, and the subsequent problem that we see surface in the first half of the 20th century, is its dabbling in the philosophical worldview of Eugenics—a movement that (a) began with the philosophical presupposition that human beings are just more highly-evolved animals that contain no God-given, inherent dignity or worth, and then (b) rushed to the frightening conclusion that human beings can and should be “bred” in the same manner as one would breed dogs. It was the worldview of Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw, the Nazis, and a host of other progressive (and outright racist) thinkers in the first half of the 20th century. Make no mistake, the philosophical worldview that underpinned the Eugenics movement was completely inhumane, anti-Christian, and evil. It was a philosophical worldview that manipulated Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution to suit and legitimize its own goals.
But Darwin did write Descent of Man, did he not? Was he not a eugenicist? Well, he certainly contemplated the possible ramifications of his biological theory. Perhaps the most infamous quotation from his book is this one:
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health…. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.
“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one has attended to the breeding of domestic animals and will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”
Now, that certainly sounds like Darwin is berating human beings for showing compassion to the weak and wanting of the human race. In Expelled, the 2009 “Intelligent Design” movie starring Ben Stein, Stein reads this very quote—the point the movie is making is quite clear: it is claiming that the theory of evolution itself is inherently racist and eugenic. But, like I’ve said before, we cannot conflate the scientific theory with the philosophical worldview some might try to attach to it.
Darwin’s Clarification In any case, we must allow Darwin to speak for himself. Yes, as the first part of his argument goes, it does seem odd that human beings, unlike other species, do in fact care for the “least of these” within the human species. Let’s face it, that is true: when one looks in the biological world or animal kingdom, one does not see animals, plants, or any other organisms take care of and look after the weaker members of its species. At this point, Darwin is not saying anything that anyone would disagree with: in the natural world, human compassion is clearly unique. The question thus becomes, “Where does human compassion for the ‘least of these’ come from?” Darwin continues:
“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence, we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.”
Not surprisingly, Darwin chalks up human compassion to the evolutionary development of social instincts. As a Christian, I obviously think that not only is he wrong at that point, but that when he makes this point, he stands on the edge of the philosophical abyss. For to reduce compassion to simply an evolved instinct is to obliterate the uniqueness of human beings; and opens the philosophical door to a worldview that says human beings are nothing more than animals. And once you step across that threshold, all talk of morality and right and wrong go out the door, for that means everything about human beings–even morality itself–is reduced to mere natural processes.
As the quote shows, Darwin actually dangles his toe over that threshold, so to speak, by suggesting that it would be a good thing to prevent “the weak” from marrying and propagating (which is a eugenic tenet to the core). But even then, he quickly draws back and says, “…we can’t expect this happening.” Nevertheless, though, it was Descent of Man, and not Origin of Species, that opened the door to the dark movement of eugenics. Even if Darwin proved himself too timid to even really open the door, he did open it a crack, and it would be thrust open in the next century. The 20th century would witness the most cruel and inhumane societal actions known to man, be it eugenics, the Nazi program, or Communism.
Tomorrow, I will have one more post related to Darwin that will attempt to tease out the tension and challenge that people still wrestle with today regarding the relationship between the scientific theory of evolution and the potential societal implications it has on a philosophical level. The fact is, Darwin’s theory did have tremendous philosophical and societal implications that people are still debating today. Hopefully tomorrow’s post will shed some light on this very challenge.
If you follow the current creation/evolution debate, chances are that you might not really understand what the theory of evolution actually states. And if you are a Christian (particularly one who has been influenced by YECists like Ken Ham), you probably have assumed that Charles Darwin was an atheist who came up with his theory of evolution in order to try to convince people that God doesn’t exist. Well…welcome to my post. You’re going to learn a few things.
Darwin’s Theory When it comes to Darwin’s actual theory, his genius lay in his understanding that the entirety of the biological/natural world is intricately connected on a wide-ranging, biological and natural scale. Essentially, it was the realization that life is not static: every living organism is constantly reacting to, and influencing at the same time, the environment in which it finds itself. And, given the fact that 19th century geologists (most whom where clergymen!) were unearthing ancient fossils of dinosaurs and speculating that the earth itself was possibly millions of years old, Darwin’s theory of evolution drove him to speculate that perhaps, if given enough time, all the varieties of life we observe in the world today ultimately “descended” from a common ancestor, way back in the past, millions of years ago.
Simply put, Darwin (and biologists ever since) observed small-scale adaptations within species (i.e. finch beaks), and observed a number of biological similarities between a cross-section of species. Therefore, the speculation was that if the earth was indeed millions of years old (and geologists were already making that case long before Darwin), then it is possible that perhaps all these different species evolved from a common ancestor. Ever since then, especially with the advancement in genetic studies today, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been verified time and time again.
Limitations…Let’s Be Clear on the Limitations But it must be emphasized again that Darwin’s theory is limited to the biological world of nature, and it is only concerned with the development and evolution of biological life. In no way does it make any philosophical or theological arguments regarding God or the dignity of man; and in no way does it make any argument regarding the origin of life itself. Simply put, when Darwin wrote Origin of Species, he was putting forth a theory on the origin of species from a pre-existent form of life; he was not putting forth a theory on the origin of life itself.
This is important to note for a number of reasons. First, the current YEC movement (as well as the followers of William Paley), are objecting to a claim that Darwin’s theory never makes, namely that nature is a random accident, and that God does not exist. They are mistakenly attaching a philosophical claim onto the biological theory, and then attacking the biological theory on the false basis that it is an atheistic, philosophical worldview.
Second, the current New Atheist movement (championed by the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris) are, in fact, high-jacking Darwin’s biological theory and attempting to claim that it is the scientific basis for their atheistic/philosophical claims. Both YEC and the New Atheists are a threat to clear thinking and honest inquiry, for both are either willfully ignorant or purposely misleading.
Third, since Darwin’s theory is limited to biological life in the natural world, and since it simply cannot even address questions regarding God, morality, or the dignity of man, the theory itself it subject to different philosophical interpretations that the theory itself cannot verify or reject. If you are an atheist, you will look at evolution and conclude that “nature can do it all by itself,” and therefore God doesn’t exist. Of course, your conclusion that God doesn’t exist in no way can be extrapolated from the theory of evolution—it is a philosophical leap in the dark that is not buoyed by the evolutionary evidence.
Furthermore, if you come to that conclusion, it is quite obvious that (a) the “god” you are rejecting is the god of deism, and (b) you aren’t aware of the difference between the deistic god and the biblical God. Therefore, when Richard Dawkins claims that evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, someone should remind him that some of Darwin’s earliest supporters—Charles Kingsley and Frederick Temple—were Christian clergymen.
If you are a Christian, you should realize that being convinced of the theory of evolution does not entail a disbelief in God. In fact, if you are a Christian, you are free to conclude that evolution is the way by which God, not only has created, but is continuing to create, the natural world. This is what Joseph Le Conte (1823-1901) (as well as millions of Christians today) believe. Ronald Numbers tells us that Le Conte “…perhaps the most influential theistic evolutionist in America, described science itself as ‘a rational system of natural theology’ in that it pointed beyond itself to a divine Mind that served as the ‘energy’ that was immanent throughout creation” (Galileo Goes to Jail166).
We must see the theory of evolution in a clear light: it is a biological theory that has produced some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs and discoveries in human history, but it still is (as all scientific theories are) a working, provisional theory that is always open for revision and questioning.
In addition, and unfortunately, the theory of evolution has been abused, misrepresented, and manipulated to support some of the greatest atrocities in human history. But the moment one begins to present Darwin’s theory as the basis for any philosophy or ideology, is the moment one takes a step in either one of two misdirections: (1) Nazism or Communism, which, like nature itself, is “red in tooth and claw,” or (2) cultish, heretical, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and ultimately anti-Christian movements like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis.
Darwin’s Own Loss of Faith (Oh Hell, that Hurts!) One more misconception about Darwin himself must be cleared up here: Charles Darwin was not an atheist. He didn’t come up with his theory of evolution as a way to justify his rejection of God. At the same time, though, neither was Darwin a Christian, and he never had a “death-bed conversion” back to the Christian faith. He, like so many Englishmen of his day, grew up in a nominally Christian household. And although he eventually lost his Christian faith, he never described himself as an atheist. He was, by all accounts, an agnostic later in life. But again, it was not his theory of evolution that was the cause for his loss of the Christian faith.
The reason for Darwin’s problem with Christianity was two-fold: first, there was the Christian teaching of hell—namely that there was a place where the souls of unbelievers would be tortured for all eternity; second, there was the existential problem of pain and suffering in the world.
Regarding the teaching of hell, we must realize that much of what we believe today regarding hell is not so much from the Bible itself, or even from the teaching of the early Church, but rather is a product of a certain strand of Catholic thought from the High Catholic Age. Dante’s Inferno is more influential to our modern concept of hell than the Bible actually is. Therefore, although Christians for the past 2,000 years have speculated as to the nature of hell and to the justified and proper punishment for those in rebellion against God, the dogmatic teaching of eternal hellfire and souls tormented forever in eternal pain is a teaching that has never been universally held by the Church, and is one that is not spelled out in the Bible itself. And so, it is unfortunate that one of the reasons why Darwin left the Christian faith was a teaching that wasn’t particularly Christian.
Regarding the problem of pain and suffering, this is one we cannot dismiss out of hand. Darwin certainly could not. Within the span of three years, Darwin experienced the death of his father (1848) and the death of his eldest daughter (1851). Indeed, when one comes face to face with suffering, pain and death, it is undoubtedly going to be a challenge to any kind of belief in a loving God. “How could God allow this to happen?” “Why did God not intervene?” Questions like these are ultimately unanswerable. This is not the place to get into an extended discussion on the problem of pain and suffering, but given the topic at hand, we must admit that the problem of pain and suffering is, in fact, a very real challenge to anyone’s faith.
Despite losing his Christian faith, nonetheless, Darwin never rejected belief in the existence of God. He himself viewed his own theory of evolution as simply uncovering the natural laws imposed on creation by a creator God. As Ronald Numbers states, “Although an agnostic late in life, Darwin denied he had ever been an atheist and frequently referred to evolutionary outcomes as the result of laws impressed on the world by a creator” (GGJ 227). Simply put, using modern categories, Darwin would have probably labeled himself as a theistic evolutionist—although not a Christian.
In addition, we must also note that not only was Darwin not an atheist, he also harbored no ill will toward Christianity, Christians, or the Church. Ronald Numbers again: “[Darwin] himself fell away, but he gave generously toward church repairs and sent his boys to be tutored by clergymen. Local priests always had his support; the Reverend John Innes became a lifelong friend. In 1850 they started a benefit society for the parish laborers, with Darwin as guardian. Innes later made him treasurer of the local charities and, with a testimonial from him in 1857, Darwin became a county magistrate, swearing on the Bible to keep the Queen’s peace” (GGJ 150).
All this goes to show that Darwin, despite falling away from his Christian faith, never was an atheist, never was hostile toward Christianity, and never viewed his own theory as something that “proved” or supported atheism. Not only did he not see his theory as an atheistic threat to Christianity, neither did the Church of England. After all, as Numbers tells us, “The English lay no one lightly in Westminster Abbey, their national shrine, much less the mortal remains of those who affront the monarchy, the established church, or Christianity” (150).
The implications that Darwin’s theory of evolution had, philosophically, theologically, and socially, certainly had to be worked out—and for the past 150 years we’ve witnessed the mess—but the theory itself was not philosophy, it was not theology, it was scientific. It no more is anti-biblical or anti-Christian as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is either anti-biblical or anti-Christian. It is high time that extremist ideologues on both sides of the non-existent “creation/evolution debate” are rejected as the charlatans they are.
When I was hired back in 2003 at a Christian high school in Arkansas, I was hired to teach mostly English, but also one class in “Worldview.” Specifically, I was to teach Senior Worldview—a class that looked at the major thinkers of the modern world. There was a unit on Karl Marx and a unit on Sigmund Freud. In my last post, I talked about Marx, and eventually I’ll write about Freud—both men, I believe have contributed greatly to the disintegration of the traditional Christian worldview in the modern world.
A third major figure from the 19th century that often gets lambasted for destroying the Christian worldview is Charles Darwin—the politics of Marx, the psychology of Freud, and the science of Darwin: all three have sounded the death knoll of Christianity in the modern world…at least that is what your typical Worldview class in many Evangelical Christian schools teach.
Speaking as someone who ended up teaching Worldview at Evangelical Christian schools for 12 years, I can say that Marx and Freud certainly are pretty bad, and deserve a lot of criticism. Darwin, though, has gotten a bad rap.
I’m going to devote a couple of posts to Darwin because (a) he really is important, and (b) he really has been misunderstood. The fact is, the creation/evolution debate isn’t going away anytime soon. So even if you don’t care specifically about it, you have to realize another fact: the creation/evolution debate really isn’t about science; the reason it’s a debate is because people are arguing religion and philosophy with it—that’s why it’s so controversial and often so confusing. And so, I’m going to do my best to bring come clarity regarding just who Charles Darwin was and why he is important to understand.
Let’s Meet Charles Darwin It was in the 19th century that Charles Darwin (1809-1892) lived and made his contribution to history in the form of his theory of evolution. Now, unlike Marx (and later Freud), Darwin’s theory actually was scientific—it addressed biological questions in the natural world. Despite all the bluster of the misguided “creation vs. evolution debate” of the past century, it must be said up front that Darwin’s theory of evolution was a scientific theory, and not a philosophical worldview.
Now, it is true, Darwin’s theory certainly has had tremendous philosophical and theological ramifications—every scientific discovery impels human beings to rethink and adapt their philosophical and theological assumptions. Indeed, Darwin’s scientific theory is still challenging a tremendous amount of philosophical/theological contemplation regarding nature itself, not to mention God and human beings. But we must be clear: Darwin’s theory of evolution is a mere biological/scientific theory, and not some sort of atheistic/philosophical worldview that attempts to attack Christianity.
Despite the amount of ink, both from atheists and biblical literalists alike, that has been spilled on the theory of evolution—indeed, more probably, because of the amount of ink that has been spilled—most of the populace is utterly ignorant of precisely what Darwin’s theory entailed, and what his philosophical/theological worldview really was. So the best place to start is to give a brief explanation of what Darwin’s theory actually says.
Contemplating Nature By the time Darwin boarded The Beagle in 1831 to spend the next six years of his life travelling the world (until 1836), people had already begun to speculate on issues like the age of the earth and the development of all life in the natural world. In fact, many of the leading geologists and biologists of the day were, in fact, clergymen. Nevertheless, the influence of 18th century deism still held considerable sway. Deism was the idea that although there was a Creator God, that he had created the universe—in particular, the earth—to run according to unchangeable natural laws, much like a watchmaker makes a watch. Therefore, since “natural laws” governed the workings of the universe, God himself had no direct relationship with the natural world, not any more than a watchmaker would have to “intervene” with his watch to keep it running—it just would run.
Now the idea that the universe is governed by observable, rational, laws of nature was nothing new. In fact, the early scientists of the High Catholic Age (although they would call themselves “natural philosophers”) based their scientific undertakings on this very assumption: that God was a rational and orderly God who created a natural universe to run according to rational and orderly laws. And because of that, it was possible for human beings, being created in God’s image, to use their own rational faculties to observe the natural world that God created and to understand it, for the purpose of fulfilling the biblical mandate to have dominion over and to care for God’s creation. Simply put, the philosophical presupposition that there was a rational and orderly Creator God led the early scientists to investigate God’s creation.
The Enlightenment and William Paley During the so-called Enlightenment, though, secular thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau took the Christian conviction of a Creator God who created a rational and orderly universe and—no surprise—secularized it. They accepted the concept of “God” in a general—in fact, pantheistic—sense by equating “him” with the laws of nature itself. The result was deism, and the belief that the universe was nothing more than just a giant machine, running according to the laws of nature—a personal “God” was not needed; the universe could run all by itself, thank you very much!
The philosophical worldview of the universe as nothing but a giant machine, though, prompted some Christian apologists like William Paley (1743-1805) to argue that the precision by which the universe ran was in and of itself a rational argument for God. Simply put, Paley was one of the first people to advocate the “intelligent design” argument. Very well then…the orderliness of nature point to the probability of a “Designer God.” But in reality, this idea was nothing new—the Bible itself says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
But it must be pointed out that Paley’s underlying assumption, though, was in fact one put forth by so-called Enlightenment thinkers: namely that the natural world was a machine. Such a view, given the time period, should not be surprising. The industrial revolution was radically changing, not only economics, but also men’s philosophical categories. Simply put, before the industrial revolution, no one would have put forth the categorical concept of the natural world as a machine.
It’s one thing to point to the orderliness of the natural world as an indication that it was created by a rational God; it’s quite another to (in fact) reduce the natural world to being solely mechanistic. Such a worldview reduces not only nature, but also God, for it reduces God to…nothing more than a cosmic watchmaker; one who cannot have any personal relationship with his creation, any more than a watchmaker can have a relationship with his watch.
All this goes to say that this was the over-arching view of nature and God in the early 19th century. What Charles Darwin theorized—somewhat metaphorically—amounted to throwing a giant monkey-wrench into the philosophical idea of the “cosmic machine” (although at the time, it was thought to actually verify it). At the same time, his theory of evolution also provided the rationale for the later dark and twisted ideologies of Communist and Nazi regimes alike. Needless to say, Darwin’s theory of evolution opened a Pandora’s box of philosophical and theological conundrums that, as of today, still have not been adequately understood and figured out.
Still, the key thing to remember is this: for all the philosophical and theological ramifications Darwin’s theory evoked, the theory itself is not philosophy or theology; it is a biological theory, limited to the workings of the natural world.
Darwin’s Actual Theory After years of study and research, in his ground-breaking work, The Origen of Species, Charles Darwin put forth the biological theory that the variety of species and life forms in the world have come about through a long, slow process of natural selection. Now, “Nature” is not some being that “chooses” and “selects,” but rather what Darwin what suggesting was that somehow organisms adapt to their environments, and given enough time, they can change so much that they end up “evolving” (i.e. adapting) to become entirely different species.
At the time, given the cultural climate of the industrial revolution, Darwin’s theory was couched in the mechanistic terms: namely, “natural selection” provided the mechanism for adaptation and evolution into the variety of species in the world today. Therefore (given the cultural influence of the deism of the time), some began to claim that Darwin’s theory “proved” that there was no need for a God in creation: natural selection was the industrial-like mechanism that did it all!
As the Anglican priest and scientist John Polkinghorne has stated: “Charles Darwin…presented us with natural selection as a patient process by which such marvels of ‘design’ could come about, without the intervening purpose of a Designer being at work to bring them into being. At a stroke, one of the most powerful and seemingly convincing arguments for belief in God had been found to be fatally flawed” (Christianity on Trial, Vincent Carroll, 78).
But is that really true? Did Darwin’s theory provide a “natural mechanism” that, by nature (oh the irony!), ruled out the need for God? The answer is a simple, “No.” We must be clear, the “god” that Darwin debunked was not the Creator God of the Bible; it was the distant watchmaker of 18th century Deism; and ironically, the “intelligent designer god” of William Paley.
What the Bible Says… Any common sense reading of the Bible, and any competent understanding of Church history, should make it quite clear that the Bible does not give a detailed, ‘nuts and bolts’ description of the way in which God created—indeed, creates—the natural world. It simply isn’t there, not in the pages of Scripture, and never dogmatized in Church history. The Bible tells us essentially two things about God and his relationship to the natural world (and to us as human beings as well): (1) God created everything, and (2) God is a personal being who is intimately involved with his creation.
The Bible does not tell us how He created—unless, of course, you happen to fall into the camp of young earth creationism. That being said, it must be stated at present that the current form of the “creation/evolution debate—namely, that of young earth creationism vs. Richard Dawkins’ brand of “new atheism” couched in scientific garb—was not the form of the 19th century debate.
The basic point here is that Darwin’s theory was never an attack on the biblical God of Christianity. It was a scientific/biological theory regarding species, and the varieties of life we observe in the natural world. When it was invoked within philosophical/theological debates, two things must be stated clearly:
(1) Darwin’s theory was still being couched in deistic terms (i.e. mechanism; natural selection), and therefore was still being discussed and debated from a presuppositional worldview of 18th-19th century deism—and that has created problems and had muddied the waters up to today; and
(2) the “god” that Darwin’s theory rendered irrelevant was the “god” of deism, not of Christianity.
Unfortunately, because of the influence of deism, so-called Enlightenment philosophy, and the industrial revolution, 19th century Christianity had come be described with largely deistic/mechanistic terminology, and this caused much confusion. For all his good intentions, William Paley’s “intelligent designer” argument for God was nothing more than an apologetic for a Christian-sounding deistic watchmaker God. Darwin’s theory threatened Paley’s arguments, for sure; but Paley was arguing for a deistic god, although he thought he was arguing for the God of the Bible. The failure to realize this has been the source of much confusion regarding Darwin’s theory, the biblical God, and the natural world, ever since.
In my next post, I will continue to look at the effects of Darwin’s theory.
Possibly the most influential and infamous thinker of the 19th century was Karl Marx (1818-1883). Now it must be said off the bat that you can’t really understand Marx unless you realize the socio-economic conditions in 19th century Europe. That could be a book in and of itself, and I am certainly not going to write a book on the socio-economic conditions of 19th century Europe. But if I was to crystalize the key thing to realize, it would be this: The Industrial Revolution was huge!
Let’s Consider the Industrial Revolution…and Enlightenment With the Industrial Revolution came an entirely new reality that people were in the process of coming to terms with. And, as anyone who knows anything about history knows: life in Europe at the time was pretty grim and inhumane: child labor exploitation, countless deaths in the factories, poverty wages, the list could go on. The giants of industry were amassing unheard of wealth, while the common people were starving and dying in coalmines and factories.
In 1832, a major reform act passed in England, and that marked the beginning of some much needed changes, and in fact, throughout the rest of the century, lives of common workers did slowly but steadily improve in terms of wages and cost of living. That is not to say that they had it easy—working textile factories and coalmines is still back-breaking, dehumanizing work. And because that was the new reality, it obviously caused people to contemplate the state of humanity, morality, and human rights.
Another thing to remember is that the 19th century was still coming off the heels of the French Revolution. The ideals and views of the Enlightenment still held tremendous sway. Why is this important to remember? I’ll put it this way: given the new reality and challenges of the Industrial Revolution, people like Marx took their cue from the Enlightenment and proceeded to craft their own philosophical worldview that they felt would best address those challenges.
“I Love Hegel, I Hate Hegel; I Love Hegel, I Hate Hegel” In order to begin to understand Marx, one has to understand how Marx came to his philosophical worldview. He basically took Hegel’s concept of the dialectic ofAbsolute Mind (as touched upon in my last post), mixed in Feuerbach’s complete rejection of any sort of spiritual realm, and came up with the Marxist notion of dialectical materialism.
What this means is that, unlike Hegel, Marx did not see history as that of the struggle of competing ideas that will eventually “evolve” into the Absolute Mind. Rather, he viewed history as that of an “evolution” of economic struggle—i.e. dialectical materialism. Marx was convinced that the problem of human suffering was rooted in economics, pure and simple. He argued that human history has been the history of class struggle—economic classes have always been locked in a perpetual struggle, and by the mid-19th century (according to Marx), there were only two economic classes left: the capitalist bourgeoisie business owners, and the working-class proletariat masses.
The bourgeoisie, although consisting of only a minority of people, held all the levers of power, both in business and in government, and they used that power to subjugate, and essentially enslave, the majority proletariat masses. All the bourgeoisie cared about was making money, and they didn’t care one bit about the suffering and plight of the proletariat workers. The bourgeoisie will always find ways of increasing their profit margin, and they will always look for ways to pay the proletariat less and less, thus keeping them in subjugation.
Eventually though, according to Marx, the proletariat would realize the power they have. They, being in the majority, would rise up against the bourgeoisie, exterminate the bourgeoisie class, take control of the means of production, the banks, and the government itself. Then the elite leaders of the proletariat would form a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, and would set up a communist system in which all goods and services will be equally distributed to all.
Simply put, the temporary dictatorship of the proletariat would determine the collective good of the society. Everything will be set up for the common good—to each according to his ability; to each according to his need. And thus, according to Marx, once that utopian communist system is set up, we will have a classless society—everything will be equal, everyone will be happy, and everyone will perform to the peak of his/her natural ability. If the French Revolution declared the general will of the people to be the deity, Marx said, “Sure, but there is no deity—just people, and the dictatorship of select few among the proletariat (i.e. the elite) should decide what is best for everyone.”
Upheaval in 1848…but then… Things in Europe came to a head in 1848, when various workers’ parties threatened the political stability of governments throughout Europe. It was in 1848 that Marx wrote his infamous Communist Manifesto. He was convinced that the apocalyptic final battle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie was about to happen…but it didn’t. Governments and businesses made concessions, and life improved slightly for workers. Overtime, due to the economic engine that the Industrial Revolution kick-started, along with governments and businesses realizing they couldn’t push the common worker around, the standard of living improved across the board.
When the upheaval of 1848 died down, and Marx’s hope for a communist uprising all over Europe didn’t materialize, Marx—having been kicked out of Germany and France—retreated to England. He spent the last 35 years of his life in the British Library, writing the incomprehensible and incoherent Capital, in which he advocated for the absolute destruction of capitalism, the abolition of private property, the annihilation of religion, and an establishment of the communist utopia.
The irony of Marx’s life was that that man who championed the common worker, hardly ever worked a day in his life. He simply refused to get a job. Instead, he lived off an inheritance from his father; and then when that ran out, he was supported by his fellow communist collaborator, Frederick Engels, who had inherited his father’s textile business. That’s right, Engels, for all practical purposes, was a rich, industrial capitalist, and Marx benefited from it. Instead of working at a job to support his family, Marx mooched off his communist/capitalist friend and wrote about the destruction of the capitalist system that supported him.
What Marxism Has Wrought It should not be surprising to find that Marx’s dialectical materialism and his utopian vision of a classless society has been the root cause of the absolutely worst human atrocities in human history, as the entire 20th century can attest to. Now, although Marx did rightly shine a spotlight on many of the injustices of early industrialization, the fact is that everything in his philosophy is naïve, baseless, and simply wrong.
First off, up until the time of Marx there was no such thing as “capitalism.” What 19th century liberal/radical philosophers dubbed as “capitalism” was nothing more than what human beings have always done: buy, sell, and trade things. “Capitalism” was no more a “top-down, superimposed system” than a child’s lemonade stand, buying food at your local market or grocery store, or trading baseball cards. It was a term that 19th century Socialists like Marx made up in order to further their agenda to “tear the whole thing down.”
Granted, with the Industrial Revolution, the newly-invented machines of progress did usher in an entirely new type of production, workforce, and scenarios. And with that came horrible abuses and outright immoral actions of many of the lords of industry. No one can possibly justify the oppression and abuses to children working in the mines, etc. Marx was indeed correct to speak out against such abuses. But his fundamental problem was that his analysis of such abuses had absolutely no basis within his own proposed worldview. By attempting to reduce everything to economic causes, not only did Marx utterly fail to understand the true nature of evil, he ended up subverting the very notion of evil itself.
After all, in Marx’s worldview of dialectical materialism, since there is no God and therefore no real right and wrong or good and evil (but only the constant dialectic of materialistic and economic forces) then to decry the abuses and evil of “capitalism” is a nonsequitur. Capitalism cannot “commit abuses” because according to dialectical materialism, there are no such things as “abuses,” and there is no such thing as “evil.” The very basis for Marx’s critique of “capitalism,” simply put, does not exist within his worldview of dialectical materialism, and hence, his very accusations against capitalism are a complete contradiction of his dialectical materialistic worldview.
Marxism vs. Christianity What Marx was doing, was in fact borrowing the notion of “evil” from Christianity. One of the most common themes in the entire Bible is God’s anger towards those who oppress and mistreat the poor and needy. But whereas the biblical basis for such judgment against those who oppress the poor and needy is that since the poor and needy are made in God’s image, abuses against the “least of these” is an affront to God himself. Therefore, godly behavior consists of caring for the poor and needy, whereas ungodly and evil behavior consists of abusing and oppressing the poor and needy. But in Marxism, the basis for judgment against the oppression of the poor does not exist. In fact, there is no moral basis, for there is no such thing as morality—just the dialectical progress that will ultimately result in a classless system. Capitalism itself cannot be called “evil,” but rather just another step in dialectical materialism.
Justification for Mass Murder And this leads to a truly diabolical mindset—in Marxism, there really is no such thing as evil. Marx claimed his analysis of class struggle was purely “scientific” and “objective” (which would be utterly surprising to anyone who ever has read his rantings against capitalism, and virtually anyone else with whom he disagreed!). Marx stated that it was simply inevitable that the bourgeoisie would be annihilated, and that it was simply inevitable that millions would “perish in a revolutionary holocaust.” For Marx, killing of the bourgeoisie was not “murder”—for “murder” was simply a bourgeoisie notion imposed upon the subservient proletariat class to keep them in line.
It therefore is not surprising at all to find that Marx’s disciples—notably Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—were so nonchalant about the millions upon millions of people they killed: it was just the inevitable process of dialectical materialism. It wasn’t murder; it wasn’t genocide—it was scientific, inevitable and necessary for the good of mankind. Yes that’s right—killing and enslaving human beings for the good of humanity was a foundational plank of Marxist philosophy and later Communist ideology. One can see the roots of such philosophy within Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of “forcing people to be free” if they went against the “general will of the people,” which was equated with the “divine sovereign.”
That is why it utterly baffles me when some people try to distance the atrocities of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao from Karl Marx, by claiming they distorted Marx’s philosophy—because it was Marx himself to stated that not only did the bourgeoisie have to be annihilated, but also that countless groups of people who were not yet sufficiently advanced to accept the dictatorship of the proletariat would simply have to be wiped out. Let’s be clear: the mass murder of the 20th century Communist regimes was clearly stated and championed by Marx’s own philosophy.
Did I Mention How Much Marx Hated Christianity? There is another key element of Marxist philosophy that needs to be addressed: Marx’s utter disdain for religion, particularly Christianity. There is no doubt that he inherited his hatred of religion from the so-called Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century. Yet it was Marx who coined the term that defined religion as “the opium of the people.” What he meant by this was that “religion” was an entirely bourgeois concept that was forced upon the poor proletariat masses in order to keep them in line and subservient—the whole “obey your masters and you’ll have mansions in heaven” bit. At least that’s how Marx portrayed religion. Furthermore, Marx argued that religion was in fact a tool of capitalists to rationalize the oppression of the poor and maintain their own economic power.
Therefore, for Marx, part of the Proletariat revolution was not simply a revolt against capitalism, but also a revolt against “capitalistic religion” that tried to “keep them down.” Destruction of the free market economy and the annihilation of religion—that was what Marx considered “progress.” Sheer atheistic communism was the utopian, classless society that Marx believed was the inevitable destiny of mankind.
Again, it should come as no surprise to find that the worst persecution of Christianity over the past 2,000 years has come at the hands of Communist dictators like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. In fact, more Christians were martyred during the 70 years of the USSR than all Christians who were martyred in the previous 1900 years of Christianity. The systematic targeting and attempted liquidation of Christians in the Soviet Union and Communist China was the logical out-workings of Marx’s original worldview and philosophy.
Here’s the Point One of the things that startles me about today’s America is the growing number of people who consider themselves Marxist, or who say that Marxism is a good idea and that men like Lenin and Stalin simply distorted what Marx was saying, or that Marx got some things right, etc. I’m willing to admit that some of Marx’s critiques of the dangers of capitalism were correct, and that some of his specific proposals have merit. That’s not the issue.
The issue is that of his underlying philosophical outlook of dialectical materialism. The issue is his contention that “class struggle” was just an inevitability and that he was putting forth some sort of objective, scientific analysis. The issue is that his underlying outlook is positively amoral, containing no concept of right or wrong, good or evil. It declares violent revolution to be the inevitable destiny for society, and it naively declares that the dictatorship of the proletariat will just melt away and give up dictatorial power when everything is equal.
But let’s face it, every dictator will be able to point to something that isn’t quite right yet, and thereby justify his dictatorial hold on power, and, with Marx’s own writing behind him, that dictator can use violent force…for the good of the State, of course…because the State is society, and the general will of society is all that matters…and the dictator must choose what is best for society.
Marx didn’t want reform; he didn’t want to right wrongs…for he denied the very concept of “right and wrong” as bourgeoisie attempts to control the masses. He wanted violent revolution; he declared it was inevitable, and therefore preferable.
In this post, I am going to give a brief overview of the essential views of three highly influential philosophers: Immanuel Kant, Georg W.F. Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach. Yes, I touched upon Kant in an early post, but he deserves another look, especially as we delve into the 19th century.
Immanuel Kant: What is “Real”? Ask a Scholar! The philosopher who most impacted the 19th century was the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 AD). Indeed, as some have said, “The 19th century was but a footnote to Immanuel Kant” (Revolutions in Worldview 284). Kant’s full philosophy is far too vast to adequately cover in a mere blog post, and so, even having written an earlier post on Kant, I want to touch upon Kant again, yet limit myself to the major features of his philosophy that proved to be so influential in the subsequent generations.
Essentially, Kant divided all reality into two separate spheres: that of the physical world of science and knowledge (phenomenal), and the religious/spiritual world of faith (noumenal). The physical world, that of nature, was something that could be measured, fact-checked, and observed—it was therefore able to be objectively analyzed and studied by a truly objective skeptic/scientist. On the other hand, the non-material spiritual world, was something that really couldn’t be measured, fact-checked, or observed—it was therefore something that could not really be “known” in any scientific, “objective” sense. And because of that, it was something that could only be blindly believed, based on a supposedly religious authority.
Or to further simplify things, according to Kant, objects in the physical world could be known through objective analysis, whereas the objects in the noumenal world could only be believed, through faith, based on a religious authority, someone like a priest. Therefore, it came to be assumed that a “disinterested scholar” possessed a superior position to that of a priest or cleric, because the scholar could “analyze things objectively and scientifically,” whereas a priest or cleric would be hopeless subjective in his opinions—after all, the priest was dealing with blind, subjective belief, and the scholar was dealing with facts.
Back to Greek Philosophy…but Let’s Flip Everything on its Head But notice how the very way in which Kant set out his argument immediately pushes you to one ultimate conclusion: the physical world is really real and able to be known, but the so-called “spiritual” world is, well, maybe real, sort of…you can’t really prove it…so maybe it’s not really real—it’s just a matter of faith!
And just like that, in a rather ironic twist, the unified world of the concrete and the spiritual that Christianity had been proclaiming and laboring to achieve for 1800 years (call it the new creation, if you will) had been ripped apart into the same two separate spheres that had confounded Greek philosophers over 2000 years earlier.
But the irony of it was is that, whereas the classical philosophers largely saw the non-material universals in the World of Forms as being “really real,” and the material particulars of the natural world as being more or less shadowy, inferior copies of the universals, Kant (and the philosophers that came after him) proclaimed that it was the particulars of the natural world that were “really real,” and the supposed universals of the noumenal world that were essentially “less real.”
So What’s the Problem? (That Ole “Particulars vs. Universals” Conundrum) Yet placing ultimate reality within the particulars of the natural world creates a fundamental problem: what does that make man, and how is he—a creature of the natural world—able to discern and truly know what is “really real”? How can he be sure that what he perceives in the natural world is actually true? How can he trust his perception? Kant’s answer was this: within each brain of each human being, there are “categories of reason” that help make sense of the sensory impressions that our senses take in. Think of this as something like a coin machine for knowledge. Everything that our senses take in is akin to different “coins”—and they get poured into our brains that contain this “categories of reason.” Therefore, each sensory impression gets funneled into the proper “slot” within the brain—and that is how our brains make sense of what our senses perceive.
So what Kant did was (a) take the classical philosophical concept of “the universals” that existed in a purely separate and non-material “World of Forms,” (b) re-label them as “categories of reason,” and (c) locate them within the human brain. The problem, of course, is that his claim of “categories of reason” within the brain really wasn’t an objective, factual concept that could be scientifically known…and therefore, how could anyone really know if it was objectively real?
And so, in his attempt to place the locus of knowledge in the mind of the objective scholar (and not the subjective faith of a religious priest), Kant ultimately achieved nothing. The idea of a purely objective scholar existing within the natural world, and being a part of that same natural world, is nonsensical. Without the real existence of universals, no real knowledge of the particulars in nature can be achieved. And simply changing the concept of universals and making them into “categories of reason” that exist within biological brains doesn’t really get you anywhere.
Plato was the one who said that particularsin the natural world are nothing more than shadows of copies of the real universals that exist in an entirely different, non-material World of Forms. By contrast, Aristotle said that the particulars in the natural world have worth, and essentially contain within them the very real universals—therefore particulars are essentially universals in process.
But Kant did something radically different than either Plato or Aristotle. Kant said that only the particulars are really real, and objective, and measurable; and the supposed universals really are just different categories within the brain that filter the perceptions of the “really real particulars” into knowable details.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: A New Kind of Pantheism, and Religious Evolution Yet, it is hard for people to let go of the sense of there being a real, spiritual world. It was G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) who tried to “save” religion from the onslaught of radical Enlightenment thinking. For a time, Hegel seemed to have been successful; yet it must be pointed out that the “religion” that Hegel was attempting to save was decidedly not Christianity. In reality, it was nothing more than a vague pantheism.
Hegel attempted to argue that the entire course of history was purposed by the Absolute Mind. Yet it was not like this Absolute Mind was a master puppeteer, simply pulling the strings of history. Rather, Hegel suggested something more akin to an “evolution of ideas.” Simply put, Hegel said that the Absolute Min was slowly evolving in both ideas and the history that it shapes. In other words, human history progresses through battling ideas that shape the world. This progression came in the forms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
When it comes to religion, Hegel argued essentially that religious ideas evolve. “Way back when,” Hegel would say, the primary religious idea was that of animism—and that worked for a while (even though it would be wrong to say it was actually “true”); that idea (i.e. thesis) eventually ran into various problems in the world (i.e. antithesis), and the result a new religious idea, namely pantheism (i.e. synthesis). Pantheism, thus became the dominant religious idea, and thus the new thesis. Yet this too eventually ran into problems, and the result was yet another synthesis of religious ideas, namely polytheism. Polytheism then eventually evolved into theism; and then in the Enlightenment, so Hegel claimed, theism was now evolving into deism. The Absolute Mind was working itself out through great ideas that shape history, ever forward. This process was known as dialectical conflict—progress entailed the struggle of ideas in history.
Yeah, But What is Truth? The ultimate result of Hegel’s thinking, though, was that it completely did away with any concept of actual truth. Hegel’s philosophical outlook essentially said that ideas ultimately are not right or wrong, or true or false. They simply are thought to be true for the time being, until another dialectical move forward progresses history further on to the nebulous concept of Absolute Mind. It nevertheless was a very attractive philosophy for a short time. After all, it maintained the optimistic Enlightenment ideal of progress, while also holding on to a vague notion of spirituality.
Hegel’s dialectic, though, ended up having absolutely disastrous effects on Western philosophical culture. If all history was just one dialectical progress of ideas, and if no idea ever can really be considered true, then what impact does that have on one’s understanding of the Bible? For certain left-wing Hegelians like D.F. Strauss and F.C. Bauer, the answer was simple: the Bible isn’t really “true” in any absolute sense; rather it is just only the product of the historical context in which it was written, nothing more. It might have been thought to be “true” back then, but history has moved on, further progressions of thesis-antithesis-synthesis have happened, and we have moved on. Thus, any truth claims made in the Bible were not really consider absolute anymore. It was “true for them,” or at least seemed to be true for them; but we’ve moved on. The Bible, therefore, was something that certainly could be studied about times and beliefs of the past, but it held little or no impact on the world today.
Hegel’s idea of the dialectical progress of ideas in history also proved to be the unintentional inspiration for a much darker, sinister worldview that came to dominate the later 20th century: Marxism. Yet before we talk about Marxism, we first must say a few things about yet another philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach.
Ludwig Feuerbach: God is Just a Fictional Superman Now, if Hegel’s dialectic essentially proclaimed that no religious ideas could ever be “true” in any kind of real sense, that led to an obvious question: if the Christian view of God, for example, wasn’t really true, and if that concept of God really wasn’t true, then what did that make the Christian concept of God, really?
Enter Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Like his fellow German, Karl Marx, Feuerbach asserted that any and all teachings about God were, in reality, nothing more than veiled assertions about humanity itself. In fact, in his book, The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach asserted that the Christian God—one who was loving, righteous, gracious and merciful—was simply too much like an ideal human being to be taken seriously. Feuerbach actually took the biblical condemnations of pagan idolatry, and turned them against Christianity itself. He essentially accused the OT prophets who railed against foreign idols of failing to see their own idolatry in the form of YHWH.
According to Feuerbach, Christianity was just the last vestiges of a dying superstition—or in Hegelian terms, just yet another thesis about to slowly give way in the ever-evolving progress of human history. Furthermore, in true Enlightenment fashion, since Feuerbach saw Christianity as simply nothing more than superstition, he easily dismissed Christianity’s supernatural claims as being wholly unverifiable and obviously false. Indeed, not only that, but the very Christian God was a being who obviously did not exist—he was just a fanciful projection of the human ideal, created by human beings in their own image, and not vice versa. Supernatural beings did not really exist, claimed Feuerbach, only real, living, breathing human beings existed.
So, if There is No God, Where Does Goodness Come From? Feuerbach was therefore compelled to find another source of goodness, morality, and dignity—if goodness didn’t come from God, it had to come from humanity itself, within human nature. This, though, as history has clearly shown time and time again, is a highly problematic and ultimately dangerous proposition. In a way, it is very similar to what we’ve seen in ancient Greece and Rome—after it was shown that a society could not be secure with the “the gods” acting as the moral basis for that society, the Romans turned to Caesar, a deified dictator, in hopes to gain a good and secure society, one that was based on and rooted in a man. The results, as we’ve seen were ultimately catastrophic.
With the dawning of the 19th century, the centuries’ old idea of locating goodness and morality within humanity itself still manifested itself, only with one new wrinkle: it was not to be rooted in one man (i.e. Caesar, a king, a dictator), but rather in society as a whole (an idea from Rousseau–“the general will of the people” was to be equated with God). If anything, this was even more naïve than the Roman idea of a deified emperor, for a deified emperor didn’t have to deal with a host of differing views and ideas. To essentially deify society as a whole, Feuerbach foolishly neglected one obvious truth: individual people have differing views of right and wrong, and therefore have differing concepts of morality. Although he might have held up freedom and dignity as essential characteristics of humanity, rooting them within humanity itself, without any reference to God at all, Feuerbach opened the door to moral anarchy.
And was it on the other side of that door? None other than Karl Marx…
After the earth-shattering political events of the American and French Revolutions to close out the 18th century, along with the philosophical shift that took place during the so-called Enlightenment, 19th century Europe and America found that there was a whole new world to navigate. Despite the cataclysmic failure of the French Revolution, the Enlightenment philosophers had succeeded in making a radical shift in philosophy, which in turn proceeded to shape the course of the next two hundred years.
The result of all that was that throughout the 19th century, the influence that Christianity had in both Europe and America slowly began to crumble. And then, early on in the 20th century, there came the all-out assault on Christianity, primarily in the form of the rise of Communism. In addition to that, secular propaganda continued its Enlightenment-influenced attempt to portray Christianity as “hostile” to science, progress, and morality.
Who or What are the Nephilim? But we are getting slightly ahead of ourselves. I have labeled the 19th century as The Age of the Modern Nephilim. The Nephilim are mentioned in the very odd passage Genesis 6:1-4. They are the offspring of the union between the “sons of god” and the “daughters of men.” What that passage means can be an entire post in and of itself. To be brief, I believe it is illustrating the corruption and abuse of rulers (i.e. the sons of god) who use their power to abuse God’s creation and take advantage of the poor and weak (i.e. they just take whatever women they want).
In any case, the result of those mythic unions is the birth of the Nephilim. The name actually means “fallen ones,” and they were understood to be violent and dangerous giant-like people. Now the purpose of Genesis 6:1-4 was to show how corrupt and evil the world had become, and thus provided the reason for the flood in Genesis 6-8.
In addition, there are passing references to these Nephilim in various places in Scripture: the Anakim, mentioned in Deuteronomy and Joshua were giants who possessed the Promised Land, and were the reason why the Israelites originally failed to take the land initially, and thus had to spend 40 years in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. In addition, Goliath (another giant) has a connection to them, and do the other four giants mentioned in II Samuel. The point is this: the Nephilim, the later Anakim, and the “giants in the land” are representative of the corruption, violence, and danger that is a result of people in power trying to play God.
This is what I see happening in 19th and later 20th centuries. Perhaps that is overstated a bit, but I certainly like the imagery of the Nephilim to describe the 19th century.
The 19th Century in a Nutshell TheAge of the Modern Nephilim can be summed up with three general categories. Religiously, social-minded, etiquette, and proper Victorian manners ruled the day. In this respect, the religion of 19th century society was similar to “the gilded age” that described the Industrial Revolution that was also happening in the 19th century: all bright and shiny on the outside, but a whole lot of problems underneath. It was the time of the rise of liberal theology—the attempt to retain a “kinder, gentler” form of Christianity that focused on “being good and moral,” and put on the back shelf all those problematic truth claims about things like resurrection, miracles, and the historical reliability of the Bible.
Philosophically, it saw the rise of philosophical materialism, which essentially is the belief that the material universe consists of all reality—i.e. if it ain’t material, it ain’t real. This, obviously began to undermine the Christian underpinnings of Western society. Now, given the rise of liberal theology, many people didn’t want to admit this. They essentially wanted to retain that sense of “Christian morality,” without really accepting historical Christianity. That mentality, though, would be mercilessly attacked by Friedrich Nietzsche. Simply put, he was the only philosopher really “man enough” to see the consequences of ridding society of God and the Christian faith.
Politically, it witnessed the beginning of the death throes of various empires and kingdoms. The British Empire might have been at its height, but as George Orwell would write about in his 20th century short story, “The Elephant,” it was already beginning to die. Like the elephant in the story, empires like Britain were “rising up on their hind legs,” bolstered by the economic boon of the industrial revolution, yet at the same time were suffering from many self-inflicted wounds.
The 19th Century Fall Out The 19th century was not so much of an age of revolution as it was the fall-out of the revolutions that preceded it, both religious (aka: the Protestant “Reformation”) and secular (aka: the “Enlightenment”). It was a century that brought us the industrial revolution, the theory of evolution, Marxism, and further advances in science. It was a century that ushered in archaeology and the discovery of the ancient past. And with technological and industrial advances, it was the century that boasted of colonialism and emerging global capitalism. It was the century that first started to wrestle with how modern advances in science, archaeology etc. might affect religious belief, namely Christianity.
But given the fall-out of the so-called “Enlightenment” propaganda, and the failure of a fractured institutional Church to incorporate these advances within a Christian worldview, the modernist pride of the 19th century declared that all the Christian faith was good for was moral sentimentality, and that it was historically and scientifically irrelevant—science and reason as supposedly proved it. Little did these modernist thinkers of the 19th Century know that their faith in science and autonomous (and decidedly irreligious) reason was setting Western society up for a tremendous and bloody fall—for this reason, I call this age The Age of the Modern Nephilim.
What we need to realize is that the disaster of the French Revolution had not been able to sway the intellectual elites of the time from their newly-established philosophical faith commitments. The fundamental “utopian dream” that Enlightenment thinkers trumpeted was still embraced and promoted by the intellectual elites of the 19th century.
The only difference was that, since the French Revolution showed that one couldn’t completely get rid of Christianity without things devolving into bloody chaos, there was a concerted attempt by many in the 19th century to essentially “save” religion, and make it a useful tool for achieving the “utopian dream” of the Enlightenment. That being said, numerous voices continued to call for the complete annihilation of religion. The gauntlet had been lowered against “organized religion” in 18th century Enlightenment circles, and the war over religion as society lurched forward into the Industrial Age continued to be fought throughout the 19th century.
What the Change of Worldviews Began to Look Like In his book, Revolutions in Worldviews, Andrew Hoffecker crystalized the change that happened in the 19th century. Like I said above, after the French Revolution, the general view at the beginning of the 19th century was that “faith” and “reason” didn’t have to be an either/or proposition. As Hoffecker notes, “Scholars routinely interpreted the rise of early modern science as grounded in Christian claims about the orderliness of the created order” (281).
By the end of the 19th century, though, after trying to retain the compatibility of faith and reason, yet working from the newly accepted Enlightenment worldview and presuppositions, thinkers eventually came back to the doorstep of what led to the French Revolution: the conviction that faith was irrational, and that there was a real conflict between “science and reason” on one side, and “religion and superstition” on the other. Hoffecker puts it this way: “By the end of the century, faith and reason were more generally perceived as enemies, forever locked in violent conflict” (281).
Hoffecker further explains that at the heart of this revolution in worldview was a conflict over the foundational claims of Christianity itself: i.e. there is a Creator God who orders history, is bringing all things to their consummation, and in whose image human beings are made. The thinkers of the 19th century came to argue that the God of Christianity looked a bit too like an ideal human being, and therefore was really nothing more than a projection of what human beings aspire to be: kind, merciful, just, forgiving, etc.
Therefore, let faith and religion deal with those unquantifiable things, but let science and reason deal with the reality of the world that can be observed, measured, and tested. Split the two spheres of science and reason and faith and religion, and we can let “God” fill in the gaps of whatever science can’t explain.
And so, in the next few posts, I’m going to look at a number of philosophers that impacted the 19th century, the 20th century, and still impact us today. In the next post, I’m going to touch upon Immanuel Kant again, as well as discuss George W.F. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. After that, we’ll take a look at Karl Marx; then later, we’ll meet Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, and maybe a few others.
The last few Ways of the Worldviews posts have been quite heavy in the philosophy department. And it’s true, the philosophers of the Enlightenment have had a tremendous impact on how we in the modern world even view reality itself: God, nature, religion, the state, the church…you name it. That’s all well and good, but what impact does any of this have in day-to-day life and actual historical events?
Well, as it so turns out, there are a number of odds ‘n ends I have come across over the past few years that do touch upon some of these matters, but that I just am not sure how to fit in to this Ways of the Worldviews series. So, I figured, why not just dump it all into one post, and let it be a bit disjointed and possibly messy? It still is rather interesting stuff…Enjoy…
The Difference between the American and French Revolutions It is rather interesting that the American and French Revolutions, that happened roughly at the same time in history, ended up yielding such different results. The American Revolution led to the establishment of the United States of America, a Constitution that has lasted for over 200 years, a clear separation of Church and State, and as a result, a flourishing of religious freedom to where America is one of the most religious countries in the world (even if in name only).
By contrast, the French Revolution began in 1789, and by 1792, Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety had instituted the Reign of Terror. And by 1804, a mere 15 years after they deposed the monarchy of France, Napoleon declared himself to be its emperor. Why such different results?
To the point, I believe it had to do with how each country dealt with the issue of religion. In America, although many of the Founding Fathers were clearly deists and not traditional Christians, they nevertheless respected the right people had to religious faith and the right they had to express their religious convictions. There was an intentional decision for the government to stay out of church affairs—that, incidentally, was the “wall between Church and State” that Thomas Jefferson was referring to. The “wall” existed so that the State could not impose its will on the Church. At the same time, although it was obvious that the Church was not to run the affairs of the State either, there was no objection for religious men and women to express their religious beliefs in public and attempt to convince people in regards to how the State should be run.
In other words, the religious man was free to argue for his religious convictions in the public square, and if his argument was convincing enough, he had just as much a right to try to shape public policy as anyone else. Therefore, in America, deists, atheists, and Christians of all backgrounds were free to contribute in the public square.
By contrast, in France, the focus was not simply to stamp out the monarchy, but to stamp out Christianity itself. Human rights were not “endowed by the Creator.” Instead, the “Supreme Being” was equaled to the sovereignty of the nation and the general will of the people—and so, the basis for democracy in France essentially came to rest, not on the idea that there are certain inalienable rights endowed by God, but rather the idea that human rights are human rights, because that’s what society wants.
Or to put it another way, in reference to Greek philosophy: in America, the idea of particular rights was rooted in the conviction that God, as the ultimate universal, gives those particular rights meaning. Man is created in God’s image—man has dignity, worth, meaning, and rights, because he is the image of the Creator. By contrast, in France, the particular rights were rooted in…what? There was no universal to root them in—“God” was just the “will of the people.” Human rights are human rights are human rights…let the government enforce the will of the people.
And because of that, the revolutionary government of France, ended up slaughtering thousands in the name of enforcing human rights. They decreed that 1792 be considered “year one” of the new age of Enlightenment; they proclaimed “the goddess of reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral, and even paraded an actress, dressed up as the goddess reason, in a procession into the church, held shoulder-high by men dressed in Roman costumes. In short, they attempted to place finite human reason and the will of the people up as the deity that was to dictate human society.
The result was the Reign of Terror, chaos, and then the installment of an even greater dictator than Louis XVI—Napoleon Bonaparte.
Christopher Columbus Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492—considerably before the time of the so-called Enlightenment. So why talk about Columbus now? Simple: our accepted narrative about Columbus comes from the time of the Enlightenment—and it couldn’t be more wrong. We all know the story of Columbus: he went about trying to prove that the world was round, despite the Catholic Church’s claim that the world was flat. Ironically, in addition to proving the world was round, Columbus also unwittingly discovered a whole new continent. Right?
Wrong. The only reason why such a story has been largely accepted as true in our day and age is certain writers during the Enlightenment put forth this yarn as an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church and to convince people that Christianity was simply an anti-intellectual, superstitious religion. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times in the course of these posts, the Enlightenment had this really bad habit of making things up and telling complete historical falsehoods.
I first learned about this almost 20 years ago, when I saw a BBC special by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) about the Middle Ages. In one of the episodes he touched upon the common misunderstanding regarding Columbus. You can watch the entire episode here. The specific part about Columbus begins around minute 16.
The fact is that the story of Columbus’ clash with the Catholic Church over the claim that the world was, in fact, round, was a complete fiction, written by Washington Irving in the early 19th century. As soon as Irving published his biography of Columbus, it quickly was snatched up by people who already held an animus against Christianity (or particularly the Catholic Church), and promptly used it as yet another weapon in their arsenal to attack Christianity.
Later on, men like Andrew Dickson White promulgated and embellished the already fictitious story in his attempt to show that there was an ever-raging war between the ignorant superstitions of Christianity and the enlightened, rationalism of science. But the fact had been, and indeed still is, that there had never been a war between science and Christianity. As Rodney Stark points out, “Long before the fifteenth century, every educated European including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round” (Triumph of Christianity, 274). In fact, as Ronald Numbers points out, “From the seventh century to the fourteenth, every important medieval thinker concerned about the natural world stated more or less explicitly that the world was a round globe, many of them incorporating Ptolemy’s astronomy and Aristotle’s physics into their work” (Galileo Goes to Jail, 31). Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Albert Magnus—not to mention every single solitary sailor—knew that the earth was round.
Slavery: Enlightenment Thinkers vs. Christian Thinkers There is one key issue that infected Western Europe and pre-Civil War America that must be addressed: slavery. It was stated earlier that it was Christianity that successfully put an end to the ancient pagan institution of slavery. It was because of the revolutionary Christian conviction that all human beings were made in the image of God, and were therefore created equal, that the ancient pagan institution of slavery was ended. But if that was the case, how did slavery revive in Western Europe? The answer is simple: colonialism. With the discovery of “the new world” came the European push to colonize it in order to expand markets of trade. And what better way to insure high profits than to secure a workforce for virtually nothing—i.e. let’s enslave Africans and send them to work in the sugar cane fields in the Caribbean!
Yet the question thus becomes, “If Christianity had long before condemned slavery as immoral and anti-Christian, who were the people in Europe who advocated for slavery?” Although the full answer is far more complex than can be discussed here, the simple answer is that slavery was promoted and advocated by prominent Enlightenment thinkers. Furthermore, slavery was not only condemned by the Catholic Church from the outset of its revival in the colonies, but it was the tireless work of countless Christian abolitionists who eventually were able to once again, both in England and in the United States, to abolish slavery for the second time in Western history.
One such Enlightenment thinker who advocated for slavery was none other than David Hume. He argued that blacks were “naturally inferior to whites,” and once compared an articulate black Jamaican to “a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.” Indeed, other prominent men of the Enlightenment like Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire and John Locke all defended the practice of racial slavery. And what was the basis upon which they argued for slavery? None other than human reason, nature, and supposed science—the result was justification for the inhumane practice of slavery, and the subsequent enslavement, torture, and ultimate death of millions of African slaves.
By contrast, it was Christians who were speaking out forcefully against the practice of slavery right from the outset. In his book, Christianity on Trial, Vincent Carroll tells us that in 1774, John Wesley wrote Thoughts on Slavery, and “posed a rhetorical question to the captains of slave ships: ‘Do you never feel another’s pain? Have you no sympathy? …When you saw the flowing eyes, the heaving breasts, or the bleeding sides or tortured limbs of your fellow human beings, were you a stone or a brute?’” (32). Incidentally, Wesley was no fan of David Hume. He called Hume, “the most insolent despiser of truth and virtue who ever appeared in the world.”
And then there was George Whitefield. Carroll tells us that Whitefield “went so far as to ask whites to consider the children of slaves as equal to their own. ‘Think your children are in any way better by nature than the poor Negroes? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin, as white men are; and both, if born and bred up here, I am persuaded, are naturally capable of the same improvement’” (32).
There was also John Newton, the former slave ship captain who eventually repented of his sins and became a follower of Christ. He wrote perhaps the most famous hymn in history, Amazing Grace. He greatly influenced William Wilberforce who, along with William Pitt, eventually was able to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire. It was because of his deeply-rooted faith in Christ that Wilberforce dedicated his life to the betterment of humanity. He famously said, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” His dream was initially realized when Parliament voted to make the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, and then was finally realized with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1834. Over the course of his career in Parliament, Wilberforce introduced countless anti-slavery bills that brought him nothing but scorn.
In fact, early on in his political career, he was ridiculed for trying to “impose religion” into public life. Carroll tells us that Lord Melbourne sneered at Wilberforce and said, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life” (36). Nevertheless, his persistence, along with the ground-swell of support from Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, eventually was able, for the second time in Western history, to put an end to slavery.
Of course, while Wilberforce was able to end slavery in the British Empire without firing a single shot, the United States ended up having to fight a war over the issue. Slavery was established in the colonies in Virginia in 1619. Almost immediately there were Christians who objected to the practice. Sadly though, as the practice became firmly entrenched in the colonies, even Christians came to be split on the issue. Even though Quakers actually banned anyone who was involved in the slave trade from church membership, a large number of Baptists in the south came to endorse supposed biblical justifications for slavery.
Despite the fact that from the days of the early Church, Christians had always opposed slavery, after a few generations, southern Christians had simply adapted to the slave-culture of the south, and sought to justify the truly horrible practice with passages from the Bible (Lev. 25:44-46; I Cor. 7:20-24; Eph. 6:5-8; I Peter 2:18-21). This certainly was a tragedy. But we must not falsely assume that it was Christianity that encouraged the slave trade and the continuation of slavery in America. In fact, the leading abolitionists in America were non-other than evangelical Christians, predominantly Baptists and Methodists. In fact, the reason why there are considerably more predominantly black Baptist and Methodist congregations around the country, as opposed to Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or any other denomination, is because it was Baptist and Methodist churches who led the abolitionist movement. Consequently, it is no wonder why so many black people and former slaves ended up joining those denominations—they were the ones who helped secure their freedom.
And the Indians… Christians in America didn’t just concern themselves with the plight of black slaves. Vincent Carroll writes that Christians also “organized the most determined effort of the early nineteenth century to defend Indian rights: a national campaign against President Andrew Jackson’s brutal plan to confiscate the Cherokee Territory in Georgia and expel the natives from their land” (196). In addition, “It was evangelical missionaries, too, who defied the law against residing on Cherokee lands and choose to be arrested at the point of bayonets in order to push the Indians’ case before the U.S. Supreme Court” (196). And finally, “The Cherokee bill was controversial to begin with only because of the evangelical campaign, a grassroots effort that came within five votes in the House of defeating Jackson’s scheme” [Trail of Tears] (196).
The point should be obvious, throughout the history of America, it was Christians who led the way in striving for the freedom and fair treatment of “the least of these”—be it black African slaves or Native American Indians.
Next on the “Ways of the Worldviews” series: we’re journeying on into the 19th century—what I call “The Age of the Modern Nephilim.” If you don’t know what that is, check back in a few days.