Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Atheism, Darwinism and Morality

Jul 10, 2007

Worldviews matter. The way one deals with the big questions about life (e.g., Why am I here? Is there a God? What is my purpose?) will have an impact on the way we live. If we are convinced that life has no ultimate meaning, that only matter matters, and that there is nothing special about homo sapiens, then that will have some bearing on the way we live and the way we view other people.

And there tend to be connections between various worldviews; there is some overlap in many areas. For example, there are no – or very few – philosophical naturalists who are also theists. While not all evolutionists are atheists, most atheists are evolutionists. Indeed, Darwinism came along and offered atheism some epistemological comfort. Recall the well-known quote of Dawkins, “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

And then there has been a connection between the atheist/Darwinist camp, and those who have wanted a good excuse to reject traditional morality. That is, if there is no divine moral law giver, and if ultimately we are little more than rearranged pond scum, then there seems less reason to strive for certain types of morality. Indeed, some have gloried in their immorality.

That is not to deny that many nonbelievers strive to be “good,” however they might define the term. The theist has a good explanation for this: even the atheist is made in the image of God. And because a moral, personal God exists, there is such a thing as objective morality. Thus attempting to live a good life is a reflection of being a divine image bearer. Even if we reject the God who made us, we cannot escape being the way that we are, because of God’s design.

(Evil is also explicable from the biblical worldview, because of the doctrine of the Fall. Sin has entered the world, and now all people, apart from God’s saving assistance, are locked in a life of sin and selfishness.)

The Darwinian worldview, then, along with the atheistic worldview, helps make a way for those who seek to reject morality altogether, or at least to redefine it in their own image. Dr. Benjamin Wiker recently wrote about these connections between unbelief and immorality. In a June 19, 2007 piece entitled “Emotional Atheism,” he explores some of the musings of past and present atheists.

He notes that while they claim to be strongly basing their atheism on reason and logic, the truth is often the opposite: their writings seem better described as emotional responses. Says Wiker,

“How far back shall we go? How about the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271 BC). Epicurus argued that our lives are ruined by the continual dread of the gods, either zapping us in this life for crossing their entirely fickle wills, or if we escape that, torturing us in Hades after death. The cure? Epicurus invented a universe in which the gods couldn’t exist. He was the first atheist to use materialism to god-proof the cosmos. Atheists tell us that it was human fear that created religion. But for Epicurus, fear of the gods created atheism.”

“But fear isn’t the only emotion that creates atheism. Aldous Huxley, the grandson of Charles Darwin’s ‘bulldog’ Thomas Huxley, said candidly of his atheism, ‘For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever’. For Huxley and friends, the desire for sex untethered to morality demanded that God be cut loose from the world. Happily, as Huxley noted later, he realized that this was an intellectual error.”

Wiker produces similar quotes from contemporary atheists such as Dawkins and others. Consider Christopher Hitchens: “‘Clearly, the human species is designed’ – by evolution, mind you – ‘to experiment with sex.’ Indeed, Hitchens assures readers, ‘The relationship between physical health and mental health is now well understood to have a strong connection to sexual function, or dysfunction.’ In other words, inhibited sex makes us dysfunctional; it is downright unhealthy. ‘Can it be a coincidence,’ Hitchens complains, ‘that all religions claim the right to legislate sex?’ Nature demands complete sexual experimentation; religion demands moral restrictions on sex; therefore atheism, which denies the divine and hence divinely-mandated moral laws, is natural, right, good, and true. So goes Hitchens’ logic.”

He continues, “One has cause to wonder if the libido is steering his argument to a pre-determined conclusion. But sexual desire is not the only emotion driving atheists’ arguments. Witness the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, who confessed in The Last Word to ‘a fear of religion itself’: ‘I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world’.”

Concludes Wiker, “That’s about as clear of an expression of Theo-phobia as one could want. The ‘cosmic authority problem.’ Perhaps that is the source of atheist Richard Dawkins’ zeal in his defense of Darwinism? One only wishes that he – and Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett – were as candid about the emotional source of atheism as Thomas Nagel.”

As mentioned, not everyone uses atheism as a cloak for immorality. But many have used it, and many do. Wiker here simply quotes some of the more honest atheists and Darwinists. Many others like to pretend they are good people, and they have arrived at their atheism by rational thought, but one suspects that many enjoy this worldview because it lets them do whatever they like. And that is what atheism is all about: seeking to take the place of God, make up the rules, and live for self.

[1188 words]

3 Responses to Atheism, Darwinism and Morality

  • Bill, I was watching Christopher Hitchins and his brother Peter, sitting at either ends on the panel of the BBC1 “Question Time” programme the other week. The great divide between these two was unmistakable; Peter is a Paleoconservative, and his appearance was one of being calm and sane; Christopher, by contrast, appeared to be either drunk or debauched, but certainly burdened. My main point is that atheists cannot help but bend the knee, to genuflect, to something greater than themselves; because, as the Paleoconservatives say, of our genetic wiring. Schaeffer says “Man is personal, and yet he is finite; so he not a sufficient integration point for himself. We might remember another profound statement from Sartre: that no finite point has any meaning unless it has an infinite reference point. The Christian would agree that he is right in this statement.” (‘He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 1). Since it often seems to be nature that they are obsessed with (Dawkins and Darwin), perhaps it this but with a capital ‘N’ that they worship?
    David Skinner, UK

  • Picasso, an atheist and communist, expressed this idea of man returning to a primitive stage, whereby he looses his personality and individuality behind the African mask and fuses himself with the dark and destructive forces of nature. He, like Russell and Huxley, used this so called reality to control and exploit women; always with himself at the centre.
    David Skinner, UK

  • I was interested in the quote by Aldous Huxley and how the tables have completely turned since that time. In speaking of how to overcome the hold Christianity then had on the culture, Huxley said:

    “There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.”

    Today however evolutionary humanism, not Christianity, is the dominant view in society. Perhaps Christians need to take heed of Huxley’s modus operandi. To rephrase Huxley’s statement:

    ‘There is one simple method of refuting the evolutionary humanists and at the same time justifying the Christian view of politics and society: we can deny that the world could in anyway have come about by naturalistic means.’

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

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