Darwinism considered

Hugh Baker on the moral implications of survival of the fittest' and the use of Darwinism as the standard for defining Man's nature

On the Lower Devonian shelves of my study, they sit; old copies of New Directions, waiting for me to go through them with a pair of scissors, cutting out words of wisdom and storing them for my retirement, when (I promise myself) I will read them at leisure, and thus become old and wise. Thus snipping some weeks ago, I noticed a letter in response to something I'd written, questioning the links I'd made between evolutionary theory and communism, fascism and liberalism.

I was made to think about our correspondents question by the recent BBC Darwinfest. It would seem that the BBC have given themselves the task of constructing a new national religion for us all to subscribe to. Worried about Muslim extremists? Can't decide between the Bhagavad Gita and the Pentateuch? Let us provide the nation with a Story we can all agree upon (since its truth is, of course, proved beyond doubt).

Shaping identity

It was those unfashionable folk, the Fascists, who realized the value to national unity of a commonly-held founding myth. I don't suppose Mussolini took the Romulus and Remus story as historical fact; but he saw its potential as an identity around which the fractured Italian nation could gather. That it didn't was largely down to another myth competing with it

for the Italian soul: that of the unfolding of history driven by class struggle.

That a common founding story shapes our national character has often been noted. Brown's The Darwin Wars declares on its dust jacket 'Evolutionary theory is now one of the main myths of our time. It has to bear the weight of most of our hopes and fears about what being human really means.' Mary Midgley, in Evolution as Religion, describes Darwinism as the 'creation myth of our age'. She notes, 'By telling us our origins it shapes our views of what we are'.

Darwinism (you know all this, so I shall be brief) posits that life has developed by competition. Animals have mutated and developed by the survival of that which has been able to adapt to changing circumstances best, while that which develops inappropriately dies away: in short, the survival of the fittest. There is no place in this animal tale for compassion or cooperation (unless for mutual benefit in surviving) and, of course, we are part of this story - for we are animals.


If competition between species is the name of the cosmic game, all sorts of cruelties become justified, since there really can be no such thing as cruelty. In the Marxist application of Darwin, the animal which survives is the Proletariat.

Were Communism and Fascism the

wilder shores of applied Darwinism, or is its background music to be found elsewhere? Consider the dull, neutral shores of Sweden. Here, we now know, 'eugenics' was practised by the Caring State; and thousands met an uncalled-for early death. Their genes weren't in order, you see. Progress would be enhanced by their elimination; and here we see the rationale of liberalism, as we now know it.

Progress, it says, is what will bring us survival, and happiness. We should, therefore, expect and encourage change. The only Christianity which can survive and flourish is that which adapts to the changing world as it is. Hence the assumption at the time of the 1992 Act of Synod that traditionalists would die out automatically.

No critique of the scientific truth of Darwinism can be attempted within the confines of a short article, and hence I make no attempt to do so here. I merely note that the only Darwinfest snippet I saw showed the highly educated Jeremy Paxman uncritically quoting T.H. Huxley's account of his debate with Bishop Wilberforce as if it were fact. We now know it was, largely, spin. The evange-listically atheist Huxley was soon driving the machine that the shy, cautious, hesitant Darwin had set in motion. Ever since, every kind of cruelty, from American slavery to Auschwitz, has used it for its justification. |

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