In a column that ran several weeks ago, creationist and historian Richard Weikart claimed that accepting evolution makes it impossible to criticize Hitler. While other historians took issue with this in the column, a number of readers did as well:
“Regarding Darwin I will give the disclaimer that I am an atheist who is becoming increasingly militant about it more in the fashion of Bill Maher than of Richard Dawkins perhaps . Weikart’s statement that without a deity based creation there are no grounds to criticize Hitler is, of course, abhorrent. I consider myself, my children and many friends to be quite moral individuals without any need to invoke a deity. To the extent that I recall my college freshman philosophy class (1967-68) perhaps Kant was on target with his notion that morality is the glimpse of the “nouminal” afforded to us. However, I am enough of an elitist to fear that many humans are quite capable of barbarous immorality without the fear of eternal punishment and the reward of eternal bliss to motivate them.”
Did Darwin have any real impact on morality? Ideas can certainly have a dramatic impact. Many people read the words of Jesus and concluded it was better to die young and to then have less to repent for and to therefore have a better chance of getting into heaven. The Church quickly added an appendix to The Word and dictated that it was a sin to kill oneself. Certainly one can over-read the words of Darwin so that they contradict the words of God, but Copernicus can be accused of the same thing as he demoted Earth from being the center of the universe to being just a planet that circled about the Sun. I don’t recall any dramatic lessening of morality following the switch-over from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe (The idea that the sun was merely one of many stars would have to wait until the late 1700s).
If one looks at Confucianism, it appears to be a very highly pragmatic moral code concerning how human beings get along with one another. It requires no gods to enforce it, it merely points out that pushing aside its suggestions will result in unhappiness within ones’ lifetime here on Earth.
Finally, this reader shows the argument could easily be turned around.
Might another appropriate response to Richard Weikart be, “If everything is a product of God’s will, then there are no grounds to criticize Hitler”?
There’s only one problem with this, and that’s that Christianity reportedly says humans have free will, even if the world also unfolds by God’s will. At the same time, a number of scientists have pointed to the fact that if the world runs by deterministic laws, then we can’t have free will. It’s all an illusion they say, and we are like characters in movie, acting out a plot that can’t be changed.
Determinism comes not from biology, but from physics. So maybe the creationists over at the Discovery Institute should lay off Darwin for a while and start going after those miscreants Newton and Einstein.