A Firewall Between Science and Culture? Questions and Answers with John West, Author of Darwin Day in America
Evolution News & Views
ENV: What is “Darwin Day,” and why is your book titled Darwin Day in America?
West: “Darwin Day” is Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12. There is a growing movement around the world to turn the day into a kind of secular holy day complete with its own rituals to honor Darwin. These Darwin Day celebrations expose just how much Darwinian evolution is like a secular religion for many of its proponents. At the same time, I think Darwin Day provides a metaphor for how our public policy and culture have been influenced over the past century by Darwinian biology and similar kinds of reductionist science. In many respects, Darwin Day is every day in America right now, because Darwinism and scientific materialism have reshaped virtually every area of our culture and politics.
ENV: What inspired you to write your book?
West: A lot of my interest dates back to my reading of C.S. Lewis and his perceptive little book The Abolition of Man as a college undergraduate. Back in the 1940s, Lewis prophetically warned about the dangers of misusing science to debunk traditional morality and treat human beings like automatons to be manipulated by scientific conditioners. I started to investigate whether the dangers Lewis warned about in Britain could be found in America, and I soon discovered that they could. I initially became fascinated by efforts to misuse science to debunk free will and personal responsibility in the legal arena — the abuse excuse, the insanity plea, the diminished capacity defense, and so forth. Then I started to look to other areas, and the more I looked, the more I found. What I didn’t realize at first was the culpability of many scientists in what was going on. I originally thought that scientific materialism was largely a case of non-scientists misusing science for their own political ends. But it soon became clear to me that scientists themselves — often the leading scientists of the time — were at the forefront of trying to use science to impose a reductionist vision of human beings in the public arena.
ENV: Your book targets the impact of both “scientific materialism” and “Social Darwinism” on public policy and culture. Can you explain those terms?
West: Put baldly, scientific materialism is the attempt to prove that human beings are merely meat in motion — that we have no free will, that we have no souls, that morality and religion are simply evolutionary artifacts programmed by our genes for our survival, and that our very thoughts and ideas can be fully explained by our brain chemistry. Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution made scientific materialism credible by purporting to offer a scientific explanation of how human beings (and their minds and morals) could be generated through a blind material process of random variation and natural selection. Social Darwinism is the effort to remake public policy by applying Darwinian principles to welfare, economics, business, criminal justice, education, and medicine. My book documents how scientific materialism in general and Darwinism in particular have had momentous consequences for the rest of our culture…
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