Darwin's Depressing Idea

by Richard Peachey

[Featured as an advertorial in Cascade News, University of the Fraser Valley student newspaper, Sept. 24, 2009]

During the recent "Down with Darwin!" Day at the UFV Abbotsford campus, several atheists and skeptics dropped by to engage in conversation with us creationists who were hosting the event.

One of these individuals was honest enough to admit that the evolutionary worldview is a rather depressing one (although, at the same time, he said he wasn’t personally feeling "depressed" over it).

Another skeptic even agreed that if evolution is true, there exists no absolute basis on which to call genocide "wrong."

It makes sense that if biology (and indeed the whole history of the universe) is under the sway of mindless, undirected, naturalistic processes, there will be no ultimate meaning or purpose for our lives.

Jean Paul Sartre and other atheist existentialists have exhorted us that we need to come up with our own reasons for "authentic" living. But of course such arbitrarily invented "purposes" will at the end of the day be firmly anchored in . . . nothing.

Those who've seen the Ben Stein movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed will recall the chilling words of Cornell historian of biology Will Provine:

"No gods, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will – are all deeply connected to an evolutionary perspective. You're here today and you're gone tomorrow, and that's all there is to it."

Later in the movie, Provine explains: ". . . it starts by giving up an active deity, then it gives up the hope that there's any life after death. When you give those two up, the rest of it follows fairly easily. You give up the hope that there's an immanent morality, and finally, there's no human free will. If you believe in evolution, you can't hope for there being any free will. There's no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life. We live, we die, and we're gone. We're absolutely gone when we die."

Some of our skeptic visitors candidly stated their agreement with such views. The doctrine of evolution, if pursued to its logical conclusion, has the effect of ravaging not only meaning and purpose, but also religion, ethics, and free will.

In 1995, evolutionary philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts University published Darwin's Dangerous Idea, in which he likened evolution to a "universal acid" that would dissolve everything it encounters. In a related magazine article, Dennett told his readers that Darwinian evolution "eats through virtually every traditional concept, leaving in its wake a revolutionized world view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable but transformed in fundamental ways."

"The Darwinian theory is a scientific theory," Dennett continued, "but that is not all it is. The creationists who oppose it so bitterly are right about one thing: Darwin's dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves."

This "universal acid" dissolves even the creator: "The kindly God who lovingly fashioned every one of us (all creatures great and small) and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight—that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in" (The Sciences 35[3]:34, 40, 1995).

An earlier evolutionary philosopher, Bertrand Russell, took the same view. (This quote includes a single very long sentence, so please bear with it!)

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving, that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms,

that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave;

that all the labour of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system,

and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins —

all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built" (Why I Am Not a Christian. Simon & Schuster, 1966, p. 107).

What stark bleakness! Such a worldview can quite aptly be summarized as follows:

"If evolution is true . . . all life is nothing more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again."

Of course, it's possible for an idea to be depressing without being false. If the depressing evolutionary worldview really is true, then we may need to just accept it and move on. But the bleakness of evolutionary thinking ought at least to give us pause, and cause us to investigate it with extreme caution before committing ourselves to it!

Skeptics sometimes accuse Christians of believing in God, Christ, and eternal life because we require such comforts ("crutches") for our lives. But the fact that the Christian worldview is a source of great joy, peace, and comfort does not necessarily make it false. Indeed, how marvelous if it were all true!

I suggest that my self-styled "skeptic" friends ought to be exercising more skepticism, not less. You folks should aim your "baloney detectors" (Carl Sagan's term) in the direction of the Darwinian establishment a little more often. (Not that creationists don't need correcting at times — we certainly do.)

Lastly, here's an "empirical experiment" each of us should try for ourselves:

"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8).

Or in the words of Jesus, "If any one chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17).

Richard Peachey is vice-president of the Creation Science Association of British Columbia. He was UFV's first science graduate (BSc, Biology and Chemistry, 1995), and the winner of the 1995 SFU Dean's medal for excellence in the faculty of science. Since 1996, Peachey has been a science teacher in the Abbotsford public school system.


For further reading: "Darwin's nihilistic idea: evolution and the meaninglessness of life," by Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg (Biology and Philosophy 18:653-668, 2003).