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Tuesday, February 10, 2015


By Christopher Ziegler

Find Christopher Ziegler
@CZWriting on Twitter
Abraham Lincoln celebrated his final birthday 150 years ago this Thursday. 

For certain Americans, however, February 12 is not remembered as Lincoln’s birthday, but as the birthday of Charles Darwin. In fact, earlier this month, 12 U.S. House Democrats led by Rep. Jim Hines (D-Conn.) sponsored a bill to nationally recognize February 12 as “Darwin Day.” It was the fourth such attempt since 2011.

These congressmen may argue there is no reason Americans cannot honor two men on the same day. And I would agree with them, were it not for this fact: the belief Darwin is remembered for, and the belief Lincoln died for, are antithetical to each other.

Lincoln repeatedly said his beliefs were grounded in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed—That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

That these words were dear to Lincoln is evident from his speeches and actions: not least of all his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, and his most famous action, the Emancipation Proclamation. One declared that all men are created equal and the other freed 3 million slaves.

Feb. 12: Darwin vs Lincoln
Both have the same birthday
 In contrast, Darwin’s theory denies the very premise that men were created at all. To create something is to undertake conscious, purposeful activity. When a novelist creates a novel, he performs a conscious, purposeful action. But according to Darwin’s theory, man is the result of a blind, undirected process.

Other theories of evolution allow for degrees of purpose and direction, but these are not Darwin’s theory. If you believe that man evolved according to the process described by Darwin, then this is tantamount to saying that man is not the result of conscious, purposeful activity.

The United States is not like most other countries, which are founded on a genetic and cultural inheritance stretching back to time out of mind, such as Japan or Sweden. Instead, the United States is founded on an idea, and that idea is expressed in the words of the Declaration of Independence.

But if Darwin’s theory is true this means men were not created. It follows that they have no Creator and the words of the Declaration are false. Hence, you can be a Darwinian, or you can be a patriotic American, but you cannot be both. No patriot would claim that his country is founded on a mistake.

The claim that all men are created equal does not mean that all people have equal talents and abilities. This is self-evidently not the case. It also does not say all men are equal. It says they are created equal. That is, they are equal in that they are created.

All people have equal dignity and worth, and they share this dignity and worth by virtue of the fact that they have a Creator. Just as all the works of Picasso, though different in quality, share a certain worth just because the artist made them, so do all people share a certain worth just because the Creator made them. As Lincoln put the matter: “Nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.”

But if Darwin’s theory is true, then men do not have a Creator and do not bear a divine image and likeness. Therefore, their dignity and worth -- if they have any -- must be based on something else. The most obvious rationale would be their usefulness. A person’s value is based on the fact that he is valuable to another person because he can be useful or helpful in some way. But if my worth is based on my usefulness, then I am no longer an end in myself—I am a means to an end. If I am a means to an end, then I do not have inherent worth as an individual. 

If men do not have inherent worth as individuals, and their worth is predicated on their usefulness, then people who have no use have no worth. This group would include, among others: the homeless, the insane, the deranged, the severely handicapped, the severely mentally impaired, unwanted children, the very sick and the very old. Even though these people meet every objective standard for being human, we would have no reason to regard them as equal in dignity and worth. If we have no reason to regard them as equal, we cannot, without contradicting ourselves, afford them equal status under the law.

The word “inalienable,” as used in the Declaration, shows a deep understanding of rights. It does not mean that a man’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be taken away from him. Obviously they can. Rather, it indicates that to take any of these away from him is to commit an act of violence against his essential nature. These rights may be taken away, but if they are, then he cannot become what he was meant to become.

But if men are the result of an undirected process, that process, being undirected, could have had a different result. Therefore, all of man’s qualities and properties are accidental, and none are essential.

This means there was nothing he was meant to be and he has no rights that can be described as “inalienable.” Therefore, rights, such as they are, are nothing but legal fictions conferred by the powers that be. If rights do not precede government, but originate in government, then it follows that government is more important than individuals, for without the government people would have no rights as individuals. 

If governments are more important than individuals, then we cannot say that they “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” for their power cannot be contingent on the consent of a being that has no natural rights. But if governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, they cannot be altered or abolished by the removal of that consent. Hence, no one has the right to protest, to petition the government for redress of grievances, or to abolish their government—no matter how oppressive it may be.

If Darwin’s theory is true, then men are the result of blind forces that operate without purpose. Free things act with purpose. Things that act without purpose, such as wind or erosion, cannot be described as free. But how can human freedom be the result of something, which is not free? If Darwin’s theory is true, then, at the very least, the reality of free will is thrown into doubt. But if my free will is an illusion, it follows that my political freedoms are an even bigger illusion. Therefore there is nothing wrong with depriving someone, anyone, of their political freedom—because it is an illusion.

Some people will say that they believe in Darwin’s theory but that it should not be applied to ethics. Whence this “should?” Darwin’s theory has always been controversial precisely because it purports to give an account of human origins. What I believe about my origins must affect my opinion of what I am. This will in turn affect my opinion of other people. My understanding of myself and other people will inevitably influence my ethical decisions.

As an account of human origins, Darwin’s theory is either true or false. If true, then on what basis can someone tell me that I should not take it seriously and embrace all its implications? If I really believe the theory is true, I would be hypocritical if I did not factor it into my decisions. If someone seriously advocates that people should believe in Darwin’s theory, but that they should not act on that belief, then he is advocating intellectual schizophrenia. He would have no argument against someone who advocated the exact opposite: that people should not believe it, but that they should nevertheless act upon it. Both are unfair requests. Intellectual schizophrenia may come easily to one man, but that does not mean it will come easily to another. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

People will swear that their belief in Darwin’s theory does not affect their ethical thinking. But if you keep questioning them you’ll find that it does—they just don’t realize it. For example, very often you’ll find that these same people support abortion and euthanasia.

Both these views are justified according to a worldview that says people do not have inherent worth just for being human, but that their worth is predicated on whether they are wanted. If they are not viewed as valuable, then they have no value despite their humanity. No one ever tells himself that, “I believe in X because it is wrong.” But how you view the world will inevitably determine your sense of right and wrong. It has to.

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is one of the best-known defenders of Darwin’s theory today. Yet he once publicly admitted that he would not want to live in a country governed by Darwin’s ideas because “a Darwinian state would be a fascist state.” From the 1860s to the 1930s, Germany’s elite was saturated with Darwinian theory. The Germans who supported the Nazis did not say to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great to be really evil?” Rather, they had certain principles, which -- like good Germans -- they followed.

Everything that happened in the Holocaust was justified in the name of “race health.” In other words, it was honestly seen as being for the greater good. The Nazis loved their children just like everyone else. They were not horrible men without principle. They were principled men with horrible beliefs.

Very recently, someone asked Dawkins an ethical question on Twitter: If they found out they were pregnant with a baby with Down’s syndrome, what should they do? Dawkins’ answer: “Abort it and try again.” There is no difference in principle between this thinking and Nazi thinking. The Final Solution (to exterminate the Jews) was the same advice carried out on a national level. That Mr. Dawkins and his admirers do not see this—is scary.

People will swear that belief in Darwin’s theory does not make people less moral because their own behavior is manifestly decent and acceptable. But if this is the case, then their behavior cannot be the result of their moral reflection and intellectual commitments (unless they’re schizophrenics). It must be the result of something else.

Most likely it is the result of their successful assimilation into an environment where a high standard of behavior is expected. Their behavior then, is not really virtue but conformity. This may work for them so long as their environment never changes for the worse. But should they be suddenly plunged into a frightening new situation, such as the German people faced after World War I, their superficial virtue would be put to the test. Eulogizing the dead at Gettysburg, Lincoln said that we should “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” But you cannot devote yourself to something you believe is untrue.

The views of these two men born on the same day—Lincoln and Darwin—are irreconcilable. Insofar as we think Darwinian evolution true, we must think the Declaration of Independence false. Insofar as we think the Declaration true, we must think Darwinian evolution false. Lincoln would not have cared if we forgot about his birthday altogether. But he would have cared very much if we forgot about the Declaration of Independence. I know of no better way to illustrate this than by taking a quote from the man himself. It comes from a speech he gave at Lewistown, Illinois on August 17, 1858, a year before the publication of On the Origin of Species: 

“My countrymen…if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution. Think nothing of me—take no thought for the political fate of any man whatsoever—but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence. You may do anything with me you choose, if you will but heed these sacred principles. You may not only defeat me for the Senate, but you may take me and put me to death. While pretending no indifference to earthly honors, I do claim to be actuated in this contest by something higher than an anxiety for office. I charge you to drop every paltry and insignificant thought for any man’s success. It is nothing. I am nothing; Judge Douglas is nothing. But do not destroy that immortal emblem of Humanity—the Declaration of American Independence.”
Into the Woods: Christopher Ziegler
Did you enjoy this piece? You might like to read: Philosophy's Gift to Catholic Moral Theology

Would you like to read more by Christopher Ziegler? To Be Human or Not to Be: That is the Question About Abortion

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