Hedonists R Us

Ask someone who the first Darwinist was, and they're likely to think it's a trick question, like "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" But as a recent book tells us, it's not Darwin -- at least not in regard to the way a materialistic worldview shapes our morals. That book is Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists by Benjamin Wiker. Wiker of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, calls the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived in the third century before Christ, the "first Darwinist." Actually, as Wiker says, it would be more accurate to say that Darwin was an Epicurean -- probably the most influential one ever. What he means is that Darwin represented the culmination of what Wiker calls "Epicurean Materialism." While Epicureanism is commonly associated with hedonism, the fact is that Epicurus "offered the first thorough-going materialist view of the universe where the mere chance interaction of brute matter swirling about created all things." So, human beings are "just one more soul-less product of evolution," and "there is ultimately no good and evil." This account of the universe was the "foundation" of Darwin's system and his materialistic explanation for the world. Wiker writes that Epicurean materialism is "fundamentally antagonistic" to Christianity. For two thousand years, these worldviews have contradicted one another with regard to God, nature, human nature, and morality. The last part is especially important. Just as Epicurean materialism provided the foundation for Darwinism, Darwinism is the foundation for "one of the two sides in the culture war": the side "that champions sexual freedom, abortion, [and] euthanasia." A materialistic worldview undermines the very basis for morality by denying that we are distinct from the other animals and created in the image of God. Instead, we are considered the product of chance and impersonal forces. If that's so, why prohibit murder? Nobody talks about "murdering" a dog or a fly. The very idea of "murder" assumes that there's something unique about being human. What's true about murder goes double for human sexuality and familial relationships. If there is no God, soul, or afterlife, all that's left, as Wiker's subtitle tells us, is hedonism. In a world that is amoral, how we should live becomes a matter of "continually balancing bodily pleasures and pains." Morality and the distinction between good and evil are purely human creations with no intrinsic authority. This link between materialism and amorality, along with materialism's account of the origins of the universe, makes attempts to "reconcile" Darwinism with Christianity -- which some Christians try to do -- wrong-headed. If there is one lesson to be learned from "moral Darwinism," it is that Darwinism and materialism are not "morally neutral." Materialism is very strong in American culture today. And we ought to be prepared to highlight for neighbors and friends the moral and cultural dead end to which materialism leads. A world in which good and evil are the product of the "random jostling of brute atoms" is not a place where most people want to live. But it's the world that Darwinism and materialism gives us. For further reading and information: Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (InterVarsity, 2002). Benjamin Wiker, "Playing Games with Good & Evil: The Failure of Darwinism to Explain Morality," Crisis, May 2002. Benjamin Wiker, "Darwin and the Descent of Morality," First Things, November 2001, 10-13. "Darwin as Epicurean: An Interview with Benjamin Wiker," Touchstone, October 2002. Richard Weikart, "Epicurus' -- and Darwin's -- Dangerous Idea," Books & Culture, 18 November 2002. BreakPoint Commentary No. 030507, "Abusing Our Power: Do Christians Sanction Cruelty to Animals?"


Chuck Colson



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