The Dangers of Naturalism

You've seen the stories: They're nothing short of horrifying. An 18-year-old girl at her high school prom delivers her baby in a bathroom stall, then leaves the dead child in a trash can and returns to dancing. We shudder at the breathtaking callousness and disregard for human life; yet for some scientists, such behavior is only natural. They believe that humans are robots, programmed by our genes, to dump newborns into garbage cans if our gene-controlled brains determine that such cold- hearted actions are in our Darwinian best interest. Well, in his new book, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism, author Phillip Johnson challenges the naturalistic view of human nature. Our true nature, he says, which finds such acts morally wrong, is profoundly different. Johnson starts with this provocative question: Why exactly is it wrong to kill babies? In the case of the 18-year-old who abandoned her newborn in a bathroom, the MIT evolutionary psychologist and science popularizer Steven Pinker wrote in the New York Times that the young woman was acting on a "genetic imperative." That means, basically, that impersonal forces of natural selection had molded her behavior, through her genes, to jettison any drag on her future "reproductive success." Pinker wrote, "If a newborn is sickly, or if its survival is not promising," a mother may cut her "losses, and favor the healthiest in the litter or try again later on." Yet this explanation, even if true (and there are many reasons to doubt it) simply doesn't answer Johnson's first question. Pinker's answer doesn't explain why we find the actions of the 18-year-old mother morally reprehensible. If there really is no difference between human beings and other animals, then we would no more condemn the young woman's abandoning her newborn than we would condemn her for clipping her fingernails or plucking her eyebrows. But that isn't the case. We do condemn such behavior. The tragic young woman in question was convicted of homicide and sent to prison. Why? Because human beings recognize the reality of a moral realm which is not derived from nature. As Phillip Johnson argues, evolutionary psychologists like Pinker can explain that moral realm only by suspending their naturalistic rule of reasoning. Pinker himself admits that infanticide is wrong, yet he is more or less helpless to explain why he thinks it's wrong. Instead, he flatly proclaims. "Science and morality are separate spheres of reasoning." But not so fast, objects Johnson. If we genuinely know that some actions, such as infanticide, are wrong, then that knowledge must have an ultimate source or cause. Our moral knowledge, therefore, must in some sense be "immaterial" or "supernatural," stemming from an ultimate source other than nature. For Johnson, as for the great ethical philosophers throughout the centuries, that ultimate source is God. In The Wedge of Truth, Johnson the feisty law professor makes a compelling case that our moral nature is not Darwinian but theistic. And it's a case that you and I can and must make to our neighbors.


Chuck Colson


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