Benjamin Wiker - The Darwin Myth

August 7, 2009

Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. His books include Answering the New Atheism and Ten Books That Screwed Up The World. His Newest is The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Benjamin Wiker talks about his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. He argues that Darwinism is a distortion of evolution, and based on the secular and atheistic influence of the "radical Enlightenment." He shares his skepticism of other historians' accounts of Darwin's anguish over the implications of his views for religious belief. He contends that Darwin was a third-generation religious skeptic, and that he had an atheistic agenda from early in his life. He relates Alfred Russell Wallace's critiques of Darwin's atheistic account of evolution by natural selection, and defends Wallace from the charges of Spiritualism. He compares evolutionists who accept natural selection with neurologists who think neuroscience may or will entirely account for the human self (without a soul), and suggests both views are based on ideology. He explains his motivations to criticize Darwin based on what he argues are the immoral effects of Darwinism in society. He links Nazism, Social Darwinism and eugenics to Darwinism. He talks about abortion in the context of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. He discusses the "is-ought problem" in philosophy, and the "naturalistic fallacy." He criticizes Darwin's accounts of how human morality may have evolved. And he argues against creationists who reject evolution, even while he himself attacks "evolution by natural selection."

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Related Episodes

Jerry A. Coyne - Why Evolution Is True
February 27, 2009

Comments from the CFI Forums

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I’m so glad there are more POI podcasts to listen to, but I have a feeling that this one is going to leave me VERY frustrated.

Posted on Oct 10, 2009 at 12:43am by asanta Comment #1

Because of his attitude in the interview, I will assume that Dr. Wiker chose the title/subtitle of his book. The title and the majority of his argument qualify only as ad hominem attacks on a man dead for almost 130 years. Dr. Wiker said little (and if his vita is complete, he is little qualified) to speak about the actual evidence put forward by Darwin. Instead, it appears that he has written a book by beginning with a conclusion (Darwin’s wickedness) and then by running in search of evidence. This is a tactic that seems to define publications from The Discovery Institute.

Nonetheless, I’m perplexed about his reasons for writing the book in this particular way. Does he think that atheists and humanists will stop believing in natural selection if somehow he can convince us that Charles Darwin had the morals of a gutter snipe? Does he really imagine that atheists are hero worshipers bent on maintaining Darwin’s honorable legacy? And thus by shooting holes in Darwin’s integrity, does he simultaneously think he chips away at atheism’s foundation?

Or instead, as I suspect, is he trying to give Christians justification to hate Charles Darwin, and thus reject the science that spawned from his theory before they examine the evidence?

The real moral culprit here is Dr. Wiker himself. He is directing criticisms that no one EXCEPT anti-science Christians really cares about. He is thus throwing coals on the fire that will heat up their efforts to undermine science education in the US, and possibly elsewhere. Although he feigns support for an evolutionary theory (so long as his deity is involved), Dr. Wiker’s argument appears to be tailor-made to encourage Christian Fundamentalists to resist teaching the theory (and its history) in schools.

So if that was the purpose for Dr. Wiker’s book, then there really was no justification for interviewing him on “Point of Inquiry.” In the end, the personage and principles of Mr. Darwin are irrelevant. The pieces of evidence and the theory that weaves them together are all that matter. I expect that Darwin’s moral compass was both as principled and as flawed as anyone’s. His contribution to our world was in recognizing the way in which parts of the biological puzzle fit together, not in teaching us how to treat one another. That duty belongs to others, and unfortunately Dr. Wiker, in spite of his ethics credentials, has given us good reason to question his own moral compass.

DJ, you handled this with your usual tact and poise. However, I really wonder if there is any compelling rationale for giving a non-scientist theologian a platform to speak on this topic. I could understand the possibility of Francis Collins or a biologist associated with the BioLogos Foundation, but Dr. Wiker doesn’t have the academic chops necessary to address this topic from anything but an apologist’s point of view.

Posted on Oct 10, 2009 at 1:12pm by NH Baritone Comment #2

I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

Posted on Oct 10, 2009 at 10:57pm by dmoreau Comment #3

I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

Sorry if I sounded too snarky. I hope I made it clear that I haven’t read the book, but the subtitle itself accuses Darwin of lying. And the interview hung on that very line detailed accusations of Darwin’s supposed hidden agenda to extract God from the story of life’s diversity.

I think Dr. Wiker has cherry-picked his facts to back up his pre-set conclusions. For example, after Darwin failed at his medical studies, he began studying for the priesthood, at his father’s insistence. This choice of a life/career in the church makes no sense if both were rabid atheists. Perhaps both had questions about church teachings, but since when does doubt equate with atheism? If that were the yardstick, then we could count St. Augustine among the atheists. Heck, I credit my studies of religion & the Bible with giving me the insight to forego theism a few years later.

If anything, this interview highlights once more how difficult it is to trust apologists and the true believers. And honestly, that saddens me. Perhaps that’s why I sounded so snarky.

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 at 4:58am by NH Baritone Comment #4

I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

Sorry if I sounded too snarky. I hope I made it clear that I haven’t read the book, but the subtitle itself accuses Darwin of lying. And the interview hung on that very line detailed accusations of Darwin’s supposed hidden agenda to extract God from the story of life’s diversity.

I think Dr. Wiker has cherry-picked his facts to back up his pre-set conclusions. For example, after Darwin failed at his medical studies, he began studying for the priesthood, at his father’s insistence. This choice of a life/career in the church makes no sense if both were rabid atheists. Perhaps both had questions about church teachings, but since when does doubt equate with atheism? If that were the yardstick, then we could count St. Augustine among the atheists. Heck, I credit my studies of religion & the Bible with giving me the insight to forego theism a few years later.

If anything, this interview highlights once more how difficult it is to trust apologists and the true believers. And honestly, that saddens me. Perhaps that’s why I sounded so snarky.

I like when POI has people from DI as featured guests. I enjoy hearing the arguments of “the other side”. Gives me a chance to prepare cogent replies to their arguments.

I would have liked a question concerning whether Wiker believes that supernatural phenomena is required in a complete account of evolution. It isn’t particularly controversial to say that there might be other mechanisms apart from natural selection. For example, epigenetics seems to allow for “inheriting” non-genetic characteristics acquired by ancestors during their lives. It is controversial to claim supernaturalism is required.

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 at 10:42am by dmoreau Comment #5

It isn’t particularly controversial to say that there might be other mechanisms apart from natural selection.

Actually, not only is it not controversial to say that there are other evolutionary mechanisms other than natural selection, but this represents the mainstream of evolutionary biology. Keep in mind that mainstream evolutionary biology is neo-Darwinism, and incorporates findings about heredity and population biology that Darwin did not incorporate into his theory or came well after his time. When I was taking evolutionary biology and population genetics, I learned about natural selection as one of several evolutionary mechanisms, albeit, a core one. Others included genetic drift, mutation, and sexual selection. Areas of controversy, but still well within the realm of mainstream scientific debate, include the role of factors like epigenetics, regulator genes and embryonic development (eg, evo-devo), horizontal gene transfer, and whether well-established mechanisms like natural and sexual selection play as large of a role as had been previously thought.

It is controversial to claim supernaturalism is required.

This was clearly Wiker’s weakest point. As I understand the idea of paradigm shifts, radical theories gain acceptance when old ones fail have explanatory power. Hence, the shift from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy, phlogiston to oxygen theory, creationism to evolutionary biology and historical geology, etc. What Wilker is implicity claiming here is that there’s not just a paradigmatic crisis with neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology (and that in itself is arguable), but that there’s a crisis with scientific naturalism itself. And to that I say, what is his evidence? What phenomenon are better or more elegantly explained by recourse to supernatural causes? (Perhaps I have to read his book for his claims in that regard.) More importantly, can supernatural causation ever be empirically tested and are supernatural explanations falsifiable? That’s especially important, because I don’t see how such explanations could even be brought into the realm of science if such is not the case.

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 at 11:35am by pgwerner Comment #6

Interesting podcast.  It’s nice that Point of Inquiry has interviews with the other side.  I think it’s pretty rare for them to return the favor.  I had to laugh at the guy’s bias.  I’m only partway through the podcast, but I’m already wondering how many times the guy is going to use the word “radical” in regard to Darwin.  It seems like he’s trying to marginalize Darwin as much as possible.  When DJ Grothe mentioned Darwin’s kindness to Wallace, I knew that Wiker would contradict or minimize it somehow.  Hey - I was right!  I must be psychic!

I almost get the feeling that Intelligent Design advocates think that disparaging and minimizing Darwin has the same effect on Evolution as disparaging and minimizing Jesus has on diminishing Christianity.  That’s a completely wrong understanding of the situations though.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if Darwin was the most evil person on earth.  It doesn’t change the scientific facts on the ground.  Intelligent Design advocates just don’t seem to grasp that.

I thought the whole point about abortion being an extension of evolution/darwinism was overdone.  Wiker claims that eugenics is a result of seeing humanity as an extension of the animal kingdom.  BUT, the part of eugenics that relies on evolutionary theory would be in the domain of “microevolution”.  Creationists of all stripes admit that “microevolution” is real.  So, the question is this: if Person A believes in “microevolution” and person B believes in “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, which one has better justification for human eugenics?  Neither of them.  Eugenics relies on microevolution, and even creationists have to admit the reality of microevolution.  It’s silly for creationists to dance around as if they’re in some morally superior position.  At best, all they can claim is that theism gives special value to humans*, and atheism doesn’t.  But, that’s a separate question from the creationism/evolution.

* And even that is debatable, since the God of the Old Testament orders the genocide of people and slaughter of their children.  Life is cheap to the God of the Old Testament.

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 at 2:55pm by tinyfrog Comment #7

Good program, and I compliment POI for giving time and space to have a critical dialog with someone from the other side. The interview was very civil and gracious, and I compliment both Wiker and Grothe for an intersting interview.

Now that said, I really would have liked to have hard more on exactly what is Wiker’s scientific case against natural selection as a primary evolutionary mechanism? Does he even have a coherent case? Because the impression I got is that he just simply doesn’t like Darwin or Darwinism, and seems to be arguing that due to its supposed negative social effects, Darwinism just can’t be true. Which is definitely a kind of inductive argument from an a priori conclusion if I ever heard one. Its unfortunately not the first time I’ve heard such a line of argumentation, either. A few biologists on the academic left have floated similar arguments, notably Joan Roughgarden’s arguments against sexual selection, and Lynn Margulis’ arguments against selection and competition in general, both based on the idea of Darwinism as a male, patriarchal competitive paradigm. (I think its particularly sad to see Margulis, who has made such important contributions to the understanding of symbiosis and evolutionary biology, to now pursue a position that, while being an extension of her earlier work, pushes it in such a fringe direction.) I’ve also seen plenty of this in arguments about the basis of human behavior between the evolutionary psychology and social constructionist camps, both of which are guilty of a priori dismissal of social or biological hypotheses, respectively.

This, of course, is a terrible approach to science, namely trying to wish away potentially valid findings just because one happens not to like their ethical implications. Its also a case of mistakenly thinking an “is” wholly determines an “ought” (though I would argue, “is’s” have some bearing in rationally evaluating “oughts”), a point that you addressed during the interview. I definitely agree with NH Barritone in this regard – even if Darwin was a complete scoundrel, that wouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not Darwinism is a sound theory.

After the interview, I looked up other work by Benjamin Wiker to see what he was all about. It seems like arguing from prior dislike describes some of his prior work, and colors not only his approach to evolutionary biology, but philosophy as well. It turns out that he was the author of an amazingly philistine book that came out last year, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Basically, its a list of books that would predictably end up on a fundamentalist Christian enemies list, notably, books by Nietzsche, Marx, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, Betty Friedan, and, yep, Darwin’s Descent of Man. These books, according to Wiker, led straight to the horrors of 20th Century totalitarianism and, conversely, to the moral breakdown of the 1960s. That somebody like Nietzsche is open to a lot of different interpretations and is used in the service of a wide variety of different philosophical and political ideas is lost on Wiker. And likewise, even though he’s quick to draw a line straight from Marx to the gulag, the Bible doesn’t appear on his list of bad books, in spite of the horrors that were committed in the name of those ideas, which strikes me as a case of special pleading.

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 at 5:47pm by pgwerner Comment #8

I think DJ gave Wiker far too easy a ride here. Although DJ touched on most of the points I would want put to Wiker, he let the guy wriggle out of them with a short answer and a laugh, when Wiker really needed to be pinned down properly on the fallacies he was presenting.

1. You cannot draw a line from ‘this happens in nature’ to ‘here’s how humans should behave’. And if one was going to draw such a line, one would not require Darwin’s ideas to do so. Saying ‘slavery in ants means slavery is allowed in humans’ is like saying ‘fish live in the sea, therefore we should live in the sea’. Wiker’s answer was that Darwinists can’t claim that the is/ought’ fallacy applies here, but not to altruism or empathy.
This is a straw man. Biologists do not claim we SHOULD be altruistic because of evolution, only that altruism can be EXPLAINED by evolution. Thus half his argument falls down from the start.
2. As pointed out by others, it wouldn’t matter if you found out Einstein was an arsonist, or Newton was a kleptomaniac. Similarly, the question of whether Darwin was racist, or even whether or not he had an ‘atheist agenda’ has no bearing on whether natural selection is sufficient to explain biological diversity. Wiker presents no argument that it isn’t.
3. There’s nothing much in eugenics that doesn’t draw on ideas already well established in farming. If you kill off a species or race, it can’t reproduce any more. Wiker even quoted Darwin as saying ‘We wouldn’t farm animals this way’, but failed to make the connection that animal husbandry has been around for thousands of years longer than Darwinism.
4. Wiker is completely disingenuous in drawing a line from Darwin to Hitler, when Mein Kampf is full of biblical references but doesn’t mention Darwin at all.
5. Saying evolution leads to ideas Wiker doesn’t like is no different to saying that Einstein’s ideas about gravity lead to people dropping objects on your head, therefore Einstein was both immoral AND wrong.
6. Most egregiously, Wiker doesn’t even seem to understand how science works. If you start with the assumption that the supernatural is required to explain a specific phenomena, then it’s not good science.

To be honest, I had to skip the last ten minutes, as ultimately Wiker’s smug laugh, and the easy ride he was getting, got too frustrating to listen to. I understand the idea of ‘give all sides the chance to make their case’, but that shouldn’t mean they should be allowed to spout nonsense relatively unchallenged.

Posted on Oct 12, 2009 at 4:29am by Andrew Ryan Comment #9

This doofus kept dropping the phrase “radical Enlightenment” as if it were self-evidently the ultimate curse word! Gives one an insight, I suppose, into what must pass for intellectual discussion in the bizarre, self-contained circles of christian apologetics.

I found it inexplicable that DJ gave him such a smooth ride. POI erred in providing time for this protracted, unchallenged ad hominem against ONE OF OURS and a truly great human being.

Something is truly awry when one can’t (or won’t) step up to the plate to defend Charles Darwin, Dammit!

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 at 11:26am by Balak Comment #10

Just wanted to say I thought DJ did an excellent job with this interview. Wiker’s reasoning is pretty weak, and I thought DJ exposed that with some very pointed and articulate challenges. Wiker mostly avoided providing any satisfying answers.

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 at 1:17pm by Count_Zero Comment #11

I finally listened to the podcast and it was everybit as frustrating as I anticipated. I spent all my time listening exclaiming “that’s not true”! and didn’t take detailed notes of what I wanted to refute, I probably wouldn’t have anything to add to the above messages except that the guest did a great job of dressing up his ideas and put a great big bow on top to make it more palatable to the christians who DO believe in evolution as well as a god.

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 at 3:33pm by asanta Comment #12

I find it absolutely astonishing how a person, who is as well-spoken and well-informed as Benjamin Wiker, comes to these type of conclusions. How is it that one can understand the mechanism of natural selection and deny its power at the same time?

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 at 6:28pm by George Comment #13

I haven’t had time to listen to the entire cast, but one thing I noticed that he seems to be as down on facts as much as any other Creationist is these days. I’m pretty skeptical of his books so I doubt I’ll read this one. He has turned out to be just as Disappointing as Behe and Collins were in there episodes.

Posted on Oct 13, 2009 at 11:09pm by F451 Comment #14

I maintained my cool up until he started saying there was a relationship between Darwinism and Social Darwinism. The latter merely hijacked the name and has nothing to do with Darwinism, the only link is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, which as we all know is so often interpreted in a completely different sense from Darwin’s intent. Like fascism and eugenics, the point about Social Darwinism is that it is brought about by choice, the exact opposite of Natural Selection. For someone to come out and accuse Darwin of lying and then use such twisted arguments to support his case is at best disingenuous and really, well, let’s call it by its name “lying”.

Posted on Oct 15, 2009 at 6:01am by keithc Comment #15

I was extremely dissapointed with this podcast. There was no real critical view of Wiker’s argument. It was just a vehicle to allow him to talk lies and nonsense. It was a completely ad-hominem attack on Darwin. Should ‘point of inquiry’ not confront this clear logical falicy? Darwinism only exists in the mind of critics of evolution (specificaly creationists), there is no such thing in science. Evolution by natural selection is a theory that stands on its own, attacking darwin, his motives and beliefs are completely irrelevant and have no place in the discussion.

I have to evaluate my subscription to this podcast if it does not represent what the centre stands for. There was absolutely no reason to have done this interview.

Posted on Oct 15, 2009 at 8:27am by Reggie Comment #16

As a former journalist I can see why DJ conducts the interviews as he does. A journalist’s job is to present information fairly, and in the case of these podcasts DJ’s job as a journalist is not to confront his guests, but to get them to explain their views so his listeners can come to informed conclusions. We can decide for ourselves if the interviewee is making sense or talking woo. One of the key aspects of having an open mind is listening to differing viewpoints and reaching your own conclusions. Shutting out someone with whom you disagree is ideology, not skepticism.

Posted on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:03am by DarronS Comment #17

As a former journalist I can see why DJ conducts the interviews as he does. A journalist’s job is to present information fairly, and in the case of these podcasts DJ’s job as a journalist is not to confront his guests, but to get them to explain their views so his listeners can come to informed conclusions. We can decide for ourselves if the interviewee is making sense or talking woo. One of the key aspects of having an open mind is listening to differing viewpoints and reaching your own conclusions. Shutting out someone with whom you disagree is ideology, not skepticism.

I’d agree with fotobits here. I think DJ handled this guest exactly the right way. Just lay back and let the guy talk. Then occasionally, just lean in and give him a whack with the clue-stick, and then lay back and let the guy talk some more. Guys like this guest inevitably wind up burying themselves under the weight of their own rhetoric.

Posted on Oct 15, 2009 at 11:54am by steveg144 Comment #18

Interesting podcast.  It’s nice that Point of Inquiry has interviews with the other side.  ......

I almost get the feeling that Intelligent Design advocates think that disparaging and minimizing Darwin has the same effect on Evolution as disparaging and minimizing Jesus has on diminishing Christianity.  That’s a completely wrong understanding of the situations though.  . ......

I agree 100%

1. D.J. did a great job interviewing.  It is really great to hear these other perspectives.  I would like to understand how many people share Wiker’s perspective so that we can tailor our explanations.  Since Wiker is from the Discovery Institute, I assume Intelligent Design is being referred to indirectly.

2. I also felt that this was what I would consider an ad hominem attack on evolution & science. 

That somehow disparaging Darwin undercuts the arguments against Intelligent Design etc.  I agree with tinyfrog.  One can explain that current evolutionary understanding stands independent of Darwin, with independent verification and extensions,  but one cannot say that current Christian understanding stands independent of the AD 325 Nicene Creed—there is no way to verify Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary you just have to believe it (etc etc).

Posted on Oct 17, 2009 at 3:19am by Jackson Comment #19

First off, thank you D.J. for always being a fair-minded interviewer who allows your interviewees to present their argument. You are really good about this. 

Second, there is a great deal of hagiographical material about Darwin. Anyone happen to see NOVA’s recent “Darwin’s Darkest Hour”? I felt like I was watching an EWTN (Catholic channel) production of the life of Saint Francis!

This is what Professor Wiker is saying—let’s not treat Mr. Darwin as an infallible pope, as a saint, as a source of salvation. He was none of these. Neither is his science (nor anyone else’s) inerrant, inspired, and infallible.

Posted on Oct 18, 2009 at 9:45am by rodneycwilson Comment #20

First off, thank you D.J. for always being a fair-minded interviewer who allows your interviewees to present their argument. You are really good about this. 

Second, there is a great deal of hagiographical material about Darwin. Anyone happen to see NOVA’s recent “Darwin’s Darkest Hour”? I felt like I was watching an EWTN (Catholic channel) production of the life of Saint Francis!

This is what Professor Wiker is saying—let’s not treat Mr. Darwin as an infallible pope, as a saint, as a source of salvation. He was none of these. Neither is his science (nor anyone else’s) inerrant, inspired, and infallible.

No one argues for treating Darwin like a ‘saint’. Many of his theories have been expanded on based on science not available to him in his time. Newton and Einstein’s theories have been expanded on over time, and some parts have been found to be incorrect—-and corrected. This doesn’t make the overall premise incorrect, gravity, relativity and evolution are still facts. That is the great thing about science…when mistakes are discovered, they are corrected.

I agree with your assessment of the film, it was a treacly made for TV movie for the masses. It was a ‘safe’ movie. The producers were looking for ratings, not to teach or explain.

Posted on Oct 18, 2009 at 3:30pm by asanta Comment #21

Two questions for you, asanta (or others).

I could not quite pin down the professor’s creed on the origin of species. He is not a creationist or literalist on Genesis 1 and 2. That much seemed clear, right? He seems to embrace something like ID—what he called a “more robust view of nature” that does not “rely on the miraculous” yet still on some kind of theistic source. He also stated that science is pointing toward an ultimate “theistic solution.” I found this hard to follow, in part because my mind is not sharp for things of science. Is he of the ID school of origins?

We know there are dangers to religion, particularly “hard religion” and strident application of certain scriptural injunctions. Is the professor correct that there is also a dangerous side to Darwin? Do both sides need to “come to the confessional,” as the professor put it, regarding the potential and the historical dark side of religion and scripture *and* of the no-god naturalistic worldview that Darwin espoused? I’m thinking specifically regarding his views on eugenics, racial superiority, and—after his demise—what some call Social Darwinism? (This would get back to the ability of a free thinker to accept and reject what he wishes of scripture/religion and Darwin/evolution, based strictly on his/her understanding of reality and not on the understanding of any other authority or prevailing consensus.)

Posted on Oct 18, 2009 at 4:15pm by rodneycwilson Comment #22

Two questions for you, asanta (or others).

I could not quite pin down the professor’s creed on the origin of species. He is not a creationist or literalist on Genesis 1 and 2. That much seemed clear, right? He seems to embrace something like ID—what he called a “more robust view of nature” that does not “rely on the miraculous” yet still on some kind of theistic source. He also stated that science is pointing toward an ultimate “theistic solution.” I found this hard to follow, in part because my mind is not sharp for things of science. Is he of the ID school of origins?

We know there are dangers to religion, particularly “hard religion” and strident application of certain scriptural injunctions. Is the professor correct that there is also a dangerous side to Darwin? Do both sides need to “come to the confessional,” as the professor put it, regarding the potential and the historical dark side of religion and scripture *and* of the no-god naturalistic worldview that Darwin espoused? I’m thinking specifically regarding his views on eugenics, racial superiority, and—after his demise—what some call Social Darwinism? (This would get back to the ability of a free thinker to accept and reject what he wishes of scripture/religion and Darwin/evolution, based strictly on his/her understanding of reality and not on the understanding of any other authority or prevailing consensus.)

He’s affiliated with Discovery Institute. An organization that makes its money by lying its butt off on an hourly basis.

Posted on Oct 19, 2009 at 4:10pm by F451 Comment #23

As a former journalist I can see why DJ conducts the interviews as he does. A journalist’s job is to present information fairly, and in the case of these podcasts DJ’s job as a journalist is not to confront his guests, but to get them to explain their views so his listeners can come to informed conclusions. We can decide for ourselves if the interviewee is making sense or talking woo. One of the key aspects of having an open mind is listening to differing viewpoints and reaching your own conclusions. Shutting out someone with whom you disagree is ideology, not skepticism.

I’d agree with fotobits here. I think DJ handled this guest exactly the right way. Just lay back and let the guy talk. Then occasionally, just lean in and give him a whack with the clue-stick, and then lay back and let the guy talk some more. Guys like this guest inevitably wind up burying themselves under the weight of their own rhetoric.

Yes! Exactly like in the Behe interview.

Posted on Oct 19, 2009 at 4:12pm by F451 Comment #24

He’s affiliated with Discovery Institute. An organization that makes its money by lying its butt off on an hourly basis

ahh, that explains a LOT!! :lol:

Posted on Oct 19, 2009 at 4:17pm by asanta Comment #25

Hi, DJ-

You did a model oppositional interview here, and congratulations! Extremely even tempered while investigating the subject’s views in great detail.

I realized a good question to ask would have been about his model of how he thought the non-Darwinian evolutionary process works. It would have been worth drilling down in some detail to the point where he would naturally have had to say.. I have no idea how it works, or evidence that anything like this goes on (twiddling by god, etc.), just that I can not bring myself to conceive of the extrapolation that Darwinian evolution demands (to what ID terms “macro”-evolution), and thus I promote some kind of vague, unknown, supernatural “out” without knowing anything about it.

-Burk

Posted on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:30pm by burkbraun Comment #26

Benjamin Wiker reminds me of Francis Collins. Both know that what’s in the bible isn’t quite true, and they readily admit that while being imprecise about which is the good and which is the bad information, and they conclude that, anyway, there is a God (a Christian one I guess), and he’s the one who adds the magic ingredient that helps all the natural processes defined by science to actually go. So some large percentage of the bible isn’t true, but still that god is real, and his role is actually… Well, He does all the mind-boggling stuff.

I think it’s also important to realize that when Darwin was formulating his theory on evolution that he excluded – I believe consciously – the possible contribution of various vibes going on that may well act as drivers of the whole process. For example, good vibes may enhance an organism’s ability to adapt to shit.

I agree with those who think the interviewer’s job is to get the interviewee to open up and be understood, not to debate them per se. Sure, that requires some pointed questioning but “beating” the person is not the point (of inquiry).

Posted on Oct 23, 2009 at 5:55pm by Curt Nelson Comment #27

I’d agree with fotobits here. I think DJ handled this guest exactly the right way. Just lay back and let the guy talk. Then occasionally, just lean in and give him a whack with the clue-stick, and then lay back and let the guy talk some more. Guys like this guest inevitably wind up burying themselves under the weight of their own rhetoric.

I agree D.J. did a great job with this interview.  I think though to give the guest an opportunity to trip himself up I would liked to have heard D.J. provoke an exchange like the following:

D.J. - “Dr. Wiker, is dog breeding evidence for evolution by natural selection?”
Wiker - “No, the selection pressures involved are not natural but rather man imposed.  It’s artificial and not natural selection.”
D.J. - “So any selection pressures put on plants or animals are only artificial selection?”
Wiker “That’s correct.”
D.J. “Sir, what are humans?  Are humans animals?”
Wiker “Well sure….”
D.J. “So any selection pressures humans put on their own animal species, like the eugenics movement in America or Hitler and his Nazi eugenics, that would be artificial selection, right?”
Wiker “Yes.”
D.J. “So is it disingenuous to argue that there is a correlation between Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and Eugenics or the Nazis?  Shouldn’t the line be drawn from the Nazis back to some Stone Age person who decided to domesticate a wolf or decided to replant the seeds from his stronger crops?”

Posted on Oct 28, 2009 at 11:44am by AaronSTL Comment #28

SO WHAT?

It is interesting that Mr. Wiker considers this ad hominem attack to actually mean something.

To someone who comes at issues from a religious position, it is not unusual to hear ad hominem arguments.  After all, the argument from authority can be devastated by an ad hominem argument. 

But science really doesn’t care what Darwin thought or what Darwin’s motivations were.  It is pragmatic, and only cares whether Darwin’s ideas work.  And every aspect of modern life, from genetics to epidemiology, from animal husbandry to psychology, from ecology to geology, depends on the concept of evolution by natural selection.  If you have had your swine flu vaccination, then you believe in Darwinism too.

It works.  It doesn’t require magic.  End of game.

Posted on Nov 07, 2009 at 7:51pm by Captain Spaulding Comment #29

SO WHAT?

It is interesting that Mr. Wiker considers this ad hominem attack to actually mean something.

To someone who comes at issues from a religious position, it is not unusual to hear ad hominem arguments.  After all, the argument from authority can be devastated by an ad hominem argument. 

But science really doesn’t care what Darwin thought or what Darwin’s motivations were.  It is pragmatic, and only cares whether Darwin’s ideas work.  And every aspect of modern life, from genetics to epidemiology, from animal husbandry to psychology, from ecology to geology, depends on the concept of evolution by natural selection.  If you have had your swine flu vaccination, then you believe in Darwinism too.

It works.  It doesn’t require magic.  End of game.

Let me introduce you to Adonai888 over in the religion forum :cheese:

Posted on Nov 08, 2009 at 12:00am by asanta Comment #30

Nice Job, DJ.

It seems Wiker claims that to describe a process in strictly natural terms is to preclude the existence of a god or gods. So many processes are described in strictly natural terms: riding a bicycle, digesting food, doing your taxes, etc. And it seems incredibly easy to patch a god into the description. Just add to the end of any description the phrase, “and that’s how God did it.” I wonder what Wiker would say to that aside from the apparent difficulty posed in reconciling such descriptions with parts of The Bible.

Jordan

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 at 8:31pm by Jordan Comment #31

DJ Grothe, I give you an A for that interview.  He did an insightful and educated job of it, digging deep into the guest’s ideas, the guest came away saying that it was his best interview which I judge to be a success!  I hate the interviews where the obnoxious host attempts to be the “star of the show” and does most of the talking, I never tune in to hear the host speak, I only tune in to hear the guest speak, the guest is the star.  With a guest like Wiker of the Discovery Institute, I really do want to hear their thoughts.  Sorry Benjamin, not to learn a life lesson, nor to grow closer to you, nor to be enlightened, but instead to understand people, to learn to promote our side to the other side and in public, and to learn the DI’s latest antics.

When the host just verbally attacks the guest, that is a rude and aweful way to treat a guest, and it is just obnoxious looking in my eyes.

Posted on Nov 17, 2009 at 12:20am by jump_in_the_pit Comment #32

I started out writing a comment on this discussion,
but, it took off…

and I’m gonna try making it a New Topic:

THE NATIONAL READ-IN CHALLENGE:
DARWIN’S: THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES

Posted on Nov 17, 2009 at 6:13pm by citizenschallenge Comment #33

Nice interview, but as many said there’s always this residual feeling of frustration because there’s so much more you’d like to have pointed out by the host. I too feel like the core of the whole argument was left largely untouched.

There was this part where DJ asked about Wiker’s final openmindedness to the possibility that natural selection would INDEED turn out to be the main mechanism.  Here things should have been directed towards aspects like methodological naturalism and why it’s at the heart of science, Ockham’s razor and the core of arguments from incredulity. Or in other words: what would “Wiker science” look like, allowing supernatural aspects? Do we invoke the supernatural each time our current understanding or imagination reaches a roadblock? Would that actually work? Would it EVER add something to our understanding of the world?

Posted on Nov 24, 2009 at 5:54am by JH-man Comment #34

Nice interview, but as many said there’s always this residual feeling of frustration because there’s so much more you’d like to have pointed out by the host. I too feel like the core of the whole argument was left largely untouched.

There was this part where DJ asked about Wiker’s final openmindedness to the possibility that natural selection would INDEED turn out to be the main mechanism. Here things should have been directed towards aspects like methodological naturalism and why it’s at the heart of science, Ockham’s razor and the core of arguments from incredulity. Or in other words: what would “Wiker science” look like, allowing supernatural aspects? Do we invoke the supernatural each time our current understanding or imagination reaches a roadblock? Would that actually work? Would it EVER add something to our understanding of the world?

Excellent point and worth repeating.

Welcome to the forum JH-man, hope to hear more from you.

Posted on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:38pm by citizenschallenge Comment #35

I think you two are confusing an interview with a debate. As an interviewer DJ’s job is to draw out the interviewee and let him explain his ideas and give him enough rope to hang himself. We can decide what we want to believe or disbelieve.

It is not the interviewer’s job to refute points the interviewee makes.

Posted on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:46pm by DarronS Comment #36

I think you two are confusing an interview with a debate. As an interviewer DJ’s job is to draw out the interviewee and let him explain his ideas and give him enough rope to hang himself. We can decide what we want to believe or disbelieve.

It is not the interviewer’s job to refute points the interviewee makes.

But DJ did interject some counterpoints already. While listening, I was really expecting him to navigate a little in this direction at this point. It was perfectly possible to shape it as a way to help Wiker explain what exactly was bothering him about natural selection, and whether it wasn’t just an attempt to merely obfuscate the search for a driving force instead of finding a naturalistic, scientific one.

Posted on Nov 25, 2009 at 5:31am by JH-man Comment #37

But DJ did interject some counterpoints already.

DJ did offer counter-arguments, but fotobits gave us the
contrast between an interview and a debate.  A debate is a contest
that one tries to win, they try to make their opponent loose
DJ interviewed the guest, offering a counter-point to give the guest
the opportunity to offer their rebuttal (whether it is a
home-run rebuttal or a piece-of-eh-hum rebuttal.)  As fotobits
said, give them plenty of rope.

The debater refutes the opponent, so maybe DJ could invite a
second guest to debate the first guest, DJ says he likes a debate.
I intend this to be an educational debate, certainly not a Fox News
“fair and balanced” one where a guest is invited merely because
they are a member of the opposing political party.  But I still
think that DJ should stay neutral on the topics, an interviewer,
a facilitator.

Posted on Nov 25, 2009 at 4:34pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #38

But DJ did interject some counterpoints already.

DJ did offer counter-arguments, but fotobits gave us the
contrast between an interview and a debate.  A debate is a contest
that one tries to win, they try to make their opponent loose
DJ interviewed the guest, offering a counter-point to give the guest
the opportunity to offer their rebuttal (whether it is a
home-run rebuttal or a piece-of-eh-hum rebuttal.)  As fotobits
said, give them plenty of rope.

The debater refutes the opponent, so maybe DJ could invite a
second guest to debate the first guest, DJ says he likes a debate.
I intend this to be an educational debate, certainly not a Fox News
“fair and balanced” one where a guest is invited merely because
they are a member of the opposing political party.  But I still
think that DJ should stay neutral on the topics, an interviewer,
a facilitator.

Look, I certainly don’t want to overstate my critique on DJs interview itself. It doesn’t keep me awake at night.  ;-)  But it’s not even about openly trying to refute a guest or anything. At the end of the interview it simply remained largely unstated what exactly Wiker had to offer, or imagined, in terms of (scientific) alternative to NS. Clearly he had to HAVE one, judging by his opposition to the idea.  So that was a little frustrating, even apart from agreeing or disagreeing with him.  He could have talked about spontaneous complexity or some other vaguely naturalistic concept, or he could have explicitly admitted he just needed a God. But I don’t seem to remember any of that.

Posted on Nov 26, 2009 at 8:02am by JH-man Comment #39

Welcome to the world of ID debunkers, JH-Man. The most frustrating part of talking with IDiots is they have nothing other than criticisms of evolution and what they have termed Darwinism. IDiots have no theory of their own. They tout Irreducible Complexity, but that is only a diversion they developed to deflect attention from their religious agenda. IDiots are trying to sneak Creationism into our schools, but after the Supreme Court ruled that tactic unconstitutional they changed the name to Intelligent Design and started over.

The Kitzmiller v Dover Board of Education trial revealed their tactics publicly, and the judge’s decision made it settled case law in the United States that ID is nothing more than Creationism in disguise. They are liars trying to spread their version of Christianity under the guise of science, and have been exposed as such. Yet some people still take them seriously, and they managed to get one of their professional liars published in a major news outlet on the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species.”

We have a lot of work to do. Maybe you are right. Maybe DJ should have torn the guy into little pieces. That would have been the correct tactic for a general audience, but PoI’s audience is a bit more educated and a bit more intelligent than CNN’s audience. Perhaps DJ did exactly what he intended: left Wiker twisting in the wind so we could decide for ourselves what to so with his corpse.

Posted on Nov 26, 2009 at 8:22am by DarronS Comment #40

As a former journalist I can see why DJ conducts the interviews as he does. A journalist’s job is to present information fairly, and in the case of these podcasts DJ’s job as a journalist is not to confront his guests, but to get them to explain their views so his listeners can come to informed conclusions. We can decide for ourselves if the interviewee is making sense or talking woo. One of the key aspects of having an open mind is listening to differing viewpoints and reaching your own conclusions. Shutting out someone with whom you disagree is ideology, not skepticism.

Yeah, that’s true, but I think it depends a lot on the chemistry between them if that’s going to happen. I remember the Chris Hedges interview. Both were beginning to get quite angry, me included!

Anyway, there was a question or subject that I missed. Wasn’t Darwin supposed to become a priest at one time? It doesn’t exactly add up with the supposed religious-sceptic-from-birth theory.

Posted on Jan 03, 2010 at 6:24am by Strappado Comment #41

Yeah, that’s true, but I think it depends a lot on the chemistry between them if that’s going to happen. I remember the Chris Hedges interview. Both were beginning to get quite angry, me included!

Anyway, there was a question or subject that I missed. Wasn’t Darwin supposed to become a priest at one time? It doesn’t exactly add up with the supposed religious-sceptic-from-birth theory.

Welcome to the forums.

I agree with your point about Hedges. He has that effect on a lot of people. I listened to that one on the way to the Texas Star Party last year. Luckily I was on a deserted road in the Texas Hill Country so no one called 911 to report some lunatic driving down the highway screaming at his car stereo.

Yes, I recall Darwin did consider priesthood. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll try to remember that next time an IDiot brings up Darwin being a lifelong atheist.

Posted on Jan 03, 2010 at 7:24am by DarronS Comment #42

It was the night before christmas and all was quiet. The little boy woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to watch Santa deliver his xmas gifts. Quietly he snuck down the stairs and peeked around the corner of the living room. But instead of Santa he saw his dad, busily arranging packages around the xmas tree.
The boy was disappointed and ran to his dad, asking, “why is Santa not here”?  His dad, not wanting to destroy the boy’s illusion replied, “oh, Santa was here already, but he had so little time that he just dropped the presents in the middle of the room and asked me to arrange them properly”. The boy was relieved that Santa had remembered him and went back to bed, secure in the knowledge that Santa was real and could be depended on to deliver his presents forever more.

Is there a parallel here?

Posted on Jan 08, 2010 at 10:28pm by Write4U Comment #43

Only Grothe could handle a guest like this with so much class. A difficult program to listen to, but I think it’s important for us to hear from bilious characters like Wiker.

Posted on May 11, 2010 at 7:22am by eplommer Comment #44

Okay, I listened to the podcast a year and a half later.  I’m glad to see that people have pretty much said what I was thinking. 
How can someone who seems so educated have such flawed opinions?

1.  He acts like scientists are so dumb and so pumped full of ideology that they didn’t realize an ancient deity was staring them right in the face.  Excuse me?  Oh, I see why we can’t seem to cure cancer, we forgot to take God into account.  Okay, yeah, he’s right here in my petri dish holding onto some molecules.  Too bad we followed our God, Darwin, for so many years.
2.  His example didn’t even prove his point; it proved the secular scientific point.  He said for hundreds of years people believed a certain scientific event.  Then a different theory came along that worked much better.  But it wasn’t a supernatural theory; it was a natural, scientific theory, so it undermines his argument.
3.  He should have been challenged to name one single time that a supernatural fact was proven to be the key to a long standing scientific question.  It’s has always been the reverse throughout all of scientific history.  A supernatural explanation is always supplanted by a natural one.
4.  Instead of an example, he kept bringing up Marxism.  That just confuses the issue.  We’re looking for evidence of the supernatural.  Just because he claims Marxism (supposedly) didn’t take human nature completely into consideration, does not mean that somehow scientists have to take the supernatural into consideration when working in the evolution sciences!

His foray into human morality seemed equally flawed.  Why does he ignore the fact that humans are animals and therefore our behavior requires a supernatural explanation?  Human social behavior can easily be seen as part of the spectrum of animal behavior on this planet.  Bonobos are at least as generous towards each other as people are and they never kill each other.  Does Wiker think that they have God?  Does every animal species that does not practice, brutal, systematic eugenics on each other, somehow spiritual?  Obviously, each species has different social norms and strategies, and I fail to see why you would need magic to explain it.

Also, it seems to me that evolution has given us a tremendous amount of information and has facilitated countless medical and agricultural advances, as well as huge insights into many other disciplines.  But somehow he thinks that we’re just kind of stuck right now?  And it’s because we forgot that there’s a whole other side to evolution that we’re just ignoring on purpose?  What would this even look like?  Would it help us calculate DNA strands faster and more accurately?  Would it give us the ability to fertilize other planets with life?  Would we be able to engineer more efficient microorganisms to consume pollution?  Would we finally be able to understand how life got a start?  I just don’t get it. 

When you boil down his educated talk, it’s just a string of irrational beliefs.

Posted on Aug 05, 2010 at 4:56am by Satyr Comment #45

I maintained my cool up until he started saying there was a relationship between Darwinism and Social Darwinism. The latter merely hijacked the name and has nothing to do with Darwinism, the only link is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, which as we all know is so often interpreted in a completely different sense from Darwin’s intent. Like fascism and eugenics, the point about Social Darwinism is that it is brought about by choice, the exact opposite of Natural Selection. For someone to come out and accuse Darwin of lying and then use such twisted arguments to support his case is at best disingenuous and really, well, let’s call it by its name “lying”.

I found the discussion interesting.  Wiker seems to be arguing for a “moderate” religious position.  His assertions that Darwin was lying about his pre-Beagle beliefs do seem to be kind of compelling, but I think we can forgive Darwin and his father for not being entirely forthcoming about their atheistic beliefs given the times in which they lived.  It was certainly not socially acceptable to be atheist and possibly even dangerous at that time.

As far as the “enlightment ideology” idea, that also seems credible.  Unlike, Wiker, I would applaud Darwin for promoting such an ideology.  As for Wiker’s other accusations, I agree with Keith.  It seems dishonest.  To equate eugenics as promoted by Nazis with abortion is simply absurd as is the suggestion that atrocities perpetrated by dictators who instituted a cult of personality around themselves are somehow connected to atheism.  Cults and Religions are fundamentally indistinguishable.  The suggestion that natural selection is not sufficient betrays the usual religionists’ complete inability to comprehend the time scales over which natural selection acts.  It comes from almost the same level of ignorance displayed by the tea party ignoramuses when they assert that evolution can’t be true because we don’t see monkeys turning into people overnight.

I don’t think it is a bad idea to have people like Wiker on the podcast.  DJ did a good job of countering Wiker’s arguments.

Posted on Jun 12, 2011 at 10:16pm by ullrich Comment #46