The View From 1776

Darwinian Evolution: the Foundation of Liberal-Socialism

A reader believes that characterization is completely absurd.

Commenting on Scientific Snake-Oil, ryan wrote:

“Darwinian evolution [was] concocted originally to discredit the Bible and to support the philosophical materialism of the socialist religion.?

This statement is completely absurd.? Can you supply any facts whatsoever to support this claim?

My answer


There is abundant evidence that Charles Darwin was, as early as his voyage on the Beagle, interested in some hypothesis, any hypothesis other than that offered in the Bible, to explain the fantastic varieties of animal and plant life.  Darwin’s works, the outgrowth of similar studies in geology by Charles Lyell, were rebuttals aimed directly at Judeo-Christian doctrine found in the Bible.

Darwin, by the time of his voyage on the Beagle, had become a convinced agnostic.  In one of his manuscripts regarding his abandonment of Christianity, Darwin wrote: Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.  As Gertrude Himmelfarb notes (Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution):

The progress of his disbelief must have been sufficiently advanced by 1838, when he became engaged to be married, to provoke his father’s warning about the advisability of concealing one’s doubts from one’s wife.

During his married life, Darwin kept his agnosticism to himself without challenging his wife’s Christian beliefs. Himmelfarb writes that, in the original version of his posthumously published autobiography, however, he expressed himself forthrightly.  In it he wrote that he had come to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.  Nor, he wrote, could he be persuaded of the existence of God.  In the autobiography he also referred to Christianity as a “damnable doctrine.”

How then to explain the hypocrisy of the concluding sentence of On the Origin of Species:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…

The answer is to be found in the self-serving prudence explained in a letter to his son:

[Charles] Lyell [the famous geologist who greatly influenced Darwin’s views] is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise…I have lately read Morley’s “Life of Voltaire” and he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force and vigor of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect…

Darwin?s ideas were a product of the climate of opinion then gaining ground in England: the Victorians? reaction to the horrors of working conditions under industrialism and the hope that socialism might indeed bring a secular heaven to mankind, in our lifetimes, here on earth.
Had it not been for J.S. Mill and others around 1859, who looked favorably upon the doctrines of Saint-Simonian and Comtean socialism, and advocated them so effectively, Darwin?s On the Origin would probably never have found much of a following.? Even his idol and early mentor Charles Lyell initially rejected it on scientific grounds.? Absent the evangelical-style preaching of Thomas Huxley extolling the gospel of secular materialism, Darwin might have remained an obscure, but decent and kindly gentleman retired in ill health.?

Instead, his work became a fundamental plank in the doctrine of socialism.?

Eleven years before On the Origin,  Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto.  In it he theorized that the materialistic factors of the economy caused societies to evolve, in a sort of natural selection, toward the foreordained triumph of world socialism. English Marxists enthusiastically took up Darwin?s biological evolution as proof of what they called scientific socialism.  Here in the United States it became the basis of Professor John Dewey?s materialistic philosophy of pragmatism.

Himmelfarb writes that Marx, in a June, 1861, letter to German socialist leader Ferdinand Lasalle, wrote that he had read Darwin’s On the Origin and found it to be a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.

Both Darwin and Marx, Himmelfarb writes, ...insisted upon the basic fact of struggle and upon progress as its result.  It was on this ground that Marxism had a legitimate claim to the title of “social Darwinism.”  And it was for this reason that some socialists, to Engels’s horror, joined together Darwin, [Herbert] Spencer, and Marx as the trinity that would bring salvation to mankind.

Darwin?s acolytes, from Thomas Huxley to John Dewey, preached that there is no right or wrong, just the struggle for survival.? This meant that the end justifies the means.

Precisely this viewpoint was repeatedly and widely expressed here and in Europe from the mid-1850s until after World War II, when the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin began to merge into public awareness.

The evolutionary view of life means that events of history are not influenced by individual free will, either at the biological level or at the political level, because events are determined by the materialistic conditions within which people live. Only the all-powerful socialistic state can regulate those material conditions, and only the intellectuals know how to use the powers of the collectivized state.?

This is the Darwinian philosophical view that underlay Lenin?s and Stalin?s Soviet Russia in the 1920s, as well as Franklin Roosevelt?s imitative New Deal and Hitler’s National Socialist Germany in the 1930s.