The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, By Benjamin Wiker. Regnery Publishing Inc. (2009), 171 pages, $12.00.
Written on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species, The Darwin Myth attempts to provide a balanced, fair, and also critical examination of Darwin’s life and work that avoids the current tendency either to demonize or deify Darwin. The structure of the book is that of a biography. As the title indicates, Benjamin Wiker’s primary purpose in this biography is to engage and debunk the secular mythology which has been constructed around the world’s most well-known naturalist. Specifically, Wiker sets out to refute the pervasive myth that Darwin simply burst onto the scene with an entirely novel theory of evolution, and that this theory was universally accepted by the scientific community of the time. On the contrary, Wiker argues that idea of evolution has a long history among European enlightenment skeptics and ultimately has its roots in the thought of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. When Darwin pioneered his theory of evolution, he drew upon this intellectual tradition. Evolution, Wiker argues, is not simply pure untainted science. And in my opinion, he succeeds admirably.
The first three chapters of the book consist of an examination of Darwin’s life. Wiker considers Darwin’s family history, his upbringing, his early education in theology school, and his journeys abroad on the Beagle, during which he collected much of the empirical data for the Origin of Species. The next three chapters consider the years during which Darwin published and publicized his version of the evolutionary theory. Here Wiker elucidates the significant controversy which Darwin’s work stirred up within the scientific community. Far from receiving universal acclamation, Darwin’s theory was stridently criticized by many of the foremost scientists of his day. Even many of his closest friends rejected his version of evolution. Wiker’s presentation of this history is quite revealing. The final chapters of the book are dedicated to the intellectual implications of evolution. Wiker persuasively demonstrates how the destructive philosophy of Social Darwinism and the practice of Eugenics logically arise out of Darwin’s scientific theory. These are implications which today’s secular society has done its best to conceal. Overall this book is an excellent and informative read. The author’s style is erudite, yet also clear and witty. The chapters are well organized, and the arch of the book’s argument is easy to follow.
So, is this a fitting book for a Reformed young man or woman to read? If you are one who is interested in the history surrounding the publication of Darwin’s evolutionary writings, the intellectual milieu in which Darwin developed his theory, and the implications which the theory has for broader society, this is a great book for you. Above all the book is a work of intellectual history. Wiker does not engage Darwin or evolution from a theological perspective, nor does the book’s value lie in providing a Biblical response to evolutionism; such is not the author’s intent. What this book does provide is deep insight into the origins of the Origin of Species and roots of the theory of evolution. In so doing it offers insights which may deepen one’s understanding of Darwinism. This is important, since one must understand a theory in order to refute it.