Creator of “Clergy Letter Project”: Michael Zimmerman

on March 20, 2010
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The Huffington Post: “Social Darwinism: A Bad Idea With a Worse NameSome News to Note readers may find the name Michael Zimmerman rings a bell. If so, don’t be surprised; Zimmerman is the creator of the “Clergy Letter Project” and its “Evolution Sunday” event.

This week, Zimmerman contributed an interesting opinion piece to the online Huffington Post. (For helpful background on the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday, see Ken Ham’s discussion in Churches in praise of . . . Darwin!) The essay not only dismisses the idea that “social Darwinism” has much to do with Darwinism; it also names us specifically. Zimmerman states:

"Social Darwinism is not a perversion of the principles of Darwinian evolution."

[S]ocial Darwinism" is a concept whose woeful misnaming has led to serious damage. Social Darwinism is a bizarre name in that it has precious little to do with either Darwin or the theory of evolution to which his work gave rise.

Zimmerman argues that social Darwinism is a misapplication of the concept of “survival of the fittest,” itself a slightly incorrect interpretation of the working of natural selection. (In reality, rather than only the “fittest” surviving environmental pressures, it is only the “least fit” who do not survive. This may seem a semantic triviality, but there is a substantive difference.)

Answers in Genesis and other creationists have attacked the evolutionary worldview indirectly through revealing the evils of social Darwinism, a view that (we contend) ultimately influenced Hitler. Zimmerman agrees, calling social Darwinism “despicable,” but adds that we “somehow think . . . that an unpopular social policy that sounds like science can undercut sound scientific ideas.” He then quotes from David DeWitt’s article Jefferson vs. Hitler:

Social Darwinism is not a perversion of the principles of Darwinian evolution. On the contrary, it is taking them to their natural, logical conclusion. Further, if there were no connection to evolution then why is it called social Darwinism?

Zimmerman’s argument is that the name actually is a misnomer, thus rebutting DeWitt’s rhetorical question. Not only that, but Zimmerman continues,

In addition to knowing that social Darwinism is unrelated to evolutionary principles, proponents of evolution also understand a larger truth. They understand that even if the two were actually linked, human society allows us to move beyond some biological imperatives.

What should creationists make of Zimmerman’s argument? First off, logically speaking, it’s true that arguing against the moral consequence of an idea is not the same as arguing against an idea itself. If evolution were true, it would be true regardless of whatever negative “biological imperatives” it had given us. Of course, most people already realize this, even if many ignore the distinction when arguing.

“Even if the two were actually linked” society could move beyond the imperatives of evolution.

The difference is whether social Darwinism is a logical normative conclusion of Darwinian scientific theory, as we have claimed. But to DeWitt’s answer in the affirmative, Zimmerman says only that “it has precious little to do with either Darwin or the theory of evolution” and provides no reason for believing his claim is historically true. Zimmerman does not explore why anyone would come to the conclusion—as did not only social Darwinists, but also have serial killers and others.

Moreover, consider Zimmerman’s point that “even if the two were actually linked” society could move beyond the imperatives of evolution. This does not dispute the idea that social Darwinism may be either a fair or the only logical interpretation of Darwinism; it only claims society could go in a different direction should we want to. The question is, why, in the true (atheistic) Darwinist’s worldview, should we want to. Ultimately, the answers all boil down to self-interest, at which point we must ask why an atheist’s self-interest should include others’ well-being.

Granted, at present, nearly all atheists are still “cultural Christians” and do want some form of humanistic social harmony. Compromising Christians, however, are quite different from “true” Darwinists, in that they are attempting to meld Christian morality with an evolutionary history of life. To them, we counter not that their sense of morals is misplaced, but rather that God and evolution cannot be reconciled.


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