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The Evolution of Everything and the Rise of Moral Nihilism

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The Evolution of Everything author Matt Ridley attempts to account for morality among evolved human animals as “a spontaneous thing produced by social interaction among people seeking to find ways to get along.” How does he know this since it’s hard to trust an evolved brain that arose from lower life forms, something that vexed Charles Darwin? The following is from a letter Darwin wrote to letter to William Graham on July 3, 1881:

I have had no practice in abstract reasoning and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

Ridley mentions how the “disapproval of homosexuality has become ever more morally unacceptable in the West, while disapproval of pedophilia has become ever more morally mandatory.” [1] He approves of both these trends. But on what grounds?

There is no guarantee that as time goes on that the disapproval of pedophilia will not one day change. There are no moral guarantees in “the evolution of everything,” including social interactions and their current moral taboos. Ridley does not know what evolution will accomplish in 20, 30, or 100 years just like Darwin did not know in 1859 what his theory would achieve after the publication of his world-changing book On the Origin of Species.

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At best, Ridley is naïve. The 20th century was filled with examples of people not getting along by pursuing their own interests in the name of some idealist ideology in the name of the betterment of mankind. Much of what we are encountering today is a manifestation of the materialist worldview advocated by Ridley and his atheist defenders:

Nietzsche, the key philosopher of postmodernism, maintained that morality, reason, and every institution of civilization have no objective basis, that they are … nothing more than manifestations of the will to power. Indeed, the desire for power over other people is the primary psychological motivation for everyone. Marx would apply this maxim to socio-economic classes, saying that cultural expressions and practices are the means for the ruling class to exert power over those it oppresses. Then the post-Marxists of today apply that principle, that everything can be reduced to power and that power is always oppressive, to other groups—those of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, species, etc., etc.—in which the privileged (white, male, heterosexual, rich, human) exercise power over the marginalized (racial minorities, women, LBTQ, the poor, animals). [2]

Nietzsche is the “God is dead” philosopher and Marxism is its this-world application resulted in the destruction of around 100 million lives in the 20th century. So what’s holding our materialist world together? Certain not Ridley’s “social interaction among people seeking to find ways to get along.” Gene Veith explains:

The Christian influence remains, even for those who believe with Nietzsche that God is dead. In fact, the left is employing a mash-up of Nietzsche and a secularized Puritanism, which has rejected God while cultivating self-righteousness and the zeal to censor, control, and punish.

Darwin himself contributed to this type of thinking: “The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.” Where was Ridley’s “social interaction among people seeking to find ways to get along”?

In his book A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, Dawkins writes, “It is pretty hard to defend absolute morals on anything other than religious grounds…. Science has no methods for deciding what’s ethical.” [3]

  1. Ridley, The Evolution of Everything (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 21, 26.[]
  2. Gene Veith, “The Mashup of Nietzsche and Puritanism,” Patheos.com (February 18, 2020): http://bit.ly/2V1cOKz[]
  3. A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003), 39.[]
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