Darwin’s Disciples: The Modern Epicureans

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When Paul visited the city of Athens on his second missionary campaign, one of the philosophical groups that he encountered was the “Epicureans.” Three years ago, when we published our commentary on the book of Acts, we made this brief comment regarding this Greek cult.

“The Epicureans (named for their founder) were pagan deists; they believed in ‘gods,’ but contended that these were utterly indifferent to the human plight. They were virtually polytheistic evolutionists, arguing that the world and its creatures resulted from a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ (M.E. Sadler, The Acts of the Apostles, London: George Bell & Sons, 1908, p. 329). For them pleasure (both sexual and intellectual) was the highest goal of life —though perhaps the greatest pleasure was the body’s freedom from pain, and the mind’s freedom from care” (The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, Stockton, CA: Courier Publications, 2000, pp. 219-20).

It has been a recent delight to note that the analogy between some of the beliefs of the Epicureans, and those of the modern advocates of Darwinian evolution, have been developed recently by Benjamin Wiker, a professor of science and philosophy at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Wiker also is a fellow at Seattle’s Discovery Institute. The professor’s book, published last year, is titled Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002).

In addition to Wiker’s book, we would recommend the professor’s essay, “Darwin and the Descent of Morality” (First Things, November, 2001, pp. 10-13), and the more recent piece in Christianity Today (“The Dick Staub Interview [with Wiker]: Are Darwinists Immoral?” June 30, 2003).

The professor emphasizes that, contrary to the belief of many, the idea of organic evolution did not originate with Charles Darwin in the mid-1800’s. Rather, the notion is as old as man’s longings to dismiss the concept of a Creator from his thinking.

Wiker argues that Epicurus surveyed the silly and gross scene of “gods” within the framework of ancient paganism, and longed to be rid of them. Accordingly, the Greek philosopher sought for a theoretical platform that was materialistic in scope; one that divested itself of the spiritual. The philosopher’s conclusion was, therefore, that man is wholly material. Supposedly, man has no soul or spirit, and so, ultimately, is not accountable to anyone. Further, Epicurus contended that any “apparent design” in nature is merely the result of chance, so that both animals and men are the products of mere randomness. The deduction is supposed to be, therefore, that animals and humans basically operate on the same non-moral level —doing whatever their baser instincts urge upon them.

Professor Wiker contends, therefore, that when one intellectually accepts this materialistic ideology, a degeneration of human conduct is bound to follow. Predictably, certain effects follow from their causes.

Wiker correctly notes that Darwin’s initial book, The Origin of Species (1859) focused principally upon man’s alleged biological development. It was not until his later work, The Descent of Man (1871), that the moral implications of this insidious theory became so shockingly apparent.

According to Darwin, the “moral” impulses now entertained by mankind evolved by means of the process called “natural selection,” and such, supposedly, was result of “social” necessity. The British naturalist rejected the idea that man’s moral sensitivity was the consequence of his having been created in the image of a moral Creator (yet see: Eph. 4:24). This sacred inheritance, of course, does not mean that man will always do what is right; it does suggest, though, that he has a sense that there are ethical opposites known as “right” and “wrong,” no matter how inaccurately the human being may define these qualities at times. Our consciousness of “oughtness” must be defined and refined by concrete revelation from God.

Wiker’s point, however, is this — and he is by no means the first to enunciate the proposition. If the Epicurean/Darwinian dogma is accepted, and practiced consistently, it will lead humanity into a downward spiral that results in a despicable morass of violence and debauchery that is unimaginably horrible. Modern society is on its way in that “descent of man,” and it has by no means reached the bottom of the abyss.

Let us briefly illustrate the social ramifications of accepting evolution, citing material from Darwin’s own poisonous pen.

  1. Charles Darwin was a sexist. Some moderns would label him a “sexist pig,” were he not the darling of their biological fantasy. For instance, Darwin argued that the male is considerably superior to the female in intellect. Hear him: “…[T]he chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn [shown] by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain —whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands” (The Descent of Man, London: John Murray, 1871, 2.327). Is it any wonder that the demeaning of womankind accelerated in the post-Darwin regime?
  2. Darwin was a racist. He held that those “savages” beyond the pale of Caucasian boundaries would eventually become extinct — hopefully! “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the savage races throughout the world … The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the negro [sic] or Australian and the gorilla” (Descent, 1.201). It certainly was not through the influence of evolutionary dogma that the evil of slavery was abolished in civilized lands.
  3. Darwin was a tooth and claw brutalist who lamented the fact that modern man seeks to preserve the lives of his sick and weak peers. For example, he bemoaned the medical reality that vaccinations have “preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind … this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” The foremost apostle of evolution criticized the construction of hospitals for the crippled, sick, and mentally handicapped. He felt it unfortunate that doctors labor so to preserve human lives down to their concluding hours. He protested laws that were designed to care for the poor. These facts are beyond dispute (see: Descent, 1.168).

This was the philosophy that Adolf Hitler found so refreshing in his quest to eliminate millions of “inferior” folks in the days of his infamous regime. Modern advocates of evolutionary theory choke on this paganistic drivel from their philosophical father, but they do not know how to effect disconnection from him.


Darwinists, of course, loudly protest that they repudiate these conclusions. Of course they do; such premises are too hideous to advocate without resulting embarrassment and recrimination. However, the conclusions follow logically from the propositions, and this baggage cannot be discarded successfully, no matter how vigorous the complaint.

The defenders of the doctrine of a divinely-imposed morality must hammer home this point on every convenient occasion.

Those who subscribe to Darwin’s doctrine of organic evolution have absolutely no legitimate basis upon which to oppose moral evil. A number of them have openly admitted this. Others, with no stomach for the obvious -namely that if there is no God, nothing is wrong - inconsistently cling to a variety of mythical moral codes which, supposedly, “Father Time” and “Mother Chance” fashioned out of an exclusively material, amoral world. But they can demonstrate no ultimate consequence attached to the rejection of their moral dictums. They simply flail and languish in a slime-pool of ethical confusion.