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Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has come under increasing attack in recent decades within the scientific community, primarily as the result of a dramatic expansion of knowledge in the field of biology. I do not wish to enter that debate. What I would like to discuss, however, is the idolatry of evolution, or the transformation of a scientific theory into a quasi-religious cult. This phenomenon has contributed to the erosion of intellectual life in the West during the 20th century.
In the thinking of many Darwinists, evolution has a quasi-mystical quality. We have all seen the evolutionary charts showing the development of creepy-crawly things into mammals; knuckle-dragging apes into modern humans. Man stands at the apex of the evolutionary pyramid. Must it not have some transcendental aspect? This groping for spirituality and meaning is manifest in the following passage, written in 1993, from a prominent Darwinist writer, Roger Lewin:
The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions dislodged humans from a position of centrality in the universe of things. Nevertheless, even if humans are accepted as the product of an evolutionary process in common with other species, it is still possible to view Homo sapiens as a special product of that process and indeed as its ultimate goal.
Its ultimate goal? The goal of whom, of what?
In his article Gary Wolf goes on to trace the source of this idolatry, quoting for example Julian Huxley,"The central long-term concern of religion must be to promote further evolutionary improvement." He goes on to paraphrase Huxley, originator of the phrase The Modern Synthesis, "This purpose is inherent in the universe, through the vehicle of evolution: 'As a result of a thousand million years of evolution, the universe is becoming conscious of itself, able to understand something of its past history and its possible future.' Man, in turn, will carry forward the idea: 'Man is the product of nearly three billion years of evolution, in whose person the evolutionary process has at last become conscious of itself and its possibilities.' With evolution as a conscious being ruling the universe, the stage is set for the process of planning that we must undertake to consummate the current phase, which Huxley calls psychosocial (as opposed to the earlier biological) evolution."
Viewing Homo sapiens as the ultimate goal of evolution I take to be the default motivation behind accounts of evolution that represent it as set from its origin to culminate in Homo Sapiens, in fact men and women as we are today. Sometimes that motivation is apparent, as in the instance of Teilhard de Chardin and his Omega Point towards which our species is supposedly drawn. Other times the relation is reversed, for example the claim that evolution has a predetermined course implying, since we are its most recent innovation, that we all along were the object of its progress.