Edward T. Oakes may be a good teacher of theology at St. Mary of the Lake, but he is a lousy historian of Darwinism. Witness the following statement from his review of Richard Weikart’s work, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany:
Spencer might well have been the first to coin the phrase “survival of the fittest.” But Darwin enthusiastically adopted it in the 6th edition of his Origin of Species as a substitute term for “natural selection.” Nor did he ever demur when other advocates of evolution’s social application came pleading their case. Karl Marx asked if he might dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, which request Darwin declined only because he did not want to offend the religious sensibilities of his deeply Christian wife.
There are a host of problems with this short extract.
Firstly – and most trivially – Darwin adopted the phrase in the fifth edition of 1869 of Origin (not the sixth of 1872).
Secondly, it is debatable whether Darwin “enthusiastically adopted” the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ which Spencer had coined in 1864. If anyone, it was Wallace who enthuiastically endorsed the term, persuading Darwin to adopt it due to what Wallace perceived to be the anthropomorphism of natural selection. In fact, Wallace went so far as to strike out all occurances of ‘natural selection’ and replace them with ‘survival of the fittest’ in his own copy of Origin (Browne, The Power of Place, p. 312). Darwin recognized the utility of the phrase (when properly understood as survival of the “most suitable”) but remained strongly attached to his original phrase. Enthusiastic he was not, particularly because it muddied his analogy between artifical and natural selection.
On to Marx, who remains entwined with Darwin in the minds of many anti-evolutionists. Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) assures us that “it is well known than not only the early Communists, such as Marx and Engels, were atheistic evolutionists, but also that all the leaders of Communism since have been the same” (The Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1974, p. 42). In his The Long War Against God, Morris claims that “Marxism, socialism, and communism, no less than Nazism are squarely based on evolutionism” (p. 83). He assures us that “Marx felt his own work to be the exact parallel of Darwin’s. He even wished to dedicate a portion of Das Kapital to the author of The Origin of Species” (History of Modern Creationism, 1993, p. 54). The fable has passed on into the common currency of the Creationist movement here in the United States. For example, A Walk Through History, a 1994 video issued by the Institute for Creation Research, features John Rajca (then the curator of the ICR Museum of Creation and Earth History) teaching the following to a group of schoolchildren: “Karl Marx here, [points to picture of Marx] wanted to dedicate his book on communism, Das Kapital, to Darwin because he said this is where he got his ideas for a political system.” To many anti-evolutionists, Darwinism is inescapably linked with Marxism, both ideologies supporting each other, and evolutionary thinking making communism possible.
Such connections between Darwin and Marx have been effectively refuted by historians for over thirty years. The myth of the link between the two figures was created after Marx’s death by Friedrich Engels’ graveside oration to Marx, and supported by later Marxists such as Filippo Turati, Edward Aveling & Ludwig Büchner as putative evidence for the ‘scientific’ nature of their worldview. In particular, it has been proven that a letter evidently written by Darwin to Marx, apparently asking that Marx not dedicate the second volume of Das Kapital to him, was in fact addressed to (Marx’s son-in-law) Aveling asking that his A Student’s Darwin (1881) not be so dedicated. Darwin was opposed to Aveling’s vehement anti-Christian rhetoric and wished not to have his name associated with such radicalism. (See Ball 1979 J. Political Theory 7:469; Colp 1982 History of Political Economy 14:461; Carroll & Fuer 1976 Annals of Science 33:386).
Eighty-three words. Three errors. Scholarship at its finest. It is therefore no surprise that Oakes sees Weikart’s work as a “magnificently written monograph”.
In making his case, Oakes also states that
Darwin actually, if unwittingly, promulgated the charter for all later social Darwinists: “Let the strongest live and the weakest die… . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”
Astute readers may recognize the latter part of the quote comes from the final paragraph of Origin (Chapter XIV). The earlier part comes from chapter VII (‘Instinct’). Yes, folks. Oakes has constructed a quote from two statements seven chapters apart, possibly the longest ellipsis known to scholarship.
Makes you wonder why Christianity Today would have someone so clearly untrained in the history of Darwinism review the book. Oh, nevermind, I can guess.