Atheism and Islam

Darwinists such as Christopher Hitchens decry the jihadists’ law of the jungle, but endorse a theory that affirms it.

The opposition to Islamization in Europe is often characterized by its critics as racist and xenophobic— composed of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and football hooligans. For a non-European it’s difficult to know how much truth there is in this. Some resistance groups such as SIOE (Stop the Islamization of Europe) and EDL (English Defence League) are clearly multi-ethnic and multi-racial, but there is evidence to suggest that some of the resistance is inspired by a “blood and soil” type ethos. The wonder is that it isn’t more widespread. Europe is now a largely secular society, and multiculturalism, which has become the dominant secular philosophy, teaches that you find your authentic self by identifying with your ethnic and/or racial group. It shouldn’t be surprising then that increasing numbers of Europeans would begin to identify themselves mainly by their whiteness or by their nationality, or both. At the same time, it shouldn’t be surprising if the other side in the conflict comes to be perceived simply as an enemy tribe with little or no claim to human rights.

Throughout history, that has been the natural response when one group or culture is threatened by another. Because multiculturalism heightens group consciousness, its end result is to return us to that state of affairs. The other force pushing people in the direction of that natural state is Darwinism—a worldview that is now almost as popular as it was during the eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Darwinism is particularly popular with militant atheists— people such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. It seems to be the preferred worldview for those Westerners who reject the Judeo-Christian view. It seems likely, then, that as Western societies become less Christian, more people will fall back on Darwinian explanations of life. This has interesting implications for the struggle against Islamization. One consequence of taking Darwinian evolution to heart is that you are forced to the conclusion that Islam deserves to rule. Whether you subscribe to a crude “survival of the fittest” form of Darwinism or to Richard Dawkins’ more sophisticated idea of cultural evolution through replicating “memes,” it seems that Islam has developed a highly successful system for passing its values on to the next generation.

Darwinism also takes away the main justification for opposing Islam. The most commonly stated opposition to the spread of Sharia law is that it violates human rights and freedoms. But what does Darwinian evolution contribute to the cause of upholding basic human rights? The short answer is it contributes nothing. The contradiction is evident, for example, in Ibn Warraq’s book Why I am Not a Muslim, which was inspired by Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian. Warraq does a great job of exploring all the ways in which Islam violates human rights, but then, in order to debunk the idea of God as Creator, he wanders off into a several-pages-long explanation of Darwinian evolution, complete with lengthy quotes from Darwin, Huxley, and Dawkins. The gist of it all, as Warraq patiently explains, is that there is nothing special about man, who “was descended from some apelike ancestor, and certainly was not the product of special creation.” “Man,” Warraq reminds us, “is, at present, classified under the order Primates, along with the shrews, lemurs, lorises, monkeys, and apes.” This sounds very scientific but, when you think about it, it’s not too far removed from the Islamic claim that some of us are the descendants of pigs and monkeys.

The contradiction inherent in the atheist/Darwinian critique of Islam is even more pronounced in the work of Christopher Hitchens. On the one hand, Hitchens has been a bold defender of the West; on the other hand, his views on human nature don’t seem to lend much support to Western values. Although you have to admire his courage in standing up to Islamic attacks on human rights and liberties, you have to wonder what he sees in Darwinian evolution that can possibly be used to buttress the case for human rights. In his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens advances the idea that the story of evolution is far more satisfying than what he calls “God stories.” Among the consoling comforts provided by evolution, we learn that the pig “is one of our fairly close cousins.” “It shares a great deal of our DNA,” observes Hitchens, which makes pigs “fellow creatures and relatives.” Not since Charlotte’s Web have pigs been portrayed so sympathetically. They “display many signs of intelligence” and, if granted enough space, “will keep themselves very clean, arrange litt le bowers, bring up families, and engage in social interaction with other pigs.” Hitchens, who devotes a whole chapter to pigs, declares his solidarity with them by describing himself along with various other historical figures as “mammals.” Thus, St. Francis is “the aforementioned mammal,” Muhammad is a “mammal,” the Bible was put together by “crude, uncultured human mammals,” Muslims are “mammals,” and Martin Luther King, Jr., though a great preacher, was “a mammal like the rest of us.”

Hitchens spends considerable time dismissing the belief that God is our Father as a piece of irrational nonsense, and then ends up asserting that pigs are our cousins—all of which seems to substantiate G.K. Chesterton’s observation that when people stop believing in God, they start believing in anything.

One of the ironic things about atheist apologetics is that it cuts away the rational basis for all the blessings the atheist wants to confer on mankind. Atheist writers like Hitchens and Richard Dawkins want to free people from ignorance and superstition, but what’s wrong with ignorance or superstition if they help you fit into your environment? Aren’t they just evolutionary adaptations? For that matter, what’s wrong with genital mutilation, honor killings, child abuse, and genocide? Atheists deplore these things but can’t provide any reason why one mammal should pass judgment on another mammal for obeying the promptings of its nerve impulses. Hitchens, in particular, is full of outrage on behalf of his fellow mammals who have been the victims of pogroms, inquisitions, and witch hunts throughout the ages. There are a lot of implicit “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “thou shalt nots” scatt ered through his work. But it’s not easy to figure out where they come from. Hitchens says we ought to behave morally, but then falls back for support on Darwin, who was not a moralist but a biologist. Hitchens seems to believe in something like the dignity of human life, but he’s thrown out the main case for it—the one that tells us we’re made in the image of God.

It’s easy to believe that concepts such as human dignity can exist independent of any particular relationship to God that humans might enjoy. But, as Pope John Paul II observed, “When the sense of God is lost there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and life.” Hitchens’ book is titled God is Not Great, but it just as well could be titled Man is Not Great. After reading 300 pages of his complaint that most of mankind is ridiculous, pathetic, and absurd, it’s difficult to feel much warmth for the poor deluded mammal. It doesn’t help when Hitchens keeps insisting on our links to the animal kingdom. Take this passage:

Elsewhere, a group of dedicated and patient scientists had located, in a remote part of the Canadian Arctic, several skeletons of a large fi sh that 375 million years ago exhibited the precursor features of digits, proto-wrists, elbows, and shoulders. The Tiktaalik…joins the Archaepteryx…as one of the longsought so-called missing links that are helping us to enlighten ourselves about our true nature.

Enlighten ourselves about our true nature? By looking at a dead fish? Thanks for the compliment. In the Judeo-Christian vision God is great, and man has the potential for greatness because of his close relationship with God. In the gospel according to Hitchens, God is not great, and man is not so hot either—unless you think it’s a neat idea to trace your ancestry to a prehistoric fish, or to find the meaning of your life in “the proteins and acids which constitute our nature.”

Kudos to Hitchens for taking Islam to task for its many violations of human rights and human dignity. But how, one might ask, do you build the case for human dignity on a foundation of “proteins and acids?” And what does Darwinian evolution contribute to the cause of upholding basic human rights? Or even to upholding the simple distinction between right and wrong? Darwinists argue that humans are just animals; they are our own kind, to be sure, but considered scientifically, there is nothing special or sacred about them. As for morality, that is also a product of evolution. Thus, from a Darwinian viewpoint, there can be no fixed, objective morality, and no objective human rights. There’s a chilling 10-minute segment in Ben Stein’s documentary film Expelled that shows how Darwinian ideas were used to justify the Nazi final solution. In one scene the camera follows Ben Stein to a site once used to kill “defectives.” When Stein asks the curator what the biggest influence on the doctors who did the killing was, she replies, “Darwinism.” No surprise there—not if you’re acquainted with the historical roots of Nazi ideology.

Hitchens’ attachment to human dignity might better be described as sentimental rather than rational. A much clearer view of where Darwinian thinking leads is provided by Lee Harris in his book The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West. Harris dispenses with high-sounding talk about “dignity” and “universal human rights,” and goes right to the Darwinian heart of the matter. He maintains that in a life and death struggle for survival, “the law of the jungle that governed all animal existence on the planet” takes precedence over Enlightenment values. In fact, says Harris, Enlightenment values are an absolute handicap in such a struggle. For example, the West’s “exaggerated confidence in the power of reason” leads it to underestimate the power of “fanaticism” and “tribalism.”

Harris takes pains to explain that he doesn’t use the term “fanatic” as a term of moral reprobation, nor “rational actor” as a term of approval. From a strictly Darwinian viewpoint it doesn’t make any sense to talk about “good” and “bad,” it only makes sense to talk about “winners” and “losers.” In the struggle for survival in which Harris thinks we are already engaged, the independent rational actor will be the loser: “Rationality, at this point, requires group solidarity. It involves the surrender of moral autonomy and the fanatical embrace of the tribe.”

In an echo of Dawkins’ appeal to cultural memes, Harris asserts that Islam has created an “artifi cial tribe” that, because of its fanaticism, has a tremendous evolutionary advantage in the struggle for survival. If the West hopes to resist Islam, says Harris, it must develop a similarly fanatical tribal mindset:

You must unconditionally support your own tribe or pack, and you must be prepared to act with utter ruthlessness toward those who belong to other tribes or packs. You must see members of the enemy tribe not as individuals or as fellow humans; you must see them as your existential enemy. That is all you need to know about them in order to be willing to kill them, torture them, or mutilate their corpses. When the laws of the jungle rule, the very idea of humanity is forgotten.

I don’t think we need to give up on the idea of humanity, or reduce ourselves to the level of “our pack versus your pack” in order to defeat Islam’s supremacist ideology, but I do think we need to be clear, contra Hitchens, that we can’t justify the rightness of our values by reference to biological theories. We should oppose Sharia law because it violates human rights—not just our rights but the rights of Muslims, also. That view of universal human rights is not rooted in evolutionary theory; it’s rooted in the Judeo-Christian belief in the sanctity and equality of all humans. If that vision fades in the West, expect to see more converts to the “law of the jungle.” Harris says that the struggle for survival needs to be brutal and ruthless. If the Darwinian view of human nature is the correct one, that is precisely how you would fight it.


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About William Kilpatrick 71 Articles
William Kilpatrick is the author of several books on religion and culture including Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press). His new book, What Catholics Need to Know About Islam, is available from Sophia Institute Press.