Joe Cannon: Darwin, Marx and Freud: Crafters of secular belief

Published: Sunday, June 7 2009 12:19 a.m. MDT

The last several columns in this space have aimed at demonstrating that over the past 500 years or so, western culture has shifted, at first gradually, but with increasing rapidity, from a religious, God-centered way of viewing our world to the secular, materialist world view of today. That is, laws, customs, philosophy, science and governmental structures can only be centered in one or the other of these world views. It is either "in the beginning, God" or "in the beginning, not God." Either a vertical perspective or a horizontal perspective.

This is not to say that all people at a given time believe only one or the other of these world views. It is obvious that there is not universal acceptance of either of these views. It is incontestable, however, that there has been a seismic shift of the center of gravity in how most of the gatekeepers of western culture and opinion have shifted to a secular, materialist world view.

In his enormously absorbing and thoughtful "A Secular Age," Charles Taylor notes, "The deeper, more anchored forms of unbelief arising in the 19th century are basically the same as those which are held today." The foundation laid by "the men of the Enlightenment" led to Darwin and "his theory which gave an important push toward a materialist, reductive view of the cosmos." The Enlightenment also led to "the economic theories of a Marx, the 'depth psychology' of Freud, and the genealogies of Nietzche." Taylor continues, "We might be tempted to say that the modern unbelief starts then, and not really in the Age of the Enlightenment. The 19th century would be the moment when 'The Modern Schism' occurred."

When a culture severs the vertical umbilical cord, as it were, to God, humankind does not cease to require a framework for belief and action. Darwin, Marx, Freud and others supplied that architecture in the mid- to late 19th century and into the early 20th century.

With no ultimate and absolute authority on which to base this new framework, the architects of the new belief are necessarily secular and relativistic. As noted earlier, secularization and relativism are the twin children of the Enlightenment and the handmaidens of modernity.

Harold Berman has defined secularization as the removal from society of "the dimension of transcendence, the dimension of faith, the dimension of religious community, and of the church in the broad sense." Secularism is the abandonment of the belief in a power external to mankind which is the first cause of man's creation and existence. It is the abandonment of the belief in permanent principles and ultimate truths that govern man's behavior. In Western civilization, secularization is specifically a rejection of its Christian foundations."

Nearly 70 years ago, Jacques Barzun wrote, "You will find Darwin and Marx repeatedly coupled as the great pair whose conceptions revolutionized the modern world; as the mighty thinkers whose thoughts are now moving the beliefs of millions."

"By substituting Natural Selection for providence, the new science could solve a host of riddles arising in practical life, though by the same exchange, the new science had to become a religion," notes Barzun. "This necessity is what makes the Darwinian event of lasting importance in cultural history."

It is important to not underestimate the secularists' need to replace the true creation story with their own creation story. Richard Dawkins, one of the reigning high priests of secularism, has been quoted as saying that Darwin "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Much earlier, Thomas Huxley, one of Darwin's chief apologists, stated "science and her methods, gave me a resting place independent of authority and tradition."

I am not a scientist, and not qualified to fully assess the Darwinian concept of evolution. But no one should be confused that Darwin understood with perfect clarity that Darwin, himself, in the words of Gertrude Himmelfarb, "preferred a morality independent of religion and untainted by the moral defects of Christianity." ("Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution")

Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.

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