The Mythmaker

A N Wilson throws down the gauntlet to Darwin

Andrew Norman Wilson, no stranger to controversy, has well and truly thrown the cat among the scientific pigeons with his latest book Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. ‘Darwin was wrong,’ the book begins, which has prompted a flurry of critical reviews on the Amazon website.

Wilson is an award winning biographer and my introduction to his work was in the mid-1990s, when I read his tract How Can We Know? It was Wilson’s ambitious but inadequate attempt to defend Christianity. If I had not been a Christian at the time, How Can we Know? would not have persuaded me to become one.

It was no surprise, then, to see another of his tracts a year or so later. This one was Against Religion. Wilson had undergone a Damascus Road conversion to atheism and the book’s stated thesis was, ‘The love of God is the root of all evil.’ I found Against Religion even less convincing than How Can We Know?

A N Wilson now had an axe to grind and his Jesus, a purported biography of the founder of Christianity, followed. Based on old, outdated and sceptical sources, Jesus was an elegantly written but appallingly researched dissertation, as was his ‘biography’ of Paul.

A biography of C S Lewis, one of the twentieth century’s greatest apologists for Christianity, followed and, not to put too fine a point on it, was a hatchet job. Wilson sought to discredit Lewis, claiming among other things that the author of the Chronicles of Narnia was a drunkard and that Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham once discovered his mother and his stepfather-to-be in flagrante delicto, a claim Gresham denies.

In 2009, Wilson declared in The New Statesman that he had returned to the fold, explaining that his lapse of faith was partly due to the fact that Christianity was seen as ‘uncool’ (a remarkable admission from a man who appears to be the epitome of ‘uncool’). But Wilson was an uncomfortable atheist.

‘One thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever,’ said Wilson in his New Statesman piece, ‘was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany.’ He suddenly realised:

How utterly incoherent were Hitler's neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer's book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer's serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

Wilson’s book about Darwin and the evolution has predictably raised the hackles of Darwin’s fans. The book, says one reviewer, ‘is littered with errors, both trivial and fundamental.’ That might be so but does it mean that Wilson’s conclusion is wrong? Not necessarily. The history of Darwin’s theory is also ‘littered with errors.’ And serious errors at that.

The idea that the everything came into existence because nothing exploded is patently bonkers but, say Darwin’s defenders, however nonsensical that concept might be, we’re here. So, the impossible must have happened. Believe it if it helps you sleep but I don’t have that kind of faith.

The fact remains, as Wilson and others have seen, a straight line can be drawn from Darwin to the Holocaust because, as Jesus pointed out, a bad tree will always produce bad fruit.


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