I would say that Ben Stein exaggerated, but not by a lot. There is a hidden gnosis unveiled by the mechanism of evolution that constitutes a temptation to the human species. Once we have a mechanism for the improvement of a species—once we know how nature does it (by a process of selection)—do we start directing the selection, or not?
It’s really not Darwin’s fault that we are confronted with this temptation. It is the twisting DNA tree in the garden of our body’s Eden. It’s God’s fault. God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there. Geneticists, as we speak, are boring into that tree, and the processes are being rapidly deciphered whereby God (if God exists) makes organisms better, prettier, faster, smarter, and stronger.
Obviously, you don’t need intellectuals to spell out the implications. Any school child can look at the theory of evolution and say, “Nature does not operate by the laws of love and nonviolence. Nature selects out the fittest by a process of elimination. Why aren’t we?”
Why aren’t we?
What, but religious taboo, is powerful enough to arrest the temptation? Why not eliminate the pains “that flesh is heir to”? And when religion goes away, what philosophical or ethical argument will have enough “oomph” to inhibit people from rushing full steam ahead into eugenic selection?
I disagree with Ben Stein to this extent: Stein treats evolution by natural selection as a philosophical position that one can take or leave. And so he blames intellectuals for the catastrophe. By contrast, I treat evolution by natural selection as a scientific fact that cannot be swept under the rug. The tools of selection (sexual and natural) that Darwin discovered will actually work if applied to human beings artificially. Geneticists will, over the next 100 years, be able to use eugenic techniques to make Nietzschean “super-humans” (or, if they prefer, degenerate clones as frontline fodder in war). They’ll be able to blend the genes of humans and animals. In embryos, they’ll be able to add or delete a menu of human traits (a small menu, at the start, but much larger, say, 300 years from now). These seemingly black magic arts will not be Darwin’s fault, or the fault of philosophical Darwinists, or the fault of decadent intellectuals. The ability to engage in these arts will be made possible by the facts read out painstakingly by scientists from the Book of Nature. They will come from God. Natural selection acting on the genome is how biological improvements really occur, and humans are rapidly figuring out how to read out of the genome the secrets for making improvements.
Philosophical Darwinists might well give the eugenic temptation intellectual support, and cheer it on, but it is the gnosis that scientists have unveiled that constitutes the temptation. You have hippies who, by analogy, cheer on free love, but you don’t need the cheerleaders of free love to recognize and feel the temptation. It is the genetic apples hanging on the trees of our bodies that will give us the power to be as gods—to direct our own evolution—if we decide to take upon ourselves this knowledge of good and evil. Nazi doctors were the crude, ham-handed Darwinian alchemists of the 20th century, but the 21st and 22nd centuries will have real alchemy: geneticists able to cleanly and efficiently turn our crude human mud into transhuman gold.
Will we eat those golden apples? Should we?
Blaming this dilemma on Charles Darwin, or on philosophically enthusiastic Darwinists, or on godless intellectuals, is to shoot the messengers. The tree and its fruit comes from the King himself. God (if God exists) is the creator of the human genetic code, and he is also the chief taboo for not tinkering with that code to improve the human species.
So long live the King?
Obviously, the old King’s ongoing reign is in his children’s hands. But the day is coming (and that very soon) when we will be able to direct our own evolution. And should we choose to do so, that will also be the day that marks the death of God. It will be a completely different world, run entirely by the children. And our great-grandchildren will not be human. They will be transhuman.