Nietzsche and Two Unpleasant Implications of Darwinism


“There was a type of enjoyment in overpowering and interpreting the world in the manner of Plato,” contended Friedrich Nietzsche, “different from the enjoyment offered by today’s physicists, or by the Darwinians and anti-teleologists who work in physiology, with their principle of the ‘smallest possible force’ and greatest possible stupidity”(Nietzsche 2002, 15-16)

Nietzsche’s rejection of Darwinism is scarcely discussed and often ignored in contemporary philosophy of science. This article concisely introduced two unpleasant implications of Darwinian paradigm which played a role in Nietzsche’s early critique of Darwin and his followers.

Order From Disorder: Death of Rationality

If Darwinian premises are true, “how”, asked Nietzsche,  “can something originate in its opposite, for example rationality in irrationality, the sentient in the dead, logic in unlogic, disinterested contemplation in covetous desire, living for others in egoism, truth in error?”(Nietzsche 1996, 1)

Nietzsche’s question also flies over the contours of the horrid doubt that arose in Charles Darwin’s own inward conviction, as penned in his July 3rd 1881 letter to William Graham; “whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”

Following Nietzsche, the origin of rationality, sentient, and logic are not accounted for in a naturalistic Darwinism. Darwin’s rhetorical question: “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” underlines a doubtful reliability of our rationality. (Plantinga 2012, Nagel 2012)

Conceived World of Darwinism: Death of Ethics

The existence of undeniable occurrences of human kindness, compassion, love and self-denial, according to Nietzsche, lacks their ontological foundation in bellum omnium contra omnes, a Darwinistic premises viz.,  “struggle for existence” and “survival of the fittest”. (Nietzsche 1995, 39-40)

Contemporary Darwinian philosophers, E. O. Wilson and Michael Ruse, concurs with Nietzsche that there is no ontological foundation of ethics in Darwinism. Ethics, they argued, “is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes in order to get us to cooperate.”(Ruse & Wilson 1989, 51) An illusion that is biologically advantageous to aid human survival and reproduce.

This  Nietzsche’s early critique of Darwinism applies to those individuals, who he tagged “our ape-genealogists”, who believed in undeniable existence of objective moral values and duties. In my next article on this serie, I visited Nietzsche’s later works, which went head-on against Darwinian evolution.

Next: Nietzsche’s Rejection of Darwinian Evolution


Nagel, Thomas (2012) Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1995) David Struss. Translated by Richard T. Gray in Unfashionable Observations. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

______________  (1996) Human, All Too Humane. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

______________(2002) Beyond God and Evil. Translated by Judith Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Plantinga, Alvin (2012) Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ruse, Michael & Wilson, E. O (1989). The Evolution of Ethics. New Scientist 17, 108-28

38 thoughts on “Nietzsche and Two Unpleasant Implications of Darwinism

  1. Pingback: Nietzsche’s Rejection of Darwinian Evolution |

  2. Fascinating, but the article did seem incomplete. So I am looking forward to the next post.

    As I understand your summary, what Nietzsche objected to is the concept that an unthinking mechanism could produce beings capable of rational thought. There are days I don’t think he really had anything to worry about. However, when I visit your blog I experience a relapse.

    Did the mechanism of our creation involve evolution? I don’t know, but I am interested in your opinion. Whether we evolved or just appeared at God’s Word, I think it reasonable to suppose a Creator. Don’t we already know enough to know to surmise that a universe capable of supporting life is fantastically improbable?

    I am also dropping by to let you know that I nominated you for the Most Influential Blogger Award.


  4. Your post is thought provoking as always. Don’t you think though, that Nietzsche objected to the veneration of evolutionary mechanisms as truths rather than their scientific validity, their presumed immunity to the influence of motive? He seems to have anticipated the projection of selective mechanisms into political philosophy (the so-called “survival of the fittest”) in this objection, as well as the dubious modern exercise in evolutionary psychology. I think his opinions on evolution and physiology pertain to his views on ‘truths’ in general, as laid out at the end of “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense”, rather than any concerns he may have had regarding any threats which these scientific theories may have posed to rationality or ethics.
    On an unrelated note, both you and Roy reference aspects of Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. I’ll take a chance here, as “Naturalism Defeated?” is still sitting on my side-table with a bookmark in the middle of it, but I think there are two possible responses to this argument. First, you can grant the epiphenomenalism of beliefs, but demand a clarification of what constitutes a “properly basic” belief. Are we to take the belief that grass is green to be equivalent, in principle, to the belief that my dog loves me, or indeed that f=ma. Some of those beliefs are clearly causally efficacious and true by definition (grass is green). Some are epiphenomenal (“mass” doesn’t do anything, the Higgs field does) but operate according to what Kim would call “epiphenomenal causation”. Some of those beliefs (my dog loves me) may be entirely epiphenomenal. If this gradient of relations exists among our beliefs, then all that must be shown is that selection is not all-seeing, in other words, that evolutionary processes simply ignore non-adaptive traits which are not maladaptive, and lo and behold – that’s part of the theory already! If the situation I’ve described holds, then we’re left with a variety of “beliefs” whose commonality lies in their intentional roots, but whose relevance to causation is diverse. I don’t find this response entirely satisfying, though. It risks becoming an apologetic, just-so story, with shifting categories and all the other baggage which rationalizations bear, even if it doesn’t start that way.
    A second response would seem the preferable one to me, and that would be that our beliefs are ultimately reducible and therefore not subject to the sort of epiphenomenal status to which Plantinga claims naturalism condemns them. This doesn’t mean that they must be reducible to ‘really real’ mechanisms, just causally representative mechanisms (mass is close enough – though it is reducible to the dynamics of the Higgs field, mass still participates in epiphenomenal causation and remains “rational”). Such things are amenable to selection, especially when selection is properly understood to be selective, rather than operating on every discernible trait, and operates to produce results which are “good enough” rather than optimal. This second response points out the real weakness of the arguments against naturalism which accuse it of deriving rationality from irrationality. Those arguments contain a theory of truth regarding rationality to which they are not entitled, i.e. that rationality is a form rather than a description of our causal notions – our perceptual process. Again, I think Nietzsche’s exposition at the conclusion of “On Truth and Lie” is instructive: “We call a person “honest”. Why did he act so honestly today? Our answer usually sounds like this: because of his honesty. Honesty! That is to say again: the leaf is the cause of the leaves. After all we know nothing of an essence-like quality named “honesty”; we know only numerous individualized, and thus unequal actions, which we equate by omitting the unequal and by then calling them honest actions. In the end, we distill from them a qualitas occulta with the name of “honesty”…”

    • I would love to answer your questions but I will be going ahead of myself. In this article I only presented two of Nietzsche’s early critique which was mostly philosophical. In the next article on Nietzsche I presented how he dealt with Darwinian theory scientifically.

  5. The “Darwin’s Horrid Doubt” Paradox

    Darwin wrote: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value at all or trustworthy.”

    If the mind is derivative, it’s worthless babblings would make the entire theory false. Darwin realized that the human mind was much more than a random assembly of evolved microstructures glued together in the cranium. And if that is so, his entire theory is contradictory to fact.. It’s a nasty, “horrid” little paradox.

    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true – and hence I have no reason for believing that my brain is composed of atoms.” {a dubious paradox form a dubious worldview. css} J. B. S. Haldane, British Evolutionist.

    “Once I come to doubt the reliability of my cognitive faculties, I can’t properly try to allay that doubt by producing an argument; for in so doing I rely on the very faculties I am doubting. The conjunction of evolution and naturalism gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly wildly mistaken. But then it won’t help to argue that they can’t be wildly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive faculties generally will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties generating the beliefs involved in the argument.”
    Alvin Plantinga

    By their own admission, evolutionists must admit either that their beliefs are not reliable, or their minds are not material, nor evolved randomly.

    The Mind Paradoxes

    1. The atheist mind recognizes only “Natural” and Material” effects, rejecting everything that cannot be proven empirically or forensically. So the Atheist mind must also reject the existence of a mind, since such an intangible cannot be proven to exist empirically or forensically. The Atheist mind thus rejects itself, a paradox. (Einstein’s Rebuff).

    2. If the mind is just an assortment of accidentally connected neurons, firing randomly, how can it be considered the source of all truth? If its function is Darwinian survival, the mind should only think of conquest, and never, ever sleep. And it should especially not dawdle in abstract thoughts… such as “does the mind exist”.

    3. So the Darwinian mind cannot think Darwinian thoughts…a paradox.

  6. LOL, go put your hand on your kid’s forehead. Is it warm? Living things are entropy-making phenomena. If you still have doubts, go look at your kid’s bedroom…

  7. “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” If Darwin was totally comfortable with this statement would he not having been asking that question form a slightly more developed “monkey’s mind?”
    Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics seem to be very much opposed since the Law says that things do not “arise from chaos” to a more orderly state. The best a system can rise (or lower) to is equilibrium.

  8. If I accept the basic premise that evolution does get rid of objective morality, what then am I supposed to do?: Throw out evolution or throw out objective morality. As nice as objective morality is, evolution is the one that has mountains of evidence in its favour.
    Our reasoning does fail us. We do not trust the convictions of a monkey or of humans. The failures of our intuitions are well documented. And they are documented not by our intuitions but by science. We have a tool to discover reality with higher precision than our intuitions alone.
    How order arises from chaos is exactly what evolution answers. Not just biological evolution, either; the same is true of stellar and galactic evolution. Exactly how logic (and experience) arise is not yet known. But enough is known to know the question is not invalid.

    • Just so. It remains remarkable to me that, after all this time, people still mine quote Darwin to pretend he doubted Darwinism. Obviously, the quote refers to the dubious value of convictions and not his theory of common ancestry.

      Reason and logic are elements in finding knowledge but not sufficient unto themselves. For that, we require adjudication of logical and reasonable claims by reality and this is where evolution – the change in life over time – is shown all the time every time to be true. It is against reality – not philosophy, not theology, not metaphysics – that those who pretend there is legitimate doubt about this scientific theory must contend and an explanation of Oogity Boogity in whatever modern guise it appears is hardly a contender.

      If Nietzsche could be shown what constitutes evolutionary theory today, would he believe otherwise? I don’t know, but I suspect he would. I think so because biological complexity arises from local units obeying local rules. This is demonstrable. Ethical behaviour crosses species boundaries. This is demonstrable. This is how biology actually works in reality stands in direct conflict with the argument that evolution cannot produce increased complexity and ethical considerations. For anyone to deal with this conflict demonstrable in and by reality to these archaic and ill-informed yet long-held notions means turning not to long dead philosophers and obfuscating metaphysicians and formal logicians but reality. From reality must be compiled your contrary case and not from metaphysics, not from from theology, not from philosophy! And this equivalent requirement that evolution passes with flying colours reveals the inherent weakness of the case made by those who, for theological or other contrariety motives, wish evolution were not true. Reality does not seem to be cooperating.

      • Quote mining is all these pseudo-Christian philosophers have.

        “If Nietzsche could be shown what constitutes evolutionary theory today…” Precisely. I often say that Jefferson would have been a full blown atheist if he’d lived long enough to have tea with Darwin. He really didn’t want to ascribe the universe to a magical sky being (such a thought was illogical) but left without another explanation he really had no choice and choose deism.

        • A notion that Nietzsche would have reconsider his position given modern evolutionary theory shows that a person holding such a notion is ignorant of Nietzsche’s reasons of rejecting contemporary evolution of his day. Nietzsche’s reasons are a priori not posterior thus not affected by current nor future discoveries.

          Darwin and many of his followers who Nietzsche criticized were theists. The idea that X would be an atheist if introduced to Darwinian evolution is a contemporary myth since both then and now, theists who are Darwinists agree with Darwin’s theistic evolution. In Origin of the Species, Chapter XV: Recapitulation and Conclusion, Darwin contended,

          “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”(Darwin 1909: 527-9)

          Thus I am not sure that belief in Darwinism makes a person an atheist since a person can follow Darwin being both-and.

          Darwin, Charles (1909). The Harvard Classics 11: Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin (C. W. Eliot, Ed.). New York: P.F. Collier & Son.

          • PD, there is no ‘belief’ in evolution equivalent to the kind of belief in, say, hinduism or jainism. As hard as it may be to grasp, there is only understanding or not understanding. (That’s why the designation of it being a theory is important to appreciating just how rigorous has been its advancement.). Relying on anything but today’s knowledge of what constitutes the modern synthesis we call evolutionary theory to advance some contrary understanding against it is a guaranteed way to promote only misunderstanding and not a means by which evolution as a mechanism for change over time to life can be challenged on its own merit. Reality has challenged it already and it has passed all – please note the term ‘all’ – such challenges. Yet this misunderstanding is exactly what you are attempting to do by utilizing anything and everything BUT the science-based (not belief-based) evidence that informs it! What you are attempting to argue is not an equivalent kind of evidence-based knowledge that in any way challenges this science but a series of end-arounds through philosophy and theology and metaphysics to discredit it without addressing the elephant in your room, namely, the evidence-based science that clearly and unequivocally stands now wholly on its own merits. Presenting this bit or that bit of whatever quote or theology or philosophy or metaphysics to suit your purposes is without equivalent knowledge value; for that you require reality to be your ally… and it isn’t.

            Reality provides a mountain of evidence from a dozen lines of disparate scientific inquiries that is all lead in one direction and one direction only, that are all mutually supportive and compatible with evolution. This is your target and it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else of those who understand it. To try to discredit this theory and those who understand it using other means than what reality shows us to be the case does not address the knowledge that seamlessly supports the explanation of why evolution is true. It does not produce equivalent applications, equivalent therapies, equivalent technologies that really do work in the here and now for everyone everywhere all the time as evolutionary theory does. It produces only misrepresentation.

            What you are doing in effect is trying to impede this understanding of knowledge acquisition today by misrepresenting Darwin through historical criticisms long since adequately and effectively addressed by scientific demonstration (…by how reality arbitrates the claim for evolution and finds it sufficient). There is no more belief in understanding why evolution is true than there is in understanding why any other scientific theory is true; for that we have reality to arbitrate and adjudicate these explanations and it is sufficient that they work and yield practical results we can trust with our lives (and we do… all the time successfully). Scientific theories are not undermined by tilting at the imaginary windmills erected by philosophical, theological, or metaphysical disagreements.

          • You are correct Tildeb that there is no ‘belief’ in evolution equivalent to the kind of belief in, say, hinduism or jainism. The way I use “belief” is the same as “understand x to be true”. Thus by John having belief in Darwinian evolution, I mean John understand Darwinian evolution to be true.

            Tildeb, I would ask you to read and reread my articles because you keep charging me with views I do not hold. In this article I presented Nietzsche’s questioning Darwinian evolution and in the next, his cases against Darwinian evolution. I did not claim to agree with him 🙂 So hold your guns 😉

          • It is true that a theist can subscribe to evolution, but to do so is to admit the bible is in error and the Abrahamic faiths are founded entirely on falsehoods. Deism is a natural evolution for a believer in this instance.

          • Not necessarily. They would only admit the Bible’s “literal reading” of Genesis 1-2 is in error. Early Christians, like Origen(182-254 A.D.) and Augustine(354-430 A.D.), understood Genesis’ creations account allegorically.

          • Sorry, but if you doubt just one part of the infallible bible then you must toss the whole thing out. Your god didn’t redact a thing, Jesus certainly said nothing, therefore you either support it 100% or throw the whole thing out.

            You can’t pick and choose.

          • Who says its not true? You cited two flesh and blood men. Why should i believe them? Why should you believe them? Surely only your god or Jesus could redact something if it were in error…. do you agree?

          • John, you cannot dodge a question by throwing 4 questions back. You claimed that nonliteral reading of Genesis 1-2 is cherry picking and if one held it, then she is doubting part of the infallible Bible. The question is how so?

          • Are you just playing dumb here, Prayson? I said quite clearly, neither your god nor your jesus redacted Genesis… therefore Genesis stands.

            Or did they redact it? Well, did they?

          • It is irrelevant in our current dialogue who redacted Genesis. Just to remind you and bring you back on track, the issue is whether Christians can believe in Darwinian evolution. You answered yes but that they would have admit that Genesis 1-2 account is false. I explained that that does not follow. Their position would only show that literal reading of Genesis 1-2 account is false.

            You claimed that one cannot cherry pick and that nonliteral reading of Genesis 1-2 is doubting part of the Bible and if one does that she has to doubt the whole Bible. I just want to know how so John?

          • Are you seriously asking this? Well, ok… Because it’s wrong. If one part of the bible is categorically in error then the rest probably is as well. One must assume it is, that is only logical.

            As such, for a Christian to understand that evolution is true (meaning Christian creationism is wrong) will naturally mean that they should jettison their faith in an erroneous religion; in this case, Christianity. That does not, however, mean they have to necessarily jettison a belief in a god, but it does mean their new version of god is NOT IN ANY WAY the god of Christianity.

          • John, I already explained that it does not follow that Genesis 1-2 is in error, but it’s literal interpretation if a Christian hold Darwinian account. Christians who understand creation account as nonliteral are not affected by the truthfulness of Darwinian account.

            Do not mix Genesis account, with it’s interpretations. The latter could be in error without the former also being in error.

          • You haven’t answered me…. WHO said Genesis is not literal? You cited two flesh and blood humans. That doesn’t count.

            So, did your god or Jesus redact the story of creation: Yes or No?

          • You don’t want to answer because you know perfectly well neither your god nor jesus redacted Genesis.

            As such NO Christian can subscribe to evolution and be truthful to their religion. Hence my original statement is correct: deism is all that’s left for any person determined to believe in a god AND science.

            You can’t just go picking and choosing which parts of your gods “INFALLIBLE WORD” you want to accept. It’s all or nothing… or else you don’t really believe in your god at all.

          • You do see my point,correct?

            So, are you going to toss out Christianity as it so clearly contradicts reality?

            Just so you know, i have complete respect for deists. I find them completely non-offensive… and non-contradictory, unlike Christians.

          • PD asks You claimed that one cannot cherry pick and that nonliteral reading of Genesis 1-2 is doubting part of the Bible and if one does that she has to doubt the whole Bible. I just want to know how so John?

            I’m going to butt in here and offer my two part answer, which is quite simple: by demonstrating that there is no independent means by which one can differentiate what should read as metaphor from that which should be read as literal. Without any such means that can be tested and verified independent of the faith to cherry pick which bits are which, the veracity of all the claims made in the bible are subject to honest and lasting doubt. For example, the claim here (in Genesis 2) is that we have a founding couple. (Population genetics shows we don’t, but that is beside the point). It is from the action by this founding couple to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that we inherit sin through this Fall. Now consider altering this meaning from an historical event that caused the Fall to a metaphorical one: we metaphorically inherit a metaphorical sin from a metaphorical couple who ate a metaphorical apple from a metaphorical tree. Fine. Alone, this is the myth. But look at the response: christian theology would have us believe that it was necessary for an historical figure – Jesus – to suffer an historical drawn out death as a literal (and personal) blood sacrifice. This makes absolutely no sense if the crucifixion is a literal sacrifice to repay a metaphorical sin because it’s unnecessary. All that is required is a metaphorical atonement (such as , “I will be responsible for my actions involving knowledge of good and evil.”). But this metaphorical approach undermines any need for a literal and historical resurrection! And we can’t have that (drop Jesus from the scene altogether) and still have christianity that celebrates literal blood sacrifices in the name of metaphors, now can we? We know too much about good and evil to allow such theological injustices to continue to occur.

          • If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because we – and anyone else – could share the same means without variation by ‘revelation’. The fact that christianity itself has some 30 thousand variants is a pretty good indication that there is a methodological problem busy at work!

        • Be careful if/when quoting Jefferson. There are several inaccuracies floating around.

          I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789

          But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

          Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
          -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802


          • “I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.”
            -Thomas Jefferson

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