German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) is probably best known for his “God is dead” pronouncement. Not so well known is the fact that although he believed in evolution, he vehemently rejected the major principles of Darwinism.1
Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God in The Gay Science2 by a parable about a madman with a lantern, looking for God, only to have his fellow citizens ridicule it:
“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. … God is dead. … And we have killed him.’”3,4
Nietzsche then explained that what he meant was: “the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable”.5 His motive appears to have been to counteract the concept of future judgment—by announcing the death of the Judge! He wrote: “We deny God; in denying God we deny accountability.”6
In place of God, Nietzsche put forward his Superhuman, (German Übermensch),7 an imaginary, super-strong, amoral individual, who would overcome all opposition, as well as the need for God—because in Nietzsche’s view, God was an illusion of the mind.
In The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche unleashed a torrent of abuse at God and the Genesis account of creation:
“Has the famous story which stands at the beginning of the Bible really been understood—the story of God’s mortal terror of science? …
“God’s first blunder: man did not find the animals entertaining—he dominated them, he did not even want to be an ‘animal’.—Consequently God created woman. And then indeed there was an end to boredom but also to something else! Woman was God’s second blunder.—‘Woman is in her essence serpent, Heva—every priest knows that, every evil comes into the world through woman’ … .”8
Perhaps the kindest comment on this is to see it as the forerunner to the insanity of Nietzsche’s last 11 years.
Nietzsche wrote not long after Darwin. Millions of years had long been regarded as ‘fact’, and evolution was hugely popular among the intelligentsia, of whom some were still debating its mechanism. An atheist must, by definition, believe in ‘evolution’—a world that made itself—regardless of how such transformations were achieved. It is thus not surprising to see the atheist Nietzsche writing in Thus Spake Zarathustra: “You [mankind] have made your way from worm to human, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now the human being is still more of an ape than any ape is.”9
Yet it surprises many that he vehemently opposed Darwin’s ideas as to the ‘how’ of evolution, preferring his own notion of what he called “the will to power”.
Nietzsche said Darwin was wrong in four fundamental aspects of his theory.
He realized that a partly formed organ was of no survival value, and wrote:
“Against Darwinism.—The utility of an organ does not explain its origin; on the contrary! For most of the time during which a property is forming it does not preserve the individual and is of no use to him, least of all in the struggle with external circumstances and enemies.”10
Nietzsche claimed that in real life the weak survive rather than the strong. He wrote:
“Anti-Darwin.—As regards the celebrated ‘struggle for life’, … where there is struggle it is a struggle for power … its outcome is the reverse of that desired by the school of Darwin … the weaker dominate the strong again and again—the reason being they are the great majority, and they are also cleverer. … Darwin forgot the mind.”11
Nietzsche wrote of Darwin’s notion:
“Anti-Darwin … We almost always see males and females take advantage of any chance encounter, exhibiting no selectivity whatsoever.”12
“There are no transitional forms. … Primitive creatures are said to be the ancestors of those now existing. But a look at the fauna and flora of the Tertiary merely permits us to think of an as yet unexplored country that harbors types that do not exist elsewhere, while those existing elsewhere are missing.”12 [“Tertiary” refers to one of the divisions of the ‘geologic column’, ‘dated’ after the dinosaur extinction, with its implied acceptance of vast ages of pre-human history.]
Nietzsche then gave us another lengthy section, again headed Anti-Darwin:
“Anti-Darwin.—What surprises me most when I survey the broad destinies of man is that I always see before me the opposite of that which Darwin and his school see or want to see today: selection in favor of the stronger, better-constituted, and the progress of the species. Precisely the opposite is palpable … I incline to the prejudice that the school of Darwin has been deluded everywhere … .
“That will to power in which I recognize the ultimate ground and character of all change provides us with the reason why selection is not in favor of the exceptions and lucky strokes: the strongest and most fortunate are weak when opposed by organized herd instincts, by the timidity of the weak, by the vast majority.”13
The supreme modern example of Nietzsche’s ‘Superhuman’, the strong man who lived by his own morality and vanquished all opposition, was Adolf Hitler. Hitler embraced both Darwinism and Nietzschean philosophy. For him, the Darwinian notion of the strong dominating the weak, was the highest good. At the same time, he considered himself to be the ‘superman’ of Nietzsche’s philosophy,16 and he also applied Nietzsche’s idea of superior individuals in seeking to persuade the German people that collectively they were the ‘master race’.
Hitler carried the ideas of Darwin and Nietzsche to a logical conclusion—an atheistic morality that resulted in the pillaging of Europe and the murder of over six million innocent civilians in the Holocaust.17
Nietzsche shook his fist at God, but Nietzsche is dead and God is not. So the last word belongs to God.
“The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–19).