Thursday, May 04, 2006

Darwinian Fairytales

Darwinism has a closer affinity with National Socialism or Marxism than with Confucianism or Buddhism. Darwin told the world that a "struggle for life", a "struggle for existence," a "battle for life" is always going on among the members of every species. Although this proposition was at the time novel and surprising, an immense number of people accepted it. Now, will any rational person believe that accepting this proposition would have no effect, or only randomly varying effects, on people's attitudes towards their own conspecifics? No. Will any rational person believe that accepting this novel proposition would tend to improve people's attitudes to their conspecifics? No... Accepting Darwin's theory of a universal struggle for life must tend to strengthen whatever tendencies people had beforehand to selfishness and domineering behavior towards their fellow humans.

That is from Darwinian Fairytales, a book by David Stowe, formerly an Australian philosopher, now pushing up daisies. The book takes Darwinism to task for the grandiose claims that have been made and widely accepted in its name, and it does so in a very entertaining fashion. I know most of you are expecting that Stowe is some intelligent design nutcase, but in fact he was an athiest who had no sympathy for intelligent design explanations. His book more or less takes the written statements of Darwin right up to Dawkins, and demonstrates the absurd lengths you would have to go to in order to believe that evolution is a useful theory for understanding humanity. He doesn't deny evolution - he is quite happy with it for every species other than man - but he finds it severely lacking when applied to homo sapiens.

The quote above highlights an interesting point that I've often considered, quite aside from the debate over the scientific truth of evolution. I have argued before that failure to learn evolution in public schools doesn't imply that you will be a menace to society; and that learning sometimes does - scratch a eugenicist and you'll find someone wholly comfortable with spouting off about the survival of the fittest. Now, it may be an inconvenient truth, and because education is concerned with the truth independent of consequences, some would argue that the decision to include in curriculum should be independent from its effects.

And the theory may both be true and harmful to humanity. Many would retort that more people have been killed in the name of Christianity than for any other belief (not a sentiment I agree with). That contention doesn't negate the truth of Christianity, but it would pose the same dilemma - if the net effect on humanity is negative, should it be taught even if it is true? In the case of Christianity, of course, I would argue that much of the blood spilled (though certainly not all) is the result of a preversion of the truths taught by Christ. The sometimes tragic results of our failings in trying to grasp a truth don't impugn the truth.

But can the same defense be brought to bear with regard to evolution? Is a strengthening of tendencies to selfishness and domineering behavior the result of an incorrect interpretation of Darwinism? It is in the sense that any claim to the moral propriety or inpropriety of an act is unmerited based upon a scientific theory of natural phenonomen, which is amoral by its nature. But therein lies the rub - for many a belief in a God that has established a moral law written into the hearts of men which He expects us to adhere to, and a belief in evolution - are mutually exclusive. One can be true, but not both. (This is not the position held by everyone - the Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that evolution was the tool used by God to create a creature in His image).

If you hold that view, and you further hold the belief that evolution is true, on what basis can you even concern yourself with morality? If there is no universal moral law, than on what basis can you condemn the rapist, the murderer, the racist, or the Chartreuse alcoholic? The only basis for doing so is a recognition that your own strategy for personal gain coincides with that of many others, and part of that strategy is achieved by punishing the potentially harmful (to you) strategies chosen by others (i.e raping and murdering). You are no better than these people; you are using your collective might to foist unwanted restrictions on people who might otherwise use their individual strength to foist unwanted restrictions on you. It would not even be corrent to say that your moral claim for making rape illegal is thin; in fact, there is no moral claim. To the extent that evolution contributes to the notion that there is no God, as I think it can without being a botched interpretation, it contributes to amoralism as a direct consequence. You would advocate teaching it only if you thought your own interests would be served by living among a more amoral populace.

In contrast to the Catholic Church, I think there might be a problem with accepting both Christianity and evolution, for the following reason: evolution as an explanation of the emergence of humanity is extremely improbable, and I don't think any bioligist would deny this claim. So to believe that God chose the tool of evolution, without having a hand in its outcome, is tantamount to believing that God got extremely lucky. And if you claim that He loaded the dice in his favor, than what you are claiming is that he controlled aspects of the environment that were crucial to producing the right mutations at the right time in the course of evolution. I know the belief is that He works in mysterious ways - so maybe a God capable of willing the universe into existence, and concerned with the fate of the immortal souls of those He has shaped in his own image, is also willing to gamble in creating us in the first place. But still the thought makes me uncomforable - I have troubles picturing God like John Daley standing at a slot machine.


Blogger pbryon said...

Are you saying that if I believe in evolution, I have no firm ground on which to believe in a criminal justice system? And that Christian morality is the only morality?

Just checking...I'm a little dumbfounded if that is what you're saying.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

To quote Albert Einstein, "God does not play dice with the universe." Of course, Einstein was talking about his discomfort with quantum mechanics not evolution.

Whether or not God had a hand in things, evolution pretty neatly explains much of what we observe in the natural world. Whether it is likely that natural selection over billions of years would naturally lead to the development of red-haired primates who drink yellowish liquor made with 127 herbs is irrelevant. Evolution makes is possible even if it is not probable.

To quote another of the greatest minds in history, "Once everything that is impossible has been eliminated, that which remains, no matter how improbable, must be the answer."

11:51 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Not saying Christian morality is the only morality. Only that you need a God for any objective morality to exist - without an authority greater than man, any morality is subjective. If you don't believe in God, than you still may have firm ground to believe in a criminal justice system - but that firm ground is your self-interest, and not any adherence to a moral law.

And Vic, have you ever really seen an orangutan drinking Chartreuse?

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, enough with the Chartreuse already.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hatch, you wrote, "If there is no universal moral law, than on what basis can you condemn the rapist, the murderer, the racist, or the Chartreuse alcoholic?" When did my excessive drinking habit put me on par with murderers, rapists and bigots? I also question your conclusion that man is somehow exempt from the Laws of Evolution. I was just at a NASCAR event and left with the uncomfortable feeling that humans just might not be the most evloved creatures on this planet.

11:20 AM  

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