Sunday, October 3, 2010

Darwinism: So Corrupt it Corrupted Men Before It Even Existed!

Evolution News & Views, the Discovery Institute site, features an October 3 article on Angelo Codevilla's new book, The Ruling Class.  It cites Codevilla's insistence that "Darwinism corrupted Northern and Southern thinkers equally," the latter by convincing them that it was untrue that all men were created equal (and that Negroes particularly were in some respect deficient intellectually), the former by convincing them that they had a right  to "subdue lower beings or try to improve them as they please" (by, e.g. conquering the rebellious south and freeing the slaves).  I'm vaguely bemused by the suggestion, this late in the day, that abolitionism is a form of moral corruption.  I'm more surprised by the suggestion that human inequality -- an idea advocated by Plato, accepted by Aristotle, and casually assumed by most of Christendom's rulers for centuries -- represented some sort of radical intellectual innovation made possible only by the assumption of common descent and natural selection, or that prior to evolutionary ideas taking root in human minds, no government would dream of suppressing a revolt or imposing new governmental institutions on conquered territory.  Codevilla himself notes that inegalitarian ideas were taking root in the South by the 1820s (he does note the chronological problem, and notes that evolutionary ideas existed before Darwin -- though natural selection was not part of them (except for the last chapter of one obscure treatise on timber by Patrick Matthew).  He does not seem to consider that perhaps the South had motives more economic than Darwinian for adopting justifications for slavery.

I'm reminded of Answers in Genesis' frequent insistence on how Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) provided the intellectual foundations for Marxism (The Communist Manifesto was of course published in 1848).  You'd think creationists would have more respect for a scientific theory whose proponents are apparently capable of time travel.

I have frequently noted, by the way, that creationists have two separate and not entirely mutually consistent ethical critiques of evolutionary theory.  On the one hand, "Darwinism" undercuts the very notion of morality: without a transcendant moral Lawgiver and Creator, how can anything be right or wrong, justified or unjustified?  Codevilla invokes this idea, noting that one (albeit not the only) reason the Founders thought that all men were created equal was that they thought all men were created, period; evolutionary ideas undercut the theological basis for equality.

On the other hand, "Darwinism" is widely held to promote and justify any number of novel moral injunctions, albeit, apparently, repulsive ones.  Codevilla seems to feel that Darwinism implies that the strong have a right to do as they please with the weak (i.e. that this, at least, is objectively justified under evolutionary theory).  He doesn't seem to be arguing that, in fact, evolutionary theory implies that races exist and that some are inferior to others, but a number of other creationists have not been so circumspect.  The idea that evolutionary theory implies racism is central to much modern creationist apologetics.  I don't think this can follow: on the one hand, evolutionary theory implies that variation exists in all populations, and that no trait on which one could rest a claim of racial superiority or inferiority is likely to be possessed by all and only members of a supposed "superior" race; on the other, it doesn't predict that human "races" will even exist or whether they will differ in average intellectual or psychological traits.

But of course "Darwinism" is frequently blamed for every bad thing that creationists currently disapprove of: communism, national socialism, laissez-faire capitalism, sexism, racism, imperialism, feminism, animal rights (yes: Darwinism apparently implies that a white man is superior to a black man, but not to a black rat, to a woman but not to a wolf), and gay rights (though occasionally you'll find a creationist arguing that since gays tend to have fewer children than straights, evolutionists should be anti-gay; I'm not sure whether this is an attempt to win homosexual activists to the cause of creationists or to recruit evolutionists to fight gay marriage).  Oh, and it's responsible for children who are disrespectful to their parents: John McArthur, citing Danile Lapin, explains that "You see, if you believe in evolution, you believe that you're just one step better than the prior generation, and they ought to serve you. It's little wonder that the children don't have any interest in their parents; they're just one step closer to monkeys."

And of course, that view pretty much severs "evolution" from ideas like variation within population, the frequency of traits in populations, and the idea that different traits are "fitter" in different circumstances (i.e. from pretty much the basic points of evolutionary theory).  And it implies -- in a Lamarckian fashion, and contrary to Darwinian principles -- that evolution has some goal towards which it is proceeding, some purpose that we can assist or hinder.

But even putting aside such logical errors, how evolutionary theory can support any of these points of view if it eliminates the very possibility of moral judgment awaits explication.  My own view, of course, is that the idea that natural selection shaped our moral sense neither means that moral judgments are illusory or impossible, or that natural selection itself is the basis of morality.


  1. It was Ida, from the future, on her way back to the past she took back a copy of Origin of Species and gave it to Jesus.

  2. Was that before or after she influenced the orbits of the planets?

  3. The idea that Darwin shows nature as an arena of conflict and therefore instructs us to go and do likewise strikes a number of not-entirely-stupid people as self-evident. As has been said many times, in response, there's no therefore there; why should we go and do likewise? The anti-Darwinist's argument has an unstated assumption which goes something like "we should always model our conduct after that which is most 'approved' by Nature," an assumption which hardly is coherent, let alone convincing or self-evident. (There are too many paths to survival, for example, for us to copy all of them, even if each were compatible with all the others.)

    Another way to respond is by noting that the idea of "life as struggle" was a very old one before Darwin was born. It was a large part of the Romantic movement, particularly in late-18th and early-19th-century Germany. And two hundred years before that, in Marlowe's Tamburlaine, the title character justifies turning against his former ally in order to gain the throne for himself with these lines:

    The thirst of reign and sweetness of a crown,
    That caused the eldest son of heavenly Ops
    To thrust his doting father* from his chair
    And place himself in the Imperial heaven,
    Moved me to manage arms against thy state.
    What better precedent than mighty Jove?
    Nature that fram'd us of four Elements,
    Warring within our breasts for regiment,**
    Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
    Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
    The wondrous Architecture of the world:
    And measure every wandering planets course,
    Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
    And always moving as the restless Spheres
    Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest,
    Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
    That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
    The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

    * i.e., 'which caused to Zeus to overthrow his father Cronos'
    **regiment=rule, government

    Here in 1587, the character depicts nature as incorporating a struggle for dominance even at (literally) the elemental level. The notion was that we are born as a mixture of elements (and the associated 'humors'), and these elements actually fight it out among themselves over which shall become dominant within us. For some, "fire" wins the struggle, and they become choleric (proud, rash); for others it is water, and they become phlegmatic (diffident, calm), etc.