Again, these are very rough and meant to provoke. Carl is right that there are limitations to the point-by-point method, although I think it fits the blog well.

1. So the American understanding of science as technology—the modern understanding that flows from Bacon, Descartes, and that Cartesian Locke—contradicts the official view of our sophisticates that Darwin teaches the whole truth about nature and who we are. For the Darwinian, our species is, in the decisive respect, just like the others. Each member of the species exists to serve the species, and our happiness comes from doing our duty to the species as social mammals—basically by pair bonding, reproducing, raising the young, and then dying (or stepping aside for our replacements as nature requires). My ultimate point in life is to successfully spread my genes. And so it’s naturally been the case that parents have found meaning by living on through their children, knowing that they continue to exist, for a while, in the grateful memories of their children.

2. As some Darwinians (such as Larry Arnhart, Francis Fukuyama, and James Q. Wilson) have correctly noticed, this account of who we are is basically conservative. It promotes family values—including such insights as people who come from large families are generally happier (because they’re live more according to nature) than people who come from small ones. And it’s natural for members of a social and vulnerable species such as ours to form tribes (or political communities) and to find happiness in loyal social and communal service. Religion also is natural as a way of enhancing social bonding and communal loyalty. Human beings are happier, as we say in the South say today, when they have family, political, and church homes. (Religion, from a Darwinian view, becomes perverse when it becomes too personal or too much about one’s own significance or too much about unnatural, otherworldly hopes and fears.)

3. Thoughtful Darwinians call movements for personal liberationism—such that those that were initiated or radicalized by the spirit of the 1960s—a “Great Disruption” bound to be overcome by the impersonal imperatives of who we are by nature. Thoughtful Darwinians, such as Steve Rhoads, also call attention to the perverse and misery-producing consequences of denying the natural differences between men and women or detaching marriage from the biological duty to raise children or reducing marriage and parenting to a mere lifestyle option. The “Great Disruption,” from an American view, begin with the “strange” or innovative views on marriage and family found in Locke. The history of the family in our country might well suggest that the disruption continues to get greater, and it’s not that clear what kind of definitive brake nature will eventually have on it.

4. These days, Darwinianism can function as a kind of self-help program, one that almost always fails. We are at home in nature, the story goes, like the other animals. Our experiences of personal alienation from nature and from social life are illusions. We can and should be satisfied with the social happiness a beneficent nature makes possible for us. Darwinian enlightenment can at least mitigate our narcissism and existentialism. Nature is all there is; nature isn’t all about me, and so my life will be all screwed up if I mistakenly think it’s all about me. Like in all self-help programs, my happiness remains the goal. I can’t be happy if I’m too detached from nature, and so I should listen to Darwin about what my natural desires are telling me to do.

5. For some Darwinian conservatives, this natural, impersonal enlightenment functions something like Socratic philosophy or Epicureanism or even Buddhism in freeing us from the self-indulgent and often cruel self-obsession that comes from thinking we’re more than we really are. But Socrates or Epicurus or Buddha aren’t, of course, Darwinian role models. Darwinian conservatism reconciles scientific enlightenment with “family values.” Socrates was afraid that philosophy would wreck the morality that supports indispensable social duty. In his own case, it made him an uncaring husband and dad and a very ambivalent and not-so-activist citizen. Darwin was confident that the natural “moral sense” would strengthen with human reason over time. The Darwinian conservative thought is that Socrates, these days, would know that he should spend more quality time with the wife and kids.

6. Thomas Jefferson, for one, thought that the truth about the moral sense was taught by Jesus. And he said, in effect, that he was a follower of both Epicurus and Jesus. The philosopher told the truth about who we are as thinkers or beings with minds, and the gentle moralist added the truth about who we are as beings with bodies fitted by nature for society. Jefferson never tried to reconcile the two teachings, and he even said that the moral sense was messed up by philosophy. Jefferson’s Jesus was the one found in his very expurgated version of the Bible, one without our Lord and Savior’s claims of extraordinary personal significance both for Him and for each of us.

7. Actually, it’s not clear how this Jesus’ teaching about generalized benevolence would inspire, say, the stern sacrifices often required of parents—not to mention patriots or even real Christians. Jesus, of course, was less of a family man than even Socrates, and He privileged following Him over family values for everyone. Jefferson apparently had enough confidence in our natural sociality to worry—but not all that much—about the effect that enlightened rational calculation would have on our indispensable natural loyalties and duties. He did take the side of the farm against the city for basically moral reasons, although he also imagined the possibility of lots of something like philosopher-farmers (without explicitly mentioning slavery).

8. The evidence that scientific enlightenment has been good for the instinctual moral sense of members of our social species is more negative than not. We can see today, for example, Americans are divided into Darwin affirmers and Darwin deniers, and the former are generally thought to be more sophisticated and enlightened. But Darwinians, I think, have a very hard time explaining their own sophisticated behavior. Despite being very healthy animals living in a favorable environment, they’re not having enough babies to keep the species going. They clearly aren’t finding enough solace in thoughts of their inevitable replacement. They live more personally than socially or communally and are lonely and anxious as a result. They provide plenty of evidence that they aren’t satisfied with the Darwinian account of who they are by nature; they can’t help but think a lot more personally about who they are.

9. Meanwhile, the Darwin deniers—mainly religiously observant Christians—are living more as Darwin would predict. They’re having lots of babies, raising them responsibly, and are less edgy about the prospects of getting old and getting dead. Somewhat might say that those, through faith in a personal and active Creator, who have confidence that their personal identity and significance aren’t merely biological are more able to relax and enjoy what nature offers them. And they might be more likely to think that nature, being created, must basically be good. They don’t have to rebel against impersonal nature to secure their personal beings.

10. It’s a shame, of course, that we tend to be divided into two groups of extremists when it comes to Darwin. Religious believers, of course, often mistakenly deprive themselves of the resources of Darwinian conservatism. There’s more natural support for their personal devotions than they know, and scientific enlightenment is much less of threat to how they live that either they or their enemies believe. We are more than biological beings, but we are also biological beings. And grace, Christians used to believe, completes nature, but doesn’t negate it.

11. Darwinians, of course, need to abandon their dogma that the impersonal evolution can explain everything about who we are. They can dismiss our alienation from nature as an illusion, but they can’t explain where the illusion came from or why it’s so powerfully shaped the modern world. The most open-minded scientists, such as E.O. Wilson, distinguish between natural evolution and the conscious and volitional evolution produced by members of our species alone. And, as I will explain, that personal evolution isn’t about serving purposes nature has given to all the species.

12. That conscious and volitional evolution is very unnatural is clear in Wilson’s ecological obsession; he’s perhaps rightly really spooked by the fact that the future of nature is in our personal hands. Even if we could, as the transhumanists hope, escape our dependence on nature, we would be depriving ourselves of all sorts of sources of wonder, love, happiness, and beauty. It’s already clear it’s not so good for the natural capability for love or happiness given to conscious, social mammals to separate sex from reproduction, for example.

13. It’s obvious that any thoughtful Darwinian would demand that Darwinian evolution not be taught as a complete account of who we are in our schools. Such impersonal accounts, as Socrates would have predicted, are bad for the species, because they’re bad for families, countries, and churches. That doesn’t mean that natural science shouldn’t be taught the way scientists think best. But Darwinism shouldn’t be taught as a comprehensive scientistic ideology in the manner of the “new atheists.”

14. The real objection to such comprehensive accounts is that nobody has proven they’re true, and they contradict what we can see with our own eyes about who we are. The new atheists—such as Dawkins and Dennett—are well below the pay grade of great philosophers, theologians, and scientists, and they incoherently or with a kind of contemptible sentimentality defend the worldview of impersonal science from a personal perspective. Dennett, for example, is about maintaining our devotion to equal person dignity as a conscious fiction, as if people could be deeply moved by or devoted to an account of who they are that they know, through science, is untrue.

15. One scientific proposition is that a species smart enough to come up with a comprehensive, impersonal theory of evolution would be one that would produce all sorts of behavior that would make it untrue. It’s between hard and impossible for a conscious being to devote him- or herself to the species. The effort by Carl Sagan and other scientists to make species perpetuation our sacred cause by diversifying ourselves on many planets fell flat. It’s somewhat natural for human beings to think of themselves as parts of something greater than themselves. And Solzhenitsyn, for one, says that our inability to do so these days is the cause of our irresponsibility and the pathetic misery of our personal isolation. But everyone knows that the species—unlike God or country or family—is something less than oneself. And so devotion to God and country have to be understood as good for their own sakes—as the bottom line. They are unrealistically devalued by Darwinian explanations. Those explanations account for part, but not the best parts, of the relevant phenomena.

blog comments powered by Disqus