The National Review’s John Derbyshire lost his religion—of no moment here—and then decided that his rejection of faith, and its replacement with scientism, meant he had to oppose human exceptionalism. I have disagreed with him before about these matters, for example when he tried to claim that human exceptonalisim is somehow tied in with our genes being made in the likeness and image of God’s, when God, as an incorporeal Being, would not have genes. I mean the whole thing makes no sense, and in any event, God is not a necessary basis for human exceptionalism. Here’s what I said at the time about Derbyshire’s thesis:
Derbyshire next concluded (falsely) that, since all iterations of the human genome are deemed to “have been made in God’s image somehow, then presumably so are all other species, and there’s nothing special about us at all.” And here is where his analysis goes completely awry: “We are part of naturean exceptionally advanced and interesting part, but . . . not special.”
What I think Derbyshire lost along with his faith is the realization that human beings are much more than the mere sum of our parts and functions. We, unlike any other species, have taken a bold step outside the Darwinian realm of genetic impulse, instinct, and reflex. We are moral and intellectual beings with the ability to create, civilize, project over time, and transcend.
Those interested can read our back and forth linked here. Him. Me.
Derbyshire is at it again in a new column claiming that recent studies indicating we may have interbred with Neanderthals and the just announced creation of synthetic life—which I first addressed here—somehow undermine human exceptionalism, both coming out of our past and going into our future. From his NRO column, “Genomics and, Humanity’s Future:”
The first of these stories addresses humanity’s past; the second, our future. Both constitute further dethronements of our species. Small, incremental dethronements in both cases; but we can expect many more of the same. Before a few more years have passed, the “folk metaphysics” that most of us carry around in our minds, as our ancestors have done for centuries, will be completely untenable.
And why is that exactly? He doesn’t say, really, other than to note that evolution is messy, which is of no account to the existence of human exceptionalism. Then, sounding like Woody Allen without the sense of humor, he diverts into a discussion about how we need self deception to get us through the night because we know we are going to die. Perhaps, but I think our knowledge of mortality is a positive thing—even if one is a materialist—but in any event, the entire discussion is a non sequitur to human exceptionalism.
Derbyshire then claims because scientist have synthesized bacterial life, it proves we are nothing but chemical reactions and interactions—nothing special there, I guess. But even if he is right, that doesn’t threaten human exceptionalism in the least. I mean, if all we are is a bunch of chemicals interacting, it sure is one unprecedented formula that led to the emergence of the moral/rational/artistic/philosophical/abstract thinking/unique-in-the-known-history-of-the-universe intrinsic attributes that are inherent in the fundamental nature of the human species. Or to put it another way, we remain exceptional and our lives have unique moral worth and value, even if all we are is chemical soup.
Derbyshire seems obsessed with dethroning man from the pedestal as a way of coming to grips with the nihilism with which he seems afflicted, perhaps by his loss of faith. (I could be very wrong, of course. That’s purely amateur psychoanalyzing.) Whatever the reason or reasons, his columns on this subject just don’t fly. Whether we are created by God, were intelligently designed by the flying Spaghetti monster that materialists are fond of going on about, or evolved out of the primordial ooze without purpose, method, or intent, human beings are still the unique life form that has ever existed. Perhaps if Derbyshire understood that he could still embrace the uniquely importance of his and every other human life without believing in God, it would cheer him up.