Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again

If you’re in the Philadelphia area and are really bored, you might want to attend this
panel with the great title "The Power of Virtue" tomorrow at the American Political Science Association Meeting. My talk--now entitled "Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again"--will actually be on the manly dimension of virtue in the recent novels of Tom Wolfe and Harvey Mansfield’s MANLINESS, but it will also include a biotech conclusion. The actual manly Mansfield will be there, which could mean I’ll be in big trouble. Manly men, we learn from Wolfe, most of all fear HUMILIATION. This will be one of my least psychologically Christian talks in recent years, but I will balance it with a pretty darn Christian one the next day.

On Friday I will give some comments on a fascinating book by Thomas Pangle on the challenge revelation poses to the Socratic philosopher’s rational independence. These comments, which will explain why it’s reasonable to believe in a God who’s a "Who" or not merely a "what," are tentatively entitled "Against the Lobotomites." You can get the information about this roundtable by following the previous link to Friday at 10:45 a.m. and looking for Tom’s (and/or The Claremont Institute’s) name.

Discussions - 49 Comments

Since humiliation is impossible without status-struggle and pecking order, and since both are utterly consistent with Darwinian theory/sociobiology, I’d like to know how this proves Darwin wrong. Please enlighten us.

I still don’t see how that invalidates Darwin. The chimps have creative ways of dealing with status as well (like the bonobos)...just because our neocortex allows us a wider variety of responses to humiliation doesn’t invalidate the influence of evolution on human beings. I think perhaps you desperately want it to, but it just doesn’t. Personal salvation, a Father Protector, selfless sacrifice (aka the Passion)...all of these would be utterly meaningless to social insects or solitary mammals like bears. Indeed, the purpose of religion has been to unchain people from our "animal" selves...of course, you have to have an animal self for that to make sense.

Peter: Well Well said said!! Wish I was going to Philly.

I agree with Dain.

Humiliation may well be a handy term that we have developed as a short-cut label for any number of physiological responses to potential exclusion from relevant groups. Unconditioned and conditioned responses, such as flushed face, elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, along with environmental cues, such as laughing peers, behavioral errors, hurtful language -- all combine as "humiliation."

Any social animal can experience it, and find it aversive. Our ability to discuss it is no more a challenge to Darwin than is the Elephant’s unique ability to pull a tree out of the ground with its trunk.

Fung and dain, Come on, now, you’re just being dogmatically reductionistic. Humiliation, loosely speaking, may produce a similar physiological responses in a variety of animals. So does having sex. But surely have to admit that human eros, because of the self-consciousness and openness to the truth about all things of the being with language or speech, is much more intense and polymorphous than chimp eros. And looking at the physiological data that accompanies human sexual behavior is of very limited usefulness for telling us what is really going on in terms of human experience etc. etc. It goes without saying that I’m not denying that we’re animals or saying that there’s no continuity between human and chimp behavior. Nonetheless, to egg you guys on, I will say that there’s a greater ontological difference between a human being and a dolphin than a dolphin and a rock.

Sorry, Peter, there is no evidence of that. By "ontological" differences I assume you refer to being created in "God’s image?" If so, what you are really saying is that your contention is beyond rational discourse...since I can’t prove God, I can’t prove ontological differences one way or another.

My rational response is that IF there are big differences between man and other organisms it has to done with intelligence, not essence. I would also point out that supposedly "soulless" animals are capable of most of our basic emotions and motives. For instance, we might think that vengeance is strictly human, but that’s untrue (as the alpha wolf who killed 20+ children in India as ’payback’ for his dead pups amply demonstrates). Sadness? Chimps are on record clearly mourning. Friendliness...check out your family dog. It’s even possible animals are capable of self-delusion (e.g., dogs bark because...well, they bark, and the cars flee...success!). Killing for pleasure...ever since the Attenborough clip of orcas killing a grey whale calf for sport?

People are unique because they are smart, they have hands, and they are insecure enough to wonder about their fate.

I would also point out that supposedly "soulless" animals are capable of most of our basic emotions and motives. Does that prove or disprove an animal soul? If you are talking about the most basic emotions and motives, those things that we would relate to in humans as our most animal characteristics, then those ARE the things we have in common with animals. And yet we have something more than animals, more than thumbs and even more than a more complex means of communication and intelligence.

Sorry. For those of us for whom God is a "Who" and not merely a "what" or even a "perhaps" or a "construct", such things are self-evident, that man must be more than a particularly clever, handy, animal. The self-evident things can be hard to explain or excuse.

Kate, with all due respect, if such things constitute an unquestionable Truth for you and others, then it’s pointless to discuss such things. I would add, however, that unquestionable things can’t disprove Darwin. They are not subject to tests or reason...which is why Heather MacDonald wants them out of political discourse.

Come on now, get serious. There are no chimp poets, physicists, psychiatrists, philosophers, presidents, princes, or priests. No evidence at all of ontological differences lurking there?

Peter, such differences are the foundation of the edifice of arrogance that Man has made...dominion over the earth and all that. If there were dolphin or whale poets or physicists, how would we know it? As for chimps, they form the same societies as 2-year olds would. That’s the extent of their intelligence...I don’t see many toddlers that can do any of those jobs either.

You are assuming that our level of intelligence and social development MUST mean a divine spark. Maybe it does (I try to remain agnostic about such things), but it must be a pretty mean-spirited God that would trap a divine spirit in an animal body. I also notice that we bleed as the animals bleed, we suffer as they suffer, and we die as they die. If a ghost does dwell in the machine, its expression is utterly dependent on that machine (e.g., the complete loss of human attributes after severe brain damage). Feeling that we are divine, hoping we are divine, or intuiting that we are divine constitutes nothing that could be considered "proof."

We should define ontology or rather we should ontologize it. No wait...lets just let the truth of these comments stand for themselves. These post point to a larger problem. That problem is simply this: the definitions we use to make sense of the world...the distinctions we bring to the table, the philosophical, religious or social science approaches to understanding each in its unique way illuminates an aspect that is only capable of illumination by virtue of those very first distinctions. Darwin is thus not capable of infinite extension. Nor is Catholic theology...or any other philosophy, tribal or cultural prejudice. The negative way of saying this is that within an ontology only parts of the world illuminated by the distinction are visible. A Darwinian will never see how Dr. Lawler is right. Nor will Dr. Lawler ever fully grasp the illuminating insight of Darwin. Nor in all likelyhood will I ever grasp either. Human history is repleat with examples of people killing each other over nothing less. If conservatives wish to prove human finitude they need look no further than the difficulties posed by ontology. At the end of the day I believe that my friends in the enlightenment grasped as much... Which is why I repeat that Individual Rights are most properly grounded in an understanding of this most difficult of problem. I also think this has something to do with the difficulty Aristotle saw in a large republic...the uniquely american answer is individual rights...which of course also entails that we do not as a state ontologize "human being"...which in turn is part of what makes living in a large republic possible. In this case to ontologize "human being" would be to sanction theocracy...or Darwinian reductionism...both views of necessity tyranical to those of differing or opposing ontology.

John Lewis - I would agree with you to some extent, but I also disagree. The debate is not ultimately about what is known, but rather about ultimate validation of knowledge. To the scientist, faith and belief are not sufficient as ultimate validators. To the faithful, empiricism is not relevant to the inner world and faith in a god.

Where I disagree, however, is in the equation of the two systems’ ultimate dogmatism. An agnostic scientist would be thrilled to discover an empirical demonstration of God’s existence, and as a psychologist, I would be ecstatic if I could discover a soul via methods that would satisfy my peers.

The same, I think, cannot be said for my theologian friends, who would not only be disappointed to find a scroll written by Peter (and edited by God) for instance, that proved that the resurrection was a hoax, but I also think that they would never accept ANY message that indicated they had been wrong about any faith-based belief!

Put more simply, if God came to earth, and said, " You are right about A, B, and D, but you are wrong about C, then I think God would be rejected as an imposter.

It is the committment to change and disconfirmation that makes science valuable, and it is the committment to stasis and ultimate, unchanging truth that makes faith valuable to true believers. So, I would not equate the two systems’ unwillingness to be open to each others’ beliefs.

Dain, there seems (to me) to be fairly consistent misunderstanding of Peter’s position on your part, one I don’t attribute to will, but to a certain mindset you bring to these issues. He doesn’t doesn’t deny that the human animal is an animal; he doesn’t deny similarities between animals and humans; he doesn’t say (that claims about) human difference are solely based upon revealed religion; he doesn’t justify (or want to justify) human arrogance. He points to lots of human activities and achievements that are difficult-to-impossible to account for in terms of materialistic/evolutionary science/theory. The alternative he poses is that such a science is either reductionist or it belies its own presuppositions along the way.

Be that as it may, he’s doesn’t base his ’anthropology’ (view of human being) on faith, he doesn’t reject out of hand (plausible) science; he just wants certain obvious and very important human phenomena to be acknowledged by scientists and those who beieve themselves to be truly "empirical" and rational.

For a comparable (and different) view of the similarities and differences between higher animals and human beings, see chapter 1, The Primacy of Form, of Leon Kass’s book, The Hungry Soul. Kass acknowledges that some version of evolution has occurred (as does Lawler), but he also recognizes that the human form (our upright posture and our distinctive psyche) makes us rather special ... in many obvious and deep ways. He wants to add to evolutionary science or theory the (newly recognized) category of "substanial form." But organic being or living being as such as form as well. Man’s powers, though, are heightened, intensified, and together constitute a unique package in the animal kingdom. All this is a matter of observation, reasoning, and self-and-other knowledge; it doesn’t require religious faith at all.

Paul- It seems to me that you want to have it both ways. Is Darwin proven "wrong," or not? What is he wrong about? If we are merely unique the way a giraffe is unique among other species, then I see no challenge to Darwin. But, you posit a "psyche," that you also insist does not exist in other species.

I would sugget that there is little evidence to "prove" that such a unique structure exists other than the human tenency to assert its existence.

Paul, with all due respect I think you are putting words in Peter’s mouth. If he had no intention of linking unique ’humanness’ to divinity, why the incendiary "real men prove Darwin wrong again" theme for the thread, and why the references to Christianity in his initial post? I don’t think he’s running away from linking the two. Let’s give him his due...he’s taking a stand here.

And even if it all boils down to "people are special," that doesn’t begin to falsify Darwin...the idea is laughable. Birds can do things we can’t...does that mean they have their own special divinity and that WE are the soulless ones? Natural selection is a theory about speciation...there is NOTHING in the theory that disallows "specialness." Indeed, I would argue that the general selection-positive trait of intelligence explains why higher mammals (late-comers) are a lot smarter than reptiles and birds. The fact that we ARE so special might favor a Darwinian approach.

Dear men, real men, Dain and Fung, starting with Dain: Christianity, or to be more precise, the Thomistic Roman Catholicism Peter alludes to, employs both reaon and faith; therefore it can both affirm certain things about human nature or the human soul on the basis of faith that it doesn’t claim are rationally accessible; it also can argue on rational grounds about human nature, in ways that along the way indicate consonance between reason and faith. Two orders of claims.

Oops, pushed the wrong button and sent the previous unfinished post prematurely.

Another misunderstanding: organic life, animinate being, all forms of life are ensouled. "Souls" are not restricted to humans, soul-talk is not solely derived from scriptures or faith; Plato and Aristotle both talked about psyche. Soul or substantial form or psyche is not a ghost-in-the machine. Its empowered organization of living bodies. I don’t expect you to understand the last claim, but you should know that this "divine spark" talk isn’t mine or Peter’s. Again, it bespeaks a framework that is alien to our/my combination of faith and reason.

I suspect one way of putting the rational/philosophical/methodological difference between us is: I start phenomenologically, i.e., with an accurate and ample description of the human animal and the other animals. That description yields significant parallels and greater differences (or the sort Peter indicated/itemized). The latter, I’ve suggested, are connected with our posture and our psyche (sorry to use the hoary term). Then two sorts of questions (or lines of investigation) occur (which, finally, I believe, can only be artificially separated): one - for want of a better term - is philosophical or even metaphysical: what accounts for the being of the living things, including especially man? this, I believe leads to issues of matter and substantial form. The second is scientific in a modern/contemporary sense, which presupposes (here I’m asserting, not particularly arguing) 1) complexes comes from simples, and time (or history) yields complexes. The former approaches - phenomenology; philosophical analysis - looks at beings as they are; the latter presupposes they’ve come to be from pre-/proto-/simplier versions.

How to connect the two, is to my mind, the basic question that modern science and "traditional philosophy" both eventually have to confront.

Again, with clarity...please? Start with epistemology...how do we know things? Science is clear on this -- its standards are stated and its rigors are well-known. This Thomism...what’s its source of authority? How does it produce information? And more importantly, is there any way for disputing parties to dismiss aspects of it (i.e., the analog of ’falsification’).

Regardless, nothing that has been said here "disproves" Darwin. Peter should learn that if he wants to split hairs (if indeed that is his intend), it’s best not to start by smacking his audience in the face with a 2x4.

I have to take my son to the boxing gym, and must be away for a while. I agree with Dain (that’s just fun to repeat!) that I read here NO challenge to Darwin at all. As a psyche-ologist, I am pretty familiar with the historical development of the term. The question, as I see it, is how is (or, IS?) Peter using the term?

Dain, in #10, That was why I was sorry; because you would see it as pointless to discuss this with me/us. But, please consider, once we, I mean people, see something, once it becomes truth to us, it is so very hard to "unsee" that thing.

It would take more than Darwin’s claims, or yours, for me to unknow God. I can’t swallow Darwin, or anyway, not all of Darwin - the natural selection part seems pretty evident, while the life ex nihilo part doesn’t - because knowing God as a "Who" always gets in the way. It is not an unquestioning belief. Honestly. Many things about life, some things of that nasty animal body you complain about, and other soulish/emotional things like pride or anger, it would be more comfortable to accept than to struggle against all the time. When smack against something inconveniently desirable the tendency is to question God like mad. Then He answers, and what is one supposed to do about that?

That is what brings me to regret, because while I can see what you are saying, plainly you can’t see what I am writing about at all. I do understand the complaints against believers. And I can see why that makes such topics uncomfortable for political discourse, ala MacDonald’s argument. Yet I can’t see what we are supposed to do about belief. Would you have us hide or ignore, sweep under some politically convenient rug, all topics in which our understanding is tainted by belief and principle. No. I can’t see you saying that absolutely, while you might see it as a convenient thing for practical political purposes. There are practical and political outworkings of faith and those color our principles. You do see that.

But dain, and Fung, what looks out of your eyes? What animates us, and makes the inside of our heads so vast? Yes, I know. This is just John Lewis’ point in #13 simplified. And please, I am not trying to "hit" anyone with anything, nor make a rude challenge. I just want to know.

Kate- Very nicely said. For my part, I would not ask any believer to stop believing. Nor would I want to deprive any person of the comfort that faith brings. My hostility or defensiveness is awakened only when someone crosses the line, and attempts to "disprove" Darwin, or to assert that carbon dating is not as valid as is Genesis, or that Intelligent Design is scientific.

If these were sports, it would be like suggesting that the Boston Red Sox were better than the New York Rangers Hockey team, because the Red Sox had better pitchers. The rules, the goals, the skills are so different that there is simply no way (so far) to "prove" the other wrong!

I can live with this, and see our differences themselves as evidence of a certain Darwinian variability that provides for a much more interesting world than we would have if we all played the same games, and accepted the same set of rules.

As for who "sees" out of my eyes, that again, is a question that philosophy took a shot at, and then was stumped until science picked up the ball. I don’t think we have a unified answer, even among psychologists, but I can give you the reductionist ( I prefer "simplest") response:

We personify things and animals from the time we are children. As kids, we think our dolls have feelings, and our stuffed animals feel pain when they fall off the shelf. We love the talking tress on the Wizard of Oz, and cartoon clouds and Barney.

Later, we personify our pets. We claim that our dogs think they are people, and our cats know what we are thinking. We devour stories of gorillas that "mother" children who fall into the gorilla habitat, and we personify them, as well. (In the process, of course, we ignore countless instances of dogs falling out of windows, or getting lost 2 blocks from home, or gorillas bashing their infants’ heads against trees)

We personify our gods, and make them look like us, and think like us, and care about our games, our exams, and our love lives.

Finally, we personify ourselves, and that is my answer to your question. It works for me, and I am pretty certain that it will not work for you. First, we develop a monotheistic deity who looks and acts like us, then we posit an exclusive pipeline between us and that god (soul, psyche, spirit, mind) that is not only our birthright as God’s children, but also our responsibility, and the sign of our special uniqueness.

This is a mechanistic view, but that does not bother me at all. I value and enjoy machines. If I owned a motorcycle, as Peter does, I might even give it a name, and suppose that it has a "personality." I would value it more than I value simpler machines, like a belt sander, or a coffee maker.

Most of all, I value my sons and my wife, who are the most complex and valuable "machines" in my life. I enjoy thinking about their "personalities," too, and I try to protect them against all harm, and I see no conflict in any of it.

A great discussion. Thank you all for making my point. I promise to come back and write something longer latter on.

Fung,
Thank you. That is fascinating. I’ll be thinking about that all morning, as it is my day off and I can; I’ll be trying to see things as you do.

My National Review came yesterday, and before sleep last night I was reading their review of An Argument for Mind by Jerome Kagan, Harvard psychologist. Now it was only the review of the book, but it is a nice long one by Edward Feser and is on our topic here. "Kagan concludes that the reductionist aspirations of modern psychologists have not been fulfilled. In particular, the current vogue for neuroscience has oversold the prospects for a complete explanation of our mental lives in terms of neurological processes. For Kagan, even "a complete understanding of brain is not synonymous with a full understanding of mind." and probably never will be. which, of course, was a great comfort to me and let me sleep easier. It is a nice review and I hope I can get my hands on that book.

John Lewis, do come back and respond to m question from #22. I am looking forward to it.

I agree with Fung, but only to a point. It’s true we personify things, but some of those things probably OUGHT to be personified. Living animals, particularly higher mammals, have clear personalities, understand some words, and do their best to communicate with us. They are not objects, any more than we are. As for God, one interpretation is Jung’s -- the archetypal father. As self-aware creatures, we are existentially insecure; the thought of non-existence horrifies us. So, just as we have a family in this world, so we have a family in the next.

Please understand that I have religious training myself, and I deeply appreciate my society’s Christian heritage. I would not knowingly harm it, nor am I "gunning" for believers. The problem is "discussing" things is that you need a way of resolving disputes. Science relies on logic and observation. On the other hand, religious "knowing" brooks no denial, so we have zillions of Christians who simple "know" the truth and yet zillions of Muslims who "know" a different truth. In short, religious faith is a poor policy instrument...I think that’s MacDonald’s most important point, and she is correct.

Kate- Kagan was the mentor of my academic nemesis. I never met him, but he is brilliant, correct about most things, including mind.

I have another lecture (with which I won’t bore you) about how we don’t "see" or otherwise perceive our world directly, but rather, we "see our nerves" is much closer, as Mueller and Kant both suggested.

Another form of reductionism, the neurophysiological one, comes very close to explaining all of the brain, but that still does not explain all of "mind," or of consciousness. I prefer Dawkins, who suggests that we have evolved a conscious which can be seen as something like a computer simulation of possible (and actual) events, so that we need not commit ourselves behaviorally to any but those events that appear the most safe, or otherwise beneficial.

Ours is more complex than that of a dog, but noth otherwise terribly different. For instance, as the example goes, a dog can decide to bite, or to "not bite." Humans can "simulate" a larger number of more complex scenarios, or "social practices," as the basis for their choice.

Greetings from Philly. I’m typing on a terrible hotel computer and can’t respond. Fine discussion--but I’m rooting for Paul and Kate.

Rooting for Paul & Kate! What a surprise!

What a funny idea, to be "rooted for" while in this discussion.

Fung, I remember the day I decided that my dolls had no feelings. It is one of my earliest memories, and I have wondered about it, as in why I should remember it, considering it and knowing the moment as a distinct memory, periodically, over all of these years. It was not exactly a decision not to personify, but an abrupt understanding of no personhood in inanimate objects. This happened long before I had any idea of God, too. It had something to do with the looking out of one’s eyes thing and thinking about looking into eyes and trying to see something or someone in them. Dolls had nothing in their eyes. My cat had something, but not much and yet would please me by letting me look in his eyes until it put him to sleep. People, neither adult nor child, would let me look in their eyes for long enough for me to satisfy my curiosity and I can only wonder at what a strange little girl I must have seemed to family and friends. Yet, I still played with my dolls, but as objects to dress and decorate. I only played as in pretending with other little girls as a social activity, because that was one did, and it was expected.

So I tried to see things your way this morning. You’re right. I couldn’t. But you aren’t seeing God as I see Him, either. For one thing, I sense no special uniqueness in my relationship with God. I am aware of a vast "community" of believers, beyond space and time, but not exactly as family. It is more like being examples of something. Though I will say, we often know each other on meeting and I am always surprised at how many seem to know within moments of meeting me that I am a Christian when I say nothing about it nor wear crosses or any overt symbols to demonstrate my Christianity.

I do NOT see God as anything like me, either, nor especially not me like Him. God as Father, sometimes, when He so condescends to me. This has happened a few times in intense worship or, yes, it did happen when I first reached a point of submission. Jesus as brother and friend, well, no, though I know many other so. Nor is my faith some great comfort. It isn’t like that for me. I can have a conversation with Him, but He hardly ever tells me what I want to hear if I do. I can see the comfort others get in prayer wherein they say He tells them nice things about themselves and how much He likes and loves them, but I must be a much worse person than they, because I get(gentle)reproofs and correction and more than occasional remarks along the "Oh, come on!" line. If this is something in my nerves, it is not in the sympathetic kind ( poor joke, I suppose) because I am always being pressed onwards to some kind of goodness and being made to think about things differently than I naturally might. This is very difficult and not exactly restful.

The most I get in the way of comfort is that, as opposed to once upon a time, before I knew Him, when I would face depression, the enormous loneliness of existence was oppressive and deadening. Now, when I am facing that darkness, I find Him there, kind and willing to talk me back into an acceptable reality. Nothing grand. It goes something like this: Me: "I just don’t want to." Him: "Oh, come on!"

And if this is madness, well, I am not the only one. And that is a comfort.

Jesus as brother and friend, well, no, though I know many other so. Well what happened there. I meant to write was "Jesus as brother and friend, well, no, though I know many others who see Him so."

I’ll respond tomorrow. Too much going on tonight. Too important to do while distracted.

Kate,

I think you are right, that I am not seeing God as you do. I have never thought it this way before, but when I hear testimonies by people who have accepted Jesus as their savior, or when they describe communicating with God, it simply hits my skull with a thud, and leaves a cold feeling. I wonder if it is something like when straight people try to win over gays. "Doesn’t THAT turn you on?" Inevitably, the answer is "no," and it is not a choice, as much as it is a sense of irrelevance.

Now, I can get turned on by R.W. Emerson, and his piece about "Supernature," and I can get all light-headed about the interconnectedness of things, but that is still not God as a "who."

I think that our exchange has demonstrated a couple of things. First, we can disagree without hostility. Second, I think that I have just described a certain intractibility that I have accused others of, and have not previously appreciated in myself. Third, I think that you have described yourself conferring and "not conferring" soul onto other entities, such as your dolls, your god, and other people. It continues to appear to me that soul is in the readiness of the beholder to perceive it, and not an exclusive gift from, and pipeline to, the world of the supernatural.

To Dain, I would say that animals do not deserve personification, but rather, we should recognize the capabilities of animals, and thus remember that when we place humans in the same scheme as animals, we are not being insulting. The only insult is to describe every appreciable gift that another species enjoys as "human-like."

Having not converted till the age of 23 years and having had the same response to such testimonies and "witnessing" as you describe ("thud") right up to the event, I do sympathize. I wish I knew how to explain what happened, or happens, but trying to explain, as you have noticed, is like trying to describe the flavor of something untasted. "It’s just like...." Well, it’s not just like anything else. It just is.

I was really hoping that your #1 thing would become the case. And your second happens to us all. But #3, I was not looking for "soul" in anything when I was very young, and would not have understood that at all. I had become aware, of my own "consciousness" my looking out of my eyes-ness and was trying to see it in anyone, or anything, else. I was raised by atheists and "souls" were not in our vocabulary.

I worry that if we make objects of people, if we don’t, or maybe just if I don’t, subjectively sympathize, I/we might be capable of any kind of behavior towards another. To see something very like me inhabiting someone else’s skin, in someone else’s eyes, or even, as here, in someone else’s words, makes all kinds of perfectly human behaviors, negative ones, simply unthinkable.

This is a great line of thought. Unfortunately due to missions I am not at liberty to post whenever I want. I get 30 min windows...sometimes.

If excuses work for Dr. Lawler I should just do nothing but "root".

But I am rooting for everyone(in theory...in practice I am rooting for Dain and Fung...but I like what Kate is saying.) I am rooting for the best argument possible. Unfortunately I don’t have time to commit my best. So I will lay out some personal stuff...and hopefully no one is reading this anymore.

Kate says: "I was raised by atheists and "souls" were not in our vocabulary." I on the other hand was raised by christian missionaries with Campus Crusade for Christ. Souls not only were in our vocabulary..saving souls was the great commission. Somewhere along the way I was struck by the abject poverty of Africa...somewhere along the way I asked myself Yali’s question...somewhere along the way I went to Ashland...then I joined the Army...I have done all sorts of things and asked all sorts of questions... and at the end of the day I am commited to guiding my life according to the best answers I can gleam. Man is an onotological being. He structures his life according to how he sees the world...how he sees the world informs his actions, and his actions inform how he sees the world. Each vision is in a certain sense unique.

The United States is a great country because it isn’t mediated by a particular ontology...but rather allows its citizens the greatest leway...my time is up!

Kate, you said

"I worry that if we make objects of people, if we don’t, or maybe just if I don’t, subjectively sympathize, I/we might be capable of any kind of behavior towards another."

I fully accept that such is your motivation. And certainly, we have seen that almost anyone is capable of almost any kind of behavior, both courageous and heinous. I am not at all sure that any belief system has shown itself to be above reproach in that context.

So, I will not defend a mechanistic view on the grounds that it is morally superior, but rather that it is not necessarily suspect on the grounds that you suggest.

Here is my argument: Too often, true believers DO objectify others, often on the basis of the differential existence of a soul. There are "God’s children," and all others, who have yet to accept God, or to find favor with God. Too often, such people are thus deemed worthy of all sorts of inhumane acts. This is why it is important to demonize our enemies before we make war on them, or soon thereafter.

But, if we are cognizant of our tendency to personify, or to confer humanness on our chosen targets, then we are reminded of our own status as participants in the rules. We are thus reminded that, in another game, with other players, or another array of outcomes, we might well be the ones "conferred upon." or not.

On the other hand, when he carry a certitude that God loves us, because we recognize God in ourselves, and ourselves in God, then I would submit that we are in danger of hubris -- of forgetting that we can err, and that our mistakes can cause evil, even while carried out in the name of God.

John...you’re rooting for ME!

My concern about "received truth" is that it can never be falsified or really tested. Such views can turn into intellectual and emotional cul-de-sacs so easily. I prefer science, where nothing is sacrosanct (at least, it isn’t supposed to be) and everything is open to reexamination. I feel this way because "truth" CAN set us free, but only if it’s really true.

On the other hand, I understand that people need to believe in something greater than themselves. If these religious beliefs ARE myths (and certainly at least some of them MUST be), they can be very useful for society and human well-being. So I am conflicted...I would never drive religion out of the public sphere like Jesus drove the merchants from the Temple. It’s important to remember that many secular "faiths" have been just as bloody and intolerant (e.g., nazism, communism, nationalism).

An embarrassment of riches! You guys are so good, but, like John, I have a mission. Mine is to go cook for the extended family’s Labor Day meal.

Each vision is in a certain sense unique. Yes, and that’s why we can’t ever be angry at another person for how they see they world. No, maybe that’s not right, as sometimes, some visions have to be suppressed, to protect others. Which reminds me of a story I can insert here, snipped from an email on my first week of teaching Freshman Composition. In the next row, a young man said he was at the community college because he was undecided about everything. "Everything?" I asked, "’everything’ is awfully big." He said, with a certainty, "Everything." "Even ’Thou shalt not kill?’" No, no, he said; he had that one down. "Well and good." I said.

Some issues you just want to have settled.

My daughter is pulling on me. More later.

It was a lovely day, and then we heard the news of even more violence in Iraq, and felt guilty for having such a good time.


Fung, Yes, I know many Christians, and know of many more, who objectify others, and not just especially non-believers. They can be just as nasty to one another over doctrinal issues, though perhaps not as bad as in the day when Catholics and Protestants would stop killing one another only for as long as it took to kill an Anabaptist. Within Protestantism, the greatest divide is between Calvinists, who believe in being chosen and select, and Arminians - free will types - who see a moral failing in those who do not "choose" as they do. My best argument for tolerance and forebearance with the former is that they are not God to know who is chosen and who is not. My best argument with the latter is temporal, that the given person might "choose" at some later time, and who knows, so let’s give him the benefit of that doubt. To remind either that belief in God does not confer God-like qualities on any of us, and to buttress that with scripture, (something like "There is no sin but that which is common to man.") helps diffuse some of that "hubris" you mention. Of course, my influence is local and small, and has mostly been used in settling fights within home school groups or within multi-denominational Christian schools. I think they might be good arguments because they have lasting effect.


Dain, I don’t know about "nothing is sacrosanct" in science. I have been attacked with great emotion over things that surely can not be proven, such as the origin of life on Earth and other non-observables that can only be theory, and never proven by scientific method. I know people for whom dinosaur bones are like relics and PROOF of Darwinian evolution, whereas they are surely evidence of those enormous creatures, themselves, and yet how they came to be must remain open to question.

I give you the fact of my periodic re-examination of belief in my comment #22, as I also prefer what is true. And no, I can not prove to you, ever, the truth of God. I suspect that even if all of us believers were as saints, transformed by faith as we are supposed to be, which, grieviously and obviously we are not, (and yet wouldn’t that be the best and maybe only "proof" we humanly could offer) it would not be enough.

John Lewis, I think I am glad you like what I am saying. Well, of course I am happy that it can be liked. I wonder how you got from the question of unequal distribution of goods in the world to Ashland?


My husband is in Kenya right now, firstly to teach in a Bible College there and secondly to check on the progress of an AIDS orphanage/school for orphans his group has built, and thirdly because he has been worrying since his first trip there if there isn’t some way to create a business economy in Kenya. That abject poverty has struck him, too, and because of his ontology.... well, you get it. Unemployment there is at 50%, and the unemployed are often men. He has several ideas for creating manufactury and will be looking for some way to make that work in a practical way on this trip. He and the men he is working with are worrying about the maturing orphans having jobs and a purpose in life. I wonder where he is going to find the capital for his project, but that is because I lack vision. I am sure you know how that is, too. But I honor him for what he wants to do.

This may be a little off topic, but I wanted to mention it because it is a sad day for Australia and indeed a sad day for the world- Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin has gone to that great animal hunt in the sky. I guess in many ways I’m not surprised, but still this news hit me like a ton of bricks this morning as I perused the headlines. Let us all pray for Terri, Bindi Sue and little Bob.

Kate, Again, with Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus who leave Darwin alone, I have not problem. But, I do have a problem with the expansionist, transformational nature of the more fundamentalist movements that I perceive of late. Joe K. and I have discussed this in earlier posts. Is there any serious instance where serious scientists have declared that they have proven Jesus wrong, or Martin Luther wrong, or Bishop Tutu?

Certainly, there are people (many of them good Methodists, Catholics, or Jews) who don’t want organized religion infringing on school curricula, for instance. But this strikes me as a defensive reaction to an offensive attempt to bring religion into the school.

I do perceive people trying to "prove Darwin wrong," or to discredit science in general.

What I do not perceive is a complementary movement by scientists to discredit theologians in their own backyards. That is, I don’t see scientists trying to undermine the religious way of life. Perhaps you can identify an exception or two, but I cannot identify such a movement, and certainly nothing that I would take seriously.

People on this post have correctly pointed out that Darwin himself believed in God. He seemed able to pursue his theory, and to leave theologians alone. Why cannot they return the favor?

Sorry. That should read: "I have no problem."

Clay, that is not off-topic at all. We were just discussing the crocodile hunter!

Well, this was a great thread and I’m sorry I missed it. Too bad about the croc hunter. I for one have no problem having evolution taught in biology class. The smart evangelicals (not quite an oxymoron) object only to "evolutionism," to the turning of science into scientism or an ideology that attempts to account for everything with no room for either human distinctiveness or God. And the Catholics, of course, are ok with evolution understood in terms of what we really know through science in the precise sense. It seems to me that that theologians, in fact, should learn from Darwin, who knew enough to know that he didn’t know whether the world was created or not.
But the theologians also have every right to discredit dim-wit Darwinian popularizers who think that they solved the riddle of being in a way that complete dipenses with God, and that turns out to be easy to do--and without recourse to theories of "Intelligent Design." (See here Walker Percy’s amusing treatment of Carl Sagan in LOST IN THE COSMOS, a book that accepts the truth of evolution but denies that our usual or homogeneous understanding of evolution can account for the sudden and late emergence of the being with language who is lost or displaced in the cosmos.) (See also, if you want, Leo Strauss on his way of explaining why Darwin can’t explain what distinguishes members of our species, and withut relying, finally, on Percy’s insight that we’re naturally God-directed beings.) Finally, let me say that I was rooting for Paul and Kate, and Kate hung in there until the end. What happened to Paul?

But the theologians also have every right to discredit dim-wit Darwinian popularizers who think that they solved the riddle of being in a way that complete dipenses with God, and that turns out to be easy to do--and without recourse to theories of "Intelligent Design."

Well, Peter, aren’t you displaying the same kind of arrogance you damn in "nitwit Darwinian popularizers?" What makes YOU think that received religion establishes the "truth" of God, or in any way answers the riddle of human existence? Religion provides no mechanisms or deep answers...just a narrative about the anthromorphic motives of a supposed supernatural being. I’m sorry to put it in such harsh terms, but if you call people (like Dawkins, I presume) ’nitwits’ then you beg for like treatment.

Really, you should listen to yourself.

Given the subject matter(s) of this thread, the reason for my absence may strike folks as serendipitious, providential, outrageously funny, or merely amusing: I was on retreat here at the seminary where I teach. The theme of the retreat was Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est.

"The smart evangelicals (not quite an oxymoron) object only to "evolutionism," to the turning of science into scientism or an ideology that attempts to account for everything with no room for either human distinctiveness or God. And the Catholics, of course, are ok with evolution understood in terms of what we really know through science in the precise sense. It seems to me that that theologians, in fact, should learn from Darwin, who knew enough to know that he didn’t know whether the world was created or not."

So, it sounds like scientists are okay, so long as they know their place. This is similar to my sentiment about evangelicals and other, more expansionist perspectives.

As for Darwin (an after this, I will stop kicking a dying horse) he understood (as Dawkins does, and as all serious scientists do) that a theory remains a work in progress until it is ideally graduated into the next category: a law. He knew that the value of science is that it progresses, and theories are a means, rather than an end, in the search for truth. I will not hold my breath until the theologians accept Darwin’s perspective.

This has been fun, everybody!

This discussion sure isn’t very manly. Just a bunch of sissy intellectual stuff.

Fung, I desperately do not have time to post, but can’t help asking, as this thread frays out; are all scientists Darwinists? Are scientists who are not Darwinists necessarily not serious, or are they just not serious because they are not Darwinists?

Hal, It is probably sissy stuff because they let me play and I am not manly. Though I am thinking about changing my name to something masculine on the blog so I can blend in better.

At the political science convention, I urged a room full of Straussians to pay more attention to the work of Pope Benedict/Ratzinger, especially the encyclical Paul mentioned. I called for more "rat choice theory." To the rest of you, I say again that the accounts of human beings by evolutionists such as Dawkins and even Pinker do not correspond anywhere near completely to what we can see with our own eyes. To Hal, of course all this blathering is not all that manly, but it is somewhat manly. Aren’t real human beings employing verbal weapons to display their indispensable importance? The stereotypical Darwinian, for example, is all about showing he’s special by being the one in the know about members of our species and our species itself not being special. By reducing his fellow human beings to animals just like all the others, he proudlly believes he has elevating himself to quasi-divinity. The obvious incoherence of that position is beside the psychological point. And finally, look at Paul! How many chimps go on retreats?

Kate, I suppose there may be some scientists whose science is only remotely connected to biology, and who therefore don’t think about evolution very much. I suppose a meteorologist, for instance, may not worry too much about evolution. But, I would guess that there is no serious scientist, and I would assert that there is NO serious biologist or psychologist who does not take evolution as a fact.

There may be a quack or two out there, I cannot remember his name, but there is some jerk from Colorado (my alma mater) who claims to use science to show how horrible homosexuality is. He is no scientist. And then there is James Dobson, who is no psychologist, and who is not taken seriously by my peers. But serious scientists? They all take evolution as an established law. Many of them, by the way, are quite religious, and find ways to make that work, though I am not among them.

Peter, what is it that we can see with our own eyes that conflicts so with Dawkins? Have you seen God? Have you found the seat of the soul? Have you found that the scores of studies demonstrating evolution in rapidly-reproducing species were all a hoax? Just what is it that has disproven evolution?

Do we get to continue this even after it becomes archived? I want to know if anyone is still reading besides myself before I go to the trouble of a response.

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