Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Darwinism and conservatism

This NYT article, to which Steve Thomas refers in the comments below, makes reference to this event, chaired by Steve Hayward. (You can watch a video of it at the site.) I’m not in a position to adjudicate the dispute between John West and Larry Arnhart (whose website is here). (Arnhart, by the way, tells us the NYT article gets the debate pretty much right.)

It strikes me that Arnhart’s Darwinian "realism," which he proposes as a basis for a new fusion between (an apparently non-religious) traditionalism and libertarianism, isn’t the only possible conclusion one can draw from the "facts" at hand. Why should a modest or humble respect for natural limits follow necessarily from an understanding of evolution? Why couldn’t there also be a Promethean impulse toward overcoming all limits that follows from it? While I recognize that there are some modest and humble libertarians, the dominant note in that movement isn’t modesty and humility. And while I recognize that there are equally immodest and arrogant so-called "compassionate conservatives" (from whom Arnhart proposes to save us), it seems to me that on the practical grounds of modesty and humility, he has as many potential allies among religious traditionalists as among secular traditionalists and libertarians. Why he eschews that "fusion" isn’t yet clear to me, though I expect to learn more once I watch the whole webcast.

Needless to say, others should feel free to chime in.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Joe, the NYT articles states that moral imperatives drawn from Darwinism have proven quite "pliable." Don't you think you could say exactly the same thing about Christianity? It has been used to justify everything from rights of the unborn to slavery, conquest to passivism, personal redemption to communal oppression. In short, such criticism isn't critique at all, but simply a cheap shot (well...it is the NYT I guess).

Evolution exists...we can see it operate on bacteria and insects within our own lifetimes. The logic of it, particularly when you combine environmental selection with sexual selection, is awe-inspiring, and it explains things that simply can't be explained in any other way. But fundamentalist or strongly religious people resist evolutionary thinking for two different reasons. First, they imagine that the world is too complicated and orderly to be explained by any blind process (which is at least an evidentiary criticism). Second, religious people are afraid that evolution undermines any need for a higher power (plain fear of worldview loss).

In my view, however, they should also be afraid of "Intelligent Design." Why? Well, if the natural world reflects the mind and desires of God, what does Nature tell us about Him? While many people have viewed the natural world through a romantic lens, anyone who has studied it knows that it is animated by brutal competion and amoral struggle. The only love or compassion in the natural world is incidental to the broader pattern of selfish replication. If "ID" is true, God must be one bloody-minded dude. I mean, really, what can be said for a God who creates the botfly, the tapeworm, and the Black Death?

I think Arnhart is correct - scientific Darwinism is at least as good as received revelation as a foundation of social conservativism. The "heresies" of Darwinism (e.g., social darwinism and the stupid attempt to control selection aka Nazism) demonstrated a profound bastardization of Darwin. Properly understood, Darwinism "breeds" a deep understanding of human fallibility and his imperfections and teaches us that human intervention into the process of change involves costs, not just benefits (e.g., the evolution of bacteria under our phamaceutical attacks).

And, it is certain that people will always try to play God (I mean, look at all the things we have done to the poor wolf/dog), and such people arise as easily from religion as they do from science. The one thing Darwinism CAN do that other paradigms can't is to predict when and where people will TRY to play God, and how likely those attempts are to "succeed." For instance, injecting ever more fat and salt into our diets is like falling off a log...just wait, someone will do it, and with very little effort it will become wildly popular. What to do the reverse (say, promote spinach-eating)? Get ready to spend LOTS of money preaching and teaching.

I do think Arnhart should cool the "libertarian/conservative" marriage nonsense, however. An acceptance of Darwinian conservativism doesn't really support radical individualism (indeed, it would suggest that such is unsustainable in a human community) -- about the only thing the libertarians get with this Darwinian fusion is reprieve from appeals to Higher Authority. That authority is in our DNA, not in the sky (although, I guess from an 'ID' point of view, our DNA is simply a reflection of GOD, so...).

Gee, the silence is deafening on this thread. Ye Godly Knights, come out of yon citadel..let us parley on the field.

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