Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some Thoughts on Darwinism and Apostasy

Why is Darwinism (which I'll use as a short hand for the point of view advocated by John Derbyshire here and discussed here) so contrary to Christianity? The two usual answers are that 1) it involves facts which contradict the facts taught by the Scriptures; and 2) it presumes there is no God -- maybe at first as just an aspect of your method, but then increasingly as a way of thinking, and finally a conviction.

There is a lot of truth to both of these points, particularly the first, but I think there is more to it. I think Darwinism is considerably more poisonous than most other naturalistic, non-Scriptural natural philosophies out there. Here's why.

Let's compare Darwinism to, say, the naturalistic philosophy of creation found in Neo-Confucianism. As found in this book, this goes like this:

The Ultimate of Non-being (wuji 無極 also called the Great Ultimate, or taiji 太極)* produces yin and yang 陰陽; yin and yang produce the five phases (or agents): water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. The five phases (or agents) coalesce into material forces (qi 氣, also called chi): a masculine Heaven,tian 天, and a feminine Earth, di 地 (represented by the trigrams qian 乾 and kun 坤, respectively). The interaction of these two material forces, then produces the 10,000 material things in the world in unending transformation. As the result of being born in this way, human affairs can be understood, and even by the especially subtle predicted to some degree, through the transformations of yin and yang, the five phases, Heaven and Earth, and the trigrams.

Note that a personal God nowhere appears here. Everything can be understood by the human intellect. Nor does any fall, or the specific narratives of Genesis. But it is my feeling (which I suppose could be wrong) that this narrative is far less objectionable than the "Darwinist" narrative on the "Human Biodiversity" mailing group. What I am trying to do here is just to define and explore that gut feeling.

Let's start with something we can all agree on: parents and children. Neo-Confucianism, Christians, and Darwinists all believe that parents exist. We all believe that we exist through a long stream of conception and nurture that brought us into existence without any effort or merit on our part. As a matter of fact, most people will continue that chain, more or less, by having children, giving life and nurture to them without any payback up front. One could say that acknowledging and making sense of these facts is pretty important to all of these systems, and central, at least to Neo-Confucianism and Darwinism.

Let's ask, what is the attitude that each system generates towards this bundle of facts?

In Neo-Confucianism, the primary attitude is one of gratitude. The child has received infinite kindness (en 恩, which could also be translated as grace in the good Protestant sense of "unmerited favor") from his parents, and must return (bao 報)that kindness by taking care of his parents in old age and also by procreating in turn, so that the spirits of his parents will be taken care of after his death by his own children. This gratitude extends to all the conditions that have allowed one to be so nurtured, particularly the ruler of one's state. It extends beyond ruler and parents to everything that has gone before, but in a degree diminishing with distance. One is vaguely grateful to Heaven and Earth, but one does not pay them concrete hommage (worshiping Heaven is a prerogative of the emperor). Similarly, the degree of personhood diminishes as one goes up the scale: mother and father are persons, as is the ruler, but Heaven and Earth are only ambiguously persons, and the Great Ultimate certainly not.

In Christianity (and here of course I will base my discussion on Luther's small catechism, which I assume all fair-minded observers will agree is the best post-Scriptural exposition of the religion), again gratitude is the primary note. One must be grateful to parents (see the exposition of the fourth commandment and commentary in the Large Catechism -- scroll down), but also to all the other things that assist in life (see the exposition of the fourth petition; my own crude commentary here). But there is one great difference. Here, one must ascend immediately to the highest creator and see one's parents, rulers, heaven, and earth as signs of God's love and care for us. We must have children, not just because we wish to continue the gift we have received from our forefathers, but because God, the prime cause, has commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. God must be the object of a direct cult by all persons, and is absolutely and overwhelmingly personal.

In other words, while Christianity and Neo-Confucianism disagree on how and why grateful piety should be expressed towards who and what created us, they agree that appropriate understanding of creation/nature should lead to feelings of being a creature who owes love, honor, and obedience to what created him.

Now when we come to Darwinism, things are quite different. As far as I know, no exposition of Darwinism has used the fact of procreation to derive the value of gratitude to parents. Nor, curiously, does one see any discussion of the duty to procreate and continue the line, let alone any practice of the same.

Why not? I think it is not just because ultimately reality is unplanned, impersonal, and indifferent (after all, one could say the same of the Great Ultimate), but because Darwinism views the procreation of life as in some sense deceptive. The concept of deception is fundamental in all higher-order reflection in the Darwinist vein. The world looks designed, but really isn't, babies look cute, but really such cuteness is a way to stimulate appropriate reactions in the parents, and so on. Fundamental to this mode of explanation is the idea that what superficially seems a diverse set of qualitative relations, beauties, cruelties, and so on, are in fact all simply quantitative manifestations of one simple principle of inclusive fitness.** And in inclusive fitness, it is not even the person that is the unit, but the gene. As was expressed in the Selfish Gene, the organism is simply the gene's way of replicating more genes.

In short, to feel metaphysically grateful to one's parents is, in some sense, to fall victim to a misunderstanding (at best) and a fraud at worst. Parents are independent being themselves, like you, responding to genetic cues. Derbyshire's famous/notorious comments on the Corner on the relative unimportance of parental nurture in childhood development (first post here, last post here) is just one manifestation of the same viewpoint that fundamentally parents and children are each pursuing their own agenda. That those who believe in it are not, on average, noticeably more eager to have children than others, despite their fundamental principle of survival of the fittest, is not then surprising. On one cognitive level "survival of the fittest" is exactly equivalent to being commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" in a world where "by the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread." But on another level, accepting Darwinism offers you an explanation of why you feel that command "to be fruitful," while at the same moment releasing you from that command's hold on your mind as a command. Why? Because this command has nothing to do with me, as a person (or indeed as a giraffe or a frog or a lobster), but is only a by-product of genetics.

The problem with Darwinism, then is that its explanations of the natural world are always to some degree efforts to see through the natural world. (Readers may recall C.S. Lewis's points in the Abolition of Man; still one of my highest recommendations for reading in natural philosophy.) It is worth noticing that whenever scientists of an atheist persuasion speak of the emotions aroused in them by nature, they always speak of "awe" or "wonder," never of gratitude. This is the fundamental ethical problem with Darwinism, that it is an intellectual system which holds that the correct view of nature allows no room for gratitude towards our creation. As a result, it banishes piety and filiality, the well-spring of our moral sentiments. Again, this is not an inevitable feature of non-Christian naturalistic systems: it is a particular feature of the Darwinian mode of explanation.

To me then, the question is very simple, can there by a modern biology that encourages not "awe" and "wonder" at the "beauties of the natural world," but "gratitude" and "veneration" to one's creation for receiving life as a gift? Whether that gratitude and veneration stops at parents and ancestors to the fifth degree, or goes on to God the Creator of all, is not, for the purposes of evaluating the fundamental direction of any natural philosophy, the main issue.

Science demands unity. Just as physicists want a unified field theory, so biologists will never give up a theory that unifies all the different qualitative manifestations (social behavior in ants, biochemistry of bacteria in termite guts, fossils collected in sediments in Mongolia, the coloration of bird feathers) of biology into one theory. The current unification of biology by evolution will not be given up without an alternative theory that unifies all that is within our experience without reference to what is beyond our experience. (The echoes of Kant are deliberate here.) In the meantime, this leaves us with the question: are the anti-filial conclusions drawn from the current mode of unification simply an adventitious execrescence, to be explained by the history of science and philosophy? Or are they an inherent out-working of the basic idea that all qualitative biological features can be explained in the final analysis by the quantitative imperative to multiply copies of DNA?

I must say, I rather tend to the latter case. Let me finish by comparing Darwinism to Lamarckianism -- the idea that evolution proceeds by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. (You know, generations of okapis stretch their necks to reach ever-higher leaves and so over eons upon eons turn into giraffes). Lamarckianism could be just as naturalistic and just as contrary to a prima facie reading of Scripture as Darwinism, but I doubt that had Lamarckianism triumphed in modern biology that we would be feeling the same degree of conflict. Darwinism answers the question "why do giraffes have long necks?" by saying, "because that way giraffe genes could multiply themselves more effectively." Were a giraffe to learn of this explanation, I suppose they'd feel great consternation as giraffes realized that what they once regarded as their pride was a mere side-product of some double-helix inside them replicating. But what is Lamarck's answer? "Because over generations, in some obscure way, giraffes wanted to have long necks." Now that's an answer that gives dignity to a giraffe! And if the difference is this clear, then I have grave doubts about whether the deceptive aspects of Darwinism are not in fact built deep into the system.

Of course a Darwinist reading this will regard everything I have said as simply wishful thinking. Reality is deceptive, he will insist. No sentiments of filial piety towards parents, creation, God can be derived from a just understanding of the way nature works. As usual, when anyone demands that I must share in a knowledge that they embrace precisely because it is so inhuman, I suspect a personal motivation. But the irony is, that this very viewpoint, by revealing the fraud supposedly behind the "be fruitful and multiply" command brings about its own extinction. Even on the best showing of Darwinists, we are left with an inescapable antinomy of facts and morals: "You shall know the truth and the truth will kill you off."

*It is probably best to think of this as non-being not in the sense of being nothing, a vacuum, but as the absence of any specific, defined thing.
**The Wiki here is a bit misleading by the way. While inclusive fitness as an explanation of human behavior may be controversial or hard to detect, in the explanation of ant or ape behavior it is no more controversial than natural selection itself

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