Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who's to Say?

Richard Weikert, the historian who wrote the excellent study (From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany) of how the Darwinian worldview prepared the intellectual and moral ground for eugenics and eventually the Holocaust, writes about a conference he attended recently at San Diego State. The convocation was given to celebrating the theme, "150 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Impact on the Humanities and the Social Sciences." At the event he had a couple of disconcerting conversations. Here's his account:

A young man was performing rap songs on evolutionary themes that he had been commissioned to write and perform for the Darwin celebrations in Britain. He told us between his songs that in some species, such as praying mantises and black widows, the females kill their mates after procreating. This is an evolutionary adaptation. The rapper then continued by saying that it is only chance-like the flip of a coin, he said-that our own species does not exhibit such a behavior. He then stated that if we did act this way, our moral systems and religions would revolve around females killing their mates. (Take-home lesson: Morality and religion are contingent products of mindless processes).

This view may sound bizarre, but it is actually very similar to a statement Darwin made in the Origin of Species, where he mentioned that some species commit infanticide. He then stated that if we as humans had been raised with their instincts, infanticide would then be moral. Darwin's own moral relativism was even more apparent in Descent of Man, where he argued that sexual morality had evolved over human history. At one point in the human past, he argued, "promiscuous intercourse was once extremely common throughout the world." Polygamy and monogamy were later evolutionary adaptations, he thought. Similar ideas are commonplace today in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, both influential movements in intellectual circles.

At a dinner at the close of the conference, I spoke with a philosophy graduate student who told me that because empathy and thus morality were traits produced by evolution, he was convinced that morality was relative. When I asked him if he then thought Hitler was not evil, he told me that even though he personally finds Hitler repugnant, that repugnance has no objective validity, so, he stated, "Hitler was OK." He then told me that he doesn't want his rational belief in relativistic morality to influence his own moral standards, but he still considered his moral standards evolved traits that are purely subjective. I told him that I thought the reason his "instincts" and rationality about morality were at odds was because morality really is objective, but he didn't see it that way.

This was not the first time I had heard someone defend moral relativism-even to the point of claiming Hitler was neither right nor wrong, but still I am horrified by this display of moral blindness. However, if one buys into the relevant presuppositions, I'm not sure his position is so philosophically outlandish....If evolution produced morality, as many Darwinists think, what fulcrum could possibly exist to condemn Hitler objectively for pursuing his ideals?

Weikert's conversations illustrate a crucial moral problem that faces us in the 21st century: How can subjectivism be avoided in a secular society? If there's no God then there's no ground for moral obligation, no ground for moral judgment of right and wrong other than one's own personal feelings. For now most people are unaware that when they make a moral judgment they're really not talking about anything other than their own tastes. They simply assume that there's an objective right and wrong, that they're just stating t6he obvious when the say we should help the poor or that Hitler was evil, but they've never really asked themselves how this could possibly be. Once it begins to dawn on society at large that moral talk is just a bunch of hocus pocus if we reject the existence of a transcendent moral ground, once we find that there's no real basis for saying that the Adolf Hitlers of the world are evil men, society will lose whatever cohesion it has and begin to unravel. It will start with the elites first. Indeed, it's already well along the way.


Imploding Justice

You might recall the voter intimidation carried out by a group called the New Black Panthers at a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 election. The Department of Justice attorneys brought several charges against the thugs involved in this illegal activity, but last spring they were instructed by higher ups to drop the case. This has apparently had a demoralizing effect on the Holder Justice Department, as it should, and three top attorneys have resigned. The Washington Times has an editorial claiming that the Attorney General's department is actually imploding as a result of what some see as an attempt to protect political allies from prosecution.

The Times story on this can be read here. This seems to be just another example of how justice seems to be undergoing a redefinition in the age of Obama. A young couple surreptitiously videotape Obama's old friends at ACORN counselling them how to break the law, and it's the videotapers who face a lawsuit. Three Navy SEALS are facing a court martial because the terrorist who planned and carried out the kidnapping, torture, and murder of several American security personnel in Iraq claims one of them punched him in the stomach after they captured him and that the others lied about it to cover it up. Hackers uncover damning emails on the computers of the world's leading climate-change scientists and Senator Barbara Boxer wants the hackers hunted down and prosecuted. I wonder if back in 1971 she demanded that Daniel Ellsberg and the others who leaked the top secret Pentagon Papers be prosecuted. I'm sure she would have because Ms Boxer is nothing if not fair and consistent.

This is not to say that the SEALS shouldn't be disciplined or the hackers should be allowed to go unpunished (Though I do say that the young couple who videotaped the ACORN sleaziness should be given a Pulitzer instead of being slapped with a lawsuit), but surely there are reprimands for military personnel that fall far short of court martial, and surely Ms Boxer should at this point in time be more focussed on what the emails reveal than how we came to be in possession of them, particularly since it's not even clear that a crime was committed or if it was that it was committed in the U.S.

The people we should be praising and thanking for the service they're performing to the country and to truth are being turned somehow into the bad guys and the people who really are the bad guys are made to look like victims. What's happening to us?