Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lord of the Flies

The Occupations, or at least some of them, appear to be devolving into what you might expect - chaos, bickering, and crime. If the Democrats had hoped to exploit this unrest and dissatisfaction for political gain, they're doubtless reconsidering now.

Here's a sample of what's happening in Baltimore:
Via Hot Air

Darwin and Hitler

A piece by Richard Weikert, author of the excellent book From Darwin to Hitler, recently caught my eye. Weikert recounts being interviewed by a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who challenged his claim that Darwinists have no grounds upon which to judge the morality of Adolph Hitler, or anyone else, for that matter. Here's part of his account:
When the Philadelphia Inquirer's science writer Faye Flam interviewed me recently for her article "Severing the Link Between Darwin and Nazism," she pressed me to discuss the implications of the Darwinism-Nazism connection that my scholarship has explored (especially in my two books, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress).

I threw down the gauntlet to many of my Darwinian opponents by telling her that if Darwinism is indeed a purposeless, non-teleological process, as many evolutionists and biology textbooks proclaim, and if morality is the product of these mindless evolutionary processes, as Darwin and many other prominent Darwinists maintain, then "I don't think [they] have any grounds to criticize Hitler."

According to Flam, these are "fighting words." However, I have spoken with intelligent Darwinists who admit point-blank that they do not have any grounds to condemn Hitler, so I am not just making this up. Many evolutionists believe that since evolution explains the origin of morality -- as Darwin himself argued -- then there is no objective morality. The famous evolutionary biologist and founder of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson, and the prominent philosopher of science Michael Ruse co-authored an article on evolutionary ethics in which they asserted, "Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate."

This is obviously not an undisputed point among Darwinists, but it is a position embraced by many leading Darwinists, and it does seem to reflect Darwin's own position. If indeed ethics is an illusion, merely the product of mindless, purposeless processes, it is hard to see what basis Darwinists could have to condemn Hitler morally.

Indeed, on several occasions I have asked those committed to the evolutionary origins of morality about the implications of their views: "Can you say then that Hitler is objectively evil or not?" Usually, they reluctantly admit to me that they have no objective basis to condemn Hitler or any other purveyors of atrocities.
Richard Dawkins himself says precisely this, as we've pointed out on previous occasions: "What's to prevent us from saying," Dawkins asks, "that Hitler was right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question." And Dawkins is far from being the only naturalistic scientist who has arrived at this conclusion.

There's much more of interest in Weikert's post. For example, it's clear that Flam really doesn't understand the nature of the problem for the belief that we have moral obligations that's posed by naturalism:
[Flam] argues that "Darwin himself wrote that violence, selfishness, charity, and goodwill are all part of human nature. He hoped that we would choose to act on the better parts." Wait a minute. Where did this notion of "better" come from? If Flam is taking a fully naturalistic Darwinian perspective, as she seems to be, with evolution being a purposeless, non-teleological process, why does she think that charity and goodwill are any "better" than violence and selfishness.

According to the Darwinian account of the origin of morality, all these character traits allegedly helped humans adapt to their present environment in the struggle for existence. All of these are "natural" behaviors, as are genocide, rape, murder, and theft, or honesty, self-sacrifice, and altruism. What arbitrates between these behaviors? Who can say that any of these behaviors are "better" than any others?

She concludes her article by asking, "If our lives really did hinge on countless accidents, couldn't that notion make life ever more precious?" Again, she is smuggling ideas into her argument that are fundamentally incompatible with her worldview. "Precious" implies that something has value, meaning, and significance; indeed it means that something has more value than other things.

However, a naturalistic understanding of Darwinism cannot sustain the notion that life is precious, because everything, not just life, is the product of chance and would be equally valuable, making life no more precious than anything else in the cosmos. A lump of coal or a dung heap is every bit as much the product of countless accidents as you are. Does that make them precious? Many Darwinists today, such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, reject the idea that human life is special and has any meaning or purpose.
Flam's problem is that, like so many other naturalistic materialists, she's piggy-backing on Christian theism without realizing it. She's assuming that naturalism need not diminish our view that life is full of meaning and that human beings have objective moral duties, when in fact naturalism erases both of these. Naturalists like Flam insist that theism is false but live as if it were true, and the contradiction doesn't trouble them because they're blithely unaware of it.

The droll thing about this is that, while living as if the thing they claim to be false is really true, they're happy to proclaim to one and all that Christianity is irrational.

Flam responds to Weikert, rather weakly in my view, here.