Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Evolutionary Decency...

Ed over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars responded to my comments regarding the inconsistency evidenced whenever someone who holds to the evolutionary paradigm makes use of morality as a basis for their argument. Ed stated (referring to me),
He thinks evolution is a "worldview", a term we hear a lot but which simply doesn't apply here. Evolution is the theory that modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification. It explains the facts of biodiversity, biostratigraphy, comparative anatomy, and so forth. That's it. …It neither prescribes nor proscribes human behavior; at best it might help DEscribe some aspects of human behavior, but even there I think it's easy to substitute wishful thinking or assumption for a well thought out explanation. It doesn't tell us whether there is a god or not, it doesn't tell us what, if anything, will happen to us when we die. Nor does it attempt to. Thus Rusty is simply wrong when he declares that I am "inconsistent" because I accept evolution and also take moral positions, any more than I'm being inconsistent in accepting evolution and taking a position on what type of offense is most effective in basketball - the subjects just aren't related.
Ed is just flat out wrong. I would ask Ed to give me a list of those people who hold to the evolutionary paradigm who also believe that the supernatural exists in the form of some sort of deity that interacts with the natural order. I suspect that the list will be extremely short. To hide behind the argument that evolution only attempts to explain the facts of the natural realm is to miss the point entirely, for to hold to the evolutionary paradigm is to accept the worldview (and it is a worldview) that nature is all there is. If evolutionists, as Richard Lewontin put it, allow a Divine foot in the door, then their theory gets mucked up in a mire of supernatural activity. As Phillip Johnson has written,
...a supposed command of God can hardly provide a basis for morality unless God really exists. The commands of an imaginary deity are merely human commands dressed up as divine law. Morality in naturalistic metaphysics is purely a human invention, as Gould conceded in the same review by remarking offhandedly that on questions of morality, "there is no 'natural law' waiting to be discovered 'out there.'" Why not? The answer, of course, is that naturalistic metaphysics relegates both morality and God to the realm outside of scientific knowledge, where only subjective belief is to be found.
To be sure, evolutionists will tolerate one’s belief in a deity, but nowhere is such a deity permitted to be the source of any intervention in the natural order, much less human behavior. Therefore, if one believes that nature is all there is and if modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification, then everything in this universe must also be derived from determinism and chance. Methodological Naturalism not only implies, but vehemently proclaims, that there is no need for a God. Consistent evolutionists, such as Daniel Dennett and William Provine, take the implications of this worldview to their logical conclusion by advocating moral relativism or, worse yet, that true morality is an illusion and merely the product of evolutionary processes. Provine has said,
...modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society... The individual human becomes an ethical person by means of two primary mechanisms: heredity and environmental influences.
For an evolutionist to not accept this is to be inconsistent with the philosophical and logical implications of the worldview that drives their evolutionary paradigm. And this leads us to how Ed uses a moral argument to argue for the morality that evolution negates. Consider,
We still exist on this planet with other people and we still have to find some way of drawing boundaries on behavior to insure that we survive, both individually and collectively. We still have to use our minds to come up with more or less formal ways of determining what is moral and immoral, how we should behave toward our fellow human beings, what the responsibilities of being part of a group are and how those responsibilites relate to what we should and shouldn't do in various situations. The basis for my own moral reasoning is the law of reciprocity. Jesus called it the golden rule. It is found in every single religious tradition and in every non-theistic system of ethics as well. It is as close to an objective and universal principle as I have ever found and it seems like a good place to start. …I don't think it's ethical to try to control someone else's life and use legal coercion to force them to conform to our ideas of how they should live their life unless there is a compelling reason to do so. And for me, the only truly compelling reason for such coercion is to prevent them from violating the self-determination of another person or to prevent them from inflicting direct harm. You have no more right to force someone else to only be with members of the opposite sex than they have to force you to only be with members of the same sex. They don't tell you how to live your life, you shouldn't tell them how to live theirs. More specifically, you are free to tell them all you want - but you don't get to make that decision, they do. I start from the simple axiom that I own myself, that my life belongs to me and not to someone else. And by giving others that same freedom to live their lives, I preserve it for myself. The decent society, in my view, is the one in which people are free to live their lives as they see fit so long as their actions don't deprive another of the same freedom.
Ed makes the argument that we are the ones who determine our moral direction, and not some divine being. But where would that lead us? At best, morality becomes based on pragmatism, at worst it becomes based on tyrannical rule. What is ignored, though, is the question: Where did these so-called moralities come from? If we have the power to derive them by thought, then why should anyone subscribe to the compelling morality of another? It is here that moral relativists fall flat on the ground, for they must ultimately defer to the “ought” that we all can’t not know. Note just a few excerpts from Ed’s statements:
…we still have to find some way of drawing boundaries… …how we should behave toward our fellow human beings… …what we should and shouldn't do in various situations… You have no more right to… …you shouldn't tell them how to live…
These are classic examples of what I instructed you to look out for whenever an evolutionist attempts to argue in terms of morality. In every one of these cases Ed appeals to a standard that is higher than his own and to which his standard must, somehow, answer. He is arguing that we ought to act a certain way. I would argue that this higher standard that Ed recognizes is a principle that humans can’t not know. Where does this higher principle come from? We’ve already shown that it can’t come from humans, for if it did, then by whose authority are we subject to? And why? If it did come from humans, then how could we ever know if it was proper? That would be like asking: How can we test whether being proper is proper? This higher standard is an immaterial and abstract concept that, if it exists, can only exist in a mind. If it was not derived by humans and yet must exist in a mind, then it must have come from an eternal mind.

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