Thursday, June 21, 2018

Evolution by Hybridization of a New Species of Galapagos Finches from a Founding Father

                                                     The Big Bird Finch of the Galapagos

Last year, in one of my posts on my second tour of the Galapagos Islands, I wrote about the evolution of new species through hybridization, including the report from Peter and Rosemary Grant that there might be a new species of finch on the island of Daphne Major arising from hybridization, although they had not yet said that this really was a new species.

Recently, the Grants have published their claim that this is indeed a new species that has evolved through hybridization (Lamichhaney et al. 2018; Wagner 2018).  In 1981, a male large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris) arrived on Daphne Major, having immigrated a long distance (over 100 km) from the island of Espanola, the only island where this species is found.  They called him "Big Bird" because of his unusually large head.

Big Bird mated with a medium ground finch (G. fortis).  This pair produced offspring, and with only one exception, the offspring found mates descended from the original pair, thus breeding within the hybrid lineage, for over 30 years.  Because of their larger body size, they are called Big Birds.  So, as with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, we have a new species derived from a founding pair of mates.

Large cactus finches learn the distinctive song of their species by listening to their fathers sing, which is thus passed down through a culturally learned tradition.  The first Big Bird--the founding father--sang a unique song, slightly different from the song sang by male large cactus finches on Espanola.  This is the song now sung by male Big Birds, and it contributes to their reproductive isolation.

Another cue for reproductive isolation is that the size of the Big Birds' bill is intermediate between the bill sizes for the other species, which is probably a consequence of natural selection favoring a bill morphology adapted for feeding on certain kinds of seeds on Daphne Major.

Genetic analysis has confirmed that the Big Birds are a distinctive species separate from the other 18 species of finches on the Galapagos Islands.

Notice the historical contingency in this scientific study.  The rare and chance event of one individual bird with a unique song immigrating to Daphne Major and mating with a female of a different species, in the unique circumstances of that island at a particular historical moment, became a founding event for the evolution of a new species.

This illustrates the historical character of biology as the study of unique individuals with unique life histories and cultural traditions.  It is not true, therefore, that human beings are the only animals who have individual and cultural histories.  A biopolitical science of political animals must include the study of the individual personalities and the social history of those animals.  (I have written about this here, and here.)

My next post will be devoted to another kind of hybrid breeding by a founding father--Thomas Jefferson's interracial breeding with his slave Sally Hemings.


Lamichhaney, Sangeet, Fan Han, Matthew T. Webster, Leif Andersson, B. Rosemary Grant, and Peter R. Grant. 2018. "Rapid Hybrid Speciation in Darwin's Finches." Science 359 (12 January): 224-228.

Wagner, Catherine E. 2018. "Improbable Big Birds." Science 359 (12 January): 157-159.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The "Supreme Judge" and "Divine Providence" in the Declaration of Independence

There are four references to a deity in the Declaration of Independence.  At the beginning of the document, the first two references are to "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and to the "Creator."  Then, at the end, in the penultimate sentence, there is a third reference in the formal declaration of independence: "We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states."  The final reference is in the last sentence: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Thus, God's government of the world has three branches: the legislative (the laws of Nature's God), the executive (Creator and Providence), and the judicial (Supreme Judge).

"Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions" suggests the need for divine judgment as a sanction for law and morality.  Does human law and morality require belief in divine rewards and punishments?  Does that belief include a belief in the immortality of the soul in an afterlife where God can mete out eternal rewards in Heaven and eternal punishments in Hell?  And if so, does a Darwinian science of human evolution support or subvert those religious beliefs?

And if we must appeal to the Supreme Judge, how does He promulgate His judgments?  If the Supreme Judge is Nature's God, then we might have to rely on our human rational understanding of nature, in which case we would not need any supernatural revelation.

But if nature is not enough, and we do need some special revelation of God's supernatural message, we might look to the Bible, although the Declaration never refers to the Bible or any other holy book. So, for example, recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions has quoted from the Bible as supporting the controversial policy of the Trump administration for taking children away from parents who have entered the United States illegally.  Many Christians, including evangelical Christians who have supported Trump, have denounced this policy as immoral.  Sessions quoted from the thirteenth chapter of Romans where Paul apparently declares that the powers of government are ordained by God, and thus Christians have a duty to obey the government: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.  For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2).  Since this policy of taking children away from parents who have crossed the borders illegally is a legal order of the government, Sessions indicates, those who resist this policy are resisting an ordinance of God, and they will be punished with damnation.

In response to Sessions, some Christians have pointed out that this same thirteenth chapter of Romans commands "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (13:9), and kidnapping children seems contrary to this commandment.

Some Christians have also pointed out that the 13th chapter of Romans was quoted by proslavery Christians to support obedience to the laws enforcing slavery.  In Slavery Ordained of God (1857J), the Reverend Fred Ross, a prominent Presbyterian minister in Alabama, cited Romans 13 and many other biblical teachings as supporting slavery.  Moreover, he argued, Romans 13 shows that the Declaration of Independence is a work of infidelity contrary to God's revelation in the Bible, because if government is ordained of God, then it is wrong to teach that government's authority comes from the consent of the people.  I will say more about Ross's argument in a future post on slavery and the Declaration.

This indicates the problem in appealing to the divine revelation of the Bible as a guide to the judgments of the Supreme Judge:  we often cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible and how to apply it to our lives.  As with any book, the language of the Bible is open to conflicting interpretations, as manifest in the history of Judaism and Christianity.  The American founders certainly saw this problem.  In The Federalist (no. 37), James Madison observed: "When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated."

Nevertheless, many of the American colonists settling in the New World in the seventeenth century thought the legal language of the Bible was clear enough to incorporate the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament into their colonial constitutions.  For example, the "Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts" of 1647 functioned as a constitution for Massachusetts, and it included many Mosaic laws in addition to English common law and what was considered natural law.  Part of this was a legally established Church that could punish heretics and infidels (Lutz, 1998, 95-135).

After the Declaration of Independence, however, those framing new state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation relied hardly at all on the divinely revealed laws of the Bible.  In his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America (1786-1787), John Adams explained: "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history."  Those who formed these new American governments did not claim "interviews with the gods" or "the inspiration of Heaven."  These thirteen governments were contrived "merely by the use of reason and the senses," and founded "on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery."  This experiment has succeeded so well, Adams concluded, that "it can no longer be called in question, whether authority in magistrates and obedience of citizens can be grounded on reason, morality, and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests, or the knavery of politicians" (Adams, 2000, 117-19).

But notice that even as Adams scorns the pretense of grounding governmental authority on "the monkery of priests" who might claim "interviews with the gods," he still appeals to "the Christian religion" as important for enforcing political authority and obedience to the laws.  So if it doesn't mean legally enforcing the Mosaic laws and a politically established Church, what does it mean for government to be grounded on "the Christian religion"?

In an often-quoted passage of George Washington's Farewell Address, Washington insisted that religion was necessary for popular morality:
"And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
And yet we can't help noticing that while stressing the importance of religion for the "national morality" of most people, Washington suggests that a few people with "minds of peculiar structure" don't need religion for their moral education.

Similarly, while Thomas Jefferson thought the Christian religion could support morality, religious belief was not absolutely necessary for moral conduct, because there was a natural moral sense inherent in human nature that could be known by natural human experience even without religious belief.   In a letter to Peter Carr (August 10, 1787), Jefferson laid out a plan of education for him, including the study of moral philosophy and religion.  He advised:
"Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it's consequences.  If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it's exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.  If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it" (Jefferson 1984, 903).
Jefferson refused to speak in public about his religious beliefs, because he insisted that religion was a private matter of conscience between oneself and God, and that freedom of conscience meant that no one should be forced into a public confession of one's faith or lack of faith.  Even in the presidential election of 1800, when ministers sermonized against him as an infidel or atheist, Jefferson refused to respond to this charge in public.

In private, however, in conversations and correspondence with his friends, he professed to believe in the purely moral teachings of Jesus, once they were cleansed of the corruptions coming from Platonic Christianity.  He thought that Jesus taught "the principles of pure deism."  "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other" (letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803).  In the same letter where he identified himself as an Epicurean, Jefferson also identified Jesus as a "benevolent moralist," whose moral teaching needed to be rescued from the "artificial systems" of Christian sects, which included "the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc." (letter to William Short, October 31, 1819).  In other words, the corruptions of true Christianity included most of the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity!

Jefferson's account of the moral teaching of Jesus striped of all the "artificial systems" looks like what Spinoza identified as "the dogmas of universal faith"--"that there exists a supreme being who loves justice and charity, and that, to be saved, all people must obey and venerate Him by practicing justice and charity towards their neighbor . . . or love of one's neighbor" (Theological-Political Treatise, 14.10).

To extract this pure moral teaching of Jesus from the Bible, Jefferson prepared his own revised version of the Bible.  He went through some Greek, Latin, French, and English translations of the Bible; he read the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--and cut out those passages that represented the true life and teachings of Jesus; and he then pasted these excerpts on pages with four columns so that the Greek, Latin, French, and English texts were parallel.  He arranged them in the chronological order of the life of Jesus from birth to death.  He cut out all the references to miracles--including the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, the water being turned into wine, the multitudes being fed on five loaves of bread and two fishes, and so on.  He gave it the title of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English.  He kept this for his private use.  It was never seen outside his family until it was sold to the Smithsonian Institution in 1895.  It was later published under the title Jefferson's Bible.  In 2011, the Smithsonian Institution published a beautiful facsimile edition of the original book.

Like Jefferson and the other deists among the American founders, Charles Darwin found it hard to believe in the miracles of the Bible: "the more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become."  He finally concluded that the Bible could not be a divine revelation. And yet he saw "the morality of the New Testament" as "beautiful" (Autobiography, 86).  In particular, he quoted Jesus' statement of the golden rule--"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise" (Matthew 7:12)--as "the foundation of morality" (Descent of Man, 151).

Darwin thought that "the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality," although the idea of "a universal and beneficent Creator" was not instinctive but arose only at the end of a long history of cultural evolution (Descent, 682).

Darwin believed that morality could be explained as rooted in the natural evolution of a moral sense or the moral sentiments, as understood by David Hume and Adam Smith.  "Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man" (Descent, 121).  "Ultimately our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment--originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit" (Descent, 157).

For this moral sense, Darwin believed, the "reverence or fear of the Gods or Spirits" is "most important, although not necessary."  For example, we can reject the belief that "the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience," because we can explain the incest taboo as rooted in an evolved instinctive disgust towards sexual mating with close relatives (Descent, 138-39, 688; Variation of Animals and Plants, 2:104).

Darwin's evolutionary theory of morality has been deepened and confirmed by recent research in the evolutionary psychology of morality by those like Edward Wilson, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene.  (I have written about this herehere, and here.)

The importance of religious belief in moralistic "Big Gods" for the enforcement of morality in large agrarian states has been shown by Ara Norenzayan and his colleagues.  But they have also shown that with moral progress in cultural evolution, it is now possible in modern societies for people to be moral without religion--or good without God--although there is still some culturally evolved popular suspicion of atheists as less moral than religious believers.  (I have written about this here and here.)


Adams, John. 2000. The Political Writings of John Adams. Ed. George W. Carey. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Darwin, Charles. 1959. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882. Ed. Nora Barlow. New York: W. W. Norton.

Darwin, Charles. 1998. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Darwin, Charles. 2004. The Descent of Man. New York: Penguin Classics.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1984. Writings. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. New York: Library of America.

Jefferson, Thomas. 2011. The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English. With essays by Harry R. Rubenstein, Barbara Clark Smith & Janice Stagnitto Ellis. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

Lutz, Donald, ed. 1998. Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Ross, Fred. 1857. Slavery Ordained of God. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

Spinoza, Benedict de. 2016. Collected Works of Spinoza. Ed. & trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Darwinian Science of the Creator in the Declaration of Independence

Here is the beginning of the second sentence in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable."

Here is that same passage as it appears in the final version: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Although the first version conveys the idea of human beings as created equal and deriving rights from that equal creation, the addition of "by their Creator" in the final version makes it clearer that the agent of creation is the divine Creator.

Here is the last sentence in the first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species published in 1859: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

In the second edition of this book, Darwin added the phrase "by the Creator" after the word "breathed."  Darwin's language here about creation through "breathing" echoes the language of the King James translation of Genesis 2:7--"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."  As in the revision of the Declaration, Darwin's addition of "the Creator" makes the implication clear that there's a divine agent at work in the origin of life.

In the Biblical story of Creation, there seems to be something special about God's creation of human beings, and that human specialness is emphasized by the Bible's declaration that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27).  There is also a suggestion of human specialness in the Declaration's claim that human beings are endowed by their Creator with rights.

In Darwin's text, however, the powers of life were originally breathed by the Creator "into a few forms or into one," implying that human beings were not specially created but rather evolved from lower forms of life.  And, in fact, Darwin explicitly rejects the "theory of special creation"--the theory that the Creator had to miraculously create each species of life separately--in affirming "the theory of natural selection"--Darwin's theory that all living species of life have naturally evolved over millions of years from one or a few primordial forms of life.

The exact dating of creation is not clear either in the Bible or in the Declaration.  "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).  But Genesis does not give us a date for "the beginning." God's acts of creation are said to be spread out over six days, and yet it's not clear whether these are meant to be literal 24-hour days.  In the seventeenth century, Bishop James Ussher tried to calculate the chronology of Biblical history, and he estimated that the "beginning" of creation was 4,004 years before the birth of Christ; so that the whole world was no older than 6,000 years.  But the Bible does not clearly state this.  And the Declaration takes no position on this dating.

Although it was impossible for Darwin to date the history of life precisely, he saw that the natural evolution of all forms of life would require at least hundreds of millions of years.  One of the achievements of geology in the first half of the nineteenth century was reaching a general agreement that the Earth was surely much older than 6,000 years.  Nevertheless, by the beginning of the twentieth centuries, there were some "young-Earth creationists" who defended Ussher's dating, although the "old-Earth creationists" were willing to concede that the geological evidence was against Ussher, and that the "days" of creation in Genesis should be interpreted as "ages" much longer than 24 hours.  William Jennings Bryan, for example, was an old-Earth creationist.

So is the Darwinian science of human evolution compatible with what the Declaration says about the creation of human beings by the Creator?  Well, it depends on what one means by "creation" and "the Creator."  As I have already indicated, there are different kinds of creationism, and while some kinds clearly contradict Darwin's science, some do not--as suggested by Darwin himself in his reference to "the Creator."  A Creator whose creative activity is always against the laws of nature denies Darwin's science.  But a Creator whose creative activity works through the laws of nature--who acts as Nature's God--is compatible with Darwin's science.

There are five kinds of creationism--young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, intelligent-design creationism, evolutionary creationism, and Spinozistic creationism.  Spinozistic creationism is completely compatible with Darwinian science, and evolutionary creationism is largely so.  (I have written about the different kinds of creationism herehere, here, here, here, and here.)

Most scientific creationists today concede that Darwin refuted the "theory of special creation"--the idea that the Creator had to miraculously create every plant and animal species separately.  The Bible speaks of God as creating the "kinds" of life, but these "kinds" are not necessarily all the "species" of life.  Some creation scientists claim that "created kinds" correspond not to "species" but to groups of plants or animals at a taxonomic level higher than species, perhaps at or near the taxonomic rank of family.  So, for example, Todd Wood concedes that Peter and Rosemary Grant have presented convincing evidence for the evolution of diverse species of "Darwin's finches" on the Galapagos Islands as adaptations to the environment of the Galapagos.  But still, Wood argues, all of these species of finches belong to a single "kind" created by God.

Wood also concedes that the human species might have evolved from ancestral primate species, so that human beings and apes might belong to some "kind" that was originally created by God with the genetic potential for evolving into all of the primate species.

Unlike the young-Earth creationists (like Wood), the old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross) concede that the universe is billions of years old, and so Ussher's dating of 6,000 years is false.  But over those billions of years of cosmic history, Ross argues, God had to miraculously intervene at critical points for supernatural creative activity that cannot be reduced to natural evolution.

The evolutionary creationists (or theistic evolutionists) like Francis Collins and Deborah Haarsma believe that God could have acted as First Cause in originally creating the general laws of nature, but then He could have allowed natural evolutionary history to unfold just as evolutionary scientists have explained it, without any need for God to miraculously disrupt the natural order of things.

This is the idea of the metaphysics of dual causality that Darwin introduces in the Origin of Species: God's establishment of general laws constitutes the primary causes of the universe, while the natural scientist studies the secondary causes that govern the observable world. (I have written about this herehere, and here.)

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were familiar with a similar conception of dual causality in Isaac Newton's version of deistic religion.  The universe is a "machine" governed by the mathematical laws of nature.  But God is the "Maker" of the machine.

This Newtonian conception of the "clockmaker God" creates a dilemma, however, for anyone who wants to see God as a transcendent being beyond the immanent order of nature.  As Gottfried Leibniz pointed out in his debate with Samuel Clark, either God must intervene regularly to rewind or repair the clock, which shows that God is an incompetent clockmaker; or the clock works fine all by itself, and God the clockmaker is indistinguishable from God the clock.  If it's the latter, then Newton's God is Spinoza's God, who is the same as Nature.

In one of the most influential statements of Lockean political philosophy in the eighteenth century--Cato's Letters--John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon resolved this debate in favor of Spinoza.  In their essay on how to dispel "superstitious fears" by recognizing that what appear to be miraculous events are probably works of natural causes, they argue:
"The works of Almighty God are as infinite as is his power to do them.  And 'tis paying greater deference to him, and having higher conceptions of his omnipotence, to suppose that he  saw all things which have been, are, or ever shall be, at one view, and formed the whole system of nature with such exquisite contrivance and infinite wisdom, as by its own energy and intrinsick power, to promote all the effects and operations which we daily see, feel, and admire; than to believe him to be often interposing to alter and amend his own work, which was undoubtedly perfect at first" (no. 77, Liberty Fund edition, 2:565).
This same Spinozistic idea of identifying God and Nature was adopted by Darwin.  After reading one of the first copies of The Origin of Species, Charles Kingsley--a prominent clergyman of the Church of England and a friend of Darwin--wrote a letter to Darwin, which included this remark:
"I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."
Darwin wrote to John Murray, his publisher, that Kingsley's "capital sentence" should be inserted into the second edition of Origin, "in answer to anyone who may, as many will, say that my Book is irreligious."  This sentence was introduced into the concluding section of Origin as showing that there is "no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one" (Origin of Species, Modern Library/Random House, 1936, pp. 367-68).

But can the creation of human beings "in the image of God" arise by purely natural evolution without any miraculous intervention by God?  Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis--and Catholics generally--have embraced theistic evolution in conceding that Darwin's theory of evolution has been verified.  But they have also declared that the creation of the human soul requires an "ontological leap" through a miraculous divine act that transcends natural evolution.  (I have written about that here.)

Darwin suggests, however, that even the creation of the soul might be explained by natural evolution. Here is the last sentence of The Descent of Man:
"I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."
Darwin's reference to the "god-like intellect" of human beings suggests that there might be some truth in the biblical idea that human beings bear the image of God.  But still, Darwin argues, all of the "noble qualities" of humanity can be explained as products of a natural evolution from lower animals.

To support this conclusion, Darwin offered evidence of the anatomical, behavioral, and mental similarities between human beings and other animals.  But he also saw that human beings were unique in their capacities for language, self-conscious reflection, and the moral sense.  Now, recent research in evolutionary neuroscience allows us to explain the emergent evolution of the mind in the brain, which includes the human mind's capacity for moral judgment, which allows us to recognize our natural rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson foresaw this, because he studied some of the earliest neurological experiments showing how mental activity was correlated with the stimulation of the brain, which Jefferson took as evidence of how mind arises naturally from the material brain.  This came up in his correspondence with John Adams: "Why may not the mode of action called thought, have been given to a material organ of peculiar structure? as that of magnetism is to the Needle, or of elasticity to the spring by a particular manipulation of the steel?" (letter to Adams, March 14, 1820).  (I have written about this here.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nature's God: The Lucretian, Spinozist, and Darwinian Deity of the Declaration of Independence

It is often claimed that a Darwinian science of human evolution denies the political theory of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence by denying the Declaration's appeal to God as the Creator who has endowed human beings with unalienable rights.  Darwin seemed to clearly deny this when he wrote: "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity, more humble, and I believe true, to consider him created from animals" (1987, 300).  If human beings have been "created from animals," it might seem that they have not been specially created by God in His image and thus endowed with that moral dignity that sets them apart from other animals.

For this reason, William Jennings Bryan (1922, 1924) warned that Darwinian evolution was an assault on the American political theology of the Declaration, which was one of his reasons for joining the prosecution in the famous Scopes trial in 1925, where John Scopes, a public school teacher, was charged with teaching that human beings evolved from a lower animals, in violation of a Tennessee law prohibiting such teaching.

As an alternative to teaching Darwinian evolution, Bryan and his followers have argued for teaching "creation science" or "intelligent design theory."  Proponents of intelligent design have been motivated by their belief that Darwinian evolution promotes a culturally degrading materialism that denies the creationist theology that is foundational not only for American life but for Western civilization in general.  The Discovery Institute, the leading organization promoting intelligent design theory, made this point clear in 1998 in the founding document for its "Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture," which has a reproduction of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" painting on its cover, and which begins:
"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.  Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences."
Thus, the Darwinian denial of the creationist theology of the Declaration of Independence can be seen as a general denial of the whole idea of human rights.  Theorists of human rights like Michael Perry (1998, 2007) have contended that international norms of human rights must be founded on the principle of the sacredness of human life as created in God's image (the subject of a previous post).

Against my argument for "Darwinian liberalism," Adam Seagrave (2011) and many others (Dilley et al. 2013), including the Straussians, have insisted that the Lockean liberal conception of natural rights depends on Locke's creationist anthropology, which is contrary to Darwin's evolutionary science (the subject of posts here and here).

Similarly, Carl Becker in his classic study in 1922 of the Declaration of Independence concluded that modern Darwinian science had refuted the Declaration's recourse to "God or the Transcendent Idea." After all, Becker explained, Darwin had shown how all forms of life could be explained as the result of purely natural material causes:
"When so much the greater part of the universe showed itself amenable to the reign of a purely material natural law, it was difficult to suppose that man (a creature in many respects astonishingly like the higher forms of apes) could have been permitted to live under a special dispensation.  it was much simpler to assume one origin for all life and one law for all growth; simpler to assume that man was only the most highly organized of the creatures (the missing link would doubtless shortly be found), and to think of his history accordingly, as only a more subtly negotiated struggle for existence and survival" (Becker 1941, 274-75).
This dispute over whether Darwinism contradicts the theology of the Declaration depends on how one identifies the God of the Declaration. If one interprets the Declaration's deity as a transcendent creative agent working against the laws of nature in  miraculously endowing human beings with a supernatural soul, that would contradict the Darwinian account of natural human evolution.  But if one interprets the Declaration's deity as an immanent creative power working through the laws of nature for the emergent evolution of human beings, that would be compatible with Darwinian science.  In this case, we could see the appeal in the first sentence of the Declaration to "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as implying that God and Nature are two ways of talking about the same thing.  Nature's God is the God of the deists, the God of Spinoza, a way of talking about God long after the death of God.

One of the first of America's revolutionaries to declare his belief in "Nature's God" was Thomas Young.  In 1770, three years before he would become the instigator of the Boston Tea Party, Young responded to a sermon by the revivalist George Whitefield denouncing American Deists as Satanic atheists.  In the Boston Evening Post (August 27, 1770), Young proudly professed his deist faith in the God who could be known by reasoning about nature rather than from biblical revelation: "That the religion of Nature, more properly stiled the Religion of Nature's God, in latin call'd Deus, hence Deism, is truth, I now boldly defy thee to contest."

To better understand this "Religion of Nature's God," Young recommended "[Alexander] Pope's little Essay on Man, confessedly deduced from the inspiration of Lord Bolingbroke, and perhaps every sentence adopted by me."  Indeed, the first appearance of the term "Nature's God" in English was in Pope's Essay on Man, a philosophical poem published in 1734, where in explaining how "Virtue alone is Happiness below," he observes:
"Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
"But looks thro' Nature, up to Nature's God" (4.331-32)
Echoing the monistic naturalism of Epicurus, Lucretius, and Spinoza, Pope speaks of Nature and God interchangeably, in denying sectarian religion in favor of a natural religion in which "true piety," as Lucretius declared, is not to bow before the gods, but to contemplate nature's wondrous order (On the Nature of Things, 5.1197-1203).

Pope's Essay on Man also shows the first published use of the phrase "science of Human Nature" (Pope 2016, lv, 4).

Pope's book was dedicated to Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751), who became notorious for his posthumously published Philosophical Works that attacked Christianity and promoted an Epicurean and Spinozist atheism or natural religion.  "The law of nature is the law of God," he explained, and therefore the laws of the Bible that contradict nature cannot truly be God's laws.  As a young man, Thomas Jefferson copied this and many other passages from Bolingbroke into his Literary Commonplace Book (sec. 36).

In his private correspondence, Jefferson affirmed his Epicurean materialism: "I too am an Epicurean" (letter to William Short, October 31, 1819).  In his correspondence with John Adams, he rejected the "spiritualism" of traditional Christianity and defended a monistic conception of human nature in which mind is an activity of the physical brain.  (I have written about that here.)  He thought that Jesus was originally a great teacher of natural morality, but then his moral teaching was corrupted by a tradition of Christian miracle-working spiritualism.  He edited his own personal version of the New Testament in which he cut out all of the stories of miracles and of the divinity of Jesus.

Although Jefferson kept all of this private during his lifetime, his published writing--and particularly his Notes on the State of Virginia (written in 1781 and published in 1787)--provided enough evidence for him to be generally identified as an "infidel."  In the presidential election of 1800, ministers published sermons warning Christians not to vote for this "open infidel."  John Mitchell Mason (1991 [originally 1800]) quoted one of the most infamous passages in the Notes on Virginia: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty Gods or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."  Mason identified this as a clear statement of infidelity or atheism, because it affirmed that a society could be founded in atheism, and that religion was not necessary for social order.

Remarkably, Mason said that many Christians in 1800 were saying that "there is no prospect of obtaining a real Christian, and we had better choose an infidel than a hypocrite" (1991, 1468).  His reply was to argue that it was better to vote for hypocrites like George Washington and John Adams--who hide their infidelity behind their professions of religion--than to vote for an open infidel like Jefferson, because at least hypocrites show public respect for religion.  The fact that the Constitution of the United States never mentions God makes it even more imperative, Mason observes, for Christians to elect either Christians or hypocrites rather than open infidels, if there is to be any chance of slowing America's decline into atheism.

But even if Jefferson was infected with the Epicurean infidelity of Lucretius, Spinoza, Bolingbroke, and Pope, one might assume that the political theology of the Declaration of Independence echoes the Christian creationism of John Locke.  But many of Locke's Christian critics--including Bishop Stillingfleet, Leibniz, and William Carroll--accused Locke of hiding his Epicurean and Spinozist infidelity behind his pretensions of orthodox Christianity.  Carroll argued that Locke had advanced a "double View, double Design, intended to fool the pious while promoting Spinozism."  After all, a careful reading of Locke shows his slippery language--sliding between "the laws of God," "the laws of Nature," or "the laws of God and Nature," and moving from "God has designed" to "Nature has designed"--so that his deity looks like Spinoza's: "God or Nature" (see The Second Treatise of Government, secs. 1, 4, 60, 66, 142, 195; Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.9.12, 2.10.3).  (For a meticulous account of how Epicurean naturalism was transmitted through Lucretius, Spinoza, and Locke to the American founders, see Matthew Stewart's book Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.)

How one interprets the theology of the Declaration of Independence is connected with one's interpretation of its Lockean morality of natural rights.  A transcendent conception of the Declaration's deity will support a transcendent conception of its morality, so that its Lockean morality will depend upon the supernatural authority of God's commands as revealed in the Bible.  Consequently, infidelity or atheism will deny that morality.  By contrast, an immanent conception of the Declaration's deity will support an immanent conception if its morality, so that its Lockean morality will depend upon human reason's grasp of a natural moral law known by human experience without any need for supernatural revelation.

The Declaration is open to both interpretations.  The openness to a transcendent deity was enhanced by the changes made to Jefferson's first draft.  In that first draft, "Nature's God" was Jefferson's only reference to a deity.  Later, other members of the Congress added three more references to deity: "they are endowed by their Creator" in the second sentence; "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intensions" in the penultimate sentence; and "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" in the last sentence.  God as Creator, as Supreme Judge, and as Providential Caregiver does suggest a divine agency above or beyond the natural world that might intervene miraculously in the natural world against natural law to serve His purposes, and thus enforcing a transcendent morality.  (On the drafting of the Declaration, see Becker's book.)

So, for example, as I indicated in my previous posts, some American charismatic evangelicals can appeal to "the protection of divine Providence" in their belief that God intervened in the presidential election of 2016 to give Donald Trump a miraculous victory in response to prayers from Christians asking for His aid.

But if one interprets "Nature's God" as the immanent creative power of nature itself, one could affirm a natural Lockean morality rooted in human nature and reason.  That was Jefferson's position in arguing for a natural moral sense that did not necessarily depend on believing in a transcendent God of the Bible who enforced morality with supernatural rewards and punishments.  Darwin agreed with this, and it has been reinforced by recent developments in the evolutionary psychology of morality.

When Jefferson and Adams resumed their correspondence in 1812, after it had broken off during their period of being political opponents, much of what they wrote over the next 15 years was about their hope that Nature's God of the scientific Enlightenment would finally prevail over the priestly superstition enforcing tyranny over the human mind.  In his letter of September 14, 1813, Adams wrote to Jefferson saying that he would be happy to hear that the British Parliament had passed a bill to repeal the provisions of the Toleration Act of 1689 that made it illegal to deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; and he declared:
"The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted.  There can be no Scepticism, Pyrrhonism or Incredulity or Infidelity here.  No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication.  This revelation has made it certain that  two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one.  We can never be so certain of any Prophecy, or the fulfillment of any Prophecy; or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle as We are, from the revelation of nature i.e. nature's God that two and two are equal to four.  Miracles or Prophecies might fright Us out of our Wits; might scare us to death; might induce Us to lie; to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But We should not believe it. We should know the contrary" (Cappon, 1987, p. 373).
Clearly then, Nature's God is not three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but one with Nature itself; and Nature's God is known not by faith in miracles but by human understanding of the natural order of things.

Some of these points are elaborated in posts hereherehere, and here.


Becker, Carl. 1942. The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of  Political Ideas. New York: Random House.

Bryan, William Jennings. 1922. In His Image. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

Bryan, William Jennings. 1924. Seven Questions in Dispute. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

Cappon, Lester J., ed. 1987. The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Darwin, Charles. 1987. Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844. Ed. Paul H. Barrett et al. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Dilley, Stephen, ed. 2013. Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1989. Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book. Ed. Douglas L. Wilson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mason, John Mitchell. 1991 (orig. 1800). "The Voice of Warning to Christians." In Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1447-1476. Ed. Ellis Sandoz. Indianapolis: Liberty Press.

Perry, Michael. 1998. The Idea of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Perry, Michael. 2007. Toward a Theory of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pope, Alexander. 2016. An Essay on Man. Edited and with an Introduction by Tom Jones. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Seagrave. S. Adam. 2011. "Darwin and the Declaration." Politics and the Life Sciences 30: 2-16.

Stewart, Matthew. 2014. Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. New York: Norton.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Is Donald Trump God's Chosen One--Like Cyrus?

Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Holding Up Stephen Strang's Book God and Donald Trump

Lance Wallnau Hears from God in May of 2016 that the 45th Chapter of Isaiah Identifies Trump as the 45h President, God's New Cyrus

If America is a Christian nation chosen by God, and if God providentially enters history to carry out his purposes, is it possible that the miracle of Donald Trump's election in 2016 was an act of God to save America from its decline into secularism?  Many American evangelicals say yes, and they point to the evangelical prophecies of Trump's victory, when almost no one thought he could win.

Although most of us might be skeptical of this, it is true that almost a third of the votes cast for Trump came from evangelical Christians, most of them in the states that were crucial for Trump's electoral college victory.  If many of these evangelical Trump voters were motivated by their belief that Trump really was God's chosen one, then it would seem that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We now have the story of how this prophetic vision of God's providential intervention changed American history in the new book by Stephen Strang--God and Donald Trump--which has been endorsed by evangelical politicians such as Mike Huckebee and Michelle Bachmann.  In the picture above, you can see Trump proudly waving his copy of the book at the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Strang is a leading Pentecostal evangelical who publishes Charisma magazine, and part of his story is how the Pentecostals were the first Christians to support Trump.  As early as 2003, Paula White Cain, a Pentecostal television minister, became Trump's spiritual advisor after he had seen her TV show.

Here is a video of Cain and other charismatic ministers laying hands on and praying for Trump in his Trump Tower office on September 30, 2015, six months before the first presidential primaries:

This appeals to the grandiose narcissism of Trump's chimpanzee personality, which has been a topic of my post here.

Christians like Strang who believe that Trump's election came from a miraculous intervention by God must make at least two kinds of arguments--an interpretation of the American founding and an interpretation of the Bible.

First, they must argue that the American founders established America as a Christian nation specially chosen by God to be under his providential care.  So, Strang refers to "Benjamin Franklin's surprising declaration during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when he said famously, 'God governs in the affairs of men'" (xiv).  And Strang says that the purpose of his book in telling the story of God's intervention in the election of 2016 is to confirm this idea "that God is involved in the affairs of men" (184).

Remarkably, however, Strang is silent about the circumstances of Franklin's declaration at the Constitutional Convention.  Franklin was proposing that the Convention should have daily prayers and Bible reading so that God would providentially intervene to help them write the Constitution.  The members of the Convention refused to even allow a vote on his proposal, and Alexander Hamilton quipped that they "had no need for foreign aid"!  I have written about this previously here.

Christians like Strang must also argue that identifying Trump as God's chosen one is consistent with the Bible.  Is there any evidence in the Bible that God would choose someone like Trump--who is not a Christian--to act as the savior of God's people?  Well, yes, as Lance Wallnau explains in the video above, God could chose Trump just as God chose the pagan Persian Cyrus as his "anointed one" or "messiah" to liberate the people of Israel from their Babylonian captivity.  In fact, God spoke to Wallnau and noted the connection between the 45th chapter of Isaiah and Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States.  In that chapter of Isaiah, God speaks to Cyrus as his "anointed one," although "you do not know me."  Although Cyrus does not worship Yahweh--he worships other gods--Yahweh can use him for his purposes.  Likewise, then, God could use Trump to bring America back to God even if Trump himself is not a believer.  And that is what many evangelicals decided: Trump's sinful character and lack of any clear belief in Christianity need not weaken his claim to be chosen by God to carry out God's plan for saving America from Hillary Clinton!

There is a problem here, however, that Strang briefly mentions and then passes over without resolving it (75-76).  As the evangelical Tom Horn has pointed out, God used the pagan leader Nebuchadnezzar as "the servant of the Most High God" to punish Judah by taking them into the very Babylonian captivity from which Cyrus would later liberate them (Jeremiah 25).  So if God is using Trump, we can't be sure whether Trump is to be America's savior (like Cyrus) or America's punishment (like Nebuchadnezzar).  And indeed many Christians who refused to vote for Trump worry that the Christians supporting Trump are showing a shameless lack of moral authority.  Is God punishing these Christians for their hypocrisy?

There is another problem for the Christian here: if Cyrus was the "messiah," does that deny the claim of Jesus that he was the fulfillment of these prophecies in Isaiah?  As I have indicated in a previous post, that's a problem for Handel's Messiah, which was an attempt to refute the deistic denial of providential prophecy.

And, of course, there is the fundamental problem with all claims of prophecy that they are stated in such vague and confused ways that they cannot be verified, or if some seem to be verified, they are mixed up with others that are falsified.

Consider, for example, this claim by Strang: "As far back as 2007, the late Kim Clement had prophesized, 'Trump shall become a trumpet. . . . I  will raise up the Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial stream for the church.' The first has come true, but we'll have to wait and see about the second part" (69).

The first prophecy is ridiculously vague: "Trump shall become a trumpet"?  The second prophecy that Bill Gates will give his money to the church is false.

If you go to Kim Clement's Elijah's List for April 14, 2007, which is Strang's source, you will see that Clement issued hundreds of prophecies every year, most of them in vague language, and most of them have not been plausibly fulfilled.  Here is the passage from which Strang quoted an excerpt:
"I am God and you have called to Me, and many from this Nation has said, 'Enough--enough of religion, and enough of dead speech.'  The Spirit of God said, 'This is a moment of resurrection.'  For the Spirit of God says, 'Honor Me with your praise and acceptance of this that  I say to you.  This that shall take place shall be the most unusual thing, a transfiguration, a going into the marketplace if you wish, and into the news media.  Where Time magazine will have no choice but to say what I want them to say; Newsweek what I want to say; and The View, what I want to say.'"
"'Trump shall become a trumpet,' says  the Lord!  'I will raise up Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial realm for the Church,' says the Spirit of the Living God!'"
It's been 11 years now since the Spirit of God prophesized that Time, Newsweek, and ABC's The View would become outlets for God's message.  How long should we wait for the fulfillment of this  prophecy?  Strang is carefully silent about this and many other dubious prophecies from Clement.

Many of us find it hard to take this stuff seriously.  But many evangelical Christians do take it seriously.  For example, Strang reports that during the 2016 election, Cindy Jacobs, a Charismatic prophet, mobilized tens of thousands of people to "prayer walk" through the seven critical states that helped to elect Trump (20-21).  These "prayer warriors" walked around courthouses and centers of towns praying for God's intervention in the election.  We cannot ignore the fact that many of the millions of evangelical Christians who voted for Trump could have done so with the belief that he was God's chosen one; and if so, that would mean that this belief in divine intervention could have been the deciding factor in giving the presidential election to Trump.

As an alternative to the view of God as a providential interventionist in the world, which creates these problems, we might consider returning to the deism of the American founders, whose deity was not the God of the Bible but Nature's God.  That's the topic for my next post.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Does IQ Inequality Deny the Declaration of Independence?

When I first began thinking as a college student about how a Darwinian science of evolved human nature might provide the foundation for political philosophy, I noticed that such thinking provoked vehement scorn in the academic world; and I worried that pursuing this line of thinking would make it impossible for me to have a successful academic career.  But now as I look back over my lifetime, and see how this debate over Darwinian social science has changed, I am astonished at how much the debate has shifted in favor of the Darwinian position, because the weight of the accumulating evidence supporting Darwinian social science has become too great to ignore.  One of the most dramatic examples of this is the history of the debate over the science of intelligence as measured by IQ.

In 1969, in my junior year at the University of Dallas, Arthur Jensen published a long article in the Harvard Educational Review--"How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?"  He answered his question in the first sentence: "Compensatory education has been tried, and it apparently has failed."  In the United States and elsewhere, children from lower class families were not as successful on average as children from higher class families.  The lower class children seemed to be less intelligent on average, as measured by their low scores on IQ tests.  Since it was commonly assumed that human intelligence, like most other human capabilities, was shaped mostly, if not entirely, by the social environment, public policy makers believed that if lower class children were given advanced educational opportunities at an early age (such as the Head Start program in the U.S.), this would raise their intelligence so that they would show the same scholastic achievement as the upper class children.  Jensen's survey of the evidence that this had failed, and that the failure was due to genetically innate differences in intelligence that could not be easily changed by environmental factors, provoked outrage: he was denounced as a racist and a fascist.  His teaching and his lectures were disrupted by violent protests, and many people demanded that he be fired from his job at the University of California-Berkeley.  Jensen had provoked this anger because he had challenged the egalitarian claim of left liberalism that human beings are born with equal capacities that can be cultivated in any direction by the social environment of their early childhood.

In September of 1971, when I was beginning my graduate work at the University of Chicago, Richard Herrnstein published an article in The Atlantic entitled "I.Q."  Two years later, he expanded his article into a book--I.Q. in the Meritocracy.  Like Jensen, he argued that while general intelligence (g) as measured by IQ tests was shaped by both genes and environment, the variation in intelligence was due mostly to genes--perhaps as much as 80%. Moreover, he claimed that in modern liberal societies, which strive to remove the social and legal obstacles to social mobility, actual social mobility would be blocked by the innate human differences in intelligence.  When people are free to rise and fall by their own merit, they will sort themselves out according to their innate differences.  So societies that increase equality of opportunity for everyone will inevitably produce an unequal class structure where the smartest people will be the ruling class.

This tendency to meritocracy with a cognitive elite is strengthened by the growing complexity of modern societies in which the most highly paid and prestigious occupations require people who can handle cognitively challenging tasks, so that high IQ is correlated with economic success.  Thus, the class structure in an open liberal society will be built on natural human inequalities.

Herrnstein put his argument into the form of a syllogism:

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and
2. If success requires those abilities, and
3. If earnings and prestige depend on success,
4. Then social standing (which reflects earnings and prestige) will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people (I.Q. in the Meritocracy, 198-199).

Herrnstein thought this had profound implications for political philosophy, because it refuted "the egalitarian society of our philosophical heritage" (221), a heritage that included not only Marxism but also the Declaration of Independence.  Both the Communist Manifesto and the Declaration of Independence had affirmed the "vision of a classless society," but Herrnstein seemed to show that we were not moving to a classless society.  If he was right, then the arbitrary barriers to social mobility in a traditional aristocracy will be replaced by the biological barriers to social mobility in a modern meritocracy.

This bothered me because I was not willing to give up on the Lockean liberal principle of equal liberty as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  I wondered whether there could be a Darwinian defense of this principle.

But while I was open to Herrnstein's reasoning, it seemed that most people in the academic world were not.  Like Jensen, he was subjected to angry persecution.  As a result of this, the scientific study of intelligence became a taboo subject.  Only a few people continued this research, and it was often hard for them to find the necessary funding.

Then, in 1994, the controversy was reignited by the publication of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, coauthored by Herrnstein and Charles Murray.  Herrnstein died before the publication of the book, so Murray was left to face the vitriolic attacks that it elicited.  As usual, he was denounced as a racist and a fascist.

The mob violence against Murray last year at Middlebury College shows that the Darwinian science of intelligence is still taboo for many professors and students.  And yet, it seems to me that in general the angry resistance is not as great as it once was, because the research on the genetic basis of intelligence has become so impressive that it has to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the best recent survey of that research is Richard Haier's The Neuroscience of Intelligence (Cambridge University Press), published last year. Haier shows the overwhelming evidence that has accumulated over 40 years supporting the genetic basis of intelligence.  He stresses the most impressive evidence coming from neuroimaging that now allows us to see how IQ scores are correlated with the structure and functioning of the brain, which has been Haier's area of research.

He shows how the correlations among mental tests point to the existence of an underlying general factor of intelligence that is called g.  People who do well on one test tend to do well on other tests.  This holds for tests of reasoning, spatial ability, memory, processing speed, and vocabulary.

He also shows that these tests have great predictive validity.  High IQ scores at an early age predict educational achievement, professional success, income, and healthy aging.  He also emphasizes the importance of general intelligence for everyday life.  The complexity of everyday life is challenging, and people with low IQs are less successful in managing the challenges of life.  For example, we can compare low and high IQ groups--the low having IQs of 75-90, the high having IQs of 110-125.  People in the low group are 133 times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to be a chronic welfare recipient, 7.5 times more likely to be incarcerated, 6.2 times more likely to live in poverty, and 3 times more likely to die in a traffic accident.  People who are not smart have a hard time navigating their way through the complex cognitive challenges of everyday life.  It really is better to be smart.

The twin and adoption studies of intelligence consistently show that genes cannot account for 100% of the variance.  So there are environmental factors involved.  But then the problem is estimating the relative contributions of genes and environment.  Different studies give different proportions, with the most common view being about 50-50.  The explanation for these different outcomes might be the age at which the twins are tested, because the heritability of IQ in identical twins increases with age--from about 30% at age 5 to over 80% starting at age 18.  So for young children environmental factors explain most of the variance, while for older children genes explain most of the variance.  That's why enhanced educational programs for young lower class children do sometimes raise their IQ scores for a few years, but then this improvement disappears as they grow older.

That such IQ differences are rooted in our evolutionary history is indicated by the fact that other mammalian animals also show IQ differences.  Studies of genetically diverse mice learning various kinds of tasks show a g-factor intelligence.  Mice show a bell curve of individual differences, so that some mice are innately smarter than others as shown in their diverse learning abilities (Matzel et al., 2003, 2013).  Similarly, chimpanzees show individual variability in heritable intelligence (Hopkins et al., 2014).  We might explain this through the "social brain" hypothesis: for animals that live in complex societies, there is an evolutionary pressure favoring the cognitive ability to navigate through a complex social world.

But the most impressive recent evidence confirming the evolved biological nature of intelligence comes from improvements in the technology of neuroimaging that allow us to see the structural and functional patterns in individual human brains that are correlated with intelligence.

For centuries, scientists have tried to correlate brain size and intelligence, with the thought that bigger brains allow higher intelligence.  Now we know from many MRI studies, that there is indeed a correlation between brain size and intelligence test scores, although the correlation is modest--average correlations ranging from .22 to .40 (McDaniel, 2005).

Another general conclusion from neuroimaging studies is that all brains do not work in the same way. Every individual brain is different, and the patterns differ according to age and sex.  Young brains operate differently from old brains.  And male brains operate differently from female brains.  There are differences in the density and organization of the white matter fibers that connect the areas of the brain.  There are also differences in amount of gray matter (the clusters of neurons) in different areas of the brain.

Amazingly, these individual differences are so distinctive that fMRI imaging can identify the unique pattern of connectivity among brain areas n an individual brain as a kind of brain fingerprint.  And these brain fingerprints can predict intelligence (Finn et al., 2015).

Neuroimaging has also supported the general conclusion that intelligence is not concentrated in one part of the brain, such as the frontal lobes.  Rather, intelligence is correlated with a distributed network of different areas of the brain.  Haier has concluded that the brain areas connected with intelligence are mostly concentrated in the parietal and frontal areas, which are areas associated with memory, attention, and language.  So he has defended a "Parietal-Frontal Integration Theory" of intelligence (Jung and Haier 2007).

Haier concludes that all of this research supports Herrnstein's original claim in 1971: a liberal society that removes the legal and political obstacles to social mobility will allow the biological differences in intelligence among individuals to be expressed in a class structure of meritocracy based on innate intelligence with a cognitive elite at the top.

Against this conclusion is all of the research that apparently shows that it's not genes but social-economic status (SES) that determines social success or failure.  The children of parents with high SES tend to be more successful than the children of parents with low SES.  The flaw in this research, however, Haier argues, is that it ignores how SES is confounded with intelligence, because SES has a strong genetic component (Lubinski, 2009; Trzaskowski et al., 2014).

To explain this point, Haier asks us to consider two alternative trains of thought.  The common train of thought about the importance of SES goes this way:
"Higher income allows upward mobility, especially the ability to move from poor environments to better ones. Better neighborhoods typically include better schools and more resources to foster children's development so that children now have many advantages.  If the children have high intelligence and greater academic and economic success, it could be concluded that higher SES was the key factor driving this chain of events."
An alternative train of thought favored by Haier and Herrnstein goes this way:
"Generally, people with higher intelligence get jobs that require more of the g-factor, and these jobs tend to pay more money.  There are many factors involved, but empirical research shows g is the single strongest predictive factor for obtaining high-paying jobs that require complex thinking.  Higher income allows upward mobility, especially the ability to move from poor environments to better ones.  This often includes better schools and more resources to foster children's development so that children now have many advantages.  If the children have high intelligence and greater academic and economic success, it could be concluded that higher parental intelligence was the key factor driving this chain of events due in large part to the strong genetic influences on intelligence" (192).
This second scenario is strengthened by the fact of assortative mating.  Over the past 60 years, very intelligent women have been able to move into high levels of advanced education and professional training--opportunities denied to women in the past.  As one result of this, many highly intelligent men and women meet in colleges and universities and marry, and then they pass on their high IQ genes to their children.  They also become "power couples" with high double-income wealth.  This is exactly the sorting out of people based on intelligence that Herrnstein foresaw.

The point here is that yes, of course, SES is an important factor in determining social and economic success; but SES includes a genetic component of innate intelligence.

This leads Haier to some disturbing conclusions that he identifies as "neuro-poverty" and "neuro-social-economic status."  Living in poverty is to some significant degree rooted in the neurobiology of low intelligence that is beyond anyone's control.  Similarly, living in the highest social and economic classes is to some significant degree rooted in the neurobiology of high intelligence that is beyond anyone's control.

There is one optimistic possibility, however.  Even though the neurobiology of intelligence is today "beyond anyone's control," because so far there is no proven scientific treatment for enhancing innate intelligence, Haier does foresee that sometime in the future, scientists might find ways to enhance intelligence through genetic engineering, drug therapy, or neuromicrochips.

But until that happens, we are left with the disturbing conclusion that many people lack the innate intelligence to be very successful in life through no fault of their own.  Some people do better than others in the natural genetic lottery, which is not based on merit.

So does this deny the principle of equal liberty in the Declaration of Independence?  How can people have equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if in fact their place in the social class system depends to a large extent on their genetically inherited cognitive abilities?

In 1981, I took up this problem in the first conference paper that I wrote on Darwinian political theory.  It was entitled "Charles Darwin and the Declaration of Independence," and it was presented at the national convention of the American Political Science Association in Denver.  In 1984, a revised version of this paper was published as "Darwin, Aristotle, and the Biology of Human Rights" in Social Science Information (vol. 23, no. 3).

I argued that Darwinian biology can recognize that the equality of all human beings as possessing a common human nature is fully consistent with the inequality of human beings due to their different natural endowments.  The reality of biological species is such that members of the same species share a common nature despite their individual differences.  This is the modern biological justification for the Lockean claim that although human beings are naturally unequal in many respects, they are equal in certain rights by virtue of their human propensity to assert their right to pursue their interests in life.

The equality of rights in the Declaration of Independence is an equality of opportunity but not an equality of results.  Herrnstein was wrong to suggest that Jefferson wanted a classless society.  As Jefferson indicated, he was hope for a "natural aristocracy" of "virtue and talents" rather than an "artificial aristocracy" of "wealth and birth."  As Murray indicated in the last chapter of The Bell Curve ("A Place for Everyone"), this Jeffersonian "natural aristocracy" looks a lot like what he and Herrnstein see as a meritocracy.

I elaborated this last point in some of my previous posts on Murray, IQ, and human biodiversity here, herehereherehereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.


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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Does Watching TV Make Nietzsche's Last Man Smarter?

In my last post, I commented on Ronald Beiner's Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right.  I challenged him to present some empirical evidence supporting Nietzsche's claim that liberalism throws everyone into the degraded and spiritless life of the "last man."  In one of his comments on the post, Beiner responded with a question: "Have you watched American TV recently?" 

Of course, this is the standard response of intellectuals who insist that the cultural degradation of bourgeois liberalism is clear in popular culture--particularly, American TV.  But where's the empirical evidence to support this assertion?  We have had experience with over 70 years of regular network television broadcasting.  If Nietzsche's "last man" critique of liberalism is correct, then we could predict that there has been a steady decline in the cognitive complexity of TV programming over these years--from dumb to dumber.  This is a testable prediction.

Since I was born in the United States in 1949, just when families were beginning to purchase television sets for the first time, I grew up during the "golden age" of network television broadcasting, so I can remember "The Honeymooners," "I Love Lucy," and "The Lone Ranger."  Channel surfing today, I occasionally jump to some reruns of these original shows on Nick At Nite.  But I don't watch them for long, because they're so boring!  If I do watch them for a while, it's only to laugh at them for how dumb they were.  Haven't we all had the same experience?  Doesn't this suggest that we have become accustomed to more recent television programming that is more entertaining for us than the first shows, because the new shows are more cognitively challenging?  If so, then either we are becoming smarter, or TV is making us smarter, or both.  And if that is so, then our culture in our liberal society is becoming smarter, which contradicts the Nietzschean last man prediction of a dumbing down culture.

This subjective impressionistic evidence can be confirmed by some objective quantifiable evidence that TV shows have been increasing in their cognitive complexity.  In 2005, Steven Johnson published his book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.  An excerpt from the book was published as an article in The New York Times with the title "Watching TV Makes You Smarter."  He argued that contrary to the common assumption that mass popular culture is always declining to lower standards, culture is actually becoming more cognitively demanding, as illustrated by TV programming.  He pointed out that programming on TV is increasing in its demands on our mental capacities, as indicated by increasing complexity in three elements: multiple threading, flashing arrows, and social networks.

Multiple threading refers to the multiplicity of narrative threads in a TV show.  In the 1950s, a typical episode of "Dragnet" had only one story line--crime scene, investigation, cracking of the case--with only two or three main characters.  In the 1980s, an episode of "Hill Street Blues" would have as many as 10 story lines interweaving with many primary characters; and each episode would pick up a few threads from previous episodes and leave some threads open at the end.  In contrast to "Dragnet," viewers had to mentally sort out a complex narrative structure with a complex collection of characters and a complex subject matter.  Later, shows like "The Sopranos" and "ER" became even more complex--with more simultaneous threads, more characters, and more complex subjects.

The flashing arrow is Johnson's term for what he calls narrative hand-holding.  The movie "Student Bodies" was a parody of slasher movies like "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th."  In one scene, the teenage baby sitter hears a noise, opens the door of the house, sees nothing, and then goes back into the house as the door shuts behind her.  The camera swoops in on the doorknob, and we see the door is unlocked: there's a flashing arrow on the screen and the words "Unlocked!"  That's a parody of what popular stories often do: a script inserts someone to tell the viewer some important information for the plot.  Today, popular TV shows don't rely as much on such flashing arrows, thus leaving viewers to figure out what's going on for themselves, which appeals to the mind's pleasure in solving puzzles.

The third element of growing complexity is in social networks.  Much of story telling is about exploring the complexity of social life.  How are these characters related to one another?  What is motivating them?  Are they deceived about one another?  What are their underlying strategies?  Modern TV shows increasing  force viewers to probe ever deeper social complexity to figure out what is going on.

Moreover, Johnson suggests, the greater cognitive complexity of TV shows today makes them more profitable, because now people can watch TV shows multiple times through reruns and see nuances that were not clear in the first viewing.  There are even fan sites on the Internet where fans can comment on the shows.  Think about "The Game of Thrones," for example.  Or the Socratic comedy of "The Simpsons." (Thousands of students at the University of California at Berkeley have been introduced to the history of philosophy through a course on "The Simpsons and Philosophy.")

We might explain this through an evolutionary science of liberalism.  First, we have evolved to be storytelling animals (as Jonathan Gottschall has said), because storytelling is an evolved adaptation of the human mind for mentally simulating the complex problems of social life and imagining how best to navigate through that social complexity.  Popular culture like TV is largely entertaining storytelling that appeals to that evolved adaptation.  And in the every growing social complexity of a liberal pluralist society, embracing millions of individuals cooperating and competing with one another in spontaneous orders without any central planning, the storytelling becomes ever more cognitively challenging.

Another part of this is the amazing increase in average intelligence (as measured by IQ) in liberal societies over the past hundred years, which is called the Flynn Effect (for James Flynn, who has written about it).  Apparently, liberal societies have brought increasing levels of education, and particularly the cognitive challenges of scientific education, which really has brought "Enlightenment," as people in liberal social orders have become smarter.  And this increasing intelligence has brought with it increasing moral intelligence, which Steven Pinker has identified as the "moral Flynn effect."  (I have written about his in posts here, and here.)

"Have you watched American TV recently?"  Well, yes, we might answer, and we can see evidence there that the "last man" of American liberal culture is far smarter than Nietzsche predicted.