Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Reply to Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary shares a blog on "intelligent design" with Bill Dembski. Recently, she wrote a post criticizing some of my arguments, which can be found here.

It is hard to respond to her comments because she tries so hard to be humorous that I'm not sure that she's serious about anything she says. But here goes . . .

"Family values conservatives" cannot accept Darwinian conservatism, she claims, because they must reject the reductionisitic materialism of Darwinism. "They believe that mind comes first and produces matter. Darwin and his followers believe that matter comes first and produces mind."

In Chapter 8 of Darwinian Conservatism, I have rejected both reductionism and dualism, while arguing for a Darwinian account of the soul or mind as an emergent product of the brain. Some religious conservatives object to this idea of the soul as the emergent capacity of the brain, because they think that the spiritual freedom and dignity of the human soul as the image of God requires that the soul be immaterial and separable from the body. But I have suggested that Biblical religion points to an emergent unity of body and mind in the Biblical teaching that immortality requires a resurrection of the body to sustain the soul (I Corinthians 15).

O'Leary rejects this by claiming that orthodox Christians must believe that the immortal soul is utterly free from the body. She cites Revelation 6:9, but she ignores the fact that the souls referred to in that passage are destined to come back to life through the resurrection of their bodies (Revelation 20:4-6).

In assuming that the perfection of the soul requires a complete separation from the body, O'Leary implicitly adopts the Gnostic heresy that denied the resurrection of the body. This heresy was rejected by orthodox Christians like Augustine (City of God, bk. 22, chaps. 15-16, 25) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, suppl., qu. 75, a. 1; qu. 81, a. 1). The resurrection of the body of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection of the believers affirm the goodness in the unity of body and mind. As Aquinas indicated, "the soul is united to the body as form to matter."

My point, again, is that the Biblical teaching of resurrection is compatible with a conception of the soul/mind as emergent from the body/brain. O'Leary's Cartesian dualism of mind and body rejects this tradition of Biblical thought.

O'Leary also repeats the common claim that Darwinian science supports all of the immoral policies associated with "social Darwinism." My response can be found in Chapter 9 of Darwinian Conservatism and in various posts on this blog. To associate Darwinian science with Nazi eugenics and genocide requires a gross distortion of what Darwin actually said and what his science requires. In fact, even Richard Weikart has admitted that there is no direct line "from Darwin to Hitler," although the crude rhetoric of social Darwinism exploited vague slogans of evolution to support morally reprehensible conclusions. One might as well cite Martin Luther's virulent anti-Semitism and then conclude that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's genocide.

In Chapter 3 of Darwinian Conservatism, I argue that Darwin's account of family life as rooted in human biological nature supports "family values." O'Leary rejects this conclusion, but since she doesn't indicate where she thinks I have gone wrong in my reasoning in that chapter, she doesn't give me anything to which I can respond.

She writes: "Darwinism predicts absolutely nothing of substance for family values, which normally derive from philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships. This is true whether given beliefs are widely held or wisely held or linked in any obvious way to health, wealth, or fertility."

I don't understand what she's saying here. It would help me understand if she could explain what she means by "philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships." I would say that such "beliefs" about family life must be judged by how well they conform to human nature. So, for example, if monogamy is good, it's because in the long run it satisfies the natural sexual, conjugal, and parental desires of human beings in such as way as to promote human flourishing. She seems to reject such reasoning, but I am not sure what alternative kind of reasoning she is proposing.

7 comments:

Derek Copold said...

I'm impressed. I was about to point out that very article from Summa Theologica. Humans, St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, are unique from animals because of their rational soul, but unique from angels because of their material bodies. A full human is a marriage of body and mind.

Anonymous said...

As Aquinas indicated, "the soul is united to the body as form to matter."

And he knew that souls are real how?
O well, I guess it just seems that way, huh?

Was he also saying that my dog doesn't have a soul? He won't go to heaven? Hey, my dog cares about me and loves me. It's self-evident that he has a soul. Just as it's self-evident that you and I have souls. I should say that it's equally self-evident.

Larry Arnhart said...

Well, yes, Aquinas would say--rightly, I think--your dog does have a soul, although not the rational soul of a human being.

A Darwinian understanding of the human mind as an emergent activity of the primate brain accepts the common-sense judgment that other animals have conscious experience, even if the human capacity for conceptual abstraction surpasses the mental experience of other animals.

Arden Chatfield said...

Was he also saying that my dog doesn't have a soul? He won't go to heaven? Hey, my dog cares about me and loves me. It's self-evident that he has a soul. Just as it's self-evident that you and I have souls. I should say that it's equally self-evident.

It's also self-evident that the sun goes around the earth.

DaveScot said...

It's also self-evident that the sun goes around the earth.

Oh please, not that tired canard. It's self-evident the earth rotates about an axis. You 19th century chance worshippers need to get a new schtick.

Derek Copold said...

And he knew that souls are real how?

IIRC, the idea of soul in his scheme is related to the body like eyesight is to the eye. It's the operation of the body drawn from it's four causes: material, formal, efficient and final.

Now, normally, when the body ceases so does the soul, as with animals. In humans, Thomas argues, this isn't the case because the rational soul is capable of understanding abstractions and absolutes, and thus partakes of their nature and can exist independent of the body.

This is a bit hazy and from memory, so if I'm wrong, I'm sure Dr. Arnhart can correct me or fill in the gaps.

Derek Copold said...

It's also self-evident that the sun goes around the earth.

The belief in geocentricity was not based on its being "self-evident." It was because the heliocentric models of the time failed to explain celestial movement. The Ptolemaic system, with all its flaws, worked.