Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sam Brownback's Intelligent Design Theory

Senator Sam Brownback has an op-ed piece in today's New York Times entitled "What I Think About Evolution." In the debate among the Republican presidential candidates earlier this month in California, he was one of the three candidates who indicated that they did not accept the theory of evolution. This article is his attempt to clarify his position.

As one could have easily predicted, he endorses what is essentially "intelligent design theory," as promoted by the Discovery Institute. He accepts the fact of "microevolution" as "small changes over time within a species." But he rejects any evolutionary explanation of the emergence of new species from ancestral species. By implication, then, he believes that God created each species separately. He does not explain when, where, or how God did this. He does suggest, however, that God did not necessarily have to do this in "six 24-hour days." This is the way that ID proponents try to separate themselves from literal biblical creationists.

As should be clear from many of my posts, I agree with Brownback that there is no necessary conflict between science and religion. But I do dispute his assertion that science cannot provide "an understanding of values, meaning and purpose," which can only come from religious faith. He thus implies that a natural understanding of the world cannot discover "values, meaning and purpose," so that skeptics or atheists must live without "values, meaning and purpose." He thereby rejects any conception of natural moral law as comprehensible both to religious believers and nonbelievers. He leaves us wondering whether there is any natural ground for "values, meaning and purpose," and thus implies a kind of religious nihilism in which nature apart from God is meaningless.

Brownback does not explain whether he believes that all religions support the proper "values, meaning and purpose," or whether only certain religious traditions do this.

By contrast to Brownback, my argument is that although healthy religious belief can be important in reinforcing morality, there is a natural morality rooted in evolved human nature that can stand on its own even without belief in revelation. To me this seems to be the fundamental precondition for any free society with religious liberty that leaves people free to express their transcendental longings for cosmic purposefulness, with the confident assumption that we can agree on the natural grounds of morality even if we cannot agree on any cosmic teleology.

Mark Henrie's Traditionalist Conservatism

I have defended Darwinian conservatism as a fusion of libertarian conservatism and traditionalist conservatism. Libertarians like Timothy Sandefur have objected that my Darwinian science supports libertarianism but not traditional conservatism. My responses to Sandefur can be found here, here, and here. In general, I have found that traditionalist conservatives are far more suspicious of Darwinian conservatism than are libertarians. And I am sure that Sandefur would say that that confirms his argument. But I persist in my thought that American conservatism really does require a fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism, and that Darwinian science sustains that fusion by supporting the common ground of conservative thought, which is a conception of human nature as imperfect in knowledge and virtue.

Mark Henrie has written an excellent essay on traditionalist conservatism, which can be found here. Much of what I have written in response to Sandefur would apply to Henrie as well.

Although Henrie stresses the differences between the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk and the classical liberalism or libertarianism of John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Hayek, Henrie acknowledges that Burke was a Whig, and that Kirk's Burkean tradition is actually a "liberal conservatism" that combines liberty and tradition. To me, this points to conservative fusionism. Despite their personal disagreements, Hayek and Kirk had much in common. After all, Hayek identified himself as a Burkean Whig. And this commonality between Hayek and Kirk was similar to the commonality between Adam Smith and Burke.

Henrie speaks about the need for "boxing in liberalism," which resembles Peter Lawler's phrase about "putting Locke in the Locke box." A traditionalist like Henrie is not a complete reactionary (like Joseph de Maistre), who would go back to medieval absolutism and theocracy. But neither is he a complete liberal who erects liberal individualism as the only principle of the good. Henrie writes: "Liberal conservatism does not dogmatically reject the role of individual consent in politics, but nevertheless retains a conviction that the human world cannot be wholly reconceived or reconstructed on that principle."

I agree with this, and I would say that this is what Hayek called "true individualism" as opposed to "false individualism." "True individualism" recognizes the need for private property, religious liberty, and limited government as conforming to the imperfections of human nature. We cannot trust anyone with absolute power, which tends to corrupt. But individual liberty is a means rather than an end. It provides the conditions within which human beings can pursue the human good as the satisfaction of their natural human desires. Darwinian science confirms this by showing that human beings by nature pursue a wide range of natural desires, and thus a good society is one that allows human beings to pursue that human good.

As Henrie indicates, a traditionalist conservative believes that the pursuit of the human good requires family life, moral education, religious belief, and private property. Darwinian conservatism shows how those conditions are rooted in the evolved nature of human beings.

Henrie indicates that traditionalist conservatives like Kirk often expressed a nostalgic sympathy for the cause of the antebellum South. And yet he insists that Southern conservatives do not lament the passing of slavery. Is that true? Kirk often praised John C. Calhoun, and Calhoun praised slavery as a "positive good." In fact, he insisted, the liberty of the slaveholders depended on the existence of slavery. Did Kirk ever denounce slavery? Did he ever explain why the proslavery Southerners were wrong? Did he ever indicate how they were mistaken in appealing to Biblical religion as supporting slavery? Why is Henrie so evasive about this great moral issue?

With respect to foreign affairs, Henrie suggests that traditionalist conservatives are suspicious of the Wilsonian idealism and messianic rhetoric that have led to the Iraq war. But, again, here is another point of agreement with the libertarian conservatives, because they too have been deeply skeptical about the democratic imperialism of Bush's foreign policy. And, as I have indicated in various posts on this blog, Darwinian conservatism would tend to recognize the Iraq war as a utopian folly that caters to the glory-seeking ambition of the presidency--or what Harvey Mansfield foolishly praises as "manly nihilism."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Creation Museum

As a Southern Baptist kid growing up in Texas, I was taught that every good Baptist should read through the entire Bible at least once a year. So I methodically added up all the chapters in the Bible and divided by 365 to see how many chapters I had to read each day. For three years, I began each New Year's Day by reading the opening chapters of Genesis, and I began each December 31st by reading the last chapters of Revelation. Of course, I read only the King James Translation, because Southern Baptists knew that this was the only divinely inspired English translation of the Bible.

I remember one New Year's Day noticing the date at the top of the first page of my Bible: "4004 B.C." I wondered where this came from, because I couldn't see this date given anywhere in the Biblical text. Years later, I learned that this date was set by James Ussher, who was an Anglican Archbishop in 17th century Ireland. In his book "Annals of the Old Testament," he had used chronological evidence from the Bible and from ancient historical texts to infer an exact chronology of the history of the world that began with the Creation of the world in 4,004 B.C.

I have been reminded of this by the news stories about the opening of the "Creation Museum" in Kentucky built by the "Answers in Genesis" organization directed by Ken Ham. Two good articles can be found
here and here. The website for "Answers in Genesis" can be found here. A good article on Ussher's chronology by Stephen Jay Gould can be found here.

Ken Ham is a leader of the Biblical literalists who read the book of Genesis as a science textbook that proves that Darwinian science must be false. Following Ussher's chronology, Ham believes this Biblical science shows how everything was created in 4004 B.C. and how almost all of the fossil record and the geology of the earth was shaped by the catastrophe of Noah's flood in 2348 B.C. So all of the scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old must be false. And since human beings were created on the same day as the animals, all of the scientific evidence for species existing before the emergence of human beings must be false. So, for example, human beings must have coexisted with dinasaurs. Ham's museum presents this story in dramatic ways. Although I have not seen the museum, I have seen Ham present his vision at a convention for Illinois homeschooling parents meeting at my university a few summers ago. In fact, much of the homeschooling movement is motivated by the desire of parents to teach Biblical creation science as an alternative to Darwinian evolution.

The reasoning of people like Ham is often remarkably clever. For example, one has to be impressed by how carefully he has thought about how Noah's ark could hold a pair of each "kind" of animal, including dinasaurs.

Although I could say a lot about this, I will only briefly make three points. The first point is that in the popular debate over evolution, people often confuse "creation science" with "intelligent design theory." Actually, Ham denounces the idea of "intelligent design," because its proponents don't rely on a literal reading of the Genesis Creation story. So, as far as Ham is concerned, the folks at the Discovery Institute are actually promoting disrespect for the truth of the Bible. And yet almost all of the proponents of intelligent design are motivated by Biblical religious beliefs, and some of them are "young earth creationists" who see "intelligent design" as pointing to the truth of the Genesis Creation story. This was evident at the Dover, Pennsylvania, trial in the fall of 2005. Initially, the public school board members challenging the teaching of evolution wanted creationism taught. But when they were told this would be rejected by the courts as an unconstitutional establishment of religion, they turned to "intelligent design theory" as a way of promoting creationism without explicitly bringing up the Bible. At the trial, this deception became so obvious that they lost their case.

My second point is that this Creation Museum and the whole "creation science" movement violates the content and spirit of the Bible. That date of "4004 B.C." at the beginning of my old King James Bible was not found in any Bibles until 50 years after the death of Ussher. This dating scheme came not from the text of the Bible but from Ussher's chronology. Ken Ham's organization has published a beautiful new edition of Ussher's ANNALS OF THE WORLD. I encourage you to order a copy and study Ussher's meticulous scholarship. You will notice, however, that most of Ussher's evidence for his chronology comes from outside the Bible--from classical authors like Xenophon and Herodotus, for example. The Bible manifests little concern for such a chronology. If God wanted to reveal a scientific chronology of the world, why is the Bible written so as to force Ussher to go outside the Bible--to pagan authors like Xenophon and Herodotus--to try to piece together this chronology? Trying to pull a scientific chronology out of the Bible denies the real purpose of the Bible, which is to say something about the spiritual condition of humanity under God. For this purpose, there is no need to interpret the story of Creation as a literal process of 6 days of Creation. In fact, most Biblical believers don't read Genesis as a literal, science textbook.

My third point is that the real issue here is not scientific but moral and religious. As the stories about Ham's museum indicate, the ultimate message is that doubting his Biblical science and accepting Darwinian evolution will promote atheism while destroying morality and destroying the traditional family. Visitors at the museum look into the house of the American family under the influence of Darwinian science, and what they see is a boy at his computer staring at pornography. It's all Darwin's fault!

As is clear from many of my posts on this blog, I disagree. Although Darwinian science cannot decide the theological truth of Biblical religion, Darwinism is compatible with religious belief, and this is the position taken by many theistic evolutionists (Mitt Romney and others). And insofar as Darwinian science supports the idea of a natural moral sense rooted in the evolved nature of human beings, Darwinism provides a natural ground of morality, while recognizing that religious belief can reinforce that natural morality.

The complexity of the debate among Christians over the Creation story is evident in the hundreds of comments on a recent post on the Touchstone magazine blog, which can be found here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Allan Bloom, Nietzschean Nihilism, and Darwinian Natural Right

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, which was first published in 1987. There have been a few conferences to reconsider Bloom's book and the public debate that it stirred.

It has always seemed odd to me that conservatives have praised Bloom's book, because far from being conservative, Bloom's book promotes Nietzschean nihilism. Nietzsche receives more attention from Bloom than any other author, and Bloom never criticizes him. He often adopts Nietzschean readings of other philosophers even when this distorts their original meaning. For example, he asserts that Plato and Nietzsche agree that music expresses our terror before a chaotic universe and our need to create an irrational image of order (pp. 70-81).

In embracing this Nietzschean "tragic sense" of the terrifying chaos of the universe, Bloom affirms nihilism. "It is the hardest task of all to face the lack of cosmic support for what we care about" (pp. 60, 270, 277).

I suspect that some of the conservatives who have embraced Bloom are actually nihilists themselves, because their fear of the nothingness at the heart of things drives them to conservative traditionalism to cover up the lack of natural support for human life and morality. Harvey Mansfield shows this in affirming the "manly nihilism" of Nietzsche and Teddy Roosevelt.

Bloom intimates that the crucial question is whether "natural teleology" is still defensible; and he also suggests that the clearest manifestations of teleology are biological--particularly, the reproductive process, child care, and family life (pp. 110-18, 125-27, 130-31, 181, 300-301). "The attachment of mother and child," he asserts, "is perhaps the only undeniable natural social bond" (p. 115).

But then he often indicates that this biological teleology might be illusory: "I mean by teleology nothing but the evident, everyday observation and sense of purposiveness, which may be only illusory, but which ordinarily guides human life, the kind everyone sees in the reproductive process" (p. 110). "Which may be only illusory"?

Of course, one might wonder whether Bloom's fervent homosexuality might have made him doubt the biological teleology of reproduction.

The alternative to Bloom's Nietzschean nihilism is Darwinian natural right--that is to say, a conception of natural right rooted in the immanent teleology of evolved life. Although Darwinian science cannot support a cosmic teleology in which the whole universe is directed to some end or purpose, it can support an immanent teleology in which all species are evolved to have natural ends that are specific to each species. Leo Strauss points to such an immanent teleology in NATURAL RIGHT AND HISTORY: "For, however indifferent to moral distinctions the cosmic order may be thought to be, human nature, as distinguished from nature in general, may very well be the basis of such distinctions" (p. 94).

If human beings have a species-specific nature that includes a range of natural desires, then we can judge moral and political order by how well it conforms to those natural desires. This natural teleology of natural human desires supports conservative social thought.

I have elaborated some of these points in other posts here and here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Libertarian Vote and Darwinian Conservatism

It is regrettable that Ron Paul has been so inept in presenting his libertarian position. But still there is plenty of evidence that the Republican Party cannot win without the libertarian vote. David Boaz and David Kirby made this clear last fall in a paper for the Cato Institute on "The Libertarian Vote." They showed that 10 to 20 percent of the American voters are libertarians, and that they can determine the outcome of elections by shifting their votes between the Republican and Democratic parties. So it seems clear that if the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 does not win the votes of the Ron Paul libertarians, the Democrats will take the White House.

There is a deeper intellectual issue here. Boaz and others at the Cato Institute emphasize the differences between conservatives and libertarians, and thus reject the conservative "fusion" of traditionalist and libertarian thought. But my argument for Darwinian conservatism assumes a "fusionist" conception of conservatism. Some libertarians like Timothy Sandefur have responded by claiming that my Darwinian arguments support libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. My responses to Sandefur can be found here, here, here, and here.

Actually, the paper by Boaz and Kirby implicitly suggests that the distance between libertarians and traditionalist conservatives is not as great as they assume. For example, they indicate that conservatives agree with libertarians that it would not be proper to legally prohibit "blasphemous" speech, because Americans generally accept the principle of free speech in religious matters. On this and other issues, even the most traditionalist conservatives--like Russell Kirk, for example--would reject theocratic government, because they recognize that given the imperfection of human nature, no one can be trusted to exercise theocratic power. Boaz and Kirby also indicate that many of the libertarians who voted for Bush rather than Kerry in 2004 did so because they thought fighting terrorism was the most important issue. So even though libertarians want the power of government to be limited, they recognize the need for strong government in war and national security. In other words, most American libertarians are not anarchists, because they are not so utopian as to think that government can be completely abolished.

Traditionalists can be tempted by utopian visions of theocracy. Libertarians can be tempted by utopian visions of anarchy. But as conservatives, both traditionalists and libertarians accept a realist view of human nature that rejects the utopianism of leftist thought. And this realist view supports neither theocratic order nor anarchic liberty but ordered liberty with limited government under the rule of law. A Darwinian science of human nature supports this conservative stance on human nature as the shared ground between traditionalists and libertarians.

My posts on Herbert Spencer's utopian anarchism can be found here and here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Fair Game" Interview

This afternoon, I was interviewed by Faith Salie for the "Fair Game" PRI radio program, which is produced at WNYC in New York City and broadcast by some of the NPR stations in the United States. The podcast will be available at the "Fair Game" website, which can be found here. My interview is 10 minutes of a one hour program.

Faith identifies me as the "silverback" and "paterfamilias" of Darwinian conservatism. But then she draws attention to the fact that I'm too short to be a really dominant male!

I liked her joke: "Darwinian conservatism. That sounds like a Gary Larson cartoon with a chimpanzee driving a pickup with a gun rack."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Philadelphia Society Lectures

The lectures from the 2007 national meeting of the Philadelphia Society are now available on the Society's website. You can find audio recordings as well as written texts for the lectures.

This includes the text for my debate with John West. My lecture for the AEI debate was only a slightly revised version of this lecture for the Philadelphia Society.

While I'm at it, I would draw your attention to the fact that I emphasize in this lecture, as I do in all of my speaking and writing about Darwinian conservatism, that a Darwinian view of human nature is not based on genetic reductionism. On the contrary, a Darwinian account of human nature and social order requires three levels of explanation: natural desirs as shaped by genetic evolution, customary traditions as shaped by cultural evolution, and deliberate judgments as shaped by individual experience. These three levels are in a nested hierarchy so that custom is contrained by nature, and judgment is constrained by both nature and custom.

It is remarkable that no matter how much I emphasize that "genes are not enough," many people always assume that I am promoting a genetic reductionism that denies the importance of culture and judgment. Biology is much more than genetics. A biological account of evolved human nature must explain how the natural propensities that emerge from genetic evolution are expressed and shaped by cultural evolution and individual judgment.

This conforms to the conservative analysis of social order (from Burke to Hayek) as a complex interaction of nature, tradition, and deliberation. This trichotomy of order, which was first employed by Aristotle, is elaborated in both Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mitt Romney's a Theistic Evolutionist

In defending Darwinian conservatism, I have tried to persuade religious conservatives that there is no necessary conflict between Darwinian science and religious belief. Although the science cannot judge the theological truth of any religious belief, it can judge the practical truth of religious traditions that support social order. And although the science cannot answer ultimate questions of First Cause as to the origin of nature or the origin of life, evolutionary science is compatible with a religious belief in God as the Creator of nature. In fact, many religious believers have become theistic evolutionists.

I am pleased, therefore, to see that Matt Romney identifies himself as a theistic evolutionist. In the first debate between the Republican presidential candidates, Romney was one of the seven who indicated that they accepted evolution as a true scientific theory. Now, in a NEW YORK TIMES interview, he has explained his position. He says: "I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe. And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body. . . . I've never found a conflict between the science of evolution and the belief that God created the universe. He uses scientific tools to do his work."

When he says that God used evolution "to create the human body," he might be implying that the creation of the human soul requires something more--perhaps the "ontological leap" that Pope John Paul II spoke about in his 1996 endorsement of evolution.

It's clear that Mitt has been reading this blog, such as the posts that can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

By the way, a Darwinian would notice that Mitt has an obvious advantage over his competitors for the Republican presidential nomination--he is the tallest and best-looking of them all. As is the case for all primates, we expect dominant individuals to have the physical appearance of dominant men. In his profile of Mitt for National Review (April 30), Richard Lowry sees this: "It is impossible to be around Romney and not be impressed--by his obvious intelligence, by his fluid speaking style, by his accomplishments in business and government, by his appearance."

Being a short guy myself, it's hard for me to accept the fact that tall, dominant-looking men attract attention. But I'll have to accept it as part of the realism of my Darwinian conservatism. That's why I'm a college professor and not a Presidential candidate.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mansfield, Nietzsche, and Strauss

In the central chapter of Harvey Mansfield's Manliness, he identifies two personifications of "manly nihilism"--Friedrich Nietzsche and Theodore Roosevelt. Now, in two recent statements, Mansfield has elaborated his defense of these two sides of "manly nihilism." In his Wall Street Journal article defending George Bush's "one-man rule" and "imperial ambition," Mansfield shows the Teddy Roosevelt side of "manly nihilism." In his Jefferson Lecture, he shows the Friedrich Nietzsche side of this "manly nihilism."

In his defense of executive power outside the rule of law, Mansfield asserts the need for Machiavellian princes to exert leadership through force and fraud to impose their forms on the otherwise formless matter of history. The "people" will allow such tyrannical rule, he suggests, as long as the fear of formless flux in times of war drives them to yield to the spirited energy of presidential war leaders. This is the Teddy Roosevelt side of "manly nihilism."

In his Jefferson Lecture, Mansfield asserts the primacy of thumos--the spirited contest for domination--as the essence of politics, and he warns against science as the enemy of thumotic politics. Here he restates the position of Friedrich Nietzshe in The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche criticized "scientific Socratism" for destroying the tragic view of life that had developed in ancient Greek art and music. According to the Dionysian "tragic world view" that Nietzsche defended, the world is not rationally comprehensible, and thus we need human art to contrive those illusory appearances that make it possible for us to live in this incomprehensible world. In the modern world the threat to Homeric tragic manliness comes from the Socratic science of Darwinism. In The Use and Abuse of History, Nietzsche warns: "If the doctrines of sovereign becoming, of the fluidity of all concepts, types and species, of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal--doctrines which I consider true but deadly--are thrust upon the people for another generation with the rage for instruction that has by now become normal, no one should be surprised if the people perishes of petty egoism, ossification and greed, falls apart and ceases to be a people."

Similarly, in the Jefferson Lecture, Mansfield warns against Socratic science as a threat to the tragic spirit of thumotic politics. "Socrates said that reasoning means following the course of the argument regardless of where it goes, and of how much it might hurt you: this is the dispassionate spirit of science. But in politics, people make assertions that they try to control; the argument goes where you want it to go."

And, again like Nietzsche, Mansfield sees Darwinian evolution as the new threat to thumos coming from Socratic science. In explaining human beings as evolved products of a natural order that embraces all life, Darwinian science seems to deny the importance of human beings and thus the importance of asserting one's importance. Such a science is "true but deadly." As the antidote to such deadly science, Mansfield urges us to turn to literature and history as artistic depictions of human life that escape the despiriting effect of science.

This same Nietzschean fear of Darwinian biology as Socratic science that denies the spiritedness of human pride is expressed in Peter Lawler's Heideggerian/existentialist conservatism. I have noted this in some of my posts on Lawler, as in the one from October of last year.

In all of this, Mansfield follows a line of thought that has become common among those influenced by Leo Strauss. The Straussians fear modern science--and particularly modern biology--as a reductionistic understanding of human life that denies that sense of human importance that sustains political ambition and nobility. That's why many Straussians will speak favorably about alternatives to Darwinian science based on "intelligent design theory" or cosmic teleology. But even as they do that, they imply that although these alternatives are not scientifically true, they need to be asserted as "noble lies."

Darwinian conservatism as based on Darwinian natural right would show that a Darwinian science of human nature is both scientifically true and morally healthy. Darwinian science affirms thumos as expressing the natural desires for status and political rule, desires that belong to our evolved human nature. But Darwinian science would also affirm the natural desire to be free from the exploitative dominance of thumotic men, which supports the need for limited government under the rule of law.

When Mansfield says that rule by "the living intelligence of a wise man" is superior to the rule of law, he repeats one of the commonplaces of Straussian thought. But a Darwinian conservatism would see this as a utopian conception that ignores the imperfection of human beings in both knowledge and virtue, because not even the wisest man can be trusted with absolute power. The silliness of Mansfield's argument becomes evident when one notices that his "wise man" turns out to be George Bush!

Well, at least now I understand why they're called the Mayberry Machiavellis.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mansfield's Jefferson Lecture

Harvey Mansfield's Jefferson Lecture--"How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science"--can be found here.

Mansfield advances five main ideas. 1. Politics is about thumos or "spiritedness," which makes politics a contest for importance. 2. The biology of Plato and Aristotle could explain thumos. 3. Modern science--and particularly modern evolutionary biology--ignores thumos. 4. Modern political science ignores thumos. 5. Political scientists need to look to literature and history to help them understand thumos.

I disagree with the third idea. But I agree with the others. I agree that manly ambition and striving for importance drive politics as a contest for dominance. Plato and Aristotle saw this as rooted in human biology, especially male biology. Literature and history explore such spirited rivalry in the stories of assertive individuals in politics and war. Modern political science, however, has little to say about this, because political scientists pursue a science of abstract generalizations and mathematical formulas where personal rivalry has no place.

But unlike Mansfield, I think modern Darwinian biology confirms the biology of Plato and Aristotle in showing how politics as a spirited contest for dominance manifests human natural desires. In his book Manliness, Mansfield claims that Darwin does not recognize manly assertiveness and how such assertiveness supports male dominance in politics. And yet I have shown in some previous posts that this shows Mansfield's ignorance of Darwin, who speaks in The Descent of Man of how men display "ambition" and "rivalry" in the pursuit of "victory" and "eminence." For one of those posts, go here.

Mansfield says that "science is indifferent to proper names, and confines itself to common nouns." But in fact scientists like Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal studying the political behavior of animals do regularly use proper names to distinguish individuals as they compete for status in the hierarchy of their groups.

While refering to "the biology of Plato and Aristotle," Mansfield never comments specifically on that ancient biology. He does not, for example, notice that Aristotle identified various species of animals as "political," and explained human beings as political animals with similarities to these other political animals. He also saw human politics as unique insofar as human politics employs reason or speech. Darwin continued in this tradition of comparative animal behavior.

Mansfield writes: "Modern biology, particularly the theory of evolution, is based on the overriding concern for survival in all life. This is surely wrong in regard to human life. If you cannot look around you and must insist on indulging a taste for the primitive, you have only to visit the ruins of an ancient people and ponder how much of its GNP was devoted to religion, to its sense of the meaning of human life rather than mere survival."

This is incorrect. Of course, human survival and reproduction is required for both genetic and cultural evolution. But this does not mean that survival is the only human motivation. As I have argued, a Darwinian view of human nature would indicate that there are at least 20 natural desires that drive human conduct. These desires can be seen in Darwin's account of human life in The Descent of Man. But as far as I can tell, Mansfield has not read Darwin. Darwin and other evolutionary biologists have given a lot of attention to the importance of religion, for example. One possible explanation for Mansfield's claim that evolutionary biology is concerned only with survival as the only human motivation is that he has adopted a caricatured version of Darwinian biology as explaining everything through "selfish genes."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Manly Nihilism of Mansfield's Machiavellian Presidency

The Wall Street Journal (May 2, 2007) has published Harvey Mansfield's defense of President Bush's exercise of "one-man rule," which is a reprint of an article previously published in The Claremont Review of Books.

According to Mansfield, the "rule of law" is defective because it does not recognize "the need for one-man rule" in those circumstances where we need "the living intelligence of a wise man." He then goes on to defend President Bush's exercise of such "one-man rule." His only complaint is that Bush's policy of imperialism is not really imperialistic enough. "I believe too that the difficulties of the war in Iraq arise from having wished to leave too much to the Iraqis, thus from a sense of inhibition rather than imperial ambition."

Previously, I have written about Mansfield's assertion of "manly nihilism" as displayed in the American presidency. Some of these posts can be found here, here, and here. My post on the Iraq war as a utopian folly can be found here.

Mansfield's article confirms my earlier assessments of his position. He looks to the American presidency as an expression of "manly nihilism" that denies the rule of law in the "assertiveness of executive power." This becomes utopian because he looks to "one-man rule" and "the living intelligence of a wise man," so that there is no need for a system of checks and balances to restrain this "wise man" in the pursuit of his "imperial ambition."

Doesn't this show once again that conservatives need Darwinian conservatism?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Darwin, Lincoln, and the Progressives: A Reply to Steven Hayward

The debate on Darwinian conservatism at the American Enterprise Institute last Thursday was moderated by Steven Hayward, who began the debate with some introductory comments that were misleading. The full debate is available as a webcast video, which can be found here. Some of Hayward's comments were reported in Patricia Cohen's article in the New York Times, which can be found here, and in Andrew Ferguson's article in the Weekly Standard, which can be found here.

As examples of the political influence of Darwinian science, Hayward cited the proslavery defense of the Confederacy by Alexander Stephens, who appealed to racial science, and the defense of Progressivism by Woodrow Wilson, who said that "living constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice." Hayward thus implied that insofar as American conservatives are opposed to the proslavery cause of the Confederacy and the progressive cause of Wilson, they should also be opposed to the Darwinian science supporting those causes.

There are problems with this reasoning. First of all, Alexander Stephens did not invoke Darwin. Rather, he appealed to the racial science developed prior to the 1859 publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. This racial science--coming from people like Josiah Nott and Samuel Morton--argued that the human races were actually separate species, and this was commonly used by proslavery fanatics as a scientific justification for slavery. Darwin, however, was staunchly anti-slavery throughout his life. And in The Descent of Man (1871), he refuted racist science in arguing for the unity of all human races as belonging to the same species. Hayward did not mention this.

It is true that Woodrow Wilson--and other progressives--often cited Darwinian evolution as supporting a progressive historicism. But it is also true that Wilson and the other progressives often cited Abraham Lincoln as supporting the same idea of progressive history. The quotation from Wilson about "living constitutions" being "Darwinian in structure and in practice" is from Wilson's The New Freedom. But in that same collection of speeches, Wilson also invokes "the immortal figure of the great Lincoln" as a model of progressive leadership. In 1909, Wilson gave a speech on "Abraham Lincoln, Man of the People," in which he reminded his audience that Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day--February 12, 1809--and he elaborated on the point that Lincoln and Darwin were proponents of the new idea of progressive history. So if Darwin was responsible for Wilson and progressivism, Lincoln is equally responsible.

But I suspect that since Hayward is a good student of Harry Jaffa, he would say that Wilson and the progressives misinterpreted Lincoln as an effort of rhetorical manipulation. So why not say the same about their use of Darwin? (The distortion of Lincoln in progressive rhetoric has been carefully studied by a graduate student of mine--Jason Jividen--in his dissertation on "The Use and Abuse of Abraham Lincoln.")

The historicism of the American progressives came neither from Darwin nor from Lincoln, but from Hegel's philosophy of history.

As I have shown on this blog, Lincoln and Darwin had more in common than just their birthday. Both were anti-slavery. Both were accused of being "infidels." And both saw the world as a product of evolutionary development. Lincoln's friend and law partner William Herndon said that Lincoln was persuaded by Robert Chambers' book The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation to accept the idea of evolutionary development. This book caused an intense controversy when it was published in 1844, because many people interpreted it as a challenge to traditional creationism. Later, Darwin cited the book as an early forerunner of his work.

I go more deeply into some of these points in the chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Response to Andrew Ferguson's WEEKLY STANDARD Article

The AEI debate continues to draw commentary. Andrew Ferguson has written an article on the debate for the Weekly Standard, which can be found here.

Although Ferguson's report is generally accurate as a brief summary, a few points need clarification.

His opening is cute: "They only had two and a half hours to settle some knotty questions--Does reality have an ultimate, metaphysical foundation? Is there content to the universe?--so they had to talk fast. But not fast enough."

Ok, I did talk fast, but not because I was silly enough to think I could answer such questions. Just the opposite: I explicitly stressed in my comments that ultimate questions of First Cause must be left open. To answer such questions, we must appeal either to nature or to nature's God, which means appealing either to reason or revelation, and this requires a fundamental choice between alternatives that must always be open, because neither side can refute the other.

Ferguson quotes from Steven Hayward's introductory remarks the claim that social Darwinist principles were "invoked by the Confederacy's most articulate theorist, Alexander Stephens." What he doesn't say is that Darwin explicitly criticized slavery and the Confederacy and argued against the claim of scientific racists that the human races were actually separate species. Nor does he say that the American proslavery folks were able to quote the Bible as supporting slavery. I have commented on this extensively on this blog and in Darwinian Natural Right.

Ferguson quotes a passage from chapter 5 of Darwin's Descent of Man a passage that appears to endorse Francis Galton's eugenics. But Ferguson very carefully does not quote the immediately following passage in which Darwin declares that "sympathy" as "the noblest part of our nature" teaches us that we must care for the weak and the helpless. Nor does Ferguson quote from Darwin's comments in the last chapter of Descent in which he rejects Galton's eugenics as "utopian". I have a whole chapter on social Darwinism and eugenics in Darwinian Conservatism.

Ron Bailey of Reason magazine was more favorable to my side of the AEI debate. His post can be found here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

NEW YORK TIMES Article on Darwinian Conservatism

Today's New York Times has a front page article by Patricia Cohen on Darwinian Conservatism, which can be found here. Cohen is the "Arts and Ideas" editor for the Times, and one of their best writers. Her article is well-written and accurate.

She attended the AEI debate on Darwinian conservatism, and much of her article picks out points from that debate. But she has also been reading widely to see how this debate has played out among conservatives.

The AEI debate was generally quite good, and it's worth the time to watch the AEI webcast of the whole debate including the question and answer period. But I must say that I was disappointed in George Gilder, whose remarks were scattered and vapid. As far as I could tell, the only substantive point he suggested was the irreducibility of information. Otherwise, he was in a fog.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Webcast of AEI Debate on Darwinian Conservatism

Last Saturday, I debated John West at the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society in Philadelphia. Yesterday, we continued our debating at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. John West and George Gilder were on one side of the debate, while I and John Derbyshire were on the other side. AEI has a webcast video of the entire debate, which you can find here.