Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Stephen Dilley's Reply

Here is Stephen Dilley's reply to my recent series of posts on his edited book.

A Reply to Professor Arnhart

Stephen Dilley

Associate Professor of Philosophy

St. Edward’s University

Austin, TX

Larry Arnhart has been kind enough to review Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism. Given that he wasn’t able to accept my original invitation to write a chapter in the book, I’m pleased that he has now engaged it so thoroughly. He has also generously allowed me to respond to his review. To my mind, Arnhart’s commitment to open dialogue is a fine example of many of the ideals of classical liberalism.

As for Arnhart’s review of DE & CL, his comments span nine posts, most of which focus on specific chapters of the book. I will let the authors of those chapters (respectively) take up their own dialogue with Arnhart, if they wish. Instead, I will limit my reply to the key claim that Arnhart directs at my introductory chapter. His central claim is that I defend the following argument, which he mislabels “Dilley’s Syllogism”: 

1.      Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity

2.      Darwinism denies Christianity

3.      Therefore, Darwinism denies Classical (Lockean) liberalism

Although there’s much to say about premise two, I’ll focus elsewhere. The main reply I wish to make is simply that I don’t defend “Dilley’s Syllogism.” Good heavens! I don’t even regard that argument as deductively valid. Moreover, I’m not even sure what premise one means. Does it mean that classical (Lockean) liberalism is historically founded upon Christianity? Or that classical (Lockean) liberalism is conceptually founded upon Christianity? Or that classical (Lockean) liberalism is metaphysically grounded upon Christianity (in some sense)? Or something else?

In my introduction I point out that some Darwinian conservatives, like Arnhart, see themselves as the heirs of the Anglophone strain of classical liberalism while other thinkers, including Christian classical liberals, “see themselves as more supportive of classical liberalism.” An attentive reader will observe that, in this section, I simply describe the basic tenets of Christian classical liberals, as they see it, including their claim that Christian theism provides a superior (and crucial) metaphysical foundation for classical liberalism. I don’t defend the truth of the view. And I certainly don’t do anything as bold as claiming—much less arguing—that Christian classical liberalism is in fact the historical, conceptual, or metaphysical foundation of classical (Lockean) liberalism. I simply report what some Christian classical liberals believe.

So, it turns out I don’t assert or defend “Dilley’s Syllogism” in my introduction. By attributing that syllogism to me (and then attacking it), Arnhart misrepresents my position. Unfortunately, in my view, Arnhart mischaracterizes or oversimplifies some other chapters in the book, as well. But why argue about the matter? Fair-minded people should scrutinize DE & CL for themselves. I would also encourage them to read carefully Arnhart’s Darwinian Conservatism. Doing so will make for a richer—and more accurate—assessment of the great ideas in play.

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