Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Peter Lawler's Review in MODERN AGE

Peter Augustine Lawler has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism in the summer 2006 issue of Modern Age. Unfortunately, that journal of conservative thought is not available online.

Last June 16th, I posted a reply to Lawler's most recent book--Stuck with Virtue. In that post, I anticipated the main ideas in Lawler's review.

In the review, I see again Lawler's ambivalence about Darwinian science--an ambivalence shown by many conservatives. He welcomes the way in which Darwinian science reinforces conservative ideas about traditional morality as rooted in human biological nature. He even rejects fundamentalist creationism as unreasonable. And yet he worries that Darwinism does not properly recognize the transcendent longings of the human soul for immortality as an escape from death.

As he says in his review, the "big issue" is "Darwin and death." Darwin's naturalistic view suggests that death is unavoidable. But human beings have a natural longing to live forever, a longing that is unique to human beings, a longing that leads them to religious belief in an afterlife.

As I indicate, Darwin recognizes that human beings really are unique in the living world in that they are the only animals that reflect on the meaning of life and death. And as I indicate in my books, I believe that the natural desire for religious understanding leads many human beings to long for some transcendent escape from earthly mortality.

But unlike Lawler, I don't see why all human beings must feel such transcendent longings. Some human beings will pursue an intellectual understanding of nature as the comprehensive order of the cosmos, and within that natural order, they will accept their mortality. For Lawler, this is a diversion from the inescapable longing for immortality and redemption from earthly life.

I don't see why conservatives have to agree on Lawler's Heideggerian existentialism and his claim that all human beings are "aliens" in the universe in that they desire a transcendent escape from death through immortality. Certainly, a skeptic like Friedrich Hayek would not agree with Lawler on this.

Darwinian science does not either support or refute Lawler's religious transcendentalism, which lies beyond the realm of natural human experience.

It's not clear to me why conservatives shouldn't embrace Darwinian conservatism as a position that all conservatives--religious believers as well as skeptics--can embrace

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