Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism: Dilley's Syllogism

How many evil consequences of Darwinian science can you imagine? 

Until recently, I could imagine quite a few.  But now that I have read an essay by Bruce Gordon, I can think of hundreds of evils coming from Darwinism.  I don't have room here for Gordon's complete list.  So I'll give you a short sample.  According to Gordon, the "cultural poison of Darwinian philosophy" leads to the following:  hedonism, narcissism, totalitarianism, eco-terrorism, fetal farming, state-enforced active euthanasia, Marxism, fascism, nihilism, "hollow men," "ceding national sovereignty to effete international bureaucracies," multiculturalism, affirmative action, "central government planning of all aspects of life," "cultural guilt and self-loathing," and "a Hegelian religion of the state as the immanent unfolding of the Absolute Spirit."  The final outcome of all this is "that the noonday sun of Western strength is spent and will fade into the twilight of an ignoble dissolution . . . our hope must fade, and night descend" (175-83). 

Wow.  If you're like me, you had never imagined that so much evil stuff could come from the idea of Darwinian evolution.

So how exactly does Darwinian science bring the descent of human civilization into a night without hope and rule by "effete international bureaucracies"?  To answer that question, you'll need to read the book in which Gordon's essay appears--Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, edited by Stephen Dilley and newly published by Lexington Books. 

Most of this book is a criticism of my argument that Darwinian evolutionary science supports classical liberalism.  Of the thirteen contributors to the book, eleven criticize my position, one supports one part of my position, and one generally supports my position.  Here are the eleven critics: Stephen Dilley, Benjamin Wiker, Peter Augustine Lawler, Jay Richards, Angus Menuge, John G. West, Logan Paul Gage, Bruce Gordon, Richard Weikart, Roger Masters, and Michael White.  Shawn Klein agrees with me only partially. Timothy Sandefur is the one hero who generally (but maybe not totally) agrees with me.

This post is the first in a series of posts in which I will respond to this book.  I begin with the argument that seems to be embraced by the first nine critics in the above list, and I will call the argument Dilley's Syllogism, because it's stated by Dilley in his introductory chapter.

Although Dilley does not state it in exactly this way, his argument seems to be this:
Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity.
Darwinism denies Christianity.
Therefore, Darwinism denies classical (Lockean) liberalism.
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59).  They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159).  I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158).

The nine critics say that they are attacking "Darwinian conservatism," which "integrates a Darwinian conception of human nature with the essentials of classical liberalism, drawing on the work of Locke, Smith, Hayek, and others" (10).  They identify the most prominent proponents of Darwinian conservatism as me, Thomas Sowell, Robert McShea, James Q. Wilson, Michael Shermer, and Francis Fukuyama.  Most of their attacks, however, are directed at me.

The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism.  They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198).  Does this exclude Islam?  Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196).

The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11).  It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 

This summarizes the famous "Wedge Document" of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which laid out the plan for attacking Darwinian evolution and advancing "intelligent design theory" as a way of saving Western culture from the corrosion of scientific materialism.  Most of these nine critics have been associated with the Discovery Institute.

Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point.  For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44).  Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature."  Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 

In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin.  He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life.  Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.

Do the nine critics really agree on Dilley's Syllogism?  I am not sure.  But I will assume that they do, because this gives me a coherent line of reasoning to which I can respond in my forthcoming posts.

Although I disagree with the nine critics in many ways, I agree with some of their points.  Peter Lawler and I are not far apart.  And I will indicate my agreement with Jay Richards, who shows that I have been wrong in suggesting that it's inconsistent to affirm free markets and deny Darwinian evolution.

Dilley's book should be read alongside Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question, edited by Ken Blanchard (2009).  This book reprints the text of Darwinian Conservatism, followed by critical responses from eight authors, including three of the authors in Dilley's book (Lawler, West, and Sandefur).  This book concludes with a response from me and a good essay by Ken Blanchard on the Aristotelian character of Darwinian conservatism ("Natural Right and Natural Selection").


Anonymous said...

"In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature."

This seems true to me. My hope for Darwinian politics is to put the teleology back into human nature. I also think that Darinian accounts of human nature put the depravity back into human nature, as opposed to Marxists who think man is all socially constructed. We then need spiritual means to resist the destruction unleashed human nature inflicts on the world.

Ken Blanchard said...

I notice that they are charging $45 for the Kindle edition of the book! That will make sure that no one actually reads it.

I wonder if the Claremont Review of Books is looking for a reviewer? I would be available.

Shawn Klein said...

I was a little surprised to see myself listed as only partially agreeing with your position. I took myself to be in your camp so to speak, along side Timothy. Possibly this is because my chapter had a more modest goal of merely showing compatibility or that it was more focused on claims about volition and evolution rather than classical liberalism and volition.

Anyway, lest someone come away from your post with the wrong impression about my position, I in no way deny the reality of evolution or the moral superiority of classical liberalism.