Friday, August 02, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (7): Wiker on Ant Slavery and Christian Sympathy

In his contribution to Dilley's book, Benjamin Wiker repeats his argument from previous writings that Darwinian science destroys morality.  I have written some responses to Wiker that can be found here and here.

One section of Wiker's chapter is devoted to Darwinism and slavery (39-42).  The longest chapter of my Darwinian Natural Right is on Darwinism and slavery (161-210).  Wiker is silent about what I argue there.

Wiker asserts that Darwin failed to see that his theory of evolution contradicted his personal hatred of slavery.  Wiker quotes a long passage from Darwin's account in The Origin of Species of the "slave-making instinct" among some species of ants.  Wiker then observes:
"The reader, I hope, can see the difficulty.  Human slavery has been, throughout history, an extraordinary wide-spread phenomenon.  Again, Darwin admits in his Descent, the 'great sin of Slavery has been almost universal, and slaves have often been treated in an infamous manner' (Darwin 1871, I.III, 94).  If ant-slave making can be perfectly described as the result of natural selection, and all human moral and social traits are likewise to be explained a the result of natural selection, it would appear that the human institution of slavery, wherever it exists, is just as natural among human beings as it is among ants.  Every widespread trait must have been beneficial or it would not have been widespread.  In what way can a particular evolved trait that has proven to be so beneficial be a 'great sin'?" (40)
Wiker concludes: "There can be no moral blame attached to slavery in the present precisely because, on Darwinian grounds, it must be the result of a naturally selected trait that contributed to survival in the past" (41).

Since Darwin emphasizes the importance of sympathy in the evolution of human morality, one might think that this moral trait would lead to the condemnation of slavery.  But Wiker will have none of this:
". . . Picking one nice moral trait--such as sympathy, or the present favorite among morally-minded Darwinists, altruism--that we might like to be more widespread receives no more special support from natural selection, than does any other malleable trait.  In fact--and it is a very important fact--the widespread development of what Darwin meant by sympathy, is actually historically due to the spread of Christianity.  Being kind to one's friends and kin is understandable as a natural principle; loving one's enemies and doing good to those one does not even know, who offer no hope for contributing to one's own survival, are explicit contradictions to Darwinism" (42).
In all of Dilley's book, in which most of the authors argue that it is only the "Judeo-Christian worldview" that saves us from the immorality of Darwinism, this is the only extended historical example of how Christianity supported a moral insight that otherwise would have been denied by Darwinian nihilism.

In my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right, I provide an extensive account of ant slavery considered in the context of the whole debate over slavery from Aristotle to Hume to Jefferson to Darwin to Lincoln.   I argue that considering the similarities and differences between ant slavery and human slavery illuminates the biological nature of slavery.  The similarities suggest that both for human beings and for ants, slavery is a form of social parasitism in which slave-makers exploit their slaves through coercion and manipulation.  The differences suggest that human beings resist the exploitation of slavery because it violates their natural moral sense.  That moral sense arises as a joint product of emotional capacities for feeling social passions such as anger and love and rational capacities for judging social principles such as kinship and reciprocity.  Since these emotional and rational capacities are part of human nature for all normal human beings, the moral sense as an expression of those capacities is a human universal, and no race of human beings is naturally adapted for slavery.  We should expect, therefore, that in every human society where slavery exists, slavery will produce moral conflict.  Unlike slave ants, human slaves will resist exploitation and demand social cooperation based on kinship and reciprocity.

Since Wiker has chosen to remain silent about my argument in this chapter, I have no way of knowing whether he has any response.

Wiker has also chosen to remain silent about the fact that the people pointing to ant slavery as justification for human slavery were devout Christians like Thomas Cobb in his Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States (1858).  Wiker is also silent about the fact that Cobb and many other Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite the Bible as supporting slavery, because the Bible (both Old Testament and New Testament) sanctions slavery.  For example, the book Slavery Ordained by God by the prominent minister Fred Ross shows that the Bible never condemns slavery and always supports it.  Those Christians who condemned slavery had to reinterpret the Bible by passing it through their naturally evolved moral sense of the evil of slavery.  And consequently, as Mark Noll has shown, the American Civil War became a theological crisis, because American Christians could not rely on the Bible to resolve their moral debate over slavery.  As Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, both sides in the Civil War thought they were fighting for God's cause: "Both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."

What this shows is that while the "Judeo-Christian worldview" is often helpful in illuminating our moral experience, it is often unreliable, and in many cases it must be corrected by our natural moral sense as rooted in our evolved human nature.

I have invited Wiker to write a response to this post.  He has responded with silence.

A few of the many blog posts I have written on Darwinism and slavery can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

No comments: