Friday, June 16, 2017

A Thousand Posts

This is my 1,000th post!

As suggested by my publisher in England, I began this blog at the end of August in 2005 to promote my book Darwinian Conservatism.  I soon realized that I wanted to continue the blog as a way to collect and organize my thoughts about Darwinian evolution and political philosophy.  I did not foresee that I would write as many as one thousand essays.  Much of this writing has found its way into my conference papers, articles, and books.  For example, the 4th edition of Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker includes a lot of material that originally appeared on this blog.

It seems fitting to use this post to survey the highlights of my posts over the past 12 years.

My first post was a reprinting of my article in First Things (November, 2000)--"Conservatives, Darwin, & Design"--with commentaries by Michael Behe and William Dembski and my response.  This article was the first presentation of my argument for "Darwinian Conservatism"--"Conservatives need Charles Darwin."  Behe, Dembski, and many others have dismissed this as a silly idea.  Most of my posts have been, in one way or another, attempts to show that this might not be as silly as many people assume.

Conservatives believe that Darwinian science must promote a morally corrupting atheistic materialism.  I have tried to explain why this is not true.  In the final months of this first year of the blog, I did that by replying to various critics of Darwinian Conservatism--including not only Behe and Dembski, but also Herbert Gintis, Bob Cheeks, and Richard Weikart.

At the same time, I agreed with the proponents of intelligent design theory who insist that biology classes in the public schools should "teach the controversy" by teaching intelligent design theory as an alternative to Darwinian science.  I suggested teaching the controversy by teaching Darwin.  Why not allow students to actually read Darwin and notice that Darwin argues for his "theory of natural selection" as superior to the "theory of special creation."  To understand Darwin's argument, one must understand the alternative theory that he was rejecting.  Along with Darwin, students could also read some recent science writing defending evolution along with the writing of intelligent design proponents criticizing evolution.  The students would then have to weigh the evidence and arguments on both sides and make up their own minds.  This would include studying the moral, political, and religious implications of this debate.  This would, I am sure, be a much more engaging way for students to study biology than the old-fashioned textbook class.

Although I have never taught high school students, I have taught college students in classes at Northern Illinois University that were cross-listed in both the political science and biology departments.  I have found that allowing the students to think through the issues for themselves is stimulating.  Many of the biology students found this more interesting than their regular biology classes in which they were prohibited from considering the criticisms of evolutionary science and deciding for themselves.

In January and February, I began a series of posts continuing to the present defending what I call "Darwinian natural right" against the claims of Leo Strauss and the Straussians that modern biology cannot support the idea of natural right.  Contrary to what the Straussians assume, natural right can be rooted in an immanent teleology of evolved human nature rather than a cosmic teleology of eternally fixed species.  My best debating partner here has been Carson Holloway, a Catholic Straussian, who began his debate with me in graduate seminars at NIU.  In June, I began a long series of posts debating Peter Augustine Lawler, a Catholic conservative influenced by Strauss.

In October, I wrote the one post that has received more pageviews than any other--"So What's Wrong with Incest?"--which mostly supports Edward Westermarck's evolutionary account of the incest taboo.  Apparently, a lot of people are interested in incest.  I have noticed, however, that over the past year, the views of this post have declined.  Are people less interested in incest than they once were?  In any case, I have written many posts on Westermarck and the incest taboo, because this is, as Edward Wilson has noted, one of the best developed illustrations of how evolutionary science can explain a moral rule.

In November, I began a series of posts responding to John West's Darwin's Conservatives, which was the first book criticizing my Darwinian conservatism.  West is a proponent of intelligent design at the Discovery Institute.

In December, I wrote some posts engaging Timothy Sandefur, who generally supports the idea of Darwinian natural right, but who doubts the wisdom of my defense of "fusionism"--Frank Meyer's idea that American conservatism combines traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism or libertarianism.  A recurrent theme of my writing on this blog has been a defense of this fusion, which I see in John Locke and Adam Smith as well as much of American conservatism, and which I present as founded in an evolutionary moral and political anthropology.

At the end of December, I wrote about my article on "Darwinian Liberal Education" in Academic Questions, which presents my argument for a broad conception of Darwinian science as a comprehensive interdisciplinary science that unifies the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.  Here the influence of Ed Wilson's conception of "consilience" is clear.

Reading Leo Strauss helped me to see how the fundamental dilemma of modernity explained the loss of liberal education as a comprehensive study of the whole. The natural sciences assume a materialist reductionism that cannot account for the human mind or spirit. The humanities assume a radical dualism that treats human consciousness and conduct as autonomous in their separation from the causal order of the natural sciences. The social sciences are then torn between these two contradictory positions.

We might overcome this dilemma, if we could see Darwinian biology as a comprehensive science that would unify all the intellectual disciplines by studying human experience as part of the natural whole. This would continue the Aristotelian tradition of biology, because, as Strauss observed, Aristotle believed that biology could provide "a mediation between knowledge of the inanimate and knowledge of man."

But as I have indicated in various posts, Strauss and the Straussians are inconsistent on this issue, because they often affirm a distinctly modern (and Kantian) radical dualism of nature and mind that contradicts their Aristotelian naturalism.

In February, I began my annual posts on the birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln--February 12, 1809--which provides the occasion for thinking about the remarkable points of comparison in their lives.

Also in February, I wrote a post on "Chimpanzee Political Science" that was the first in a long series of posts on my argument that political science needs to become a Darwinian comparative science of political animals.  My thinking here began when I was a college student interested in Aristotle, and I noticed that over one quarter of all of Aristotle's writing was on biology, and that his moral and political writing--like the Nicomachean Ethics--is full of comparisons between humans and other animals.  Then, as I studied the research in comparative animal behavior based on evolutionary science, I began to see how there could be a comprehensive Darwinian political science of political animals.

In April and May, I defended Darwinian conservatism in debates at the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society and at the American Enterprise Institute.  I wrote about these debates and the press coverage, including a long front-page article in the New York Times.

Also in July, I began a series of posts criticizing Leon Kass's view of modern science, which shows a dubious Heideggerian and phenomenological account of modern science as crudely reductionistic that has been embraced by many of the Straussians.

In October, I argued that behavioral game theory confirmed Adam Smith's moral philosophy, which began a series of posts on evolutionary game theory as applied to the history of political philosophy.

In November, my post on "The Genetics of IQ and the Declaration of Independence" became the first in a series of posts over the years on the moral and political implications of the evolution of intelligence.  If IQ is at least partly genetic, and if some racial groups tend on average to have higher IQ, does that deny the moral and political principle of human equality?  I argue that the principle of human equality of rights does not require an absolute equality of intelligence, but rather an equality in those minimal moral and intellectual capacities that dispose human beings to resist exploitation and to demand justice as reciprocity.  Here I am elaborating points from my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Rights: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature.

The most common criticism of evolutionary ethics and politics is that it commits the "naturalistic fallacy" by falsely inferring values from facts or an "ought" from an "is."  In January and February, I wrote posts on "Moving from 'Is' to 'Ought,'" which initiated a series of posts over the years arguing that the ideas of the naturalistic fallacy or the is/ought dichotomy are mistaken.  Human beings and other animals move from "is" to "ought" through hypothetical imperatives constructed as given/if/then reasoning.  Given an animal's nature, if that animal desires to flourish (survive and reproduce), then it ought to act in certain specified ways to achieve that end.  There is nothing fallacious about this.

In the spring, I returned to one of the recurrent themes of this blog--the flaws in intelligent-design theory, particularly as developed by the folks at the Discovery Institute.  One of the flaws is theological.  While it is attractive to many Christians, who believe that the intelligent designer is God, it actually contradicts orthodox Christian theology by assuming a Gnostic antagonism between natural order and divine intelligence. It assumes a dichotomy such that either living beings naturally evolved or they were intelligently designed. William Dembski's "explanatory filter" posits that if we can explain something as a product of natural regularities, then we cannot attribute this to design. But Christian theology would say that everything is intelligently designed by God--either through His design of natural laws (including evolution) or through His designing things outside His natural laws. For that reason, many Christian scientists (like C. S. Lewis and Father Michael Heller who received the Templeton Prize in 2008) believe that if all living things could be explained as products of Darwinian natural evolution, this would be a wondrous manifestation of God's power for intelligently designing natural laws to execute His purposes. Whether God works through the ordinary laws of nature or through extraordinary miracles, it's all an expression of His intelligent design. From the point of view of Christian theology, Darwinian evolution is intelligent design.

I also pointed to a split in the intelligent design movement, in that Michael Behe, a prominent intelligent design biologist, has concluded that human evolution from primate ancestors can be explained as fully natural evolution, and he has moved towards theistic evolution, so that the intelligent designer could work primarily through natural laws set up at the beginning.

I have also challenged the "Darwin to Hitler" argument of intelligent design proponents like David Berlinski and Richard Weikart, because it passes over the fact that Hitler's Nazism contradicts what Darwin said about the natural moral sense.

My blog writing has often been influenced by whatever I have been teaching.  In the spring, I was teaching a graduate seminar on "American Political Novels."  My blog posts on Mark Twain and Ayn Rand were connected with my teaching Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Rand's The Fountainhead.  In Twain's writing, I saw some expression of a Darwinian evolutionary ethics of sympathy.  In Rand's writing, I saw her teleological ethics of life that can be rooted in evolutionary nature.

My blog writing has also been influenced by my work on conference papers, articles, and books.  At this time, I was writing a paper on "Biopolitical Science" for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.  In that paper, I argued for a theoretical analysis of political behavior as conforming to a nested hierarchy of three levels of deep history: the natural history of political universals as shaped by the genetic evolution of the species, the social history of political cultures as shaped by cultural evolution, and the individual history of political judgments in of individual political actors in particular circumstances.  I argued that a biopolitical science would study these three levels in the political history of all political animals.  This could be applied to chimpanzee politics, bonobo politics, and insect politics as well as human politics.  In this paper, I explained Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 as illustrating the three levels of biopolitical science.  Many of my blog posts, including posts in July on Lincoln, were related to this paper.

My post in April on "The Individuality, Contingency, and Historicity of Life" is also related to this paper.  A biopolitical science, like biology generally, must recognize the historical contingency and individuality of life.  Political animals have a political history that is unique for each animal community.

In June, I wrote my first blog post on David Christian's "Big History," which based on the idea that the discipline of history should encompass all of history from the Big Bang to the present and beyond.  Evolutionary science can be understood in this way--as a comprehensive science of cosmic evolution from the beginning of the universe.  I returned to Big History in 2016 (in January, February, and June).  This is connected to my interest in Lucretius's On the Nature of Things as ancient Big History.  I would like to write an article someday on Lucretian political philosophy as Big History.

Also in June, I wrote about Daniel Smail's neuroscience of history, which is another form of Big History, or what he calls "deep history."  Traditionally, historians have written about the history of the past 6,000 years, and whatever might have happened before that time--before the invention of writing--has been dismissed as "prehistory."  Smail points out that this reflects the legacy of Biblical history and the assumption that the world is no older than 6,000 years.

In May, June, October, and November, I wrote a series of posts on the neuroscience of the soul, including male and female brains, and the neuroscience of law.  I am interested in how the mind or soul can be explained as an emergent product of the evolution of the primate brain, and how that emergent mind gives us freedom of thought and action.

In August, I wrote about my responses to seven commentaries on Darwinian Conservatism by Neil Blackstone, Lauren Hall, Carson Holloway, Peter Lawler, Timothy Sandefur, Richard Sherlock, Michael Shermer, and John West.  These seven commentaries and my response were published in 2009 in Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question, edited by Kenneth Blanchard.  This writing clarified the debate among conservatives and libertarians over my conception of Darwinian conservatism.

Much of this debate, as I indicated in posts in September and October, can be seen as a debate between "metaphysical conservatism" and "evolutionary conservatism."  I elaborated this point in an article that appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of The Intercollegiate Review.

Ed Wilson's Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge has had a deep influence on my thinking about evolutionary ethics and about the unification of knowledge that Wilson calls "consilience."  In October, I wrote a post endorsing Wilson's promotion of "empiricist ethics" as superior to "transcendentalist ethics."  I agreed with him that Aristotle, Hume, Smith, and Westermarck belonged to the empiricist ethics tradition as opposed to Kant and many "normativist" philosophers today who belong to the transcendentalist ethics tradition.  (In fact, here I proudly noticed some influence on Wilson coming from some of my writing.)  But I criticized Wilson for not seeing how Thomas Aquinas's natural law belonged to the empiricist tradition, although Aquinas's divine law belonged to the transcendentalist tradition.  This is part of my defense of Thomistic natural law as Darwinian natural right, which I first laid out in a 2001 article.

I also criticized Wilson for not seeing how the consilience of all knowledge was best understood through an emergent order rather than through a reduction of everything to physics.  I remember well how Wilson and I argued about this in a telephone call shortly after the publication of Consilience in 1998.

My rejection of Kantian transcendentalism is a recurrent theme that comes out in my post (in November) on John Hare's Kantian critique of Darwinian natural right.  Hare has been one of my best debating partners for many years.  He defends a Kantian "divine command theory" of ethics that puts him in opposition to my position.
To be continued . . .


1 comment:

Roger Sweeny said...

Congratulations! I look forward to each new post--and am rarely disappointed.