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Kingdom of Priests

With a strange regularity, it happens that readers who haven’t read the subtitle of this blog will object in the comments box that I don’t seem to offer new scientific evidence for intelligent design or against Darwinism. They assume that’s what the blog must be about, since I do often address the worldview implications of those two scientific ideas. The whole importance of the Hebrew Bible, after all, consists of the worldview it teaches.

However, conducting the scientific debate per se on evolution is not what I do. I would have thought that was obvious. There are ample resources out there on the subject — for example, Stephen Meyer’s very important new book, published literally yesterday: Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. But that’s not me.
Yet in responding to one such comment just now, I did recall the first thing I ever wrote on the Darwinism theme. That was back in 1998 in National Review. I thought it was a striking point then and I still do. I located the piece online and reproduce it for you below. The evolutionary logic of things like strip clubs (and one might add homosexuality) still seems very unsatisfying.
Here’s what I wrote 11+ years ago. Does anyone care to help set me straight? What am I missing here? As always, I encourage Darwinist believers to try to stick to the issue rather than simply lashing out with personal insults.

Strip Clubs v. Darwinism

By David Klinghoffer

Materialism can mean buying a $23,000 Rolex. But in a philosophical context it means a world view where only material reality counts, an outlook which denies that human existence has a spiritual component, and certainly denies the religious outlook in which existence is all spirit with material reality thrown in mainly to confuse us. Two famous examples of materialism in ideological form are Marxism and Darwinism, both of which maintain that ultimately life can be explained in terms of molecules bumping up against one another. 

Most of the passionate advocates of Marxism and Darwinism are on college campuses, but you find philosophical materialism elsewhere too. In fact, it would appear to find its perfect expression in the Body Shop, a strip joint on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. But as the silicone-buoyed torsos of the naked women there amply testify, appearances can be deceiving. Here is a mystery for you. 

I visited the Body Shop recently in connection with the bachelor party of an old friend. (I note a defensive tone creeping in here.) Eleven guys were staying in two motel rooms a distance down Sunset. After we had been sitting around and drinking for a while, a collective decision was made to take a walk. We passed the Body Shop (not to be confused with the PC cosmetics chain), and the collectivity decided to go in. I could tell you that I would have preferred to keep walking, which is true, but you probably wouldn’t believe me, so what’s the point? Anyway, I would have seemed like a killjoy if I’d gone back to the motel by myself, and so I paid the $15 cover charge and went in.

More after the jump:

As such places go, the Body Shop is a high-class establishment. In California, a strip joint can feature full nudity only on the condition that no liquor is served. So our group ordered Diet Cokes and Perrier waters and sat down. 

The crowd was impressively sober. There were men alone, men in pairs, here and there a guy with a date, and a disproportionate number of Asians. A respectful hush was maintained throughout–no stamping, hooting, or whistling, which compared favorably with many Manhattan movie theaters. 

The room is mirrored but dark, except for spotlights illuminating the runways. With your fizzy water or soft drink before you, you sit at a curved version of those long, thin tables that panel speakers at conferences sit behind. Between the tables are the runways, so that you face other men while you wait for the girls to go by. 

One by one they emerge from behind a velvet curtain and strut dispassionately down the runway. Flawless in an unreal way and uniformly tanned, their bodies say, “Sex,” but their faces, all masked by the same expression of total boredom, say, “Check, please.” The guys aren’t bored. A couple of Asians seated across and a few feet up from me look on as if stunned, the mouth of one of them hanging open in a way people’s mouths normally do only in cartoons. At the end of the runway, there’s a fire pole, and the girl generally climbs up on the pole and swings around it a couple of times. 

Then she struts back to where she came from, every foot or two bending to pick up the dollar tips which the guys leave next to their ginger ale. If you don’t leave a tip–something one of my companions thought he could get away with–you receive a dressing-down from the stripper. “What’s the matter? You’re not tipping. Hey, that’s the way I make my living.” 

There are two ground rules here. One is, no booze. The other, no touching. Actually, some touching does occur. For $25 you can get a “lap dance” performed on you. As one member of our party explained 15 minutes after setting down that amount for the service, this means you go in a back room with one of the girls and she squirms around on your lap for a while. Don’t get any dirty ideas about this. None of the man’s clothes are removed or unzipped. No hands are employed. One assumes that if the customer takes any liberties, large muscled men, probably with mustaches, are waiting in an adjacent room, ready to swing into immediate action. So you sit there and experience the frustration as it mounts. It appears to be basically a form of self-torture. 

Here is where the mystery comes in. It’s hard to enter the Body Shop a philosophical materialist and exit in the same condition. Obviously, lots of men enjoy gazing at naked girls who are in excellent physical shape. And enough enjoy lap dances to justify strip clubs in offering them. I don’t pretend to ask this question from the perspective of a detached observer. But trying to take as detached a view as possible of human sexual perversity, why do we enjoy this sort of thing? 

Darwinism informs us that every aspect of our physiological being — including the neuron connections in the brain that make men want to visit strip clubs — developed in one way only: random mutations in the gene pool sorted through by natural selection, a process with no intelligence in control but a single criterion guiding it. That criterion is the survival of the human race. Whatever traits increase the chances of survival are retained. Whatever don’t, are dropped. Period. 

Consider a typical example of Darwinian thinking. In a controversial article last fall in The New York Times Magazine, Professor Steven Pinker of MIT tried to explain the evolutionary logic of killing your own newborn baby. Accused baby-killers like the “supposedly callous” Melissa Drexler are only doing what comes naturally. In the course of evolutionary history, primitive women often killed their babies if the babies, for health or other reasons, didn’t seem to have much of a chance of surviving to adulthood. Doing so freed the mothers to concentrate their efforts on raising the healthier children to whom they had given or would give birth, thus increasing the prospects of human survival on the whole. The willingness to commit “neonaticide” was thus selected for by nature and retained. 

That makes a kind of twisted sense (though some of the specifics of Mr. Pinker’s argument have been debunked by Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard). But when it comes to explaining another feature of human makeup, Darwinism runs into a brick wall covered with girlie posters. 

While I was in California, the Los Angeles Times mentioned the passage of a state law against Peeping Toms. Evidently the problem of Peeping Toms is on the rise in the Golden State. An assemblyman from San Diego fought for and got passed a requirement that, for a second Peeping offense, the guilty party receive a year in jail, up from six months previously; to qualify for probation, a convicted Tom must undergo “counseling.” 

I thought about that as I sipped Perrier at the Body Shop. I asked the guy sitting next to me if he was enjoying the show. Yeah, he said, he liked it all right, though not as much as he enjoys the glimpse he’ll now and then catch of a girl across the street from his apartment. Framed by a spotless picture window, she makes her bed each morning in the nude. 

Among forms of human perversity, the sexual kind tends to be the most perverse. Other varieties  — greed, violence — can help propagate the species. Greed can drive a successful career that creates livelihoods for others. War is often necessary to establish long-lasting peace, saving lives in the long run. A Darwinian can explain all of these. However, with exceptions — like adultery — one thing the various forms of sexual perversity have in common is that they add nothing to the prospects for our biological survival. 

Just the opposite, in fact. Voyeurism, pornography, homosexuality have nothing to do with procreation. As a colleague points out, statisticians have found that the best predictor of a healthy heterosexual appetite in men is … an enthusiasm for watching lesbians go at it (a fact of purely scientific interest, he assures me). If you are satisfying your sexual impulse in a way that precludes the creation of new life, then the odds increase that you’re not going to make any babies. The evolution of our desire to do things like go to the Body Shop actually works against the purpose of evolution. 

Of course true believers in Darwinism could respond that voyeurism and pornography function as sexual warm-up exercises, preludes to the main event which heighten the desire for intercourse, thus advancing the goal of procreation. Darwinism is convenient that way. Whatever counterinstances you offer, its devotees will stretch the theory to take them into account, thereby, in their minds, increasing its plausibility. They are a lot like those Freudians who view skepticism toward their own ideology as a form of “resistance,” a neurotic symptom confirming the need for psychoanalysis. In the hard sciences such elasticity in a theory is generally regarded as a fatal flaw, not a strength. In this case, practically speaking, it happens that voyeurism and pornography are almost invariably substitutes for sexual intercourse. And this leaves aside homosexual activity, which by definition can’t lead to procreation. 

In Darwinian terms, sexual perversity just doesn’t compute. And for a totalizing ideology that claims to illuminate the origin of everything that we are as human beings, that’s troubling. One version or another of Darwin’s theory is the only even halfway convincing materialistic explanation anyone has proposed as to how man appeared on earth as he is. If there is one aspect o
f our makeup that didn’t come about by evolution, and this certainly sounds like one, then that opens the door to the possibility of a non-natural — that is, supernatural — explanation. So add perverse sexual desires to the lengthening list of things that Darwinism can’t make sense of today and probably never will, from cell structure to the fossil record. 

But there needn’t be any mystery here. After all, God made day and He made night. He set our impulses in us, good and evil. If we have the desire to indulge less-than-elevated instincts, the responsibility is ultimately His. If we go ahead and indulge them, it’s ours. He made the conditions for the existence of something like the Body Shop. If I pay the cover charge, in a metaphysical sense, it comes out of my wallet. 

Mr. Klinghoffer is NR‘s literary editor.

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