Rod Dreher

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse, the historian and philosopher of science, considers recent skepticism about Charles Darwin voiced not by creationists, but by eminent philosophers. Excerpt:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini were an isolated case, one could dismiss their book with a grimace (if you were a biologist), or welcome them with a cheer (if you were a creationist). But in the philosophical community, there is an increasingly vocal cadre of eminent philosophers harboring doubts about Darwin.

If I posted all the compelling passages from Ruse’s essay, especially those in which it seems to me he works hard to be fair to the philosophers he later criticizes, this entry would go on far too long. Please do read the essay. Here’s one passage that gives you an idea of what Ruse is up to:

This total lack of interest in the science is surely suggestive. The critics are being driven by other, for them deeper, concerns. And as an evolutionist, I turn to the past for clues. What fueled the initial opposition to Darwin was a concern with our species, with Homo sapiens. For 150 years, since the Origin, critics have feared that we humans might become part of the evolutionary picture–not just our bodies, but our minds, our very souls. What makes us distinctively and uniquely human? This worry is still alive and well in today’s philosophical community. Plantinga is open in his fear that Darwinism makes impossible the guaranteed existence of our species. More, for years he has argued that Darwinism is bound up with the metaphysical belief that everything is natural (as opposed to supernatural), and that this leads to a collapse of rational belief and knowledge. The chance elements in Darwinism are simply not compatible with Plantinga’s Christian faith.
As nonbelievers, Nagel and Fodor are a bit different, but not that different. For years Nagel has argued against a reductive view of the human mind, believing it to be more than just molecules in motion–the obvious end result of Darwinism. At some level, Nagel believes, the mind is above the material. It is perhaps a stretch, but probably not too much of a stretch, to say that the kind of sympathetic attitude that Nagel takes toward intelligent design points not so much to a concealed theism (akin to Plantinga’s open theism) as to a kind of vitalism, in which there are nonnatural, nonphysical forces that direct things in the material world.
And then there is Fodor. The final section of his new book is very revealing. As a dreadful warning to those who do not accept his main conclusions, Fodor prints passage after passage of claims by Darwinians that one can understand human nature and thinking as the product of natural selection: This is where we will all end up if we don’t stop the rot right now. My suspicion is that Fodor doesn’t really give a damn about fruit flies or finches or anything else out there. But when it comes to Homo sapiens, he wants no part of a naturalistic explanation that reduces design to the workings of blind law. There may not be a God, but we sure are made in his image.

Do read the entire Ruse essay, which is rewarding.
Along these lines, as someone who finds no contradiction between believing in natural selection and in Christianity (but also as someone who admittedly has not thought deeply about it), I’m interested in the work of Cambridge paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris and his idea of “convergent evolution.” Conway Morris, I should say, is a believing Catholic, and a critic of Intelligent Design. If I understand him broadly, Conway Morris accepts natural selection, but also argues that there is a teleology inherent in evolutionary processes. In the penultimate chapter of his book “Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe,” Conway Morris writes about the prospect of “a theology of evolution.” He is critical of those he calls “Darwin’s priesthood,” the “ultra-Darwinists” whose lack of intellectual humility and “distortion of metaphysics in support of an evolutionary programme” troubles him greatly. Conway Morris cites the criticism leveled against this group (Dawkins, et alia) by philosopher of science John Greene, who accuses this group of making Darwinism not a science, but a kind of religion. Conway Morris, citing Greene, says that this viewpoint,

“deifies science, denigrates philosophy and religion, and panders to Western culture’s penchant for regarding science and technology as the guarantors of indefinite progress toward some hazy but glorious future paradise. And Greene pointedly continues, ‘Worse yet, if fosters dreams of genetic manipulation and control designed to reshape imperfect human nature according to some scientistic ideal.'”

Conway Morris goes on to write about the Scopes monkey trial, condemning the religious fundamentalism at issue there, but also taking a swipe at Clarence Darrow’s “childish conception of theology.” CM blasts the “idiocies of legislation designed (then or now) to prevent the teaching of evolution or any other science, however uncomfrotable the findings might appear to be. Societies that ignore what we discover do so at their peril, but if they imagine that on occasion the discoveries of evolution are neutral in their implications, again societies delude themselves.”
What worries Conway Morris is the refusal of orthodox biologists and other scientists even to consider evidence from science that there might be some higher intelligence behind and inherent in natural processes, such as evolution, and therefore we must not treat the natural world as if it were our plaything. He writes:

Now vanished is the notion that the world we have been given might have its own integrity and values. Rather the prevailing view of scientism is that the biosphere is infinitely malleable. Again the moral high ground is hijacked on the assumption that all this is for our perceived good, although in reality the benefits are fare more likely to fill the coffers of the corporations and erode the diversity of crop specites, to be followed by what? … What follows from the genetic meddling in maize and soon pigs, will, it may be safely assumed, be applied in due course to humans.

To be sure, Conway Morris doesn’t believe that science proves the existence of God, nor does he say that because scientific findings and thought can be put to evil ends, we must conjure a god to impose limits on ourselves. Rather, his book argues that the scientific record is full of clues that suggest not randomness but purpose in the emergence of life and sentience in humans, and that this is not a meaningless fact. He concludes:

So, at some point and somehow, given that evolution has produced sentient species with a sense of purpose, it is reasonable to take the claims of theology seriously. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the connections that might serve to reunify the scientific world-view with the religious instinct. Much of the discussion is tentative, and the difficulties in finding an accomodation remain daunting, but it is more than worth the effort. In my opinion it will be our lifeline.

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