New English Review: Darwinism as “grand and stupid prejudice”

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In “Triumph of Maya,” New English Review (May 10), Mark Antony Signorelli addresses the poverty of current cultural Darwinism, critiquing it from a Hindu perspective:

When I speak here of Darwinism, I am not referring to the scientific theory of evolution as it is currently expounded, which is a matter for scientists to debate; I am referring to the apotheosis of that scientific theory into an all-explanatory, totalizing doctrine, with all sort of implications of a necessarily philosophical purport. This is the true Darwinism to which I refer,[iv] and which has spread like a pestilence through the corridors of Western academia. Of course, in this respect, Darwinism merely displays that positivism, or scientism, which is one of the grand and stupid prejudices of the modern mind, and arguably lies at the root of all the others. The belief that because science has explained some things well, it can explain all things well, and that therefore the only legitimate form of inquiry partakes of scientific methodology, pervades our era, though nobody now so much as pretends to offer a rational defense of such assumptions. On the occasion that such a defense was attempted, it was a crashing failure. The logical positivists, those masters of sterility, gathered amidst the pallor of early twentieth century decadence for the express purpose of restraining men’s thoughts, for all time, to the wholly material and observable. … Clutching this blatantly self-refuting doctrine in their little withered fists, they warned men that henceforth there would be no more metaphysics. These were men who believed that prakriti [material] was all, and who wished to cajole their fellow man into the like conviction, yet their project ended in such a perfect and irremediable failure that their efforts remain as a kind of startling monument to the absurdity of philosophical presumption. And still, the ranks of the academic materialists are filled with haughty men convinced that the general position of the logical positivists, so nakedly erroneous, is a self-evident truth. We still routinely read the claim, made or insinuated by authors whom we are supposed to take seriously, that metaphysics is a passé and useless discipline, as though a complete and systematic explanation of the universe were possible without a metaphysics, any more than a satisfactory account of wages were possible without an economics, or an explanation of tragedy without a poetics. The Darwinians unreflective belief that scientific explanations alone are valid, then, is hardly unique to themselves, but one which they clearly caught from the linguists, psychologists, and anthropologists with whom they rub shoulders in the dining halls and faculty meetings of our desolate universities.

Funny thing, I just got done proofreading an academic article that exactly fits Signorelli’s description.

For one thing, the authors have an itch to argue away consciousness, a sure sign of trouble.

This sort of nonsense is not harmless; it is part of a pattern which saw the campus become a very oppressive place over the years, as more and more academics have piled into social engineering, convinced that they are only manipulating wayward neurons. (This article by Crick and Koch will be one of the Nature of Nature essays in the forthcoming book of that name.)

Which reminds me, there is a Hindu-sponsored intelligent design book out there: Nature’s I. Q. is most interesting, and offers stunning photographs. It differs from the typical Western approach in focusing on behaviour rather than physical form, but makes similar points.

A friend praises the article as one of the few whose author actually knows something about classical intellectual Hinduism.

Note: There is some glitch in the system, such that I cannot place a comment. Now, bornagain @ 4:  Karma is a doctrine of cause and effect, but it includes moral cause and effect.  If one believes that there is moral cause and effect, then a mind would seem to be necessary. Thus, Hindus would not typically be materialists. Also, the doctrine of reincarnation implies that there is actually a self.  A Hindu might have a very different idea of what design in the universe means, but would find it very compatible with cultural beliefs.

12 Replies to “New English Review: Darwinism as “grand and stupid prejudice”

  1. 1
    Granville Sewell says:

    There is an interesting on-line Indian journal AntiMatters which critiques materialism from a Hindu viewpoint. I guess I don’t know enough about Hinduism to understand their viewpoint, because the editor liked my criticisms of Darwinism (even included an article in his Nov 24, 2007 issue based on chapter 5 of my book), but wrote “it is preposterous to assert that ID is the alternative to materialism.”

    Isn’t the definition of materialism the idea that everything is the result of unintelligent causes? If so, wouldn’t the alternative be, some things are not the result of unintelligent causes? Maybe my definition of “materialism” is not quite right, or at least not the definition they use.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Its funny that evolution, upon closer inspection, would be disowned by the Hindu perspective when Hinduism is actually found to be the grandfather philosophy for evolution, as is clearly illustrated in the first part of this video:

    The Root & Fruit Of Evolution

  3. 3
    Granville Sewell says:

    Well, my dictionary defines materialism as “the philosophical doctrine that matter is the only reality and that everything in the world..can be explained only in terms of matter…” So I guess my definition was not quite right.

    Still, I find it hard to understand how someone who rejects Darwinism and all other “materialistic” explanations for eyes, ears, hearts and brains, can imagine an alternative other than intelligent design. What is the third alternative, after “unintelligent causes” and “intelligent causes”? Maybe someone who know more about Hinduism can explain how you can reject both materialism and design.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Granville Sewell, I believe the video I linked to can give you a little more background information on that question: Myself, I find the main incongruence between Hinduism and materialistic evolution to be found in the materialists rejection of the main spiritual component of Hinduism of karmic reincarnation. Thus it is somewhat a foggy, subtle, objection that is being made from the Hindu perspective to the materialist position, in that the spiritual component of Hinduism is loosely defined to start with, and thus really offers little firm footing in which to counter materialists. Of course, lest I offend Hindu’s, this is all my personal opinion.

  5. 5
    JPCollado says:

    I thought all who oppose Darwin, according to the vanguards of “truth” and science, were supposed to be right-wing, Bible-thumping, conservative creationists.

    Somebody has been selling me snake oil without the actual medicinal potion.

  6. 6
    Ilion says:

    Mr Sewell, perhaps your Hindu critic (who criticizes both approvingly and disapprovingly) is misunderstanding ID, as so many others do, as being explicitly and exclusively/exhaustively supportive of the Christian metaphysic.

    Hindus — despite that so many of them will assert that “all religions are equal paths to God” – know as well as Christians that Hinduism and Christianity are in logical and metaphysical opposition.

  7. 7
    Ilion says:

    Granville Sewell:Isn’t the definition of materialism the idea that everything is the result of unintelligent causes?

    Granville Sewell:Well, my dictionary defines materialism as “the philosophical doctrine that matter is the only reality and that everything in the world..can be explained only in terms of matter…” So I guess my definition was not quite right.

    The idea that everything is the result of unintelligent causes” is a logical implication of (the definition of) materialism. It can also be put as “everything is the result of *unintended* causes.” It can also be put as “there are (material) causes, but never (conceptual) *reasons,* for any event or state to occur.”

  8. 8
    Timaeus says:

    Some comments have been made here about Hinduism. As I did graduate-level study of that religion, I thought I should make some points.

    First, I listened to the first half of the presentation cited by bornagain77. The speaker was a charming and intelligent person, and made a number of good points about ancient Western culture, which was his special field of study. However, much of what he said about Hinduism was unreliable.

    It is not that the facts as presented were incorrect; it is that they were presented in a misleading way. Not deliberately misleading, but accidentally so. The speaker tended to treat Hinduism as unified system of theology, and to ignore all kinds of important differences.

    The texts cited were from all over the map. The presentation mingled ideas from passages that were centuries or even millennia apart, and from texts that varied in status from revealed (sruti) to merely traditional (smrti). It also mingled together texts that were philosophical and texts that were mythological, and did not take into account the distinctions between the six schools of orthodox Hindu thought. Overall, his procedure was like deriving “the Christian position” on evolution by taking a phrase out of Genesis, a passage from Paul, a sentence out of Origen, a paragraph out of Augustine, one article from Aquinas’s Summa, a paragraph out of Calvin, some writings about nature by Francis of Assisi, and a bit of Teilhard de Chardin.

    There were also places where the speaker was reliant upon translations which had “Westernized” the meaning of the text, and, lacking the training to discuss the translations, could not spot this; and there were places where his attempt to read certain myths as “evolutionary” required forcing the texts into a meaning their authors would not have recognized.

    I see no malice aforethought in the speaker’s presentation. He clearly does not have the background to discuss Hindu thinking in a proper scholarly way.

    If the speaker wanted to make the very general point that evolutionary ideas *can be found* in Indian thought — Hindu or Buddhist — I would have no objection. But to say that evolutionary ideas can be found in Indian thought is different from saying (1) Indian thought overall is evolutionary [in the modern Western sense] or (2) Indian evolutionary thought is historically responsible for Western evolutionary thought.

    On the second point, while it is possible that some Greek thinkers came into contact with Indian thinkers, it is not certain (the ancient accounts of Pythagoras’s travels and so on are notoriously unreliable); and in any case, what we have left of Pythagoras is not evolutionary in a Darwinian sense. As for the proto-evolutionary ideas in Ionian thought and atomist thought, they are a logical outflow of materialism and atomism, and don’t require any hypothesis of Indian influence.

    Almost any “big idea” is found in parallel forms around the world. That doesn’t show historical influence. There is no evidence that Darwin, Lamarck, etc. were thinking about Hinduism when they formulated their evolutionary notions. If they were thinking about ancient thinkers at all, it was probably the atomists or the Stoics, and both of those schools can be accounted for as home-grown phenomena of the West.

    As for the other comment made by Ilion, that Christianity and Hinduism are in opposition, it of course depends entirely upon which features of Christianity and Hinduism you single out for comparison. There are important differences and important similarities. But both are opposed to all forms of purely mechano-materialistic thought insofar at they affirm a spiritual reality which cannot be reduced to matter in motion or laws of nature or chance.

    A Hindu philosopher might easily be a “theistic evolutionist” of some sort, i.e., might believe that the universe in its physical aspect unfolds in accord with a set of material necessities, while affirming ultimate divine sovereignty over all that happens, and the freedom of the human soul to transcend material necessity through knowledge of the divine.

    A Hindu thinker might even be able to accept, in some limited form, neo-Darwinian mechanisms. But the Hindu thinker would never agree with the interpretation put upon evolution by Dawkins, Coyne, etc., and still less with the sunny, “progressive” notion of evolution promoted by Huxley and others. Neither atheism nor “progress” in the Western sense are acceptable principles to orthodox schools of Hinduism.

    Hindu thought is broad and complex, and one can find just about every philosophical and theological position within it. A Hindu “intelligent design” position would be entirely in accord with many sacred texts and theological writings. But the “design versus chance” debate, while doubtless found here and there in India, is not the primary focus of discussions of origins within Hindu thought. In popular Hindu thought, origins have generally been discussed mythologically; in learned Hindu thought, metaphysically. *Historical* arguments of the sort which preoccupy the American debate have by and large been negligible in importance. The Hindu mind does not grant “history” the importance that the Western mind does.


  9. 9
    Aleta says:

    Thanks very much for this post, Timaeus. As a student of Eastern religion and philosophy also, I appreciate all that you said.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    Thank you for your insight. I appreciate your depth in the subject as well. As to your point about:

    “The speaker tended to treat Hinduism as unified system of theology,”

    I can resonate to that fact in that I was told by one Christian missionary, who had gone to India, that the problem in India is very different than in the west. He said in India they believe in literally millions of gods and they were very happy that he, the missionary, believed that Jesus was God. Thus the problem for him was not to get them to believe in a god per se, but was to get them to see that Jesus is the only true God.

    This short video shows the struggle that one Hindu woman had in coming to Christianity:

    Hindu Woman asks Jesus to Make Himself Real – HE DID!!!

    As well I remember one Indian who had converted from Hinduism to Christianity. He had come on a mission of gratitude from India to America and was giving his testimony across America to various churches and homeless shelters. His mother had had terminal cancer and a Christian missionary had come to their village and had prayed for her in Jesus name and she had been cured. I remember thinking to myself in that homeless shelter that this testimony certainly must be true for what would possess a man to come halfway across the world to do as such unless a truly extraordinary event had touched him.

  11. 11
    Cabal says:

    What is the third alternative, after “unintelligent causes” and “intelligent causes”?

    The problem vanishes the moment you realize the error of connecting cause with ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’.

    A cause is a cause is a cause regardless of cause.

  12. 12
    Ilion says:

    Oh! I get it, Cabal: “Stuff Happens!” is all the explanation anyone needs.

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