In Bass Ackwards Darwinism (below) my friend DaveScott writes:
“Good people do good things. Evil people do evil things. Knowledge (like Darwinian evolution and the recipe for dynamite) is inanimate and can be employed by good people for good things and evil people for evil things.”
The issue is not whether “good” people do good things. Of course they do. That’s why we call them “good.” The issue is not whether “evil” people do evil things. Again, of course they do. That’s why we call them “evil.” The issue is what do we mean when we say “good” and “evil.” From the answer to that question everything else about our ethics follows.
Some people (mainly theists of various stripes) say “good” means that which conforms to a moral standard that transcends place, time, opinion, personality, social constructs and everything else, and “evil” means that which does not conform to that transcendent standard. I will call these people transcendent standard advocates or TSA’s for short.
Other people say no such transcendent standard exists. I will call these people materialists.
Now here is the crux of the matter. TSAs may be wrong. There may not be a transcendant moral standard after all, and the appearance of such a standard (what C.S. Lewis calls the “Tao” in the Abolition of Man) may be an illusion. But at least they can give a rational account for the basis of their morality, i.e., the transcendent standard exists. All of our moral choices are either consistent with that standard or inconsistent with that standard. We can argue about the exact parameters of the standard. There will be gray areas. But to say that some areas are gray is very different from saying everything is gray.
On the other hand, after centuries of striving materialists have failed to provide a rational account for morality. Indeed, thoughtful and courageous materialists (I’m thinking of Frederic Nietzsche and Will Provine) have argued that the premises of materialism absolutely preclude a conclusion that ethics or morality have any firm foundation.
Turning back to DaveScott’s post, he says that he does “good” because he intuitively understands and abides by the golden rule. In other words, Dave bases his morality on his intuition.
Here is the problem with this formulation in classical terms: What is the Good? Dave and the TSAs agree that the Good is that which is desirable. So far so good (so to speak). But the more important question is “what is the desirable?” Dave believes the desirable is that which he actually desires based on his intuition about the golden rule. TSAs believe the desirable is that which Dave OUGHT to desire. If, as is the case with Dave, what is actually desired corresponds with what ought to be desired, there is no problem.
The problem for Dave’s philosophy is what happens when someone has a disordered desire. What if this person (let’s call him Bob) desires to have sex with little children. Dave will say to him “I have a strong intuition that sex with little children is profoundly wrong.” Bob will reply, “Why should I care what your intuition tells you? If I can get away with an activity that gives me pleasure, why should I restrain myself? Surely you are not suggesting your intuition, i..e, your opinion, is in any way binding on me.”
Dave might reply, “But Bob, it is plain that you ought not have sex with little children.” Now, if Dave means by “ought” that he has a strong intuition that sex with little children is wrong because it violates the golden rule, he has done no more than repeat himself using different terms. He has not answered Bob’s objection. On the other hand, if Dave means by “ought” that sex with little children breaks an obvious moral standard that transcends his and Bob’s opinion, he has not acted logically given his premise that no such standard exists.
At the end of the day, Dave can appeal to a standard that transcends his intuition or he can appeal to his intuition. If he does the former, he has implicitly admitted the TSA premise. If he does the latter, he has given Bob no rational reason for refraining from his activity. Dave has only said, “I do not agree with it.”
What does this have to do with Darwin? Darwin’s theory does not compel belief in materialism any more than ID compels a belief in God. But many people believed (especially in late 19th century Europe and North America) that Darwin’s theory was evidence of the triumph of materialist science over the superstition of religion. This had a profound impact on our social institutions.
In most of the recent posts this impact has been explored in the context of the holocaust. I will not add to that debate. Instead, I will give an example from my own field of the law. As I have written before, it is not an overstatement to say that the modern era of American law began with the publication in 1897 of “The Path of the Law” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. In this seminal work Holmes announced that it was time to jettison the notion that the law has anything to do with morality, because morality has no meaning. Holmes wrote, “For my own part, I often doubt whether it would not be a gain if every word of moral significance could be banished from the law altogether, and other words adopted which should convey legal ideas uncolored by anything outside the law.”
With “The Path of the Law” Holmes had founded the school of “legal realism,” and this theory gradually came to be the predominate theory of jurisprudence in the United States. “Legal realism” should more properly be called “legal materialism” because Holmes denied the existence of any objective “principles of ethics or admitted axioms” to guide judges’ rulings. In other words, the law is not based upon principles of justice that transcend time and place. The law is nothing more than what willful judges do, and the “rules” they use to justify their decision are tagged on after they have decided the case according to their personal preferences. At its bottom legal realism is a denial of the objective existence of a foundation of moral norms upon which a structure of justice can be built.
Why would Holmes deny the objective existence of morality? This is where the influence of Darwin comes in. It is one of the darker secrets of our nation’s past that Holmes, perhaps the most venerated of all our Supreme Court justices, was a fanatical — I used that word advisedly — Darwinist who advocated eugenics and the killing of disabled babies. I n Buck v. Bell Holmes wrote “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” As Phillip Johnson has written, Holmes was a “convinced Darwinist who profoundly understood the philosophical implications of Darwinism.”
“The Origin of Species” was published in 1859. By 1897, when Holmes wrote “The Path of the Law,” Darwinism had had become an unchallengeable scientific orthodoxy accepted as a matter of course by practically all intellectuals. Holmes thought he had no choice but to believe Darwinism and to accept uncritically the philosophical materialism that most people of this time believed followed inexorably from Darwin’s ideas, and his great contribution to American law was to reconcile the philosophy of law with the philosophy of materialism.
Once they were unleashed from any duty to actually apply objective “rules of law,” judges soon found they could impose their political views on the rest of us under the guise of interpreting the United States Constitution. The federal judiciary’s long march through our laws, traditions and institutions began slowly in the 1930’ss but rapidly gathered momentum until, in 1973 in the most stunning example of judicial willfulness in our nation’s history, the Supreme Court invalidated the abortion laws of all 50 states.
So you see legal realism was built step by step, precept by precept, upon a foundation of philosophical materialism that in turn rests upon the triumph of Darwin for its acceptance. And upon this foundation was built a superstructure of judicial willfulness that resulted ultimately in Roe v. Wade. Each link in the causal chain is plain to see for anyone who takes the time to look.
Obviously, I take for granted that abortion — the taking of an innocent human life — is immoral. In the discussion thread I will not debate this topic, as it is beyond the scope of UD. I will just say this: If you believe an unborn baby is not human you are ignorant. If you believe that taking that baby’s life is not immoral, you are deeply confused morally.