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How Darwinism wound its way into various schemes for improving American society

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Terry Scambray offers a review of a recent book, Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea, by Bradley C.S. Watson (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020). It’s interesting how much of a role Darwinism played in the thinking of those who wanted everybody to evolve faster:

Hofstadter in his 1944 book, Social Darwinism in American Thought, wrote that Darwin’s theory was unique in that it affected not only science but all endeavors. In fact, Darwin was not unique in either category because Newton, not to mention Copernicus and Einstein, had been used in the same way. Regardless, Hofstadter softened Darwin, making his a “conservative” force, supporting the laissez-faire status quo. Others classified Darwin as a change agent, a precursor to social planning. These intermural quarrels aside, Watson demonstrates that progressivism “aimed a dagger at the heart of the Constitution.” …

Revisionists agree that the 1912 election of President Wilson injected the cult of progress directly into the American political bloodstream. Charles Kesler, laying the groundwork for later scholars, wrote that Wilson’s comprehensive vision of progressivism was one of Darwinian movement rather than Newtonian fixity. Kesler sees liberalism as the common ancestor of progressivism in that it opts for change, seemingly oblivious of irony, tragedy and common sense which is say, history.

Terry Scambray, “The Strange History of Progressivism” at American Thinker

If anyone doubts that evolution occurs, they can watch how journalists evolved in recent decades from free speech defenders to self-righteous censors. But, of course, it’s really devolution, as in Darwin Devolves.

2 Replies to “How Darwinism wound its way into various schemes for improving American society

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Isms are irrelevant. “Constitutions” are totally irrelevant.

    Psychopaths always need to create violent change all the time. Never let the victim have more than a brief moment of stability, a few days of balance. After the victim stops swaying and staggering from the previous punch and starts to think things might be returning to normal, the demon comes at him from an unexpected angle with an unexpected punch. Every blow is a sucker punch.

    Force obedience. Change the rules. Force obedience to the new rules. Change the rules. Force obedience to the new rules. Change the rules. Force obedience to the new rules. Change the rules. Loop forever, hell forever.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Nancy Pearcey has an excellent article on this subject:

    How Darwinism Dumbs Us Down – Nancy Pearcey
    Excerpt: The gist of my talk was that Darwinism undercuts the very possibility of rational truth–an argument that seemed unsettling to atheist students who had organized a group specifically to promote rational thought!
    To understand how Darwinism undercuts the very concept of rationality, we can think back to the late nineteenth century when the theory first arrived on American shores. Almost immediately, it was welcomed by a group of thinkers who began to work out its implications far beyond science. They realized that Darwinism implies a broader philosophy of naturalism (i.e., that nature is all that exists, and that natural causes are adequate to explain all phenomena). Thus they began applying a naturalistic worldview across the board–in philosophy, psychology, the law, education, and the arts.
    At the foundation of these efforts, however, was a naturalistic approach to knowledge itself (epistemology). The logic went like this: If humans are products of Darwinian natural selection, that obviously includes the human brain–which in turn means all our beliefs and values are products of evolutionary forces: Ideas arise in the human brain by chance, just like Darwin’s chance variations in nature; and the ones that stick around to become firm beliefs and convictions are those that give an advantage in the struggle for survival. This view of knowledge came to be called pragmatism (truth is what works) or instrumentalism (ideas are merely tools for survival).
    Darwinian Logic
    One of the leading pragmatists was John Dewey, who had a greater influence on educational theory in America than anyone else in the 20th century. Dewey rejected the idea that there is a transcendent element in human nature, typically defined in terms of mind or soul or spirit, capable of knowing a transcendent truth or moral order. Instead he treated humans as mere organisms adapting to challenges in the environment. In his educational theory, learning is just another form of adaptation–a kind of mental natural selection. Ideas evolve as tools for survival, no different from the evolution of the lion’s teeth or the eagle’s claws.
    In a famous essay called “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy,” Dewey said Darwinism leads to a “new logic to apply to mind and morals and life.” In this new evolutionary logic, ideas are not judged by a transcendent standard of Truth, but by how they work in getting us what we want. Ideas do not “reflect reality” but only serve human interests.
    To emphasize how revolutionary this was, up until this time the dominant theory of knowledge or epistemology was based on the biblical doctrine of the image of God. Confidence in the reliability of human knowledge derived from the conviction that finite human reason reflects (to some degree at least) an infinite divine Reason. Since the same God who created the universe also created our minds, we can be confident that our mental capacities reflect the structure of the universe. In The Mind of God and the Works of Man, Edward Craig shows that even as Western thinkers began to move away from orthodox Christian theology, in their philosophy most of them still retained the conception that our minds reflect an Absolute Mind as the basis for trust in human cognition.
    The pragmatists were among the first, however, to face squarely the implications of naturalistic evolution. If evolutionary forces produced the mind, they said, then all are beliefs and convictions are nothing but mental survival strategies, to be judged in terms of their practical success in human conduct. William James liked to say that truth is the “cash value” of an idea: If it pays off, then we call it true.
    Pragmatism Today
    This Darwinian logic continues to shape American thought more than we might imagine. ,,,,
    If James’s religious pragmatism has become virtually the American approach to spirituality today, then Dewey’s pragmatism has become the preferred approach to education. Virtually across the curriculum–from math class to moral education–teachers are trained to be nondirective “facilitators,” presenting students with problems and allowing them to work out their own pragmatic strategies for solving them. Of course, good teachers have always taught students to think for themselves. But today’s nondirective methodologies go far beyond that. They springboard from a Darwinian epistemology that denies the very existence of any objective or transcendent truth.
    Take, for example, “constructivism,” a popular trend in education today. Few realize that it is based on the idea that truth is nothing more than a social construction for solving problems. A leading theorist of constructivism, Ernst von Glasersfeld at the University of Georgia, is forthright about its Darwinian roots. “The function of cognition is adaptive in the biological sense,” he writes. “This means that ‘to know’ is not to possess ‘true representations’ of reality, but rather to possess ways and means of acting and thinking that allow one to attain the goals one happens to have chosen.” In short, a Darwinian epistemology implies that ideas are merely tools for meeting human goals.
    Postmodern Campuses
    These results of pragmatism are quite postmodern, so it comes as no surprise to learn that the prominent postmodernist Richard Rorty calls himself a neo-pragmatism….
    I once presented this progression from Darwinism to postmodern pragmatism at a Christian college, when a man in the audience raised his hand: “I have only one question. These guys who think all our ideas and beliefs evolved . . . do they think their own ideas evolved?” The audience broke into delighted applause, because of course he had captured the key fallacy of the Darwinian approach to knowledge. If all ideas are products of evolution, and thus not really true but only useful for survival, then evolution itself is not true either–and why should the rest of us pay any attention to it?
    Indeed, the theory undercuts itself. For if evolution is true, then it is not true, but only useful. This kind of internal contradiction is fatal, for a theory that asserts something and denies it at the same time is simply nonsense. In short, naturalistic evolution is self-refuting.

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