In the post below Andrew Sibley links to an extraordinary article in The Times about the link between Darwinism and the recent spate of school shootings, and in the comments Leviathan steps up to give us the obligatory “this doesn’t disprove Darwinism” response.
Leviathan, you are missing the point. I read the article and there is not one word in it that attacks Darwinism per se. For all you or I know the author could be a Darwinian fundamentalist. I take it that the point of the article is that some school shooters are influenced by Darwinian theory. That is undeniable.
Actually, I take that back. I am sure there are Darwinian fundamentalists out there who would deny that any school shooter has ever been influenced by Darwinism, but that just goes to show that Darwinian fundamentalists will deny propositions they know to be true. I should say that the proposition cannot be denied in good faith.
The author obviously wants his readers to consider not the validity of the theory itself but the implications the theory has for ethics. When we teach our children that their existence is an ultimately meaningless accident and that morals are arbitrary byproducts of random genetic fluctuations and mechanical necessity, should we be surprised that they place a lower value on human life than someone who is taught that all humans have inherent dignity and worth because they are made in the image of God?
What to do? What to do? In considering this question, I am reminded of Plato’s “noble lie.” In The Republic Plato proposed a special class of guardians trained from infancy to rule over the other classes. But how do we persuade the guardians to rule for the common good instead of using their power to advance their personal ambitions? Plato comes up with the “noble lie,” specifically the myth of the metals. The answer, Plato says, is to make the guardians believe the gods have mixed a particular type of metal with the souls of the members of the different classes of society. While common people have bronze or iron mixed with their soul, the guardians have gold mixed with theirs. And here is the kicker: The guardians are to be taught that they must never acquire wealth for themselves, because the gods frown at mixing earthly gold with spiritual gold. Talk about chasing your tail. Plato proposes a system in which the city spends years training the guardians in all the knowledge and wisdom they have, all the while making sure that at the end of the process they are still dumb enough to believe the myth of the metals.
There are three and only three options.
1. We can continue to fill our children’s heads with standard Darwinian theory (which Dennett rightly calls “universal acid”), understanding that at least some of them are going to put two and two together and realize that the acid has eaten through all ethical principles — and act accordingly.
2. We can try to come up with a secular noble lie. “OK kids. You might have noticed that one of the implications of what I just taught you is that your lives are ultimately meaningless and all morals are arbitrary, but you must never act as if that is true because [fill in the noble lie of your choice, such as “morality is firmly grounded on societal norms or our ability to empathize with others”].
3. We can teach our children the truth – that the universe reveals a wondrous ordered complexity that can only be accounted for by the existence of a super-intelligence acting purposefully. And one of the implications of that conclusion is that God exists, and, reasoning further, He has established an objective system of morality that binds us all, and therefore the moral imperatives you feel so strongly are not just an epiphenomenon of the electro-chemical states of your brain.
Looking around I see that for the last several decades we have tried options one and two, and we have gotten what we have gotten. I vote to give option three a run.