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Larry Arnhart asks: “Why don’t social conservatives embrace Darwinism?” O’Leary tries to explain


In a December 26 comment, Larry Arnhart, author of Darwinian Conservatism, asked,

Why would “family values” conservatism be contrary to Darwinian conservatism? In my book, I show how Darwinian science supports family values and traditional morality as rooted in human biological nature. So where’s the conflict?

Where’s the conflict? Well, how about from the beginning to the end?

Of course, that’s not very specific, is it? So let me start with the observation that the universe is either top down or bottom up. Family values conservatives are mostly top downers. That means that they believe that mind comes first and produces matter. Darwin and his followers believe that matter comes first and produces mind.

The difference is fundamental (so to speak). In fact, Larry helpfully underlines this very fact in a subsequent comment, appended to another of my posts:

There is an alternative to either reductionism or dualism, which is emergence. Wecould explain the soul as an emergent product of the brain. Once the primate brain passes over acritical threshold of size and complexity, novel properties emerge that could not be explained orpredicted by knowledge of the lower levels.

This would be consistent with the New Testament teaching that the soul depends on the body,so that immortality requires the resurrection of the body, as opposed to ancient Greek dualism of body of soul.

So why shouldn’t we see Darwinian emergent evolution as the way in which the Intelligent Designer worked?

After all, there is no obvious reason to believe that the Intelligent Designer was unable or unwilling to employ evolutionary causes to execute His design.

Larry also engaged in a discussion with other commenters that involved both the Old Testament and quotes from Darwin, but I will pass on all that.

The most useful thing I can offer is a quick list of at least five reasons why family values conservatives are top downers and not bottom uppers, and most unlikely to accept Arnhart’s invitation to embrace Darwinism:

1. First, Darwinism explains things simply: Natural selection acting on random mutations produces life, the vast variety of life, and mind and all else that we see. The Darwinist’s point – and both Darwin and his followers have made it clear enough – is that there is no need for God or a divine mind, because it can all happen by this process.

Thus, Arnhart’s claims about “emergence” are interesting but in the end superfluous. It would be simplest to assume – as most good Darwinians do – that there is no mind or soul. Materialist neuroscientists, who understand correctly what is at stake, describe the mind as merely a “user illusion” of the brain – and laugh at the idea of a soul.

Of course the theologians of institutional churchianity can flirt with “emergentism” and similar isms if they like – but what wouldn’t they flirt with? The suffix “-ism” is to them is what a skirt is to a sailor on shore leave. My sense is that many are materialists at heart but do not know how to make their convictions coincide with the fundamental beliefs of the institutions they belong to, unless they resort to such dodges.

To their credit, the social conservatives seem to understand all that clearly enough and blow clear of it almost instantaneously.

2. There is no reason to believe that simply increasing the number of neurons in a brain will produce a mind (or a soul) for the same reason as there is no reason to believe that simply increasing the size and power of a computer’s RAM will produce one. To imagine otherwise is the classic Darwinian shell game. Enough neurons produce a mind just as enough ancient soups produce life, and enough black holes produce a universe. Or so they say.

3. Most social conservatives in North America are Christians, so the New Testament view is worth addressing here: The New Testament does not teach that “immortality requires the resurrection of the body” or that “the soul depends on the body.” The New Testament offers the fulfilment of ancient promises of restoration of the body as well as the soul damaged by sin (see, for example, Gen 3:15; Luke 24:37–39), but few, if any, orthodox traditions believe that the immortal soul requires or depends on the body as a condition of its existence. (See, for example Rev. 6:9.)

4. Consonant with their usual real beliefs, traditional Darwinists tend to support such practices as abortion, the use of human embryos in destructive experimentation, and euthanasia, just as the social conservatives – consonant with their real beliefs – tend to oppose them. There is a long history of Darwinist support for eugenics and, in individual cases, even genocide, as a direct result of their Darwinist beliefs.

When people differ on such fundamental issues of life and death, it is likely useless to hope that they will somehow get together.

5. Finally, what does it mean to say “Darwinian science supports family values and traditional morality as rooted in human biological nature.” Darwinists can and do make up just-so stories to support polygamy, monogamy, infidelity, fidelity, smacking your squeeze around, not smacking your squeeze around, running off on your six brats, raising your six brats, getting someone else to raise your six brats, … whew! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even got to infanticide, child abuse, or preferring boys to girls (or girls to boys).

Darwinism predicts absolutely nothing of substance for family values, which normally derive from philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships. This is true whether given beliefs are widely held or wisely held or linked in any obvious way to health, wealth, or fertility.

So I don’t see family values conservatives (who are rarely as stupid as they are made out to be) embracing Darwinism any time soon. But glad someone asked.

It is :-) tribune7
I do hope so. jmcd
What is tremendously comforting is knowledge in absolute truth A lot of truth is ugly. knowing that there is a loving, caring God at the root of that truth. That's comforting. Fortunately, it's true. tribune7
Trying to emulate Christ is indeed very difficult. To fully realize that goal is almost certainly impossible. I never meant to insinuate otherwise. What is tremendously comforting is knowledge in absolute truth and knowing that there is a loving, caring God at the root of that truth. Anything in life that is worth the while involves sacrifice and doing things that you do not want to do. This is certainly not unique to Christianity. I am very aware of my mortality and realize that every day. Ideally, I would realize it with every breath. I am of the opinion that striving towards such unattainable goals will inevitably offer many experiences that celebrate the richness and depth of life, and that such effort ensures personal growth throughout life however long it may last. jmcd
Believing in Christianity is a tremendously comforting thing. I don't think you were doing it right. It's anything but comfortable. It's hard work, actually. You have to do things you don't particularly want. You have to refrain from doing things you do want to do. You have to care about people you don't particularly like and you find people that you do like, hate you. And you have to force yourself to understand you are not the center of the universe and that you are really no better than anyone else. It's hard. There are benefits, however, and they do outweigh the cost. You see that truth is findable and absolute. Most importantly you get to walk with God which is very, very cool. and I realize that the pursuit of these answers is a life long process. Hopefully, you also realize that life-long is finite. I'd also point out that pursuing answers is not the point of life. tribune7
Tribune7 said: "Barrett1, I disagree very much. I think the acceptance of Darwinism is based on emotional reasons namely the wish that God is not an authority to which one must account." I could not disagree more. Maybe for a few that is the case, but I certainly have never met anyone like that. The opposite is true for me and people that I know who have gone through a similar experience. Believing in Christianity is a tremendously comforting thing. You know all the rules. You know what you need to work towards, and you know that you will be forgiven when you inevitably screw up from time to time. Removing that knowledge places a crushing load of personal responsibility on one's psyche. You have to decide the rules. You have to define your own purpose, and you have to learn how to forgive yourself. Trust me, these are not easy things to do. At first these new responsibilities were nearly paralyzing. It took years of study and sometimes painful introspection to even catch a glimpse of the answers. Years later it is still a work in progress, and I realize that the pursuit of these answers is a life long process. By the way. I provisionally excepted Evolutionary Theory while I was still a Christian and it had nothing to do with my not being able to be a Christian anymore. I provisionally accepted ET because it was the best explanation available even though it was and is wanting in many regards. My point is that I suspect losing one's faith to be far more often a very painful and trying experience than a childish cop out. jmcd
The entire science establishment is rooted in naturalism because it works.
It only works up to a point. How does naturalism fare with regards to, say, a forensic analysis of a crime scene? Things are different in such a case, because now you have to consider things like mind and motives. A naturalism-only position simply cannot explain all of the evidence. And that's just the point with ID. ID friendly people would say that Modern Evolutionary Theory (MET/NDE) is a prime example where naturalism has not worked. Naturalism as a philosophy is perfectly fine when dealing with the "laws" of nature, but if we encounter something in nature that is not based strictly on those laws, something arranged by a being with insight and intent, then we will be unable to explain them within a mere naturalistic framework. Sometimes we run across things, like crime scenes, where intelligence is required to explain the evidence. Life on this planet may be one such instance of this, and if it is, naturalism, and it's philosophical children such as NDE, will never "work", in the same sense as the theories of gravity and the equations of quantum mechanics. In other words, it is an illogical inference to apply the success of naturalism in other areas to biological life. At any rate, modern science is rooted in the idea that natural laws exist. The very idea of natural law came by and large from those who first accepted the existence of a supernatural law giver. To say that naturalism "works", seems to conveniently forget this fact of history. mike1962
On another note—if by “emergence” we mean that the functioning brain emerges from its design, which is not a product of the elements of its material construction, then emergence is compatible with ID. An automobile is completely reducible to matter in so far as that’s what it’s made of. Its function, however, emerges from its design—it does not arise autonomously from the steel and rubber and glass and so on—there were designers. The brain is the same. It did not arise from carbon compounds in accord with the blind watchmaker hypothesis. But can we say that the mind is like the automobile? Though it was designed, is its composition completely material? And thus when the design disintegrates does it suffer complete annihilation? And is our identity to be found only in our design? ID shows that the brain was designed. But we’re still left with the mind-body problem. Materialism cannot explain “the appearance of design” through chance and necessity, but can a completely mechanistic mind produce design? And do consciousness and free will have a materialist explanation? Has science dispensed with the soul? Anyway when it comes to the Bible a nonbeliever sometimes has insight denied us conservatives wedded as we are to our sectarian traditions, and so one has to agree with J W Rennie in 3 and give credit to Arnhart earlier in 6 in regard to “… the New Testament teaching that the soul depends on the body, so that immortality requires the resurrection of the body, as opposed to ancient Greek dualism of body of soul.” Judeo-Christians will disagree with one another over the precise state of the soul after death, but those who know their Bible realize that whatever that state is it is not what we should hope for. The New Testament has the Pharisees and Saducees in sharp disagreement on this point. The former believed in a resurrection of the body whereas the latter did not (I’m not sure whether the Saducees had bought into the Helenistic “dualism of body of soul” or disavowed completely any life after death). The subject comes up rather frequently in the New Testament and Jesus and the apostles always come down on the side of the Pharisees. Jesus, for example, responds by invoking Moses’ encounter with God (Matthew 22:31-32), “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying [Exodus 3:6], I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” The reasoning, as I see it, goes like this: 1. God is the God of the patriarchs. 2. The patriarchs died and are still dead and the present state of the dead is not worthy of God. 3. Therefore there remains a bodily resurrection from the dead. The apostles also side with the Pharisees (Acts 23:6): “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee [εγω φαρισαιός ειμι—not ‘used to be a Pharisee’], the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” Historic Judaism took the same course. The resurrection, for example, is central in Ani Ma’amin, it’s the 13th of the Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith: “I believe in complete faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead at a time when it pleases the Creator, blessed be his name, and his mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.” This may be getting a little off track but I think Denyse’s point 3 needs a bit of clarification (am not sure I understand it). The exact state of the dead in Judeo-Christian thinking is controversial. In the Bible, however, a disembodied soul “in heaven” or its reincarnation in mortal flesh is not the goal. The goal is the resurrection where we re-enter the history of this planet with our “whole spirit and soul and body” (1Thess 5:23), this after having been granted immortality (1Corinthians 15:50-53). Thus the New Testament teaching is compatible with Isaiah 38:18 — “For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” What’s important for ID’s Big Tent, I believe, is that mind is not reducible to matter. It doesn’t “emerge” from or “supervene” on mechanism. The ego is elemental. But that does not mean that the soul is completely sufficient apart from the body. There is no computation/cognition, as Alan Turing supposedly showed, without the manipulation of meaningful symbols—be they on an abacus, in a brain, or within some nonmaterial “spiritual machine” (whatever that might mean). But computation/cognition is not the same thing as consciousness. Cognition is an event and consciousness is an elemental state. Cognition utilizes machinery whereas consciousness is irreducible to machinery. Computation can arise from a state of consciousness but a state of consciousness cannot arise from computation. And stimulus-response mechanism in no way equals the qualia of conscious experience. There is so much here that we don’t understand, but I believe that Scripture can be a guide to the right theory. Rude
Indeed—as y’all note—it’s the truth that matters!! Believing what we wish were true even though it’s false may be comforting, but who wants that? Modernism enthroned materialism via the two tiered take on truth that Nancy Pearcey so eloquently debunks. Post-modernism asks, “What is truth?” and concludes that there is none. Modernism may have some life left in the hard sciences but not in the humanities. Which might be why theistic Darwinism is so popular. The concern is not truth but rather politics, not fact but means, not absolutes but “useful fictions”. Maybe that’s why things are so irreconcilable in the Culture War. One side still believes in reason, the other only in process. And thus I think the theistic Darwinists (an oxymoron if there ever was one) pose a greater threat to conservatism than the likes of Richard Dawkins. Dawkins sees clearly that if science can make God unnecessary then the rest of us have no business dragging him or any of his values into the public square. You can still believe if you like, but if you can offer no objective evidence then you’d better keep your baseless faith to yourself. And so the theistic evolutionists come along and tell us we can straddle the fence. We must agree with the atheists that chance and necessity explain “the appearance of design” and at the same time derive our religion from some vague notion that God created chance and necessity. No, it’s the truth that matters: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Rude
Anyway here are things that illustrate the motivation behind the ID movement as far as science goes :-) Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority. The great tragedy of science -- the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. In scientific work, those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact. A world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words. tribune7
Is it true that the motivation behind the ID movement has nothing to do with any assessment of the moral and political implications of Darwinian science? I think this is the aspect of "Darwinian science" the Discovery Institute was addressing in the "Wedge Document".
"In order to be convinced of this important result, it is above all things necessary to study and compare the mental life of wild savages and of children. At the lowest stage of human mental development are the Australians, some tribes of the Polynesians, and the Bushmen, Hottentots, and some of the Negro tribes. In many of these languages there are numerals only for one, two, and three: no Australian language counts beyond four. Very many wild tribes can count no further than ten or twenty, whereas some very clever dogs have been made to count up to forty and even beyond sixty." –Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation (1868/1883), pp. 362, 363.
Who knows how much they have a part, and frankly, most in the ID movement don’t care.
Let me qualify that. Motivations matters to those who are involved in fund raising. The Wedge document was supposedly a draft of a fund raising letter tailored to a certain audience. Sal scordova
Larry asked: Is it true that the motivation behind the ID movement has nothing to do with any assessment of the moral and political implications of Darwinian science?
Larry, No. I have never argued that social, religious, or moral values did not have a part. Who knows how much they have a part, and frankly, most in the ID movement don't care. What matters is whether the ID hypothesis is true, every thing else is absolutely peripheral... I can tell you however, if people reading your work get the impression you are trying to tell them they're acceptance of ID or the doubts about Darwin were primarily religious, they'd probably be pretty insulted. Behe's account, is representative of the situation for many. If you go to great lengths to show why Darwinism is compatible with their social values, fine, but then they'll come right back and say, "So what? What's more important is whether it is true." Sal scordova
Arnhart, Such a motivation might influence the majority of ID supporters, but let's not conflate ID as a subject of inquiry with the motivations and purposes of its supporters. As DaveScot pointed out, the motivation game can be played with supporters of naturalistic evolution, too. crandaddy
Is it true that the motivation behind the ID movement has nothing to do with any assessment of the moral and political implications of Darwinian science? As true as it is that the motivation behind the NeoDarwinian Evolution movement has nothing to do with promoting atheism. DaveScot
Is it true that the motivation behind the ID movement has nothing to do with any assessment of the moral and political implications of Darwinian science? Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the Wedge Document: "The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. . . ." "Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans . . . as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture . . . . "Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies." Arnhart
I was born into a stuanch and devout Roman Catholic family... Mom and Dad were lifelong Democrats...Talk often centered on religion and politics...Yet I don't recall evolution ever being a topic of discussion...I think their lack of interest reflects a laissez-faire attitude of Catholics toward the theory. ... it isn't hard to understand why a number of Catholics see no difficulty whatsoever in accepting Darwinian evolution as the way God chose to create life. In fact, I was for a long time one of their number...I saw no theological problem with Darwin's theory (properly understood) -- and still don't... I remember keeping company with a pretty evangelical Protestant lab technician who attended Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.....I ordered the book [Denton's Evolution a Theory in Crisis] and finished reading it in two days. I was stunned.... Michale Behe Darwin's Nemesis
And the rest is history. Behe's account really answers Arnhart's question. The answer to his question is that the reason social conservatives reject Darwinian evolution is that it has less to do with the social aspects and quite a bit to do with the scientific adequacy of the theory, so much so that people like Behe who have no a priori inclination to reject the theory find the theory failing on scientific grounds, not theological, philosophical, nor social grounds... PS Incidentally, 4th Presybyterian has many NIH staff members attending there including a very very famous NIH scientist. Many are sympathetic to ID. scordova
Sal and avocationist, your experiences mirror mine. One difference may be that I didn't become a evo-skeptic through science per se but through the behavior by advocates of Darwinism inconsistent with the tenets of science Their present defense of NDE, for example, uses every means but science. Barrett1, I disagree very much. I think the acceptance of Darwinism is based on emotional reasons namely the wish that God is not an authority to which one must account. Even Darwinists can't cite a practical discovery (or any discovery, I guess) that required a belief that all life sprang from a common ancestor via naturally occurring modifications. tribune7
Hello Barrett, I really like the following comment, and I said something quite similar in a recent post to Jack Krebs: Our challenge is to replace Darwinian science with a reasonable explanation that invokes the reality of a spiritual God. But I don't think it is entirely true that the science was so good that the theory was accepted. For example, from an internet essay: In 1873, only fourteen years after The Origin Of Species, geologist J.W. Dawson, chancellor of McGill University in Montreal, published The Story Of The Earth And Man, which was every bit as well written and as carefully argued as Darwin’s masterpiece. In it Dawson pointed out that Darwin and his followers were promoting a theory based on three fallacious “gaps” in reasoning that could not be reconciled with the knowledge of their era. What is so telling about Dawson’s three fallacies is that they remain unchanged to this day. Those three fallacies were: that life can spontaneously originate, the gap between plants and animals, the gap between any species of animal or plant. As to naturalism, it seems to me that nearly all scientific discoveries which have been made in these past couple of centuries are simply a matter of using the scientific method and of knowledge building upon itself; they would have occurred whether a materialist paradigm prevailed or not. avocationist
I think it's a mistake to attribute the acceptance of Darwinian science to a 'death of God" movement during Darwin's time or now. There were good scientific reasons that this theory became accepted as the reigning paradigm of biology. You see, evolution (as has been pointed out numerous times by those on this web site) is naturalism run amuck. But naturalism has yielded results time and again. The entire science establishment is rooted in naturalism because it works. The death of God movement during Darwin's time was not simply dreamed up in the back alleys of London by atheists bent on destroying religious society. And it isn't today (save a few bizarre people like Dawkins). One only has to read a bit about the history of science to see that the acceptance of Darwin's theory was inevitable . Why? Because it uses an argument rooted in naturalism. And naturalism works. There is simply no denying it. Darwinists are not stupid people. Our challenge is to replace Darwinian science with a reasonable explanation that invokes the reality of a spiritual God. We will not get there by dismissing Darwinists as cowards trying to hide from God. It's not true. Barrett1
Sal, I would certainly agree with that. I was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church but I never had so much as a high school biology class. So my understanding of what the theroy of evolution proposes was minimal. I remember giving it some quick thought one day, and concluding that evolution might be true enough, but that it would have had to be quided by God in some way. I had no firm opinion because I knew I had not really examined the issue. But I had no particular inner pressure to reject it. Later, I found books like Shattering the Myths of Darwinism and Icons of Evolution. So I have really learned about NDE from an ID vantage point, I guess. By the way, those books, and others like Denton and Behe, would never have impressed me much if the authors had mentioned religion. avocationist
Why would “family values” conservatism be contrary to Darwinian conservatism? In my book, I show how Darwinian science supports family values and traditional morality as rooted in human biological nature. So where’s the conflict?
It is understandable Larry may have this view because there are those out there who reject Darwinism primarily because of religious reasons (like Answers in Genesis or ICR). However, he does not see that many of us, including rather socially liberal individuals, reject Darwinian evolution because it is failing logically and scientifically. I was a nominal Darwinist once upon a time raised in a Roman Catholic home. The origins issue was an absolute non-issue in our household. More important in our home was taking care of the every day pragmatics and trying to have fun when possible. The origins issue was a low priority at best... However, at some point, as I compared Darwinian evolution to real sciences like physics and chemistry and information science, it just couldn't compete. It became obvious it was a self-contradictory philosophy, not a modern rigorously derived science. It is going the way of square circles and perpetual motion machines. There is little chance it is true. It would be worthwhile to poll people on reasons they reject Darwinian evolution. I don't know that there is anyone on this weblog or any major proponent in the ID movement who questions it or rejects it based on purely social values. I would even speculate, that most major ID proponents were Theistic Evolutionists who had no theological nor social issue with Darwinian evolution. Take Michael Behe for example. I think Michael Behe is symbolic of the reason Darwinian evolution is rejected, namely, the scientific issues. scordova
Hi Denyse, Just a couple of thoughts. I chuckled at the use in the quote of "Darwinian science". Sounds like "creation science" or "muslim science" or even "christian science". :D Pretty funny stuff. Also, I don't think an emergentist view of the mind is incompatible with a christian perspective on the mind and body. It certianly isn't necessarily at odds with a top-down approach to how the mind works or even at odds with an immortal soul that survives after death. I'm a protestant and would subscribe to some sort of emergentist understanding of the mind/soul after all. You portray it as some sort of compromise position, but there is no reason it has to be, and frankly I don't think it is at all. I had an interesting interview with William Hasker on the Sci Phi Show about this very topic. jwrennie
Denyse, Your prose is creative and thoughts always stimulating, not to mention marvelously politically incorrect. The legacy mainstream media need more of this. Alas, I think it's too late for them. They are quickly being eliminated by natural selection from the information-age gene pool. I made comment 137 in my UD post, Michael Behe On Falsification:
"Evolutionary science," as generally promoted, is not science at all. It is a glorified extrapolation from an extremely simplistic and primitive 19th-century notion that was born primarily out of a desire to produce a creation story for the death-of-God philosophical movement of that era. Attempts to prop up this transparently simplistic and primitive 19th-century notion will continue for some time, but they will eventually fail, because the underlying assumptions are wrong.
These erroneous, underlying assumptions have been extrapolated to explain everything. The assertion that "Darwinian science supports family values and traditional morality" would be laughable if it were not so tragic. GilDodgen
And social conservatives believe truth to be objective not relative. tribune7

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