Friday, June 5, 2009

Following Evolution Into the Abyss

This is where godless, evolutionary thinking gets you.

David Brooks, reflecting on the role of empathy in jurisprudence, and Nicholas Kristof, sharing research on why liberals and conservatives take the positions they do, both offer teachings from evolutionary psychology as thrillingly helpful advances in our self-understanding.

David Brooks, "The Empathy Issue," (New York Times, May 29, 2009).

Nicholas Kristof, "Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal," (New York Times, May 28, 2009).

Of course, if all our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, beautiful and vile, are simply the products of evolution, and are thus not true in themselves and as they present themselves, but are merely useful for the preservation of our species as a whole, then morally serious people are dupes and romantics, and the cruelly ambitious, megalomaniacal Machiavellian is the only sensible human being.

What Allan Bloom called "Nihilism with a happy ending" requires not looking at your nihilism too closely.

Harold adds:

I've been amazed to watch as the influence of evolutionary psychology has seeped through the humanities and social sciences like effluent from a leaking sewer pipe through stacks of cardboard in a basement. There is now nothing that cannot be explained by way of survival value, especially now that we have the concept of group survival value, a transparent and illegitimate move around the problems of empathy, altruism, love, and self consciousness existing in creatures competing in the survival of the fittest sweepstakes. Humans are superior because we evolved superior characteristics, ergo, evolution is true. It is a circular argument, no? Affirming the antecedent? Oh, and this little bit: Darwinism good, social Darwinism not good. Why not?

Tell me if I'm wrong about the development here: evolution is posited as establish fact, based on 1) the analogy (illegitimate) of superior, hereditary traits within species, to transmogrification between species. White moths become black moths to survive, etc. 2), "Phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny"--human fetuses appear to look like other species while gestating, and this proves humans developed historically from other species. 3) A drawerful of pieces/parts of fossilized bones give the barest outline of a suggestion of a penumbra emanating from a dream of Wallace and Darwin that all species have a common ancestor. A dream come true! 4) A fair amount of DNA is shared by all living things, with chimpanzees and humans somewhere north of 98%. We are superior to chimpanzees, therefore we evolved from them, since we are so close genetically. QED.

From these hints is raised a grand theory of auto-genesis; at some point in the history of the boiling cauldron of chemical soup that was the early earth, one of those inorganic molecules learned how to replicate itself, and viola! information began to exist along side of, and exclusive of, energy and matter, all by itself. Not only did the incredible protein carrier for information appear by itself (DNA), but also the information to be carried to the next generations, with increasing complexity--all this in the face of iron law # 2 of thermodynamics, which has the universe running down, I believe. Evolving complexity from a cosmos-sized explosion, the very definition of chaos and disorder, culminating in a self-conscious being able to speculate about the one thing that does not exist--telos, or the purpose of it all. A little joke played on us by that original self-life-giving molecule perhaps. What a card! And what an opening for those darn Machiavellians--they're barely more than self-replicating carriers of accidental DNA, but they're having all the fun!


Nolanimrod said...

While reading the Kristof piece I was glad to note that my disgust mechanism has evolved to the point where it can detect feces even when partially disguised as a reasoned discussion.

David C. Innes said...

Well put, noble reader.