Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is It Fitting to Adapt Intellectually to Darwinism?

I'm basically agnostic about some of the issues in the evolution debates. My pantyhose remain unknotted at many points. As far as I'm concerned, I'm a theist on good grounds, already. So to whatever extent it eventually turns out that biological adaptation occurs, I think we will find it to occur under the hand of, if not directly because of, God. And to whatever extent it doesn't occur, then what does occur is under the hand of God, and we might find some (other) way of gaining insight into and describing that. I use technology, and I pray, so clearly there is, I believe, substance to both. But I can get my prayers wrong--mistaking the character of God, the nature of prayer, or my own needs or role in the world--and scientists get their efforts to encounter reality effectively wrong, too. So I think of scientific theories, like religious interpretations, as tending towards realism but fallible, generally reliable but always slightly and sometimes significantly revisable (people convert; science undergoes paradigm shifts).

But while it rarely makes me angry, I do have to say, reading things like David Sloan Wilson's evangelistic tract on behalf of Darwinism as a surrogate religion, "Evolution for Everyone," that, as friend Maggie and I once discussed, sometimes the evolutionists' explanations get out of hand. In reading again how yes, evolution explains that, too--whatever 'that' is--begins to sound to me more and more to me like pre-Copernican Ptolomaic astronomy: epicycles upon epicycles of explanations, doing whatever you have to do to save the theory no matter what. Which either is TINAism--the belief that There Is No Alternative, and the sky will fall if the theory doesn't account for EVERYTHING, or indicates that your reasons for holding the theory have to do with other considerations than the theory and its actual supporting evidence and arguments.

In Book VII, Chapter 19, of "City of God," Augustine, in reviewing Marcus Varro, the leading pagan theologian of Rome, says "But what shall men do who cannot find anything wise to say, because they are interpreting foolish things?" He concludes that "even the acutest men are so perplexed that we are compelled to grieve for their folly, also." He isn't chucking rocks; he admires their intellect and their effort, and genuinely regrets that such integrity and skill is being put to use in the service of a cause not worthy of such an effort. Because dis-real beliefs and ideas fall of their own weight, eventually: "Thus, those things which come not out of the truth, do very often, without being impelled by anyone, themselves overthrow one another."

So for me I get the adaptive "fittedness" of cooperation, the survival value of altruism, and so forth, but the way the enterprise of coming up with these explanations is something I watch with a just-slightly raised eyebrow, since in those convolutions all the purpose and meaning in human life are attributed to the correct (whatever this might mean, really) functioning of what they never fail to insist must be a meaningless and purposeless process. Until they come up with an anthropology that meets a bare minimum standard of what we already know human life to be like--symbolic as much or more than behavioral, internally as much or more than externally purposeful, existentially and cosmically meaningful, first-personal and so phenomenal and qualitative, second-personal and so communicative and relational, semiotic and not merely instrumental, mentally causal, and personal--all metaphysical terms that are anathema to them--I will be amused, curious--and wary.

2 Comments:

Blogger Lorenloo said...

when we were little and would ask mom and dad if God had made us literally out of dirt or we had evolved, they would say "we can't know; the important thing is that we're here now and how we live". i thought that was a good philosophy.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Lomagirl said...

Shakespeare said, in regards to the point about people getting to complex in their theorizing- "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
And I've always thought that was a good indication that what was being supported wasn't worth the breath.

12:08 PM  

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