Saturday, September 13, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 68: Is there a causal link between the rise of Darwinism, materialism in the name of science and the undermining of morality?

Today's topic is even more painful and controversial than what we have been looking at over the past few weeks, here, here, and here.

But, as any surgeon can tell us: sometimes, we must wound to heal -- on pain of allowing even worse things to happen. So, given what we have seen, we must proceed; with all due caution, respect and apologies in advance for hurt feelings.

Of course, we must immediately pause to anticipate a likely -- and very understandable -- "how dare you" objection: we are not at all claiming that evolutionary materialism or its fellow travellers are the root of all evils in modern Western society, nor are we seeking to distract attention from the real (or even the imagined) sins of the Christendom and/or the church and/or "religion." Far from that, we know all too well from introspection, observation and scripture that "[t]he heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" [Jer 17:9, KJV].

We are finite, fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed -- all of us.

The issue, then, is to mutually face the truth, then diagnose, repent from and remedy where possible, or at least to restrain. And, the key concern is that we are addressing a prestigious and widely trusted power centre in our civilisation that, on objective evidence [as we have seen over the past several weeks here, here, and here], may well have been dangerously undermining moral restraints over the past 150 years.

A good place to begin our painful reflections is to return to the same opening passage of the book by a Biology-trained author who studied under Huxley himself that we cited last week. So, let us zoom in a little bit on H G Wells' opening remarks in his epochal science fiction novel, War of the Worlds. Pardon the highlighting, which will help us see what we might otherwise miss:

. . . across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us . . . . looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.
And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars . . . .

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?
Here -- in what is probably in part a veiled warning on the dangerous nature of the matches the elites of Europe were playing with at the turn of the C20 -- we see that an evolutionary materialistic, socially Darwinist view raises serious implications once we allow our morality to be shaped by the view that the survival of the fittest logically and scientifically entails extinction of the inferior, and thence, lends support to a genocidal policy. This view (as we already saw here, here, and here) is of course just what Darwin projected in the 1870's and is what Hitler advocated in the 1920's then -- horrendously -- carried out in the 1940's. And. lest we congratulate ourselves on progress in recent decades, we should realise that similar materialist thinking plainly influenced the Gulags and killing fields of the Communists right up to at least the 1980's.
Worse yet, too much of the abortion-promoting rhetoric and policy in our own day uncomfortably reflects the same will-to-power, might-makes-right, ends-justify-means thinking that undergirds Wells' subtle satire. How else can one explain that, biologically, from conception, an unborn child is plainly a separate human life (however dependent on his or her mother), but as a culture we too often refuse to afford it -- voiceless and powerless as it is -- adequate protection of said life? And, if there is doubt on the value of life in the womb, are we not therefore morally bound to err on the side of protection, through the "do no harm" principle that lies deeply embedded in the Golden Rule?
A deeper issue lurks, as "science" is etymologically and popularly "knowledge."

That is, "Science" is perceived by many as the effectively ultimate authority on what is credibly true, well-warranted belief -- i.e. knowledge. So, in many circles, to say that something is "unscientific" is tantamount to saying it is false, dangerous nonsense. In short, science is among other things, an instrument -- and so also an institution -- of power.

That potential for abuse tempts ruthless ideologues, who are too often only restrained by prudence in light of perceived balances of power. So, if such think they can get away with it, they will have no compunction about capturing science, diverting it from being an empirically anchored, open minded and open-ended search for the truth about our world, to serve their ideologies and associated agendas. Also, since power is itself a temptation, it can easily corrupt those who are of a better temperament, blinding them to what they are doing. Then, many others will find themselves pressured to go along with the politically correct party-line of the day, out of the "needs" to survive, to find approval by their intellectual peers, and to thrive in their chosen careers as scientists or educators or the like.

Arguably, that is precisely what has happened over the past several generations with Science. Namely, science has been captivated to serve the ideology, agendas and ends of materialistic philosophies.

For instance, through the concept of "methodological naturalism," we can see that "science" in our day has often been explicitly re-defined as a search for "natural explanations," or "natural causes" of what we observe and/or experience. What that subtle wording means, in practice, is that science is no longer viewed by such scientific institutions and their spokesmen as an unfettered search for the truth about or world in light of empirical testing, but instead as in effect the best evolutionary materialist account of how chance and mechanical necessity could have given rise to the world, from hydrogen to humans.

(Finessing words that one may read about being "agnostic" on whether philosophical naturalism is true simply disguise the implications of this commitment, often by making a tendentious contrast: natural/supernatural; when all along there is a very relevant alternative that is being suppressed: nature/art. That is, as Plato pointed out long ago in The Laws, Book X, some things happen by nature [in which we today include both chance and necessity], and others by art [i.e by intelligent, intentional action]. Moreover, the point is that once the triumphant announcement is made that evolutionary materialistic forces adequately account for reality -- they don't, and never have, by the way [cf. more details here] -- then it is asserted or assumed that unless one is "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked," we need look no further to understand our place in the world. And, dismissive contempt for those who dissent, historically, is the first step to oppression.)

Already, this is replete with moral implications: the diversion of a key institution that historically sought intellectual freedom in the name of the unfettered pursuit of truth, to serve an ideology that instead suppresses truth or potential avenues to truth is already a grave corruption. Then, when to suppress dissent, what dissenters -- such as the intelligent design thinkers -- have to say is slanderously distorted by those who know or should know better, that makes the matter even worse. Career-busting and the like (there are now many notorious cases) simply take it to the level of petty tyranny and bully-boyism; with serious implications for what would happen if such were to gain unchecked power in the community at large.

A grim warning.

But it gets worse. For, evolutionary materialism inherently and inescapably undermines the foundations of morality.

Of course, this seems an outrageous statement, and atheists and their supporters will quickly roll out the refuting argument: atheists can be just as moral as the rest of us -- or even more moral, as we can see from the following litany of the sins of Christendom, etc.

This objection fails, for at least two key reasons:

First problem: the issue is not [p] whether atheists can be moral, but instead [q] that they are here adhering to an ideology in the name of science that tends to undermine the foundations of moral responsibility and restraint -- both historically (i.e as a matter of on the ground fact) and logically (i.e. as the outworking of the principles and assumptions in the worldview). In short, we see a strawman argument that misunderstands and/or misrepresents what it objects to.

Second problem: The argument betrays a fatal naiveté and want of serious reflection about the human moral dilemma. For, sober reflection will reveal that -- at our best -- we struggle to do the right, and too often fail. Worse, our consciences testify that a lot of the time, we are not even struggling to try to do the right. Yet worse, sometimes we are blind and/or deceive ourselves, imagining that we do the right when we should realise that we are in fact doing the wrong. In short, as Solzhenitsyn aptly said, there is an all too powerfully explanatory reason for the long history of the sins of cultures, institutions and individuals: the line between good and evil passes, not between nations and classes, but right through the individual human heart.
On the main point:

a --> Evolutionary materialism argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature -- from hydrogen to humans by chance plus mechanical necessity.

b --> Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

c --> But human thought and decisions, which clearly are observed/experienced phenomena in the universe, must now fit into this picture.

d --> Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "decisions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.)

e --> Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have, the "conclusions" we reach, the "decisions" we make and actions we thereafter undertake -- without residue -- are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, logic or right vs wrong.

f -->
As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead.

g --> It is consequently no surprise to detect the consistent theme that all of reality is ultimately meaningless in modern and post-modern Literature, in contemporary Philosophy, and in the Arts generally.

h --> Equally unsurprisingly, when materialistic evolutionary frameworks are applied to academic/professional disciplines such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Linguistics, Economics, Law, Management, or Media and Communication -- not to mention to politics [or, should that be "follytricks"] -- it is the implications of such materialism that invariably are the root of a now characteristic, amoral, will-to-power, might-makes-right, cynically manipulative or nakedly tyrannical Machiavellian approach.

i --> The same bitter seed has shot up a general, vague relativistic assumption that "Right" and "Wrong" are simply arbitrary social conventions and the result of accidents of social evolution. This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self- and/or socially- destructive public policies.

j --> Next, "truth is dead," so Education has become a power struggle; the victors have the right to propagandise the next generation as they please.

k --> Media power games simply extend this cynical manipulation from the school and the campus to the street, the office, the factory, the church and the home.
l --> Further, since family structures and rules of sexual morality are "simply accidents of history," one is free to force society to redefine family values and principles of sexual morality to suit one's preferences.
m --> Finally, human life itself becomes meaningless and valueless, so the weak, sick, defenceless and undesirable — for whatever reason — can simply be slaughtered, whether in the womb, in the hospital, or in the death camp.
But, what if the evolutionary materialist view of origins is actually correct; isn't it, after all, "science"?

Actually, first, it is philosophy, not science.

But, by imposing methodological naturalism on scientific investigations of origins, scientific explanation of origins has been forced to censor the facts from speaking before they can open their mouths. And, once the materialistic imposition is removed, at once it becomes pretty obvious that cell-based life that uses highly sophisticated informational macromolecules to implement the information technology at the heart of life "reeks" of design. For, functionally specified, complex information in our observation has but one source: intelligence. We might not be able to scientifically identify who the designers of observed cell-based life are, but that life is designed is both intuitively evident and scientifically sound.

Once science is no longer being censored, that is.

Then, once we turn to the fact that our observed universe evidently had a beginning, one that was exquisitely finely tuned for cell-based life, that leads us to see that the best explanation for that is an extrea-cosmic, highly intelligent and purposeful creator. (The alternative, that we are seeing just one of a quasi-infinite number of "bubbles" in a wider eternal cosmos, is not only an after the fact resort, but immediately leads to the question of what is responsible for the "bubble"-making factory.)

In short, evolutionary materialism has no right to claim to be scientific fact or the only credible scientific alternative. Indeed, there are excellent reasons to reject it as our worldview framework for doing science -- not least, as we just saw, it destroys the foundation for not only morality but for the minds we must trust and use to think even materialist thoughts.

That is, it is a self-undermining, self-contradictory and necessarily false philosophy.

One that arguably undermines not only science but rationality and morality. One we would be well advised to subject to far more searching scrutiny than too many are wont to apply. END

overnight cleanup, additional links.

F/N: KF Blog sub-Series on the Holocaust and its history of ideas roots, Mt 24 W 65, 66 [note the significance of the 3 million non-Jewish Polish victims],  67, 68; cf also video lecture here. 

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