Maybe it's because the books are important that I've fallen behind. Unimportant books are just obstacles in the path, and one normally has to plod through a lot of those in order to find the occasional gem. Too many gems. That's what it is. That and not enough time.
Once I review a book, I can let it go. But if I don't review it, it's like I never read it. Or at least I don't consciously remember much about it. There is no intrinsic virtue in mere reading, since most of what people read is as disposable as television. But the Raccoon reads with a purpose and a goal. Call it wide-angle lectio divina.
Let's begin with an observation by a renowned scientist, who candidly -- and appropriately -- muses about his "horrid doubt" as to "whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"
So wondered Charles Darwin. If only contemporary Darwinians could be so refreshingly Darwinian! But they have left their master behind -- or ahead, rather -- in favor of a kind of belligerent certitude to which no self-styled monkey could ever be entitled. If only they could grasp this critical -- self-critical, to be exact -- aspect of Darwinism, so many barrels of monkey mischief could be avoided!
To look at it from a philosophical angle, the Darwinian monkey reduces the whole question of epistemology to a biological problem: biology is not just destiny, but epistemology, because what we claim to "know" is a claim made by the genes, and genes don't actually claim anything. Thus, it's just an absurcular route back to nihilism, i.e., a nul-de-slack.
Purcell: "if human knowledge is simply one among the many expressions of zoological evolution, it can hardly claim to be knowledge in any meaningful sense at all."
Rather, just as each species has its unique physical form, it would also have its own distinct form of knowledge. Just as there is bee knowledge, lion knowledge, and snake knowledge, there is human knowledge. While there may be more of it, the underlying structure cannot be any different, otherwise there is an ontological rupture in existence, which absolutely cannot be explained with recourse to Darwinism -- or to profane science more generally.
In other words, there is nothing in Darwinism that permits us to draw a fundamental distinction between human and any other kind of knowledge. If there is such a distinction, then the theory falls by its own lights.
Conversely, if man is fundamentally distinct from -- even while continuous with -- other animals, then so too are biology and epistemology distinct. Importantly, unlike the Darwinian fundamentalist, we do not take a radical position on the matter.
Rather, we are happy to accept the evidence where we find it and to follow where it leads. Thus, there are some human traits and capabilities that do seem to be adequately explained by natural selection, others which cannot be so explained, to such an extent that you will look like an ass if you try.
I mean, c'mon. What makes it intellectually satisfying to reduce Mozart to monkey noises? I would contend that it is not intellectually -- let alone spiritually -- satisfying, only emotionally satisfying, so in that regard it is indeed more chimpish than human.
Think about a person who is willing to die for truth. Surely it is no coincidence that the foundation of western civilization rests on, and is perpetuated by, such individuals, e.g., Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Paul, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Andrei Sakharov, and so many others. What can Darwinism make of the man who is ready to die for truth instead of just food and reproductive success? Is he an aberration, some kind of genetic defect? A fool? Insane?
Socrates, for example, devoted his life to "openly seeking the truth and encouraging his fellow citizens to do the same" (Purcell). Just as he "stayed at his post when doing military service," so too was he faithful to his charge "when God appointed me, as I supposed and believed, to the duty of leading the philosophic life, examining myself and others." To abandon this wisdom-loving guardhouse would be as cowardly and dishonorable -- albeit understandable -- as if he had let down the city by turning tail and fleeing his military post.
Purcell quotes the Polish thinker Stanislaw Brozowski, who wrote that "Our life, our self, is a sentry post; when we abandon it, the whole of humanity loses it forever." For what or who are we guarding against when we man this post? What is the battle, and who are the combatants? And what is the nature of this "territory" for which the two sides are contending?
I would suggest that it touches on the epistemological discontinuity alluded to above, vis-a-vis Darwinian infrahumanism and true humanism. Looked at from a certain angle, it becomes evident that the very nature of humanness is under assault from various directions. (You will see some of them discussed in the comments of the previous post.)
In the struggle to colonize the human space, there are fronts in virtually every field and discipline: law, politics, medicine, psychology, journalism, art, literature, even religion, for there is surely a kind of sub-religious religiosity as articulated by such illuminaries as Deepak Chopra or Jeremiah Wright or Oprah Winfrey.
Who could even count the number of human beings who have been martyred for truth, for refusing to bow to the lie? Truly, God only knows, and each sacrifice is of infinite value, even if it prevented them from passing their genes along and thereby achieving Darwinian success. Purcell mentions one, Sophie Scholl, who, with her brother, did what she could to tell the truth about the Nazi regime (by distributing leaflets), and was executed for it in 1943.
Who was this anonymous martyr, and what motivated such foolishly un-Darwinian selflessness? Her letters and diaries reveal a young woman who was already on "a profound quest for living in the truth," and for which she paid the ultimate price. Her Nazi interrogator even gave her the opportunity to recant and save her life, but she refused, telling a cellmate that their precious ideas, "in spite of all the obstacles... will prevail. We were permitted to be pioneers, though we must die early for [their] sake."
To live in Truth is to carry a cross, at least in this world. Stupidity seems to have so many advantages, beginning with the raw numbers. Purcell quotes the German writer Robert Musil, who wrote of the "higher stupidity" that afflicts the tenured. This "is the real disease of culture," and "reaches into the highest intellectual sphere." It is "active in every direction, and can dress up in the clothes of truth."
Lies come easy, but Truth must be endured, and the person who cannot endure it cannot endure himself (and vice versa). Thus, Musil writes of that well-known pest, the person who becomes a revolutionary because he "has been unable to endure himself."
Thus, we have to endure them by proxy. Until we put them out of our misery this November.