Monday, May 19, 2014

Evolution as if Evolution Mattered

Not only is there no conflict between science and religion, there can by definition be no possible conflict, because truth does not contradict truth.

Nor should we merely affirm that science and religion may coexist in peace, as in Stephen Gould's claim that they represent non-overlapping magisteria, which is to say, are irrelevant to one another, like football and baseball, or feminist studies and reality.

The reason why Gould's scheme fails is that science does not ultimately sit beside God, but must be -- like everything else, Gould included -- within God. We cannot visualize the relation as two separate circles, nor can we picture a venn diagram with an area of mutual interpenetration.

Rather, science must be understood as a fractal or microcosm or echo of the primordial reality: a part of the whole. If science seems to contradict the Primordial Religion, or universal metaphysics, then that is probably a good sign that it is on the wrong track.

For example, we can know materialism is false because it fails this test. Materialism isn't a scientific fact or theory anyway, but rather, a faux religion. Same with metaphysical Darwinism, or Marxism, or most any other modern-ism to which people devote themselves.

So, not only are science and religion compatible, but the relations between them are extensive, robust, and mutually illuminating. You can't have one without the other for the same reason you can't have the many without the One (and vice versa). Science is always in the Many but presupposes the One (or on the outside looking in), which is why it is a kind of perpetual reduction of multiplicity to a (tentative and transitional) unity.

It is in this freewheeling Raccoon spirit that I approach Nicholas Wade's latest book, which is irritating the usual irritants, i.e., the anti-scientific left. I don't have to read them to know that most of those one-star reviews are from angry proglodytes (but I repeat myself) who love evolution so long as it can be used as a rude club with which to belt Bible literalists, not as science per se (similar to how wealthy liberals love AGW so long as they don't have to give up their private jets).

Well, let's read a couple anyway. "This book will either make you gag, or make you more racist. However, some of the racism is thought provoking. But it is still racist, and do you really want to mull over the merits of being racist? If so, then this book is for you."

"People who speculate on race without scientific credentials are just racists. He will sell a few books because racism is always popular. Bud [sic] do you want to read a racist book?"

"I can't believe people believe this crap. Embarrassing. Very, very bad. Maybe Hitler will give this book five stars? Hmmmmmmmmm."

Yes, the book is speculative, for the same reason that natural selection is by definition speculative -- or at least has an irreducible element of speculation.

In particular, no one has any idea how genes affect the psyche, and yet, we do have brains, and brains differ. And just like every other part of our bodies, brains have been subject to evolutionary pressures. It would be an odd and arbitrary position indeed to insist that everything about human beings has been subject to natural selection except the one organ that counts.

To spell out my view, I would say that natural selection is one of the necessary conditions for man, but by no means a sufficient condition. The sufficient condition of man cannot be found in nature, or in the horizontal world. Rather, it is in the vertical world, so no amount of random mutations could ever result in the human person. Persons so clearly transcend nature that it is absurd to argue to the contrary.

I've just started reading Roger Scruton's The Soul of the World, where he makes this same unassailable point. As he puts it, "functional explanations of the evolutionary kind have no bearing on the content of our religious beliefs and emotions" (emphasis mine).

I believe this may be concisely expressed via the principle that even the most complete genetic explanation of man would be unable to account for how man may know the truth of this explanation. Or, to know its truth is to be outside and beyond the horizon of its explanation, precisely.

So I don't worry about natural selection taking away my truth, my beauty, my love, or my slack, because these are vertical realities that transcend its strictly limited scope. Again, it can provide clues about necessary conditions for the emergence of man -- after all, it's hard to exist as a human being without a body -- but not sufficient ones.

Or as Scruton puts it, evolutionary explanations "cannot take note of the internal order of our states of mind. Evolution explains the connection between our thoughts and the world, and between our desires and their fulfillment in [only] pragmatic terms."

However, our mental states are not about the same thing natural selection is about. For example, this post is not secretly "about" reproductive strategy. Rather, it is about what it is about, which is to say, the pursuit of truth.

The same is true, by the way, of evolutionary psychology. It would be self-refuting to say it is really all about getting chicks. No, it too is about truth, which proves with ironclad logic that it is insufficient to account for its own truth-value, such as it is.

Continuing this line of thought, Scruton wonders how it is that "our thinking 'latches on' to a realm of necessary truth," and how human beings somehow broke through to this higher reality that has no direct relevance to reproductive success. A human being who lived solely in the natural world wouldn't be a human being, as we live in a space of time, truth, freedom, possibility, language, mathematics, and other modalities that transcend physics and biology.

You might say that orthodox biology looks at genes to see what they are "about." Yes, they can be "about" man, just as they can be about an amoeba, an ant, or an ape. But what is man about? Darwin cannot answer this question except to say that he is about leaving his genes behind. Is that it? Yes, in part, so anything else that man is about is about something transcending nature.

Since you brought it up, Bob, what is man about? Well, for starters, he is surely about everything Darwin says he's about, for again, we do not deny science. If not for the fact of biological reproduction, I know I wouldn't be here. So my parents getting together is without question a necessary if distasteful condition for my existence.

But is it a sufficient condition? C'mon. Would such a meager explanation satisfy anyone?

I guess this has all been preluminary and foundational. To be continued tomorrow...


Van Harvey said...

"Not only is there no conflict between science and religion, there can by definition be no possible conflict, because truth does not contradict truth."

Boom. Mike drop, exit stage.

Oh, there's more? Well, back to reading....

mushroom said...

after all, it's hard to exist as a human being without a body

But apparently not so hard to exist as a leftist without a brain. Scarecrows all the way up.

julie said...

Mushroom, lol.

Persons so clearly transcend nature that it is absurd to argue to the contrary.

Yes, just so. And yet, as we've discovered in this past century, how easy it is to do exactly that! In fact, Darwinism taken apart from God almost demands it, for if we see ourselves as merely animals, there is no reason to hold humanity in general in any special regard. And if it seems like some races are "better" than others, it becomes all too easy to conclude that they must somehow be "more human." Though oddly, the Jews are never designated "most" human, even though they tend to leave other races and cultures in the dust...

It is only in God - and perhaps particularly, in Christianity - that we are tasked with recognizing the personhood of not just some humans, but of all humans. Further, that all cultures who adopt the Christian life do become more civilized, regardless of race.

julie said...

Oops - half-baked thought there. Oh well, I'm sure I had a point, but I can't say what it was...

Magister said...

Julie, I think your point is that Judaeo-Christian civilization is where free people can recognize, develop, and treat each other as persons of equal intrinsic value. Absent that, you get reductive visions of what a 'person' is, and, eventually, and accordingly, reductive and destructive governments.

It's the difference between Scrutopia and Screwtapia.

Magister said...

I'm halfway through The Soul of the World, and it reminds me of something Frank Kermode has written about A. D. Nuttall (RIP): "he calls himself solitary but sociable, and it is always a pleasure to follow him 'on the fiery track of a certain idea.'" I read that sentence twenty years ago and have used it as a benchmark for reading quality ever since.

Magister said...

Last: how can you not love a British literary critic (Nuttall) who titled one of his books Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (2003)?

You get a sense of the humanity of the man -- and you can get it from his prose, too. Unlike Erich Auerbach, whose Mimesis makes your toes curl with a sense that you will never, ever read as much, in as many languages, as Erich Auerbach, so you might as well give up now, A. D. Nuttall and Roger Scruton basically say if you kindly take a turn with me through this garden of ideas, you'll notice x, y, and z things, and shortly discovered that you've learned something. Someone like Auerbach builds a building to admire; someone like Scruton, a garden to inhabit.

Joan of Argghh! said...

OT, fellow Raccoons, but it seems we've made it to the big screen as "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Can't argue with that.