Skip to comments.Darwinian Conservatism: How Darwinian science refutes the Left’s most sacred beliefs.
Posted on 07/23/2006 8:49:26 AM PDT by PatrickHenry
An interview by Jamie Glazov with Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, about his new book Darwinian Conservatism.
Glazov: Larry Arnhart, thanks for taking the time out to talk about your new book.
Arnhart: Its a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
Glazov: Tell us briefly what your book is about and your main argument.
Arnhart: I am trying to persuade conservatives that they need Charles Darwin. Conservatives need to see that a Darwinian science of human nature supports their realist view of human imperfectability, and it refutes the utopian view of the Left that human nature is so completely malleable that it can be shaped to conform to any program of social engineering.
Glazov: How exactly does Darwinian science of human nature demonstrate the imperfectability of humans?
Arnhart: In Thomas Sowells book A Conflict of Visions, he shows that ideological debate has been divided for a long time between what he calls the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. I see this as a contrast between the realist vision of the political right and the utopian vision of the political left.
Those with the realist vision of life believe that the moral and intellectual limits of human beings are rooted in their unchanging human nature, and so a good social order has to make the best of these natural limitations rather than trying to change them. But those with the utopian vision think that the moral and intellectual limits of human beings are rooted in social customs and practices that can be changed, and so they believe the best social order arises from rationally planned reforms to perfect human nature.
Those with the realist vision see social processes such as families, markets, morality, and government as evolved rather than designed. Darwinian science is on the side of this realist vision of the conservative tradition. The main idea of the realist vision is evolutionthe idea that social order is spontaneously evolved rather than rationally designed. Friedrich Hayek saw this. Steven Pinker, in his book The Blank Slate, shows how modern biological research on human nature supports the insight of the realist vision that there is a universal human nature that cannot be easily changed by social reform.
Glazov: Why do you think so many Conservatives and religious people have always been so afraid and disdainful of Darwinianism?
Arnhart: They associate it with a crudely materialistic and atheistic view of the worlda survival of the fittest in which the strong exploit the weak. One of the books promoted by the Discovery Institute is Richard Weikarts book From Darwin to Hitler. He claims that all the evils of Nazism come from Hitlers Darwinism. But I show in my book that Weikarts arguments are weak, because there is no support for Hitlers ideas in Darwins writings. In response to my criticisms, Weikart now says that he cannot show a direct connection from Darwin to Hitler.
Glazov: Then what do you think about a book like Ann Coulters book Godless?
Arnhart: Coulters attack on Darwinism as a threat to conservative values illustrates the sort of mistake that I want to correct. Her arguments against Darwinism as a liberal religion are shallow. Its clear that she has never read Darwin and doesnt really know what shes talking about. She has memorized some talking points from the proponents of intelligent design theory at the Discovery Institutepeople like Bill Dembski and Mike Behe. But she hasnt thought through any of this. For example, she assumes that Darwinism promotes an immoral materialism. But she says nothing about Darwins account of the natural moral sense implanted in human nature. And she doesnt recognize that conservative thinkers like James Q. Wilson have adopted this Darwinian view of the moral sense.
Glazov: Can you tell us a bit about Darwins account of the natural moral sense that is implanted in human nature? This in itself is an argument for the existence of a God right?
Arnhart: It could be. If you already believe in God as a moral lawgiver, then you might see the natural moral sense as created by God. In The Descent of Man, Darwin sees morality as a uniquely human trait that is a product of human evolutionary history. We are naturally social animals who care about how we appear to others. This natural human concern for social praise and blame combined with human reason leads us to formulate and obey social norms of good behavior. Darwin drew ideas from Adam Smiths book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, particularly Smiths claim that morality depends on sympathy, the human capacity for sharing in the experiences of others, so that we feel resentment when others are victims of injustice. Darwin thought these moral emotions of indignation at injustice would have evolved to favor cooperative groups.
Glazov: What do you make of the creation/intelligent design/evolution debate?
Arnhart: In my book, I explain why the arguments of the intelligent design folks are weak. They assume unreasonable standards of proof in dismissing the evidence for Darwins theory, and they dont offer any positive theory of their own as an alternative. But, still, I dont see anything wrong with allowing public school biology students to read some of the intelligent design writing along with Darwinian biology, and then they can decide for themselves.
The problem, of course, is whether this could be done without introducing Biblical creationism. In the case last year in Dover, Pennsylvania, school board members who wanted to teach a literal 6-days-of-creation story used the idea of intelligent design as a cover for what they were doing. In fact, the Discovery Institute actually opposed the policy of the school board because their motives were purely religious, and they had no interest in the scientific debate. In Ann Coulters book, she misses this point entirely.
Glazov: Ok, kindly expand on why you think conservatives should welcome Darwinian science rather than fear it.
Arnhart: Sure. I argue that Darwinism can support some of the fundamental conservative commitments to traditional morality, family life, private property, and limited government. For example, a Darwinian view of human nature would reinforce our commonsense understanding of the importance of parent-child bonding and family life generally as rooted in our evolved nature as human beings. Or a Darwinian view of human imperfection might support the need for limited government with separation of powers as a check on the corrupting effects of political power. Religious conservatives fear Darwinism because they think it has to be atheistic. But thats not true. There is no reason why God could not have used natural evolution as the way to work out his design for the universe.
Glazov: Can you talk a bit more about on the theory and possibility of how God may have engineered a natural evolution? And why would anyone think this is not a religious concept? Even Pope John Paul accepted the reality of evolution.
Arnhart: Yes, the statement of John Paul II in 1996 assumed that all life could have evolved by natural causes. Traditionally, Catholics have had no objections to Darwinian evolution, because they believe that God works through the laws of nature, which could include the sort of natural evolution identified by Darwin. The religious objections toDarwin come from fundamentalist Christians and Muslims who read the opening chapters of Genesis literally, so that God created everything in six days. But very few religious believers take that seriously. Even William Jennings Bryan, at the Scopes trial, admitted that the six days of Creation did not have to be 24-hour days.
Glazov: Larry Arnhart, thank you for taking the time out to talk about your book.
Arnhart: Thank you for having me.
"There is no reason why God could not have used natural evolution as the way to work out his design for the universe."
That's how I've always thought about it.
God gave us 'freewill' and in so doing has allowed us to shape out destiny.
Natural evolution would seem to be just another form of it.
That does NOT imply that these attacks are necessarily "intrinsic" to Darwinism, nor that these folks are representative.
The risk exists but it is not certain.
He's correct that Ann is attacking a dumbed-down/strawman version of Darwin: and it is an interesting approach to claim Darwinism refutes leftism. Will digest this over time before making up my mind.
The problem that I perceive is that people have been viewing what is nothing more than an objective attempt to see nature as it actually is, and turning it into a political and moral philosophy to be propounded by one side or another through the powers of the State. You might just as well try to codify the laws of gravity.
Funny how this got lumped in with the biological evolution we usually discuss.
Recently a liberal pseudo male psychologist tried to feed me a line of bull puckey that "Women don't like conservative men". He couldn't explain why approximately half the country was conservative. By his explanation conservatives should have died out long ago.
It didn't take long for him to get his education when even liberal women chimed in and said that it wasn't really true because the things that attracted them to men weren't usually found in very liberal men. The only women that really agreed with him were the far left code pink types who weren't "breeders" anyway.
So much for the PHD.
Please explain what you believe is "double talk" and how it is double-talk.
However, "Darwinism" today means much more than what was written by Darwin, just as Marxism today incorporates a lot of ideas never propounded by Marx.
For instance, Darwin himself carefully avoided any attempt to explain how life came into being, as opposed to the differention of species in existing life forms. However, Darwinists today try to explain not only the emergence of life from non-living matter, but some even try to use the theory to deny the possibility of God being involved in the creation of the Universe.
The Nazis saw history as a struggle between "races," in much the same way Marxists see in it a struggle between "classes."
Nazis are much more Darwinist insofar as they view the issue as one of survival of the fittest race, with little or no morality involved.
Marxists, OTOH, base their appeal largely on moral grounds of fairness, equality, etc.
In a very real sense, Marxist ideology is a Christian heresy whereas Nazism is an attempt to revive pre-Christian and anti-Christian ideologies.
In power, of course, the two ideologies function very similarly.
There is nothing in Darwin to justify deliberate extermination, and Hitler never claimed any such justification. (Hitler studied art and architecture, not biology.) Actually, eliminating genetic diversity is almost a guarantee of eventual extinction. Not very Darwinian at all. And attempting to have government actually manage the process is far more like Intelligent Design than Darwin's unguided process of evolution.
The Creationists/ID-iots are an embarrassment - and a clear, present danger - to the Conservative Cause. The primary difference between knowledge and ignorance is that knowledge has limits.
Actually it means much less. "Darwinism" is just a code word used by Creationists for whatever they don't like.
Just read in Friday's local paper on an article that there are 35 million reasons why humanity didn't evolve from chimps and that scientists have turned elsewhere to explain humanity's evolution. But for those who believe they evolved from apelike creatures, Darwin's evolution theory will still be taught in schools.
Of course, Darwin would have been appalled at such misuse of his ideas. But it is perfectly obvious that Nazism is in many ways a descendant of the Social Darwinism of the later 19th century, in which nations were generally referred to as "races," as in "the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon race."
All Hitler did was add a veneer of (inaccurate) biology to this previously more cultural concept.
If various modern concepts regarding the origin of life and the universe can be referred to as Darwinian, as they often are, despite Darwin's never discussing such issues, then on what basis can similar extrapolations on his work to the "racial struggle" be refused status as Darwinian in type simply because you disagree with their conclusions?
Okly dokly. As long as you've got a reliable scientific source.
But it's right. Chimps are a current species. The time contraint means we couldn't be descended from them
Its use as a code wode by Creationists is limited pretty much to the US.
The ideas of natural selection and "survival of the fittest" were originated by Darwin. Even misapplications of these ideas are therefore Darwinian in some sense.
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