Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Reply to Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary shares a blog on "intelligent design" with Bill Dembski. Recently, she wrote a post criticizing some of my arguments, which can be found here.

It is hard to respond to her comments because she tries so hard to be humorous that I'm not sure that she's serious about anything she says. But here goes . . .

"Family values conservatives" cannot accept Darwinian conservatism, she claims, because they must reject the reductionisitic materialism of Darwinism. "They believe that mind comes first and produces matter. Darwin and his followers believe that matter comes first and produces mind."

In Chapter 8 of Darwinian Conservatism, I have rejected both reductionism and dualism, while arguing for a Darwinian account of the soul or mind as an emergent product of the brain. Some religious conservatives object to this idea of the soul as the emergent capacity of the brain, because they think that the spiritual freedom and dignity of the human soul as the image of God requires that the soul be immaterial and separable from the body. But I have suggested that Biblical religion points to an emergent unity of body and mind in the Biblical teaching that immortality requires a resurrection of the body to sustain the soul (I Corinthians 15).

O'Leary rejects this by claiming that orthodox Christians must believe that the immortal soul is utterly free from the body. She cites Revelation 6:9, but she ignores the fact that the souls referred to in that passage are destined to come back to life through the resurrection of their bodies (Revelation 20:4-6).

In assuming that the perfection of the soul requires a complete separation from the body, O'Leary implicitly adopts the Gnostic heresy that denied the resurrection of the body. This heresy was rejected by orthodox Christians like Augustine (City of God, bk. 22, chaps. 15-16, 25) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, suppl., qu. 75, a. 1; qu. 81, a. 1). The resurrection of the body of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection of the believers affirm the goodness in the unity of body and mind. As Aquinas indicated, "the soul is united to the body as form to matter."

My point, again, is that the Biblical teaching of resurrection is compatible with a conception of the soul/mind as emergent from the body/brain. O'Leary's Cartesian dualism of mind and body rejects this tradition of Biblical thought.

O'Leary also repeats the common claim that Darwinian science supports all of the immoral policies associated with "social Darwinism." My response can be found in Chapter 9 of Darwinian Conservatism and in various posts on this blog. To associate Darwinian science with Nazi eugenics and genocide requires a gross distortion of what Darwin actually said and what his science requires. In fact, even Richard Weikart has admitted that there is no direct line "from Darwin to Hitler," although the crude rhetoric of social Darwinism exploited vague slogans of evolution to support morally reprehensible conclusions. One might as well cite Martin Luther's virulent anti-Semitism and then conclude that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's genocide.

In Chapter 3 of Darwinian Conservatism, I argue that Darwin's account of family life as rooted in human biological nature supports "family values." O'Leary rejects this conclusion, but since she doesn't indicate where she thinks I have gone wrong in my reasoning in that chapter, she doesn't give me anything to which I can respond.

She writes: "Darwinism predicts absolutely nothing of substance for family values, which normally derive from philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships. This is true whether given beliefs are widely held or wisely held or linked in any obvious way to health, wealth, or fertility."

I don't understand what she's saying here. It would help me understand if she could explain what she means by "philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships." I would say that such "beliefs" about family life must be judged by how well they conform to human nature. So, for example, if monogamy is good, it's because in the long run it satisfies the natural sexual, conjugal, and parental desires of human beings in such as way as to promote human flourishing. She seems to reject such reasoning, but I am not sure what alternative kind of reasoning she is proposing.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Darwinian Liberal Education

My article on "Darwinian Liberal Education" will be published soon in the fall 2006 issue of Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. Here I will provide a few excerpts.

We all know what's wrong with higher education today. Teaching and research have become so specialized, fragmented, and incoherent that we cannot see that unity of knowledge necessary for sustaining general or liberal eduction. To renew the tradition of the liberal arts, we need a new unifying framework of thought. As far as I can tell, there is today only one plausible source for such a common ground of knowledge, and that is Darwinian evolutionary biology.

I began to move towards this conclusion as an undergrduate student at the University of Dallas in the late 1960s. My youthful excitement about philosophy was stirred by Aristotle's declaration in his Metaphysics that all human beings by nature desire to understand, a desire that leads natural philosophers to search for the ultimate causes or reasons for all things. Fascinated by Aristotle's comprehensive investigation of nature and human nature, I noticed that much of his writing was in biology, and that even his moral and political works assumed a biological understanding of human nature. So I wondered whether Aristotle's biological naturalism could be compatible somehow with modern Darwinian biology, and whether this might support a general study of human life within the natural causal order of the whole.

Reading Leo Strauss helped me to see how the fundamental dilemma of modernity explained the loss of liberal education as a comprehensive study of the whole. The natural sciences assume a materialist reductionism that cannot account for the human mind or spirit. The humanities assume a radical dualism that treats human consciousness and conduct as autonomous in their separation from the causal order of the natural sciences. The social sciences are then torn between these two contradictory positions.

We might overcome this dilemma, I thought, if we could see Darwinian biology as a comprehensive science that would unify all the intellectual disciplines by studying human experience as part of the natural whole. This would continue the Aristotelian tradition of biology, because, as Strauss observed, Aristotle believed that biology could provide "a mediation between knowledge of the inanimate and knowledge of man."

The aim of liberal education is to use all the intellectual disciplines to probe how the complex interaction of natural propensities, cultural traditions, and individual choices shapes the course of human experience within the order of nature. Darwinian theory provides a general conceptual framework for such liberal learning grounded in the scientific study of genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and cognitive judgment.

In my teaching and my research, I have tried to answer the intellectual objections to grounding liberal learning in Darwinian evolution. Those people who deny the truth of Darwinian science should be free to dispute it as best they can, while recognizing the weight of the evidence and arguments favoring it and the difficulty of developing alternative explanations that are scientifically testable. Those people who fear Darwinian reductionism should see how Darwinian biology recognizes the emergent evolution of complexity. Those people who fear Darwinism as morally subversive should see how Darwinian reasoning supports morality by rooting it in human nature. Those people who fear Darwinian atheism should see that Darwinian explanations leave open the question of whether the evolution of nature is ultimately the work of nature's God. At all of these points, a Darwinian pursuit of liberal education directs us to think about the fundamental questions of human existence in the world. Isn't that what a liberal education is supposed to do?

But still many people will object that integrating the liberal arts curriculum through the idea of Darwinian evolution is impracticable, because this would require a radical restructuring of academic procedures and institutions, which is unlikely. My response here is to suggest three small steps that we can take that don't require radical change.

The first step is for college and university teachers to develop courses in their departments that incorporate Darwinian ideas. Many professors are starting to do that, because they are finding that evolutionary theory offers them fruitful lines of research that they can introduce in their regular teaching. I teach courses in biopolitical theory at Northern Illinois University that attract students from many departments across the university.

The next step is for faculty members in different departments to cooperate in interdisciplinary teaching. Next year, I will be team-teaching a course on evolution with a philosopher and a biologist. Students will register in one of three coures in the Department of Political Science, the Department of Biological Sciences, or the Department of Philosophy. But the three classes with the three professors will meet together. We will explore the general ideas of evolutionary theory and then apply them to various topics crossing the fields of biology, philosophy, and political science. The different viewpoints of the three professors in each class will surely stimulate lively discussions.

A third step would be to expand this into a general curriculum that would bring together courses in many departments. The best model for this would be David Sloan Wilson's Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University. (The website for Wilson's program can be found here.) This program was started by Wilson in 2002, and it is already being adopted at other schools. He has designed an integrated curriculum with a required introductory course--"Evolution for Everyone"--and a list of courses across the university from which students must earn a minimum number of credits. Wilson teaches "Evolution for Everyone" as the course in which all students in the program are introduced to the central concepts of evolutionary theory as well as some illustrative application of those concepts to various fields of study. He emphasizes the application of evolutionary ideas to human nature. In addition to the undergraduate program, there is a similar program for graduate students with the same structure. In this way, both faculty and students from across Binghamton University in many different departments are brought together with Darwinian reasoning as their common language to talk about questions of human nature and the natural world.

At Northern Illinois University, I have helped to develop "Politics and the Life Sciences" as a field of study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels within the Department of Political Science. With the help of my colleagues in other departments, I hope to eventually organize a university-wide program in evolutionary studies following the lead of Wilson's program at Binghamton.

Through such a Darwinian liberal education, we could renew the quest that began with Aristotle to satisfy our natural human desire to understand the causes or reasons for all things.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sandefur's Rejection of Fusionism

In response to my continuing defense of ordered liberty as the common ground for libertarian and traditionalist conservatives, Timothy Sandefur has a post on the Positive Liberty blog entitled "My Rejection of Fusionism."

I will have to think more about his comments. But my first reaction is that I generally agree with his particular points. I agree that Rothbard's alliance with the paleoconservatives led him into incoherent positions contrary to his libertarianism. I also agree that Kirk's writing was often obscure and confusing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fusionism, Again

I have been responding in various ways to Timothy Sandefur's claim that my account of conservatism as a fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism must be incoherent.

I agree that if one looks superficially at the debates between extreme libertarians like Murray Rothbard and extreme traditionalists like Russell Kirk, there seems to be a great gulf between them. But if one looks more carefully at some of their writings, such as those that can be found here, here, and here, one begins to see that they share much in common.

The problem is that both sides in this debate tend to criticize straw-men. In fact, Rothbard complains that to say that libertarians elevate individual liberty to "the status of an absolute end" is "an absurd straw-man." "Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end of life," Rothbard explains. "Freedom is necessary to, and integral with, the achievement of any of man's ends. The libertarian agrees completely with Acton and with Meyer himself that freedom is the highest political end, not the highest end of man per se; indeed, it would be difficult to render such a position in any sense meaningful or coherent."

Similarly, for the libertarians to criticize the traditionalist conservatives like Kirk as "statists" who would allow an authoritarian state to suppress individual liberty is also a "straw-man" argument. After all, Kirk is clear in stating that libertarians and traditionalists agree in their distaste for statist collectivism. "They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy."

Unfortunately, Kirk creates confusion when he writes: "The libertarian takes the state for the great oppressor. But the conservative finds that the state is ordained of God." This seems to support the idea that Kirk's traditionalism is "statist." But then a few pages later in the same essay, Kirk rejects "the pretensions of the modern state to omnicompetence." He goes on to explain: "The primary function of government, the conservatives say, is to keep the peace: by repelling foreign enemies, by maintaining the bed of justice domestically. When government goes much beyond this end, it falls into difficulty, not being contrived for the management of the whole of life."

The fundamental point here is to distinguish society from the state and to see that between the individual and the state is the realm of civil society--the realm of families, churches, economic associations, social groups of all kinds--all of those natural and voluntary groups in which the natural sociality of human beings is expressed.

Darwinian science supports the primacy of civil society as the fullest manifestation of the social instincts of human beings--instincts of attachment that arise first in the family and then extend outward to ever wider circles of social bonding. The bureaucratic state can, at best, secure some of the conditions for the cooperative relationships of civil society by keeping the peace, protecting private property, and enforcing a general rule of law.

But to assume that moral community has to be artificially created by the social engineering of a centralized, bureaucratic state is dangerously utopian, because it ignores the fact that since human beings are imperfect in their knowledge and virtue, they cannot be trusted with centralized power. Moreover, we should assume that the natural desire for political rule and high rank will incline those with power to be ambitious in their quest for domination. What John Adams called "the principle of balance" should lead us to separate and balance political powers so that ambitious people can satisfy their natural desire to rule, while being checked in their power so as to minimize the danger of tyranny.

The enforcement of morality comes best from the social sanctions of family life and civil society rather than the political sanctions of a centralized state. Thus, libertarians and traditionalists can agree that the highest end of politics is liberty, while the highest end of civil society is the ordering of liberty through moral habituation.

Conservatism and the Iraq War

In Darwinian Conservatism, I assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining a libertarian emphasis on liberty and reason and a traditionalist emphasis on order and tradition. Timothy Sandefur and others have criticized me for this by claiming that libertarians and traditionalists are not in the same camp at all. But I have argued that libertarian conservatives and traditionalist conservatives agree in their realist view of human nature and ordered liberty, and that Darwinian science supports that conservative realism.

A good illustration of this is how libertarians and traditionalists agree in their realist view of foreign policy as opposed to the utopian idealism of "neoconservative" foreign policy. The folly of the American war in Iraq vindicates conservative realism and exposes the flaws of neoconservative idealism.

Consider the following passage from Russell Kirk's essay "Prescription, Authority, and Ordered Freedom" (published in What Is Conservatism?, edited by Frank Meyer, in 1964):

"To impose the American constitution upon all the world would not render all the world happy; to the contrary, our constitution would work in few lands and would make many men miserable in short order. States, like men, must find their own paths to order and justice and freedom; and usually those paths are ancient and winding ways, and their signposts are Authority, Tradition, Prescription. Without the legal institutions, rooted in common and Roman law, from which it arose, the American constitutional system would be unworkable. Well, take up this constitutional system, abstractly, and set it down, as an exotic plant, in Persia or Guinea or the Congo, where the common law (English style) and the Roman law are unknown, and where the bed of justice rests upon the Koran or upon hereditary chieftainship--why, the thing cannot succeed. Such an undertaking may disrupt the old system of jsutice, and may even supplant, for a time; but in the long run, the traditional morals, habits, and establishments of a people, confirmed by their historical experience, will reassert themselves, and the innovation will be undone--if that culture is to survive at all."

This is one of the fundamental insights of traditionalist conservatism: since social order must evolve out of the habits and customs of a people over a long time, it is foolish to try to impose on a people some abstract conception of order that is utterly foreign to their local traditions. Conservatives appeal to universal principles of reason, but they see this--in Frank Meyer's words--as "reason operating within tradition."

Murray Rothbard--in an essay on Meyer--criticized this stress on tradition as contrary to his libertarian principles, because libertarians want to appeal to abstract principles of liberty that allow them to judge social traditions as good or bad. And yet, even Rothbard acknowledged the importance of customary order. As opposed to the artificial order imposed by a centralized state, Rothbard thought that liberty was better secured by local communities that enforce norms of cooperation through customary traditions. He often cited the history of "stateless societies" like ancient Ireland as showing how legal order could arise through voluntary agreement as manifested in customary norms that expressed the moral experience of the community. And for that reason, Rothbard defended an isolationalist foreign policy, because he denied that an imperialistic foreign policy could succeed in promoting free institutions that were not rooted in the local traditions of a people.

To see how conservative social thought combines reason and tradition, we need to understand how social order arises as the product of three kinds of order: natural order, customary (or habitual) order, and rational (or deliberate) order. This analysis of order as natural, customary, and rational was first stated by Aristotle and later adopted by philosophers such as Cicero and Thomas Aquinas. It is also implicit in Darwin's account of the human moral sense.

We should see a three-level nested hierarchy in which custom presupposes nature, and reason presupposes both nature and custom. The fully developed order in a community or an individual arises as the joint product of natural propensities, the development of those propensities through habit or custom, and the rational deliberation about those propensities, habits, and customs.

This same trichotomy of order is implicit in Darwin's biological account of the human moral sense. As naturally social animals, human beings are endowed with social instincts, so that they feel a concern for others and are affected by social praise and blame. As animals capable of learning by habit and imitation, human beings will develop habits and customs that reflect the social norms of their community. And as intellectual animals, human beings can rationally deliberate about their social instincts and social customs to formulate abstract rules of conduct that satisfy their natural desires as social animals.

Consider, then, how this trichotomy of order was manifested in the framing of the American constitutional order. The Constitution had to conform to universal human nature, because it had to recognize natural propensities such as ambition and self-interest that would need to be channelled through the constitutional system. And yet the structure of the constitutional system also had to conform to the customary experience of the Americans during the colonial period and under the Articles of Confederation. But while the constitutional framers were thus constrained by both universal human nature and particular human customs, they also had some freedom to deliberate about particular provisions of the new constitutional scheme.

The Iraqi people might learn much from the experience of American constitutional republicanism. For example, they might learn about the importance of the separation of powers, the rule of law, and private property in securing the conditions for ordered liberty. But any successful constitutional scheme for the Iraqis must be rooted in their own local traditions. For instance, they will have to struggle to develop their Islamic traditions of religious law in ways that reconcile moral community and individual liberty.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Discovery Institute's Use of Weikart's FROM DARWIN TO HITLER

Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler is often cited by proponents of intelligent design theory to show that Darwinian science leads to Nazism and other evils.

In Darwinian Conservatism, and on this blog, I have argued that Weikart's book doesn't really show a direct path "from Darwin to Hitler." In fact, the social Darwinists discussed by Weikart actually distorted or denied Darwin's teaching.

In his response to my criticisms, Weikart has accused me of distorting his book. He says that I "incorrectly allege that I argue a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler'thesis." He accuses me of reading the book with "the (false) preconceived idea that my book argues for a direct line from Darwin to Hitler." To support this claim, he quotes from page 4 of his book: "Darwinism does not lead inevitably to Nazism." In other words, he argues that the thesis of his book is not accurately conveyed in the title--From Darwin to Hitler--which he says is "ambiguous."

But now in a recent blog post at the Discovery Institute website, Jonathan Witt says that Weikart's book shows "a straightforward path to horror." He writes: "What is striking is how straightforwardly many of the horrors documented in Weikart's book follow from Darwinian principles." This directly contradicts Weikart's response to me saying that it is wrong to see his book as arguing for "a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler' thesis."

I hope that Weikart will correct this interpretation of his book, and that the Discovery Institute will issue a retraction of its claims about his book.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sandefur on Hayek

In our exchanges, Timothy Sandefur has indicated that he doesn't regard Hayek as the best representative for libertarian thought. He refers to a post of his from last year summarizing his criticisms of Hayek. Actually, I agree with him on this. I make some similar criticisms in Darwinian Conservatism (pp. 20-26).

My main point is that we need to explain social order as the product of three kinds of order: natural order, customary (or habitual) order, and rational (or deliberate) order. Hayek's stress on custom--"between instinct and reason"--as the ultimate source of order goes too far in elevating social tradition over natural propensities and deliberate judgments. So, for example, while he is right to stress the customary character of common law, he fails to give enough weight to the way in which common law had to be altered by deliberate judgments of judges and lawmakers.

This trichotomy of order is clear in property law--as I indicate in chapter 4 of Darwinian Conservatism--where we need to see three levels of property law: natural property, customary property, and formal property.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Response to Sandefur

Timothy Sandefur has a post on my reply to his review of Darwinian Conservatism.

He elaborates his argument that libertarianism and traditionalist conservatism are incompatible, and that Darwinian naturalism supports libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. His main point is that while the libertarian believes that social order is to be judged by how well it serves the happiness and flourishing of individuals, the conservative believes that individuals are to be judged by how well they serve the stability of social order.

I will concede that Russell Kirk's deep scorn for libertarian thought drove him to describe his Burkean conservatism in a way that drove a wedge between conservatism and libertarianism. But as I have argued in my previous post and in my book, the libertarianism of people like Hayek is actually compatible with Burkean conservatism. Although Hayek did not like to call himself a "conservative," he appealed to Burke throughout his writing, and he insisted that "true individualism" (as opposed to "false individualism") was consistent with Burkean thought.

Like the Burkean conservatives, Hayek repeatedly stressed the need for moral order rooted in tradition or custom to secure the social conditions for liberty. In Individualism and Economic Order, Hayek observed that "coercion can probably only be kept to a minimum in a society where conventions and tradition have made the behavior of man to a large extent predictable" (p. 24). In support of this idea, he quotes Burke: "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites." Moreover, Hayek writes, "It must remain an open question whether a free or individualistic society can be worked successfully if people are too 'individualistic' in the false sense, if they are too unwilling voluntarily to conform to traditions and conventions, and if they refuse to recognize anything which is not consciously designed or which cannot be demonstrated as rational to every individual" (p. 26).

For Kirk, the necessary moral traditions were ultimately rooted in some permanent order of the universe manifested in enduring human nature and religious belief in a transcendent order. By contrast, Hayek was a skeptic. And yet he saw no necessary conflict between his classical liberalism and religion. "Unlike the rationalism of the French Revolution, true liberalism has no quarrel with religion, and I can only deplore the militant and essentially illiberal antireligionism which animated so much of nineteenth-century Continental liberalism. . . . What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different spheres which ought not to be confused" (The Constitution of Liberty, p. 407).

This last point leads Sandefur to warn against Kirk as a "theocrat" who "called for an established religion in America." But here I would say that he is not being fair to Kirk. Kirk accepted the First Amendment principle that Congress should not establish a national church. "Christian teaching," Kirk claimed, "is intended to govern the soul, not the state." He warned that it was a mistake for the church to usurp the powers of the state. Although Kirk thought religion was essential for social order, he thought that no particular church should be established by the state, because he believed in religious liberty as a hard-won legacy of the Western tradition.

In listing his "Ten Conservative Principles", Kirk began with the principle of "an enduring moral order" rooted in a constant human nature. Darwinian science supports that principle by accounting for human nature, including the natural moral sense.

As Sandefur indicates, some conservatives are suspicious of Darwinian accounts of human nature as a product of evolutionary history, because they fear that this falls short of the eternal order that they seek. But my claim is that even if Darwinian human nature is not necessarily a fulfillment of some eternal, cosmic purpose, this human nature is still an enduring ground for moral judgment. Moreover, the question of whether this evolutionary nature is guided by some supernatural cause is left open for those who would move beyond nature to nature's God.

Some skeptical libertarians see no need for such a move beyond nature. But shouldn't they see the openness to divine mystery as one of the deepest expressions of individual liberty?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The New Fusionism

Although Timothy Sandefur generally praises Darwinian Conservatism, he criticizes me for "absurdly suggesting that libertarianism is a variety of conservatism, which it emphatically is not." He claims that my Darwinian account of human nature supports libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. (His review can be found here.)

Sandefur correctly surmises that I assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining libertarianism and traditionalism, a view most clearly stated in the 1960s by Frank Meyer. In April, I will be speaking at the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society as part of a debate with John West. For that occasion, I will be writing a paper on "Darwinian Conservatism as the New Fusionism." Here I will only briefly indicate a few of the ideas that I will elaborate in that paper.

Darwinian science supports the conservative understanding of ordered liberty as conforming to a realist view of human nature as imperfectible, which is the common ground between libertarian conservatism and traditionalist conservatism.

In Darwinian Conservatism, I identify the core ideas of conservatism as manifested in the political thought of five conservative thinkers--Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, and James Q. Wilson. While libertarians look to Smith, and traditionalists look to Burke, Burke's praise for Smith's two books--The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations--shows their fundamental agreement. Although Hayek and Kirk often criticized one another, their points of agreement were deeper than they were willing to admit. After all, both praised Burke and stressed the importance of cultural tradition in sustaining social order. Wilson might be seen as a traditionalist conservative insofar as he emphasizes the importance of moral character for social order. But he might also be seen as a libertarian conservative insofar as he shows how moral character is best nurtured through the spontaneous order of civil society. Moreover, Wilson indicates how the very possibility of moral order rests on the natural propensity of the human animal for developing a moral sense--a natural propensity that manifests human biological nature as shaped by Darwinian evolution.

In contrast to the utopian vision of human perfectibility that runs through the tradition of leftist thought, conservatives see human beings as naturally imperfect in their knowledge and their virtue. And yet conservatives believe that human beings do have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government. A Darwinian science of human nature shows how these conditions for ordered liberty conform to the natural desires of the human species as shaped by evolutionary history. This broad vision of ordered liberty is shared by libertarians and traditionists, and it is sustained by Darwinian science.

Traditionalist conservatives sometimes criticize libertarians for promoting an atomistic individualism that is morally corrupting in dissolving any sense of communal order. But libertarians actually recognize the natural sociality of human beings and the need for character formation through social life in civil society. As David Boaz indicates (in chap. 7 of Libertarianism: A Primer), libertarians see that human beings have natural desires "for connectedness, for love and friendship and community," and those social desires are best satisfied in the natural and voluntary associations of civil society--in families, in churches, in schools, in fraternal societies, and in various commercial associations. Moral character formation is achieved better through such natural and voluntary associations than through the coercive association of the state. The coercive power of the state can secure the conditions for ordered liberty by enforcing the rule of law, securing domestic peace, protecting against foreign attack, and providing some of the institutional structures necessary for a free society. But when the state exercises unlimited power in coercively managing the daily affairs of life, it "undermines the moral character necessary to both civil society and liberty under law."

Like Boaz, Hayek agreed with Burke in stressing the importance of morality and character formation for a free society. "It is indeed a truth, which all the great apostles of freedom outside the rationalistic school have never tired of emphasizing, that freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs and that coercion can be reduced to a minimum only where individuals can be expected as a rule to conform voluntarily to certain principles" (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 62, 435-36).

Darwin explains how such moral order and character formation arises from the complex interaction of moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments that manifest the evolved desires of the human animal.

And yet traditionalist conservatives often charge that libertarians subvert morality by failing to promote the religious beliefs that are essential to moral life. Sandefur seems to confirm that charge by claiming that libertarians affirm reason rather than faith--that they deny "the assumption that we need a special magic spark to give us moral significance." Moreover, he insists that Darwinian science is on the side of reason against faith, and so he criticizes me for "seeming to appease religion."

But as I argue in Darwinian Conservatism, I don't believe that Darwinian science is on the side of reason against faith. When we ask for the ultimate explanation for why nature is the way it is, we cannot by reason alone either deny or affirm the existence of some supernatural ground of explanation.

Religious conservatives like Kirk look to God's eternal order as providing a transcendent purpose for morality and politics. Skeptical conservatives like Hayek look to the natural order of life as providing a purely natural purpose for morality and politics. Skeptical conservatives will be satisfied with Hayek's thought that "life has no purpose but itself."

Darwinian conservatism cannot resolve such transcendent questions of ultimate explanation. But at least it can provide a scientific account of the moral and political nature of human beings that sustains the conservative commitments to private property, family life, traditional morality, and limited government. And in a free society, individuals will be free to associate with one another in social groups--in families, in religious communities, and other natural and voluntary associations--in which people can freely explore the ultimate questions of human existence and organize their lives around religious or philosophical answers to those questions.

Libertarians like Sandefur accuse traditionalist conservatives like Kirk of being "theocratic." But if "theocratic" means using the coercive power of a centralized state to enforce theological doctrines contrary to the social order of civil society, then I cannot see that those like Kirk were "theocratic." Even the most fervent of the religious conservatives in the United States respect the Western tradition of religious liberty.

And in this they follow the New Testament teaching of Christianity about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. After all, the Christians in the New Testament formed churches as voluntary associations of believers, and they never sought the coercive power of the state to enforce their religion. Paul stated a libertarian principle by which the Christians should enforce their religious norms on those who belong to their churches, but should not act coercively against those outside the church. "For what is it to me to judge those outside? Is it not for you to judge those inside? But God is to judge those outside" (I Corinthians 5:12-13).

On this point, conservatives--both libertarians and traditionists--follow a tradition of religious liberty that stretches from the early Christians to Roger Williams to Adam Smith to James Madison. The need for religious liberty follows from the conservative realist view of the imperfectibility of human nature. No human being can be trusted with the power to coercively enforce religious doctrine, because no one has sufficient knowledge or virtue to rightly claim to interpret God's will.

Here conservatives follow Lord Acton's famous maxim: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In fact, the context of this quotation from Acton's correspondence with Mandell Creighton indicates that it has a special application to theocratic, papal authority: "I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historical responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority."

Darwinian science can confirm the importance of religious belief as satisfying a natural desire for religious understanding. It can also confirm the social utility of religious communities in enforcing cooperative norms. And yet it also supports the need for religious liberty and the danger of theocratic power, because Darwinism recognizes that no human being can be trusted to exercise a presumed divine authority over other human beings.

But while judging such practical truths of religious belief and religious authority, Darwinian science can neither confirm nor deny the theological truth of religious doctrines.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Eugene Heath's Review

Eugene Heath, a philosophy professor at SUNY at New Paltz, has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism for the journal European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 1 (2007).

Heath generally praises the book: "Arnhart takes up these important issues in a judicious and informed manner, and his delivery is intelligent, careful, and devoid of posturing or special pleading."

But he also raises some questions about points that remain unclear, and he complains that "the brevity of the presentation--a feature of the Societas series--precludes a full and substantive account of how Darwinian ideas support conservatism." That's a fair complaint, because I do bring up some deep issues that are not given the lengthy elaboration that they deserve.

Heath wonders whether my argument doesn't leave a lot of room for "diverging social norms and political standards," as long as those norms and standards are within the broad limits set by human biological nature. So even those who don't consider themselves conservatives might find support in the book for "libertarianism or some realist conception of social democracy."

Heath also thinks I dismiss too quickly Hayek's idea "that our social and moral sensibilities, forged in an era of the small group or tribe, still incline us to 'tribal emotions' of solidarity and collective purpose, tendencies that clash with the abstract and purpose-independent rules of the spontaneous order."

Heath also wonders whether my biological account of the human capacity for moral judgment fully explains the human capacity "to recognize moral truths."

And, finally, Heath suggests that the social utility of religion might depend upon people believing in the truth of religion as transcending social utility.

These are all good points, although I think my replies should be evident in the book itself. Perhaps I can say more in a future post.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on the Beckwith Review

The full text of Frank Beckwith's review of Darwinian Conservatism for The Review of Politics can be found here. Some comments over at the Right Reason blog can be found here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Timothy Sandefur's Review

Timothy Sandefur has written a thoughtful review of Darwinian Conservatism for the Reports of the National Center of Science Education (May-June 2006). Some of his ideas are restated in a blog posting at the Panda's Thumb, which can be found here.

Although he is generous in his praise of my book, his main criticism is that I falsely assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining traditionalist conservatism (such as was promoted by Russell Kirk) and libertarian thought (such as was promoted by Friedrich Hayek). Sandefur thinks that my Darwinian view of human nature is more supportive of Hayekian libertarianism than of Kirkian traditionalism.

I hope to have a future post responding to Sandefur's intelligent comments.

Sandefur's review is now available here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Reply to Francis Beckwith

Francis Beckwith of Baylor University has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism for the Fall 2006 issue of The Review of Politics.

The review (with the title "Natural Law Without a Lawgiver") begins and ends with some generous praise:

"Darwinian Conservatism . . . is a work marked by clarity of purpose, prose, and argument that one rarely finds in academic writing. One may disagree with Arnhart, but one cannot help but be impressed by the author's command of the relevant literature as well as his ambitious project to ground contemporary conservatism firmly in a well-respected scientific theory."

"Darwinian Conservatism is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation between scholars in politics, philosophy, religion, and the hard sciences. Although one can criticize Arnhart on some points, as I have, his project to offer a Darwinian account of conservative political philosophy should be taken seriously. Conservative critics of Darwin ignore Arnhart at their own peril."

And yet Beckwith fundamentally disagrees with me. Against my argument for Darwinian natural right, Beckwith appeals to what he understands to be the traditional conception of natural law as based on natural teleology. "Human beings have a certain end or purpose (or good) that is intrinsic to their nature. Inhibiting the achievement of that end, whether by accident or by intent, is wrong. But this judgment is only possible because we have knowledge of certain first principles and moral precepts that we call the 'natural law.' But 'law' implies a lawgiver, and designed natures imply a designer. Therefore, the natural law and our human nature have their source in Mind."

In the light of this conception of natural law as guided by Mind, Beckwith offers two criticisms.

"(1) It seems to me that Arnhart is correct that certain sentiments (e.g., love of family, children) are consistent with a conservative understanding of community. But these sentiments themselves seem inadequate to ground moral action or to acount for certain wrongs. For example, Tony Soprano's love of kin nurtures sentiments that lead to clear injustices, e.g., rubbing out enemies, about which Tony and family do not seem particularly troubled. In that case, the wrongness of the act is located not in the sentiments of its perpetrators (or even its victims, if the victims, for some reason, were convinced that they deserved to be rubbed out) but in a judgment informed by moral norms that stand above, and are employed by free agents, to assess acts and actors apart from their sentiments."

"(2) As I have already noted, Arnhart's account of morality is, at best, descriptive, for it does not provde the reason why I ought to follow it. Granted, it may very well provide us with an accurate description of what behaviors in general were instrumental in helping the human species survive. For that reason, it may very well explain why each of us may have certain moral feelings on occasion. But it cannot say why citizen X ought to perform (or not perform) act Y in circumstance Z. For example, it may be that the trditional family, as Arnhart argues, best protects and preserves the human species if it is widely practiced. But what do we say to the eighty-year-old Hugh Hefner, who would rather shack up with five twenty-something buxom blondes with which he engages in carnal delights with the assistance of state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals? Mr. Hefner is no doubt grateful that his ancestors engaged in practices (e.g., the traditional family) that made his existence and lifestyle possible. But whey should he emulate only those practices that many people today (e.g., Arnhart and I) say are 'good'? After all, some of our ancestors were Hefnerian in their sensibilities. . . . Because we have always had in our population Hugh Hefners of one sort or another, it is not clear to me how Arnhart can distinguish between good and bad practices if both sorts may have played a part in the survival of the human race, unless there is a morality by which we assess the morality of evolution. But this would seem to lead us back to the old natural law, the one that has its source in Mind and that is not subject to the unstable flux of Darwinian evolution."

Finally, Beckwith objects to one sentence in my book about religion. Beckwith writes: "In one place he writes: 'God intervenes in history to communicate his redemptive message to human beings, but he does not need to intervene to form irreducibly complex mechanisms that could not be formed by natural means'(90). I do not know how Arnhart knows this. . . . he needs more than stipulation to show why anyone else should think he is right about the limits of God's activity."

Since Beckwith does not summarize the arguments of my book, his readers cannot imagine how I would respond to his objections. But those who have read Darwinian Conservatism can easily understand how I would reply.

First, the quotation about God's intervention in history is taken out of a paragraph about the Bible. I write: "Notice that in the Bible, once God has created the universe in the first chapters of Genesis, God's later interventions into nature are all part of salvation history. God intervenes in history to communicate his redemptive message to human beings, but he does not need to intervene to form irreducibly complex mechanisms that could not be formed by natural means. The Bible suggests that God created the world at the beginning so that everything we see in nature today could emerge by natural law without any need for later miracles of creation" (90). If we look to the Bible as a divinely inspired record of God's activity, we would have to conclude that God is primarily concerned with salvational history, and that He does not need to constantly create bacterial flagella and other irreducibly complex mechanisms of life. Does Beckwith have another reading of the Bible?

My response to the Tony Soprano example should be obvious. Murder is condemned in every society throughout history because there is a natural human sentiment of indignation against unjust killing. No society could survive if the moral sentiment against murder were not strong. So when the God of the Bible commands the people of Israel to kill all the people in captured towns--even innocent women and children--we know that this cannot be correct (Deuteronomy 20:10-20).

My response to the Hugh Hefner example should also be obvious. Although there is a natural desire for sexual mating, there are also natural desires for conjugal love, parental care, familial bonding, and enduring friendship. Mr. Hefner might satisfy his desire for promiscuous mating, but his pleasure will be shallow and momentary. Marriage and family life promote our fullest happiness over a whole life. And that's why the image of an 80-year-old Hefner surrounded by his bunnies evokes both disgust and pity among mature people. We know that such a life is deeply unsatisfying in its shallowness and thus bad because it's undesirable for any sensible human being.

What would Beckwith say to Hefner? Mr. Hefner, don't you realize that your life of sexual promiscuity violates the commands of Mind? To which Hefner might respond: Mind? Are you suggesting some kind of Cosmic Mind? Would you please explain what that could possibly mean? And why should I obey the commands of such a Cosmic Mind? How would I know that the commands of this Cosmic Mind are good? Wouldn't I need to have some standard of goodness to judge this? But if I already have a standard of goodness independent of the commands, why do I need these commands of the Cosmic Mind? Is something good because the Cosmic Mind commands it? Or does the Cosmic Mind command it because it is good?

Whenever a moral philosopher like Beckwith tells us that we ought to do something, we can always ask, Why? And ultimately the only final answer to that question is, Because it's desirable for you as something that will fulfill you, make you happy, and allow you to flourish as a human being. And if I am right about my list of 20 desires as rooted in human nature, then this would constitute a universal standard for what is generally good for human beings, although prudence is required to judge what is good for particular individuals in particular circumstances.

I have elaborated these and related points in my writing about "Darwinian natural law". and the Bible.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Neuhaus on the Bible and Slavery

John West, Carson Holloway, and other critics of Darwinian conservatism often criticize my claim that morality can be rooted in a natural moral sense of human biological nature, because they insist that Biblical religion is the only reliable source of moral norms. I agree that Biblical religion can often reinforce our natural moral sense. But I suggest that the Bible commonly lacks the moral clarity and reliability that we need. And consequently, we have to filter the Bible through our natural moral experience to arrive at the proper moral conclusions.

To illustrate this, I have noted that the Bible does not clearly condemn slavery as immoral. In fact, all of the specific references to slavery in the Bible seem to sanction it. So in the antebellum debate over the morality of slavery in the United States, the Christian defenders of slavery could plausibly argue that slavery was Biblically supported. The history of this debate has recently been surveyed in Mark Noll's book--The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.

Charles Darwin was a life-long opponent of slavery who saw it as a violation of the natural moral sense and the moral principle of reciprocity. Opponents of slavery like Abraham Lincoln invoked this principle of reciprocity in condemning slavery as a violation or reciprocal fairness: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." "This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave." Such a natural moral reasoning does not depend on the Bible. On the contrary, it is only such reasoning that allows us to correct the Bible so that we can read it as condemning slavery. (I have elaborated the Darwinian grounds for condemning slavery in Chapter 7 of Darwinian Natural Right.)

In Noll's book, he writes (p. 50): "With debate over the Bible and slavery at such a pass, and especially with the success of the proslavery biblical argument manifestly (if also uncomfortably) convincing to most Southerners and many in the North, difficulties abounded. The country had a problem because its most trusted religious authority, the Bible, was sounding an uncertain note. The evangelical Protestant churches had a problem because the mere fact of trusting implicitly in the Bible was not solving disagreements about what the Bible taught concerning slavery. The country and the churches were both in trouble because the remedy that finally sovled the question of how to interpret the Bible was recourse to arms. The supreme crisis over the Bible was that there existed no apparent biblical resolution to the crisis. As I have written elsewhere, it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."

In the December issue of First Things (p. 70), Father Richard John Neuhaus quotes this passage and then observes: "All the answers may very well be in the Bible, if only we could agree on its interpretation. Noll's very serious point . . . is that the Civil War played a large part in shaking the confidence of a Protestant and Bible-believing nation in the capacity of religion to resolve disputes of great public moment. Catholics never believed that the Bible, unmediated by interpretative authority, could play that role. Which does not mean that there could not have been a Civil War if this had been a predominantly Catholic country. It does mean that all cultures, philosophies, and belief systems, religious or not, are subject to being taken captive by disordered passions that overwelm a necessity humility in the face of historical dynamics that we neither understand nor control."

Neuhaus's position is hard to understand. While suggesting that the Bible could be our final guide to moral judgment, he also suggests that it cannot do this without mediation by the "interpretative authority" of the Catholic Church. But then he admits that it is not clear that the authority of the Catholic Church could have avoided the Civil War by correctly interpreting the Bible as condemning slavery. Ultimately, it seems that Neuhaus is left with a historicist relativism in which we must humbly submit to "historical dynamics that we neither understand nor control."

Against such historicist relativism, Darwinian conservatism, with its rooting of morality in a natural moral sense of human biological nature, is a far more reliable ground for moral judgment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Reply to John West, Part 2

Continuing my reply to John West's new book Darwin's Conservatives, I will respond briefly to his last two chapters--Chapter 6 ("Is Darwinism Compatible with Religion?") and Chapter 7 ("Has Darwinism Refuted Intelligent Design?").

(6) Religion

That Darwinism denies religious belief is clear to West because "a dominant majority of leading defenders of Darwinism seem to be either avowed atheists or agnostics" (65). I don't know whether it's a "dominant majority" or not. But it is surely true that many of those who accept Darwinian science are either atheists or agnostics. But then, of course, the same could be said about every field of natural science. Many of those who accept modern physics and chemistry are either atheists or agnostics. But it does not follow that religious believers should therefore see modern physics and chemistry as a threat to their faith.

I argue that Darwinian science--like all natural science--leaves open the question of ultimate explanation. All explanation assumes ultimately an uncaused cause that cannot itself be explained. Why is there anything at all? And why are things ordered the way they are? Some people will appeal to nature as the ultimate ground. Others will appeal to nature's God as the ultimate ground. As far as I can see, natural science generally, including Darwinian science, cannot deny the possibility that nature depends on God as the First Cause.

To which West responds: "But this 'first cause' allowable by Darwinism seems incompatible with the God of the Bible. It cannot be a God who actively supervises or directs the development of life. The most it could do is to set up the interplay between chance and necessity, and then watch to see what the interplay produces. Such an absentee God is hard to reconcile with any traditional Judeo-Christian conception of a God who actively directs and cares for His creation. In the end, the effort to reconcile Darwinism with traditional Judeo-Christian theism remains unpersuasive" (71).

Darwin begins The Origin of Species by quoting Francis Bacon speaking about God revealing himself through "two books"--the Bible and nature. In the last sentence of The Origin of Species, Darwin leaves his reader with a vivid image of nature's God: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

To me this indicates how Darwinian evolution could be compatible with a religious belief in God as the original source of nature's powers. Michael Behe agrees with me. In his book Darwin's Black Box, he indicates that evolutionary science is "quite compatible" with such religious belief (239).

But this is not enough for West, who insists that God as the First Cause of nature is still not "the God of the Bible." Does he mean to suggest, then, that intelligent design theory does lead us to "the God of the Bible"? Well, no. Because West says that intelligent design reasoning does not prove the existence of a supernatural creator (90-91).

In fact, Ken Ham (of "Answers in Genesis") and other Christian creationists complain that intelligent design theory is not compatible with "the God of the Bible," because the intelligent designer has none of the distinctive traits of God as presented in the Bible. For creationists like Ham, Darwinian evolution and intelligent design theory are both incompatible with Biblical religion.

Darwinian evolution and intelligent design theory are in the same boat here. They are both open to the possibility that nature depends on some supernatural First Cause. But whether this is the "God of the Bible" is a matter of faith beyond any rational study of nature. As West admits, the proponents of intelligent design cannot determine "whether the intelligent cause is the Judeo-Christian God" (87).

(7) Intelligent Design

In his last chapter, West tries to defend intelligent design theory against my criticisms. In response, I will make only a few points.

I have cited Kenneth Miller's explanation for how natural selection could have built the bacterial flagellum, which Behe and others have argued is "irreducibly complex." West counters this by citing a paper by Scott Minnich and Stephen Meyer, which can be found here.

West does not acknowledge, however, that there are some serious errors in the Minnich and Meyer paper. The errors are set out in a recent article: M.J. Pallen & N.J. Matzke, "From The Origin of Species to the Origin of Bacterial Flagella," Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4 (10), 784-790. Minnich and Meyer state that "the other thirty proteins in the flagellar motor (that are not present in the TTSS) are unique to the motor and are not found in any other living system." Pallen and Matzke have shown that the number of indispensable proteins that are "unique" is no more than 2. Mistakes like this are typically detected through the process of scientific peer review.

I claim that intelligent design is mostly a negative argument from ignorance with little positive content. That is to say, the proponents of ID attack Darwinian science for not satisying the highest standards of proof, and then they conclude that if the Darwinian arguments fall short of absolute proof, then ID wins by default. The sophistry here is that the proponents of ID set up standards of proof for Darwinian science that they themselves could never satisfy if they had to make a positive case for ID.

I say that for ID to have some positive content, its proponents would have to explain exactly where, when, and how a disembodied intelligence designed "irreducibly complex" structures like the bacterial flagellum. West responds by saying that the proponents of ID don't have to do this. They can infer that there is an intelligent designer without explaining exactly where, when, or how the designer works. But that confirms my point! The proponents of ID cannot do what they demand that the Darwinists must do--provide detailed, step-by-step explanations of exactly how these "irreducibly complex" mechanisms are constructed.

For example, in Darwin's Black Box, Behe acknowledges that evolutionary theorists can develop scenarios of how evolution could have constructed "irreducibly complex" mechanisms. But this is insufficient, he complains. "Although they might think of possible evolutionary routes other people overlook, they also tend to ignore details and roadblocks that would trip up their scenarios. Science, however, cannot ultimately ignore relevant details, and at the molecular level all the 'details' become critical" (65).

After offering an example of an evolutionary scenario, Behe comments: "Intriguing as this scenario may sound, though, critical details are overlooked. The question we must ask of this indirect scenario is one for which many evolutionary biologists have little patience: but how exactly?" (66)

Ok, Behe, I might say, let's apply to you the standards of proof that you apply to Darwinism. Intriguing as your scenario for intelligent design may sound, critical details are overlooked. The question we must ask of your intelligent design scenario is one for which many proponents of intelligent design have little patience: but how exactly?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Article by John West

John West has written an article for Human Events, which is composed of a few selections from his book Darwin's Conservatives. It can be found here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Reply to John West, Part 1

The Discovery Institute Press has just published a new book by John West--Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest. West is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, the leading conservative group in promoting "intelligent design theory" and criticizing Darwinian science. His book is an incisive and intelligent attack on the argument of my Darwinian Conservatism. Here he elaborates criticisms that he first stated in a conference paper for a panel that we were on at the 2006 convention of the American Political Science Association. The panel was sponsored by the Claremont Institute.

He analyzes my book as presenting seven main arguments: "(1) Darwinism supports traditional morality, (2) Darwinism supports the traditional view of family life and sexuality; (3) Darwinism is compatible with free will and personal responsibility; (4) Darwinism supports economic liberty; (5) Darwinism supports 'non-utopian limited government'; (6)Darwinism is compatible with religion; and (7) Darwinism has not been refuted by intelligent design" (10-11). He organizes the seven chapters of his book around those seven arguments.

In this post, I will respond briefly to his first five chapters. I will leave the topics of religion and intelligent design for a second post to come later.

Here is how West summarizes his arguments against me: "Darwin's theory manifestly does not reinforce the teachings of conservatism. It promotes moral relativism rather than traditional morality. It fosters utopianism rther than limited government. It is corrosive, rather than supportive, of both free will and religious belief. Finally, and most importantly, Darwinian evolution is in tension with the scientific evidence, and conservatism cannot hope to strengthen itself by relying on Darwinism's increasingly shaky empirical foundations" (11).

I would stress, however, that, like Carson Holloway, West agrees with me that the biological science of human nature does support conservative thought on many points (13, 31-32, 36). He disagrees with me about the ultimate causes of human biological nature. I explain those ultimate causes through evolutionary biology. He rejects evolutionary science as totally false, and he explains the ultimate causes of human biology as the work of an intelligent designer. This suggests that there is some ground of compromise. Even if we can't agree on "Darwinian conservatism," we might agree on "biological conservatism." Because we might agree that the observable biological nature of human beings supports conservative thinking, even if we disagree about the ultimate causes of that nature.

(1) Traditional Morality

In criticizing my argument that the Darwinian understanding of the natural moral sense supports traditional morality, West is vague about the ground of his support for traditional morality. Occasionally, he speaks of a "transcendent standard of morality" (21), a "permanent foundation for ethics" (22), or "moral truth" (40), but without explaining exactly what he has in mind.

West sometimes refers to "traditional Judeo-Christian morality" (21). He doesn't explain this, although he does suggest a couple of times that he is refering to Biblical morality--the moral teaching of the Old and New Testaments--which would include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (69-71, 143). He sometimes suggests that he is refering specifically to the Biblical teaching "that human beings are created as the result of God's specific plan" (143). But in his entire book, he refers to only two Biblical verses (69-70)--the Old Testament declaration that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1) and the New Testament declaration of Paul that God's creation manifests his invisible attributes (Romans 1:20).

So how exactly does the Bible provide a clear and reliable moral teaching contrary to the Darwinian moral sense? West rejects Darwin's account of how the social instincts of human beings might have evolved because cooperating for the good of the group favored the group's survival and reproductive fitness in competition with other groups (20). But something similar is said in the Bible. Whenever Moses wants to give an ultimate reason for obeying his laws, he warns the people of Israel that obeying these laws is the only way for them to survive and propagate themselves (Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 4:40, 30:15-20). And just as Darwin recounts the ancient history of group against group conflict, the Bible repeatedly shows how the people of Israel had to put a "curse of destruction" on their enemies, so that all of those they conquered--including innocent women and children--would have to be slaughtered (Numbers 31:1-20; Deuteronomy 20:10-20). Is this "traditional Judeo-Christian morality"?

West is disturbed by Darwin's account of infanticide in primitive tribes, but West does not comment on the Biblical passages where infanticide seems to be endorsed (Genesis 22; Numbers 31; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Judges 11:29-40).

The Bible endorses slavery. In fact, the Biblical basis for slavery is so explicit that the proslavery Christians in the American South were adamant in defending slavery as Biblically justified. This split the Protestant denominations before the Civil War into Northern and Southern schisms. Doesn't this illustrate how the Bible does not always provide clear and reliable moral guidance? Doesn't it show that to get a proper moral teaching from the Bible, we have to pass the Bible through our natural moral sense?

West writes: ". . . I am not quarreling with Arnhart's attempt to enlist biology to support traditonal morality. I actually agree with him that showing a biological basis for certain moral desires could conceivably reinforce traditional morality--
but only if we have reason to assume that those biological desires are somehow normative. . . . If one believes that natural desires have been implanted in human beings by intelligent design, or even that they represent irreducible and unchanging truths inherent in the universe, it would be rational to accept those desires as a grounding for a universal code of morality. . . ." (22-23).

Does West really mean this--that we are morally obligated to follow all of our natural desires if we believe they are the product of intelligent design or an unchanging nature? How exactly would that work?

(2) The Traditional Family

Darwin noted that in human history polygamy was common. West scorns this as contrary to "the Judeo-Christian conception of marriage as an institution ordained from the inception of humanity" (26-26). But polygamy is endorsed in the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, which follows the Old Testament teaching. Thomas Aquinas justified polygamy as "partly natural," although it was also "partly unnatural," because of the conflicts from the sexual jealousy of the co-wives. Darwinian biologists can see the same problem: although polygyny--multiple wives--has been common in history, it is disruptive because of the jealousy within the household.

There is a long Christian tradition of trying to abolish the family. In Darwinian Natural Right, I comment on the history of "Bible communism" in the Oneida Community, where Christians tried to abolish marriage and the family as a step to Christian perfection. Would West say that this is a misinterpretation of the Bible? If so, how exactly do we ensure correct interpretations of Biblical morality?

(3) Free Will

West claims that Darwinian biology must reject the idea of free will as the ground of personal responsibility. But if by "free will" West means "uncaused cause," then I would say--along with Jonathan Edwards and others--that only God has "free will" in this sense, because only God is an "uncaused cause." But if "free will" means acting on our natural desires in the light of our deliberate choices, then I would accept this as compatible with Darwinian science. Darwin's comments on the importance of practical deliberation--acting in the light of past experience and future expectations--show this kind of moral freedom.

I speak of human moral freedom as an "emergent" product of the evolution of the human brain. West rejects this as contrary to "the traditional Judeo-Christian belief in an immaterial soul" (38). But doesn't the New Testament teaching about the resurrection of the body suggest that the resurrected soul depends on a resurrected body (I Corinthians 15)? The dualism of immortal soul separated from mortal body seems more characteristic of pagan philosophy than Biblical teaching.

(4) Economic Liberty

I argue that Hayek's conception of "spontaneous order" is a point of contact between Darwinism and conservatism. West rejects this by saying that the spontaneous order of an economy or a society arises not through genetic evolution but through cultural evolution. But this ignores my point--stressed in Darwinian Conservatism--that we need three sources of social order: genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and deliberate reasoning. Genetic evolution and cultural evolution show spontaneous order. Deliberate reasoning shows intelligent design. I draw this trichotomy from Darwin who often emphasizes the importance of cultural learning along with reasoning as interacting to create moral norms. As an example of this, I show how the history of property moves through three levels--natural property, customary property, and formal property.

(5) Limited Government

West is right that the utopian eugenicists and the American progressives identified themselves as Darwinians in arguing for the expansion of governmental power for utopian ends. But, as I indicated in my chapter on Social Darwinism, these "social Darwinists" were not really acting out of a clear and accurate understanding of Darwinian science. One might as well say that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's anti-Semitism because Martin Luther's anti-Semitism was often cited by the Nazis.

Moreover, on the matter of eugenics, I think Darwin was reasonably clear. For example, he thought that the laws prohibiting incestuous marriages should be based on accurate studies of the effects of inbreeding, so that cousin marriages should be permitted if they did not pose any great risks of increased physical or mental harm to the offspring of such marriages. The same kind of reasoning would justify the work of Ashkenazi Jews in discouraging the marriage of those who are carriers for Tay Sachs disease. This illustrates the "good eugenics" that almost all of us would support--as opposed to the "bad eugenics" of the Nazis.

I will have more to say in response to John West's book in a future post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Electoral Victory for Libertarian Conservatives

The U.S. election results would seem to be a victory for libertarian conservatives and a defeat for social conservatives and neoconservatives.

The defeat of Rick Santorum--the leading social conservative in the Senate, a proponent of "intelligent design theory," and a critic of Darwinism--is dramatic. Consider also the defeat of the aborton ban in South Dakota, the victory of the stem-cell research referendum in Missouri, the victory of the ban on affirmative action in Michigan, the passing of state referenda protecting private property against unreasonable uses of "eminent domain" powers, the resounding rejection of Bush's neoconservative war in Iraq--all of this suggests that conservative voters are unhappy with the agenda of social conservatism and neoconservatism and supportive of limited government securing ordered liberty.

This creates an opportunity for libertarian conservatives to revive the tradition of limited government conservatism and to find support for this in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Utopian Folly of the Iraq War

Conservatism is founded on a realistic vision of human nature as imperfectible--of human beings as limited in their knowledge and virtue and of the human tendency to factional conflict driven by ambition, avarice, and fanaticism. By contrast, the Left is founded on a utopian vision of human nature as perfectible through rational social planning. Darwinian science supports conservatism by sustaining its realistic view of human nature.

The American war in Iraq violates such conservatism by assuming a utopian view of human nature. That explains why many American conservatives now realize that the neoconservative idealism of Bush's war in Iraq is not really rooted in conservative thought.

The American war in Iraq is foolishly utopian in at least two respects. First, it is utopian in the assumption that the institutions of ordered liberty can be nourished around the globe in every society by imperialistic wars. In his Second Inaugural Address, Bush self-consciously imitated Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Bush proclaimed "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world" by using military force to overthrow tyrants and thus liberate all of mankind. "We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." This is utopian because it ignores the fact that the achievement of ordered liberty requires more than just the longing of the soul for liberty. It requires customary traditions that evolve gradually and unpredictably in ways that cannot be managed by military rulers.

Bush actually acknowledges this in one passage of his speech: "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own."

It should be evident by now that the "customs and traditions" of Iraq do not support national unity under the rule of law and limited government. The traditions of Islamic sharia and sectarian factionalism will not permit free institutions to develop anytime soon.

The other utopian element of the American war in Iraq is that this has been a Presidential war. Bush's Second Inaugural is a glorious speech. But that's just the problem! The American constitutional framers understood that the President would be tempted to go to war to satisfy his ambition and love of glory. That's why they designed a constitutional system based on a balance of powers that would have ambition checking ambition. (This is the subject of my chapter on limited government in DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM.) The President's glory-seeking ambition as Commander in Chief would be checked by the powers of Congress for declaring war, for regulating and financing the military, and for impeachment. Regretably, however, the Congress of the United States has largely given up its war powers to the President. Rather than insisting on a declaration of war, as required by the Constitution, the Congress passed an Iraq Resolution in October of 2002 that essentially gave unlimited discretion to the President to launch a war as he wished.

To assume that a politically ambitious man like the President can be trusted to exercise such discretionary and arbitrary power assumes a perfection of wisdom and virtue in the President that is nothing more than a utopian fantasy. A more realistic, and therefore conservative, view of presidential power and glory was stated by James Madison in his fourth Helvidius paper:

"In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

"Hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war; hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence."

Darwinian conservatives will agree with President Bush that there is a natural desire for liberty. But they will insist that one fundamental condition for satisfying that natural desire is a system of limited government in which chief executives do not have the discretionary power to initiate imperialistic wars in the name of liberty.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

John Derbyshire and God

In the history of the United States, there have been periods of intense religious enthusiasm. Historians speak of the First Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th century and the Second Great Awakening early in the 19th century. It might be that the post-World War II era was another Great Awakening when evangelical Christianity stirred unusual enthusiasm across the country. But this seems to be cyclical. And it seems that the latest Great Awakening is now waning.

I have seen this in my university students. In the early 1980s, I noticed that many of my students were "born-again Christians" whose faith dominated their lives. This was surprising, because when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was told by many of my professors that religion would soon disappear as part of the "modernization process." They were wrong. In fact, some of those professors are now talking about the importance of religious belief in shaping political life. After all, the "clash of civilizations" that we now see in world politics turns on religious cleavages between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Although I don't think religious belief will ever disappear, because I think it is rooted in a natural human desire, I do see a weakening of the emotional enthusiasm that I once saw in my students. I have heard that many evangelical leaders are beginning to worry because they also see a dramatic drop in the number of young people attending evangelical churches.

This change is reflected in the American conservative movement. After a few decades in which the religious right has dominated much of the conservative politics of the United States, it now seems that many conservatives are questioning the assumption that conservatism must coincide with Christian evangelical orthodoxy. And some of this questioning arises from a move to Darwinian conservatism.

For example, John Derbyshire, an editor at National Review has just written a column on his lack of Christian faith.

Like me, he argues that there is still room to believe in something like God to account for the two fundamental mysteries--the mystery of the origin of the universe and the mystery of the individual human consciousness. But this "mysterian" openness to the divine is far from any orthodox religious tradition.

Derbyshire gives many reasons why he gave up his Anglican Christianity. The biggest reason, he says, was biology. As he studied biological ideas of human nature, he found it hard to see human beings as created in God's Image. That's why the Creationists hate Darwinian biology.

I would say, however, that the very mysteries of the origin of the universe and the human consciousness remain mysteries within Darwinian biology, which leave a big opening for religious belief.

Derbyshire asks the question of whether an irreligious person can be a conservative. He answers as I would. Yes, he can, because he can believe in "limited government power, respect for traditional values, patriotism, and strong national defense." Of course, "traditional values" might include religious belief. But some of the best minds of the Western cultural tradition have not been religious believers. Still, the conservative must respect religious belief, even if he does not accept it as strictly true, because he must recognize that it expresses some of the deepest longings of human nature.

"Conservatism," Derbyshire rightly observes, "has at its core an acceptance of, a respect for, human nature. We conservatives are the people who see humanity plain, or strive to, and who wish to keep our society in harmony with what we see. Paul Johnson has noted how leftists always used to talk about building socialism. Capitalism doesn't require building. It's just what happens if you leave people alone. It arises, in short, from human nature, and only needs harmonizing under some mild, reasonable, laws and customary restraints. You don't have to build it by forging a New Capitalist Man, or anything like that."

That's what I call "Darwinian conservatism"--a conservatism rooted in a realistic vision of human nature that is confirmed by Darwinian science.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sherlock Detects Strauss's Secret

In defending "Darwinian natural right" and "Darwinian conservatism," I show the influence of Leo Strauss and his students. But my effort to ground "natural right" in a scientific understanding of human nature is scorned by most Straussian scholars.

This points to the fundamental ambiguity in the legacy of Strauss. On the one hand, the powerful appeal of Strauss came from his warning that modern relativism and nihilism had created a crisis for the West by denying natural right or natural law as the ground for any natural standards for the true and the good. On the other hand, Strauss and his students have not offered any explanation for how exactly natural right or natural law can be defended in the modern world.

In a recent issue of Modern Age (Summer 2006), Richard Sherlock reflects on this ambiguity as manifesting "The Secret of Straussianism." Strauss's Natural Right and History is a profound account how how the premodern conception of natural right was subverted by modern relativism and nihilism. But then, as Sherlock indicates, the reader is left at the end of the book waiting for a philosophic grounding of natural right that will withstand the attack from modern traditions of thought. Strauss's silent refusal to satisfy this expectation indicates the true secret of Straussianism.

Contrary to the common assumption that Strauss was arguing for a return to classic natural right, Strauss was actually teaching--even if only by his silence--that a grounding of natural right is impossible. Consequently, Sherlock suggests, Strauss's appeal to premodern natural right was more rhetorical than philosophic. He thought it was morally and politically salutary to attack modern relativism and nihilism as inferior to classic natural right. But even as he did this, he left clear indications to his careful readers that there really was no ground in nature for natural right.

Sherlock rightly points to the most popular Straussian book--Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind--as conveying the secret teaching. Bloom scorns the debilitating effects of modern nihilism, and yet he praises Nietzsche as Socratic in his skepticism. Bloom's passionate devotion to philosophy as perpetual openness manifests the very nihilism that he supposedly rejects. (As I have indicated in some previous postings, Harvey Mansfield shows a similar skepticism about natural right, in his book on manliness, when he asserts "manly nihilism.")

Sherlock concludes, "the secret of Strauss's teaching is that there is no philosophic answer to the fundamental problems of human existence: What is the good? How shall I know it? How shall I live in its light?"

What could Strauss have done to ground natural right? Sherlock suggests that he should have followed the path taken by one of his fellow German Jews--Simone Weil--and turned toward faith or theology as the ultimate ground of moral and political judgment. I agree that such an alternative must be taken seriously, because it satisfies the natural human desire for religious understanding by moving beyond nature to nature's God as the uncaused cause of the cosmos, including the moral order of the whole.

But Sherlock also recognizes other possibilities. Strauss could have tried "to ground natural right in the scientific study of human nature, as some of his extended followers, such as Roger Masters and Larry Arnhart, have done."

As Strauss and many of his students have suggested, the problem of natural right could be solved only if we could defend a teleological conception of nature against the apparent denial of teleology in modern natural science. Natural right seems to require a cosmic teleology so that that the order of the whole universe supports human goodness.

But I would argue that natural right could be grounded in a biological teleology that does not require a cosmic teleology of the whole universe. Strauss points to this possibility in Natural Right and History: "For, however indifferent to moral distinctions the cosmic order may be thought to be, human nature, as distinguished from nature in general, may very well be the basis of such distinctions" (p. 94).

While Bloom seemed to endorse the idea of natural teleology as rooted in human biology, he also suggested that such natural teleology is only an illusion., even if a noble illusion. "I mean by teleology," Bloom wrote, "nothing but the evident, everyday observation and sense of purposiveness, which may be only illusory, but which ordinarily guides human life, the kind everyone sees in the reproductive process" (pp. 110, 130-31). The qualifying phrase--"which may be only illusory"--allowed him to simultaneously deny and affirm the truth of natural teleology, which creates a strangely ambiguous position that one can find among many of Strauss's students, wanting to root Aristotelian natural right in a science of human nature, but also wanting to adopt a Kantian dualism that separates nonhuman nature and human culture.

One reason for this Straussian ambiguity is that Bloom and others think that the teleology required for natural right is a cosmic teleology that has been rendered implausible by modern science. But as I have argued, Aristotelian natural right requires only an immanent teleology--the observable goal-directed character of living beings--that is supported by Darwinian biology. Here I agree with Leon Kass that a crucial part of a "more natural science" would be a Darwinian understanding of teleology as rooted in "the internal and immanent purposiveness of individual organisms" (Towards a More Natural Science, pp. 249-75).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Antony Flew's Review

Antony Flew, emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University in the U.K., has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism in the October-November issue of Right Now!, a British conservative journal.

Flew is famous as a philosopher who has written some of the classic philosophic texts arguing for atheism. He was an active participant in C. S. Lewis's Socratic Club. But while he was impressed by Lewis's thoughtful and fair-minded defense of theism, he was not persuaded.

So when he began a few years ago to suggest that the argument for "intelligent design" had led him to change his mind and question his atheism, this became an international news story. The history of Flew's thinking can be found in various places, including this Wikipedia article. It seems, however, that even if Flew is no longer a strict atheist, he has moved more towards deism rather than theism. He wonders whether the complex order of the universe doesn't point to God as First Cause. But he doesn't see this God as having the personal attributes of the Biblical God, and he doesn't believe in an afterlife.

This resembles my position, which is that the quest for ultimate explanations--the search for an uncaused cause--leads us to a fundamental choice between Nature or Nature's God as the unexplainable ground of all explanation.

Since Flew's review is not available online, I will quote it in its entirety here:

"The author of the present book is an American with, primarily, American readers in mind. He therefore, when thinking about Darwin's theory of the origin of species, cannot fail to be reminded that when, early in the 20th century that theory began to be taught in public schools, William Jennings Bryan supported legislation in the State of Tennessee prohibiting any teaching of evolution as denying the Biblical teaching that human beings were directly created by God. Today's well financed campaign to establish that the universe itself is the product of intelligent design points to the fabulous integrated complexity of the world of living creatures as itself the strongest evidence of intelligent design.

"Larry Arnhart's thesis in this book, which I think he proves abundantly, is that the constraints of our biological nature explode the most persistent delusion of the Left: 'that man is so malleable that he can be reshaped or transformed through political actions.' Consequently, a Darwinian politics is a largely conservative politics.

"When Harvard University biologist Edward Wilson argued that sociobiology should study the biological roots of human nature, he was attacked by those on the Left. What bothered the Leftists, Wilson explained, was 'the threat perceived to the core concept of their belief system--namely, that there is no human nature, that human behaviour and human social institutions are entirely the product of economic forces and culture; in other words, that human beings can be shaped by imposing an ideal social order.'

"Larry Arnhart is to be commended for producing an excellent book about conservative thought."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Peter Lawler and the Conservatism of Manly Nihilism

Many conservatives reject Darwinian science not because they believe that it's false, but because they fear that it's true.

In The Use and Abuse of History, Friedrich Nietzsche declared: "If the doctrines of sovereign becoming, of the fluidity of all concepts, types and species, of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal--doctrines that I consider true but deadly--are thrust upon the people for another generation with the rage for instruction that has now become normal, no one should be surprised if the people perishes of petty egoism, ossification and greed, falls apart and ceases to be a people."

Unlike other animals, Nietzsche believed, human beings cannot live without giving their lives meaning and importance--the meaning and importance that come from creating transcendent values as artistic illusions that elevate human life by giving it cosmic significance. In support of this tragic view of mythic art as necessary to create value and conceal the meaningless chaos of the world, Nietzsche criticized "scientific Socratism" for seeking pure knowledge through science and philosophy, which fails to see the need for artistic illusion to make human life meaningful and important.

Many conservatives have implicitly adopted this Nietzschean position in warning against Darwinian science as a "deadly truth." This is evident in a recent article by Peter Augustine Lawler--"Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong (Again)"--in the fall, 2006, issue of The Intellercollegiate Review. Identifying Harvey Mansfield and Tom Wolfe as "America's two most astute social commentators," Lawler praises them for their manly rejection of Darwinian science.

In a lecture on "The Human Beast," which can be found here, Wolfe argues that what separates human beings from other animals is the human capacity for speech. He writes: "The Book of John in the New Testament says cryptically: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' This has baffled Biblical scholars, but I interpret it a follows: Until there was speech, the human beast could have no religion, and consequently no God. In the beginning was the Word. Speech gave the beast its first ability to ask questions, and undoubtedly one of the first expressed his sudden but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what the agonizing struggle called life is all about. To this day, the beast needs, can't live without, some explanation as the basis of whatever status he may think he possesses. For that reason, extraordinary individuals have been able to change history with their words alone."

So to Wolfe it seems that human beings yearn for a transcendent meaning to life that is created by the words of "extraordinary individuals." Darwinian science threatens that human creation of values by explaining human beings as mere beasts and nothing more. Lawler and other conservatives agree.

Lawler also likes Mansfield's defense of "manliness" against Darwinian thought. While Mansfield opens and closes his book on manliness by apparently endorsing the teaching of Plato and Aristotle that "manly virtue" is rooted in nature, the central chapter of his book (Chapter 4) is devoted to the "manly nihilism" of Teddy Roosevelt and Friedrich Nietzshe. He thus leaves his reader suspecting that the secret teaching of the book is the truth of "manly nihilism."

"The most dramatic statement of nihilism," Mansfield asserts, "would be the one where the man is the source of all meaning." Nietzsche is "the philosopher of manliness in modern times." Teddy Roosevelt is the best political expression of manly nihilism, particularly in the "assertiveness of executive power." Mansfield is famous for his Machiavellian defense of executive prerogative outside the rule of law, which includes some recent articles defending President Bush's displays of the "assertiveness of executive power."

Although the underlying intent of Lawler's article is hard to discern, his praise of Wolfe and Mansfield as the alternative to Darwin suggests something like Nietzsche's position. And just as Nietzsche warned against "scientific Socratism," Lawler warns against Darwinian Socratism. He writes: "There is, after all, something Socratic in evolutionism's and neuroscience's denial of the pretensions of the individual about his soul and his identity, its denial of the very existence of 'the self' that distinguishes you from me, and us from all the other animals."

Against Nietzshce and Lawler, I would suggest that Darwinian science can be true without being deadly. Darwin often asserted (in The Descent of Man, that the mental capacities of human beings and other animals differ immensely in degree but not in kind. Conservatives like Lawler worry that this denies the freedom and dignity of human beings as uniquely spiritual animals with transcendent longings.

But Darwin sometimes spoke of the human difference as a difference in kind and not just in degree. "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them. We have no reason to suppose that any of the lower animals have this capacity." He also identified "the habitual use of articulate language" as "peculiar to man." And he observed that "no animal is self-conscious," if this means "that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth."

So here Darwin would agree with Lawler that human beings are unique in their capacities for reflecting on the meaning of life and death, for self-conscious moral choice, and for articulate language, which make human beings different in kind from other animals.

How does one explain the origin of that human difference? In Chapter 8 of Darwinian Conservatism, I explain it as the human soul arising through the emergent evolution of the primate brain. With the increasing size and complexity of the frontal lobes of the primate neocortex, novel mental capacities appear at higher levels that could not be predicted from the lower levels. Even if we see this as the work of God in creating human beings in His Image, we can't deny the possibility that He exercised his creative power through a natural evolutionary process.

My point, then, is that conservatives like Lawler have no reason to fear a Darwinian science of human life as promoting a reductionistic materialism that denies human freedom and dignity. A Darwinian conservatism can explain the unique capacities of human beings for deliberate thought and action as arising from the emergent evolution of the soul in the brain.