Jesus was no stranger to controversial or confusing claims: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not bring come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
It is the duty of Christians to understand, to embrace, and even to proclaim such statements. When we fail to do so, we will have lost our intellectual integrity, and more importantly, separated ourselves from the fountainhead of our religion. Christianity, as a religion, cannot be separated from its founder and still remain Christianity.
While Darwin may not have been the first proponent of his theory, he is widely acclaimed as its most influential modern advocate. It is Darwin, as Dawinks famously put it, that made it intellectually respectable to be an atheist.
But Darwin apparently thought his theories had more implications than modern Darwinians–Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Jay Gould–care to acknowledge. While Jesus chastised the social leaders of his day–“that fox,” “you whitewashed tombs”–Darwin justified their existence by establishing a hierarchy of human persons as a result of evolution. The Divine Right of Kings had established the monarchy, but the monarchy was to protect the people. With Darwin, the hierarchy is simply a result of “natural selection.” Hence, for Darwin, eugenics and other evils are acceptable means of furthering social evolution (social Darwinism, this is called, was not accidental to his system).
Or so argues Peter Quinn in his essay “Gentle Darwinians: What Darwin’s Champions Won’t Mention.” Quinn writes:
“The Nietzsche of the Gentle Nietzscheans,” concluded Cruise O’Brien, “is a fake.” If the Darwin of the Gentle Darwinians is not an absolute fake, he is at best a half-drawn facsimile: the industrious, inquisitive scientist-cum-squire bathed in light; the superior, smug Malthusian obscured or omitted. Gould offers general absolution for the racism, imperialism, and eugenic dogma so prominent in Darwin. His lame defense is that Darwin was doing nothing more than mouthing platitudes when in fact he was bestowing a new and dangerous pseudo-scientific authority on pernicious categories of superior and inferior human beings.
The marriage of evolutionary theory and social policy wasn’t accidental and didn’t go unnoticed by Darwin. He believed very strongly in the close parallel between the operation of natural selection across the eons of geologic time (what Gopnik calls “deep time”) and the necessity of survival of the fittest in “quick time”-the span of a single life. The process that placed the Anglo-Saxon atop creation must be affirmed and encouraged, not weakened and impaired.
Darwinism is not a religion, though it shares many of the same elements as religions. It is an intellectual movement, and subject to…evolution. But it is not clear whether it can actually move away from it’s ugly underbelly, or whether fundamentally the notions of “survival of the fittest” will allow for altruistic acts, while also preventing social engineering. Unlike Christianity, the future is an open future. We can make it, and ourselves, into what we want it to be. Unlike Christianity, it has no fixed reference to prevent us from remaking humanity in our own image. There is no Eden to look back to, nor a heaven to look forward to. There is only us, and what we make of the world and each other.
By sanitizing Darwin for our 21st century sensibilities, Darwinian advocates have managed to pervade culture with the foundation for a new society that is driven by our vision for the world. In doing so, they have paved the way for the return of eugenics, social engineering, and transhumanism, which will no doubt come more subtly than they ever have before. As resources become more scarce, “survival of the fittest” will undercut pleas to save the less fit, and the attempt to have Darwinism without Darwin–with all of his baggage–will be as successful as a Christianity without Christ.
I would be interested in a study that tries to examine the impact of Darwinian thought on British colonialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The C word is almost as bad as they come these days, but I myself have for a long time seen Cism as partially good: a confusion of the forces of exploitation on the one hand, and the forces of religion and civilization on the other. (Obviously I don’t think exploitation is coterminous with religion and civilization!) Perhaps the “confusion of forces” really was a confusion of ideologies: Darwinism and mostly Christian-inspired do-gooderism.
I’m sure a book has been written about this. Anyone have a bibliography for me?
It is intellectually irrresponsible and dishonest to suggest that Darwin is to evolution what Jesus is to Christianity. Evolution was Darwin’s discovery. Did Jesus discover Christianity?
This distinction is important. Because what is true is true regardless of the person who discovers its truth. Any argument otherwise is argument ad hominem. Likewise, what is true, is true regardless of the implications of its truth. I call this the difference between “should” and “is.”
So the fit survive more often than the infirmed and some organisms posess genetic advantages over their peers. These are facts. These are the facts on which Darwin’s theory was based. They can be unfortunate facts, but they are still facts. He who is born mentally disabled is far less likely to reproduce. It’s too bad, but it’s true. Does that mean that the mentally disabled ought not to be allowed to reproduce, or that society ought not waste resources on their support? No, because “is” does not imply “should” regardless of what some misguided men have said in the past.
It is a giant leap across vast divides of logic to assert that the discovery of natural selection is acceptance of monarchies. But to assert that it is also acceptance of eugenics and “other evils” is just silly if not completely outrageous.
The basis of Darwinian evolution is natural selection, not manual selection. This distinction is important because eugenics concerns only the latter and not the former. Darwinian evolution cannot be intelligently used as support for eugenics. Quinn’s imbecilic comment about Anglo-Saxons being atop creation illustrates the stupidity of all the others who fabricate the same connection. The Anglo-Saxons are not more evolved than chimpanzees or even cockroaches. All three are better suited to their environments than the other two. In fact I’d put my money on cockroaches outliving humans, making them nearer the top of creation, in Darwinian terms.
Was Darwin a believer in eugenics? I highly doubt it. I find Quinn’s statements dubious at best. But it’s irrelevant. Darwin’s beliefs have no bearing on the truth of evolution.
It’s a waste of energy to lament that Darwinian evolution can be separated from its namesake, essentially pulling the rug out from under the logical fallacy of the ad hominem arguments.
Or, more likely, as resources become scarce, self preservation will simply starve away pleas to save the less fit. So what. Let’s blame Darwin.
[…] Matthew Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy offers an essay entitled Sanitizing Darwin. Proponents of Darwinism want to ignore Darwin’s extremist views, but ultimately eugenics, social engineering and other evils are at the core of Darwinism. And lastly, there is the last post on offer, namely mine … and speaking of finishing up this task … Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; (Isaiah 40:30-31) […]
Whoa! Let’s try to be reasonable.
Let me point out that there are two senses of the ad hominem argument. The popular understanding casts it as a fallacy, and defines it as the insult fallacy: attacking a person instead of his argument is unreasonable, etc. etc. Fine. Let me point out that Matt (and Quinn) made no such argument, and therefore no such fallacy.
The second form of the argument goes back to logic faculties in medieval universities, which practiced the art of public disputation (and were quite good at it). To argue against an opponent ad hominem was to reason from principles that the opponent accepted, to conclusions that the opponent would be loathe to accept. The attacker needn’t subscribe to his opponents principles himself; but it is dialectically effective to show all the conclusions of one’s position. Matt and Quinn are employing this form of argument against Darwin. The technique itself is not a fallacy (unlike the insult form). Nevertheless, such an argument may still be invalid for other reasons.
In his outrage, Falk neglects this distinction. He doesn’t at all address the ad hominem arguments that Quinn and Matt do make.
As for other points of his comment, I’ll limit myself to his opening paragraph. He denies the analogy between Darwin and Jesus on the grounds that Darwin “discovered” Darwinism, whereas (so Falk’s logic implies) Christ invented Christianity. “You can’t blame a man for discovering something!” Falk reasons. Falk overlooks, however, that whether true or not, Christianity and Darwinism alike are or involve theories about the world and about man’s place in the world. Such theories influence how folks live, and how a society understands itself. To this extent, Jesus and Darwin can be compared as the founders of two theories.
And, finally (I can’t resist), Falk has completely misread Quinn. Quinn’s quotation purports to state something that Darwin thought, not just something implied by Darwin’s thought. In making such a claim, Quinn is only “imbecilic” (a rather draconian word, by the way) if Darwin did not in fact say such things. But Falk provides no evidence to the contrary. If it turns out that Darwin did think such things, then Falk should aim his verbal ammo at Darwin himself. In no case, however, should Falk make the same “fallacy” that he accuses Matt/Quinn of making. That’s just poor form.
Let’s be reasonable, indeed. Let’s also be honest.
The difference between the two definitions of ad hominem is that one is to attack a man instead of his argument (fallacy) and the second is to use arguments accepted by a man to show the man, himself, that he logically must accept something he previously had not (valid). I would never refer to this second definition as ad hominem, but let’s pretend for a moment.
Even if Darwin believed such things, convincing him after his death is silly. The second definition makes no sense anymore. And since MatthewLee is attacking eugenics, to have any validity, those he wishes to convince would both believe in eugenics and have it be the basis for their belief in evolution and not vice versa, which is, of course, absurd. MatthewLee is indeed employing ad hominem in the sense of the first definition. It is so obvious that I feel silly having to say it. He accuses Darwin of being a supporter of eugenics and then says that Darwinism without Darwin is dead. So what have I neglected? Where does Matt use as a basis for his argument, something that Darwinists accept?
Christianity is to follow Christ, so Christ didn’t invent it either. Christianity is not at all a theory in the sense that evolution is a theory. It’s not even clear what Christianity is, in that the full set of self-called Christians hardly all agree on even most of its basic points. If Christ is the way the truth and the life, then he’s the cornerstone of Christianity, which can’t survive without him, but Darwin is neither a cornerstone of evolution nor eugenics, so this whole post is a bad analogy.
What I’ve suggested about Quinn is that he put words into Darwin’s mouth here. Because I see no quotes, I’m quite justified in assuming that Darwin didn’t say this verbatim. So was it reasonable for Quinn to infer it? We shall never know unless someone reveals Quinn’s source for such a statement. Many have leaped from evolution to eugenics on less ground, so it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to think that Quinn has.
Huh? How have I attacked Quinn and not his statement? I did not say Quinn is an imbecile, but that his statement was imbecilic. If it is an accurate paraphrase of Darwin, then it is Darwin’s imbecilic statement, but the statement is imbecilic nonetheless and still has no bearing on evolution’s truth. Misquoting me in order to accuse me of committing the same fallacy… now that’s poor form.
I need provide no evidence to the contrary because no evidence was provided in support. The statement indicates that Darwin did not fully understand his own theory, so it’s dubious.
The MatthewLee/Quinn ad hominem (in the technical sense) argument that Darwinism (at the very least) sanctions morally reprehensible actions:
if Darwinism is true, the relationship that governs the interaction of species with species, and individuals with individuals, is competition. In such a world, traditional moral categories do not describe moral knowledge or moral obligations, but instead either (a) useful mores that ensure a greater chance of survival for a greater number of human individuals, or (b) a coup of the strong by the weak (this is Nietszche’s line). By the nature of Darwinism, moral categories are subject to revision, insofar as they are or are not useful for certain biological ends. So wide-scale rejection of traditional moral categories (evidenced by, say, eugenics) would signify, not that moral evil is being perpetrated, but rather that a significant number of individuals do not find traditional moral categories useful for promoting their or their species’ survival (there are no oughts here, just desires for survival). Without the constraints of traditional morality, it is somewhat arbitrary whether or not to perform actions that are or are not consistent with traditional morality; whatever one thinks promotes his or his species’ survival, one does. He may be wrong, of course, but wrongness isn’t understood here as violation of some sort of moral law, but instead as the de facto failure to promote survival. The punishment of crimes such as murder is still reasonable for a Darwinian, but the punishment is to be understood as the will of a power-wielding class over a vulnerable individual. If the power-wielding class sanctions the crime (say eugenics), it is inconsistent for a Darwinian to call it a crime. The heart of the argument turns, I maintain, on recognizing the implications of Darwinism on our moral notions. (n.b., I understand Darwinism here to mean more than simply that species have evolved; the view as I understand it also is meant to be an account of the origin of species that has no theoretical need of God, and that understands competition to govern the interactions of all species, humans included, such that human acts that appear to be altruistic, are merely disguised strivings for survival; obviously Darwinism in this fuller sense is inconsistent with Christianity.)
Now, it would be interesting to check and see if Darwin actually said the things Quinn reports him to have said. But we need not do that in order to reason that Darwinism entails that certain actions traditionally thought wrong are not in fact wrong, and may even be highly desirable for obtaining certain ends.
Falk and I should both be chastised for not simply checking up on Quinn’s article before we started respectively attacking and defending it.
Fortunately, however, Quinn does provide the neessary support for the claims made in Matt’s quotations.
“By the time Darwin published the second edition of The Descent of Man in 1874, he had added Francis Galton’s eugenic theories and Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” social philosophy to the mix, calling Hereditary Genius, Galton’s treatise on the biological nature of intelligence and moral character, “remarkable” and Spencer “our greatest philosopher.””
“Adrian Desmond and James Moore in their 1991 biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, make clear that natural selection was intended as more than a theory of life’s origins. “‘Social Darwinism’ is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion added to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin’s image,” they write. “But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were written into the equation from the start-Darwinism was invented to explain human society.””
To echo Matt, the essay is worth reading!
First, no one should deify Darwin, so I suppose the comparison to Jesus is apt in that regard. Hagiography is depressing, even more than iconoclasm.
Second, the phrase we’re looking for is “genetic fallacy.”
Third, there is a reason science has moved beyond Darwin: competition may be a large part of biology, but so are interesting forms of cooperation–commensalism, mutualism, parasitism, etc. To argue that competition is the be-all end-all is so 19th century.
[…] Matthew talks about Sanitizing Darwin – “Darwinism is not a religion, though it shares many of the same elements as religions. It is an intellectual movement, and subject to…evolution.” […]
I read the essay. But don’t forget that whether true or not, it is still ad hominem to discredit an argument by discrediting the arguer. Even if Darwin believed in eugenics, such would have no relevant impact on the truth of evolution or atheism.
Additionally, I hardly consider either of the statements quoted from the essay by Ward to be support for Quinn’s statement, quoted by Matt. In the first, he simply promotes the books, (one of which is his cousin’s). In the second, someone else simply makes the same unsupported claim (but mentions notebooks). All Darwinian history is highly politicized, so it is reasonable to remain dubious, taking these with a grain of salt. Where Quinn does quote Darwin in the essay, he does reinterpret what Darwin says, just as accused.
But don’t be fooled, there is still nothing in either of Ward’s posts which makes Darwin’s beliefs relevant. More importantly, there is a difference between founder and basis. So even if Darwin is the founder of Ward’s Darwinism, and he is not, the original post is still a bad analogy as Darwin is not to Darwinism what Christ is to Christianity (as I’ve said). That has not changed.
Thanks, Jim. Take your pick, genetic fallacy if your argument is that evolution was born out of eugenics, or ad hominem if you don’t feel like you can quite make that case, but think still want to stick eugenics on Darwin. A fallacy by any name is still false.
By the way, I don’t mean to imply that atheism was argued by Darwin. A link between the two was implied by Matt in the original post.
Would you mind pointing out the genetic fallacy in any of the reasoning above, and stating what you take the fallacy to mean?
According to Falk, one who thinks “that evolution was born out of eugenics” commits the genetic fallacy.” Since no one has said this, either Falk misunderstands you or you are wrong.
Let’s forget about the use of the term ad hominem. (We must read different philosophy books.) Nevertheless, arguing that Darwinism provides a rationale for (what I call) certain morally dubious actions, is in no way an attempt “to discredit an argument by discrediting the arguer.” Someone may be perfectly fine with the insidious consequences of Darwinism; to such a one my arguments wouldn’t serve to discredit Darwin. Note that they only discredit Darwin for someone who is repulsed by the implications of Darwinism. The argument itself neither credits nor discredits Darwin; it argues that certain conclusions are rationally entailed by certain Darwinian premises. Quinn’s essay serves to provide evidence for the claim that such conclusions were both recognized and embraced by Darwin.
Jim, I was not aware that modern Darwinians argue for principles of ecological cooperation; that is interesting. Though I am aware that the problem of altruism remains a big one for biologists and philosophers of biology. So, I don’t expect ideologically Darwinian biologists to announce anytime soon that Christian virtues undergird natural selection!
Game theory separates Neo-Darwinism from classical Darwinian evolution. (Post-neo-Darwinism, the symbiosis movement, is out there, too.) Altruism is only one form of cooperation, and it’s hardly unique to humans, so claiming it as a “Christian virtue” is ridiculous unless you’re a bio-biblical propagandist. Biology doesn’t admit simple moralizing, ever.
(I’m not so sure after a third reading that the “genetic fallacy” applies.)
Oh, I didn’t mean to claim altruism as a Christian virtue (though I can see how my last sentence misled; sorry).
The original post compared Darwin and Darwinism to Christ and Christianity stating that Darwinism could not be separated from Darwin (just as Christianity can’t be from Christ). This was after painting Darwin as a champion of racism, eugenics and other evils. Discrediting Darwin in order to discredit Darwinism was the sole purpose of the original post. So besides the logical fallacy, it also errs by misrepresenting Darwinism as being a following of Darwin, the man, and not his theories.
Now, separately from the main post, you are making another claim. You describe Darwinism as a description of the way things are (whether true or false). Then you assert that if true, the resulting consequences would be undesirable, ostensibly even to those who believe it. For example:
You have exchanged one fallacy for another. If Darwin is true, it is true regardless of its consequences. It is a fallacy to state that the results of something are undesirable, ergo, it isn’t true. (Though I can testify that this is a very common argument against evolution)
Additionally, your description of Darwinism and your conclusion of its consequences are not supported by fact anyway (as Jim points out by noting that animals demonstrate altruism while having no moral code). So eliminating religion as man’s motive for morals will not necessarily lead to the abandonment of morality.
(Actually this is an interesting side discussion that’s worth having, but off topic, in my opinion, for this post. Because even in Darwinian evolution, religion has evolved as a symbiont of society. There is good reason to fear that societies might not survive the rapid withdrawal of religion because they have come to depend on the motive for morality it provides – still, that doesn’t mean Darwinism is false).
I’m not sure what you meant by “Christian virtues undergird natural selection” but altruistic societies have survival advantages over societies that lack the virtue. This has been recognized by scientists for a very long time. Altruism can therefore not only evolve, but is expected to.
One more try: to argue that a position one holds leads to certain conclusions that appear undesireable to many, is not to attack the person asserting the position. In our case, whether or not Darwin held such conclusions is interesting, but not entirely to the point.
Moreover, arguing that a position leads to undesirable consequences obviously is not in itself to show that the position is false. Such a dialectical strategy can be effectively utilized, however, if one’s opponent is more convinced of the contradiction of the “undesirable consequences” than he is to the position he asserted. It is also good to understand the full consequences of a position. This way, if one chooses to accept the position, one is less likely to be left with inconsistencies in one’s thinking.
Why don’t we have done with the fallacy charges? (Perhaps you are saddling me with a “very common argument against evolution” about which you can testify? I don’t know; the extreme misreadings suggest some extra baggage.)
We all agree that a really interesting question is to what extent the biological order operates according to non-competitive principles. Now, I made a claim to the effect that it is not inconsistent consistent for a Darwinist to support ethically egregious activity (read: what I call ethically egregious activity, but which he may or may not so call). Jim obliquely suggested that it may indeed be inconsistent for a contemporary Darwinist to endorse such behavior. If this discussion is to continue, why don’t we shift our focus to this topic?
Now, altruism clearly has survival advantages for a society, as Falk points out. What is not clear, is how it can be said to have survival advantages for an individual. (Let’s be strict with our definition of “altruism” such that we don’t allow actions that appear altruistic but clearly have ulterior motives, to be considered altruistic; altruism, then, involves genuine sacrifice.) Suppose we can identify two survival instincts: survival of oneself and survival of one’s society (/culture/tribe/family/etc.). We might ask whether these are ordered in such a way that one is subordinated to the other. It seems likely that they would be so ordered, b/c otherwise conflicts between the two instincts could easily ensue, resulting in, pardon the rhetoric, mututally assured destruction. If we work on the hypothesis that they are ordered, might we develop a reasonable a priori hypothesis about which is subordinated to which? Difficult tensions arise if we move in either direction, yet the existence of altruism would suggest that the individual instinct is subordinated to the community instinct.
Jim or Falk, do biologists ask these questions? (Not that they have to ask them for them to be valid questions.) If so, what are their answers?
typos in last post: 2nd par: “than he is to the position” should be “than he is of…”; 4th par: “inconsistent consistent” should be “inconsistent”
I know – that is a separate fallacy which is why I have said you only exchanged one fallacy for another.
“Fallacy charges” is an interesting characterization, but the best way to have done with them is to explain how I’ve charged incorrectly, or to have done with making fallacious arguments. :)
No attempt is being made to saddle. The reference to evolution is unrelated to this discussion, but just meant to be an illustration, with which a good many are familiar and can connect.
“Dialectal strategy” has no bearing on truth either. It is the difference between the goal of a scientist and that of a politician. Your ability to convince someone something is true doesn’t make it so either. I do not see how attributing “dialectal strategy” to an argument has made anything less false.
Understanding consequences for the purpose of reconciling inconsistent positions is fine, but to ignore fact because its results are undesirable is to do so in the wrong direction.
Let’s indeed shift discussion. Let’s start by asking what “Darwinism” really is, and what “contemporary” Darwinism is. I suspect that those you call “Darwinists” do not call themselves that.
It is a common misconception that natural selection must only work only at the individual level. More accurately it works at the organism level, where an organism is made up of smaller parts. So a society itself is a candidate organism if the society can propagate, mutate, and is subject to selection.
Whether the motives for altruism stem from religious belief or for desire to survive, they are ultimately both selfish. Would it be your position that men would do what God tells them to do, if God were powerless to punish or reward them based on their actions?
You mention genuine sacrifice. This is what honeybees do. And even if it is because honeybees don’t know better, people do, and many sacrifice even their own survival for other than religious reasons in war.
Consider all the benefits you receive from being a part of society and consider life without them. No man can be his own surgeon, or learn the trades of all those that contribute to his society. That is ultimately what ties societies together and why individuals support their societies. Society as an organism protects itself by weeding out those who do not participate – societies that do not, wither under what could be called immorality.
(Uh, the smiley-face graphic was software editorializing. Apologies. I dislike smiley face graphics.)
And yes, biologists do ask and attempt to answer those questions. Warren has outlined some potential areas, but at some point you have to sit down with a text, read some journal articles, and make sense of it for yourself.
Some thoughts on the exchange:
There are at least two things that are being contested. One has to do with determining the sort of argument Matt offers in his post, the other concerns what sort(s) of argument could be offered for the same (or a similar) conclusion for which he argues. Before commenting on this exchange, it will I think be helpful to distinguish the following types of argument: ad hominem, genetic fallacy, and reductio ad absurdum.
Person A claims that P.
A is a bad person (in some way).
Therefore, P is false.
Claim (or set of claims) P has a certain origin O.
Claims (or theories) with origin O must be wrong (or right).
Therefore, P must be wrong (or right).
Reductio ad Absurdum:
Claim (theory, or set of claims) P entails Q.
Q is absurd.
Therefore, P is false.
It should be noted that there are formal and informal ways of formulating a reductio ad absurdum. The formal involves showing that some claim (or set of claims) P entails a strict logical contradiction, whereas informal formulations attempt merely to show that P entails consequences that are held (either by the one claiming P or by others or both) to be false (or absurd). Of course, if one is not inclined to think that what is shown to be entailed by P (say, Q) is absurd (or false), then one will not be inclined to reject P. However, merely by showing that P entails Q, the argument will be effective in prompting those who are inclined to think that Q is false (or absurd) to reject P.
Okay, on to the exchange. Regarding the sort of argument that Matt actually offers in his post, Falk seems to claim that Matt is employing an ad hominem argument, which (presumably) runs roughly as follows:
Darwin claims that (what is now called) Darwinism is true.
Darwin was a proponent of eugenics and other evils associated with social evolution.
Therefore, Darwinism is false.
Insofar as this is the argument offered in the post, Falk seems right to reject it as plainly fallacious. Ward, however, sees Matt as offering a sort of reductio ad absurdum.
Darwinism entails that there is nothing wrong with eugenics (among other things).
There is something wrong with eugenics.
Therefore, Darwinism ought to be rejected.
Ward refers to this as a type of ad hominem argument, but this seems incorrect. It may well be that some medievals referred to arguments of this type that way (I defer to Ward on these matters), but I will say that in eight years of undergraduate and graduate training in philosophy I have never heard the term ‘ad hominem’ used in this way. Best I think to think of it as a reductio.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that insofar as this is the argument offered in Matt’s post, it seems to be a reductio ad absurdum of the informal variety. Matt plainly is not claiming that Darwinism leads to certain conclusions (viz., eugenics and other forms of social Darwinism) that Darwin himself would reject but, rather, that it leads to conclusions that he rejects. Thus, insofar as one is inclined to agree with Matt that certain forms of eugenics and social engineering entailed by Darwinism are morally unacceptable, he will have given them good reason to reject Darwinism (at least, to the extent that his argument is successful in showing that the one entails the other).
At one point, Falk appears to deny that it is legitimate to offer arguments of this sort. He says, “If Darwin is true, it is true regardless of its consequences. It is a fallacy to state that the results of something are undesirable, ergo, it isn’t true.” It is important to see, however, that this is a perfectly valid form of reasoning (indeed, it is simply a play on modus tollens). Naturally if Darwinism is true (I don’t know what it means for Darwin to be true), then whatever logically follows from Darwinism is true. But whether Darwinism is true is precisely what is at issue. One way of arguing that Darwinism is not true is to show that it entails certain things that are false. This is how reductios work. Falk might disagree that Darwinism entails things that are false, but that is not an objection to the argument’s validity, only its soundness.
Anderson appears to take Matt as offering an argument along the lines of a genetic fallacy. I take it that from what has been said thus far, it is easy to see what this argument would look like, and so I won’t sketch it here.
Now, then, what sort of argument does Matt actually offer in his post? It seems to me that Matt can reasonably be read as offering any and all of the three arguments mentioned here. After making the case that Darwin himself was a proponent of eugenics and other forms of social Darwinism, Matt claims that “it is not clear whether [Darwinism] can actually move away from it’s [sic] ugly underbelly, or whether fundamentally the notions of “survival of the fittest” will allow for altruistic acts, while also preventing social engineering.” With his emphasis on Darwinism’s “ugly underbelly,” it is perhaps easy to see how Falk and Anderson might take his argument to be ad hominem or containing some sort of genetic fallacy respectively.
This way of understanding Matt’s argument is reinforced by the analogy he draws between Darwin’s relationship to Darwinism and Jesus’s relationship to Christianity. In a way, Matt’s claim that just as it is impossible to separate Christianity from its origins in the teachings and person of Jesus so too is it impossible to separate Darwinism from the beliefs and person of Darwin, seems to make sense only if his argument is some sort of ad hominem or involves the genetic fallacy. For if Matt’s argument is meant to be a reductio ad absurdum, as Ward seems to suggest, then Darwin’s personal beliefs appear to be irrelevant. All that would matter in this case is whether Darwinism itself entails the conclusions that Matt says it does, and whether those conclusions are problematic.
Of course, if it turned out that Darwin himself happened to believe that his theory entailed these conclusions, that might be interesting, but it in no way follows from this that the entailment is correct. It is open to Darwinists (and Neo-Darwinists) to simply deny that Darwin is right about this (assuming that he actually held such views to begin with). I take Falk to be right about this last point. It should be noted, of course, that insofar as this is correct, the analogy Matt draws between Darwin and Jesus really does break down in the end. Unlike Christians in relation to Jesus, Darwinists (and Neo-Darwinists) are not committed to the view that Darwin was right about everything he said and believed. They are well within their epistemic rights to maintain that Darwin was right about much of what he proposed to be the case about natural selection and the origin of the species without agreeing with Darwin on every point about the consequences of these theories. This is not to say that they will be right, of course, they may well be wrong about this. The main thing to see here is that they are not, in virtue of being Darwinists, committed to sharing Darwin’s beliefs in the way that Christians, in virtue of being Christians, are committed to agreeing with Jesus about all of his teachings.
For all that, I think Ward is not unreasonable in reading Matt as offering a sort of reductio ad absurdum. In addition to his emphasis on the “ugly underbelly” of Darwinism, Matt also appears committed to the claim that one is unable to accept Darwinistic ideology and at the same time reject things like eugenics, because the truth of the former entails that there is nothing (morally) wrong with the latter. Therefore, insofar as one is inclined to think that the latter is (morally) unacceptable, one is, on pain of irrationality, forced to reject the former. (A quick point: Matt sometimes equates Darwinism with “notions of survival of the fittest.” It is important to note, however, that the term is often used (as Ward points out) to refer to a larger cluster of ideas, often including philosophical naturalism, or physicalism. It is only when it is used in this sense that it is even plausible to think that Darwinism might entail the consequences Matt suggests; the doctrine of survival of the fittest alone will not do this.)
Regardless of which of these arguments Matt actually intended to offer in his post, the more interesting question is whether any of theses arguments is or could be successful (if formulated a certain way). The first two arguments (ad hominem and genetic fallacy) are invalid forms of reasoning and fail for this reason. Falk and Anderson are right about this. Formed as a reductio ad absurdum, however, it is by all accounts a valid form of argument. If Darwinism (whatever exactly that is supposed to refer to) entails that there is nothing morally unacceptable about eugenics and the like, and if in fact there is something wrong with eugenics and the like, then Darwinism ought to be rejected. It is, of course, open to one to deny either of these first two premises; and one who does will not be compelled to accept the conclusion that Darwinism is somehow mistaken. But one who does accept the two premises is forced (again, on pain of irrationality) to accept the conclusion. The work that remains to be done, then, is to make the case for these two premises.
Many thanks, Robinson. This was quite impressive and even intimidating. But I have a query and a comment.
You made a leap in one of your paragraphs which I could not follow. You say that I deny a valid form of reasoning (modus tollens) by my statement that undesirable consequences of a thing do not make it false. Modus tollens, and your accurate description of it, however, say that if the logical conclusions of something is false then that thing must also be false. You leaped from “undesirable” to false. Is that a valid leap?
Even if it is valid, then Robinson is correct, that there is still the issue of showing that eugenics is actually the logical conclusion of Darwin’s theories of a natural origin, which still hasn’t been shown and cannot be because this is not logical for reasons I’ve already shown. The journey from natural selection to eugenics must supplant “is” with “should” at some point.
However, one might argue that the undesirable thing is not eugenics, itself, but the fact that men justified and accepted it. And those who accepted it used Darwin’s theories to justify it. (even though such is still a misunderstanding of the theories). So then it is an undesirable fact that his theories can be used as justification for evil in the minds of some if misunderstood. Still this does not make them false. Otherwise, Christianity is equally liable under the same pretense.
In your last paragraph you seem to say that undesirable consequence of a thing do make that thing undesirable. This I agree with. It may very well be less desirable that we share ancestry with apes than with only Adam.
Thanks for the clear comments. I’ll stop using the term ad hominem outside of the context of medieval philosophy (though trust me it was an established use!) As to your assessment of the argument as a reductio, I actually think it is somewhat more modest than a reductio. The name for the argument is, well, a* h*****m. Here’s what I mean:
We can take the reductio form as follows:
p entails q and not-q. p. therefore q and not-q. (this brings out the logical structure of the absurdity; we could also modfiy the consequent of pr1 to “implies not-p”, for the same effect.) Now, the Matt/Quinn/Ward argument does not employ this form against Darwinism.
My argument is perhaps colored by the moral assessment I give to the terms of the argument. So let me strip things down to reveal the logical structure. Let D stand for Darwinism, and E, eugenics is permissable. I am primarily interested in arguing for the claim that D implies E. So, suppose D implies E.
Now, assume D. We get D implies E. D. Therefore E.
We can respond to the argument in four ways.
(1) For one who believes E to follow from D, and believes D, by all means they ought to hold E. (modus ponens)
(2) If someone believes D, believes that D imples E, but rejects E, then that person has an inconsistent set of beliefs, and ought to do something to change that.
(3) If someone believes not-E, but nevertheless believes D, then they too have an inconsistent set of beliefs.
(4) Finally, someone might believe not-E, and conclude validly that not-D. (modus tollens)
Falk is worried (correctly) that (1)-(4) do not actually deal with whether or not D and E are true or false. I will reiterate here that showing D or E to be false has not been my intention (though I have not hidden the fact that I take both D and E to be false; probably this has been the source of some confusion; if so, I beg pardon.) There is great value in revealing the logical relationships of concepts: part of the task of developing true beliefs and avoiding false ones, is to make sure one has no inconsistent beliefs (if we have any inconsistent beliefs, we have at least one false belief.) The substantive claim I have made and argued for (in a non-exhaustive way, to the say the least) is that D imples E. If D implies E, a D-ist is rationally constrained to be an Eist (whether or not Dism and Eism are true), because a Dist asserts that D.
Now, strategy (4) is, I suspect, the most controversial (though it is as valid as the rest). The reason is that Falk and Anderson deny D implies E. “D implies E” is false if and only if D and not-E are true. In other words, Falk and Anderson seem to hold that one can be a Dist without being rationally constrained to be an Eist. Now, this is exactly where the disagreement should be.
I take it as settled, then, that the logical structure of our argument has been established, and we can proceed accordingly.
(We could go on more about the analogy between Jesus and Darwin and Christianity and Darwinism, but this seems a much less important conversation. Anything of philosophical importance in this conversation is covered, I think, in the dispute about the claim D implies E.)
I’ll pick this up again sometime tomorrow. As it is, I have other things ‘need doing.
Falk posted as I was writing mine, so I didn’t take his latest into consideration in the above.
Apparently Robinson has helped us all to be more logical, b/c it seems that Falk and I now agree on the nature of the dispute (I hope!)
“there is still the issue of showing that eugenics is actually the logical conclusion of Darwin’s theories of a natural origin, which still hasn’t been shown and cannot be because this is not logical for reasons I’ve already shown. The journey from natural selection to eugenics must supplant “is” with “should” at some point.”
There are two distinct issues to tease out of this: (1) whether E (eugenics is permissable) or not-E are things of which one can have knowledge. Can one have moral knowledge? Only if one can is it even a good question to ask whether D (Darwinism) implies E. (If E isn’t the sort of thing that can be known; if it is merely a value judgment that cannot in principle express knowledge, then it doesn’t belong as a premiss in an apodictic argument). And (2) if E and it’s negation are the sorts of things that can be known, is it true that D implies E?
To sum up the questions:
(1) Is moral knowledge possible, such that it is either true or false that E?
(2) Does D imply E?
(n.b.: a negative answer to (1) entails the meaningless of (2).)
Okay, if we’re agreed about the logical structure of the argument (see my previous post), and we’re agreed about the questions that are most relevant to the dialogue ((1) and (2)), then we can proceed. Jim and/or Falk and/or Robinson and/or others, are we agreed?
another typo: in my n.b., near the botton of my last post: “meaningless” should be “meaninglessness”
I didn’t mean to say that you were denying modus tollens but, rather, that you were denying the validity of a reductio ad absurdum (of the informal variety, not the formal variety). Upon further consideration, however, I don’t think this is exactly right. The mistake (if in fact that’s what it is) is not that you were rejecting (informal) reductio ad absurdum as a valid form of argument, it’s that you weren’t reading the argument as a reductio ad absurdum in the first place. You seem to have read it as an argumentum ad consequentiam.
Claim (or set of claims) P entails consequences Q.
Q is undesirable.
Therefore, P is false.
Insofar as this is the argument on offer, you are absolutely right in rejecting it as fallacious. The mere fact that P has some consequences that we find undesirable is in itself no reason to suppose that P is false. Rather than accepting only those claims that lead to conclusions we happen to find personally satisfying, we should, with Plato, follow the argument wherever it leads. On this you and I agree.
What I meant to suggest in my last post is that I think there is a better way to understand Matt’s argument—namely, as an informal reductio ad absurdum. On this view, the argument is not merely that the claim that there is nothing morally unacceptable about eugenics (or at least certain forms of it) and the like is undesirable, it’s that it is false. Furthermore, it is not taken to be false simply because it is undesirable (you would certainly be correct in questioning such an inference), rather it is false for independent reasons—presumably because there is some moral fact of the matter. (As a matter of expression, one might refer to certain propositions as undesirable in the sense that they are false and it certainly seems epistemically undesirable to be committed to false propositions. Perhaps this is how Ward meant the term when using it in earlier posts, which may have led to some of the confusion. If this is what is meant by a claim’s having undesirable consequences, then there isn’t a problem. Of course, if undesirable simply means that one finds it displeasing, then your objection stands.) The argument, then, would run as follows.
(1)If Darwinism is true, then there is nothing morally unacceptable about eugenics (or at least certain forms of it) and the like.
(2)There is something morally unacceptable about eugenics (or at least certain forms of it) and the like.
(3)Therefore, Darwinism is false.
This is what I was defending as a valid argument. That it is valid, of course, does not entail that it is sound. As I said at the end of the last post, the current task would be to provide good reasons for thinking that the premises are true.
One final remark. At several points you have expressed doubt about the prospect of showing that Darwinism entails that eugenics (or certain forms of it) is morally permissible because of the impossibility of deriving ‘ought’ from ‘is’—that is, the impossibility of deriving normative statements (claims about the way things ought to be) from descriptive statements (claims about the way things are). While I agree with the general point, I want to suggest a way that an argument along these lines could be plausible. Even if no descriptive statements entail normative statements, it might be that some descriptive statements entail that there are no normative statements; and this might be all that one would need for an argument of this sort. Consider the following (physicalist) thesis.
(PT) The only thing that exists is physical matter.
If this is true, then, while it may not entail the truth of any properly normative statement, it may entail that no such statements are true. For if physical matter is all that exists, it is difficult to see how there could be any true normative statements—at least, of a certain sort (moral statements, for instance). Thus, even if (PT) does not entail that (E) eugenics (or some form of it) is morally permissible, it might entail that (E*) it is not the case that eugenics (or some form of it) is morally impermissible. The reason for this is that the claim that eugenics (or some form of it) is morally impermissible is a normative statement. Thus, if (PT) entails that there are no true normative statements, it will also entail (E*). Insofar as this is the case, by showing that (E*) is false one will also have falsified (PT).
To be clear, this does not yet provide Matt with the argument he seems to be looking for. For even if (E*) is false, which would need to be argued, it does not yet follow that Darwinism is false. That would depend (in part) on what exactly Darwinism is taken to mean. If it is taken to consist (at least partly) in the claim that (PT) is true, then I have sketched a way that one might go about arguing against it. However, if Darwinism is taken to consist merely in the claim that all species share a common origin from which they have evolved via the vehicle of natural selection, then the argument above will be of no help. Other arguments would need to be provided to show that this more modest theory entails (E*) or something like it.
Indeed, it comes down to two things.
1. What is the definition of Darwinism?
2. What is the definition of morality?
Thanks, Robinson, by the way, for the example of deriving normative from descriptive. This has been very interesting to ponder. However, this example essentially boils down to
(PT) No normative statements are valid
(E) (anything normative)
Conclusion: (E) is false.
The issue here is that (PT) is indeed normative.
To understand this, one must understand that normative is not the opposite of descriptive, but rather a subset or a “specialization” of it. Specifically, a normative statement is a descriptive statement which has implications of “ought.” In this case (PT) is essentially saying that there can be no statements of “ought” and (E) is any statement of “ought.” So both are normative.
For example: The statement, “Men ought not to selectively breed humans” is still descriptive, asserting the way things are (specifically the way “ought” is), but it’s implications on “ought” are what make it, more specifically, normative.
By definition, it seems, that (PT) above is, in fact, normative, rather than simply descriptive, because it asserts “ought.”
In Robinson’s original (PT): “The only thing that exists is physical matter” he originally implies that it is an example of descriptive, but then continues to use a normative interpretation of it. That is why the resulting conclusion is valid, and not because one can derive normative from descriptive, alone.
In other words: It is not that one can derive normative from certain descriptive assertions. It is that where normative can be derived from an assertion, the assertion was normative by definition.
I have said that one of the tasks that remains for those who wish to argue that Darwinism ought to be rejected because it entails certain consequences that many take to be false is to clearly define their terms. If the term ‘Darwinism’ is taken by different parties to mean different things, then it will be much more difficult to come to some sort of agreement about what Darwinism actually entails. I have begun to suspect that Matt and Ward are using the term differently than Falk, but I could be wrong about this. The only way to find out is to offer some definitions and see which ones people opt for. Toward that end, I want to offer the following three theses.
(D1) All species share a common origin from which they have evolved via the process of natural selection.
(D2) All species share a common origin from which they have evolved via the process of natural selection, which is itself an unguided process.
(D3) All species share a common origin from which they have evolved via the process of natural selection, which is itself an unguided process; and physical matter is the only thing that exists.
In previous posts I have sketched how one might argue against (PT) the view that physical matter is all that exists. Since (PT) is partly constitutive of (D3), a similar argument could be made against (D3). While (D2) is not explicitly committed to (PT), it seems that it is implicitly committed to it. For if (PT) is not true, then it is difficult to see how one would support the claim that the processes of natural selection are unguided. It would leave open the possibility that these processes were guided by some supernatural being (God) who could also account for the wrongness of things like certain forms of eugenics. This last possibility is entirely consistent with (D1). Insofar as that is true, (D1) does not seem to entail anything about the moral permissibility or impermissibility of eugenics (or some form of it), and so will not be threatened by the claim that some form of eugenics is morally wrong.
Thus, it looks like Matt and Ward’s beef must be with (D2) or (D3). Now, if Falk is only committed to (D1), then it may be that there isn’t any real disagreement. For in this case, he would be arguing only that (D1) does not entail anything about the moral rightness or wrongness of (certain forms of) eugenics. If that is all he means to argue, then I am inclined to agree. And perhaps Matt and Ward would be inclined to agree as well (we’ll have to see what they say, I guess). Perhaps, however, Matt and/or Ward want to argue that (D1) does entail something about the impermissibility of certain forms of eugenics (namely, that it isn’t impermissible). If that is the case, then there is nothing to do but wait to hear the arguments.
The argument I sketched is actually a little different from (and perhaps a little more subtle than) the way you seem to have read it. My claim is not that some descriptive statements might entail some normative statements; rather, it is that some descriptive statements might entail that there are no normative statements—at least, none that are true (which is itself a descriptive statement, not a normative one; more on this in a bit). Consider again the following (physicalist) thesis.
(PT) The only thing that exists is physical matter.
(PT) is descriptive statement. It makes no claim about the way things ought to be, only about the way things are. As I argued before, it is plausible that (PT) entails the following thesis.
(N) There are no true normative statements.
The reason for this, you will recall, is that it is not at all clear how there could be any true normative statements in a world where all that exists is physical matter. (This point has been made by a number of philosophers, from David Hume to G.E. Moore to George Mavrodes, to name but a few.) It is also important to see that although it is a statement about normative statements, (N) is itself a descriptive statement, and not a normative one. It makes no claim about the way things ought to be, only about the way things are. Now if (N) is true, then statements like
(E) Eugenics (or some form of it) is morally wrong, and
(B) Setting babies on fire for fun is morally wrong
will all be false, since they are normative statements and (N) claims that all normative statements are false. Setting babies on fire and practicing certain forms of eugenics will not be wrong because nothing is morally wrong. It is for this reason that (N) entails
(E*) It is not the case that eugenics (or some form of it) is morally wrong.
Now, if (PT) entails (N), and (N) entails (E*), it is also true that (PT) entails (E*) by hypothetical syllogism. Thus, if one provides good reasons for thinking (E*) is false, one will have given good reasons for rejecting (N) and (PT). To argue that (E*) is false is just to argue for (E). This, then, is one of the tasks that lies in front of Matt and Ward. Of course, for those who already take (E*) to be false, it needs only to be shown that Darwinism entails (E*). The first step in doing this will, as I have suggested, be to say what they take Darwinism to entail. That is, they need to define how they are using the term.
Perhaps you are still thinking that (PT) and (N) are not descriptive but normative statements. But this is simply not the case. Normative statements are not a type of descriptive statement, nor are they merely statements that have implications for normative statements. Normative statements are claims about the way things ought to be, whereas descriptive statements are claims about the way things are. I assure you that this is how the terms are used in the philosophical literature. But so that you don’t have to take my word for it, I offer the following accounts of the distinction between normative and descriptive statements, which you can find on the web.
From wikipedia’s entry on normativity:
“In philosophy, ‘normative’ is usually contrasted with ‘positive’, ‘descriptive’, or ‘explanatory’ when describing types of theories, beliefs, or statements. Descriptive (or constantive) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong.”
I would also point you to the following webpage, in which William Talbott (Full Professor of philosophy at University of Washington) lays out the difference between some important ethical terms, including normative and descriptive statements.
These two sources are by no means exhaustive, but after a little looking around I think you will find that this is how the terms are almost universally used.
The upshot is that (PT) and (N) are indeed descriptive statements. And while it is true that descriptive statements do not entail normative statements, (E*) is not a normative statement. Rather, it is a descriptive statement about a normative statement; in particular, it is the (descriptive) claim that a certain normative statement (E) is false.
Let me just say that you should not be particularly worried by any of this, for none of this entails that Darwinism is false or ought to be rejected. That will depend on what Darwinism is, what (if anything) Darwinism entails about whether there is anything morally impermissible about certain forms of eugenics, what those forms of eugenics are, and whether they are in fact morally impermissible. All of this has yet to be properly spelled out and defended.
For some reason, one of the comments I submitted has not been posted yet. Thus, when it does appear, the two may appear out of order. So let me just say that, Warren, I submitted a comment that responds to the concerns in your most recent post, which will hopefully appear shortly.
D3 is how I’ve been tossing aroung Darwinism. I agree with Robinson that the claim D implies E can only be sustained (if it all) if D=D3 (or something containing at least the claims that D3 makes).
D1 implies D2 according to my definition of “natural” meaning “unguided by some other intelligence.”
Darwin’s theories neither require nor claim that “physical matter is the only thing that exists.” So I see no reason to accept D=D3, unless one is actually separating Darwinism from Darwin’s original theory which would not only derail Matt’s original premise by separating Darwinism from Darwin, but goes further and separates it from his theory.
That is unless there is a logical reason to conclude that if (E) Darwinian evolution is true then (PT) physical matter is all that exists.
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