Does the doctrine of evolution by natural selection – better named “random selection” – really constitute a fundamental denial of the moral fabric of human life? I’d like to consider this question again this week, with particular emphasis on the family, the most fundamental of human social institutions.
Does the evolutionist account, bent on explaining everything without recourse to God, leave any room to discover moral meaning on earth? I don’t believe so. Once we have denied the existence of an intelligence that formed the result, it is hard to understand why we should ascribe any significance to the forms comprising that result, whether these be the physical forms of men and women or the forms of life and behavior that arise from those biological differences. One can dream of a morality of pure reason, with no roots in the physical realities of life on this earth. But no abstract discussions about the “pure logic” of justice can escape the radical evolutionist claim that even our intellectual judgments, the law of contradiction itself, are epiphenomena in a world reduced to matter and chance.
The philosophers and scientists can, and should, pursue questions ranging from the physical evidence of the development of species to the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. But the version of evolution that begins from the atheistic premise ensures, from the beginning, that such investigations cannot conclude to a world with an intrinsic order that commands our respect. In principle, all the effects that arise in such a universe are the result of chance, and human moral judgments are no more bearers of a natural goodness or truth than is the eye designed to see. It is an inescapable consequence of atheistic evolutionary theory that human life is drained of all natural moral significance, particularly in moral matters that are more obviously based on the natural goodness of the physical order.
Why is that important? Consider the family. Over the course of human history, a constant principle has been the fundamental importance of family life and family structures. Preserving right order in families has, in fact, been an essential element in the understanding of right and wrong in almost every decent society that has ever existed. Any account of such order, of course, depends in turn on an understanding of the male and the female, and of their different roles and responsibilities in relation to one another.
But according to the theory of evolution, the basic biological attributes of our nature have no significance except as particular accidents at which evolution has arrived. How, then, is it possible to ascribe moral significance to them? Evolutionary doctrine removes the basis for making moral judgments about human behavior. Once it is denied that any will or moral being informed the creation of our bodily natures, it is necessarily also denied that there is any moral significance to the biological distinctions that were the consequence of that will. Therefore family, marriage, and the decent constraints on human sexual behavior that have been understood to be essential to society, all seem like totally arbitrary impositions on human will unless, of course, they can be justified by their utility in helping us to avoid immediate inconveniences.
Because there is nothing inherently respectable about those constraints, no authority resides in the natural forms of which these behaviors are a consequence. So, once we have reached the point that technology claims to have freed us from practical inconveniences, we are freed from all such moral constraints. Marriage itself is easily reinterpreted as a mere survival strategy of an earlier phase of human existence, rather than the natural moral foundation of decent human society.
The insistence with which debate about the scientific validity of evolution, as well as discussion about its moral and political implications, are suppressed ought to lead us to suspect the motives of its advocates. Dogmatism of this kind is inappropriate to science. And since it is inappropriate to science, what is driving those dogmatists who seek to prevent the questioning of evolutionary theory? One would have to suggest that the goal is not scientific, but rather political and ideological – to buttress certain forces that aim by their action to unravel the fabric of traditional understandings, principles, faiths and constraints, and to promote concepts of “liberation” that have from time immemorial been considered inconsistent with the survival of societies.
Evolutionary theory is the natural ally of all those forces that seek to undermine and destroy traditional social structures, precisely because it appears to relieve us of the acknowledgement of a transcendent authority. Accordingly, it destroys the basis for the possibility of objective truth in anyway relevant to our social and moral affairs.
Centuries ago, Machiavelli laid out the principles and characteristics of the world of human affairs once transcendent authority and objective truth were dissolved. The affinity between his account and the world of evolution is striking. In politics, as in the natural world, the Godless account leaves room for any purpose but to overcome fortune and accident by imposing new forms to compensate for the absence of significant form or meaning in the natural world. But, in both the political and the natural realm, such a goal is indistinguishable from brute force, from the force of circumstance, from the assertion that justice is determined strictly by superior power. Now, obviously, that superior power can be a consequence either of brute force or the consequence of technology and superior knowledge. But the result is the same – the only basis for justice is a consequence of circumstances entirely determined by the balance of power in human affairs.
Are we willing to accept that as our new understanding of the world, and the foundation of our just political institutions? Our first inclination may be to view such a future with dismay or with confidence – depending on where we think we will end up in it. Some of us may do well in the brave new world that is to come, but a lot of us won’t do very well at all. Those who are able to grasp the new realities, and wield new technological “advances” with confidence, will establish their dominance and be on the winning side. And, of course, those who expect to be on that winning side may be very sympathetic with the arguments that suggest that this is a fine way to determine what justice is.
But what about the rest of us? What about those condemned to live through that long dark night of oppression that Winston Churchill foresaw as the consequence of a world dominated by science, bereft of all overriding moral principle? The world implied by evolutionary theory will impose its terms on whatever human realities fail to “compete” successfully according to the new calculus of power. Among the features of human life failing that test will surely be those that are justified chiefly by man’s perennial and wise deference to a natural order he believes to be divinely instituted. Surely, any of us who believe in the importance of the great American experiment in self-government will reject such a future, regardless of individual expectations of advantage.
The outcome of genuine scientific inquiry must be respected, and I am confident that defenders of the belief that nature contains a divinely-crafted order have little to fear from an open and principled debate. What we must not do is barter away our commitment to the central features of rightly-ordered human life because of a “scientific” theory that remains only questionably established, but which is being used by its non-scientific proponents to intimidate us. We must remain confident in the goodness of the natural order, in our reason which discerns that order and in the God who is the author of both.
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