2. The Evolution Controversy  

And Ethics


Section 2.1.2

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon






2. The Evolution Controversy  
      2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism  
         2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials 
         2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics
         2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution
         2.1.4 Is There A Science Of History? 
      2.2 Beyond Natural Selection 
         2.2.1 The Limits of Observation  
         2.2.2 Random Evolution: Climbing Mt. Improbable?
         2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium
         2.2.4 Natural Selection and The Oedipus Paradox  
      2.3 Visions of A Ghostseer  
         2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion  
         2.3.2 Theism/Atheism: The 'God' Debates  
         2.3.3 Critique of Evolutionary Economy  
         2.3.4 The Evolution of Evolution  
         2.3.5 The Science of Freedom  

 3. Descent Of Man Revisited 



    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics 


It is altogether apt that the metaphor of a trial should appear in the Darwin debate, as if an injured party wished to take action in a court of judgment. This theory was and is dangerous, and any evidence of its limits should clearly be labeled on the package. It is ironic therefore that this theory is now increasingly pressed into service to account for ethics. Here is the Achilles heel of scientific thought. We are given to assume that scientific methods can account for all aspects of reality, and that a kind of bootstrap reductionism can start at the most fundamental and proceed to explain the most complex.

Why are we to grant the assumption? Newton did not grant it. Absent a demonstration, this betrays the ambition of science to control, more than to explain. Apparently Laplace whispering in the ear of Napoleon is the beginning of this campaign. The attempts to push Darwin’s theory to the limit to account for the evolution of morality suggest the failure of this assumption. The result is the paradox of value-free science confronted with the domain of values. The obsession with dealing with all aspects of reality as a branch of physics is one of the strangest outcomes of the Scientific Revolution.

This is in fact an old issue, and the secular philosophical verdict of an earlier period is that science is intrinsically limited here. We should note that the philosopher Kant, already from the generation after Newton, was about the business of correcting this reductionist confusion, witness the clear distinction in Kant of theoretical and practical reason as a way to mediate causal phenomena and intentional action. He is considered purely a philosophic outsider to science, but that is misleading. His deliberations on freedom and causality strike to the essence of what is creating the confusion over evolution.

The world of Kant reminds us of the immensity of early modern discourse in this area, and what many saw as the decline from this peak in the onset of positivistic sciences. He certainly demonstrated the great complexity of the question and the limits of rational endeavor in this regard. Modern scientific education systematically misleads students here, and we are left with technical experts trained in a scientific religion, and a facile contempt for the Two Cultures dilemma.

The Triumph of Positivism Histories of scientism too often confuse the rise of scientific culture with the later emergence of so-called scientism at the end of the nineteenth century. The two are not the same. As we move to explore the modern transition we will see that the era of the early modern is a balanced set of opposites, while the later scientism is a misleading over-simplification.

Ethical Reductionism One of the prime confusions of the positivistic sciences is the attempt to physicalize ethics under the rubric of causal explanation. As Kant carefully noted, ethical discourse is by definition about the freedom of an ethical agent. The attempt by Darwinists to eliminate this complexity has produced a good part of the intractable Darwin debate.

Selectionist accounts of ethics violate the first requirement of producing an ethical agent to make ethical choices. We have no clear picture of the evolution of such an agent, leastwise by natural selection. Darwinists  seem satisfied to account for ethics on an ad hoc basis, e.g. showing how natural selection could produce altruism. This agent must choose, yet is granted no choice, in what must be, on scientific grounds, the blind mechanization of ethical action. The problem here is that the level of software and hardware is scrambled. The most obvious possibility is that altruism  is simply counterevidence to theory.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of ‘Darwin’s dangerous idea’, almost in a Nietzschean boast, with a rebuke to our cowardice in failing to meet the challenge of realism in ‘hard men’. It would seem a dangerous idea deserves a second look, there to see Darwin’s dangerous goof, and the misapplication of theory to social complexity. Since Darwinism shows clear correlation with militaristic and genocidal history, deferring to experts is not an excuse if we can see that expertise has not proven sufficient or that it is itself influenced by political or institutional ideology, the ethics of competitive economies. At rare moments, such as the induction of capitalist economies in formerly communist societies, the truth comes out (not that it is concealed at other times), and we hear the language of ‘shock treatment’ and ‘greed programming’, as a system of non-altruistic ‘ethics’ is wished for on economic grounds. Thus theories  of ethics are the politician’s wild card, theory now caught up in Machiavellian raison d’état. The Darwinian backdrop is altogether useful here.[i]

Freedom Evolves? In another work, Dennett exposes a critical weakness in selectionist Darwinism: anything like ‘free will’ must explained in terms of the rubric of natural selection and adaptationism, a highly implausible claim, given no evidence. As we examine the eonic effect, we will detect a counterexample, a macro component to the emergence of freedom.[ii]

The confusion of foundational science as legitimation, ideology, and the basis of ethics neutralized in economic environments, was prefigured in the figure of Malthus, one source of the confused thinking of both Darwin and Wallace. The Malthus debate was an early cousin of the Darwin debate, in the ‘better they starve’ version. A recent philosophic critique of Darwinism by the philosopher David Stove, in Darwinian Fairytales, skewers the mechanization of ethics. The author targets the confusion generated by Darwinism in the sociobiological attempt to derive altruism from adaptationist scenarios. Stove points out the most obvious fact:

If Darwin’s theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which on a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species.[iii]

Nothing in archaeology, the search for fossils, or DNA, is required to see this, or able to contradict this. We have no scientific proof that massive population catastrophes lead to evolutionary advance in the crucial questions under consideration. History shows any number of semi-Malthusian episodes, but its advances spring from a different source.

We are left to wonder at this obsession with altruism on the part of theorists falling head over heels to justify economic selfishness. Not a difficult riddle. We know this game when we see it. ‘Good for the economy’, the prime suspect when smart people play dumb. It is stuck in their craw, and some fancy mathematics to the rescue seems the best way to keep the masses confused in the process of de-ethicization of market behaviors.



   Web:  chap2_1_2.htm


[i] Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil ( New York : Henry Holt, 2004).

[ii] Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves ( New York : Viking, 2003).

[iii] David Stove, Darwinian Fairytales (Aldershot: Avebury, 1995).





Last modified: 09/21/2010