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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Debate!: Conservatives for Darwin vs. Conservatives Against Darwin

This panel-style American Enterprise Institute debate, featuring Larry Arnhart and John Derbyshire (pro) vs. John West and George Gilder (con) looks most interesting:
There is a growing debate among conservative thinkers and pundits about whether Darwinian theory helps or harms conservatism and its public policy agenda. Some have argued forcefully that Darwin's theory provides support for conservative positions on family life, economics, bioethics, and other issues, while others have countered that the effort to justify conservative policy positions on Darwinian grounds is fundamentally flawed. Does Darwin's theory help defend or undermine traditional morality and family life? Does it encourage or discredit economic freedom? Is it a spur or a brake to utopian schemes to re-engineer human nature?

Go here for the audio and video.

My own view is that Darwinian is incompatible with any traditional value system. Traditional value systems derive ethics from assumptions about the universe that are believed to be true, but Darwinian theories of ethics derive them from behviour routines incorporated into our genes by the survival strategies of Pleistocene man. In other words, on a Darwinian view, if you actually believe traditional values, it is not because they represent anything about the universe that is true but because your genetic program is running. The fact that a given Darwinist happens to believe that the traditional values are useful is entirely beside the point as far as a traditionalist is concerned - which is precisely why traditional communities have been the most opposed to Darwinism. They understand exactly what it means and they do not agree.

Update!: In the New York Times , Patricia Cohen reports in "A Spirt Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin",
It is true that political interpretations of Darwinism have turned out to be quite pliable. Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy. Francis Galton based his “science” of eugenics on it. Arguing that cooperation was actually what enabled the species to survive, Pyotr Kropotkin used it to justify anarchism.

Karl Marx wrote that “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” Woodrow Wilson declared, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.”

More recently the bioethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer’s “Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation” (1999) urged people to reject the notion that there is a “fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman animals.”


Her article is an excellent summary of the context of the debate, and relatively free of the usual disfiguring prejudice. My favourite comment in John Derbyshire's:
As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”



P.S.: I am almost back to blogging at last, having almost finished the index to The Spiritual Brain.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design. My reviews of movies relevant to the intelligent deisgn controversy.

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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