Monday, December 31, 2007

Darwin, foreign policy and naivete on the Left

Sharon Schminkle, former a reporter for the Star Tribune and who now covers science and foreign affairs for the liberal online news journal, recently wrote a piece entitled, "Here's hoping....for Charles Darwin's spirit."

In it she writes,
But somehow I wish his open-minded spirit and dogged intellectual honesty could visit our 2008 political arena where the question of how we humans got our origins will, once again, divide America.

Full disclosure: The editors asked me to write about my greatest wish for next year. This isn't my greatest wish, given wars raging around the world and many other reasons to worry about my children's future. But I've wanted to write this piece ever since I had a chance last summer to view Darwin's papers at Cambridge University in England.

Schooled by clerics, Darwin wrestled with faith in an omniscient creator even while he stretched his mental horizons to ponder evidence that mysteries of Earth's intricate life could be explained by a scientific theory.

"I am in an utterly hopeless muddle," Darwin wrote to his friend Asa Gray in November, 1860. "I cannot think that the world, as we see it is the result of chance; & yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design."

That muddle is central to my wish. It isn't easy to open the mind and think creatively about America 2008, its urgent needs and its role in the world. Such thinking requires the humility to drop partisan defenses and listen to the other side. It demands attention to the details of national policy at a time when the overwhelming preferences are entertainment and shopping.

Darwin did it and came up with a theory that gives a common thread to all life on earth — the lives of Christians and Muslims, Hutus and Tutsis, lowly microbes and astrophysicists.

Maybe this is my greatest wish after all. Maybe Darwin's spirit even could make a difference in those wars around the world.

After learning more about what Darwin actually believed and the consequences of his ideas, I take issue with Schminkle's description of him as this heroic figure who was driven by an "open-minded spirit and dogged intellectual honesty" and came up with a theory which "gives a common thread to all life on earth — the lives of Christians and Muslims, Hutus and Tutsis, lowly microbes and astrophysicists."

John West in his new book "Darwin Day in America" digs into Darwin's writings and develops an interesting picture of Darwin's work, beliefs and ideas. I think one could argue that Darwin did tremendous damage to the value of human life, notwithstanding Schminkle's claim that Darwin provided a common thread to all of life, by driving a wedge between faith and science and providing the intellectual/scientific rationale for "scientific materialism" -- the destructive philosophical belief that all of life and the universe is merely the result of a chance, mindless, purposeless process devoid of a Creator. Scientific materialism provided the intellectual basis for communism and the dehumanizing uses of science in the West for such things as eugenics. These ideas have been highly destruction to humanity.

Darwin himself rejected Christianity and theism. West notes in Darwin's first edition of
The Origin of the Species that "[Darwin] claimed that he had probably been a theist because he saw the 'impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including the result of blind chance or necessity.' But that belief too had gradually eroded. 'The old argument of design in nature which formerly seemed to me to so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.'" And in his Autobiography, Darwin said, "..I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

As West writes, "Stephen Jay Gould was right to argue that 'Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature,' and that according to his theory matter was 'the ground of all existence; mind, spirit and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity.' ... Whether or not Darwin wished to call himself a materialist, his theory had the consequence of making a materialist understanding of man and society finally credible." (Again materialism is the belief that all there is is the material. Our minds, ethics, and ideas are merely the result of a godless, chance, random, material process and therefore have no intrinsic meaning or value.)

To then view Darwin as the model for looking at geo-political, foreign policy issues, as Schminkle suggests, is incredibly naive. Certainly, we should listen to various points of view and be humble, but to embrace Darwin and his ideas will only lead to the moral and intellectual confusion so evidenced by the cultural and political Left. The Left rejects notions of transcendent truth, the "fallenness" of man, e.g. that man is sinful and thus does evil, and the need, in the case of the U.S., to aggressively protect its citizens and confront evil acts carried out by individuals and encouraged by particular nations -- all critical elements in addressing the dangerous world we face. To embrace Darwin as the paradigm for deciding what our foreign policy should be is both naive and dangerous.

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