Another reading selection taken from “No One Sees God,” Michael Novak scans our western understanding of the divine and focuses on some of the writings of the American philosopher, cognitive scientist and atheist Daniel Dennett.
The God reached by Aristotle and Plato might well have been, for all they knew, eternal. The most satisfying penetrations by the greatest of the Greeks conceived of God as the inner core of the Universe, its inner intelligence. They did not think of God as a Creator, but as an abiding intellectual presence. Their vision was not quite pantheist; they held that God is more than the sum of all the intelligibility in the universe; God is more than an inner part of the universe.
They seemed to think that their eternal, immutable, radiant, all — seeing nous must, in fact, be separate from the earth as cause is from effect. That cause may be present everywhere in its effects — as the heat of a fire can extend to the farthest corners of the room. But the fire is not identical with the heat. They thought God is not identical with the universe, but present everywhere, within all things. Not a personal God, but a God whose nature is intelligence and a capacity to choose.
The Greeks could not imagine God to be moved by some cause outside Himself. He is a “necessary being,” as they named Him, in comparison with perishable things. Yet even in diffusing his being and his intelligence into all things, the imperishable, unchangeable God of the Greeks allows contingency and freedom. He is not, like the God of Islam, Pure ‘Will, before whom the only possible response is submission. He is intelligence — Logos — the source of all the intelligence in conscious agents, and of all the intelligibility in inanimate things.
God’s free will was a little less clear to the Greeks than his intelligence. But then it was also not clear to them how human will is paired with human intelligence. Foreign to Plato was the cry of Saint Paul: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19, NIV). This common experience, stated so clearly, led Christian thinkers to recognize that simply knowing the good is not enough. To meet the data of human experience, a more sophisticated conception of the weakness of the will must be worked out than was achieved by the Greeks.
The Greek nous (in its highest, purest formulations) is not the biblical God. All by itself, the god the unaided human mind conceives of is closer to being a light infusing all things (by way of the radiant intelligibility poured into all things) than to a Creator who governs human affairs, watches over them as a kind Providence, and at death summons every human individual to a piercing Judgment, in which God is not deceived.
The nous of the Greeks is by contrast relatively unaware of human conduct, even unconcerned with it. This serene intelligence is neither within history nor overly concerned with history. The nous is eternal, unchanging, impervious to concerns emanating from his creatures. The nous is the god of irony and tragedy.
The Greeks believed in the efficacy of human action, especially in the defense of liberty; as in the wars of Sparta against the Persians, and of the Athenians against all corners. In this sense, the Greeks were not entirely fatalistic, passive, supinely submissive. Yet they did recognize the sometimes tragic blade that descends upon humans, willy-nilly. They believed in fighting to the bitter end, refusing to submit to the passivity called fatalism, defying Fate until their last breath. From that fight, they thought, springs heroism. As in Sisyphus, Prometheus, and Antigone.
In that fight, they displayed true love for liberty; in its raw, basic form.
The Greek conception of God, at its highest, is quite beautiful. Sometimes atheists who do not believe one bit in the Jewish/Christian God find the Greek god admirable, attractive, noble. That is why some hesitate to call themselves atheists. They do not believe in eternal life. They do not believe in the Christian God, or any sort of personal god. But they do not want to close their minds to every other concept of God. The conceptions of Plato, Plotinus, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others appeal to them. They take no time to make a study of metaphysics, to define precisely all the contours of their background beliefs.
In life, in existence, and in normal intellectual horizons something else seems to be active besides mere matter. Even in the photographs of nebulae, galaxies, and starbursts in scientific magazines, not to mention sunsets, the Grand Canyon, the marvels of the insect world, the patterns, within a grain of sand along the shore — human insight grasps far more than the mere material of what our senses report. The world of our experience seems to be suffused with intelligibilities which it takes our questioning minds a long time to plumb. All material things seem suffused, if an intellectual metaphor may be used here, with light. As when, at the moment an insight of ours grasps the inner unities that had eluded our understanding just a moment before, the metaphor we reach for is a light suddenly going on. Suddenly we see what had been in front of our eyes for a long time, without our being able to see it.
This is not to say that God’s creation does not take a wild, unpredictable, highly contingent adventure through history. But it is to say that the Creator’s relation to his creation is not that of a human being in time, as Dawkins Harris, Hitchens and other atheists normally imagine.
The god of Plato, Aristotle, and on through Einstein, is not a “person.” God does not have passions of sympathy, compassion love, or kindness. God is the all-permeating nous radiating intelligibility into all things, and inspiring in our breasts the restless, unconditioned drive to understand. The way humans reach “union” with God is by way of questioning coming to insight, understanding. Our finite minds catch a sliver of the great radiance that shines through all things: the beauty of the structure of the world. We admire.
For the Greeks, there is no Hebraic God who governs the affairs of humans in history and cares about human conduct and destiny. (Plato, though, is a little closer to thinking of God as the Good, knowing all things, inspiring in conscious, discriminating human beings the pursuit of goodness and justice. Humans never quite reach these goals, but keep being drawn toward them.)
For the atheist, the “problem of evil” is transmuted into a practical matter. If children cry in their beds at night, then in order to exercise our secular compassion on their behalf, we should take the practical steps to diminish their number. The role of the secular saint in alleviating suffering in this world, not only through science and medicine, but also through advances in agriculture and in water purification, and by a thousand other humane means, is no petty thing. On the contrary, like Dr Rieux in Albert Camus’s The Plague, the secular saint casts a very noble light.
For the atheist, though, the problem of goodness creates an intellectual problem. If everything is by chance and merely relative, why is it so natural for so many to be good — if not all the time, at least remarkably often? Why do some atheists try so hard to be good — good and public-spirited — and why are they so insistent on being credited with moral good?
For those atheists who are not nihilists, the intuitively obvious moral good — or at least the most reasonable good –is to promote human flourishing. Learning to be a person of conscience is good, for without conscience not even scientific papers would be reliable. Learning to cooperate with others is good, for in cooperation humans flourish much better than in a (vulgarly defined) Darwinian “jungle,” where dog eats dog and only the fittest survive. The evolutionary value of compassion, charity solidarity and other high human virtues has been boastfully pointed out by contemporary atheists, not least by the biologists among them.
Thus, the newest evolutionary biology turns out to be not so opposed to Christianity as atheists used to think. On the contrary, contemporary atheists are eager to show that any high virtues that Judaism and Christianity promote are better promoted by evolutionary biologists. In other words, you can have the distinctive historical virtues of Judaism and Christianity — for which both religions were once mocked — without necessarily believing in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. You can even believe in an impersonal nous who is identified with the beautiful and brilliant intellectual structure of the universe, without accepting the Jewish and/or Christian God. Anything Judaism can do, atheism can do better. Atheists can do Christian stuff better than Christians.
Design As Solely The Result Of Chance
It is quite stunning how again and again contemporary evolutionary biologists confirm the findings of classic Jewish or Christian morality — not in all respects, but in nearly all the most central ones. Indeed, they do so not only in ethics, but in the design they find so beautiful in the structure of the universe. They explain this design as completely and solely the result of chance. This is an implausible claim, to be sure, but they insist upon it. And then they add –and this is the kicker — that, yes, the design they detect does look as if it had been designed by a designer, but their science shows that it really wasn’t.
You don’t believe me? Reflect on these four passages from Daniel Dennett (easily replicable in Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and others). The first is this:
“It just stands to reason (doesn’t it?) that all the wonders of the living world have to have been arranged by some Intelligent Designer? It couldn’t all just be an accident, could it? And even if evolution by natural selection explains the design of living things, doesn’t the “fine tuning” of the laws of physics to make all this evolution possible require a Tuner?”
Dennett is pretty firm in his reply: “No, it doesn’t stand to reason, and, yes, it could all just be the result of ‘accidents’ exploited by the relentless regularities of nature, and, no, the fine tuning of the laws of physics can be explained without postulating an Intelligent Tuner”
His second quip is snappier: “Not one sperm in a billion accomplishes its life mission—thank goodness—but each is designed and equipped as if everything depended on its success.”. (Not a single one of them will stop to ask for directions.)
Blind, Directionless Evolutionary Processes ‘Discover’ Designs That Work?
Dennett’s third point begins thus: “…evolution provided animals with specific receptor molecules that respond to the concentration of high-energy sugars in anything they taste, and hard-wired these receptor molecules to the seeking machinery” Then he goes on: “Not all plants ‘chose’ the edible fruit-making bargain, but those that did had to make their fruits attractive in order to compete. It all made perfectly good sense, economically; it was a rational transaction, conducted at a slower than glacial pace over the eons, and of course no plant or animal had to understand any of this in order for the system to flourish.’
Now comes the great conclusion, with a fanfare: “Blind, directionless evolutionary processes ‘discover’ designs that work. They work because they have various features, and these features can be described and evaluated in retrospect as if they were the intended brainchildren of intelligent designers who had worked out the rationale for the design in advance”
Finally Dermett praises chance over Shakespeare: “The wonderful particularity of individuality of the creation was due, not to Shakespearean inventive genius, but to the incessant contributions of chance” But not to worry: “That vision of the creative process still apparently left a role for God as Lawgiver, but this gave way in turn to the Newtonian role of Lawfinder, which also evaporated, as we have recently seen, leaving behind no Intelligent Agency in the process at all.” Dennett finds comfort in heartless fate: “What is left is what the process, shuffling through eternity, mindlessly finds (when it finds anything): a timeless Platonic possibility of order. That is, indeed, a thing of beauty as mathematicians are forever exclaiming, but it is not itself something intelligent, but wonder of wonders, something intelligible.” Now Dennett does not wish us to conclude that he is blind to beauty sacredness, wonder, affirmation. He praises Benedict Spinoza, who “in the seventeenth century, identified God and Nature, arguing that scientific research was the true path of theology.” Later, he asks: “Is something sacred? Yes, say I with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. The world is sacred.”
On these passages from Dennett, Professor Barr pens some trenchant words:
“Dennett here makes two claims. First he claims that Newton replaced the idea of a Lawgiver. That is nonsense. In physics — and that is what he is talking about — all explanations account for orderliness by appealing to a more comprehensive and more beautiful and more profound mathematical orderliness at a deeper level of nature. For example, Newton explained the wonderful laws discovered by Kepler, but only by showing that they followed from even more wonderful laws. It is Laws all the way down! And indeed it is more and more beautiful laws all the way down. If anything, the discoveries of Newton and his successors strengthen the case for a Lawgiver. That was Newton’s own view It was the view of Faraday and Maxwell, the two greatest physicists of the 19th century, who were also devout Christians.”
Dennett’s second point is that “recent” developments have even done away with any idea of lawfulness in nature. Here he is grossly misunderstanding what he has heard about the so — called “multiverse” idea, in which the universe randomly picks laws in different parts of the universe (hence Dennett’s “process, mindlessly finds”). But if he knew what he was talking about, he would know that the multiverse idea if it is true (and at the moment it is speculation) is based on the assumption that deep down the whole universe shares some ultimate set of laws. It does not get away from lawfulness.”
A Naïve Alternative
A completely naïve person might think that if something looks designed, and acts designed, and seduces the inquiring mind by the intricate ways in which it is designed, then it rather emphatically seems to he designed. Such a person might also be unable to imagine the millions upon millions of years, the “eons,” and the alternate universes, that the atheist biologist continually postulates in order to maintain his belief in a designer-less design. A simple person might even wonder if the existing evidence gives the present universe anything like enough. “eons” to produce randomly all that evolutionists attribute to time alone. Hearing the atheist’s interpretation of the data, the naïve person might imagine that “evolution” rests on a rather mystical process, whose whole range nobody ever sees because it happens over so many eons that no records exist, or in such conjectured alternative universes as perhaps never really happened. These long lengths of time — almost like eternity — and these alternative universes, never subject to empirical testing, require a lot of faith. To believe in an intelligent, conscious, purposeful Designer—”Artist” is better — seems far cleaner, far closer to what science actually shows us. Ockham’s razor.
True enough, the designs this Artist displays are marked by probabilities, not necessities, by failures as as well as
evils and sufferings as well as by joys and delights. In fact, Christianity actually dares to propose that the key to the design really intended by the Artist is the cross on which Jesus is crucified — the just man, the innocent man, made to suffer terribly just as, long before, the prophets of Judaism had suffered and been rejected. The cross is the key that fits into a universe of many contingencies, accidents, sufferings, evils, and heartaches, and opens up the door to understanding. So this is what it all means!
Come Follow Me
It is also an appeal to our liberty: “Come follow me’ Jesus invites all. He gives us free choice. If you so choose, suffer with me. on your own cross (each of us is sent plenty of crosses down the years). One picks up one’s cross not for the sake of suffering, which would be masochistic, but for the sake of transforming suffering into divine love, which the accepting of such suffering (Dostoyevsky’s “humble charity”) unlocks.
It is not hard to sympathize with atheists who find abundant reasons, on many levels, to turn away from Jesus. Many humans have done so. Possibly a large majority What is harder to sympathize with is the oversimplified image of a bumbling naïf, which atheists fantasize, whose rosy purposes are undercut by evil, failure, contingency chance, the absurdities of human life, and by all the cruelties of that “nature red in tooth and claw,” in which so many animals are torn apart by other animals. A more sophisticated image of the Artist should emerge from the awful and bloody realities believers see around them, not the schoolboy rationalism of their teenage years.
If you do not believe in the Lord of the Absurd, contemplate what He allowed to be done to His only Son, on the cross. The Artist God in whom Christians believe is this Lord of the Absurd, this Lord of the suffering Son of God, on the bloody gibbet:
Jews, too, by their own path; reflecting on the long historical sufferings of the Jewish people, know that their God is no Pollyanna, no Pretty Boy, no Promiser of rose gardens. He made the earth to be a place of trial.
Then again, two further points. First, belief in the Lord of the Absurd so thoroughly squares with human experience and with the findings of science (“chaos” theory and all the rest) that it frees the mind to confront with equanimity both the “chance” and “directionless-ness” and the radiant intelligibility in the structure of the universe. Combining both, the Jewish/Christian faith in an intelligent and kind Creator goes more directly to the heart of what scientists and mathematicians actually experience. (We must return to this point.)
But beyond that, belief in the Lord of the Absurd also answers deeper questions in the human mind, which science is not equipped to understand. Atheist writers describe the designer god of their imagination as if he were intended as a deus ex machina, some sort of hypothesis to explain what makes things work. Thus, when they show step-by-step that such a god is not needed to explain this, or that, and not even that other matter, they stop questioning. They have the (scientific) answers they need.
Okay, no deus ex machina exists. God is not a scientific hypothesis. Agreed. We have stipulated that. The biblical God is not a deus ex machina to bail out temporarily puzzled scientists. He is not even reachable by scientific inquiry. Science is on the wrong wavelength.
The Circularity Of Neo-Darwinism
Christoph Schönborn denounced “neo.-Darwjnjsm” in the New York Times, he was understood to be attacking a scientific theory, and this mistaken impression caused shock waves that were unnecessary. This inflamed usage runs counter to the definitions most dictionaries have accepted across many decades. Believers cannot allow atheists to Own the word “Darwinjsm.” Darwinist theory is widely viewed as an enormous accomplishment and a pillar of modern science. For believers to lock themselves into a rhetorical stance against “Darwinism” is wholly unwise.
Though many students of the humanities, accustomed to terms such as “neo-Platonism” “neo-Thomism” and “neo-Kantianism make the mistake of interpreting “neo-Darwinism” as a philosophical reference, we should acknowledge that the term is most properly understood as “the synthesis of Darwinist theory of natural selection with modern genetics.”
If one assumes there is no God, no design, and no future plan in the structure of the universe, as Dennett and the others do, then one needs two new principles for the impressive dynamism, the movement, the change we see around us. First, what makes things go? Second, what makes progress happen? That is, what makes evolution tilt upward? “Natural selection” satisfies both needs.
Moreover there is a very neat offset: If there is natural selection, there is no God. And if there is a God, then natural selection is one of the possible ways through which He might have organized world process.
But these two propositions are not symmetrical. The first one does away with God, on account of natural selection. But the second keeps both God and natural selection.
Well, partisans of the first proposition might say: If we have natural selection we don’t need God. “Do not multiply entities without necessity”
To which the riposte might be: At its deepest level, partisans of the atheist position who rely on Ockham are assuming a very high degree of intelligence at work in the world, economical, tending toward elegant simplicity. How do they explain this assumption? Ockham’s razor is based on it.
On a less profound level, another riposte is possible: Such partisans seem to imagine that the terms “God” and “natural selection” are two different “explanations” for the same thing. Thus, the rule of Ockham’s razor says that one of them must go. But while natural selection may articulate the method by which species make themselves more fit and improve their capacities, and so forth, the human mind still requires an answer to the question, But what kind of intelligence and dynamism might have implanted “natural selection” as a law of nature, at the very beginnings of biological life? Did the law of natural selection — pop! — just suddenly appear?
Then, too, where do partisans of “natural selection” come up with the loaded term “the fittest”? Such a term requires an energizing source of intelligence and dynamism that puts in place an absolute standard, by which given states of development are adjudged progressive or regressive, backward or avant-garde, worse or better. Without such a standard, there is no non-tautological way to separate what is “more fit” or “fittest” from “whatever happens to be.” On its own terms, natural selection has a fatal ambiguity within it. It seems to display circularity in Darwin’s thought. If X is “fittest.” X is more likely to “survive.” If X survives, that shows that X was “the fittest” among competitors. Fittest = survivors. Circularity?
Besides, is it true in our own experience that the finest human beings we have known outlive the thugs that prosper among us? That seemed not to happen in Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany. The morally good were often put to painful death, while the malicious prospered.
So what does “survival” prove about the moral good? “Fittest” depends upon “fittest for what”? And mere survival is not a very high moral standard.
But this point about what makes individuals “fit” can also be made about species as a whole. There may be many other living creatures on this earth more “fit” to survive than human beings. Maybe the cockroaches. If humans disappear from earth, it is unlikely that all life will cease.
The Disjunction Between The Phenomenon Of Human Life And The Other Parts Of The Universe
These are just a handful of observations that call for work beyond the Darwinist account of human life and its origins. To further examine its claims, let us take some instruction from a very bright Australian philosopher, Dr. David Stove. Professor Stove, an atheist, found no difficulty in accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution for galaxies, plants, and animals. But as regards human beings, Professor Stove found that the theory of natural selection based upon brutal competition, in which only the few fittest survive, utterly fails to pass the test of what he sees with his own eyes. Professor Stove, in his penetrating analysis Darwinian Fairytales, calls this mistake “Darwin’s dilemma,” his failure, his insupportable proposition.
No other book on Darwin I had earlier read woke me up so sharply as Professor Stove’s. I had not fully grasped, in the detail he lays out through eleven tightly argued chapters, the disjunction between the phenomenon of human life and the other parts of the universe. Apes don’t devote years to educating their young. Chimpanzees do not build medical clinics. Wrens don’t become doctors. Alligators have not formed schools of monks to copy painstakingly from fragile, ancient scrolls. Even eagles do not inspire a hundred thousand nuns to lovingly care for eaglets suffering from incurable disease. Bears do not form modern states and organize into great bureaucracies to hand out benefits to the needy, to help the vulnerable survive and even prosper, or to ease the sufferings of the poor or down on their luck. Frogs do not form hospitals to ease the pain and suffering of their tadpoles and elderly. It seems highly unlikely that the lions of the world would care, without any discrimination whatever, for lambs and other species not their own. The problem with animal rights, after all, is getting the animals to respect them.
By contrast, perhaps a third of the human race is caring for the weak and the down-and-out either through government services or nonpublic institutions — and sometimes by volunteering on their own. Far from human life being a harsh, dog-eat-dog struggle for survival, in which only a few survive, enormous human energies are expended through sympathy for the needy, keeping many from perishing who otherwise would. Such care also tends lovingly to the feeble-minded, the delinquent, the alcoholic, and many others whom strict Darwinism would identify for weeding out, for the sake of a healthier gene pool.
Not even Dawkins and Harris can bring themselves to turn their backs on the suffering. They are living dis-proofs of a significant part of Darwin’s conception of man. Perhaps not the most heroic dis-proofs, but dis-proofs nonetheless.
To a considerable extent, then, one might argue that contemporary atheists — even those who most viscerally hate Judaism and Christianity –have nevertheless absorbed from the culture in which they live and move and have their being the moral sentiments of Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Matthew, and even Adam Smith about loving their neighbors (even strangers) as themselves. Recall Smith’s emphasis upon the sentiment of “sympathy”:
“And hence it is, that to feel much for others, and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent, affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety.”
When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect. upon our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren.
Confronted with this radical error in Darwin’s incautious sweeping of human beings into a net better woven to catch stars, grasses, flowers, serpents, grasshoppers, sparrows, bass, salmon, and all other nonhuman animals from rabbits to rhinoceri, the spontaneous reaction of Darwjnists is to voice horror at a kind of outrage committed against their master. “This is terrible. This verges on libel!” When they actually get to defending the proposition that the Darwinian thesis about humans holds true, Stove has discovered through many years of experience in debate, they usually try one of three gambits.
The first defense is “Yes, of course, people today have learned how to associate, cooperate, and take care of each other. But this is only after many centuries spent living in caves as Neanderthals, brandishing clubs Brutal competition used to exist Only recently has human life been made more caring and considerate — and atheistic science must take much credit for that”
But a theory explaining everything cannot be salvaged by taking refuge in such an exceptional twist at a certain point in time Surely, the fundamental theory needs a quite vital amendment to account for the human tendency to overcome primitive Darwinism, a Darwinism valid only for cavemen (if even that part of Darwinism is true) At this point, it appears that Judaism and Christianity offer a far more nuanced theory about the good and evil in man’s nature than Darwin did, at least at first.
The second defense is the “iron fist in a velvet glove” defense Well, it may look like human life is civilized and well-mannered, as in the Victorian era, but if you step outside the drawing room you will see that in industrial circles there really was “social Darwinism”– it was dog-eat-dog, a jungle out there. And if you visit the chancelleries of Europe, you will see Realpolitik mapped out as if humans were pure self-interest, who use ideals as smoke screens, and whose placid public surface masks plots, counterplots, intrigue, espionage, arms races, and cleverly disguised imperial exercises.
Yet this defense, too, essentially admits that the Darwinist account is partial and incomplete. So far are its darker impulses from being the whole story that they must operate only by subterfuge, as subtext within a larger paradigm. Is the human longing to show compassion and to give loving care to those who suffer actually explained by Darwin, or is it far too lightly brushed aside, in order to keep simple and clean the background theory for which Darwin has real affection? A theory that brushes aside facts that loom so gigantic is in need of fairly dramatic modification.
The third defense is a softer one — too soft either to deny the charge or to modify the theory. It usually goes something like this, with an introductory wave of the hand: “Oh yes, that’s true of course, but that undercurrent of dog-eat-dog is really fundamental in human life. And except for humans, it’s universal. So let’s not quarrel over the details.”
But these are “details” only on the supposition that there is no God, no Judaism, no Christianity, no ethical humanism. The “soft defense” still suggests that humans should abruptly dismiss any search for “meaning.” They should set aside any hope of making sense of their capacities for goodness, compassion, and truth. When it’s over, it’s over, just as it is for dead chipmunks.
But this defense actually rests on an unscientific assumption that atheism accurately describes the human predicament. Whether there is a God or not falls beyond the range of science. If something more than atheism predicts is going on in humans who show compassion, practice justice, and seek truth, then as a theory of human existence Darwinism quite simply, and dramatically, fails. For the rest of nature, Darwin’s thesis may provide the best explanation yet available for the inner dynamic of evolution. For human beings, it leaves too much out to satisfy the inquiring mind rooted in a multitude of daily experiences of care and compassion, some secular, some religious. How can something so central be waved aside, purely to save a flawed theory?
Three Moral Objections To Darwinism
There are three moral objections to Darwinism, when it is presented as an alternative to traditional ethical systems based upon reason, common sense, and careful reflection on Jewish and Christian revelation. The first objection is based upon the horrors unleashed by the eugenics movement of the period 1896-1945, first supported by many of the most accomplished and socially esteemed elites of New York and Boston, and then so horribly abused by Adolf Hitler.
The second objection opposes the rationale for the First World War presented by the German General Staff, which argued that the strongest races had a moral duty to supplant the weaker ones, in order to further a healthier natural selection of the fittest. A duty imposed, no less, by Darwinian natural law.
The third objection confronts the effect upon young and imbalanced minds of being taught to admire atheism, nihilism, and natural selection. Two such were Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the brutal young murderers in Chicago in 1924. This objection was raised by Clarence Darrow, in his defense of these tragic youngsters against capital punishment, on the grounds that their minds had been unfairly poisoned by readings assigned them at the University of Chicago.
The point of these objections is that, if Darwin’s theory of natural selection were applicable to humans as to the other animals, in order to weed out the helpless weak, nothing would be morally wrong with the use of eugenics. Nor would anything be wrong with a strong nation’s practice of justifying by the law of natural selection the depredations it inflicts upon weaker nations. Nor would anything be wrong in the dreadful, murderous conclusions drawn by Leopold and Loeb from the texts they had been assigned to study But the spontaneous sentiments of the human heart, once the relevant information is before it, cry out that these are evils to be opposed. These evil impulses are not “natural” duties to be obeyed. Whatever its strength in other areas, something is seriously wrong with an unmodified Darwinian social theory about human beings.
Pressing on, we find that many of our most irrepressible inquiries push beyond the bounds of science: Why do human beings, since it is said to be so futile a longing, nonetheless long for eternal life? Why is atheism so hard to live by, since spontaneously even the atheist heart on some surprising occasions involuntarily breaks out with “Oh! Thank God!”? Jean-Paul Sartre candidly confessed in The Words how hard it was to remove all religious instincts from his life.
Again, has nature instilled religious aspirations, beliefs, and longings in us only in order to frustrate them? Their power in us makes a large majority of humans take them as evidence of a dimension of existence about which science, at least so far, is in denial.
Why do we, knowing well our private, deeply hidden betrayals of our own deepest principles—our honesty our courage — still long for forgiveness and for a fresh, clean start? Why are our consciences, even under torture, so insistent on not becoming complicit in the lies our torturers demand that we confess? Why does fidelity under duress become so supremely important, even under threat to our very lives and (since some tortures are intended to maim us) to our future health? To what — to what vagrant impulse, to what fleeting whim, to what law of nature — are we trying to remain faithful? And why?
Why are atheists in the same prisons sometimes so brave, so forthright, so courageous, in standing up to torment? What is it in them that makes truth seem so important, when their fidelity to it does not in fact help them to survive but, on the contrary, threatens to overwhelm and to destroy them?…