Thursday, April 26, 2007

David Brooks' Evolution Revelation

Logan Gage took the words right out of my mouth. I noticed some commentary on the David Brooks piece that I quoted in my last post, and thought that Brooks was being misunderstood. Gage had the same reaction, and posted it before I got around to it. I have some further observations.

I do not think that Brooks is endorsing the Darwinian cosmology. He seems to be merely commenting on an epiphany of sorts that he had while visiting a museum: even though many people think we live in a "post-modern" culture, many people have "willy nilly" adopted and "unconsciously submit to" a Darwinian meta-narrative. Here are the key sections:
Though it's dense and dry, it rekindled the University of Chicago flame that lingers in every graduate's soul and got me thinking all sorts of Big Thoughts. I also had the sensation - which I used to get during those sweeping old Western Civ courses - of seeing my own time from the outside, from the vantage point of some ancient spot.

And it occurred to me that while we postmoderns say we detest all-explaining narratives, in fact a newish grand narrative has crept upon us willy-nilly and is now all around. Once the Bible shaped all conversation, then Marx, then Freud, but today Darwin is everywhere.

. . .

Looking at contemporary America from here in Jerusalem and from the ancient past, it's clear we're not a postmodern society anymore. We have a grand narrative that explains behavior and gives shape to history. We have a central cosmology to embrace, argue with or unconsciously submit to.

I think that it is clear the Brooks does not think that any cosmology should be adopted as a result of willy nilly creep or unconscious submission. He is describing the situation, and saying that we should consciously embrace this cosmology or argue with it. Arguing with it is what many ID proponents are doing. It think that Brooks now recognizes that there are important issues here that need to be critically examined and debated. I agree.

One key point he is making is that evolution is more than a scientific theory. It is also a meta-narrative and a cosmology, which means that it has moved into the realm of metaphysics and is functioning like a religion. This is precisely the point that Michael Ruse, and many others, have made in the past. My post on Michael Ruse and his view that evolution in the form of "Evolutionism" must be considered a religion is here. Ruse says in part:
Popular evolution--evolutionism--offered a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans in the scheme of things. At the same time, it delivered moral exhortations, prescribing what we ought to do if we want things to continue well (or to be redeemed and a decline reversed). These things hardly came by chance or in isolation. In asking about origins, evolutionism was answering a question posed by Christianity (and Judaism before this), and in focusing on the status and obligations of humans, evolutionism was trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.. . .

To use a phrase invented by Thomas Henry Huxley's biologist grandson, Julian Huxley, the evolutionists were truly in the business of providing a "religion without revelation"--and like all fanatics, they were intolerant of rivals.

I really hope you read the full quote. I closed my post with this:
This raises an important question: what exactly is conveyed to students when they learn about evolution in public school and when the evidence that undermines macroevolutionary theory is banned? Do students get pure science? Or does a little religious "evolutionism" seep in as well? If it does seep in, how does that affect the constitutionality of teaching it with no alternatives? How can public schools avoid establishing evolutionism as a state religion?
Are kids learning just the scientific theory in class, or is the Darwinian cosmology being taught as well? If it is, this would violate the US Constitution.

7 Comments:

At April 26, 2007 3:24 PM, Anonymous John said...

This reminds me a little of those Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials.

"You got religion in my science!"

"You got science in my religion!"

 
At April 26, 2007 10:57 PM, Anonymous Ben (t.o.o.) said...

To many people, who don't take the time to learn what evolution is (and I'm speaking of biological evolution not cosmological, although I do not deny the extension to cosmology) ... evolution does function as a religion -- being accepted without question.

However, unlike any religion, the evolution world-view is supported by repeated observation and experimentation. That makes it very different from any other religion.

And if the public had a better understanding of science as a process, it would be easier for them to smell the quackery that is Intelligent Design.

 
At April 27, 2007 9:21 AM, Anonymous John said...

And if the public had a better understanding of science as a process, it would be easier for them to smell the quackery that is Intelligent Design.

Gee Ben, how long is it going to take? Evolution has been taught to the exclusion of every other biological theory in public schools for at least 40 years now.

If science teachers after 40 years can't counteract all of the horrible creationism that children are taught when the teachers have their government mandated attention for five days a week, even when creationism is semi-formally taught for, at most, 2 hours a week by obviously irrational kooks, then there's probably something not quite right with the curricula.

 
At April 27, 2007 9:48 AM, Anonymous Lawrence said...

Ben, you said

However, unlike any religion, the evolution world-view is supported by repeated observation and experimentation. That makes it very different from any other religion.

Do you think the moral philosophy of "the evolution world-view" is supported by repeated observation and experimentation? I think not. That is why it can be considered to be a functional equivalent of a religion.

You may want to take a look at these posts:
here and here.

 
At April 27, 2007 4:55 PM, Anonymous Ben (t.o.o.) said...

John--

I may not have been clear. The problem is that most people do not know what science is (including many of primary and secondary educators). And that problem has its roots in how science is taught. Grade school and high school students learn an abundance of facts in biology, chemistry, and physics, but they do not learn how the process of inquiry and experimentation has gained such knowledge.



Lawrence--

Evolution is amoral... but if you wanted to adapt the idea that humans evolved from simple life to a moral code, the logical step is to recognize that humans evolved to be social (cooperation leads to better reproductive success than malevolence)...

I wish I knew how to communicate science better to the world. It's fascinating and it's brought mankind many great successes.

 
At April 28, 2007 7:18 AM, Anonymous Lawrence said...

Ben- So you are not going to answer my question or defend your original assertion? The science of evolution is perhaps amoral, but many with the "evolution worldview/cosmology" have made claims about moral reasoning. Do you think they are "supported by repeated observation and experimentation"?

 
At April 28, 2007 10:57 PM, Anonymous John said...

The problem is that most people do not know what science is (including many of primary and secondary educators). And that problem has its roots in how science is taught. Grade school and high school students learn an abundance of facts in biology, chemistry, and physics, but they do not learn how the process of inquiry and experimentation has gained such knowledge.

After 40 years? Surely you jest. Your assertion implies that the science educators, of whom the vast majority agree with your view of biology, must be the most incompetent group of people on the planet.

By the way, if by "process" you mean the scientific method, you're incorrect. I was taught about the scientific method since at least the sixth grade in public school, even in the middle of Podunk Nowhere. We used true scientific experimentation (with controls, double blinds, and everything) in all four years of high school.

If by "process" you mean either: 1) political scaremongering to get grant money, or 2) playing politics to keep entrenched purveyors of dogma in power, then yes, you are correct. We were young and naively foolish enough to think that science was a meritocracy, like our teachers told us.

 

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