Friday, November 17, 2006


Abuse of language to serve fuzzy thought

John G. West writes about the debate among conservatives over evolution, which he refers to as "Darwinism." This is an imprecise term, probably intentionally so.

Charles Darwin was a natuarlist who formulated the theory of evolution, now universally accepted among biologists.

The theory of evolution contains no more ideology than the theory of gravity or the heliocentric theory.

Regarding science, "Darwinsism" is usually employed today by nonexperts in science to personalize the theory of evolution. People who are predisposed to have their feelings hurt by what they see as the political implications of the theory of evolution utilize the term "Darwinism" to cast aspersions on science. Marxism was a political theory; Freudianism was... well, a scientific theory, maybe. Darwin, though, did not compose a theory of everything like Freud and Marx did; he offered a scientific theory to account for observed phenomena, a theory that has been refined and accepted over time.

Of course, the philosophical and religious views of scientists such those that West quotes of paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson (“Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind”) are disputable.

Regarding social theory and policy, "Darwinism" is the view that those who achieve the most money or success did so as a result of their intrinsic worth. Even assuming one can profitably analogize biological processes to social policy, Social Darwinism is a highly contestable application of the theory of evolution-- unforeseeable disasters seem to play quite an important role. The political power of Social Darwinism, and the resulting moral disaster of state eugenics policies, serve to illustrate the dangers of scientism and state infringement on the most personal decisions.

I am comfortable with the philosophical idea that evolution happened because that is how God saw fit to work his will. That is, I believe, the view of the Catholic Church. I am uncomfortable with the idea that observed phenomena that science cannot fully account for at a given moment in time is what God did. If we create a God who is an image of our own scientific ignorance, we will diminish him over time.

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