John Haught, a Catholic theologian, had yet another interesting but perplexing article in the December 6 issue of America, the Jesuit weekly. It was entitled “Do We Need God to Be Good?” Haught is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and he has spent the last decade, at least, wading in shallow tide pools of evolutionary biology, pointing out the odd creatures who live there to people like me who happen to be walking down the beach.
There are two types of evolutionary scientists scurrying about in the tide pool mud, Haught explains. There are the regular scientists, their slide rules poking out of their pocket protectors, who accept the reality of evolution implicitly and just go about their job of figuring out the mechanisms of the natural world. These are the real, working scientists who make actual discoveries. Then there are the self-important writers of books, like Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins, who think evolution explains pretty much everything in the universe — from worm holes to Mozart. They are wannabe philosophers who don’t want to bother actually studying philosophy — since, after all, evolution explains everything so why read philosophy books? (Or history books or novels or economics or sociology or anything at all.) Anyone who finds their simplistic reductionism a bit hard to take — a little too much like the old “Omni” Magazine — is still mired in “the God delusion.”
Haught is really good at exposing the kindergarten philosophy of the evolutionary naturalists — which isn’t really all that difficult given that most of them, like Dawkins, admit they don’t actually read books and insist that anything that can’t be measured with digital instruments probably isn’t worth thinking about. Alas, however, a few of them do sometimes think about things like Mozart and, say, morality, and then attempt to demonstrate how evolution explains them, too. Haught’s article was occasioned by a recent piece in The New York Times Magazine, “The Moral Life of Babies,” that attempted to show how morality is the result of evolution, not religious instruction or divine light. The journalist Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, makes similar attempts.
Here’s an example of what passes for serious analysis among these guys. Evolution can explain the persistence of morality, or acts of altruism, this way. Say a man gets up from his seat on the subway and offers it to a little old lady. Most people would see this as an example of genuine morality or altruism, the result, perhaps, of a good upbringing or an innate decency. You don’t have to believe in God to either perform or recognize such acts of self-sacrifice. But don’t be fooled, say the popularizing evolutionary biologists. What’s really going on, they explain, is that men who perform such acts of seeming altruism are actually demonstrating their suitability for mating to the females who are watching in the subway car. At bottom, offering your seat to an old lady is really just another mating strategy, another way for your “self genes” to perpetuate themselves.
See? See how evolution explains all of reality! Isn’t it just amazing? The evolutionary biologists positively beam at their own brilliance. No wonder they call themselves “brights”!
All I can say is: Poor John Haught. He has to spend his entire waking life reading and studying these creatures — like the crabs and sea urchins you see in tide pools. I’m glad someone is doing it. I’m sure it’s really interesting. Some people just really dig sea urchins. I’m just not sure I’d want to make a career out of it.
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