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Monday, March 12, 2012

There Is No Valid Route from "It Evolved" to "It Is Good"

One response from some commentators who want to reject moral realism but still hold that, say, the view "slavery is A-OK" is wrong and our current view is correct is to say something like, "Well, this is part of an evolutionary process."

If what they mean by this is, "This shift is part of a spiritual learning process by which humanity comes closer to understanding objective moral reality," well, that concedes my point.

On the other hand, if they are thinking in terms of Darwinian evolution, the argument goes nowhere. It embodies the vulgar Darwinism that equates "evolution" with "progress," a mapping Darwinism properly understood forbids. It recalls that Darwinian evolution involves "survival of the fittest," but forgets that it also involves "wiping out of the not fittest."

The species living on earth today represent perhaps .1% of all species that have ever existed. So, 99.9% of what evolved "failed"! For every one evolutionary "progression" that survives today, a thousand didn't make it... and that doesn't even count all of the random mutations that never produced a distinct species. 99.9% of species turned out to be evolutionary dead ends.

If one takes a "naturalistic" view of evolution, it is completely invalid to move from "Y evolved from X" to "therefore, Y represents progress over X." The tyrannical, late Roman Empire "evolved" from the Roman Republic, after all: do these naive believers in progress wish to insist that it was therefore better?

And note: most often, the entire idea of "progressive" politics relies on this nonsensical conflation of evolution and progress.

6 comments:

  1. Great post. One quibble:

    "The tyrannical, late Roman Empire 'evolved' from the Roman Republic, after all: do these naive believers in progress wish to insist that it was therefore better?"

    That is actually not a good example, since on balance even the late Roman Empire was arguably superior to the Republic from a non-patrician standpoint. A more devastating example would be Roman Britain versus post-Roman Britain. The collapse there is nothing short of astonishing.

    By the way... speaking of things that are objectively evil, have you considered turning off word verification for commenters? Google's new two-word version is ridiculously tedious.

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  2. "That is actually not a good example, since on balance even the late Roman Empire was arguably superior to the Republic from a non-patrician standpoint."

    Well, but most of us would say the politics at the top had gotten worse, right?

    "By the way... speaking of things that are objectively evil, have you considered turning off word verification for commenters?"

    Try it now.

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  3. "Well, but most of us would say the politics at the top had gotten worse, right?"

    Sure. Politics at the top had gotten worse, and obviously the continual outbreak of civil wars is not a hallmark of a healthy society. But from a broader standpoint, I think society as a whole was probably still better off. Provincials enjoyed the benefits of Roman citizenship, Christianity had led to the growth of hospitals, infanticide was no longer considered acceptable, etc.

    The moral of the story: Societies don't just progress or decline. They do both at the same time.

    (I was once again prompted to prove I'm not a robot. All I can say is, if you prick me, do I not bleed?)

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    1. Huff, do you know where to set that option?

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  4. You have to do it in the old Blogger interface, as for some reason the new one lacks that option. You can re-enable the new interface when you're done, though, and the feature will remain disabled.

    1. Open the control panel, and in the upper right-hand corner (beneath your name) you should see a gear button. Click on it, and select "Old Blogger interface."

    2. The old Blogger interface being restored, click on the "Settings" tab and then select the "Comments" sub-tab.

    3. Beneath "Comment moderation," you should see "Show word verification for comments?" Select "no" and save settings.

    4. That's it; you can now restore the new interface. (I forget how you do that, but there's a link in a very prominent place—I think at the very top of each control-panel page.)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Huff! That explains why I didn't see any obvious way to do this in the new interface: there isn't one.

      But I won't have an opportunity to make the change until tomorrow, as I now only have mobile phone Internet access, and I ain't goin through those steps on my mobile!

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