Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Response to “Religion, E. O. Wilson, and Darwinism”

In Intelligent Evolution, one of the arguments which E.O. Wilson presents, argues that scientific humanism, and by extension Darwinism, is a better solution to the question of our origins than that offered by religion. Religion, he argues, has had a heavy cost. The heavy cost Wilson is alluding to is the countless immoral acts which have been justified by way of appeals to religious texts. In an article entitled "Religion, E. O. Wilson, and Darwinism," posted in the Criticism group, Krisha argues against Wilson, and maintains that Darwinism has also had a heavy cost, and is therefore, no better on those grounds than religion. This post will critically analyze Krisha's post.

Krisha's article, argues that Darwinism has been responsible for terrible crimes of its own. In it, she argues that Darwinism is the cause of eugenics and eugenics is considered by us to be a violation of the rights and freedoms which are of paramount value in the Western World. While there is no question that eugenic programs are a violation of an individual's rights and freedoms, at least those offered to citizens in Canada and the United States, and would indeed be considered immoral by most in any society which has such values. Indeed, I too very much value said rights and freedoms. However is it a truth that Darwinism is responsible for the use of eugenics? The answer is clearly no. Darwinism does not make any claims about what ought to be. It is not a theory of ethics, and has no opinion on the matter of public policy. Darwinism's limits are to providing a possible account for the mechanism by which we experience diversity of life on earth, and is not a treatise on how to govern a society. As a result, it is most certainly not responsible for the application of eugenics. Darwinism does hold that a eugenics program would likely work, but that is entirely different from arguing that it ought to be done.

The failure to make this distinction is why Krisha's argument fails; one is not responsible for all the possible applications of one's theoretical work. Darwinism is no more responsible for eugenics, than Niels Bohr's contributions to atomic theories make him responsible for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Nikola Tesla's theories of alternating current making him responsible for use of electrocution in the application of capital punishment. Such theories are concerned with the processes of nature, and what is possible. They are not theories of ethics, and make no claims as to what ought to be done. One must distinguish between discovering a mechanism in nature, developing said mechanism into a potential application, and the decision to utilize said application. Understanding this distinction is critical if one is to justly ascribe moral blame to an individual, this is especially true if one is to ascribe the utmost moral blame to an individual. Krisha has ascribed such a profound immorality to Darwinism, for she does not merely hold Darwinism responsible for eugenics, she also holds him responsible for the Holocaust, by extension from eugenics. I find the argument that Darwin is responsible for the Holocaust to be offensive, precisely because it fails to ascribe blame where it is due. Individuals such as Adolph Hitler and Herinrich Himmler are responsible for the Holocaust, for they are the ones who were at the level of moral decision making, while Darwinism is at the level of purposing the mechanisms of nature. Consequently, even though Darwinism may be considered a necessity for eugenics programs, it is clearly not sufficient for them, and certainly not for the Holocaust. This means that Darwinism does not necessitate eugenics, or any system of ethics, even though eugenics may necessitate Darwinism, they are not biconditionals.

As it has now been shown that Darwinism is not responsible for eugenics nor for the Holocaust, this paper will now consider whether Darwin made any ethical arguments concerning eugenics. While the theory of natural selection does not, in and of itself, argue for nor necessitate eugenics, could it be that Darwin himself made ethical arguments concerning eugenics, and if so, what would that support the claim that Darwinism is responsible for eugenics? If we look to primary sources, we can see Darwin making an argument in The Descent of Man which has strong implications for the practice of eugenics. In it he states that, "if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil" (p. 162). The sentiment expressed by Darwin in this passage is that while allowing for the weak to die would be beneficial to the "stock" of humanity over subsequent generations, that it would necessitate a profound evil to accomplish, and would thus be immoral and unacceptable. We see in this that Darwin has a deep respect for the dignity and liberty of the individual, placing its import above that of the biological strength of the species. This passage maintains that it is unacceptable to even neglect other individuals who may be weak; let alone actively sterilizing or murdering those perceived as "weak". As a result, not only can we conclude that Darwinism does not necessitate Eugenics, and is therefore not responsible for it, it has also been shown that Darwin himself did not endorse the practice; in fact, he found that even neglecting the weak was immoral.

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