News Media Icon News Media

Derbyshire: Science Is Not Metaphysically Neutral

I find myself in yet another odd alliance. I guess NRO‘s John Derbyshire would side with me over Leon Kass (whom, once again, I greatly respect for the solid anti-reductionist arguments he has made). Scientific observation can and should affect one’s view of what it is to be human. (Derbyshire and I simply disagree about the strength of Darwinian claims.) He lists “Biology” as one of the major things shaping his view of “the human condition.” He writes:

Then about seven or eight years ago I struck up a friendship with Steve Sailer and joined his “Human Biodiversity” e-list. Through that I got acquainted with a lot of academic biologists, geneticists, anthropologists, and the like. I couldn’t follow much of what they were talking about at first, but I eventually got up to speed, at least enough so to be aware of the momentous discoveries of the past 50 years, and what they say, or suggest, about the human condition.
I can report that the Creationists [and here Derbyshire wrongly calls ID proponents

“Creationists” and imputes fear to them] are absolutely correct to hate and fear modern biology. Learning this stuff works against your faith. To take a single point at random: The idea that we are made in God’s image implies we are a finished product. We are not, though. It is now indisputable that natural selection has been going on not just through human prehistory, but through recorded history too, and is still going on today, and will go on into the future, presumably to speciation, either natural or artificial. So which human being was made in God’s image: the one of 100,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 1,000 years ago? The one of today? The species that will descend from us? All of those future post-human species, or just some of them? And so on. The genomes are all different. They are not the same creature. And if they are all made in God’s image somehow, then presumably so are all the other species, and there’s nothing special about us at all.

Now of course there are ways to finesse that point — intellectuals can cook up an argument for anything, and religious intellectuals, who cut their teeth on justifying some wildly improbable stuff, are especially ingenious — but the cumulative effect of dozens of factlets like this is devastating to the notion that human beings are a special creation. And without that notion, traditional religious belief is holed below the water line. The more you read and learn in the modern human sciences, the more your image of homo sap. fades back into our being just another branch on the tree of life, with all those wonderful features of ours — even language, the most wonderful feature of all — just adaptations, like fins or feathers, with an actual record of the adaptation written, and date-stamped, right there in the genome! [emphasis Logan’s]

But doesn’t the I, the Me, that I mentioned earlier — the self-awareness that we humans uniquely have — doesn’t that make us special? Do tigers, toads, and ticks have an I? Do they have a connection to the Creator? I don’t know. Perhaps they have a fuzzier one — perhaps higher animals, at any rate, see through a glass as we do, but more darkly. In any case, that only makes us special in the way that an elephant is special by virtue of having that long trunk — more exactly, the way the first creatures who were able to register visible light as images were special. We are part of nature — an exceptionally advanced and interesting part, but… not special. [emphasis Logan’s]

Or again, on whether “an individual human life has any purpose”:

From a cold biological point of view, every living creature has the purpose of bringing forth a new generation, and of living long enough to do so.

One can disagree with the conclusions Derbyshire draws from what the Darwinists are telling him is scientific fact. But at least he is seeking a unity to reality, staunchly unwilling to settle for an armistice between his common sense which tells him that humans are special and Darwinism which tells him they are not. He’s made up his mind on the side of Darwinism, and he rightly abandons the idea of purpose in nature.

Logan Paul Gage

Logan Paul Gage is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Dr. Gage received his B.A. in history, philosophy, and American studies from Whitworth College (2004) and his M.A. (2011) and Ph.D. (2014) in philosophy from Baylor University. His dissertation, written under the supervision of Trent Dougherty, was a defense of the phenomenal conception of evidence and conservative principles in epistemology.