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Evolution as a Moral Metaphor

This from Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True is just perfect. Over the weekend I was trying to explain to my daughter Naomi what distinguishes conservatism as a philosophical outlook from other perspectives. I said it has to do with the attitude you take to the dead. Do generations that came before have anything to teach us? Were they wiser, more in touch with certain truths about the universe, than we are?

Conservatives say yes, very possibly so. In that case, conserving the heritage they left behind makes sense. A post at WEIT wonderfully illustrates the opposite view, gathering several attempts by atheists to rewrite fundamental moral truths from the past, and concluding:

The point is that through no effort of our own and no failing of theirs, we live in a century where we are moral giants compared to our ancestors. We benefit from their failings and their flaws as much as from what wisdom they collated; and now we can do better without even thinking too hard about it.

It occurs to me this is evolution as a moral metaphor. In that view, generations of men and women are on an upward-climbing escalator, guaranteeing that “we are moral giants compared to our ancestors.” There follows the transparently inane conclusion that “now we can do better without even thinking too hard about it.”

I do not know how that idea can possibly be reconciled with ten minutes of surfing the Internet. But such is the power of evolutionary thinking! It twists and overwhelms the evidence of daily experience.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.