- Published: July 2, 2012 July 2, 2012
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Why bother to buck the tide and oppose Darwinism? One reason is no doubt simply to be a dissident, today's equivalent of épater le bourgeoisie. But my experience of my fellow anti-Darwinists is that more often it stems from a compulsion to give ourselves a privileged place in the scheme of things. In this respect I suspect we’re not much different from Christians who reacted against Darwin in the 19th Century. Stephen Gould tried to correct for such human exceptionalism by insisting humans were an insignificant side branch of a mere sidebranch of the entire tree of life. The story of life on Earth was primarily concerned with bacteria, he said.
One form of exceptionalism is to provide us with an exclusive alternate realm of existence. Human life cannot be limited to popping into the world as an egg cell from nothing more than two people having sex, and ceasing to exist at dying, perhaps in a meaningless car crash. Life feels too significant to be so circumstantial. It must have some meaningful extension into a more solemn environment than this vale of tears. Darwinism, which allows us no more dignity than a rabbit ending as road kill under our wheels, must be opposed. Since the afterlife contains mostly humans, else we’d drown in a vast sea of beetles and bacteria, I take it to be an example of human exceptionalism.
Another way to celebrate human exceptionalism is to project it over the rest of the living world. One expression of this kind of human exceptionalism is to believe in a God who created all creatures but loves only us, gives only us souls, and sends his son to die just for us, not for any other species—they are all formed so as to serve our needs. A modern form is to search for a pattern in human history that can then be projected back as the pattern driving the evolution of all living kingdoms. Since human exceptionalism demands such a coherent pattern in human history, once it is identified the randomness inherent in Darwinism will signal it cannot be what drives the evolution of all living creatures.
Another kind of human exceptionalism is to invest life as a whole with dignity worthy of a tree of life including us. One way is to suppose life came from another astronomical body, presumably with a natural greater dignity than exists on Earth. Life’s provenance may even be extended to the heart of stars, even to the big bang, so the roots of human existence can be celebrated as infinite and eternal.
My kind of human exceptionalism is to demand that a theory of evolution be able to account for the consciousness and free will I experience. Since Darwinism can’t, since in fact it endorses physicalism’s denial of a volitional self, I claim Darwinism must be wrong. Then, only then, do I look for reasons why.
Physicalism represents the opposite form of human exceptionalism to mine. The pinnacle of human achievement to date is modern science’s comprehensive understanding of matter and physical processes. That achievement must be honored by projecting physics over all phenomena, even those to which physics has not yet been (may not allow itself to be) applied, such as evolution and human consciousness. The experience of free will must be sacrificed in homage to the achievement represented by modern physics.
It’s possible there are people who oppose Darwinism simply because they see errors in it. So far, though, I haven’t seen any one like that in my own circle of anti-Darwinists. Maybe James Shapiro?
Given that we all celebrate human exceptionalism in different ways, could there be some better way we can contribute, in our different ways, to that goal , some more direct way, than attacking Darwinism? Maybe by collaborating to write a set of fantasy and science fiction stories celebrating human exceptionalism. Of course, our stories probably wouldn't stand out much. That's what most fantasy and science fiction is about.
(Note, I wrote this before writing "Evolution for the Humanities" where I did come up with a new kind of human exceptionalism.)