Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Carson Holloway on Darwinian natural right

Can morality be imbedded in a Darwinian world view? Carson Holloway, of Princeton University, has some doubts. HT: J. D. Walters

Defenders of “Darwinian natural right” are convincing when they argue that our moral inclinations are not arbitrary social constructs, but instead our biological nature. But a Darwinian approach equally demonstrates that many other passions are rooted in our nature, passions that can hardly be called moral and that might well be considered immoral. No doubt a tendency toward cooperation would have been useful in the evolutionary environment. So too would a tendency to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Darwinians all admit this, and they accordingly admit that human nature is made up of both moral and amoral passions. Once that is conceded, their teaching can only provide an equivocal support for morality. The man inclined by sympathy to help his neighbor may be apt, in other circumstances, to enslave him if the man thinks he and his kin can benefit from such injustice.[1]
[1] Holloway, Carson. “Losing our religion” 21 August 2006


Anonymous said...

'But a Darwinian approach equally demonstrates that many other passions are rooted in our nature, passions that can hardly be called moral and that might well be considered immoral.'

A theistic approach would suggest that these immoral passions are by no means rooted in our nature.

JD Walters said...


I think a theistic approach WOULD suggest that immoral passions are part of our nature, but part of our fallen nature. Classical theism is not dualistic. The important point is that, by giving a comprehensive, coherent explanation of the origin of the Universe, humankind and morals (which goes beyond proximate evolutionary explanations, which can never be final), theism can provide a good framework for distinguishing moral from amoral passions. No doubt atheists will come to the same conclusions about at least some of these passions, but they will not be able to justify themselves as well as the theist can.

Oh, Vic, that post was quite a while ago, and Carson Holloway is no longer at Princeton. I forget exactly where he is now, but you might want to correct that. And thanks for the link:)

Victor Reppert said...

Carson Holloway is apparently now at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He had a one-year fellowship to Princeton.

Anonymous said...

Walters highlights the clash between science and religion when he claims that our immoral passions are part of a 'fallen' nature, and moral passions are not.

As Victor's post made clear, no such distinction can be found in science.

No wonder so many scientists rejecct the theistic doctrines about the nature of mankind.

Larry Arnhart said...

The Bible endorses slavery. As Mark Noll and Eugene Genovese have indicated in their recent books on the subject, the proslavery folks were able to cite the Bible as supporting their position.

But we know this can't be right, because we know that slavery is wrong, and therefore we know that we need to correct the Bible. Doesn't this illustrate how we have to appeal to a natural morality to correct the Bible and other sources of revelation?

Similarly, we know that when Abraham was commanded by God to kill Isaac, this was wrong. Otherwise, we would have to agree with Kiekegaard that Revelation teaches "the suspension of the ethical."