Monday, June 04, 2018

Why evolutionary naturalism undermines liberal humanism

In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote:

Perhaps some of the best-known words from our American heritage are the words from the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

But, if you are an atheist, there is no Creator, so we couldn't be created equal. Advanced thinker that he was for his time, TJ seems to have imbibed some creationist nonsense. Hence to reflect what an atheist really believes, it would have to be rewritten as follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men have evolved equally, and that they are endowed by Evolution with certain Inalienable Rights, that among these are Life , Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But thus altered, isn't this statement howlingly false? Evolution doesn't make people equal, it doesn't endow anyone with inalienable rights, and among these are certainly not life, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

I'm not going to argue that atheists are bad citizens. But my question is what sense an atheist can make of these statements in the Preamble. Doesn't it conflict, profoundly, with what an atheist believes?

I wrote this way back in 2005. There has been some interesting discussion along these lines since. 

Interestingly enough, this issue has been taken  up by atheist Yuval Noah Harari. Vincent Torley takes up the issue in this discussion. Harari says that the statement form the Preamble must be revised in favor of this revision:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.

Hardly the basis of liberal humanism. 

Torley then goes on to quote the following passage: 

At the same time, a huge gulf is opening between the tentes of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences, a pull we cannot ignore much longer. Our liberal political and judicial systems are founded on the belief that every individual has a sacred inner nature, indivisible and immutable, which gives meaning to the world, and which is the source of all ethical and political authority. This is a reincarnation of the traditional Christian belief in a free and eternal soul that resides within each individual. Yet over the last 200 years, the life sciences have thoroughly undermined this belief. Scientists studying the inner workings of the human organism have found no sould there. They increasingly argue that human behavior is determined by hormones, genes and synapses, rather than by free will – the same forces that determine the behavior of chimpanzees, wolves, and ants. Our judicial and political systems largely try to sweep such inconvenient discoveries under the carpet. But in all frankness, how long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science?

(Emphases mine – VJT.)

Consider, for example, the defense of gay rights in our society today. The idea people have on this is that even if you don't like gay people, even if they are not your kind, you have an obligation not to discriminate against them, to give them, well, marriage equality. A lot of people think that an atheist position makes it easier to support gay rights and gay equality. Well, yes and no. If you are an atheist, you don't have to worry about whether God created marriage for a man and a woman. However, if your argument is based on the idea that everyone deserves to be treated equally, your atheism looks as if it undercuts the moral foundation of human equality, on which the case for gay equality is based. The atheistic sword that cuts away the anti-gay arguments based on Christian revelation is the same sword that cuts the heart out of the foundation of human equality, which is the very foundation of the case for gay equality in the first place. 




12 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

Great Topic Doc. ( hope you will publish on this,This could be a whole book). I'll have more to post about this latter,

Joe Hinman said...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure."

As a replacement this sux. Doesn't mention liberty, it doesn't set forth inalienable rights. That means you can't lose them this says they are changeable as they can be lost, This might as well just replace the famous passage with blank space.

It speaks of pleasure rather than happiness,as though he admits happiness is a function of spirit not of material existence; bit why is pleasure anything? Pleasure could just be part of opponent conditioning, This implies Sknnerism, beyond freedom and dignity,

John Moore said...

Jefferson didn't believe all men were physically identical. He must have meant something like "all men are of equal value" or "we should seek to cooperate with all men." That's one thing.

Remember also that Jefferson lived before Darwin published his Origin of Species, so it's not surprising that Jefferson wouldn't use our modern evolutionary terms.

Another obvious point is that Jefferson didn't actually believe what he wrote, or at least he didn't hold it to be "inalienable" in all cases. After all, Jefferson owned slaves. And I wouldn't be surprised if Jefferson accepted capital punishment. Etc.

Here's how an actual evolutionist might update Jefferson's language:

"We hold these as our key values: that we should all try to cooperate for mutual benefit, that we as evolved beings strive for survival, and it is right for us to work together for our common flourishing."

I don't think this changes the original intent at all.

One Brow said...

Evolution doesn't make people equal, it doesn't endow anyone with inalienable rights, and among these are certainly not life, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

Lots of people think god doesn't do that either.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved together, that our differences are necessary for the flourishing of our species, and that promoting the life, liberty, and happiness of every individual is the best way to preserve our diversity.

Joe Hinman said...

I think what Jefferson meant by saying all men are created equal was that tittles are not given by God but by society.

Hugo Pelland said...

The problem with posts like this one, and clearly it hasn't changed in over 10 years, is that there is an implied reasoning that goes like this
- Because of God, society works like ABC
- If there were no God, society wouldn't have ABC
- Our society does have ABC, hence there must he a God behind it all. Or, more mildly, Atheists cannot account for ABC without God, so God exists by default.

It's circular and shows an unfortunate lack of imagination I would say. It's a denial of so many other options as to how we got our society's ABCs, like the rights to Life, Libery and the Pursuit of Happiness. Just because some great men wrote that that these were given by a Creator doesn't make it so.

Joe Hinman said...

I have responded to this post with a blog piece of my own

life, liberty, and the pirsuit of what?

Joe Hinman said...


Blogger Hugo Pelland said...
The problem with posts like this one, and clearly it hasn't changed in over 10 years, is that there is an implied reasoning that goes like this
- Because of God, society works like ABC
- If there were no God, society wouldn't have ABC
- Our society does have ABC, hence there must he a God behind it all. Or, more mildly, Atheists cannot account for ABC without God, so God exists by default.

It's circular and shows an unfortunate lack of imagination I would say.

It's not circular its abductive,


It's a denial of so many other options as to how we got our society's ABCs, like the rights to Life, Libery and the Pursuit of Happiness. Just because some great men wrote that that these were given by a Creator doesn't make it so.

It's basically Kant's moral argument

Joe Hinman said...

here is my defense of this moral argument against an atheist

Joseph Hinman, "the counter apologist attacks the moral argument," Metacrock's .blog (MAY 29, 2016)

David Brightly said...

Quite possibly. But isn't the LH response likely to be a shrug of the shoulders and a 'So What?' Liberal Humanism---I'm not sure what this consists of but let's assume it's roughly the world-view of most irreligious Westerners---just isn't interested in foundational questions. It's not as if the law emerges after serious and lengthy discussion within the Councils of the Church any longer. We all get a say in it. And the majority view now is not that marriage, say, is a gift of God, but rather is a gift of the state, ie, ourselves, and therefore to be bestowed equally. The idea that marriage is a tragically necessary intervention by the state to contain the chaotic force of sex and ensure the continuity of society through the children that result---essentially the Christian view minus the metaphysical trappings---seems to have been thrown out along with the metaphysics.

Why has this happened? Partly, I suspect, because popular culture has become infected with a schizophrenic postmodernism that loves the products that scientific technology has come up with (well, maybe not the plastic bags) but rejects the limits on the malleability of the human psyche that religion recognises and science confirms. It's as if the manifest image has floated free of the scientific image.

Joe Hinman said...

It's definatley connected to the one-dimensional of consumer society, it's not actuate to call it postmodern it;'s not valid to say it's the result of just being irreligious.White evangelicals are now the biggest constrictors to one-dimentionality and to material attitudes to life,

Joe Hinman said...

on metacrock's blog dialogue with atheist on evidence for immaterial existence,

Here