David Brooks’s column on the status of Darwinism in Western culture appeared in my local paper the day after Cho Seung-Hui murdered thirty-two human beings in Blacksburg, Virginia — a record for campus slaughter that surpassed the mark set by Charles Whitman at the University of Texas in 1966. In his piece Brooks touts the prevailing biological orthodoxy that “human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code” and that we “are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.”
Brooks then says that the “logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose. If some trait, like emotion, can cause big problems, then it must also provide bigger benefits, because nature will not expend energy on things that don’t enhance the chance of survival.”
Like many columnists (including secular soulmate, George Will) Brooks occasionally dabbles in academic topics. But the above remarks illustrate his philosophical naivete. A committed evolutionist and Academic Dean at a prominent La Jolla prep school once gratuitously announced at a faculty meeting, “Evolution is ateleological” — a statement that means the process has “no purpose.” (The Dean proceeded to suggest, incomprehensibly, that evolution’s lack of direction should serve as an educational model.)
In addition to lacking “purpose,” nature, for biological professionals, is constantly expending energy on things that don’t “enhance the chance of survival.” When, however, its random products don’t survive, evolutionary theory declares them “unfit.” Dinosaurs, for example, were “fit” for a while; then nature “selected” against them. Put otherwise, the species died out. Strictly speaking, “fitness” and “currently existing” are virtual synonyms for real, as opposed to romantic, evolutionists.
The “purpose” that Brooks mentions in his column is really a product of theoretical hindsight — not of intention. One must slip a personifying image of Mother Nature through an intellectual back door to make the term mean what Brooks implies in his paean-of-sorts to Richard Dawkins’ “Blind Watchmaker.”
These analytical comments bring me back to Virginia Tech and mass murder. I don’t think Brooks would be willing to employ even his prettified Darwinism to explain the “purpose” of that slaughter. (Keep in mind that all “benefits” of “trait(s), like emotion,” that “can cause big problems” must refer to the propagation of genes.) Certainly, the cosmic purposelessness espoused by Dawkins would be a word untimely spoken at last Tuesday’s memorial convocation.
On the topic of emotion I add my own quizzical lines to those of the Hokies’ poet in residence:p> em>How understand sweet love br> beneath this meta-Physical model? br> A means of species propagation? br> A lucky hit? br> Are tears to be reduced to adaptations br> in the pointless quest for life? /em>
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?