The only way is up (baby…)

To begin with. Being critical of Darwinian evolution is not  a popular or wise thing to do. Not because of what you may actually say, but the fact that you become immediately pigeon holed. There are no shades of grey, there is only black and white. You are either Richard Dawkins or Ken Ham.

Added to this is the unfortunate implication by association, that if you have an opinion on one thing, then that automatically involves having a lot of other opinions that have not necessarily been expressed. People in certain pigeon holes apparently are only allowed to subscribe to the rules of the said pigeon hole.

And when I say it is “not popular” I mean in terms of book sales and newspaper articles and things smart, thinking people are unlikely to say. Being critical of certain aspects of Darwinian evolution is of course popular in certain circles. Though these circles tend to be ridiculed by the book sales and newspaper articles people.

And indeed I think that what I am about to say is not in the slightest bit critical of Darwinian evolution, when we speak of evolution in its strictest biological sense.

Indeed the whole problem is that we rarely speak of evolution in the biological sense. Instead we speak in terms of what CSL called popular evolutionism. The idea that Darwinian principles can be applied to all spheres including politics, society, ethics even aspects of culture, art and criticism. The idea that everything is moving “forward” to some as yet undetermined goal. That it is inevitable and irresistible as biological natural selection may be.

In the 18th/19th century you would be forgiven for thinking that there was a fair chunk of truth in it, though you would have to be selective in what you chose. New discoveries in science, technology, medicine and industry were coming at a rate unparalleled in human history.

A cursory glance back in retrospect at the century just past may not perhaps fill us with the same optimism. “Another century spent pointing guns, at anything that moves…” We have not exactly covered ourselves with glory. Have we lost faith in our politics because to be frank, we’ve heard it all before and quite simply it doesn’t work.

It is of course impossibly hard to compare history as like with like. We come up against such staggering problems such as what standard are we comparing it with? Or whether it is fair for a modern ethic and moral to judge a babylonians lifestyle?

But you will (caution, gross unqualified generalisation approaching…) find few who think that we’re moving forward (where exactly are we moving forward to again?…) at a particularly high rate of knots.

I find little to suggest that such popular evolutionism rings true today. Perhaps mere common sense would tell us that.

But what of Darwinian evolution itself. Whatever (if any) beefs I have with Darwinian evolution as the bearded one himself described are not for discussion at the present time. My question/concern is that it is surely something we can no longer apply to homo sapiens. How we got here is one question, where we are going is a whole other ball game.

By nature all estimates of when human culture got going will be vague and inaccurate (either the dating or the definition of culture) but some would place that roughly around 30 000 years ago (doodles on the walls of french caves, evidence of organised farming…). Along with the development of what we would call rudimentary culture is the idea of a moral ethic (even harder to date), an idea of right and wrong and action to be taken accordingly.

As to what evolutionary advantage that provided at the time it has unfortunately taken us up a blind alley. We have indeed shot ourselves not merely in the foot but right through the double helix itself.

A morality and an ethic may have allowed group cohesion and improved survival, but it also gave us that nasty peculiar human ability (desire was always there, just not ability…) to preserve our young. Not merely the ones that could struggle by as long as they didn’t get eaten, but the runts, the deformed, the blind, the weak. And we got so damn good at it, and felt that it was so important (in the idea of right and wrong) that all of a sudden, the runts, the weak, the sickly and the blind were at like rabbits and having their own runty, blind, weak, sickly offspring (incidentally that’s us if you’re not paying attention…)

This is no longer survival of the fittest, it’s survival of whoever we can help to survive. And alas that lies some way off the map that Darwin painted us. The day we stopped evolving was the day our brains outgrew our dicks.

There are a few (and thankfully still only a few – eminent philosophers,eugenicists, some chap named Adolf) who would follow this to perhaps its logical conclusion. That if we want to evolve then we need to rethink our morals and we need to revalue the runty, blind, weak, and sickly. Some people know where they want to go and how to get there.

Most take offence at the idea of the runty, blind, weak and sickly – rightly so. We need to proclaim our humanity as precious and treasured, we need to defend what it means to be human beings (I think therefore I am) and fight against us becoming humans evolving. We have not evolved for a long time. And unless we shake this damned morality we never will…

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3 Responses to “The only way is up (baby…)”


  1. 1 hedgemonkey August 21, 2008 at 3:06 am

    Fan-bloody-tastic Andy!

    I laughed, I cried, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror and realised I was a runt!

    Morality may be partly to blame but I would also say we are tarnished by a much too celebrated sense of sense-awareness. We say that of all the animal species we are the only one blessed with the ability to step back from our base concerns and analyse ourselves. Bollocks do we! True self-awareness would help us collectively pick ourselves up out of this evolutionary rut and charge towards a shared (higher) goal.

    Of course, we could both be wrong after all evolutionary change take eons and our opinions are merely frozen snowflakes in that slow glacial movement.

  2. 2 Nelly And I August 21, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Our morality is no doubt skewed but simply remarkable for being there. It is of course heterogeneous but it’s remarkable how universal it is (even with those deny the intrinsic morality within us) that people will tell you there’s no such thing as right and wrong- and then watch how they behave when you push in front of them in the queue for Mcdonalds!

    The fact that there is this sense of right and wrong innate within us (from the jungle to the city) is one of those things that makes me wonder how it got there – it goes beyond the five senses.

    Reason itself is another odd one. We use reason to interpret the material world of the 5 senses that we perceive and then declare that reason itself is an acceptable part of reality and the judge of all things. But that just seems like using reason to justify reason. The ground beneath our feet is only there if we presume it’s there to begin with.

    Of course this is similar to us supernaturalists with regards to ancient texts and so on, that they are divine and have authority only if we accept them as divine. We always have the good old supernatural to invoke.

    The rationalists and materialists don’t seem to have (allow) anything to support the central tenet of their understanding. Nothing to do with empiricism or experiment. A bit like abstract/pure mathematics, it has no basis in physical things but it has meaning and, dare i say it – truth.

    [most of this is just good old CS Lewis by the way!]


  1. 1 Recent Links Tagged With "ethic" - JabberTags Trackback on December 30, 2008 at 7:04 am

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