The leading Darwinian conservative has done me the honor of responding to my previous post, including the excellent comment by Brendan Foht. According to Larry, the criticism of him for rejecting the idea of eternity of the human species is misguided.
The basis of the objection comes from the philosopher Leo Strauss. There are two bottomline possibilities: the world is eternal or the world is in some sense personally created. If the world is eternal, it is governed by an endless process of impersonal necessity, and that process is comprehensible to the human mind. This understanding is that of the “Nature’s God” of our Declaration of Independence, who is the same God of the physicists (of, say, Einstein). Eternity so understood–as in, for example, matter is neither created nor destroyed–is what makes the world the home of the human mind.
The objection to this understanding of nature or the cosmos is that there’s no place for individual personal identity, and no place for our real experience that particular beings are born and die. Individuality or personal significance become illusions. As Socrates said, philosophy becomes learning how to die or getting over illusions about one’s own significance in a basically impersonal, indifferent, and unchangeable world. So, from the view of this criticism, the world may be the home of the human mind, but whole human persons become alienated, inexplicable leftovers in the “systematic” account of the eternity of nature.
So the idea of the eternity of nature has generated two extreme possibilities in terms of our self-understanding. The first is existentialism: We, in our inexplicable freedom, are absurd, but stuck with living with who we know we are. The other is pantheism: We should surrender our illusory, misery-filled personalities by being reabsorbed into a whole where everything is indistinguishable and everything is somehow divine.
Against the eternity of nature, believers in Biblical religion have said the world was created by God, and the fundamental fact is willful and loving personal creativity. I–a particular person–am not eternal. I didn’t exist forever, and, as a natural being, I won’t exist forever. My transcendence of the laws of biological nature is guaranteed by the Creator who made me in his image. When Christians speak of eternal life, they often are quite imprecise. God himself might be considered eternal insofar as he alone was not created.
Distinctively modern thought tends to replace divine creativity with human creativity and to call what free beings create in the world History. We free beings are in rebellion against natural indifference to each of our personal beings. We’re about changing nature with ME–with the desire to have more personal significance and a much longer and more secure existence than stingy nature offers each of us–in mind. Over time, we become more Historical (including Technological) and less natural beings.
Eventually, Marx thought, we’ll conquer natural scarcity and live in abundance with very little work, and our libertarians come close to agreeing with him. Very soon, Ray Kurzweil and other transhumanists think, we will no longer be natural or perishable, finite beings. We will have created our way out of the bad deal nature gives each of us. We will have proven that not only are we the only species full of discontent with who each of us is by nature, but we–with no help from the Creator/God–are the only species that can replace impersonal natural evolution with conscious and volitional evolution–anti-natural change that each of us who wants to never die can believe in.
Brendan calls Darwinians Historicists for not believing in the eternity of nature. But a consistent Darwinian wouldn’t believe in History either. Nature itself changes: Human beings–members of our species –came into existence at a certain stage of evolution. And our species–like every other species–won’t always be around. The human mind is no evidence of our transcendence of nature. It is, finally, a tool for species perpetuation that will eventually fail us.
Our species is toast, despite our best efforts to perpetuate itself forever against nature’s intention. And every particular member of our species is toast; nature doesn’t want any of us staying around too long. Nature, in fact, is not about each of us. Conscious and volitional evolution with ME in mind will be vanquished by the natural evolutionary process that is, in its way, sovereign over us all.
So Darwinian conservatism returns us to the Socratic thought that we should get over obsessing over our personal existence. It is a way of learning how to die through persuading us that we don’t really long for eternity or indefinite personal being. But why is it that only philosopher-members of our species have believed that longing for eternity is actually part of our natures, and the price for the surrender of that longing is losing our most sublime faculties?
Despite all the Darwinian pop-scientific propaganda, people these days are more personal or death-haunted than ever, less able to think of themselves as being fulfilled by being a part of some whole greater or bigger than themsleves. People these days increasingly think, Solzhenitysn observed, that MY demise is the extinction of being itself. The Darwinian lullabye doesn’t work. The transhumanists are just extreme examples of a widespread thought that being natural couldn’t be good. But Darwinian evolution is no place to look for hope that we can create our way out of nature’s intention for each of us.