That’s the question of the day, along with “Where to, humanity?” But who to ask?
Most days lately, the answer would have to be: doesn’t seem so. Jerry Coyne, some researchers at Duke, and Time all say yes. But they’re not really asking the more important and pointed question: are we evolving culturally? Are we becoming a better, kinder, more peacable and cooperative species? Again, appearances usually suggest not. But it would have been easier to think otherwise a century and a half ago.
The 19th century was a crowded one, probably philosophy’s best so far. John Stuart (“of his own free will”) Mill is the most famous English utilitarian, but Jeremy Bentham is the one who came up with the “hedonic calculus” for determining the greatest good of the greatest number. (It’s not very reliable, unfortunately.) He’s under glass, now.
As for Darwin’s “friends,” you might say that with pals like these he didn’t need Intelligent Designers…
Herbert Spencer, for instance, came up with “survival of the fittest” and (according to most mainstream evolutionists) badly misapplied evolutionary ideas to society in general. Social Darwinism is un-Darwinian.
But American philosophy generally has been very friendly to the evolutionary hypothesis, in many ways a direct and favorable response to it. Pragmatism is America’s indigenous philosophy – unless we’re talking about the thought of its indigenous peoples, of course.
The evolution vs. creation debate had been raging in America even before Darwin published, in 1859. Ernestine Rose, one of many neglected female freethinkers in the 19th century spotlighted by Jennifer Hecht in Doubt, had an answer to those early IDers who were sure that oddities like blind fish somehow attested to divine architecture in nature.
What did she make of the world without a creator? One believer had told her that an eyeless fish living in a cave in Kentucky proved that there was a creator, since this showed design. Rose explained, “He forgot the demonstrable fact that the element of light is indispensable in the formation of the organ of sight, without which it could not be formed… [Inherit the Wind...What is "holy to the agnostic" (Darrow cross-examines Bryan)... Hecht on the Scopes Trial... Winterton Curtis... on Darwin...15 answers to creationists...theistic evolution...theistic evol DS1...DS2Coyne vs. Shermer...Hitch on theistic evol...defining religion...evol & meaning (Galaxy Song)] [meaning & evolution... grandeur... Everybody's Story... Evolution for Everyone... Darwin's Dangerous Idea...Only a Theory (K. Miller)... Greatest Show on Earth... only a theory (Dawkins & Krauss)... Why Evolution is True... Trials of the Monkey...40 Days and 40 Nights]
NEXT WEEK: O 138-152, PW 108-119 (Peirce, James, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Russell)