“Are we still evolving?”

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.

Auguste Comte was a positivist who also preached the  ”religion of humanity,” sometimes aka “secular humanism.”

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 TrialWinterton Curtis… on Darwin15 answers to creationiststheistic evolution…theistic evol DS1…DS2Coyne vs. ShermerHitch on theistic evoldefining religion…evol & meaning (Galaxy Song)] [meaning & evolution… grandeurEverybody’s StoryEvolution for EveryoneDarwin’s Dangerous IdeaOnly a Theory (K. Miller)…   Greatest Show on Earthonly a theory (Dawkins & Krauss)… Why Evolution is TrueTrials of the Monkey40 Days and 40 Nights]

NEXT WEEK: O 138-152, PW 108-119 (Peirce, James, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Russell)

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2 Responses to ““Are we still evolving?””

  1. Brandon Ward Says:

    As I was taught recently, “Social Darwinism gave the appearance of scientific theory to racism.” Doyle

    Considering the strong Nationalism migrating across Europe and the strong feeling of superiority, it makes me wonder how different the world would be if Herbert never penned “survival of the fittest”?

  2. Daryl Turner Says:

    I see the comment survival of the fittest all the time and everywhere and it always makes sense in the current setting. I am reminded of an independent director/producer Ruairi Robinson who made a handful of caveman videos about survival of the fittest and sort of a “got milk” combination. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR6CRthP9Vw&feature=related

    If Herbert didn’t pen survival of the fittest, someone else would have.

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