Sunday, August 23, 2009

Robert Wright and the New Pragmatism

In recent years evolutionists have been trying to pin down the theological implications of evolution. If evolution is true--and of course evolutionists believe it is true--then what does this tell us about god? From blogs to books to conferences at the Vatican, the "fact" of evolution is being integrated with our theology. The latest example of this science-informs-religion movement is Robert Wright's op-ed piece in today's New York Times which resurrects Charles Peirce's pragmatism. It is yet another example of evolution's abuse of science.

evolutionary psychologists have developed a plausible account of the moral sense. They say it is in large part natural selection's way of equipping people to play non-zero-sum games - games that can be win-win if the players cooperate or lose-lose if they don't.

So, for example, feelings of guilt over betraying a friend are with us because during evolution sustaining friendships brought benefits through the non-zero-sum logic of one hand washing the other ("reciprocal altruism"). Friendless people tend not to thrive.

Indeed, this dynamic of reciprocal altruism, as mediated by natural selection, seems to have inclined us toward belief in some fairly abstract principles, notably the idea that good deeds should be rewarded and bad deeds should be punished. ...

If evolution does tend to eventually "converge" on certain moral intuitions, does that mean there were moral rules "out there" from the beginning, before humans became aware of them - that natural selection didn't "invent" human moral intuitions so much as "discover" them? That would be good news for any believers who want to preserve as much of the spirit of C. S. Lewis as Darwinism permits.

Something like this has been suggested by the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker - who, as a contented atheist, can't be accused of special pleading.

Mr. Pinker has noted how the interplay of evolved intuition and the dynamics of discourse tends to forge agreement on something like the golden rule - that you should treat people as you expect to be treated. He compares this natural apprehension of a moral principle to the depth perception humans have thanks to the evolution of stereo vision. Not all species (not even all two-eyed species) have stereo vision, Mr. Pinker says, but any species that has it is picking up on "real facts about the universe" that were true even before that species evolved - namely, the three-dimensional nature of reality and laws of optics.

Similarly, certain intuitions about reciprocal moral obligation are picking up on real facts about the logic of discourse and about generic social dynamics - on principles that were true even before humans came along and illustrated them. Including, in particular, the non-zero-sum dynamics that are part of our universe.

The mistake here is at the beginning. Evolutionists have not discovered how the moral sense evolved any more than they have discovered how the brain arose on its own. Indeed, the theory of evolution has become increasingly bizarre in its attempt to reckon with behavior. The lesson here is that it behooves us to be suspicious when "science" just happens to produce theological truths we want to hear, regardless of how bad is the science.