Something always puzzled me about a number of learned evolutionists and their followers:  They tend to be leftist in their politics.  Why?  I wondered why they hadn’t thought through
the ramifications of evolutionary theory, the spontaneity of it, the lack of
planning, its anti-teleological aspect, and the possibility of progress without
a mastermind.  I also wondered why they
never considered the strong implications offered by evolutionary theory for the
nature of human beings and their societies, and the resulting implications for
political philosophy and ideology.


I’m not the only one with such thoughts.  A philosopher named Larry Arnhart has devoted his scholarly career to the carefully thought out linkages
between biological evolution and cultural evolution.  By so doing, he has determined that conservative
thought naturally flows out of biological evolutionary thought. 


Leftism, by contrast, more closely resembles religious thought.  Not by assuming the existence of God or gods or the supernatural, but by assuming
that if things exist and persist in the human realm, they must be carefully
planned by some sort of central authority.


Is it possible for non-believers to develop a strong, consilient, conservative evolutionary philosophy?  I believe so.  We can start here at Atheist Nexus, building
it with a great deal of help from Arnhart.


Larry Arnhart writes one of the best blogs in the observable universe, IMHO.


Here is his summary of his beliefs:


“The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. Conservatives object, arguing that
social order arises not from rational planning but from the spontaneous order
of instincts and habits. Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought
by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social
instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary


He is the author of a book with the same name, “Darwinian Conservatism,” published in 2005.  Here are the names of the chapters:


Chapter 1: Three Sources of Ordered Liberty 
Chapter 2: The Moral Sense 
Chapter 3: Men, Women, and Children 
Chapter 4: Property 
Chapter 5: Limited Government 
Chapter 6: Religion 
Chapter 7: Intelligent Design 
Chapter 8: Emergence 
Chapter 9: Social Darwinism 
Chapter 10: Biotechnology 


He uses his blog as a means of publishing a number of learned essays on evolutionary theory and political conservatism (in the American sense of the word, not in the European
sense of conserving aristocracy and clericism). 
Here is a portion of one:


“Most people assume that one big problem with Darwinian science is that it denies that life has any meaning or purpose. After all, to find
meaning--to see our lives as part of some enchanting cosmic drama--don't we
have to look to some religious or transcendent vision of the world that goes
beyond the materialism of Darwinian science? If we are just animals produced by
a natural evolutionary process that doesn't care for or about us, and if like
all other animals, we live for only a moment and then die, how can human
life--how can
 my life--matter? Unlike
other animals, it's not enough for us that we exist, we need some reason for
our existence. Otherwise, what's the point? (That's the question raised in a
good scene in the new George Clooney movie
 Up in the Air, where a
bridegroom gets cold feet just before his marriage because he foresees his
whole future life played out without there being any point to it all.)

Owen Flanagan thinks we can find meaning in a
Darwinian world. In his book
Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World
Press, 2007), Flanagan argues that Darwinian naturalism--with its fundamental
conclusion that we are animals in a purely material world--allows us to find a
natural meaning to our lives without any resort to supernatural mystification.

Views: 184

Replies to This Discussion

Many thanks Doc ;-)
Oddly, the last episode of the Atheist Experience talked about this in a way: the Naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is natural doesn't make it good, and just because something is bad doesn't make it unnatural. Additionally, just because something is natural and you like it doesn't make it moral.
Social Darwinism was an unwarranted blending of biological and cultural evolution. Social Darwinists actually believed that human societies were jungles and people vied for survival within them.

I'm suggesting something much more Hayekian, something I've also borrowed from Dawkins: Biological and cultural evolutionary processes are separate processes, but take place in a strikingly analogous manner. Biological evolution works on the genes, those natural replicators, mutating them, weeding out the less effective, selecting for the more effective. Whereas cultural evolution works on the memes, Dawkins' term for very small, basic cultural ideas, expressible in a word or a short phrase. It too mutates them, weeds out the less effective, selects for the more effective.

And neither process is organized by any central authority, whether we call that authority God or Tyrant.
Whoa! Hang on a minute - aren't you just turning 'leftist' views on their head to support your political viewpoint here?
What 'leftism' might you be talking about (and demonising)? Does it even exist in any practical way? Liberals do exactly the same when formulating a limiting, negative image of conservatism and its supposed harmful effects.

If you ignore all the political/ideological baggage and take it right back to general, social processes, it becomes much less sinister. 'Conservative' elements of society feel obliged to uphold what they see as the positive aspects of existing social/moral/cultural standards. The (typically younger, intellectual) 'liberal' forces introduce forward momentum by promoting new views. Both existing and new elements combine what are eventually seen more generally as 'positive' or 'negative', and by a quasi-dialectical societal process, compromises are arrived at, and social norms evolve. This is generally called 'progress' and takes place for better or worse.
This is an incredibly important process, without which we would still be propagating the horrors of the Old Testament. While there may be wrong turns (and these may be attributed to the progressives or conservatives - people in power don't always get it right), I believe, perhaps somewhat idealistically, that in general this is very clearly a positive process, and hence a positive social impulse. Consider the evolution of legal protection for all, equality, etc. since early Christian times.
Considered from this angle, a complex form of social/cultural evolution emerges, to which both progressive and conservative forces are absolutely essential. To argue in favour of one point of view is to fundamentally miss the point. We all act in accordance with our social conditioning and individual psychological state. Politicising this is a natural (and, as I have suggested, necessary) impulse, but we would do well to recognise the workings and benefits of social evolution.
Neither side is always right - that's the whole point.
Leftism would end the process of cultural evolution as you described it with a wholly designed and commanded society. Can't be done, but they keep trying, disastrously. The result of every effort they made in the past century was tens of millions of murdered people.
How can Leftism be for tearing down societies and building up a designed and commanded society at the same time? In one way, you call them anarchists, in another you refer to them as totalitarian communists. They can't be both.
This "leftism" that you describe, do realize I've never met an American liberal that supported that concept in the slightest. It seems to me to be a strawman argument.
you're putting a lot of blame on "leftism" here. it's not communism that killed millions of people in the last century. it's totalitarians/authoritarian governments that did. communism is just an economic model. it's assholes in power who want absolute power and do whatever they feel is necessary to do so to keep it. saying that it's leftists who are responsible (i'm pretty sure you mean pol pot, stalin), you're really doing no different than when the right blames those deaths on atheism. but stalin and pol pot, etc., did nothing that hasn't been done through all of human history. they killed people who were a threat to their political power (and had the benefits of modern technology to do it more efficiently). it's not a left/right issue. it's about power and how to keep it.
Hmmm... I think you may have missed my point. Entirely.
There are precious few American leftists who seek to introduce a command economy. You fear a non-existent creature, Sally. American progressives are perfectly happy to have many businesses in competition, in free enterprise. They simply seek to tame the worst excesses of free market dynamics, integrate market externalities, and provide a safety net to ensure that everybody has an opportunity. It is pure conservative claptrap to claim that anybody seeks "equal outcomes". No serious person argues for that.
The only connection I see between the Wrong and evolution is that the Liberals don't seem to admit, in my experiences where the issue has come up, that welfare systems alter the optimum strategy at the low end of income, creating a little hill that retards economic, personal, and intellectual progress for some people by attracting them backward to that hill so they can keep getting welfare. Myself, I have no idea if this is a statistically significant problem or if it just happens enough to make an interesting cross between a human interest piece and an example of microeconomics at work.

Nonetheless, that was meant as an example of how the identity of the optimal strategy can be editted by governmental efforts. While Liberals consistently display the view of science of that they agree with evolution, not one mentions the evolution of personal, economic, etc. strategy and how such evolution must be taken into account when pushing for and when implementing changes.
Welfare is an unintended message to poor people. It says to them: We like what you're doing. Please keep doing it and we'll pay you to do it.

When government commands a certain path, no other path will be taken. Government edicts stop the process of societal inquiry.

Thanks for making your good points.

BTW, do you know where the Left and the Right terminology used to define the political spectrum originated? In the French Revolution. The revolutionary National Assembly members arranged themselves facing the podium on the left for those who wanted drastic change in France and to the right for those who wanted moderate change.

This proved not very positive for the position known as "the left." As they were the ones who plunged France into the Terror.


Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today



Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon



© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service