John J. Reilly makes a statement here that I readily agree with, but is probably highly non-obvious to almost everyone:
As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization.
To assert that What Would Darwin Do? leads to much the same policy prescriptions as What Would Jesus Do? requires some unpacking. Or maybe come contextualization.
To start, John clearly doesn’t mean what Charles Darwin himself might suggest if he were alive. Darwin, and most of his family, were in the English freethinker tradition, and as such not particularly interested in traditional Christianity or in any ideas that come out of it. John is rather using Darwin as a synecdoche for a tradition of thinking about humans in light of evolution that probably owes at least as much, if not more, of an intellectual debt to Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.
In an American context, the phrase WWJD? is mostly used in evangelical Christianity, which has not exactly been known for welcoming evolutionary concepts. However, since John was Catholic, he was more likely thinking in terms like those articulated in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connunbii, which said:
66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may come of it.
68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.
69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.
Pope Pius XI was making an argument not wholly dissimilar from Galton here. Galton of course did not share the Pope’s ideas about what was right and wrong in terms of marriage and sex, but they were both saying that it wasn’t crazy to think about whether potential children might inherit poor health. Even Galton wasn’t making the argument almost everyone today assumes he was, since he was wholly opposed to anything coercive.
So what did John probably mean? Since he provided a link, we should have a pretty strong clue. A modern attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism can be found on the blog DarwinCatholic, which took its name from an attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism. The two big things added are genetics, unknown to Galton, and the bitter fruits of widespread contraceptive technology.
In this argument, echoed by Pope Emeritus Benedict in the linked article, the future belongs to those to bother to have kids, since people who don’t want them don’t have them. When you combine this with the heritability of personality and behavior, you get the conclusion that in the long run, you tend to get more of whatever results in having more kids who survive to adulthood. Right now, one of those things is traditional religiosity.
AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!
Kindly artificial intelligences at Amazon.com often send me suggestions for books I might want to buy, based on my previous purchases. Usually, these suggestions are plausible, but yesterday I got this:
We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization by Patrick J. Buchanan have also ordered And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress by Charles B. Rangel. For this reason, you might like to know that Charles B. Rangel's And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress will be released on April 3, 2007. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of $5.99 by following the link below.
On Charlie Rangel be peace, but it is unimaginable that anyone who bought The Death of the West is a candidate to buy that legislator's memoir. Could it be that a sufficient criterion for being alerted to the publication of this book is to have once bought a book about politics? Talk about spam.
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The Vatican has stopped returning my phonecalls about when Benedict XVI will release the motu proprio authorizing the universal use of the Tridentine Mass. There is no reason to doubt that he will do so eventually, though the event has been delayed so long that it is passing from expectation to eschatology. In any case, we should note that some friends of the Latin Mass do not want the motu proprio to issue, arguing, as one such person told me last Sunday, that it would commence "the Novus-Ordo-ization of the Tridentine Mass."
The argument has some force. Under the current Indult system for authorizing the Tridentine Mass, the congregations most likely to receive permission are those with the liturgical and musicological resources to have a chance of doing it well; and even so, "the Tridentine Mass" in many places today means unsung Low Masses that seem not just puritanically austere, but deliberately anti-esthetic. The motu proprio, should it issue, would turn the realization of the Old Mass over to the same people who structured the New Mass in such a way as to persuade two generations of Catholics that their Sunday mornings would be better spent on home repairs.
Nonetheless, there is no alternative to casting chant before swine. The Tridentine Mass was always a work in progress, with a nip-and-tuck made every generation or so. Indeed, if I understand correctly, the greatest anomaly of recent decades is that the Tridentine Mass now means a liturgy frozen in amber in the Missal of 1962. We must now begin the work of transition that will not finally be completed until the Imperial Period. We have not yet seen the immemorial Mass, anymore than we have yet seen classical English prose. When these things arrive, they will be faithful to the past and continuous with it. They will, however, be revivals. As is the nature of revivals, they will in some ways be improvements over the originals.
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Mark Steyn may be a Demography Bore by his own account, but his arguments in America Alone are not going to go away. Here's a version of the same themes on the blog DarwinCatholic: Where Religion, Philosophy and Demographics Meet:
Population and Ideology
This has been my pet topic, and the overall purpose for this blog. With the advent of universally available birth control, child bearing is essentially "optional" which (as a number of demographers are just beginning to point out) means that the main drivers of fertility in the coming decades will be not economics and food supply but faith and ideology.
I cannot say which blogs Pope Benedict reads, but he has recently been expressing thoughts along the same lines:
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children. "One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.
Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile"—though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.
As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization. As I may have also remarked, demography affords arguments that today's conservatives could win, but which they are not self-evidently prepared to make.
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Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has some sophisticated remarks in the April issue of First Things one the relationship between science and scientism, with an eye to explaining why empirical evolutionary science is entirely consistent with a providential interpretation of history:
In the traditional view, the Creator endows nature with a kind of quasi-intelligence: Like an agent, nature "acts" for an "end," with immanent principles of self-unfolding and self-operation. Newton, by contrast, is already seized by the early modern "mechanical philosophy," in which nature is seen as a kind of unnatural composite of passive, unintelligent, preexisting matter, on which the order has been extrinsically imposed by a Supreme Intelligence.
Actually, the Cardinal's quarrel seems to be not so much with Newton as with John Scotus: it was Nominalism that began the disenchantment of the world. Fifty years ago, one might have dismissed "the traditional view" as described here as vitalism, but today one can argue that there is quite a lot of teleology in evolutionary history. The Schoolmen's principle that matter contains "intelligible elements" may, perhaps, have been reincarnated in complexity theory.
Nonetheless, we could lose something if we abandon the mechanical world. That would probably have been the view of William Ernest Hocking. I quote from my own review of The Coming World Civilization:
Consider, for instance, the most extreme view of 19th-century science, that the world is nothing but dead matter. Hocking calls that "the Night Vision." He also argues that it is a great moral achievement. Western science is based on the virtues of humility and austerity: humility before the facts, and the rejection of extravagance in the making of hypotheses. Francis Bacon said: "We cannot command nature except by obeying her." Science is the willful suppression of self-will. Only thus could the will of God be known, as manifest in the created world.
There is something to that.
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Speaking of First Things, the April issue also contains a essay in appreciation of the science-fiction writer, Gene Wolfe. Now, Wolfe was a worthy wizard, to whom we owe the expression The Claw of the Conciliator, but his work seems to have been discussed simply because he was Catholic. I must point out that First Things has been in business for 17 years, but they have yet to so much as mention R. A. Lafferty, the greatest Catholic science-fiction writer of the 20th century.
May I ask what the editors think they are about?
Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly
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