Darwinism and Intelligent Design — the Decline of Humanism
My starting point is a chapter in Critique of Intelligent Design by Fisher/ Clark/York¹. The (I assume publisher’s) blurb on the back of the book says that it “offers empowering tools to understand and defend critical and scientific reasoning in both the natural and social sciences and society as a whole”. Two quotes from supportive academics, chosen from a total of seven, are as follows:
- the authors “never lose sight of the real issue which is the struggle between materialism and supernaturalism as an explanation for the world of phenomena” (Richard Lewontin, Harvard Professor).
- “A scholarly and compelling book showing intelligent design to be an anti-Enlightenment project — and one full of illusion, superstition, and hidden reactionary agendas. Anyone interested in science and reason rather than fairy tales about a Celestial Designer should get hold of a copy” (Peter Dickens, University of Cambridge, UK).
I hope, in the light of the above, that I do not have to spell out that this book is not about science, rather a philosophical battle between materialism and spirituality (supernatural explanations). Despite the enthusiasm of these seven academics, this book is pretty awful, and anything but scholarly. I will offer a more detailed critique in later articles.
The chapter I have in mind is about the Renaissance and is called Enlightenment Materialism and Natural Theology. It begins: “During the Renaissance numerous long lost works of antiquity were recovered as humanists sought out the missing classics. … Poggio Bracciolini located a copy of Lucretius’s De rerum natura. … A revival of interest in Epicureanism followed, giving new impetus to materialist thought”. This historical detail may be true, although I have never heard it before, but their claim that the Renaissance was a revival of early materialist thought is the complete opposite of the truth. The Renaissance was known rather for the revival and celebration of works by authors whose views they oppose and are seeking to condemn.
This was a period called Renaissance Humanism by later scholars, which was actually a revival of spiritual ideas: Platonism, Neoplatonism, and Hermeticism, for example. Let’s take a look at some significant figures; I believe that the following three are the most important.
Perhaps the best known name now is Petrarch (1304–1374), who sought out ancient manuscripts, and attempted to reconcile them with Christian texts.
Less well known names nowadays, but highly significant at the time, and more important for the purposes of this article, were:
Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), who was especially interested in Plato and Neoplatonism — that’s about as spiritual as it’s possible to be. He translated and commented on many texts, like Plutarch seeking to assimilate such ideas into Christian theology. His own writing included Platonic Theology, which was a philosophical study of the soul, Book on the Christian Religion, and tracts on astrology. He was actually ordained a priest and became a church official of Florence Cathedral. So much for a “new impetus to materialist thought”!
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), whose most famous work is Oration on the Dignity of Man, part of his attempt at a synthesis of all religious schools of thought — pagan, Christian, Islamic and Jewish — thus an early Perennial Philosophy. Does this sound like someone who was seeking to give new impetus to materialist thought? In case anyone thinks I am misrepresenting the three materialist authors, this text has been described as “the manifesto of humanism”, and “the most succinct expression of the mind of the Renaissance”, the primary meaning of which was “the rebirth of man in the likeness of God”².
So what are we to make of our three authors’ statement? Are they merely ignorant, or are they deliberately lying? Whatever the answer, they lack intellectual credibility, despite the praise heaped on them by the seven academics; if writers have to resort to such a deception, why should anyone accord them any respect? This is what happens, I believe, when fanatics are not interested in the truth, only in converting others to their own ideas.
What actually triggered “a new impetus to materialist thought” was not Renaissance Humanism, rather the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ (or, as I would prefer to call it, the New Dark Ages), with its exaggerated emphasis on science and reason, and its rejection of religion and spirituality in favour of a materialist philosophy, all of which our three authors are obviously promoting.
Alongside this development, and presumably a consequence of it, was a change in the meaning of the word Humanism. When the Enlightenment took over, we ended up with a Humanism devoid of any spirituality, and appropriated by Darwinism.
There is more that I could say, but the most obvious evidence for this is that arch-Darwinian atheist Richard Dawkins is the Honorary Vice-President of Humanists UK. Here is his estimation of what it means to be human: “We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. … This is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living”³. In similar vein, he has also written that an elephant is a roundabout way of making elephant DNA. By extension therefore, a human being is a roundabout way of making human DNA. If we are merely machines for propagating human DNA, a further step would be to say that the genius of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Bach’s B minor mass, Titian’s paintings is a meaningless, accidental by-product of human DNA propagating itself. I hope I don’t need to explain why I think this is madness.
This is my personal take on what has happened:
Originally Humanism was a celebration of humanity as spiritual beings created, as Genesis put it, in the image of God. Although Shakespeare came later, the attitude of Renaissance Humanism is summed up by these words of Hamlet: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” (Act II, scene 2).
Humanism now means something like, in the absence of God humans taking centre stage, elevating humans to the status of gods, without having to take into account any higher powers. This will obviously sound reasonable to many, but to me reveals a naïve, over-optimistic view of human nature, failing to take into account the dark side. Let me make it clear that what I am about to say has nothing to do with the stated goals of modern Humanism. However, we have evidence of what happens when atheistic humans elevate themselves to the status of gods in the appalling totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Also, although Darwin would not have wanted it, his ideas were an inspiration for Hitler, and the Eugenics movement.
Therefore, when modern Humanism tries to remove God and replace him/her by humans, this is potentially hubris of an ugly and dangerous kind. Let’s seek a new Renaissance of ancient wisdom in the spirit of the original Humanism.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. For details, and the context, see my Introduction.
2. from the introduction of http://www.andallthat.co.uk/uploads/2/3/8/9/2389220/pico_-_oration_on_the_dignity_of_man.pdf
3. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/573352. I assume this originally came from The Selfish Gene.
The two previous articles in this series were: