Why We Are Still Arguing About Darwin

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Lee Harris explains Why We Are Still Arguing About Darwin:

The stumbling block to an acceptance of Darwin, I would like to submit, has little to do with Christian fundamentalism, but a whole lot to do with our intense visceral revulsion at monkeys and apes. This revulsion, while certainly not universal, is widely shared, and it is a psychological phenomenon that is completely independent of our ideas about the literal truth of the Bible.

His larger point:

At the same time, those who accept Darwin (as I do) need to understand the true origin of the revulsion so many people feel against his theory. For the basis of this revulsion is none other than “the civilizing process” that has been instilled into us from infancy. The civilizing process has taught us never to throw our feces at other people, not even in jest. It has taught us not to snatch food from other people, not even when they are much weaker than we. It has taught us not to play with our genitals in front of other people, not even when we are very bored. It has taught us not to mount the posterior of other people, not even when they have cute butts.

Those who are horrified by our resemblance to the lower primates are not wrong, because it is by means of this very horror of the primate-within that men have been able to transcend our original primate state of nature. It is by refusing to accept our embarrassing kinship with primates that men have been able to create societies that prohibit precisely the kind of monkey business that civilized men and women invariably find so revolting and disgusting. Thou shalt not act like a monkey — this is the essence of all the higher religions, and the summation of all ethical systems.

Those who continue to resist Darwin are not standing up for science, but they may well be standing up for something even more important — a Dawkinsian meme, if you will, that has been instrumental in permitting mankind to transcend the brutal level of our primate origins. Our lofty humanitarian ethical standards have been derived not by observing our primate kin, but by imagining that we were made in the image of God. It was only by assuming that we were expected to come up to heavenly standards that we did not lower our standards to those of our biological next of kin. The meme that asserts that we are the children of God, and not merely a bunch of wild monkeys may be an illusion; but it is the illusion upon which all humane civilizations have been constructed. Those who wish to eliminate this illusionary meme from our general meme pool may be acting in the name of science; but it is by no means obvious that they are acting in the name of civilization and humanity.

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