Thursday, February 09, 2006

Darwin and Natural Law

The great thing about the Internet is that you never know what you will find, or where. While browsing through Hugh Hewitt's blogroll, specifically his section entitled "God Blogs" I made it to SmartChristian whereby I stumbled upon a link to a blog called Darwinian Conservatism by Larry Arnhart. The theme of Larry's blog, of no surprise to the Duckians but sure to send a certain PaleoTheoCon aquaintaince of ours into fits of apoplexy, is that Darinian theory supports conservative thought, including morality:

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin

On February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky; and Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England.

The coincidence of their being born on the same day might lead us to think about other points of similarity in their lives.

William Herndon was Lincoln's friend and law partner, and he wrote one of the best biographies of Lincoln. He says that he gave Lincoln a copy of Robert Chambers' book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which was first published in 1844. Chambers set forth a theory of evolution that Darwin later acknowledged as a forerunner of his theory. Chambers' book created a great controversy, because many people saw it as denying the role of God as Creator of the universe. According to Herndon, Lincoln was persuaded to adopt this new theory of evolution, because it confirmed his belief that everything in the universe must occur by natural causes. So it seems that Lincoln and Darwin were in agreement in their scientific naturalism and evolutionary views.

Because of their reliance on scientific explanation, both Lincoln and Darwin were accused by some people of promoting atheism by denying the doctrine of Creation. According to Herndon, Lincoln as a young man wrote a book against Christianity arguing that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that Jesus was not the son of God. He was warned by his friends that it was dangerous to make such arguments in public.

In 1846, Lincoln was running for election to Congress, and he had to answer the charge that he was an "infidel." In his written response, he acknowledged that he had never been a member of any Christian church. But he insisted that he had never openly promoted disrespect for Christianity. He conceded that he had defended--in private with a few friends--the "doctrine of necessity" that the human mind is determined by causal necessity beyond its control. But he thought some Christian denominations defended the same doctrine. Moreover, he wrote: "I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live."

Lincoln often spoke as if God as Creator must be the First Cause of the universe, and he also commonly invoked the Bible as a source of moral teaching. And yet he also appealed to a natural "moral sense" inherent in human nature, which suggested a natural morality that did not depend on biblical doctrine.

One manifest expression of the "moral sense," according to Lincoln, was the moral feeling against slavery. To reinforce this moral feeling that slavery was unjust, Lincoln would quote the scriptural doctrine of human beings as created in God's image and the scriptural teaching of the golden rule. He did this despite the fact that the pro-slavery Christians in the American South quoted the specific passages on slavery in the Bible as supporting slavery.

On all of these points, Darwin took similar positions. Although he began life as an orthodox Christian, he eventually reached a point of being a skeptic or agnostic. He was particularly disturbed by the unmerited suffering of human beings--such as his child Annie, who died when she was 10 years old--as casting doubt on the existence of an all-good God. And yet he acknowledged that the First Cause of the universe was a mystery pointing to the existence of God. In his published writings, he regularly acknowledged that evolution might depend ultimately on the laws that the Creator had impressed on matter.

Darwin also agreed with Lincoln in seeing morality as rooted in a natural "moral sense." Although this natural morality could stand on its own, it could also be reinforced by biblical morality. Like Lincoln, Darwin saw the Bible's teaching of the golden rule as confirming the ultimate principle of natural morality.

Darwin was also a fervent critic of slavery as contrary to the natural moral sense. Against the scientific racists who argued that the human races were actually separate species, Darwin laid out the evidence for the universal traits shared by all human races as members of the same species.

On all of these points, Lincoln and Darwin support what I have defended in Darwinian Conservatism. We can explain the natural order of the universe as a product of natural evolutionary causes. But if we ask about the First Causes of Nature itself, we face a mystery that points to God as Creator. There is a natural moral sense that allows us to make moral judgments independently of any religious beliefs. And yet Biblical religion can reinforce natural morality by appeal to God as the moral lawgiver. Moreover, religion generally can have beneficial social effects because it helps people to cooperate more effectively by promoting social trust among the believers.

On all of these points, conservatives should see Darwinian science as confirming their principles of ordered liberty as rooted in traditional morality and religious belief. Many religious conservatives object to what they assume is the atheistic teaching of Darwinism, and that's why many of them support "scientific creationism" or "intelligent design theory" as alternatives to Darwinian science. But this ignores the possible compatibility of evolution and religion. In fact, as I argue in my book, there are many theistic evolutionists. And there is no clear evidence that Darwinism has converted people to atheism.

What a remarkably reasonable and intelligent essay! The next time someone invokes the term "bearded God-killer" I'll have to ask "do you mean Darwin or Lincoln?".

So much for "Darwinism".


Blogger Hey Skipper said...


On all of these points, conservatives should see Darwinian science as confirming their principles of ordered liberty as rooted in traditional morality and religious belief. Many religious conservatives object to what they assume is the atheistic teaching of Darwinism ...

Unfortunately, religious (Christian, primarily) conservatives label, whether intentionally or otherwise, anything that contradicts some element of the Bible as atheistic.

This is a classic example of a false dichotomy.

Just because something suggests that God is not proscribed by Biblical narrative does not, by any stretch of the honest imagination, lead to atheism.

There are undoubtedly several reasons why Christian fundamentalists are so exercised about Evolution, but one that is likely primary is that, if true, Evolution completely rubbishes the Adam and Eve story.

And with it any sense of having "fallen."

And with that the primary Christian explanation for many of the woes befalling humanity.

Evolution insists there is no such thing as humans without parents.

That is the crime.

February 11, 2006 4:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper, you are absolutely right. But what is promising about this article is that while at the same time it undermines the literalist Christian theological tradition, it shows how Darwinian evolution supports the conservative Christian moral tradition based on natural law.

February 11, 2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger David said...

Lincoln was, of course, secretly Jewish.

February 11, 2006 4:06 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

While I don't buy the way he gets there, he gets to a pretty good place.

Part of the problem is the assumption, universal among Christians, that there has to be a single source for morality.

There is no evidence that this is so and plenty against it.

February 11, 2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


That is yet another excellent example of a false dichotomy.

Brit had a particularly excellent post on this subject, The Story of the Moral.

February 12, 2006 3:54 AM  
Blogger creeper said...

Hey guys,

I've brought Larry Arnhart's essays to that certain PaleoTheoCon's attention on more than one occasion, and as far as I recall he deleted it every time.

I wonder how he justifies to himself that he is so incapable of supporting simple positions and can't counter even the simplest and most obvious of rebuttals.

February 13, 2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Hey, yourself. Welcome aboard!

As a fellow serial deletee, I have no more answer to this than you.

My favorite though, was in a discussion over whether the Holocaust was purely a product of reason, or if it might, just might, have something to do with centuries of preceding anti-Judaism.

He deleted my link to an essay by a Vatican Cardinal saying that Christian anti-Judaism had paved the way.

I suppose I understand. After all, what the heck does the Vatican know?

February 13, 2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger creeper said...

Orrin is quite simply a small man on a large podium, who lacks the maturity to change his views when they are clearly inconsistent, as well as contradict available facts, and has had the ill fortune of backing the wrong horse - one that at least he himself is incapable of defending. Perhaps someone more intelligent or more knowledgeable than him could pull off a more convincing argument, but Orrin has amply demonstrated that he, for whatever reason, cannot do it.

So now he is stuck posting one willful misrepresentation after another, and deleting even the most basic (and uniformly civil) responses (such as my pointing out that Darwin's finches were not, as he claimed, an example of breeding).

His concession on the subject of 'Darwinism' is complete.

February 14, 2006 10:43 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

His concession on reality is complete. Everything is a faith. Rather than admit to any empirical basis for knowledge that could contradict religious faith, he'd rather dispense with science altogether. Which is rather odd for an admitted upholder of the Western tradition. The development of science is, depending on your viewpoint, either the crowning jewel of Western Civ or at least one of the crowning jewels. The Western tradition that OJ would rather defend is frozen in time around 1500.

February 14, 2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger creeper said...

That's pretty much it, Duck. It's amazing what corners he can paint himself into out of what appears to be no more than incredibly stubborn pride.

February 14, 2006 11:53 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Orrin is quite simply a small man on a large podium ...

Actually, his picture got posted sometime last week.

He is a large small man, who BTW is perfecly happy to condemn the health effects of smoking, whilst denying the health effects of, ummm, heft.

February 14, 2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger creeper said...

I meant small in the figurative sense. My, he does look a little healthier than in that caricature on their blog.

February 14, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Orrin is a very eccentric character whose charms do not include accuracy of prediction, a grasp of basic logic and reason, or insightful self-knowledge, but he has other talents.

While knocking his blindingly obvious faults, let's not lose sight of the fact that he brings quite a lot to the table.

He might be compared to a quarterback who, while he cannot scramble and is absolutely immobile in the pocket, can read coverage and float the long ball like nobody's business.

Orrin's forte is "the big idea", not the details.

There are many other sites that are less odd, but I've never learned more from any other site, including sites whose reason for being is to educate.

I like to compare BrosJudd to grad school - it takes some work and research to fully benefit, but the experience is mind-expanding.

Also, (and this might only be relevant to my particular situation), the concepts, ideas, links, and people that I've been exposed to at BrosJudd, and the further research that I've done surrounding those, has led to some actionable investment ideas.
Orrin's place is a perpetual brainstorming session, the exact likes of which I haven't encountered elsewhere.

If anybody DOES know of a site with a similar dynamic, please clue me in.
I'd like to have more of it.

Related: The latest post at Great Guys Blog.

February 15, 2006 12:11 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Here is an excellent example of what I treasure about BrosJudd; I would ne'er have run across this anywhere else in my day-to-day activities, and it's very valuable info.

February 15, 2006 2:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I agree with everything you said, particularly keeping in mind how he has been a catalyst for a significant number of interactions -- at a very high intellectual level -- that would not have occurred otherwise.

Never mind the extremely high density of information from a broad range of viewpoints.

All in all, a good thing.

However, when Orrin takes this post on evangelicals in the military:

Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the Constitionally required (see Article VI again) Oath of Office.

To wit: "... protect and defend the Constitution of the United States ..."

Said Constitution contains absolutely no references to any religion, except where it explicitly prohibits religious tests for office.

Presuming you are a strict constructionist, you are obligated to take the consitution at its very explicit word.

The rest of the sentence from the oath is "... against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Those that seek to impose a particular religion upon those in the military, despite clear constitutional direction to the contrary, have attained the status of domestic enemy.

and replaced it with something I scarcely recognize, he has abandoned intellectual integrity.

That sort of thing, which happens to me nearly as often as not, tends to throw a big negative on the scales.

February 15, 2006 4:47 AM  
Blogger creeper said...


I must admit the mind-expanding effects of Orrin's blog are news to me, but then I've mostly only taken the time to follow his comments on 'Darwinism', a morass of willful ignorance and misrepresentations, which I often find I simply can not let stand uncorrected.

Perhaps you'll agree with me that the 'big idea' benefit doesn't apply so much to the specific case of Orrin's views on 'Darwinism'. It seems to me that he has simply bitten off more than he can chew, as have some others, by trying to subjugate science to religion, instead of making their peace with accepting the two as being appropriate in different circumstances, and perfectly capable of co-existing.

The current negative trendlines for ID (with the news from Ohio now as well) must be quite upsetting for Orrin, and it shows: it seems he has adopted the Dembski and DaveScot policy of simply deleting ALL views that don't echo his own. (There was a good one from PapayaSF that is now also gone.)

And then he has the gumption to come out with something like [Darwinism/evolution] "is not the sort of faith that could withstand critical analysis".

February 15, 2006 5:06 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I second Oroborous's comments as far as the great range of information and opinions you will find on his blog. He is the perfect example of the "big idea" person who sees things at a 30,000 foot level. Abstraction is a great quality, as long as you don't lose sight of the fact that you are eliding large swaths of information in order to gain some specific insights about a subject that do not present themselves at ground level. But I think he spends so much time at that level that he's ceased to believe that the details even exist anymore.

February 15, 2006 6:44 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...


Orrin is a force of nature.

Benefits can be gained by harvesting the results of his energy, but attempting to wrestle him into submission is a sure route to insanity - or at least extreme vexation.

Orrin delights in provocation, and is immune to reasoned argument.
Therefore, the wisest course is simply to refuse to engage him in the areas where he's most nuts...
And "Darwinism" is one of his biggest bugaboos.

If one only conversed with him on that subject, it would be easy to miss that there's a much more rewarding larger experience to be had in his forum.


He is what he is.

I have no idea how his mutually conflicting ideas, philosophies, and religious beliefs don't react like matter and anti-matter, causing his mind to implode.

Perhaps it has - that would explain why he's increasingly censoring what seem to be fairly innocuous comments.

February 15, 2006 6:58 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Abstraction is a great quality, as long as you don't lose sight of the fact that you are eliding large swaths of information... [Orrin has] ceased to believe that the details even exist anymore.

That seems like a true insight.

February 15, 2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I like that he keeps his posters civil.

I learned a lot about sources of religico/political nuttiness that I had encountered mostly on the street, not in the library.

It was amusing to poke holes in his statements, though not, usually, very challenging.

But you cannot have a one-sided dialogue, so when he deleted my post, I left.

As for other blogs, the only other one I post at is Pharyngula (, a combined biology/leftwing politics site.

I learn a lot of biology and have just as much fun poking the leftwingers as I did the rightwingers at BrothersJudd.

February 15, 2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger creeper said...

"attempting to wrestle him into submission is a sure route to insanity - or at least extreme vexation"

In one way you're right, and in another it's clear that he has already conceded the issue of 'Darwinism' lock, stock and barrel, seeing as he offers hardly anything except inane misrepresentations and has to delete any and all contrary views because he can not offer any coherent retort.

Whatever case he has been trying to make (and it's a very different one from what Peter Burnet insists it is), he has failed to make it.

February 16, 2006 2:12 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

BrosJudd got so interesting largely by a lucky combination of factors, I think. First is Orrin's prolific posting, and the fact that he is ever-present.

Second, the comments format is good: quick and easy and you can add both snappy one liners and longer things.

Third, he's also very high up in Google's listings, so a bunch of interesting people found him.

Orrin's killed it a bit now by deleting and tinkering with dissenting posts. There's a growing number of pretty unpleasant right-wing yes-men on there now, though ironically Orrin himself is not very right-wing at all in most respects.

When he first started deleting my posts - and in the end he was deleting really very innocuous ones - I was taken aback because I genuinely thought he liked all the ping pong debate.

I thought this firstly because the comments are the lifeblood of BrosJudd (not Orrin's endlessly-repeated mantras), and secondly because he takes so much trouble to answer each and every bloody comment - even the really nutty trolls.

After a while it dawned on me that Orrin's little set of pet theories are surprisingly important to him. He really doesn't want to have them challenged, not least because I suspect he wants to forge a career out of them (eg. he's got a book out).

To be fair to Orrin, when I challenged him a while back he did say "Why don't you, Robert, Jeff and Harry go and get your own blog." Which I thought was pretty funny. And to be fair to us, we did.

I still try to comment on Peter's posts though.

February 17, 2006 4:11 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Yes, to enjoy BrosJudd you have to accept that there are some things that you just don't mention around him.

Also, I'm not sure that the comments are the lifeblood of BrosJudd.
While Orrin does enjoy repartee, and to some of us the comments are two-thirds of the appeal, it's also true that fewer than one in twenty readers comments, even infrequently.

Further, the "main" site, his book-review data-base, makes him more money, at least for now.
It's important to keep in mind that for Orrin, his main site and blog are more than a hobby, (obsessive though it might be), they're also his business.

February 17, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

" fewer than one in twenty readers comments, even infrequently"

Yes, I've heard similar stats about blogs and forums.

Bloody voyeurs.

February 17, 2006 9:12 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Well, I'm pretty certain you've seen the last of me over there.

I made an innocuous post suggesting the AF Academy guidelines missed the real point, which was Article VI of the constitution.

He changed the content of my post.

Figuring that was over the top, I took it up with him off line (if anyone cares to see the exhange, I'll send it), which quickly descended to the typical sophistry fest.

As a test the next day, I posted some truly innocuous things. Which were promptly deleted.

This trend is relatively recent. I think he has become a Christian Reconstructionist. Or he always was, and is now finally acting on it.

CRs are no more interested in a fair exchange of ideas than the Taliban.

Debating with people who are articulate and informed and don't share my viewpoint is excellent recreation; I'm going to miss it.

February 18, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger creeper said...


I'd sure be interested in seeing that exchange - I'm at creeperzoidATyahooDOTcom. I won't pass it on or make it public without your permission.

It has indeed been getting progressively worse. Yesterday about ten comments (including one of yours) were deleted from the latest Darwinism post, and now a bunch of unquestioning ones are allowed to sprout.

What has irked me about this is that Orrin proceeds to make the same misrepresentations over and over, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary being pointed out to him. It is nothing less than intentional dishonesty, out-and-out lying and propaganda. None of which I find tolerable.

I know what you mean about the recreational value of engaging in debates with intelligent people with different viewpoints. Orrin was never part of that, though other posters on his blog were, on occasion.

Orrin only came up with misrepresentations and ridiculous alternative theories (skull shape is a function of height? everything outside our solar system is supernatural? and so on), and so it became clear very quickly that Orrin had no ammo to support his views on this topic. At all. I soon started wondering what it would look like if someone like this lost a major debate in a public forum, since it was obvious he could not back down in public.

And I think what it would look like is exactly what we have seen in the past nine months or so: first editing and deleting (already incapable of defending his position on its merits), then simply deleting any comments that opposed him, and even some by some posters simply because they opposed him on other topics.

Having to silence all other views is already a concession that his view is unsustainable. Orrin is admitting defeat without knowing it.

It may not be obvious to him, but it is to other people who are aware of what he is doing. That doesn't include everyone who strolls by his blog, but people who hang around for a while may become aware of it.

February 18, 2006 5:33 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I'd be interested in the exchange as well.

I find myself posting less there. Peter and David have the most interesting things to say, but often my attempts to engage them in a debate get hijacked by Orrin. His one liner responses temd to be obfuscations rather than real arguments. I feel like Michael Palin trying to get his money's worth in argumentation from John Cleese.

February 18, 2006 9:03 AM  

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