Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew

By Steve Stewart-Williams

Reviewed by means of man Kahane, college of Oxford

This is a publication concerning the implications of evolutionary conception for a few grand previous questions about the lifestyles of God, our realizing of where of humankind in nature, and morality. the writer, Steve Stewart-Williams, is an evolutionary psychologist, and, because the bombastic identify or even extra bombastic subtitle recommend, the e-book is aimed toward a well-liked viewers, no longer at philosophers -- it can slot well into the hot Atheist bookshelf. but the e-book isn't really, as one may count on, filled with vibrant medical examples or witty anecdotes. It proceeds like a philosophy ebook, by way of taking off a number positions for attention after which assessing arguments for and opposed to them. medical facts is introduced in while worthwhile, yet it's awarded from an outstanding distance, and the dialogue is still rather summary in the course of the publication. This ebook is definitely now not an advent to the main interesting fresh clinical advances. And for those who puzzled (or worried), there's nearly no evolutionary psychology.

The major subject matters are in brief brought within the first bankruptcy. the remainder of the ebook is split into 3 elements. the 1st half, which covers extra general flooring, is set evolution and God. bankruptcy 2 deals a short advent to Darwin and evolutionary idea, and explains the most proof for the speculation of evolution. Its major element is that the mere truth of evolution is incompatible with a literal analyzing of Genesis and with other kinds of creationism. Stewart-Williams then examines and dismisses Michael Behe's arguments for clever layout. He subsequent turns, in bankruptcy three, to teach how evolutionary thought undermines the normal argument from layout. Darwin was once nervous approximately how most people may obtain his thought, yet many spiritual believers think that Darwin's concept is completely appropriate with theism. bankruptcy four argues opposed to such reconciliation.

According to theistic evolution, the production tale in Genesis shouldn't be taken actually. Evolution did happen, however it is actively guided by means of God. As Stewart-Williams places it, this view accepts the actual fact of evolution yet no longer the idea of evolution. Stewart-Williams thinks that theistic evolution is made tremendous unbelievable through the broad checklist of arbitrariness and imperfection in nature. A extra modest kind of reconciliation is commonly deist, seeing normal choice as God's method of constructing existence by means of proxy, with no non-stop intervention. bankruptcy five criticizes deism and alternative ways during which God is invoked as a 'gap filler', to give an explanation for, for instance, how existence arose from inanimate subject, or why the universe turns out 'fine-tuned' to permit for all times; Stewart-Williams bargains a quick precis of naturalist solutions to those concerns. He then turns to deal with different concerns concerning the limits of evolutionary clarification in terms of the emergence of human intelligence and attention. He feedback that simply because from an evolutionary standpoint brain is itself an model -- an instance of order in nature -- it's unbelievable to entice it to provide an explanation for nature and its order.

Chapter 6 introduces the matter of evil, because it is amplified by way of evolutionary concept. The Darwinian challenge of evil, as Stewart-Williams calls it, highlights the big volume of animal ache that has taken position through the thousands of years of evolution. This vast and possible unnecessary discomfort makes it complicated why an omnibenevolent God might create people and different animals via such an agonizing strategy instead of at once, as creationists think. Stewart-Williams admits that God's life will be logically suitable with this colossal anguish yet, as you'll anticipate, thinks this evil makes God's life tremendous inconceivable. certainly, evolution bargains reliable causes either for the skill of sentient beings to endure and for why sturdy humans occasionally endure tremendously. This bankruptcy additionally contains a short and quite unsatisfying dialogue of unfastened will.

Chapter 7 in brief considers replacement conceptions of God which can look resistant to the arguments of earlier chapters. simply as evolution pressures believers to undertake a non-literal interpreting of the Bible, the Darwinian challenge of evil can push them in the direction of non-traditional conceptions of God. yet Stewart-Williams thinks that such conceptions of God, which deny, for instance, that God is actually someone or has causal powers, are too obscure and summary. To Stewart-Williams their complete aspect is to make spiritual trust unfalsifiable and proof against rational review. yet he's uncertain even if such revisionary conceptions can particularly substitute the conventional realizing of God -- even if, for instance, it can nonetheless make feel to worship God, understood during this method. And whilst taken too a ways, it really is uncertain if it is nonetheless applicable or necessary to exploit the notice 'God' in ways in which go away so considerably from its unique feel. certainly, this kind of use could implausibly suggest that the majority of spiritual believers in reality don't think that God exists. This renowned publication is frequently extra philosophically refined than one may perhaps anticipate, yet there are a few slips: writing of non-cognitivist money owed of spiritual language, Stewart-Williams says that he suspects that "most believers will be stunned to benefit that God isn't really a propositional belief!" (132), a sentence that merits yet another exclamation mark.

This, then, is Stewart-Williams's survey of attainable theist responses to evolutionary concept: Creationists continue trust within the conventional God yet implausibly reject either the very fact and the speculation of evolution. Theist evolutionists carry directly to such trust, yet a minimum of settle for the very fact of evolution; this view, notwithstanding, is made improbable by means of the clinical facts. Deist evolutionists pass extra and completely settle for the idea of evolution, yet so that it will achieve this they need to hand over a lot of the normal realizing of God, and nonetheless face the Darwinian challenge of evil. to head even past that's to undertake a considerably revisionary and non-anthropomorphic belief of God which, for Stewart-Williams, is both imprecise or quantities to a kind of atheism -- the reaction to evolutionary conception that he after all favours.

Part II is ready 'life after Darwin'. bankruptcy eight considers our position within the universe. people see themselves as specific and specific from the remainder of nature. yet Stewart-Williams thinks that evolutionary thought blurs or perhaps erases many differences which are wanted if people are to have that exalted prestige. he is taking evolutionary idea to solid doubt at the department among brain and topic and among people and animals. It areas us firmly within the wildlife and stresses our kinship with different animals. And if the brain is simply the made of an advanced mind, this additionally implies that the non secular proposal of the afterlife is implausible.

This subject matter is additional constructed in bankruptcy nine. people have usually noticeable themselves because the centrepiece of construction, or because the enhanced endpoint of the nice chain of being. yet evolutionary conception exposes us as simply one species between thousands. Stewart-Williams argues that this concept can't be up to date via considering evolution as a method aiming at growth. Evolution comprises swap, now not growth or swap that's inevitably strong. And via simply organic standards, it can be argued that beetles (or possibly micro organism) are significantly extra winning in comparison to people. Stewart-Williams denies that evolution is linked to any large-scale development towards larger complexity. as a minimum, he wonders why we must always imagine that complexity is best than simplicity (which we see as improved, for instance, while settling on among competing medical theories). As he places it, "it actually depends on what we elect to value." He thinks that there are "no target grounds to assert that it is a great point. should you love it, it's a superb factor. for those who don't, it's now not. there's not anything else to assert approximately it." (177)

Stewart-Williams thinks that an analogous applies to the human capability for language, or for cause. no matter if people have those capacities in a manner that's not solely non-stop with different animals (including our extinct predecessors), this nonetheless won't convey that we're above the animals. cause is in simple terms an edition, only one manner that we fluctuate from animals, as they fluctuate from one another. So shall we no longer be stated to be more suitable in any 'global sense'. back, the assumption is that the factors we undertake to match ourselves to different animals are arbitrary, and on a few attainable criteria we'd be enormously not as good as such a lot or perhaps all animals. Stewart-Williams writes that "if we want to argue that our selection [of common] is predicated on greater than simply an anthropocentric bias, we needs to express that it has a few goal justification. the matter is that, in a Darwinian universe, this isn't attainable even in principle." (185) this isn't the easiest argument. It's precise, and price stating, that such speak about superiority frequently quantities to a cost declare that can't be easily derived from the technological know-how. yet it's deceptive, or worse, for him to claim that it's in precept very unlikely for this sort of price declare to be precise in a Darwinian universe. As we will see less than, Stewart-Williams does later argue that no aim price declare is correct. yet he's additionally completely chuffed to make immediately price claims whilst it fits him, and it's in no way transparent that something he says should still hinder us from endorsing the declare that cause, and people who own it, are useful in a particular way.

Chapter 10 is ready the which means of existence. it is extremely short and disappointing. Evolutionary concept is meant to teach that our life is incomprehensible and has no function. As Stewart-Williams places it, "We are the following simply because we developed, and evolution happened for no specific purpose." (197) yet (surprise, shock) this doesn't suggest we won't shape our personal reasons and hence endow our lives with which means. the prospect that the 'meaning of life' may confer with anything except a divine plan or cosmic goal isn't really considered.

Part III is set 'morality stripped of superstition'. bankruptcy eleven discusses the evolutionary origins of morality, targeting the matter of explaining altruism in evolutionary phrases. As somewhere else within the booklet, a number of the vintage paintings is surveyed in a transparent and obtainable manner, yet newer advancements are mostly neglected. just a little unusually, Stewart-Williams insists that even supposing our simple ethical inclinations and sentiments have an evolutionary origins, the concrete content material of our ethical ideals is basically principally because of societal impression, and will go beyond their organic beginning point.

Chapter 12 is a pleasant dialogue of universal blunders concerning the moral implications of evolutionary concept. Stewart-Williams does a very good task of introducing Hume's aspect concerning the hole among 'is' and 'ought', and, surprisingly for this sort of ebook, truly will get the particular that means of Moore's 'naturalistic fallacy' correct. Stewart-Williams then does an outstanding activity displaying why evolutionary idea doesn't help Social Darwinism or justify the established order, and why it's foolish to offer it because the foundation of Nazism or as unavoidably resulting in eugenics. He additionally criticizes a few misconceptions concerning the normative implications of evolutionary psychology yet, strangely, doesn't really spend a lot time protecting its clinical credentials opposed to customary feedback. Readers of the publication could fail to notice that you can still settle for evolutionary concept in complete with out accepting a few of the claims of evolutionary psychologists.

In bankruptcy thirteen, Stewart-Williams then turns to what he is taking to be the genuine moral implications of evolutionary concept. those develop into fairly disappointing: it sounds as if evolution is helping to undermine the doctrine of human dignity (this bankruptcy attracts seriously on Rachels and Singer). the belief is that evolutionary thought undermines the concept that now we have specific dignity simply because we have been created within the snapshot of God or simply because we own cause. surroundings apart the previous, Stewart-Williams's arguments opposed to beautiful to cause to flooring a solid ethical prestige to people are only the mostly inappropriate aspect that our cognitive capacities are widely non-stop with these of alternative animals, and the troublesome past declare that there aren't any solid grounds for taking cause to be extra very important than the other model. there's definitely cause to be suspicious of many makes use of of the quite imprecise concept of 'human dignity', yet this has much less to do with evolution than Stewart-Williams thinks.

The normative upshot of rejecting human dignity is meant to be that suicide and voluntary euthanasia should not as incorrect as they're taken to be by way of conventional morality and lots of non secular believers -- conclusions that might infrequently be stunning to the informed reader and which, back, might be given robust sufficient aid with out point out of evolution. The bankruptcy ends with a lively argument for treating animals larger (the known comparisons with racism are unavoidably drawn). Stewart-Williams's dialogue of ethical prestige isn't subtle and is eventually in keeping with the statement that "Suffering is affliction, and . . . different variables are morally irrelevant." (275). it is going to were nicer if Stewart-Williams have been a piece extra specific concerning the dramatic implications of taking the anguish of all sentient beings in the world to topic simply up to human soreness. there's just a short shielding gesture on the intended higher ability for soreness that people have in comparison to different animals. yet in a e-book reminiscent of this, one expects this kind of declare to be supported through a few challenging data.

After those claims, it may now not be very brilliant that the ebook ends with the recommendation that evolutionary idea helps hedonic utilitarianism. what's just a little extra stunning is that the ultimate bankruptcy tells us that evolutionary conception helps either utilitarianism and nihilism. The argument for ethical nihilism is largely a truly condensed model of Richard Joyce's security of the mistake conception (Michael Ruse additionally will get credit). whereas Stewart-Williams's precis of this argument is beautiful stable, it truly is not more than a precis, and as a dialogue of the metaethical recommendations left open via a naturalist Darwinian view, this bankruptcy leaves a lot to be wanted (non-cognitivism is pointed out in brief, non-naturalism is caricaturized, and response-dependent and realist naturalist perspectives aren't even mentioned). Stewart-Williams additionally forgets that he had prior denied that the substance of our ethical perspectives could be totally defined in evolutionary phrases, a declare that's probably in rigidity together with his endorsement of the Ruse/Joyce argument. And Stewart-Williams assumes that if we settle for the mistake concept, then it easily follows that we needs to turn into ethical subjectivists of the main primitive sort and that our final ethical perspectives are in simple terms a question of taste.

The defence of utilitarianism is left to the final hasty few pages of the booklet. Stewart-Williams thinks that utilitarianism is supported by the time that ethical intuitions opposing it might were chosen by means of evolution (again his prior recommendation that social affects play a key function in shaping our ethical perspectives is ignored). This little bit of the argument is very careworn, when you consider that that's after all additionally real of any hindrance we now have for others' discomfort. yet finally Stewart-Williams's argument for utilitarianism is just that he cares approximately affliction and approximately not anything else. As he places it, this "just occurs to be to my style and maybe to yours as well." He surprisingly ignores the most obvious relativist implications of such remarks.

While i will see why ethical nihilism and hedonic utilitarianism were left to the very finish, this manner of arranging issues is very abnormal and, coming after a number of chapters of major moral argument, might confuse a few readers. If a person occurs to care approximately issues except anguish then she might simply face up to a few of Stewart-Williams's previous moral conclusions, and, as he admits, her view will be simply as rationally defensible as his. That Stewart-Williams occurs to care purely approximately pain isn't really an implication of evolutionary theory.

I discovered Stewart-Williams's ebook best as a lucid assertion of a type of 'commonsense naturalism' -- the set of metaphysical, methaethical and moral perspectives that appear to be beautiful to informed and complex atheists. those seem to comprise the claims that unfastened will is an phantasm, existence is incomprehensible, morality is a fantasy and finally in accordance with our subjective attitudes, and that the single factor that morally issues is soreness (and possibly pleasure). whereas now not an incoherent set of perspectives, and whereas i will be able to see the way it might be an enticing package deal to a definite form of individual, it really is in many ways a unusual record. particularly, as Bernard Williams mentioned, it truly is really particularly effortless to reject utilitarianism if one takes morality to be finally in keeping with not anything greater than our subjective commitments. Stewart-Williams is cautious sufficient to tell apart more than a few theist perspectives within the first a part of the publication and attempts to evaluate how every one is laid low with the reality of evolutionary idea. it truly is unlucky that during the remainder of the publication he provides any such slim photo of the moral perspectives which are left at the desk after we settle for evolutionary thought, on condition that evolutionary concept -- or fairly, naturalism -- is completely suitable with a miles broader variety of metaethical and normative options.

This ebook is obviously written and vigorously argued. It covers loads of flooring, however it isn't philosophically deep or specifically unique. The arguments opposed to God's lifestyles in its first half are not likely to provoke theists philosophers, who will (perhaps rightly) suppose that Stewart-Williams easily ignores crucial theist strikes and arguments of contemporary a long time. The dialogue of morality, whereas lucid, is essentially derived from Ruse, Joyce, Rachels and Singer -- authors which are already really obtainable. This publication will be advantageous for an introductory undergraduate direction. The dialogue is a little more concentrated and systematic than fresh New Atheist books, but when I needed to decide upon an introductory ebook for an undergraduate direction, I'd most likely desire Dawkins and Dennett.

Show description

Preview of Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew PDF

Similar Biology books

The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture

Armed with outstanding new discoveries approximately our genes, acclaimed technological know-how author Matt Ridley turns his realization to the nature-versus-nurture debate in a considerate booklet concerning the roots of human habit. Ridley recounts the hundred years' struggle among the partisans of nature and nurture to give an explanation for how this paradoxical creature, the individual, should be at the same time free-willed and encouraged by way of intuition and tradition.

Lifelines: Life Beyond the Gene, rev. ed.

This present day, genes are held to account for each element of our lives, from social inequalities to well-being, sexual choice and so on. Professor Rose emphasizes the organism instead of the gene, and provides a daring new viewpoint on biology that recognizes the primarily complicated nature of existence.

Human Evolution: Trails from the Past

Human Evolution presents a complete assessment of hominid evolution, synthesizing facts and ways from fields as various as actual anthropology, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, genetics, archaeology, psychology, and philosophy.

The publication starts off with chapters on evolution, inhabitants genetics, systematics, and the tools for developing evolutionary timber. those are via a complete assessment of the fossil heritage of human evolution due to the fact that our divergence from the apes. next chapters conceal newer facts, either fossil and molecular, in terms of the evolution of recent people. a last part describes the evolution of tradition, language, artwork, and morality.

The authors are prime specialists in complementary fields of scholarship: actual anthropology and molecular evolution. through the e-book they effectively combine their services in evolutionary concept, phylogenetics, genomics, cultural evolution, language, aesthetics, and morality to supply a innovative textbook, copiously illustrated and with an in depth and up to date bibliography. The textual content is acceptable for either senior undergraduate and graduate point scholars taking classes on human evolution inside departments of biology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. The publication can also be of curiosity to a extra basic viewers looking a readable, up to date, and inclusive remedy of human origins and evolution.

Biocode: The New Age of Genomics

The residing international runs on genomic software program - what sunrise box and Neil Davies name the 'biocode' - the sum of all DNA on the earth. In Biocode, they inform the tale of a brand new age of clinical discovery: the turning out to be worldwide attempt to learn and map the biocode, and what that may suggest for the longer term. The constitution of DNA was once pointed out in 1953, and the complete human genome was once mapped by way of 2003.

Additional info for Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew

Show sample text content

This comprises the timing of the decay of radioactive nuclei and the measured states of electrons and photons. we will be able to assign chances to those occasions, yet we can't are expecting them accurately – no longer simply because we don’t comprehend them good adequate, yet simply because they're essentially, irreducibly unpredictable. they're actually uncaused occasions. hence, our average instinct that each occasion should have a reason seems to be fake in terms of the behaviour of subject at a subatomic point. it could actually even be fake in terms of the query of the starting place of the universe. in actual fact that the universe may possibly easily haven't any reason. this isn't simply idle hypothesis. Many physicists think that the universe emerged from an uncaused quantum fluctuation within the space-time void. 12 A quantum fluctuation is the spontaneous visual appeal of strength out of not anything. ‘Wait a minute’, cries good judgment (perhaps strengthened via the legislations of the conservation of energy). ‘You can’t get whatever from not anything! ’ yet you could if the anything in query provides as much as not anything. Quantum fluctuations contain the simultaneous visual appeal of a particle and a matched antiparticle. this occurs forever, and typically those ‘virtual’ debris cave in directly again into one another and into nothingness. yet now not continuously. In a minimum of one case, issues labored out a section in a different way and, instead of nothingness, we ended up with the massive Bang and the universe. in keeping with this speculation, the whole power of the universe seems to be 0. Simplifying slightly, the physicist Stephen Hawking famous that: ‘In the case of a universe that's nearly uniform in house, you can express that [the] unfavourable gravitational strength precisely cancels the optimistic power represented via the problem. ’13 In different phrases, the universe itself is anything that 12 thirteen See, e. g. , Atkins (1993); Craig and Smith (1993); Stenger (2003, 2007); Tryon (1973); Vilenkin (1982, 2006). Hawking (1988), p. 129. eighty four * Darwin, God and the that means of lifestyles provides as much as not anything. this is often in keeping with the concept it was once initiated through an uncaused quantum fluctuation – the falling aside of not anything into equal-but-opposite somethings. In daily life, it's continually important to imagine that the issues that take place have a reason, and doubtless this was once the case for our hunter-gatherer ancestors besides. possibly, notwithstanding, this rule of thumb doesn't practice to universes. might be such things as universes simply exist inexplicably. this is able to look like a cop-out. yet how is it any further challenging than the concept that God simply exists inexplicably? in fact, we nonetheless don't know why there exists a space-time void within which quantum debris and universes can simply spring into lifestyles. This brings us face-to-face with essentially the most profound questions the human brain can pose: why is there whatever instead of not anything? yet this isn't the dialog stopper that the theist supposes it to be. in spite of everything, the query applies simply besides to God because it does to the universe. Why is there God instead of not anything?

Download PDF sample

Rated 4.38 of 5 – based on 20 votes