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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, April 02, 2011

John Gray on Darwinism and death

This essay is a mixed bag - and contains many claims that I don't endorse or endorse only with reservations - but it's still worth reading and discussing. It penetrates below the surface of the obvious inconsistency between the scientific picture and outright Christian fundamentalism. The worries caused by Darwinian theory, in particular, go much deeper than that:

Even if an afterlife were a natural fact, it would not mean that human personality would endure for ever. If Darwinism is true, it is hard to see how such a thing could be possible. If there is no insuperable barrier between human minds and the minds of other animals, there seems no reason why the after-world should be populated only by humans.
But if other animals also pass over into the after-world at death, do they survive as disembodied minds or do they acquire new bodies? Either way, was the after-world empty until life evolved and death appeared?

None of these questions can be answered, and in truth Darwinism cannot be reconciled with any idea of a post-mortem world. In Darwin's scheme of things species are not fixed or everlasting; their boundaries are blurred and shifting. How then could only one species go on to a world beyond the grave?

Victorian seekers after evidence of survival often imagined evolution continuing into the after-world. But they always did so in a way that distorted Darwin's vision, injecting into evolution ideas of purpose and progress for which it has no place.


Marshall said...

Isaiah 11: " 'See, I will create new heavens and a new earth... The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox and dust will be the serpent's food.' " On a Literalist interpretation, there are animals in Heaven. No problem, it's open and shut.

"None of these questions can be answered, and in truth Darwinism cannot be reconciled with any idea of a post-mortem world."

I think this sort of statement just shows a lack of imagination. I suppose we can't answer them in any definitive way, but then we don't really understand how gravity works, either. I personally suppose, if animals pass over (as above), then they get whatever we get. There isn't any need to cite human exceptionalism, except to soothe the human ego. Is eternal life in Heaven given to the souls of Precambrian blue-green algae? Why not? It's above my pay grade. If you don't like that theory, I can suggest others.

Evolution does appear to favor increasing complexity in the most general purposeless sort of way. So maybe our eschatological situation is a question of making the tools to make the tools (etc.) to successfully pass over. Maybe the process of passing over involves some construct of symbolic logic which humans are capable of training themselves to. And beings sentient or otherwise that don't attain the construct wind up on the compost pile, that fire that is never quenched. Where yesterday's grapefruit rind may suffer, but not for long.

Actually we believe that when Jesus said "Seek First the Kingdom", he meant we should live rightly, with charity towards all here and now, after which judgement will be what it is. Save or delete?

Shatterface said...

All dogs go to Heaven - except the one from The Littlest Hobo who murdered that hooker.