Monday, 21 April 2014

Chapter 16: Chesterton

Chapter 16 of The Greatest Hoax on Earth is a series of fragmented arguments in which Sarfati attempts to show that the Christian doctrine of the Fall (interpreted through a narrow young-Earth creationist filter) better explains suffering, death and disease than does evolution.  I didn't engage much with this chapter, as the topic is the kind of one where people like Sarfati and people like Dawkins seem to be arguing past each other.  As Sarfati says in the chapter's introduction: "this is a quasi-theological argument rather than a scientific argument".  However, I did pick up on the following.

On page 297 Sarfati says:
Indeed, why should Christians jump on the evolutionary bandwagon anyway? A century before Dawkins' book Greatest Show, Christian apologist and novelist G.K. Chesterton argued that evolution doesn't provide a basis for dealing with animals
Sarfati then quotes from chapter seven of Chesterton's apologetic work Orthodoxy:
Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and connection of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals...That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.
If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main  point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.
Here are my concerns with what Sarfati is saying and how he is using Chesterton.

First, there's the obvious fact that evolutionary theory has changed significantly since a) the time of Darwin and b) the time of Chesterton (Orthodoxy was published in 1908).  So 'Darwinism' and 'evolution' as Chesterton understood them differ from what Dawkins and Sarfati are arguing about.

Second, I've read Orthodoxy, so I know that Chesterton's points are more complex than Sarfati is admitting.   The passage quoted by Sarfati is part of Chesterton's critique of modern (in his time) ideas of progress.  Chesterton is considering Darwinism as it relates to philosopy, rather than as a biological theory.  Earlier in Orthodoxy (in chapter three), Chesterton makes this clear.  He has no problem with evolution as an "innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about", but argues against any claims beyond this:
Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape very slowly turned into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. [emphasis mine]
For a really good analysis of Chesterton's changing views of evolution, have a look at this blog entry (and another post linked at the bottom of that one):'t-gkc-and-evolution-part-i/

1 comment:

  1. My latest post here may be of interest: