- Series: Routledge Classics
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (March 31, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415278333
- ISBN-13: 978-0415278331
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #851,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears (Routledge Classics) (Volume 25) 2nd Edition
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"Midgley is one of the most acute and penetrating voices in current moral philosophy. Her great gift is clarity, both of thought and, especially, of expression. . To follow her reasoning . is like watching a ballet dancer walking in the street: there is a litheness, a gracefulness, an ease of articulation, which attests to years of learning lightly worn."
-John Banville," The Irish Times
"A graceful, refreshing and enlightening book, applied philosophy that is relevant, timely and metaphysical in the best sense."
-" The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Mary Midgley (1919- ) A philosopher with a special interest in ethics, human nature and science, Mary Midgley has a widespread international following for her work. Her latest book is Science and Poetry.
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Midgley begins by arguing that unlike Darwin's account of the theory of evolution (supposedly, although Darwin himself had elements of both of these in his account), two distinct fallacies have arisen in the interpretation of this account: the "Social Darwinist" distortion (perhaps best expressed in the phrase "survival of the fittest" invented by Herbert Spencer) and the Panglossian or "Escalator Fallacy" (the naïve belief in progress, first put into form by Lamarck). Midgley also comments on the underpinnings of Darwin's own writings (showing the influence of his extracurricular readings on his worldview) and the apparent conflict between religion and biology (which is believed to arise out of a fear of biology). These two fallacies will continue to appear over and over again in the writings of noted Darwinists, despite the claims of Darwinists to have eliminated both of them from their accounts once and for all. Midgley next considers the supposed competition between religion and science (showing how these alleged demarcation disputes actually arise from a fallacy made by both the overzealous religious and scientists). Midgley considers for example the debate over evolution between Bishop Wilberforce and T. H. Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog"). According to the popular understanding of this debate, it is maintained that Wilberforce simply waffled and appealed to emotion. However, as Midgley shows this is not what occurred; instead, it should be noted that Wilberforce called for evidence (which at the time Huxley could not have provided) and actually presented a coherent argument (being somewhat of a scientist in his own right). Huxley was also the first to consider the idea of science as a paid profession and not merely a gentlemanly pursuit. Midgley then considers the question of evolution as religion. She explains how it is useful to speak of such things as Marxism as religion, and that no one argues that (alleged) non-theistic religions such as the original form of Buddhism are in fact religions, thus it should also be useful to speak of evolution as a religion. Midgley then goes on to consider the so-called "Escalator Fallacy", showing how this fallacy lies at the heart of much of the prophesying made by scientists. Indeed, much of the appeal of the uncovering of human genetics is rooted in the idea of the creation of an "Omega man" or a "superman" (often amounting to a supposed increase in intelligence). This idea of the "Omega man" was first proposed by the religious Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, but it was later co-opted by atheistic scientists who became overly enamored of the fallacy of progress. Midgley also quotes extensively from the works of Nietzsche in this regard (making note of the role of eugenics in the breeding of the "superman"). Midgley considers some of the problems involved in genetic engineering and quotes such Darwinians as E. O. Wilson to illustrate the "Escalator Fallacy" in their thinking. Midgley also shows how the ideal of the "superscientist" is maintained as the goal of human evolution. (The undertones to such utopian thinking are indeed ominous.) Following this, Midgley considers various remarks made by the physicist Steven Weinberg and the biochemist Jacques Monod, which amount to a form of existentialism, mimicking Sartre. For instance, Monod maintains that the universe is a meaningless and dangerous place in which man lives as an alien and that man's only solace is to be found in science (why science should provide a source of redemption is of course never adequately explained). Such remarks are certainly religious. Monod makes war against "animism" which is what he beliefs to be the fallacies of progress and Social Darwinism; however, his own statements retain traces of both. Midgley next considers some of the antitheses which are alleged to exist between science and other forms of thinking. She shows how much of this type of thinking is highly problematic. Following this Midgley turns to the fallacy of Social Darwinism. Obvious cases of this are to be found in the writings of Spencer, the American eugenicists, and Adolf Hitler, but Social Darwinism also continually creeps up in the writings of the sociobiologists. Social Darwinism amounts to an affirmation of the Hobbesian ideal, a view of nature as "red in tooth and claw", and support for the philosophy of selfishness. For example, there is the statement of noted sociobiologist M. T. Ghiselin, "Scratch an `altruist' watch a `hypocrite' bleed." Further, Social Darwinism has frequently been used as a justification for the most rampant excesses of individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. Midgley considers the question of selfishness in the writings of Dawkins (theorist of the "selfish gene") and Wilson (who claimed that life only existed so that DNA could make more DNA). Midgley shows how such claims regarding selfish genes are anthropomorphic and ill-founded. (A better demolition of Dawkins is provided in the work of David Stove.) Midgley then goes on to show the limits of individualism and the dangers of progress and the excesses of Enlightenment humanism. Midgley also makes some interesting remarks on rights and duties (the idea of "duty towards oneself"), the possibility of animal rights, and the need to rethink our position towards other species, ourselves, and the environment.
The thinking of Midgley in this book is important, because it reveals the religious underpinnings of many of the modern scientific notions (regarding progress and utopia or dystopia). Scientists who refuse to think critically about their endeavors run the risk of becoming inhuman. And, the damage that has been done by predatory excesses (both of individualism and laissez-faire capitalism) should not be underestimated. These are important words of wisdom that should be heeded especially by those who are least likely to listen.
While I'm more persuaded by John Lennon's assessment of the theory, than perhaps Midgley's who is clearly in favour, I never the less am impressed by her clear and perceptive analysis of the history and development not only of the theory, but if one might suggest the institution that has developed with it. Like all institutions there are the founding fathers,in this case Darwin and of course the lesser known Wallace their first disciples , the hero's,and fables, such as the alleged dispute between a certain bishop and one Mr Huxley, for which there is not record or evidence.
I may not be a creationist in the usual sense of the the word, but on the other hand that the scientific community insist that I believe a fish, rather a protozoa some how or another lucked its way to becoming a human, takes more faith than I can muster.
That said I am impressed with Midgley's startling honesty and dare I say courage to dare critique this religion from within as it were
she refreshes my faith in humanity's ability to reason with integrity.
I would recommend this book to people like to wrestle with complex issues as indeed this subject is, no matter what their persuasion, far more interesting and reasonable than any Dawkins material I've ever come across.
I have two main objections; one is that Midgley defines 'faith' in such a way that it can mean you have 'faith' that a clock indicates the time of day. The other is that she confuses or confabulates 'evolution' with 'natural selection.' That is often a common error of ID advocates, but I'm a bit surprised with Midgley.
Charles Darwin's 'theory' concerns the process of organic evolution, the mutability of species, not the fact. Evolution, while not universally accepted, was pretty well known when Darwin did his work. What he contributed is 'how' it happened, not that it did. I found it very curious that Midgley does not seem to have even made an attempt to read some basic (i.e. freshman introductory) material on the topic. I simply ran out of times where she made very basic errors of fact.
I'm not sure why this is considered a 'classic' as it is off track in my opinion.