Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Darwin, Locke, and Classical Liberalism

This post by Larry Arnhart raises some fascinating questions and points.  A taste:
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59). They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159). I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158). 
The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism. They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198). Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196). 
The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11). It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 
Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point. For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44). Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature." Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 
In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin. He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life. Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.

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