Darwinian Conservatism?

, Wendy Cook, Leave a comment

Could adhering to Darwinism help the conservative cause? Yes, according to Larry Arnhart, who spoke on the topic this week during a heated panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute. He calls this new way of thinking, “Darwinian Conservatism”.

“Conservatives need Darwinsim,” explained Larry Arnhart, political science professor at Northern Illinois University and author of Darwinian Conservatism. “I say that because George Bush’s compassionate conservatism has been an intellectual and political disaster for conservatism. The only escape from that disaster is to revive conservatism as the fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism.”

Arnhart does admit that the Darwinian Theory is not flawless, but he does feel that it offers a large amount of evidence, more so than say the Intelligent Design theory or Creation Theory. “Although I do not think we can reason by logical inference from ordinary experience to the existence of a Creator, a Darwinian view of the living world as governed by natural laws is at least compatible with a theistic faith in the Creator as the supernatural source of those natural laws,” he wrote in an article for Orthodoxy Today.

He went on to explain that Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how spontaneous order arises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by genetic evolution and expressed by cultural evolution.

“A Darwinian understanding of evolved human nature can, in fact, support that conservative fusion of liberty, order, freedom and virtue… That is why I think conservatives need Darwinian conservatism.”

During the panel discussion Arnhart gave five propositions to support his claim:

1. Darwinism supports the conservative view of ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, customary traditions and prudential judgments.

2. Darwinism supports the conservative view of the natural moral sense of securing the moral order of liberty.

3. Darwinism supports the conservative view of sexual differences, family life and parental life as securing the social order of living.

4. Darwinism supports the conservative view of property as securing the economic order of liberty.

5. Darwinism supports the conservative view of limited government as securing the political order of liberty.

He also cited the three objections he often receives about the proposed claims above:

1. Scientific creationism and Intelligent Design theory have exposed Darwinian biology as simply untrue.

2. Darwinism subverts traditional morality and by promoting a material view of the universe.

3. Darwinism promotes atheism and therefore undermines traditional religion.

Again, Arnhart refuted those claims by giving his interpretation of what Charles Darwin was trying to convey and examples of other evolutionist research.

“Most Americans and most conservatives are not going to agree on a literal reading of the bible that teaches the universe was created in six literal days and neither are most Americans going to agree on the moral rules of the Bible and so if we’re not going to have Biblical theocracy then we need to appeal to some natural standards of truth and morality, something like the tradition of natural law, and Darwinian naturalism supports such a tradition of natural morality by rooting it in the evolved nature of human beings,” concluded Arnhart.

He also feels it is important for conservatives to show that their position is compatible with this new science of human nature if they want to remain “intellectually vital”.

But outside the intellectual community, Darwin polls about as well as the President does.
A July 2005 survey sponsored by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that 60 percent believe that “humans and other animals have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a Supreme Being.” Only 26 percent agree with Darwin that life evolved through natural selection.

Wendy Cook is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.