Friday, October 21, 2011

Evolution Is Slower than That

I’ve been hearing a lot lately from Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College. I’ve been taking advantage of the free class on the Constitution from Hillsdale, through the Heritage Foundation, with the several classes and last night’s final discussion, presented by Larry Arnn. And then, in addition, Uncommon Knowledge is doing their five-part interview this week with Larry Arnn. 

Part 2 was especially interesting to me. There’s something I have thought to myself for a long time that he articulated, which made me sense I have been right about that all along. 

Larry Arnn (right) interviewed on Uncommon Knowledge
This post isn’t really about evolution so much as it is about the philosophical vacancy of progressivism. When you look at what Woodrow Wilson and other progressives of a century ago, believed about human nature, it is out of synch with the reality we can easily observe. There is a belief like this: Now that we know about evolution, and that we continue to progress, we have therefore evolved beyond where we need to worry about moral laws, because we can make wise decisions based on science. 

I don’t want to deal with the validity of evolution here. I don’t personally know how God went about creating us; it is enough for me that I know He did it. But those who do believe in evolution deal with eons of time. A tiny change happens in, say year one, another tiny change century or two later. These tiny changes build up so that in a few million years you might start to notice change. 

So here are the progressives making the assumption that so much “progress” has happened in the century or two since our founding that the same rules no longer apply to us; we are beyond the need for limited government as is built into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And evolution contains the idea that the direction is always positive, so you might as well engineer more change, since it can’t be wrong. 

So, they believe evolution is slow—except for humans, and except for now. They believe humans have always been progressing forward, so they miss the possibility of decay that is evident in the failure of every past civilization. And they think they know enough science now that they no longer need morality as a guide. Let me just say, someone who thinks that way is so far behind the bell curve of human thinking that we don’t want them anywhere near power. 

Larry Arnn points out two specific errors Wilson was making: condescension toward the founders, and ignoring human nature. He says this on the first point:  

They [the founders] had to declare an entirely new set of principles by which to govern, and make war on the biggest force on earth. And they named it—the Congress was called the Continental Congress. They hadn’t seen the continent, didn’t until Lewis and Clark came back to report to now President Jefferson in 1805…. So vast acts of imagination. And then they had to figure out a way for the first free government in history to grow across the continent. In other words, they faced enormous complications. And the idea that the complications of the 19th Century are larger is bunkum. 

I love that a university president is comfortable using the word “bunkum.” Professor Arnn appears unassuming, a little provincial, and talks like he came from maybe a southern middle state instead of an east or left coastal state. It could be easy to underestimate him; I’m sure Woodrow Wilson would. 

The second point, about human nature, is better done in context, but I’ll try to pull out enough. Arnn says that the core thing is what Madison says is written in this fact:  

“We require to be governed because we are not angels, but government must be limited because angels do not govern men.” And so… just as we outside the government require to be governed, those inside the government also require to be governed. And that has to be strictly arranged, because they need and they will have a lot of power. 

He points out that Madison and Jefferson, the founders, set up a government that they could have controlled with all the power they wanted. But they didn’t. Madison “was the maker of the institution that kept the president from being all powerful. So he’s not saying anything against the characters of people who are alive today, except the simple thing that they are human and not angels.”  

There’s a section where Arnn describes what the nature of man is. And it leads beautifully back to the error about evolution. 

Nature… means the thing itself.... It means the cup is a cup; it has cupness about it that makes it a cup, and there’s lots of different cups, but you can see the cupness in all of them. So the nature of a thing is whatever it is specifically. The nature of the human being is to reason, which is the animal that can reason. Now the second thing nature means is beginning growth by which living things come to be. The word nature actually comes from the Latin word for birth…. 

So, when you look at people, it doesn’t actually matter from the point of view of nature whether human beings used to be monkeys. What we know is, when you look at the things in nature that are before us now, this human thing is a very distinctive thing.  

He gives a historic example from the Alabama slave code, about humanness, as opposed to other property, such as hogs: 

There were restrictions on how many slaves could get together, and how long they could stay together, and how long they could be indoors together. And those were generally waived in the case of meeting with a qualified minister. Now they put all kinds of fences around their hogs, and they didn’t make exemptions for the hogs to go meet the minister. But they did the slaves, ‘cause they know what they are. That’s the nature of the man. And the rights of the man are written in the nature of the man, and you cannot mistake it. 

Now here’s Arnn's point about the speed of evolution: 

Remember Woodrow Wilson thinks that things are evolving very fast. You know, ‘cause he’s writing... in about 1880 or about 1890, and the founding is about a hundred years before. And he thinks that all of the fundamental conditions have been repealed by time—in a hundred years. But have they? You can see that they have not. So if you think that evolution is supplying some standard that permits people to do whatever they want to do, that’s only a good idea if they’re not still people. But what if they are? What if the nature of the man persists? What if it’s true that you and I, people of good will who’ve known each other a while, and would be ashamed if we knew about each other that we did something wrong—what if it’s true that neither of us is quite the man that George Washington was? Nature! Something made him really great. Doesn’t happen very often. 

We could sure use another Washington, Jefferson or Madison. Or a Lincoln. Or a Ronald Reagan. Woodrow Wilson, perhaps through arrogance, put decay, not progress, into codified government. We definitely don’t need a weak reincarnation of him in leadership. If there’s a certain evidence that we haven’t “evolved” far enough yet, it is that as a human people we were duped into placing such a person in office in 2008. The founders two centuries ago knew better.

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