Or more accurately, I don’t get why people are so invested in them. Jim Manzi:
First, I am making a fact claim. My fact claim is this: The findings of the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology (MES) do not demonstrate that the universe is not unfolding according to a divine plan that privileges human beings
This has been going on for awhile. Manzi is just making, what seems to me, to be a pretty basic claim: that evolution doesn’t preclude believing in a god that’s running the show. Which seems pretty defensible, especially when you can define “god” as just about anything you want, including “a guy who uses evolution as a tool to create human life.” But you have a whole herd of “con” people who don’t want to grant that because they see it as a slippery slope for theocracy (I guess?) and the “pro” people who are trying to stake out some territory for whichever religion they support. It’s “anti evolution” people vs “pro evolution” people, but neither side seems to realize that even if they win, they haven’t proven anything.
The whole thing is stupid (yes that’s my erudite conclusion), because there’s no possible result from this debate that helps anyone. Let’s say Manzi is 100% right (and despite being an atheist, I think he is) — what does that get anyone? Nothing. You’ve proven that there might be a god. Hurray. That’s a long way from any specific religion, because absolutely zero religions only assert that there is a god. They say “there is a god, therefore all these other things.” What evolution does contradict is religions that say “here are religious tenets that you must accept, and one of them is that life was created in a way that is at odds with evolution” — such as “in seven days” or “from the maw of Cthulu” or whatever. And, if your religion is also dependent on the idea that the book that expounds these tenets is infallible, then yes, evolution kicks out some of the major pillars of your faith. And I think that’s why you get such resistance to evolution from “the bible is the literal and infallible word of god” Christians, because it does violate their principles.
But then, we really don’t even need such a high-falutin’ theory of evolution to do that — since there are blatant internal contradictions in the bible (specifically around some of the years in which kings took the throne, etc…) And so Manzi points out some of these pre-evolution arguments as well:
[...] many changes that we observe around us seem to be what we intuitively believe to be evil – the classic case is a tortured and suffering child. How could a God that comports with our idea of benevolence actively desire every evil act in the universe? As everybody knows, this is the problem of evil.
Note that both of these objections to a divine plan are independent of evolution. Both are objections that could be (and were) raised long before Charles Darwin was born. So, for us to say that the MES [evolution, roughly speaking] rules out a divine plan that privileges humans, we must assert that there is some incremental knowledge provided by the MES that rules out such a divine plan that was not available to us prior to Darwin.
And this highlights, to me, the idiocy of the argument over the existence of god, and the term atheism in general. It really is impossible to use evolution (or anything else) to prove that god doesn’t exist. What you can do, however, is much important. You can argue that god, whether he exists or not — doesn’t matter to the way I live my life. I’m not really an atheist (though I do have the incidental belief that god doesn’t exist) — because that doesn’t define what I believe. I am an a-religionist — I believe that the principles (when held collectively, obviously I agree with many individual ones) of all religions that I have encountered are wrong, outside their belief that there might be a god. Whatever beliefs I do have I feel are justified by non-religious methods. Which is why people like using the term “secular” or “humanist.” Religion just doesn’t have any impact on my life at all.
Here’s the way I see it: if god popped up right now and said “look, you were wrong, I do exist”, I would say “oh, guess I was” and go on living my life the way I have been, except I would have a really cool story to tell people. Because if everything that is, is because god made it that way, then I should be able to deduce what god wants me to do from looking at the world around me, regardless of any intermediaries. And these are the conclusions I’ve come to.
This is a good piece by Jim Manzi:
I’ve been attending a fascinating series of monthly dinners here in Washington, in which liberals and libertarians exchange ideas. One thing that has become clear to me through these dinners is that there are two strands of libertarian thought. In somewhat cartoon terms, one strand takes liberty to be a (or in extreme cases, the) fundamental human good in and of itself; the other takes liberty to be a means to the end of discovery of methods of social organization that create other benefits. I’ll call the first “liberty-as-goal” libertarianism and the second “liberty-as-means” libertarianism.
He then sets up this paradox:
The freedom to experiment needs to include freedom to experiment with different governmental (i.e., coercive) rules. So here we have the paradox: a liberty-as-means libertarian ought to argue, in some cases, for local autonomy to restrict some personal freedoms.
This brings up the obvious example of this:
Now, obviously, there are limits to this. What if some states want to allow human chattel slavery? Well, we had a civil war to rule that out of bounds.
Good point. I think most libertarians tend to think that their beliefs are justified using the tools of the first category (liberty-as-goal, type one) and then subsequently then think that federalism (a tool of liberty-as-means, type two) is a good way to achieve it. A combination of both seems to be necessary. If you are purely federalistic, you would allow slavery — but then Manzi touches on an Arnold Kling-esque point:
Further, this imposes trade-offs on people who happen to live in some family, town or state that limits behavior in some way that they find odious, and must therefore move to some other location or be repressed. But this is a trade-off, not a tyranny.
But in some cases, this is a tyranny — and actually in precisely the scenario he suggests: slavery. It requires some basic type-one libertarian leanings to declare slavery wrong, because you feel that slaves have rights that can’t be violated by slavery.
But even the type two has a solution for this: “sure, we let a state declare slavery legal, but for federalism to work, we require that all people have the right of exit from that state, including people the state declares to be slaves.” A slave state that lets slaves leave whenever they want won’t be a slave state for very long. Now, Manzi could retort that the definition of a person is something that states could have the right to determine (for example, in the contest of abortion) within an extremely federalistic system, but I think this points to the fact that no one is a pure type two libertarian — there has to be some mutual adherence to the moral concept of what constitutes a rights-endowed person that trumps everything else.
So, I think that, for type two libertarians, this is less of a paradox (and I think Manzi himself states that it isn’t a paradox for type one libertarianism already) than it might seem. Plus, there is another method of objecting to liberty-infringing policies that a type two could put forth, but it isn’t necessarily libertarian: you could argue simply that the documents that all of the various experimenting states have jointly agreed upon place this action out of bounds. You could say that they should be interpreted in such a way that slavery is illegal, regardless of the moral (type one) or practical (type two) issues.
Other randomness: this might seem like craziness, but at what point do we start to allow people to change their jurisdiction without necessarily changing their location? For example, even right now, I am currently a citizen of Ohio, but most of the laws governing my employment are those of Arkansas, the state in which I work — though I am only rarely within the actual borders of that state. Obviously many laws are not transportable in this way: Ohio traffic laws should always take precedence in Ohio, no matter my preference for the ones in Arkansas.
But take Manzi’s prostitution example: if the entire transaction takes place within private property and no argument could be made that negative externalities are seeping out and harming prudish natives, couldn’t one elect to be a member of a different state’s jurisdiction for matters of sex, regardless of petty matters of borders? As more of our employment, entertainment and transactions take place well, in the United States of nowhere — it seems like one day this crazy libertarian scenario might work.