3.2 Is Evolution as Presently Known Acceptable as the Fundamental Theme?


Morality has to do with goals, and if a desirable ultimate goal could be found for mankind it should be possible to hand to social science the more mature science of tomorrow, if not the feeble infant of today the task of finding what behaviors in individual men best bring us nearer to that goal.

The number of such possible goals human happiness, progress, knowledge, self-realization, human perfection is, of course, infinite, and many writers have chosen some of the more obvious and popular. It is evident that the goal must be defined in terms of mankind as a whole, for individuals might and do choose goals that conflict with those of others and therefore, lack universality, and individuals quickly pass while mankind alone can pursue remote goals.

Whereas the revealed religions, the rationalists, the Utopians, and even the utilitarians have chosen a goal by some arbitrary decision, the consistency of the scientific approach first thoroughly followed here requires that we find the goal, in nature, not merely manufacture it. It is in the discovery, by scientific investigation, of this goal that the appropriateness of the term Beyondism, for this system of ethics, will become apparent.

The major systematic discovery of science in the last century may be that of organic and inorganic evolution. Here seems to be the message and the meaning still written mysteriously but large across the face of our universe. That much remains to be interpreted is shown by the fact that conjectures about the real nature of evolution have reached a crescendo of debate. Is evolution always to "better" things? Is it inevitable or dependent on circumstances? Do we have evidence of one-way organic evolution anywhere than on earth? Can one make any objective distinction between the terms "change" and "evolution"? Does evolution have a variety of directions or just one? And so on.

Granted these uncertainties, yet it remains the one increasing purpose visible to us. And since man is one small instrument in the orchestration of this symphony his role may seem sufficiently defined. On the other hand, the possibility has to be considered that since he has self-awareness and self-will he is free to recognize and admit this grand purpose while declining to be part of it. Actually, as we scrutinize this latter possibility more closely below, it may turn out that the freedom of man to choose his "direction" is as limited as that of man trying to find his way out of the blackness of a cave. His self-will may have only the choice of committing suicide or living by the conditions of reality.

Leaving the first issue the quality and nature of the evolutionary goal to be illuminated as we proceed, let us first ask at this point whether evolution is indeed the primary and supraordinate purpose increasingly visible to enquiry, and, secondly, whether it is an inescapable scientific conclusion that we must shape our human lives to it, or whether, on the contrary, an additional act of faith is required. (Such questions as whether we are allying ourselves with a "benevolent" purpose come later.) Science is not unacquainted with having to make certain basic acts of faith in the otherwise sceptical and objective use of its procedures. First, there is Descartes' postulate of the existence of the investigator himself. "I am conscious; therefore I am," and, secondly, there is the act of faith of Hume (based as we have pointed out above, page 22, Section 1.5, rationally only on probability) that we are not encaged in a Berkelian solipsism. It is an experience that the individual exists: it is an act of faith that a common world also exists. Some philosophers would argue that there are additional acts of faith, in accepting the usual epistemological foundations of knowledge. For example, is it faith or experience that there is order (in that natural law is never capriciously abrogated) so that "replicable experimental results" are possible.

In view of these one or two inescapable prior confessions of faith if we should decide that we have a choice of accepting or not accepting the evolutionary goal, one more act of faith in accepting it would not be outrageous to the scientific conscience. To accept what moral laws and much else besides derive from such a single act of faith would be much less arbitrary than making the numerous separate acts of faith required by the creeds of the great revealed religions. However, as I have suggested above, it may turn out that man has only the choice of living by the laws of the universe of which the evolutionary process is an inevitable part, or of refusing to live at all. Thus if it be called an act of faith to decide to live, then, accepting evolution requires an act of faith. But this scarcely has the usual meaning of "faith" when it becomes synonymous simply with existence versus non-existence.

Naturally one asks at this point "What might decide rational men against participating in the scheme of evolution if necessary at the cost of disappearing as a species?" A first possibility is that men might react by something no different basically from the child's temper tantrum: "I cannot be immediately omnipotent, so I will not play." A second and more thoughtful reason could rest on a decision that evolution is either indifferent to man, or evilly disposed to him. As man matures in thought he certainly becomes more aware of the possibility that evolution (or, indeed, the universe as a whole) is cold and indifferent, lacking in benevolence, and no more concerned with man than with an ant or grain of dust.

On the one hand, since love in some sense means life to us, we can surely take heart from the fact that the "machinery" of the universe has already produced man, and love, and understanding. There is surely at least the probability that it is engaged in expanding these qualities[4]. Incidentally, even if man desires to believe in some benevolent force with which he cooperates there is still no need to make God in his own image. Indeed, since it is in the nature of man to cut down whatever attempts to usurp his power, the existence of a God so constituted would forever deny man growing into control of his universe.

But, if when all is said we remain with legitimate doubts that evolution is what we think it is, or doubt whether what we value as love is an increasing principle in the universe, then the logical decision must still be to commit ourselves to evolution. For only by evolving in intelligence and knowledge can we reach the answer. This we may call the "forced choice" argument, for it says that if we refuse the "act of faith" and prefer suspended judgment, then we would still make the same immediate choice (if we are to live and to know), as the person who accepts on faith. For him whose temperament says "yes" immediately the poet has spoken well:

"Yet I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs
And the thoughts of men are broadened with the progress of the suns."
For the more sceptical there are still more intriguing thoughts, urging him by a devouring curiosity to move forward. He may believe, as a perceptive scientist has said, that "Nature is probably not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we are capable of imagining." Consequently when we say the forced choice principle leads likewise to an acceptance of evolution we mean especially biological evolution, toward a brain capacity and structure capable of understanding beyond present limits. For mere accumulation of knowledge by scientific method at our present stage of evolution as a species is not going to be enough[5].

Thus, in sum, the only conclusion left to intelligent man is that our species has to accept evolution and strive for evolutionary gains. Before proceeding further on our argument it is interesting to note how new or different the goal of evolutionary progress is compared with those that have historically dominated human values up to present times. In Graeco-Roman times, and in the Orient until this generation, it is no exaggeration to say that the idea of progress and process did not exist (Bury, 1920). In Christianity, with its orientation to a future world, the emotional basis for progress was prepared; "the present is not good enough and man is imperfect." However, as sociologists have noted (Weber, 1904), it was only in the Protestant ethic that Christianity came near to translating itself into a philosophy of human progress on earth. There is a sense in which this social ethic may be said to have degenerated despite freeing itself from "superstition," and moving to an objective basis in Utilitarianism. For the goal of the latter and its contemporary derivatives, as we have seen, slipped into becoming merely Hedonistic or Humanistic. (If happiness or pleasure were in fact accepted as the goal, it might indeed be achieved by drugs, or implanted electrodes.) Carritt's (1928) criticism of the "summum bonum [as the] ignis fatuus of moral philosophy" is here well taken. Neither as the total good nor as the total happiness can the utilitarian goal be accepted.

Equally fallacious in the light of the goal we now embrace are the values of Existentialism, represented by Sartre's (1948) "Man ... must count on himself ... with no other aim than the one he sets himself." What he sets himself today at least in the circles of the comfortable self-centered encapsulated intellectual existentialist of our time is a trivial aim indeed. On the contrary, the scientist who follows Beyondism finds his goal in his active, group-coordinated investigation of the universe. That goal is no passive acceptance of a tide of evolution. Rather it commands the Beyondist to navigate on that tide to take matters into his own hands and experiment and strive. There is no contradiction between the inevitability of evolution for living things as a whole, and man's deliberately attempting to explore his own evolutionary potentialities. Will is a part of the natural process. Even so, this is not as an individual simply adjusting to his corner of the universe, as in Existentialism, but the positive undertaking of what is necessarily a group adventure. More emotionally akin to the Beyondist position is that of the theologians in several ages who were willing to consider an understanding of the universe a proper part of "natural theology." Here theologian and scientist are one in "trying to think God's thought after him."

The first and vital step in the Beyondist argument the acceptance of the evolutionary goal cannot be left without recognizing a deeper paradox which has long puzzled philosophers. Since Epicurus, men have asked how it can be that if some Supreme Being exists and is benevolent, he cannot keep evil out of his universe. If he is omnipotent and permits evil then he is not entirely good; if he is entirely good then he is not omnipotent. Analogously in the realm of evolution one may ask, if the ultimate outcome is pre-determined by a Supreme Being and immanent in the structure of the universe, why do we have to re-discover it by the long joy and suffering of trial and error? Surely we have to admit that the limitations of our present understanding are such that we are probably asking a false question. The enigma simply underscores our need to evolve in power of comprehension.















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