After reading a chapter by Michael Northcott about post-Darwin theological ethics from the edited volume, Theology After Darwin, I was going to post a précis. I would have talked about Northcott’s claim that the moral implications of Darwin’s theory of evolutionary description depend on the extent to which they inhere open-ended randomness or chance. In other words, I would have said, the crux of the matter is whether it is interpreted with or without a teleology. Along the way I would have been ashamed of myself for such a petty word. I would have rehearsed his bringing into the conversation Samuel Butler, who contra both problematic Cartesian psycho-somatic schemes and Darwin’s physical-material reductionism which negates the mind and fathers an anthropology that is “flesh all the way down”, introduces cunning (a bold word, I think, much more interesting than intelligence). Surely, in the mix of this it would have been proper for me to discuss Northcott’s retrieval of Darwin’s central theological influence, Thomas Malthus, and his supplying of something called the population theory in the absence of mind.
Next, I should have recounted Northcott’s genealogy of the descent of morality in later Darwin and those who assumed his mantle. This part was utterly boring to me as someone not attuned to the linguistic discourse of evolutionary theorists, I hopefully would have in honesty remarked.
I would have then talked about Northcott’s contrasting the preceding views with those who interpret the universe as a convergence in divine and natural selection. These views, predictably, and with a scientific dignity, find a compatibilism in evolutionary description and divine creation. What this brings to light, Northcott notes, and I would have noted that he notes, is that evolutionary description itself is inadequate for any kind of moral/immoral/amoral justification, and must be accompanied by a metanarrative. Those who find compatibility believe that humans are meant to be and that the divine creator works immanently in the process of evolution, while those on the other side of the coin differ to open-endedness. The nub is whether the biological history has a teleology.
Finally, I would have followed Northcott in reporting recent developments in ethology which suggests the morality of nonhuman creatures, the inherence not only of predation and struggle, but of cooperation and care, minimizing the binary divide between biology and morality, and, significantly, between human creatures and nonhuman creatures. Further, the implications of recent views put forward by Northcott find resonance with Christian theology, which contains within it the potential of obviating such a bifurcated world. And that Christians themselves may find a new perspective from which to view the God who brings order from chaos, who is not a distant observer of the tohu wa-bohu, but one who suffers with creation and takes solidarity with creatures in pain.
Apologies for the meta-ness of all that, I found it a bit obnoxious too. I was having difficulty seeing any worth in writing tonight as I am still subject to the residual vibrations of the meditative cinema, the Tree of Life. The hypothetical statements were attempts to bear tones of superficiality that all this felt in light of the whirlwind-that-is-whatever-it-was-that-that-movie-was. Anyway, John Coltrane gets it. I suggest listening to On Green Dolphin Street right about now.