Blogorrhea has been dormant for a little while, so I thought I’d paste a few interesting quotes. I’ve been reading Chesterton lately. For a few years now, I have had Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man sitting on my to-read shelf. The Everlasting Man is broken into two sections, each founded on its own “striking fact”. In section one, about man, Chesterton recasts all of all of human history in light of the startling fact of humanity. And section two is about Christ: “those who say that Christ stands side by side with other myths, and his religion side by side with similar religions, are only repeating a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking fact”; namely, the fact of the Resurrection. Chapter 1 (“The Man in the Cave”), is bookended by two astute quotes about “evolution”.
There is something slow and soothing and gradual about the word [evolution] and even about the idea. As a matter of fact it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of Species.
Chesterton spends the rest of the chapter describing eloquently how cave paintings demonstrate that man is distinct from beast in having a mind. And coming back to evolution, he concludes:
Now as a matter of fact, there is a not a shadow of evidence that this thing [the human mind] was evolved at all. There is not a particle of proof that this transition came slowly or even that it came naturally. In a strictly scientific sense we simply know nothing whatever about how it grew, or whether it grew, or what it is. There may be a broken trail of stones and bones faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of this human mind. It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a transaction outside time. It has therefore nothing to do with history in the ordinary sense. The historian must take it or something like it for granted; it is not his business as a historian to explain it. But if he cannot explain it as a historian, he will not explain it as a biologist.
After I finished ch 1 of Everlasting Man, I got an email telling me that Orthodoxy is now available in .mp3! Providentially, I am currently experiencing a shortage of podcasts, so this is filling my commute all week. Chapter 3, “The Suicide of Thought,” has the thesis, “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed.” Chesterton asserts that Evolution (in a strong form; materialistic, naturalistic, atheistic) is just such a thought:
Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am.” The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, “I am not; therefore I cannot think.”
In other words, the presuppositions of the naturalist don’t account for (or allow!) personhood, nor meaningfulness.
[UPDATE] Now that I have finished listening to all of Orthodoxy, I offer one more quote about evolution. From ch. 7, Chesterton is discussing how Christianity puts man in a proper relationship with nature, but Darwinism tends either to bestial amorality (“insanely cruel”) or PETA (“insanely sentimental”):
Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals. On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but you cannot be human. That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.
If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continued to recur: only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.
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