Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Can Evolution Explain Human Nature?

Originally posted on September 8, 2011

There’s a website that presents thoughtful people commenting on important questions. I attend a small discussion group that explores such themes, and they selected for our consideration the title question.  In addition to the really quite sensitive ideas of the people mentioned, here are some of my thoughts, too:

The idea that anything can be “explained” may be itself problematical, a product of the modern world-view. The idea that there is an “explanation” seems to me to suggest a complete explanation. Several of the commentators don’t tackle this assumption head on, but several do open the door to suggesting that there are a variety of viewpoints rather than, in this case, that which may be imagined to support species survival via processes of natural selection.

History is riddled with events that went this way instead of that because of near chance-level turning-points, and the contra-factual history series titled “What if?” offers many examples.

So for this and other reasons, I approach it backwards: How are the conclusions being used? “By their fruits shall ye know them.” (Matt: 7:16). In other words, the problem with explanation is embedded in the concept that there can be certain theories or formulas solid enough for extrapolations to be made, irrespective of what those are. But that is blindness, a denial of stupidity, a slavish acceptance of rationalizations as if they were reasons, biased towards the self interest of the rationalizer. Cleverness is accepted in this intellectual climate, but what if we become dubious, more psychologically analytical, questioning, probing. It is not hard to find evidence of opposite ideas that are being covered over. This process may be erroneous, also.

As mentioned, I tend to look at the fruits of ideas: How are people then using this idea? What frame and interpretation is given to the implications of this “explanation”? Who uses it for what purpose. Will I find myself led through a rhetorical chain of phony arguments, feeling, “Okay, I agree with that; okay, I’ll concede that for now; maybe about that….let’s see where this is going; hm, and that….; uh, oh: that? Whoa! Waitaminnit!”

Explanation, therefore, is a tool of sophistry. It seems innocent enough. And to some extent, like a hammer, it works daily as a relatively useful too. But like a hammer, it can also be a destructive tool, so explanation, tool, etc.—these are words, they are tools, they can be used for good or evil.  After all, as Shakespeare says (through the character of Antonio in the Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3, line 93): “The devil can quote scripture….”

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