Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The 'Evolution' of Thought

   Darwinian Evolution has always been a point of contention for religion, particularly Christianity. In C.E. Chesterton's Orthodoxy , he argues that the current ideological majority of academia is suffering from lack of faith(1). Ideas posited by such great thinkers as Hume and Quine argue that the modern day scientific method, or positivism, relies too heavily on empirical evidence and not enough on other potential factors which can influence our human perception of reality(2). Chesterton took these ideas and with the method of defamiliarization – i.e. the process of pointing out a familiar concept and viewing it in a different light – expressed how his religious perspective can be justified within an academic framework.

   For Chesterton, orthodoxy does not equate to the fundamentalist doctrines it is associated with today. For him it takes on a more literal meaning directly related to its' etymology. The meaning of the word othodoxy for him is derived from the Greek words orthos 'right, true, straight' and doxa 'opinion, praise'. Unlike the fundamentalist meaning attached to the word today, Chesterton understood orthodoxy as a legitimate opinion worthy of consideration. His method caused a tremendous reaction; a defensive reaction so strong that one could categorize it as offensive. Interestingly the very positivists who regard themselves as the least likely to be subjected to fundamentalist thought become defensive when confronted with an opposing view.

   A good modern day example of this can be found in Mary Midgley's recent article "Against Humanism." In her article she outlines the potentially detrimental effects of positivism, which parallel Chesterton's stance in Orthodoxy. In this regard she and Chesterton both stand in opposition to the popular movement of Science. What is interesting about her article is not only does she points out some interesting flaws within the positivist movement, but also the positivists' reaction to her article. She argues that "Comte's simple recipe for grafting a new object on to traditional institutions – a new head on to the old body – did not produce the improved life-form he hoped for."(3). She also suggests that today, positivism's emphasis on empirical senses overshadow the necessary recognition of the other aspects of the human condition, ie. the spirit. It's not so much the point each author was taking that I wish to emphasize, but the means by which they express them and the reactions they received.

   Midgley posted her article on a public forum on the internet. The reactions to her post are posted on the public forum as well. Here we see that those who come from a positivist approach tend to react quite strongly to her philosophical suggestions. This defensive reaction can be seen by Claw's response when (he) states "...it was *midgley* who added the verb "feel" to "pitiless indifference" to create a non-sequitur that never existed in the original quote, [sic] which makes her rather dishonest, really. Essentially Midgely is claiming that nothing can be indifferent because she can write a sentence in which it "feels indifferent"...I'm sorry to say, rather typical of Midgely. She twists and folds quotations, then paraphrases them inaccurately, and then claims to have refuted them thereby... The idea that Hitchens is wrong about the problems of religion because religious humanism failed is rather typical of her muddled thinking."
This is only one example of many. Although Claw does make an interesting point he only goes on to discredit one part of her article by claiming it is twisted, applies this to ALL the rest of her thoughts and blames it on her "muddled thinking".

   Like Darwin, Chesterton, Midgley and Claw, most become ardent in their belief regardless of whether they are secular, religious, spiritual or philosophical. Most people seem to define themselves by what they believe in and often feel threatened when faced with an opposing view. The original creator of an idea cannot anticipate the changes that will occur upon its conception. The dialectical discourse seems to take an idea and often changes and remoulds it whilst being considered by others. If one can objectively remove oneself from one's bias it is clear to see that all the ideas that are being considered here and elsewhere are legitimate examples of not only humans' perception of reality, but also of humans' perception of self.

1. Chesterton, C.E. Orthodoxy. http://www.netlibrary.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/Reader/
2. Hume, David. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding. http://www.livingphilosophy.org.uk/philosophy/David_Hume/Sceptical_Doubts_concerning_the_Operations_of_the_Understanding.htm
3. Midgley, Mary. Against Humanism. http://newhumanist.org.uk/2419/against-humanism

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