anthropo-eccentricism wrote:I often think we've yet to fully absorb the revelatory insights of Darwinian theory. I'd like to discuss his impact, his importance. What follows are five brief interrelated, revolutionary points to initiate discussion. Some of these theses do not originate with Darwin, but most find their highest articulation in his writing.
1) Nature is not supposed to be anything. This is perhaps the fundamental Darwinian insight: nature is non-teleological; it is without purpose. This means that nature cannot tell us anything about how entities should be. Homosexuality is not unnatural, and neither is transhumanist futurism. The claim that homosexuality is unnatural is the claim that over and above individual organisms preside forms or species functioning as norms that govern and measure what an organism ought to be and what it ought not be. This claim works to sneak teleology in through the back door. Things are not supposed to be anything; they simply are. Nature is itself endless deviation; we can never deviate from nature. Accordingly, there can be no real distinction between nature and culture. To separate one form the other is to claim that there are qualities that belong to the thing itself, and that are therefore genuine, authentic and natural, and that there are qualities that are fabricated, developed, constructed, and are therefore inauthentic, unnatural, or cultural. Darwin slaughters this conception of nature. This isn't to say that all is culture, but rather that all is nature--culture included. There is only the way things are and the way things are becoming. Things are defined by the genus of their evolution, the trajectory of their fabrication or change. There is no non-fabricated; there is no unpolluted. Species are no longer norms that measure the degree to which individual entities approximate or deviate from the ideal form. A species is a regularity, a concentration of similarities in a population. Individuals departing from the concentration of similarities are like veins of granite in a field: they aren't unnatural, they aren't abominations, they aren't at all--they simply are, and they are as much as all else. Nature is no longer a term used to beat the different into submission. Nature does not prefer one thing to another; it doesn't prefer at all.
2) Difference is creative, not deviant. On the outdated picture of nature, difference was understood as a deviation from norm or essence. Far from being a deviation from an essence or ideal form, difference, with Darwin, becomes the very engine that drives the movement of nature. It is now difference, and not God, that creates. The endless process of differentiation is without purpose or goal, it is without foresight. It simply moves, as if blindly. Difference is random--not without cause, but without goal. Further, it's not just that nature produces variation, but rather that every copy, every reiteration, every instantiation of every thing, stands testament to the all-pervading different. Repetition, to speak with Deleuze, is always repetition with a difference. There are no perfect copies, no original from which all subsequent movement departs hopelessly. Rather, all is copy, all is repetition. Nature is a moving simulacra.
3) Nature itself is creative. Matter can no longer be understood as lifeless, formless clay upon which intelligent beings stamp their designs. Matter is not sterile or inert. With Darwin, God is murdered, and humans are decentered. God is no longer needed to account for creativity and life. And humans are no longer called upon to mold the lifeless stuff of the world. Rather, everything that exists is always-already molded, and always-already in the process of molding itself. Humans are but another term in the endless proliferation of difference and becoming, variation and reciprocal affect. We now know that matter is capable all on its own of generating pattern, of self-organizing, and of maintaining patterns across time, of differentiating itself, of affecting and shifting and adapting. Matter isn't simply stuff, but is also movement, force, flows of energy that animate systems of production and dissolution and all the rest. And it is all this without need of recourse to vitalistic, animistic, or theistic/deistic hypotheses. At the center of Darwinian thought is the thesis that matter has the capacity to self-organize, to form pattern, and to generate life.
4) Design no longer requires a designer. Adaptation, selection, differentiation, variation, inheretability--all this takes place immanent to nature itself. We no longer need to refer to a transcendent designer, intelligence or purpose to account for the endless complexity of nature. I don't think I need to explain this much more, as this is perhaps the Darwinian insight most widely spoken-of. For the theologian, form is treated as pre-existing in the mind of the creator, and matter is conceptualized as awaiting-form, as lifeless and inert. Form is then impressed upon matter. But to take a claim like this seriously, one must reject every insight of contemporary biology. The Intelligent-Designers will have no friends here, and for this reason--I'll keep this point short. If you're still holding on to a vestige of hope in intelligent design, then this isn't the thread for you.
5) Humans are animals. This point goes without saying. And yet, I feel the need to say it--again and again and again. We are animals, we are in and of the world--we do not stand over and above it. We do not hold dominion over it, we are not its shepherds. We are of its stench and viscosity, its materiality and corporeality, its movement and flux and becoming and change. We are stuff impacted by other stuff that impacts other stuff still. Humans arose without aim, without intention, as the product of a blind and stupid conjunction of processes. As the well-known saying goes: were we to re-wind the tape of evolution and play it back, it could never happen the same way twice. Human beings were an accident, just as everything is an accident. There is only what comes to be and what doesn't--there can be no pre-thought direction, no goal to serve as a ground for the process. It is often said that evolution can be reconciled with theism. To do so, one must thoroughly misunderstand the principles of evolution. No goal. Blind, stupid processes. Ceaseless difference. Lots and lots of death. There is, without any room for argument, absolutely no room for God on this account. Humans certainly have their own unique capacities, but the same goes for every other organism as well. We are but one term among many in the shifting network of our environment. We affect the world, and the world affects us. Ceaselessly. We are not, above all else, sovereigns of being. We are 90% bacteria. We are not even ourselves. The majority of species on this planet that have ever existed are extinct. There have been many different ecosystems (in the precambrian era, for example, the atmosphere was hypersaturated with oxygen, causing great fires during thunder storms and giant insects to evolve). Nature has no preference for Earth and its rich ecosystem over Mars and its desolate wasteland. Nature just is what it does… Including what it does through us and our technologies.
Yes, true on all counts. Well said.