by Joseph Sobran
February 5, 2008
I have never been able to believe in Darwin. He tried to deny the essential difference between man and beast, a difference I can only regard as irreducible, and I have known plenty of both.
To put it simply, animals have brains, but man also has a mind, a very distinct kind of soul. Man can calculate, imagine, moralize, form abstract concepts, and perform many other mental operations of which no animal is capable. Animals have sensation and memory – the power of association – and not much else. They may be very beautiful, but they lack the sense of beauty.
The difference is so vast and profound that Western man used to take it for granted. Of course man was immeasurably superior to any animal! Each had its own excellence, but man had no rival for intelligence in any “beast that wants discourse of reason,” as Shakespeare puts it: he was indeed “the paragon of animals.” If our furry and scaly friends were still evolving, none of them appeared to be gaining on us.
It was only in fairly recent times, in an age of revolt against the divine, that a materialist philosophy arose to argue that the human and the subhuman are the same in principle, that life emerged from raw matter by sheer chance, and that over eons the simple amoeba developed (or “evolved”) into “higher” life forms. Charles Darwin found a receptive audience for this dubious idea among educated humans who were weary of the Christian faith.
Darwin’s theory of evolution, of man’s descent from more or less simian ancestors, now has a stranglehold on Western intellectual life despite its obvious falsity. The notion of a continuity betwixt man and beast has a powerful appeal to people who seek the false but clear explanation for countless phenomena.
Like its contemporary fallacy, Marxism, Darwinism had a mighty impact on history, except that Marxism has all but expired and its Darwinist twin is still going strong. The Marxists made the fatal error of predicting events in the (historically) short term; whereas most of Darwin’s avatars wisely confine themselves to making prophecies over such long periods as to be virtually unfalsifiable.
So it is that Christopher Hitchens, a verbally brilliant man, has managed to prosper in two separate careers: first as a highly plausible Marxist, and then, when the Marxist creed bit the dust in our time, as an equally facile apostle of Darwinism. I respect his rare genius and have no doubt that he could flourish just as well in any other environment – Muslim or Mormon, let us say.
In his classic Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton gave atheism and Darwinism the refutation they really deserve: hilarity. St. Anselm had a point: man is the only animal that worships! What does that tell us? That all the other animals have more sense than we do? For that matter, man is also the only animal that believes in evolution; what are the implications of that fact? What’s more, man seems to be the only animal that has a sense of irony, though Hitchens insists that atheists have a keener sense of it than believers do. I’ll have to think that one over.
To put it another way, why is there an absolute and impassable gulf between creatures who get a collective kick out of Red Skelton and Benny Hill, and those who just don’t? I know of no signs that clams have even the most rudimentary sense of humor. Correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve missed something. It wouldn’t be the first time.
And by the way, do the females of other species, some of which are monogamous, point out their mates’ annoying errors, foibles, and bad habits, or is this too a human trait? And do they take hours getting ready for a big night, such as an anniversary? Do any of them have the equivalent of a beauty shop or a manicure salon? I didn’t think so. Other animals’ females, frankly, are not very feminine. Ours are. Only ours are, if you ask me. We are, after all, the only species that bellows, “Vive la difference!”
Iguanas and snails may know, and in their way enjoy, la difference, but not the way we do. Even chimps, supposedly our evolutionary next of kin, don’t seem to cultivate the gallantry that for us (excepting feminists, of course) is normative.
I could go on and on, but let’s just say that Darwin was, well, out of his tree.
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