Darwin and la Difference


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.

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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.

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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.

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Joseph Sobran (1946–2010), conservative turned libertarian, was one of the most significant American writers of his time. See his website and his intellectual journey.