Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Scrutinizing Scruton in the New York Times

Roger Scruton through the years has been, I've thought, a help to me.  I own and have read a few of his books, as well as many free articles on line as I could.  No one today writes like or even what Roger Scruton writes.  He has abilities I do not possess to understand and express, or at least borrow, a conservative position on aesthetics.  With that being said, I was surprised to see the New York Times publish an article by Scruton on the nature of mankind.  I was happy to see the Times publish him, but as I read his article, I was disappointed with Scruton.  Let me explain.

The New York Times article is exceptional for the New York Times for expressing the exceptionalism of human beings among all living creatures.  As a reader here might suspect, that isn't good enough for me, and that's not all.  Scruton defends human exceptionalism, arising out of evolution.  Scruton writes:
Philosophers and theologians in the Christian tradition have regarded human beings as distinguished from the other animals by the presence within them of a divine spark. This inner source of illumination, the soul, can never be grasped from outside, and is in some way detached from the natural order, maybe taking wing for some supernatural place when the body collapses and dies. 
Recent advances in genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have all but killed off that idea. But they have raised the question of what to put in its place. For quite clearly, although we are animals, bound in the web of causality that joins us to the zoosphere, we are not just animals.
As I read, I just wagged my head.  Scripture does not reveal the presence of a divine spark in mankind. "Recent advances" do not kill off the truth of man's soul, unless the evidence is the primate deduction here of Scruton. They kill evolution. People are not animals.

Seeing that Scruton can't argue from the authority of God's Word, what he calls "philosophers and theologians in the Christian tradition," he looks to find an explanation from man's moral nature and human rapport. The article is calling on scientists to explain why people want to do right and why they relate to and communicate with one another in such a personal way.  Scruton is begging for an authoritative argument for human exceptionalism that provides a basis for human rights.  He attempts to bridge some kind of invincible chasm between mechanistic materialism and the obvious appearance of design.

Scruton doesn't want to say that mankind lucked into this, because that doesn't make sense.  At the same time, he writes:
I am fairly confident that the picture painted by the evolutionary psychologists is true. But I am also confident that it is not the whole truth, and that it leaves out of account precisely the most important thing, which is the human subject.
He doesn't provide even a hint for believing the evolutionist, the basis of his confidence.  We have more powerful microscopes than ever to see the irreducible complexity of the cell.  The full set of instructions in DNA total something more than 3,000 books long.  Chance doesn't produce that.  The human self is more than just a chemical reaction.

Man is exceptional, but true conservatism doesn't start or end with him.  It's beginning and ending, it's alpha and omega, is God.  The roots of the moral dissolution of the West emerge from materialism and rationalism.  Moral absolutes proceed from God just like the laws of gravity.  The world is not a series of accidents but the result of Divine purpose.  Russel Kirk's first principle of conservatism was Divine intent.

Scruton is right to admit and promote human exceptionalism, but he fails in the most rudimentary way by detaching human exceptionalism from God.  God made man in His image.  Since the Fall, man remains himself only by the grace of God.  He succeeds only with God's redemption.  His future hope remains in a Heavenly Father, who loves him.  Man has not excelled and will not excel except by the providential hand of His Creator.

1 comment:

Lance Ketchum said...

Empiricism vs Fideism