Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"I'm prepared to believe that the world is big enough for both."

Thanks to my friend JS for recommending an interview in The Believer with Mary Midgley, whom JS thought I would consider a kindred spirit. On the basis of this brief interview, she's right. First of all, I think there's a better than even chance that if I end up living long enough, I might someday look like Midgley.

Actually, it's more her temperament and argumentation that appeal to me. She wrote a book called Evolution as a Religion, and longtime readers of this blog will recognize how much that title might grab my attention. (I need to look into that one, as well as another book of hers with a curious title...Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing.) In The Believer interview, Midgley begins with a discussion of overreaching with evolutionary theory:
...there are two ways in which the idea of evolution has been misused. One is the optimistic way, which says it's all getting better and better, and we should go along with it -- that evolution is a sort of escalator which can take us anywhere. This was Lamarck's and Herbert Spencer's view -- it was not Darwin's, but people think that Darwin proved it. He did not. But if we believe this, it produces a belief in progress, which means that whatever we do is better than whatever there was before, and we only want more of it. But the idea that growth -- for instance, economic growth -- is natural and required, is a mythical idea. This can't be right, because things do not grow indefinitely in nature; they grow until they're big enough.
She believes that the savage competition in nature has been overemphasized as a metaphor for other areas of life, in lieu of, say, emphasizing the cooperation that was necessary among cells to make organisms in the first place.

And this passage is in line with some of what I've written around here:
I should explain that my father was a parson and I was brought up in an Anglican background. I always thought this stuff was all right, but I could never get any impression of God being there. I think it is very puzzling that some do and some don't have this kind of experience, and I'm prepared to believe that the world is big enough for both. I mean, it seems to me if there is anything out there, it's much too big for us to be able to think about it clearly. But I think God obviously is a terribly important human concept and human experience, and it is ludicrous to try to amputate it as if it was some kind of tumor. The visions of the imagination are a crucial and real part of human life, and what is operating there is real.


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