In the Western world, today’s “conservatives” are increasingly libertarian when it comes to matters of sexual morality. Whatever good might come out of a Trump Presidency (full disclosure: I voted for the man), it seems unlikely that the nation’s appreciation for the importance of sexual morality will deepen.
Increasingly in our society, the expectation for any romantic relationship is that it must be sexual or get sexual without much delay – married or not. Going hand in hand with this, political progressives and libertarians both seem basically united on the idea that the choice of each individual is the controlling principle. As some on the Supreme Court told us in 1992, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”[i]
This kind of thinking really does not seem all that alien from what the Trump-supporting “free speech fundamentalist” Milo Yiannopoulos has said:
Read what you want.
Watch what you want.
Play what you want.
Think what you want.
Say what you want.
That might not work in a marriage, but otherwise why the hell not? (marriage couldn’t be that important anyways, could it?) Political correctness can die the death it so richly deserves! The sky is the limit!
Yiannopoulos may say that some – by virtue of biological and psychological limitations – can’t be whatever they want to be, but with his emphasis on the individual’s rights, one is hard-pressed to argue why some, at least, shouldn’t give it a shot (please note I say all of this wanting to defend free speech to, while being concerned that not all of our speech is helpful).
And, tying this back to matters of sexual morality, why suppress human nature? Yiannopoulos regularly encourages college students to not hold back in exploring their sexuality with others. And, when asked here about Harvard’s men’s soccer team this past week – namely, about their recently revealed shared Google form treating their female counterparts as sexual objects – Yiannopoulos defended them to the hilt. One might think he could have said, at the very least, that the men’s behavior was to be strongly discouraged – even if the Harvard President had overreacted (read this and this for a balanced perspective). He didn’t say this though – he simply talked about our inability to overcome human nature: basically “men will be men”.
After all, as popular You Tuber Gavin McInnes says (language alert) all men act like this. And likewise, all men must surely know that they are incapable of waiting for sex – and they must be lying if they say they do! Guys like Tim Tebow (what has he accomplished lately?) are surely hypocrites, and evidently, most of the time, just aren’t manly enough to obtain the good things that come their way, grabbing them by the….
But even if we perhaps should respect the real power of human nature here, we also cannot overcome the consequences of human nature. Even if you, by virtue of your social capital and financial resources, appear able to rise above some of the most socially deleterious effects of sexual licentiousness, many – particularly the most vulnerable – can’t. And all of this contributes to the fracturing and weakening of the family, which one would hope any conservative would understand. This glorification of our choices when it comes to matters sexual, of course, makes the goal of marriage – and the commitment involved therein – less and less of a possibility for many (listen to Jennifer Roback Morse here).
Yiannopoulos may have once written about the dangers of pornography in the past (see here and here), but these days, he seems to have left that concern behind (a necessary casualty of his message and newfound fame?). Now, ironically, it is some on the left (some!) who are bringing up the critical importance of this issue (see here and here for example). Speaking merely from a tactical standpoint, perhaps persons like Yiannopoulos should find a creative way to address this, before being outflanked by progressives concerned about the truth of these matters?
So, what does any of this have to do with the theory of evolution – and sophisty?! Hang on… we getting there right now….
First of all, a popular meaning of the word sophistry is “the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving”. It is a simply a matter of fact that men are capable of controlling themselves (though, if I may say, we seem to live in an age that likes to play with the fire of temptation).
Second, in the theory of evolution, all is about sex (and death): everything comes down to being able to pass on one’s genes to the next generation. Supposedly, evolution “designed” us for this.
Third, and here is the meat of my point, in a recent edition of the Atlantic, an article called “The Case Against Reality” lays out the implications of the theory of evolution (spurred on by what I call the MSTM, the modern scientific and technological mindset) in a very helpful manner. An interview with cognitive science Donald D. Hoffman is featured, where he argues that “the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses… the world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality” (as the Atlantic sums him up).
In short, Hoffman believes that “evolution itself [is] to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction” (italics mine). It is not accurate perceptions which helps us to effectively pass on our genes but “fitness functions,” i.e. “mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction.” “Suppose,” he says, “there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not… And yet the desktop is useful.”[ii] Hoffman says that this is “conscious realism,” meaning that “Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view.”
And hence, evolution’s connection with classical understandings of sophistry is complete. Perhaps Christians taken with evolution should take evolutionists like Daniel Dennet more seriously when they assert that it is a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways” (see here).
The Sophists of the ancient world said that our base assumption should be that certain truth and goodness is unattainable. With change being the only constant and knowledge an illusion, everything is about building consensus through persuasion. The ethical sophist – assuming positing such a person is reasonable! – would persuade on the basis of arguing for things that are not true, but possible and perhaps probable…
How does this not sync perfectly with what Hoffman is saying, a “match made in heaven,” or hell, as the case may be? Can’t he – or anyone else – see the implications of this thinking for human reason itself?
Let’s break it down:
- In brief, Hoffman, assuming temporal survival is what life is all about, says that it is our “fitness functions,” and not accurate perceptions, which help us to pass on our genes.
- Therefore, it follows that being able to create grand, plausible sounding theories – whether they are true or not – also can be reduced to being about the survival value they have (in that they attract partners who know brains are valuable – and who can pass on genes).
- Therefore, as long as one can avoid the impression one is totally disconnected from matters of concrete fact, disqualifying one’s self in other’s eyes, the sky is the limit!
- As Hoffman says, our perceptions are “tuned to fitness, but not to truth”. Why would our capacity to construct narratives, our story-telling imaginations, not be as well? Why would this also not figure into the all controlling “fitness function”?
- So, if this is the case, why believe the theory of evolution is true at all? It might be useful for passing on genes, but true?
And yet, of course, what Hoffman is doing in his interview – what he cannot avoid doing even if he might protest he is doing it – is putting forth a truth claim. Truth, in one sense, is “driven to extinction,” where, in another, it rises from the ashes reborn. “Believe me,” he is saying… “I am speaking with some real authority on these matters.” The ancient sophists played the same game… the truth is that we cannot not really know truth… what is important is that you listen to me, noticing how smart I am…
And so, as evolution and truth evolves, so does “our” (Not mine! Not yours I hope!) understanding of individuality, sex, and gender.
To state the obvious, given his assumptions, is that not just his “fitness function” speaking? And if he opposes me socially and politically and I fight back, evidently with my own fitness function that still falsely believes there is truth, just what hope for common ground do we now have?
I’m calling B.S. I’m calling out these new sophists for the danger to society and culture that they are. Absolute. Total. Nonsense.
In like fashion, Minnesota’s own Katherine Kersten (Star Tribune editorialist), challenging the transgender revolution, recently spoke some real sense at the First Things site:
…public policy making will become impossible if new interest groups attempt to piggyback on the transgender movement’s success, as seems likely. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch now insists that schools accept a kindergarten boy’s self-understanding and treat him as if he is a girl. What happens when an individual suffering from body integrity identity disorder identifies as disabled and applies for federal disability benefits? What if a white male business owner identifies as black and seeks to participate in a federal contract set-aside reserved for minorities? What if a forty-year-old woman regards herself as a senior citizen and demands Social Security benefits? How can policy makers logically deny their claims? As we enter the world of fantasy—when reality ceases to matter—it is impossible to predict where our society will crash against nature, as it inevitably will.
Alas, I think the ground we have for making these arguments has already disappeared beneath our feet – at least in the minds of many of our fellow Americans (not in reality). And this warning especially goes to “conservatives” who have already given up way too much ground to the sexual revolution as well. In some ways I can’t but like and respect persons like Milo Yiannopoulos, but in this area I think he is as clueless as the progressives he so effectively targets and trolls.
What is the endgame here? Ultimately, it is not earthly marriages, that most excellent fireplace for the fire of passion, that will saves any of us – as much as good marriages will surely help any nation. It is rather the True Marriage which our “desktop icon” of marriage points us to: Christ’s love for His Church and her love for Him. This and this alone gives us the true life, love, and light – hope! – that we know in this world. Hopefully, the current President-elect we have in America will end up being friendly to these concerns (his opponent on the other hand, said this).
The sooner the church as a whole wakes up to the concentrated Satanic attack on this truth, born of ancient Sophistry, the better (and perhaps we can count those friendly to ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics as allies of a sort here).
When Hoffman says “It’s conscious agents all the way down,” he is surely right, but not for the reasons he thinks he is. That move should not actually banish God from reality. Rather, it should point us towards our need to acknowledge Him.
Friends, let’s fight the good fight.
Trump, by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license) ; Milo Yiannopoulos, photo by @Kmeron (this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license) ; Tim Tebow by Clemed (this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).
[i] It seems to me that even neoconservative intellectuals like Yuval Levin (author of the 2016 book Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism) seem to take this principle for granted.
[ii] In response to a question about whether or not everything is just one big illusion, Hoffman responds: “We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally.”