Aldous Huxley - An Anti-Darwinist Criticism

Letting the Air Out of George Neumayr's Latest Anti-Darwinism Rant
by Edward T. Babinski

Mr. George Neumayr (Editor of the American Spectator), is not a fan of Darwinism. In a recent article, titled, "Individuals Against Divine Intellect," Mr. Neumayr wrote:

"Aldous Huxley once let the cat out of the bag when he said, in response to a question about the origins of modernism, that it began not in the minds of intellectuals but in their wills: they needed to come up with an intellectual system that would give them permission to behave licentiously. Darwinism serves a similar function: it gives intellectuals permission to think atheistically, as Richard Dawkins noted in his much-cited comment that evolution 'made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.'"

But continuing to trot out Aldous Huxley (who by the way was NOT an atheist), and Dawkins as though they proved the rule, ignores the genuine spectrum of opinion out there concerning Darwinism, I.D. and creationism. For instance there are creationists who fulminate AGAINST the "Intelligent Design" hypothesis such as Prudom at the recent Creation Mega-Conference, just as there are pro-evolution Christians who do not identify Darwinism with atheism as Dawkins attempts to do. I am speaking of folks like the Vatican's Astronomer who came out in favor of neither fearing nor dissing Darwinism after one American Cardinal recently did so. I might also mention a leader in the Human Genome Project who is both pro-evolution and Christian, who was interviewed in Christianity Today. Thus your article overlooks a full spectrum of questions. (For a list of prominent pro-evolution Christian men and women of science. See also Rev. Robert Farrar Capon's recent book, Genesis: The Movie. ) Lastly you ought to consider what ELSE Aldous Huxley said besides the bit that you alluded to being "let out of the bag," above. I believe you were alluding to this statement by Aldous:

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning--the Christian meaning, they insisted--of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever."
[Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, 1937]

HOWEVER, Huxley did not simply discuss "philosophies of meaningless," he also discussed "philosophies of meaning." To quote Aldous:

"The desire to justify a particular form of political organization and, in some cases, of a personal will to power has played an EQUALLY large part in the formulation of philosophies postulating the existence of MEANING in the world. Christian philosophers have found no difficulty in justifying imperialism, war, the capitalistic system, the use of torture, the censorship of the press, and ecclesiastical tyrannies of every sort from the tyranny of Rome to the tyrannies of [Calvin's] Geneva and [Puritan] New England. In all cases they have shown that the meaning of the world was such as to be compatible with, or actually most completely expressed by, the iniquities I have mentioned above--iniquities which happened, of course, to serve the personal or sectarian interests of the philosophers concerned. In due course, there arose philosophers who denied not only the right of Christian special pleaders to justify iniquity by an appeal to the meaning of the world, but even their right to find any such meaning whatsoever. In the circumstances, the fact was not surprising. One unscrupulous distortion of the truth tends to beget other and opposite distortions. Passions may be satisfied in the process; but the disinterested love of knowledge suffers eclipse."
[Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1937, fifth edition, p. 316]

In 1966 a conservative editor printed a paragraph from Aldous Huxley on "the philosophy of meaninglessness" and "sexual mores," and added a title above the paragraph that read, "Confessions of a Professed Atheist." But what the editor failed to reveal to his readers was that Aldous was not an "atheist" when he wrote that paragraph, but was arguing against "atheism." The paragraph itself was taken from Aldous Huxley's book, Ends and Means, written in 1937 (chapter 14, the chapter on "Beliefs"), and he was speaking about the rise of the "philosophy of meaninglessness" and materialism among the "masses" after the First World War, the generation of the 1920s. That generation had just seen solders from overtly Christian nations of Europe using the latest deadly inventions like the machine gun and poison gas to kill each other's Christian soldiers, then all sides stopped fighting on Christmas Eve, then went back to massacring each other the next day.

Speaking of Aldous's generation, John Derbyshire wrote:
"The 1920's and 1930's were notoriously an age of failed gods and shattered conventions, to which many thoughtful people responded in obvious ways, retreating into nihilism, hedonism, and experimentalism. Literature became subjective, art became abstract, poetry abandoned its traditional forms. In the 'low, dishonest decade' that then followed, much of this negativism curdled into power-worship and escapism of various kinds. Aldous Huxley stood aside from these large general trends. Though no Victorian in habits or beliefs, he never entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of modernism. The evidence is all over the early volumes of these essays. James Joyce's ground breaking novel, Ulysses, he declares in 1925, is 'one of the dullest books ever written, and one of the least significant.' Jazz, he remarks two years later, is 'drearily barbaric.' Writing of Sir Christopher Wren in 1923, he quotes with approval Carlyle's remark that Chelsea Hospital, one of Wren's creations, was 'obviously the work of a gentleman.' Wren, Huxley goes on to say, was indeed a great gentleman, 'one who valued dignity and restraint and who, respecting himself, respected also humanity.' In his thirties, in fact, Huxley comes across as something of a Young Fogey." [John Derbyshire, "What Happened to Aldous Huxley," The New Criterion Vol. 21, No. 6 (February 2003)]

In another chapter of Ends and Means (chapter 15, "Ethics") Aldous, abhorred "sexual addictions," or using sex as a means to achieving base ends. And Aldous' chapters on "Religious Practices," "Beliefs," and "Ethics" argued in favor of a meaningful cosmos and a universal spirituality that Aldous said was reflected in the works of certain Eastern mystics as well in the works of some famous Christian mystics.

"There are some... who believe that no desirable 'change of heart' can be brought about without supernatural aid. There must be, they say, a return to religion. (Unhappily, they cannot agree on the religion to which the return should be made.)" [p. 2]

"In practice, Christianity, like Hinduism or Buddhism, is not one religion, but several religions, adapted to the needs of different types of human beings. A Christian church in Southern Spain, or Mexico, or Sicily is singularly like a Hindu temple. The eye is delighted by the same gaudy colors, the same tripe-like decorations, the same gesticulating statues; the nose inhales the same intoxicating smells; the ear and, along with it, the understanding, are lulled by the drone of the same incomprehensible incantations [in the old Catholic Latin mass tradition], roused by the same loud, impressive music. "At the other end of the scale, consider the chapel of a Cistercian monastery and the meditation hall of a community of Zen Buddhists. They are equally bare; aids to devotion (in other words fetters holding back the soul from enlightenment) are conspicuously absent from either building. Here are two distinct religions for two distinct kinds of human beings." [p. 262-263]

"In Christianity bhakti [or, loving devotion] towards a personal being has always been the most popular form of religious practice. Up to the time of the [Catholic] Counter-Reformation, however, the way of knowledge ("mystical knowledge" as it is called in Chrstian language) was accorded an honorable place beside the way of devotion. From the middle of the sixteenth century onwards the way of knowledge came to be neglected and even condemned. We are told by Dom John Chapman that "Mercurian, who was general of the society (of Jesus) from 1573 to 1580, forbade the use of the works of Tauler, Ruysbroek, Suso, Harphius, St. Gertrude, and St. Mechtilde." Every effort was made by the [Catholic] Counter-Reformers to heighten the worshipper's devotion to a personal divinity. The literary content of Baroque art is hysterical, almost epileptic, in the violence of its emotionality. It even becomes necessary to call in physiology as an aid to feeling. The ecstasies of the saints are represented by seventeenth-century artists as being frankly sexual. Seventeenth-century drapery writhes like so much tripe. In the equivocal personage of Margaret Mary Alacocque, seventeenth-century piety pours over a bleeding and palpitating heart. From this orgy of emotionalism and sensationalism Catholic Christianity seems never completely to have recovered." [p. 281-282]

"First Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of [musical] counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance. It is the same in the moral world. A man who has trained himself in goodness come to have certain direct intuitions about character, about the relations between human beings, about his own position in the world -- intuitions that are quite different from the intuitions of the average sensual man... [p. 333]

"The ideal of non-attachment has been formulated and systematically preached again and again in the course of the last three thousand years. We find it (along with everything else) in Hinduism. It is at the very heart of the teachings of the Buddha. For Chinese readers the doctrine is formulated by Lao Tsu. A little later, in Greece, the ideal of non-attachment is proclaimed, albeit with a certain, pharisaic priggishness, by the Stoics. The Gospel of Jesus is essentially a gospel of non-attachment to "the things of this world," and of attachment to God. Whatever may have been the aberrations of organized Christianity -- and they range from extravagant asceticism to the most brutally cynical forms of realpolitik -- there has been no lack of Christian philosophers to reaffirm the ideal of non-attachment. Here is John Tauler, for example, telling us that 'freedom is complete purity and detachment which seeketh the Eternal...' Here is the author of "The Imitation of Christ," who bids us 'pass through many cares as though without care; not after the manner of a sluggard, but by a certain prerogative of a free mind, which does not cleave with inordinate affection to any creature.'" [p. 5, 6]

" knowledge, sensibility and non-attachment increase, the contents of the judgments of value passed even by men belonging to dissimilar cultures, tend to approximate. The ethical doctrines taught in the Tao Te Ching, by Buddha and his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, and by the best of the Christian saints, are not dissimilar." [p. 327]

"Examples of reversion to barbarism through mere ignorance are unhappily abundant in the history of Christianity. The early Christians made the enormous mistake of burdening themselves with the Old Testament, which contains, along with much fine poetry and sound morality the history of the cruelties and treacheries of a Bronze-Age people, fighting for a place in the sun under the protection of its anthropomorphic tribal deity... Those whom it suited to be ignorant and, along with them, the innocent and uneducated could find in this treasure-house of barbarous stupidity justifications for every crime and folly. Texts to justify such abominations as religious wars, the persecution of heretics... could be found in the sacred books and were in fact used again and again throughout the whole history of the Christian Church. [p. 328]

"In this remarkable compendium of Bronze-Age literature, God is personal to the point of being almost sub-human. Too often the believer has felt justified in giving way to his worst passions by the reflection that, in doing so, he is basing his conduct on that of a God who feels jealousy and hatred... and behaves in general like a particularly ferocious oriental tyrant. The frequency with which men have identified the prompting of their own passions with the voice of an all too personal God is really appalling." [p. 276-277]

"According to his very inadequate biographers, Jesus of Nazareth was never preoccupied with philosophy, art, music, or science and ignored almost completely the problems of politics, economics and sexual relations. It is also recorded of him that he blasted a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season, that he scourged the shopkeepers in the temple precincts and caused a herd of swine to drown. Scrupulous devotion to and imitation of the person of Jesus have resulted only too frequently in a fatal tendency, on the part of earnest Christians, to despise artistic creation and philosophic thought; to disparage the inquiring intellect, to evade all long-range, large-scale problems of politics and economics, and to believe themsevles justified in displaying anger, or as they would doubtless prefer to call it, 'righteous indignation.'" [p. 275-276]

Lastly, I suggest Mr. Neumayr, that you read this little piece as well:
Do You Fear What Might Happen If The World Believed In Evolution?

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