Misunderstanding Evolution: Confusing Is with Ought
Recently I was speaking to a Catholic friend about evolution. I cannot remember how we stumbled upon this topic, but when he first brought it up he referred to evolution as “Darwinism”. I pointed out to him that the correct term is actually “biological evolution” and that “Darwinism” was a derogatory remark created by certain religious people who are against evolution. He responded indicating that he was aware that it was derogatory, saying that that was the intention. His specific problem with evolution was that he thought that evolutionary biology made the moral prescription that society should encourage the weeding out of the less fit. Basically, he had the notion that evolutionary biology encouraged the artificial selection of favoured people (e.g., actively prioritizing the breeding of smart people over less intelligent people, for instance). I quickly addressed the misunderstanding. What I pointed out was that evolutionary biology is a science, not a moral philosophy. It simply says what happens in nature, or what Is. What happens is that certain traits (i.e., those that favour reproduction) are more likely to be passed on and become more prominent in subsequent generations. Evolutionary biology does not say what Ought to be. Nowhere in the description of population dynamics is there a statement that not only is this the way it Is, but that this is the way it Should be. Evolutionary biology is simply not about Ought. As a comparison, I pointed out that biologists have also discovered that rape occurs in non-human species, but the fact that this does happen in nature does not mean that it is a good thing. That non-human organisms rape each other does not mean that they Should rape each other, or that we Should be allowed to rape each other. Morality is irrelevant here. We’re simply talking about what happens.
It appeared that I managed to clear up the misconception. Hopefully the clarification translated into a long-term re-orientation of his beliefs on the subject.