[Thoughts on animals]
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA —C.S. Lewis liked to quote an atheistic scientist
who reflected that if our thoughts are merely material events, the
irrational motion of atoms in our brains, we can’t really be
said to know anything — not even that our brains are composed of atoms.
Seizing on this insight, Lewis used it to refute the materialist
philosophy — and by implication, the popular idea that man could have “evolved” from
the beasts. Animals have brains and nervous systems, but not minds
as we do: capable of reason, logic, analysis, calculation, playing
blindfold chess, and all the other abstract mental operations that
separate us from them, not to mention humor and the worship of the
Animals’ brains are geared to the immediate present. They have
to be. Try to imagine an absent-minded squirrel; it wouldn’t
last long in a world of fleet-footed predators. In order for there
to be absent-mindedness, there must first be a mind. And that mind
must be capable of being, as we say, “elsewhere.” A rhinoceros
can’t do a syllogism, any more than he can fire off a witty epigram.
He has nothing in his makeup that could develop into a rational mind
in a billion years.
Nor are animals creative. As Chesterton puts it, “A thing constructed
can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved
before it exists.” A robin never has an original idea for a nest,
nor a beaver for a dam. They merely repeat the habits of their species,
as their ancestors did eons ago.
As my public knows by now, I am not one to shrink from weighty philosophic
issues. Let vulgar journalists traffic in gossip about the first family
and its pet pooches; I scorn such small talk and prefer to discuss
challenging questions of metaphysics, such as the contention of St.
Thomas Aquinas that in God (and only in God) being and essence are
identical. (For the record, I am inclined to agree with him.)
And, to avoid dry pedantry, I can’t resist quoting the waggish
philosopher who quipped, “Ontology recapitulates phylogeny.” I
like that one, which I first read, as I recall, in graduate school.
The relation of the body to the human mind remains a profound mystery.
Let me give you an example from my own experience. Before my stroke
several years ago, I could do cube roots in my head -- using only Roman
numerals! Alas, those days are behind me now. I am so intellectually
rusty that I can barely figure out the cube root of CCCXLIII, unless
I count on my fingers. (It happens to be VII, dummy.)
I hope this doesn’t sound like self-pity. I’ve had a
full life, and I’m not disposed to whine if I don’t always
get my own way. Oh, I could have done without the Protestant Reformation
and the Northern victory in the U.S. Civil War, but it’s time
to move on.
Man is the only creature who can believe in the theory of evolution,
or who has a motive to believe in it. If we are made of mere matter,
we are relieved of all responsibility and obligation to our Creator
— supposing we have one. There is no such thing as original sin, or
for that matter any sort of sin at all. We are free to obey all our
impulses, there being nothing else to obey
Darwinians, poor things, imagine that if we wait long enough, an amoeba
could change into a Jesus. That’s change I can’t believe
in. I’d sooner believe that a giraffe could turn into a Fred
Astaire. What simple faith, masquerading as science and hard-headed
Genuine realism might reflect that both Communism and Nazism found
Darwinism useful. Maybe that’s not Darwin’s fault, but
it’s a rather odd recommendation of his theory, which is said
to have liberated modern man from archaic ways of thinking.
I’ve never understood, by the way, why Darwinians are so militant
about spreading their faith — wanting it taught to children in public
schools, for example, with competing theories banned. Isn’t this
the one idea, of all ideas, that ought to be able to take care of itself,
without official support and coercion?
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