Bret Weinstein has been one of the good guys regarding not only COVID, but the woke phenomenon that targeted him and his wife when he was working in academia. But he’s also an evolutionary biologist, and likes to frame everything from the viewpoint of random change and natural selection. That’s useful when dealing with the micro-evolution of viruses, but less so when dealing with human values.
In an interview on the Rubin Report he discusses how unlikely the present omni-conflict in society would seem to those enjoying the pinnacle of the Enlightenment Project just 30 years ago. And interestingly, he places some of the blame on the New Atheist movement, and its insistence that older ways of life, by which he really means Christianity and perhaps Judaism, were a product of mental illness. This, he argues, has led to polarisation, in his words awakening old tribalisms and promoting new ones.
It would have been more productive, he thinks, to enter into a dialogue with the religious to show how their system of morality holds much ancient wisdom, but that it evolved by natural selection in circumstances different to ours. Ergo this evolutionary lens would enable religion to adapt to Enlightenment values (presumably on issues like sexuality) whilst defusing the potential for religious bigotry by replacing “the events which didn’t happen, literally, but metaphorically” with a persuasive naturalistic and scientific narrative.
Now, his critique of New Atheism has some merit. It was the Four Horsemen and their acolytes who first deliberately encouraged the use of ridicule and cancellation in modern public discourse, spreading that fascistic methodology to a generation of young nerds by the new technology of social media. The first professionals to be cancelled en masse, I think, were biologists in the Intelligent Design movement.
But isn’t it interesting to consider why, if the virtues of the Enlightenment were an inevitable product of natural selection on a Christian stem-group, the development of atheistic intolerance should be regarded as an aberration. Weinstein’s attempt to overcome it must surely be a denial of the fundamental universal force of natural selection, like a modern version of social Darwinism, helping evolution along artificially.
It seems to me that Bret is making a basic mistake in this analysis. He assumes that the core of Christian civilisation was its ethics, which people chose because they worked (or, in that quasi-mystical way evolution seems to have for evolutionary biologists, which people followed because the fact that they worked made choice unnecessary). So the job is simply to explain to people that their ethics are largely correct, but are the result of natural forces rather than God, requiring just a bit of tweaking to be updated.
He seems to have missed the fact that Christian denominations are splitting precisely because progressives believe Christianity is an evolving negotiable system, whilst the catholic (small “c”) majority believe that it is a divine revelation from the Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” and who will return to judge our faithfulness to his word.
To put more flesh on that, you may look at any period in church history to see that very few people ever became Christians by judging that its morality was superior to those of the pagans. The New Testament records how, from the start, the message of the gospel was Jesus, the Son of God crucified for our sins, risen and ascended to bring us eternal life. Conviction of sin and divine judgement led to repentance, and the supernatural experience of the love of Christ and the Fatherhood of God. The consequence of this was to conform one’s life, as the Holy Spirit enabled, to behaviour that pleases God. No Jesus, no Christian morality.
From the first century, Christian life was certainly described as the parting of two ways of life. The Didache and other early sources speak of the Way of Life based on the two great commandments to love God and neighbour, and the Way of Death that leads to evil behaviour. But integral to the difference is knowledge of the Creator or lack of it. Love of enemies only follows from love of neighbour because Jesus taught it as the divine Son, and lived it to the point of the Cross. Acceptance of circumstances with thanksgiving depends entirely on trust in the God of love’s sovereign providence over all things. Confession of faults follows only from the faultlessness of Christ and the prodigality of his forgiveness. And so on. Nothing in evolutionary theory provides a replacement for covenant relationship with Christ.
Fast forward to the famous incident described by Bede when the Northumbrian Saxons became Christians. One of the nobles in the king’s hall, comparing life to the flight of a bird in one door of the hall and out the other end, focused on certainty about eternity as the Big Thing warranting acceptance. Evolutionary theory has no certainty about eternity, except that Homo sapiens will become extinct long before the universe itself expires in heat death.
As is not sufficiently acknowledged, the much-vaunted tolerance of the Enlightenment arose from the religious tolerance hammered out from the religious conflicts following the Reformation. The principle of freedom of religious conscience arose here in Britain amongst the Non-conformists of the 17th century, before being exported to America by those who fell foul of governments enforcing uniformity, just as our secular governments wish to do now. It did not evolve by natural selection, but was won by the blood of Christians guarding their own consciences, and even more importantly, respecting the consciences of others on theological principles.
This is worth a brief example: Baptists here separated from other Independents with the same congregational polity over the conviction that baptism should be undertaken only by believers, not babies, and by full immersion at that. But where Baptists moved to a town without a Baptist congregation, they joined the local Independent church. The Westminster Assembly was a multi-denominational grouping. The Restoration saw the jackboot of conformity restored by persecution, but the seed once sown led to tolerance even of Jews and, later, the Catholics whose corrupted system had prompted the Reformation. Even atheism came to be tolerated, leading eventually to the New Atheists and their supercilious intolerance of others. And political and moral liberty, for better or worse, came out of religious toleration.
If the latter is a natural evolution, as Bret Weinstein says, then there must it seems be a natural progression from extreme libertarianism to the destructive licence he has suffered first hand at Evergreen State College. Yet even that progressive intolerance, couched as it is in terms of concern for oppressed groups, has arisen in the world uniquely from the corruption, to a class-based, atheistic, bigotry, of the irreducibly Christian theistic concept that all individuals are uniquely valuable to God, especially in their oppression.
In short, Bret seems to be conscious only of “civilisational Christianity” as secular humanism with superstitious accretions. But as I heard someone on YouTube say recently, you can describe secular humanism as a solid building from which someone has tried to remove the foundations.
Another way of looking at it is that he fails to see that his attempt to show the “literal” narratives of Christianity to be, in reality, metaphorical descriptors of a naturalistic evolutionary process, is just the attempt to replace a narrative developing across three thousand years or more of real history with a secular narrative that is morally, philosophically and spiritually inferior. To that must be added that even scientifically the universal acid of natural selection is leaking out of its bottle at about the same rate that the New Atheists are losing adherents.
So I doubt that many Christian people were ever likely to wed themselves firmly to what is actually the Spirit of the Previous Age. It is, for very different reasons, unlikely that his evolutionary morality will appeal to Muslims, who seem to have missed out on the “natural selection” that only evolved tolerance in civilisationally Christian countries. I think that by the time Bret’s evolutionary scheme is fully developed, science will have moved away from the mutation/selection model, and even more from the neutral theory, and be forced to embrace teleology once more. When it does, it’s going to be the traditional narratives that fit reality rather than the naturalist-materialist narratives.
But I fully expect some other set of falsehoods to hi-jack that return to reality, be that WEF soft totalitarianism, Islamic jihad, or hitherto unknown attempts to evade our accountability to God. For unlike Darwinian evolution, Christianity has a teleological goal, only to be fulfilled by a non-metaphorical, literal and world-changing return of its King. We aren’t about to ditch Advent for Accident any time soon.