On the Sublimity of Science

by F.

Science writer Chet Raymo, in discussing Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds, beautifully makes a wonderful point:

More than a century ago…the British statesman Arthur Balfour…compared the God-given Moral Law to the starry heavens and found them both sublime. But if one accepts the “naturalistic hypothesis,” he wrote — thinking, of course, of Darwin and his successors — then the Moral Law becomes as mundane as “the protective blotches on the beetle’s back,” an ingenious contrivance of nature, perhaps, but hardly worthy of our affinity to angels.

But Balfour misses the point. The Darwinian synthesis does not reduce the sublimity of the starry sky to the lowly beetle’s spots; rather it shows the beetle’s spots to be as sublime as any starry sky. Naturalism spins a web of enchantment that equally embraces the beetle and the distant galaxy. No more Great Chain of Being with the Moral Law descending from above and the flames of hell licking our feet from below — a hierarchy of subservience and domination. Henceforth, we are part of an endlessly fructifying tapestry of mutual relationship and self-imposed responsibility.