The fact that we evolved from social primates, and not, say, loner sharks, is sufficient to account for human moral impulses. Aristotle famously defined us as the political (or social) animal.
But being a tribal species in which demonized out-groups are as real a part of our evolved psyches as cooperative in-groups, we have a problem. If God does not exist, there is no obvious reason why we should ever bridge the gap of tribalism and ethno-nationalism—or even more narrow self-identifications—over to humanism. I know that Matt Ridley makes a strong rational case for global trade as a tie that binds humanity together, and maybe it is. But taking away the religious affirmation of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man has consequences.
It means, for example, that the field of possible human futures opens, not just to humanists (the brotherhood of man absent God) like Richard Dawkins, but to Herderians (ethno-religious nationalists) like Carl Schmitt, Machiavellians like Leo Strauss, and Nietzscheans like, well, Nietzsche. So my question is this: once a culture, or the elite subset of a culture (its wealthy and its intellectuals), breaks the spell of universal religion and humanism, what restrains it?
My point is this: the fact that God is dead or hidden, and that humanism struggles for justification absent pragmatism, makes the human predicament, going forward, very precarious.
A century from now, were you and I to see it, I think we would exclaim, like Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “O brave new world that has such men in it!”
And I worry that those men will not be religious universalists embracing the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, or humanists embracing the brotherhood of man absent God, or Ridley-like democratic and cooperative globalists with ethical moorings, but cyborgs with rather narrow loyalties, enhanced by both the manipulation of their genomes and by robotics, with little stake in the survival or thriving of the mass of naturals (that is, humans like you and me), and rapidly displacing us.
A century from now, natural humans may be the new Neanderthals, our habitat relentlessly being eaten by a new, more lithe and clever species born of the crown jewel of Enlightenment humanism: science.
At that point, Enlightenment humanism will be no more able to save us from this Frankenstein–either philosophically or pragmatically–than, say, intellectual Neanderthals could have saved their species by an assertion of Neanderthalism (the universal brotherhood and rationality of Neanderthals).
Instead, my guess is that a survival-of-the-fittest Darwinian logic of some sort will trump atheist humanism.
In this sense, Tea Party suburbanites, urban progressives, evangelicals, conservative Muslims, environmentalists, and humanists are all in the same boat: they’re fighting, from different vantages and for different reasons, the blind Moloch that is, in ever more accelerating fashion, eating the human world and usurping the direction of history.
I think my argument will only become more obviously correct as the century proceeds. We’ve been in serious intellectual trouble from the day that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. Fundamentalist religionists don’t articulate it well, but their unsettled intuition about evolution is correct. In discovering that species possess no fixity, Darwin discovered that the human species has no fixity, that it can be changed. And over the next century, scientists with different tribal loyalties will race to change it. And religion and humanism will be impotent to stop this new eugenics race.
Nietzsche, in my view, saw all of this coming. He drew the right conclusions about the consequences of Darwin’s discovery and absorbed it intellectually.
But isn’t it curious how few contemporary Western atheists speak of, or debate, Nietzsche? They debate a humanist like Dawkins, and enthuse about science, but are generally silent about Nietzsche. Why? Because Nietzsche is in contemporary atheism’s blind spot (even as he is the elephant in the room).
Nietzsche is what humanism is designed to conceal.
But, like Darwin, Nietzsche is inescapable. He saw the chess board and where the checkmate for humanism was at (where contingency, evolution, and the justification for human action intersect). Or, to put it another way, Nietzsche saw that, with God dead, the shadow that great body casts is humanism.
Beyond that shadow is emptiness and Moloch.