Cuckoo about Cuckoos

Dalrymple is non-religious but avoids purely scientific, mechanistic explanations because he doesn’t want to, or believe that anyone even could, strip the world of the mystery that ultimately stems from its complexity and ambiguity. I suppose this is what Matthew Arnold meant in Dover Beach when he referred to the melancholy caused by the “naked shingles of the world” having been exposed by the receding of the “Sea of Faith” (generally thought to be a reference to the recently-announced theory of evolution).

Dalrymple writes on the above themes in this new piece in New English Review, the result of having read Cukoos by Cambridge ecology professor Nick Davies.

If Professor Davies has no religious belief, he is certainly a nature mystic—as indeed was Darwin—believing that the world we have inherited is full of beauty and fascination, if we would but look at it with attention.

We infuse the world with meaning because it is impossible for us as humans not to do so. A purely mechanical view of the world is thus impossible for us. We may be
evolved creatures, the product of natural selection, descended from the virus or the bacterium, but we have reached a stage at which moral and aesthetic judgment
cannot be eliminated from our thought or consciousness: and, since goodness and beauty are not qualities that can be found measured in Angstrom units or light years,
the attempt to reduce Man to a mere physical being is destined to fail, at least in the sense that no one could live as if it were true.


It is curious that even the most convinced evolutionists find it difficult to eviscerate their language of intention, design and moral assessment. They claim that this
language is a kind of shorthand, and that it would be tedious to translate such language into a purely naturalistic one: but I suspect that this is not really quite
honest, and that in fact they not only speak, but think in this shorthand. At any rate, they conceive of Evolution as if it had designs as an entity rather than an
abstraction—Evolution does this, Evolution does that—when, of course, the whole point of the concept is to explain how we became what we are without resort to design,
Evolution’s or anything or anybody else’s. And I say this as one who does not believe in any overall purpose immanent in the universe, though I concede that I cannot
prove it one way or the other.

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