I’m reading a great book right now called Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France, by Lucy Moore. The basic premise consists of (as the title suggests) the lives of six women who were important during the French Revolution, both to tell their stories and to illustrate larger issues that ran through the Revolution like threads. The book is fantastic so far, but one passage leapt out at me as an illustration of the perils of the thinking inherent “intelligent design”. Moore is quoting and interpreting the influence that Rousseau had on the French and especially French women. I quote from Moore’s book in full here to illustrate the point:
Rousseau, in glorifying women as wives and mothers, denied them any role outside the home. ‘There are no good morals for women outside of a withdrawn and domestic life,’ he wrote. ‘A woman outside her home loses her greatest confidence, and is shorn of her true adornments, shows herself indecently. If she has a husband, what is she out seeking among men?’ For him, as for so many of his generation, sexual inequality created an ideal equilibrium: men were dominant, active and reasoning, and their role was public; women were emotional, modest, and loving, and their role was private. ‘A taller stature, a stronger voice, and features more strongly marked seem to have no necessary bearing on one’s sex, but these exterior modifications indicate the intentions of the creator in the modifications of the spirit,’ he reasons in La Nouvelle Héloïse. ‘The souls of a perfect woman and a perfect man must not resemble each other more than their appearances.’ According to this argument, the complementary differences between the sexes were essential to maintaining social harmony. (emphasis mine).
I don’t know Rousseau’s work well enough to know how far he might have taken this particular thought (I’m a biologist, not a philosopher), but it really doesn’t matter – I’m interested in the thought itself, because it exemplifies the problem with creationism and its cousin, ID.
In a heavy bit of irony, the problem is an issue that is actually usually attributed to evolutionary theory by critics: the “just-so” story, which is a unverifiable, ad hoc explanation for a phenomenon. Rousseau makes a laundry list of differences between men and women (the possible existence of which is bitterly debated these days), and then in a crucial move, justifies those differences by appealing to the wishes of the all-powerful Creator. In doing so, Rousseau not only explains and accepts those differences, but also removes any need to change a thing! Since the Creator wills it to be so, there is no need, and some might say we have no right, to modify the “natural” order of things.
This is a modification / elaboration of teleological arguments like the watchmaker argument advanced by William Paley, who is, incidentally, only the most famous proponent of this particular claptrap. Teleological arguments – arguments from design – only attempt to prove that God exists, but Rousseau’s sentiment goes farther by presupposing God and then divining God’s will from the way things are. This useful construction (a classic just-so story) allows creationists to deny any change or progress that they wish to, simply by claiming that God made things the way that they are and there is no need to modify them; just ignore any inconvenient historical fact that gets in the way here. It is also implicit in the creationist argument that “micro-evolution” is fine, but “macro-evolution” is rubbish – God set forth the species as they are, and so speciation can’t occur. Of course, putting aside the fact that evolutionary theorists don’t use the term macroevolution as a categorical one, but rather one of continuum, the recent deluge of credible evidence showing speciation and macroevolution occurring in front of our eyes has left creationists retreating into babble about “information”.
And yet, in a twisted bit of logic, it is creationists who accuse evolutionary theorists of blundering into this particular fallacy….