Back in the year 2000, I interviewed psychologist, evolution theorist, and systems scientist David Loye about his book Darwin’s Lost Theory Of Love: A Healing Vision For The New Century. The interview appeared in Magical Blend magazine. I recently came across it, and decided that it deserved more attention than it had received. David Loye published the book via iUniverse.com. I don’t know whether it is still available. I hope so.
Darwin’s lost theory of love
During his research into evolutionary theory and scientific foundations of morality, David Loye found that whereas in The Origin Of Species, natural selection theorist Charles Darwin did focus on pre-human evolution, in The Descent Of Man, he concluded that morality and conscience are “by far the most important” elements in human evolution. In Descent, Darwin says he “perhaps attributed too much to the action of natural selection or survival of the fittest.” Yet this crucial information was neglected by scientists over the past 100 years who chose instead to focus only on Darwin’s theory of evolution, which did not include God or religion as a prime motivator beyond natural selection.
Two reasons this material has been overlooked for so long, says Loye, is, first the dominating effect of the prevailing paradigm, and second, that Darwin was seeing at a level not reached by scientists until the last part of the 20th century.
Even though he was an agnostic, Darwin spoke of “an ennobling belief in God” as an important criterion in evolution. He denied that “the foundation of the most noble part of our nature” lies in the “base principle of selfishness.” Neo-Darwinists, on the other hand, insist that even altruism is motivated strictly by selfishness. Yet the idea that life is meaningless has a “horrible psychological effect on people” says Loye, otherwise there wouldn’t be the continuing battle over teaching evolution in American schools. Loye believes that creationists are wrong to reject evolution as a valid theory, but they are right to believe life is more than directionless.
Could this rediscovered theory of Darwin’s be a stepping stone on the way to bridging science and spirituality?
David, I’ve been reading your book, Darwin’s Lost Theory Of Love. Could you tell us how you came to write that book? It wasn’t in your original plans, was it?
David Loye: No. It’s amazing to me in retrospect. I did research for 10 years on the great scientific explorers of what I called goodness – moral development. I spent about 10 years in research and wrote two books on it, and I never once came upon any reference to Darwin being a moral theorist.
Why did you expect that there would be one?
DL: I didn’t. During that period I was also a co-founder for a group called the General Evolution Research Group. We as scientists from a variety of disciplines and a number of countries around the world were out to expand scientific understanding of evolution. The present scientific version is a diminished and diminishing picture of humanity and the whole evolutionary experience.
I realized I had to understand something about basic evolution. I started reading Darwin and began to come upon these “moral” references. And I thought, What’s going on here? I’ve never heard of Darwin as a moral theorist. I began to actually read him and discovered that I was one of the first people in the 20th century that had really read the sections that have been routinely skipped over, and I was absolutely bowled over.
It took me another 3 to 4 years to piece together the story, explaining first how the second half of his whole theory of evolution was buried for 100 years, why it was buried, and reconstructing what it was. Then I told of its implications for the 21st century and beyond.
What does Darwin have to say to the 21st century?
DL: The main thing is that the central driving force at the human level is moral sensitivity, and his message, to me, is that we have to move in that direction. We must become more morally sensitive, we must regain a sense of right versus wrong.
Darwin was first used in a way that he intended to be used: to break the hold of the “old time religion” on humanity. It was sort of a hammerlock on the capacity of science to explore and so on, and so the first part – the part that’s been well publicized – is the story of Darwin and Huxley in this fight to gain credence for the theory of natural selection, which did replace the idea of God creating everything.
Could you paraphrase that as saying that Darwin first made it intellectually respectable to use the scientific method to explore how the world was created?
DL: Yes. But the problem then is, all his buddies lock in on the first half of his theory. Darwin goes on in The Descent Of Man to say directly, at our level, the human level of evolution, natural selection and survival of the fittest drop away in importance. What becomes of dominant importance at our level of evolution is moral sensitivity, cooperation, love, reason, education. He even mentions religion and spirituality. He specifically said he did not believe in God, but he said the concept of God was very useful in the moral advancement of humanity. And that part – since it didn’t fit the scientific picture as the scientists wanted it, and as the industrialists wanted the scientists to say “this is science” – was washed out of the consciousness for 100 years.
What do you think was the effect of us not having this understanding 100 years ago?
DL: I hesitate to say it because it is so hard for people to believe, and I have to preface that what I have to say is based on the fact that I spent the better part of a decade as a director of research for a half-million dollar pioneering study of the impact of television and movies on adults. Not just on kids, but on adults. My background is as a psychologist, a sociologist, and the media researcher, not just as an evolutionist or a biologist. And my first book was an award-winning book called The Healing Of A Nation, where I look at what goes into the sickness as well as the health of the United States over 300 years.
The effect of the first half of Darwin’s work was the selfish gene belief, the survival of the fittest, the idea that we are basically sort of nasty robots trying to act like we’re better than we really are, plus the idea that there was no meaning, no direction to evolution or life. That was one of the greatest things about still being in the religious framework, as the people who are now in the religious framework have rediscovered. You have some sense you’re not just 98 cents’ worth of chemicals. You’ve got some kind of meaning. There’s some sort of direction to this whole thing. Even though you suffer, still you’ve got a feeling that the good things you do are maybe adding to the store of good things advancing the species through time. And that was all part of the mainstream of religion before the early Darwinian thing replaced it with the idea there is no direction, it’s all blind chance, etc.
Does it also perhaps lead to a general sense of meaninglessness? If there’s no purpose –
DL: See, the other part of it is, if you sell the people, as they have increasingly been sold in Western culture, the message that there is no meaning or direction to life, they’re going to consume like hell. They’re going to gobble up the earth, as we are now. They’re going to buy and buy, they’re going to make more and more garbage, they’re going to deplete the oil and seas, because they’ve got this big empty hole in themselves. There’s no spirituality there, no sense of direction.
What about the readers of this magazine, who are predominantly people in the counterculture, or let’s say our spiritually attuned to the counterculture. They believe in connection, they believe in meaning, but they’ve never seen science on their side. Is this a sign for them that there could have been a science that was on their side?
DL: Exactly! Exactly. To me, that’s one of the main messages, both horrifying and reassuring. See, Darwin makes the structural relation quite clear. The theory of the origin of the species is the pre-human foundation, but even at the pre-human foundation, you’ve got this other, this morally sensitive foundation, as a root growing, and the human level is the superstructure led onto the foundation.
You can’t say that natural selection is not true; you’ve got to understand it in the developmental framework. But what science did was latch onto that foundation and refuse to accept all the evidence of the superstructure brought out by Maslow, the whole field of humanistic psychology, the whole field of the human potentials movement –
And you feel that Darwin has the prestige, once they realize what he really said, to make them have to come to grips with that.
DL: I think it must force them. They have used him now for 100 years to legitimize themselves; to legitimize a half truth, and a disastrously dangerous half-truth, and these are very intelligent people, some strongly morally motivated people. I think they will damn this book very heavily for a certain number of years and gradually come around because it’s the only thing that makes sense: to fit the two halves together and understand the whole picture. The most important part of the picture for us to understand is not what makes the amoebae do this or that, it’s what makes meaning at our level.
There were a couple of things that really were quite exciting about the book. One, that he thoroughly linked our sexual, familial, and social behavior to biology, and two, that it looks like this could be the link that connected the hard sciences with the soft sciences. If you can say that biology demonstrates these instincts, then you have something to tie psychology to, social sciences to, sociology even, and history.
DL: Exactly. See, that’s another beauty of what this grand old man did there; he saw the whole thing, he saw the biological side, but he also saw how it related to the psychological and the systems scientific side. And the beauty of it to me – as a member of a group that sent out to come up with a new framework for the theory of evolution – to me, it’s there. And he had it 100 years ago. It’s how the whole picture fits together.
And since it is stories that we live by, this holistic, adequate theory of evolution will legitimize and make possible the telling of the adequate story of evolution. There are the roots there for reconciliation between science and spirituality.