Darwin as Compassionate Buddhist Ape Descendant
National Geographic claimed today. “Darwin the Buddhist? Empathy Writings Reveal Parallels,” wrote Christine Dell’Amore about new ideas about Darwin by Paul Ekman, psychologist.
What could Darwin possibly have to do with Buddhism? Ekman told an audience at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago that Charles Darwin was fascinated with facial expressions of emotion. Indeed, he wrote a book on it: The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), in which he hired photographers to film faces of people expressing happiness, rage, sadness and other feelings. Darwin suggested that empathy was a universal trait that had evolved in humans.
Ekman said the idea of universal empathy meshes with Buddhist beliefs about compassion. Ekman also suggested “it’s also possible that Darwin encountered Buddhist teachings through letters from other scholars of the time.” To strengthen the Darwin-Buddha connection, Ekman shared an inside story: the Dalai Lama had told him that he “would consider himself a Darwinian.”
Ekman did not explain how this new compassionate Darwin relates to the old picture of evolution as a process of pitiless indifference by a natural world red in tooth and claw. Nor did he explain why compassion, if genetically inherited in some people and not others, needs to be cultivated – a role seemingly more suitable for religion. The article simply stated point blank, “Until psychologists figure out why the disparity exists, he said, ‘the survival of our planet’ depends on cultivating compassion.” This begs the question whether even survival is a good thing in a universe of pitiless indifference. Nevertheless, the article suggested people could go to “compassion gyms” to improve their empathy fitness.
Somehow, this makes sense to Ekman as he imagines primates becoming more self-aware. The NG article ended with a quote to this effect by Barbara King, an evolutionary anthropologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She said, “We wouldn’t be human in the ways we are human today if apes were not deeply emotional creatures and deeply social ones. We are … products of our past.”
This article reinforces recent attempts to portray a kinder, gentler Darwin, who opposed slavery (see Uncommon Descent). Some Darwinists, though, don’t appear to have inherited the compassion gene. In Forbes, Jerry Coyne slammed neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, who had criticized evolution earlier on Forbes, by calling him a charlatan and comparing him to a holocaust denier. Egnor has had a running rebuttal to Coyne on Evolution News and Views, continuing with part 2 and part 3.
OK, Darwin skeptics, charge! They’re exposing their true colors: Darwinism is a religion. It may be politically-correct religion, but it’s religion nonetheless. Is it any wonder we portray Darwin as the Bearded Buddha? Even the Dalai Lama worships at his shrine. Caution: don’t offer the prescribed sacrifice! You will need your brain to understand what is going on: Darwin evolves to fit the rhetorical needs of the Darwin Party propaganda machine. 30 years ago it was the Malthusian, red-claw Darwin of pitiless indifference. Now it’s the compassionate Buddhist Darwin. Behind the facade it’s the same Blunderful Wizard of Flaws.