[ExI] Ayn Rand and Evolution

dan_ust at yahoo.com dan_ust at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 1 14:33:07 UTC 2009

--- On Sat, 5/30/09, Olga Bourlin <fauxever at sprynet.com> wrote:
>> If I must venture on a personal opinion, I do not see
>> any necessary contradiction between objectivist ideas and
>> evolution. Additionally, Ayn Rand was passionate and
>> multidisciplinary enough to put up relentless and emphatic
>> battles against anything she believed to have a real
>> relevance in respect of her worldview.
>> But not being an objectivist myself, and being far
>> from a scholar of Rand's thought, I am probably not really
>> qualified to say a final word on the subject.
> I have to plead ignorance, as well - I am no scholar of
> Rand's work.
> However, where I see an interesting (potential)
> contradiction is in the claim that objectivism (or
> Objectivism) is rational.  I know Ayn Rand claimed to
> be - and promoted - rationalism.

I think it'd be more accurate to say she claimed to be rational and promoted rationality.  I'm only making this distinction because Rand criticized a specific type of philosophy called Rationalism as she understood it -- this being, by her lights, the view that reasoning from innate ideas was _the_ route to knowledge and she generally viewed this as associated with Plato and Descartes.  (She also railed against what she called Empiricism.  Her rejection of both views, of course, was dialectical -- in that she accepted features of both in her philosophy and method.)

> Maybe I'm wrong, but wouldn't there be a contradiction if a
> religious person professed allegiance to the objectivist
> viewpoint?  Why?  Because religion is not rational.

That'd be Rand's view too.  Her lukewarm stance on evolution were not because she was religious.  I'm not exactly sure where they came from, but I think it partly might have arisen from her unfamiliarity with biology (no damning criticism) and from her rejection of Nietzsche.  On the latter, there seems to be good evidence she was strongly influenced by Nietzsche and Russian Nietzscheans.  Her rejection of these views might have also made her suspicious of Darwinism -- or of applying Darwinism to humans.

She also rejected, IIRC, the popular view of "Social Darwinism."  So my guess here is her general ignorance of this science and its arguments, her wanting to distance herself from Nietzsche and his cohorts, and her suspicion of Social Darwinism probably led to her lukewarm stance on evolution.

>> From a discussion my husband was having on that other
>> forum:
>> Nathaniel Branden, in /The Benefits and Hazards of the
>> Philosophy of Ayn
>> Rand/, said of her that she had difficulty accepting
>> any scientific
>> theory that came after Sir Isaac Newton. He then gave
>> this specific example:
>>> remember being astonished to hear her say one day,
>> /"After all, the
>>> theory of evolution is only a hypothesis."/ I
>> asked her, /"You mean
>>> you seriously doubt that more complex life
>> forms-including
>>> humans-evolved from less complex life forms?"/ She
>>> shrugged and
>>> responded,/ "I'm really not prepared to say,"/ or
>>> words to that
>>> effect. I do not mean to imply that she wanted to
>>> substitute for the
>>> theory of evolution the religious belief that we
>>> are all God's
>>> creation; but there was definitely something about
>>> the concept of
>>> evolution that made her uncomfortable.
> <end>
> Unlike religion, there's no controversy about evolution
> being rational, is there?
> Wouldn't evolution fit into the view of rationality?

I think there's a difference between accepting a theory and a theory's being rational.  In this case, and from the Branden quote, Rand wasn't saying, "Evolution is irrational!"  (Nor was she offering up the dichotomy of it's either evolution or God.  After all, she was an atheist and believed there was no supernatural realm or creation.)
> So why would Rand be either reticent or inaudible about her
> views on evolution?  If, indeed, the subject made her
> uncomfortable ... why would it have done so?

See above.  I really think it's more about her psychology or wanting to bury her influences than anything else.  This is, of course, my speculation.  Someone like Chris Sciabarra -- one of the leading Rand scholars and promoters of Rand scholarship might be in a better position to say.




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