- Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton
"OK. I'm really ready this time. Give me a test."
I was confident. I had been practicing rational thinking for weeks now, asking questions, analyzing situations, and doing my best to work on what I'd learned. I was sure I was up to whatever my friend, the King of Rational Thought, could dish out. He smiled across the restaurant table.
"You really want to do this?" he said as our salads arrived.
"Yeah, I'm sure. Give me your best shot."
"Okay," he said with a gleam in his eye. "Picture this. Darwin, explaining his theory of evolution. He's saying that man evolved over time through survival of the fittest. Only the strong survive. The weak die off. The need to continue his physical existence is what has shaped man into who he is today. All of man's capabilities came about through an evolutionary process aimed solely at survival. Got the picture?"
"Sure," I said. "Besides, I'm familiar with Darwin's teaching."
"Okay," he said. "Now tell me. What's wrong with that picture?"
I had just taken a bite of salad, so I had a moment to think. It didn't help.
"What do you mean, what's wrong with it?" I tried.
"What is rationally wrong with that picture?"
I quickly took another bite of salad, but even roquefort dressing wasn't stimulating enough. I didn't have a clue.
"I'll give you a hint," he said. "Here's another picture. Bertrand Russell, the well-known philosopher, commenting that Einstein's theory of relativity is an abstract concept and that primitive man, since he evolved based on survival of the fittest, didn't think about the theory of relativity because it had nothing to do with survival. You with me?"
"What's wrong with that picture?" he asked.
"That's a hint?" I complained.
"The same thing is wrong with both pictures," he replied.
After five minutes I gave up, frustrated. "I don't know," I said.
"It's like this," he began. "If man evolved based only on survival of the fittest, and if man developed his capabilities only as a means to survive, then how could Darwin talk about the idea of evolution or Russell talk about the idea of relativity? Those ideas have nothing to do with survival. If Darwin is correct, man would only develop capabilities needed for survival. The ability to think about an abstract idea like evolution or relativity isn't needed for survival. In fact, it could even get in the way. Darwin's very contemplation of the idea of evolution disproves his own theory. Ditto for Russell talking about relativity.
"You see," he went on, "one of the man's greatest strengths is his ability to think abstractly, to think about his own existence. That isn't an ability that is necessary for survival. So it couldn't have developed based on survival of the fittest."
I stabbed a cherry tomato. "But how could those guys have missed that?" I asked. "It seems obvious once you explain it."
"A good question. I can't speak for Darwin, but Russell is normally pretty sharp. It's amazing to me that he missed that point."
"So do you have a theory as to how man did develop?" I asked.
He smiled. "That," he said, "is another subject."
A waitress walked by carrying a large chocolate mousse. "Hmmm," I said, recovering my composure, "I think I have a question for you."
"Do you see the chocolate mousse that waitress is delivering two tables over?"
"What's wrong with that mousse?" I asked.
He looked at me suspiciously and finally said, "I'll bite. What's wrong with it?"
"I don't know," I said. "I think I'll order one and find out."