Mencken readers know that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a mesmerizing influence. When in his late twenties, Mencken wrote a treatise on Nietzsche titled The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Though young, and one could assume inchoate, Mencken managed to write an admirably balanced book, maintaining an arm’s-length distance throughout. The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is no hagiography. Mencken analyzes with clarity unusual for his age Nietzsche's misunderstood concept of the superman, his concept of eternal recurrence, his rejection of Christianity, and his basic rationalism and materialism.
Reading Mencken and knowing Nietzsche, I can see that Mencken latched onto Nietzsche’s rationalism and materialism as a lamprey latches onto a lake trout. Mencken rejected religion in its entirety. I suspect the zeitgeist of Mencken's day further reinforced his anti-religion zeal. His faith in empiricism as the final arbiter of all things emerges as a prime directive. God isn't dead, because I doubt he ever existed in Mencken's mind.
Mencken hit his stride during the Progressive Era.. The era was marked by the elevation, if not consecration of, the scientific method. Instead of turning to the Abrahamic God of Judaism and Christianity for answers to why we are here, the swelling band of rationalists and materialists like Mencken turned to science.
Confidence is an attracting characteristic, until it degrades to hubris. I am thirty-five years clear of my first Mencken reading. Where I saw confidence in Mencken's writing thirty-five years ago, I often see hubris today. As I approach my dotage, I find life is so much more nuanced than Mencken's black-white declarations. Mencken’s championing of science and his concurrent calumny toward religion (directed mostly at Christianity) no longer appears as clever when my frontal lobes had yet fully developed and my perceptions where shaded in absolute stereotypes.
The mutability of science is frequently lost on the empiricism-obsessed, materialist mind. Scientific conclusions have always proven transitory and provincial. The accepted scientific consensus of today will inevitably be proven wrong tomorrow. Time and further inquiry have banished much of the Progressive Era consensus science to the scrap heap: eugenics, lobotomies, focal sepsis, an eternal universe is to name only a few.
I am convinced the consensus science of Mencken’s beloved Darwinist theory of evolution is sure to be banished, too. Darwinism is accepted as science by Darwinist. I see it otherwise. If we strictly apply the scientific method, Darwinism fails to comport with the scientific method. (Mencken revered Thomas Huxley as much as he did Nietzsche.)
The Darwinist, and the layperson inculcated in Darwinism, invariably equates plausibility with evidence. Suggesting how something came about equates to establishing how it came about. Life arising from chemical mishap in an ancient sea seems plausible to the materialistic mind. The adaptability and ascension of that life seems equally plausible. Everything about a human being, therefore, is the product of positive evolution: our bipedalism, our opposable thumbs, our intellect, our gender differences, our moral code. The same holds for flora and fauna across the planet. Nothing is immune to a Darwinist evolutionary explanation.
Where many see explanation, I see "ad hocism." The Darwinian assertions are offered on the fly with no scientific support. The Darwinist asserts that evolution crawls positively forward at an imperceptible pace. Onward and upward for all. Yet, no matter the cleverness of the rhetorical, it is still all assertion. When the narrative fails to support the evidence, such as the burst of new species that occurred during the Cambrian period or the rapid ascension of humans, "punctuated equilibrium" or "privileged" genes" are conjured as compensating explanations. This is no sign of science, it's a sign of faith. The Darwinist shares more with the Christian than he thinks.
Darwinism is at best a hypothesis. Perhaps correct, but still only a hypothesis. Ironically enough, science itself is leading the charge in undermining Darwinism. The eternal universe consensus has been supplanted by the big-bang theory. Now the science-based consensus tells us the universe has a beginning, which means time is no longer on the Darwinist side.
Consider James Jeans famous assertion, often cited in concert with evolution, that a monkey typing randomly at a keyboard would eventually write all the books in the British Museum. Given eternity, perhaps it's so. But Jeans' monkey, the scientific consensus of today says, has been time constrained. That's a game-changer.
Let's consider only an average book of 200,000 English words, which would contain roughly a million English letters. What are the prospects of our typing-happy eternal monkey typing a string of a million letters to form English-comprehensive words that support a plot? The chance of getting the first letter correct is 1/26 times the chance of getting the second letter, 1/26, and so on, making the chance of getting the entire book 1/261,000,000. Since 26 equals 10log 26, (log 26 being about 1.41) the chance of getting the entire book is 1 in 10log 26 x 1000,000 or about 101,400,000. The chance our of our monkey writing a comprehensive title, much less a comprehensive book, is essentially zero given the estimated age of the earth.
A monkey labors in futility to write a book when given 13 billion years. What are the odds of a metaphorical string of correct keys will be hit to produce a sentient, multi-organ, stupefying complex human whose provenance is slime? If we use computer codes as a corollary, we find that mutations always lead to failure. Mutations are never positive.
Is it unreasonable, then, for the scientific mind to ponder the possibility of Intelligent Design (ID)? I think it is. More scientists think so, too. Recent scholarly work from Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, Douglas Axe, and David Berlinski suggests ID has merit. Is it so wrong that empiricism in the material world offers support for the possibility of a immaterial creator? Empirical suggests not.
Darwinian apologists (including Mencken) conflate ID with creationism, which, in turn, conflates with God. Lost on Mencken and others of an anti-religion scientific/materialistic bent is that religion, specifically the religion of Judaism and Christianity and their reverence for the Abrahamic God, is imbued with immutable knowledge, truths, and wisdom about the nature of people that has persisted from time immemorial. Whether you believe the text of Moses and Jesus was delivered from above or conjured from a fertile mind from below, the empirical evidence points to utility. If I was coerced into a binary bet involving wo men, one adhered to the Biblical commandments and proverbs, the other broke them, I know which way I would bet if the bet was which would live a long, self-actualizing life. I have to look no further than Western Culture (and Ayn Rand's withering comparison between East and West) for empirical evidence that points to a win.
I will concede the Bible, Jewish or Christian, is inappropriate for proving the science of why we are here. Likewise, the scientific method is inappropriate for hermeneutics. The Abrahamic-God is immaterial. What is immaterial is impervious to empirical revelation. The two are mutually exclusive in perusing their respective search for truth. That does not mean they cannot be mutually inclusive in the truth-seeking mind.
I will continue to read Mencken for anti-socialism observations and his wit and phraseology. His ability to turn a sentence that arouses a response is second to none. I’ll even continue to smile when he denigrates his favorite targets -- the Methodist minister, the socialist, the government bureaucrat, the working man. Concurrently, I will continue to dismiss his conclusions on materialism, empiricism, the scientific method, and Darwinism to explain all things human.