Summarizing my views about evolution

Paul N. writes:

… I don’t really want a conversation with you about evolution! I’m confident that neither of us will budge the other on the subject….

Instead, I ask that you simply spell out your conclusions or “bottom line” about what did happen (or is happening) to explain what we see around us in the biosphere. Please don’t spend hours writing many tightly-argued and eloquent pages. Instead, spend a few minutes writing down your five [say] bulleted points, as if you were a courtroom lawyer doing his opening statement (“I will demonstrate to the jury thus-and-such …”). Also, I request that the list not incorporate value-judgment words like “obvious” and “ridiculous,” since these serve to raise tempers….

LA replies:

As I’ve said, I don’t have any particular view of what evolution consists of or how evolution happened. My view is more about what we don’t know than about what we know. But here goes.

  • Evolution is a fact. By evolution I do not mean Darwinian evolution, which is a particular theory of how evolution occurred, but rather the succession of life forms over geological eons, including the appearance of higher and more complex forms replacing lower and more rudimentary forms, as we clearly see in hominid evolution, though, of course, not all evolution moves in a linear direction toward the “higher.”

  • The Darwinian or neo-Darwinian explanation of how new life forms came into existence, random mutations naturally selected, is highly implausible for myriad reasons that have been stated myriad times. In addition to the more-than-astronomical odds against life originating by chance and of new organs and new species originating by chance mutations, no evidence has ever been presented of one species evolving into another by random mutation and natural selection. It is all hopeful supposition and extrapolation, just as it was in Darwin’s Origin of Species.

  • Natural selection, as distinct from evolution, is an observable factor in the modification of existing species. We can see this, for example, in the compact body shape of Northeastern Asians, adapted to a cold climate, compared to the slender long-limbed body type and dark skin of Africans, adapted to extreme heat and sunlight. But the modification of existing species is NOT evolution, even though evolutionists apply the word “evolution” to such modification, which they do in order to piggy-back the unproved Darwinian theory onto the established and observable reality of modification of existing species. Evolution does not mean modifications in an existing life form; it means the successive appearance of new life forms. (See Tim W.’s excellent explanation of the difference between natural selection and evolution.)

  • The truly scientific position (i.e. the honest recognition of the difference between what we know and what we don’t know) is that we DO NOT KNOW how new life forms came into existence. We know that various forms preceded or succeeded others, but we do not know how new forms came into being. It is a mystery.

  • Many Darwinians (not all) believe in Darwinian theory, not because they have any real interest in or knowledge of it, but because it abolishes God and validates a view of man as wholly material and a form of society based on nothing but supplying the material needs of man. .

  • Their belief is correct. It is indeed the case that Darwinism precludes God from playing any role in the evolution of life (as well as any role in the conduct of human affairs). Despite the many people who want to believe in both Darwinism and in a divine ordering of life and the universe, they are mutually exclusive principles, as I have demonstrated repeatedly. See this discussion about whether God and Darwin are compatible. And here is a more concise statement by me on the question of whether God’s direction of evolution can be reconciled with Darwinian randomness:

    From “The never-ending Darwinian two-step”:

    I dealt with this as far as I was able in a recent blog entry. This “stochastic” idea is apparently that God could plant all the apparently random mutations in the mix which would still lead to fish and spiders and birds and chimpanzees. And I repeat, if the “randomness” was created by an intelligence to have certain results, then the process is not random, even if it appears random to us.

    This idea is exceptionally hard for people to get, for two reasons: one, because it is so simple; and two, because they want so strongly to believe both in God and in Darwinism, and this idea precludes that. If the mutations occur randomly, then there’s no intelligent purpose behind them. If there is an intelligent purpose behind the mutations, then they are not random. Any definition of randomness that is used to get around this fundamental logical contradiction is not honest in my opinion.

  • If the explanation for the origin of species is either Darwinism or some intelligent purpose and direction, and if Darwinism and intelligent purpose are mutually exclusive, and if Darwinism is not and cannot be the explanation of the origin of species, then the origin of species must proceed from intelligent purpose, a divine intelligence of some kind.

  • The last point is an inescapable logical inference. It is not a scientific theory, it does not offer a how of evolution It simply recognizes that given the impossibility that life and new species originated from random material events, the origin of life and the origin of species must come from a “higher” source, which remains beyond our ken. This insight means the acceptance of mystery, something that human intelligence is not able to penetrate.

  • We should continue to learn as much about the history of life on earth as we can, but without squeezing the data into the dogmatic structure of Darwinism. There was a promising beginning in that direction about 25 years ago, with a movement called cladistics, which simply presented the various specimens and species in their chronological sequence, such as “X was followed by Y, which was followed by Z,” without overlaying them with a fictional story line, such as “X evolved into Y which evolved into Z.” The “Ancestors” exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, in the early ‘80s, which I attended about seven times, used such an approach. It presented all the major hominid skulls and skeletons (or copies of them), arranged chronologically, but without any Darwinian overlay. It was great. It was a revelation to me. You experienced the FACT of hominid and human evolution without the tendentious and unbelievable story line being imposed on it. This is the path toward truth.

- end of initial entry -

Bruce B. writes:

Please read this email as a discussion of materialistic theories in general and not Darwinism in particular.

It is not clear to me yet whether your (well-made) arguments showing the mutual exclusivity of random mutations and intelligent creation are a sufficient demonstration. You may be right if the randomness in Darwinism is, by definition, fundamental-causation randomness. While I cannot speak for others, I never wanted to reconcile God and orthodox Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, but, rather, demonstrate that materialistic theories in general are the essence of science and can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be a threat to the transcendent in the mind of rational people. If and when Darwinism fails, it will be replaced by another theory by biologists, and biologists, being scientists, will not presuppose God in their next theory which means it will be materialistic and mechanistic. So we’ll be in the same situation we are in now. Why? Because some people will, illogically in my opinion, extrapolate from a materialistic theory that doesn’t presuppose God, to the idea that God doesn’t exist (because he isn’t required by their theory of how the material world works). Nonsense. The Big Bang (as opposed to the steady-state theory) and string theory are materialist theories that don’t presuppose or require God. Should they be used to kill God? The current best theory on the formation of the earth is based on a cool condensation with only partial melt rather than a full melt. This theory explains the formation of the very world on which God’s creation exists without requiring God. So what ? Why do materialistic-only theories regarding progression of life cause us so many problems (independent of the silly dogmatism of many of the Darwinists who overestimate the quality of their theory or falsely extrapolate beyond their theory so they can be Godless)? There’s no ID planetary science theory (that I know of)….

This brings me to the one (yes hypothetical) question for you in this email that is not intended to be rhetorical. Assume that a materialistic theory of how life progressed from archaic bacteria to Homo Sapiens was constructed. Assume you and I could understand the mathematics and probability theory behind it and we couldn’t find fault with it in its ability to explain, materialistically, how the progression of life could have occurred (yes it wouldn’t be testable in that we don’t have millions of years but merely the span of our lifetimes). Would you stop believing in transcendence

LA replies:

Your main point is:

“While I cannot speak for others, I never wanted to reconcile God and orthodox Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, but, rather, demonstrate that materialistic theories in general are the essence of science and can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be a threat to the transcendent in the mind of rational people.”

Darwin’s theory of the origin of species is different from other scientific theories and laws, because it involves the coming into existence of complex living beings possessing consciousness. Laws of gravitation, of electromagnetism, of chemistry and so on, do not “threaten God,” or at least they do not threaten God in a direct and absolute way, since God could set up a universe with such laws. God could have set off the Big Bang, and all the things that followed, including the formation of galaxies, stars, and solar systems, could, theoretically, have followed without God’s involvement and without challenging God’s place as the ultimate source of order and existence. But Darwinism is different, because it relates to life, which is a kind of “second creation,” following the “first creation” of the (non-biologic) universe. If Darwinism is true, then God has no involvement in the evolution of life, period. Meaning that God did not create man. Meaning that man is not created in God’s image and likeness. Meaning that man is not a being created to follow God and find his true fulfillment in God.

As for your final question, if there were such a theory explaining life and evolution in purely material terms and it were convincingly true to everyone, then obviously that would mean, as I said above, that God had nothing to do with creating us. This would obviously have a massive effect on religious and Christian belief. Maybe it would not destroy my belief in God and transcendence, but the whole thing would become rather strained and difficult to sustain, and in any case Christianity and ethical monotheism would be finished as belief systems having any influence and authority in society.

In case the above leads anyone to conclude that I oppose Darwinism because it threatens religion, I would like to point out it was only about four years ago, as a result of Carol Iannone’s article in the New York Press, “Wm. Jennings Bryan was right,” which I’ve often discussed here, that I became convinced that God and Darwin are mutually exclusive. Before that, I shared the common belief that they were compatible. Yet I have been an anti-Darwinian since around 1980. Also, I did not become a Christian believer until 1989. So my disbelief in Darwinism was not caused by a fear that Darwin threatened God or Christianity. It was caused by my disbelief in Darwinism.

* * *

Here’s a sample of the intellectual emptiness parading itself as superior wisdom that is all too common in the Darwinian camp. Kent P., whom I’ve tangled with before on the evolution issue, writes about Carol Iannone’s article:

She makes lots of unwarranted assumptions. Among the ones that really stick out at me:

“The laws of evolution cannot lead to morality”

Why not?

Evolution is a very simple mechanism resulting in very complex results. Why cannot one of those results be morality? Order arises from chaos in all sorts of circumstances—mathematics shows this all the time. Why can’t this be one of them?

Notice the thinking process. Kent says flatly that Iannone’s statement that the laws of evolution cannot lead to morality is unwarranted. But does he have a contrary proof, showing that the laws of evolution do lead to morality? No. He just says, “Why can’t morality result from evolution?” as though it’s obvious that it can. And he thinks that that is the decisive refutation of the statement that evolution cannot lead to morality. It’s like imperiously declaring, “Why can’t a chimpanzee type Hamlet?” And the answer to the question is the same in both cases. A chimpanzee cannot type Hamlet because Hamlet is the result, not of a chance collection of alphabetic characters accumulated over time, but of a creative, ordering mind, just as morality is not the result of a chance collection of personal impulses and social forces accumulated over time, but of a conscious turning toward the good.

Another way of stating the argument is that random evolution cannot lead to morality because of the very nature of things. But that is the very thing Darwinians cannot accept, because Darwinism tells them (see Kent’s comment below) that there is no fixed nature of things, that the nature of things can change, given enough time for random processes to work.

Kent continues his critique of Iannone:

She writes:

“Those who seek a vision of an abiding social order based on permanent truths about human nature will not find it in sociobiology or Darwinian evolution.”

Why not?

The changes deriving from evolution, once again, are on a timescale far beyond that of human civilization. It is absolutely true that in an evolving human race, “human nature” ends up being something different than what it started as. But the change is so slow no individual will ever actually see it, any more than we can look at the horizon and see that the Earth is curved.

This is what I meant when I said that criticisms of evolution are invariably based on simple innumeracy; on a total failure to really understand what the numbers involved actually mean. Human nature _is_ unchanging, as far as we are concerned. At the same time, that doesn’t rule out evolutionary change.

The profound truth that Kent sees and that the rest of us don’t see, because of our inability to think mathematically, is that if we just wait long enough, an abiding social order could result from Darwinian evolution. Kent doesn’t even pretend to claim that he has any grounds for saying that it will, he just says that nothing rules out such a possibility, if we wait long enough. And on that basis the rest of us are supposed to believe it’s true. Maybe an abiding social order will result from evolution, around the time those transitional fossil forms are found, or, somewhat further into the future, when democracy is established in Iraq.

And, by the way, what do we do for a social order in the meantime?

* * *

In a long e-mail responding to the above summary of my views, Bruce B. writes:

… I admit that I stubbornly want to cling to the possibility of a human-perspective “apparent” randomness that is part of God’s non-random process and plan. But I can’t argue at a deeper level for this because I’m fundamentally at my cognitive limits here. Let me say that I don’t oppose your beliefs, but I’m not (yet) as firmly entrenched as you are.

LA replies:

There are very intelligent people who disagree with me on this, and who know a lot more about the concept of randomness than I do. I just had a conversation with one of them today, with whom I’ve had this debate in the past. But as I drew him out, he essentially admitted that what I’ve been saying about Darwinism is correct. This was because it turned out that he was differentiating his own view, which he considers the “true” scientific evolutionary view, in which randomness is compatible with theistic direction, from that of orthodox Darwinism, which he considers to be a false, metaphysical Darwinism because it makes claims that go beyond science when it says that evolution excludes God.

So he actually acknowledged that my critique of orthodox Darwinism, namely that Darwinian evolution is incompatible with God, is correct. He just feels that the orthodox Darwinism that I’ve been critiquing is not the true Darwinism, and that therefore my critique of it is besides the point.

And that is just one of the many interesting responses I’ve received recently from readers, each one of whom seems to have his own theory of evolution! It can get quite bewildering. One reader insists that real evolutionary science has conservative, not liberal, consequences. Another says that Darwinism has never supported traditionalist conclusions. Another says that there is no such thing as evolution, because evolution means an unfolding progress, and he says there hasn’t been any, there is only “speciation.” And of course there is the fascinating though still incompletely answered question of how liberal Darwinians manage to make Darwinism agree with liberal egalitarianism, given Darwinism’s historical—and far more logical—connection with Social Darwinism, eugenics, and Hitlerism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 08, 2006 06:55 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):