The transparent intellectual fraud that is Darwinism

As I have illustrated over and over, liberals admire and keep making appeals to values that liberalism formally excludes as discriminatory and non-egalitarian, such as family, patriotism, intelligence, and beauty. The reason liberals keep making these obvious exceptions to their own liberalism is that liberals are human beings, and human beings are so constituted that, whatever their formal ideology, they find life unendurable without such values as family, patriotism, intelligence, and beauty.

In much the same way, Darwinists keep injecting into the Darwinian “story line” the very elements that the Darwinian theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection formally excludes: intention, purpose, teleology. The reason Darwinists keep making these obvious exceptions to their own Darwinism is that Darwinists are human beings, and human beings are so constituted that they cannot live, they cannot make sense of the world, without a notion of purpose.

Here, from myriad possible examples, is just one example of how Darwinians keep inserting teleological language into a Darwinian universe that supposedly lacks all teleology. In Wikipedia’s article on sociobiology I find the following:

[N]ewcoming dominant male lions often will kill cubs in the pride that do not belong to them. This behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring and causes the nursing females to come into heat faster, thus allowing more of his genes to enter into the population. Sociobiologists would view this instinctual cub-killing behavior as being “passed down” through the genes of successfully reproducing male lions, whereas non-killing behavior may have “died out” as those lions were not as successful in reproducing.

A genetic basis for instinctive behavioral traits among non-human species, such as in the above example, is commonly accepted among many biologists; however, attempting to use a genetic basis to explain complex behaviors in human societies has remained extremely controversial.

Consider the sentence: “This behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring … thus allowing more of his genes to enter into the population.” What is wrong here? The author is making it sound as though the individual male lion (or the male lion’s “selfish genes,” to use Richard Dawkins’s famous phrase) has the purpose of spreading his genes in the population. But according to Darwinism the individual lion has no such purpose and can have no such purpose. According to Darwinism, the individual lion only has that trait—or, to be more precise, the individual lion who possesses that trait only exists—because in a previous generation there was a random genetic mutation resulting in a male lion who had the trait of killing other male lions’ offspring, and the lion possessing this randomly appearing trait accordingly had more offspring than lions not possessing that trait, and so the genetically determined trait of killing other lions’ offspring spread and eventually became dominant in the lion population. Thus the present individual lion (or his genes) has absolutely no purpose to “spread his genes” by killing other lions’ babies. His own behavior is nothing but the deterministic effect of the previous natural selection of his lion forebears who had that behavior.

Yet the article speaks of the lion’s behavior as being “successful”! What does “successful” mean in this context? It means the lion is successful in spreading his genes, which in turn suggests that the lion (or the laws of evolution of which the lion is the instrument and the, uh, creature) had the purpose of spreading the lion’s genes. The very concept of success implies a prior purpose. But there is no prior purpose—whether in the individual lion, or in the lion’s genes, or in evolution as a whole—that the lion’s genes should be spread. There were random accidental variations within a population, and some variations spread more than others because the individuals carrying those variations produced more offspring. Thus in Darwinism there can be no such thing as success, in the sense of a fulfilled purpose. There is only the more numerous appearance of individuals with a certain trait who become more numerous because their progenitors had that trait and that trait enabled the progenitors to have more offspring. The putatively successful trait had no purpose in coming into existence; its appearance was accidental. Yet the the author of the article speaks in language redolent of purpose.

Pick up almost any Darwinian writing and you will see the same thing over and over. Nicholas Wade in his very worthwhile book Before the Dawn engages in this trope constantly (and, I believe, in complete unconsciousness that he is doing so), using language that attributes intelligence and purpose to the process of biological evolution which according to Darwinism is devoid of intelligence and purpose.

Why do Darwinists keep indulging in this gross contradiction? Because, as human beings, they not only cannot live in a world without meaning and purpose, they cannot even articulate a world without meaning and purpose, they cannot make such a world intelligible to themselves. So they keep appealing to teleology, even in the act of promoting a theory that radically denies all teleology. They are intellectual parasites who would strip all meaning from the universe, while continuing to preserve for themselves the comforts and pleasures of meaning.

The game is up. Henceforth we shall tell the Darwinists that they have no right to eat their meaning and have it. What can they say in reply? That a process utterly lacking in purpose has produced beings, such as themselves, who require a belief in purpose? Their position is as absurd as that of the postmodernists, who declare that there is no such thing as truth in the sense of words that correspond with reality, even as they expect us to agree with their theories! But how can we agree with any theory, if there can be no true correspondence between words and reality?

No matter how the Darwinists, liberals, and postmodernists twist it, they have no right to indulge in such nonsense. We must require of them that they be intellectually consistent and accept the nihilistic void produced by their own belief systems. Then we will see how long those belief systems last.

- end of initial entry -

Mark A. writes:

One of the best posts I’ve read at VFR in quite a while. Excellent. Have you noticed how many militant Darwinists are vegetarians? I find this hilarious. A friend of mine is both a militant Darwinist and a vegetarian. We were talking about eating meat one day and I said that I was comfortable eating meat as I was at the top of the food chain and it was just a process of Darwinian survival of the fittest. (I don’t actually believe that but I just wanted to see him find a way out of his hypocrisy.) His response was, “Just because we used to do something doesn’t make it right.” I almost fell out of my chair laughing at that nonsense.

Kristor writes:

A quote from an argument I just submitted to an on-line discussion forum dominated by liberals:

A purist Darwinism would argue that success must be merely fortuitous—i.e., that it is not really “success” at all, but just the thing that has for no particular reason happened. [Darwinism empties lots of our crucial terms of legitimate reference to anything in reality: purpose, meaning, and so forth.] OK, fine: if Darwinism would empty discourse of any valid application to concrete reality, it would empty itself of informational content; if, as Darwinism argues, everything that happens is just noise, then so is Darwinism just noise. If it is to be of any use at all, Darwinism has to be wrong (at least) that all our discourse is noise; it can be right about lots of other things, but to be write about those other things it has to be wrong about teleology, must be wrong in its assertion that things don’t happen for a reason. If we are to think that our reasoning matters, we must think that things happen for a reason.

I should add also that process philosophers since William James have made the argument that an acid test for any proposition is whether one can live as if it is really true. That is, can one actually implement the idea, carry it out in practice? If not, it must be false. Thus obviously no one can behave as though there is no possible human access to truth. No one can behave as if consciousness or free will didn’t really exist. No one can behave as if it were true, as a thoroughgoing Darwinist must perforce argue, that it doesn’t matter what happens.

Finally, I cannot resist pointing out that terms have meanings only in terms of our moral and aesthetic purposes. If there is no real purpose in behavior, there is no purpose in denoting anything, so that all our denotations are merely chaotic; are, i.e., meaningless (this is a clue to the fact that order, like meaning, cannot exist except in virtue of some telos or other). Thus if there is no real purpose in behavior, Darwinism is meaningless noise.

LA replies:

“if, as Darwinism argues, everything that happens is just noise, then so is Darwinism just noise.”

Stephen Gould certainly argued that everything that happens is just noise. To Gould, bulls and cheetahs are just a temporary oscillation from bacteria.

Alan M. writes:

I couldn’t agree more with you in this post.

I’ve been waiting for one of the people debating Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet et al. to say “blah, blah, blah” back at them pointing out the meaningless of their statements given their atheist view of the world.

I was watching some of the Hitchens-D’Souza debate and Hitchens kept referring to the need for “social cohesion.” “Where did you pull that from?” I asked Hitchens back through the YouTube screen.

You see, I would take your point one step further in applying it to atheists.

Not only do we need a teleology to be able to function as humans, but we also need a theology which requires a god.

In order to evaluate anything or make any decision, we have to compare with our goals, and our goals are mostly based on our presuppositions about the world, and our presuppositions culminate in one or a few presuppositions, and this is our “god” (or our gods for most people as their worldviews are not coherent). These gods can no more be proven to exist empirically than a flying spaghetti monster. All law depends on this.

I’m sure you have pointed out before in your writings that the only way to win against these people is to show the fallacy of their arguments using only the tools they see as valid.

A recent example from the D’Souza-Dennett debate on YouTube: A student asked D’Souza what he thought about the principle of parsimony which holds that something must either be self evident or be susceptible to empirical proof, and that Christianity’s belief in God fails. D’Souza turned that around on the questioner and asked if the principle of parsimony would prove the validity of itself. Is it self evidently true—no. Is it empirically provable—no. The student and Dennett never came back on that because their worldview had been proven to be sawing off the branch on which their argument rested.

Frankly, in dealing with Darwinists, atheists, parsimonists, we have to demonstrate that they are arguing for no God or meaning while relying on arguments that assume and depend on their chosen god or meaning. And contradicting themselves in almost every statement they make.

Ploni A. writes:

You wrote: “What does ‘successful’ mean in this context? … The very concept of success implies a prior purpose.”

Since you’ve already used Wikipedia anyway, why not just look up “Reproductive Success” there? The biological concept of reproductive success doesn’t imply a purpose, any more than does the economic concept of an invisible hand. Maybe one or both was a badly chosen metaphor, but you can’t reject a whole theory because one of the terms is misleading.

“What can they say in reply? That a process utterly lacking in purpose has produced beings, such as themselves, who require a belief in purpose?”

Sure, why not? (Though note that Darwinism does not imply that our need for purpose evolved under natural selection rather than, say, as a side effect.) The assertion that a purposeless process can’t produce purposeful beings is a category error. Natural selection doesn’t have hands and feet either, but it can produce beings who have hands and feet.

Kristor writes: “No one can behave as if it were true, as a thoroughgoing Darwinist must perforce argue, that it doesn’t matter what happens.”

First of all, purposeless things, including natural selection, can matter a whole lot.

Second, as I understand it (I may be wrong), the only necessarily purposeless part of natural selection is the mutations; even there, “undirected” would be more accurate than “purposeless.” There may be some purpose in some bird eating some insect, or in an ice age or in other stuff that influences the course of evolution. Maybe God caused it. I doubt that many Darwinists would believe that, but it does not logically contradict Darwinism.

Third, there’s lots of room for purpose outside of natural selection: human behavior, earthquakes, etc.

LA replies:

I did not intend to say that the concept of biological success is inherently and necessarily contradictory. If, according to some Darwinian story line, a particular genetic mutation appeared in a species and then became dominant in that species while other mutations that had appeared did not survive, the first mutation could, if the word were used in a restricted sense stripped of all metaphorical and anthropomorphical implications, be described as “successful” and I suppose I wouldn’t complain. The problem is that in this instance and many others Darwinian writers tend to use words like “successful” in such a way as to suggest an intention, a purpose, a direction.

Specifically, Wikipedia’s statement that the lions’ “behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring” carries the inference that the lion species—or evolution, or life itself—has a purpose which is to spread genes as wide as possible, an inference that Darwinians have no right making.

The way I came to write this blog entry was that I went to Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the basics of sociobiology and noticed the line about lions’ “successful” behavior, and it crystalized my thoughts about a similar trope of intentionality I had repeatedly noticed while reading Nicholas Wade’s book.

Ploni writes: “Maybe one or both was a badly chosen metaphor, but you can’t reject a whole theory because one of the terms is misleading.”

While the title of this entry refers to the “fraud that is Darwinism,” I was not rejecting Darwinian theory simply on the basis of Wikipedia’s use of the success metaphor. My main intention was to criticize the success metaphor, and Darwinians’ constant implication of purpose and direction, which shows, not that the Darwinian theory itself is false, but that those who promote it are intellectually inconsistent. I would argue, further, that they are compelled to be intellectually inconsistent by the inadequacy of the theory they are defending. But I did not intend that argument as a decisive disproof of the theory. I’ve given elsewhere my reasons for rejecting Darwinian theory.

“The assertion that a purposeless process can’t produce purposeful beings is a category error. Natural selection doesn’t have hands and feet either, but it can produce beings who have hands and feet.”

Ploni is attempting to refute the argument that the Darwinian theory is logically contradictory and inherently impossible by simply repeating the Darwinian theory.

Laura W. writes:

Nicholas Wade especially falls into the trap of explaining evolution as an intelligent force in his concluding chapter, in which he offers a stirring vision of human beings directing the random processes of evolution to their own purposes. It’s as if his foot accidentally slips off the brake and hits the accelerator.

“Though evolution through natural selection depends on random processes,” he says, “it is shaped by the environment in which each species struggles to survive. And for social species the most important feature of the environment is their own society. So to the extent that people have shaped their own society, they have determined the conditions of their own evolution.” Huh? So there is an intelligence behind the random processes of evolution after all and it’s human. We have performed the feat of creating ourselves through an utterly random mechanism.

Wade seems to be saying, “Look, I know all this stuff about mindless processes can get depressing. But, don’t worry! We’re in control of evolution now and can turn it in any direction we want. “We have come so far,” he says. “There is so much farther to go.”

Mark A. writes:

If I may add one more thing: If readers of VFR want to make a Darwinist sweat, pretend you are an atheist and tell them that Darwinism is “just another religion.” Mock Hitchens and Dawkins for their almost “religious” conviction to Darwinism. I’ve found that this drives Darwinists insane!

James M. writes:

You really [need to] have a debate with someone like Steve Sailor and have your ideas about evolution corrected. When you write “I went to Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the basics of sociobiology…”, you don’t do your credibility any good. Wikipedia is full of junk, as you’d expect from the way it works and the number of liberals working there. Now, it may indeed be true that “Darwinism” is bad for society, but the truth of scientific theories is not determined by their social effects. It would have very bad effects on society if it were predicted by NASA that an undeflectable asteroid would strike the earth next month, because many people would undoubtedly start living for the moment and committing crimes. Their crimes would not invalidate the observations and calculations underlying NASA’s prediction.

LA replies:

I went to Wikipedia to get the basic definition of sociobiology. Wikipedia is excellent—it is wonderful—at providing basic information. Is James saying the Wikipedia article on sociobiology is wrong? In any case, sociobiology was not the subject of this blog entry, but my argument on the Darwinians’ use of the intentionality metaphor. That arguments stands or falls on its own merits.

James continues further into error when he suggests that I reject Darwinism because it is bad for society. Hey, James, for someone who criticizes me for not reading the proper sources on a subject before pronouncing on it, maybe you ought to read my articles on evolution before telling me what’s wrong with them. I linked the main one already in this entry. Here it is again.

Regarding Darwinism’s effects on society, I have only recently become convinced that Darwinism has a deadly effect on the humans who fully adopt it, and, as the belief in Darwinism spreads, on society as a whole. But the harmful effect comes from the fact that Darwinism is so profoundly false to reality, and, specifically, to the reality of what human beings are. So, Darwinism is false; and Darwinism has a terrible effect on society. Both statements are true. But my focus has been on the falseness of the theory, not on its negative spiritual and social effects.

Gintas writes:

Here is an article by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. He discusses “proper functioning” at length—specifically applying it to the functioning of the mind in believing in God without rationalistic evidence—and how a Christian can give an account of something (specifically, his mind) as funtioning properly. The atheist cannot logically give an account of how a mind is or is not functioning properly.

If you extrapolate his argument to the whole of nature, you can see that Darwinists cannot give an account of why anything is a success or a failure. This of course excludes man-made things, which are all purposeful. Think of that: a purposeless world has a subsection (humans) who are nothing but purposeful.

In the end I believe that Darwinism is the (cold) comfort of the anti-theist.

LA replies:

Right. And the Darwinians constantly say that man is simply an animal, with slight modifications. Talk about a belief that can’t account for reality!!

And these Darwinians, who declare that man is just another animal, consider themselves realists, with their feet on the ground, while the rest of us are lost in a fantasy world of blind faith!

LA writes:

> the lions’ “behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring”

It should be added that this Darwinian explanation of why lion males eat the offspring of other lions is pure supposition. What reason is there to believe it? All kinds of animal species have survived and thrived without the males eating the young of other males.

And in any case, even if the idea is correct, it remains the case that the individual lions practicing this behavior have no desire or purpose to spread their genes; they are, according to the theory, mere automatons whose behavior is mechanically determined by the survival and reproduction of their ancestors who had the same trait.

Ploni writes:

LA writes [re PA’s “category error” comment]: “Ploni is attempting to refute the argument that the Darwinian theory is logically contradictory and inherently impossible by simply repeating the Darwinian theory.”

No, but it’s my fault that I gave that wrong impression. In my analogy, I should have said that evolution could have produced beings with hands and feet; that’s neither contradictory nor inherently impossible. It would be a category to suggest that it’s impossible because evolution has no hands or feet.

By analogy, evolution could have produced purposeful beings, despite the fact that natural selection is purposeless. Both are contingent statements which may or may not be true.

LA replies:

And I am saying that Darwinian evolution by random mutation and natural selection could not, by the very nature of things, produce beings with hands and feet, with organs of hearing and sight, or with a sense of purposefulness.

Bill from Maryland writes:

You write: “Darwinists … as human beings … not only cannot live in a world without meaning and purpose, they cannot even articulate a world without meaning and purpose, they cannot make such a world intelligible to themselves.”

Imputing human characteristics to abstract processes is not confined to interpreters of Evolution Theory. For example, we say of computer software that it is trying to connect to a network, that it rejected the password I entered, that it won’t do what I want it to do, that it died on me, and so on. I have argued with devotees of Evolution Theory on behalf of an abstract language that properly reflects the mechanics of Natural Selection, since the language of intent is likely to be misinterpreted by outsiders. They reply that the language of intent, purpose, success and failure is so much easier to use, and will be properly understood by anyone familiar with the theory. The next time I have such a conversation I will show them your superbly lucid account of how Evolution Theory explains the killing of lion cubs by newly dominant male lions. Maybe you should consider a second career writing Evolution textbooks. OK, maybe not. However, the point is that by intelligibly describing how this behavior of lions is explained by Natural Selection, you are effectively articulating “a world without meaning and purpose,” which you state above is humanly impossible.

LA replies:


However, my point was that if the Darwinists were required consistently to explain the Darwinian theory sans teleological adornments, its falsity and unbelievability would become more and more manifest, even to the Darwinists themselves.

Dan M. writes:

Ploni writes:

“The assertion that a purposeless process can’t produce purposeful beings is a category error. Natural selection doesn’t have hands and feet either, but it can produce beings who have hands and feet.”

I don’t know what was intended in this passage, but it cries out for a response. The first sentence expresses an appeal to the principle of causal adequacy, which we trace to Descartes. The cause must contain at least as much reality, or be adequate to, the effect. Most people believe that this is broadly true. The metaphysical biology of Darwinism, if true, violates this principle. Darwinists owe us an account of how this can be so, that is not just a repetition of the Darwinist theory. It is not a category error.

The second sentence is the category error. It is a confusion of formal and material causality. Natural selection is a principle, and the process it is supposed to govern is supposed to be an empirical reality; the end product should be animate material substance. The first sentence referenced causality, not the metaphysical category of the three things involved, which are principle (form) process (change) and thing (matter). The tipoff there is the word “produce.”

Ploni’s comment is sadly typical of what one gets when engaging religious Darwinists. The problem is that the “science” of Darwinism rests on a flawed philosophical foundation, and contemporary scientists typically have little if any philosophical knowledge. They don’t understand that human knowledge does not begin or end with science, but with philosophy. Every science rests not on more science, but on non-empirical, metaphysical presuppositions. These can be critiqued independently of the science itself—precisely because they are foundational to all that follows.

Normally when philosophers have sought an overarching metaphysical principle, according to which all of reality is said to be governed, they have reasoned backwards from an observed effect to its probable cause—what Peirce called “abduction.” Darwin never had, and contemporary Darwinists still don’t have, an observed instance of speciation in nature from which to reason back. Indeed, it’s not even possible in principle that they ever will. This gives rise to the question, how can these folks be committed to the bogus “principle of parsimony” (yet another self-undermining metaphysical principle), according to which the principle of natural selection itself must be thrown out? (And, no, laboratory accounts don’t “prove” that anything of the sort had to happen in the past.) There are so many difficulties with Darwinism that one wonders, whence comes the dogmatism and the scorn for disbelievers if not from religious certainty?

Kristor writes:

Ploni writes, “purposeless things, including natural selection, can matter a whole lot.” Yes; but only to beings that have purposes. A purposeless being would have no reason to care what happened.

He goes on to say in two different ways that there is room in biological history for purpose to operate. In response, I would refer to an earlier statement in his comment, where he points us to the heart of the question. He writes, “The biological concept of reproductive success doesn’t imply a purpose, any more than does the economic concept of an invisible hand.”

Now this is a fruitful analogy, because the invisible hand doesn’t actually exist. Neither does natural selection. They are heuristics. Heuristics are useful intellectual tools because they improve the economy of thought, enabling treatment of the accidental properties of broad categories of actualities. But it is those actualities, not their properties, that have all the being there is to be found in the category. Because heuristics are so useful, it is easy to make the mistake of reifying them. When we forget that we are doing so as a kind of shorthand, and only for the purposes of discussion, we have fallen prey to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Heuristics don’t produce anything; only actualities can produce anything. Thus, e.g., GNP is produced, not by the economy, but by individual people working. The GNP is just a sum of individual decisions. Likewise, natural selection can’t produce any beings at all; only beings with hands or feet, or something very like them, can produce such beings. Both the equilibration of economic resources about an optimum of general social welfare and the processes of natural selection are effected by millions of particular decisions. There is nothing more to these processes than those individual decisions, any more than there is more to a gas than individual gas molecules.

A collection of such particularities can, to be sure, manifest properties that are not much evident in any member thereof. A bunch of molecules can have pressure. But that pressure, like GNP, is a sum across a population of the properties of its members. This holds even for emergent phenomena such as vortices and strange attractors. An indication of the argument is to be found in the fact that such economic “constants” as the natural rate of unemployment can be characterized as strange attractors. The orders that emerge in large-scale composite phenomena are, must be, implicit in their constituents.

If individuals had no purposes, general economic equilibration could not occur. If individuals made no teleological selections, there could be no natural selection, no raw material for the lathe of death. Indeed, if individuals had no purposes, then “social welfare” and “evolutionary success” would have no meaning.

And here is the key point about both the invisible hand and natural selection: all the millions of particular decisions of which these large-scale processes are composed must be either completely random, or driven by moral and aesthetic purposes. Either they are just noise, or they happen for a reason, and matter to the particular individuals who make them.

If the former, then the whole of the biosphere is noise, all the way down, and all the way up. If this is true, then Darwinism, like all the other thoughts we animals have, is nothing more than noise; is just nonsense. Darwinists are uncomfortable with this realization, not just because it empties their theory of meaning, but because they experience their own inner life as purposeful, thus meaningful, and more or less rational. This is why they resort to teleological language, and continue to talk of values.

Yet most Darwinists don’t want to admit the other possibility either, because it would mean that the engine of biological history is teleological. This is a problem for them because they are committed to LaPlacean materialism. If any aspect of the world is teleological, then the world as a whole is infected with the teleological; and how could the teleological behavior of animals arise from sheer noise? It can’t, any more than a gas could have temperature whose constituents had no energy.

But once they admit that individuals anywhere have purposes, reasons, and motives, have real inner lives, Darwinists have stepped onto a slippery slope that necessarily ends in theism. So reluctant are they to avoid that slope, that many of them loudly promote materialism’s most absurd necessary corollaries, such as that their own human consciousness doesn’t actually exist. We should be charitable with them about their motives in thus shrinking from the precipice; it is, after all, a most dangerous slope.

LaPlacean materialism is attractive because it is parsimonious and elegant. But Ockham’s Razor is not the only criterion a good theory must meet. True theories must also be meaningful, coherent, logically consistent, capable of being put into practice, compossible with all our experience, and adequate to the phenomena they address. Darwinism and the LaPlacean materialism of which it is a special case both fail all these tests. The only way any part of these reductionist doctrines can be saved is if they ascribe teleology to the transactions of nature—to all the transactions of nature. That is to say, that they can be saved only if they admit to theism.

But let me not myself fall prey to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Properly speaking, it is not Darwinism that can be saved if it admits to theism, but only Darwinists.

Alan Roebuck writes:

After reading this post, it strikes me that Darwinism is as popular as it is only because most people don’t know what it is. Some people love Darwinism for what it is (atheism’s best friend), but many others are either sincerely misled into thinking that is has been proved by the evidence, or else they feel free to invent their own meaning, as the theistic evolutionists do.

So let’s show people the real Darwinism, nihilistic warts and all. As we are trying to do with liberalism, let’s emphasize the ugly premises, not the superficially plausible or appealing conclusions.

Bird Dog writes (12-9-07):

We expanded on your Darwinian fallacies piece:

LA replies:

Thanks. It’s a very interesting point. People have not really taken in (1) the radically non-teleological character of the Darwinian theory, and (2) the extent that the Darwinists themselves keep hitching a ride on teleology.

Of course, the ultimate absurdity in this area is the position of the theistic Darwinians, who think that evolution is both utterly random and directed by God! (Because, after all, God can do anything, right?)

But at least the theistic Darwinians are up front about the fact that they believe in an ultimate teleology, whereas the supposedly pure, non-theistic Darwinians are not even aware of their own dependence on and exploitation of teleology. This is a realization that could even lead to the fall of Darwinism, if we keep driving it home and refusing to allow the Darwinists to make any use of teleological language.

After all, what has Darwinism been from the beginning—and why has it been the foundation stone of modern materialism—but a non-teleological way of explaining realities that seem to be profoundly teleological? But this apparent stroke of genius that both banishes teleology and constitutes Darwinism may also be Darwinism’s fatal weakness, since, first, underneath and driving the Darwinists’ non-teleology was the desire to explain the teleological-seeming phenomena of life (which explains why they keep using teleological language); and, second, in reality, teleology cannot be derived from non-teleology, any more than consciousness can come from non-consciousness, or life from non-life, or existence from non-existence.

I recognize that the last point is yet to be demonstrated. But we can start to get a handle on it with something relatively easy to understand.

The scientists tell us that all of matter and energy came into existence in a single instant, out of the Big Bang. Ok, and what existed before the Big Bang? Where did all that matter and energy come from? The scientists refuse to address that question, saying it’s irrelevant (and we let them get away with that, just as we let them get away with using teleological language about evolution). But if the source of all matter and energy is not in this universe, there had to be something “prior to” or “outside of” the universe. Which means that the universe is not self-sufficient. The universe cannot be the source and explanation of its own existence. Existence can only come from existence, even if that prior existence is something beyond our perception. In the same way (though I’ve yet to demonstrate this), life can only come from life, and consciousness can only come from consciousness.

Amazingly, we have let the scientists get away with their simultaneous assertions that the material universe began in a giant explosion AND that nothing exists prior to or outside the material universe! Every time the subject of the Big Bang comes up, we should hold the materialists’ feet to the fire and tell them that the Big Bang points ineluctably to the conclusion that the material universe cannot be explained in terms of itself. Just as we should refuse to let the Darwinists get away with using teleological language when talking about life, we should stop letting materialists get away with the idea that nothing outside the material universe exists, since they themselves keep pointing to a theory of the material universe’s origin that inescapably implies that the material universe emerged from something beyond itself.

What I’m saying is fairly obvious, but it’s one of those obvious points that people refrain from making, because it would be like telling the emperor that he’s wearing no clothes. It would amount to declaring that the universally accepted belief system of our time is a transparent falsehood. And civility (and “conservatism”!) means that a person does not state in company that the universally accepted belief system of his time is a transparent falsehood.

“Albert Nock” writes:

According to Einstein, space and time are really one and distorting space can also distort time. It is for that reason that a vessel could travel “faster than light” in a certain sense by expanding the space on one side of it and compressing it on the other side (although it is believed this would require more energy than exists in the universe). As you wind back time near the big bang space becomes so compressed that normal laws of physics cease to apply. At the very beginning there was no space and hence no time. It is thus meaningless to ask about the time before the Big Bang. I have discussed other impacts of Einstein’s theory on the modern conception of time here. I would note though that I merely have an amateur interest in this topic and you might want to ask some actual physicists in case I was misled.

LA replies:

Fine, I have no problem with Einstein: before the Big Bang, there was no time and no space. The fact remains, according to the astronomers, that the universe is 15 billion years old. Which means that time, space, and matter began 15 billion years ago. That leaves unaddressed the question, what made this event occur? If a definite amount of time has elapsed since that event, it is impossible not to think in terms of what came “before” that event. In the timeless, spaceless nothingness “prior” to the Big Bang, something happened which allowed the Big Bang to occur. Which means that something existed “before” and “beyond” the universe as we know it. Einstein does not get rid of the problem that the universe we know is inconceivable without something beyond the universe we know.

Comments added December 12

Art K. writes:

I noticed the following comment you made concerning science and origins in the Darwinism and teleology discussion:

“It would be a challenge to the universally accepted belief system of our time.”

Science is “the universally accepted belief system of our time” and yet I have questions about it. Consider genetics (since teleology and determinism are cousins).

One of the “scientific” assumptions people are making is that genetics explains form (and possibly behavior). It was a shock to me when I listened to J. Craig Venter this Saturday, one of the leaders of the Genome Project, on CSPAN BookTV discuss his career. He made an astonishing statement—that we don’t know how a person gets blue eyes from a genetic standpoint. I had previously assumed that genes determine traits and characteristics in a fixed, well-known, determinative way. (BTW the program will be repeated by CSPAN Monday, December 24, at 6:00 AM.)

In fact Venter went on to say that genes “behave” in a combinatorial way that is not well-known. A questioner asked him from the floor, then when do we know how genes start working in a combinatorial way. His answer—we haven’t determined that so the question of nature\nurture still remains open. This from a lab [?] scientist! We don’t know …

BTW see this interesting link (“Rethinking Genetic Determinism”):

“Genes are not strictly deterministic. This has caused a shakeup in the genetic industry. Celera, Human Genome Sciences, and most of the other genomic sequencing firms have refocused their business plans.”

Now none of this is publicly trumpeted; what we’re told instead is that we absolutely know what this gene and what that gene do—that we basically know how genes determines traits.

To bolster how little we know (or how little we suspect I would say), Ventner also said that we have simply decoded about one percent of three million possible gene sequences so we don’t really know all that much about the genetic sequencing of codes. Statistically we’re barely off the ground and yet genetics is trumpeted to the general public as if it were Biblical truth.

Then a few days ago I read the following article:

“Genes that can be pinned to intelligence are proving frustratingly hard to find, the British weekly New Scientist reports in next Saturday’s issue.”

Confirming what Ventner said, the British study asserts, “It simply implies that a complex trait like intelligence clearly results from the cumulative effect of a wide combination of genes, rather than individual ones.”

Genetic influence and determinism has been peddled as a definitive, well-defined system and yet one begins to see the tentativeness in this domain (otherwise known as hemming & hawing). Just as physicists are left speechless about cosmic origins, it appears to me that geneticists are rushing into the same incoherence about the origin of characteristics.

If science has problems with determinations and teleology, then what major human questions does it answer? It seems as if science has become quite parochial.

LA replies:

Yes. To say that an entire complex trait such as personality or mathematical ability comes from a single molecule is the essence of reductionism, which tells us that the complex comes from the simple, the higher from the lower, consciousness from non-consciousness, life from non-life. But the fact that it is some unknown combination of genes that makes things happen, and that the same genes do not have the same effects in different organisms, suggests that the genes are run by some larger “program” we cannot see.

Kristor writes:

We live in the quantum vacuum. Mere space is, apparently, constantly and randomly foaming up quanta that last for a split second and then vanish, either because they interact destructively with a nearby anti-particle, or because they fail to interact with anything. Their presence is the reason for the Casimir effect. Some quantum physicists have urged that the Big Bang could have started the same way—as a random fluctuation in the quantum vacuum. But some philosopher or other—I am embarrassed to say that I cannot remember where I read this, but I’m guessing it might have been Milic Capek or DR Griffin—has pointed out that the quantum vacuum is not sheer nothingness. Anything that can give rise to something, however evanescent that something, is not sheer nothingness. So the quantum vacuum begs the question of what was “there” “before” there was a there. What gave rise to the virgin quantum vacuum that had the creative fecundity to bring forth our cosmos? Some astrophysicists have suggested that the Big Bang is just the inside of a black hole that started in a different cosmos than ours; so that black holes are as it were the places where universes spawn new universes. This doctrine begs the same question. It’s really rather laughable; like Crick, thinking that the doctrine of panspermia answers the question how life began.

Ploni writes:

Since this Darwin thread is still alive, I’ll respond to some of my critics. First, since I still haven’t phrased my “category error” thing clearly enough for everyone reading, I’ll try once more: the statement “a process A cannot produce beings with property P unless process A itself has property P” is a category error, and it’s this error which was implied in Mr. Auster’s original argument (A=natural selection, P=purposefulness).

Note that I am not defending evolution, something I’d be absolutely unqualified to do even if I wanted to. I’m only refuting one argument against evolution. With due respect to Mr. Auster, his “by the very nature of things” reply merely changes the subject.

Kristor notes that just as the invisible hand doesn’t really exist, neither does natural selection. But he’s pulling a fast one there: I compared the “invisible hand,” a possibly misleading metaphor, to reproductive “success,” not to natural selection (which he says doesn’t exist). And of course almost all anti-evolutionists concede that natural selection does exist and is observed all the time, for instance with bacteria evolving a resistance to antibiotics; the controversy here is whether natural selection explains the biological variation that exists today.

It would take too long to point out all of Kristor’s fallacies, but the crux of his argument is this: “If individuals made no teleological selections, there could be no natural selection … .” This is obviously false, unless you want to impute “teleological selections” to plants and bacteria; and if you do so, then you’ve wandered far away from the purposefulness that we were talking about before. It’s important to distinguish between the metaphysical purpose of God or whatever, and the purpose that refers to the mental states of certain creatures, e.g. biologists.

On LA’s “life can only come from life” etc., I think that’s just vague thinking. It may or may not be true, but it’s not at all self-evident.

Mr. Auster’s main point, it seems, is his suggestion to “refus[e] to allow the Darwinists to make any use of teleological language.” That’s a fair challenge. As I understood it, Mr. Auster already agreed with me that “reproductive success” is defined non-teleologically (e.g., on Wikipedia), despite the teleological sound of the word “success.” It seems obvious to me that evolution can (best) be described without reference to teleology, regardless of whether or not the theory of evolution is true.

From this point of view, I think it’s useful to compare natural selection to nondeterminate search engines in computer science, which seem to be looking into the “future” but of course really are not. I don’t see anything wrong with the use of teleological language to describe natural selection or computer programs, nor do I see its use as a deficiency in evolutionary biology or in computer science. An evolutionist can say “wings were designed for flight” and it’s clear to anyone who understands the concept of natural selection what he means by that figure of speech. More to the point, it can be translated to a literal, though far less concise, explanation not involving “design” or any teleology.

But if you think that a reliance on non-teleological language will expose its deficiencies, sure, why not? In fact, let me suggest a counter-challenge to Mr. Auster. Since you do understand how terms like “reproductive success” can be defined without reference to teleology, why don’t you translate some Darwinian exposition to non-teleological language, and thereby expose its “falsity and unbelievability”?

Terry M. writes:

You wrote: “Why do Darwinists keep indulging in this gross contradiction?” I think you answer this question very well but I’d like to give it a shot if I may. I believe that Darwinists, who are human beings embued with meaning and purpose, who live and operate in a world embued with meaning and purpose, are quite literally incapable (and will ever remain incapable) of explaining the existence of a purposeful meaningful universe without appeals to teleology precisely because it is quite literally impossible to explain the existence of such a universe outside the concept of purpose and meaning. It’s like trying to deny or escape logic. It can’t be done without using it, so interwoven into the fabric of the rational universe is it. I think it may be said as well that appeals to teleology are quite literally inescapable for everyone, including Darwinists. Meaning and purpose in a meaningful purposeful universe cannot be denied by meaningful purposeful human beings without confirming it, so interwoven into the fabric of the universe is this meaning and purpose.

James W. writes:

I have not followed your discussions of Darwin and Darwinism, but it is my impression you are too hard on the man, if not necessarily on those who invoke his name. Darwin was profoundly humble. I’m sure no scientist, and no man, ever lived who was more sincerely terrified of making his next mistake for posterity. This was always his way in personal and professional relationships. You must know that is the very thing atheists are most lacking in. I don’t see any more mystery in the Universe before the big bang than after it. If there is no end to time there can be no beginning to it. We don’t know where is going or has been. And, the “Universe” that we live in and examine cannot be said to represent all that is out there, or even a fraction, for infinity has no fractions. It is merely as far as we can see. I love Einstein, and his desire to see simplicity at the core of God’s design. But neither can I argue with Bohr’s response to Einstein’s “God does not play dice with the Universe.” Who are we to say what God has planned? JBS Haldane, 1927- My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. My own suspicion is that when we reject things people have no business inflicting upon our sensibilities, we then are more inclined to assume things not in evidence to anchor our beliefs. We don’t need to do that. Atheists are presumptuous, not complicated. The Universe is complicated, and humbling. We explore truth through the process of error. Atheist embrace error as truth. Gide—Believe those who seek truth, doubt those who have found it.

Gintas writes:

Ploni states:

I don’t see anything wrong with the use of teleological language to describe natural selection or computer programs, nor do I see its use as a deficiency in evolutionary biology or in computer science.

That’s because, no matter how badly written, all computer programs really are teleological. Not only that, but a computer program is a favorite metaphor of the Intelligent Design folks, and they link it with DNA as the information code necessary for life.

So when Ploni sets natural selection next to computer programs, he is not just falling, he is hurling himself into the ID lap. Maybe Ploni isn’t understanding what you mean by teleological, these ideas are ones that Darwinists have skillfully evaded for a long time.

And he states:

On LA’s “life can only come from life” etc., I think that’s just vague thinking. It may or may not be true, but it’s not at all self-evident.

which is one of the silliest things I’ve read in a long time. It’s not that self-evident?! Do we have a proponent of spontaneous generation here? Does he have counter-evidence somewhere? And elsewhere you discuss how liberals can’t see the obvious.


But if you think that a reliance on non-teleological language will expose its deficiencies, sure, why not? In fact, let me suggest a counter-challenge to Mr. Auster. Since you do understand how terms like “reproductive success” can be defined without reference to teleology, why don’t you translate some Darwinian exposition to non-teleological language, and thereby expose its “falsity and unbelievability”?

I can’t help but think he wants you to do his heavy lifting for him. My answer: “It can’t be done. Darwinism is freighted with teleological thinking and language, and it cannot exist—which it does only in logical self-contradiction—without it.”

LA replies:

Ploni said:

why don’t you translate some Darwinian exposition to non-teleological language, and thereby expose its “falsity and unbelievability”?

Well I did that partially with the lion eating the young lions discussion. But I intend to revisit this issue. In fact I have something half-written on sexual dimorphism and sexual selection in birds and humans, showing how Darwinian theory applied consistently and honestly, without teleological and purposive overlay, removes even the intentionality and experience of sexual attraction from the phenomenon of sexual attraction.

The only reason organisms experience sexual attraction, say a female bird being attracted to a brightly colored male bird, or a human female being attracted to a man with broad shoulders and square jaw, is that an ancestor of theirs had an accidential mutation which made them have that attraction. That attraction was successful in leading to more offspring and thus carrying forward that particular attraction. There is thus no INHERENT REASON in the individual female bird or female human to feel a particular attraction; a woman is not attracted to a man with broad shoulders and regular features because those things are inherently attractive. They only have that attraction because it appeared as a random mutation in their ancestor and was selected and passed on.

Once the implications of this are really taken in, it will cease to be believable, because it fails to account for the actual elements of desire, intentionality, and consciousness that constitute our humanness. It’was one thing for B.F. Skinner to say that humans are automata. He sought a controlled society and had no pretense of being a liberal. But most of the Darwinians today, including the most aggressive, atheist Darwinians, are liberals who believe in human rights and equality. The core of liberalism is the belief in human choice, and thus human consciousness. But Darwinism, truly understood, eliminates human consciousness and choice. If you tell people that their deepest desires, choices, and values have nothing to do with their inherent nature or with any intentionality toward the good, but are just meaningless reactions planted in them by random mutations that occurred by accident in their ancestors and were passed on because they happend to result in longer life and more offspring, this idea is so contrary to actual human experience that people will stop believing it and Darwinism will break down.

I’ll be discussing this later in a new entry.

Ploni Almoni writes:

LA: “But Darwinism, truly understood, eliminates human consciousness and choice. “

How so? My ability to digest cow’s milk and hence enjoy ice cream may be a result of natural selection—you do admit that “micro-evolutionary” possibility, right?—but how does that contradict my choice of whether to eat ice cream for dessert today, or my consciousness of the experience? How would the fact that human tastes in food are evolved contradict my experience that ice cream seems “inherently” tasty (whatever that means)?

If that’s different in principle from your example of women being attracted to men with broad shoulders, I don’t see the difference.

Re “actual human experience”, my actual human experience tells me that the sun revolves around the earth—I see it every day—but I’m willing to consider alternatives to that hypothesis.

LA replies:

This is what I’m saying. We think that we drink milk and eat ice cream because there is something inherently tasty and enjoyable about milk and ice cream. But according to Darwinism, properly and consistently understood, that’s not why we drink milk. We drink milk only because an ancestor of ours by a random mutation was able to digest milk, and that mutation was then selected, and so we carry that mutation too. Darwinism entirely dispenses with our subjective state, our desires, our pleasures, our consciousness. It only explains—and it reduces everything in the biological realm to—organs and functions and behaviors that have a reproductive advantage over other organs and functions and behaviors.

In the same way, we are attracted to the opposite sex, and to particular “types” of the opposite sex, because there is something inherently attractive and desirable about the opposite sex that calls forth that response in us. But according to Darwinism, this is a fantasy. The reason we are attracted to certain types is that an ancestor of ours by a random mutation was attracted to that type, and the offspring of that union were more “successful” than offspring of other unions and so the gene that makes people attracted to that type was carried forward to us. According to Darwinism, there is nothing inherently attractive about any type of the opposite sex, and, indeed, there is nothing inherently attractive about the opposite sex itself. The attraction that we subjectively experience only exists in us because of its past demonstrated utility in producing more offspring. By reducing everything to the utility of propagation, Darwinism not only cannot explain the fundamental human realities of intentionality, desire, value, and meaning, it denies their very existence.

Ben W. writes:

Ploni writes:

Re “actual human experience,” my actual human experience tells me that the sun revolves around the earth—I see it every day—but I’m willing to consider alternatives to that hypothesis.

His actual human experience does not tell him that the sun revolves around the earth. All he can see is that a yellow object makes a semi-circular trajectory from one point on the horizon to another point. His eyes do not tell him that this object completes the circle once out of sight; he infers the complete circle. How does he even know that this object is “the sun” strictly from his eyesight?

Ploni writes:

My ability to digest cow’s milk and hence enjoy ice cream may be a result of natural selection—you do admit that “micro-evolutionary” possibility, right?—but how does that contradict my choice of whether to eat ice cream for dessert today, or my consciousness of the experience?

He assumes (without proof) that Darwinian evolution occurred and then bases his subsequent faculty of choice and tastes on that assumption. He first presumes that it occurred and that choice is not affected by this—but one cannot grant him that assumption. First prove that Darwinian evolution occurred, then make the inference about choice.

LA replies:

This seems to happen over and over with the defenders of Darwinism. In the midst of a discussion about whether or not Darwinism is true, they repeatedly inject unproved Darwinian ideas into the discussion as the basis for their conclusion that Darwinism is true.

Which is sort of a metaphor for Darwinism itself, and indeed for material scientism of which Darwinism is a part. Scientism denies any reality outside the realm of what can be measured by the instruments of material science, and so it becomes a self-enclosed, self-validating system, immune to critical challenge or alternative explanations of reality. This has reached an extreme with the bald assertion made by Richard Dawkins and others that non-Darwinian views are “not science,” therefore they are false, end of discussion.

I’m not saying that Ploni was doing that, he’s been arguing quite reasonably, I was just making a general point.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 05, 2007 11:09 PM | Send

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