More mysteries of evolution
In this article from 2006, which has just come to my attention, the eminent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson declares that Darwinian evolution and belief in God are indeed opposed to each other and there is no way to reconcile them. This should be obvious to common sense. But for some reason a great many people have a lot invested in thinking they can have both. Wilson bracingly writes that the two world views—conservative Christianity along with most of the world’s religions on the one hand, and modern biology based on what Wilson says is the irrefutable fact that all life evolved by random mutation and natural selection on the other—are opposed. He suggests that the two sides just live with the fault line and look to find common ground on things they both care about, such as protecting the environment. But Darwinian evolution, that is, unguided, unintelligent matter producing all of life, reaches into many areas and is gradually winning out as the ultimate view of man’s existence. Thus it’s not that easy to leave things be.
- end of initial entry -
In any event, Wilson rejects Intelligent Design as science because he says no scientific evidence exists for design in nature. He argues that ID leaps to posit a designer just because there are some organic systems that cannot at present be explained as deriving from gradual evolution.
OK, I can accept that. But a question arises. What is the evidence for randomness? Natural selection can be inferred, I suppose, because one can say that certain highly specific features have enabled a particular species creature to thrive in its environment. But what is the evidence that the mutations that produced those features were random? Or, for that matter, that they were mutations at all? It seems some of the same points Wilson has made with respect to ID could be applied here. Biologists see changes among organisms and leap to describe them as rising from random mutations. Why can’t biologists say we don’t really know how they came about, but we think they might be due to random mutations.
Another question arises as to the internal contradictions of Darwinism. In an interview in Salon, Wilson states that we must engage in “deep thinking about human values and where we want the human species to go,” even though we are really just biological adaptations driven by evolution to no purpose except to spread our genes as widely as possible. That is the way of Darwinism, it seems. Everything is chance, random, driven by material forces, naturally selected—but then suddenly we have free will and choice and judgment and discrimination and concepts of good and bad and altruism and sacrificing temporary gain for long-term benefit, and so on, and we can all decide and deliberate what to do, just as if we were created by an intelligent God who granted us powers of reason and judgment and a sense of right and wrong.
Jim N. writes:
“In an interview in Salon, Wilson states that we must engage in ‘deep thinking about human values and where we want the human species to go,’ even though we are really just biological adaptations driven by evolution to no purpose except to spread our genes as widely as possible. That is the way of Darwinism, it seems. Everything is chance, random, driven by material forces, naturally selected—but then suddenly we have free will and choice and judgment and discrimination and concepts of good and bad…”
To Carol Iannone: Bingo! This is a great argument, because it hoists Darwinists by their own petard. On the one hand, they deny the hand of any intelligence at work in the formation of species, but on the other, we—intelligent beings—possess the ability, potentially, to direct the course of evolution. At the least, we can preserve species completely independent of any struggle for existence with competing forms, and ultimately we can introduce mutations—foreign genes—into existing species, potentially (if the evolutionary theory is correct) resulting in new species of creatures. So if we’re here and able to do these things, what prevents the possibility of some other intelligence doing similar things on the front side? Answer: nothing but the evolutionists’ baseless insistence that that just doesn’t happen. (Granted, there are significant differences between what we can do and what God can do, but the basic point still stands.)
Sage McLaughlin writes:
Miss Iannone’s point about the absence of any meaningful understanding of morality in the materialist-Darwinist view of Man is well taken, often made, and irrefutable. I’d just add one point:
I’m endlessly puzzled by the way environmentalists—Darwinists, all—constantly speak of humanity as though it existed somehow apart from nature, rather than simply being of it. According to their worldview, nature as such is an unqualified good. But of course, if we are merely animals, then whatever we do to the earth is completely indistinguishable from the activity of a volcano or an asteroid. Even a man-made nuclear holocaust which annihilated all life on this planet would simply be animals doing what animals do, which has often included out-competing other species into extinction.
I have never heard a sensible answer to this objection. Rather, environmentalists speak constantly as though the Genesis version of man’s relationship to nature is true—that we are somehow above it, that our activity carries some moral freight, and that we have obligations that simply do not extend to other randomly-formed clouds of chemicals like monkeys and stars. If we “belong to the earth,” if in fact human beings are nothing but natural phenomena, then why all the indignant scolding about how human behavior is altering the environment—how can there possible be a good or bad impact on the environment at all, if we are nothing but bags of slime that have arisen from the primordial muck? If humanity literally destroys the earth, well, that’s just a glitch in the earth’s code, right?
What is it I’m missing here?
Talk about liberalism being biblical religion without God. Liberals, as Alan Roebuck has pointed out, reject the God of the Bible, and also they HATE the idea of God giving man dominion, i.e., stewardship, over the earth. They call this oppressive, anthropocentric, hierarchical, and say it is the source of man’s arrogance toward nature that is destroying the environment. But then the liberals turn around and condemn man (or rather Western man) for not fulfilling his responsibility to be a steward over the earth! But what happened to the liberals’ objection to the biblical idea of human superiority over nature? Well, the liberals would say that man must be the servant of nature (which is good), rather than the master of nature (which is bad). But this is just an evasion. Whether we call man the master of nature or the servant of nature, the liberals still expect man to exercise his intelligence and capabilities to protect nature—nature which lacks the intelligence and capabilities to protect itself. So the liberals are treating man as distinct from and superior to the rest of nature, just like in the Bible. They take from the Bible the idea of a special place and responsibility for man in the Creation, even as they deny and despise the revelation from which the belief in that special place and responsibility are derived. Liberals are not just parasites, but insane parasites, despising and resenting their host (which in this instance is the biblically derived view of man’s place in the universe) even as they live off it.
Derek C. writes:
In Carol Iannone’s post, she asked what evidence there is for randomness. The best answer to that is the long record of extinction that precedes our species. Why did creatures like saber tooth tigers, the dinosaurs or the mammoths disappear if their appearance was superintended by a supreme designer? Random mutation seems to be the more parsimonious explanation because it accounts for why they along with 99% of all the species that ever existed on earth died out. No mutation capable of surviving environmental changes appeared in time to preserve them. In contrast, intelligent design must explain why God decided to create these beings and then kill them off. The answers will either run to the blasphemous (he needed to use trial and error) or admissions of ignorance (God’s reasons are beyond our ken). Neither of these really answer the question as well as random mutation.
I don’t see the rationale in Derek C.’s argument. Who ever said that evolution led by God or intelligent design would require that all the life forms created by such evolution must endure forever? In fact, it would be just the opposite. If there is a purposive direction toward higher and higher life forms, then the earlier forms would need to give way in order to allow the later forms to come into existence and thrive. The marvelous marine invertebrates of the Cambrian had to die out if there was to be a sea dominated by vertebrate fish; the giant reptiles of the Age of Dinosaurs had to die out if the earth was to become habitable by large mammals, and ultimately by apes and man. The ferns that dominated the land during the Mesozoic had to give way if there were to be the great development of deciduous trees of the Cenozoic. And giant frogs had to die off if humans were not to be totally grossed out. The life forms appropriate to one stage in the development of the earth and of life are not appropriate to other stages.
Derek’s underlying premise is that there are only two possibilities: Either God created all life forms in their final, perfect form during one de-limited period of time, as creationists believe; or evolution is Darwinian, random, purposeless, with species constantly changing into other species. This is a false choice. God-led, design-led, non-Darwinian evolution is compatible with the idea of gradual appearance of different life forms on earth.
Sage McLaughlin writes:
One last thing: if Darwinism is true, and atheism is also true, and if Andrew Stuttaford is right when he says there is no meaning and we “just are,” then what do they care whether we believe them? If Darwinism is absolutely true, and if it entails the rejection of both God and meaning, then it literally doesn’t matter whether anybody believes or even knows about Darwinism. In short, if Darwinism is true, then its truth (or falsity) is meaningless because everything is meaningless. So they may as well quit puffing up their chests and acting as though it’s all so bloody important. I’m sure they’ll be perfectly relieved to discover that.
Right. And furthermore, if everything we are, everything we do, and everything we think, feel, and believe is the result of past random mutations that were selected because they helped the possessor live longer and have more offspring, and so these qualities and thoughts have been passed down to us, then we are automatons produced by past mutations and natural selection. Those of us who happen to have the traits that lead us to have more offspring in current environmental circumstances and so pass on our qualities and other traits to future generations will do so, and those of us who don’t, won’t. There is absolutely nothing for us to do about it. We do not have the ability to originate a single thought, valuation, intention, or action on our own, including the intentions and actions needed to survive and have offspring. The idea of us making valuations—valuing our own own type of life and trying to preserve ourselves through offspring—is completely out of the picture. Everything we are and everything we do is determined by the evolution that created us.
Thus the Darwinists and sociobiologists who talk constantly about humans striving to survive and outcompete others, and who talk about what we as a group must do to survive—including the MacDonaldian anti-Semites who believe that the Jews are genetically programmed to destroy the European peoples and therefore must be expelled or killed—are speaking nonsense according to Darwinism itself. We, all of us, all races and ethnic groups, are the products of a process over which we have no control, and that process will continue—leading to our personal survival and personal production of offspring OR NOT, and to our racial production of offspring and racial survival OR NOT—without our conscious participation in it, and certainly (to return to Sage’s point) without our knowledge of it.
So it’s not just Darwinists in general who need to stop puffing out their chests and acting as though everything is so important. The Darwinian white nationalists and anti-Semites need to relax and let the the Darwinian process take its course.
Derek C. writes:
Sage McLaughlin raises some salient and troubling issues. If evolution and atheism are true (which is my opinion), then is there any purpose? Ultimately, no. In the end, we’re going to die and pass into oblivion. Life on this planet will end. The sun will balloon into a red giant, and eventually the universe will fade into darkness. It is a very sobering thing to contemplate. These are facts that any honest atheist has to admit to.
However, that does not mean we should not care. I have a son, and I think that’s enough reason to concern myself with society and its future. I enjoy investigating philosophical and scientific questions. Given my view, that desire was implanted in me by the evolutionary process. It had no higher purpose. I grant that, but I see no reason why I should not indulge it, or put it to the test by engaging others. Our lives are short, but we could have found ourselves in far harder times, perhaps as little as 100 years ago. If nothing else, we owe to all those who went before us, and those who will come after us to make the most of our lives.
Ok, Derek C. has given us an answer of sorts. Certain random chance mutations in his ancestors plus natural selection of those mutations planted in him these qualities, including a high valuation of intellectual discussion, and he sees no reason why he should not indulge it. Derek’s logic could be applied to the examples I gave earlier. Human micro-evolution (according to Kevin MacDonald) planted in the Jews the instinctive imperative to destroy European man; why then shouldn’t they indulge it? Human micro-evolution planted in anti-Semites the imperative to dehumanize and kill Jews; why then shouldn’t they indulge it? Human micro-evolution planted in lots of people the desire to live off government handouts, have children out of wedlock, watch lots of tv, eat a lot, and become as big as SUVs; why shouldn’t they indulge it?
As I see it, Derek is making the error of assuming the operation in his consciousness of a quality that according to his Darwinian beliefs he has no right to assume: the quality of moral, aesthetic, and intellectual judgment. He feels that certain activities are “better,” i.e., have more value, more truth, beauty, goodness than other activities. But Darwinian evolution (if it were true) could not produce any desire for the good. It could only produce instinctive behaviors over which the individual has no control. The individual has a bunch of different instincts to achieve various kinds of instinctive pleasures and satisfactions which help preserve life and thus help the individual have more offspring. But under Darwinism the individual could have no faculty by which he decides that one of these pleasures is “better,” i.e., more partaking of the good, than another. Can Derek lay out for us, even in the most hypothetical and speculative form, a Darwinian process that could produce a faculty in man that would lead him to choose the good over pleasure, or that would lead him to choose abstract, non-reproduction-related intellectual activities over those activities leading to maximum production of offspring?
Now, perhaps Derek will say that the desire for philosophical discussion in his ancestors helped them survive and have more offspring and so the desire for philosophical discussion was passed on to him. But this would require that the philosophically inclined individuals in the population that contained Derek’s ancestors had far more offspring than the non-philosophers, who for their part died off without producing many offspring and so failed to pass their non-philosophical tendencies to future generations . But this is obviously not the case.
To add to your list of bad behaviors, let me add rape. According to some, that is a behavior favored by Darwinian selection. So why not allow for it, as well as the other things you list? Further, what Darwinian rationale could be behind it?
If you look at our species, you’ll see that it has evolved as a social animal. Aristotle was right about that, as he was about a lot of things. That being the case, it is in our interest, and our nature, to organize rules for behavior that curtail individual actions—even though those have their own evolutionary origins. The best societies usually come with a rational balance of these two conflicting impulses. Societies that overemphasize the social impulse, like communism and early conformist societies, ossify and weaken. Societies that overemphasize the individual, like anarchies, fall apart.
So, some individual vices we let go by. If someone wants to fatten himself up, that’s his business. He’s only hurting himself. However, if that same man wants to rape a female or wipe out some group of unfavored people, that becomes my business, and the rest of society. Why? Even if I don’t know the potential rape victim or do not belong to the unfavored people, I still have an interest in stopping rapists and genocides, because I or someone I love could be their next victim. Others like me agree and we band together through social means to prevent or punish excessively anti-social behavior.
Now, we are not the only species to act like this. Chimpanzees, our closest cousin, also have similar social structures. They politic. They trade favors, and they punish cheaters. At a much more primitive level, you see them “ape” our behavior. Like us, they are capable of deferring an immediate pleasure for the sake of their group’s good.
But the fundamental problem remains. There is nothing within Darwinian evolution that could produce the faculty of moral choice that you are speaking of. As Carol Iannone put it, if “we are really just biological adaptations driven by evolution to no purpose except to spread our genes as widely as possible,” then whence comes “free will and choice and judgment and discrimination and concepts of good and bad and altruism and sacrificing temporary gain for long-term benefit”?
A second problem is, what is the evidence that the group which by random accidental mutations developed a greater social sense would so outbreed other groups that their mutation would become dominant? As David Stove argues in Darwinian Fairytales, natural selection in humans requires Malthusian death rates, with only a small fraction of offspring surviving in each generation. Is there evidence that the more “civilized” peoples produce a geometrically greater survival rate than other peoples? Without such a differential, Darwinian microevolution in the human species is precluded.
In fact, far from the civilized peoples outbreeding and outcompeting the barbaric peoples, it is a constant of human history that wandering barbarians show more vitality than the settled, civilized peoples and conquer them.
“Now, perhaps Derek will say that the desire for philosophical discussion in his ancestors helped them survive and have more offspring and so the desire for philosophical discussion was passed on to him.”
A partiality to the philosophical could be explained by an ability to perform abstract thought, which is universal in men. Some have more capacity than others, just as some men can run faster than others, or sing better, or see further.
But Darwinian mutation and natural selection could not produce thought that goes beyond the needs of survival. The fallacy remains of deriving trans-reproductive or non-reproductive values from a process that works solely by the massive reproductive advantage of the tiny number of individuals who possess a certain trait, and the early death and childlessness of the individuals (the great majority of the population) who do not possess that trait. Remember that the Malthusian scenario that led Darwin to his theory involves ubiquitous misery and early death with only a minority of individuals surviving to have offspring. Let us leave aside the fact, fatal to Darwinian microevolution in humans, that human history has NOT been characterized by ubiquitous Malthusian starvation. If it were the case that Malthusian starvation were the norm in human history, with only a handful of individuals surviving in each generation based on their superior skills in a brutal, merciless competition to the death, and with only the traits that resulted in success in that competition being passed on to future generations, try to imagine such a process producing a Homer, a Plato, a Mozart, a Newton, let alone a Derek C. or a Lawrence A.
“Even if I don’t know the potential rape victim or do not belong to the unfavored people, I still have an interest in stopping rapists and genocides, because I or someone I love could be their next victim. Others like me agree and we band together through social means to prevent or punish excessively anti-social behavior.”
Now, according to Nicholas Wade in Before the Dawn, all human groups for a hundred thousand years until about 13,000 years ago, which were hunter-gatherer clans of about 150 people, lived in constant genocidal war with other clans. Whenever one group encountered another group, they would seek to kill each other off. Thus the total dehumanization of the outsider was the norm through almost all of human pre-history. For a thousand centuries, enlightened self-interest did not appear in man. How then did enlightened self-interest appear so recently, after that vast period during which murderous brutality toward everyone not belonging to one’s own clan was the “evolutionary” norm, repeatedly “selected” for four thousand generations? It could only be by a random mutation. A random mutation put into the head of some individual the totally new idea that it’s better not to kill off the clan that’s impinging on one’s clan’s hunting and gathering area, because his own loved ones might be the next victim of the same kind of violence. That individual then put his new idea (which came to him as a result of a random mutation in the genetic sequence of his DNA) into effect as the leader of his tribe. His tribe began to forebear from killing off their enemies, and as a result his tribe survived, while their enemies, who still believed in killing of their enemies, died out, so that only the group that practiced non-violence toward its enemies, while its enemies continued to practice violence toward it, survived.
That’s the scenario we have to believe in order to believe that non-genocide toward outsiders appeared by Darwinian processes.
Now if that’s too hard to believe, perhaps the mutation only appeared in new environmental circumstances in which the mutation would be more favored, i.e., after hunter gatherer clans had (as a result of another random genetic mutation of course) settled down into villages, which occurred, says Wade, a couple of thousand years before the discovery of agriculture. Perhaps for settled groups, the advantage of not killing another clan and raping its women might be more evident. It remains the case, however, that for the mutation of enlightened self-interest to be selected, the clans that did not have the mutation had to die at a much greater rate than the clan that did have the mutation. But who would kill off those more violent clans, given that the group with the anti-violence mutation—the group that must have an overwhelming survival advantage over other groups in order for the mutation to be passed on—has now become less violent?
The problem for the Darwinists in explaining man’s ascent from a savage to a civilized state seems to be insuperable.
Finally, let us remember that even if someone came up with a more plausible scenario by which enlightened self-interest appeared by Darwinian processes, it would remain nothing but a scenario, nothing but a guess, one of “millions of guesses strung together,” as William Jennings Bryan described Darwinism.
This is a most fascinating thread and Mr. McLaughlin’s first post brings up an issue that I find almost entirely absent from any energetic, modern conservative writing. That is, what is the traditionalist position on the environment? If, in the Biblical sense, we are stewards, what does this mean exactly? I will grant you that modern liberals are associated with all sorts of environmental nonsense (man-made global warming, trees worth more than human lives, private property rights trounced by the legal status of rare fauna and flora, etc.) and that this gets crazier every year. Aside from scant musings by the likes of Rod Dreher and Mark Richardson, conservatives seem to offer only open contempt for “environmentalists” while they have nothing to say about their own philosophy in this area.
The admiration and appreciation of nature is, in its broadest sense, about quality of life. Are any of us indifferent to the prospect of living in a world where terrestrial life consists of us, crops and domesticated animals and monoculture plantations of two species of conifers? Is the enjoyment of natural areas and learning about plants and animals not common to all societies? Aside from the presumed importance of various life forms to all living systems, aren’t sailfish, butterflies, maples and sea anemones worth… conserving? This aesthetic leaves aside considerations of watershed protection, sources of new medicines or foods and innumerable other practical aspects. Protectionism can be and has been overdone oftentimes but to an extent this has been in response to the destructive greed of short-sighted entrepreneurs and the agency of irresponsible (or colluding) government.
It seems most people regard the planet’s natural systems and wild animals and plants as God-given or spiritually important to our species. It should not surprise anyone that this relationship has been heavily politicized, but where does it stand in relation to the modern Judeo-Christian heritage of the West? Many of the earliest Catholic missionaries were men of science and their natural history works exhibit exceptional ability to observe and record the new living wonders that God bestowed on them. The Founding Fathers counted keen natural historians among their number. Are such revelations today only an archaic echo of the past for conservative traditionalists?
Laura W. writes:
Hannon asks, “What is the traditionalist position on the environment?” The question is relevant because Darwinists are so prone to lapse into a warped understanding of man’s place in nature.
Wendell Berry, the most articulate of the traditionalist defenders of the “environment,” has rightly identified the greatest natural catastrophe in this country: the decline of the family farm. Liberals, for all their trumpeting of organic produce and their “eat local” slogans, are incapable of seeing this disaster for what it is. That is because they are inimical to the entire moral infrastructure of traditional American agriculture. The true conservative position on the environment is to respect man’s innate domination over nature, not, as E.O. Wilson would have it, to hold nature up as intrinsically superior. (For a Darwinist, Wilson is hypocritically mystical about nature.) A quasi-conservative like Berry holds man to a reverence for nature not only because it is mysteriously beautiful but because he is in charge of it. Nature provides more than just organic tomatoes, cool hiking paths and biological curiosities on the verge of extinction. It offers an entire way of life that satisfies the soul and solidifies community. This way of life is part of the very foundation of American democracy. The small farmer is the greatest environmentalist this country has ever known.
By the way, in his book Life is a Miracle: Essays Against Modern Superstition, Berry, who is a quasi-liberal himself, does a good job of taking apart E.O. Wilson’s hypocritical environmentalism. In fact, most of the book is about Wilson’s arguments. You have to wonder. Have some of the more prominent Darwinists such as Wilson become moralists for marketing purposes? I believe so, although the motive may be unconscious. They simply must end their descriptions of a vast, meaningless universe—a place so boring no one would genuinely care to understand it, let alone fight for its preservation—with some rousing vision. Otherwise, no one would listen to them. These stirring visions of evolution being actively directed by humans for moral ends are a bald contradiction to their theory, but that does not seem to disturb them. Hey, they’ve gotta make a living too; no easy thing when the product is as inherently unappealing as Darwinism.
In other words, the Darwinian struggle to survive in the altered environmental circumstances of modern society requires Darwinian scientists to promote ideas that contradict Darwinism, while continuing to claim that these ideas are perfectly consonant with Darwinism, because Darwinists who failed to sneak non-Darwinian ideas into their writings would fail to sell their books and thus go extinct. Now there’s a theory with explanatory power for you!
Carol Iannone writes:
Wow, what a thrill to have generated all this!
Derek C. writes:
“If there is a purposive direction toward higher and higher life forms, then the earlier forms would need to give way in order to allow the later forms to come into existence and thrive.”
The problem is that there are lines of plant and animal life that peter out. They don’t lead to anything. For all the life you find in Cambrian explosion, much of it died out in the following mass extinction. The first vertebrate could have died out and the world would have belonged to some creature like the octopii. Closer to home, you have a number of hominid species that were “cousins” to our direct ancestors who arose and then died out. Neanderthal is a well known example. Our line could have just easily gone their way, given what we know.
Now, again, we could say that God had something in mind when all this apparent waste was occurring that we, in our mortal limitations, simply don’t understand, but that’s not really an answer. It’s passing the buck. With random mutation, however, you would expect a lot of fluctuation as the environment changes. A congenial environment will lead to an explosion of life, and a hostile one would lead to large die offs.
What you are pointing to here is the basic question that created the need for something like the Darwinian theory to begin with. There’s this multiplicity of variation, extinctions, bizarre oddities, that do not fit the literal biblical view of God creating all species in their final or perfect form. Clearly, species that were both similar to and different from earlier species had come into existence over a period of time, and Darwin’s theory seemed to supply an explanation for this.
Also, clearly, not all evolution is moving along a progressive line culminating in the “highest” in each line of development. Lots and lots of species seem to consist of variations on the same level, rather than progress to a new level. The classic example is the mind-blowing variety of methods of reproduction in insects, fish, and amphibians.
My point is that I agree with you that lots of the phenomena of evolution do not fit the idea of an anthropomorphic God creating species the way an architect designs buildings. Much of the evolutionary process seems spontaneous, driven by an internal dynamic the nature of which we do not understand. Darwinians say this dynamic is random mutations and natural selection. Which again leaves us with just two unsatisfactory choices: Darwin or an anthropomorphic creator God. A third alternative is that life comes out of God, but that once it comes into existence life contains its own “soul” or intelligence striving to express and expand itself in a variety of ways. Thus the intelligence in evolution is not simply external to life, like an architect designing a building; the intelligence is also internal to life. So for example there is this powerful drive in life to bring the male sperm and the female egg together, and in fish and amphibians this drive results in ever inventive, startling, and bizarre ways of achieving that.
At the same time, in the “main lines” of evolution, there is undeniable linear progress toward the higher and higher: the vertebrates, progressing from fish to amphibians to reptiles to birds and mammals—are the most powerful demonstration of this.
As for the apparent waste of creating “cousins” such as the Neanderthal that die out and the objection that all this cruelty and waste seems to pose to a creator God, think of the much larger problem of the sheer brutality and waste of life, billions of creatures killing and eating billions of creatures. Did God create that? Well, if there is a God, and if he creates life for a multiplicity of purposes, the most important being to attain the state of man, because man is made in God’s image and likeness and so is capable of having a relationship with God, it would remain the case that life must start at a very basic level before it can get to a higher level: primitive organisms eating each other. Yet such organisms are still developing the faculties of intelligence, speed, skill that are expressions of God, and that progressively find higher and higher expressions, in fish, dinosaurs, whales, eagles, lions.
To sum up so far. We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but we do know certain things: (1) New life forms have appeared over time, as variations of previous life forms. (2) Much of this evolution appears as a sheer superfluity and wild extravagance, including lots of brutality and waste. (3) Some of this evolution shows an undeniable linear progression toward higher and higher states of being, as seen in the different orders of the vertebrates. (4) Once new life forms come into being, they remain in being essentially unchanged for a long time, meaning that there is both a creative phase of evolution, and a stable phase of evolution. (5) Most species go out of existence at some point.
What theory can best account for these phenomena? (And I repeat that all theories in this area are speculative since we do not know and probably can never know how new life forms came into being.)
Darwinism doesn’t work, for all the many reasons given.
The literal biblical account doesn’t work, for the reasons given.
What works best is something in between, in which God creates life with an “intelligent soul,” and this intelligent soul is driven to fulfill itself both in attaining the main forms of life (insects, fish, eagles, wolves, cats, horses, bulls, grasses, trees, etc.), with man as its highest expression, and also in exhibiting a quality of sheer inventiveness, playfulness, and aesthetic experimentation, at each level. Once this intelligent drive of life, which is both teleological and experimental, has created a new species or life form, that form remains in existence basically unchanged until it goes extinct.
Adam S. writes:
Here is an article on evolution from an Eastern Christian perspective that I thought you might find interesting:
Thank you for all your posts on Darwinism and evolution. This is an issue that I’m trying to work through. I grew up as a Christian but lost belief when I realized that evolution (not necessarily random mutation) is probably true, and I still don’t see how to reconcile that with the Biblical nature of man and especially the Fall. Many people talk about how an old Earth doesn’t necessarily conflict with Christianity, but few people concentrate on the Fall, and what it could possibly mean in an evolutionary framework in which it is unlikely that there was a first couple from which all humans solely descended. I want to regain confident Christian belief, but this is my chief stumbling block.
But doesn’t the Fall accurately describe man’s condition? Meaning that man from the very start of his existence as man rebelled against God, and that he needs to be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ?
What is more important about the biblical account of the Fall? That it literally, pragmatically occurred to the first human man and woman in a certain time and place, or that it truly describes man’s rejection of the God who created him?
Which is not to say the biblical account of the Fall is merely “symbolic.” The Fall is real. And Genesis describes the Fall in the truest, most accurate way possible.
Laura W. writes:
You’re right. To say the Fall is not literal is not the same as saying it is not a real historical event. In order for Christianity to be true, there must have been a moment in time when man was unfallen. As Peter Kreeft says, “If there was never any unfallen state, then we were sinners from the first moment of creation, and God was wrong to declare everything he made ‘good.’” The details of the story are poetry, but Christianity does hinge on the actual event of particular humans choosing evil and then passing this sinfulness on to their descendents. We can only know this remote event vaguely and we don’t need to think of these humans as the original homo sapiens. The account of the Fall is both poetry and history; it is not for us to untangle the two.
E. writes from Florida:
I never participate in these types of discussions, because I’m quite happy with my atheism and Darwinism. I view the rest of the conservative tribe (you, Carol Iannone, et al.) as uncomfortable with the accidental nature of it all. If you need a reason for your presence, then you need a God or gods. If you can accept that there is no reason for it all, then Darwinism and atheism are just fine. God fills a void, but if you don’t feel you have a void that needs to be filled, then you don’t need a god.
The endless chatter, which you and Miss Iannone seem to think comes from Darwinists, actually seems to come from folks on the other side. The atheists I know are quite content with their non-belief.
I guess you’re not aware that materialism in recent years has become for more aggressive than ever, seeking to dominate society.
I guess you’re not aware of the several major books in the last couple of years by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al. calling religion “poison,” trying to drive it out of society. Thus the very basis of liberal society, which is that people of different beliefs tolerate each other, has been transgressed by the elite culture itself.
I guess you’re not aware that a federal court made it illegal for a Pennsylvania school district simply to inform its students about intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism.
I guess you’re not aware that in Europe, people who believe in intelligent design have been officially labeled as enemies of society.
I hadn’t yet replied to Derek C.’s initial comment, where he said:
“In Carol Iannone’s post, she asked what evidence there is for randomness. The best answer to that is the long record of extinction that precedes our species. Why did creatures like saber tooth tigers, the dinosaurs or the mammoths disappear if their appearance was superintended by a supreme designer? Random mutation seems to be the more parsimonious explanation because it accounts for why they along with 99% of all the species that ever existed on earth died out.”
I don’t see why extinction supports randomness or disproves divine creation / intelligent design. Derek is assuming that if a species dies out, that proves it is “flawed,” and therefore that it couldn’t have been created by an intelligent designer. He leaves out the fact that species that became extinct (1) all came into existence in the first place, and (2) remained in existence for some time, in many cases for many millions of years, before they died out. Therefore they were not failed species, but successful species.
The reason that a species which up to a certain point has survived dies out is usually that its environment changes, sometimes catastrophically. If a species was destroyed in the Permian extinction or the Cretacious extinction (along with about half the other species alive) that hardly proves that it was flawed. Dinosaurs after dominating the earth for 150 million years were destroyed by a cosmic catatrophe. Saber toothed tigers and mammoths in North America were wiped out by paleo-Indians.
Derek’s thinking betrays an unrealistic assumption about the existence of God. Like Heather Mac Donald, he seems to think that if there are any disasters or misfortunes, that proves that God is not involved or that God does not exist. He seems to think that for God’s existence to be proved, the material universe itself must be like heaven, with no accidental deaths, no asteroids hitting earth. I think this misconception is a product of modern society, in which people have become so materially comfortable and secure that they assume this is the normal course of things .Through most of history, people have regarded earthly life as a vale of tears. It never occurred to them that this was a reason not to believe in God.
Irwin Graulich writes:
I just gave a lecture on “Creation vs. Science” where I showed that the Torah supports evolution. Creationism and science do not conflict with each other at all!!
Have your church hire me and I will do the talk—and blow everyone away.
Laura W. writes:
“I never participate in these discussions,” says E. and then proceeds to participate in the discussion. He pretends aloofness, but then insults believers. He says they are needy and calls a theological conversation “chatter.”
When someone says, “I am comfortable with the accidental nature of it all,” one can accept this statement politely, but it is not possible to take it as anything but demeaning. He is not just saying, “I am accidental,” but “you are accidental.” My response is: prove it, or at least give me a compelling argument. If you just “feel” it is so, better admit to intellectual indifference and not participate at all.
E. says, “God fills a void, but if you don’t feel you have a void that needs to be filled, then you don’t need a god.” He introduces feelings into a discussion that was not about personal emotions. To a thoughtful believer, his statement is sort of like saying, “The sun provides light, but if you don’t feel you need light, then you don’t need the sun.”
Alan Roebuck writes:
The atheist E. wrote:
“If you need a reason for your presence, then you need a God or gods. If you can accept that there is no reason for it all, then Darwinism and atheism are just fine.”
This is the atheistic worldview in a nutshell: only the tangible and the mundane are real; all else is illusion. A sometimes-necessary illusion (e.g., morality), an illusion that we will sometimes treat as real (e.g., consciousness), but when push comes to shove, unless it can be explained by science, it’s an illusion. If it were real, then it would demand an explanation, and any explanation would involve the dreaded God. Better to declare it unreal.
And you said
“The literal biblical account doesn’t work, for the reasons given.
Ok, but what’s wrong with (some) new species coming into existence miraculously, and not as the mutated offspring of something else? Why not a sudden “poof,” so to speak? After all, the Big Bang in which scientists believe was the Mother of All Poofs, because before it there was no matter, no energy, no space and no time. There was no material cause of it all, and yet it happened.
“What works best is something in between, in which God creates life with an “intelligent soul,” and this intelligent soul is driven to fulfill itself both in attaining the main forms of life (insects, fish, eagles, wolves, cats, horses, bulls, grasses, trees, etc.), with man as its highest expression, and also in exhibiting a quality of sheer inventiveness, playfulness, and aesthetic experimentation, at each level.”
If you don’t like the image of “poof,” substitute some other image of creation by a radical discontinuity, e.g., Adam formed when dust receives the breath of life. In either case, it is a radical intervention by God.
If you accept the Big Bang but balk at miraculous creation of species, are you not straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel?
As I’ve said several times, the reason special creation seems unlikely in certain cases is that certain species are close variations of other species, demonstrating a specificity and a peculiarity that suggests, not a special creation proceeding from without, but a contingent, inventive quality proceeding from within. In past articles, I’ve given examples of complex reproductive strategies in fish, amphibians, and reptiles that I think are inherently impossible by Darwinian random mutation. But some of these same instances also seem highly unlikely by special creation. Consider the South American marsupial frog, described by Richard Dawkins whom I quote below with bolded comments by me:
Some frog species have made interesting transitions in the direction of true viviparity—live birth. The female of the South American marsupial frog … transfers her fertilised eggs to her back, where they become covered by a layer of skin. [A female marsupial frog developed, by a chance random mutation, the instinct to place her eggs on her back, and the same frog also had a chance random mutation which made the skin on her back grow over the eggs, in precisely a manner that would protect the eggs without killing them.] There the tadpoles develop and can clearly be seen wriggling under the skin of their mother’s back until they eventually burst out. Again, several other species do something similar, probably independent evolved. [And not only was there this amazing confluence, in a single female marsupial frog, of the mutation that produced the behavior to deposit the eggs on her back, and another mutation that produced the growth of skin over the eggs, but the same amazing simultaneous occurrence of mutations has occurred independently in several other species!]
The frog’s external and organic behavior seems inherently impossible by random mutation. But, so it seems to me, it is also unlikely by special creation. Why? Because this and other highly idiosyncratic innovations suggest to my mind not a designer, but a pullulation of reproductive strategies branching out in every direction. It doesn’t make intuitive sense that God had a special creation for each of the hundreds of varieties of frogs with their highly individualized differences from each other. Of course this constant branching and variation is perhaps the chief factor that makes many people reject divine creation and embrace Darwinism, which explains this branching and specialization process as the result of random mutation and natural selection. But I’ve shown the impossibility of the Darwinian theory..
What possible explanation remains then for the innumerable species which are closely related yet highly idiosyncratic variations of other species? And my tentative answer is: experimentation and invention, proceeding from life itself.
The idea is that evolution is driven by intelligence, but there are two types of intelligence: the teleological intelligence that aims at higher and higher major life forms, such as crustacians, fish, birds, and mammals; and the inventive intelligence that produces innovation and variety within the existing major forms.
However, as we see in the case of the marsupial frog, perhaps there is a larger teleological purpose involved in that instance and not just inventiveness for the sake of inventiveness. Female marsupial mammals, such as kangaroos, place the embryo of their young inside an external pouch where it develops. The “marsupial” frog seems to anticipate the behavior of the marsupial mammals. So maybe “marsupial-type” reproduction is a basic strategy in the storehouse of life, an “archetype” that can be accessed by a variety of life forms, and the marsupial frog in coming into existence as a species activated this marsupial archetype and created a rough amphibian equivalent of it.
To summarize my hypothesis or speculation: on one hand, there are the larger archetypes toward which evolution moves, such as winged flight or the marsupial-type gestation of young; on the other hand, there is improvisation. Evolution is thus led both by teleological intelligence, which guides life from without, and which is the functional equivalent of God; and by improvisational intelligence, which guides life from within. There is an analogy in Indian philosophy to my two intelligences: the Paramatman, the Oversoul or God; and the atman, the individualized soul of each being.
Some readers will object to any reference to a non-Western source. But what I’m saying is not incompatible with the Jewish-Christian view of Creation; rather it is an attempt to fill in the gaps that are not accounted for in the Jewish-Christian view (and of course they are also not accounted for by the Darwinian theory).
However, there is also a Christian analogy to my two intelligences which perhaps will be more acceptable to Christian readers: God the Father, who creates the universe and the basic forms or archetypes of living beings, such as the eagle, bull, lion, and man that stand around God’s throne in heaven in Chapter Four of the Book of the Revelation; and God the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life” as he is called in the Nicene Creed, who operates within the life and the experience of created beings, inspiring them and helping move them forward.
E. from Florida replies:
Like I said, you folks seem to go on endlessly about this. I’m quite content as is. If Chris Hitchens needs to chatter that’s his issue. I’m guessing most atheists could not care less. I’m also content to let those of you who need a god to have one. I think it’s quite clear that if a society tries to rule out a god for the people (the former Soviet Union) then most of the people need an alternative to a god, so they come up with one.
I have to agree with Laura that E. from Florida is not just stating his own view and disagreeing with religious believers; he is insulting them, by saying that they have some “need” to believe in God, a “need” which he clearly suggests is a flaw, a flaw that he, happy man that he is, doesn’t have.
Let me ask E. this. Suppose people were having a discussion about racial differences in intelligence, and someone came along and said, “You people seem to go on endlessly about this. I’m guessing most people couldn’t care less. I’m also content to let those of you who need to believe in racial difference in intelligence to believe it.”
A person who spoke that way would not only be sounding like E., he would be issuing a standard liberal put-down of conservatives, which is that they believe the things they believe, not because they think they’re true, but because they have some neurotic or diseased need to believe them. Thus former President Clinton would frequently say of people who didn’t have PC views on race that they had a “need to look down on people who look different from themselves.”
So, what does E. say? How would he react to someone who declared that people who think that there are racial differences in intelligence have a “need” to look down on people of other races?
I’ll take E.’s reply to mean that he concedes my point.
Laura W. writes:
You’ve said some new things, if I’m not mistaken.
“Inventiveness for the sake of inventiveness.” That’s an interesting idea. Given human intelligence and its tendency to absorb and interpret everything in nature, could there be such a thing? If I paint the walls of your room and I know you are there to see the paint, could I be said to have painted for the sake of painting?
I guess so, but it would involve some indifference to part of what is in the room.
When people say, “I believe in evolution and a God-created universe, aren’t they saying what you are saying, in other words they believe in some kind of improvisational intelligence?” I think you would say this intelligence is not the same thing as “evolution,” which denotes randomness, and that it’s important to distinguish the two.
I’m not sure, but I think you’re saying that my phrase “inventiveness for the sake of inventiveness” implies that biological variation is meaningless, sort of postmodern.
What I’m trying to do here is account for the truly odd things in nature, like the frog species in which the male puts the fertilized eggs inside his mouth and keeps them there until they’re ready to hatch. Or the frog species in which the female ejects a fluid substance, and the male beats it into a foam, and the foam hardens on the outside, remaining soft on the inside, and then the female places her fertilized eggs inside this container, and carries it up a tree, and leaves it there until the eggs hatch.
Maybe what I’m trying to suggest is a quality of creativity in life, an overspilling superfluity. It’s as though life were saying, “How else can I reproduce? I’ll try THIS, and THIS, and THIS. I can do it all. Wow!” It is life exercising its own powers and potentialities. Surely there is no “need” in life for these spectacular and sometimes exceedingly odd innovations. They don’t carry life toward a higher evolutionary stage.
If you don’t like my explanation of these phenomena, how would you account for them, within a Christian understanding of life and evolution?
Mark K. writes:
Your idea that there are different types of creation, some evolutionary, others instantaneous, may be borne out by the first chapter of Genesis. Compare verse 26 with verses 20 and 24. In verse 26 God takes the initiative to create man. However in verse 20 he declares, “Let the waters bring forth the moving creature that hath life.” Similarly in verse 24 he says, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature.” Only in the case of man is creation direct. In both the other cases, Genesis says that God made these creature but that he did so through the mediation of the waters and the earth. How nature “brought forth” its creatures is not described extensively but the fact is that the two creations—man and animal—are done differently.
1:20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
This last verse explains that man was directly created by God because only God could produce something in his image—nature could not do that. However nature is “allowed” to bring forth the animal species and kinds. So in effect there is a natural process at work in one part of creation and it is so stated by the writer of Genesis.
1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
1:22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
1:23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
1:25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Now consider how woman was created. In the case of the animals, no special creation is done for sexual differentiation. Presumably nature (the earth and the waters) brought forth the animal, male and female. However, in Chapter Two, God intervenes directly in the creation of the human female after observing the male psyche—not allowing this to be a progressive, evolutionary matter. God directly produces woman out of man.
This is great. I don’t think I had ever noticed this before about Genesis Chapter One. This beautifully fits the idea I’ve been trying to get at.
And Mark has also handled the problem of who is doing the creation. In the case of the marine animals, Genesis says both that God “created great whales,” etc., and that “God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature…” These alternative wordings suggest that God was supervising their creation but he wasn’t directly involved in the details of the process, as he was in the case of man.
And perhaps this answers the objection that some readers have expressed to my idea. I’m not saying that the smaller variations I’m talking about are taking place apart from and independent of God; but rather that God is allowing powers under his ultimate supervision to do this, giving them a certain leeway in how they go about it. He is still the source of all being and the creator of everything that is.
Laura W. replies to my last comment to her:
That’s really interesting, the idea of God stepping back and letting nature display its own creative powers. Again, I think that’s what most people really mean when they say, “I believe in evolution and Intelligent Design” or “I believe in evolution and Creationism.”
But, I just can’t grasp it. It seems to imply limits to God’s intelligence and to his understanding of his own materials, or some sort of volition on the part of nature. I’m not saying it conflicts with Christian theology, but that I can’t understand it.
As for the frogs being odd, that’s really interesting too. But, I can’t see how they stand apart so radically. The whole universe seems steeped in oddness.The way human beings are born is just incredibly strange. Okay, the frogs are especially odd. But, even the greatest scientists must occasionally think, this place is just so weird.
Your comments on the oddness of the universe are to the point, and funny. And maybe what you’ve said is the best answer to my idea about the frogs. Perhaps they are not of a different order of oddness from the oddness of everything that is.
I think a better word than “oddness” would be whimsy. The idea that God is whimsical strikes an odd note to many people, but why not? I first thought of that when I noticed how amusing ducks are.
Yes, oddness, the paradoxical, would seem to be built into the fact of existence. And if oddness is inherent in the universe from the moment God created it, then the oddity that e.e. cummings pointed to in his famous verse no longer seems odd but rather is along the lines of what we should expect:
Everything that exists is particular. And once you have particularity, you have oddness. And since Christ was born not just in some universal generic condition, not just as anyone anywhere, but as a particular person in a particular place and time among a particular people, such an event has to be odd.
Laura W. writes:
“Everything that exists is particular. And once you have particularity, you have oddness.”
That is profound.
It was triggered by your and Gintas’s comments.
Moreover, it’s not just every existing thing in the universe that is particular and therefore odd, but the universe itself.
Hannon writes (April 12):
I thank Laura W. for her response to my inquiry about environmentalism and conservatism and agree wholeheartedly that the shift away from an agrarian economy has had the effect of degrading and distorting our relationship with the natural world. Laura says: “The true conservative position on the environment is to respect man’s innate domination over nature, not, as E.O. Wilson would have it, to hold nature up as intrinsically superior.” Are we faced then with a choice between a religious dominion over nature versus devotion to a purportedly superior Nature? In my opinion, traditionalists are in need of more explicable views on the environment that transcend these extremes.
The oft-heard statement about man’s “domination over nature,” taken at face value, is something of a puzzle to those who habitually make a conscious effort to incorporate natural experiences into their lives: fly fishermen, hikers, birders, beachcombers, boaters. Where does the idea of “domination over nature” fit into these activities of enjoyment and experience? They strike me as activities that people engage in because of the appeal of nature, not because they feel the need to dominate it or exert domination before enjoyment begins. The Western cultural extension of these more pedestrian pursuits, transitioning into the sciences, includes devoted academic studies of ants (E.O. Wilson) or birds (James Audubon) or angiosperm phylogeny (Arthur Cronquist). The points along this continuum have to do with personal and intellectual pursuit, often idiosyncratic and inexplicable, and have little to do with liberal vs. traditionalist politics. Some investigators are religious, many are not, and why it is that a preponderance of liberals should take up these fields of study is a very interesting question. Do certain Christian practices or groups preclude an interest in natural history? Whatever the case, liberals have been successful in promoting an often extremist environmental agenda and in using it equally successfully to vilify opposition on the right.
It seems to me that “domination over nature” has an implausible and unattainable connotation that somehow things are not right in our world unless man is in charge of all the earth’s biota and associated terrain, waterways and climate. This would seem to imply a God-like managerial status. Can this troublesome phrase be taken to mean rather the dominion of man over nature in the places he makes his living more directly? Or indicate a general stewardship, rather than a subjugation, of both his natural and altered surroundings? If we decide that Central Park or portions of The Everglades are to be protected from development for the general good, is this not a form of domination?
The United States leads the world, by history and by continuous example, in establishing national parks and wilderness areas. I think this noble and far-sighted legacy of traditionalism should be trumpeted and not abandoned nor derided. Currently the Left has taken over these concerns almost completely. If the only counter-argument of traditionalism is to assert man’s “domination over nature” then we have forsaken rational dialogue and liberals will remain in political control of these issues.
This discussion continues in a new entry:
More mysteries of evolution, cont.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 09, 2008 05:45 PM | Send