If Darwinism is true, can a Darwinian have a desire to remain alive?

(Note: see also the follow-up thread at Mangan’s on the same subject.)

At Dennis Mangan’s blog, an exchange between Mr. Mangan and me on a topic that will be familiar to VFR readers:

At 8/09/2009 10:53:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

Dennis, the following point does not relate to the present blog entry, but to language that you used in passing which raises the issue about how to speak correctly about Darwinian evolution.

You write: :

Since both animals and plants are living beings whose most important purpose is to keep themselves alive and reproducing, and since being eaten by a predator causes the death of the organism, both plants and animals have developed defenses against predators.”

The bolded phrase profoundly misrepresents the very Darwinian theory to which you’re appealing. Yet the misrepresentation is ubiquitous throughout the Darwinian literature.

Living things according to Darwinism have no purpose—zero, zilch, nada. Living things are machines controlled by their genes. The reason that living things are good at keeping themselves alive and reproducing is that their ancestors had random genetic mutations which gave them features that enabled those ancestors to survive and reproduce better than other members of the same species; and so those genes were passed on and spread through the population of that species. So the reason that living things do a good job of surviving and reproducing is not that they have a purpose to survive and reproduce, but simply that the genes they possess happen to be genes that give the organism the features and behaviors that lead to successful survival and reproduction.

Evolution according to Darwinism is a purposeless process. Indeed, the very reason Darwinism was seen as such an important advance by materialist scientists was that it provided a material, purposeless explanation for the phenomena of life which seem (to human common sense) to be designed and purposeful. Yet over and over, Darwinians miss the point and keep talking about the “purpose” of living things.

I’ve expanded on this point in various articles at my site, such as this, where I write:

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.

At 8/10/2009 01:37:00 AM, Dennis Mangan said…

Larry: Sure, I can certainly accept that when speaking of evolution, “purpose” is out of place. In my post above, the purpose I referred to was only that of the individual organism, and even then, “purpose” may not be the best word, e.g. I wouldn’t describe my desire to stay alive as my purpose. But it is a deep desire of mine to remain alive, and for every living being it’s a biological imperative, usually only sacrificed for kin or for reproduction.

At 8/10/2009 08:58:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

Dennis, you write:

“But it is a deep desire of mine to remain alive, and for every living being it’s a biological imperative, usually only sacrificed for kin or for reproduction.”

I don’t think you’ve taken in the point. If Darwinism is true, meaning, if all living beings and all their features and qualities came into existence as a result of random genetic mutations in their ancestors that were selected because they helped their possessor have more offspring, then plants and animals, including human beings, do not have a “desire,” let alone a “deep” desire, to remain alive. A desire to remain alive is an intention. If Darwinism is true, then living beings have features and behaviors they’ve inherited from their ancestors that keep them alive and lead them to reproduce. Any desire or intention to remain alive has nothing to do with it. They remain alive and reproduce because their genes give them features and determine them to have behaviors that keep them alive and make them reproduce. And that’s it.

Evidently you have not followed my critical writings on Darwinism, and so you make the standard mistake of almost all Darwinians which I have talked about at great length; you subscribe to a theory that radically rejects any intentionality or purpose in living beings, yet you go on thinking that living beings have purpose and intentionality, just as though Darwinism were not true at all. If believers in Darwinian evolution considered what Darwinism really says, how radically reductive it really is, how it is incompatible with consciousness and intention in living beings including man, it would be harder for them to go on subscribing to it. And that indeed is the situation. Darwinians conceal from themselves what Darwinism really says.

At 8/10/2009 09:23:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

As an example of my point, it is commonly said that organisms seek to “spread their genes.” Thus lions kill the cubs of other lions because this allows more of his genes to enter into the lion population.

But according to Darwinism (as I’ve written in the same article at my site I quoted above), a 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.

There is no 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. In Darwinism there can be no such thing as a purpose in living things. 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. Yet Darwinians constantly speak of the purpose of living beings, of their “desire” to remain alive, and so on. They don’t take in the fact that according to Darwinism all living beings, including humans, are automata controlled by genes that were naturally selected in previous generations.

At 8/10/2009 09:57:00 AM, Dennis Mangan said…

I have points of agreement and disagreement with what you just wrote, Larry. First of all, I have indeed followed your criticism of Darwinism—I’d prefer “the theory of evolution”, but that’s minor—and I’ve found them both worthy of attention and hard to answer. One post in particular, in which you discussed the evolution of sexual reproduction and the elaborate processes that comprise the sex acts of certain creatures, I thought excellent and would have liked to see a counterargument. [See this and this.] I assume that such a counterargument exists, but I don’t know it, and it does often seem that many of the Darwinists’ arguments amount to special pleading.

I’ll try to stay on point here, because trying to resolve our differing views on evolution would be an endless task. When you say that, according to Darwinian theory, an organism can’t have a purpose or even a desire, in one sense you’re correct, in another not. I cannot peer into my genetic blueprint or even my subconscious to understand the roots of my desires. That I want to stay alive may very well have its basis in natural history or random mutations, but I still have that desire. And just as consciousness may not be explicable, now or ever, the fact remains that I, other human beings, and some animals possess or partially consist of something that we ordinarily call consciousness. It does no good to say that consciousness or desires can’t be explained by Darwinism, therefore they don’t exist. They obviously do. This is a problem in philosophy, not science, one which 20th century philosophers agonized over and filled bookshelves over. If a dog is thirsty and obviously gives indications of it, like panting or whining, it’s reasonable to say that the dog has a desire for water.

Then there are levels of explanation. If a man wants to have sex with a woman, we might say it’s because he loves her, or he has been without sex for a long time, or because the woman is beautiful, or because he needs to fulfill a religious obligation to his wife, or because he unconsciously wants to ensure that his genes get into the next generation. All of these can be true at once. He has a desire, and we can try to understand the bases of his desire, but he has one nonetheless.

So I’d say our disagreement here is a matter of philosophy. If I say that an animal has the desire to stay alive, and you reply that Darwinism rules out a desire or purpose like that, we are arguing over the meaning of desire and purpose. Even if human beings or animals could be said to be genetic automata, we don’t experience it that way. It’s my belief that consciousness ultimately has a physical basis, as it’s dependent on a physical organ, the brain, but that doesn’t mean that consciousness just *is* physical. The theory of evolution doesn’t rule out an organism having desires, anymore than it rules out an organism experiencing love.

At 8/10/2009 10:49:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

First, I am happy and honored to learn that you’re read my criticisms of Darwinism and agree with at least some of them.

Second, I call it Darwinism rather than “theory of evolution” because “theory of evolution” falsely makes evolution identical with Darwinism. There is the fact of evolution, meaning the gradual appearance on earth of different and more complex life forms, and there is the Darwinian theory of how this evolution occurred. The Darwinians’ constant conflation of these two distinct concepts is not the least of their intellectual sins. Thus Jerry Coyne in Why Evolution Is True repeatedly presents undeniable, no-brainer evidence showing that life on earth has existed for a long time, and that it has changed over time, and he triumphantly states over and over that such evidence is proof of Darwinian evolution. No. It is proof of evolution, not of the Darwinian theory of evolution. Of course, Coyne also makes arguments in support of the Darwinian theory of evolution itself as well as the fact of evolution, but he constantly mixes up the two so as to make the case for the Darwinian theory of evolution seem much stronger than it really is.

Further, Darwin’s work has of course been massively expanded on and refined in the 20th century, but the core concepts of the established evolutionary theory remain the same: evolution results from random genetic mutations (which Darwin called “random variations” as he didn’t know about genes) that are naturally selected. Since the core of the established evolutionary theory remains Darwinian, it is proper to go on referring to it as Darwinism. Indeed, Jerry Coyne himself uses the term Darwinism to identify the view he is defending. If a well-known evolutionary biologist can call the established evolutionary theory Darwinism, so can I.

Third, now to the main point. You write:

“That I want to stay alive may very well have its basis in natural history or random mutations, but I still have that desire. And just as consciousness may not be explicable, now or ever, the fact remains that I, other human beings, and some animals possess or partially consist of something that we ordinarily call consciousness. It does no good to say that consciousness or desires can’t be explained by Darwinism, therefore they don’t exist. They obviously do.”

I am not saying that consciousness and the (conscious) desire to life do not exist. I am saying that if Darwinism is true, then consciousness, including the conscious desire to live, cannot exist. And since we know that consciousness and the conscious desire to live do exist, therefore Darwinism cannot be true.

Finally, by describing our disagreement as a matter of philosophy, you relegate it to some metaphysical realm where it’s outside our grasp and can’t be resolved. But the issue is well within our grasp and can be resolved. I do not deal with philosophy at all in my writings on Darwinism. I deal with what Darwinism actually says (which the Darwinians themselves avoid doing), and I show how what Darwinism actually says is incompatible with the facts.

At 8/10/2009 02:17:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

As an example of how Darwinians avoid stating what Darwinianism actually is, in Jerry Coyne’s book he discusses mutation on just a couple of pages [or perhaps in a brief chapter, I forget at the moment] and then never mentions mutation again. He combines the two distinct concepts of mutation and natural selection under the single label “natural selection,” and then proceeds for the rest of the book arguing that “natural selection” does this, and “natural selection” does that. But of course the most difficult and doubtful part of the whole Darwinian edifice is the idea that every piece of new genetic information, before it was naturally selected, came into existence via an accidental bad copy of a gene. Coyne and other Darwinian scientists and journalists rarely mention mutations, because the idea that all the features of all organisms came into existence by accidental bad copies of genes makes the unquestionable, established truth of the Darwinian theory—which one of the top evolutionary biologists recently said is as true as the theory of gravity, somehow just a tad less certainly true. So instead they speak of “natural selection” somehow producing all life.

- end of initial entry -

LA writes:

I’ve sent Dennis Mangan a note saying that my tone was excessively positive at a couple of points and I should have edited more before sending.

August 10-11

Stewart W. writes:

Alright, in reading your latest exchange with Mr. Mangan, a particularly reductive thought occurs: Why did we even evolve the concept of “intent”? What biological imperative gave our ancestral genes a competitive advantage by having the concept of “intent” exist in our brains? Indeed, what competitive advantage was given to our ancestors by having a language which is essentially unintelligible without the concept of intent? Were we able to get more mammoth meat by pretending that we had free will before proceeding to the hunt?

Or were we just better able to impress the chicks by seeming to have consciousness?

My head hurts.

LA replies:

You’re making me laugh.

Dennis Mangan replies to LA:

Not a problem. Though I have a background in biology (microbiology and pharmacology), I’m no expert in evolution. I think that, like in so many cases (such as communism) the opponents school themselves far more thoroughly than the proponents.

Cornelius J. Troost writes:

As the author of a book that is reviled by evolution’s liberal defenders as well as the entire MSM, I find it ironic that a hero of the right, namely Larry Auster, should also very probably detest my book. Reading LA is a genuine treat and therefore it was a great shock to discover his anti-Darwinist stance. Only Pat Buchanan sounds like Larry, but Buchanan’s stance is painfully ignorant of evolutionary basics, something one cannot attribute to LA. I have to place an asterisk next to Buchanan’s name based upon his willful ignorance of Darwinism, but what to do about LA?

First, readers can learn about my book at apes or angels where they can access my videos as well. Please understand that this may be the most bizarre book on the market based upon the chasm between the positive opinion of eminent scientists and the absolute disdain shown by science bloggers at places like Panda’s Thumb, where they really despise my book. People like Tyler Cowan and P.Z. Myers won’t touch it! No black intellectual would ever read even the introduction. It is simply anathema. Reviews at the usual important newspapers is out of the question.

My only comment on LA’s position is that he really wants nature to be non-random because it would make much more sense in terms of his eschatology. He begins with a purposeful schema and deduces a process of evolution that fits that schema. Of course if his schema is right then Darwinism is patently wrong. It would have to be true that an entire edifice of biological science would be incorrect or at least the assumption of random mutations would be mistaken. This is a very tall order! Mutations are about as random as one can find in nature. This by no means chaos because the “guidance” of natural selection involves adaptation and survival of genes that lend some advantage to their possessor. LA seems to grasp all of this but imagines that consciousness is a quality lying beyond the ability of natural selection to achieve. [LA replies: Notice how Mr. Troost repeats exactly the verbal finesse that I criticized Jerry Coyne for. He folds the extremely problematic idea of random genetic mutations as the originator of all new biological information into the separate idea of natural selection which somehow handles everything. And he thinks this is scientific! Second, in my view it’s not just consciousness that is beyond the ability of random genetic mutations plus natural selection to achieve, but complex organs and functions, innovations in reproduction, new life forms, EVERYTHING.]

The evolution of brains and nervous systems is a long and gradual process with consciousness coming quite late because only self-consciousness is our crowning glory. [LA replies: I get it. the Darwinian evolution of all life forms by random mutations and natural selection is true, period. And since a life form with self-consciousness exists, self-consciousness must be the result of Darwinian evolution by random mutations and natural selection. Very scientific reasoning!] Primary consciousness—like that of the fish that fights you tooth and nail in a mountain stream—shows no evidence of self-reflection. Even our wondrous pet dogs seem never to entertain thoughts about themselves, despite often very intelligent behavior. Gorillas and chimps, however, show signs of higher consciousness that makes their killing by poachers almost murder. Their lack of language is the largest barrier to learning the extent of their secondary consciousness. If evolution produced higher consciousness, then it must have done it gradually and more than one species should show signs of it, which is in fact the case!

Lastly, in chemistry and biology it is not unusual for emergent qualities to appear from smaller units that show no sign of the final product. Consciousness appeared millions of years ago as the kind of awareness that fish and birds have. hearing and seeing are part of that kind of conscious life. None of the world’s creatures below the mammals show any sign of higher consciousness. Brain evolution built a mammalian brain from the reptilian one. The primate brain is the pinnacle of the process with humans jumping ahead very greatly in the very last 50,000 years. Why do we love music? Again this seems to be an emergent quality based upon integration of specific brain circuits that evolved for other reasons. Other than group cohesion , there is no evolutionary rationale for music. Emergent qualities do happen. [LA replies: Of course human self-consciousness and thought is the highest result of evolution and the most difficult for Darwinian evolution to explain. But that doesn’t mean that the earlier stages of evolution are easy to explain. It is just as impossible for blind unconscious matter to produce simple animal consciousness, as it is for it to produce complex human consciousness—or even harder, since the more advanced stages of consciousness would be presumably be building on the earlier stages.]

Darwin did not intend to find a blind process in nature. He was quite religious in his early thinking. Only later did he begin to have doubts, something that LA should entertain if he wishes to better understand Darwinism’s probable truth. My book provides some measure of hope and certainly defends Christian morality against the barbarism of the left. I guess that LA is not alone in having some contradictory impulses. [LA replies: I gather from the description at the site that most of Mr. Troost’s book is on human evolution, with the focus on racial differences. The right-wing Darwinians are hung up on using evolution to demonstrate racial differences. In fact, one doesn’t need to be a Darwinian, or to reconstruct human pre-history going back 50,000 or 500,000 years, in order to show the reality of racial differences. It’s a lot simpler if you just look at what is there before us. Further, after using evolution to demonstrate racial differences, they want to re-organize society based on that demonstration. How modern! Instead of relying on common human reason and experience to organize society, they want to use a scientific theory to organize society. The quintessential LEFTIST, SOCIAL ENGINEERING project, right out of the utopian visions of the French philosophes and H.G. Wells.]

Kristor writes:

I know I’ve been silent of late, but it’s not because I’m not interested. It’s because there’s just so much to take in. There’s so much, I can’t gather my wits about any one aspect of it to a degree that would suffice to say anything interesting, and also have time left over for my job. Your coverage of gatesgate and the Schuler accident have been gripping. I started in on a comment on today’s entry re your exchange with Dennis Mangan on Darwinism, but decided it would take a long time to say something too tangential to be of much general interest. My congratulations on concisely, neatly, succinctly expressing the basic problem of Darwinism: that it is inadequate to the facts. How could randomness ever be adequate to anything, other than randomness? So if biology, or for that matter any phenomenon, is the least bit intelligible, and is therefore precisely not random, then randomness is just ruled out as an explanation thereof. How can randomness add information to our understanding, when randomness is, exactly, the zero of information?

Not sure if you are into Iowahawk, but you might want to check out his bit on gatesgate, for a bit of comic relief. I found it side-splitting.

Keep up the fantastic work.

LA replies:

Thank you.

August 11

The author of the website OneSTDV.blogspot.com writes:

I find this discussion of purpose extremely intriguing and a concept I’ve often broached in formulating my secular, conservative Darwinist worldview. The reasoning you provide to ultimately conclude that “Darwinism” precludes purposeful existence isn’t entirely flawed. Though, the criticism you offer against a purpose-driven Darwinian existence also applies to the religiously-based viewpoint of anti-Darwinists, like yourself.

As you state, let’s assume humans are just highly evolved animals, subject to deterministic physical causes and experiencing a consciousness entirely the result of physical brain processes. For the anti-nihilistic Darwinist, this despondent truth is often unacceptable. You contend Darwinists define purpose when only deterministic outcomes exist (according to the Darwinist). Equivalently, you could have stated Darwinists’ “purpose assumption” is an axiomatic truism. Thus, the secular Darwinist applies purpose and desire without an objective or logical basis for such a claim, as evolution implies no such objective intent. I don’t necessarily disagree with this and it’s often a struggle for secular conservatives to formulate objective systems of morality/value given the concerns you raise above.

Yet, the religious argument for purpose fails similarly. You make two similar axiomatic statements without appealing to an objective framework. In your article, you say:

“I am saying that if Darwinism is true, then consciousness, including the conscious desire to live, cannot exist. And since we know that consciousness and the conscious desire to live do exist, therefore Darwinism cannot be true.”

Your argument rests on the claim that consciousness (here I assume you mean an intangible, spiritual consciousness unaffected by physical impulses, unlike the brain) exists. Such a claim can only be justified on faith. Thus, it’s axiomatic in nature and fails just as the secular Darwinist argument does: due to lacking an objective foundation. Further, it’s conceivable that the brain did evolve some complicated mechanism to give the illusion of free will, likely in order to counteract depressive existentialism. [LA replies: This is one of the most off-base thoughts I’ve ever encountered. There are two facts that we immediately know to be true, and that are prior to everything else we know and are the basis of everything else we know: that the world exists, and that our consciousness exists. You are saying that this most immediate experience, this experience of the reality of our own consciousness, which is the basis of everything we know, lacks any real basis, so that when a person says, “I have consciousness,” he is merely making a faith assertion, not an assertion of an undeniable fact. In which case there are no facts—in which case everything we experience is merely a matter of faith. Such an idea is an extreme expression of the profound alienation from human reality that is typical of material reductionism. Material reductionists say that only matter is real. Therefore they must deny the reality of the most primary, most elemental human experience—the experience (1) that we have consciousness, and (2) that this consciousness is something different from the material world in which we find ourselves. The notion that such alienation from human reality can have anything to do with conservatism is laughable. Talk about assertions grounded in nothing but faith!]

Second, you also tacitly assume God exists, which you then imply gives an objective basis to your purpose driven system. Yet, once again, this rests purely on faith and appeal to “commonsense”. Neither of which pass the “axiom test.” [LA replies: there was nothing assumed about God in the present discussion, and I didn’t say anything about God. The subject of this discussion was whether a being produced by random genetic mutations naturally selected could have intentional consciousness. It is my position here and elsewhere that when we consider seriously and consistently what a process of random genetic mutation plus natural selection actually entails, we realize two things: that it is a blind, purposeless, material process; and that such a blind, purposeless, material process could not produce intentional consciousness. Now, that last realization may lead us to the further thought that a non-material creator must exist; but this thought about the existence of a non-material creator is the logical result of that realization, not an a priori assumption underlying that realization.]

Finally, extremely complicated systems, such as the eye, can evolve in shockingly short periods of time. The flaw of irreducible complexity is the assumption that all present substructures of a given structure served the same purpose as they do now. Rather, it’s possible they were vestiges of some other discarded structure and were later taken over by the present structure. [LA replies: If this supposed model for the rapid self-evolution of the eye is what I think it is, it is a well-known fraud that has already been exposed.]

[The exchange with the author of One STDV continues below.]

LA replies to a commenter in the thread at Dennis Mangan’s site:

At 8/11/2009 08:56:00 AM, Lawrence Auster said…

Desmond Jones without evidence accuses me of “suppressing” facts that disprove my view. I’ll return the compliment and say that his comment shows him to be clueless—and clueless in a specific way that is typical of Darwinian proponents who have challenged me.

My position, laid out here and here, is that the evolution of reproductive organs and behaviors is impossible under the Darwinian theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection, because each mutation leading to such innovation would have to consist of two simultaneous and mutually complimentary mutations occurring in a male organism and a female organism living in the same neighborhood at the same time.

The article abstract about the coevolution of phallus and vagina in waterfowl that Mr. Jones quotes does not at all overcome the difficulty I have described. It says that “female morphological complexity has co-evolved with male phallus length,” and, further, that “Intersexual selection is most likely responsible for the observed coevolution, although identifying the specific mechanism is difficult.” The article’s subject is tiny changes in length and shape of phallus and tiny changes in length and shape of vagina. Please understand: I do not deny the possibility that such small changes could occur by random mutation and natural selection, and that sexual selection could be part of that process. But, as always in the world of Darwinians, Mr. Jones thinks that tiny changes such as these in an existing organ or existing species prove the evolution by Darwinian processes of totally new organs and new life forms. The same legerdemain that Darwin performed in Origin of Species 150 years ago, extrapolating from tiny changes within a species to the evolution of entirely different species, Darwinians are still pulling off today, showing that they truly are his followers.

In the two articles just linked, as well as in this article, I give numerous specific examples of reproductive innovations that go beyond the kind of micro changes to which Jones is referring:

In the last linked article I talk about a worm in which the male deposits his sperm packet somewhere—it could be anywhere—on the female’s skin, and the female dissolves her skin under that exact spot on her body, allowing the packet to enter her body. I challenge Mr. Jones to come up with some step by step scenario by which this reproductive innovation could have come about by random genetic mutations and natural selection.

Indeed, all that the Darwinians have, when faced with such challenges to their theory, is vague phrases, nothing but phrases, such as, “Tiny changes, lots of tiny changes!” “Intermediate forms, lots and lots and lots of intermediate forms!” But this is just empty verbiage. They have no actual model by which such things could have occurred.

Here’s an exchange at my site with a Darwinian who, like Mr. Jones, thinks he’s “got” me, when in reality all he has is the same empty placeholder phrases.

LA writes:

The phrase in the last comment, “vague phrases, nothing but phrases,” paraphrases the refrain of a beautiful poem of W.B. Yeats, “Broken Memories,” from his 1919 book of poems, The Wild Swans of Coole.

Here are more comments copied from Mangan’s Miscellany:

At 8/11/2009 01:05:00 PM, Michael B said…

An aside only, I’ve read but have never commented at this fine site.

What is telling in this thread, in terms of a dogmatic strain that rather commonly announces itself with an insinuating and triumphalist tone, and in lieu of more conscientious and better considered forms of inquiry and dialog, is that that dogmatic insistency evidences itself on the side that most “loudly” purports to be concerned with science and inquiry in general.

A general statement and observation only, but it has a great deal of applicability and evidences itself in fora both high and low, reflective of certain presumptive habits of mind rather than more conscientious and more demanding (self-demanding) forms of inquiry.

At 8/11/2009 03:41:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

Michael B. so disapproves of people who are argumentative, and is so set on not being argumentative himself, that he declines to make clear what he’s actually saying.

The particular puzzle his comment raises for me is this. It seems to me that the most positive and perhaps arrogant sounding statements in this thread have been my own, a fault that comes perhaps from debating this topic so often, and (here comes my arrogance again) running into the same weak arguments so often, as well as from the fact of challenging an entrenched orthodoxy. Therefore I presume Michael is criticizing me when he speaks of a “dogmatic strain” and a “triumphalist tone” in this debate. Yet he also says that the party displaying the triumphalist tone “purports to be concerned with science and inquiry,” which would seem to be a reference to the Darwinian side of the debate, since it’s always the Darwinians who are presented as the defenders of science against the supposedly faith-based, superstitious doubters of Darwin like me. (By the way, I have the honor of having been called a “God-hopper” by paleontologist Ralph Holloway of Columbia University at Steve Sailer’s biodiversity discussion group some years ago.) Are we to infer that Michael regards the anti-Darwinians as the pro-science team? This would be a sea-change indeed. And I would agree. Because I think that the truly scientific position is that we do not know how species and life forms evolved, and that the Darwinians’ claim that they do know (they say that the truth of Darwinism is as well established as the law of gravity) is a mockery of science.

In any case, Michael B.’s point is unclear.

My friendly advice to Michael: if you want to criticize someone, criticize him by name. The sky will not fall, and others will know what you’re talking about, instead of having to guess.

At 8/11/2009 04:51:00 PM, Michael B said…

The irony is I was agreeing with you, LA, and was accusing the “entrenched orthodoxy,” some of the holders thereof at least. Indeed, I am completely in agreement with your “we do not know” formulation, which I likewise and emphatically agree is the more truly scientific position.

Regardless, I certainly don’t disapprove of argumentation. But I’ll take your rebuke to heart, it has some merit and given the position you hold I can understand the reaction, even while other parts of it are unfounded.

Apologies for the lack of clarity.

At 8/11/2009 05:53:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

How about that.

You see, I’m so used to various people taking me to task for arrogance and much worse related sins (actually I can’t remember what my sins are at the moment, but I can assure you, they’re terrible), that I guiltily assumed you were taking me to task as well.

Thanks much for clearing that up.

[end of excerpt from thread at Mangan’s]

* * *

LA continues:

To get a sample of kind of things people say about my arrogance and much worse qualities, you could take a look at Christopher (“mansizetarget”) Roach’s comments about me that he posted at Rod Dreher’s blog a year and a half ago. By the way, I had forgotten this, but Roach’s first comment (there are six copied on that page) is the source of the phrase “vile sycophant” which, ever since Roach used it (“Auster has once again revealed that his character and personality are fundamentally unsuited to decent interaction with anyone on this Earth other than the most vile sycophants”), VFR readers have humorously applied to themselves. And so do I. Just last evening I told a blogger and VFR commenter that I was in danger of becoming her vile sycophant.

Cornelius J. Troost replies to LA (previous exchange is higher up on this page):

It is important that my comments not be distorted by LA’s precipitous non sequitur about my evolutionary position leading to leftist social engineering. Darwinism or modern evolutionary theory have no political slant because science per se deals with the facts of nature and not political ideologies. That liberals captured Darwinian thought is an accident of history. Generally, highly educated Europeans were more liberal than the working classes. It is no surprise that liberals of the twentieth century were often elitists who believed that vast human differences existed. They could well tolerate slavery based upon this view. It was the field of anthropology, full of political leftists like Boas and Ashley Montague, that had a huge effect upon the American psyche. Liberals believed only in moral equality while recognizing human diversity as a biological truth. The New York Times of 1904 defended the abuse of Africans and other “exotics” at a Worlds Fair exhibit and opined that America does not guarantee equality of results but only equality of opportunity.

My entire book is about a new image of Darwin as he really was- a relentlessly objective scientist who discovered how nature works. Darwinism really conflicts with both Christianity and liberalism because the evolutionary theory demythologizes the Bible and shows human races to be significantly different from one another all in one fell swoop! All are damned to life without their ideological or eschatological crutches. This is the depressing truth about Darwinism, but it need not lead to social engineering of a leftist bent. Reasoning by analogy we try to fit Darwinism into many schemes, but it is all done with intellectual sleight-of- hand. How we should live must indeed go beyond Darwin but inherited tendencies may serve as a foundation to some extent. We love most deeply our next of kin so public policies that damage the family should be anathema. Liberals like Obama will abort late term fetuses and will essentially execute the useless elderly, positions we must oppose for the sake of our humanity. We can still believe in moral equality and yet respect racial differences that result in unequal incomes, etc. This requires dealing with people as individuals, an outlook demanding more maturity and wisdom then we demonstrate today.

There is much in life to enjoy and to marvel at despite its ultimate emptiness. In my book I offer hope based upon acceptance that we have good knowledge of our part of the universe while knowing that the universe may be forever mysterious. Most of us may require a childlike belief in religious salvation, but a few of us, knowing that that is blissful ignorance, must reconcile our naturalism with the joys of life and feel content that we climbed as far as our minds could go and greatly enjoyed the journey.

LA replies:

Re my precipitous non sequitur, fair enough. I didn’t mean to say, “social engineering,” and I removed it from my comment shortly after I posted it. What I meant was the desire to construct society on the basis of a scientific theory, and, while you claim to eschew any such purpose and say you’re only interested in pure science, how can a society that accepted your view of life not be re-formed by it in the most profound (and in my view, negative) ways?

You write:

“Reasoning by analogy we try to fit Darwinism into many schemes, but it is all done with intellectual sleight-of- hand.”

Thanks for your honesty, because that’s what I’m saying about you people all the time. Your materialist ideas lead to results that are humanly unacceptable, so you play a game of using your materialist ideas when they suit your purposes, and concealing them up when that suits your purposes. You can install 20 different humanistic add-ons in your materialist scheme, but underneath it all, it remains emptiness.

You write:

“There is much in life to enjoy and to marvel at despite its ultimate emptiness.”

That is the very definition of the existentialist-Nietzschean-materialist-Dawkinsian-Stanley Fishian, postmodernist view of life. It’s all empty, there is no truth, but we’ll construct our own values. We’ll spend our time before the night falls delectating on the wonders of Darwinian evolution (Dawkins, Wilson, Coyne et all actually have made a religion out of evolution.) Or we’ll delectate cultural artifacts, like Woody Allen in his monologue in the last scene of Manhattan:


An idea for a short story about, um, people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real, unnecessary, neurotic problems for themselves ‘cause it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about… the universe.


Well, it has to be optimistic.

Well, all right, why is life worth living?

That’s a very good question.

Well, there are certain things, I guess, that make it worthwhile.

Like what?

OK… for me…

Ooh, I would say Groucho Marx, to name one thing. And Willie Mays. And… the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony. And… Louis Armstrong’s recording of Potato Head Blues. Swedish movies, naturally. Sentimental Education by Flaubert. Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra. Those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne. The crabs at Sam Wo’s. Tracy’s face.

All the higher things of our civilization are either illusions, or, at best, cultural commodities that we pick up and caress for a while to give ourselves a fleeting sense of “value” and “meaning” before it all ends.

You’ve got to be kidding if you expect any grown-up citizen of Western civilization to take you seriously.

Which leads to the question: who are you? Where are you, culturally speaking? To what do you belong? You can’t be a citizen of Western civilization and have such nihilist views.

And if you don’t think you’re a nihilist, read this. In fact, it’s short, so I’ll quote the whole entry here:

Fr. Seraphim Rose delineated four stages of Nihilism, defined by their ever-increasing indifference or hostility to truth. The first and mildest stage of Nihilism is Liberalism. The Liberal does not believe in truth, higher truth, absolute truth, or Christian truth. Yet he retains “the name of truth, and the names of those truths men once regarded as absolute.” The next stage of Nihilism is Realism. The Realist aggressively denies all higher truth, he says that only the material, the physical, the lower, the purely deterministic, is true. The Vitalist in turn reacts against the unbearably sterile world that has been created by the Liberal and the Realist. He seeks a revived meaning and vitality in life, but without challenging the Liberal’s and Realist’s assumptions about truth or seeking a restoration of the truths they have destroyed. On the contrary, since the truth offered by Liberalism is so weak and vague, and the truth offered by Realism is so deadening and depressing, the Vitalist rejects the very idea of truth:

“The falseness of an opinion,” said Nietzsche, “is not for us any objection to it…. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving …” When such pragmatism begins, Nihilism passes into the Vitalist stage, which may be defined as the elimination of truth as the criterion of human action, and the substitution of a new standard: the “life-giving,” the “vital”; it is the final divorce of life from truth. [Nihilism, p. 50].

In the Vitalist stage of society, people deliver themselves over to an unending search for sensation and excitement, for the exotic and the experimental, for ever-greater freedom and satisfaction of desires, for the “riches of diversity,” for the transforming “energy” that is produced by a society in constant change and motion—and with all these things being seen as, even explicitly promoted as, a substitute for any inherent truth and goodness in existence.

As Vitalism reaches its peak, the final stage of Nihilism starts to appear. This is the Nihilism of Destruction, “a rage against creation and against civilization that will not be appeased until it has reduced them to absolute nothingness.”

* * *

Dennis Mangan created a new entry to highlight our discussion on evolution and purpose. In it, four materialists have commented about my statements. Their names are hel, Zorkmid, OneSTDV, and Mark Presco, sounding the space ship crew in some gothic sci fi movie.

Here is the comment I’ve posted there replying to them.

At 8/11/2009 08:58:00 PM, Lawrence Auster said…

“hel” writes:

“Replicators exist to replicate. That’s their ‘purpose’.”

Hel has folded purpose and consciousness into pure materiality. What he’s done is one of the purest expressions of the materialist hell, or rather materialist hel, that I have ever seen. In hel’s view, it’s not even possible to have a discussion about materiality versus non-material consciousness, mind, and purpose, because non-material consciousness, mind, and purpose have been defined out of existence by being defined as materiality. Quite a neat trick, making it unnecessary (and indeed impossible) to have any discussion with anyone who doesn’t share your absolute materialist view.

Zorkmid writes:

“Desire, like fear, and joy, and other emotions, is a feeling we experience (produced by and in the evolved structures of our brains) which motivates us to various actions. Our feelings of desire might, hypothetically, be evolved from primitive tropisms such as those which prompt plants to turn toward the light. To say that Darwinian evolution cannot produce a brain capable of feeling desire shows a want of critical thinking on Auster’s part. “(I wonder if Auster would think the feeling of “hunger” could arise by ‘Darwinian’ evolution. If it could, then why couldn’t “desire(s)” for other things evolve?)”

Animals have a rudimentary element of non-material consciousness. When a sentient being is experiencing hunger or fear, there is already an element of non-material consciousness there. That’s what “sentient” means—endowed with feeling and consciousness. But once you get to humans, non-material consciousness is fully developed. The darkness of materialism, and the farcical comedy of it, is that you guys are, every moment of your lives, experiencing non-material consciousness. Your consciousness of yourself as you sit before your computer screen reading my words is not “in” your body, and it’s not “in” the world. It is something else. It is non-material. And yet you deny the existence of this consciousness which you are experiencing every single moment of your waking existence, and by means of your materialist belief system you define the non-material as matter.

Eastern philosophy has a concept of ignorance, of not knowing God. But you guys have gone beyond that. You’re ignorant even of your own consciousness. Or at best you rationalize it out of existence. You are more radical destroyers than any liberals are. Even egalitarian liberals, who seek to destroy every particular society and institution (or at least our own) because it is not equal, are not as radical in their program of destruction as you are. You define the primary fact of our humanity, consciousness itself, out of existence. Congratulations.

As for Mark Presco, he’s constructing a fictional Lawrence Auster. I haven’t made the arguments he’s presenting and I don’t need to reply to that. But I do want to reply to his point about infinite regress. He says that believers in God are engaged in an infinite regress. In fact, as I show in this entry, and particularity here, it’s the materialists who do that, not believers. Saying “God is,” brings regress to an end.

As for the commenter OneSTDV (by the way, notice how these materialists use non-human or alien-sounding names?), I’ll reply to his comment at my site.

August 12

The author of the “One STDV” blog (who doesn’t use a name) replies to LA’s previous comment to him:

You said:

“You are saying that this most immediate experience, this experience of the reality of our own consciousness, which is the basis of everything we know, lacks any real basis, so that when a person says, ‘I have consciousness,’ he is merely making a faith assertion, not an assertion of an undeniable fact.”

I’m not stating consciousness (awareness of surroundings, feeling, thoughts) doesn’t exist or that our experiences aren’t based in reality. In fact, I fully disagree with such a contention. The idea that we’re living in a Matrix or a video game is absurd and fails Occam’s Razor. What we experience is surely based in reality; it’s the nature of that experience where we differ.

What I oppose is that notion that this consciousness must be immaterial. It is imperative, from your perspective, to define consciousness in this manner because it removes it from the deterministic processes of the physical world. If consciousness is merely a manifestation of brain states and electrical/chemical processes within that structure, then free will can not exist. Only a mind removed from the brain, a spiritual edifice, can act without regard to physical laws.

By ascertaining that consciousness exists independent of the brain, you make an axiomatic statement based on faith. I posit, as Mangan alludes to above, that consciousness (and our thoughts, emotions, etc.) could very well reside entirely within our physical form and evidence suggests this may be true (see “God Helmet” and this type of interactive software).

You must assume that the mind isn’t merely physical and thus you fail to have an objective basis for your argument. The anti-nihilistic Darwinist fails because he has no objective basis for his claim, but the religious person does too. Appeal to “self-evidence”, especially in a context where a natural explanation is plausible, isn’t sufficient and surely not objective.

LA replies:

You have badly misrepresented my position, turning it into a “faith-based” caricature that you can dismiss. First, as I already made clear, I haven’t stated any assumptions about God or religion here (though I have said that certain thoughts about the nature of reality coming out of this discussion may lead logically to the idea of God), nor do my statements in this discussion require anyone to have any beliefs about God and religion.

Second, I never said that mind is removed from the brain or that consciousness can exist independently of the brain or that consciousness is removed from the deterministic processes of the physical world. Clearly consciousness as far as we can tell is dependent on the material brain. But, just as clearly, consciousness is also something different from the matter that composes the material brain. Unlike the matter that composes the physical brain, consciousness does not take up space and cannot be detected with the physical senses or by any physical instrument. A chair is a material object that can be detected by the senses and by physical instruments. But our consciousness of the chair is not a material object. Our consciousness of the chair is something utterly unlike the chair. The chair is one thing, our consciousness of the chair is something else. Consciousness by definition is not matter, just as liquid by definition is not solid, just as a gas by definition is not solid or liquid.

But you say that the basic human experience of one’s own consciousness as something distinct from the physical world that surrounds us and as distinct from (though obviously connected with) our own bodies—you say that this primary, irreducible human experience is a statement of “faith.” It would be as though you said that the experience that liquid is different from matter was a statement of faith. This is insane. And it’s not necessary for me to entertain or respect insanity at this site.

You say you eschew the notion that we’re living in a Matrix or a video game. Yet your idea that our experience of our own consciousness as immaterial (and, again, consciousness by definition is not matter) is based on faith is just as whacky and counter-intuitive. Further you present that notion not as a fictional movie plot but as reality. Which, again, is insane. Which means I don’t have to bother with you any more.

I’ll make that a rule. VFR is a site devoted to rational discussion. To be a participant in rational discussion one must believe in one’s own rationality and in other people’s rationality. Therefore a requirement for posting at VFR is that one not deny the existence of one’s own and other people’s mind and consciousness. Since mind and consciousness are by definition not material things, anyone who defines mind and consciousness as matter is denying the existence of mind and consciousness and therefore is not welcome at this site.

If anyone feels that this rule is unfair or arbitrary, let us remember what the commenter was doing here. He was defining my position as based on “faith,” thus removing my statements and arguments from the common realm of reason and argument. The Darwinians and materialists do this all the time to the critics of Darwinism, so as to disqualify them as participants in rational discussion. Well, if a person removes me from the realm of rational discussion, if he denies my rationality and my good-faith attempt to engage in rational argument, what right has he to expect that I will continue talking with him? The disqualifications can go both ways.

A comment posted by LA at Mangan’s:

That’s a great statement by Deogolwulf, helping clarify the issue. Part of his argument could be summed up as follows:

I (Auster) say that feeling and consciousness exist, and that it cannot be reduced to matter.

The materialists say that feeling and consciousness come out of the evolved organic structures of the brain.

The materialists say that my statement is faith based, etc., and that their statement is scientific.

But, in reality, my statement is based on empirical experience, namely the undeniable empirical experience that each human being has of his own consciousness, feelings, thoughts, etc., while the materialists’ statement is nothing but a theoretical assertion. The materialists have NOT shown that feeling and consciousness emerge out of evolved organic structures in the brain. Yet, amazingly, they deride as “faith-based” the empirical evidence of each person’s immediate apprehension of his own consciousness, while they declare as “scientific” a mere assertion for which they have zero evidence.

Further, Deogolwulf continues, not only has the emergence of feeling and consciousness from evolved organic structures of the brain not been demonstrated, but there is no evident reason why such emergence should be true at all. He writes:

“The great mystery which comes with the mechanical-materialistic conception of the world revolves largely around the questions of why there is any feeling at all, and of how feeling—including the felt sensations of colour, sound, taste, etc—could emerge from a background conceived as being entirely devoid of anything of the kind. Furthermore, there seems to be no reason—or rather, we have no inkling of a suspicion of a clue on the mechanical account—why a purely material-functional animal, if such we be, should be accompanied by felt experiences when everything that is needed for its functional processes and survival is contained in functions without such experiences.”

This is very well stated.

* * *

(Posted August 16)

In a subsequent comment, around August 12, which I have not posted, Cornelius Troost said something that I replied to:

LA to Cornelius Troost (August 12):

Mr. Troost, You write:

We have no choice as to belief in evolution by natural selection or in mutation as a naturally occurring phenomenon, just as we can’t choose whether or not to believe in Boyle’s Law or the Laws of Motion.

I’ll give it to you straight. To say that the evolution of new species by mutation and natural selection is of the same order of truth as the laws of motion (!) is one of the most ignorant statements I have ever seen. You are inside an orthodoxy, and you haven’t the slightest grasp of the profound problems within that orthodoxy, you evidently have no familiarity with the tremendous issues that have roiled the evolution field, the fissures in the structure, the many questions Darwinism has not answered. In particular, many Darwinians admit that they don’t know how new species evolve. Given that fact, for you to say that Darwinism has the same truth status as the laws of motion, and thus requires total, unquestioning assent, is absurd.

So let’s let this topic recede between us, as it would be an utter waste of time to proceed further. You’re welcome to comment on other issues at VFR if you wish.

Cornelius Troost replied:

Dear Larry,

I did not mean to upset you because your blog is vitally important to communication among those with few places to go because of leftist domination. I usually agree with you on most issues and regretted our differences on Darwinism since I first realized they existed.

You are right that technical issues exist among biologists that are difficult to resolve, but Darwinism is only now beginning to display its incompatibility with liberalism. That is, human differences are real and can be explained by evolution. This is a cud liberals cannot chew. I tried in my videos to begin to explain how races came to be different.

You are right. If we disregard our area of conflict there are many issues we can discuss amiably. I hope you will allow me to visit upon occasion. You always have enlightening things to say and items like the Kay essay are really treasures. Thanks for doing this important blog.

Cornelius Troost

LA replied:

Dear Cornelius,

I’m happy to get your reply and that you took my comment in a good spirit that you’d like to continue to participate at VFR on non-Darwinism subjects. Again (not to belabor it), people need some common ground even to have a useful disagreement, and that just doesn’t exist between us on that issue.

However, let me also say this. If your main practical reason for interest in Darwinism is that it helps establish a basis for human racial and other differences, then I would say that you don’t need Darwinism for that. Darwinism is a theory of the origin of species. Even if Darwinism were abandoned or disproved, the differentiation within the human species (presumably by random variation and natural selection) is an observed fact, e.g., lactose tolerance, and the increase in IQ and lightening of skin color among more northerly groups, just as both natural and artificial differentiation within species had been noted before the Darwinian theory was ever formulated. Such changes do not add up to a new species. They are changes within a species. I am a total anti-Darwinian, but am interested in the differentiation of the human species over the last 100,000 years.

Here’s an example of how Darwinians stick in Darwin even when it’s completely unnecessary and doesn’t help advance their argument. Michael Hart in the first chapter of his Understanding Human History summarizes the Darwinian theory. As I said in my mostly positive review of the book, this was inappropriate and unnecessary, since the rest of the book says nothing about evolution of new species and is not based on the evolution of new species. It deals with the branching out of the human species after the departure from Africa. Why then did he start the book with a chapter on Darwinism? Because, as I saw it, somehow he felt that it was the intellectual foundation of everything else he was going to say. In reality it wasn’t. But he was so locked into the Darwinian mindset, that he assumed it was.

So, again, I am open to arguments about modifications within the human species, and I’m glad you didn’t take my stringent comments personally.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 10, 2009 03:36 PM | Send

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