A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The End of Darwinism Evolution

Evolutionism vs. Creationism

The surest way to gin up some traffic here is to put those terms into the post. Heheh.

Now, I cheated in the title, as will become apparent in a moment. Aristo-Thomists might already suspect the pun. If so, keep quiet until I'm done here.

On one side of the debate is a group of people with deeply held metaphysical beliefs who tell fables. On the other, a group of people who desire above all that their beliefs be recognized as a science. I speak, of course, of evolutionists and creationists, respectively. The atheist philosopher, Michael Ruse, once made an important distinction between evolution and evolutionism, the latter being a pseudo-religious commitment to the former. A similar distinction can be made between creation and creationism, with the latter desiring the former to be stamped a science. There is a symmetry to it all that is pleasing to geometers, string theorists, and auld curmudgeons.

Mary Midgley addresses this in her book Evolution as Religion. Another atheist critic of over-the-top evolutionism is David Stove: So you think you are a Darwinian?

1. Evolutionism.
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics. But it is baldly asserted by evolutionists that the "fact" of evolution has "proven" God unnecessary. This is as if the fact of the piano and the physics of vibrating strings "proves" there is no need for the pianist, as the music has been completely explained by the acoustics. 

The statement is silly on several levels. First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena. Rather it is a conclusion reasoned from various facts about the world. (No, you don't have to accept the reasoning.  Just be aware that in classic theology, God is at the end of the string, not at the beginning.)  This is not the time for that discussion; but let it be said that neither God nor evolution is "necessary" for auto repair.  So what?  As Cardinal Schoenborn once said, "I certainly hope that God is not invoked in the course of an ordinary scientific explanation." 

But what gives evolution such lofty credentials? Does it possess the Subtle Knife? Why not suppose that Maxwell's Equations made God obsolete? Back in the old days, Gregory of Nyssa engaged his dying sister Macrina in a Platonic dialogue, which is what people did before Twitter, I suppose. Gregory told her that mechanical automata were said to prove that God was unnecessary. So this sort of thing has been going on for a long time, with the death of God announced breathlessly every generation or so.

For St. Macrina's answer, see: Gregory of Nyssa, On the soul and ressurection and scroll down to the part beginning "But what, I asked, if, insisting on the great differences..." Basically, she said that such automata provided supporting evidence for God's existence. And the same is true of evolution.

Secondly, as James Chastek has pointed out:
Presumably, evolution means we can stop looking for some magical elf-and-Santa-workshop where God busily assembles new species. Great. Call off the search. If evolution were to fail, what then? Would it leave the sort of hole that could be filled by the the magical mystery species shop? No. We would just look for another natural explanation, whatever it was. If evolution were to fail, it would not leave a God-shaped hole, and so it follows that it is not filling one now, nor has it ever done so.

2. Intelligent Design.
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics. But it is baldly asserted by IDers that the "fact" of irreducible complexity has "proven" a Designer necessary.

The statement is silly on several levels. First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena. Oh, wait. I am repeating myself. It's almost as if they were mirror images of.... Hmmm. 

For some comments on Intelligent Design, per se: Michael Behe: Teach evolution and ask hard questions

Behe's theory is: A) Some things are irreducibly complex. B) Natural selection cannot account for irreducible complexity. Therefore C) an Intelligent Designer is necessary.

Critics, driven mad by C) have attacked A) and B) with vigor. Although A) and B) might be true without C).  I have sometimes thought that if he had simply stopped at B) he would have been okay.

Critics of A) usually miss the point. He did not say that some things were really really complex. He specified a particular kind of complexity: one in which the whole must exist before it can function. Gradually adding parts in slow Darwinian manner would not do it. This is easily seen in artifacts: e.g. a circuit that does not function unless all components are in place. It is not clear that the same is necessarily true of organisms.  Of course, Darwin started it with artificial breeding of pigeons being carried over to nature as if the same were true without a Breeder lurking in the background.  

Critics of B) also miss the point. He does not say that natural selection is false. He believes it does account for most of evolution but does not see how it can operate at the microcellular level. (Remember, the Darwinian engine is overbreeding + ruthless winnowing.) Behe has not proven his case. Absence of evidence -- no known Darwinian pathway -- is not evidence of absence -- no possible Darwinian pathway. But neither is it refuted by telling "just so stories" about how it might possibly could maybe happen. Behe has pointed out that in some of the proposed pathways rebutting him there are intermediate links that by Darwinian logic would have been selected against.

It is in C) that things go bad. A) + B) add up to "The Behe Challenge."  Discover the actual pathways! It would not surprise me if natural selection failed to account for these things. After all, gravity does not account for protons and neutrons forming a nucleus. Electromagnetism does not account for radiation. It would be astonishing if there were one theoretical construct that "made sense" of everything.

Even if the theory of natural selection failed to account for cellular machinery, there could well be other mechanisms that do. Perhapsnot biological, but chemical or physical! (The biologists would probably hate that as much as an Intelligent Designer!) One of the bad effects of creationism is that it has caused Darwinians to circle the wagons and get defensive and not look for other mechanisms. Eldrege and Gould took flack for their punctuated equilibrium theory because it "gave comfort to the creationists." Only paradigm science is permitted.

Behe himself admits this:
The underlying point of all these criticisms that needs to be addressed, I think, is that it is possible future work might show irreducible complexity to be explainable by some unintelligent process (although not necessarily a Darwinian one). And on that point I agree the critics are entirely correct. I acknowledge that I cannot rule out the possibility future work might explain irreducibly complex biochemical systems without the need to invoke intelligent design, as I stated in Darwin’s Black Box.
Michael Behe: Philosophical objections to intelligent design, response
Irreducible complexity actually is scientific in the Popperian sense. One may produce the actual reduction and falsify it. The Intelligent Designer is not. Behe also believes that the Big Bang implies an Intelligent Designer. But only a few scientists denounce the Big Bang as "theistic creationism" but they get all bent out of shape over I/C.

Now, Intelligent Design is a shape-shifter, an SFnal critter, since many of its fanboys mean different things by it at different times, depending on the exigencies of the circumstances. We will see the bait-n-switch shortly.

One further note is the "third way" described by U.Chi researcher, James Shapiro: A third way

3. Evolution
There is persistent confusion between cause and effect ever since Hume cut them both off at the knees. In physics, it is much easier to distinguish between empirical facts, natural laws, and physical theories. Falling bodies are empirical facts. Regularities like s = 0.5gt^2 are the natural laws. And "gravity" is the theory that "makes sense" of the facts and laws. From it, the laws can be deduced and the facts predicted. But a theory is simply a story we tell that makes sense of the facts. No matter how well supported, it never "graduates" to "fact" because it never ever becomes empirically real. You cannot show me a gravity or tell me how much it weighs or what its length is (objective properties). 

That species change over time and are genetically related are facts. "Natural selection" (overbreeding+death) is the theory the "engine" that drove evolution.

There are logical problems with it, which we won't go into. The atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor has pointed out some of these problems here: Jerry Fodor: Why pigs dont have wings

Darwin started by drawing an analogy to pigeon-breeders, which right away is a problem. Pigeon breeding is intelligent design. The breeder knows what traits he will select for. "How could a studied decision to breed for one trait or another be ‘the very same thing’ as the adventitious culling of a population?"

Also Darwin tried to explain species while denying the real existence of species which is rather problematical:
"I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..." -- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
This is raw nominalism, and as such philosophically incoherent. If a species is only a term, what exactly is 'evolving'?

James Chastek wrote:
Didn’t “natural selection” used to be nothing but boring, old fashioned “death”? Did we do that much more than recognize an interesting side effect of death? Include some mutations too, I guess. So death and freaks. “A closer look at death and freaks”, however, isn’t the name for a theory that could make anyone giddy with the idea that they’ve killed God, or overthrown everything once claimed about nature, or ushered in an absolutely different new era of human understanding.
4. Why Evolution and Creation Cannot Contradict Each Other
The problem with ID is the same as the problem with evolutionism: equivocation in the terms. There is Intelligent Design [caps], a specific theory proposed by Behe and others. Then there is intelligent design [lc], the notion that the universe is created according to a plan by God. IDers can slip back and forth between them because the terms they use could mean either.

Aquinas famously gave five arguments from empirical facts to the existence of God, but none of them were the argument from complexity, either Paley's version or Behe's version. Both Paley and Behe accept the post-Newtonian metaphysic of dead matter subject only to external forces. In this, they are like Dawkins.

But evolution of whatever stripe is only "moving matter around." Something that has the form of an ape changes into something that has the form of a man. Matter is transformed; it is not brought into being. Creation otoh is continuous and from nothing. It is not something that happened long ago; it is happening right now. It is not a hypothesis explaining how something apelike became something manlike. Rather it explains how nature has the power to do that in the first place. As Augustine of Hippo wrote:
It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in tmes to come. [Emph. added]
On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11
Here we see the root of evolutionary thinking. Creation was not a point event, but a creation of things including their time-dimension. It is a sustaining-in-being not a poofing into existence. Aquinas even addressed it assuming an eternal universe. It did not matter to creation if the universe had no beginning in time.

ID tends to demote God from Creator to transformer of matter. It is thus theolgically unsound. Because modern science recognizes only certain kinds of efficient causes, IDers imagine God to be some sort of really powerful efficient cause operating within the universe, making things happen that would not have happened by themselves. Yet, God looked on all he created and saw that it was good, and surely "good" includes "works right without tweaking." The problem with imagining God as an efficient cause in rivalry with other efficient causes is that when a natural efficient cause is found, that "eliminates" God.

But if God exists and is the source of being, then he is the source of falling apples and the ability of sodium and chlorine to form salt. IOW, there is no need to suppose something is =unlikely= in order reason toward God. Aquinas did not. The likely things that we think we understand pretty well also receive their being from him. So the evolution of the flagellum is hard to figure. But unless it just *poofed* into existence, it must have emerged from pre-existing matter; and if it emerged from pre-existing matter that matter had some form, and it merely has been transformed into another form. And if it has been transformed, there is a physical series of operations by which it transformed. It may or may not have been natural selection; but it was surely natural.

For the Thomist critique of ID see the following.

Michael Tkacz: Thomas Aquinas versus the Intelligent Designers

Francis Beckwith: Thomas Aquinas and intelligent design

Stephen Barr: The end of intelligent design

5. The End of Evolution
Much of the problem stems from the rejection of final causes. This was due to fear that if final causes were recognized, then God would have to be admitted. That is, establishing finality is hard; but once you do, God pops out the other end. This gets it backward. Aquinas thought that finality in nature was obvious, but reasoning from there to God was very difficult. Aristotle saw finality in nature and never concluded God from it.

But without finality, even efficient causes make no sense. If there is not something in A that "points toward" B, then how can A cause B "always or for the most part? Hume saw this and wound up denying causality, too. There is only correlation. Pfui, sez I. Which is about what ibn Rushd said to al-Ghazali, who said much the same as Hume. IOW the proof of finality is the existence of natural laws. Science, by searching for laws of nature, implicitly recognizes their existence. That is, it denies finality while quietly relying upon it. Falling bodies move to the point of lowest gravitational potential. Complex systems move toward equilibrium in "attractor basins" with sometimes "strange attractors." Tiger cubs mature into adult tigers, and never into tiger lilies. To the extent that finality implies God, as Aquinas reasoned, the existence of a natural law like that of evolution is evidence for God's existence. 

So what is the end of evolution? First of all, "evolution" is a global cause and so the end must be a global end. And that means it is not this or that particular species or trait. The end of evolution would seem to be "a multiplication of species." After all Darwin called upon it to explain "the origin of species" and not the origin of Sunday dinner.

On the specific level, the evolution of species X would seem to have as its end "greater fitness to this ecological niche." By what particular trait or behavior this fitness is achieved would seem a matter of chance. And living things have a drive to go on living and are apt, when finding themselves in possession of a new trait, to find some way of exploiting that trait.

6. An Apology
I didn't have time to make this shorter.  Perhaps reflection will help an edit.  But some may note that the links critical of evolutionism were mostly to "atheists" like Fodor, Stove, Midgley; while the links critical to intelligent design were to "theists" like Barr, Tkacz, and Beckwith.  This appealed to my sense of humor.


  1. Mike, only you could say "I didn't have time to make this shorter."


    The rest of us amateurs usually finish our posts with the thought, 'Damn, I need to put a little more meat on this."

  2. One important reason evolution is given so much credit by atheists is that creationists have been responding to it as though Darwin's theory explaining the fact of evolution really did imply atheism. Atheists make the same claim about just about anything, but it only stuck here.


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