Skip to comments.Darwinian Dissonance?
Posted on 11/06/2003 7:34:45 PM PST by Heartlander
Let's go to the videotape...
Simply put, the language used by many of today's prominent Darwin defenders, at least as it appears in the popular press, is inherently self-defeating, as if they had a collective case of cognitive dissonance. They routinely describe non-human processes as if they were actual people. No sooner do they finish arguing that the universe could not possibly have an Intelligent Designer, that they proceed to comment on how the universe is so seemingly intelligently designed. No sooner do they discredit evidence for a grand, cosmic plan, that they reveal their anticipation towards what the next phase of it will be. Let me give you examples.
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, in his Secular Web critique of Intelligent Design theory ( "Design Yes, Intelligent No" ), utilizes several phrases whose "scientific" definitions, I assume, are sufficiently esoteric enough to obscure the fact that, as concepts, they defy common sense. He describes the natural world as being a result of "non-conscious" creativity, "non-intelligent design," and "chaotic self-organizing phenomena." If these terms mean something very specific to evolutionary biologists, it cannot be anything that is inferred by the actual words themselves. For the very notion of design cannot be thought of in any other terms than that of a conscious being with an intent, a scheme, a protocol, a plan, or an intellect. Each of the 21 definitions of "design" in Webster's pertain to a living subject, human by implication. This is not to say that random arrangements of things cannot be fantastically complex; but if they are not purposefully complex then the word "design" is incorrect. And "chaotic self-organizing" is a cluster of words similar to "triangular circles": an excessively clever term to describe something that can't possibly exist.
Other examples abound. A 1999 Time magazine cover story described human evolution like it was General Motors, replacing the "clunkers" with "new and improved" models: but doing it, of course, "blindly and randomly."  Spare me, please, from blind and random "improvements." In the most recent Free Inquiry (the magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism), a scholar writes that both "Christians and humanists agree on one thing: that humans are the most valuable form of life on the planet," and that we are "the crown of earthly creation."  That is precisely the one thing that a secular humanist cannot call us: the crown of earthly creation. And valuable? Valuable to whom, and on what basis? Another term which receives heavy usage is "success," as in a "successful" species of lizard. But in order for anything to be a success, it must have had some prior goal or standard to fulfill. If we cannot confirm a purpose for which life is supposed to have originated, how can we say anything is a success? What if chickens were supposed to fly? What if beavers were supposed to build A-frames? Naturalistically speaking, anything is successful if it exists. Even a pebble is successful at being a pebble.
Finally, Robert Wright, in a New Yorker piece which dope-slaps Stephen Jay Gould for being an unwitting ally to creationists, proves himself to be a pretty solid creationist in his own right, as he goes on to refer to natural selection as a "tireless engineer" with a "remarkable knack for invention," even comparing it to a brain, indicative of a higher purpose, which stacks the evolutionary deck and responds to positive feedback. Maybe evolution is a focus group!? Whether it is by ignorance, defiance or the limits of our language, these Darwin defenders liberally use terms which are not available to them, given their presuppositions. One cannot deny the cake, and then proceed to eat from it!
It brings up the problem I have always had with the term "natural selection." We all know what it means, and I can't dispute it's validity as a model for the differentiation of species. As a word couplet, though, it is a grammatical gargoyle, like the term "cybersex." If you were asked to describe what sex is, it probably wouldn't sound like what happens when a lonely data-entry intern in Baltimore starts typing his fantasies on a flat screen which, thanks to thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable, is then read by someone in Spokane. That situation has nothing to with the purposes or processes of sex, as either God or nature intended it. The modifier is not true to its object. Although the word "cyber-" is intended as a kind of adjective, it comes dangerously close to totally redefining the word which it is only supposed to modify. Contrarily, one could have a blue book or a brown book, but in either case it is still a book. One could make a hasty selection or a careful selection; it is still a selection. But natural? A selection is a choice, and only a conscious being that can process information can really make a choice, or even input information into a system which will later result in a choice. However, when the drying of a swamp puts a salamander out of existence, that is an occurrence. We are comfortable with "natural selection" as a phrase, because it conjures up images of Mother Nature, or some cosmic Gepetto tinkering with his toys. As a technical term, it is a misleading oxymoron.
I know what this proves. It proves absolutely nothing. This is innocent embellishment, lazy usage, or a validation of Chomskyesque theories about the inadequacy of language. One could say that a critique based on language is aimed at the most inconsequential part of any argument, like saying that Kierkegaard would have been more compelling if he had typed in New Times Roman. However, a more careful consideration will reveal that exactly the opposite is true, at least in this case. The words used by modern-day Darwinists are not a sidelight, they are symptomatic of a fissure in the structure of their thought. I believe that when someone wrongly calls the evolutionary process a purposeful "design," it is not because of sloppy writing, but because of intentional and thoughtful writing. It is because that is the only idea that will work. It is the only word that will work. It is because there is something brilliant, something awesome, and something significant about our world, and our instinct is to want to know who gets credit for it. The impulse is innate and proper. It is the decision to give credit to an abstract and unauthored "process" which is out of sync.
Let me make the point in a more obvious way. Here are two written accounts:
A. Two similar clusters of matter came into physical contact with each other at a single point in space and time. One cluster dominated, remaining intact; while the other began to break down into its component elements.
B. A 26-year old man lost his life today in a violent and racially motivated attack, according to Thompson County police. Reginald K. Carter was at his desk when, according to eyewitness reports, Zachariah Jones, a new employee at the Clark Center, entered the building apparently carrying an illegally-obtained handgun. According to several eyewitnesses, Jones immediately walked into Carter's cubicle and shouted that "his kind should be eliminated from the earth," before shooting him several times at point-blank range.
If asked where these two fictitious excerpts came from, most would say that A was from a textbook or scientific journal, and probably describes events observed under a microscope or in a laboratory. B would be a typical example of newspaper journalism. Most people would say that, of course, they are not talking about the same thing. But could they be? Well, to the materialist, the answer is certainly negative. To those who don't take their Darwinism decaffeinated, who embrace it as a philosophy which excludes any non-natural explanations for life's origins, the answer is absolutely. B perhaps wins on style points, but the content is the same. Any outrage or emotion felt upon reading the second excerpt would be a culturally conditioned response, but not a proof that there had been anything "wrong" that had happened. In this view, A is probably the most responsible account. Nature, with its fittest members leading the way, marches on. I think I would be correct in stating that many would disagree with, or be offended by, that analysis. What I am not really sure of, and would like explained to me, is why? What is in view is not so much of a Missing Link, as much as a Missing Leap: the leap from the physical to the metaphysical. Taken as a starting point, I have no problem with quantitative assessments. They establish a baseline of knowledge for us.
But what about life? Life is an elusive concept that cannot be quantitatively assessed. As Stanley Jaki writes in his most recent book.  Moreover, long before one takes up the evolution of life, one is faced with a question of metaphysics whenever one registers life. Life is not seen with physical eyes alone unless those eyes are supplemented with the vision of the mind. No biologist contemptuous of metaphysics can claim, if he is consistent, that he has observed life, let alone its evolution. We then start to have an aesthetic appreciation for the beauty and ingenuity of these life forms, and it is not long before we get around to talking about abstract concepts such as rights, justice, and equality, and assigning some species - namely, us - some kind of moral responsibilities for them, none of which can be measured according to scientific methods.
I think it is safely assumed by all parties that, although we have some physical and behavioral characteristics in common, humans are significantly more intelligent and sophisticated than our mammal friends, and possessed of a vastly different consciousness. For whatever reason, we are unique enough to make us "special." The problem is that the physical sciences cannot explain how, much less why, this consciousness emerged. And a bigger problem is the strangeness of our consciousness: abstract self-doubt, philosophical curiosity, existential despair. How does an intense awareness of my accidental existence better equip me for battle? Why do we consider compassion for the sick to be a good thing when it can only give us a disadvantage in our vicious eat-or-be-eaten world? Why would these traits emerge so late in the game, when one would think evolution would be turning us into refined, high-tech battle machines? We cannot acquire a transcendent or "higher" purpose through evolution, any more than a sine wave can develop separation anxiety. And yet many who swear by the powers of Darwin and empiricism also cling, hypocritically, to a quite unproven assumption that the human race is somehow set apart, created for a glorious destiny. Just as determinists argue undeterministically, scientists believe unscientifically. The most serious offenders in this category have to be the various minds behind the Humanist Manifesto, who roundly reject the metaphysical even as they affirm it, by assumption, in their grand prescriptions for humanity. This is called talking out of two sides of the mouth. Now, biologically speaking, developing this trait would be a great way for an organism to gain a tactical advantage in the struggle for survival. Unfortunately, it also opens the creature up for easy attack in life's intellectual jungles. These contradictory assumptions met each other vividly in the theater of mainstream culture last year, during the pop radio reign of "Bad Touch," the Bloodhound Gang song. You know the song: it was the one with the refrain of "You and me, baby, ain't nothing but mammals / So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel." It was pure Darwinism for the dance floor and became an instant dorm room classic, despite (or most likely, because of) the fact that it was too explicit for the kitsch it aspired to. The party music stopped, however, upon arrival of Thornhill and Palmer's The Natural History of Rape, the book that investigated whether rape was a genetically determined trait that enabled humans to climb the evolutionary ladder. The book's research was as swiftly refuted as The Bell Curve's. However, the white-hot center of controversy surrounding this book was not the research, but the inferences that might have been made from it: the fear that rape could be rationalized, or even accepted, on a biological basis. The science may have been bad, but the logic is faultless. Why can't a chameleon's color change, a bat's sonar, and a man's sexual coercion all be examples of successful evolutionary "design"? Given the absence of any empirical alternative to social Darwinism, the nonconsensual Discovery Channel bump-and-grind is a pretty educated approach to sexual ethics. I repeat: one cannot deny the cake, and then proceed to eat from it.
That, then, is why the language is confused: because the ideas are confused, because the mind is confused. To the extent that our Darwinians and humanists seek answers to humanity's dilemmas using the natural sciences, they are absolutely on the right track. To the extent that they reject the idea of a divine or supernatural creator using the natural sciences, they are not only overstepping the boundaries of their field, but they are plainly contradicted by their language, their goals, and their lives. G.K. Chesterton, writing a century ago, astutely observed this dichotomy in the modern mind when he said that "the man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts."  It is precisely this incongruity which remains unaccounted for today. This incongruity was raised to heights both humorous and sublime by noted Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, writing an essay for the Atlantic Monthly called "The Biological Basis of Morality." In it, Wilson outlines the argument for his suspicion that morals, ethics, and belief in the supernatural can all be written off to purely materially-originating, evolutionary-guided brain circuitry, and that's that. In the light of this, he suggests in his conclusion that evolutionary history be "retold as poetry, " because it is more intrinsically grand than any religious epic. But if moral reasoning is just a lot of brain matter in motion, where does that leave appreciation for poetry? And seeing that poetry has a definite beginning and an end, as well as an author and a purpose, isn't the evolutionary epic the very last thing that could be told as poetry? Besides, who could possibly come up with a rhyme for lepidoptera? If life is a drama, then it needs a Bard; and we need to learn to acknowledge our cosmic Bard, just like Alonso in the final act of The Tempest:
This is as strange a maze as e'er men trod,
And there is in this business more than nature
Was ever conduct of. Some oracle
Must rectify our knowledge.
1. Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, "Up From the Apes," Time Magazine 154 no. 8, August 13, 1999.
2. Theodore Schick, Jr., "When Humanists Meet E.T.," Free Inquiry 20 no.3, Summer 2000, pp. 36-7.
3. Robert Wright, "The Accidental Creationist," The New Yorker, Dec. 30,
1999, pp. 56-65.
4. Stanley Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science, (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2000, p. 97).
5. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (NY: Image Books, 1990, pp 41-2).
6. E.O. Wilson, "The Biological Basis of Morality," The Atlantic Monthly 281 no. 4, April 1998, pp. 53-70.
If you can tolerate the post than let it be known and I will re-post.
Its really that simple. Unless you have a problem
Good. So you got it that the management didn't like your post and didn't want it on this site, that anybody can see it and hit the button, etc.
Someone must hit the 'abuse button' - and you know who did...
Don't know about "must," but what happened once with that post could easily happen again. My own preference in all but a few cases is too leave self-discrediting posts up where they can do their job. Nevertheless, different people have different opinions and the management has the final call.
If you can tolerate the post than let it be known and I will re-post.
I thought you said you understood.
Its really that simple.
You don't seem to understand. Well, I tried.
Unless you have a problem
I don't care that much.
(I would think that those who might have found my post offensive would take this into consideration unless they are trying to remove me from this forum)
If everything is anything, then nothing is anything.I only wish you had stopped here to actually realize what you were stating (philosophically)
Darwin never mentioned microwave popcorn. What he did say was made clear. If Gould and Eldredge had to reinvent some of it later, Origin is a long work and very out of date. Probably not Gould or anyone he was arguing with had read it recently.
Although you are a YEC (Yes Evolution Created) you still acknowledge that the Punk-eek creationists are correct. I am glad to see this gradualist column that others adhere to is not as important to you
There is hope for you and remember
Science is self-forgiving! Your worth is measured by the lack of worth you attempt to prove created you!
May naturalism (multiverse, nihilism, scientism, rheumatism, relativism) bless you!
Furthermore, may you realize the world you created for yourself:
"Twist and Shout" - dumb as a stump - God should not be telling people to lie - a place with a marked absence of oogedy-boogedy-abracadabra-shazam, If your God is a real God and the creator of the universe He should, if he needs you for anything, be telling you to straighten up and try being honest about what you understand and what you remember. Not to mention you're still lying about Gould. We've really been there and done this and you haven't had the goods yet . back-again-dumb-as-a-stump tricks
-VadeRetro Is the Origin of this Feces
I have stepped in the Vaderetro and now wish to scrape it off my shoe.
Thanks. (But remember, water is just an example of a general concept. I like Dr. Stochastic's example of NAND gates - one of the most simple logic gates, not doing much on their own, but when combined in the right ways can add numbers, subtract, form memories - in fact all computers can be thought of as being built from nothing but NAND gates. But then I'm a computer geek. I must come up with some examples that a non-techie type can relate to! :-)
However, consciousness (and even more so, truth and falsity) is a whole different subject. Science cannot account for it - only the appearance or illusion of it, and the effects of it.
I understand that consciousness is hardly a solved problem scientifically, but "truth and falsity" aren't amenable to science either??? Well, that's something of a quibble. The important point is, I don't see where you've shown that consciousness is in principle impossible to understand.
Science consists of making observations and building theories to explain them, and then making other observations that can decide between one theory & the other. No theory is really backed up by totally comprehensive & precise observations & measurements, strictly speaking. You're really saying that it's - in principle - impossible for scientists to gather enough data & measure phenomena just well enough to be able to ever confidently distinguish, to any degree, between one theory of consciousness and another?
Let me ask you this. I want to go further but I dont want to be accused of putting words in your mouth. Which of the following statements would you say expresses your belief, or is closest to it? A. If something is not scientifically verifiable, it is not true B. If something is not scientifically verifiable, it is not chiefly a concern of science
B. (Incidentally, most creationists, like Philip Johnson, seem to believe all us methodological naturalists believe in A, but that's not true.) Anyway, it's B. Why do you ask? (she said innocently...)
I would expect someone who held the view B to be somewhat agnostic on something like the origin of the universe, and I suppose most are. As something outside of our observable space and time and not subject to the scientific method,
I am indeed "somewhat" agnostic on the origin of the universe. None of the standard explanations, whether from science or from religion, really make much intuitive sense to me. However, I disagree that the question is necessarily "not subject to the scientific method". Just off the top of my head I can see where future discoveries should be able to help distinguish between the several theories that have the universe coming from a prior universe in some sense, and the ones that have the universe popping spontaneously "out of nowhere".
our explanations of it are all attempts at educated speculation. In light of this, any theory which satisfies some logical considerations (the cosmological argument, etc.) should be considered at least possible, and the theory of a Creator certainly does that. So if one believes in B, I would expect one to say that, if the origin of the cosmos was not a chief concern of science, then perhaps there are other ways in which we can obtain knowledge in this area - especially considering the fact that science already affirms certain truths, such as the sensory evidence principle, which are not verifiable by science.
But as I argued earlier, just because the idea of a Creator isn't scientifically verifiable doesn't mean it's an axiom like the axioms of science are. It has to actually be necessary for rational thought or discourse to begin in order for it to be an axiom. You've never shown that it's logically necessary to assume a person of some kind behind the origin of the universe in order to begin to rationally think or talk about it. You do have to assume the fundamental reliability of sense evidence, as well as the principle of non-contradiction, to begin to think or talk about science.
Isnt it entirely possible that the existence of a Creator could be shown to be as valid a theory as naturalism, despite the fact that it does not chiefly reside in the domain of science?
Because of the above, I say you can't call it a "valid" theory until you can show that assuming a creator-person is behind it all is necessary to begin to think about the creation of the universe.
As for B vs. A, I (and I assume most scientifically-minded types) believe the answer is B, but we note that throughout history, as more & more aspects of the world became known more & more intimately, the result has always been A: The theories that were not scientifically verifiable have always turned out to be not true. Strictly speaking A isn't correct, but it has always been the way to bet.
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