Darwin’s Devious Metaphors 

Part I - the Problem

 

                      How an Error in Logic Changed the World — Perhaps for the Better

 

by Don Cruse

 

“Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study.”   Alfred North Whitehead

 

 

A ‘quantum’ revolution has taken place in the science of physics, we see it written about and discussed everywhere today. It is the focus of many popular works, like Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and Amit Goswami’s The Self-Aware Universe, to name only two. Zukav summed up what has changed in these words:

 

“Today, particle accelerators, bubble chambers, and computer printouts are giving birth to another world view. This worldview is as different from the worldview at the beginning of this [20th] century as the Copernican worldview was from its predecessors. It calls upon us to relinquish many of our close-clutched ideas.

 

In this world view there is no [physical] substance.”

 

Zukav also cites Heisenberg’s comments on how difficult it really is for us to relinquish old ideas:

 

“….when new groups of phenomena compel changes in the pattern of thought…even the most eminent of physicists find immense difficulties. For the demand for change in the thought pattern may engender the feeling that the ground is to be pulled from under one’s feet… I believe that the difficulties at this point can hardly be overestimated. Once one has experienced the desperation with which clever and conciliatory men of science react to demand for a change in the thought pattern, one can only be amazed that such revolutions in science have actually been possible at all.”

 

Interesting yes, but what has this to do with Darwinism? The quantum revolution has largely been limited to physics, and even though it now claims, as was stated by Sir Arthur Eddington, that “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff” and that ‘Consciousness’ lies at the root of all physical phenomena, this has done little to influence biology. The Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theories still insist that ‘Consciousness’ plays no role whatever in shaping the organic world, which it has long argued is primarily the product of chance. It also leaves out of account the by now commonplace conundrum that the universe seems uncannily well suited to the existence of life, in ways that involve minute details in both physics and astrophysics that could scarcely have been accidental. My task here, therefore, will be to suggest that a similar revolution is now long overdue in biology, and that when it comes it will not challenge evolution itself, which is an established fact, but it will throw very serious doubt on Darwin’s account of how it all happened—it will not be a religious argument.

 

To begin with it must be admitted that Darwinism is a nineteenth century world view, and that while twentieth century discoveries in the realm of DNA have seemed, on the surface at least, to support that world view, they are themselves gradually becoming suspect for their adherence to the “central dogma of genetics.” Which is "the view that an organism's genome—its total complement of DNA—should fully account for its characteristic assemblage of inherited traits." This dogma was strongly argued against by the octogenarian scientist Barry Commoner, in the article ‘Unravelling the Myth of DNA,’ published in Harper’s Magazine in Feb 2002.  He writes:

 

“Why, then, has the central dogma continued to stand? To some degree the theory has been protected from criticism by a device more common to religion than science: dissent, or merely the discovery of a discordant fact, is a punishable offence, a heresy that might easily lead to professional ostracism. Much of this bias can be attributed to institutional inertia, a failure of rigor, but there are other, more insidious reasons why molecular geneticists might be satisfied with the status quo; the central dogma has given them such a satisfying, seductively simplistic explanation of heredity that it seemed sacrilegious to entertain doubts. The central dogma was simply too good not to be true”

 

The same thing may be said of the Darwinian theory. It is held in place by a kind of scientific lethargy, by the “seductive simplicity” of its proffered solution, and by an all but complete failure to think through the theory’s inner logic, as I will now demonstrate.

 

Substance

Darwinism is the principal survivor today of the old ‘mechanistic’ world view that we associate with Newtonian physics, that which was displaced first by Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, and then even more completely by the quantum revolution. So we may legitimately ask: Why does it still survive in biology? In Darwin’s worldview there still is physical ‘substance.’ In fact apart from ‘chance’ that is all that there is in the theory, and words of course, lots and lots of words — wherein lie the cause of his many errors in logic. It is not whether or not evolution has occurred that is open to question, the evidence for that is indeed “overwhelming,” but Darwin’s explanation of how it all happened is quite another matter; here there are unresolved rational issues of such profundity that the reputation of modern science is called into serous disrepute by it, and it all started with one close-clutched idea, with the misuse of a single word — Mechanism.

 

Mechanism

Etymologically speaking the word ‘mechanism’ has a long history, going back into the ancient Greek. Today it is normally used to describe some contrivance or device created by human ingenuity to perform a specific function or purpose. How well it performs that function depends upon how well it was designed, a poorly designed machine will either not do what is expected of it, or it will quickly breakdown, i.e. physically fail. The word ‘design’ in normal usage, therefore, includes the concept of a ‘purpose’ that the design was intended to fill; all of which tells us that the word ‘mechanism’ denotes a human idea.

 

The first to attribute the idea of ‘mechanism’ to nature itself was the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who postulated that the created world evidenced a top-down split between two principles, the upper part being Mind, or God, and the lower part being body, or mechanism; the upper part being responsible for ‘designing’ and creating the lower part. For a while this concept prevailed and natural philosophy at the time of Newton and beyond was unabashedly religious and ‘mechanistic’. Gradually, however, the top part of Descartes’ equation weakened and eventually, with the coming of the Darwinian theory, it vanished altogether. God the Designer, it was claimed, was now an “unnecessary hypothesis”. Even for Darwin himself, however, disposing of God was a very slow process. In an early (1845) version of his theory the activity of Natural Selection was attributed to the work of a “great being”, but by 1859 the ‘great being’ had disappeared; the language of the theory, however, remained the same and Natural Selection went on to do its work just as if the great being were still there. The ‘great being’ was still there, but now hidden in the unchanged use of volitional and intentional language, God had indeed been dismissed, but superficially—in name only.

 

Some have speculated that the death of his twelve-year-old favourite daughter ‘Annie’ had turned Darwin against God, but doubtless he had also come to understand that science did not want a ‘great being’ in its theory. It wanted instead to completely free itself of religion. This today may be viewed as having been a historic necessity, because dogma of any kind, even in support of materialism, has no place in science

 

The absence of a Designer creates an unavoidable logical dilemma that at first worried Darwin, and he dealt with it in this short passage from Origins:

 

 In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, Natural Selection is a false term; but who ever objected to chemists speaking of the elective affinities of the various elements? – and yet an acid cannot strictly be said to elect the base with which it in preference combines. . . . Everyone knows what is meant and is implied by such metaphorical expressions; and they are almost necessary for brevity.” (1876 ed., 66)

 

The chemists that Darwin refers to, however, were not using metaphor in an attempt to dislodge the Designer God from nature and to deny the existence of divine Ideas in nature, as Darwin most certainly was. Quite the opposite. In fact, they still believed in a Designer God, so for them no problem in causal logic was created like that which arose for Darwin, although he barely noticed it. It is indeed a subtle error, involving as it does a use of language that is easily justified in common speech, yet when used to deny a designing Intelligence in nature it creates a total contradiction. It means that Darwin, by this use of language, is building a theory that is actually based upon ‘intelligent design,’ but with human creative ideas as the unrecognised source of that design. Having excused himself in this way, however, he does not revisit the problem but feels free to ignore it. He then goes on to make copious use of such language throughout his theory, as the following passage demonstrates:

 

It may be metaphorically said that Natural Selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being.”  (1876 ed., 68-69) [emphasis added]

 

Here he warns us in advance that he is using metaphor, but this does not change the logical dilemma that the use of such language inevitably creates. And this same language is scattered throughout his theory, so much so that Stanley Edgar Hyman, in his book The Tangled Bank, writes:

 

“Darwin starts by insisting that nature is not a goddess but a metaphor. As soon as he begins to talk about nature, however, she is transformed into a female divinity with consciousness and will.”

 

Henry Gee, Senior Editor for the science periodical ‘Nature,’ in an article on “concepts” in the December 2002 issue of ‘Nature’ (Vol. 420, p 611), argued that any concept of ‘progress’ used in relation to Darwinian evolution must be viewed as invalid, because a theory based upon chance simply does not support that concept. He tells us that the irrational concept of evolutionary progress exists widely, even among scientists, which he attributes to a “romanticism” that lies deeply rooted in “nature philosophy,” adding: “Perhaps there is a Nature Philosopher in all of us.” Undoubtedly he is right, but he was concentrating only on the conflict between the concept of ‘chance’ and the idea of ‘progress,’ of evolutionary “improvement” — what about all the rest of Darwin’s metaphors?

 

This then, is the problem that I wish to draw attention to here, because eventually the entire validity of Darwin’s theory must hang upon it. Since his day proponents of his theory have made the same frequent use of metaphor, of what is termed ‘intentional’ or ‘volitional’ language; language that suggests the workings in nature of a human-like consciousness. Writers like Stephen J. Gould, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, argue that this is merely a ‘convention’ established by Darwin himself and so fully acceptable in science. Dennett goes even further. In his book The Intentional Stance; he claims that Darwinists only use this language “as if” it were true, while knowing all the time that it is not. What would we think of a logician who claimed that in defending thesis ‘A’ (scientific materialism) he is justified in using the principal arguments from its antithesis ‘B’ (spiritual and mental causes) because otherwise he cannot prove the truth of ‘A’?  I suspect we would want to send him back to school in a hurry, to study basic logic.

 

But this is only the beginning of the problem, one that will lead us to question whether materialism itself can ever be a logically valid worldview

 

Mechanical Breakdown

There are two ways in which a failure may occur in nature; one involves the cessation of a physical process, as when a chemical reaction reaches completion, or a stream dries up, or a star passes through the many stages in the cycle of its existence. This is the kind of ‘failure’ that we expect to find in physics, in the inorganic realm, and is fully explainable in terms of the workings of ‘natural law’.

 

In biology, however, we are confronted with a different kind of failure: that of an organism which sickens or dies or otherwise malfunctions. The concept of physical cessation cannot explain this, except marginally in cases of starvation, but even then it leads to a breakdown of the organism’s functioning parts, like heart, brains or lungs. Illness and death then are failures of quite a different sort; they are of the kind that we normally associate with the breakdown of a machine. But you will recall that ‘mechanism’ is a human idea involving a human designer, and that Descartes was only able to attribute this idea to nature because he had included God the Designer in his plan. When science took God out of the equation, as was the case in the final version of Darwin’s theory, then all of the language of design ought to have gone out with Him. It did not, because without it the Darwinian theory just could not be seen to work. Instead we illegitimately enshrined the word ‘mechanism’ as a dictionary definition for scientific materialism, and continued on as if there was nothing wrong with what we were doing; but there was, and very much so.

 

Cornell University Professor William Provine puts the resulting thought pattern thus:

 

Modern science directly implies that the world is organized in accordance with mechanistic principles. There are no purposive principles whatever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable (note this final claim).

 

The problem here, of course, is that “mechanistic principles” are the principles that govern the construction of purposeful machines—for example rotary and reciprocal motion as used in a car engine—and so they become inseparable in our minds from the ‘idea’ of a man-made machine, and thus from the concept of human purpose. Because these principles exist in the natural world without an obvious purpose of their own, does not give us any ‘rationally detectable’ right in logic to use the ‘idea’ of mechanism in support of purely materialistic argument. By doing this we, like Provine, effectively insert a human idea into nature while remaining unaware of what it is that we have done. Just as with human creativity, such principles could only lead to the creation of ‘natural’ machines (organisms) by their being combined with Ideas, thereby giving all natural organisms a real purpose—like that of the human heart or lungs. The Darwinian theory, however, requires us to either ignore, or fail to notice, this subtle insertion. It desperately needs both functionality and purpose in nature, but it needs them to be hidden or in disguise, because it just cannot admit that nature contains real purposes and real Ideas. For then the question will arise: whose purposes and ideas are these? Not human to be sure, we did not create the natural world, but the fact that the theory must make use of human ideas in order to appear even credible shows us that something is very seriously wrong. It appears that we have made use of the word ‘mechanism,’ and of almost the entire sub-set of intentional words in language, to unconsciously smuggle human ideas into nature in place of the divine Ideas that we want to get rid of, because without ideas of some sort nature at the organic level just cannot be made to either function or fail. But it does function and fail, which means that the idea of ‘mechanism,’ or its organic and purposeful equivalent, must actually be present in nature. There is no way around it. The word or idea ‘mechanism’ will not help, except marginally perhaps in our own minds.  It has to be there in nature, and it cannot be there without purposes and Ideas. Just as without a Consciousness present in nature itself there can be no legitimate use of words like ‘selection.’ Putting the word ‘natural’ in front of ‘selection’ in no way alters this, the word still retains its intentional meaning, and the theory needs it to retain it, but it cannot admit this or it would all be over.

 

 In this light, consider the following widely circulated comparison, attributed to A.G. Cairns-Smith, which I think everyone will agree makes apples and oranges look like child’s play:

 

A machine is explained in terms of physics and chemistry plus (at least) an engineer.

 

An organism is explained in terms of physics and chemistry plus (at least) evolution through natural selection.

 

The purpose of this comparison seems to be to equate a human engineer with Natural Selection, and thereby to transfer to nature, in the mind of the reader at least, the creative ideas of an engineer. In this way a supposedly Mindless nature, thought of as being void of all Ideas of its own, is illegitimately given the mind and ideas of a trained engineer—a transfer that completely negates the comparison being attempted and becomes yet another example of logic gone completely astray. Were nature not Mindless it would have those creative Ideas in it anyway, and far greater ones besides, and so it would not need, by means of such a comparison, to surreptitiously borrow them from any human engineer. This kind of thinking, wherever it appears in relation to evolution, represents an abject failure to observe the simple rules of logic, the very last thing that science should be guilty of.

 

This is the effect that the use of intentional idioms in the Darwinian theory always creates.  The theory attempts to deny the presence of divine Ideas in nature by putting human ideas in their place, which is doubly ironic since many philosophers, both ancient and modern, tell us that nature is where we get our own ideas from in the first place. This partly unconscious but totally illicit substitution is hardly a promising basis for the development of science. And we were warned about it well in advance, see Thomas Sprat's 18th century work The History of the Royal Society:

 

Who can behold without indignation, how many

mists and uncertainties, these specious Tropes

and Figures have brought into our knowledg?

 

The Knowledge Problem

In a talk given to a ‘systematics’ group in America in 1981, Colin Patterson, Senior Palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, quoted from the work Darwin and the Problem of Creation, by the American historian Neal C. Gillespie, in which Gillespie had argued that Creationism was “not a research governing theory, since its power to explain is only verbal, but an anti-theory, a void that has the function of knowledge but conveys none.”  Patterson agreed with Gillespie on this, but then he added statements to the effect that the very same observation was true of Darwinism also, and that after studying Darwin’s theory for more than twenty years he had learned “not one thing”. He then challenged his audience to state one thing that they knew for sure from their Darwinian studies. A long silence followed before some humorist said: “We know that it ought not to be taught in high schools.”

 

As we have seen, there are very good grounds for Patterson’s assertion that Darwinism also is “not a research governing theory.”  They are: (1) that the theory is deeply contradictory in its use of language; (2) that the findings of any laboratory research project, or the observation of nature herself and of the fossil record, important though these may be in our understanding of the way that nature works, can do nothing to ‘prove’ the Darwinian theory itself, because all such findings and observations can just as readily be explained in terms of an indwelling Consciousness in nature. Only the theory itself, not the evidential facts, call for its absence, so it is only the interpretation of evidence and not the evidence itself that needs to be changed; (3) that the phrases ‘God did it’ and ‘Chance did it’ are equally useless in providing grounds for scientific research. As the British philologist the late Owen Barfield sagely asserted in his book Saving the Appearances:

 

 “Chance, in fact, equals no hypothesis” and to resort to it in the name of science means “that the impressive vocabulary of technological investigation [associated with evolutionary biology] was actually being used to denote its [science’s] breakdown; as though, because it is something that we can do with ourselves in water, drowning should be included as one of the ways of swimming”.

 

It is very clear that Patterson did not intend his remarks to be taken in support of Creationism, but that is what has since happened. Just about the only place that you will find his talk made available now is on Creationist web sites. Perhaps this is why he did not mention the matter in public again prior to his death in 1998.

 

Evolution vs. Creationism

Evolution itself is factually true, but the Darwinian theory itself is a logician’s worst nightmare (read also ‘Darwin, Barfield & Galileo’ at www.difficulttruths.com) and the evidence for it, when viewed in the light of what has been said here, is all but nonexistent. In any other realm of scientific enquiry the contradictions that this theory embraces would have led to its demise long ago, because once it is made conscious science cannot live with this kind of irrationality. Let me then repeat what this irrationality consists in: (1) Darwin’s own use of metaphorical and intentional language, now established as a ‘convention’ which certain defenders of the theory, notably Richard Dawkins, now make use of with considerable relish; (2) the maladoption of the word ‘mechanism,’ and with it all of the language of mechanical ‘design,’ to serve as a dictionary-authorized synonym for scientific materialism; (3) Dennett’s “as if” excuse; (4) Provine’s purposeless “mechanistic principles;” (5) because the concepts of ‘purpose’ and ‘design’ are inseparable, the widespread notion of ‘Designer-less design,’ promoted by Dawkins and others, translates directly into the oxymoronic concept of ‘purposeless purpose;’ (6) A.G. Cairns-Smith with his “apples and oranges” comparison (7) the now much discussed fact that the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ (not used by Darwin) is a logical tautology that has no value at all for knowledge. These, of course, are all different examples of the contradictory logic that underlies the entire Darwinian theory. It ought to be three strikes and you’re out, but such was the importance of this theory in the historical emancipation of science from religion that scientists have been more than willing to disregard these logical defects, extreme though they may be, and to try to turn them into seeming virtues; rather than face up to the fact that in any other realm of scientific enquiry irrationality on so broad a scale would long ago have proven fatal to a theory that contained it.

 

As was well documented in Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, there is a long and sad history connected with the development of the Darwinian theory, from the outright fraud of the Piltdown man through to numerous examples of wishful thinking in the guise of science including archaeopteryx and the peppered moth. What I have been discussing here, however, is neither a fraud nor an easily avoidable error, but it is the underlying cause in logic of all of the many problems that have beset Darwin’s theory from the outset, because it was this error alone that made the theory appear to be tenable, and, disturbing though it may be to many, it is an incontrovertible truth that a sound scientific theory cannot be based upon a false foundation in logic.

 

When in science and philosophy ‘God’ was removed from the Cartesian dichotomy (creating the seeming potential for a monism of matter), then the entire language of design should have been removed also—because retaining it had exactly the same effect as retaining God, but now in a hidden manner. It stands to reason that where creative language is used there must be a creator, and whether that creator is divine or human depends on what is being created. A machine is a human creation, and to simply universalise the word ‘mechanism’ by making appear to be a part of natural law, and then turn it into a dictionary authorized synonym for scientific materialism, is to indulge in the purest form of self-deception. A subtle one to be sure, because even idealists and religious thinkers were completely taken in by it and have since only used the word ‘mechanistic’ disparagingly to indicate lifeless thinking. They also have not realized (1) that its use was a major logical error, and (2) that without that error materialism would have been unable to present itself as a tenable worldview.

 

Given the seven logical fallacies cited above, therefore, it is clear that for Darwin’s logic to continue to prevail we must be willing to uncritically accept the proposition that, at least where science is concerned, there is no difference whatever between an intelligently creative act on the one hand, and an accidental event on the other—a proposition of such irrational audacity that it should leave us all completely speechless


Part II – The Solution

 

© 2006 Don Cruse

Don@inversionmixers.com