WAS DARWIN WRONG?
Yes — His Logic was Fatally Flawed
by Don Cruse
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. My task here will be to suggest that a similar revolution is overdue in biology, and that when it comes it will not challenge evolution itself, but 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.
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 single word ‘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 and Natural Selection went on to do its work alone. 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, which is what has since happened — but at considerable cost to the idea of there being a higher than individual purpose to human existence.
The absence of a Designer, however, created a logical dilemma that 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 so to deny the existence of divine Ideas in nature. 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 had arisen for Darwin himself, although he only barely noticed it. It is indeed subtle, yet a more total contradiction will not be found in all of logic. 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.
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 it 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 there it leads to a breakdown in the organism’s functioning parts, like hearts, 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 ‘mechanism’. 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 enshrined the word ‘mechanism’ as a dictionary definition of 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 this way:
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.
The problem here, of course, is that “mechanistic principles” are the principles that govern the construction of purposeful machines, and so they are inseparable in our minds both from the ‘idea’ of a machine, and from the concept of ‘purpose’. And to suggest that they exist in the natural world without either ‘purpose’ or ‘Ideas,’ just makes no rational sense, our minds are just being played with. Such principles could only meaningfully exist in nature in conjunction with both purposes and Ideas, but the Darwinian theory needs us not to notice this. It needs both functionality and purpose in nature, but it needs them, as it were, in disguise, because it cannot admit that nature contains real ‘purposes’ and real ‘Ideas.’ For then the question will arise, whose ideas? Not human ideas to be sure, we did not create the natural world, but the fact that the theory makes use of human ideas in order to appear even credible begins to look very suspicious indeed. 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. Were nature not Mindless it would have those creative Ideas in it anyway, and far greater ones besides, and so it would not need 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.
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 went on to challenge his audience to tell him one thing that they knew for sure from their Darwinian studies. There followed a long silence, before some humorist interjected “we know that it ought not to be taught in high schools.”
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, not the evidential facts themselves, call for its absence—so only the interpretation of evidence and not the evidence itself 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 Owen Barfield correctly 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 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 kind of 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 same basic contradiction 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 even try to turn them into 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 any theory that contained it.
It is reasonable to suggest that as the twenty-first century progresses biology will gradually catch up with physics and will awaken to the now inevitable conclusion, as expressed in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, that “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff”. This will inevitably be a tremendous wrench; however, it will have the same kind of impact on human thought that the Copernican revolution once had — as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described it:
“Perhaps a greater demand has never been made upon mankind; for by this admission [that the earth is not the centre of the universe], how much else did not collapse in dust and smoke: a second paradise, a world of innocence, poetry, and piety, the faith; no wonder men had no stomach for all this, that they ranged themselves in every way against such a doctrine…”
Stephen J. Gould has argued that there is no necessary conflict between science and religion, that they are merely talking about different things. That may be, but there is no denying that Darwinism has all but vanquished the Creator God from modern religious discourse, leaving only the Saviour God for those who still believe. A development in the reverse direction, which I see to be inevitable, might well increase our respect for religion, but it would not mean that science must return to its religious roots. Too much time has passed for that to happen, during which science has made enormous progress in other realms of knowledge, realms in which there is no immediate conflict in causal logic.
In order to solve the problem of origins, however, science must, for the first time in nearly two centuries, again begin to take the possibility of spiritual causes in nature seriously. This will require that the concept of ‘empiricism’ be expanded beyond the realm of sense observation to include observations made in the realm of ‘Ideas,’ as it was in the work of Goethe, the great German poet/scientist, whose genius gave the world the basis for a non-materialistic epistemology. One based on the realization that both sense perception and imaginative thought, if properly disciplined, can lead to scientific objectivity.
“Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study.” Alfred North Whitehead
© 2005 Don Cruse
Don Cruse was born in 1933 in London, England, grew up there during the war years and now lives in retirement on a farm in central Alberta, Canada. He is married with four adult children and three grandchildren. He has been a student of anthroposophy now for nearly fifty years, and considers 'The Philosophy of Freedom' to be Rudolf Steiner's most important single work.[email protected]
By Don Cruse: 'Evolution and the New Gnosis, Anti-establishment Essays on Knowledge Science, Religion and Causal Logic' (ISBN 0-595-22445-8)
Why Darwinism is the result of a serious error in verbal logic. (essays 3,4,8,19, 11 & 21).
Why 'goodness' not 'truth' should be the principal concern of religion. (essay 16)
Democracy is often defined as the 'rule of law', but if the law itself is unjust it is tyranny that rules. How may we ensure that only just laws can exist? What constitutes a sufficient 'theory of legal obligation?' (essay 18).
Many of these essays have been published by Southern Cross Review and may be found in our archives (back issues).