August 23, 2009

Was Darwin a Philosopher?

Inarguably, Charles Robert Darwin was a brilliant investigator in the fields of biology and geology. But was he also a philosopher? The eminent Darwinist, Ernst Mayr says Darwin, “was clearly one of the greatest philosophers of all times.” However, I will show to the contrary that Mayr’s claim is completely unfounded, and that Darwin was not a philosopher at all.

First, let us look at Mayr’s statement. In This is Biology he says,

“Scores of philosophers have endeavored to formulate principles by which our understanding of the world could be advanced (or, as it was often said, how truth could be found). Among those usually listed are Descartes, Leibnitz, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hershel, Whewell, Mill, Jevons, Mach, Russell, and Popper. Curiously, the name of Darwin is rarely included in such a list, even though he was clearly one of the greatest philosophers of all times. In fact, to a large extent the modern philosophy of biology was founded by Darwin.”(1)


The idea that Darwin “was clearly one of the greatest philosophers of all times” ought to give pause to anyone who understands the differences between philosophy and the natural sciences. That the usual lists of philosophers omit Darwin is not the result of historical oversight, but of philosophical insight.(2) Historian of science, Dr. Charles Singer says, “Darwin was an investigator of the very first rank, but he was inexpert in the exact use of language, and had little philosophical insight.”

Let us consider the only statement Mayr offers in support of his claim: “[T]o a large extent the modern philosophy of biology was founded by Darwin.” There are a few problems with Mayr’s statement. First, there is an ambiguity in Mayr’s use of the singular: “the modern philosophy of biology”. Does he recognize only one modern philosophy of biology? Whatever Mayr intends, the fact that a philosophy of biology is “modern” or allegedly “founded by Darwin” is no guarantee of its truth, logical consistency and explanatory power. The great influence of Darwin’s ideas and their truth are independent values. But this is a different argument.

More to the present point, any philosophy that is a philosophy of biology only, and founded primarily on Darwinism, is not a universal philosophy, but one that risks, rather, being a limited, ad hoc system that sees reality piecemeal. We can better grasp the nature of this problem by contrasting the idea of a well-seasoned, universal philosophical system capable of incorporating sound evolutionary concepts as consistent with its metaphysical principles, and contributing, as well, to their fuller explanation.


Third, from the assertion, “modern philosophy of biology was founded by Darwin”, it does not necessarily follow that Darwin was a philosopher. Though Darwin interprets nature through a philosophical materialism, his works are primarily scientific. His theory of evolution is philosophical just as is any theory that connects facts over great distances and periods of time. This kind of vision, according to Darwin’s colleague T.H. Huxley, is a metaphysical vision, a “sort of philosophic faith”. If Darwin had been philosophically inclined he would have appreciated Huxley’s valid insight.(3)

Historian of philosophy Frederick Copleston says, “Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82) was a naturalist, not a philosopher…Being a naturalist, Darwin was sparing of philosophical speculation and devoted himself primarily to working out a theory of evolution based on the available empirical evidence.”(4)

Copleston distinguishes between a professional philosopher who makes excursions into science, and the professional scientist who makes excursions into philosophy. For example, Herbert Spencer was a philosopher, not a scientist, who made excursion into science. Thomas Huxley was a professional scientist who made excursions into philosophy. Darwin was a naturalist without any philosophical undertakings.

Historian of science, Benjamin Farrington exposes Darwin’s lack of philosophical ability. Farrington shows the defects in Darwin’s treatment of the human mind, culture and morality, concluding, “[I]t is well to remember that knowledge cannot be advanced merely by observation. The most brilliant observer still needs to have a mental grasp of the subject of his investigations. This Darwin had in a unique degree in the geological and biological sphere: he was a superb naturalist. But it deserted him in the human sphere. He was a poor philosopher.”(5)

Darwin put his faith in philosophical materialism and consistently applied his ideology to the interpretation of all phenomena of life, including the human mind. However, since he did not think out his materialist views, they were laden with insuperable contradictions. For example, in one of his early transmutation Notebooks, he wrote,

“Love of the deity of organization, oh you materialist!...Why is thought being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity a property of matter? It is our arrogance, our admiration of ourselves.”(6)

Here we see Darwin’s crude materialism rent with the irony of using mind to emasculate the mind itself and thereby reduce man to his physical nature. If thought is a merely a “secretion of brain”, Darwin probably never wondered how it is that the brain secretes Greek in Athens and French in Paris. With Darwin, this is as good as philosophy gets.

Darwin was on a self-appointed mission to bring the human mind into a continuum with the other animals. In one of his early Notebooks he says,

“To study Metaphysics…appears to me to be like puzzling at Astronomy without Mechanics. – Experience shows [that] the problem of the mind cannot be solved by attacking the citadel [the mind] itself. – the mind is a function of the body. – we must bring some stable foundation to argue from.”

The Descent of Man was that foundation with which Darwin attempted to show the existence of a mental continuum between man and the anthropoid apes.(7) One can see why Darwin tended to slight metaphysics. A realistic metaphysics of nature that treats man as a rational animal would pose serious obstacles to Darwin’s characterization of man as a brute animal. Darwin’s early Notebooks contain deprecating remarks about metaphysics. For example, he says, “He who understands baboon would do more toward metaphysics than Locke.”

Darwin’s assumption of a phylogenetic continuity between man and the higher animals has a history in the works of Buffon, Bonnet, Soame Jenyns, and especially Robinet. This principle of unbroken continuity allows for a difference in degree only between man and the anthropomorphous apes and higher animals. We can accurately characterize Darwin’s continuum as a conversion of the Leibnizian principle of continuity into a temporal law of biological development. A true philosopher would at least attempt to address the metaphysical dilemmas resulting from a biological continuum of this sort.

Two of Darwin’s notable contemporaries, Alfred Russell Wallace and St-George Mivart prudently refused to follow Darwin into his philosophical morass about the human mind. In addition, the eminent geologist, Charles Lyell revealed to Darwin his justifiable reservations, “struggling to rationalize immortal man’s origin from the beast. Was kinship limited to ‘the animal nature of man,’ with his ‘Moral & Intellectual & Creative part’ created unique?” Lyell wanted “a ‘moral’ flash at the birth of the species; a sacred instant when the gift of immortality was bestowed.”(8)

Most significantly, the foregoing controversy serves to lay bare the fact that Darwin lacked “even a modest amount of clarity about the limits of the validity of the scientific method.”(9) Unrestrained by any sense of the proper scope and competence of biology, Darwin conflated his materialist ideology with evolutionary science. The following statement from leading Darwinist, the late Stephen J. Gould, makes this point obvious:

“I believe that the stumbling block to [the acceptance of Darwinian evolution] does not lie in any scientific difficulty, but rather in the philosophical content of Darwin’s message – in its challenge to a set of entrenched Western attitudes that we are not yet ready to abandon. First, Darwin argues that evolution has no purpose. Individuals struggle to increase the representation of their genes in future generations, and that is all…second, Darwin maintained that evolution has no direction; it does not lead inevitably to higher things. Organisms become better adapted to their local environments, and that is all. The “degeneracy” of a parasite is as perfect as the gait of the gazelle. Third, Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature. Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity.”(10)

Despite Mayr’s enthusiasm for Darwinian ideology, the mere bias of interpreting the processes of nature through the lens of a simplistic and mechanistic (Cartesian) materialism does not make one a philosopher. Darwin’s failure to understand the epistemological limits of the scientific method suggests he lacked any metaphysical perspective on the natural sciences.


In addition, that Darwin considered Herbert Spencer to be one of the greatest philosophers of all times reveals a deficiency in philosophical understanding.(11) Spencerian philosophy enjoyed a relatively extensive yet transient popularity. Spencer was in no sense a great philosopher. Considerably more influential today than the works of Herbert Spencer are the philosophical writings of another Englishman, John Stuart Mill.(12)

Most importantly, the Origin of Species reveals Darwin’s interminable confusion regarding species. Darwin was, as it appears from his works, unaware of the plentiful philosophical discussions throughout history about universals, particulars, and species. Despite such critical distinctions disappearing into the Darwinian flux, the philosophical problems remain. A contemporary of Darwin, the eminent naturalist at Harvard, Louis Agassiz, perceived the species problem following publication of the Origin of Species:

“If species do not exist at all, as the supporters of the transmutation theory maintain, how can they vary? And if individuals alone exist, how can the differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of species?”(13) The problems Agassiz called attention to are not adequately resolved by Darwinists and the “modern philosophy of biology.”

I doubt that Darwin would have agreed to anyone labeling him a philosopher. He realized that abstract thinking was not one of his strong points: “My power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited; and therefore I could never have succeeded with metaphysics or mathematics.”(14)

Again, in a letter to Miss Julia Wedgwood (July 11, 1681), Darwin makes the following comment:

“Some one has sent us Macmillan, and I must tell you how much I admire your Article, though at the same time I must confess that I could not clearly follow you in some parts, which probably is in the main part due to my not being at all accustomed to metaphysical trains of thought.”(15)

In summary, Darwin was not “accustomed to metaphysical trains of thought”; he was “sparing of philosophical speculation” and produced no works of philosophy. Hence, no historian of philosophy of any repute would elevate Darwin to the pantheon of philosophers. It should be clear that Darwin was a great naturalist, but in no sense a philosopher.

--------------------------------------------------------
Endnotes:

1) 1997, p. 46.
2) Those familiar with the history of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, will recognize the obvious atypical character of Mayr’s “usual list of philosophers”. Mayr has stacked to support his argument.
3) See “Biogenesis and Abiogenesis” in Discourses: Biological and Geological, T. H. Huxley. I first learned of Huxley’s insightful comments from Stanley Jaki’s works.
4) A History of Philosophy, Vol. VIII, Bentham to Russell.
5) What Darwin Really Said; Schocken Books, 1966.
6) Cited by Richard Dawkins.
7) Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, Desmond & Moore; Warner Books; 1991, p. 268-269.
8) Desmond & Moore, p. 472.
9) The Savior of Science, Stanley L. Jaki; Regnery Gateway, 1988, p. 7.
10) Ever Since Darwin; Norton, 1977, p. 12-13.
11) E.g., in the Descent of Man (chap. IV) Darwin refers to Spencer as “Our great philosopher”.
12) See F. Copleston.
13) Quoted by S. L. Jaki.
14) The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, Edited by Francis Darwin; Prometheus Books, 2000, p. 55. Note: first philosophy or metaphysics, the primary discipline of the true philosopher, involves intellectual abstraction of the highest order.
15) Autobiography, p. 66.

August 8, 2009

The Early Church on Abortion

"The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. . . . Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born." (Letter of Barnabas, Chap 19 v. 5; A.D. 74)

*

"And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion." (Apocalypse of Peter 25; A.D. 137)

*



"You shall not kill an unborn child or murder a newborn infant." (Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Chap. 2.; 2nd cent.)

*

"What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers? . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it."What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God's care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life." (A Plea for the Christians, Chap. 35; Athenagoras; A.D. 177)

*

"In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed." (Apology Ch. 9, v. 8; Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus; A.D. 197)


"Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. "There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] "the slayer of the infant," which of course was alive. . . . "[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive." (Treatise on the Soul, Chap. 25; Tertullian; A.D. 210)

"Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. (Treatise on the Soul, Chap. 27; Tertullian)

"The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion."[Ex. 21:22–24] (Treatise on the Soul, Ch. 37.; Tertullian)

*

"There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods. . . . To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide." (Octavius Chp. 30; A.D. 226; Minucius Felix)

*

"Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!" (Refutation of All Heresies, Bk 9, Ch.7; A.D. 228; St. Hippolytus of Rome)

*

"When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but he warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. . . . Therefore, let no one imagine that even this is allowed, to strangle newly-born children, which is the greatest impiety; for God breathes into their souls for life, and not for death. But men, that there may be no crime with which they may not pollute their hands, deprive [unborn] souls as yet innocent and simple of the light which they themselves have not given."Can anyone, indeed, expect that they would abstain from the blood of others who do not abstain even from their own? But these are, without any controversy, wicked and unjust." (Divine Institutes, Bk. 6, Ch. 20; A.D. 307; Lactantius)

*

"Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees." (Canon 21; A.D. 314; Council of Ancyra)

*

"Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not." (First Canonical Letter, Canon 2; St. Basil the Great; A.D. 374)

"A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder. And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not admissible amongst us." (Letters, 188; St. Basil the Great)

"He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees." (ibid., Canon 8; St. Basil the Great)

*

"Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? (where there are many efforts at abortion? (where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine." (Homilies on Romans 24; St. John Chrysostom; A.D. 391)

*

"I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother. . . . Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder." (Letters 22, Para. 13; St. Jerome; A.D. 396)

*

"Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. . . . [I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed." (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3; A.D. 400)

*

"Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born." (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Bk.1, Ch.17 (15); St. Augustine of Hippo; 419-420 A.D.)

"Hence in the first place arises a question about abortive conceptions, which have indeed been born in the mother's womb, but not so born that they could be born again. For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified? But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting, any more than the blemishes which time did bring shall be present: so that the nature shall neither want anything suitable and in harmony with it that length of days would have added, nor be debased by the presence of anything of an opposite kind that length of days has added; but that what is not yet complete shall be completed, just as what has been injured shall be renewed." (Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love; Ch. 85; St. Augustine of Hippo;421 A.D.)

*

"It is never licit to give something that will cause an abortion. As Hippocrates points out, it is not fitting that the innocent office of a doctor be stained by complicity in such a serious offense. But if they attempt to avoid the birth on account of either a defect in their womb or the difficulties associated with their age, they greatly risk their lives to earn their health just as one risks killing the tree by applying something to the branches or boats which are tossed about by a storm must throw away their cargo." (Euporiston III, VI, 23; 4th - 5th cent. A.D.)

August 5, 2009

Why Darwin Matters

I picked up a copy of Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Owl Books, 2006) by Michael Shermer, to see what arguments he uses against Intelligent Design theorists. Shermer’s position is that ID involves bad science and flawed theology, and that conservatives as well as people of faith should accept evolution. I can agree with that statement, at least on its surface. That is, I wondered whether Shermer provides convincing arguments to support his position. Does he offer good science? What are Shermer’s philosophical views? Overall, what I found is that many of Shermer’s arguments are reasonable while perhaps an even greater number are seriously flawed. I will provide my take on select arguments and show in the process Why Darwin Matters is, in its own way, no less weird of a book than the absurd creationist text Of Pandas and People.

Shermer’s personal views migrated during his life from one extreme to its opposite, from an active evangelical Christian creationist to a devoted materialist Darwinian. Now there is a transmutation radical enough to make one’s head spin. Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of several books including Why People Believe Weird Things. I have not read the best-seller, Why People Believe Weird Things, but I thought it mildly ironic that Shermer believes some weird things himself such as that complexly organized matter can think. This is a common Darwinian position, and a commonly held error throughout modern secularized cultures. Its significance in Why Darwin Matters is that while Shermer often brings to the reader attention the distinction between theology and science he fails to distinguish his own Darwinian ideology from Darwinian evolutionary science.

Shermer claims that religion and science can coexist and that people of faith should accept evolution, which provides scientific support for religious beliefs. However, Shermer’s materialist brand of evolution is at fundamental odds with theistic religion. Asserting that people of faith should accept a materialist version of evolution as being supportive of their religious beliefs is a weird sales pitch by any reasonable standard.


In Why Darwin Matters Shermer begins the chapter “Why People Do Not Accept Evolution” with a quote from William Jennings Bryan’s closing statement in the Scopes trial of 1925:

“The real attack of evolution, it will be seen, is not upon orthodox Christianity or even upon Christianity, but upon religion—the most basic fact in man’s existence and the most practical thing in life. If taken seriously and made the basis of a philosophy of life, it would eliminate love and carry man back to a struggle of tooth and claw.”

Shermer tries to show that criticisms of the type expressed by Bryan in the Scopes trial are unwarranted. Oddly enough, Shermer makes statements about the Darwinian revolution that legitimate Bryan’s argument against Darwinian evolution. About the Darwinian revolution, Shermer says,

“The theory of top-down intelligent design of all life by or through a supernatural power was replaced with the theory of bottom-up natural design through natural forces. The anthropocentric view of humans as special creations placed by a divine hand above all others was replaced with the view of humans as just another animal species. The view of life and the cosmos as having direction and purpose from above was replaced with the view of the world as the product of the necessitating laws of nature and the contingent events of history. The view that human nature is infinitely malleable and primarily good was replaced with a view of human nature in which we are finitely restricted by our genes and are both good and evil (Prologue p. xxii).”

The quote paraphrases Ernst Mayr, the leading Darwinian of our time, in The Growth of Biological Thought. The view of humans as “just another animal species” assumes a strict phylogenetic continuity of Homo sapiens with the anthropoid apes. It is a view of human nature that fails to recognize that about man which makes him different in kind, and not just in degree, from the rest of the animal kingdom. It treats of man’s body but not his intellect. To include man within the animal kingdom is irreconcilable with the Judeo-Christian understanding of human nature. The pre-Darwinian classifications that placed man in a separate kingdom is scientifically and philosophically more accurate than the current classification that includes man within the animal kingdom, the continuity of the human body with lower animal forms notwithstanding. That man alone is capable of propositional speech requires recognizing him as radically different in kind from the other animals. And it is not clear whom Shermer and Mayr think holds the view that “human nature is infinitely malleable.”

Nonetheless, Shermer emphatically denies that evolution implies there is no God or that it undermines the basis of morality (p. 24). Is this Darwinian doublespeak? There are mixed issues here that I will try to unravel for the purpose of clarification. First, evolutionary science, when it remains within the province and limits of natural science, has nothing to say about God’s existence. Neither does it provide a threat to the basis of morality. Sound evolutionary science (fundamentalist/creationist counter-arguments notwithstanding) is consistent with Revelation. In this sense, Shermer’s statement is true. The truths of science, including evolutionary science, cannot contradict the truths of Revelation or belief in God.

On the other hand, Darwinians show a lack of scientific discipline whenever they assert positions that go beyond what science can prove. For example, Darwinians assume the mind of man does not differ radically in kind from that of anthropoid apes and higher animals; and the human “moral sense” (a flawed concept in itself), is a chance by-product of evolution.


Shermer’s denial that evolution implies there is no God or that it undermines the basis of morality rings hollow since the materialist version of evolution he is proffering necessarily implies a denial of God’s existence and undermines traditional moral values. This is not to say that evolution itself is false. It is to argue, rather, that the materialist interpretation of evolution is false. This means there is not just one theory of evolution. There are various theories of evolution. Darwin’s Descent notwithstanding, evolution cannot completely account for the origin of man. While the human body undoubtedly has a history in the natural processes of nature, evolution cannot explain that which makes man unique, his non-material intellect. That is a subject for theology and philosophy.

On the other hand, ID is in no sense (I almost said ID is nonsense) the answer to Darwinian ideology. The natural or positive sciences do not deal with causality at the level of intelligent design. The province of science remains restricted to the phenomenal or sensible level of reality in its operations and changes. The phenomenal order is the changing, diverse surface of physical reality, which science classifies, correlates, measures, and systematizes.

We discern or infer intelligent design at the deeper level of intelligible or noumenal reality, not at the phenomenal surface of accidents, where our knowledge of things in their sensory qualities begins. The intelligible or noumenal constitution of natural beings includes, in part, substance (that which stands under and supports accidental being). Philosophic discernment grasps sensible beings in their principles and causes.

To discern intelligent design or purpose in nature is a philosophic or intuitive capacity possessed by the common person. This knowledge remains outside the scope and competence of the special sciences that study phenomenal reality only. To be sure, to maintain that nature reflects intelligent design is not to affirm the creationist version of intelligent design advocated by Intelligent Design theorists, i.e. Behe, Dembski, et al. This is where we see how confused Intelligent Design theorists are about the proper role of the special sciences, philosophy, and theology; and also as to what constitutes good science and sound philosophical principles. "Irreducible complexity" remains a failed hypothesis.

Science Under Attack

In the chapter, “Science under Attack” Shermer discusses a few different court cases involving “creation science” and evolution. Concerning the 2005 Kitzmiller case (Dover Area School District), reading Why Darwin Matters reminded me of how embarrassed I felt at the time by the actions of the otherwise respectable Thomas More Law Center (TMLC). TMLC incited the case by recommending that biology teachers supplement their standard textbook with that ridiculous creationist text Of Pandas and People. It is no answer to the materialism of Darwinian evolution to promote a sectarian view of creation in the science class. We should challenge errors only with truth, not with a different set of errors. TMLC was beyond its competence and expertise in the Kitzmiller case.

Shermer says, “If Iders eschew all attempts to provide a naturalistic explanation for life, they abandon science altogether (p.53).” I can agree with Shermer’s statement, which he presents in the context of explaining methodological naturalism. Oddly, Shermer’s next statement is, “There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is only the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain.” To deny, as opposed to ignoring, the existence of the supernatural entails philosophical naturalism or metaphysical materialism—so much for Shermer’s spiel about methodological naturalism. Shermer seriously errs if he thinks methodological naturalism requires philosophical naturalism.

Shermer’s philosophical statement quoted above implies the non-existence of God. Darwinians are no more content to keep their ideology distinct from science than IDers are content to keep their ideology out of the science curriculum. Darwinians, creationists and ID theorists will lock horns for as long as Darwinians insist on their materialist interpretation of evolution, and creationists and ID theorists insist on denying scientific facts.

Why Science Cannot Contradict Religion

In the chapter “Why Science Cannot Contradict Religion”, Shermer quotes from the 1996 encyclical Truth Cannot Contradict Truth by Pope John Paul II. Shermer is trying to make a case for Christians to accept evolution by showing that the Church accepts evolution. Shermer says,


“Evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, and by accepting—and embracing—the theory of evolution, Christians and conservatives strengthen their religion, their politics, and science itself (p. 138).”

The main problem with Why Darwin Matters is that Shermer presents a type of evolutionary theory that contradicts the truths of the Catholic faith and sound philosophy. The Darwinian belief that the human moral sense is a product of evolution gives a pseudo-scientific basis for moral relativism. It denies the objective foundation of moral values, the natural moral law, taught by the Stoics and the Judeo-Christian tradition.


Shermer says,

“[M]oral sentiments evolved in our Paleolithic ancestors living in small communities. Subsequently, religion identified these sentiments, labeled them, and codified rules about them.”

That quote is ripe for some serious historical and philosophical criticism. I will address by itself the Darwinian’s relativist view of moral values in a subsequent post.

Shermer then makes the shameless claim: “Evolution also explains evil, original sin, and the Christian model of human nature (p.131)”

Shermer is actually advocating a pseudo-scientific reduction of evil and original sin to the chance activities of natural selection and genetics, a physicalist and soulless view of human nature, and a Christianity in which God does not truly exist. Shermer is right when he said science cannot contradict religion, but what he is promoting is not science. Shermer is selling an atheistic worldview decked out in the pseudo-scientific garb of materialist evolutionary theory.

The Church accepts evolution, but Shermer is being disingenuous by refusing to point out that the Vatican has specifically rejects the kind of views that he advocates in Why Darwin Matters, that is, a materialist version of evolution and a cosmology of nothing but irreducible chance and randomness, which gave rise to the laws of nature. Shermer is well aware of the following statement by Pope John Paul II: "It is clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy. These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity."

On another note, Shermer wrongly states that Cardinal Schönborn, in a July 2005 NYT opinion editorial, “told Catholics that the Church does not accept evolution (p. 113).” Many people as well as Shermer have carelessly taken Cardinal Schönborn’s use of the phrase “intelligent design” as his approval of Intelligent Design theory and rejection of evolution. Cardinal Schönborn was merely rejecting any philosophy of evolution that denies purpose and design. Schönborn explains his views further in
Chance or Purpose: Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith.

The Anthropic Principle

Shermer considers the best scientific argument that creationists and Intelligent Design theorists have in their arsenal to be the following:

“The universe is finely tuned and delicately balanced to support life. Change any number of physical parameters or initial conditions of the universe by even the tiniest amount, and life would not be possible. Fine tuning implies that there is a fine tuner, an Intelligent Designer, a God (p. 54).”

Shermer’s rebuttal, briefly stated is that the universe


(1) is not so finely tuned for life because most of the universe is empty space, and what little matter exists is inhospitable to life;

(2) we are finely tuned for the universe rather than conversely; and it is possible a different form of life could have evolved based on another physics (Sagan);

(3) our universe may not be exceptional because string theory allows for 10500 possible worlds;

(4) that until we have a unified theory of physics connecting the quantum world to the cosmic world of general relativity, “we cannot conclude that there is something beyond nature to explain the anthropic principle"; and

(5) we may live in a multiverse, in which our universe is just one of many bubble universes.

First, it is misguided to consider the anthropic principle to be a scientific argument for the existence of an Intelligent Designer. That is, astronomy and physics provide a theory about the age, constitution and expansion of the universe, but to argue that the specificity of the universe is evidence for God involves a philosophical inference from scientific evidence.


Furthermore, the specificity of the universe, which made human life possible, is not scientific proof or evidence that God created the universe for man. It is, rather, scientific evidence that is consistent with or supportive of an existing theological belief. Our scientific knowledge of cosmic origin terminates where the laws of physics and time as quantifiable break down. Thus, the Big Bang theory, as a scientific theory, cannot prove a theological viewpoint. The Big Bang is merely consistent with or supportive of the Judeo-Christian belief that the universe was created in time. In addition, many Christians, such as ID theorist Stephen C. Meyer, mistakenly equate the initial singularity with creatio ex nihilo itself.

The theological belief that God created the universe for man is part of the truth. Theologically, it is more accurate to say that creation is primarily for the glory of God, and for man's use.

Concerning Shermer’s first listed objection to the anthropic principle, I think the vast and inhospitable character of the universe is what it has to be in order for conditions to arise that are amenable to carbon-based life. Change any factor of the universe, such as its size, gravity, and so on, and life will not be possible.

Also, Shermer's objection is disingenuous. Even if the entire universe was carbon-based life friendly, Shermer would not accept the anthropic principle. He would merely dodge the issue by referring to the hypothetical possibility of numerous universes that are inhospitable to life, and claim we just happened to be the one universe that got lucky.

Christians, when considering what may be the Creator's reason for creating such a vast universe, should keep in mind that there is a purpose for the universe at the end of time, when God transforms the cosmos. This currently hidden purpose will be revealed at the end of time. The greatest cosmological transmutation or evolutionary event is yet to come. Unfortunately, this is not a subject important enough to capture the interest of materialist Shermer and his ilk. My discussion has clearly ventured out of the scientific realm and into theological speculation.

Shermer’s remaining four reasons are far too speculative and lack any supporting evidence to be considered counter-arguments to the anthropic principle. For instance, there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of multiple universes or multi-verses, as if there could be more than one uni-verse.

As with any scientific theory, we must make the best judgement on how nature appears to us at the time. String theory, for now at least, is too theoretical. Shermer also objects to the anthropic principle by citing Hawking’s idea of spontaneous creation of tiny universes out of nothing. However, Hawking’s idea of little pop-up universes belongs in the round basket along with other metaphysical impossibilities such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.


One should consider whether a speculative theory about the universe is the result of genuine scientific curiosity, or is it rather the product of a desire to put one’s faith in an imaginary universe in which there is no place for God or a First Cause. (Imagine there’s no religion...)

Closing remarks

In summary, Shermer does not present any serious counter-arguments to the anthropic principle. I will continue this post with a discussion of the Darwinian error that claims the human “moral sense” is a product of evolution. This error merits extended pummeling before I lay it to rest
.

Recommended reading:
Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo

Chance or Purpose: Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith

last edited 08/23/09

Share This