September 1, 2009

Darwinism and Some Catholics

Those who despise men, and put them on a level with the brutes, yet wish to be admired and believed by men,...contradict themselves by their own feelings. ---Blaise Pascal, Pensees,

To paraphrase Pope Pius XI, “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Darwinian.” Yet, Catholics can, and I think should, accept a moderate version of biological evolution. Extreme Darwinism, on the other hand, with its philosophical materialism, conflicts with fundamental doctrines of the Church and truths of the philosophia perennis. Specific areas of irreducible conflict stemming from Darwinian materialism are its denial of metaphysical reality, including the spiritual soul, free will and causality, such as final causes in nature.

The International Theological Commission (2004) commenting on John Paul’s 1996 letter on evolution, warns “there is no blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe."

Oddly, despite the clear position of the Church, I continue to encounter Catholic scientists who accept Darwinism, lock stock and barrel. They adamantly defend false Darwinian views such as the human and animal mind differ only in degree, and that the human moral sense is a product of evolution. These scientists simultaneously assent to, at least verbally, the Catholic belief in the spiritual soul, with a few actaully claiming the soul probably evolved from nature. I do not profess to understand this kind of intellectual schizophrenia in which scientists want to be both Catholic and card-carrying Darwinians. Perhaps, they are ultimately clueless regarding the difference between physical and metaphysical reality, and such terms as “spiritual soul” do not signify anything they properly grasp, however vaguely.

Whatever the case, I will discuss here the Darwinian view of the human mind, which the aforementioned Catholic scientists fail to see as critically flawed. One principal objection to an extreme Darwinian version of evolution that I will discuss is its claim that the difference between the human and animal mind is one of degree.[1] Darwin advocates this view in The Descent of Man. Darwin constructed his hypothesis based on a philosophical assumption about the nature of the human mind. Darwin's assertions about the human mind exceed the proper scope and competence of the natural sciences, and remain to date, unproven by any factual data.

It was approximately thirty years before publication of The Descent of Man, that Darwin adopted a materialist ideology through which he interpreted all natural phenomena, including the human mind. In one of the transmutation Notebooks Darwin 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.”

A crude materialism pre-determined Darwin’s later, apparent scientific conclusion about the human mind in his Descent. In other words, Darwin hardly based his conclusion on a strictly scientific and objective evaluation of factual data. Darwin's Notebook entries reveal his pre-investigative materialist assumptions about the human mind, which governed his post-investigative conclusions.
In Notebook M, Darwin says, “Thinking consists of sensation of images before your eyes, or ears,…or of memory of such sensation, & memory is repetition of whatever takes place in brain, when sensation is perceived.” Following the statement of thought as "secretion of brain", this perhaps, is the most thoughtless characterization of thought I have ever come across.

In Notebook B Darwin expresses his profound bias against the human mind: “People often talk of the wonderful event of intellectual man appearing.—the appearance of insects with other sense is more wonderful”[2]

In order to construct a theory in which humans and animals are all melted together in a strict phylogenetic continuum, (with no essential distinctions in regard to mind), Darwin had to reduce man to his biology and characterize thought in strictly physical terms. In addition, those characteristics generally considered unique or peculiar to man, such as reason and moral conscience, had to be asserted as existing in other animals at least in an incipient condition.

The following repesentative quote from The Descent of Man affords a sense of Darwin’s poorly reasoned argument for a mental continuum between man and the higher animals:

“Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuition, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals…If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., were absolutely peculiar to man, which seems extremely doubtful, it is not improbable that these qualities are merely the incidental of other highly advanced intellectual faculties; and these again mainly the result of the continued use of a perfect language.”

A close look at the text above may get a little tedious, but it is revealing nonetheless. Darwin asserts that a difference in degree between the mind of man and higher animals is certain. To whom is it certain? Darwin?

Darwin makes an admirable try at consistency by asserting that various human qualities exist, at least incipiently, in other animals. However, that every quality listed exists, at least incipiently in other animals, remains questionable and undemonstrated.

Oddly, Darwin is immediately less than certain about his position. That is, he next proposes the possibility that “certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., are absolutely peculiar to man.”

Consequently, the implication of Darwin's statement is the possibility remains that the human mind differs in kind rather than in degree from the higher animals. That is, to state “certain high mental powers” are possibly “absolutely peculiar to man” necessarily implies that these “high mental powers” cannot exist in any degree (incipient or well developed) in higher animals. Yet, this is the position Darwin is trying to refute.

Again, when Darwin states he is “extremely doubtful” anyone can prove that “certain high mental powers” are “absolutely peculiar to man” he qualifies his initial certainty. One cannot eliminate, at least as a possibility, that which is extremely doubtful. For example, there was a time when it was extremely doubtful the sun was at the “center” of the solar system.

In the final analysis, Darwin’s argument remains poorly stated, and fails to prove anything. This kind of situation is understandable whenever factual data do not fit well with the working hypothesis.

The statement that thought is a “secretion of brain” was too crude for T.H. Huxley. Huxley preferred a more refined expression of his equally materialist view: “Thought is as much a function of matter as motion is.”[3] Years later, Huxley also states, “There is every reason to believe that consciousness is a function of nervous matter, when that matter has attained a certain degree of organization, just as we know the other actions to which the nervous system ministers, such as reflex action, and the like, to be.”[4]

Huxley is more articulate than Darwin, but his term “function” is a generic and vacuous expression that says even less than does Darwin’s specific yet crude “secretions”. Nonetheless, the physical sciences reveal that the only functions of matter are movement or changes in matter. Huxley’s claim that consciousness is a function of matter represents no progress toward an exlanation of consciousness over that offered by ancient Greek Atomism.

If one anticipates better-reasoned arguments from contemporary Darwinians, reality will disappoint. Let us look at what Darwinian, Stephen J. Gould has to say about man’s difference in degree.

“By now, all readers of newspapers and watchers of television have learned of the striking initial successes of another way—communicating with chimps via sign language of the deaf and dumb. When Lana, star pupil of the Yerkes Laboratory, began to ask for the names of objects she had not previously seen, can we any longer deny to chimps the capacity to conceptualize and to abstract?”[5]

Gould merely assumes what the Yerkes experiment actually proves, which is to be expected since he apparently lacks the kind knowledge needed for correctly interpretating the cognitive abilities revealed by the study. That is, perceptual thinking and perceptual generalizations are sufficient to explain the chimp’s behavior. To presume the chimp manifested conceptual thinking and conceptual abstractions, as Gould does, is an unwarranted resort to cognitive principles of a higher order.

Gould, himself, does not demonstrate an adequate understanding of the genuine epistemological difference between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge--knowledge of the particular versus knowledge of the universal. In sum, primitive and simplistic sign language communication based on sensual apprehension, sense memory, and perceptual generalizations, is a fundamentally different type of communication than propositional speech specific to man, which in turn is dependent on cognitive powers of a higher order.

Of the confirmed biological closeness of man and ape, Gould says, “A fine paradox, for although I have argued strongly that our distinctions are matters of degree only, we are still very different animals. If the overall genetic distance is so small, then what has caused such a divergence in form and behavior?” Gould speculates that, “The answer must be that certain kinds of genes have far reaching effects---they must influence the entire organism, not just single traits.”
Understanding of genetics progresses, but Gould implies an unwarranted assumption—that the natural sciences, at least in principle, can explain all the mysteries of human nature. In addition, the proselytizing Gould believes that if we give up our “antiquated concept of the soul”, we will “gain a more humble, even exalting vision of our oneness with nature.”[6] Is it not an inherently contradictory and perverse belief that reducing man to his biology results in an exalting vision?

The materialism that Darwin and his followers confuse with their science necessarily precludes them from correctly understanding the human mind and man’s true place in nature. Some Catholic scientists need to think critically about evolution theory, identify that which is of genuine scientific value, and decant the dregs of Darwinian pseudo-philosophical ideology. First, though, they should try to understand what it is that the Church teaches.

[1] Evolutionists such as Gaylord Simpson may appear to be an exception with their view that says man differs in kind from higher animals in mind, but differs in degree in body. While this represents an improvement over Darwin’s formulation, Simpson’s difference in kind is not a radical difference in kind (a difference that admits of no continuity between man and higher animals). His difference in kind is reducible to an underlying physiological difference in degree.
[2] Darwin’s Notebook statements are quoted in Angels, Apes, and Men by Stanley L. Jaki
[3] Macmillan’s Mag., May 1870
[4] Contemp. Rev., Nov. 1871
[5] Ever Since Darwin, Norton, 1979; p. 51
[6] Ibid. p. 54

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