Tue, 12 Mar 2019
- It is philosophically wrong, because even some non-sloppy thinking combined with common sense is all you need to dismiss it.
- It is scientifically wrong, because the more science progresses (the more we discover about molecular biology, for example), the more Darwinism loses the little plausibility it had left.
- It is morally wrong, because the kind of materialism and (false) postulations about nature Darwinism promotes imply an abhorrent world view that acts like poison on human morality; as such, it paved the way for Nazism, Stalinism, postmodernism and today’s nihilist, almost psychopathic outlook on life in general.
In the first part of this series, we’ll look at Darwin’s theory from the philosophical angle. Philosophy promotes rigorous thinking, the detection of gross errors in reasoning and the ability to hold different and conflicting ideas in mind without freaking out. Let’s see how Darwinism fares.
Darwin’s Arch-Enemy: Intelligent Design
Darwinism is a mess. It makes all kinds of wild assumptions that are seldom even brought to conscious awareness, and those defending Darwinism often play games with definitions and the meanings of words. So instead of tackling Darwinism head-on, let’s first consider it in the context of another theory that Darwinism sought to replace and that has made a comeback in recent decades: Intelligent Design (“ID”).
The design argument is very old indeed: if we look at life on our planet, including human life, our intuition tells us that all this beauty, complexity, symmetry, specialization, systems, etc., must originate in some kind of mind, just as our complex tools and devices originate in the minds of humans.
One of the classic formulations of ID comes from the theologian William Paley, who asked: if you were to find a watch in the woods, wouldn’t you assume that it had been thought of and assembled by an intelligent being? And wouldn’t the same be true for the living beings we find in nature? This is the analogy that gave Richard Dawkins’ book The Blind Watchmaker its title. Dawkins, of course, argues that the “blind” process of Darwinian evolution could explain the “watch” – meaning organisms, including humans.
A more modern and bare bones formulation of the design argument goes something like this:
The design argument
a) The only known way to increase functional complexity in any system is through the infusion of information, which Darwinism cannot explain.
b) Life forms developed additional complex systems.
c) Therefore, there must have been an infusion of information, which Darwinism cannot explain, and since the only known cause of information is intelligence, then intelligence must have caused it, hence “intelligent design”.
Since you can be sure that this argument will seriously provoke Darwinists, let’s look at some of the arguments against ID. This will also help us understand the argument better.
First, there are “arguments” against ID that don’t even deserve to be called arguments. Let’s get them out of the way.
The best-known of these is probably the accusation that Intelligent Design proponents are “biased”. Since many, if not most, of the ID proponents are religious, so the story goes, they already made up their minds before they even started their investigation. They want ID to be true, because they are emotionally invested in their belief in God; therefore, they cook up a cocktail of pseudo-science to get there.
The objection to this “argument” is simple. Even if this assumption is true, it doesn’t change the actual argument for ID in the least (and by the way, the same argument could be made against Darwinists – that they’ve already made up their minds that ID cannot be true). The propositions a) and b) above have nothing to do with belief in God, with emotional investment or “bias”. They simply are what they are, and either you can refute them or you cannot.
To illustrate this point, suppose I’m a militant atheist and I’m hell-bent on disproving the existence of the historical Jesus. I then advance a powerful argument, based on historical research and rational reasoning, that Jesus didn’t exist in any shape or form that the bible claims. Now, if you want to attack my argument, you need to show precisely where my historical facts might be wrong, or where my reasoning might have gone wrong. Simply accusing me of being biased because I’m an atheist is not a valid argument. The most you could reasonably claim is that my atheism makes you suspicious of my reasoning and that you will, therefore, pay particular attention to the details of my claims. But of course, that’s what you should do anyway if you want to uncover the truth. In fact, when you dismiss someone else’s claim as ‘biased’ simply because of what they believe, you discredit your own dedication to the truth and open yourself to being accused of bias.
Another of the most frequent (and poorest) strategies Darwinians use to attack the design argument is the time-honoured practice of erecting straw-men and then tearing them down, loudly and proudly of course, which makes the whole spectacle even more pathetic. Here’s a (very) partial list of such straw-men:
- You believe in the bible more than science.
- You believe the earth was created 6000 years ago.
- You believe in miracles.
- You proclaim that organisms were created by God in an instant.
- You deny natural variation.
- You deny that natural selection exists.
- You deny that science is the best method to find out the truth.
- You deny evolution.
- You deny common ancestry.
- You are a homophobic bigot.
Needless to say, none of these claims are even relevant, much less valid, as arguments against the case for ID. For example, the ID argument is completely compatible with the idea that man evolved from monkeys. It doesn’t deny that organisms that are less “fit” have a lower chance of survival. It doesn’t deny that there are variations within species, or that species are related. The only thing that it argues for is that, whatever happened and however it happened, there must have been some kind of ‘ordering force’ involved: namely information. And that unless you can explain how information can sponatanously come into existence without some form of intelligence being involved, you must conclude that there was some sort of intelligence involved in the coming into existence of the complex life we see today.
Heck, even Richard Dawkins’ theory of ‘selfish genes’ would fit the bill, given that he proclaims the existence of hyper-intelligent and cunning little monsters (genes) that build organisms and manipulate them into scheming on their behalf in order to make copies of themselves. So they could be the ones that infuse information into the system! But let’s not waste too much time making fun of Dawkins. While he may be a decent-enough comedian when it comes to Bible-bashing, as a philosopher he is worse than useless. But then again, Dawkins-bashing is also much fun, so maybe we’ll get back to his particular brand of theism later in this series.
So since Intelligent Design doesn’t make any wild claims about God waving his magic wand, what’s the real problem with it? To put it simply, while ID doesn’t assume and certainly doesn’t prove god’s existence, it is, nevertheless, consistent with the existence of god. And that is what atheists and materialists simply cannot tolerate. You see, Darwinism is not just any old biological theory. It is an avatar for materialism. It is an idol for the denial of any higher intelligence, or even any intelligence at all – higher or not – outside physical brains and similar organs, of anything existing beyond the strictly physical universe. Darwinism, in combination with Darwinism-inspired theories of the origin of life, is the foundational myth for the worship of dead matter. It seeks to do the impossible, namely to explain how a dead universe can come into being from ‘nothing’ and produce and evolve life, including minds, to the point of staggering complexity and intelligence that we witness every day. That is why ID freaks Darwinians out: it threatens their myth, the cornerstone of their dead-matter-religion.
Darwinists not only believe that their theory has proven that god does not exist – nonsensical as that idea, in and of itself, is – they simply cannot countenance the idea that there is something, anything, going on in the universe that is not explainable as, essentially, ‘dead matter randomly floating around’. I wonder what they are so terrified of that they go to such lengths to keep that particular door locked…
The Crucial Role of Information
But back to our design argument. If you want to argue against ID in a way that is not limited to creating and destroying strawmen and using ad-hominemattacks against the beliefs of ID proponents, you need to attack the propositions (a or b above) or the logic behind the argument. Since the logic is sound, as far as I can see, and proposition b is uncontroversial, the only thing left is to attack proposition a: that the only known way to increase functional complexity in any system is through the infusion of information, which Darwinism cannot explain. This is the approach taken by the more serious Darwinists; after all, Darwin’s ‘ground-breaking idea’ was intended to make this proposition obsolete to begin with.
The claim that evolution is about producing new information should be uncontroversial. New forms of life, new species, new organs, new molecular systems and so on represent new information. The question, then, is this: can the Darwinian mechanism explain how new information can come into existence?
First, it’s clear that the environment cannot magically change organisms: Darwinian organisms are supposed to be entirely passive. That is, they don’t self-adapt biologically by using any sort of intelligence. If an organism does react to stimuli from the environment, this ability must have been alreadypresent in the Darwinian view – either pre-coded genetically or learned, or a combination of the two. But organisms don’t grow larger ears or bigger claws because of environmental stimuli. They just react – nothing truly new is ever directly created in them by external stimuli.
This means that something more is needed. In the (neo-)Darwinian view, that something is provided by random changes in DNA, which supposedly can sometimes produce advantageous results that are then ‘selected for’ in the great struggle for survival. But since the environment cannot directly change organisms, we have a problem: ‘natural selection’ needs to somehow already have something to select for – it needs raw material! The whole theory of Darwinism therefore hinges on this question: can random genetic mutations, over long periods of time and in incremental steps, pitted against the environment, produce entirely novel, staggeringly complex systems from relatively primitive ones (which are themselves extremely complex)?
Let’s hold on for a second and think about the words ‘pitted against’. Darwin’s creatures obviously have goals: namely survival and reproduction. I encourage you to think about what that means. Why do creatures want to survive? Does that even make sense in a materialist world? After all, the universe is supposed to be ‘blind’ – without goal or purpose. So where does this purpose of survival and reproduction come from? Why should the universe care about this or that molecular configuration ‘surviving’? Why should the configuration itself care? Indeed, how can it, if it is just dead matter? We should always remember that Darwinism is an avatar for materialism. This is the motivation behind the vitriol Darwinians spew when you ask such questions. Their behavior, especially in online debates and ‘comment wars’, starts to make sense if we know what’s really behind it: a worship of the materialistic, dead universe that, for some reason, they simply cannot renounce.
Random Mutation Doesn’t Cut It
Back to our ‘information problem’. Can random mutation and natural selection explain the creation of entirely new information?
Let’s look at what exactly is postulated here. What kind of change can a ‘random mutation’ of anything produce? Remember that we are not talking about a skilled genetic engineer at work, we’re not talking about consciousness (because that’s not allowed). We’re talking about change that happens, essentially, by pure luck (or bad luck). So to begin with, it is highly improbable that many genes could change simultaneously in a coordinated fashion, regardless of whether or not the change was beneficial. At best, a single part of the genetic code might change and produce an ‘advantageous’ (or disadvantageous) effect, or more than one part of the genetic code might change simultaneously, but completely independently of the other part.
The probability that more than one change would happen at the same time and produce a specifically advantageous effect is even more improbable, something like accurately predicting all the lotto numbers over and over and over again. So when talking about random mutation of genes, there is a far higher chance that the change will be disadvantageous, an evolutionary dead end. So for a beneficial change in a gene as a result of random mutation, you need VERY large numbers of such ‘experiments’ – that are extremely unlikely to happen even to begin with – for something useful to show up, which can then be ‘naturally selected’.
But it gets worse: this entire process must, again, be repeated ad nauseam: because once a certain small, useful change manifests and enters the gene pool via natural selection, you need many, many more such changes on top of that to get anywhere useful from an evolutionary point of view. Just think about the difference between, say, a one-celled organism and a deer, and you begin to see why the intuition so many people have always had might be right: the numbers just don’t add up; not even close. And it does Darwinians no good to invoke nebulous concepts such as ‘Deep Time’ to make the problem go away. (For reference, according to Wikipedia, the time it took for man to evolve from the great apes was 10 million years – that’s just 5000 times the time from Christ to the present.)
Random Changes Degenerate Code
But the trouble for Darwin’s theory runs even deeper. The question is: what effects, exactly, can theoretically be produced if a code is ‘randomly changed’? Can random mutations produce a code that contains entirely new information – even if we allow unlimited consecutive mutations? If you put the question that way, the answer is obvious: no! Randomly changing a code is synonymous with degrading it – you lose information!
Some of the cleverer Darwinians recognize the problem. One strategy they use is to deny that the genetic code is really a code. In other words, they ‘pull a Dawkins’: no, rest assured, we don’t really mean it when we talk about codes (or conscious genes plotting world domination, in Dawkins’ case). In reality, this is all just billiard balls bouncing around randomly! We could, if we wanted, express all of this in non-code terms! Strangely enough though, biologists keep referring to the genetic code and keep treating it as such. They can’t do otherwise, because it is a code.
But let’s assume that despite the fact that it looks like a duck etc. (heck, the genetic code literally has letters!), this really is just a bunch of molecules ‘causing stuff’ in a purely mechanical way. Say, like a piano where you randomly push a key and then a hammer hits the string, except that the process is more complicated and convoluted in the case of genetics.
Now imagine one of these automatic pianos from Western movies. You could say of course that this is just a mechanical process that translates holes in the perforated paper into hammers hitting strings. But the crucial thing here is that it’s more than just that: the whole process produces a complex structure of an altogether different type. In this case: music! The reason is that the perforated paper driving the piano doesn’t consist of ‘random holes’ or even simple patterns, but contains information. It codes for an end-product. And of course, just as with any code, if you ‘randomly change’ parts of the code (the holes representing notes), the information, and therefore the music, will degenerate. (Although, it must be said, given what passes today for art and music, perhaps Darwinians do have a point that random mutation can produce… something.)
But what about natural selection? Can it change the picture? After all, it’s the core idea of Darwinism: it’s where the needed information to create new lifeforms is supposed to come from. To stay with our analogy, could a step-by-step process of random mutation and blind application of a simple rule somehow change a children’s song on our Western piano into a Beethoven symphony? The analogy gives us a clue about some of the many issues plaguing Darwinism:
- Random alterations indeed degenerate code. They represent a loss of information. This is obvious in the case of sheet music – as well as in the case of any other code you could think of: text in a book, a computer program, Morse code, etc.
- This also means that while you might have a lucky mutation that somehow makes the music better, this can only be because of a destruction of information – such as the deletion of a note, the breaking of a motive, etc. You cannot increase the information, such as adding a whole new segment based on an advanced composing technique such as developing a variation based on that initial, good-sounding deletion of a single note.
- After each ‘mutation’, the song must be somehow better for it to be selected. That means you cannot reach a result that requires a step that makes the song worse temporarily – like changing a C to a C# before you change other notes as well.
- You cannot go back – once a mutation is ‘selected’, this means the song somehow got better after the change; if you were to go back, the song would be worse again and therefore this back-change wouldn’t be selected. So you are stuck with it, even though there might have been different changes that would have made the song even better – or different pathways to an even better end product!
- Notice that just as with Darwinism, we required the choice to be made on the basis of very simple rules. No guiding hand, no anticipation of the end result, no planning is allowed. This means that the entire pathway from the children’s song to the symphony needs to be ‘random’ but without the option of going back after each step – which makes it incredibly unlikely to materialize.
So common sense seems right: you cannot get from a children’s song on a Western piano to a symphony by random changes, just as you cannot go from a single-celled organism to a deer based on random mutations. Only informed changes can do that. Only an intelligent mind can produce a complex, coherent symphony.
But it gets worse. The music analogy actually falls short – but not in Darwinism’s favour. This is because impossible as the odds are even in that analogy, real ‘natural selection’ cannot even see (or hear) the new version of the song most of the time. Let’s have a look at why that is.
There Is Nothing to Select For
One of the favorite sentences Darwinians use is ‘this produced an advantage for the survival of the species and was therefore selected’. But think about it: how exactly does a small mutation, leading to a small improvement, help an organism survive? The problem here is that small improvements, or even large improvements to specific systems, don’t necessarily translate to survival or more offspring in any straight-forward way.
Imagine for example that by some evolutionary process, you improve your eyesight by 5%. What are the odds that this will help you survive? It would require a very special situation where, let’s say, a tiger is about to eat you but thanks to the small improvement, you see it a second earlier than you would have without the improvement, and the situation was precisely such that this difference of 5% in eyesight saved you. That’s an extremely unlikely scenario. What’s more, the small change in eyesight does nothing to protect you from freezing to death, breaking your leg and dying, or the innumerable other reasons you might not survive. So how, exactly, can natural selection ‘select’ this mutation when it does not clearly confer an advantage?Your chances of survival are only marginally better than your peers’, and chances are you won’t even encounter the situation in which the trait comes in handy. And that’s assuming it is even possible for random mutation to produce a 5% improvement in eyesight in the first place.
Or think of a giraffe: perhaps by some random mutation, the neck of one animal gets a tiny bit longer. Does this help it better reach its food? Maybe on some very rare occasions. But if it’s a weak giraffe to boot, this won’t help. And again, this won’t help a bit against the myriad of other threats. How, then, should it ‘pass on its genes’ better than other giraffes?
All we ever get from Darwinians is wild speculation, often using misleading languagesuch as ‘giraffes needed to reach higher trees, therefore they evolved their long necks’, as if the collective mind of the giraffe-species somehow decided it would be a good idea to ‘evolve’ a long neck. And perhaps that’s really how it happens, who knows? But of course, this isn’t at all what Darwinism proclaims. For a prime-example of the nonsensical drivel Darwinian thinking produces, read this article from the New Scientist about the giraffe’s long necks, culminating in the ‘explanation’ that ‘Girls like them long’. When you find yourself resorting to schoolyard humor to convince your audience, you know you are in the presence of ‘high science’.
There might be some cases where such scenarios could work, but you get the point: a random mutation that miraculously produces something slightly beneficial and is then somehow magically preserved or ‘selected’ is massively improbable. A whole lot more needs to happen. The signal of the tiny piece of new information, should it even manifest, would be drowned out in a sea of noise: namely the vast majority of scenarios where this specific, tiny advantage doesn’t help one bit.
Rather, the way variation and selection seems to work in cases like the giraffe is this: a population has a range of variation for a particular trait, e.g. beak size, in the case of Darwin’s famous finches. New conditions favoring a long beak will cause those with beaks too short to die, and new generations will tend to have a larger number of these long beaks – because there are already enough individuals with the now optimal beak length. But nothing new has been created. New finch species might have smaller or larger beaks, but they all fall within the initial range. An abnormally long beak – or neck in the case of the giraffe – requires multiple additional new traits to make it work, and they must all come together at the same time. Naturally, this only compounds the problem described above.
Now, what does this all mean? Just this: that our initial argument is valid. There must be some kind of information coming from somewhere to explain how you get from no life to the first life form and from primitive life to the incredibly complex life forms we observe today. And however this works, it cannot work as Darwinism claims. This also means that materialism is in serious trouble: because materialists proclaim, after all, that the whole universe consists of nothing but dead matter floating around, obeying the physical laws but nothing else. In that view, there is no pre-existing information that could save the day; no plan, no purpose, no guidance, no intelligence, no infusion of information. Remember, to defend this position was the whole point of Darwinism! If Darwinism goes out of the window, so does materialism, unless someone can explain how a universe of dead matter obeying the natural laws can produce information in the form of a code. So far, no one has been able to do so, because it is physically and mathematically impossible.
Now, religious folks will be quick to claim that God is the answer. And that may be the case. But there are other options, including a view of the Cosmos as a living system where information reigns supreme. Where minds, not matter, are the real ‘movers and shakers’. Or even where this distinction must be given up altogether: where matter is an active part of a greater mind and all is connected and mutually exchanging information. But let’s stop here for the time being, and I hope to see you in the next part of this series!
- Michael J. Behe: Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
- Michael J. Behe: The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism
- Perry Marshall: Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design
- David Stove: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution