Random Thoughts on Evolution

Evolution does not satisfactorily explain the big picture, and it seems to me that the forest gets lost in the trees.

sad chimpanzee

I am fascinated by the Theory of Evolution, but it is more of a curiosity than anything else. How can so many scientific people be so religiously attached to one principle?

I am no scientist. I will admit that; at the same time, I note that many rational people are downright dogmatic on this topic. Questioning the theory of evolution as an explanation of for the origin of life is sacrilege in these modern times – so much so that we have laws in the United States that forbid competing theories (like intelligent design or creationism, which are very different models) from even being mentioned in a public school.

When I mention evolutionary theory in this blog piece, I am not talking about the adaptation of species over relatively short periods of time. I think there is sufficient proof of evolution in that sense. I am talking about the big picture, the forest, not the trees. When talking about the evolutionary paradigm as an explanation of the origin of life, it does not satisfactorily explain the big picture, not even close, and it seems to me that the forest gets lost in the trees.

I spent a little time today listening to a presentation of the views of C. S. Lewis on evolution, a topic that attracted his attention his entire lifetime. Even in his 20’s, well before he became a theist, and then a Christian, Lewis was critical of evolution as an explanation for the origin of life, and specifically of the origin of man. Lewis did not reject evolution as a whole, even after he became a Christian, but he doubted that it provided the correct framework for understanding the existence of life. (C.S. Lewis and Evolution)

Lewis engaged with the theory of evolution his entire life. He had an extensive collection of writings on evolution, including Darwin’s writings. His collection of those writings have been preserved today, marked up extensively with underlining and comments. Lewis also maintained open dialogue and correspondence with evolutionary theorists throughout his life.

For Lewis, “The ultimate challenge against unguided natural selection is man, himself. How could such a blind, material process produce humanity’s unique capabilities of reason and conscience?”

Darwin wrote the book, the Descent of Man, in an attempt to demonstrate how his theory of evolution could account for man’s mind and morals. Lewis was not persuaded. He was more persuaded by G. K. Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, in which Chesterton argued that “man is not merely an evolution, but rather a revolution, one that was beyond the power of a strictly Darwinian process.”

Lewis was also persuaded by Arthur James Balfour, who said, “If we would maintain the value of our highest beliefs and emotions, beauty must be more than accident, the source of morality must be moral, the source of knowledge must be rational.”

For Lewis, “it was the dogmatism of evolutionary scientists” that put the nail in the coffin of any residual notion of evolution as the explanation for the source of life.

Lewis wrote to one colleague, “it is the fanatical and twisted attitudes of evolution’s defenders” that inclined him to conclude that evolution is more than a misguided theory as an explanation of the origin of life; it is a lie and a falsehood.” He expressed deep concern over the intellectual dishonesty, intolerance and stubborn closed-mindedness of adherents to evolutionary theory who treated criticism of evolutionary theory as an attack on science, itself.

Lewis died in 1963, and evolutionary theory remains ingrained and entrenched today as much as in his day. As Lewis did, I marvel at the dogmatism of it. Does science not welcome questions and criticisms to test and retest the theories of science? Can science not stand the comparison of theories? Yet, we have laws still the forbid evolutionary theory to be questioned in a public school setting.

For Lewis, there were fundamental problems with the theory of evolution as an explanation of man’s existence for which evolution theory could not provide a rational answer. Indeed, evolutionary theory casts into question its own rational foundation: “Assigning the development of human reason to a non-rational process like natural selection ends up undermining our confidence in reason itself. After all, if reason is merely a byproduct of a fundamentally non-rational process, what grounds do we have for regarding its conclusions as objectively true?”

Darwin himself doubted whether a mind developed through a Darwinian process could be trusted. “But then with me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of a man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the conviction of a monkey’s mind if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

This quotation comes from a letter to William Graham written late in Darwin’s life. Darwin had read Graham’s Creed of Science. Darwin was captivated by Graham’s notion that there is some purpose in science (some call it the religion of science, pr scientism). Darwin, ultimately, could not buy into it. His reasoning, however, is extremely revealing, and it undermines the implicit confidence he placed in his own ability to reason. In fact, it undermines any assertion of any man anywhere. (Darwin Correspondence Project, (emphasis added)):

“…I cannot see that there is then necessarily any purpose. Would there be purpose if the lowest organisms alone destitute of consciousness existed in the moon? But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

At least three points from this letter penned by Darwin’s hand bear some further analysis: 1) Darwin admitted that he was not adept at abstract reasoning; 2) Darwin’s “inward conviction” was an inclination to believe there is some purpose in life; but 3) he ultimately rejected his intuition that there is purpose in life because he could not trust his inward convictions, being the product of evolution from lower forms of life.

Taking the third point first, one should wonder why Darwin trusted the conclusions of his reasoning any more than his “inward convictions”, being the “product” of random selection from lower life forms. Why did Darwin believe his reasoning was any more trustworthy than his “inward convictions”? After all, who could trust the reasoning of a monkey’s mind?.

The questions begs to be asked: Why trust one conclusion and reject the other if both are the product of lower life forms that hare inherently untrustworthy?

The logic is self-defeating: the conclusion based on understanding of evidence that is observed by humans is that humans evolved randomly from primitive life forms; if that conclusion is true, then the human capacity to intuit and reason is derived from lower life forms (that, by the way, do not have that capacity); since humans evolved from such primitive life forms, human intuition (inward convictions) cannot be trusted; the inward conviction that there is purpose in life cannot be trusted because it is a byproduct of untrustworthy lower life forms; if those intuitions are untrustworthy, the human ability to understand observable evidence and reason conclusions is similarly untrustworthy; and the very determination that we can (or cannot) trust our inward convictions (or our ability to reason) is not to be trusted.

It is not insignificant that Darwin admitted to an inward conviction, albeit one he did not trust. I am reminded of Paul’s famous statement in Romans 1:18-22:

“[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools….”

Even Darwin, the father of evolution and progenitor of naturalistic materialism that rejects any notion that an intelligent designer created the world (and, thus rejects that there is purpose in life) has an inward conviction that there is purpose in life. He rejected the obvious, simple conclusion for a highly complex and convoluted theory that ultimately defeats any confidence in the very conclusion that is ultimately reached by it.

Finally, Darwin admitted that he was not adept at abstract reasoning – such things as philosophy, logic and theology. Philosophy, logic and theology are not as tangible as observable world. There certainly is some reason to be skeptical of man’s application of philosophy, logic and theology, as they are not capable of testing as scientific facts are. We often do not see our own failings and errors; but the frailties and limitations of man do not negate the rationality of philosophy, logic and theology any more than a lack of understanding of gravity negates the law of gravity.

Darwin put all of his marbles in the scientific process and evidence that can be seen, felt, touched, etc. The human limitations Darwin feared, however, are certainly no less evident in man’s ability to decipher intuition or apply logic than they are in man’s ability to analyze and draw conclusion from tangible evidence.

Unlike Darwin, Lewis was more apt to fear the fallibility of “science”. The skepticism Lewis had toward man’s ability to do objective science began as an atheist and grew over his life. In his last book, the Discarded Image, published after his death, Lewis focused on that theme, among others. He argues that scientific theories are “supposals rather than facts”. They account for as many facts as possible with as few assumptions as possible, but we must recognize that the supposals are provisional; and they may be wrong.

That reminds me of the thought to which I often allude: that where we start in our reasoning (our “supposals”) ultimately determines where we end up.

Lewis points out that scientific revolutions are not simply the result of the discovery of new facts. Science changes not simply because of the discovery of new evidence. Rather, people “see what they want to see”. Lewis observed that, for decades and centuries before Darwin, people were exploring the notion of mankind progressing from the more primitive to the more civilized, from barbarianism to nobility, from cruder living to more developed living, and that “enlightenment” preceded Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. People who already believed in this progress of human development were, then, predisposed to embrace Darwin’s theory with enthusiasm.

Lewis further observed that the development of the scientific approach to life actually limits the questions that people ask and inhibits people from asking other questions. Lewis was concerned about the questions not being asked in the new scientific age.

As an example, scientists have thought (supposed) that the vast majority of human DNA was purposeless because that is what they expected to see as the result of a random, natural process unguided by any intelligent influence, producing order only as one of an infinite number of possibilities. Intelligent design, on the other hand, tends to encourage the exploration of purpose in what seems to be lacking in purpose – it prompts questions a naturalist informed by evolutionary theory would never ask. As a point in fact, we have only begun to explore portions of DNA previously assumed to be “junk” because we supposed that this “junk DNA” was merely a byproduct of random, natural selection. It didn’t previously occur to a Darwinist that this junk DNA was something other than an evolutionary byproduct. Not only does the junk DNA perform critical functions, it turns out that we would not even exist but for the “junk” DNA.

We need to remain open to new possibilities. Science, as observed by our fallible selves, can box us in. We should have a healthy skepticism of “inward convictions”; but we should be no less skeptical of our “rational conclusions”. Abstract thought and the intuition of “inward convictions” are important foils to our rational minds.

I will end my “random” thoughts with these questions:

How does an irrational, random process produce reason?

How does an amoral, natural selection process produce morality?

11 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Evolution

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