Darwinism and Logic: How Strong a Grip?
Science and logic are inseparable. Whether one approaches the study of nature from reason (rationalism) or evidence (empiricism), logical inferences and deductions are essential for understanding – or for claiming one’s scientific work produces understanding. When it comes to the reigning evolutionary perspective, though, how can a blind, chancy process like evolution produce reason, laws of logic, morality or knowledge?
The best way to see how Darwinism scores on logical inference from its own premises is by examining the views of its leading defenders in the most prestigious publications.
- Nature editors: The editorial in Nature April 10 asked,1 what is “natural”? The occasion for the question was a transgendered woman-who-became-a-man announcing on Oprah that he/she/it had become pregnant. The editors seemed to waffle on the answer to the question. Uneasy to accept this person’s sexual identity crisis as natural, they had more questions than answers: e.g., “if drugs enhance performance on a standardized test, what is so ‘natural’ about prep courses designed to improve scores?”
The question of what we mean by “natural” is a profoud issue (see 05/11/2006 for a deep discussion about it). Nature, however, started the editorial with a statement that begged much bigger questions: whether logic and intelligence is natural, and how they could have evolved:
From an evolutionary perspective, we humans have good reason to be wary of things that seem to be ‘unnatural’. Anything out of the ordinary can be dangerous. But the evolutionary origin of that response also guarantees that it will be guided more by emotion than by reason.
- Michael Ruse: Philosophy of science is a field where logic and reason should be on full display. It was most interesting, therefore, to see what Michael Ruse, a self-proclaimed “hard-line Darwinian” philosopher, thought of a new book, Why Think? Evolution and the Rational Mind by Ronald DeSouza (Oxford, 2008). He reviewed the book in the March Literary Review of Canada.
Ruse liked the book very much, and shared its usual speculations about what intelligence is good for in evolutionary biology: e.g., having fewer offspring means greater care must be invested in their care – which requires judgment. That, in turn, “means brains and all of the rest– getting on with others, finding protein and so forth,” he said, adding in his off-the-cuff way, “I am not sure if this is really an evolutionary justification for eating Big Macs, but one can say that this is all very much a feedback situation.”
Where Ruse seemed to get tied up in knots was considering the comeback argument to all this from philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Ruse said Plantinga “loathes and detests” evolutionary biology. But he seemed disappointed that DeSousa in his book did not provide a satisfying answer to Plantinga’s challenge: “the unreliability of reason in the Darwinian scenario is reason enough to reject evolution and embrace God.” He elaborated:
As Plantinga points out, what counts in evolution is success and not the truth. So how can we ever be sure of the truth? Perhaps none of our thoughts can tell. Perhaps none of our thoughts can tell us about reality. Perhaps we are like beings in a dream world….
Everything we believe about evolution could be false.
Ruse acknowledged that this question even troubled Darwin himself:
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 are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
Surprisingly, Ruse conceded that Plantinga could have employed this quote of Darwin to make his point. How did DeSousa respond to “Darwin’s Doubt”? In short, he argued that our mathematical knowledge could not have evolved by natural selection. Our brains evolved for other things. Since our brains discovered mathematics along the way, and found it useful for all kinds of other things (including predictions that came true), this implies our brains are able to comprehend external reality as it is, not just as we experience it.
Ruse felt that DeSousa did not adequately answer Plantinga’s challenge. Ruse himself did not have a good answer, but shrugged it off: “you are probably right, but that is a level of skepticism about knowledge that excites philosophers and not mature human beings.” Then he changed the subject. He hoped DeSousa would write a sequel on the evolution of morality.
- Eugenie Scott: Speaking of morality, the director of the National Center for Science Education should be a good person to ask about evolutionary ethics. Eugenie Scott reviewed a book in Nature about “brave new bioethics,”2 Life As It Is, Biology for the Public Sphere by William F. Loomis (University of California Press, 2008). First, her review of philosophy:
Science’s task is to explain the natural world: what it is, how it works and why it is the way it is. Ethics is about the oughts and the shoulds. Most ethicists – religious and secular – agree that knowledge of the natural world helps us make better, or at least better-informed, ethical decisions. But, as David Hume, Thomas Henry Huxley and G. E. Moore have noted, a particular understanding of nature does not dictate a unique moral stance.
Thus one of the preeminent evolutionary spokespersons in America jumped right into the quagmire of evolutionary ethics. One would think that Scott, whose life work is to keep evolution in schools and creationism out, would bring evolutionary theory to bear on the question and show its superiority in grounding ethics in something sustainable. But she said almost nothing about evolution. Instead, she de-emphasized the ability of science to inform ethical decision-making. “The idea that a realistic understanding of biology will usher in a paradise of ethical correctness,” she said, “is naive: the panoply of extra-scientific considerations that influence ethical decision-makings cannot be ignored or minimized.”
At one point she described Loomis making advice about sustainability: “Loomis recommends a programme of voluntary population reduction,” she said, apparently uncomfortable with this idea: “requiring both political leadership and a radical change of public opinion.” Hopefully Loomis was not recommending mass suicide. What she failed to provide, though, was an answer to the question she raised at the beginning: if science cannot dictate a unique moral stance, how can it provide “better, or at least better-informed, ethical decisions”?
- Self-refuting sci-fi: Science journals don’t have to be all dry. Nature ends each issue with a science fiction short story featurette called “Futures.”3 The April 10 entry was a story by Neal Morison set in the far distant future. A group of scientists were reliving a century-old discovery that a lively blogger turned out to be a robot. The moral of the story seemed to suggest this had solved the mind-body problem, one of philosophy’s biggest questions, once and for all. What the story actually did, though was beg the question: who built the computer? And who programmed the robot?
David Tyler blogged about the Nature articles on Access Research Network.
1. Editorial, “Defining ‘natural’,” Nature 452, 665-666 (10 April 2008) | doi:10.1038/452665b.
2. Eugenie Scott, “Brave new bioethics,” Nature 452, 690-691 (10 April 2008) | doi:10.1038/452690a.
3. Neal Morison, “All over, Rover,” Nature 452, 780 (10 April 2008) | doi:10.1038/452780a.
There you have it: the world’s biggest Darwin defenders can’t answer the question: how can evolutionary theory produce any knowledge that is trustworthy – including the supposition that evolution is true? They either shrug their shoulders or retreat into fiction.
Since Michael Ruse took delight in a jab at the Bible, let’s see how logical it was. He said of DeSouza’s introduction, “I knew I was going to love this book” when the author compared Abraham to Andrea Yates (the delusional housewife who said God told her to kill her five children). DeSouza quipped, “When enough people share a delusion, it loses its status as a psychosis and gets a religious tax exemption instead.” Oh; you mean, like Darwinism?.
DeSouza may have scored on ridicule, but not on logic. If Yates had truly received a message from God, she would not have killed her children. How many times did God angrily speak through his prophets about the idolaters who burned their children in the fire? Over and over, God said of such horrendous practices, “I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind” (e.g., Jeremiah 32:35). Human sacrifice was such a completely alien concept to the mind of God, He pronounced severe judgments on the nations that practiced it. But self-sacrifice for others is one of the highest measures of love: “Greater love hath no man,” said Jesus, “than that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
So put the pieces together. What of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son? This was not a temptation, or even a test of Abraham’s faith (God, being omniscient, already knew what Abraham would do). This was one of many types or pictures in the Old Testament of Christ. Just as God provided the ram as a substitute for Isaac, God provided a Lamb as a substitute for our sins. God’s righteousness demands penalty for sin, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Either we will die for our sins, or a substitute will take our place.
The only person able to give a life in payment for the sins of the world was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He alone in the universe was fully God and fully man. Since the persons of the Trinity never act apart from one another, and share fully in each other’s joys and sorrows, God was providing Abraham (and all of us) an illustration of the torment of being ordered, “Take thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, and offer him as a sacrifice.” The pain of God’s sacrifice of His Son having as satisfaction for His justice was portrayed in a heart-wrenching way to the world. Yes, God provided the Lamb: Himself!
What Abraham did is polar opposite from Andrea Yates did. What good came from her delusional revelation? Yet look how the world has been blessed by those who are children of Abraham by faith. And what kind of character was Abraham? Up to that point, and throughout his life, he showed by his actions to be a man of sound mind and self-sacrificing character, bold for the cause of right, but gentle and loving toward his family and neighbors. He was not delusional. By all accounts of his friends and his enemies, he was a great man. He was great spiritually because he believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness (see Hebrews 11:8-19).
Faith is only as good as its object. It is not Abraham’s faith per se that made him great: it was that the object of his faith was the true and living God. As for Abraham founding three world religions, well, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac makes no sense apart from its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and Mohammed was a latecomer who co-opted the fame of Abraham for anti-Abrahamic ends (e.g., killing Jews and Christians). Abraham did not set out to found any religion. He just obeyed God, and God brought about the answers to the promises He gave Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you.”
Whether any religion deserves tax breaks is a side issue. The delusional religion of Darwinism gets a free ride in all our public schools, national parks, museums, courts, media and science labs. Who are they to complain about religious tax exemptions? Watch out when the Darwinists gain absolute power and act consistent with their presuppositions. They might just give tax breaks to the Andrea Yates types who follow delusions and exhibit relativistic morality. Neither DeSouza nor Ruse can claim any action is more rational or moral than any other.
So how logical was Michael Ruse to laugh at DeSouza’s distortion of Scripture? Pray for him. Despite his bluffing, he seems troubled by Plantinga’s challenge.