November 26, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Determinism Is Anti-Science

Whether religious or scientific, determinism robs people of
the motivation to investigate things and make them better.


There are extreme determinists in religion, but there are also extreme determinists in atheism and evolution. Something in the human heart wants to attribute everything to inviolable causes beyond our control. Perhaps it alleviates our fear of accountability, like Flip Wilson’s comedy spiel,”The devil made me do it!” Perhaps it makes the world a less scary place. Perhaps it makes explanation seem simpler. Whatever the reason, determinism runs counter to our intuition that we can and do make choices every day. Forces beyond our control can compel us, like the need to go to the bathroom, but we can hear our self thinking, “I should go before running this errand,” or “I think I can wait.” Extreme determinists would say that even those thoughts are determined. But if everything is determined, then even determinism as a philosophy is determined (cue sound of implosion). One cannot pursue science if one thinks natural forces are causing that pursuit.

Atheists might criticize religious forms of extreme determinism, like some manifestations of hyper-Calvinism, but Darwinian evolution is infected with extreme determinism, too. (On ID the Future 22 Nov 2021, hear historian Richard Weikart discuss Darwinism’s history of racial determinism, genetic determinism, and environmental determinism.) How can a theory built on chance be deterministic? It becomes obvious whenever an evolutionist says that some organism “evolved to” gain some benefit. Here’s a recent example:

Taking it easy as you get older? Wrong. (Harvard Gazette). Find the self-refuting fallacy in the subtitle of this press release: “Message of new Lieberman study: ‘Because we evolved to be active throughout our lives, our bodies need physical activity to age well’.”

A team of evolutionary biologists and biomedical researchers from Harvard are taking a run at it (sometimes literally) in a new study published this week in PNAS. The work lays out evolutionary and biomedical evidence showing that humans, who evolved to live many decades after they stopped reproducing, also evolved to be relatively active in their later years.

Honor Thy Grandfather and Grandmother

This is reminder of a persistent conundrum in evolutionary theory called the Grandparent Problem. If reproduction is all that matters for fitness (see 20 Nov 2021), why should an organism pay the cost of keeping an elder around for years past reproductive age? Evolutionists try to solve this by saying the grandparents give benefits to the next generation by helping parents care for them. One can turn that argument around. Did scientists evolve for evolutionary fitness, too? Evolutionary reasoning cheapens the most precious things in life, like love and truth (21 March 2019).

Here is the gist of the Lieberman study:

The researchers say that physical activity later in life shifts energy away from processes that can compromise health and toward mechanisms in the body that extend it. They hypothesize that humans evolved to remain physically active as they age — and in doing so to allocate energy to physiological processes that slow the body’s gradual deterioration over the years. This guards against chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers.

The fallacy lies in assuming that we must choose to violate evolution in order to obey it. If we “evolved to” age well by staying active, then we would all naturally obey evolution’s influence without listening to an evolutionary professor tell us why we should. For Harvard physiologist Daniel Lieberman to write an article advising older adults to stay active, he must reach for something outside of evolution—some moral imperative—that cannot be explained by evolution. Otherwise, we would all automatically be doing something that we “evolved to” do in the first place.

What Is Good in Evolution?

Why not just say that humans evolved to get cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer as they age? Lieberman must reach outside of evolution to give his little sermonette:

“It’s a widespread idea in Western societies that as we get older, it’s normal to slow down, do less, and retire,” said Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel E. Lieberman, the paper’s lead author. “Our message is the reverse: As we get older, it becomes even more important to stay physically active.

Why is it “important” to stay active? That’s a moral stance. Evolution doesn’t care. Why does he care? Maybe he would reply that ‘humans are most fulfilled when they act in ways what they evolved to act.’ But that only shifts the fallacy over a step. Why is it good to be fulfilled? Evolution doesn’t care if we are fulfilled or not. If our genes, bodies and lifestyles are products of evolution, then whatever will be will be, and we don’t need a sermon on why it is “important to stay physically active.”

Lieberman might have another comeback: ‘The human species will thrive if most members of the population are healthy.’ But once again, who says that thriving is good? Most species have gone extinct. Slowing down, doing less, retiring and dying are not worse or better than staying active and dying, if evolution is true. Stuff happens; why fight it? Do individuals really care what happens to the population? If they do, they have to reach outside of evolution to find a moral basis for that concern. Lieberman is so consumed with his evolutionary worldview that he cannot see the contradiction.

Kicking Butt

The study uses humans’ ape cousins as a jumping-off point. The researchers point out that apes, which usually live only about 35 to 40 years in the wild and rarely survive past menopause, are considerably less active than most humans, suggesting that there was selection in human evolution not just to live longer but also to be more physically active.

“We evolved basically from couch potatoes,” said Lieberman, who has twice observed wild chimpanzees in Tanzania and been surprised by how much of their day is spent “sitting on their butts, digesting.”

Again, why is ape behavior worse, just because they don’t live as long? In an amoral universe, evolution might give them 40 years of comfort instead of 80 years of work, workouts and woe. If chimpanzees “evolved to” live that way, then it was their lot, and they’ve had millions of years’ more time to evolve a longer lifetime than humans have. Let them live the way they evolved to live. Will Lieberman now preach to the apes, telling them to get off their butts and get to the gym? If he would never do that, then on what grounds can he tell humans to do it?

“The key take-home point is that because we evolved to be active throughout our lives, our bodies need physical activity to age well. In the past, daily physical activity was necessary in order to survive, but today we have to choose to exercise, that is to do voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness,” Lieberman said….

The researchers’ advice? Get out of your chair and get some exercise.

As a mental exercise, find the fallacy again. [pause to think].

Lieberman alleges that culture has violated our evolutionary condition. We have smartphones and computers to do the jobs that used to keep us active. That might make sense if we observed apes working out to the day of their deaths. But apes don’t have our conveniences, and they spend much of their day “sitting on their butts, digesting.” If human culture progressed over the last 200 years to the point where we can relax more, then so be it; evolution did that, too, so Lieberman should be saying, ‘In the last 200 years, humans evolved to be sedentary.’ He should stop preaching that we need to get out of the chair and get some exercise. Why? ‘Because evolution determined we need activity to age well.’ And who says that aging well is a moral obligation?

There is no escape from a self-refuting fallacy.

Bless Daniel’s heart, he means well. We agree that keeping active is good and advisable, but for different reasons: because determinism (which leads to self-refutation) is false. Christians believe the honoring God with the body (I Corinthians 6:19-20) glorifies God, but it is a choice each individual must make.

Religious people, though, can also fall into this fallacy. Hyper-Calvinists so emphasize the sovereignty of God (a true and beloved doctrine) to the exclusion of human responsibility (which the Bible also teaches) that they make God responsible for everything, including our bad choices and our sin. But if that were the case, why did He even give us His Word? Why even have a Bible? The Bible is filled with commands, admonitions and exhortations. If we have no choice in the matter, why preach in church that we should obey the Word of God? Extreme determinism leads to the same self-refuting condition. One of them might reply, ‘But God has determined to fulfill our obedience through His Word.’ OK, then, did God determine your comeback argument just now, too? Or was that your own reasoning that did it? Did he determine your choice to share that argument, or was it your decision? If it was determined, do you (as a rational soul) even exist?

There are proposed solutions to the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility which, having been argued for two millennia, are not going to get resolved here. The Bible clearly teaches both. How they fit together is beyond our finite human comprehension. Proof-texting one extreme position invites proof-texting of the other extreme. In the Bible, the proof-texts for opposing views often appear side by side (e.g., Philippians 2:12-13). What we must do is believe both and teach both as the Bible teaches them, but have the humility to realize we cannot resolve the paradox this side of heaven. That takes humility. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), so it is presumptuous to think we can figure them out. A paradox is not a contradiction. Science has paradoxes, too: is light a wave or a particle? Just because we cannot understand the connection between two concepts does not mean one is false.

Evolution, though, faces a real contradiction. Evolutionists can only use the tools in the Darwin toolkit: chance and law. There is no moral reasoning in Darwinism at all; no organism can tell another organism what it “should” do. Those who try to use evolutionary game theory or cultural evolution to describe what an individual “should” do contradict their own assumptions: that cheaters and non-cooperators also evolved. If cheaters ‘evolved to’ cheat the others, nobody can tell a cheater he “should not” do that. Ask the evolutionist if he teaches such things because they promote his own evolutionary fitness. If so, he destroys his credibility. If not, he is reaching outside of evolutionary theory for something it cannot provide: the moral good of pursuing truth. The Bible anchors our “shoulds” in the eternal righteousness of God. Those do not evolve. So Christians have a paradox, but evolutionists have a contradiction which is self-refuting.

It’s a shame that Lieberman’s pursuit of Darwinism has blinded his eyes. Years ago, he gave us some of the best evidence for design in the human body by describing all the body parts from twisting torso to legs and toes to sweat glands that make endurance running possible (see 27 June 2019). He is a health advocate with good advice for people, but he keeps trying to justify it with evolution. It cannot be done. He has to plagiarize Biblical Christianity to preach the benefits of physical fitness. We hope he will reconsider his predicament and read Paul’s letter to the Romans.



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