Sunday, November 06, 2011
Creationism and Evolution Theory: Both are flawed -- Part 2
Part One may be read here.
First of all, it's necessary to state some obvious truisms: When scientists merely collect and organize data, then their science doesn't need philosophy. When, however, scientists begin to weave complex interpretations or theories on the basis of the data they have collected and organized, philosophy necessarily intrudes -- at the very least in the sense that the language and logic by which anything complex is expressed involve philosophy. This becomes even more pertinently so, to the extent that the complex subject in question goes beyond the What and the How, and begins to impinge upon ultimate questions of the Why, the Whence and the Wherefore.
Science-minded supporters of Evolution Theory may object about Part One, and now Part Two, that my entire argument is not backed up by specific scientific evidence. But that's the whole point. It's not refuting Evolution Theory on the level of scientific evidence, but on the level of the theory's philosophical premises, claims and assumptions.
Which provides a neat segue to our next point: A theory is not a fact: A theory is an interpretation based upon facts. As such, any theory is always vulnerable to flaws in cogency, insofar as it may not be extrapolating its assumptions optimally from the facts in question. Evolution, therefore, is not a fact: it is a conclusion within a complex interpretation that is based upon a collection of facts. Whether or not that conclusion is cogent or not, is the question, and the problem which philosophy, not science, is capable of determining.
It is dismaying to encounter so many otherwise intelligent science-minded persons -- including scientists themselves -- who assert obtusely that Evolution is a "fact". This obtuse assertion reflects a confusion of categories so elementary, it's painful.
Furthermore, the distinction of fact and interpretation does not denote a reality quite as simple as one might suppose. Facts are not necessarily indisputibly and simply actual and true. I.e., facts are not as simple as is generally supposed. In fact (pun intended), many if not most "facts" we take for granted as such are interpretations which have become "compacted", so to speak, into fact-form; and usually in practical terms it is not a problem to treat them as such -- though occasional testing of any interpretation that has come to be treated as fact is not a bad idea, philosophically and sociopolitically speaking.
Sheer facts that are actually facts and not fact-form interpretations are perhaps hard to come by, for psycho-culturally, humans with their inescapable propensity to overlay experience with language tend to receive, perceive, and then conceive, the raw data of experience with culturally pre-fab meanings. Without language, reality to humans would be experienced as, in the words of William James, "a great blooming and buzzing confusion". The instant we begin to make sense of that confusion, we imbue and endow the data it contains with meaning within webs of interlocking meanings -- an activity that usually cannot avoid interpretation, as opposed to mere acknowledgement of a brute "fact". Individuals don't make sense of that confusion alone: they depend upon language, which is a social and cultural enterprise, in turn dependent upon long and rich histories of peoples, societies, and cultures. And more often than not, an individual most of the time is not really thinking about his interpretations by which he makes sense of the welter of data around him: most of the time, he merely uses convenient interpretations already available in his culture around him, which he has been assimilating all his life. Even if an individual seems to dispute this or that interpretation, in doing so he may well be merely availing himself of someone else's counter-interpretation. Political disagreements in the marketplace of ideas among politicians and civilians alike is replete with such activity, where actual thinking -- in terms of attending to the data and weighing the evidence which the data constitutes, in order to construct cogent interpretations based on that evidence, and then testing those interpretations in order to come to a judgment on which to base ethical action -- rarely occurs. It's so much easier to just pick some particular interpretations out of the supermarket of ideas -- on either side of the aisle (pun intended) -- based on what satisfies one's emotions.
In addition, and probing the matter more deeply, it could be said that reality itself is essentially a chaos without sense -- until humans through their act of articulating sense out of it endow it with structure. This is not to say, however, that the "chaos" is ontologically all of reality, and the meaningful structures we perceive in it are merely figments of our imagination or epiphenomena. The real situation is more a paradoxical interplay between the two (and would be a way of doing a properly philosophical exegesis of the mythopoesis of a "genesis" out of "chaos" -- whether that mythopoetry be Judaeo-Christian, or Babylonian, or pre-Christian Greek, or any number of other myths of comic origin). This, however, opens up a complex can of philosophical worms that will take us too far afield of our present discussion.
Interpretations, in turn, do not exist by themselves, but depend for their sense upon a complex web of associated interlocking interpretations; and this complex web in turn, as we suggested above, is unavoidably ensconced within language, culture and history. Nevertheless, most of the time, philosophically speaking, and practically speaking in terms of the basic activity of science of data-collection and its corollary in pragmatic translation into workable technology, these broader and deeper philosophical questions present tangential distractions which would delve unduly into the semantic overlays which complicate the facts of raw data. Sometimes, however, aspects of these more complex dimensions become important components in a philosophical problem relevant to modern science -- as is the case here with the facts from which Evolution Theory has been constructed, and the interpretive construction itself.
Now it is time to allude to the very linchpin of this philosophical problem generated by both Evolution Theory and (ironically) by Creationism, which may be denoted in one word: speciation.
The concept of speciation is based on the symbolism species. Yes: in keeping with our previous discursion above, a "species" is not a fact, but a symbolism, given meaning through an interpretation based upon certain facts. The word species denotes a symbolism equivalent to the archaic word kind -- made general through the King James Bible as, for example, in the phrases "after his kind" or "after their kind" from the first chapter of book of Genesis:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, [and] the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed [is] in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. [1:11]
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. [1:21]
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. [1:24]
The excellent philosophical refutation of Darwin I linked in Part One begins and bases his thesis upon these passages of Genesis; and he may seem to be conflating a spurious religious claim with a more nuanced logical argument, which then would tend to irritate and repel the sensibilities of the modern science-minded person; but his instincts and methodology were sound, and the religious aspect of his argument need not impinge upon the latter's logical cogency.
The equivalent symbolisms species and kind simply denote the mysterious fact of differentiation we experience among all life forms. The latter happens to be archaic and, in addition, burdened with coming from a "religious" context; while the former is the modern, and therefore "approved" term. Philosophically speaking, however, both denote the same phenomenon. Alongside with this mystery of differentiation is a parallel, or counter-mystery: that of the apparent interrelation of all living beings. Together, these two mysteries form a paradox, of the kind with which philosophy has found reality to be rife: the insoluble paradox.
Insoluble paradoxes point to the ultimate questions which cannot be answered, but which themselves point to certain truths, among them, truths of transcendence in terms of an ultimate source of all reality, an ultimate destiny of all reality, and an ultimate reason for the structures of all reality. These truths, being mysteries, cannot be known as to their Why, but only, as it were, as to their That. This transcendent That, then, is experienced in tension with, and beyond, the What of thingly reality -- and, of course, in some kind of genetic relation to it, as source and sustainer. And where the What's That flows into the realm of human ethics -- if only because humans and their dimension of social existence are participants in the very same reality of which the What is in tension with the That -- we then find generated innumerable varieties of what have become classified as mythological, philosophical, and religious explications throughout various cultures in history, ranging all the way from dogmas insensitive to the mysterious paradox from which they derive, to more sophisticated articulations more sensitive to transcendence in its mysterious paradox of knowable, yet unknowable. This little digression, however, while perhaps necessary, may broaden our scope unduly if we continue to dwell on it. It is enough to keep it in mind, as an implicit philosophical context for our discussion at hand.
Let us return then to the sub-paradox, as it were: the paradox of all living things being simultaneously differentiated, yet related.
The project of spurious religious thought has been to solve this paradox in an all too facile manner, by erecting the kinds of Genesis into a dogmatic fact which then is used to ignore the other half of the paradox. Meanwhile, from the other side, the project of modern science has been to solve this same paradox by promiscuously elevating the mystery of relations among all living things into a universal, albeit complex, web of ontologically congenital causation -- thereby unraveling and eliminating the mystery, and wonder, of irreducible differentiation, through a transformation of the kinds of life into specious species (pun intended).
To be sure, the wonder of differentiation remains, in the modern science-minded sensibility; but that is only a temporary wonder (at least for the scientist whose sights are set higher than the lowly taxonomist or naturalist), subsumed under a higher wonder: that of the ultimate sameness of all this biotic differentiation, all ultimately derived from the one undifferentiated aboriginal "primal soup", and beyond and prior to that, to some primal inanimate "soup" of chemicals and energy; which, in its turn (handing the crypto-mythological torch to the physicists-cum-cosmologists), derives ultimately from some etiology for the universe itself (or that silly and needlessly penultimate formulation "multiverse") rendered in terminology as incoherently unintelligible as the worst prose of a Derrida or a Baudrillard (if not of some ancient Gnostic tractate), though dressed up as respectable science funded by government grants in the millions.
This higher wonder of the modern scientist is really a religious or spiritual wonder, yet all too often denied to be so by the scientist: it is the wonder of explaining the genesis of Everything. Though the modern scientist may affect a disingenuous professionalism about this ersatz religion in which he is indulging, he may as well be one of those unhinged scientists out of sci-fi movies or fantasy novels whose enraptured face is bathed and maniacally beaming in the blue light of his wondrous invention that will finally solve the Mystery of Existence. Crypto-alchemy, as it were; or we may even go so far as to say that modern Physics, whenever it strays beyond its appropriate limits, is a crypto-Metaphysics (even as it persists in thinking of itself as an anti-Metaphysics).
And even if the evolutionary biologist may claim not to presume such a grandiose cosmogonic agenda, he knows he is doing, in terms of of that overall project, his important part which, along with his brothers and sisters in the fields of physics and cosmology, is not compartmentalized into separate and unrelated disciplines, but rather is assumed to be conjoined to them in a unified ontology which they all share, a new ontology historically (and in some ways sociopolitically) rooted in the modern tradition of the Enlightenment's project of rejecting and replacing theology as anything more useful than, at best, a quaint relic of the past and, at worst, a pernicious impediment to modern reason both in its pursuit of the life of the intellect and in its advisory role in shaping society. And even if the more comprehensive, and official, linguistic articulation of this new ontology of Unified Theory tends to be left up to a handful of exegetes, like a Stephen J. Gould or a Stephen Hawking, a whole host of axioms and givens have come into general parlance for Modern Man supposedly based on that exegesis, which he can use to state general Truths about Reality as though everyone agrees; and, at times when duty calls, to mock and dismiss and sneer at those who may disagree for reasons respecting the West's heritage of classic philosophy and religion.
Now, evolutionary biologists who protest that they are not presuming to derive all life back to a single biotic entity; and then that, in turn, back to inanimate matter -- and then all inanimate matter, logically, back to some ultimate archeology of the universe through a Big Bang or a String Theory (or whatever happens to be the latest fashionable cosmogonic myth dressed up as non-mythic science du jour) -- are being rhetorically (and transparently) sophistical, trying to fend off the equally spurious Creationist with whom they may happen to be sparring at the moment. And such puerile sophistry usually works, only because the Creationist is usually no less deficient in philosophy himself, and no less deformed by philodoxy; even if his philodoxy happens to be arrayed in dogmatomachic opposition, as the dust has settled historically between the two prevailing dogmas of modernity -- that of religious dogmatism and that of anti-religious dogmatism, respectively -- to the other side of the modern coin of little price but, alas, of great currency.
The Creationist in these little debates may have the relatively sound instinct to bring up the problem of the chain of causation back behind the realm of speciation to the "primal soup", and thence to inanimate matter, and thence to the Big Bang; but his philodoxic deformation renders him ill-equipped from there to actually wield the points of that instinct in any effective way. And in the eyes and ears of most modern Westerners, who are casually more or less unthinkingly secular-minded, the scientist invariably "wins" against the Neanderthal troglodyte religious bigot who crawled out of the sludge of the Scopes trial (or took time off from planning to lynch gays or murder abortion doctors) to come into the studios of NPR or PBS or the BBC where the brazenly slanted "debate" has been hosted.
So: earlier, we mentioned speciation. That part of the discussion will round out our entire thesis, and will come in Part Three.