Monday, December 05, 2011
Creationism and Evolution Theory: Both Are Flawed: Part 3 and Conclusion
The first two parts may be found here:
It's not absolutely necessary for the reader to wade through Parts One and Two, but it would be nice (particularly any reader who wishes to try to refute my arguments).
At the end of Part 2, I left off just prior to delving in specifics into the topic of speciation. For the purposes of my argument here, speciation may be defined as:
the process whereby one species over a long period of time and through genetic mutations (triggered in great part by environmental changes), transforms into a different species.
And what is a "species"? Well, I went into that in Part 2, where I wrote:
"... 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 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 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..."
The conventional view in modern biology is that most if not all instances of speciation in the long history of biota (spanning hundreds of millions of years) have involved a protacted series and process of "stepping-stone" transformations. I.e., a shrimp does not transform straightaway into a platypus: rather, through a long process involving innumerable in-between stages, a shrimp transforms into a fish, a fish into a salamander, a salamander into a frog, a frog into a land lizard, a land lizard into a crocodile, then a crocodile goes through numerous stages of animal leading to some form of mammal; etc. There is implied therefore an order of incremental gradations whereby one of two species that are taxonomically distant from each other can become the other only through those gradations.
Which two species are specifically supposed to be involved does not matter here; it's the mechanism that is being philosophically analyzed. In this mechanism, the function of long epochs of time, then, is not as a willy-nilly event whereby any species may become any other species without rhyme or reason; but rather reflects an internal parallel order of seemingly reasonable transitions shading off from one species to another, with a sufficient number (i.e., probably a staggeringly high number) of "in-between" stages bridging such outlandish-seeming transmogrifications that would have to have thus occurred frequently -- from, say, a hummingbird straight to an elephant (which, no matter how much time is allowed for, would never seem reasonable or plausible).
These gradational changes are the "mutations" so near and dear to the evolutionary biologist, and without which he would be left with no mechanism at all. And in the scheme of this mechanism, these mutations are supposed to be guided by the non-intelligent hand of "adaptation" to external environmental changes and the necessities which those changes, by chance, happen to impose upon living things.
As part of this "adaptation" is the notion, supposedly logical, that it presupposes a "survival of the fittest" -- with "fitness" understood as anything that helps a species continue to thrive rather than not thrive. This concept often seems to be employed in a rather circular way; for any species that is extant is presumed to have "survived" thus far because of a presumed "fitness".
All this would be the fine-tuning of the mechanics, so to speak, of the overarching premises of the theory of evolution itself. The long essay to which I linked in Part 1 elaborates and articulates an exhaustive and devastating refutation of this mechanism by pointing out, relentlessly and meticulously, its logical flaws. It really simply has to be read in its entirety to fully grasp. The length of that essay is not redundant or superfluous: it is necessary to the argument it is constructing. I don't think it can be summarized, unfortunately; though further on in this essay here I will attempt a stab, at least, at adverting to an adumbration of some of its salient points.
So: Why do biologists feel the need for the mechanism of speciation?
Put another way, why is the mechanism of speciation so crucial for evolution theory? The answer is rather obvious: evolution theory is a way of explaining (by, ultimately, explaining away) the fact of differentiation in biota. Differentiation -- of any phenomenal field -- may be explained in either of two ways:
1) by reducing the differentiation to an underlying sameness which internally developed into differentiated phenomena
2) by positing an external cause of the differentiation.
Creationists do #2; modern scientists through evolution theory do #1 (or claim to be doing #1).
(Of course, a person could blithely refrain from feeling the need to explain all the wondrous diversity he sees around him in the natural world. But to those with the itch of curiosity about the reality that surrounds them, this simply won't do.)
Each of these two camps, however, in their undue focus on one or the other pole of the mysterious paradox of living things (the paradox of Differentiation/Sameness), tends to neglect the tension unifying the two poles. There's a good reason to tend to neglect one or the other pole: the whole point, for such reductionists -- whether they be immanentists, like modern scientists, or whether they be literalizing transcendentalists, like Creationists -- is to ignore or destroy the tension, not to preserve it. As the 20th century philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) used to say, the tension is not going to go away if you deny it; for it is an unavoidable part of the structure of reality.
And, speaking of the devil, so to speak, it may be apposite now to quote at length from Voegelin, whom I had mentioned in passing in Part One. Examining the response of the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to the problem of this paradox of the differentiation and sameness of living things, Voegelin frames it thusly, in terms of:
[t]he theory of the descent of the species... even including... an explanation for the current fixity of the species...
By "fixity of the species" Voegelin means the fact of the differentiation of living things, a fact that is a phenomenon apparently in conflict with a claim of the essential underlying unity of those living things. By "species" is meant each living thing represented by a class of others that seem to be of the same kind, to which one sees a multitude of contrasts in other living things of other classes. Thus, we see a lion, and all lions, in contrast with a dragonfly, and all dragonflies, etc. And as this observation is multiplied to include all living things we have encountered, we have a multitude of different "species" as a collective datum which then requires explanation, or a "theory".
Of course, it's not like all these multitudes of different kinds of living things don't have anything in common with each other; but on the other hand, they are sufficiently different from each other to demand from our philosophical (let alone human) curiosity some kind of explanation.
Indeed, as we expostulated at length in Part Two, it is the combination of difference and similarity, and the cognitive dissonance of that combination, which establishes the paradox, and which arouses our curiosity the most, and which has led to the modern dilemma about this matter. Either these species have existed as different entities for eternity, or they have a beginning -- by having been created. Or, so modern biology has come to say, they somehow came into being through a process convolving each other -- a process that may be traced back to some primal event of inanimate matter becoming some rudimentary form of animate matter (some kind of protoplasm, which then "evolved" into single-celled organisms).
Apparently, Kant was the first major modern thinker to tackle this problem in light of the then emerging, still gropingly incipient field of modern biology. For the most part, as we shall see, Voegelin approves of the way he did it (which is no mean accomplishment, as Voegelin was known to be ruthlessly finicky about his standards for good philosophy).
Returning to the Voegelin passage:
Nineteenth-century theories of evolution, especially Darwin's, added factual details to Kant's theory and improved it by removing many objective difficulties, but they changed nothing in the basic framework. On the other hand, compared to Kant's theory, the theories of the nineteenth century actually represent a huge step backward on account of the decline of theoretical culture and the consequent naiveté with which relatively insignificant details are considered important and lauded as progress in treating the question, while the crucial speculative-theoretical basic questions are overlooked.
Voegelin is here broaching a kind of cultural rift that occurred historically, in dealing with the question of this philosophical problem aroused by the differentiation of living things, whereby most modern philosophy had become degraded, according to Voegelin, and could no longer deal with questions of transcendence without reducing them to categories that implied tactics of a denial of transcendence: what Voegelin calls "immanentizing" tactics; with a very few philosophers remaining, such as Kant, who still retained enough of the standards of classic philosophy to respect the transcendence factor -- even if only in respecting the irreducible questions that point to that factor.
Back to Voegelin:
Kant deals briefly but thoroughly with these crucial questions in a few sentences appended to the well-meaning consideration of the possibility of a real descent of species. He points out that if the radically immanent theory of evolution were accepted, researchers would have to ascribe to the universal mother, with her generative power, an expedient organization geared to all the creatures that have come forth from her and without which the appropriate forms of the animal and plant worlds would be impossible.
By "universal mother", Voegelin means the unifying cause of all living things -- a reductive cause which, as we pointed out in Part Two, biologists may try to deny they are indulging in their disingenuously delimited focus, but to which all the logic of their theory of evolution nevertheless points (unless they are positing an eternity of different species changing into other species; which they are not -- and which, at any rate, would be no less incoherent).
Voegelin again, now quoting Kant:
"They [the radical immanentists] have then only pushed the basis of explanation further back and cannot claim to have made the development of those two kingdoms [plant and animal] independent of the prerequisite of ultimate causes. " In this one sentence the idea of the inner law of evolution is carried to its conclusion—at the same time that its theoretical significance is blunted. The turn to the theory of evolution has the theoretical goal to explain the building principle... of each species based on the preceding evolution of species. If this idea is followed to its logical conclusion, the law according to which species develop moves closer and closer to the beginning of the history of evolution, until the first life-form is endowed with the evolutionary tendency for the entire living world...
I.e., the tandem parallel function of speciation -- functioning like some vast web of interrelations and gradual reconfigurations of species into other new species (with, of course, many older species remaining behind, most likely eventually to die out) -- is not extrapolated back in time forever: modern biologists do not posit an eternity of speciation backwards in time. Indeed, they seem to posit an increasing complexity of life forms as time progresses (e.g., homo sapiens developing out of more primitive forms of mammal) and, by logical extension, an increasing simplicity as one goes further back in time.
This speculative regression leads, logically, to some beginning point in some single entity (a cell, or some kind of protoplasm) that, again logically, is the "mother" of all life after it. This primal "mother" furthermore must contain within it the potential for all the development and complexity that unfolds from it; else where did that complexity come from? One supposes modern biologists could posit a form of the Lucretian model of atomic complexity, whereby the stark simplicity of the original atoms, through the sheer fact of combinations and recombinations of hitting each other at odd angles and forming random clusters, over a long period of time generates a complex structure where none existed before.
Thus, in the materialist Genesis of all living beings, enough of this basic simple protoplasm came into existence through chemical/electrical accidents happening hither and thither wherever the right combinations of chemicals and electricity occurred; and then enough of this protoplasm went through a sufficient number of environmental changes to begin to "adapt". And over time ("millions and millions!", as Carl Sagan used to say so juicily, of years), to increase in complexity. With enough time, so the modern scientists supposes in a rather curiously childlike way, nearly anything can happen -- even the development (with the aid of environmental changes and "mutation") from simplex protoplasm into increasingly complex life forms.
Voegelin noted this logic of backward extrapolation of animate to inanimate matter:
... finally speculation pushes back beyond the first life-form into inorganic matter, from which the former spontaneously originated. The "explanatory" law that was intended to be immanent thus turns again into a transcendent one, into a law that "precedes" the evolutionary series of life.
What Voegelin refers to here as "transcendent" is not meant to be a religious category, per se, but simply to denote a mechanism that stands outside the structure that was supposed to have been explained. Of course, it is related to the religious category, for it is an unintentional manifestation, or spasm, on the part of the modern scientist, in the direction of appealing to metaphysical transcendence as he pursues his scientific curiosity about this particular ultimate question.
The interrelations among living things and their inherent properties was supposed to explain their differentiation and underlying sameness -- but the logic of the theory leads to a non-living entity (inanimate matter) preceding, and initiating, the realm of living things.
Thus, that realm of living things no longer provides the explanatory mechanism it was supposed to have, for in light of its inherent logical conclusion:
... the types of organisms, the species, in spite of their supposed historical descent from each other, nevertheless stand again side by side, inexplicable through each other since the conditions for the development of any one species cannot be found in the one that precedes it historically and generationally, but only in the law that stands outside the whole series of species.
The "law" that is, of some inanimate material entity or process.
... Kant's argument that the theory of evolution merely shifts the real origin of the species back to the origin of evolution not only takes the theory of evolution to its logical conclusion but also destroys it as meaningless as far as its explanatory purpose is concerned. It does not explain what it was intended to explain, in fact, it explains just as little as Leibniz' principle of continuity or Herder's or Goethe's idea of morphological kinship. The kinship relationships of the living world are primary phenomena just as the life of the species and the life of the individual organism are primary phenomena, which one can see or not, but there is nothing about them that needs to be explained.
I.e., the Differentiation part of the paradox of Differentiation/Sameness remains un-dissolved into the Sameness part -- even though dissolving Differentiation is precisely the goal of the immanentist materialist project of evolution theory. The paradox, and its indissoluble tension, remains intact, within the very terms of the logic of the formulation put forth by the immanentist materialist. I.e., through his own mechanism, the immanentist materialist fails, even though he thinks he succeeded. (Again, the essay to which I linked in Part One among many other useful things goes into this facet in exhaustive and meticulous detail.)
The primary phenomenon of life becomes visible in a threefold way: in the living individual, in the species, and in the interconnectedness of the entire living world. It is impossible to use a part of this phenomenon to explain the same phenomenon in another of its manifestations.
On theoretical principle of the logic involved and its consequences, Voegelin concludes:
The life of the individual cannot be explained through the life of the species, as the theory of series has attempted to do; the life of the species cannot be explained by the totality of the phenomenon of life, as the theory of evolution attempts to do; and the totality of the phenomenon of life can most definitely not be explained through the laws of non-living nature [as physicists and cosmologists implicitly attempt to do].
In the substantially genuine movement of the spirit, the theory of evolution has come to an end in [Kant's] Critique of Judgment— although in the history of derivative theories on this issue, theories that move ever farther away from the center of the spirit, evolutionary theory did not flourish until the following century [i.e., the 19th century].
Then, on a point concerning speciation, and the distinction between speciation and simple intra-species mutations, as well as the lack of evidence we have of actual organisms who occupy the myriad "stepping stone" stages supposed to have existed during the grand epochs spanning the process of species becoming other species, Voegelin adds:
Kant appended a note to his radical destruction of the explanatory value of any theory of evolution in which he conceded that the fact of bodily kinship was not impossible. It was not, he remarked, totally absurd and a priori impossible that, for example, certain water animals might gradually evolve into marsh animals and, after some further generations, into land animals.
"However," [Kant wrote, as Voegelin quotes him], "experience gives no example of it; according to experience, all generation that we know is generatio homonyma. This is not merely univoca in contrast to the generation out of unorganized material, but it brings forth a product that is in its very organization like the one that produced it; and generatio heteronyma, so far as our empirical knowledge of nature extends, is found nowhere." This sentence, written in 1790, still applies word for word today; biology has nothing to add to it.
Voegelin wrote that last sentence in the 1970s. Modern scientists may protest that there has been much progress in genetics since then, as well as much observation of microsopic biota manifesting the stepping-stone gradational process crucial to speciation. However, all this new information has merely illuminated the Sameness pole of the tension Sameness/Differentiation: it has not provided a solution which is the goal of modern biology -- to dissolve that tension in favor of a unifying theory of Sameness that would prove that the Differentiation is only superficial.
No one to my knowledge has put this modern scientific project quite in the following terms:
What modern scientists seem to be doing through evolution theory is trying, speculatively, to eradicate species altogether (in terms of their "fixity" of mutual difference), and in its place to posit a vast biological Melting Pot of simply Life (i.e., Biota) which exhibits a multitude of variations, but which is ultimately all one material phenomenon. This may, in great part, explain why modern biologists and their supporters often tend, in their defense of Evolution Theory, to conflate the mechanism of intra-species change, and inter-species change (speciation). This may not be merely a lapse in logic on their part. They may well be doing this because, at bottom, they don't see a difference between the two realms. Their whole project of Evolution Theory is to reduce the realm of different species to a realm of one overarching species: Biota, conceived by them as merely a subtype of the matter/energy that composes the entire universe.
As part of this grand project, the wonder of the differentiation of all living things is to be replaced by the wonder of the unifying sameness of all living things, endowed with their Genesis out of Matter/Energy by the biologist's brothers in the fields of Physics and Cosmology -- who, meanwhile, in their turn, continue with their higher project to subsume or sublimate this particular wonder into an even higher wonder: the Genesis of the entire Universe. This latter ultimate project -- i.e., the materialist Creation of Everything -- will, apparently, have to wait until Stephen Hawking or any of his intellectual heirs finds the key to it.
Thus, let's get back more closely to that sentence by Kant that Voegelin claimed had -- still, nearly 200 years later (1970s), not been refuted by modern science. I shall quote for our purposes the relevant portion:
"...according to experience, all generation that we know is generatio homonyma... and generatio heteronyma, so far as our empirical knowledge of nature extends, is found nowhere."
The terms generatio homonyma and generatio heteronyma simply denote "biological reproduction resulting in offspring of the same kind of animal", and "biological reproduction resulting in offspring of a different kind of animal", respectively. Of course, we may subsitute "species" for "kind".
Now, modern biologists indulge in principally two tactics with regard to Kant's (and Voegelin's) claim, when it's brought up (these days usually only by inept Creationists):
1) They assert that modern science already has evidence of generatio heteronyma
2) They confuse intra-species modifications with speciation.
With #1, there are two problems:
a) With regard to biota that are not microscopic, it would be physically impossible to have direct evidence of generatio heteronyma because the epochal durations of time such an event requires is simply too long. This leaves indirect evidence -- the famous "fossil evidence" biologists used to crow about, but which has tended to be less mentioned, now that they have what they think is better ammunition (genetics and microscopic speciation). The problems with "fossil evidence" are manifold, and have been dealt with by others (and the anonymous author I linked in Part One refutes it -- even back in 19th century -- quite capably). I will not go into it here in detail, except to mention one of the more glaring problems: the major assumption of evolution theory requires literally millions (if not billions) of in-between stages existing (and dying, if not dying out) over epochal durations of time between the supposed development of one species into another (and certainly between such extremes as, for example, a fish and a land mammal); and yet the "fossil record" all over Earth is curiously sparse, with giant gaps in time and in space. Were evolution theory fact, we would be literally stumbling over a multitude of in-between stages of animals every time we dug a hole to plant crops or bury someone or lay foundations for a building. They would be everywhere. Simply because there has to have been so many, according to the premise of evolution theory. But they're not there. Modern biologists have not provided an adequate explanation for such an elementary, and massive, lacuna in their theory.
b) This leaves biota that are microscopic -- tiny creatures, often single-celled organisms. The problem here is that with organisms so minute and simplex, the line between an intra-species mutation and actual speciation becomes more a line superimposed by the observing scientist, rather than a line found in the data observed. I.e., it's more a phenomenon of taxonomic terminology, than it is of the nature of the data being organized.
With #2, the problem is self-evident. However, it does bring up the complication to which we referred just above, and earlier when we began talking about speciation in the first place: the very definition of a "species", which is the very crux of the whole theory. Put simply, if one defines "species" too promiscuously, one can find new "species" all over the place, where in fact only intra-species variations are at play. If, however, on the other hand, one solidifies the differentiation into a dogmatic "fixity", one is in danger of erecting a barrier to the other pole of the mystery, by which the differentiation of all life does indeed seem grounded in some kind of sameness of interrelation.
The progress of genetics science certainly illuminates the Sameness part of the mysterious tension of life; but it does not prove speciation. The Creationists probably would not insist on denying the increasing fact of Sameness indicated by genetics, as long as they can preserve the giant Thing they call God -- their deus ex machina to explain the mystery of life in its origin and structure by positing a literally thingly activity of "Creation". Each side of this modern argument continues to insist on trying to find an end-run around the tension of the mystery, rather than rest in its restlessly disturbing facticity.
It might be apropos now for an excursion on classic taxonomy vs. new biology.
Afterword: The Classic Taxonomists and the New Biologists
As evolution theory was evolving (pun intended) throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, there developed a bit of an underlying tension or friction between the new biologists and the more traditional taxonomists. The latter thought of themselves as more classical, "truer" scientists, and could trace their intellectual lineage back far beyond their immediate ancestor in the field, Carl Linneaus (1707-1778), and further beyond the medieval Isidore of Seville (6th-7th century A.D.), to the great Aristotle (4th century B.C.), who spent a good deal of time observing, collecting and speculating about various plants and animals. While biological taxonomy did not die out in the Middle Ages, it may have dwindled somewhat. By the 17th century, it was progressing more and more, and by the 18th century would truly flower.
With their intellectual pedigree grounded in so many centuries, the early modern taxonomist sometimes tended to regard as upstarts the newer biologists and their preoccupation with the new-fangled concept of "evolution". Taxonomists were more dignified and economical, calmly and dutifully employing Occam's Razor on the manifold data of the various living things they so carefully collected and organized. The classifications they developed by which to put that bewildering manifold into some order and clarity, were supposed to simplify, elegantly; not complicate, extravagantly. Plant and animal life is multifarious enough, without adding more complexity to it.
Taxonomists thus tended to avoid "multiplying" new species, and rather cultivated a conservative perspective that would include as many mutated and permutated variations of a given species as possible, before finally deciding to draw new lines on the taxonomic map, so to speak, delineating a whole new animal out of the old.
At the same time, taxonomists by the very nature of their chosen profession and passion, respected, admired and remained fascinated by the varieties of life -- not only with respect to the differentiation of species, but also with respect to the amazing differences one finds within any given species. It was particularly this latter preoccupation that engaged the mind of the classical taxonomist, as he delighted to dote on the innumerable minute details by which one moth, or one lichen, or one riparian amphibian differed from another. This was the source of their conservatism in this regard: they respected the intra-species differentiations because they respected -- and even loved, after a fashion, in the Naturalist sense -- the particular species in question; and did not therefore wish to indulge in a promiscuous, labile and effusive manner in the frantic "discovery" of one supposedly new species after another where, so the taxonomist soberly believed, none was there.
Alas, the scientific (and sociocultural) fashion changed as time went along, and taxonomists were relegated to simple custodians and lab techs employed by the evolutionary biologists. Of course, they could continue their passion out in the field and back in the laboratory; but increasingly they had no say at all in the larger picture of what their endeavor meant. The paradigm had shifted, and they had become mere collectors of the data whose interpretation was now solely in the hands of the evolutionary biologists and their new framework. Most taxonomists probably didn’t care; as long as they could continue to do what they loved most: after all, it was the collection and classification of plant or animal data that was their passion, and if these new upstarts wanted to make extravagant extrapolations about that data, on their revolutionary evolutionary career, so be it. And, of course, many taxonomists, as modern scientists, went along with the new fashion and became believers in the new theory; even if they had little qualification -- more than the evolutionary biologist, to be sure, but still not enough -- for drawing such sweeping generalizations about the development of all life.
Even now, in the 21st century, there may exist quite a few taxonomists who harbor their classic conservatism in this regard, but who mostly keep quiet about it, thankful for their jobs in academe or as participants in various government programs by which they can get paid doing what they love the most. Why rock the boat and make a big stink about any doubts they may have about the cogency of evolution theory? The evolutionary biologists can continue to get the larger federal funding grants, and can continue to hold sway surf-riding the crest of the wave of Modern Science in the field of biology. The humble taxonomist meanwhile remains entirely free to continue to wade into some marshland in Timbuktu or near the Great Lakes in his rubber overalls to patiently, lovingly examine a certain exemplar of the pupae of the splendenroides [Toxorhynchites (Toxorhynchites)], collect it in his glass case, and bring it back to the lab for further study and comparison -- without ever needing to bother his mind with the more ethereal propositions of the grandiose vision of which his colleagues are such fervent (and well-paid) acolytes.
Indeed, if many taxonomists had their way, there would be far fewer species in existence -- if only because fewer would be so deemed.
And let us not forget, that the tried and true condition for a "new species" -- that, for example, two particular species of mosquito (whatever they may be) cannot produce offspring -- does not by itself prove generatio heteronyma; even if the indirect inference thereof it seems to provide is so avidly seized upon by the evolutionary biologist as irrefutable evidence. I.e., that supposed speciation qualification only proves that some mosquitos can mutate until they can't reproduce with some other mosquitos. It does not by itself prove, however, that any mosquito will, given enough time, eventually become a dragonfly -- much less, down the line another few million years, after innumerable in-between mutations have occurred (whose multitudinous abundance for some curious reason never seems to be found in the ground as part of a trail of millions, even billions or trillions of fossils including all other life forms), an eagle, or a wombat, or a rhinoceros, or a human being.