Humanity's Thinking ... Shifts Over Time ... and Darwin's Dilemma
- What did scientists conclude about life's origin before the mid 1800's—prior to Darwin and prior to evolution theory?
- What characterizes the philosophical environment and the thought world in Darwin's day?
- If you could have heard Charles Darwin speak—to meet this man in person—would you invest yourself, your beliefs, in what this person said?
- What do you know of the personal struggles of Darwin or for that matter of Victorian thinkers of his day?
- Was evolution theory a foregone conclusion from the time of its first presentation?
- Has humanity's thinking changed from the earliest thinkers—throughout the generations—to the present time?
- Does a review of the standing scientific evidence raise doubts or new questions concerning origins?
- What happens to our view of life if the evidence reveals—even demands—a reasonable yet dramatic shift in viewpoint?
The world view before the Victorian Era—before Darwin, Wallace, et al.—included perspectives on design and a Divine Presence as being responsible for the universe and all that is in it. So too, many thought of the universe as infinite and ageless. Created life simply revealed an order that was not the result of randomness nor chance. For example, Linnaeus is often cited as a creationist, yet he did a good measure of work as a scientist in classifying organisms. Yet, by the mid 1800s there came a period of 'enlightenment' and thinking that segregated the Divine from the material—natural causes seemed responsible for more and more of the observable world. There was a struggle to define material and natural causes in some logical scheme which in turn seemed to fit what Darwin, Wallace and others offered publicly—on evolution—at scientific meetings and in print.
However evolution theory was not without challenge. We rarely hear this part of history. We rarely hear about Darwin's struggle with the issue of natural evil. Did you realize he struggled with morality as well as the biology? Why didn't we hear about this in biology class? Yet the social environment in his day was primed to adopt the theory and was less concerned with critically thinking about the evidence. In some cases critical points raised in open discussion were simply excused. There was then a mix of philosophy as well as science at play. Had the evolutionists of the 1800s a look at today's data, the entire genesis and acceptance of evolution theory would have been quickly reversed. This reversal is hard to come by even today, because the philosophical road has long been traveled with the standard story on evolution—some say it's simply a fact. Textbooks don't even offer a hint of what might have happened if Darwin had access to more information. But today you have such access.
Next the evidence for heredity—discovered in the early 1900s—appeared to fit with early suppositions on evolution. A mental fit was envisioned—this is called neo-Darwinism. This only served to extrapolate evolution theory's momentum generated by the Victorian thinkers. However, there is a challenge being leveraged today that brings back ideas on design—now with a revival force resting on new perspectives, greater data resources, and a even closer look at evidence Darwin used in his day. The new evidence—examined in an objective light—isn't merely more of a foregone conclusive nature for evolution's standard story.
The short answer is that the pendulum is swinging back with new force and yet there is resistance. The new force builds on intelligent design arguments, evidence from information science, molecular evidence, and scientists building a new testable hypothesis—concerning origins that science previously ignored—all this builds a broader base than what evolution theory rests on today. And when this all finally takes center stage the debates on public education will reach an entirely new level. Change is certainly in the offing! Again, the resistance noted above comes from quarters in the scientific community and popular media that are unwilling [philosophically] or are slow to recognize evidence [from science itself] that reveals if and where evolution theory fails.
If Darwin were alive today, he would be asking us to think along the lines of the new evidence. The standard story would be shifting again and with good reason. Darwin would agree—Darwin would demand the story be told by the best available evidence. If he did not do so, then what kind of scientist would he have been?
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Shifts in thinking occur. Models for how things work are at times identified as paradigms. Paradigm shifts are rare or ideally considered unlikely because the paradigm's explanation is the solid model or best fit for the evidence on hand. WindowView leads to a summary exercise that asks you to think about current paradigms. Looking at how thinking has and will shift is part of this exercise!
Ancient thinkers first concluded there is a design in and a Divine presence behind the order of the universe. Later thinking brought humanity to a material-based theory—everything is thus explained by causes and effects within nature.
A shift back toward the concept of design is in part what you will find occurring today. The latter move is just now gaining momentum, but there is delay in the process because of prejudices (especially) built into western thought. As scientific evidence opens the discussion and the prejudices are put aside the entire view on origins takes a dramatic shift. Yes, we live in a material world, but our origins come with more than a material explanation!
Darwin wasn't the first to think about evolution. But he uniquely fought a battle within himself that in part reflected how Victorians wrestled with concepts of God; good and evil; and the natural world. Darwin didn't just go observe plants, animals, insects, etc. He wrestled with how nature exhibited waste, excess, and an apparent natural evil that he could not ascribe to a Divine Intelligence. Darwin responded to the arguments concerning design by seeing imperfections in nature. And in examples of behaviors and instinct came a form of evil that he traded off against questions concerning morality.
The world of biology is, to be sure, full of beauty and wonder. But there also seem to be anomalies and inefficiencies. Darwin was concerned, for example, that of tons of pollen go to waste every year, that some species are ill adapted for their environments, that ants make slaves of other ants, and that parasites feed off their victims. He tried to make sense of what seemed to be the evil side of nature. "What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of a nature," he concluded in a letter to a friend. Hunter (DG) Page 10
Darwin, like many readers and thinkers in his day, encountered Milton's Paradise Lost. Reflecting on this gives us a clue as to what people where thinking back then.
The main purpose of Paradise Lost was to solve the problem of evil. If God is loving and all powerful, why does he allow evil to exist at all? Milton tried to explain the purposes of God, or as he put it, "justify the ways of God to man." His solution was that God needed to let humans choose between good and evil so he could separate the good from the bad. Although this solution maintained God's purity, it also made him a somewhat passive, distanced from the events of history. This epic tale is in many ways a telling signpost of where the modern era was going with its view of God and creation. Creation was on its own, rather than under God's influence and control. Hunter (DG) Page 12
The quotes presented here by Cornelius Hunter come from his recent book entitled Darwin's God. Hunter reveals a struggle that goes beyond questions on evolution as science alone. There are distinct signs that Darwin and many around him were trying to compartment God into some neat partition within human reality. This quickly reveals a vain exercise that places blinders on whatever truth is to rationalize life defined by a human dictated comfort zone. Yet to think about human existence begs the questions of why things are what they are in nature as well as within the human domain.
An important similarity between Darwin and Milton should not be missed. The two are sometimes contrasted, since Darwin was rapidly moving toward a naturalistic explanation of the world, whereas Milton saw God as the creative force of the world. But both men were dealing with the problem of evil—Milton with moral evil and Darwin with natural evil—and both found solutions by distancing God from the evil. And most important, the two held similar conceptions of God. Hunter (DG) Page 12
How many students are told this side of the story. Might we have simply thought Darwin launched off into the academic pursuit of evolutionary origins. Instead, Darwin struggled with a multiplicity of issues ... many now masked by sterile presentations in textbooks. But these issues are hardly beyond our understanding as humans. We too seek to explain life as we experience and grow through time. This indeed makes Darwin look all the more human—as one among us—as opposed to some defiant academic living in an ivory tower!
... Darwin wrote to a friend: "There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the [ parasitic wasp ] with the express intention of their feeding within a the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice." Hunter (DG) Page 12
Darwin had a long list of biological quandaries that did not fit with a view of God that was popular in his day. There was, for example, the problem of hybrids. Why should species cross so easily if they were created separately? ... Nature seemed to lack precision and economy in design and was often "inexplicable on the theory of creation." In addition to this growing list of imperfections and mistakes, Darwin questioned the way the various species were designed. He observed, on the one hand, that different species use "an almost infinite diversity of means" for the same task and that this should not be the case if each species had been independently created by a single Creator. On the other hand, Darwin observed that different species use similar means for different tasks. This to, he argued, does not fit with the theory of divine creation. ... the point is that Darwin was significantly motivated by nonscientific premises. He had a specific notion of God in view, and as it had for Milton, that view defined the framework of his thinking. ... God's world had to fit into certain specific criteria that humans had devised. Hunter (DG) Page 13
So, who is placing limits on the potential for an intelligent agency? What limit is to be placed on the degree of variation or diversity of life ... Darwin's limits? We may be tempted to resist the notion that reality is actually quite extra ordinary. In this context our conclusions are brought down to the level of what seems the ordinary, the mundane, the day-to-day reality. If that happens, then ...
... Creation doesn't seem very divine, so evolution must be true. Evolution is a solution to the age-old problem of evil. The problem of evil states that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then he should not allow evil to exist. For centuries theologians and philosophers have tried to solve this problem. As Milton showed in Paradise Lost, moral evil can be explained as the results of human autonomy, but natural evil is more difficult to rationalize. The seventeenth century philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz was interested in the problem of evil. He coined the term theodicy for any explanation to the problem. By Darwin's day the list of such explanations was growing. One strategy was to try to show that God was somehow disconnected from creation. Natural evil arose not from God's direction but from an imperfect linkage between Creator and creation. Hunter (DG) Page 14
Acknowledging that evil exists in the presence of the Divine seems a contraction in terms and certainly our wrestling with this issue is not new. But the conclusions we come to may also conflict with a greater purpose ... something deserving our attention. This purpose itself may appeal to what is extra ordinary. We can't simply be in the ordinary state of mind unless we want only ordinary answers—simply naturalistic answers. And so others have wrestled with the issue of evil and reflected concerns we can now read ...
Darwin's concern with the problem of natural evil is apparent in his notebooks and his published works. His theodicy had a strong scientific flavor, to the point that most readers lost sight of the embedded metaphysical presuppositions.
... Positing natural selection operating in an unguided fashion on a natural biological diversity was Darwin's unique solution. But his overall approach, to distance God from evil, was predictable. Ù For the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant, our innate moral sense is sufficient to prove the existence of God. Hunter (DG) Page 14
Let's stop and survey the landscape for a moment. As noted above, many thinkers placed the universe in infinite time and space with a Creator responsible for the cosmos and all life. The Victorian era came and evolution theory made for a big shift!
This was a seed which was ultimately to flower in The Origin of Species into a new and revolutionary view of the living world which implied that all the diversity of life on Earth had resulted from natural and random processes and not, as was previously believed, from the creative activity of God. The acceptance of this great claim and the consequent elimination of God from nature was to play a decisive role in the secularization of western society. The voyage on the Beagle was therefore a journey of awesome significance. Its objective was to survey Patagonia; its result was to shake the foundation of western thought. Denton (ETC) Page 17
So, we are not only looking at a shift from one main paradigm to another, here we see a backdrop revealing some of what Darwin used to rationalize evolution. And it wasn't simply biology!
And what were people all around Darwin thinking? The characterization of the Creator was also shifting. The technicalities of the biblical account was overridden by other human-centric thinking.
The problem was aggravated by the rather two-dimensional God the Victorians had in view. It was a tradition that had been building for centuries, and by Darwin's day the popular conception of God was a very pleasant one. Positive divine attributes such as wisdom and benevolence were emphasized to the point that God's wrath and use of evil were rarely considered.
Few people promoted this doctrine of God more avidly than the orthodox Sedgwick. Sedgwick often spoke of God's power, wisdom, and goodness. His main point of application was how these positive attributes are manifest in creation. The student of nature, according to Sedgwick, should find the natural world full of beauty, harmony, symmetry, and order. Biology was full of beautiful form and perfect mechanism "exactly fitted to the vital functions of the being." And it was all driven by God's wonderful laws: ... Hunter (DG) Page 15
Sedgwick then notes the laws of nature also provide a witness to God's wisdom, power, and presence. Nature then falls under the umbrella of the greater reality. Beauty in nature as a testimony for an Intelligent Designer at work ... why is such a notion discouraged? Perhaps because this is NOT 'scientific.' But how much of your thought life is strictly scientific? What then is this requirement but philosophy or opinion? The fact is wonder has escaped Westerners; yet wonder is a tool of powerful perspective.
Darwin's theory of evolution was very much a solution to the problem of natural evil—a theodicy. The problem had confounded thinkers for centuries. They needed to distance God to clear him of any evil doings. Darwin solved the problem by coming up with a natural law that he argued could account for evil. Natural selection, operating blindly on a pool of biological diversity, according to Darwin, could produce nature's carnage and waste.
Darwin's solution distanced God from creation to the point that God was unnecessary. ... God may have created the world, but ever since that point it has run according to impersonal natural laws that may now and then produce natural evil.
Darwin may have solved the problem of how nature's evil could arise without God, but what about Sedgwick's morality? Though he respected Darwin's effort, Sedgwick criticized his theory of evolution scathingly. Predictably enough, the main complaint was that by distancing God, Darwin was disregarding the moral imperative that was so obvious to Sedgwick. Hunter (DG) Page 16
The existence of evil seems to contradict God, but the existence of our deep moral sense seems to confirm God. Hunter (DG) Page 18
So Darwin made a trade off, yet he was left with a dilemma. And while this reflects a problem based on morality, it reflects a similar dilemma in what science was unable to resolve in other problem areas as well.
As Hunter notes, Darwin reconciled a metaphysical dilemma that troubled him, but not Sedgwick. But if natural evil was resolved, then what was one to do about morality? Where does moral law come from? One dilemma remained!
Within the spectrum of rational theism, Darwin traded dilemmas. Hunter (DG) Page 142
The point is simple and must be made. Darwin did not think solely in terms of biology. He had been trained in theology, traveled the globe to gather biological specimens, talked with other Victorian era thinkers, and experienced a full complement of arguments. We just don't see a complete treatment of all this when the standard evolution story is told. Natural evil is just not an issue in the textbooks. But it was an issue for Darwin and this entered into his broader view on life and formulating a theory to explain how life presents us with all the species we see.
The temptation here is to make endless quotes from Hunter's text. However, we'll let you find a copy of Darwin's God at your library or favorite bookseller. The following selected quotes are given to indicate that the Victorian era represents a time when humanity in many ways chose its own way of thinking—in many instances aside of what scientific evidence or scriptural texts would provide.
How we see the world is so often beset by our assumptions. Hunter notes these are like "metaphysical spectacles which influence how we see the world" (Hunter (DG) Page 127) and this is true for evolution. Metaphysics shaped thinking throughout time created a comfort zone for the nineteenth century thinkers who were unaware that they were wearing these 'spectacles.' But all the while, from this point of view, evolution is claimed objective and entirely scientific.
There is a disparity between evolution's claims of opportunity and its use of metaphysics. ... In the nineteenth century, the opinion among intellectuals that God was superfluous in philosophy and science grew from a minority position to the consensus. One might think it was a time of remarkable change, but there was a silent threat of constancy that ran throughout this great transition. Though God became unnecessary, the popular concept of God remained basically intact. Darwin lead to a God who was not necessary, and at the end of the century Frederick Nietzsche declared that God was dead. For Nietzsche humanity was finally free of God, but what was less obvious was that humanity was not free of the religious premises on which the movement was built. In one cannot disprove God without first assuming something about God. Humans may have been free of God, but they were not free of their presuppositions about God. Hunter (DG) Page 127
The shift in world view on origins, on the role or presence of an Intelligent Designer (Creator), and move toward a materialism was not sudden. But evolution theory tended to lock in the thinking. First, a drift in thought, then locking in a shift in perspective with an apparent naturalistic explanation (evolution).
There was a great diversity of religious belief in Darwin's time, ranging from romanticism and existentialism to evangelicalism and revivalism. One common thread running through most of this diversity was a decidedly human centered outlook. ... People were religious, but they tended to focus on themselves more than on God. Hunter (DG) Page 128
Materialism and naturalism said this place seems to explain itself without any help from the outside ...
As a scientists began to see the universe run by a fixed laws, man began to wonder if there was any need, or indeed any place, for a Divine Ruler. The fixed laws seem to be enough to run the universe. One could wonder, is the universe run and by a Divine Being, or does it run a by itself? Are we humans the product of a Divine Creation set on this earth to fill some a purpose? Or are we merely a product of the laws of nature, like a rock falling off a cliff? There were advantages to doing away with the need for a Divine Ruler: man would then be answerable only to himself and not to some Higher Authority. Spetner (NBC) Page 2
We strongly recommend a reading of Hunter's text as he explores more of the implications for the panorama of belief in the Victorian era. This is important reading and helps us to think critically about what we, as individuals, might do to assess our own thoughts on life, existence, and the influence Darwinism has had on society, on science, and even on religious belief today.
Darwin's Solution for natural evil
We won't say periods of history lock in clear stereotypes on thought. The world is awash with varied beliefs. But certainly the theory of evolution stepped into the spot light and subsequently has enjoyed much attention. But what was behind the idea of evolution that made it work so well?
Hunter notes ...
As with Milton, Darwin's thought of was influenced by his concept of God. Darwin believed that God would not have created the biological world as we find it and saw evolution as a way around this problem. And just as Milton's theodicy in many ways reflected the seventeenth century view of God, Darwin's evolution was consistent with the Victorian's religious beliefs. But as always, there was a spectrum of such beliefs. For many Victorians the problem of evil was critical, but for others such as Sedgwick, the problem of morality was more important. For our purposes, what is important is that the metaphysics underlying evolution and run deep. Darwin's theory did not obviate metaphysics, it incorporated a particular metaphysic. Hunter (DG) Page 142
Denton adds ...
It was because Darwinian theory broke man's link with God and set him adrift in a cosmos without purpose or end that its impact was so fundamental. No other intellectual revolution in modern times (with possible exception of the Copernican) so profoundly affected the way men viewed themselves and their place in the universe. Denton (ETC) Page 67
Denton notes that over time Darwinism 'consolidated into dogma' and the idea of 'continuity' surfaced throughout all aspects of biology. The idea of discontinuities in nature faded by lack of attention not by fact. There became a state of no longer discussing evolution by reference to the facts of nature.
Increasingly, it's highly theoretical and metaphysical nature was forgotten, and gradually Darwinian concepts came to permeate every aspect of biological thought so that today all biological phenomena are interpreted in Darwinian terms and every professional biologist is subject throughout his working life to continued affirmation of the truth of Darwinian theory. Denton (ETC) Page 74
And the apparent truth of Darwinism leads to the assumption of a theory as being fact. If this is the case, then why isn't this clearly fact? Dr. Dembski provides an initial short list of issues that counter this notion of evolution theory as fact:
The following problems have proven utterly intractable not only for the mutation-selection mechanism but also for any other undirected natural process proposed to date: the origin of life, the origin of the genetic code, the origin of multicellular a life, the origin of sexuality, the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record, the biological big bang that occurred in the Cambrian era, the development of complex organ systems and the development of irreducibly complex molecular machines. These are just a few of the more serious difficulties that confront every theory of evolution that posits only undirected natural processes. Dembski (MC) Page 22
Keep exploring ... a number of these issues are considered on additional pages here in the Science Area of WindowView.
The Paradigm is About to Shift
Through this WindowView one may observe a number of points that stand in favor of design arguments. This is not an unfamiliar topic to Darwin, for before Darwin—back to the ancient thinkers and those contemporary to Darwin himself—there was much credit given to a universe by design. But that raised the specter of having to acknowledge a Designer. For some this thought brings discomfort. So any evidence that avoids the need of a Designer was brought to light in an era of Victorian thinking that was ready for a new avenue of thought. That pathway was cloaked in rational thought, based on sensory observations, rooted in nature and justified by scientific laws that seemed to cover the entire material existence.
The Origin of Species radically changed the conventional wisdom of Western civilization. Until about a hundred and thirty years ago, conventional wisdom held man's origin to be supernatural. It held that all life was created by a Power Who made each form of life separately. To western man that Power was the Creator and Ruler of the universe. With the rise of science and scientific method, opinions slowly began to shift. Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo showed that the earth was not the center of the universe. Newton showed that the earth, the moon, and the planets moved through the heavens under fixed laws; indeed, Newton's laws could explain the motion of bodies on earth as well as in the heavens. Spetner (NBC) Page 1
But again, now we are awakening to a lack of evidence for the Darwinian sphere of thought. The trend is there, slow in being accepted, but unavoidably rising to the public's attention. And once the root of this reality grows beyond former assumptions, then paradigms will shift to the sphere containing both science and theology. The difference is that scientific evidence doesn't change, but it enters the discussion to bring us all full circle to something humanity previously observed, embraced, and understood—even with less evidence than we have today.
The general shift from design to evolution moved humanity to material explanations. A physical cause elicits a material response. If it wee all so simple evolution would have a complete explanation. But embracing evolution, gradualism, and naturalism comes with a price. For example, changes in our understanding of science affect the population as a whole. And changes in science, philosophy and theology however vast are only the beginning. Materialism is not limited in its implications to natural science. Materialism is a way of understanding day to day existence and responding to it. Materialism has influenced public standards and policies on morals, law and criminology, education, medicine, psychology, race relations, the environment, and many other areas.
It can be argued that materialism is a major source of the demoralization of the twentieth century. Materialism's explicit denial not just of design but also the possibility of scientific evidence for design has done untold damage to the normative legacy of Judeo-Christian ethics. A world without design is a world without inherent meaning. In such a world, to quote Yeats, "things fall apart; the center cannot hold." Chapman (MC) Page 457
Evolution theory relieves us of any purpose or meaning. The theory blocks investigation of other evidence that supports design. If that evidence keeps coming, then we are facing he realization of finally seeing the other part of life's illusive but very real fullness.
If design, then what is the intelligent agency from which this design arises? And if our existence has a purpose, then into what relationship must we be engaged in to see where this all leads us. If we are not mere happenstance products of some cold impersonal purposeless event, then we must look for the most important personal relationship that is part of the intention behind design. Design is then a signpost and it is saying something. Relationship is at the core of what WindowView examines—in the hope you will see how this applies to you. You ultimately recognize that relationship by your own process of looking. But if a moment of viewing evidence for origins locks in evidence for design, then move on with the question of who is the Designer. We are not the last word on this issue at hand. We need a measure of humility and hold respect high. Yet we need a level playing field. Bias and personal agendas have for too long played out their undue influence. Thinking may shift ever so slowly, but being open to a broader view is important. This is in part captured by Chapman's closing remarks at the symposium on Mere Creation (held November 14-17,1996):
... if you are looking for the final wisdom on the subject of origins and it design, you will not find it here. If you are looking for the final wisdom on the implications of design for culture, you'll not find it here. People of many backgrounds and convictions—and certainly scholars and critics who adhere to diverse faiths or no faith that all—will need to enter this debate and contribute to it. The important thing for now is that materialism can no longer be assumed unquestioningly and that intelligent design is on the table for discussion. Chapman (MC) Page 459
The WindowView is more than thoughts on design. Yet design is on the table—even here—and in the view ... as we look on and continue to build an array perspectives.
Effective science, perhaps the most effective thinking, is best supported when multiple perspectives and multiple sources of evidence are used to build an understanding. Here we see a need to resolve a dilemma. The need then spills over into a scientific arena that ultimately becomes influenced by limitation and belief that go beyond science alone. This lead humanity to shift its beliefs. This point is often skipped in the popular media. This reflection is then an important part of a truly multifaceted story.
Quotations from "Mere Creation" (MC) edited by William A. Dembski are used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used without permission from InterVarsity Press.
Quotations from "Not By Chance" (NBC) written by L. Spetner, are used by permission granted by Dr. Lee Spetner.
Quotations from Dr. Michael Denton's "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" are used by permission of Adler and Adler Publishers Inc., 5530 Wisconsin Ave, Suite 1460, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Quotations from "Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (DG), by Cornelius Hunter are used by permission of Brazos Press, a division of Baker Book House Company ©2001. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company. http://www.bakerbooks.com
The WindowView drops many of the typical presumptions to take another look. What does scientific data tell us if we start without assumptions? And ... how contiguous is science information if examined along with scriptural perspectives provided by the Bible? The Bible is the only religious or holy book we know of that is in fact consistent with science. While not a textbook, the Scriptures are either contradictory or complementary to scientific perspectives. Have you looked at these perspectives? To see 'Science and Scripture in Harmony' is to reveal life, reality, and your future.
Writer / Editor: Dr. T. Peterson, Director, WindowView.org