We can frame a Darwinian worldview in terms of its tensions and contradictions with two other worldviews that are prominent within western culture.
At times it is difficult for the limited and perspectival beings that we are to come to terms with the way things seem to other people. When we become spectators, or perhaps even participants in a conflict of worldviews we tend to indulge in the most superficial understandings of our opponents. We feel compelled (often times for moral reasons as I will argue much later on) to resist or even actively deny that our opponent’s position on the issue at hand might be a very well adapted conceptual niche within a larger worldview that is itself well adapted to the social world in which they live. We feel that clear and compelling reason, whose validity is conveniently judged from our own perspective, is not only capable of adjudicating the debate but is on our side within it. If we could only bring enough of that clear and compelling reason to the conversation, we think, the well intentioned opponent will quite obviously agree with us. When the issue at hand is the truth of Darwinian evolution, one side of the debate is all too inclined to agree with Richard Dawkins: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” (Dawkins, 1989)
In this book I wish to open up the possibility that Dawkins is wrong. I want to suggest that when it comes to Darwinian evolution, an honest, intelligent and well-informed person can in good conscience reject at least some aspects of Darwinian evolution. What is more, I want to argue for this claim from Darwinian premises. While Darwinians (such as myself) are quite fond of providing evolutionary genealogies of the beliefs and worldviews that they take to be false, I want to give evolutionary theory itself this same treatment. In the exact same way that such genealogies can be used to instill doubt within the minds of the religious faithful by suggesting that their religion reduces to evolutionary fitness or that their belief in it reduces to some ulterior motive that has led them astray, I want to provide a similar genealogical analysis of Darwinian theory in order to see how much of it stands up to its own logic. I am personally convinced that, in the end, the theory stands up moderately well in the face of such a genealogy. However, I also think that such a genealogy will also vindicate those other perspectives (such as religion) from which other will doubt and often times reject Darwin.
In order to situate the genealogy that is to come it will be helpful if we give a brief overview of the Darwinian worldview. More specific, I would like to compare and contrast the Darwinian worldview against the Galilean and Paleian worldviews, as I will call them in respective honor of Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, and William Paley. The point of this exercise is to articulate and highlight the consistency within as well as the contradictions between these three worldviews as shown in Table 1 below. Accordingly, by naming these worldviews in this way, I do not mean to insinuate that these men necessarily invented, defended or even accepted every point that I will attribute to their respective worldviews. Nor do I mean to suggest that this is an exhaustive list of all worldviews that have influenced western culture, to say nothing of the entire world. I am, however, quite sure that although you may not personally accept any of these worldviews in their purity as I specifically describe them, you will quite easily recognize all three of them from your own social environment.
Three Primary Worldviews
Table 1. The Paleian, Galilean and Darwinian Creation Worldviews
The first worldview that I would like to discuss is that of the Reverend William Paley. While Reverend Paley is almost certainly the least familiar of the three men whose name I have assigned to a worldview, he was actually a rather influential theologian (Darwin had to read his works as part of his schooling) who is today most well-known for his “watchmaker argument” for God’s existence. In summary, Paley’s argument is as follows:
“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever… But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in that second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose.” (Paley, 1802, p. ch. 1)
What separates a watch from a stone within the Paleian worldview is that the former was built for a specific purpose, a purpose that in some sense was that of the watches maker. After describing in some detail how the biological forms we find in the world more closely resemble a watch than they do a stone, the reverend concludes that these biological forms must also have been created by somebody for some specific purpose of their own. Indeed, his argument is that the nature of the entire universe is such that it must have been created by somebody for a specific purpose. This somebody, quite obviously, is God. Paley concludes:
“[T]hat there must be something in the world more than what we see… [T]hat, amongst the invisible things of nature, there must be an intelligent mind, concerned in its production, order, and support.” (Paley, 1802, p. ch. 27)
I assume that this argument, or some version of it, will not be totally unfamiliar to the reader since it very much presupposes and to some extent argues for the religious worldview that is fairly standard within the west. For our purposes, however, I will largely sideline the validity of the argument and focus upon the structure of the worldview to which it is so well adapted.
Within the Paleian worldview all design, indeed, all creation is the product of a creator. Were it not for the actions of this creator there would be nothing at all and the extent that the creator does not continue to sustain this creation it tends toward death and chaos. In other words, chaos and death is the default standard to which the world inevitably tends absent the creative acts of the creator. The creation is idealistic in nature, in that in a very deep sense the creation was and still is determined by the purposes that the creator had in mind. Purposes are thus logically prior to the nature of the world. As such the entire creation is itself teleological in that it converges over time upon a foreordained end (telos) toward which the entire world is designed and aimed. Within this larger creation, the creator also created specific types of organisms which are also aimed at specific purposes. Since the creator and his purposes are the source of all creation, any non-directed change within these types is a merely corrupted version of and deviation from its original type. These creations, then, are essential, in that they must always remain within some essential boundaries and at no point does one type become a different type outside of the purposive acts of the creator.
The paradigmatic case of the Galilean worldview would be a Laplacian deism in which everything that exists is mathematically determined matter in motion. This is not to say that Galileo was in any sense a deist, but he was the historical origin of the idea that the world is essentially physical in nature and like unto a book that is written in the language of mathematics. Thus, Galileo began the revolt against the idea that the material world behaves according to qualitative purposes, a revolt that would end in a view of the world as nothing but physical matter in mathematical and purposeless motion.
The purest and most extreme version of this worldview would be that of Simon Pierre Laplace who claimed that were a vastly powerful demon to know the starting position of all physical matter within the universe, this demon would be able to use Newtonian physics to calculate the entire history of the universe. Legend has it that when Laplace was asked by Napolean what the place of God was within his worldview, he is said to have replied, “Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.” (Morgan) A starker contrast with Paley can hardly be imagined. A different version of these events, as recounted by Herve Faye, will not only be slightly more compatible with Paley, but will also be much more useful in unpackinig the Galilean worldview I have in mind:
“In fact Laplace never said that. Here, I believe, is what truly happened. Newton, believing that the secular perturbations which he had sketched out in his theory would in the long run end up destroying the solar system, says somewhere that God was obliged to intervene from time to time to remedy the evil and somehow keep the system working properly. This, however, was a pure supposition suggested to Newton by an incomplete view of the conditions of the stability of our little world. Science was not yet advanced enough at that time to bring these conditions into full view. But Laplace, who had discovered them by a deep analysis, would have replied to the First Consul that Newton had wrongly invoked the intervention of God to adjust from time to time the machine of the world (la machine du monde) and that he, Laplace, had no need of such an assumption. It was not God, therefore, that Laplace treated as a hypothesis, but his intervention in a certain place.” (Faye, 1884, pp. 109-111)
This worldview, then, takes inanimate matter that acts according to inviolable and mathematical laws as a default standard – a default that was likely, but not necessarily put in place by an original act of creation. In contrast to the Paleian creator, however, the Galilean creator has no need for further intervention after his original creative act since such interventions would be nothing more than repairs to a somehow defective creation. Thus, the Galilean world exists in a static equilibrium, neither decaying, nor improving in any significant sense. (Even Adam Smith’s theory is a version of this worldview in which the free market always returns, by way of the invisible hand, to its original equilibrium.) The stasis of this equilibrium is maintain by a balance between a negative tendency toward disorganized chaos (entropy) as well as a positive tendency brought about by the reproduction of biological forms. These biological forms were each originally designed according to their essential, predetermined patterns or forms, these forms being that which determines both the reproductive abilities as well as the everyday movements of each biological species. While there is certainly some small amount of variation within each of these biological types, such variation is insignificant since it always clusters around and is therefore bound to an unchanging type.
The third worldview I wish to describe is that of Charles Darwin. This worldview might tolerate the idea that God originally created the universe, but it actively rejects the idea that He created the various forms of life that we see around us. The creation of all such biological forms is fully naturalistic. As Darwin explicitly claimed, different types of biological forms are neither preordained nor are they separately created, but are of common descent, descent with modification. Famously, Darwin closed his book, On the Origin of Species, as follows:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” (Darwin, 1859, pp. 489-490)
Within this worldview, the existence of at least one imperfectly replicating lifeform is a default that is taken from granted. This standard is always acted upon by the destructive forces of natural selection and the creative forces of random mutations. Purposeful designs are fundamental to biological species within the Darwinian worldview, but they are the products of the natural world rather than the other way around. Thus, purposes are always relative some limited and changing environment and do not tend toward or convergence upon some final absolute or preordained point. On the contrary, biological forms and their contextual purposes freely evolve and endlessly diverge from each other over time. This divergence clearly contradicts the convergence of the Paleian worldview, it is merely different from the stasis of the Galilean.
The tripartite conceptual taxonomy that I have described above has both its strengths and its limitations and, as is typically the case, its weaknesses are closely related to its weaknesses. It must be kept in mind that the purpose of the taxonomy is one of clarification for the practical sake of discussion, rather than any attempt to carve the world and its conceptual joints. That said, the first strength of our taxonomy lies in the clarity that follows from making choosing three worldviews that are logically independent of and thus irreducible to each other. Each independent worldview is fully self-consistent regardless of the logical independences/contradictions that exist between them. The tripartite nature of the taxonomy thus precludes any no stark either/or dichotomies wherein the rejection of any single worldview necessarily entails the acceptance of another. Each worldview independently stands or falls on its own. The downside to this exaggerated independence is that is does not in itself do justice to the fact that in practice most people do mix at least two of these worldviews together. Fortunately, we can partially remedy this shortcoming by considering the three hybrid worldviews that result from the mixing of two found in Table 2 below.
The second strength lies in the simplicity that follows from limiting our options to three worldviews rather than describing the innumerable worldviews that actually have been and still are articulated and defended in our social world. While a tripartite distinction does allow us to simplify the logical independence of these differing worldviews, there is inevitably some amount of arbitrariness and perhaps some incompleteness in the conceptual boundaries that I have drawn. In real life, the boundaries and transitions between these worldviews will always be indeterminate and blurry. The sharpness (or lack thereof) between the three worldviews will thus correlate strongly with the degree to which any two are not merely independent of, but actively contradict the other. This second shortcoming can also be partially remedied by briefly considering the hybrid worldviews that emerge when two worldviews are combined in practice.
Table 2. The Dualistic, Naturalistic and Historical Idealistic Hybrid Worldviews
I will call the first hybrid worldview “dualism.” Although there are certainly important differences between the Paleian and the Galilean worldviews such that we cannot by any means equate the two, it is difficult to pin down a specific and compelling contradiction between them. Indeed, the majority of people who originally came to embrace the Galilean worldview clearly have not abandoned most aspects of their Paleian mentality and as such have accepted a kind of dualism in which ideals and purposeless matter coexist. Examples of these dualists would include Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton and Galileo himself. Indeed, since the mathematical worldview of Galileo just is that which structures the physical sciences to this day, the large number of practicing physical scientists who actively believe in and pray to God are living examples of such a dualism.
Most modern day creationists, I suggest, would be another example of this dualistic worldview that clearly defines itself in sharp contradiction to the Darwinian worldview. Today’s creationists will allow for the existence of “micro-evolution” within boundaries that were originally created by God, but they believe these boundaries to have remained relatively specific and unchanging over time. They still insist that any “macro-evolutionary” transitions from lower to higher species or from one biological type to another must be done by a creator and as such follow from an absolute and preordained purpose. Typically the creator does intervene with his creation from time to time, but this is not due to some shortcoming on his part or a shift in his purposes. Rather, such interventions are due to the fall of mankind. Mankind, within this view, is a not merely one biological type among others in that is it not merely matter in motion. Rather, mankind a dualistic lifeform that is to some degree modeled after God’s own image and as such has a mind that is not mere matter in motion. Mankind are thus able to use their non-physical free will in order to create or destroy many parts of the physical world that would otherwise be in equilibrium. Creationists thus claim that God intervenes to repair the damage done by our destructive acts of free will that follow from our fallen natures. Finally, because the transition from one biological type to another requires a divine act of creation, any non-directed biological changes must therefore amount to a degeneration and deviation from a pure and idealistic biological form to a lower, more contaminated one. Given that creationism accepts both a Paleian and a Galilean worldview, it would be unfair to call them anti-science in any unqualified sense. Nevertheless, while these two worldviews are roughly compatible, there remains a famously unresolved tension regarding the interaction between the idealistic purposes of Paley and deterministic matter of Galileo. This tension will be explored in much greater detail later on in this book.
The second hybrid worldview that follows from my tripartite taxonomy combines the Darwinian and Galilean worldviews, a hybrid that I will call “naturalism”. This is the position advocated by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others that see atheism and natural science (the physical sciences and the biological sciences combined) as going hand in hand. This is unsurprising, for in the same way that dualists define themselves in opposition to the Darwinian worldview, the naturalists largely define themselves in opposition to the Paleian worldview. For the naturalist, all ideals larger than or beyond the domain of the natural sciences are naught but superstition and tradition to be abandoned. Naturalists typically view physics as being the most basic or fundamental traits of the universe, thus construing the divergent lifeforms of biology as patterns that emerge within the physical matter in mathematical motion. The forces of natural selection are thus another way of viewing the ways in which entropy encroaches upon the replication of naturalistic patterns. Inasmuch as purposes and meaning exist, they do so only within these “higher” patterns that naturalistically emerge from physics, leaving no ultimate purpose to govern or structure the natural world from beyond. The biggest tension that exists within this combination, a tension that we will isolate in much greater detail within this book, is the relationship between the contingent and pluralistic existence of purpose/meaning and absolute nihilism of physical laws.
Finally, the third hybrid that our trifold scheme forces us to confront is the historical idealist. This combination of the Paleian and Darwinian worldviews is probably the least well defined or at minimum the most foreign to the minds of English speakers, it being most epitomized by social theorists that have been influenced by Hegel. (Hegel actually preceded Darwin by several decades.) While creationism defined itself in opposition to Darwin and the naturalism defined itself in opposition to Paley, the historical idealism defines itself in opposition to the deterministic materialism of the Galilean worldview. Indeed, this worldview largely emerged in the forms of German idealism and a continental romanticism that arose in opposition to the instrumental materialism of the Galilean worldview.
On the one hand, historical idealists stand apart from the dualism I have described above in that they believe purposive ideals to vary according to and thus be determined by historical processes in which us mortal take part. They reject the idea that there has been one timeless set of purposes and values that have come from some being that is totally independent of us historical creatures. On the other hand, they also disagree with the naturalists in claiming that purposive ideals are prior to, outside of and thus determine the nature of the world rather than the other way around. Accordingly, they reject the idea that physics is in any sense more fundamental than or basic to other ways of understanding the world. There is, however, an unresolved tension within historical idealism. One variety of historical idealism (Hegel’s own) follows Paley in seeing history as converging upon and culminating with a final and absolute ideal that is able to stand above and pass judgment on all others that came before it. Other varieties follow Darwin more closely in taking the history of ideals to diverge into a relativistic pluralism of merely localized convergences, no one of which standing above any other. This tension will also be a thread that runs through the length of the book.
Unresolved tension and Contradictions
The familiarity that the hybrid worldviews of dualism, naturalism and historical idealism will likely have for most of my readers strongly suggests four hypotheses with regards to my original tripartite description. First, the degree to which we can understand such hybrid worldviews in terms of the “purer” original three suggests that the original three are likely more simple – not unlike the primary colors – and thus more useful to our descriptive purposes. Second, the fact that hybrids cannot be mixed with each other without some unresolved tensions remaining confirms the idea that they are mixes of purer, more basic worldviews that themselves have a higher degree of self-consistency. Third, the degree to which such hybrids make coherent sense to us illustrates amount in which the primary worldviews typically bleed into and conceptually mix with each other in real life. Fourth, to the degree that unresolved tensions remain within two-part combinations of worldviews, a combination that largely defines itself in contradiction to the third worldview, we can expect to aggravate and intensify these contradictions by combining all three worldviews.
It is my contention that a piecemeal acceptance and rejection that minimizes but does not fully eliminate the tensions and contradictions between the Paleian, Galilean and Darwinian worldviews is the most rational approach that we can hope for. While I strongly suspect that this thesis can also be defended from both the Paleian and Galilean perspectives, it will be my task within this book to defend it from within the Darwinian worldview. In other words, I will use the Darwinian worldview to argue for the piecemeal acceptance and rejection of that same Darwinian worldview.