In my column for Catholic Thing yesterday, I looked over the latest “Fat Man” package by the Intelligent Designists, dropped on the neo-Darwinoids — it is Darwin’s Doubt, by Stephen C. Meyer — & expressed some mildly pacifist sentiment. That the former are basically right about the latter, it may come as no surprise that I believe. Compress the natural selection hypothesis within multiple paired detonators, & it blows up wonderfully. (My analogy is in the worst possible taste.) It leaves the alien city in ruins.
It does not, however, rebuild that city. At the heart of the Intelligent Design movement is, I think, a misleading promise, perhaps even a temptation. It is to suggest that the “scientific materialism” of neo-Darwinism could somehow be replaced with another exercise in scientific materialism. But this is something no “ID” hypothesis can supply. God is God, immanent & transcendent. There is no explaining I Am that I Am. Empirical science cannot provide a theology, nor an infallible cosmology. The best it can do is provide descriptions of the Creation, to be contemplated by the faithful, as icons are contemplated. It can expound some modest aspects of the Mystery, but not explain the Mystery away.
Forget the basic, intractable problem of getting something from nothing; of accounting for how life began on this planet in the first place. Instead keep staring at what is called the “Cambrian explosion” — “in which an astounding variety of incredibly sophisticated ‘body plans’, including apparent precursors of all we know today, emerged during a singularly quick snip of geological time, all over the planet, starting around 525 million years ago.” Then finally, to my mind, look carefully at a sparrow — “Are not two sold for a penny?” — & consider the irreducibility of the thing. We cannot possibly explain macroevolution by minutely incremental microevolutionary changes. It is like saying you can swim from San Francisco to Hawaii, by resting on all the intervening islands. Look at the map, at the fossil record: the islands aren’t there. Charles Darwin’s perfectly sincere argument, that we just haven’t discovered them yet, will no longer wash.
But that isn’t to say his “theory” is disprovable. In any strict Popperian sense, it cannot be, & therefore isn’t technically wrong. Rather, it isn’t “science.” It is a purely materialist explanation which, like the scientific materialism of Karl Marx, is too ludicrous to believe any more. (And that goes equally for “neo-Marxism.”) But no one can confute Marx, either. People killed & died for that “theory” over several generations; millions upon millions of corpses to prove Marx’s point. There are still some killing in the mountains of Peru & Nepal. Nevertheless the word is out. It doesn’t matter how many you kill. It is still nonsense. “Put not your faith in men.”
My argument is also with Popper, however. The amount of reality that can be explained, by faithful adherence to “scientific method,” to theory & counter-theory, is so slight it rounds out to zero. Pure science gives us equations that are beautiful to contemplate. Lifting another analogy from Meyer (I stole Hawaii, above), Newton did not say that gravity created the world. He described it mathematically. He did not even present it as a force of nature, or a law for the jackboots to uphold. He observed it as a kind of perfection. With developments in physics we discovered that, perfect as it appeared to Newton, it was actually more perfect than that.
One of the commenters on my Catholic Thing piece cited another anti-Darwin tract (Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong) to show the same sort of thing is possible in biology:
“Fibonacci patterns, in which each term is equal to the sum of the two preceding ones, seem to be prior to all evolutionary developments; scaling factors in organisms are multiples of a quarter, not of a third, according to the ‘one-quarter power law’; computational analysis of nervous systems of organisms show that their ‘connexion economies’ are perfect; ‘cost versus speed’ analyses of the respiratory patterns of the song of canaries show the most efficient use of energy; tests of the ratio of foraging honeybees to those staying in the hives show perfect solutions in all situations.”
Sure, you can say that this ridiculously bumbling god, Natural Selection, simply homed in on the right answers by trial & error. Except, you will find such perfections throughout living nature, & wherever you look in the fossil record. You can’t swim to Hawaii.
But other commenters, several directly to my inbox, complained about the conclusion I drew from all this. I said, “it is pointless to fight the neo-Darwinian establishment. As men like Simon Conway Morris have shown (see his remarkable Map of Life website), the best Christian tactic is to ignore the secular-humanist enemy, with its atheist political agenda, & simply publish the discoveries. They speak for themselves. At heart, the enemy knows he is defeated, & it is time to move on.”
So what was I thinking? Of course “we have to fight” the people who control Big Government & Big Science, driven by their scientific-materialist (i.e. scientistic) agendas. They are persecuting us, & their control, too, of the whole state education system, & through government regulation of all the rest, assures an immense & evil engine of indoctrination. Why shouldn’t we rise up?
And I have not the slightest objection to plugging away, if anyone wants to keep affronting the neo-Darwinian establishment, & is willing thereby to sacrifice his career, & his grant money, & any prospect of rising through the ranks of the party apparatchiks. Nor do I demur when the apparently numerous quiet reactionaries, embedded within the machine, argue for a more free market approach to biological inquiry. Go for it, if you wish.
But I think back on the Cold War, & how we didn’t win it by fighting. We won it instead by outlasting. It didn’t end, for instance, after the confrontation over Cuba. We actually lost most of the other confrontations, in Korea, Vietnam, & so forth. We were no match for the enemy’s espionage services, nor the war economy on which he was willing indefinitely to live. He lived on the lie, as Solzhenitsyn observed more profoundly, & on the willingness of his subjects to participate in the lie. By all means, refuse to participate. Never agree to proclaim what you know to be false. Omit that lip service.
I have noticed this in my perusals of the biology texts, acceptable to the academy. There is lip service to Darwin in the preface, usually in the form, “What hath Darwin wrought?!” If you find the man elsewhere, in the index, it will be for some echo of this scientistic credo. Everything proves neo-Darwinism, because nothing does. In the pop science of the glossy magazines, every new ape or trilobite is presented as a vindication of some (wonderfully hallucinated) family tree. And yet no discovery depends upon it. We have increasingly gratuitous lip service to the party line. Omit that, & nothing is lost; nothing whatever. The ape & the trilobite remain.
In the end, the Marxist scientific materialism came down not with a bang. For more than a generation, the Communists did not themselves believe what they were preaching. They were down to lip service. They lost their will to keep up the persecution; as the Romans before them lost their will, even while retaining an impressive plurality of soldiers & weapons. They no longer believed, & got tired of enforcing a position from which they had themselves defected.
That, I expect, will be the fate of scientific materialism in each of its other guises, of which institutional neo-Darwinism is one. It requires an act of “faith” that is too tiresome, that cannot be sustained by the truth. It will fight & fight for its own survival, for its right to monopolize the academy & persecute heretics without & within. Then, at the least expected moment, it will fold, without even one last memorable explosion because all its fuel is spent.