Evolution, Religion and the Unknown God
“A Witness of creation, if there had been one conscious but uninstructed, would only have seen appearing out of a vast abyss of an apparent nonexistence an Energy busy with the creation of Matter, a material world and material objects, organizing the infinity of the Inconscient into the scheme of a boundless universe or a system of countless universes that stretched around him into Space without any certain end or limit, a tireless creation of nebulae and star-clusters and suns and planets, existing only for itself, without a sense in it, empty of cause and purpose.”
– Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, pp. 881-84
The evolution of life on Earth is a fact; Darwinism is one theory among several, based on the research of predecessors like Buffon and Lamarck, and formulated simultaneously with the very similar theory of Alfred Wallace. Besides, what is nowadays generally labelled as Darwinism hardly resembles what Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, but is the result of scientific developments at times considered anti-Darwinian.
This book narrates the relevant events in the history of ‘Darwinism’ and the resulting Social Darwinism and Sociobiology. It also stresses the antagonism of the scientific materialism at its basis and the religious teachings of the origin and evolution of life on our planet. It is this antagonism that has inevitably resulted in the ongoing controversies between creationism, the positivist scientific view of evolution, and ‘intelligent design’. The foundations of physical science as adopted by the biological sciences are examined, as are the motives for the attacks on religion by authors like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Stephen Jay Gould. The book analyses and clearly discerns between the various branches of creationism and intelligent design.
Author: Georges Van Vrekhem
Print Length: 300 pages
Publisher: Stichting Aurofonds
Sold by: Amazon.com
Book format: Kindle
- Darwin: The Great Amateur
- The Making of a Theory
- The Origin of Species
- Lamarck: The First Evolutionary Theorist
- Alfred Wallace: The Other Darwin
- The Chain of Being
- Inventing ‘Darwinism’
- Social Darwinism
- The Darwin Wars
- The Scientific Method
- Of Genes,Genetics and Genomes
- Science and Religion
- Intelligent Design
- Intelligence that is Consciousness that is Being
Evolution, Religion and the Unknown God
1. Darwin: The Great Amateur
It seems that if an idea is repeated often enough, then however counter-intuitive it may be, people eventually come to accept it, and to believe that they understand it.
The Fact of Evolution
Evolution is now generally considered a fact, except by some literalist or fundamentalist religions. “It has to be said emphatically: the theory of evolution is true and no manoeuvring will destruct its foundations, even if it is true that we do not yet understand all the mechanisms nor even all the modalities,” writes Claude Allègre. And another scientist, Michael Ruse, states: “By any understanding of the terms, evolution is a well-established fact. It is logically possible that evolution is not true, but it is not reasonable to believe this.” Evidence of the increase in the number of life- forms and their diversification has been abundantly found in the fossil record, the fact of anatomical structures common to various species, their geographical distribution, similarities during embryonic development, and DNA sequences.
In the general mind the idea of evolution is supposed to have originated with Charles Darwin, at a time that people still wore top hats, carried walking sticks and rode in horse- drawn carriages. But Darwin’s idea was preceded by a lot of research and theorizing, and to a considerable extent the result of it. And although it is true that in Europe the origin of the universe, life and the human being was for many centuries attributed to a Creator “in the beginning,” several cultures held that the world and everything in it had evolved.
One such culture was that of the ancient Greeks, who were the first (in the West) to propose answers to the basic questions of existence in a rational, original manner. Their common view was that the history of humanity and the world was cyclic; it repeated itself again and again at huge time- intervals from chaos to cosmos to chaos. But in the fragments left us from some early Greek thinkers one can find hints of a progressive evolution. Anaxagoras of Miletus is quoted as having taught that originally humans were born from animals. Archelaus, the first Athenian philosopher and a teacher of Socrates, said that at first men were included among the animals and were afterwards separated from them. And Democritus, also a contemporary of Socrates, gave a fairly consistent picture of the evolution from primitive hunter- gatherers to agricultural civilization.
Then there is the remarkable case of Jalal ad-Din ar-Rum (1207-1273), the great Sufi poet who, at the time of the Middle Ages in Europe but of a great cultural flowering in the Muslim world, wrote his Spiritual Couplets. Although orthodox Islam is creationist, we find in Rumi the following lines expressing a distinct evolutionary view:
I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal,
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a man
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
However, the clearest formulation of an evolutionary vision of the universe and life on the Earth is found in the Indian scriptures. “In certain respects the old Vedantic thinkers anticipate us,” wrote Sri Aurobindo, “they agree with all that is essential in our modern ideas of evolution. From one side all forms of creatures are developed; some kind of physical evolution from the animal to the human is admitted in the Aitareya [Upanishad] … The Puranas admit the creation o animal forms before the appearance of man and in the symbol of the Ten Avatars trace the growth of our evolution from the fish through the animal, the man-animal and the developed human being to the different stages of our present incomplete evolution. But the ancient Hindu, it is clear, envisaged this progression as an enormous secular movement covering more ages than we can easily count … It is this great secular movement in cycles, perpetually self-repeating, yet perpetually progressing, which is imaged and set forth for us in the symbols of the Puranas.”
What is evolution to the modern mind? The Oxford Dictionary of Biology gives this definition: “The gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms, which is believed to have been continuing for at least the past 3000 million years.” According to Denyse O’Leary, “evolution is the theory that all life forms are descended from one or several common ancestors that were present on the early Earth, three to four billion years ago.” And Michael Behe writes: “In its full-throated, biological sense, evolution means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means.”
Darwinism and ‘Darwinism’
It is erroneous to associate evolution exclusively with Charles Darwin, although proclamations that “we live in the age of Charles Darwin” and comparisons of Darwin with Copernicus, Newton or Einstein are rife in the popularization of science as divulged by the media. To avoid being controversial they lean heavily on the tenets of scientific materialism, back up this official science with their own hyperbole, and if they occasionally serve up unorthodox items, it is with a sauce of denigrating irony.
All the same: “Darwin is not a strict Darwinian,” and the man who said so was none other than a renowned self- proclaimed Darwinian, Stephen Jay Gould. In fact, as we will see, Darwin was anything but a strict Darwinian in the current sense. “Darwin must be distinguished from modern Darwinism. One of the primary justifications for examining Darwin’s own views is precisely to expose the frequent mismatches between the Darwin who is invoked by today’s biologists eager to defend their corner, and the Darwin who wrote The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man.”
Nor was or is Darwinism the sole evolutionary theory. There is e.g. Lamarckism, far from defunct although often so pronounced; vitalism, taboo in academe but stubbornly raising its head time and again in various disguises (evolution, after all, is about life); there is the ‘Omega Point’ theory of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his epigones; there is, of course, creationism, not only as narrated in some holy books, but also in its metaphorical variations; there is the intelligent design theory, which posits that the complexity in nature can only have been fashioned by a special Intelligence; and there is the very scientific but fiercely opposed theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ formulated by Stephen Gould and Niles Eldredge. This enumeration is far from complete but will have to do for the moment. The situation is actually such that, some say, every evolutionary biologist has his own theory.
Then what is authentic Darwinism? It is the theory gropingly worked out by Charles Darwin (1809-1882), especially in two of his books: The Origin of Species by Means of Natura Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859), and The Descent of Man (1872). The first book has had an enormous impact on the way humanity came to see itself. It has become the bible of present-day Darwinian biology and is quoted with reverence. To this end it is very useful, as in some cases Darwin has defended both sides of his arguments. “Before Darwin’s death in 1882 the Origin went through a further five, often substantially revised, editions. They were revised so frequently and so radically because Darwin had found it increasingly difficult to deal with the problems presented to him by some of his more acute critics.”
Given this reverence even by such rational and critical- minded people as positivist scientists, it is amazing to what degree Charles Darwin has been exalted, not to say canonized. “Reading Darwinist literature, one cannot help noticing the way in which each writer stresses his or her own orthodoxy and total fidelity to Darwin, much like bishops discussing the encyclicals of a pope.” Novelist Barbara Kingsolver describes Darwin’s idea of natural selection as “the greatest, simplest, most elegant logical construct ever to dawn across our curiosity about the workings of natural life. It is inarguable, and it explains everything.” And the philosopher Daniel Dennett credits Darwin with “the single best idea anyone has ever had.”
What, then, is ‘Darwinism’? It is an agglomerate of theories assembled and frequently revised under an umbrella postulated to be Charles Darwin’s original idea. It is this cluster of more or less integrated theories which, after Darwin and up to the present, claims to prove that Darwin’s evolutionary machinery would have been working, though he lacked most of the parts. Gregor Mendel’s theory is among the best known; August Weismann’s work is familiar only to experts, although it was defining for ‘Darwinism’; and then came Hugo de Vries who introduced the mutations, Thomas Morgan and the application of mathematics to biology, ‘the new synthesis’ also called ‘neo-Darwinism’, the discovery of the double helix as the structure of DNA, sociobiology, and the theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, to name the most important elements of the cluster.
Darwin knew nothing of the ‘mechanisms’ which could explain his variation, natural selection or inheritance. The composition of the cell, the chromosome and the gene would be discovered decades later; even the fertilization of the ovum by the spermatozoon was still a mystery; and the discovery of the double helix would have to wait till 1953, a century after the publication of the Origin. “Darwin’s scientific arguments are extremely weak, quite simply because in 1859 one was still completely ignorant of the mechanisms of reproduction and heredity,” writes André Pichot, a historian of science. Claude Allègre agrees: “Darwin’s book contains indeed little proof. His book consists for the most part of conjectures, because he did not have the essential elements at his disposal to establish his theory.” Darwin himself had admitted something similar in a letter: “It deserves especial notice that the more important objections [to his theory] relate to questions of which we are confessedly ignorant; nor do we know how ignorant we are.”