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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Evolving Lies

As even disinterested observers admit, any theory that has to account for both Giganotosaurus and Genesis is going to require nuance. Unfortunately, the people involved in the evolution-creationism debate tend to lack the quality to a startling degree. As a result, the evolution-creation debate is extremely silly and wildly amusing. But, that having been said, one side has waged a dirty fight, and it is time that we who watch the struggle with popcorn in hand insisted on fairness all around.

Have you heard of The Selfish Gene? It is Exhibit A in the gallery. The problem lies precisely in the title of Richard Dawkins’ book, and I use the verb “lies” most deliberately. You see, Dawkins gets in an illegal kidney punch on the creationists before you even open the book.

He isn’t alone. When we read through the evolutionist arguments, we hear constantly of “the evolutionary imperative to preserve the individual” or “self preservation is the first law of nature." We hear about good genes, bad genes, junk genes, advanced species, less advanced species. There is only one thing they don’t mention. This whole line of conversation is a lie.

Every time a supporter of evolution speaks this way, he is explicitly denying the evolutionary theory he pretends to support. But how can this be? Dawkins seems quite the supporter of evolution.

He is. And that’s the problem.

You see, Dawkins, Gould, et. al., are quite willing to punch the daylights out of a creationist and knock him to the mat, but they don’t fight clean. They simply refuse to stay in their own corner of the English vocabulary while the referee is giving the count. Let me explain.

Take the word “good”. Something can only be good if it has a teleology, a purpose. That is, something is good only insofar as it is a necessary component towards achieving a good, as opposed to a bad, end. But here’s the kicker. In order to have a purpose, there must first be an intellect and a will. That is, you must be a person. Only a person can have a purpose. Tables don’t have a purpose. They don’t think, “I suppose I will support the dishes for breakfast today.” Tables just are. “Good” is a value judgement persons use when they consider the use of an object in reference to the purpose they have in mind. The words “good” and “bad” have no meaning apart from persons.

Now, there’s a debased word: “person.” What is a person? The word “person” is a strictly theological term, developed in the second century to describe the three Persons of the Trinity. There is one God, but three Divine Persons. The three Persons of the Trinity are distinguished only by their divine relations. Human persons are in the divine image and likeness. A human person is a created entity that is called into a relationship with the Divine Persons of the Trinity by the Trinity Himself. We humans are persons only because we are called to participate in communion with the Original Three Persons.

This is very important. From the creationist’s point of view, if God didn’t call us into relationship with Himself, we would be animals, not persons. Because God is Himself, because He calls us, we become ourselves, persons.

So Dawkins cheats when he uses the word “selfish.” "Self" can only be distinguished through personhood. In a room filled with inanimate objects, none of the objects think, so none of the objects have a "self-ness." It is only persons who make the distinction between "self" and "other." This is precisely because we, as human persons, are defined only by our relationship to the Three Divine Persons. Divinity is wholly “other” compared to my puny “self.” That’s how I know my self exists – I ain’t Him, so I must be me. The logic is impeccable.

The World According to Evolution

But, the whole point of evolutionary theory is to explicitly deny the need for persons at all, human or divine. Thus, evolution necessarily and specifically must deny the idea of "self." Evolutionary theory teaches one foundational truth: everything depends on the random interaction of chemicals, interactions completely unaffected by the presence or absence of personhood, self-ness or anything like it. Evolution insists on this foundation, in fact.

But, without persons, evolution has no teleology, no purpose. Thus, atheistic evolutionary theory specifically denies that evolution is either good or bad. According to the theory, evolution simply is. It isn’t headed for an endpoint. It doesn’t have a purpose. Evolution doesn't select good traits or bad traits. It is a mindless process. It can't select. It just is.

Even if it could select, there would be nothing to select. There are no good or bad traits. There are traits that survive and traits that do not survive. Just because a trait survives does not make it good - the trait may only be useful in a highly specialized niche which is swiftly disappearing, and the species with the trait will therefore disappear as the environment changes. The same is true for a trait that does not survive. Complexity only means the trait is probably newer, but newer is not better, nor is older worse. Everything is just a random swirl of chemicals, no meaning, no purpose, no end, no "higher forms" versus "lower forms" of life. Even life is not better or worse than being an inanimate object. Everything just is.

The Lab Test for Sin

So, when evolutionists use the word “imperative” in regards to evolution, they are lying. As Merriam Webster points out, the word “imperative” is drawn from the Latin imperare, "to command." It means: “of, relating to, or constituting the grammatical mood that expresses the will to influence the behavior of another; expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation; having power to restrain, control, and direct; not to be avoided or evaded : NECESSARY [an imperative duty].”

“Will,” “influence,” “entreaty,” “restrain”… all of these words require purpose, each requires an intellect and a will. A tree doesn’t command. A fungus does restrain. Bacteria are agents of influenza, not influence.

Evolutionists know all this, but they insist on using language that pretends otherwise.

When evolutionists start talking about "self," "selfishness," “good,” “bad,” or anything remotely touching on personhood, they have – by that fact - stopped using the language of evolution. Poorly-schooled students of evolutionary theory may think they are still discussing evolution, but evolutionary theory specifically denies that they are. The students have anthropomorphized the discussion, pretended a will and intellect are present when none are, they have brought in a factor that is completely extraneous, absolutely irrelevant, to the evolutionary discussion. They are, in short, discussing theology, not science.

But evolutionists don’t just pull this trick when discussing DNA. They do the same things when discussing animals. They claim, for instance, that animals make and use tools. But the words “make” and “tool” imply purpose. Only persons have purposes. Certainly we can observe that an animal acts in a specific way, but that does not prove the animal has intentionality. Vines grow toward the sun. Do they intend to grow towards the sun? No. Even if they did, there is no way to prove it scientifically.

Funhouse Mirrors

Science cannot test for intentionality. If science could test for intentionality, then it could test for that subset of intentionality known as disordered intentionality.

Put another way, if you can scientifically prove that apes act intentionally, then you can scientifically prove apes can sin. In fact, if you can prove intentionality, you can prove apes do sin. If you can prove it for apes, you can prove it for men.

I've heard science make a lot of claims, but I've never heard a scientist claim he could demonstrate through lab technique what is a sin and what is not. Yet this is precisely the claim that scientists make when they claim that apes, dolphins, orangutans, tangerines, pick your favorite animate or inanimate object, make and use tools. They are claiming that they can test for intentionality, for sin.

They see an ape take an action - it throws a stick. They anthropomorphize that action (which is not science), saying "Wow, we throw sticks too!" Then they claim that science has demonstrated something when, in fact, the scientist has really only observed and anthropomorphized. Just because a scientist does something doesn't make it science.

In fact, we could extend their reasoning to show the fallacy. I fall down. So do apes. So do unbalanced bricks. Thus, all three must be persons.

See how easy it is? I simply have to begin the observation with the assumption that the things I am comparing myself to possess an intellectual state like mine. By the very fact that anyone assumes this kind of similarity, this kind of connection between the actions of bricks, apes and man, those actions are anthropomorphized. Thus, the scientist assumes what he set out to prove: apes are persons.

"But wait," says the scientist, "I have further argument!"

"Oh?" I reply, "And what might that be?"

"Apes, bricks and persons are all made out of the same subatomic particles! See, this proves definitively that all three are persons!"

Well, no, it doesn't. But this is essentially the DNA argument. So we share much of the same DNA (and all of the same subatomic particles) with apes. So what? Personhood is a function of God's divine call to us to share intimate communion with Him. That call is completely independent of whether or not we have a particular somatic structure or particular material components. Personhood is a gift from God, it is not a consequence of the particular arrangement of components in material reality. Personhood is bestowed from above, it does not bubble up from below.

Why do they think apes are persons? Because they do bad things? So do virii and tsunamis. Oh, so apes have a brain? Very nice - so does an ant. Oh, so it's a rather complex brain? Yes, so is that of a human corpse. So it's a rather complex living brain? Yes, I suppose it is. And?

And... And... AND... So what?

Brains are tools for the intellect. The intellect is an aspect of the immortal spiritual soul. The brain is not itself the intellect, it is the mediating tool the intellect makes use of in human beings to express itself. Strictly speaking, the brain is not necessary for the possession or expression of a person’s intellect.

God is Three Persons. God is also anencephalic, but He seems to get on just fine without a brain or even a skull to house it in. So do the angels. So do we. If you don't think so, talk to the saints in heaven. God is Three Persons. He has no DNA. Angels are persons, they have intellect and will. They have no DNA. Human beings in heaven are persons, and they are totally separated from their DNA. Personhood, intellect, will, these things are from God. God gives us an intellect and a will so we can respond to His call to enter relationship with Him. Personhood, intellect, will, this is a theology discussion, not a science discussion.

The Language of Kudzu

So why do smart people keep making extraordinarily stupid mistakes of language? The first question is obvious: are these mistakes? Evolutionists are not stupid. They know perfectly well they are mis-using the language. In their own texts, they even go out of their way to point out that their own use of these theological terms is not correct. They put the theological words in quotes, they warn the reader that evolution really doesn’t have intentionality, nor does anything that is subject to evolution (including us?). They knowingly, routinely encroach on theological discourse; they knowingly, routinely violate the very science they claim to want to explain.

The scientist might argue that he is simply using the theological word in a new, narrowly scientific technical sense. Alright. It is certainly the case that words change in meaning over time. But, the fact is, due to cultural usages, words have meanings that are independent of what anyone might want them to mean.

Take, for instance, the way particle physics has taken over the use of the word "color" for quarks. “Color” in the macro universe refers to specific wavelengths of light. Quarks are not photons, so speaking of a quark’s “color” has no relevance or reference to color as a child with a box of crayons knows color. Intellectually, everyone who has ever read an article about quarks knows this.

But the word "color" is so culturally laden that any use of it, even in a context in which the original definition clearly has no application, causes the person encountering the word to react in a certain way. When we see the word “color” next to a quark, we inevitably picture the quark as a pinhead speck of a specific color - red or blue or green - even though we know intellectually that this is perfectly silly. Quarks don’t emit photons, they don’t have color in a macro-sense.

Now, in physics, this double meaning of “color” is not a problem because mentally visualizing a red quark doesn't interfere with the quark concept. None of the calculations involved, none of the discussions concerning the particle, touch on anything remotely close to the original meaning of the word "color." The habit of the mind to visualize the color is slightly annoying, but nothing more.

But with evolutionary theory, it is different. Evolutionary theory intentionally and repeatedly mis-uses theological terms, terms relating to the person. It specifically attempts to take over the use of the theological vocabulary critical to expressing the very ideas it attacks. It intends to destroy the ability to speak of divinity or personhood at all. Evolution supporters simply co-opt all the words we use to discuss theological concepts, and then they implicitly define those words in ways which divorce them completely from the original theological concepts they were meant to express. And they do this despite the fact that the discipline itself denies it needs those terms.

Like kudzu, the foreign vine in the Southern United States that covers over and destroys everything it touches, evolutionary theory has invaded the English language and stripped it of all theological meaning.

Now, I don’t mind hearing a good discussion of evolution. But I strenuously object to the intentional destruction of the English language. If you want to discuss evolution, go right ahead. But stop taking and using words that don't belong to the lexicon of evolution.

In evolution, things happen, neither good nor bad, just things. There is no self. There are just chemicals. That's it. Talk about evolution correctly or don’t talk about it. Those who don't stick to correct language, go crazy. Worse, they drag the rest of us with them. I, for one, don’t want to go.

43 comments:

DavidByron said...

Dude your entire argument is that use of a metaphor (anthropomorphism) negates an entire argument. Rather than tell you how idiotic that is let me observe that you used a metaphor in the framing of your own argument - ergo it must be false.

Here's the quote:

"But here’s the kicker."

Arguments don't have legs or feet mate. They cannot kick and I think it's dishonest of you to suggest words on a page can kick -- an action not wholly limited to persons, but quite close to it. I'm afraid this falsifies your entire thesis, as I'm confident you'll agree.

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Dear Jared and Steve,

It really it amusing when simple people like yourself attempt to put together a rational argument!

Keep on keeping on! The entertainment value is priceless.

Western Infidels said...

Your use of the word "evolutionists" is itself linguistically dishonest by your own standards, which is pretty ironic considering the point of your column. Technically speaking, there is no "theory of evolution," thus there is no group who can honestly be labeled as those-who-believe-in-the-theory-of-evolution, i.e., "evolutionists."

If you want to dictate terms on the use of language in the science vs. superstition debate, you should already know that evolution is an empirically observed fact, and that natural selection is the best theory anyone's come up with to explain it. If you insist on labeling the overwhelming majority of biologists in the world today on the basis of their shared support of a well-established scientific theory in order to better mock them, it would be more honest to use some other made-up, not-really-a-word like "natural-selectionists." Not as catchy, huh?

Words like "good," "bad," and "selfish" are used as rhetorical shortcuts to get a particular point across, just like your phrase "illegal kidney punch," which you obviously didn't mean in any literal way. It is not warranted to ascribe any more importance to these words than that. If you had any intent of making honest and substantial criticisms, you should be trying to understand what people like Darwin and Dawkins mean by their words, and not just what the words literally say. The fact that you spend 80%-90% of your column on these ridiculous language issues is a sign that you have nothing much to add to this debate.

There are much more serious errors, too. For example, you're basically on the right track with:

There are no good or bad traits. There are traits that survive and traits that do not survive.And then you go and make a groundless logical leap like:

Everything is just a random swirl of chemicals, no meaning, no purpose, no end, no "higher forms" versus "lower forms" of life. Even life is not better or worse than being an inanimate object. Everything just is.Science in general and natural selection in particular make no claims about the "meaning" or "purpose" of the things they study. That doesn't mean that life is meaningless and it doesn't mean that life is meaningful; it just means that science doesn't have anything to say either way on the matter. Your insistence on reading a meaning into this silence is a common, perhaps a natural, mistake. But it's a doozy anyway.

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