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Thursday, March 03, 2005

An Evolving Discussion

The recent column on the way evolution takes over theological language created quite a furor. Not since I pointed out the problems with Islamic sharia have I seen such heated replies. The objections were interesting, if only because they so completely missed the point.

Objection 1: How dare you attack the fact of evolution! You are just a creationist religious nut!

Reply: As I pointed out, I find both creationism and evolutionism very silly and highly amusing. While evolution can certainly affect the size of a finch’s beak, there is little evidence it does anything beyond that. No one has seen a macro-sized creature evolve from one species into another in the lab, no matter how many years they’ve worked at it. Even today, fruit flies are still fruit flies and have never become anything else. No scientists has observed evolution create new species, only variations within a species. Although it may well be correct, it has not yet been proven, it is not a fact. Sorry, but the scientific method requires the alleged change to be observed. It hasn’t been. It has just been hypothesized.

Saying this does not make me a creationist. I am not. Scripture is entirely about man’s relationship to God, thus it says nothing about dinosaurs. Creationists can't use Scripture to explain the presence of large, reptilian bones in the ground, and they should stop trying. Similarly, evolutionists, can't use science to explain the existence of human persons, since “person” is a theological term.

The argument between Luther and Voltaire was absurd from its beginning, and the creationism versus evolutionism argument is just a variation on the theme. It doesn’t matter who wins an argument when both sides are wrong.

Objection 2: Your supposed etymology of the word “person” is wrong. It is not a Christian or a theological term, it was used before Christianity ever took it over.

Reply: The modern English word person arose when modern English did, in about the16th century, in the middle of a Christian millennium. If you are talking about derivation, the word person is derived from (take your pick of theories here): (a) the Etruscan term phersu, meaning the image of a masked dancer, (b) the Greek prosopon, meaning the mask an actor wears or (c) the Latin persona meaning the role a stage actor took. Which is correct hardly matters. In each instance, the term refers to the part (role) played or the mask worn, not the substance of the actor. Even Roman law usage follows this understanding.

Put another way, using the word person in reference to the substance of a person, instead of just the mask, role or act a person put on, is decidedly Christian. The idea that the person is a substance is due entirely to Christian theology, and this theological understanding was held wherever Christianity dominated human culture from the second century to the time of Descartes, Locke and Hume at least. That is, the theological meaning of person encompassed Europe and good chunks of Asia for over a millenia. It entirely drove out the pagan notion.

Objection 3: Not true! The legal definition of “person” is not theological.

Reply: Well, it isn’t now. The English system of law always recognized only human beings as persons. Corporations were at best “artificial persons,” i.e., corporations had no divinely ordained rights because they had no relationship with the divine. They were purely human inventions. Most of America’s Founding Fathers hated corporations, because they had such enormous control in pre-Revolutionary America. But, with the rise of industrialization, railroad lawyers finally managed to accomplish in American courts what the evolutionists are now trying to accomplish in American culture.

Due to the facts of history, American courts consistently refused to award corporations personhood. As Thom Hartmann demonstrates in his book, Unequal Protection: the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights (Rodale Books, 2002), the railroads got around this by paying off a court reporter. The reporter deliberately lied in his summary of the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad. Though that decision said nothing about corporate personhood, the court reporter wrote a summary of the opinion which said in part, ““The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment…which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Harvard graduate and court reporter Davis (who had close ties with railroad industry) knew full well that lawyers often depend more on case summaries than the case law itself. Based on a pre-trail comment by the judge, that summary accomplished the job. It was good enough. Judges and lawyers used the summary to argue that corporations were real persons, pretending this was settled case law. No public discussion or decision needed to be made. It is an interesting coincidence that this “personhood by judicial fiat” entered the law at the same time Darwinian (that is, evolutionary) eugenics was all the rage in Europe and America.

Objection 4: You can’t know the evolutionists actually intend to take over the meaning of theological words.

Reply: Only two possibilities obtain – evolutionists are incredibly lazy and stupid or they are intentional liars. Consider the discussion of evolution in the “Intro to Evolutionary Biology” FAQ at for example, a website that has won three science awards. The essay begins by putting words like “higher” and “lower” in parentheses, to make clear to the reader that these words are not correct when used in reference to evolution. So far, so good.

But, within a few paragraphs, the quote marks suddenly disappear. The author begins describing bats as selfish and altruistic without any quote marks to indicate his mis-use of the words. He realizes he has to explain himself, so he writes the following amazing statement:

“The words selfish and altruistic have connotations in everyday use that biologists do not intend. Selfish simply means behaving in such a way that one's own inclusive fitness is maximized; altruistic means behaving in such a way that another's fitness is increased at the expense of ones' own. Use of the words selfish and altruistic is not meant to imply that organisms consciously understand their motives.”

Let’s count the errors. First, it isn’t the connotations that are the trouble, it is the denotations – that is, the definitions – that hobble the biologist, as any dictionary will show. But, to keep you from going to the dictionary, he quickly provides his own new definitions. And, to further quiet your questioning mind, he ends with a disclaimer saying the words he is using are completely inappropriate.

Now, if you do not intend people to think organisms have consciousness, why intentionally use words that explicitly say they do? Aren’t there enough words in the English language, the largest language in the world, to do the job you want? Are evolutionists incapable of understanding how antonyms work? Can’t they figure out how to open a thesaurus (hint: put the shovel away, it isn’t a dinosaur). And, remember, he intentionally used antonyms to his real meaning but didn’t put them in quotes – he just used them straight out, as if they really applied. If instructors with these habits aren’t lazy idiots, then they are clearly intentional liars. Choose whichever conclusion you find more charitable.

Objection 5: Nonsense! Your entire argument is that use of a metaphor (anthropomorphism) negates an entire argument.

Reply: Read a little more closely. Note what the evolutionist on did. He did not just use the metaphor and stop there (which might have been defensible, although that is arguable). Rather, he used the metaphor, remarked that the metaphor was the opposite of his intended meaning, and then he redefined the words he used in the metaphor so it wasn’t a metaphor anymore.

By redefining the words to strip out all references to purpose, references which were integral to the original meaning of the word, he isn’t using a metaphor. We think it’s a metaphor because we can’t get the original definitions out of our heads, but it isn’t. He redefined the words. Why do that, unless you intend your hearers to make this error? Why do that, unless you want to make an absurd theory palatable by dressing it up in what is now, through the new fact of the redefinition, nothing but a false connotation?

As the Marines say, “Once is bad luck, twice is coincidence, but three times? That’s enemy action.” Supporters of evolution have been doing this for decades. This is double plus un-good.

Objective 6: But biologists do not deny the existence of individual organisms (including humans), nor do they deny the existence of perception, emotions, language, the mental concept "table," or any other part of human experience!

Reply: And therein lies the inconsistency. If the component parts of the universe have no purpose associated with them, then how can purpose suddenly appear in the universe? If I said I knew my biological parents were blood type O, but I knew I was AB, a biologist would shake his head. Type O is recessive – it is the absence of certain proteins on the blood cell. Type AB is the presence of those proteins. You can’t get presence from absence. Two type O’s can only beget a type O.

What is true for the expression of genes is also true for the expression of purpose. Biologists cannot deny in DNA what they admit in the person who embodies it.

Ultimately, the theory of evolution has a problem, a problem it cannot overcome. It doesn’t make sense. It describes a world without purpose, and no one – not even the evolutionists – can consistently envision such a world. A world without purpose is so alien to human thought that even those who claim to espouse the idea find themselves returning again and again to words that speak of purpose in order to explain it. Though they hate doing it, though they try mightily to avoid it, they can’t help it. There is nowhere else to go.

Even redefining words in order to strip them of purpose does not entirely do the trick. Like the little red quark that keeps blinking in our mind’s eye long after we have told ourselves that a quark’s “color” is a figure of speech, a calculating device and nothing more, so the words evolutionists attempt to redefine – words like selfish and altruistic, higher and lower, good and bad - keep whispering into our ear. “Purpose,” they whisper, “It all has purpose.”

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