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1. The Darwin Debate

Last modified 07/05/2008

 The discovery of evolution was one of the greatest turning points in the development of human thought. It changed manís perspective on himself as profoundly as any other breakthrough in the development of science. First appearing in early Greek and Indian thought during the Axial Age, the idea resurfaced powerfully during the Enlightenment. Then Darwinís seminal publication of his Origin of Species in 1859 more than anything else precipitated this revolution in thought.  

And yet a tremendous controversy, one long argument, has from the beginning accompanied Darwinís achievement. This has produced the intractable and almost endless Darwin debate, which has become a central feature of modern culture itself. In part, this is the result of the renewed outbreak of the conflict of science and religion.   

But the debate was always much broader than the religion-science divide, or even the question of evolution itself. It was the theory of natural selection, hence of random evolution, that Darwin brought to his data that caused many even of those who embraced the factual discovery of evolution to challenge Darwinís claims.   

The limits of observation The problem with Darwin's theory is one of the correct observation of deep time. We apply natural selection in the abstract to incidents that are not documented by direct verification. The result is misleading. We are only observing the surface of development, the drama of survival and 'jungle life'. This is really micro-evolution.

Evolution and ethics Darwinian assumptions are especially misleading with the emergence of man, a very complex creature with a potential for action that is not plausibly explained by the Darwinian scenarios of adaptation. Man's self-consciousness and relative degree of freedom is hard to explain as an adaptation, and yet must be the basis for any account of his cultural totality. Darwinism, despite the various face-saving theories of group and kin selection, fails decisively here.

The metaphysics of evolution The theory of natural selection is really a disguised metaphysical thesis. It purports to resolve issues that have long been a stumbling block for human thought. The evolutionary limits of thought have been clearly mapped out by such figures as Kant who pointed to the inexorable contradictions arising around the ideas of divinity, self, and free will. Darwinism is especially vexed by just these questions. Biologists rightly seek naturalistic explanations without divinity or design arguments, but have no clear account of 'self' or any conclusive stance on the issue of a human 'will'. Thus biology is hard-pressed to produce a truly foundational definition of even something as fundamental as a definition of the 'organism'.

One way to break the deadlock of the Darwin debate lies in the study of history itself. Darwin's theory is about non-random evolution, and the claim that chance processes can achieve the feat of 'climbing Mt. Improbable'. Unexpectedly, the study of world history can show us the falsification of Darwinian claims by demonstrating a distinct non-random pattern of what we can only call 'macroevolution', the long lost missing key to the evolutionary enigma.