2. The Evolution Controversy 

Debates and Darwin Trials


Section 2.1.1

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon






2. The Evolution Controversy  
      2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism  
         2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials 
         2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics
         2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution
         2.1.4 Is There A Science Of History? 
      2.2 Beyond Natural Selection 
         2.2.1 The Limits of Observation  
         2.2.2 Random Evolution: Climbing Mt. Improbable?
         2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium
         2.2.4 Natural Selection and The Oedipus Paradox  
      2.3 Visions of A Ghostseer  
         2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion  
         2.3.2 Theism/Atheism: The 'God' Debates  
         2.3.3 Critique of Evolutionary Economy  
         2.3.4 The Evolution of Evolution  
         2.3.5 The Science of Freedom  

 3. Descent Of Man Revisited 



    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials


The Darwin debate  has assumed a new form in the so-called Intelligent Design movement, which has resurrected the world of Paley, and the obsessive dialectic of theists and atheists heats up once again. Associated with, but preceding the Intelligent Design movement is critique of Darwinism, Darwin on Trial, by the lawyer Philip Johnson, in an effort, influenced by Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, to look closely at the difficulties with Darwin’s theory, without the confusions of the design argument yet infiltrating the discussion. We seem almost back in the world of Mivart, one of the first religious critics of Darwin. Reviews of Darwinism by lawyers seem a new genre, beginning with Norman Macbeth ’s Darwin Retried. Johnson’s arguments are cogent, and reflect the right of any group confronted with implied non-existence in the name of modernism to hire itself a good lawyer. The problem with lawyers is that you need two of them, one for each side. We cannot forget the political context of the debate, in the midst of the American political polarization between liberal and conservative factions.

Johnson also launches a campaign against scientific naturalism. In some sense, he is right. The much-heralded ‘naturalistic explanation’ remains almost an impostor, if its definition cannot state the limits of nature. This issue is almost irresolvable given the shifting foundations of physics, in the complexities of this ‘nature’, the gaps in our knowledge, and the tenacity of claims of the sacred against the secular. Between Spinoza, Kant, Hume, and Hegel, naturalistic explanation endured a shock treatment from which it has never recovered. But the ‘spiritual’ wasn’t the winner either. At one and the same time, a critical methodological naturalism remains a useful, almost inevitable, starting point, and this has consistently born fruit in the empirical discoveries of the facts of evolution. But as with a wistfully noted Gödelian short-circuit in the consistency/completeness of logical systems, this naturalism seems incomplete, and destined to inconsistency, requiring the evolution of its own definition by the extensions of its axioms confronted with empirical discoveries, perhaps of freedom facts. We can see that we must confront the prospect of methodological naturalism surviving nervous breakdown in the face of an inconsistent axiom for a science of freedom.

Johnson engages the lists for a near campaign against modernism itself, with Darwin  placed beside Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud as the triad of culprits for the evils of secularism. Fundamentalism deserves to join this list. The themes of postmodernist fashion are now the grounds for a comeback of the sacred against the domination of the secular. But the dilemma is false, and the postmodern strategy quixotic. This strategy is based on an incorrect perception of what constitutes ‘modernism’, which certainly includes the Protestant Reformation. So evidently Johnson is referring to the abrogation of the treaty of Westphalia. This postmodern strategy shared by conservatives, traditionalists, New Age groups, and leftist vanguards is completely self-contradictory, and silly, a clear sign of historical disorientation created by general propaganda versions of history. This issue is often confused by Darwinian secularists wishing to define the modern in an exclusionary sense using Darwinian theory, as a reductionist triumph of the Enlightenment narrowly defined. There is no inherent equation between ‘modernism ’ and Darwinism, or even the viewpoint of science with the Enlightenment. If anything, the theory of Darwin represents a mere episode of scientism deviating from the far richer starting point of evolutionary thinking in the generation before Darwin.[i]

The emergence of design argumentation, almost as a conservative religious cult and interest group lobby, has introduced an immense confusion into the Darwin debate, which is not about design argument, naturalism or theology, but about the limits of natural selection theory. The argument by design has a long history, and this is not the same as the issue of ‘design’ as such. It is not hard to see that ‘something like design’ is at work in genetic structures. Historical amnesia reigns. We might, for example, review the early debates here, and consider a Kantian perspective or the classic critiques of the argument by design. The Intelligent Design group has not demonstrated the argument by design. These tactics can be very destructive. We cannot examine design under the aegis of particular religious groups with ambitious social strategies. Such questions require strict religious neutrality. But that is unlikely here, making discussion pointless. In any case the design interpretation thrives only because Darwin’s theory is very extreme in its claims for natural selection.

G-design vs. N-design Design arguments tend to confuse two meanings of the term ‘design’. It is incontestable that many biochemical structures show design, in the complexity of their almost programmatic functionality. We might call G-design the action of a known ‘designer’, viz. a supernatural agent (god?), with the term N-design to refer to the bare functional aspect of complex biological structures. We can infer N-design, but this does not resolve the question of its evolution. It is hard to explicate N-design by arguments using natural selection. It does not follow that we can infer G-design.

Natural Teleology The design argument is ambiguous and is really a theological version of teleological thinking. In the pursuit of N-design the factor of teleology might arise as a challenge to reductionism, but this teleological aspect can better be seen as a discovery of methodological naturalism.

This ‘design’ in quotation marks falls between two stools, scientific and religious, and can hardly be taken as a proof of divinity. It is, at least, an aspect of nature, one that monotheistic traditions seem unable to confront. Such thinking is meaningless if we know so little about nature. Only the false claim that Darwin’s theory of natural selection  resolved the issue of design could have started such a confused discourse on both sides. Let us set this booby-trapped terminology aside, having acknowledged the cogency of the critique, without succumbing to theological legerdemain.

Secular Postdarwinism The religion/science divide has confused the debate over evolution, which isn’t conflict of the spiritual and the material but a confusion as to the nature evolutionary dynamics and the limits of natural selection.

There is a far broader, essentially secular, critique of Darwinism already latent in the legacy of the Enlightenment. The overall period of Enlightenment was not the source of Darwinism, although it did resurrect the ancient idea of evolution from its long dormancy. Diderot at the dawn of modern biology is already concerned over embryological issues, now resurfacing in the age of complex genetics. For some reason this seminal era was able to maintain a strange clarity.Darwin’s theory is a poor rendition of the initial discovery of the fact of evolution. And one of the real achievements of the earlier period was to distinguish the human from the natural sciences. The emergence of secular modernism produced its own cultural software to mediate the long foreseen problems with the scientific worldview, but Darwinism has crippled our ability to use it.[ii]



   Web:  chap2_1htm


i] Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993), Reason in the Balance (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1995), Norman Macbeth, Darwin Retried (Boston: Gambit, 1971). Larry Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible ( Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2002). William Dembski, Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999). Robert Pennock, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics ( Cambridge , Mass. : MIT Press, 2001), William Dembski (ed.), Uncommon Dissent ( Wilmington : ISI, 2004), Mark Perakh, Unintelligent Design ( Amherst , New York : Prometheus, 2004), Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin ( Grand Rapids , MI : Baker, 2003).

[ii] I. Prigogine & I. Stengers, Order Out of Chaos (New York: Bantam, 1984), p. 79.





Last modified: 09/21/2010