2. The Evolution Controversy   

The Metaphysics 
Of Evolution


Section 2.1.3

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

   2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution 


There is nothing mysterious about the Darwin debate or the limitations of Darwinian theory: value-free science must eliminate questions of the value domain. But is this legitimate for the question of evolution? Related to this is the attempt to produce purely causal explanations of ethical behavior and its evolution. The positivist methodology of scientific reductionism, by declaring the rigid separation of facts and values, leaves us to wonder if nature itself truly respects this division in all its processes, especially those of evolutionary emergence.

Is a science of evolution possible? This provocative question should stand as a warning that the question of evolution probably won’t reduce to the category of science in the usual sense. We should support the project of empirical research, as science, in the exploration of the facts of evolution in deep time, but mindful that the limits of observation and the intersection with the domain of values demands an extended definition of science (such as, indeed, was pioneered by the philosopher Kant.[i]

Sometimes the naturalistic fallacy is cited here. But how do we know that evolution doesn’t process values amidst facts, this in a naturalistic fashion? Reductionist science has, ironically, made itself blind to the high end of evolution. In general, a theory of ethical behavior must explicate the consciousness of an ethical agent, and produce a model of choice-based behavior. But theories of evolution cannot yet account for consciousness. To make ethical consciousness an epiphenomenon of natural selection, and to propose that it arises as an adaptation in the game of survival beggars the nature of the phenomenon itself. What’s more, this approach creates a de facto standard of ethics based on the evolutionary ‘value’ of pure selfishness.

The Axial Age and Values As we examine the historical dynamic behind the phenomenon of the Axial Age we see the explicit transformation of values in a complete and balanced spectrum of opposites. Religion, philosophy, science emerge together in a mysterious seeding process that occurs very rapidly, and over independent cultural regions. Remarkably, this seems to show a balanced spectrum of values.

Further, a suspicious resemblance to economic ideology arises at this point in the Darwinian theory game. Even as you reduce ethics you produce one in disguise, and the implicit ethical character of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘competitive struggles’ instantly creates a substitute ethics. This fails to account for the facts of the case, which shows that man, at least, is impelled to react against his own (supposed) evolution, in the Darwinian sense. Why is altruism such a problem for Darwinism? Is it any more metaphysical to posit the existence of a selfish beast? 

Thus, one of the reasons for the confusion of the Darwin debate is that the right way to do science might be the wrong way to do evolution. To be sure, there are few ways that are better as a preliminary to a more sophisticated science needed to match the phenomena under enquiry. But the strategy of explanation needs to be something better than the elimination of the problem by making it logically consistent with natural selection. That this should precipitate conflict with religion is hardly surprising, and even if we champion a secular stance toward religion, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the research program of evolutionary biology on this question is a failure step one in the midst of the great success of its expansion of our knowledge. And part of the problem is the confusion of ‘theories’ with ‘protocols of action’.

Theory and Action: The Oedipus paradox Later we will examine the so-called Oedipus Paradox and more generally the confusion between theories and motives of action. Theories are, or should be, timeless generalizations about a set of data, but in practice theories have an all too temporal birth point. In the case of natural selection this resulted in the confusion between a theory about organisms in the past, and the social Darwinist impulse to carry out the implications of natural selection as a motive to evolve, a quite egregious fallacy.

How we should act is not given to us by a theory. With physical theories such as that of gravity no confusion can arise, since we have no ability to manipulate the law of nature here. But with evolution theories an agent is the executor of the so-called ‘law’, thus the attempt to posit universal laws produces an immediate contradiction, suggesting we are looking in the wrong direction. A theory proposes a causal explanation of action, but that by definition is not a protocol of action. Action requires choice, and we could choose to act against the theory, raising questions about its claims for causality. We are stuck trying to explain the freedom to act. We could eliminate that freedom in the name of science, but then we would be stuck with a typical situation where we would ‘preach the theory’ to something who choose to defy it. That freedom to act is an obstinate given.

There is actually no mystery here: the ‘subject’(object) of evolution is complex, and has a different character from that of a point mass in physics. We must reckon with the sense of meaning, consciousness, and deliberation that are, by definition, subject to contra-causal forms of explanation. The issue must be the ‘evolution of the freedom’ to choose between different courses of action. This would seem to apply to the case of man, or else the later stages of primate evolution, and there the point remains that mechanized explanations of ethics are not ethics. So, is ethical behavior an illusion, as strict positivism must claim? These are actually issues carefully addressed earlier in the Enlightenment, before Darwin, with such figures as Kant standing out by their careful consideration of the implications of the rise of Newtonian physics.

The Darwin debate revolves around the claims and definitions of naturalism. The project of science is the discipline of methodological naturalism. We can certainly embrace naturalism, but its definition cannot prejudge the issue of what nature itself shows to be the case. We are stuck with the obstinate Cartesian legacy of dualism, leaving our naturalistic assumptions schizophrenic. Religious critics then proceed to the opposite confusion of spiritualizing the leftovers at the limits of reductionism. The glaring lack of any account of the evolution of consciousness ought to have made Darwinian certainties close to preposterous, but it is assumed in advance that some scenario of adaptation can account for this.

Even as Darwinism challenges the legacy of metaphysics, its claims for evolution are forced to impinge on this realm with tacit assumptions that belong to the same genre. The problem is, first, the complexity of the organism, and its intangible mysteries such as the nature of the ‘will’, if such exist, in the human evolutionary development of ethical behavior. If we invoke science we should recall its history, and the moment of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. Descartes not only founds the science of analytic geometry, he creates his famous dualism of body and consciousness. This dualism is forever rejected, but never transcended, although the appearance of Spinoza produces a new perspective on the question that will be the undercurrent of a classic Enlightenment debate.  Newton , beside his great achievements in physics, nonetheless exempts the human will from his dynamics. In the wake of Rousseau, it is the figure of Kant, beside Hume, who, embracing the system of Newton, formalized a more refined version of this dualism, in a classic gesture arising during the so-called crisis of the Enlightenment. And it is significant that Kant stands at the dawn of the rise of evolutionary biology, with a set of critiques that can mediate the contradictions of causality, freedom, and teleology, especially in the analytical study of organisms. The onset of the positivistic period completely bypasses this important stage in the development of the modern social and biological sciences.

 It is not surprising, and yet remarkable, therefore that the work of the philosopher Kant is too little considered in the dialectical collisions of science and religion, since his system of philosophy addressed wholesale the problematic that pervades not only the philosophies of rationalist theology, but of the empiricist tradition as well. In fact, positivism is a form of collapsed Kantianism and it is a pity that scientific methodology, mostly through reductionist downshifting, has lost his analysis of the boundaries of science. 

Visions of a Ghostseer In essence the question is simple. The need for a ‘science of metaphysics’ is the first step to a ‘science of history and/or evolution’. But it is just this requirement that proves the stumbling block. In a classic work, Visions of a Ghostseer, and then in his great critiques, Kant isolated the three great issues of the metaphysical tradition destined to get into trouble on the way to a ‘science of metaphysics’: that of divinity, followed by those of soul and free will. To these we should add the question of teleology, and note the way Kant considered teleology within the bounds of methodological naturalism, albeit ambiguously. The questions of divinity, soul, and free will demand proofs of existence, and Kant exposed the way that the road to these three proofs is beset with contradictions. They are metaphysical because they stand beyond the empirical.

The important issue here is that while we can easily agree, for example, that a ‘soul’ question (there are a multiplicity of such) is metaphysical, we might forget that its antithesis, the negation of the existence of soul, is equally metaphysical. The very term ‘existence’ is unclear in this case. The possibility that definable ‘soul’ has a reality but is beyond the possibility of knowledge would prove a severe check to a theory of the organism, and, unfortunately, that is just where Darwinian theory is going wrong. We can easily predict, then, that a theory such as Darwin’s will become ambiguous on these three issues, even as it has banished the fourth. There can be no mystery to the Darwin debate. Each of these questions enters into the ambiguity of evolutionary theory. We see Darwinists attempting to claim that free will rises in the context, once again, of natural selection, and adaptation, a very peculiar approach, one with no evidentiary basis. We should demand the strictest evidence of this, and we rapidly discover just how difficult demonstration would prove there. We need a much broader approach. Discussions of ‘soul’ have played out and suffer the confusions of their abused terms. The indirect deductions of Kant can help by suggesting, for example, the relationship of space and time perceptions to deeper categories of experience.

We notice immediately that the conflict of science and religion, notably Darwinians and fundamentalists, impinges on the first issue of Kant, divinity, soon followed by the second, the ‘soul’ quagmire, the third creating a dilemma even in the context of secular culture where ‘free will’ is an essential foundational belief for the performance of cultural interaction. The monotheistic religions have shown an obsessive reluctance to yield ground on the issue of divinity in history, hence evolution. The Eastern religions have not yielded an inch on the question of ‘soul’ (although Buddhism gives the misleading appearance of rejecting the idea of ‘soul’), would grant the problematic shown by Kant, yet demonstrate methods of enquiry into issues of self. And the core concepts of modernity, its definitional liberalisms, are equally problematical in relation to the causal monism of the defining scientism of the modern era. 

The principle of freedom shows ironically the way in which secular thought is entangled in metaphysical ambiguity as much as the religionist, and this idea creates a more subtle version of the drama of theists and atheists. For the will to freedom soon shades into the hopeless quagmire of the ‘will of god’.

Kant’s thinking enforces a severe discipline of the limits of our knowledge on these questions, and, this being the case, we can see that while the affirmation of a thesis on divinity is taken as metaphysical, its negation is destined to suffer a similar fate. We can see at once that, if Kant is right, then the theory of natural selection, the spearhead of much secular thought in a post-religious mode, is forced into a task that it cannot fulfill. 

Legitimation  Scientists, especially Darwinists, often proclaim their dethronement of human illusions. In part this springs from the defining episode of Galileo confronting religious tradition. The genre of ‘dethronement’ rhetoric was invented by Freud who, wishing to promote a weak theory, placed himself last in the list of great liberators, from Copernicus onward, dispensing shocks to mankind’s vanity. In general, we are constantly informed of the shock to our pride implied in Darwin’s heroic breakthrough. This was a clever tactic, but what is the real status of the modern scientific view of man? It is undoubtedly true that we must confront our illusions, not least in the realm of scientific theory. But it is too seldom grasped, and comes as the worst shock of all, that Darwinism was as much the beginning of complete muddle in all fields, and that the principle of natural selection as universal explanation is a specimen of nineteenth century scientism fit for some dethronement.

None of this should even be surprising. A student of classical metaphysics, and, more importantly, of its limits, knows in advance where this theory will go wrong, and even an amateur can launch a metaphysical search and destroy on the foundations of Darwinism. One, two, three the antinomies of divinity, soul, and free will skewer pretenders in this field, and right on schedule, with stubborn pretense, Darwinists founder in these quagmires, claiming to have resolved all of them, and that this is scientific! And it is not only the monotheist who is puzzled here. The theory, implicitly metaphysical, posits conclusions in advance, on the basis of virtually nothing in the way of a definition of an ‘organism’.

The crux of the problem is the effort to promote a new foundationalism for a secular agenda. A recent biographer of the philosopher Hegel  notes:

Many in Germany quickly understood that Kant’s denial of knowledge of things as they were in-themselves had potentially explosive consequences. First of all, it implied that there could be no theoretical knowledge of God, since God was precisely the kind of metaphysical entity about which Kant said we could in the literal sense know nothing. But in Germany, since the authority of the myriad German princes was almost always bound up with their being the heads of the churches in their respective Länder, Kant’s demonstration that we could not know about these supernatural things was taken to suggest that we also could not know whether the authority of the princes was in fact legitimate.[ii]

This passage tells us virtually everything about the Darwin debate, for it is cousin, in an inverted fashion, to the effort to establish ‘right’, in a slightly different context. What is ironic is that insistence on the theory of natural selection  resembles this legitimation  strategy of the ‘princes’ to establish a basis for social authority. Kant was especially honest, and he did not speak as an atheist. But that was not good enough for the princes. They wished their authority to be established on a rigid basis with proofs of divinity. In the same way, with Darwinists, it is not enough to grant the fact of evolution. The claims for natural selection both make that secure and allow a further extension of their subject to derive a whole world view based in science. It is interesting that only two parties have the social power to indulge in the debate. Where spiritual authority is on the wane, the authority of scientific law, bogus scientific law, comes to the fore. Armed with the claims for natural selection, and enough shouting down the opposition, the keys to the kingdom are had. Needless to say, the religious critics of Darwinism are not exempt from a similar charge.



   Web:  chap2_1_3.htm


[i] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), Stephen Körner, Kant (New York: Penguin, 1960).

[ii] Terry Pinkard, Hegel ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 122.





Last modified: 09/21/2010