The tradition of poet philosophers predates the ancient world (Plato and Aristotle) and extends to Homer (and even before that). It is a deeply-steeped tradition. Glenn is well-read in philosophy and occasionally publishes philosophical papers. From time to time, selected philosophical papers will be made available here.
Godless Empty Space?
In any given atom, 99.999999999999% of the volume consists of “empty space” (Blaze Labs), and while most sources claim that the bulk of an atom is empty space, I reject the claim and hold that empty space is not empty at all. I begin by exploring two definitions of empty space (devoid of existence and not filled with anything). I conclude that the “not filled with anything” model is the only definition that makes sense for the physicality of an atom. I then introduce the idea that the natural world is not limited to the material world. I host the idea that Christians reject any space is empty, because they believe God exists in everything. I briefly address the scientific scrutiny which often accompanies any mention of God in the natural world. I conclude that when scientists claim any given space is “empty” they have exceeded the reach of the scientific method. My conclusion is that there is no purely empty space in an atom or elsewhere.
“Empty Space”—the idea seems easy enough to understand prima facie but included in the idea of “empty space” are rigid suppositions which lead to two different understandings of the term. The common view of empty means “not filled with anything” but a second order definition implies “devoid of existence.” These are terms which are not synonymous. It is one thing to say a glass has no milk in it, and quite another to say there is no glass. Another notion includes the idea that when we are considering space, we are really talking only about the material world, where it exists and where it does not—but to conclude that space is only relative to materiality is contrary to the spiritual views of billions of people, as well as conflicting metaphysical claims.
The physical world of atoms, indeed physical matter of any kind, is not the sum total of all that exists. If one accepts the premise that “empty space” is a void which exists, but which is not filled with anything, then one is also accepting the claim that existence and the physicality of matter are separate events . Moreover, if a spatial void exists by virtue of the fact that the space itself is not filled with matter, then one cannot claim that space, even empty space, is devoid of existence. On this view, space which is filled by any degree would exist apart from matter contained within it. This is the easier of the two ways to understand “empty space.” In this way, we understand space as something which exists, into which the material world is extended.
In an atom, then, we can come to understand the electron orbiting the nucleus as a material particle which exists in a spatial area which is not otherwise filled with matter, but into which some electron material is extended. Einstein would seem to disagree with this, at least to the extent that the nature of this type of “empty space” is something which makes sense in these terms. He writes, “Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended. In this way the concept ’empty space’ loses its meaning. ” (Albert Einstein). It seems that Einstein is wrong in this regard. In ascribing this meaning to the “empty space” within an atom, we can understand empty space as a spatial void into which matter may or may not be extended—or into which matter may be extended by degree.
The second order definition, that “empty space” is “devoid of existence,” is both more difficult to imagine, and a fundamentally flawed view because such an event cannot possess any spatial relationships. Imagine a cosmic-basketball (CB). The ball has all the outward attributes of an official NBA basketball in your hands. You can feel it, smell it. You can bounce it—even dunk it if you ate your Wheaties. You feel the weight of it and the external space it takes up between your hands seems very real to you. Now, while holding this CB in your hands, could you imagine the area you perceive as the inside of the ball being completely devoid of existence? That is to say, the inside the CB is not truly a void, because a “void” is something—instead, the CB itself is merely a millimeter thick spherical object, and a millimeter from your fingertips, in what you imagine might be the inside of the CB, nothing exists—a simple brutal truth that absolute-nothingness exists within the sphere . This is one way we can come to understand the concept of “empty space,” as that which is “devoid of existence.”
Inside an ordinary ball, we might more easily imagine a spatial void in which no matter currently exists—indeed, one could imagine pumping air into it, crushing it, or cutting it in half to allow air to rush in. But the idea of a CB, which contains an area devoid of any existence, is a concept which is beyond our understanding. Put more clearly, in the same way we can imagine a mountain, we cannot conceptualize the whole of it with any clarity. We can lump the mass together and speak about it in abstract language, collapsing the entirety of it into words which symbolize it as a whole. However, the moment one tries to fully realize the totality of as much as a square inch of grass at the base of a mountain, it becomes clear that we are unable to fully do so. Each blade of grass has a unique shape, distance, color, etc. We may be able to look at one, or two, perhaps even several at a time and fully realize these most basic facts about the blades, but soon the numbers become too numerous and we cannot grasp the totality of very many at any one time. In terms of “empty space” which is “devoid of existence, we can conceptualize it in terms of the language which collapses the meaning into an approachable form, but when we try to fully conceptualize something which does not exist, then we fail. The moment we imagine it, picture it in abstract terms, or even assign the pronoun “it” to it, then we have given some existence to it, some type of identity which undermines the concept as a whole. It is an impossible concept to fully understand, and this is complicated by the idea that one could clearly perceive the CB and the place where the “devoid of existence” zone would be, but on the other hand, it would be impossible for such an event to be relative to the location prescribed.
It is logically wrong to imagine some event in the universe, no matter how large or small, which is both devoid of space and possessing a location, like the “non-existence” zone inside a CB. A location is a relationship between two or more material things. How can something which does not exist have a relationship to anything which does exist? It cannot, nor can one say that at the farthest reaches of the universe, beyond point X, is an area “devoid of existence” because to give such a concept a location is to make it relative to a known entity, which it cannot possess because only material objects which exist can have spatial relationships.
Perhaps the logical contradiction of this paradoxical concept may be easier to understand by considering the “empty space” within an atom on this view. One imagines a hydrogen atom, with a single electron cloud. If the electron (E) is at location (L) at time (T) then appears again at ELT1, can it be said to be in the same place? Yes, because when considering the cloud as a whole, the space it occupies at both ELT and ELT1 are equally relative to the spatial location of the nucleus. This could be said to be true of all possible fixed EL variables within the cloud. However, if we held the view that only one EL existed within the cloud at T1, and the rest did not and could not exist, due to the rest of the area being “devoid of existence at T1,” then the spatial relationship of the cloud as a whole would create a logical contradiction, particularly because the cloud as a whole cannot be said to be both spatial and relative to nothingness at any given T.
Lastly, on this view there is the odd occurrence of EL1T2 which could not have existed at ELT1. If all but one of the L variables are “devoid of existence” at any given T, then it follows that as each T variable advances to the next, given atoms exists in a unique way which could not be otherwise. This calls into question the possibility that all the actions of the material universe may be scripted, and could not exists in any other way. Either some causal event propels everything forward in a predetermined way, or some types of spontaneous events shape all atoms at all times. If either of these possibilities is true, then all freewill and all of our experiences are called into question—indeed everything would be an exercise in futility because the reality we perceive would actually be the revelation that the material universe was on some type of autopilot, beyond our control, and could not be otherwise.
Though one could argue the futility of the universe in both “empty space” views, the difference is that on the “devoid of existence” view, things could not have been otherwise because no other possibilities existed for any given ELT combination. In the “not filled with anything” model, the electron orbital could have appeared anywhere within the cloud, but just happened to be at any ELT by chaotic circumstance. When the conceptual undertone of the scientific data begins to encroach into the realm of futility and philosophical ideologies, the healthy skepticism which leads to good science can become misguided and bleed into these debates, but it should not.
Many Christians embrace religious knowledge in addition to scientific knowledge. The scientific paradigm is seen as only one source of knowledge among many, so says the Christian who also believes that a certain kind of knowledge is revealed through Holy Scripture. From this source of knowledge, Christians derive the belief that God exists as an omnipresent entity. They do so in part because of scriptures, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24) and “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3). Unlike many Christians who seek to attain knowledge about the world by employing multiple paradigms, scientists who make claims on behalf of the scientific community are restricted by the scientific paradigm they work within. That is to say that when scientists are making scientific claims, or are entering into debates by attempting to employ scientific currency, those claims are restricted to the structure of the paradigm.
Scientists must work within a finely tuned methodology to support their claims. The scientific method is limited to certain rules which determine what is and is not scientific knowledge. Once such restriction, by definition, is that science works with testable ideas and “only testable ideas are within the purview of science” (Berkley.edu.- Science works with testable ideas). With this in mind, what is the scientist to do with Christian claims that God is everywhere, and as such, there is no empty space inside an atom? The answer is clear, a good scientist must remain silent on these issues, or simply claim unawareness.
There is a distinction between the scientific claim that “God is not observable in empty space by employing a given method” and the stronger claim that, “God does not exist in empty space.” Unfortunately, many scientists today scorn religion and make claims about the falsehood of such beliefs. When they do so, they cast science aside to make these claims. The reality of the scientific method is that claims made from science require proof. It is one thing to say that the presence of God does not appear in the data, and quite another type of claim to hold that God does not exist. The latter claim is a stronger claim with a conclusion. Scientific conclusions require scientific proof, and the best most scientists can do is make a fallacious argument from ignorance (and that’s not science).
The fallacy of appeal to ignorance comes in two forms: (1) Not knowing that a certain statement is true is taken to be a proof that it is false. (2) Not knowing that a statement is false is taken to be a proof that it is true. The fallacy occurs in cases where absence of evidence is not good enough evidence of absence. The fallacy uses an unjustified attempt to shift the burden of proof. The fallacy is also called “Argument from Ignorance.” Example: Nobody has ever proved to me there’s a God, so I know there is no God (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Such arguments fall clearly outside the realm of science, and as such, cannot be considered to be from the scientific paradigm whatsoever. Scientists who make these types of claims cannot be said to be speaking as men of science, and should not be taken seriously as scientists in such debates.
The best a true scientist can claim, while employing the paradigm of science, is that she/he “Doesn’t know” or that he/she “Cannot engage the debate because it appears to fall outside the purview of science.” The latter of which is difficult for many scientists to admit because they often hold that the scientific paradigm is the only source of real knowledge.
Fortunately, some claims can be made on the basis of logic without the paradigm of science. Philosophers draw, in part, from the paradigm of metaphysical knowledge. One argument from logic holds that space, which is not filled with observable material, is not empty space. It possesses abstract qualities which permeate all space in the universe. For example, it would be true that it was empty, so “empty space” contains the quality of truth. Empty space contains the potential to be filled with matter. It would behave a certain way if X happened—that is to say it contains the same fundamental laws which govern all space and possesses the same potentialities. Christians believe that God exists in all places, and because so-called “empty space” is a type of place, it possesses the secondary quality of a place in which it is believed (by many) that God dwells. Moreover, the relativity between space, matter, and energy would seem to cause empty space to possess some measure of interdependence on other elements in the universe, and as such, could not be truly empty on those grounds.
For the true scientist, there can be only “empty space” of which it cannot be certain God exists or does not exist. For the Christian, religious knowledge informs them that though they may accept the scientific idea that “empty space” within atoms (and elsewhere) exists, perhaps even the idea that the bulk of all matter is composed of such space, God still permeates everything in this world. He occupies every nook and cranny, and for Christians, there is no genuine “empty space.” For the philosophers and metaphysical theorists, all space contains abstractions, and one of those is the secondary quality of being a place of which many believe God dwells.
Borg, Xavier. “The Particle – The Wrong Turn That Led Physics to a Dead End.” Blaze Labs. Web. .
Einstein, Albert. Relativity: the Special and the General Theory. Chicago: Great Book Foundation, 1956. Print.
“Fallacies.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. .
“Science Works with Testable Ideas.” Understanding Science. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. .
The Goreing of Reality
© Glenn Lyvers (All rights reserved)
Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is a film intended at first glance to advance evidence that global warming is both a man-made reality, and that the impending devastation it will cause to both mankind and nature is profound. However, when viewing the film critically, it is quickly evident that it is much more. Gore deviates from the science to include multiple montages and monologues, set to dramatic music, which decry his fame, compassion, trustworthiness, education on the issue, and even his political disappointment at losing a presidential election. The film points out the fact that Gore had won a popular vote nationally but lost, perhaps unfairly, due to the electoral process. All of this is uninteresting fodder designed to elicit emotional responses in the viewers, perhaps even to persuade them to accept the scientific information presented at face value. However, the hype contributes nothing to the science or believability of the “facts” presented to critical thinkers. The reality is that the science presented, and its associated claims, are often disjointed, exaggerated, and misleading—indeed, often just plain erroneous.
The most dramatic claim made about global warming, in general, is that it is a bad thing. It is assumed that the changes would be devastating. In this debate, the fear of change is given the lion’s share of attention, while the reality of the benefits of certain kinds of change is often ignored. Even if it were the case that the science and conclusions advanced by Al Gore were true, it is not at all clear that it would do more harm than good for humanity. Thomas Moore, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution published an article, in which he carefully demonstrates how it is that historically, warmer shifts in climate yield benefits to mankind as a whole. He writes:
Should warming become apparent at some time in the future and should it create more difficulties than benefits, policy makers would have to consider preventive measures. Based on history, however, global warming is likely to be positive for most of mankind while the additional carbon, rain, and warmth should also promote plant growth that can sustain an expanding world population. Global change is inevitable; warmer is better; richer is healthier. (Moore, Boom-To-Man.)
If it were the case that sea levels would raise as a result of glacial melting, for example, then there would be greater habitat for fish. The land masses uncovered would be able to be coopted for farms, perhaps the richest farmlands ever discovered, and growing populations would be able to expand into new land masses, easing the pressures of overpopulation.
I anticipate the counterclaim that some precious land occupied today may become uninhabitable, or some natural resources are aesthetically pleasing, or otherwise possessing of some intrinsic value that constitutes a moral imperative to the preservation of the status quo. Maybe so; however, the value-quantification of what has been cannot be justly compared to what will be. That is to say, what some hold as precious today may not justly offset the gains that global warming may bring—nor could the benefits of a warmer future be fully appreciated to make such comparisons.
Gore advances a chart demonstrating the long term changes in CO2 levels and how it correlates to temperatures over time. He holds that the CO2 levels present in the atmosphere today are due to mad-made causes. He reports that the levels are increasing feverishly, and it is clear that the result will cause artificially higher temperatures in the future. The flaw in this argument is a disjunction between correlation and causation. Gore holds that CO2 is the causation of higher temperatures. But is it? The reality may be very different. When viewed carefully, it is plain to see that the temperature change displayed in these findings actually precedes the CO2 increase. Therefore, the claims being made about causation need further support. If it were the case that it could be proven that an artificial inflation of CO2 would maintain correlating temperatures, that reverse causation or a superveniet relationship exists, then one could argue the recent rise in CO2 levels, as noted by Gore, would result in warming. With respect to the historical evidence, though, there is no evidence to support the idea that CO2 levels are the cause of higher temperatures. Indeed, a 2007 study, Pre-Industrial Atmospheric CO2 and Proxy Air and Sea Surface Temperature Data Provide No Evidence that Changes in CO2 Drive Changes in Temperature, presented by the Center for Science and Public Policy, in conjunction with Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, reveals that the causation claims advanced by Gore are false.
The correlation between CO2 and temperatures seem evident to the eye (Rothman 2002), as presented by Gore, but the science tells a different story. In the half-billion year history of the recorded data, CO2 emissions were 2 to 4 times greater than today, with a steady decline over the last 175 million years. During the times when CO2 emissions approximated the current levels, warming was not evident, indeed a decline in temperatures was revealed in some cases.
According to the study;
A simple visual examination of Rothman’s plot of CO2 and concomitant major cold and warm periods clearly indicates that the three most striking peaks in the air’s CO2 concentration occur either totally or partially within periods of time when earth’s climate was relatively cool. Consequently, not only is there no proof in these data for the climate-alarmist claim that high atmospheric CO2 concentrations tend to warm the planet, there are times when just the opposite could be imagined to be implied. (P. 3,4.)
Not only is it the case that the direct causation claim cannot be supported because Gore inverted the facts about the causal relationship between CO2 and temperature, but a historical study reveals that even the correlation has been inverted in the past. Gore’s claims in this regard are not supported by the evidence—even when one uses the same source material, as is the case with the Rothman plot record.
Educators around the globe have employed the Gore documentary in an effort to educate students on the global warming issue. Sadly, the use of this material seems to be detrimental to educational pursuits because the data has been manipulated and is full of inaccurate falsehoods. This fact was brought to light in England, where the courts actually stepped in and forced educators to include a supplement to the documentary revealing many falsehoods and misinformation contained in the documentary. US courts also upheld a similar ruling, citing 9 points of falsehood. As reported by The Guardian, the US judge commented on the issue this way;
The judge ruled that the film can still be shown in schools, as part of a climate change resources pack, but only if it is accompanied by fresh guidance notes to balance Mr Gore’s “one-sided” views. The “apocalyptic vision” presented in the film was not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change, he said.
The judge also said it might be necessary for the Department of Children, Schools and Families to make clear to teachers some of Mr. Gore’s views were not supported or promoted by the government, and there was “a view to the contrary”.
There can be no doubt that the fundamental claims advanced by Gore are misleading, and many of the lesser points are equally so. Indeed, Christopher Brockton, in his article, 35 Inconvenient
Truths. The errors in Al Gore’s movie., cites dozens of inaccuracies which include;
• Sea Level Rising (Gore exaggerates the data ≈10,000%)
• Pacific Island inhabitants will drown. (Inaccurate. The data is exaggerated.)
• Ocean thermohaline circulation “stopping” (Unsupported. No data at all.)
• CO2 causes rise in temperature. (Inaccurate. Causal inversion of facts.)
• Warming is melting Kilimanjaro snow. (Inaccurate. Constant freezing temperatures.)
• Lake Chad drying up due to warming. (Inaccurate. Alternative reasons known.)
• Hurricane Katrina a man-made disaster. (Unsupported. No data.)
• Polar Bears dying. (Inaccurate, their population is going up.)
As well as many other claims.
There can be no doubt that the Gore documentary is fallacious and misleading—even the courts agree—but does that mean it has served no purpose other than self-aggrandizing political hoopla? Maybe not. An argument could be made that even though Gore has misrepresented the facts and lied to millions of people, his efforts to raise awareness has served to benefit society as a whole because real issues do exist which need attention. It would seem that, in many important ways, the documentary is more about scaring people into supporting Gore, his party and the environmental message he advances. While some may feel that a fearful society is better than a complacent society, I hold that an educated society is better than a fearful one. Gore has been praised, and even presented with awards for his work, including an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. This is a testament to the damage he has done, because his success has attuned his followers to a state where they don’t seem to question the scientific validity of the documentary, but shower him with accolades instead.
It seems clear that the science does not support the rhetoric he employs and for this reason, I believe he has done more harm than good. I accept that many would argue that raising awareness, even by misleading others, may serve a greater purpose. I cannot completely dismiss that argument, but it seems intuitively wrong.
Adam, David. “Gore’s Climate Film Has Scientific Errors – Judge | Environment | The Guardian.” Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. .
An Inconvenient Truth. Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Prod. Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, and Scott Z. Burns. Paramount Pictures Corp., 2006.
Monckton, Christopher. “35 Inconvenient Truths: The Errors in Al Gore’s Movie | Monckton.” Science and Public Policy. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. .
Moore, Thomas G. “Global Warming.” Stanford University. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. .
“Pre-Industrial Atmospheric CO2 and Proxy Air and Sea Surface Temperature Data Provide No Evidence That Changes in CO2 Drive Changes in Temperature | The Heartland Institute.” Home | The Heartland Institute. Center for Science and Public Policy and Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. .
Rothman. “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels for the Last 500 Million Years.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. .
The Fallacy of Directionality
A Reply to Stephen Pope.
© Glenn Lyvers (All rights reserved)
Abstract: Stephen J. Pope argues that Christian ethics and evolution are compatible. Pope’s core arguments assert that evolution as an ordered mechanism which is intelligible, intended to bring about mankind. Pope’s arguments are contingent upon directionality in evolution. In this essay, Glenn Lyvers demonstrates that Pope’s use of directionality with respect to evolution is misguided and as such, asserts that Pope has failed to support his claims adequately.
It can be argued that evolution is a purposeful process directed toward producing more and more complex creatures. If this were true, then it may more easily be argued that God is the creator of the universe, and the universe exists for mankind. Indeed, Stephen Pope employs this argument to support his claims regarding both the origin of human morality and the divine causation of mankind (creationism).
I will demonstrate that Pope’s conclusion regarding “evolutionary directionality” is false. To do this I will begin by defining “directionality”. I will then introduce the objections against directionality in evolution made by Gould, and Pope’s reply. I will introduce Morris’s views which appose Gould and then further discuss how Pope’s reply to Gould fails to overturn Gould’s objections. I will demonstrate why Morris fails to overturn Gould’s objections. I will then summarize why it is that directionality in evolution has failed to be proven by Pope. I conclude that because he relies on directionality in evolution as a foundation for his greater claims, and because he has failed to support his directionality in evolution claims, Pope’s overall conclusions are wrong. I then finish with some thoughts of my own.
II. Why is this important?
Evolutionary directionality is crucial to Pope’s divination claims, but also to the ongoing discourse regarding the origins of human nature, specifically human morality. Evolutionary psychologists assert that human nature is nothing more than a confluence of various fitness enhancing cognitive modules. These cognitive abilities are adaptive traits which allow humans to learn and socialize. These biological traits are inherent in homo sapiens1. Specifically, they serve to explain both human knowledge acquisition and behavior. Bernard Williams holds that, “The individual learner does bring something to the world—otherwise he could learn nothing—but it is an inherited accumulation from the evolutionary process” (100). Wuketits, also supports Williams’ claim regarding evolutionary epistemology. He notes that the first postulate must be “All organisms are equipped with a system of innate dispositions: no individual living system is initially…tabula rasa2” (5). The implication is that the human ability to understand the world and make choices to secure human goods is greater than those abilities in other creatures. For this reason, what makes humans different is not a matter of kind but of degree.
Christian ethicists disagree with the evolutionary psychologist’s account above. They hold that “human nature” is not different from other creatures by degree, but wholly different in kind. The justification for this “difference in kind” thesis is that humans exist in what Pope calls a state of “disembodied dualism” – possessing both a body and a disembodied soul. Due to this unique dualistic state, evolutionary history makes no difference when considering the origin of human nature because humans are considered to be wholly different in kind due to their immutable souls. Pope John Paul II explained this position in a, now famous, speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1996. At first he appears to align the body and soul, but then by way of Pious XII he makes it clear that because humans possess a soul which cannot originate from matter, we are different in kind from other creatures. It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take[s] its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei”; “Humani Generis,” 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon3 of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man (Pope John Paul II). On this view, only through the interaction of the divine do humans possess an efficacious immutable soul. From this godly interaction emerges an unnatural human divinity which makes humans wholly different in kind and grants humans a special dignity–regardless of evolutionary history.
The importance of directionality in evolution is crucial as Pope tries to reconcile his Christian framework with the views of evolutionary psychology. Because of emergent capacities, Pope feels he successfully straddles both camps. He asserts that human nature is the result of evolution and is comprised of a set of human emergent capacities – cognitive, emotional and social capacities (129). Ian Barbour “helpfully describes the meaning of emergence:” (Pope: 131). In Barbour’s chapter regarding “Top-Down Causality4,” he writes, “Living organisms exhibit a many-leveled hierarchy of systems and subsystems…The brain is hierarchically organized” (20). According to Barbour, these hierarchies of mental systems and sub-systems transcend that which is needed for evolutionary fitness. Barbour asks, “If evolution is survival of the fittest, how can we explain altruistic5 behavior, in which an animal jeopardizes its own survival?…Social insects, such as ants, will sacrifice themselves in order to save the colony” (40). Although Pope does not explicitly state it when first introducing “emergence,” Pope, by use of Barbour’s definition, holds that human emergent capacities allow mankind to exist in nature and transcend what is needed for evolutionary fitness.
To be clear, Pope, like Christian ethicists, holds there is a “difference in kind” between humans and other animals. Pope makes this clear when he states, “Our ability to use symbolic communication, and especially language, gives us a unique intellectual capacity that is not even remotely approximated in the lives of other animals” (136). Pope’s difference in kind argument takes from both the evolutionary camp (different by degree) and the Christian view (wholly different in kind), stating that human cognitive abilities are so much greater than those found in other creatures, that it cannot even be said that they continue to approximate other creatures, and are therefore different in kind.
Of all the claims Pope makes, the argument related to directionality is a linchpin argument – one which, if refuted successfully, will undermine Pope’s conclusions about mankind’s divine purposeful causation. Indeed, Pope himself concedes this, “If evolution is not part of a purposeful world, Christian convictions are false and Christian ethics is an exercise in futility and self-deception” (111). This is why directionality in evolution is important, both because divine creation claims are being supported by directionality in evolution, and because directionality is being infused into the serious ongoing discourse about the origins of human morality.
III. Evolutionary directionality:
Directionality in evolution, as Pope uses the term, is a purposeful ordered direction at work within the mechanism of evolution. Pope asserts that “in the course of evolution lower levels of order give rise to higher levels of emergent complexity” (112). In this way, according to Pope, there exists an inherent directionality within the mechanism of evolution, that of a tendency toward higher complexity. He states that, “Nature as a whole is organized in such a way as to produce more and more complexity and higher and higher capacities for responsiveness, intelligence, and consciousness” (112). The overall result is mankind, with the unique ability to transcend the natural world through emergent complexity “in acts of knowing and loving God and neighbor” (31). Pope refers to evolution as an “intelligible process” which supports his greater claim that “God is the cause of the existence of the world, and the cause of its basic structures, patterns, and law-like regularities (90). Pope thereby asserts that “Christian[s]…can thus understand God as working in and through evolutionary processes to create, sustain, and guide all of creation, including human creatures” (110).
III-A The importance of moving beyond the obvious reply to Pope.
Whether or not Christians are entitled to the “understanding” above is immediately unclear. Even if one were to concede that directionality toward greater complexity does exist in the mechanical processes of evolution, it is not the case that one would be forced to concede divine causation must be the reason for it. Such conclusions require reasoning which does not make the illegitimate move from rational thought to “divine thinking.” I introduce this point now, to demonstrate that although defeating Pope’s directionality claim will undermine the arguments which rely upon it for support, granting directionality would not necessarily grant Pope’s greater claims of divine purposeful causation. Such claims would still be in doubt because they would lack sufficient justification to necessitate God as the only explanation for a patterned mechanism within evolution. However obvious this reply might seem to me, and perhaps others, it is not sufficient to simply offer this reply and leave it there. I hold that it is worthwhile to thoughtfully investigation of the totality of Pope’s claims because they are culturally significant to many people and part of an ongoing debate between Christian ethics and evolutionary psychology6.
IV. Objections as noted by Pope
A. Gould’s reply to Pope
Gould advances his first argument, that “many traits of organisms happen to be what they are because of the ‘luck of the draw’” (112). Gould argues that the events of history are both random and unrepeatable. Accordingly, because evolution is closely associated with such events, many individual traits have little or nothing to do with predictable adaptively. In Gould’s view, “evolution is best envisioned not as a steadily constructed ladder moving from lower to higher, but as an oddly shaped ‘bush.’ And of the three coexisting limbs of the ‘human bush,’ we alone continue to exist (112). The fact that the other two branches no longer exist is the result of contingent circumstances. Pope points to the work Gould performed excavating the Burgess Shale sediment in the Canadian Rockies. In Gould’s, Wonderful Life, he asserts,
The major argument of this book holds that contingency is immeasurably enhanced by the primary insight won from the Burgess Shale—that current patterns were not slowly evolved by continuous proliferation and advance, but set by a pronounced decimation (after rapid initial diversification of anatomical designs), probably accomplished with a strong, perhaps controlling, component of lottery (Gould p.301).
Pope explains, “Gould emphasized the fact that the survival of one lineage, rather than another was a matter of contingent circumstances” (113). Gould studied animal fossil evidence and concluded that some animals served to found unique phylum strands, and branch into other species. However, due to contingent circumstances, only a handful of creatures discovered were related to modern species. The rest were wiped out due to contingent circumstances. Pope recounts Gould by stating, “Other circumstances might have eliminated these founders and given rise to others, and everything would have been different for animal species as we know them today” (113). Gould quotes, “Replay the tape a million times from a Burgess beginning and I doubt that anything like homo sapiens would evolve again” (Gould p.189). The central claim is that history could have unfolded in an infinite number of directions, but just happened to unfold in the way it has. The countless contingent events that molded evolution could never occur again—it is simply the purposeless “luck of the draw” that things have turned out the way they have.
Pope asserts that Gould had an agenda which was “long concerned with countering the claim that evolution is ‘progressive’ or marked by an in-built trend toward greater complexity that would eventually give rise to human beings” (113). To strengthen this position, Gould concedes that during the “lengthy course of evolution, evolution has generated more complex and intelligent species…but measured in terms of simple biomass, simple organisms have been much more dominate” than more complex species (113). This argument by Gould calls into question the standard by which “evolutionary success” is measured, and whether human thoughts about complexity are anthropocentric7 claims. Gould’s primary claim to counter progression is made by analogy. He calls this his “Left Wall” argument. Pope recounts Gould’s analogy;
He asked readers to imagine a Saturday night drunk stumbling along a street. The drunk is not walking with any purpose in mind, but every time he stumbles into the wall of the buildings to his left he happens to bounce to his right because he has nowhere else to go. Applied to evolution, Gould’s point was that evolution generates more complex organisms because all the niches for the simple organism – “the left wall” of the continuum – are already filled. Nature’s fecundity8 has to go “somewhere” and an increase of complexity is the only avenue left open to the diffusion of nature. The generative capacity, Gould concluded, is no more purposive than the drunk’s meandering into the streets after he collides with the buildings on his left (113,114).
Gould asserts, “the question of questions boils down to the placement of the boundary between predictability under invariant law and the multifarious9 possibilities of historical contingency…we must face the implication squarely—that the origin of Homo sapiens, [are akin to] a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree” (Gould p.291). Gould’s “Left Wall” argument by analogy, geared toward defeating claims of progressive evolution, is joined with Gould’s other claims regarding contingency and chance, and anthropocentrism thereby creating a nicely organized series of objections Pope’s must overcome in order to make legitimate claims about directionality in evolution.
B. Pope’s reply to Gould
Pope asserts that Gould’s argument “proceeds by something of a sleight of hand. He identifies all forms of ‘purpose’ with the modern doctrine of progress10 and then collapses the meaning of ‘progress’ into biological adaptation” (114). By Pope’s account, Gould is not acknowledging that “progress” is implied in adaptation. Biological adaptations through evolutionary processes give rise to creatures which are better fit for their environments, and this adaptively is “progress.”
Pope introduces Dawkins, who argues, “Maladaptive organisms are eliminated, adaptive organisms ‘replicate.’ In the long run, the most adapted organisms will become successful in the “evolutionary arms race’ (115). Pope then acknowledges that Dawkins has made an illegitimate move by overstating claims about progress which assume that successfully adaptive creatures will remain successful over time and shifting environments. The work Dawkins argument does here is to allow Pope to offer a middle ground between Gould, who Pope believes is ignoring progress by putting too much emphasis on contingency, and Dawkins, who is claiming progress while ignoring the contingent cases where the environment changes—adaptive traits may regress into maladaptive traits—“Time and shifting environments can lead to the decline and even the elimination of a species” (115). Pope claims,
It seems to me that natural selection operating on random mutations to produce relatively advantaged organisms can be considered a legitimate candidate for the mechanism of directionality. This helps to account for why the emergence of new kinds of complexities is not just the product of increased variation or random diffusion, but rather an intelligible process that generates organisms that are more successful than their competitors because they are better adapted to their surroundings.
Pope’s “middle ground” rests on the idea that although Gould’s contingent events exist, evolution itself is a selective process which is not random. Pope quotes Ayala11, stating that “evolution is the outcome of the interaction of random and non-random process. There is a ‘selective process.’…adaptive combinations constitute, in turn, new levels of organization upon which the mutation (random) plus selection (non-random or directional) process again operates” (115). Pope holds that through the process of natural selection, evolution “generates increased levels of complexity over time” (116). This position argued by Pope does not assume that complexity is always adaptive, but it does hold that “nature is inherently structured to give rise to emergent complexity” (116).
Pope then makes this claim, “While methodological reductionism12 ought to be employed to understand as much about our behavior as possible, we need to acknowledge that these emergent capacities allow us to engage in activities and to strive for goals that cannot be explained in exclusively biological terms (116). He then makes it clear that humans are a central part of the evolutionary process and that human nature has been “steadily improving for the last 150,000 years” (116). Pope is careful to note that these improvements are reflected primarily in our cultural evolution and less in our biological evolution. He states: “Whatever moral progress has been accomplished in the course of human history is not the result of a significant shift in gene frequencies, but of developments in moral culture” (116).
C. Conway Morris’ objections.
Conway Morris responds to Gould’s arguments by use of his “evolutionary convergence” theory. On this view, Morris does not hold that there is a steady pressure toward greater complexity, but rather, there exist “structural limits to evolutionary possibilities lead[ing] to the recurrent evolution of certain biological properties” (Pope p.116). Morris, like Gould, views evolution as a metaphorical “bush of hominid diversification,” (117) but with some differences. Morris points to the similarities between biological and behavioral patterns found among cross species. He concludes that these patterns cannot be coincidental. He notes;
Examples of evolutionary convergence are abundant: the independent evolution of sensory systems such as the camera-like eye (which evolved separately in at least six different cases), olfaction, hearing, and insect “gyroscopes,” to name a few examples. It also exemplifies in complex behavioral traits such as hunting patterns in many species, matriarchal social structures in sperm whales and elephants, and “farming” in ants and humans (Morris p.127).
Morris argues that biological and behavioral traits do not evolve by chance; indeed intelligence itself is not a “lucky ‘bounce’ off the left wall of organic life” (117). Morris regards evolution as evolving toward an inevitable end state. He makes four central claims;
First, complexities are usually a way of organizing traits that are “inherent” in simpler systems; second, evolution cannot move in an infinite number of directions – the ‘number of evolutionary end points is limited;’ third, what is evolutionarily possible is “usually” arrived at many times;…fouth, evolution takes a great deal of time and over the course of time what were once slim possibilities increasingly become probable and even, as life goes on, inevitable (Pope p.118).
Morris’ arguments work, at least in part, from the inherent tenet that “evolution often works in a step-like arrangement” (118) making future events more likely as past events unfold. Pope employs Morris because Pope’s directionality claims are somewhat congruent with Morris’ inevitability theory. Both suggest evolution is a process by which the human end-state is manifest. Pope remarks, “Conway Morris provides reasons for thinking that scientific knowledge of biological evolution is congruent with the Christian belief that the world is God’s creation. Evolutionary pathways are constrained and shaped by the way that nature is organized. The organic world is a plentitude and a marvel, but still has a rational structure (118).
Morris replies to Gould directly and states that evolution of mammals lead to a stage where “human beings became a ‘near inevitability.’ We are not a cosmic accident…’rerun the tape of life as often as you like, and the end result will be much the same” (118). Pope believes that Morris is an exceptionally good objector to Gould because both Morris and Gould examine the same biological evidence “but they come to different conclusions” (119).
V. Addressing Pope’s Claims.
I have presented Pope’s central claims and arguments by Gould and Morris regarding directionality in evolution13. Now I will address Pope’s claims directly.
Pope asserts that Gould’s argument “proceeds by something of a sleight of hand. This is simply not the case. In this objection by Pope, a great deal of work is being done very quickly. The reader is told, by implication, that Gould is employing some trickery to support his arguments.
I believe Gould deserves a voice to defend him in this allegation. To be clear, Gould does not find “purpose” or even a tendency in evolution. In Gould’s Wonderful Life he notes, “most [evolutionary] possibilities are never realized…biology’s most profound insight into human nature, status, and potential lies in the simple phrase, the embodiment of contingency: Homo sapiens is an entity, not a tendency” (320). Gould does not claim “purpose.” Indeed, Gould’s central claim is that evolution is not a purposeful process. Pope rightly points out that Gould holds the view that “there is nothing particularly adaptive in the fact that we have five rather than four or six digits” (112). It might appear that Pope is pointing out Gould’s use of the word “adaptive” in order to make a comparative statement between adaptivity and progress, but this is not the case. This quote comes from Gould’s “luck of the draw” argument and it concludes with Gould asserting that the difference between 4, 5 or even 6 digits is “the result of unpredictable and unrepeatable events of history” (112).
Pope fairly represents Gould’s quotes prior to making the “sleight of hand” allegation and such a strong claim demands careful explanation. This ethical responsibility is undoubtedly something Pope should take seriously. I find no compelling evidence which supports Pope’s claim, and while I concede that my lack of discovery is not proof, when juxtaposed with Gould’s distinctively clear claims which appear contrary, it seems evident that Pope’s argument in this regard lacks sufficient merit to be credible. Exceptional claims demand exceptional proof.
Similarly, Pope asserts that Gould had an agenda which was “long concerned with countering the claim that evolution is progressive” (113). Whether this is the case or not is debatable. I believe Gould would reply to this by saying, “Pope, my only ‘agenda’ is getting at the truth. There are easier ways than digging my life away in mountains of shale to refute directionality in evolution claims.” Gould came to his conclusions after putting his hands in the earth and examining the evidence, and for that act he deserves some measure of respect. One cannot deny that tensions exist between science and religion but it cannot fairly be argued that those who have different views necessarily have an agenda.
Pope’s strategy to overcome Gould appears to be sound. However, Pope fails to successfully defeat the left wall argument, and the contingency argument. Instead, Pope, having the luxury of history to reflect upon, seems to create a plausible idea about how evolution may work, but one which is not based on evidence. Plausibility is not nearly enough to counter Gould’s objections to directionality in evolution.
V.i. Morris on contingency.
Pope uses Morris to refute Gould’s contingency claim. Rolston also notes Morris and helpfully offers;
Contingency disappears, Conway Morris argues, when we look at the remarkable convergences that have characterized evolutionary history. Eyes, ears, legs, wings appeared more than once. If the tape were replayed, life would begin in the sea and move to land. There would be plants and animals, predators and prey, genetic coding, sexuality. Sentience would appear in some forms, based on something like neurons, and some of these sentient forms would become increasingly intelligent. Here is “the main theme of this book”: “As all the principal properties that characterize humans are convergent, then sooner or later, and we still have a billion years of terrestrial viability in prospect, ‘we’ as a biological property will emerge”…“Morris asks, whether “intelligence is some quirky end point of the evolutionary process or whether in reality it is more-or-less inevitable, an emergent property that is wired into the biosphere” (223, 224).
One could concede that animals developed similar traits separately, even intelligence and behaviors but it is not the case that one would have to conclude the divine is at work in the process of evolution.
Our planet has a particular set of environmental variables. Life is constrained by the state of affairs that are present. There are a finite number of minerals, water, gasses and potentialities. Interestingly, scientists are beginning to discover life where it was once assumed nothing could live. Organisms called extremophilies14 live on parts of our planet which amaze researchers, (i.e. in pools of near boiling sulfuric acid and other seemingly impossible habitats). These organisms are the same as they were billions of years ago, and have never, nor will they likely ever evolve into anything different. In the environments in which they live, they have adapted traits which are unlike any other creature on earth. They have no eyes or sensory organs that we know of. Morris points out traits that co-emerge among multiple species, but it is certainly not the case that this is a universal trend. This is the result of random mutation and happy accidents. Rolston explains;
“The crystallins used in lenses in eyes started out as heat-shock proteins, which happened to be transparent, and got co-opted into lenses for eyes. What were once float bladders got transformed into lungs. Acetylcholine, an ancient molecule, has been around for millennia doing other things in plants and bacteria, but when nerves appear it gets co-opted for use in synaptic transmission. What start out as body pressure cells in fish get transformed into ears, with the radical co-option of skull bones as amplifiers; this makes possible first hearing, which is widely present, but then hearing is co-opted for language in human brains, making possible the transmission of ideas that characterizes a cumulative transmissible culture (227).
There seems to be a simpler explanation, and that is that because there is air to breath, lungs developed to take advantage of this state of affairs. Because sound and light waves exist, eyes and ears emerged to take advantage. Air and water, heat, light and fertile earth are all contingent—it is no surprise that creatures have emerged in ways which make use of them.
Darwin explained adaptations to local environments to which Gould added “survivors will tend to be those individuals with variations that are fortuitously best suited to changing local environments. Since heredity exists, the offspring of survivors will tend to resemble their successful parents. The accumulation of these favorable variants through time will produce evolutionary change” (Gould, Full House P.138). Morris finds it extraordinary and meaningful that creatures have evolved globally with some similar traits. It does not seem all that strange to believe that two separate species might evolve a similar strategy in a local environment. The question I pose here is what exactly constitutes a “local environment” because local is a relative term. This is local to that. My point is this; one need only look into the night sky to determine that the earth as a whole is relatively local. The earth is part of a tiny system of about 9 planets with a single star neatly tucked into a corner of a galaxy containing over 100 million million such stars—swimming in a soup of hundreds of billions of other such galaxies. Trying to actually conceptualize the smallness of our planet is impossible and overwhelming to consider. I think it is safe to say that is what constitutes a “local” environment in the scheme of things. Some similar evolutionary adaptations on earth are universally advantageous within the overall contingent environment of the planet.
The emergence of eyes or lungs among different creatures on earth can be thought of as a response to our local environment (i.e. earth). There will be adaptations which are more universal—and other smaller and smaller niche adaptations in more unique pockets of contingent living space on the planet. The emergence of intelligence as a trait is not directly related to the contingent environmental the way eyes are to light or ears are to sound. One cannot look at the similarities between creatures found on earth and conclude that it was inevitable that life emerge in such a way—or that one or more common traits across species equates to the inevitability of human intelligence. There is simply no logical reason that correlation is somehow related to causation—especially in cases where the correlation itself is a rather dubious claim. Things simply emerge in accord with the randomness of mutation, and the successful adaptivity to the contingent environment. The entire earth’s environment can be seen as both local and contingent—and as such, correlating traits are unremarkable.
It is clear that Pope, by use of Morris, has failed to overcome Gould’s contingency argument. Gould would simply interject that as it pertains to eyes, light itself is a contingent thing. If our sun burned out and no light existed, it would only be a matter of time before all living creatures, if any remained, would shed their co-emergent eyes the way that snakes shed their legs when they were no longer advantageous. Similarly, intelligence, like other traits, is a happy accident brought about by adaptation and is neither preordained nor inevitable. Intelligence will remain so long as it is advantageous. Gould could make similar contingency arguments about any biological feature.
Pope, by way of Morris, argues that contingency does not matter in the whole scheme of things anyway—evolution marches on to an inevitable end. What Pope has succeeded in doing is nothing more than spinning a story which reconciles with his Christian views. Despite this story, Gould’s argument from contingency persists and Pope has done nothing to weaken it. There have been, and likely will again be, world-wide catastrophes which erase all life on earth. A simple collision with a large meteor or other contingent event can wipe out all life again. Would such an event mean that man would evolve all over again? Gould says no, Pope and Morris say basically yes—something like man would inevitably evolve again, and the annoying philosopher says that if such an event changed the contingent circumstances on earth, then no. If a meteor knocked the earth out of orbit and sent it careening into the cold blackness of space, how could one even imagine life would evolve again in the same way? Theologians would inevitably profess, “God would never allow such an end to life on earth” and Gould would reply, “I have proof that world-wide extinction has happened before” and the annoying philosopher would chime in, “and your Bible claims God killed everyone in a flood except a few lucky souls and warns he will do it again someday!”—to which the Christian would inevitably reply, “Amen brother, I can’t wait to meet my maker.”
V.ii. Pope and Morris on natural selection and inevitability.
Pope claims that “through the processes of natural selection, evolution “generates increased levels of complexity over time” (116). Who can argue that by looking back upon the fossil records, what we find is greater complexity today than what was found a few billion years ago. We have the luxury of looking at the available evidence. It is partly in what we don’t see that Pope’s claims cannot hold.
What is the end state of evolution? Mankind is the first cognitively advanced creature to evolve with a sentient and intelligent mind. The first thing man has done is to declare victory over all he can perceive and assert that the meaning for everything must be him. The potentialities for mankind may not nearly have been approximated in our current form. Just because we finally know we are part of the game does not imply that the game is somehow over. How will mankind be viewed billions of years from now by creatures who may not remotely reflect so-called “modern man” today? If one were to grant directionality in evolution, even divine purposeful causation, Pope has a lot of work to do if he intends to prove mankind is the end result. We cannot see what the future for mankind holds, but if a more successful creature does not emerge, and if man does not become extinct due to some contingent event in the future, he would be a very unique creature indeed.
Pope’s claim about complexity is based on the assumption that mankind is the purpose of evolution, but Morris states that “waiting in the wings of the theatre of consciousness are other minds stirring, poised on the threshold of articulation”; examples are the dolphins and bonobo
Chimps” (Rolston p.253). What comes next is anyone’s guess. However, we must rightly acknowledge that by way of the fossil record, it is evident that complex creatures have emerged over time. Gould concedes this, but explains it by use of his “left wall” argument, “Evolution does not aim at us; we are here by “the luck of the draw, not the inevitability of life’s direction or evolution’s mechanism” (114). Pope maintains that natural selection is an intelligible process and continues to employ Morris to defend his view.
Morris states that evolutionary stages make certain inevitabilities more and more likely (118) as creatures become more complex. I assert this reasoning is flawed for three reasons. First, it assumes that the end state for creatures has not been reached. Second, it draws a comparison between species, assuming that what is possible for one species is possible for another. Thirdly, it assumes that past moves toward greater complexity is a trend within a creature’s development. My first argument begins with the fact that most creatures never flourish. Far more species have become extinct than exist today. This is due to contingent circumstances. Creatures require a sufficient biological makeup such that they can sustain their life and reproduce. However, biological adaptations are no guarantee of success. Even successful species can become extinct due to increased predation, low food supplies or any number of contingent circumstances.
It may even be that a creature is already very successful, attaining an efficient biological strategy for success, and as such there is no pressure to adapt. This is nature’s way of asserting, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” This accounts for the modern day relics, creatures such as alligators, crocodiles, turtles and certain bacteria which have remained basically the same since the age of the dinosaur. It is illogical to assume that any creature will evolve into something different, or that any adaptation will assure the success of a species. Because it is true that far more species die out at their current stage of development due to contingent circumstances than ever flourish by way of new evolutionary adaptation, then it follows that for all creatures, it is more likely that their current state will be their end state, and less likely they will evolve more successfully into a more complex creature.
The second reason I noted is a cross species objection. Morris’ argument assumes that cognitive emergence in evolution (in the modern sense of progress) is possible in creatures by way of mechanistic evolution, creating greater complexity over time. This is not the case. One can argue they have discovered a very smart mouse, but it is still a mouse—and comes with the limitations of a mouse. Through the twists and turns of the evolutionary bush, the argument goes; the possibilities or directions become more limited. Indeed, there is a point after which a rabbit cannot become a chimpanzee. One cannot assume that the most complex rabbit is capable of the mental capabilities of an average chimpanzee. One cannot argue that the evolutionary directions complex creatures could take becomes limited, and at the same time argue that evolution is predisposed to cause the universal inevitability of cognitive emergent creatures. To show a pattern of directionality in evolution which results in the inevitability of cognitively emergent creatures, then one needs the smoking gun. Morris needs to demonstrate it is a tendency among all creatures. Such cross species claims cannot be made. Mankind did emerge from apes with superior cognitive abilities, but most creatures which adapt and have become more complex could not reach our level of complexity precisely because the way ahead is more limited than it once was. The cognitive emergence found in humans is an evolutionary fluke.
Thirdly, Morris is implying that from each plateau of development, it becomes more evolutionarily likely that greater complexity will occur. This is pure speculation. I agree it is difficult to immediately understand it as speculative. This is because Morris points to the fossil record as proof that over time; the most complex creatures alive today became that way by means of greater complexity over time. Morris’ explanation appears somewhat intuitive, but it is flawed reasoning. Gould countered this move by employing his “left wall” analogy. I believe I have developed a better analogy which makes this flawed logic more clear.
Consider a roulette wheel at a Las Vegas casino. The wheel has dozens of little niches into which a ball comes to rest. On each turn of the wheel the tiny ball will randomly fill one of the slots. One can consider each niche in the wheel as a possible evolutionary adaptation—red being adaptations which are more complex and black being less. Each spin of the wheel represents a biological mutation and it is clear to see that it’s anyone’s guess as to which way a random mutation will occur. Morris could bet on a red number but there are many red numbers, of which only one can be the winner of each spin. The others red numbers in any given spin are maladaptive failures. Indeed, in such a process any progress is rare. Such a wheel cannot be said to have “directionality,” but even so, Morris points to the evidence of the history of evolution to support his argument.
Vegas casinos do this too. It is a brilliant way to deceive the hopeful into thinking there is some pattern to the process. Indeed, they get rich doing it. The casino erects a history sign at each roulette wheel, and the sign displays the results from the last 50 or so spins. When looking at the history board, people see patterns. Maybe the same number hits three times, perhaps there have been clusters of number in succession, or maybe red was hit the last 10 times. The fact is that the little ball bounces around in the wheel without any regard to the history board. Indeed, only the hopeful gambler is paying attention to it—the casino knows any pattern at all is mere coincidence.
Each spin of the wheel is still random, there are still black numbers indicating changes toward less complexity, and red numbers indicating greater complexity, most of which are maladaptive. What the history sign does show us is that in random processes, some strange coincidences occur. This is what accounts for the complex creatures we have today. Spin the wheel trillions of times and some spectacular coincidental events may emerge. Over the course of billions of years, from moment to moment in creatures all around the world, that wheel is spinning. Yes there have been some spectacular coincidental events which have lead to all forms of complex life, and indeed mankind, but one cannot overlook the overwhelming failures which accompany such a state of affairs. Morris looks back on history, but only calls attention to the coincidental patterns on the history wheel. One can profess that it is divine or somehow inevitable that such random coincidental events emerge, but I doubt Morris would stand on the casino floor and put his money on it. It is purely random, spectacular and fortunate for mankind but random nonetheless
Pope needed to overcome the luck of the draw argument, and the contingency argument posed by Gould to show directionality in evolution. Pope did successfully weave a story which, if true, would be both interesting and powerful in the discourse between Christian ethics and psychology.
He did not demonstrate from evidence that directionality in evolution exists. Pope, by use of Morris and Ayala needed to show that it is not the case that evolution randomly acts in unpredictable patterns. Like the roulette sign offered to desperate gamblers, all Pope managed to do was to show the evidence of the past to the hopeful, but he was unable to directly demonstrate that the randomness of evolution is anything other than random.
Pope’s reply to contingency was not sufficient either. The fact remains, life on earth is occasionally wiped out by contingent events. Life which manages to emerge between global catastrophes adapts to the contingent environment at the time. In this sense, the whole earth is a local environment. To assert that there is a divine purposeful causation at work, which uses evolution as a sort of intelligible mechanism in such a contingent process, is absurd both from logic and intuition.
Pope’s reply to Gould’s left wall argument—that nature’s fecundity randomly fills available niches and therefore randomly creates more complex creatures, Gould was not addressed fairly nor adequately. By fairly, I mean Pope’s “sleight of hand” accusation which was unsubstantiated. By adequately I mean by way of Dawkins who served very little purpose, other than to introduce Pope’s views as somewhat tempered. Pope comments; “It seems to me that natural selection operating on random mutations to produce relatively advantaged organisms can be considered a legitimate candidate for the mechanism of directionality” (115). While interesting, Pope failed to show that “random mutations to produce relatively advantaged organisms” is a tendency whatsoever. There are two problems inherent in this argument, 1) More complexity does not equal better adaptivity (or prolonged success of a species) and 2) a sense of fallacious begging the question exists in Pope’s claim. He implies that there is directionality in the way he poses the observation, and then concludes directionality from it. “It seems to me that natural selection operating on random mutations to produce relatively advantaged organisms can be considered a legitimate candidate for the mechanism of directionality”—by using the word “to” Pope has loaded the dice in his observation and then concluded directionality.
For these reasons, I conclude that Pope has failed to prove directionality in evolution or to overturn Gould’s arguments of contingency. Indeed I conclude that Pope himself has employed a sleight of hand to support his arguments both personally and by way of Morris. He explores many interesting subjects that build to his divine causation conclusions, but in the end, the totality of his greater claims are built upon a crumbling foundation of unproven theories, and for that reason, are not supported by the evidence15.
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Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful life the Burgess Shale and the nature of history. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print.
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30 / Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, p. 23.
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Morris, Desmond. The Naked Ape. McGraw, 1967. Print.
Morris, S. Conway. Crucible of creation the Burgess Shale and the rise of animals. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
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Peters, K. (2007). Toward an Evolutionary Christian Theology. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 42(1), 49-63. Retrieved from Philosopher’s Index database.
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Stephen J. Gould, FULL HOUSE – THE SPREAD OF EXCELLENCE FROM PLATO TO DARWIN 138 (1996).
1 the species of modern man (humans)
2 a blank slate
3 In this case, epiphenomenon is referring to a causal relationship between evolution and the bringing about of a Christian soul.
4 The influence of a system on many subsystems.
5 Altruism, an unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
6 Similarly, I will not be addressing the problem of evil6 with regard to Pope’s creation claims or other claims about the ordered processes of the universe and its mechanisms. I anticipate that even the most novice philosopher will immediately mentally interject the POE as a reply to Pope’s claims in this essay. Indeed Pope concedes, “The problem of evil cannot be taken away, or made non-problematic, by rational solutions” (99). For many, the POE reply defeats Pope’s claims right here. For others, it simply calls Pope’s claims into immediate or further doubt. Like the legitimacy claim above, I am not conceding the POE reply. I am asserting that in this case it is prudent to address Pope’s claims regarding directionality in evolution without employing it, save these few lines to explain my setting it aside. If all claims of divine causality are answered simply by employing the POE, then progress will never be made in the investigation of a middle ground between Christian ethics and evolutionary psychology. I believe the investigation itself is valuable. Pope wisely conceded the POE objection, and I will leave it there.
The problem of evil is a philosophical standard reply to claims about creation. Why would an all loving, all knowing, all powerful God create a world with evil in it? In this case, for example, if evolution is a mechanism of a perfect loving creator, then how do we account for mistakes, deformities, or other imperfections? Why global catastrophes that wipe out all life? Why is there unnecessary suffering in the world? These types of questions related to the problem of evil could be asked ad nauseam. For many philosophers and theologists, the problem of evil is such a powerful argument that it defeats all creation claims. For others, some standard theoretical answers to the problem of evil exist, such as “evil as a necessity,” or “evil as perception.” However, it remains impossible to logically reconcile God as being all loving, all knowing and all powerful with there being evil in the world.
7 “Anthropocentrism” is the belief that humans are the center of reality – that everything is here for us, and we have dominion. This concept is sometimes known as humanocentrism or human supremacy.
8 the capacity of abundant production
9 having many different parts, elements, forms, etc.
10 The idea that more complexity is universally considered to serve a purpose which is marked by progress.
11 Francisco José Ayala (born 1934 in Madrid, Spain) is a Spanish American biologist and philosopher at the University of California, Irvine. He is a former Dominican priest (ordained in 1960).
12 Methodological reductionism claims that the best scientific strategy to discover the nature or truth of an object of study is to attempt to reduce the object to the smallest observable element. For example, methodological reductionism holds that the atomic explanation of a substance’s boiling point is preferable to the chemical explanation, and that an explanation based on even smaller particles (quarks, perhaps) would be even better.
13 What I did not do is address Pope’s use of Stoeger to support directionality in evolution claims. William Stoeger, S.J. is a Jesuit priest from the California province of the Society of Jesus, and is also an astrophysicist working for the Vatican Observatory. He is based with the Vatican Observatory research group at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Stoeger, for the most part, makes claims which are more thickly tied to religion and are not nearly as compelling to me as those of Morris, Gould and Pope himself. I decided to leave them out of this essay. Pope’s use of Stoeger can be researched independently. It begins on page 119 of his Human Evolution and Christian Ethics.
14 Organisms which live on earth in harsh environments.
15 I did not seriously pursue the problem of evil, nor the leap to divinity arguments because, as I noted, I believe there is value to exploring the relationship between science and religion. I cannot deny that some arguments for divinity are more compelling than others, and my findings in this essay may not apply universally to all religious claims.
Religion can be seen as one way to make sense of the world. I agree with Pope that materialistic reductionism is ill-equipped to answer common metaphysical questions. Karl Peters asks us to consider a street map and a subway map of the same city. By overlapping them and finding common points of reference, one can see that both maps make sense of the same city. It may be the case that with few exceptions, science and religion are asking different questions, making sense of the same world by use of different maps—leaving the traveler to wonder which map is best suited for his journey.
In Ayala’s Human Nature, he explains that two types of evolution exist today, biological evolution and cultural evolution. Because biological evolution works imperceptibly slowly, our group culture has evolved in order to make advancements. Ayala notes, “Cultural inheritance makes possible for people what no other organism can accomplish—the cumulative transmission of experience from generation to generation (514). Religion, by way of myths and storytelling has traditionally filled cultural needs which are now catered to in different ways. On traditional religious storytelling, Joseph Campbell shows us;
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man (23).
Coming soon: The Other Side of God