Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Simon Conway Morris: Darwin 1, Paley 0

Eighteenth century English natural theology reached a pinnacle in the work of William Paley who was decidedly optimistic about the world. Not only did creation prove design, it was also a very pleasant place. Here is how the Anglican described an English garden:

It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water, teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. The insect youth are on the wing. Swarms of newborn flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity, their continual change of place without use or purpose, testify their joy, and the exultation which they feel in their lately discovered faculties. A bee amongst the flowers in spring, is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon. Its life appears to be all enjoyment; so busy, and so pleased: yet it is only a specimen of insect life.

It appears to be the very picture of what David Hume had in mind when excoriating the natural theologians for their neglect of the evil all around them. Paley, who came after Hume, is yet another reminder of the recycling of ideas in the history of thought. Did Paley not realize how well he caricatured Hume’s target? Did he not recall Hume’s retort that a perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures, and that nature is so arranged so as to embitter the life of every living being? Or was his English garden supposed to offset Hume’s vicious world?

Either way, it hardly matters. Regardless of the century, it seems the pious continue to exhalt nature’s harmony while the skeptics continue to complain of its evils. There are common threads running through our thinking that seem to transcend the traditions at hand. There will always be a Hume and a Paley.

The banality of (arguments about) evil

Unfortunately, consistency does not imply quality. For all of their fame, Hume and Paley presented remarkably na├»ve thought. “I find it astonishing,” commented one philosopher recently of Hume’s work, “how well posterity has treated ‘Of Miracles,’ given how completely the confection collapses under a little probing.”

I was also astonished when I first read Paley. He emphasized the happiness of nature’s creatures as evidence for God, and he even presented a proof for his cheery dictum that God “wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures.”

Paley began with the premise that when God created human beings He either wished for their happiness, or their misery, or He was indifferent. Paley then ruled out God wishing for our misery, for if that were the case He didn’t do a very good job. God certainly could have made things much more miserable. Likewise, if God were indifferent then why do our senses have the capacity to receive pleasure and why is there such an abundance of external objects fitted to produce it?

By the process of elimination Paley thought he had proved that God wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures. In a few short pages, and without reference to scripture, Paley reduced a profound theological question to a triviality. The implication, Paley concluded, was that “the method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general happiness.”

Next in line: Darwin

Darwin, as evolutionists will not let us forget, demolished Paley’s natural theology. True enough, but so what? Darwin, who was steeped in Hume and reused his arguments when convenient, was unfortunately no better than the Scottish philosopher. We might say that we find it astonishing how well posterity has treated ‘Origins,’ given how completely the confection collapses under a little probing. For instance, consider this Darwinian gem:

How inexplicable are the cases of serial homologies on the ordinary view of creation! Why should the brain be enclosed in a box composed of such numerous and such extraordinary shaped pieces of bone, apparently representing vertebrae? … Why should similar bones have been created to form the wing and the leg of a bat, used as they are for such totally different purposes, namely flying and walking? Why should one crustacean, which has an extremely complex mouth formed of many parts, consequently always have fewer legs; or conversely, those with many legs have simpler mouths? Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?

Such pathetic rationalism is typical of Darwin’s confection. It was “one long argument” against Paley. As Simon Conway Morris recently wrote:

Curiously, it is seldom appreciated that whatever else [Darwin’s] masterpiece set out to achieve it was at heart an exorcism of William Paley. With consummate skill, and in striking contrast to the belligerent and graceless rhetoric of some of his intellectual descendants, he systematically dismantled Paley's creationism. But 150 years on the message has evidently failed to sink in.

Yes it has failed to sink in, but not as Morris thinks. Evolutionists such as Morris are concerned IDs have not yet read the memo. Don’t IDs know Darwin demolished Paley?

Of course they do.

What hasn’t sunk in is that it doesn’t matter. What hasn’t sunk in is that Darwinian thought is the height of rationalism, and that evolution is soaking in metaphysics. What hasn’t sunk in is that evolution, and its overwhelming evidence, hinge on the same old religious confection.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting. Who would have thought? Darwin and Paley. One confection battling another. As they say, "opposites" are of the same nature. In this case, however, they are not true opposites in the sense of being complements. They are opposites because they oppose each other like two north poles. True opposites attract.

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  2. Cornelius,

    I don't think it's fair to say that Simon Conway Morris believes that Darwin demolished Paley specifically in the area you point out. If anything, he believes - and I'm certain you would disagree even with this - that Darwin was right about there being evolution, and Paley was wrong about an on the spot creation of all living things in there current form with no (or minimally different) precursors.

    But the very paper you point out pits Conway Morris against many Darwinians, by his own admission. The human-like as inevitable. Evolution as ultimately predictable as testified by convergence. He doesn't make any mention of Darwin or Hume's talk about evil, but even many who accept evolution can take serious issue with those arguments (indeed, they can talk similarly to Paley).

    In fact, I wonder if Conway Morris could be considered an ID proponent. After all, Behe and others are despite accepting evolution.

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  3. Crude -

    Conway Morris, from what I understand, would not be an ID-ist because he thinks that the natural laws are sufficient to bring about evolution. However, he thinks that the natural laws are written in such a way as to do so. Behe, on the other hand, while believing in a naturalistic evolution, does not think that the laws themselves are sufficient. He thinks that information was needed in the beginning to move things towards the proper destination. That is, not only did the laws of physics need to be precisely tuned, but the "Big Bang" was more like an egg than an amorphous mass - all the instructions were there at the beginning to guide evolution the right way. You might say that the flagellum was encoded in the beginning, though it took several billion years before it actually was realized into a workable flagellum.

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  4. Amusing. Paley never told us why he thought the watch is designed and not the grass or the stone! And then Darwin comes along, and sees off philosophy masquerading as science, ending the debate forever. So what do we do when we can't argue with the science? Call it religious! The science battle was lost which is why creationism became IDC. Nice try Cornelius, but you won't convince anyone.

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  5. crevo,

    My understanding is that Behe makes no specific claim about how certain (IC) biological structures came about - only that, however they did, an inference to design and intent is justifiable based on what we know. Now, he does say that front-loading is a possibility, but that's really as far as he goes.

    Meanwhile, Conway Morris doesn't just think that natural laws are sufficient to bring about evolution, but that the laws are rigged towards various reliable outcomes - including intelligent life very similar to humans. I think if there's any central difference between Behe and Conway Morris, it's that (while both believe in some kind of ultimate intelligent design) Behe asserts his inference to design is scientific. Conway Morris makes no inference nor any such claim (and he also conflates ID with denying evolution).

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  6. Darwins,

    This is a post and run. I'm guessing Paley would have said the same about the grass and the stone if he could see the cellular and molecular structure of each.

    "So what do we do when we can't argue with the science? Call it religious!" - LOL Cornelius is simply pointing out what was plain to see for over 150 years. What some scientists in Darwin's day called the law of higgledy-piggledy because it was not science.

    The debate if far from over.

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  7. Cornelius,

    Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought more clergy than scientists accepted Darwin's hypothesis initially.

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  8. Brian:

    ====
    Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought more clergy than scientists accepted Darwin's hypothesis initially.
    ====

    I don't know the numbers but, yes, many non scientists including theologians and clergy had argued for the evolutionary view, and accepted it gladly once presented by Darwin.

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  9. Darwin asks,

    "Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?"

    ...etc. Darwin proposes an answer. He doesn't say here that creationism is wrong because God would have done it some other way. All he says is that we have no particular reason to think that God would have done it this way versus some other way. The hypothesis "God did it" has no value for explaining the data or predicting features of new data.

    Hunter ubiquitously confuses this point, I think he is confused by the word "inexplicable", which sometimes does mean "that's a bad explanation because it conflicts with data", but more commonly means, especially with Darwin, "that's not an explanation at all, it is empirically empty."

    Anyway, the important question is what is Hunter's explanation. Well, we know that: "God creates according to his own good pleasure", as Hunter wrote in one of his books. That's Hunter's "solution": kill science, and substitute "God did it, and don't you dare ask any questions about why the patterns are this way rather than some other way."

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  10. NickM:

    ===
    "Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?"

    ...etc. Darwin proposes an answer. He doesn't say here that creationism is wrong because God would have done it some other way. All he says is that we have no particular reason to think that God would have done it this way versus some other way. The hypothesis "God did it" has no value for explaining the data or predicting features of new data.

    Hunter ubiquitously confuses this point, I think he is confused by the word "inexplicable", which sometimes does mean "that's a bad explanation because it conflicts with data", but more commonly means, especially with Darwin, "that's not an explanation at all, it is empirically empty."
    ===

    I am not sure which is more pathetic, the evolutionist's metaphysical arguments, or their denial of said arguments. From Myers to Miller and Coyne to Collins, from Darwin to Dawkins and Wallace to Wobzhansky, the metaphysics is *crystal* clear.

    But like the mysterious rubbed out faces in old photographs to change the history, evolutionists hilariously claim to be sans metaphysics, that's after they say evolution must be true because of all the evil, and before they say evolution must be true because of the extinction.

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  11. Cornelius,

    "evolutionists hilariously claim to be sans metaphysics, that's after they say evolution must be true because of all the evil, and before they say evolution must be true because of the extinction."

    you've changed the subject (again). THe quotation Matzke was referring to, that you cited yourself, had nothing to do with good or evil or extinction. or can you explain what serial homologies have to do with those topics?

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