Archive for February, 2009

Slavery & the Civil War

Posted: February 14, 2009 in History, Lincoln

Over at the American Spectator, Rich Rostrom made some good comments regarding the issue of whether slavery was the cause of the Civil War.  While neo-confederates or Lincoln-haters deny it, or belittle it as a cause, there is no real doubt among serious historians that slavery was the issue that brought about the Civil War.  See:

http://spectator.org/archives/2009/02/12/shades-of-gray

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Mississippi Declaration of Causes: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…”

Georgia Declaration of Causes: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Texas Declaration of Causes: “In all the non-slave-holding States… the people have formed … a great sectional party, now strong enough … to control the affairs of … those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery…”

Florida Declaration of Causes: “The nullification of [fugitive slave] laws by… two thirds of the non slaveholding States… [is] evidence of an open disregard of constitutional obligation, and of the rights and interests of the slaveholding States and of a deep and inveterate hostility to the people of these States.”

South Carolina’s Address to the Slaveholding States: “Experience has proved that slave-holding States can not be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding States.”

Etc. (Full texts of these and related documents may be seen at

http://civilwarcauses.org/plat.htm

The Southern secessionists themselves openly, repeatedly, and at great length stated that secession was necessary to preserve slavery and for no other reason. Why deny it now?

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Vern

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Darwin Day

Posted: February 12, 2009 in Evolution

Well it’s Darwin Day, time to, uh, celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.  Darwin was the man who put Lamarck’s transmutation theory on the map, so to speak.  Lamarck had offered up a ridiculous mechanism for how the scale of being came about – inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Darwin, however, did a lot of study and concluded that natural selection was really the origin of diversity in the scale of being.  Each slight, little adaptation to the environment might give an advantage to some living creature to help it survive against competitors.   Spread this process of slight change or adaptation out over millions of years and you have “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful,” as Darwin put it.

Darwin’s theory faced a real problem.  Granted that nature favors the better adapted over the less adapted (almost by definition), why should nature favor the more complex forms over simpler forms?  Why is improvement equated with greater complexity rather than greater simplicity?  Some Darwinists have seen the dangers to Darwin’s theory in this question, and some have even gone on to deny that Darwinism requires any sort of “progress.”

Obviously some of this hostility to the notion of progress is a result of fashionable environmentalism or political correctness.  Man is seen as lower than apes for instance, or as inferior to other animals.  But this view only substitutes attitudinizing or joking for a real understanding of the problem.

Other Darwinists realize that progress is the very thing Darwinism is attempting to explain.  They also realize that the progress in question is progress in complexity, from simple things to Darwin’s endless forms most beautiful.

Since Darwin was attempting to explain the origin of the scale of being, he was therefore attempting to explain what could be called scaler progress.  Does natural selection provide a reason for this scaler progress, this progress up the scale of being?  No.  Nature may favor traits in living things that give advantages, yet there is no reason why advantages should always equate to increases in complexity.  Why should complexity rather than simplicity be nature’s favorite child?

The only way Darwinism could get natural selection to work its magic is by defining natural selection in such a way that it favors complexity over simplicity.  That would not be an empirical assumption, however, but rather an apriori metaphysical assumption.  There is absolutely no reason why nature (electrical storms, floods, etc.) should favor complex organisms vis-à-vis simpler organisms.

Darwin tried to answer this problem by saying that organisms improve because nature provides more complex conditions of life.  But this merely shifts the problem over to nature itself.  Why should nature become more complex?  Why not the other way?  How are thunderstorms more complex than heat waves or vice versa?  Moreover, Darwin’s appeal to complex conditions in nature begs the question at issue.

The point is to explain the origins of complexity without appealing to complexity itself as a cause of it.  This would be a petitio.  And yet it seems this is what Darwin and many of his followers do.  In fact Darwin says that “the specialization of parts and organs is an advantage to each being.”  Natural selection would then select for specialization or higher organization.

But obviously, specialization and higher organization are part of what it means to be complex, so Darwin is really saying that natural selection favors complexity.  In fact he even claims that “all physiologists admit that specialization of organs” is “an advantage to each being.”  But this was the very point that needed to be demonstrated.  Why should specialization be an advantage?  Why not uniformity or simplicity?  Why should nature have a preference for one over the other?

Darwin clearly recognized the possibility of devolution— that in a “few cases” nature favors simplicity.  But he thinks the majority of cases would involve improvement in organization or complexity.  So natural selection did not require, or lead to, improvement in all cases.  But again, why should nature care?  To claim that nature has a statistical preference for complexity over simplicity (most versus few) is simply to adopt the same metaphysical assumption about nature in a different guise.

Darwin claimed that natural selection was not a necessary or universal law of advancement, but he still smuggled the idea in by way of his concept of what is “beneficial” to creatures in “complex relations of life.”  Somehow, Darwin did not see that he was giving a causative role to complexity in his theory.  If natural selection wasn’t an explicitly necessary law of advancement in Darwin’s theory, it became an implicitly necessary law of advancement concealed under the very terms of his counter-argumentation.

Again, he denied that his theory required any “innate and necessary law of development,” but he still used terms such as “beneficial,” meaning that nature usually favors beneficial changes.  Beneficial changes are improvements, according to Darwin’s theory, that help creatures to survive in more “complex” conditions.

Darwin repeatedly said that natural selection does not necessarily result in improvement.  He said this because he sensed the danger to the putative scientific validity of his theory.  He sensed but did not really deal with the metaphysical issue lurking in the background.  Instead, he attacked another metaphysical assumption that was popular during the day, namely, that life had an inherent tendency toward improvement.

By saying that improvement is not necessary, what Darwin meant, as noted, is that it’s not necessary in all cases.  But it still has to be true in the majority of cases in order to bring about the scale of being—this whole panoply of forms most beautiful.

Darwin wanted to avoid the idea that nature was inherently progressive.  After all, nature had no mind, no intelligence, no internal tendencies toward progress.  If so then we ask again, why should nature favor, or have a tendency toward, more complex life over simpler life?  Why for instance should rain have a statistical preference one way or another?  It has no mind to guide it toward one choice as against another.  Appeal to supernatural causation would be metaphysical speculation, and would therefore be illegitimate in the eyes of Darwin and his followers.

Darwin and his defenders have basically assumed evolution as a fact, often appealing to the geological record.  From this, they conclude that there must be direction toward greater complexity in nature through natural selection.  The geological record, however, is filled with systematic gaps, and thus does not furnish confirmation of the theory.

Nevertheless, even if the fossil record did not have so many holes in it, it could only function as a deus ex machina, something brought in to rescue an otherwise sinking theory.  For Darwin’s theory does not really demonstrate why nature should prefer directedness over randomness.  It merely assumes it.   It is merely a metaphysical assumption dressed up in the lab coat of science.

Since Darwin’s day, evolutionists have skirmished over the meaning of progress in evolution, but they have never really provided a satisfying answer to the question of why nature should prefer complexity over simplicity.  Some have merely asserted that it must, which is a good way to win an argument—merely beg rather loudly for your conclusion rather than demonstrate it.

Others have simply denied progress in evolution, though often what is being denied is what might be called “evaluative” progress, e.g., the idea that (say) white Europeans are superior to other races of men (a common evolutionary idea at one time).  Nevertheless, to deny progress in evolution is to deny the very thing that needed to be explained.  If progress is denied, what’s the point of Darwinism?

Still others merely substitute elaborations of the theory of evolution in place of a demonstration of it, which is what is needed.  It is not enough simply to cite progress in complexity in the history of life; one must prove that such progress in complexity is a result of natural selection, and hence of evolution.

(For an overview of how evolutionists have tackled the problem of complexity, see Timothy Shanahan, The Evolution of Darwinism, Cambridge University Press, 2004, passim.)

Christianity teaches that there is a scale of being, but that it was created by God at the beginning of the world.  Christianity has no problem with a lot of structural similarity between living things, a continuity of being.  Christians need not fear the finding of “missing links.”  In fact, there is probably a lot more continuity out there than scientists have been able to find so far.

Nevertheless, because Christianity teaches the doctrine of biblical creation, it also holds to a scale of non-being.  Creation involves a discontinuity of being, and this is why living things can be divided up into species or genera or fundamental biological types, both in living things today, and in the fossil record of the past.  The basic kinds, or biomins, as I call them, will never change into other biomins.  There will never be inter-biominic change, since there is a fundamental limit to biological change, despite Darwinian claims to the contrary.  There is plenty of intra-biominic variation, however, since such change is a result of genetic potentiality within each biomin.

Many anti-evolutionists have focused on Darwinism’s inability to explain the discontinuity of being,  pointing to major demarcations between all living things, as well as gaps in the fossil record.  In the above, I’ve gone over the basic problem Darwin has in even explaining the continuity of being— how to account for its hierarchical nature, and to do so without appealing to the metaphysical assumption of directedness while claiming that natural selection is not inherently directional.

If Darwinists really want to celebrate the birth of Darwin, they really ought to honor the man by actually providing proof for the most basic assumption of his theory, its very heart so to speak, that nature has a preference for complexity.   If they cannot do this in a non-question begging manner, then we are entitled to reject Darwinism as metaphysical speculation, and celebrate the birth of more worthy scientific theorists.

For thoughtful discussion of Darwinism, and, or creation/flood theory, see:

http://www.bartlettpublishing.com/site/bartpub/blog/1

http://www.arn.org/authors/behe.html

http://www.uncommondescent.com/

http://www.grisda.org/origins/

http://www.creationresearch.org/

http://www.icr.org/

http://www.answersingenesis.org/

Vern

Appearance

Posted: February 2, 2009 in Housekeeping

Hi all.  As some of you may have noticed, I’m experimenting with the appearance of this blog.  Unfortunately, the number of themes on WordPress are limited.  I started out with the Christmas theme, but can only use that after Thanksgiving.  I’ve tried others, but nothing so far seems to have everything I want, so please be patient as I try to find a good theme that is pleasant to look at and also easy to read.

Vern