Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

This was originally a part of the Multiregionalism and Race essay.  Because there was a long discussion in the comments section, I’ve decided to keep the relevant part of the essay here under the above title:

6.  Who was Carleton Putnam?

In the 1950s, many States in the United States still required racial segregation in schools and in other facilities, such as restaurants.  In this way, white society tried to exclude blacks from social interaction with whites.  I’m a white guy―at least from what I have been able to discern by way of visual inspection―but I’m sure if I had been around at that time, I would have been excluded just on general principle.

There are pictures from that era and even later times of white versus colored water fountains, or white versus colored bathrooms, or white versus colored basketball players―though I think I may be on good grounds in questioning whether there ever were white basketball players.  Such pictures have probably been faked and are part of a conspiracy to put whites into basketball games, for which they have no aptitude, and for which they have no native traditions in their own homelands that encourage basketball among native white children.

It is my opinion that most of the white vs. colored pictures sort of look like morality tales about how benighted things were in the past compared with our supposedly more enlightened age.  I can’t help but think there is a certain amount of self-righteousness at work in those who like to point out the sins of our forefathers, as if we have always been pure from sin and historically enlightened.  Modern “progressive” historians in their discussion of past racism often do so with a level of social self-righteousness that reminds one of the Pharisee who prayed thus, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are. . . .” (Luke 18:11).

In 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States rendered the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended any and all school segregation in the United States based on race.  Prior to that time, the Court had upheld laws requiring separate but equal facilities: schools, universities, law schools, etc.  For instance, under the separate but equal principle if a State was going to have a white only law school, it would have to provide a law school of equal caliber for blacks.  If a State chose not to set up a segregated institution, and blacks were allowed to attend a white institution, there could be no discrimination against blacks who attended such a school.

Now, the Supreme Court’s separate-but-equal decision was more or less in keeping with the 14th Amendment.  Many people might not want to admit that fact, but then again many people do not want to admit that they enjoy a Charlie Sheen meltdown, or that they like to make genitalia jokes about Congressman Anthony Weiner mainly because of his last name, or that a Richard Simmons’ exercise video causes them to smile in a sickly way.  The fact is, the 14th Amendment only protected a black man’s fundamental rights (life, liberty, and property) not other political rights.  It was very limited in its focus, which is why another amendment was required to recognize the black man’s right to vote.

Many blacks were not satisfied because the 14th Amendment still allowed segregation and discrimination, and blacks who were represented by the NAACP wanted the Court to rule against all school segregation.  The Court obliged the NAACP in the Brown decision, which from our perspective was a wonderful decision in terms of its concordance with the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson had nicely encapsulated the American principle―that all men are created equal, but that was only in theory.  It took a dreadfully long time for the American principle to be realized in fact.

Nevertheless, the Declaration of Independence is not the law of the land.  Despite the Court’s high-mindedness and good intentions, its decision was based upon specious reasoning about the 14th Amendment, bogus psychological studies, and worst of all, a lack of any Constitutional authority.  Under the Constitution, Supreme Court judges cannot set domestic policy for States, for such would be a violation of the 10th Amendment.  I’m not saying Judges don’t do it (to their shame) but they still don’t have the right to do it whatever they might say or do otherwise.  I can certainly rule anyway I like, but that’s because Judges are respectable folk in the community, and I do not have a reputation of that kind to worry about.

Unfortunately, the Judges decided to settle the controversial issue in much the same way Justice Taney had settled the slavery issue in Dred Scott, getting the result that was wanted no matter if it was based on flimsy grounds, and a rewriting of American history.  Still, the Brown decision is with us and even if the Court were to overturn the decision in the future, there is simply no way that schools or society would ever go back to segregation.

I would have preferred that race relations could have improved voluntarily and peacefully over the years, but the Judges blocked off the peaceful route and imposed their will on a society that was not ready for it.  The results were catastrophic.  The Court was allowed to get away with an un-Constitutional usurpation of power, and as a result race relations went downhill, black educational quality and achievement in schools reached bottom, and white flight from urban areas guaranteed that inner-city schools would be all black, a return to segregation with lower standards than before.

The Brown decision did not just worry those who saw raw “judicial activism” in the Court’s behavior.  It also lit a fire under Carleton Putnam, a Yankee businessman, who felt the need to defend the South against what he saw as Northern aggression.  In Putnam we have the segregationist mindset in full blossom, and it was mixed with a poisonous racialism that helped to discredit legitimate opposition to the concept of rule by judicial decree.

Darwinists Say the Darndest Things

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Evolution

Here is a comment I received from a fan.  I don’t really feel a response is necessary inasmuch as I don’t care about responding to anonymous posters, and more importantly, there’s no money in it.  However, it does provide a specimen of the sort of rants W. J. Bryan had to endure at the hands of Mencken and other spawn of Satan during the 1920s.  Nothing much has changed since then.


The Scopes trial?  Way to be current.  Have you heard of the Dover trial?

“What creationists object to is not change but a certain type of change. Change is a necessary condition for Darwinian evolution, but not a sufficient condition. Creationists insist that the change from an organism with less information content to an organism with greater information content is what is needed, and that has never been shown to happen, except maybe in fairy tales.”

That has never been shown to happen?  What are you, a molecular biologist?

Google “gene duplication”.  You have a lot to learn before you can competently write about evolutionary biology.

You call evolution “Darwinian evolution”.  Evolution is called “evolution”.   Evolution does not need any adjectives.

“If you assume in advance that similarity of structure is due to common ancestry, and you assume in advance that modifications in structure over time are by random, naturalistic processes, you’d have to say cars came about by random, naturalistic processes.”

This shows you don’t even understand natural selection which is a very simple concept.  If you knew anything about biology you would at least know natural selection is NOT random.

And what do cars have to do with the diversity of life?

Your total ignorance of science is not evidence for anything.  If you want to defend your childish magical creationism, you got to provide evidence for it.  Your imaginary evidence AGAINST evolution (as if there was evidence against reality), is not evidence FOR your idiotic religious belief in supernatural magic.

So describe the magic wand your fairy uses, and provide evidence for this magical wand.  Until you can do that, you need to shut up about science.

Here’s another comment for you to censor.

I noticed your blog invokes the anti-science Christian organization “Answers in Genesis” so probably you’re a Christian and probably you’re ashamed to admit it.

Since you don’t have a shred of evidence for your insane magical creationism, how about some powerful scientific evidence for the Resurrection of your dead Jeebus into a zombie.  I mean besides the dead gullible witnesses.  Of course you don’t have a shred of real evidence for that disgusting belief or any other Christian belief.  You live in the Christian fantasy world only because you’re a coward, not because you have any evidence for it.

To defend your ridiculous Christian death cult you write long articles full of lies about science.  You know science is the greatest possible threat to your fantasies, and that’s why you attack it.

Why don’t you try growing up and educating yourself.  You’re not going to learn anything if you depend on the idiots who work for Answers in Stupidity.  Try reading a book written by a real scientist.  Or are you afraid that would make your dead Jeebus cry?

I’m not surprised you love censorship.  Fuck off Christian retard.


Mencken’s Law

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Evolution

I had heard of argumentum ad Hitlerum, but not of Godwin’s Law.  The former refers to a fallacy of modern political debate when one side accuses the other of holding positions that Hitler believed, or that such and such a policy would “lead to the Holocaust.”  For an overview of the fallacy, see:

Fortunately, the Wikipedia article linked to an article on Godwin’s Law:

The humorous point of Godwin’s law is not that one cannot use Fascist- or Hitler-analogies, but that the longer a political debate goes on, the greater the likelihood — approaching certainty — that a Fascist- or Hitler-analogy will be used.

I think we need something like that for creation/evolution debates.  Only in this case, Darwinists can be counted on to accuse creationists (of whatever variety) of being ignoramuses, Nazis, or what-have-you from the very start.  In other words, they don’t wait until later to invoke such comparisons but begin right away.

I suggest we call it Mencken’s Law, in that Mencken’s most deranged writings usually involved a discussion of evolution or of cross-of-gold Democrat, William Jennings Bryan.

The probability of this happening at the beginning of creation/evolution discussion is very nearly a certainty, and it suggests a corollary, that the intellectual caliber of such a discussion seldom rises to the level of noticeability.

Therefore, over time the intellectual caliber of a Godwin’s Law discussion will achieve the same threshold of noticeability captured by Mencken’s Law.


By Vern Crisler, 2010

On his blog, evolutionary biologist PZ Myers has written a critique of philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s “Naturalism Defeated” argument:

Plantinga’s more detailed discussion of the subject can be found here:

Plantinga’s critique is not directed at naturalism per se or at evolutionary theory per se, but at the combination of the two.  He allows that either naturalism is true or that evolution is true, but never a combination of the two.  His argument thus allows for the rationality of theistic evolution but not of naturalistic evolution. 

On the whole, Myers’ claims in response to Plantinga are generally worthless, as are those of the cheerleading squad that follows in the Comments section of his Blog.  Here is how he starts out:

“I’ve read some of his [Plantinga’s] work, but not much; it’s very bizarre stuff, and every time I get going on one of his papers I hit some ludicrous, literally stupid claim that makes me wonder why I’m wasting time with this pretentious clown, and I give up, throw the paper in the trash….”

Now, I happen to disagree with Plantinga’s epistemology (reliabilism), but to call him a “pretentious clown” and to dismiss his work as “bizarre stuff” or “ludicrous” or “stupid” is hardly the sort of discourse one expects from members of the academy.  After all, professors are supposed to set an example of calm, rational argument — at least for their students.  If they bark and snicker like hyenas over a fresh kill, why should they be entrusted with the task of teaching and molding students to become scholars?

Myers doesn’t like it that Plantinga referred to books by the new atheists as “long on vituperation, but short of reasoning, long on name-calling but short on competence, long on righteous indignation but short on good sense; for the most part they are driven by hatred rather than logic.”

As I read it, Plantinga is referring to books, not people.  What he says may in fact be perfectly true.  The books may indeed be incompetent, short on reasoning, lacking in good sense, and motivated by hatred.  However, Myers thinks it’s ironic because Plantinga “opens his paper with a name-calling screed in which he lambastes others for writing name-calling screeds.”

Again, Plantinga mentioned books.  I don’t see any persons mentioned.  Does Myers think that calling a book stupid is the same as calling its author stupid?  Merely turn the question around: is calling a person stupid the same as calling his argument stupid?  See the fallacies of relevance section in your nearest book on logic.

Myers himself has no hesitation in using ad hominem, i.e., arguments against the person instead of against the argument.  He apparently wants us to understand that Plantinga is really the odd man out, “[e]specially when, as we read further, we discover that Plantinga is the one lacking in competence, good sense, and logic.”

Will Myers provide us with an argument?  Not yet, for he first wants to summarizes Plantinga’s views.  He quotes Plantinga as saying that “natural selection doesn’t care about the truth or falsehood of your beliefs; it cares only about adaptive behavior. Your beliefs may all be false, ridiculously false; if your behavior is adaptive, you will survive and reproduce.”

In response, Myers says “Yes, exactly! Just believing in something, whether it is Christianity or physics, doesn’t mean it is necessarily true.”

We haven’t seen the argument yet — merely a faulty summary of one of Plantinga’s points.  Plantinga wasn’t talking about belief and truth-value, as Myers’ assumes, but about belief and adaptive-value.  Will we get an argument?

Not quite, for Myers merely substitutes classification for argument.  He describes Plantinga’s view as “creationist,” and believes the “naturalism defeated” argument is merely another “creationist” argument about the improbability of chance producing complex biological structures.

However, Plantinga is not providing a probabilistic argument with respect to ontology (structure).  What he is doing is providing an argument with respect to epistemology (true or false belief).  He is arguing that unlike structure, belief is invisible to natural selection.

Myers continues with his summary and refers to Plantinga’s thought experiment involving a hypothetical population who behaved in adaptive ways but had mostly false beliefs.  I shall call this a Plantinga-world.

Here is where Myers provides us with something approaching an argument.  He references fire, and believes the inhabitants of the Plantinga-world would be able to answer the question, is fire hot?  Myers comments:

“I think that in reality they would have used experience and their senses to winnow out bad ideas, like that fire is cold, and you’d actually find nearly 100% giving the same, correct answer. Plantinga does not seem to believe in empiricism, either.”

He further says, “A large part of our behavior will be functional (not contradicting reality) and some of it will even be adaptive (better fitting us to reality), and a lot of it will be neutral (contradicting reality, perhaps, but in ways that do not affect survival), but this does not imply that our cognitive faculties are necessarily and implicitly reliable. We could have highly unreliable cognition that maintains functionality by constant cross-checks against reality — we build cognitive models of how the world works that are progressively refined by experience.”

Let us examine the argument.  In the first place, Myers fails to note, or at least understand, that Plantinga had already successfully addressed this sort of objection.  In the “Naturalism Defeated” essay he said, “Could Paul’s beliefs really be mainly false, but still lead to adaptive action?  Yes indeed; perhaps the simplest way to see how is by thinking of systematic ways in which his beliefs could be false but still adaptive. Perhaps Paul is a sort of early Leibnizian and thinks everything is conscious. . . ; furthermore, his ways of referring to things all involve definite descriptions that entail consciousness, so that all of his beliefs are of the form That so-and-so conscious being is such-and-such.  Perhaps he is an animist and thinks everything is alive.  Perhaps he thinks all the plants and animals in his vicinity are witches, and his ways of referring to them all involve definite descriptions entailing witchhood.  But this would be entirely compatible with his belief’s being adaptive; so it is clear, I think, that there would be many ways in which Paul’s beliefs could be for the most part false, but adaptive nonetheless.”

To apply the lesson to the question of knowledge of fire, the inhabitants of a Plantinga-world may experience an unpleasant sensation when they touch fire, but they may have mostly false notions as to what the cause is.  Perhaps they think the fire is a god, and the pain from getting close to the fire is due to a direct punishment from the fire god rather than from the fire itself.  Others may think it’s a different god at work, punishing them at the precise moment they touch the fire.  Others may think they are suffering from a physical malady that returns at just the moment they get close to a fire.

Plantinga’s point is that there is a virtually infinite set of false beliefs that can be formed to explain any phenomena.  Yet as long as correct behavior is the result of those false beliefs, natural selection does not care.  It is only interested in behavior. In other words, natural selection is not concerned with truth-value.  It has no reason to favor true beliefs over false.

As such, there is no naturalistic explanation of why we should develop cognitive faculties that are reliable, i.e., truth-conducive — producing true belief more often than not.  If our cognitive faculties aren’t reliable, then we cannot be assured that any of our beliefs formed by such faculties are true.  Hence, it follows that even the belief in the conjunction of naturalism and evolutionary theory cannot be rationally held. 

Plantinga had pointed out that we cannot simply assume that the inhabitants of the Plantinga-world have reliable cognitive faculties. The point of the illustration was to show that if naturalism & evolution are jointly true, then it’s probable that our cognitive faculties are unreliable.

In his discussion of functional behavior and functional cognition, Myers made a leap from behavior to cognition without providing a bridge between them.  How do we get from one to the other?  Because behavior and belief are not essentially bound to one another, Myers cannot just jump from functional behavior to functional cognition without assuming the very point at issue.

Myers goes on: “Plantinga really thinks that one of the claims he is arguing against is that materialists/naturalists assume our minds are reliable.”

Of course, in light of Darwin’s Doubt, if our minds are not reliable, then the claim that our minds aren’t reliable would also be unreliable.

Myers continued: “To which I say…exactly! Brains are not reliable; they’ve been shaped by forces which, as has been clearly said, do not value Truth with a capital T. Scientists are all skeptics who do not trust their perceptions at all; we design experiments to challenge our assumptions, we measure everything multiple times in multiple ways, we get input from many people, we put our ideas out in public for criticism, we repeat experiments and observations over and over. We demand repeated and repeatable confirmation before we accept a conclusion, because our minds are not reliable. We cannot just sit in our office at Notre Dame with a bible and conjure truth out of divine effluent. We need to supplement brains with evidence, which is the piece Plantinga is missing.”

Here is a case of a man who so desires to repudiate Plantinga’s argument that he virtually makes the argument himself.  It is obvious that this biologist has not really thought through the philosophical implications of his empiricism.  He claims that our minds aren’t reliable (self-stultifying though the claim might be), but then allows that our minds can test and confirm and measure.  He has forgotten that if our minds are unreliable in one case, they are also unreliable in the other.

One of the commentators, by no means friendly toward Plantinga, noticed the fallacy in Myers argument:

“PZ’s frustrated response that science is the way to correct our mind’s unreliability misses the mark, I’m afraid, since scientists rely on their flawed minds to decide how to use scientific tools to eliminate subjective errors.  Plantinga is positing a version of philosophical scepticism, and in this case ‘crosschecking’ the brain by using the brain just won’t do.  It’s like reading two copies of the same newspaper to double check a fact.  Sorry, PZ gets a FAIL on this one.”

I don’t think Plantinga is positing “philosophical skepticism” so much as he is showing the consequences of what happens when one combines naturalistic assumptions with the theory of evolution.

In any case, Myers needs to spend a few more years studying philosophy and epistemology before attempting to mimic the new atheists in how much he can bluster and insult and still manage to miss the whole point.


Naturalism Defeated

Posted: March 2, 2009 in Evolution

This is Part 2 of the paper I’m working on called “The Antiquity of Man”: 

“No subject,” said Charles Lyell, “has lately excited more curiosity and general interest among geologists and the public than the question of the Antiquity of the Human Race….For the last half-century the occasional occurrence in various parts of Europe of the bones of Man or the works of his hands…associated with the remains of extinct hyena, bear, elephant, or rhinoceros, has given rise to a suspicion that the date of Man must be carried farther back than we had heretofore imagined.”[1]

 Lyell went on to say that the transmutation theory (what we would call evolutionary theory) was an “indispensable hypothesis” that was subject to change as more knowledge became available, but would “never be overthrown.”[2]  Lyell was very supportive of Darwin’s new theory of evolution and defended it against various criticisms while touting its explanatory value, but then he asks, “[W]ill not transmutation, if adopted, require us to include the human race in the same continuous series of developments, so that we must hold that Man himself has been derived by an unbroken line of descent from some one of the inferior animals?”[3]


In answer, Lyell willingly admitted a great deal of continuity between human and simian structure.  Speaking of the “negro’s brain” compared to a chimpanzee, he speaks of the “remarkable general correspondence between the chimpanzee brain and that of the human subject in everything save in size.”[4]  Readers must remember that 19th century scientists spoke this way about human races, emphasizing continuity of apes with “lower” races of men.  Lyell even cited Huxley to the effect that the cranial differences between races of men were greater than that between the “lowest man” and the “highest ape.”  So accommodating was Lyell to Darwinism that he was even willing to agree with those who ascribed “soul” or an “immaterial principle” to animals in order to emphasize the continuity of being between man and the lower creation.


Lyell’s view is not surprising.  An important aspect of Victorian thinking about man was that he was hardly distinguishable from apes.  Even Linnaeus could see little difference between man and ape other than from a moral viewpoint: “But as a naturalist I am concerned with other aspects of his function, and in my study of these I find it most difficult to discover one attribute by which man can be distinguished from apes, except perhaps in the matter of his canines…”


Linnaeus was merely expressing common opinion, which saw apes as merely “forest men.”  Lamarck would later argue that some animals could be transformed into other animals, and Darwin would provide a seemingly plausible mechanism for this in his theory of natural selection.  Haeckel had provided what we now know were fraudulent embryonic illustrations of evolution in action, and Darwin appealed to this “evidence” when he revisited evolutionary theory in his discussion of human descent by way of evolution.


The idea that humans are hardly distinguishable from apes is ludicrous, but we still have modern Darwinists making the same claim.  For instance, Jared Diamond says that if humans were put in a cage, their power of speech taken away and reduced to grunting, people would not be able to tell them apart from chimps.  They would be regarded as “chimps that have little hair and walk upright.” [5]


Apparently, Diamond has never seen the movie Planet of the Apes, where the main character Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) did lose his power of speech.  Yet he was able to do things that marked him out as intelligent, such as building a paper airplane, writing notes on paper, understanding conversation.  Unlike Diamond the “simian” scientists caught on rather quickly.


As we’ve seen Lyell was willing to sing paeans to continuity, just like Diamond, but he still pointed to the “enormous gap which separates Man from the brutes.”[6]  This gap involved man’s moral faculty, enabling him to know good and evil, right and wrong, or virtue and vice, and also a religious faculty that enables man to believe in a world beyond our own, and in a Being higher than himself.  In addition, man has an intellectual faculty, endowed with “improvable reason.”  While the “lowest” races of men can progress in reason, religion, and morals, this is not true of apes, who are confronted with an impassable barrier to further advancement.


Thus Lyell could not bring himself to believe that there was an “insensible passage from the highest intelligence of the inferior animals to the improvable reason of Man.”  He instead believed in the possibility of “anomalous events” or “leaps” that constituted “breaks in an otherwise continuous series of physical changes.”  According to Lyell:


“If, in conformity with the theory of progression, we believe mankind to have risen slowly from a rude and humble starting point, such leaps may have successively introduced not only higher and higher forms and grades of intellect, but at a much remoter period may have cleared at one bound the space which separated the highest stage of the unprogressive intelligence of the inferior animals from the first and lowest form of improvable reason manifested by Man.”[7]


On the basis of this saltational concept, Lyell was able to leave room for divine causation:  “The whole course of nature may be the material embodiment of a preconcerted arrangement; and if the succession of events be explained by transmutation, the perpetual adaptation of the organic world to new conditions leaves the argument in favour of design, and therefore of a designer, as valid as ever….”[8]


Darwin was not happy with this conclusion, nor with Alfred Wallace’s similar idea.  Darwin wanted no place for leaps of being or divine causation in his evolutionary project, including man’s origin.  Man himself, and his moral, religious, and intellectual endowments, must be seen as the result of small, imperceptible steps up the chain of being.


Let us look at a basic weakness of Darwin’s view and indirectly provide a belated defense of Lyell.  Suppose there was a thunderstorm in the ancient past.  Suppose organism x found shelter from the storm in a cave.  Suppose further that x entered the shelter out of pure instinct.  Now consider organism y who also took shelter there because it had the first glimmer of a true proposition p—“my chances of survival will increase if I go into the cave.”  Finally, take organism z who entered the cave because of false glimmer q—“the Pumpkin god lives in the cave and if I’m to die in this storm, I want to die with him.”


In all three situations, entering the cave was the right thing to do, and all three organisms survived the storm.  In each case, the organisms had an advantage over other organisms that did not enter the cave.  The question that confronts Darwin’s theory is why should natural selection favor y over x or z?  In our example, y was the organism that had a true belief, whereas x was motivated by instinct, and z by a false belief.  Why should nature have a preference for rationality over instinct?  Or why should nature have a preference for true belief over false belief?  As long as the behavior conferred survival value, it did not matter whether it was caused by instinct, by true belief, or by false belief.


If survival value has no necessary relation to rationality or truth, natural selection should not have cared one way or another whether rational beings evolved.  To claim otherwise is to make the same sort of metaphysical assumption we discussed earlier, that nature has a preference for rationality and truth in the same way it has a preference for complexity.  But in fact nature has no preference for either because it has no intelligence or planning.  As long as it gets appropriate behavior, it does not care what caused the behavior, whether non-rational instinct, or true or false belief.


This problem has been brought to the attention of philosophers in recent years by Alvin Plantinga.  He has put forth a much discussed argument in an essay titled, “Naturalism Defeated.”  (Available on the Internet.)  The gist of the argument is that if evolutionary theory is combined with naturalism, then the naturalist has little reason to believe his cognitive faculties are reliable.  If that’s true, then he has no grounds for thinking any of his beliefs are rational, including his belief in the conjunction of evolutionary theory and naturalism.


Natural selection rewards appropriate behavior, but such behavior can be caused by emotions, or a mixture of beliefs and emotions.  That means belief in general, or true belief in particular, is invisible to natural selection.  Or to put it another way, truth does not necessarily confer any adaptive advantage for an organism’s developing cognitive faculties.  Plantinga illustrates this with probability calculus.  R refers to the reliability of our cognitive faculties, and N refers to naturalism, and E refers to our cognitive faculties as products of evolution.  The probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable over the conjunction of naturalism and evolutionary theory has the following result:


P(R/N&E) is low or cannot be determined


The conjunction of naturalism with evolutionary theory defeats the belief that one’s cognitive faculties are reliable.  Because this latter situation defeats the rationality of all beliefs, and also defeats the rationality of the specific belief in the conjunction of evolutionary theory and naturalism, N&E are a self-stultifying combination.


In a way, Plantinga is making use of a transcendental argument.  A skeptic may argue that none of our cognitive functions are reliable.  From this he deduces that none of our beliefs are true.  Unfortunately for the skeptic, the latter deduction would undermine the initial claim, for it too would not be true.  At the least, the skeptic would have to show in a non-arbitrary way why his initial claim shouldn’t be included in the scope of his subsequent claim, but since there is no way to do this, his skepticism is self-referentially incoherent.


Plantinga is essentially arguing that evolution combined with naturalism reduces the Darwinists to the status of the above skeptic.  He refers to what he calls “Darwin’s Doubt” wherein Darwin himself expressed the skeptical conclusion: “[T]he horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”


Given that this doubt would also self-refer to evolutionary theory, as well as to Darwin’s Doubt itself, it is self-refuting.  However, not every evolutionist need follow Darwin down this skeptical path.  Many in fact might hold to the claim of unreliable cognitive faculties without deducing skepticism about the convictions of man’s mind.  So it would need to be shown that the Darwinist who commits to the first claim must also commit to the second.


Plantinga’s way of doing this focuses on the problem of whether evolutionary theory can relate content with causation.  The problem for the evolutionist is that there are so many ways in which behavior can be caused by non-rational factors.  Thus the causal link between content of belief (true or false belief) and appropriate behavior (survival behavior) is not easy to correlate on an evolutionary basis.  From this Plantinga argues that Darwinists are left with various views of the relation of mind and matter.  For instance, on some naturalistic construals belief may be merely a shadow cast by biochemistry, and is the source of adaptive behavior.  For others, desire rather than belief might produce adaptive behavior.   Natural selection would thus favor these at least as much as any behavior based on rationality.  This would undermine the naturalist’s confidence in the reliability of his belief-forming faculties, and would also undermine any claims made on the basis of such faculties, including naturalism.


Our own view is not over the issue of whether true belief causes appropriate behavior, or whether Darwinism must commit to epiphenomenalism with respect to mind.  These are certainly difficult problems for naturalistic views.  Our point is that Darwinism has no empirical warrant for the claim that nature has a preference for true belief over false belief.  The only way  this claim can get off the ground is by assuming it as part of theory.  It thus becomes a metaphysical axiom for Darwinism that nature has a more than 50% preference for true belief over false belief.  It is only by making this metaphysical assumption of 50%+ that Darwinism can account for the evolution of truth-conducive cognitive faculties.


Much of Plantinga’s argument presupposes the validity of reliabilist epistemology, but we have reason to doubt reliabilism as a good account of epistemology.  For criticism, see our paper, “Notes on Plantinga,” as well as Susan Haack’s Evidence & Inquiry, 1993.  To us, one can have a justified true belief (knowledge) even if it’s not produced by a reliable cognitive mechanism.  Reliabilism is more appropriately related to the question of our status as knowers, not to the question of knowledge itself.  Still, even if we assume the validity of reliabilism, it seems that all Plantinga’s argument would do is show that the naturalist must have low confidence in his belief in the conjunction of evolutionary theory and naturalism.  It doesn’t show that this belief is false.


If we separate out the reliabilist component of Plantinga’s argument, there is still a powerful objection to evolutionary naturalism.  Once one calls into question any necessary relation between adaptive advantage and true belief, one has pinpointed a major weakness in Darwinism—nature simply doesn’t care what causes adaptive advantage, whether true belief, false belief, or pure instinct.  Yet Darwinism needs to give nature a preference for true belief, else there would be no foundation for the evolution of truth-apt cognitive faculties.


The bottom line is that not only can the Darwinist not explain the origin of life in general on evolutionary, naturalistic grounds, neither can he explain the origin of man on evolutionary or naturalistic grounds.  For if there is one defining trait about man, it’s that he is a rational creature, and Darwin’s theory has no convincing resources to account for this trait.


If we were to accept an evolutionary account of the development of life, we would still have the problem of accounting for the origin of man’s rationality or mind.  To borrow an illustration from Michael Behe, though greatly altered, the evolution of the scale of being by chance and natural selection would be like a blind knight entering a castle, who must ascend a nearly infinite number of stories to arrive at the top of the castle.  Unfortunately, at each level the blind knight must choose to go through a nearly infinite number of doors, almost all of which would lead to dead ends, and to the subsequent elimination of the hapless knight.  By sheer luck, if he passes through the right door—an advantageous door, so to speak—he can go up the steps to the next story.  He leaves a trail so that any knight who comes after can follow.


This latter point would be illustrative of natural selection, preserving favorable outcomes.  But even with natural selection involved, when a successful knight makes it through the right door, he will be confronted by a room similar to the first: a nearly infinite number of doors is again open to him.  The problem of finding the right door by chance meets him once again, as well as whomever might follow.  This illustrates the implausibility of life arising through chance and natural selection.


The problem is even more acute than this.  Life on earth often consists of interacting, irreducibly complex systems, ones that do not work unless all the components are in place from the start.  To illustrate this, Behe’s blind knight would have to go through all the correct doors on first try.  This is really asking a bit much of natural selection and chance.


But let us grant the scenario, no matter how absurd or improbable.  Darwinism is confronted by another difficulty, even greater than the first two.  Consider the fact that the blind knight has somehow managed by chance to stumble through all the correct doors on first try.  The difficulty is that the castle is missing many floors.  That means there are not enough steps for the blind knight to traverse.  In order to arrive at the next story, the blind knight would have to jump to the next level.  The problem corresponds to the problem of the genetic boundary that separates major types (biomins) of plants and animals.  In order for our blind knight to jump, he would need some innate or internal power that enables him to hop up high enough to reach the next level.  Or he would require aid from an outside source.  Darwinism, however, rejects any sort of innate or external causation for the origin of biological life.  Fundamental to Darwin’s theory is the idea of descent by modification, not descent by miracle.  But how does the knight reach the next floor when all the intermediate steps have been denied him?


Even if this were not such a devastating problem, there is another that dwarfs all others, the gap between man and the lower creation.  Consider our very lucky knight who managed to find his way almost to the top of the castle.  He did so all in one stroke, even jumping by natural means all of the missing floors.  Before he can complete his journey, however, he faces one last hurdle.  The top of the castle exists in a separate dimension!  This problem corresponds to the problem of explaining the evolution of rationality and mind by way of chance and natural selection.  The difference between mind on the one hand, and the instincts, emotions, and perceptual awareness of animals on the other, is not merely quantitative.  It is not a matter of merely traversing the requisite steps up the chain of being.  Rather, it is in fact a qualitative difference.  As Lyell recognized long ago, this is a problem that simply cannot be solved on a naturalistic basis.


We conclude therefore that the evolution of man is impossible.  So then, how should we handle the evidence of human culture existing with extinct animals?  Or what about stone tools and weapons?  Or fossilized humans?  What are we to make of all this if man has not evolved?  This brings us to a discussion of the three age system, and how it was developed, and how it fits into biblical history.  In future sections, we will discuss issues regarding the Ice Age, the Flood/post-Flood boundary, and the nature of Paleolithic Man and his culture.



Three Ages of Man


[1] Charles Lyell, The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man, Dover edition, 2004, [1863], p. 1.

[2] Ibid., p. 316.

[3] Ibid., p. 368.

[4] Ibid., p. 375.

[5] Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, 1992, p. 2.


[6] Ibid., p. 385.

[7] Ibid., pp. 392-93.

[8] Ibid., p. 393.

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: