A Guide to the Perplexed

This book is an attempt to explain the conflict in the United States about the teaching of evolution in public schools. This conflict has given rise to a number of lawsuits, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial being the first. One of the most recent is the lawsuit about teaching the scientific theory called “Intelligent Design” (ID) in Dover, Pennsylvania.

The authors begin by giving this irrational definition of God, “God is the primary or first cause.” They criticize ID by pointing out that the supposed intelligent designer did not need a designer, but don’t see that the same reasoning applies to saying God is the first cause. The rational definition of God is that He is a pure act of existence, whereas a human being’s existence is limited by its essence. This definition is consistent with the name God gave Himself in the Exodus 3.14: I am who am.

This is the author’s criticism of two ID advocates, Michael Behe and William Dempski:

Both of them argue that the presence of complex designs in the living world cannot be explained by the standard neo-Darwinian model.

In the same way that we said that we said the atheistic materialist could not use science to prove that God does not exist, it is also true that the Intelligent Design advocates cannot use their alleged science to prove that God does exist.

This is a good example of what advocates of ID say:

There is no evidence the Darwinian process can take the multiple, coherent steps needed to build new molecular machinery, the kind of machinery that fills the cell. (Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, 2007,page 162)

My understanding of the conflict between advocates of ID and “theistic evolutionists” is that both groups misrepresent evolutionary biology. All biologists agree that the Darwinian process only explains the adaptation of species to the environment, not common descent. In other words, the Darwinian process explains microevolution, not macroevolution. Putting it yet another way, it explains why giraffes have long necks, but not how giraffes descended from worms. Pro-Darwinian laymen think a billion years is a long time and that an elephant is not that much more complex than a bacteria because they get their information from reading books like this instead of biology textbooks, peer-reviewed journals, and scholarly works. Anti-Darwinian laymen read the same kind of hogwash.

Philosophy is a method of inquiry above another method of inquiry. The scientific method is an example of philosophy. According to the authors, a scientific theory must be testable. This has no relevance to the conflict about evolutionary biology.

We observe the existence of fossils and ask where the fossils came from. The theory of common descent with modification over a period of 100,000 decades is supported by the evidence and judged to be true by rational people. This theory satisfies our need to know and understand everything. (I’m using decades, rather than years, because it takes two decades for a human fertilized egg to produce all of the cells in the human body. You get a better feel for how rapidly elephants descended from bacteria by using decades instead of years as the unit of measurement.)

This raises the question, what caused elephants to descend from bacteria? ID is a perfectly good scientific theory. It does not, however, satisfy our need to know and understand everything because there is no evidence supporting this theory. The theory is irrational, but by saying it is “untestable” the authors avoid a rational discussion of evolutionary biology.

This raises a psychological question: Why are Behe, Dempski, Peters, and Hewett so irrational about evolutionary biology? My guess is that they are suffering from cognitive dissonance because they believe in life-after-death. This belief conflicts with the reality that so many educated and loving parents teach their children that life ends in the grave. Creationists and advocates of ID make themselves feel better by going to war against such people. Peters and Hewett make themselves feel better by not antagonizing them. I’m referring to “such people,” because I think it is wrong to throw around, as the authors do, the terms deism, atheism, agnosticism, theism, and materialism.

All the religions in the world tell us that we pay for our sins after we die. An intelligent and responsible person asks the question: What is sin? What is free will? What is a human being? This is what the authors have to say,

This Cartesian split, as it is called, is now synonymous with what philosopher call substance dualism, and our generation finds it difficult to put back together the body and the soul, the material and the spiritual.

The following is a quote from Thomas Nagel, who teaches that life ends in the grave:

Among the traditional candidates for comprehensive understanding of the relation of mind to the physical world, I believe the weight of evidence favors some from of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism. (Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 2012, location 69)

Thomas Nagel’s analysis is pretty clear, but there are two ways of interpreting Peters and Hewlett. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they are in agreement with Nagel. All three reject materialism, dualism and idealism. Nagel opts for “some form of neutral monism” and Peters and Hewlett are saying human beings are both spiritual and material.

Cartesian dualism is the theory that a “spiritual little man” is located between the eyes in the human brain and controls the body like a stagecoach driver controls a team of horses. Cartesian dualism conflicts with the observation that a human being is a single unified being. A team of horses and a driver is two beings, not one.

However, there is another form of dualism that does not overtly conflict with the unity of a human being. According to this form of dualism, human beings have souls. According to this theory, the human soul is spiritual by definition. My guess is that Peters and Hewlett think this way.

This is another possible source of cognitive dissonance afflicting Peters and Hewlett because there is no evidence human beings have souls. Indeed, the idea conflicts with the Catholic doctrine that children inherit the stain of Original Sin from their parents through sexual reproduction. It also conflicts with the Christian doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. The idea that our souls go to purgatory after we die is just theological speculation.

The rational concept of the soul, which is consistent with Nagle’s “neutral monism,” arises from the observation that human beings are superior to animals because we have free will and the conscious knowledge of human beings, as opposed to the sense knowledge of animals. This creates a paradox because it means that all human beings are equal to one another but at the same time different from one another. The solution is that a human being is a composition of two principles or incomplete beings: body and soul. The body is the principle that makes us different and the soul is the principle that makes us equal. The human soul is spiritual because we can comprehend free will and conscious knowledge, but can’t explain what free will and conscious knowledge is.

Just as no biologists thinks Darwinism explains common descent, no biologist thinks free will is a scientific concept. This means that human beings did not evolve from animals. Peters and Hewlett will never admit this because it will antagonize people who they fear and respect.