Thursday, April 17, 2008


Ben Stein’s movie Expelled is being released this Friday. The few reviews I’ve seen are predictable: Darwinists say it is anti-scientific propaganda, Intelligent Design advocates say it exposes the censorship that is the only thing keeping Darwinism afloat. I’ll reserved judgment until I see it (which I will.)

The film’s release has prompted me to reflect on just what it is about the theory of evolution that makes me uneasy. I don’t have a complete answer, but part of the answer is certainly the following.

The genius of the scientific revolution that occurred starting (roughly) in the sixteenth century has its origins in a disciplined limitation of thought. As philosophers like Etienne Gilson have pointed out, the inclination of the human mind is universal; we naturally want a complete explanation of being. This may be thought of in terms of Aristotle’s Four Causes, which are just a catalog of the questions we may propose about things. We see a tree in front of us and we wonder: Of what is it made? How was it made? What is the principle that animates it? What purpose does it serve? The questions radiate outward from the tree itself to its place in nature and ultimately to the universe as a whole. Putting any particular being in question is to put universal being in question, for we can only understand particular being in the context of universal being. An eye is really only an eye when it exists as part of the human body; the human body is really human only when it is part of a society of men; a society of men is really only itself in the context of nature. To understand the part, we must understand the whole, and to understand the whole, we must understand the parts. Thus the comprehensiveness of a classical philosophy like that of Aristotle.

Modern science decisively broke with the universal scope of classical philosophy by addressing itself to degenerate being rather than the fullness of being. This was a profoundly unnatural intellectual step, but nonetheless one of genius. Modern science filters being through method, and has discovered that the degenerate being that results is susceptible to universal laws that may be empirically discovered. Instead of addressing the question of the moon through Aristotle’s Four Causes, Newton instead ignored the moon and concentrated on mass, force and acceleration, three degenerate beings that are mutually related through the wonderful equation force equals mass times acceleration. Now the genius of Newton is that, when considered under the degenerate form of mass, the moon’s dynamics are described to an amazing precision through his Second Law (F=MA). This is a result of staggering and revolutionary proportions. But Newton did not forget, and neither should we, that he did not answer any of Aristotle’s four questions. He did not answer the question of how the moon was made, or of what it was made, or what the principle is that animates it, or what purpose it might serve, if any. Newton did not answer these questions for the excellent reason that he did not ask them, at least not in the context of his newly invented mathematical physics. Newtonian physics is not really about the moon as such, but only about the moon insofar as it is a mass susceptible to mathematical analysis. The moon may be far more than merely a mathematical mass, and there are certainly things worth saying about it other than describing its mass and acceleration; the genius of mathematical physics is the self-imposed limitation to only deal with being insofar as it appears under the mathematical forms proposed by science itself. It is this discipline to stick to degenerate being as it appears under method, and not be drawn into a complete explanation of being, that is the source of the extraordinary power of science. (Which is also why scientism – the conviction that the fullness of being is completely captured by the degenerate being of science – is a betrayal of science itself.)

The disturbing thing about Darwinism as a science is that it does not seem to display the discipline with respect to being that is the hallmark of modern science. It takes as its object being in its fullness rather than a methodically prescribed degenerate form of being. Newton was content to explain man insofar as he is a massive object; jump off a building, and the trajectory of your body will be described by the equation h= h0 + 0.5gt2. Newton was happy to concede that there was a lot more to you than merely your trajectory, things not dreamt of in mathematical physics. But Darwinism claims to have an explanation for man in his totality. There is nothing about you, actually or potentially, that escapes its purview. A system of thought, however, that addresses the fullness of being is not really science in the modern sense but philosophy. This is why Darwinists find statements like that of Pope John Paul II – that evolution may be fine as an explanation of the material aspect of man but not as a total explanation of man – utterly unacceptable. It is also why Darwinists are so fond of “just-so” stories. Everything must be shoe-horned into evolutionary theory, no matter how absurd the fit. To admit that anything, anything at all, might escape its net is to bring the whole system of thought crashing down, for it has taken as its object the fullness of being.

Darwinists often criticize IDers by saying that, instead of pointing out flaws in Darwinism, they should propose their own alternative scientific theory. Whether IDers have actually already done that is a point I will leave for others to decide. My point here is that there can be no rival scientific theory to Darwinism because Darwinism itself isn’t really a scientific theory. Darwinism is a philosophy, and the rival to a philosophy is not a science but another philosophy – specifically, Aristotelianism. Unlike a genuine scientific theory which does not address Aristotle’s Four Causes because it does not address being in its fullness, Darwinism addresses itself directly to Aristotle and provides alternative answers: Of what is man made? Mud. How was he made? Through random mutation and natural selection. What is the principle that animates him? Survival of the fittest. What purpose does he serve? None, other than his own survival. Are these answers better than the answers provided by Aristotle? That is really the question at stake in the debate over Darwinism.


Benjamin Franklin said...

I think that you leave out a key element of why evolution is a scientific theory, and ID is not.

ID allows you to make no predictions.

Evolution can make predictions, and many of those predictions have been proven correct by experimentation.

For example:

Darwin predicted, based on homologies with African apes, that human ancestors arose in Africa. That prediction has been supported by fossil and genetic evidence (Ingman et al. 2000).

Theory predicted that organisms in heterogeneous and rapidly changing environments should have higher mutation rates. This has been found in the case of bacteria infecting the lungs of chronic cystic fibrosis patients (Oliver et al. 2000).

Predator-prey dynamics are altered in predictable ways by evolution of the prey (Yoshida et al. 2003).
Ernst Mayr predicted in 1954 that speciation should be accompanied with faster genetic evolution. A phylogenetic analysis has supported this prediction (Webster et al. 2003).

Several authors predicted characteristics of the ancestor of craniates. On the basis of a detailed study, they found the fossil Haikouella "fit these predictions closely" (Mallatt and Chen 2003).

Evolution predicts that different sets of character data should still give the same phylogenetic trees. This has been confirmed informally myriad times and quantitatively, with different protein sequences, by Penny et al. (1982).

Insect wings evolved from gills, with an intermediate stage of skimming on the water surface. Since the primitive surface-skimming condition is widespread among stoneflies, J. H. Marden predicted that stoneflies would likely retain other primitive traits, too. This prediction led to the discovery in stoneflies of functional hemocyanin, used for oxygen transport in other arthropods but never before found in insects (Hagner-Holler et al. 2004; Marden 2005).

With predictions such as these and others, evolution can be, and has been, put to practical use in areas such as drug discovery and avoidance of resistant pests.

ID, as of yet, offers no practical use.

David T. said...

Hi Ben,

We share the same birthday, Jan. 17. Of course you were born a few years before I was.

I've made no argument that ID is a scientific theory.

And I don't dispute that some things have been successfully predicted from evolutionary theory.

What do you think of my main point: That the power of modern science comes from its discipline in addressing limited aspects of being, rather being in its fullness? It is here where I think Darwinism goes wrong.

Benjamin Franklin said...


Philosophy is fine, but how can it be empricaly tested?

I have no problems with various concepts of creation being taught, but not in a biology class.

By the way, I was born in October.

David T. said...

Hi Ben,

I thought you were born Jan. 17, 1706. But then maybe you are a different Ben Franklin.

I don't think creationism should be taught in biology class either.

Philosophy is not tested in the manner of empirical science, but then the question of what constitutes science is a matter of philosophy, not science.

Benjamin Franklin said...

I am, indeed a different Ben Franklin.

Someone told me once that reality it that which, after you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

Your thoughts?

David T. said...


Your last is a very interesting comment. I'm going to think about it and post a response on the main blog in the next few days,


Benjamin Franklin said...


I found the source of that quote. It is from Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer of some 121 works including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report.

Anonymous said...

just saw Expelled; the fact that Ben Stein isn't trying to win any popularity contests helps to validate his message... i gather that his goal is to promote free thought, especially more thinking about worldviews that drive American academia