Archives For Darwinism

The Uniqueness of Man

Mark Beuving —  September 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

Julian HuxleyI recently read a very old article because I was intrigued by the title: “The Uniqueness of Man” by Julian Huxley. Huxley (1887–1975) was an evolutionary biologist who received many awards for many things and headed many prestigious societies. He even came from a famous family—his father was a respected writer, his grandfather was pals with Charles Darwin, and his brother was the Aldous Huxley who wrote Brave New World.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity—who we are, what our purpose is, and why we matter—these are all questions I’ve been contemplating. So when I happened upon this outdated article (originally published in 1941) by such an interesting figure, I was drawn in.

According to Huxley, humanity is unique because we are “the culmination of that process of organic evolution which has been proceeding on this planet for over a thousand million years.” We are the accidental product of chance, the unintentionally personal mistake of an impersonal universe. Do human beings have dignity? There is no dignity in our origins, but Huxley sees dignity in our current standing: “After Darwin, man could no longer avoid considering himself as an animal; but he is beginning to see himself as a very peculiar and in many ways a unique animal.”

Huxley spells out some of the features that make humanity unique. We are unique because we have developed the ability to think conceptually, we have learned to draw upon the learning of previous generations, we have learned to domesticate the animal kingdom, we have developed great diversity within the human race, and a few other features. Primarily, humanity is unique because of our unparalleled capacity for gaining and processing knowledge.

In Christian theology, humanity is significant because God made humanity in his image (Gen. 1:26–28). And Huxley agrees that humanity is unique, but this uniqueness is not theological; it is biological: “Biology thus reinstates man in a position analogous to that conferred on him as Lord of Creation by theology. There are, however, differences, and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Vitruvian ManWhere does this leave us? According to Huxley, “the goal of the evolutionary maze…is not a central chamber, but a road which will lead definitely onwards.” Evolution leads to progress. But there’s no specific goal (how could an impersonal process have a goal?)—we’re simply headed onward, whatever that might entail. All we can be sure of is that changes will continue to happen.

Yet humanity’s uniqueness will play a major role in where we go from here. For Huxley, we have wasted too much time by failing to embrace our unique status. Instead of taking our proper seat at the pinnacle of the universe, we have instead “projected personality into the cosmic scheme.” Instead of valuing our own greatness, we have turned aside and attributed greatness that is duly ours to a non-existent God, we have attributed a personal will to the impersonal forces and matter that alone govern this world.

Huxley’s solution is to take the evolutionary bull by the horns: “progress has hitherto been a rare and fitful byproduct of evolution. Man has the possibility of making it the main feature of his own future evolution, and of guiding its course in relation to a deliberate aim.” In other words, our accidentally achieved greatness has granted us the capacity to choose where we go from here.

Huxley waxes eloquent as he closes the article:

“Let us not put off our responsibilities onto the shoulders of mythical gods or philosophical absolutes, but shoulder them in the hopefulness of tempered pride.”

It’s significant that Huxley was a member of the British Eugenics Society, whose goal was to encourage reproduction amongst people with more desirable genetic traits and discourage reproduction amongst people with undesirable genetic traits. Huxley advocated taking the next phase of evolution upon our own shoulders: the impersonal universe has placed us on the throne, let’s recreate this world according to our ideals.

To be clear, Julian Huxley’s article is now 73 years old and should not be taken as a cutting edge statement on anything. What I find fascinating about it, however, is the acknowledgement that humanity is unique. In the naturalist, Darwinist scheme, humanity is simply the biggest accident in an infinite string of accidents. We’re not meant to be here. No one invited us. No one fashioned us. We simply showed up—uninvited, unannounced, unwelcome. Yet Huxley, like Darwin before him, still saw humanity as significant. Unique. Dignified.

You will have to be the judge of whether or not we should be proud of our significance as presented by Julian Huxley. But there is a point of continuity between Huxley and the Christian tradition: humanity matters. We are unique. Yet, as Huxley said, there are differences, “and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Michelangelo - God and Man

Biblically speaking, we matter in the universe because we matter to God. He crafted us in his image, “crowned us with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and gave us a mission to fulfill. God further dignified the human race by taking on flesh and blood, becoming fully human. Our significance will carry on when he raises our bodies from the grave to reign forever over the recreated earth.

We may well ask with David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” But we do indeed recognize our significance. And unlike Darwin and Huxley, we acknowledge that our significance comes not in spite of our origins, but precisely because of them.

Yesterday I posted a video of Bill Nye calling creationists crazy for denying Darwinian evolution. “Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology,” he says.

In the wake of this post, I came across a comment on the facebook page of a friend of a friend who had shared the article. I thought it offered a great opportunity for follow up and clarification, so I’ll share and respond to it here.

“This guy [meaning me] kinda missed the point entirely. Creationism isn’t a science, and it shouldn’t be taught as a science. It’s a perfectly fine theological argument, but it should not be taught in schools along with darwinism. Plus, really? Someone is going to go after bill nye about science? And cite lawyers? Really?”

Really.

Because the issue really isn’t about science, is it? As I said yesterday, it comes down to assumptions. Which means philosophy. Which means logic and argumentation.

The comment illustrates the point I was trying to make. Creationism is ruled out as a viable option from the start because it is by definition “unscientific.” It has been relegated to the realm of theology. But why should it be?

You have two views of how life began. My view says that an all-powerful, intelligent, personal Being brought life and everything else into existence. Bill Nye’s view says that matter has always existed and that life sprang from non-life on accident. Both views rest on an assumption. The beginning of life can’t be observed. It can’t be tested. It can’t be repeated. So proponents of both views rest their confidence on faith.

The difference is, I acknowledge that my view is based on faith, while Bill Nye claims his view as the very foundation of science and makes fun of my view.

Science is supposedly based on the scientific method. First a hypothesis is formed. This hypothesis can be confirmed using the scientific method if it is observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable, etc. My belief that life began with an Intelligent Designer cannot be verified using the scientific method, though I believe that using the scientific method to explore the principles and properties of our world generates evidence of an Intelligent Designer.

Is Darwinism any different? No. Can you use the scientific method to prove the hypothesis that life accidentally grew out of non-life? Absolutely not! So much so that serious scientists have proposed that since we cannot find conditions suitable to the spontaneous generation of life on our planet, life must have been sent to our planet from some other planet on which conditions were more suitable to the spontaneous generation of life from non-life.

What we have here is a philosophical commitment that precedes any scientific inquiry. This is why Bill Nye can in all seriousness say that creationism is unscientific and crazy simply because it is not based on Darwinism. He didn’t pull that assumption out of a beaker or read it under a microscope. That is a philosophical statement.

So again, it is essential that we examine the logic of what anyone says. A white lab coat is impressive, but it’s no substitute for good old-fashioned logic. How do we know what we know? Bill Nye says that we can know nothing about our world until we place our faith in Darwin’s theory of evolution. But I’m not buying it. And neither should you.

And as a footnote, let me also acknowledge that many respected scientists are convinced that life was created by an Intelligent Designer. Also, many committed Christians believe that God created the world using some form of evolution. The issue really isn’t science versus faith. It’s about an a priori commitment to a philosophical assumption and then using that assumption as the litmus test for what constitutes science.

 

I recently came across the following video clip. It’s Bill Nye the Science Guy talking about science. He’s the guy who teaches kids fun facts about science and the way the world works. But this video is a bit different. Here he candidly shares his thoughts on people who don’t believe in Darwinian evolution.

Here’s the gist: if you don’t believe in evolution, you’re an idiot. Of course, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you’d like to ignore all of the evidence in the universe and believe your idiotic beliefs, go for it. Be an idiot. But don’t teach your kids to be idiots. We need them for the cause of evolutionary science. Bill Nye says it in a polite voice, but that’s pretty much what he’s getting at.

Nye’s thinking on this issue is actually very common. I can’t speak to the evidence for or against evolution, but I can say that things are not as obvious as Nye claims. Good and respectable scientists fall adamantly on either side of the issue.

What I think is worth pointing out, however, is Nye’s argumentation. According to Nye, creationism is not scientific. Why? Because science is based on Darwinian evolution. “Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology.” In other words, science is built on evolution. If you are assuming evolution, you are being scientific. If you reject evolution, you are being unscientific.

So before the debate can even begin, the terms have been set in a way that assures the crazy creationists will be laughed out of the room. But isn’t Nye’s argumentation crazier? Evolution is more scientific, he says. Why? Because it is based on the foundation of evolution. The logic is completely circular.

Nye points to the existence or dinosaur bones, radioactivity, and distant stars as phenomenon that apparently fit perfectly within an evolutionary framework yet are somehow incomprehensible to creationists. Really? “Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution.” Really? How complicated is it to believe that each of these things was created by an intelligent designer rather than an impersonal force? (For more on that, click here, here, and here).

If you want to explore the logic of Darwinism, I recommend Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson. Johnson is a lawyer, not a scientist, so he is addressing the argumentation rather than the scientific evidence. I think this is the right approach because vague appeals to “all the evidence in the universe” from either side don’t move the debate forward.

In any case, Bill Nye thinks that we are idiots, and urges us not to idiotize our kids. Why bring them in on a dying way of thinking? Nye confidently asserts that “in another couple centuries that worldview won’t exist.” People have been making this claim throughout history, and yet Christianity proves incredibly resilient. People continue to look at our world and see the fingerprints of a Creator. Maybe we are suffering from mass hysteria. Or maybe the heavens actually are proclaiming the glory of God.

 

Charles Darwin saw glory in this world. He couldn’t help it. His vocation as a scientist forced him to stare at all of the crazy and beautiful things in the world on a regular basis. You can’t look at this world for any length of time without seeing the glory all around you.

Something special is going on here. We can’t deny it. But if there was ever a person who might try to deny the specialness of this world, wouldn’t you think it would be Darwin? After all, he is famous for declaring that this world is nothing more than a huge accident. Or more accurately, a near-infinite series of infinitesimally small accidents that taken together form one mammoth accident. This accident is the sum and substance of everything we have ever known. Should we really expect the world’s biggest mistake to be glorious?

You wouldn’t think so. Especially when you consider the type of mistake the world is supposed to be. It’s not the kind of mistake that Van Goh might have made. You can imagine Van Goh painting something breathtaking, then accidentally mixing his colors a bit wrong or letting his brush slide just a hair, only to discover that his mistake added something intangibly wonderful to the painting.

"Starry Night Over the Rhone" by Vincent Van Goh

No, the world is not this type of mistake. If Van Goh made a mistake like that, it would still have the power of personality behind it. You still have a volitional being—a master artist, actually—bending his creative powers toward the production of something beautiful. A mistake in the painting process might come as a pleasant surprise, and it would quickly become a part of the painter’s new vision for the painting.

But according to Darwin, the world is a different type of mistake entirely. It’s purposeless. There is no personality behind it. It churns accidentally, thoughtlessly, and its productions are not appreciated or valued by the impersonal forces of chance. It simply is what it is. An accident whose non-existent creator cannot recognize it, let alone categorize it as beautiful or ugly.

You wouldn’t think that this type of world would be glorious, nor would you think that the biggest accident in this near-infinite line of accidents would possess the desire or the categories to see it as glorious.

Yet Darwin looked at the world and saw glory. He saw that something special was happening. But when no one is behind that specialness, when all this beauty is a huge mistake, you have no one to praise but the accidents themselves. So Darwin proclaimed:

“When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.”[1]

Ennobled! Really? When I recognized that these things were big accidents, I realized how noble they were. Hmmm. He says it again:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”[2]

Grandeur! Really? When I saw that these beautiful things were the unintentional exhaust of a mindless machine, I saw glory. Hmmm.

Darwin saw it, but he couldn’t explain it. His system simply did not have categories to account for what he was seeing. So how should we respond to the beautiful mess we are accidentally floating in? We should be proud of our accidental selves:

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future…We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”[3]

Be proud of yourself for being the biggest accident of all, but recognize that you still kind of look like the crap from which you were mistakenly spawned.

For some reason, that doesn’t do it for me. Van Goh probably could have made some beautiful mistakes, but I don’t think that Nothing can do the same. All I’ve ever seen Nothing do is nothing. Go ahead and deny purpose and craftsmanship, Darwin, but I know that you know. I can see that you can see it. Your statements about the glory of it all simply confirm what God has already told me:

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Romans 1:18-25)

 


[1] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (New York: Avenel, 1979) 458-459.

[2] Ibid., 459-460.

[3] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: Penguin Classics, 2004) 689.

The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published an article advocating “post-birth abortions.” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who wrote the article, argue that there are many cases where women have abortions because having a child would be physically, psychologically, or economically difficult for them. But what if these hardships are not realized until after the baby is born? What if the child’s father leaves, for example, or the child is born with an unforeseen disability? Should the mother have to bear the burden of raising a child in non-ideal circumstances? Or what if the financial and organizational burden of caring for the child falls to the state?

Though Giubilini and Minerva acknowledge that people with severe disabilities are often “reported to be happy,” they argue:

“to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified an abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.” (emphasis original)

Medicine is one of those front lines where the specific definition of key words such as “person,” “fetus,” “justified,” “burden” and so on have huge implications. For example, why call the active murder of a baby (some advocate killing children up to a year old) “post-birth abortion”? Giubilini and Minerva explain:

“In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.”

There is much here that should concern us as Christians. Rather than offering my own thoughts on this, I will share some insights that I gleaned from reading Francis Schaeffer’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-authored by C. Everett Koop, M.D.). Schaeffer wrote this book in 1979 to call attention to the issues at stake in the growing popularity of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Relevant as his words were in his day, they proved to be prophet of our time as well.

Though many were shocked that the Journal of Medical Ethics would publish such an article, this is merely the logical conclusion of people operating within a Darwinian mentality. If survival of the fittest really is the driving force behind life, then humanity has no inherent value. What value he has must be derived from his ability to survive. And if a young child stands in the way of another evolutionary being (i.e., a mother) of surviving in the way she wants to, why shouldn’t she practice survival of the fittest with her infant?

As soon as we leave behind an absolute standard of right and wrong, the inherent value of human life gets reworked, even discarded. We are left only with prevailing notions of what humanity is and ought to be. Looking at the push for abortion in the late 70s, Schaeffer says, “It all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

He insightfully explains the degenerating logic that unfolds once we abandon an absolute standard of morality:

“At first we hear much talk of compassion for the unwanted. The discussion moves on to ‘rights,’ then to ‘my’ rights and soon to pure ‘economics.’ The discussion of life must be brought back to where it belongs—not to emotional, extreme examples, not to selfish questions of rights, not to expedience, and certainly not to economics. The matter should be discussed in terms of right and wrong.”

With regard to the use of language in these types of debates, do we really think we’re kidding anyone by calling the murder of young children “post-birth abortions”? Does the softened title make the act itself any less reprehensible? Yet this simple decision to not call it “baby-slaughtering” will likely go a long way towards its being perceived in a more understandable light. Schaeffer warned: “Language has power. The language we use actually forms the concepts we have and the results these concepts produce.”

I will explore some of the issues presented in Giubilini and Minvera’s article in the next two posts as well. But before I close this post, Schaeffer gives us another warning that we should take to heart:

“One wonders what the chances are for someone who becomes a burden in a society that practices the concept of the survival of the fittest and has begun this practice by starting to eliminate its children.”

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