Darwin and Design : Does Evolution Have a Purpose?
by Michael Ruse (Author)


   The infinite loop of the Darwin debate

The sense of design in nature, and evolution, is an issue that might prosper better anywhere but in a monotheistic and/or a Darwinian culture. For the debate over design, which has gone on too long and is really a stalemate, is more a battle over religious or secular foundations of culture, in which misleading or specious arguments on both sides constantly confuse the issue. The 'design sense', if not the argument by design, is a primordial intuition, impossible to avoid, clearly evident in Heraclitus, who wasn't a Southern Baptist, and not yet stultified by the sophistries on both sides of this question. The point is that Heraclitus clearly groped for the middle ground beyond Zeus, something like 'logos', he was fishing for words.
Would we were still so fresh in our perceptions. There is no escape from this 'design sense', for example, as we examine the stupendous complexity and developmental subtlety of biochemical structures. Couldn't the profession at least stop deceiving students to the degree of admitting this might be the result of a complex system, a point made by such as Kauffman in At Home in the Universe? Too much to hope for. This interesting but self-limiting new work by M. Ruse,which is a useful read, reviewing the history of the issue from the ancients to Darwin and successors, declares early on, as proven, its stubborn allegiance to the bone of contention, the efficacy of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. That freezes the argument from the beginning, and illustrates the concealed metaphysical derivation at work in most biological thought on evolution, where the final desired conclusion is made the first assumption. I fear the result is to go around in circles, even though the tale of the nineteenth century development of biology remains interesting. One can understand the care, and not a little defensiveness, Darwinists wish to bring to their heritage of revolt against the world of Paley, but it should be a simple matter to acknowledge the limitations of natural selection, acknowledge the 'design sense' without exploiting it as the 'argument by design' and proceeding with no more than a partial claim to the nature of evolution. But no such luck. I think Ruse unwittingly shows the difficulty early on in the book where he lumps the philosopher Kant together with Paley. But Kant has no business being given this treatment, and in many ways went to the heart of the problem in the progression of his thought from a 'critique of reason' to a 'critique of teleological (and esthetic) judgement'. The Darwin, as he indirectly foretells, is stuck in the loop of the 'antinomy of teleological judgement', and this dialectical infinite loop has gone since the beginnning, and is the one thing that even brilliant scientists might get wrong, in case we fall for the claim that so many Nobel prizers can't be wrong.
It is a pity Kant has been sidelined here. And a scandal. The Kant profession is so intimidated that no reply to this nonsense will be forthcoming, Darwinian philosophers simply get a free hand. The point is that Kant shows the way to distinguishing divinity from nature, and a cautious way to deal with teleological questions in nature, without bringing in theology. And the early nineteenth century biologists before Darwin had a thriving research tradition in this vein, one that Darwin did not truly rebut.
Anyway, the book is breezily interesting in its own way, and has a summary of the recent 'intelligent design'movement brouhaha. But the intelligent design wing is too sneaky to be trusted, ditto the Darwinists. Perhaps the subject should be exported to a non-Christian country that has never heard of Darwin, then we might get somewhere. Tierra Del Fuego?



John Landon
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