The laureates insist on evolution as an *unplanned process*


Popular for hundreds of years, was the theory of the Greek thinker, Empedocles, that earth, air, fire and water were the basic *roots*.  It may be that to future generations the theory of evolution will sound just as simplistic.  In the meanwhile educators should try not to close the doors on debate but to allow an open discussion of competing theories.



      I admit that I just find it hard to understand how scientists can be sending signals into outer space, expecting extra-terrestrials to recognize some intelligent design in their morse like code, and, at the same time, not see in the genetic code, intelligent design.  An extra-terrestial farmer out there may begin to discern a design, but if their scientists insist that these signals are purely random electro-physical phenomena, they are not only going to be denying the messenger but the message as well.   It's one thing to say that something is just a "S" and an "O" and another "S"; it's quite another to say that it's "SOS".   And that's the whole point of the intelligent design debate.  It's not about the messenger at all, it's only about the message.  Maybe you don't want to go beyond the intelligent message by the conclusion that there must be a messenger, but you should not try to insist that there is no message, and even less should you try to insist that there can't possibly be a messenger. 


    On September 9, 38 Nobel prize winners, joined an "initiative" of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and signed a statement regarding evolution which in part reads as follows:


                "Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution

                 is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned

                 process of random variation and natural selection."


      The laureates insist on evolution as an "unplanned process".  If evolution is planned, you may, of course, discover the plan; if, on the other hand, evolution has no plan, there would be no way of knowing that.  So after making a philosophically pointless statement, the laureates go on to define what they believe to be the laws of that plan that they claim doesn't exist.  What, at least, they could have politely said, is that: concerning what might be on the other side of eternity, it is not, according to the limits of the method we adopt, in our ability to say.  Isn't the science that they presume to be defending, suppose to be, after all, about "falsifiable statements"?


      On a very fundamental level, the question of whether or not you must admit intelligent design has to do with this ability to communicate and what that implies.  Epistemology, which studies the conditions of knowledge (and some would hold to be the first step in the philosophical journey), recognizes that intelligent communication presupposes an intelligible reality.  If we are able to talk intelligibly about the world, nature and ourselves, it is in fact because they actually are intelligible to the human intellect.  This intelligibility of our world is available to our minds as forms or some type of structured information that can be grasped by the mind.   To say that nothing in the world can be recognized as intelligible, would mean that nothing in our discourse would be intelligible either.  If everything is randomly happening then we only could be randomly talking about it as well.


     Someone may want to argue that man is intelligent randomly, but they can't question that he is intelligent; that much has to be admitted in order for him to make his argument, and that is all that the proponents of intelligent design are insisting on.


      The universe which the laureates assert, is not one that can that be mentally conceived.  It's a world where intellects are not intelligent, where biological systems are not systematic, where gene codes can not be  de-coded. 


     Systems and systems of systems are continually affirmed in biology:  You have the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the reproductive system and so forth, and these systems are admitted to form part of an even larger system, namely, the living organism.  You have as well the eco-system on a macro level and similar systems on the micro or cellular level.  Biologists define the genetic code as "the system that contains information needed by the cell for proper functioning".


     Biology is about living organisms and the major observable characteristic of living organisms is not mutations, but development unfolding according to an ordered predictable form, which is the opposite from random variations.  Even a mutation is a mutation of that ordered development which in fact must be and is  recognized and assumed as the basis of our knowledge of mutation itself. 


      No one would deny that if the subject of a course were evolutionary theory, then the study of mutations would be at the center of the course.  On the other hand, a course in biology must study organisms' developmental process without which these organisms cannot be classified accurately.  If the development is not known, then one might, for example, think that a caterpillar and a butterfly are two different species. We don't say that a caterpillar evolves into a butterfly; we say that a caterpillar develops into a butterfly; that is to say, from a potential that already exists in the caterpillar, its life cycle unfolds and becomes a butterfly.  Yes, with the help of an electron microscope you could, by a snapshot of the cell, know that as well, but only because it is a still-picture of that plan that unfolds.  A still-photo of a comet doesn't mean that it is not traveling in its orbit and a sonogram shot of a baby, doesn't mean that it is not developing in the womb.


     Biology is indeed concerned with change, but not the change that is meant by random mutation or variation.  The change in organisms is the change of growth or development that occurs as a result of an internal principle.   The living things that we observe in experience, do change, but not into other things.  They remain the same thing at different stages of their development extended over time.  The "change" that occurs in a developmental process cannot be considered "random changes".  These are orderly predictable changes that are following a universal law, a process defined by the inherent composition of a particular species.  When an organism's growth does not unfold according to the universal rule, it is usually because of causes, external or internal, that, once identified and considered in isolation, and known by controlled experimentation, provide the explanation for the deviation from normal development.  These  internal and external causes, sicknesses or traumas, may indeed be considered accidental or random, but they are not the changing factors supposedly operative in evolution.  The change of a developmental process is change that does not change, change that is carefully described by biology and makes up the morphology of a particular species.


     The saddest part of this whole debate is the extent to which the position of the proponents of intelligent design is misunderstood and subjected to caricatures.  It is not a debate on the philosophical question of a "first cause", nor the theological question of a "creator", but rather on a rational analysis of organization in biological phenomena based on an accurate scientific description of that phenomena. 


      Science is about explaining effects by causes.  In a causal chain, the farther back you go, the more the cause is termed a "remote cause"; the closer to the present, the more the cause is termed a "proximate cause".  Michelangelo designed the dome of Saint Peter's basilica.  Would that mean that Michelangelo's great-grandparents were the remote cause of his dome design?  Michelangelo's great-grandparents would certainly be a remote cause of Michelangelo, and, without doubt, a condition of Michelangelo being able to  think and design, but they would not be even a remote cause of his thoughts, and designs.  Causality would not extend to the ideas and imaginations in his head.


     Similarly the causal action of a parent organism does not extend to the new organism's developmental  process which results from causes within the organism gradually unfolding.


      Evolutionary theory ultimately is based entirely on physical causality.  Sometimes time-lines or trees trace up or down the progress of evolution one species after another.  A model of pure physical causality, however, is not what is happening in reproduction.  In physical causality, something of a cause, whether matter or energy, passes into its effect, otherwise it wouldn't be the cause of that effect, but the causal input in the reproductive act is not what is operative in the development of an organism.  The development that unfolds over time occurs, not from the causal force of the reproductive act which produced the cell but, from the activity of the cell's components acting unitedly according to a code or plan.  In other words what is being passed on in the reproductive act is not an effect that, in turn, becomes the cause of the next effect in a causal chain; what is being passed on in the effect is a complex of horizontal causes.  It is not sufficient that the material components in the cell have been passed on from the parent organism. This new casual action is not after the prior cause, it is within it.  It is a switch in causal action on a different level.  Matter cannot organize itself by physical causality.  What is passed on in reproduction is not simply organized matter, it is organizing matter.


      What happens in life?  One individual arises from another, and the parent organism or organisms can be considered the physical cause of that individual.  But now what happens?  A gradual development over the course of time occurs and that development results from interacting causes that are dependent not upon the parent organism but upon each other.  What is passed on in reproduction is not a causal force, but a complex plan, blueprint or design that, over the course of time, unfolds.


      This is all that the proponents of intelligent design want recognized, nothing about an intelligent designer.  Some may hold that there is no intelligent designer, some may hold that the intelligent designer is God, some may hold that the intelligent designer is the original protozoan.  That's all irrelevant to the particular point of intelligent design.


     Common experience and established principles of human psychology recognize in human behavior the ability to engage in purposeful activity, activity that is directed toward a goal, a purpose or an end.  Acts that are directed towards an end, namely acts that are undertaken as the means and steps toward that end, are said to be intelligent, distinctly human acts. There is nothing controversial about this, and scientists need not accept principles that they don't already accept.  Evolutionists already admit the tests of intelligence.  They admit them, for example, when they examine orangutans or chimpanzees for how much intelligent behavior they exhibit.  In order to be "human" in this use of the word, the end or goal, in some way, has to be present at the beginning of the process before the goal is actually present, working or operational.  It is said to be present intentionally or in the intention. 


      A teleological argument is saying that when activity from its beginning is directed toward a finality, then that activity is purposeful, that activity has a purpose, and purposeful activity implies intelligence or intelligent design.


      Applied to biology, these same criteria of directed activity and the relationship of means to ends, is observed in development.  The stomach, for example, when it starts its development is not digesting food.  It is not something growing until, by chance, it happens to find a use.  Its development is directed toward an absolutely critical and necessary future need.  A major theme in biology is the relating of morphology or structure to function; because, however, structure is not static but develops, the relationship of morphology to function already implies the truth of teleology.  Often a developing structure does not function in the early stages, and, moreover, when it does begin to function, it remains more or less the same, without developing any further, for the whole rest of the life span of that organism, except perhaps to grow larger.  You can't have a biology book filled with teleological affirmations and then insist that there is no teleology in biology.


      Goal-directed activity per se is not what is in question.  Purposeful acts are generally recognized both by the "common man" as well as by most philosophical systems.  People don't plant an apple seed because they want a maple tree.  What then is at issue here?  The question is whether this recognized type of teleological activity has an application beyond the human experience; whether, that is, purposeful activity can be projected into biological development.  This is really the heart of the question because it requires us to see the difference between the laureates' macrocosmic march onwards of "random variations" with the biological world of plant and animal kingdoms mutating their way into existence, and, on the other hand, the actual world of billions of organisms each having their own self-enclosed programmatic development, and yet, nonetheless, having to interact within their environment or bio-eco system.  The argument for intelligent design does not necessarily require a speculation regarding an intellect behind the design, but it does require one to distinguish in biological phenomena, a difference between random variations and planned and guided  development.  In physical causality what is happening in the present, is the result of what happened in the past; whereas in teleological activity, what is happening in the present, is the result of what will happen in the future.  What is happening is the result of a form or design that is absolutely distinguishable from the material elements that it is happening to.  This type of activity is, in fact, already known in what is termed intellectual or, if you will, intelligent  activity.


      Even starting from the premise that species produce other species, a close analysis of the causality in biological phenomena would lead more to the conclusion that a life principle is causing evolution than that evolution is causing life.


       The problem of causal switch in evolution, exists not only after the reproductive act, but in the reproductive act as well.


      Actually, when you analyze it, the biggest "mutation" occurring, would be in a female giving birth to a male offspring.  Other humans do not result directly or indirectly, in a linear way, from a 46 chromosome cell, the defining double set of human chromosomes (except in the case of identical twins with the splitting of a zygote, which itself presupposes meiotic reproduction). 


      Human offspring are not caused by the one defining human cell, but by two 23 chromosome gametes and these two, in fact, come from two separate sources.  Where two distinct causes are responsible for something, that necessarily implies a third cause.  When two separate causes combine, a third cause must exist to account for the combining.  And one would have to say that this third cause is at least ontologically prior and superior.  The combined material components in the fertilized egg now make up the necessary human configuration of 46  chromosomes, but it only arrives at that, by means of a process which was not the result of any of those material components.   There are then in the meiotic process, three causes, one of which contains highly contingent factors and another of the causes, moreover, which, at the moment that the process begins, doesn't even yet exist. 


     Some scientists criticize the argument from complexity, maintaining that complexity is not a fact but a judgment and that different observers will judge it differently, or that complexity is a relative concept.  The question of "intelligent design" in life, however, is not about the chemical components of life, it is about the activity of life.


     We can make a distinction between apparent design and teleological design.  Apparent design may be thought of as a kind of order or pattern.  We know that patterns may result from what is, at least in appearance, a random force.  How complicated does the pattern or design have to be, before we judge it to require an intelligent agent?   To be accurate the argument for intelligent design based solely on complexity is qualified as an "irreducible complexity" that is already present in the most primitive forms of life.  This argument may have more obvious force as a proof against the theory of gradual mutations than as a proof in itself for intelligent design.  The "irreducible complexity" certainly is meant to include the detailed activity going on at the cellular level and to that extent is undeniable proof of intelligent design.


     Here, however, we are not maintaining that intelligent design is based on a certain "level of complexity".  We are saying that intelligent design is based on predictable development.  The design here is not in an orderly arrangement of parts, but in an orderly arrangement of means towards ends. 


      Nor are random variations relevant to the discussion, to begin with.  It matters little if or whether a random mutation changes one intelligent plan into another intelligent plan, the fact of the matter is, that there is gradually unfolding a design.  Oddly enough evolutionary theory itself doesn't even claim that that specific plan, now mutated,  does not unfold, it merely maintains that, at some future point over the long run, it is not likely to be naturally selected and therefore to survive.  It is, nevertheless, a solid enough plan to exist at least for a time, whatever may be it's long term survival prospects.  


     Ironically intelligent design is the most agreed upon point in this whole debate.  When describing DNA, RNA, chromosomes and the genetic code, biologists extolling the intricacies, sound more like mystics than scientists.  It is only when logical conclusions start to be made, that some scientific apologists defensively revert to the language of random variations.


     Evolution, according to the laureates' statement, is by "random variations", that is to say, with variations by chance. 


     Often the randomness of the universe (which actually means a unified system) is thought to be based on the seeming random motion of atomic and sub atomic particles.  The fact of the matter is, that reality at the atomic level is gathered and unified into things governed by known and knowable regularities, making the world of things, even by the most narrow interpretation, an ordered randomness or an ordered disorder, if you must.  Likewise it is not accurate to create a picture of dueling or multiple principles, some random and some organizing, as if equal aspects of phenomena; when, in fact, the apparent randomness is organized. 


      Whatever may be said scientifically for a process of "random variations", the randomness is not something that science can in any way prove, but arises out of the belief system of the individuals who signed the manifesto, a personal judgment super-imposed upon the experimental facts, contradicting the signers' stated intention of keeping people's religious beliefs out of science class.


      To toss into a  general explanation of the universe the word "randomness" is, in any case, philosophically naive.  It breaks into the discussion only in the middle.   An arc of probabilities presumes a realm of possibilities, and while philosophers are by no means in agreement as to the precise existential nature of this "realm of possibilities", they are generally of accord that it has to be assigned at least a logical value, the lack of which would result in an apparent explanation that does not explain.  Long and deep has been the centuries' old meditation on this point: the concept of intentionality, the concept of potentiality and the like.  What is certain is that probability implies conditions.


     Just how bizarre the debate regarding cosmic evolution or the evolution of the universe is, can be seen by the number of more or less hastily passed over assumptions that already have to be made: namely regarding  pre-exisitng material, successive attempts, time, why what happened, didn't happen earlier, and what or who is doing the triggering?  How many "big bangs" really were there, before an ordered universe resulted?  Since the explosions with which we are familiar, result in greater disorder and chaos, was a "second chance" even possible?  How many planets are there where nothing is selected?  How many things on this planet are quite un-naturally selected?


      In truth, chance is never a cause; it is, rather, an unpredictable effect, at least practically so.  We often hear that the positing of a God or an "intelligent designer" is merely a stop-gap assumption destined to become unnecessary once the real cause is understood.  Actually we have to say exactly that about "chance".  Forces that may be too complicated to track today may be described as "random", but once all the elements are able to be mapped out, we realize that it was not "chance" at all, but the result of perfectly definable laws, and not ones of statistical probability, but laws of physics yielding certainty and therefore predictability as well.


      There are more than one aspect of evolutionary theory that run contrary to philosophical truths which have been analyzed and defended for centuries, such as the principle that the greater can not arise from the lesser.  Presenting evolution as a fact, it is often advanced as the proof against this principle, but that is to assume as true, what in fact you must prove.


     The most basic and primordial stage in the evolutionary journey, namely the passage from inorganic matter to organic matter should be the most easily verifiable and commonly witnessed, and yet that remains unverified.  There is simply no experimental support for such a passage, notwithstanding the forced evolutionistic interpretation of viruses.  This is where the laureates' claim that evolution is "logically derived from confirmable evidence" is most factually deceptive.


     Notwithstanding the apparent difficulties of evolutionary theory, the spectrum of organisms lined up, one next to the other from the most simple to the most complex, remains so impressive as to form, it would seem, almost an argument in itself.  This stepping stone vision of the natural world is not particular to the Darwinian view.  A common medieval maxim, tracing back even further to at least Dionysius, states that "the highest of a lower order touches the lowest of a higher order".   What can be the interpretation of this gradual rise from lesser forms to greater forms?


      I remember a murder mystery with a plot something along these lines:  A wife becomes suspicious that her husband is arranging to have her killed.  There were secretive telephone calls.  There were the times when the caller hung up when she would answer the phone.  It all sort of climatically worked up, you might say, with great tension, to an evening when her husband actually lays a large knife on the counter even though supper was already over.   As it turned out, the husband had planned a surprise birthday party for his wife and set out the knife to cut the birthday cake! 


      There is a possibility that we may be doing the same thing in relation to species time-lines and "evolutionary trees".  Yes, one explanation may be that one thing evolved into the next thing, but another explanation can very well be found in the requirements of the food chain.  We now recognize (at least those who eat organic foods), more than in the past, all that has to be taking place in the soil before healthy plants even sprout, and all that has to be going on under the sea before there can be a healthy tuna fish.  It might be possible to scavenger for elements in the soil in order to survive, but instead, all the scavenging is done by  plants, and we merely have to pluck a delectable fruit that could hardly be duplicated by eating a combination of nutrient elements. 


      Evolutionary theory has undergone a certain evolution.  The premise that some substance or gas evolved into the human species originally would have been met with an understandable incredulity.  The credibility problem was minimized by the introduction of gradualism.  What may seem to be impossible looked at in its bare bones outline, was stretched out long enough in small enough steps to appear plausible.  Now, of course, with the idea of evolution being fixed more firmly in the common psyche, reliance on tiny steps is less important, and theories such as "punctuated equilibrium" , or the progress of evolution by bigger steps may be met with less disbelief.  This new approach has the advantage of responding to a difficulty of evolution regarding fossil evidence.  The first principle of evolution, mutations that happen by chance, results in many species arriving at existence but not surviving because of the second principle of evolution, natural selection.  But where is the fossil evidence for all these unsuccessful species?  Well, there's your answer: The new theory of evolution doesn't require all these troublesome intermediate steps.  Like a "catch 22", however, this lessed reliance on gradualism always comes at the expense of the overall plausibility of the theory for those who are inclined to forgive inconsistencies so long as they are tiny enough.


      In their declaration the laureates state:


               "We, Nobel Laureates, are writing in defense of science.

                We reject efforts by the proponents of so-called ³intelligent

                design² to politicize scientific inquiry and urge the Kansas

                State Board of Education to maintain Darwinian evolution as

                the sole curriculum and science standard in the State of Kansas. . . .

                We are also concerned by the Board¹s recommendation of August

                8, 2005 to allow standards that include greater criticism of evolution. . ."


      The great impetus for the scientific method began with Francis Bacon rejecting the dependence of science upon the argument from authority; and now we have come to this: 38 Nobel laureates demanding that evolution be the only theory presented in biology class! 


     The ancients used to affirm that the first principles of a science and a critique of them, come not from that science, but from a higher science.  We are not maintaining that pupils in biology class have to, first, take a philosophy course, but it does seem appropriate for students in biology to be able to distinguish the legitimate scientific evidence for evolution from philosophical claims about evolution that outstrip or out-run the scientific data.


     Scientists battling the voices of intelligent design should be consoled to know that there are even people of religion arguing against it.  The astronomer Rev. George Coyne, for example, argues that belief in God requires a leap outside anything science can describe or prove.  In this, Coyne confuses the theological virtue of faith, whereby we believe all that God has revealed (especially those mysteries impervious to human reason), and the ability to reason to "the invisible things of (God) from the creation of the world" as Saint Paul affirms in his letter to the Romans.


      For believers, God is truth and can neither deceive or be deceived; so it follows logically that one must accept and believe by faith all that He has revealed.  On the other hand, to present to students, as frozen dogmas, the controversial theories of men, obviously would only have the effect of stifling creative thinking and the proposal of alternate theories, fresh hypotheses and new models; all to the detriment of intellectual progress.  It would, as well, run counter to current widely held pedagogical thinking.


      Popular for hundreds of years, was the theory of the Greek thinker, Empedocles, that earth, air, fire and water were the basic "roots".  It may be that to future generations the theory of evolution will sound just as simplistic.  In the meanwhile educators should try not to close the doors on debate but to allow an open discussion of competing theories.


Father Thomas Carleton

Feast of Guadalupe, 2005