Russell and Duenes

Darwinian Evolution Has Much Bigger Problems, as G.K. Chesterton Sees

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g-k-chesterton1This summer, my wife and I are reading G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and discussing each chapter as we read. The Introduction and first chapter are worth the price of the book (which, actually, can be found free online). In the Introduction, Chesterton states his aim, which is to look at the Christian faith “from outside” the western cultural accretions in which it is commonly placed, for “when we do make this imaginative effort to see the whole thing from the outside, we find that it really looks like what is traditionally said about it inside.” The “outside look” is needed because those who critique Christianity from within Christianized culture are in the worst position to critique it; not because their critiques are inexcusable or unsympathetic, but rather, because they are “not in any way scientific.” That is, “an iconoclast may be indignant; an iconoclast may be justly indignant; but an iconoclast is not impartial. And it is stark hypocrisy to pretend that nine-tenths of the higher critics and scientific evolutionists and professors of comparative religion are in the least impartial.” This is particularly true when it comes to Darwinian evolution, which Chesterton saw through more clearly than most people today, who have more historical distance from its beginnings. Chesterton remarks that the evolutionists “suggest everywhere the grey gradations of twilight, because they believe it is the twilight of the gods. I propose to maintain that whether or no it is the twilight of the gods, it is not the daylight of men.”

Yet for Chesterton, what evolution cannot surmount is the fact “that man has distanced everything else with a distance like that of astronomical spaces and a speed like that of the still thunderbolt of the light.” In other words, the argument that we descended from apes and ultimately, even less complex organisms, founders on the fact that time and chance alone simply do not produce creatures like ourselves, who are so greatly more advanced than any other being under the sun that there is no process that gradually produces us from them. We appear out of the blue, as it were.

Thus, in ch. 1, The Man in the Cave, Chesterton observes that “[n]obody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else.” In other words, in a great Chestertonism, he writes that “evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of Species.” This brings to mind the Darwinian explanation for how we developed eyes. Of course, there is not one shred of experimental evidence for the Darwinian account, otherwise we would have seen and heard it replayed ad nauseum by our scientistic popular magistrates. Rather, it’s a “just so” story that “must be true” because evolution “must be true.” All other possible explanations are branded as “religion” and therefore, “superstition” and “non-science.” Thus, even though neo-Darwinism lacks explanatory power, it simply must explain everything.

Darwin’s spell is largely cast, says Chesterton, because of its reliance on “slowness” and “gradualness” to give it explanatory authority. Chesterton acknowledges the power of this trope, but points out that “[i]t is an illogicality as well as an illusion; for slowness has really nothing to do with the question. . . The Greek witch may have turned sailors into swine with a stroke of the wand. But to see a naval gentleman of our acquaintance looking a little more like a pig every day, till he ended with four trotters and a curly tail, would not be any more soothing.” For Chesterton, and for us, the question should not be the slowness or quickness of any particular biological process, but rather, “why they go at all; and anybody who really understands that question will know that it always has been and always will be a religious question; or at any rate a philosophical or metaphysical question.”

Yes, this has always been the point; one which I have tried to make countless times here. Christians can hold to various theories about the age of the earth or the process by which we arrived at our current biological context, but what they cannot logically or rationally do it hold that a godless, Darwinian account provides any real explanation for why it happened or the driving forces behind its happening. The argument, made with various levels of sophistication, that it provided a survival advantage carries no explanatory power at all.

More specifically, however, when Chesterton gets to his discussion of “cavemen,” he claims that, first of all, we have no evidence that earlier men lived in caves, nor do we have evidence that they were nothing but brutes who clubbed their women. In reality, these so-called “cavemen” proved to be quite the artists and naturalists. Chesterton quips: “The primitive man may have taken a pleasure in beating women as well as in drawing animals; all we can say is that the drawings record the one but not the other.” Yet his larger point is this: Primitive men, no matter what else we might discover about them, did things that no child would rightly imagine an animal doing. Animals have not even “traced one significant line upon the sand,” and thus, “[i]t is a simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree.”

The appearance of mankind is a great mystery, says Chesterton. There is no scientific evidence as to the “why” or the “how.” That is, “[i]n the strictly scientific sense, we simply know nothing whatever about how it grew, or whether it grew, or what it is. There may be a broken trail of stone and bone faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of this human mind. It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a transaction outside time.”

This is the problem that Darwinian evolution has, and it is a main reason why I do not believe it, whatever else I may believe about our origins and history. It is also the reason why Darwinian’s go ape (heh!) when intelligent people suggest that it is false (see atheist Thomas Nagel’s recent burning at the stake for his criticism of the evolutionary religion). For as Chesterton saw, it is a religious explanation, not a scientific one, and as such, it is invested with great heft by those who need it to be true to keep their worldview in tact.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 4, 2013 at 8:29 pm

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