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 The Philosopher and the Fossils 

April 6, 2006 
The lead story on the front page of the New York Times on April 6, for once, wasn’t political. It was about fossils.

“All the news that’s fit to print,” eh? But why fossils on the front page, overshadowing immigration, war, and even Katie Couric? Doesn’t that belong in the Science section on Tuesday? Or is Today's 
column is "The Philosopher and the Fossils" -- Read Joe's columns 
the day he writes them.there, as we say, some agenda at work here?

The headline tips us off: “Fossil Called Missing Link from Sea to Land Animals.” Sure enough, the fifth paragraph explains that some scientists — this is Science speaking, at which every knee should bow — say these fossils, found in Arctic Canada, 600 miles from the North Pole, constitute “a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists.”

How so? The critters’ four fins appear to be “limbs in the making,” enabling them to come out of the water and lumber around on land. Here at last is a missing link between fish and other beasts, such as “amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.”

Take that, you creationists! You’ve been saying that the fossil record lacks crucial transitional life forms, and here is the proof that Darwin was right!

Just the other day, the Times’s Science section reported a new theory that the Sea of Galilee used to freeze up, so when Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:51), maybe he was actually walking on ice. No miracle at all, you see. Once again, Science has spoken.

For all that, I still think Science is sometimes (pardon the pun) a bit fishy, especially on the subject of evolution. And I don’t ask anyone to take my word for it. Just read Darwinian Fairytales, by David Stove, just republished by Encounter Books in New York.

[Breaker quote for The Philosopher and the Fossils: 'Science' meets straight thinking.]Stove, who died in 1994, was a noted Australian philosopher. He was neither a scientist nor a creationist, but an atheist. He didn’t entirely reject the theory of evolution, and in fact had great respect for Darwin himself. But as a rigorous practitioner of linguistic analysis, he thought Darwin and his successors, from T.H. Huxley to Richard Dawkins, had relied less on scientific method than on the abuse of language.

The result was what Stove called “Darwinism’s Dilemma.” The facts simply didn’t — and couldn’t — square with the claims of the theory, particularly in its account of human life. And the Darwinians, while claiming to explain evolution and “the descent of man” as an enormous accident of a blind struggle for survival, have had to keep smuggling teleology — purpose — into their arguments.

They reject the idea of God as an intelligent designer, but they persist in using such expressions and metaphors as intelligent genes, selfish genes, tools, tactics, devices, calculated, organized, goal, and design. By implication, these words transfer the notion of purpose from a benign, superhuman God to subhuman entities like genes and “memes.” Dawkins, who posited (he’d say “discovered”) memes, flatly calls “altruism” “something that does not exist in nature.” After all, altruism would be a fatal handicap in the ruthless struggle for survival.

Well, if altruism doesn’t exist in nature, why does it exist at all? How can it? Aren’t we still in nature? How can we escape it? When did we cease being pitiless competitors and start being cooperators, building hospitals and charities and all the institutions that preserve the people whom Darwinism’s nature, red in tooth and claw, would deem “unfit” for survival? How can we be so utterly unlike the fierce creatures from whom we are allegedly descended?

And if the drives for self-preservation and reproduction of our species are built into our genes, why do we do so many things that frustrate these drives? Not only altruism, but heroism, celibacy, abortion, contraception, alcoholism, and a thousand other things are, from a Darwinian point of view, self-destructive and in need of explanation.

The Darwinians are aware of these problems, and Stove shows, with hilarious irony and savage sarcasm, how they have tied themselves in knots of circular thinking trying to explain away the most intractable difficulties their theory entails. Stove calls that theory “a ridiculous slander on human beings.”

As Samuel Johnson says, “When speculation has done its worst, two and two still make four”; and “Sir, we know the will is free, and there’s an end on’t.” That’s the kind of unawed common sense with which David Stove retorts to nonsense posing as “Science.”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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