In an ideal world, science should seek the truth objectively, without bias, desired outcomes and preconceived ideas. In reality, there is no such thing as science in the abstract; there are only scientists doing their work, and they may be subject to the same human failings as the rest of us. At the very least, if scientists do desire a particular outcome of their experiments, and are trying to prove something, this should in no way influence the scientific work, which must remain objective.
With all this in mind, let’s examine the concept of natural selection in evolutionary theory. Natural selection does not exist in the sense that it is something that can be seen or touched; it is merely a theoretical principle, assumed to operate. This is not necessarily a problem, and does not deny it, for we also cannot see or touch gravity, but this does not stop us from seeing and experiencing its effects. We therefore assume that gravity is real. It is not quite so clear, however, in the case of natural selection.
The arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins wrote: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. He reveals, I would suggest, that his motivation to be an atheist is stronger than his desire for scientific truth; that is perhaps why he so enthusiastically accepts Darwin. And he is not alone; the desire to be an atheist, often expressed as the need for ‘naturalistic’ or ‘materialist’ explanations, drives much science.
It can be seen clearly in the language of some evolutionary biologists that they are predisposed to the concept of natural selection, precisely because they want to avoid any suggestion of anything non-material (supernatural), therefore teleological.
August Weismann said: “the principle of [natural] selection solved the riddle, how it is possible to produce adaptedness without the intervention of a goal-determining force”¹. So for him, in nature there appears to be a goal-determining force. Rather than accept this as real — one might say the evidence of his own eyes — he assumes that this is an illusion, wants it to be an illusion, because he says that it is a problem or riddle that needs to be solved. He refuses to consider the possibility that this is how things are, that there might actually be a goal-determining force, which is perhaps the simpler explanation. He therefore welcomes the arrival of natural selection, which gets rid of the teleological implication he dislikes.
Julian Huxley said: “It was one of the great merits of Darwin himself to show that the purposiveness of organic structure and function was apparent only. The teleology of adaptation is a pseudo-teleology, capable of being accounted for on good mechanistic principles, without the intervention of purpose, conscious or subconscious, either on the part of the organism or of any outside power”².
Richard Dawkins said: “So overwhelming is the appearance of purposeful design that, even in this Darwinian era when we know ‘better’, we still find it difficult, indeed boringly pedantic, to refrain from teleological language when discussing adaptation”. And yet “the theory of natural selection provides a mechanistic, causal account of how living things came to look as if they had been designed for a purpose”³.
The atheistic agenda of the latter two authors is so obvious that it requires no further comment. Of course, Darwin did not show what Huxley and Dawkins claim. It would be more accurate to say that, if Darwin’s theory were correct, then it would suggest that the purposiveness was apparent. Since the theory is adopted so enthusiastically and uncritically by those who want to deny purposiveness at all costs, it is reasonable to doubt the truth of the theory.
Dawkins also said:
- “The Darwinian theory is in principle capable of explaining life. No other theory that has ever been suggested is in principle capable of explaining life”.
- “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity”⁴.
I believe both his statements are incorrect. Darwin’s theory cannot explain the origin of life, although it could explain the evolution of life once it had started. This is what Dawkins says in the second quote, but it is not in principle the only explanation, for alternative explanations (possibly more credible but unacceptable to Dawkins) would be divine creativity or imagination. So what Dawkins means is that Darwinism is the only rational or scientific theory which could explain organized complexity, i.e. a naturalistic or materialist explanation. Maybe the truth is irrational, outside the realm of science as we normally understand it, thus something needing a spiritual or supernatural explanation.
1. Quoted in Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance, Cambridge MA: Bellknap/Harvard University Press, 1982, p517
2. Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, Allen and Unwin, 1942, p412
3. ‘Replicators and Vehicles’, Current Problems in Sociobiology, King’s College Sociobiology Group, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp45–64
4. The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin, 1988, p288, p317. In the second quote, I have changed the italics. In the original ‘capable’ was italicised, not ‘in principle’.