4 Quotes on Natural Selection by Naturalists that Support Theism

By Billy Dyer

Familiar claims to the contrary notwithstanding, Darwin didn’t manage to get mental causes out of his account of how evolution works. He just hid them in the unexamined analogy between selection by breeding and natural selection…we can claim something Darwinists cannot. There is no ghost in our machine; neither God, nor Mother Nature…and there are no phantom breeders either. What breeds the ghosts in Darwinism is its covert appeal to intensional biological explanations…Darwin pointed the direction to a thoroughly naturalistic—indeed a thoroughly atheistic—theory of phenotype [trait] formation; but he didn’t see how to get the whole way there. He killed off God, if you like, but Mother Nature and other pseudo-agents got away scot-free. We think it’s now time to get rid of them too.  (Fodor, J. and M. Piattelli-Palmarini. 2010. What Darwin Got Wrong. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 162-163.) 

  • Essentially Fodor & Piattelli-Palmarini are saying that Darwin denies God as an agent but then gives Mother Nature all the qualities of God. That is, in a scientific book you might read on page 2 that God does not exist but then on page 5 you will see Mother Nature “choosing”, “selecting”, “deciding”, “having wisdom”, etc… It is simply a bait and switch.

No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed. (1874), ch 5 www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext00/dscmn10.txt) 

  • To me it looks like Darwin is affirming the degeneration of breeds. It seems that he is saying that when a race breeds it degenerates but then gives the only exception to mankind. My point with this quote is to say that Darwin wasn’t consistent. If breeding leads to degeneration then why is man an exception? Evolution says that we evolve to a better plight but history & all human experience says we devolve. Even Darwin seemed to see this but he couldn’t let it contradict his theory.

What is the use of their (bacteria) unceasing mutations if they do not change? In sum the mutations of bacteria and viruses are merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect. (Pierre-Paul Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 87.)

  • We need to understand the difference between micro and macro evolution. They are not the same. Grasse shows us that surely there can be mutations but only on a micro level. That is, fruit flies might mutate to having a third wing, be faster, or be bigger but they are always fruit flies. We have always heard that mutations lead to change and then natural selection “selects” the changes that are beneficial. But Grasse tells us that mutations do not have any purpose or goal. They are simply fluctuations a little to the right or left but always come back to the median position. Simply put, you can breed all sorts of different dogs and make micro changes to the left or right. But left up to normal breeding and all dogs go back to the median position or being a wolf.

Although, at the phenotypic level, it deals with the modification of existing parts, the theory is intended to explain neither the origin of parts, nor morphological organization, nor innovation…But selection has no innovative capacity: it eliminates or maintains what exists. The generative and ordering aspects of morphological evolution are thus absent from evolutionary theory.  (G. B. MÜLLER, ‘Homology: The Evolution of Morphological Organization’ in G. B. MÜLLER and Newman S.A. (eds.), Origination of Organismal Form. Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard, MIT Press, Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology, 2003, p. 51.) 

  • I love this quote. Müller really hits one out of the park here. He explains that evolution doesn’t and cannot explain the origin of parts. It tries to explain how we got to this level but it doesn’t tell us how the whole thing started. Secondly, it cannot deal with the organization of parts at the very beginning. Third, natural selection doesn’t have free will. I get tired of hearing people tell me that natural selection “chose”. Natural selection isn’t an agent, it cannot make a choice. Therefore, it has no mind to innovate as Müller says. So even if evolution is true, which it certainly is not, it still fails to explain origins and natural selection can’t make choices. Therefore, Darwin failed.

 

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Billy Dyer is a CrossExamined Instructor Academy Graduate.

14 replies
  1. TGM says:

    Argh, it burns! More reasons why creationists should not try to educate people about the Theory of Evolution. It takes the skill of a creationist to quotemine a publication and then misinterpret that quote.

    From commentary to the Fodor et. al. quotemine:
    “saying that Darwin denies God as an agent but then gives Mother Nature all the qualities of God”
    Does this author even understand what a metaphor is?

    From commentary to the Darwin quotemine:
    “It seems that he is saying that when a race breeds it degenerates but then gives the only exception to mankind”
    That’s not what Darwin said. Perhaps the author should have shown – and read – the entire quote. Darwin was remarking that civilized humanity’s caring for the weak should lead to an overall weaker population compared to a savage population, based on our experience with animal breeding. In fact, the accuracy of Darwin’s reasoning varies depending on how one measures fitness of a human population.

    From commentary to the Muller quotemine:
    “I get tired of hearing people tell me that natural selection ‘chose’. Natural selection isn’t an agent, it cannot make a choice.”
    Metaphor /ˈmedəˌfôr/ (noun): a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Synonym: analogy (source: Oxford Dictionary).

    Darwin’s perspective on natural selection is not the entirety of the Theory of Evolution. Darwin did not have the the scope of knowledge we do today, so of course his analysis was incomplete. It’s rather hilarious that creationists use Darwin as an evolutionary straw man in this way. Should we now discredit Newton’s findings because he didn’t know about relativity?

    Finally, lest I be accused of not addressing the author’s point in this article… none of these quotations support theism. At best, they are not inconsistent with the brand of theism typically promoted by this blog. The author still has some work to do to show how they support theism.

    Reply
  2. Brian says:

    As an old-earth, special creationist, I actually agree with TGM regarding this post.

    I think the concept promoted on this web site and others, of ‘never read a Bible verse’ also applies to other types and collections of literature, such as Darwin’s Descent of Man.

    Christian apologists also promote reading the Bible literally – that is, as we would read any form of literature. When we read the sports page and read that “the Chicago Bears killed the New England Patriots” (OK, this is a completely fictitious and frankly silly example) we don’t call the police to report a murder. We understand, given the type of literature and context, that this is a euphemism.

    Christian apologists also love to point out logical flaws in the arguments of naturalists. The reverse is true as well. One of the favorite is the straw man argument. I believe the quote mining above represent a form of setting up a straw man. This does harm and no good for those holding a Biblical world view.

    BTW, the neo-Darwinian synthesis has by-and-large been abandoned because biologists have long known that ‘longitudinal’ gene transfer alone doesn’t have the creative power necessary for macro-evolution. So there are a host of other mechanisms, such as horizontal gene transfer, that are now in vogue. This was not popular in 1977 when Peter-Paul Degrass wrote his thoughts on bacterial gene mutation, and would provide a role for bacteria in macro-evolution.

    Let’s work harder, be smarter and more well-informed in our reasoning. This will lead to more sophisticated and well grounded arguments.

    Reply
  3. William Dyer says:

    Tom,
    I do understand what a metaphor is. The problem with your view is that a person uses a metaphors that has no basis in reality. That was exactly my whole point. Naturalists uses metaphorical language to give agency to a non-personal entity. My argument is that naturalists can’t get away from using the language of agency. They remove God b/c they don’t want a personal agent who caused the universe but then they ascribe agency to the universe itself. You can’t have your cake and eat it to.

    Brian,
    Bold assertions will get you nowhere. You said I practiced “quote-mining”. Well prove it. Show me how these quotes don’t say what they are saying.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      No, Willam, it’s not giving agency – saying, for example, that something was ‘chosen’ by nature IS the metaphor. You say you understand what a metaphor is but then you effectively still take the word ‘chosen’ literally. If it’s metaphorical then it isn’t literal. No agency is being given to nature by the theory of natural selection.

      Reply
      • William Dyer says:

        Andy,
        My previous comment clearly stated that a metaphor has to have some basis in reality. I don’t think you understand my point. I’m saying that a naturalist can’t get away from language that describes agency bc all we see in this world is agency. You can’t adequately describe evolutionary theories without using language that sounds like cognative choices are being made.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “I’m saying that a naturalist can’t get away from language that describes agency bc all we see in this world is agency”

          I’ll agree to disagree with you there, William. It’s simply a metaphor that is useful to gain understanding. It seems bizarre to me to assume that just because a metaphor is used often that it means it should be taken literally. I have no problem understanding the phrase “Selected by nature” without thinking conscious agency is being attributed to nature. I honestly don’t see why anyone else who understands who natural selection works would think the phrase implies agency or means that agency is required.

          “bc all we see in this world is agency”

          ALL we see is agency? You see agency in weather systems and earthquakes? Again, I’ll have to agree to disagree with you. Surely when you heard someone describe an ‘angry volcano’ or ‘fierce weather’ you don’t think it’s a sign that agency is involved or implied by the speaker?

          “the rising sun analogy is apples to my oranges. We can use that metaphor bc it has a basis in reality”

          What reality? That the sun rises over the earth? It doesn’t – the earth moves around the sun.

          Reply
  4. Terry Lewis says:

    Andy, I see your point. It does seem, however, that the most commonly-used metaphors used by evolutionists to describe the function of evolution/natural selection do infer intelligence. Even Dawkins admits that we have “the appearance of design”, yet denies the presence of design.

    I’ve always heard that, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. (Another metaphor…) It would be foolish to view a valley filled with what was obviously smoke and deny the presence of the causal agent of fire. Likewise, it seems foolish to view “the appearance of design” throughout the universe, but then deny a designer.

    No agency is being given to nature by the theory of natural selection.

    Not to put words in Mr. Dyer’s mouth, but I don’t think that this refutes the point he’s trying to make. From my perspective, the point is that the very language used by practically all atheistic scientists reveals that they see the “smoke”. (Yet another metaphor… we’re on a roll!) If so, it is most unscientific to deny a known cause of a perceived effect–especially when the perceived effect (design) has only one known cause (intelligence).

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      Terry, plenty of scientists will talk about ‘the rising sun’ or ‘sunrise’. It doesn’t mean they think the earth is still and the sun is moving around it. And yes, it LOOKS like the sun is rising over the earth. By the ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ logic that would mean it is. That’s not how science works.

      “Even Dawkins admits that we have “the appearance of design”, yet denies the presence of design”

      We can admit that it looks like the sun rises over the earth, yet point out that the evidence shows otherwise.

      “especially when the perceived effect (design) has only one known cause (intelligence)”

      It’s not the only known cause, Terry – evolution is a known cause of this perceived effect. And in fact natural causes ARE the only known causes we know – it is you who is proposing the supernatural when we have no known examples of the supernatural causing anything.

      Reply
      • William Dyer says:

        Andy, the rising sun analogy is apples to my oranges. We can use that metaphor bc it has a basis in reality.

        Reply
      • Terry Lewis says:

        plenty of scientists will talk about ‘the rising sun’ or ‘sunrise’. It doesn’t mean they think the earth is still and the sun is moving around it.

        Sure. This is phenomenological language, in which one describes an event by how it appears rather than what we know it to be. However, evolution is a bit more difficult to prove than heliocentrism. A sun-centered solar system is observable; modern cosmology and astrophysics confirm heliocentrism every day. By definition, macroevolution is not observable in a human lifetime.

        By the ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ logic that would mean it is.

        Not exactly. The metaphor I used simply indicates that an effect always follows a cause. Your analogy seems to interpret it as saying “appearance equals reality.” That’s not what I’m saying.

        I’m claiming that Dawkins is wrong. He defines away design only because he denies the existence of a designer. He would never do so in any other context–he would never claim that Mount Rushmore was the result of erosion, or that termites carved a wooden city limits sign. This is an invalid move in logic.

        I could similarly claim that your post must simply be a random collection of characters having the appearance of English text because Andy Ryan does not exist. But even if it were true that you did not exist, that does not explain the information contained in your post. I perceive English text in your post because it is English text.

        You may claim that a non-intelligent system could produce the text you wrote above (I’ll refrain from the obvious jokes 🙂 !) I sincerely doubt that this is the case, given rules analogous to those enforced by natural selection on evolution.

        Bottom line: biological systems do in fact have the appearance of design, precisely because they were designed. And the effect of design always requires the cause of a designer.

        I know you don’t agree, but what is your criteria for detecting design in an artifact? One cannot say that a cell is not designed if one doesn’t know how to detect design. What justification do you give for this determination?

        It’s not the only known cause, Terry – evolution is a known cause of this perceived effect.

        In the first place, you “know” this how?

        Secondly, evolution does NOT produce design. It is precisely because of this that Dawkins denies design. I did not use “perceived effect” to mean the mere “appearance” of design, but that design was actually present, and was perceptible.

        And in fact natural causes ARE the only known causes we know…

        One’s ignorance of a supernatural cause does not mean that such a cause does not exist.

        What is the cause of your natural causes? You have to have something to bootstrap the system, unless you want to try to defend a past-eternal universe….

        it is you who is proposing the supernatural when we have no known examples of the supernatural causing anything.

        If nature has a beginning as modern science indicates, then something outside of nature must have caused it. That’s only logical. You’re welcome to propose another solution, but if your solution is simply more “natural causes” such as Krauss’ quantum vacuum, then you’re assuming that nature exists in order to create itself… a logical impossibility. One must either admit an extra-natural cause, or deny the law of causality. We have infinitely more evidence that the law of causality holds than for the non-existence of extra-natural causes.

        -tl

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “However, evolution is a bit more difficult to prove than heliocentrism”

          That’s irrelevant to the point. People use metaphorical language. You can’t take it literally and then try to draw a conclusion from that.

          “I’m claiming that Dawkins is wrong”

          You’re welcome to believe what you want, Terry, but that’s irrelevant to the point the blog was making and my response to it.

          “In the first place, you “know” this how?”

          Get yourself a decent book on evolution, and perhaps also read up on the scientific method.

          Reply
  5. Andy says:

    Without taking sides here, surely the point of a metaphor is to enhance clarity and to illuminate. If implying that natural selection has ‘agency’ or choice turns out to be misleading then we have adopted a poor metaphor. Why not just avoid metaphor at all and just ‘say it as it is’?

    Reply

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