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Upward Descent and Other Amazing Deviations: Dabney Dissects Darwin

October 5, 2006







Mid-nineteenth-century evolution theory was a fission bomb forever sundering two ways of understanding life: Either we are related through Adam and unrelated to cantaloupe; or, we are related through protoplasm to both.

Dabney’s chapter, “Evolution Theory” is the Cat’s favorite thus far. He resents any implication that he is descended from inferior wild cats. If left to the wild habitats of his so-called ancestors, the Cat would most probably make his way to the nearest doorstep and yowl for cat food. Notwithstanding the Cat’s defective (though sensorially impeccable) epistemology, he understands that he is a discrete creation made to be a companion to man. This places the Cat far ahead of evolutionary theorists.

Dabney was a contemporary of Charles Darwin (1809–1882), and thus the beneficiary of the same classical intellectual heritage from which Darwin drew. He penetrated the flaws in Darwin’s scheme, and deftly deconstructed them.

Darwin’s contribution (The Origin of Species, 1859; The Descent of Man, 1871) to evolution theory was his systematizing of classical atomic (as in atoms as components of matter) theory, using laws inferable from nature: multiplication, limitation, heredity, variation, and equilibrium. Behavior, too, would be an operative variable effecting survival. Ultimately, success is determined by chance, because these laws are driven by blind atomic causation. The ultimate victor in this animalistic struggle is he who accumulates the most brain convolutions and mechanistic impulses to survive. This happened to be man, but in a chance system, it could just as easily have been a speck of mold. An evolutionist perhaps would not put it this way, because he would likely fail to perceive the logical outcome of his theory.

Dr. Thomas Huxley and Professor John Tyndall took up the creatorless cause after Darwin. Nothing happens by chance, according to Tyndall; every occurrence is caused, and therefore necessary. Tyndall’s definition of the soul (yes, he acknowledged its existence) is well worth quoting: “The soul consists of fine, smooth, round atoms, like those of fire. These are the most mobile of all [atoms]. They interpenetrate the whole body, and in their motions the phenomena of life arise” (R. L. Dabney: The Sensualistic Philosophy Naphtali Press, 2003, p. 91).

One readily sees why humanists are still forum-shopping.

Compare and contrast: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Ge 2:7

Do you feel the Force? Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) did. He refined evolutionary science to theoretical linear perfection. “Force” moved matter from protoplasm to mollusk to the mind of Isaac Newton in so many increments over so much time. In Spencer’s model, “Force” equals motion, and is the single causative agency in the universe. Spencer’s reason for calling his material cause “Force,” according to Dabney, was simple distaste for the Christian notion of God and his own soul.

Spencer’s Force is infinite, impersonal and unknowable, but it gets things done. Problematically, Spencer attributes a multitude of properties and doctrines to this “unknowable” Force. Dissecting probe in hand, Dabney exposes this inconsistency. He further notes that Spencer attempts to place an epistemological embargo on knowledge of the “unknowable” God. Apparently, it is possible to know things about some unknowable things, but not about others.

Spencer’s Force is unknowable but at the same time, Spencer insists, it is inferable–through, of course, the usual sensualistic means: our senses. Since the Force is impersonal as well as unknowable, we cannot know whether it is benevolent or malevolent.

God, on the other hand, is infinite, personal, and truly unknowable, but because of his personal benevolence toward us, he makes himself knowable to us, albeit in a finite way due to our finite consciousness.

How can we trust an unknowable Force? Dabney points out that we cannot presume it is intelligent, rational, logical, interested, or possessed of any other properties, benevolent or otherwise, if it is truly unknowable. We do know that God is all-intelligent and capable of manifesting himself to us. Once a scientist signs on with the unknowable, doctrine and reason are defenestrated.

One point on which I admit confusion is Spencer’s concept of time, which “is but experienced succession” (Dabney, p. 100). Does Spencer mean that before man, the only creature capable of experiencing time, there was no time? Then when did all these things occur–protoplasm to mollusk to Newton–that required so much time?

Spencer inspires further wonder when he says that “material motion is simply the consciousness of matter in successive positions in time” (Dabney, p. 100). Now, this is priceless. Matter is conscious, but the Force propelling it might not be conscious–we don’t know, because it is unknowable. If this doesn’t convince you to take your fish for a walk, nothing will.

I suspect that Spencer and Comte (see my “The Pontiff of Humanity” post below) might have been drinking buddies.

At some point, our atomic clock ceases ticking; the little flame of atoms is extinguished, and we die. Or, as Spencer really said, the “absorption of motion and diffusion of matter” take place (Dabney, p. 102). There could not possibly be a provision in his materialist scheme for resurrection once matter is thus debased. The impersonal Force makes no claims, no promise of eternal life.

Spencer’s gods–matter, motion, and force–“symbols of the Unknown Reality”–in the end, are subject to death.

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Ps 14:1; Ps 53:1


Mike Pitzler said…
Defenestration of the baby with the bathwater? A winderworsher can really squeak his squeegee to that one.
7:54 AM  
Mrs. B said…
Mike, did you not notice the evolution of my site? The new border color, the new navigation bar color, and, what I’m especially proud of–my discovery of the title bar! Surely this goes to some pinnacular victory over competing forces of nature. More brain convolutions each moment, and see the monkey at the typewriter now!
8:02 AM  
HZ said…
Wow again. What you were saying about time reminded me of a book I read by Owen Barfield — Worlds Apart in which he points out that the evolutionary model conceives of evolution in terms of our human perceptions and speaks of it in those terms though our human perceptions only came into the picture very recently in the scheme of things: it shoots itself in its own foot. Unfortunately it takes an intelligent person to realize the philosophical implications of this and most people don’t seem to be able to grasp that it is a problem to talk about human perceptions operating before human perceptions would have been evolved (and as a process of nature they cannot be determinative, or even descriptive where they have never been operative.)I by the way noticed the evolution of your site, I also noticed the microbial change in font size until it suddenly poofed upright and stood on its two legs and whatnot.
8:33 AM  
Mrs. B said…
Exactly: If time is experimental, it is perception-dependent, and so could not exist without something around–something intelligent–to perceive it. The problem is that that something had to evolve over time into a time-perceiving entity, which is one of those time paradoxes out of science fiction. God does give us the ability to perceive our own sin and the entropy and disorder it brings about, as Benjamin was discussing over your way and at his site. Uncaused creation is futile, and Godless cause is perilously wrong, because it cannot be trusted to be orderly.
8:42 AM  
Victorbravo said…
My favorite point is the play on the “Descent of Man” in your title. Darwin intuitively understood the downward trend of the natural and expressed it in the title of his book. Then his followers argued the opposite.Dabney was remarkably perceptive, especially considering that he wrote just as these theories were taking hold. It would be nice if this chapter were included in a philosophy of science course as an intro to biology.
8:53 AM  
Mrs. B said…
My title actually is the point: You can’t have it both ways. The idea that we are streamlining toward increased complexity has lodged in modern thought. Creation of discrete species, for some reason, cannot be true because they are “too similar.”But it does seem man is micro-evolving an increasing capacity for digesting Kool-Aid.
9:09 AM  
Mike Pitzler said…
Ah. One of those pinkish colors! Magenta? And a title. i like it. i’m such a maroon. let me defenestrate out the next open window. You didn’t see the typing monkey before? Isn’t it cool to evolve?i can see how unbelievers would see the evolution of technology and try to ride the crest, despite the widely published warnings of Devo. (Were those planters they were wearing?)How many other things are going right over my head? Thanks for being my friends despite my obvious handicaps.At least i can read a digital clock.

8:23 PM  

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