Friday, 16 May 2008

The Evolution Of An Idea

Insofar as biologists agree about anything to do with the specifics of evolution, they could have gleaned much of it from reading a few select passages of Saint Augustine. Why, Genesis itself depicts the plants preceding the animals preceding Man, which is by no means obvious, and which accordingly does not occur in many a creation story elsewhere.

No, the original thing about Darwinism was not, and is not, evolution itself. It was, and is, the tautologous philosophical proposition, unrelated to science as such, that is "the survival of the fittest", the creation myth of secular liberals, Marxists, eugenicists, Fascists and Nazis. These differ, to the extent that they do on this point, only in their respective definitions of "the fittest". "Fittest" for what? "Fittest" to do whatever it is that they do, or want to do. And who identifies the "fittest" in those terms? They do. Of course.

Thus, in our own culture, we have the "meritocrats", embodying how the late Michael Young was subjected to the worst fate that can befall a satirist, that of being taken entirely seriously. Those with wealth and paper qualifications determine "merit", on the basis of wealth and paper qualifications. To object to this is to question "the survival of the fittest". And we can't have that, can we? After all, "the survival of the fittest" is a scientific fact. Isn't it?

Er, no, actually, it isn't. It isn't a fact at all. And it isn't scientific at all.


  1. "Genesis itself depicts the plants preceding the animals preceding Man, which is by no means obvious, and which accordingly does not occur in many a creation story elsewhere."

    Genesis also depicts the birds being created before the animals. That's by no means obvious. And it's by no means true.

    And it depicts the light being created before the sun and moon and stars. That's weird too.

  2. "Genesis also depicts the birds being created before the animals"


    "And it depicts the light being created before the sun and moon and stars. That's weird too."


  3. Genesis 1, vv. 20-31. Fish and birds are day five, animals and people are day six.

  4. The "beasts" are, yes. That's mammals. Unless you're saying that fish and birds did not come before mammals and people?

  5. "And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." (NIV)

    Mammals? I don't see how "creatures that move upon the ground" can be read to exclude land-based reptiles, or land-based insects, or worms, or snails, or all sorts of things that are creatures that move upon the ground. And that aren't fish. Or birds.

  6. By the way, I guess we will just have to agree to differ over the plausibility of light existing before its source exists. That's fine.

  7. Oh, the NIV. My Old Testament lecturer had a clear view of the NIV, but I would never write it here...

    (To be fair, the Good News Bible is probably even worse.)

    It is not clear from Genesis where insects or reptiles fit in, but it is clear that there were plants before there were fish or birds, that there were fish and birds before there were mammals, and that there were mammals before there were people.

    To the best of my knowledge, this is unique among the creation stories of the world; and all biologists could sign up to it, which is quite a feat, because that cannot be said of very much else. (For that matter, no living biologist agrees with Darwin about anything very much at all.)

    The original thing about Darwinism isn't evolution, which is the scientific part. It is the philosophical part. Which is junk. And very dangerous junk at that.

  8. "Let there be a light" is as clear a reference to the Big Bang as you could possibly want.

    It was the Church's condemnation from Scripture of the Aristotelian articulation of the view, always held apart from the Biblical Revelation, that the universe had always existed and always would, that made possible the birth of science. It could not otherwise have happened, which is why it never otherwise did.

  9. On "creeping things": I don't claim to be an expert on this, so I had a look for other references. Here's a good one, from Leviticus 11.29-31:

    These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind, And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole. These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.

    So "the creeping things that creep upon the earth" is a category which includes some small mammals, some reptiles, and snails. I think that's evidence against the claim that day 6 is just about mammals.

  10. Assumes that it's translating the same word in Genesis and in Leviticus. I'd have to check.

  11. What was wrong with my other comment comparing different translations?

  12. have a look at Saturday's times comment piece by a John Harris. Embyology is just the start, like it or not-radical life extension, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and the emergence of new organisms 'evolving' beyond homo sapiens are all likely this century

  13. Bernard, it was justa bbit off topic. But you've planted the seed in my mind for a future post on Biblical translations.

    Anonymous, all the more reason to nip it in the bud. But believe in evolution beyond homo sapiens when you see it. And in this century? Can it really happen that quickly?

  14. well I'm not a scientist so I don't know. But I see no reason to discount experts who include Steven Hawking.A Government ban won't work as you'll never stop someone somewhere in a lab...

    I don't in theory see why synthetic biology couldn't fulfil some of the roles of natural biology and in time supersede it. Nor would it necessarily be a bad thing-as a character in Houlebecq's 'atomised' who thinks Brave New World was a utopia recognises.