SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION II - DOUBLE DETERMINATENESS

Chapter XIX - A NOTE ON EVOLUTION


THE theory of evolution is incompatible with materialism. We realize that this assertion may appear to be nothing but an impudent paradox or at least a gross overstatement. For in the heat and turmoil when Darwin had first propounded his great theory the opposite was always said. All materialists fought on the side of the theory while many opponents of materialism fought against it. Materialism and evolution were, indeed, treated almost as synonymous terms. The battle still rages nearly four score years after the first shock of the novelty of the theory has worn off. And it is still taken for granted that Darwinism is a main prop of materialism. When Sir Ambrose Fleming, for instance, sets out to attack materialism he aims his blows at evolution.

The most that came to be realized after the early passions had abated was that "Darwin had not explained everything". A residuum of unexplained problems was admitted by biologist-philosophers, reluctantly at first, less reluctantly after the science of genetics had been established. "What evolution does not explain genetics does," they could then say. No-one realized that genetics, too, is incompatible with materialism. That is an assertion which we shall have to prove on some other occasion.

At the moment we only want to show that, far from helping the materialist, Darwin drove him to even more absurd theories about the nature of Matter than he had held before. So we have no hesitation in repeating our statement: The theory of evolution is incompatible with materialism.

We could, if we liked, distinguish between four good reasons for our assertion. Probably there are more. And if we wished to follow the tradition of learning established by the Schoolmen of a more conscientious age we should have to distinguish about forty. For these erudite and painstaking scholars never spared their readers. We marvel, indeed, that they had any. They would have felt that they had scamped their work if they had given but a few arguments in support of any important contention. We, however, wish to make the reader's path as smooth as a difficult subject will allow. So we will omit thirty-nine reasons (if there be so many) and content ourselves with one only.

The materialist asserts that living organisms are due to the unaided action of Matter on Matter. Like rock salt crystals, he says, they form when Matter shakes down in conformity to nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry. Now these laws have never changed since the beginning of time, and consequently, when sodium-chloride molecules form a crystal this has the same structure as it had millions of years ago.

If a literal interpretation of the Bible were correct and living organisms had been as constant through the ages as crystals, there would be some plausibility in the materialist assertion that one can make no fundamental distinction between living and lifeless structures. But evolution proves that living organisms have not been as constant as crystals. The theory now almost universally accepted by scientists, is that at one time Matter fell into the form of only very simple organisms, at another into the form of the now extinct Dinosaur, at another into the form of the equally extinct Eohippus, and that it has been falling into the form of oak trees and Arab steeds for a comparatively short period of the earth's history.

Materialists who welcomed the great discovery of evolution did not say that it had delivered a blow to materialism. They did not say that it had given them something new to puzzle over. They said that it had proved materialism. Proved it! "Why must I believe that living organisms are fundamentally no different from those crystals which have always been the same through the ages?" a student at the Colleges of Unreason might have asked his professor. "Because living organisms have not been the same through the ages," would have been the answer.

For the salvage of their creed, materialists have had, after Darwin, the choice of two alternatives. One was to misrepresent physics, the other to misrepresent evolution.

The first course would lead them into fallacies which are too obvious to be easily hidden even by the best rhetoric. A philosopher of the emergent school as interpreted by Broad may be able to persuade himself that Matter has a natural tendency to fall into the form of organisms in a general sort of way. But he could hardly persuade himself that Matter has changed its nature through the ages. He would not declare baldly that Matter had a natural tendency to fall into the form of the Dinosaur at one time, into the form of Eohippus at another and into the form of an Arab steed to-day.

So the second course is more popular. This consists in pretending that evolution is what it is not. The word is treated as synonymous with change. Not any particular kind of change, nor the change of anything in particular, but just "change". After this distortion of Darwin's theory the rest is easy. Since he observes change everywhere, the materialist can then persuade himself that evolution occurs throughout the Material Universe both in its organic and inorganic parts.

We have read, for instance, on page 3 of a book by Osterhout called The Nature of Life: "All kinds of matter have evolved from one original substance", and on the same page a reference to "the evolution of the universe". In Nature of February 26th, 1938) we noticed on page 377 a reference to a paper by Professor Hildebrand entitled "The Evolution of a Cosmic Dust Cloud". Over and over again we have come across the phrase "the evolution of the solar system" and we once saw a book by Commander Bernard Ackworth in which the "evolution" of the solar system, the evolution of the bicycle, and Darwinian evolution are presented as three examples of one great cosmic principle operating alike in the organic and the inorganic world.

What a gross misrepresentation of evolutionary theory all this is! What is called the "evolution" of the solar system. merely constitutes its history. It describes the changes the same thing has undergone in the course of time; how what is now a sun and planets was once a very extensive and very tenuous incandescent mist; how this mist radiated energy and contracted under the force of gravity; how it rotated faster and faster about its centre of gravity and developed into a gradually shrinking sun; how some cataclysm caused an upheaval resulting in the expulsion of the planets; how these became more and more viscous during the process of cooling and how the crusts of some of them at last became solid; how great tidal forces caused portions of certain planets to be thrown off forming our moon and the satellites of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; how similar tidal forces shattered one of the planets into the fragments known as asteroids.

If "evolution of the horse" meant the same thing it would describe the history of some individual horse from birth to the knacker's yard. If the solar system started as a mist, the horse started as a foal. If, under tidal forces, the solar system grew larger, the horse grew larger too. If some solar systems have produced planets, some horses have produced foals. And if some solar systems become less active in the course of time, so do horses. As their teeth grow longer their joints become stiffer. This is, of course, not what Darwin meant when he spoke of the evolution of the horse.

What Darwin did mean was that the horse's ancestors were all much like each other but very different from existing horses; that successive generations differed from their predecessors in small ways and that these small differences accumulated until the form we now know as horses became estabhshed. Darwin did not mean changes in an individual but differences between successive individuals in direct line of descent.

To speak of evolution of the solar system in the Darwinian sense would imply that there had been many successive solar systems, that each had had its own history of change, its beginning and its end, that each had differed in specific ways from its predecessors; it would imply an odd kind of astronomy. In the Darwinian sense the word "evolution" cannot be applied to anything untouched by Life, neither to stars nor stones, nor to clouds, crystals, rivers or mountains. Does it apply only to changes between successive organisms?

Not quite, and the other examples will help us to understand the true implications of Darwin's discovery. We may apply the word "evolution" in the Darwinian sense to some of the works of man. We can, for instance, speak of the evolution of the bicycle or the evolution of painting. We then mean that all bicycles made to-day have things in common which distinguish them from earlier bicycles; and we mean the same about pictures.

The evolution of the bicycle is easy to describe. At one time the cyclist sat on a high saddle above the driving wheel. This construction was replaced by the "safety" model with a chain drive. Solid tyres gave way to the present pneumatic type.

The evolution of painting is more subtle. Yet it is a reality on which many books have been written. We all know that in the course of history, there have been distinctive changes. We can feel what we can hardly express. Every picture gazer realizes that, much as they differ between themselves, the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin have something in common which distinguishes them from the works of any fourteenth-century painter. Each age has its own characteristic art so that an expert critic can state the approximate date of any picture. He can tell us in what direction changes occurred from generation to generation of painters.

What is the thing that changes in the course of evolution? Unless we can answer this question we do not understand what evolution means. The change is not in any individual horse or bicycle or picture. But it is a real change. So it must be a change in a real thing. Can we find a word for this?

In the instance of the bicycle we can do so easily. The word is "specification." The evolution of the bicycle means a change in the specification for bicycles. This is the reality which changes. For each new type of bicycle a new specification is prepared and this is no more than a record of what the new bicycle is to be.

When the word "evolution" is applied to painting, it is not quite as obvious that a change in a specification is meant. Art critics do not use the word. They prefer to speak of a change in outlook, or in the artist's standard of values, or in technique; or they may refer to a changing spirit of the age. But they certainly do not mean a change in any individual picture and they as certainly do mean a change in something which can be specified, however difficult it may be to express that something in words.

The words used by art critics refer to processes in the human mind. They are not appropriate to biological evolution. But the more objective word "specification" is quite appropriate. In the course of evolution the specifications for plants and animals have changed. This was the great discovery of the evolutionists which our amateur philosophers conceal when they use the word "evolution" in the wrong sense. But the biologist knows perfectly well what Darwin meant and his appreciation of evolution proves once again his tacit belief that specifications (he calls them "genotypes") have reality in the organic world.

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