This is the 5th Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church: Are the Facts In? The previous blog is The Genetic Side of Being Human. We are now considering some of the ideas and claims of James Le Fanu in his book, Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves. In the previous blog we encountered part of Le Fanu’s objection to trying to understand humans only through evolution: there is still great mystery it what it means to be human, many would say a purely chemical/protein/DNA analysis of humans does not come close to describing what it is to be human, and evolution itself cannot completely account for the complexities in human development.
As one example of a question for which current evolutionary theory cannot give a full explanation is the appearance of specific species on the planet.
“Further, the suddenness of the cultural explosion that signalled the arrival of Cromagnon man argues against a progressive, gradualist evolutionary transformation. It suggests rather some dramatic event – as if a switch were thrown, the curtain rose, and there was man …” (Kindle Loc. 766-68)
The sudden disappearance of species and the sudden appearance of new species has been raised as a question by many scientists themselves. (see for example the comments of evolutionist Lynn Margulis in my blog An Evolutionary Alternative). The historical record shows these “explosions” of new species, not a long and slow evolutionary change. So on this count Le Fanu is offering a critique of evolutionary theory shared by some prominent evolutionary thinkers. His thinking follows similar criticisms of evolutionary theory raised by Michael Behe and others, namely that some things which appear in a species are meaningful only in their developed complex form and it would be hard to account for their appearance through a gradual process of development since the individual parts would serve no purpose alone – they are irreducibly complex.
“…might seem plausible, in the way of all evolutionary explanations, and would indeed be reasonable if language simply ‘facilitated the exchange of information’. But, as Chomsky pointed out so persuasively, language is also an autonomous, independent set of rules and meanings that impose order, make sense of the world ‘out there’. Rules and meanings cannot evolve from the simple to the complex, they just ‘are’. The structure of sentences is either meaningful or meaningless. The naming of an object is either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. An elephant is an elephant, and not an anteater. Hence Chomsky insisted, against Pinker, that those seeking a scientific explanation for language could, if they so wished, describe it as having evolved ‘so long as they realise that there is no substance for this assertion, that it amounts to nothing more than a belief. This, of course, is no trivial controversy, for language is so intimately caught up in every aspect of ‘being human’ that to concede that it falls outside the conventional rubric of evolutionary explanation would be to concede that so does man.” (Kindle Loc. 959-66)
Le Fanu believes that there are real developments in humans and really all species that cannot be reduced to scientific materialistic explanations. There are forces that work on us and in us – thought processes, the development of language which Le Fanu thinks points to elements in our human development that cannot be explained by materialist science alone. In this he questions whether the study of DNA could ever explain all there is to know about being human. Le Fanu thinks that focus is too narrow and misses important elements about what it means to be human.
“‘No one has ever been able to relate any aspect of human social behaviour to any particular gene or set of genes,’ observes the geneticist Richard Lewontin. ‘Thus all statements about the genetic basis of human social traits are purely speculative.’” (Kindle Loc. 2918-19)
Le Fanu points out that certain aspects of evolutionary theory which are supposed to be based only in scientific materialism are in fact based in the beliefs and speculations of certain scientists who have committed themselves to atheistic materials and so who cannot allow certain observations about the non-material forces impacted not only humans but all species on this planet.
Finally Le Fanu challenges some of the basic assumptions of Darwin based on observations of humanity and even of other species.
“‘All nature is at war, one organism with another,’ claimed Darwin – but it is not so, for the most striking feature of the natural world is not the competitive struggle for existence, but its antithesis – cooperation.” (Kindle Loc. 4282-83)
Thus for Le Fanu, evolutionary theory which assumes scientific materialism cannot fully deal with the the universe that we know and in particular with our own experience as humans with one another and with the planet as a whole.