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Whitewashing Evolution with Borrowed Paint

Photo credit: Herrmann Stamm, via Unsplash.

“Get your own dirt” is the punchline of an oft-told joke about a team of scientists dismissing God, saying they can now create a man without his help. When they reach for a handful of dirt as their starting material, God gives the punch line. The point is that materialists cannot utilize what they don’t have. Their dilemma recalls the opening line in one of Carl Sagan’s first Cosmos episodes: “To bake an apple pie from scratch, one must begin by inventing the universe.” If nature is all there is, a Darwin pie cannot be baked with intelligently designed ingredients. 

Perceptive readers of materialistic writings must be watchful of the starting assumptions. Look in the toolkit: do the materialists own all the explanatory tools they try to employ? If not, they are invoking miracles or plagiarizing from others. C. S. Lewis amused himself with those who proved there are no proofs or thought about thinking that the mind is an illusion. Similarly, Michael Egnor unmasked a self-contradictory notion in an article that claimed free will is “your brain tricking itself.”

Perhaps most egregiously, denial of free will is self-refuting. If our decisions are wholly determined by neurochemistry, then our decisions have no claim to truth, because chemical reactions have no truth-value. One chemical reaction is no “truer” than another. The declaration that opinions are mere chemical reactions is really the denial of the relevance of the opinion expressed. To deny free will is to deny the relevance of one’s own assertion. [Emphasis added.]

Nancy Pearcey has also unmasked this logical fallacy among Darwinians. 

No Paint in the Barn

To the public, Darwinism has the ruthless look of “nature red in tooth and claw” and “survival of the fittest.” The old Darwin fence has been tottering of late with attacks from inside the guild, too, from those complaining that natural selection has fundamental flaws. Some Darwinists occasionally try to improve the look of their rotting fence with a new coat of whitewash, making it look bright, fresh, and solid. What’s the punch line? Right: “Get your own paint.”

A dozen prominent scientific materialists borrowed some whitewash recently. To make Darwinism look useful in a time of crisis, they wrote in PNAS, “The pandemic exposes human nature: 10 evolutionary insights.” A theory with ten insights can’t be that bad, can it? The authors, who include evolution popularizer David Sloan Wilson, atheist Sam Harris, materialist ethicist Steven Pinker and others, tag on a Scientific Agenda to each Insight: practical steps that researchers and COVID response teams can use for public health. It’s a very clever sales pitch for Darwin, launched with their flagship Dobzhansky quote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Humans and viruses have been coevolving for millennia. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19) has been particularly successful in evading our evolved defenses. The outcome has been tragic — across the globe, millions have been sickened and hundreds of thousands have died. Moreover, the quarantine has radically changed the structure of our lives, with devastating social and economic consequences that are likely to unfold for years. An evolutionary perspective can help us understand the progression and consequences of the pandemic. Here, a diverse group of scientists, with expertise from evolutionary medicine to cultural evolution, provide insights about the pandemic and its aftermath. At the most granular level, we consider how viruses might affect social behavior, and how quarantine, ironically, could make us susceptible to other maladies, due to a lack of microbial exposure. At the psychological level, we describe the ways in which the pandemic can affect mating behavior, cooperation (or the lack thereof), and gender norms, and how we can use disgust to better activate native “behavioral immunity” to combat disease spread. At the cultural level, we describe shifting cultural norms and how we might harness them to better combat disease and the negative social consequences of the pandemic. These insights can be used to craft solutions to problems produced by the pandemic and to lay the groundwork for a scientific agenda to capture and understand what has become, in effect, a worldwide social experiment.

Never let a good crisis go to waste. But are they pilfering others’ white paint? They speak about understanding the disease, fighting the disease, and crafting solutions. They speak of a “scientific agenda” for taking control of the disease. How did those things evolve? If this is a “worldwide social experiment” in co-evolution, then let “natural” selection do its thing. It won’t need the help of thoughtful minds intentionally exercising knowledge, foresight, planning, intelligent design, and — least of all — compassion. Let the combatants have at it. May the fittest win. 

Sampling the Insights

Space does not allow analysis of all the alleged insights, but a sample or two will suffice to illustrate the flawed logic. To make any assertion of what human beings “should” do, they must reach outside their own toolkit for resources only non-materialists can provide. Here are the ten insights in their list:

  1. The Virus Might Alter Host Sociability
  2. “Generation Quarantine” May Lack Critical Microbial Exposures
  3. Activating Disgust Can Help Combat Disease Spread
  4. The Mating Landscape Is Changing, and There Will Be Economic Consequences from a Decrease in Birth Rates
  5. Gender Norms Are Backsliding, and Gender Inequality Is Increasing
  6. An Increase in Empathy and Compassion Is Not Guaranteed
  7. We Have Not Evolved to Seek the Truth.
  8. Combating the Pandemic Requires Its Own Evolutionary Process
  9. Cultural Evolutionary Forces Impact COVID-19 Severity
  10. Human Progress Continues

Wait! So, in Insight #7 they admit they have not evolved to seek the truth! That blows their credibility totally. Where did they get that value? Answer: they plagiarized it from worldviews that value truth as a moral good. Caught in the act!

The Darwin fence looks nice and white now, standing straight and gleaming in the sun. But the paint was stolen.

“Activating Disgust”

Insight #3 is interesting, “Activating Disgust Can Help Combat Disease Spread.” They argue that the disgust response is an evolved reflex that keeps us from approaching things that will make us sick. It may be an instinctual response; perhaps it was designed for our good. But if it is an evolved response, why do we need “messaging” to activate it? That’s like holding a sign up to a ball, reminding it to roll downhill. Look at their “Scientific Agenda” for this insight:

Compare efficacy of disgust-eliciting messaging versus non−disgust-eliciting messaging on public health behaviors, such as handwashing, wearing masks, and maintaining safe distances. Gauge public opinion on the acceptability of using disgust-eliciting messaging directed at children versus adults.

With this advice, they have stepped out of their evolved skin and become thinking, rational beings pretending to have compassion. Those items are not found in Darwin’s toolkit. Surprising that all these recommendations came from health professionals months ago without the help of evolutionists.

What do they say about Human Progress in Insight #10? They first repudiate Herbert Spencer’s conception of progress as “a mystical evolutionary force that propels us ever upward.” What is it, then? 

On the contrary, the forces of nature tend to grind us down, including the inexorable increase in physical disorder and the evolutionary conflicts between parasites and hosts, predators and prey, and conspecifics and one another. It’s only the application of hard-won knowledge that allows us to eke out local and provisional advances against the constant challenges to our well-being.

Among these challenges are outbreaks of infectious disease. Bouts of outbreak over millennia were the selective pressure that led to the evolution of our innate, adaptive, and behavioral immune systems.

Yet it was our cognitive adaptations that led to the recent conquest of the infectious diseases that felled our ancestors in great numbers. They allowed us to discover vaccination, sanitation, antisepsis, antibiotics, antivirals, and other advances in public health and medicine that have dramatically extended life expectancy.

So it should come as no surprise, and is no refutation of the fact or the possibility of progress, that another infectious pathogen has launched an offensive against us; that is in the very nature of life. Yet the biology of Homo sapiens gives us good reasons to expect that the disease will be subdued in its turn — not as an inevitable step in some march of progress, but if (and only if) we redouble the commitment, which human evolution enables but does not guarantee, to the development and application of scientific knowledge to improve human well-being.

Several Stolen Goods 

By now, readers have identified several stolen goods these materialists have employed to whitewash the Darwin fence. If they were consistent, they would let nature take its course. Humans are stuck in “human nature” that has evolved. From what toolkit of resources would they “redouble the commitment” to develop and apply scientific knowledge? From what realm of values would they wish to improve human well-being? Who cares? Who is even watching this “global social experiment” from the grandstands? 

Peppered through their article are noticeable appeals to politically correct values (increasing gender equality, overcoming stereotypes, income redistribution, etc.). They cannot get out of their skin, let alone their minds. It’s quite amazing that so few scientific materialists recognize the logical flaw that refutes their own propositions.

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound — a proof that there are no such things as proofs. 

C. S. Lewis, Miracles

Materialism is a parasite on theism.