January 30, 2009


Mind over Matter: a review of Why Us?, by James Le Fanu (Christopher Booker, 1/30/09, The Spectator)

As a medical doctor, Le Fanu argues that what we have been seeing here is the culmination of a process which has for so long driven our attempts to explain who we are and how we came to be on this earth in purely material terms. The watershed moment in this story was the publication, in 1859, of The Origin of Species, in which Charles Darwin laid out his thesis that the evolution of life could be explained solely by the process of natural selection, whereby an infinite series of minute variations gradually turned one form of life into another.

The greatest stumbling block to this argument was that evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested — the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds.

As even Darwin himself acknowledged, these jumps in the story might have seemed to render his thesis ‘absurd’. He might therefore have hypothesised that some other critically important factor seemed to be at work, some ‘organising power’ which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place. But so possessed was he by the elegant simplicity of his theory that, waving such thoughts aside, he made a leap of faith that it must be right, regardless of the evidence — and in the increasingly materialistic mid-19th century, his thesis was an idea whose time had come. Thus has his belief that life evolved solely through a material process continued to possess the minds of scientists to this day.

What is psychologically fascinating about the mindset of the Darwinians is their inability to recognise just how much they do not know. As Le Fanu observes in a comment which might have served as an epigraph to his book, ‘the greatest obstacle to scientific progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge’. Blinkered in their vision, armoured in the certainty that they have all the answers when they so obviously don’t, neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rest their beliefs just as much on an unscientific leap of faith as the ‘Creationists’ they so fanatically affect to despise.

But the significance of what has happened in recent years, Le Fanu suggests, is that it has shown us where this fatally limited vision has led us to.

One of the biggest problems lies in the specialization of the sciences, which meant that Darwinists could go on believing in Nature long after
Physics had disproved it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 30, 2009 7:38 AM
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