July 21, 2006


Evolution and Me: ‘The Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather
than an enabler of scientific advance’ (George Gilder, July 17, 2006, National Review)

I first became conscious that something was awry in Darwinian science some 40 years ago as I was writing my early critique of sexual liberation, Sexual Suicide (revised and republished as Men and Marriage). At the time, the publishing world was awash with such titles as Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo and Robert Ardrey’s African Genesis, which touted or pruriently probed the animality of human beings. Particularly impressive to me was The Imperial Animal, a Darwinian scholarly work by two anthropologists aptly named Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox that gave my theory of sex roles a panoply of primatological support, largely based on the behavior of patriarchal hamadryas baboons.

Darwinism seemed to offer me and its other male devotees a long-sought tool — resembling the x-ray glasses lamentably found elsewhere only in cartoons — for stripping away the distracting décor of clothing and the political underwear of ideology worn by feminists and other young women of the day. Using this swashbuckling scheme of fitness and survival, nature “red in tooth and claw,” we could reveal our ideological nemeses as naked mammals on the savannah to be ruled and protected by hunting parties of macho males, rather like us.

In actually writing and researching Sexual Suicide, however, I was alarmed to discover that both sides could play the game of telling just-so stories. In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan showed humans undulating from the tides as amphibious apes mostly led by females. Jane Goodall croodled about the friendliness of “our closest relatives,” the chimpanzees, and movement feminists flogged research citing the bonobo and other apes as chiefly matriarchal and frequently homosexual.

These evolutionary sex wars were mostly unresolvable because, at its root, Darwinian theory is tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives. While such tautologies ensure the consistency of any arguments based on them, they could contribute little to an analysis of what patterns of behavior and what ideals and aspirations were conducive to a good and productive society. Almost by definition, Darwinism is a materialist theory that banishes aspirations and ideals from the picture. As an all-purpose tool of reductionism that said that whatever survives is, in some way, normative, Darwinism could inspire almost any modern movement, from the eugenic furies of Nazism to the feminist crusades of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. [...]

Based as it is on ideas, a computer is intrinsically an object of intelligent design. Every silicon chip holds as many as 700 layers of implanted chemicals in patterns defined with nanometer precision and then is integrated with scores of other chips by an elaborately patterned architecture of wires and switches all governed by layers of software programming written by human beings. Equally planned and programmed are all the computers running the models of evolution and “artificial life” that are central to neo-Darwinian research. Everywhere on the apparatus and in the “genetic algorithms” appear the scientist’s fingerprints: the “fitness functions” and “target sequences.” These algorithms prove what they aim to refute: the need for intelligence and teleology (targets) in any creative process.

I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer’s materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations. In the usual hierarchy of causation, they reflect the software or “source code” used to program the device; and, like the design of the computer itself, the software is contrived by human intelligence.

The failure of purely physical theories to describe or explain information reflects Shannon’s concept of entropy and his measure of “news.” Information is defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined, it is predictable and thus by definition not information. Yet Darwinian science seemed to be reducing all nature to material causes.

As I pondered this materialist superstition, it became increasingly clear to me that in all the sciences I studied, information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around. The pattern seemed to echo some familiar wisdom. Could it be, I asked myself one day in astonishment, that the opening of St. John’s Gospel, In the beginning was the Word, is a central dogma of modern science?

In raising this question I was not affirming a religious stance. At the time it first occurred to me, I was still a mostly secular intellectual. But after some 35 years of writing and study in science and technology, I can now affirm the principle empirically. Salient in virtually every technical field — from quantum theory and molecular biology to computer science and economics — is an increasing concern with the word. It passes by many names: logos, logic, bits, bytes, mathematics, software, knowledge, syntax, semantics, code, plan, program, design, algorithm, as well as the ubiquitous “information.” In every case, the information is independent of its physical embodiment or carrier. [...]

Darwin’s critics are sometimes accused of confusing methodological materialism with philosophical materialism, but this is in fact a characteristic error of Darwin’s advocates. Multiverse theory itself is based on a methodological device invented by Richard Feynman, one that “reifies” math and sees it as a physical reality. (It’s an instance of what Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”) Feynman proposed the mapping of electron paths by assuming the electron took all possible routes, and then calculating the interference patterns that result among their wave functions. This method was a great success. But despite some dabbling as a youth in many-worlds theory, Feynman in his prime was too shrewd to suggest that the electron actually took all the possible paths, let alone to accept the theory that these paths compounded into entire separate universes.

Under the pressure of nothing buttery, though, scientists attempt to explain the exquisite hierarchies of life and knowledge through the flat workings of physics and chemistry alone. Information theory says this isn’t possible if there’s just one universe, and an earth that existed for only 400 million years before the emergence of cells. But if there are infinite numbers of universes all randomly tossing the dice, absolutely anything is possible. The Peers perform a prestidigitory shuffle of the cosmoses and place themselves, by the “anthropic principle,” in a privileged universe where life prevails on Darwinian terms. The Peers save the random mutations of nothing buttery by rendering all science arbitrary and stochastic.

Science still falls far short of developing satisfactory explanations of many crucial phenomena, such as human consciousness, the Big Bang, the superluminal quantum entanglement of photons across huge distances, even the bioenergetics of the brain of a fly in eluding the swatter. The more we learn about the universe the more wide-open the horizons of mystery. The pretense that Darwinian evolution is a complete theory of life is a huge distraction from the limits and language, the rigor and grandeur, of real scientific discovery. Observes Nobel-laureate physicist Robert Laughlin of Stanford: “The Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance.”

Which is what makes them such boorish monomaniacs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 21, 2006 11:52 AM

Great essay - I really like the computer metaphor - I haven't heard it put so well before. Humans need good metaphors to really understand things, Darwinists have been using metaphor to their advantage for some time now, it's good that some of their critics are striking back with some storytelling of their own rather than just nitpicking at little factoids.

Posted by: Shelton at July 21, 2006 12:27 PM

Not so loud, AOG thinks Darwinism works just like he programs a computer but without any programmer.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 12:35 PM

Been there, thought that. Nice to know that more intellectuals are grappling with information along with matter and energy.

Posted by: Ed Bush at July 21, 2006 1:01 PM

Information is energy.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 21, 2006 2:20 PM

Rather, everything is just information.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 2:40 PM

Mr. Judd;

Not at all. I am curious, though, about how you reconcile Gilder's "hierchical reality" with "there are no levels".


Note that Gilder cites Gödel's Theorem and gets it completely wrong. I wonder if he understands any of the theories he cites.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 21, 2006 3:36 PM

AOG: He also conflates three different physical ideas: 1) Feynman's sum-over-all-paths calculation technique; 2) the many-worlds interpretation in quantum mechanics to explain(?) the collapse(?) of the wave function; and 3) the multiverse theory in cosmology to explain(?) the values of the fundamental constants.

After pointing out the fallacy of reifying mathematical quantities, later in the article he actually discusses the psi (wave) function of the entire universe as a serious concept!

"Is there a floor to stupidity? Or is it just turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down"? (Dafydd ab Hugh)

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2006 4:50 PM

BTW, those who appeal to information theory as the basis of the universe might want to rethink it, since the information stream with the highest informational content is a totally random one.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2006 5:01 PM


Nothing is random.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 5:31 PM

oj: Brownian motion, radioactive decay, electrical noise to name a few.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2006 8:36 PM

Inability to discern the pattern does not randomness make.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 10:29 PM


There are no levels of human behavior. But Man is merely part of a Chain of Being.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2006 10:33 PM

oj: Everyone's inability to discern a pattern does radomness make.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2006 5:13 AM

Oh, I'm sorry, who knew you spoke for everyone....

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2006 7:43 AM

Oh, I'm sorry, who knew you spoke for everyone....

Can you name someone who can discern a pattern in Brownian motion, et al?

If not, then you are unable to contradict jd's assertion of a fact.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 22, 2006 9:33 AM

Mr. Judd;

Operating farther up the hierarchy, biological macro-systems such as brains, minds, human beings, businesses, societies, and economies consist of intelligent agents that harness chemical and physical laws to higher purposes but are not reducible to lower entities or explicable by them.
It appears that Gilder sees all sorts of levels in human behavior. Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 22, 2006 10:23 AM


You comprehensively fail to understand the point because of your terminal self-absorption. Creation doesn't much care whether you can explain it.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2006 9:32 PM


Tut-tut--that's a zero for reading comprehension. No wonder you went into computer science.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2006 9:33 PM

We do what we must to earn our daily bread. But since I am clearly incapable, I leave it for you to explain which of "businesses, societies, and economies" are not human behavior.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 22, 2006 11:39 PM

"human beings..are not reducible to lower entities"

One level.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2006 11:53 PM