Ulrich Kutschera is a German biologist and Darwin scholar who has reached the conclusion that Darwin's 1859 treatise conveys a "philosophical imperative". By this is meant the strict separation of "scientific fact and theories from religious dogmas". Kutschera rejects the claims of some that "evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible". From an ID perspective, Kutschera's essay warrants a critical analysis because there are points of agreement and major areas of disagreement.
Sailing along with Darwin - Ulrich Kutschera is third from the right (Credit: N. Spencer, source here).
Let us start with the central claim that Darwin "strictly" separated scientific facts and theorising from religion. It is fair to say this was his stated approach - but did he achieve it? Darwin presented himself as working in the Baconian tradition, but how did he implement induction? In his writings, he makes frequent references to the religious concept of creation. Characteristic of his reasoning is that a Creator could not be responsible for the world portrayed in On the Origin of Species. Repeatedly, theological reasons are provided to support Darwin's conclusion. ID authors have drawn attention to this style of argument: notably Nelson (1998) and Hunter (2001).
Once it is acknowledged that theological arguments can be used in scientific discourse to reject design and advance evolution, then it follows that responses to these arguments which affirm design are also, in principle, legitimate within science. This is not, of course, what Kutschera and his colleagues want. Significantly, Darwin advocates never interact with ID authors about these matters.
Continuing with the core theme of Kutschera's paper, Darwin's metaphysical stance is described as philosophical naturalism. This means that only natural causes are admitted within science (although exceptions are permitted for archaeological science and forensic science where evidences of intelligent design are always of great interest). ID advocates have generally agreed with Kutschera regarding Darwin's philosophical naturalism, but not with the way he has reached this conclusion.
Kutschera presents the young Darwin as someone accepting the 'natural theology' of William Paley, but who gradually lost his Bible-based beliefs. This interpretation of events can only be followed if Darwin's autobiographical writings are regarded as authoritative. However, this leads to an approach to Darwin studies that is short on critical appraisal. This is significant because numerous statements made by Darwin appear to some of us as either inconsistent or incoherent. An example would be Darwin's explanation of his use of the word "Creator" in the last paragraph of the Origin - discussed below.
Without going into detail, an alternative interpretation of Darwin's spiritual pilgrimage is as follows. Darwin learned his naturalistic philosophy from his father and grandfather. It was reinforced during his time at Edinburgh University. However, he was forced to question these beliefs at Cambridge, where he was deeply influenced by Christians (notably John Stevens Henslow and Adam Sedgwick) and then on the Beagle (Robert FitzRoy). However, it was Charles Lyell, through his writings on geology, who had a more profound ideological impact and Darwin emerged from his travels fully signed up as an advocate of philosophical naturalism.
Another area where Darwin enthusiasts promote their own reading of history is the furor theologicus, highlighted in the title of Kutschera's article. The fury of theologians is supposed to have been poured on poor Darwin's head, making him insert the 'unscientific' word "Creator" in the last paragraph of the Origin. Darwin's 1863 letter to Hooker is quoted to reveal an author who had "long regretted" truckling to public opinion. What Kutschera does not discuss is why Darwin retained the offending words in every subsequent edition of his book. Also, Kutschera does not interact with Van Wyhe's (2007) paper on why Darwin did not publish the Origin before 1859. He shows (convincingly) that Darwin was not in the least troubled by being out of step with theologians or the public. His concern was to gain acceptance of his theory among his peers.
"[N]o unambiguous evidence has been found that Darwin was particularly concerned about a hostile reception. In fact, all of the evidence that does exist points to other forms of expected objections, gaps in the theory or its evidence for example. None of Darwin's written considerations of difficulties suggests an unwillingness or even a reluctance to go public." (Van Wyhe, 2007, p.184-5)
Darwin's ideas received far more criticism from fellow scientists than from theologians. What Kutschera totally fails to acknowledge is this scientific opposition to Darwinism. The furor theologicus is mentioned several times but never documented. The result is a distortion of history.
Kutschera views Darwinism through a filter of positivist philosophy. There is no recognition that Darwin adopted a theoretical framework of uniformitarianism and naturalism with which he interpreted the data. He claimed to be an inductive thinker, but demonstrated deduction. Nevertheless, Kutschera writes:
"[T]he attempt to depict evolution, labelled as "Darwinism", as though it were a political or religious ideology, [. . .] is a misrepresentation of the way scientists work and think. Evolutionary biology is a non-dogmatic system of modifiable theories that is based exclusively on empirical facts and data."
The real problem in this paper is not that it presents an air-brushed Darwin, but that it appears in a journal designed to be read by teachers and students. What is the message getting through to schools and colleges? Instead of help in developing a critical analysis of the issues, young people are fed with propaganda. These students ought to be assessing the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of Darwinism. They ought to be evaluating the effectiveness of the theory to explain empirical facts and data. Instead, it looks as though anyone seeking to apply critical thinking skills to Darwinism will be regarded as guilty of subverting science!
Darwin's Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus
Evolution: Education and Outreach, (December 2009) 2(4), 688-694 | DOI 10.1007/s12052-009-0166-8
Abstract: In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled "An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection" to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to "the Creator" is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase "by the Creator" in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means "appeared by some wholly unknown process." In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his "warm little pond hypothesis" in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin's "philosophical imperative") and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.
Van Wyhe, J., 2007, Mind The Gap: Did Darwin Avoid Publishing His Theory For Many Years? Notes & Records of the Royal Society, 61, 177-205 | doi:10.1098/rsnr.2006.0171
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