Saturday, October 9, 2010

Criticism of Butler Criticizing Darwin

In Lecture, Professor Ogden pointed out from Butler’s writing that “[t]he development of the steam-engine and the microscope is due to intelligence and design.” The logic behind this statement, Butler explains is that “the man who made the first kettle did not forsee the engines of the Great Eastern, or that he who first noted the magnifying power of the dew-drop had no conception of our present microscopes – the very limited amount, in fact, of design and intelligence that was called into play at any one point – this does not make us deny that the steam-engine and microscope owe their development to design.” In this context, Butler’s opinions are clear in that he doesn’t accept Darwin’s argument of pure chance and happy accidents, but that at each point of mutation, some degree of intention was required despite the fact that the end product may not be conceivable anywhere in mind.

I do not wish to disagree with Butler; on this point, I find his argument quite strong and convincing, not to mention logically sound and irrefutable. However, in regards to Darwinism, I do wish to explore or at the very least point out that even Butler acknowledges that in order for the first steam engine to be developed (by way of “intelligence and design”), there was first the man who made the kettle. While this is a metaphor used to point out Butler’s arguments, if he does not show me where the kettle came from (except that it was invented by man), I am unable to take the rest of his arguments on Darwinism as holistically intact. I understand his reasoning, and furthermore, I enjoy it – I find it very enlightening to refute Darwin’s Origins on its own terms. And in Butler-esque fashion, I would like to do the same thing to him.

Butler clearly makes his argument that there is “far too much evidence of design in animal organisation to allow of our setting down its marvels to the accumulations of fortunate accident, undirected by will, effort and intelligence.” I agree. Just as the steam engine was not fully conceptualized until the dawn of its invention, and neither did it invent itself, nor so did the human species – as we know it today – come into being. Archaeological evidence testifies to this; Olduvai Gorge as the “Cradle of Mankind” is renowned for having been the site of the first discovery of homo habilis remains. While it is debated as to whether or not the fossils found in this East African Gorge are direct ancestors of our present day genus, it is still evidence as to how species have evolved throughout time. Dating back to the Pleistocene era, homo habilis had less distinctive facial features, were shorter and had a smaller cranial size and their appendages were disproportionate to their body size (long arms). Tracing these attributes through Homo Erectus and then Homo Sapiens, this logic of the teapot to steam engine is made divinely simply.

But the answer to the age-old question – where did we come from – remains.

Butler takes sweeping advantage of the givens that Darwin has established, most importantly in this case, that things exist. Butler has taken up the theory of evolution in mid-span, given his critique (and in his opinion, improvement) of the argument and then dropped it. Yes it makes sense that human beings evolved. But something imperative is missing and that is, where did we evolve from? Yes the steam engine is a direct descendent of the tea kettle, but where did the tea kettle come from? These are aspects that Butler has not addressed, and debates that from his side of the room remain silent.

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