Sunday, 20 July 2008
Evolution and the Decadence of the West
Many philosophers doubt Darwinian evolution.
Many Darwinists assume that critics of evolution are mostly motivated by religion. They also suppose that creationism and intelligent design are American phenomena that have only recently set foot in Europe.
However, reality is much more complicated. William Thomson (1824-1907), who is better known as Lord Kelvin and for his many inventions, was an Irish-born mathematician and engineer who fiercely resisted the theory of evolution popularised by Charles Darwin.
Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) was a German historian and philosopher who is known for his book Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1919). Recently, I found its English translation The Decline of the West in a small flea market in Manhattan. Spengler discusses western cultural trends in the book. He had some interesting thoughts about evolution.
Spengler was not very impressed with Darwinian evolution. He suggested that paleontology refuted Darwinism. The fossil record did not contain the transitional forms Darwin desperately needed. “Instead of this [i.e. transitional forms] we find perfectly stable and unaltered forms persevering through long ages, forms that have not developed themselves on the fitness principle, but appear suddenly and at once in their definitive shape; that do not thereafter evolve towards better adaptation, but become rarer and finally disappear, while quite different forms crop up again.” (quote from page 231; italics in original)
Almost a hundred years later, there is nothing really new under the sun: no one has found credible transitional forms and even many of the examples that in Spengler’s days were thought to provide evidence for evolution have lost their credibility.
Even some more recent finds, such as Lucy or Australopithecus afarensis and Tiktaalik roseae, are highly questionable.
Evolution was popularised at a time when people had a very optimistic view of the future. Great Britain had an empire on which “the sun never set” and many revolutionary inventions promised a wonderful future for mankind.
But then the unsinkable Titanic sank and two bullets fired in Sarajevo ushered in World War I. Pessimism set in.
Although the title of Spengler’s book refers more to decline than decadence, the Spanish translation of the book, La decadencia de occidente, also includes the word “decadence” (decadencia). The association is not as far-fetched as one might suppose. Darwinism became an ideology that inspired Karl Marx (1818- 1883) to write about a socialist utopia and probably also Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) to declare the death of God. When man was no longer thought to be responsible to God, Australian imperial lords were free to hunt down aboriginals for scientific purposes and German scientists could experiment with people whom they regarded as less evolved than the “pure-bred” Aryans.
Spengler was not the only philosopher to doubt Darwinian evolution. In our time, Antony Flew and David Berlinski take an extremely skeptical view of Darwin’s idea. And they are not the only ones.
Alvin Plantinga, for instance, also rejects orthodox Darwinism, believing that God was necessary in the creation process.
Spengler, Oswald. 1962. The Decline of the West. Edited by Helmut Werner, translated by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.