Written by Felipe Aizpún Viñes, OIACDI; 2010, ISBN 10-1452800790; Review by Carlos Javier Alonso, University of Navarra, Spain (see original review in Spanish at OIACDI); Translation by Robert Deyes
Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional (Evolution and rational thought) presents a thoroughly comprehensive analysis of both the arguments in favor and against evolution and demonstrates the author’s deep understanding of scientific literature published over the last few decades on the subjects of life’s origins and the evolution of man. This timely volume deals with the subject matter in extraordinary depth through its coverage of both classical and contemporary viewpoints from the various schools of evolutionary thought. The 622-page text of Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional is divided up into 21 chapters that systematically unpack the following topics: Darwinism, Evolution: fact or theory, materialist prejudices, creationism, fundamentalism, rational thought, science and philosophy, routes of reason, shortcomings of the scientific method, the ‘new biology’, intelligent design, evolution and creation and the philosophy of life.
Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional stands out as a resource that brings together the core elements of the topics it covers and thus provides an avenue for readers to assess the current state of debate. In this regard Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional can be seen as the ‘evolution bible’. Rather than giving the impression of a rapidly assembled collection of facts put together for the sole purpose of disseminating information, the book bears all the hallmarks of a well thought out literary masterpiece. Most notable is the rich collection of arguments through which each of the evolutionary hypotheses are expounded and systematically considered. And yet Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional is not exclusively directed towards specialist readers. On the contrary. In my assessment, it is easily accessible to those who have a basic training in philosophy and science and a firm grasp of the multi-faceted problems surrounding evolutionary reasoning.
Understood in a purely biological context, evolution is not a fact in itself but rather an interpretation of the facts as we find them. To be sure, no scientific specialty can claim to faithfully reconstruct what happened hundreds of thousands let alone millions of years ago. The relevant disciplines only allow us to make conjectures or presumptions regarding the journey that evolution has taken. It therefore follows that evolution carries with it an inherent (not necessarily false) bias and constitutes a hypothesis lacking the empirical support so necessary to establish it as a scientific theory.
Criticisms of the Darwinist paradigm and its neo-Darwinist reformulation are sufficiently convincing, not easily refutable and solidly rigorous. As Felipe Aizpún shows, Darwin’s lack of understanding of genetics prevented him from drawing up a mechanism through which evolution could run its course. But the neo-Darwinist revision fares no better. The proposed combination of favorable random mutations preserved by natural selection falls short in every aspect.
The author compellingly asserts that the chance assessment of events exists nowhere other that in the minds eye. There are numerous causal factors that can affect the outcomes of natural processes and there is no way to predict which factors will act to produce a given outcome. The complexity of nature makes such predictions very difficult if not impossible given that causal factors that act in one instance might be absent in others. An appeal to ‘chance’ is an appeal made from ignorance of what causal factors are at play in the manifestation of a reality that we observe. Only in relation to a partial cause can we talk about chance. For these reasons the Darwinian paradigm, defined in Kuhnian terms, is one that is rife with anomalies and thereby one that is on the verge of a revolutionary crisis. While the alternative offered by Professor Maximo Sandin and biologist Lynn Margulis amongst others still carries with it significant gaps in understanding and points of contention (these are discussed with noteworthy precision and clarity in chapters 17 and 18) it could still unseat the official paradigm in the short term not only because of its more coherent consideration of the facts but also because the causal factors it invokes better explain the phenomenon of evolution.
Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional supplies an accurate analysis of scientific naturalism which at its core reduces all understanding to that which is experimentally demonstrable. Scientific naturalism is a theory that states that only experimental science can provide a valid understanding of reality and that scientific investigation alone meets the needs of human intelligence. In accordance with this doctrine there has been a pinning down that unjustifiably restricts all human understanding to the confines of science. Nevertheless we cannot lose sight of the fact that science is not the only system available to us for acquiring knowledge. Undoubtedly a large part of what we know and what we have achieved has come to us from sources outside the scientific enterprise. The avenues along which man can understand reality are many. Beyond genetic inheritance, traditions and personal experience as well as art, crafts, religion, poetry and philosophy can provide a basis for understanding diverse aspects of our experience. While scientism claims that knowledge of our world is limited to that which is obtainable through experimental science, reducing all objectivity to that which is experimentally acquired blinds us to the fact that the scientific/natural picture is only one branch of the total human experience.
Another matter deserves our attention- the criticism (in my opinion questionable) of Tomist metaphysics and of the evidential force of his five arguments for the existence of God. According to the author such arguments imply the possibility of demonstrating the existence of God deductively. The author displays a partiality towards inferring the existence of God in probabilistic terms in accordance with the abductive line of reasoning put forward by Charles Sanders Pierce. A consideration of God’s existence through probability rather than certainty, the latter being in accordance with a deductive mode of reasoning, has important ramifications. For example, a discourse on the foundations of morality on God would only fit into the religious context of revelation and would require from us additional efforts if we were to find an exclusively rational explanation, understood as an unavoidable commitment to action that could elude the subjectivist and relativist trap to which we would be destined.
Regarding this point the author reveals himself to be a partial doubter of the Kantian epistemology and criticism of the Tomist arguments. In his view, the Kantian criticism is made up of two parts that need to be differentiated. On the one hand we are to reflect on the fact that the deductive process for a cosmological argument is inconsistent given that it assumes an identification of the ideal concept of the necessary being with the being of realism even though such a connection is not rationally admissible. On the other hand, Kant concludes equivocally, taken by an arbitrary epistemological limitation, that transcendent ideas are inaccessible to reason. Although accurate the Kantian criticism of the Tomist approach, notes the author, the idea that God is not foreign to our rational state and the Kantian conclusion of unknowability, does not necessarily follow. What needs to be defined is an adequate method of reasoning that takes us to a primary cause and its connection with sensible knowledge.
One has to specifically acknowledge that there is something that is simply erroneous in the statement that knowledge exists exclusively as a function of sensible knowledge. Such a stance implies a rejection of formal abstraction and the separation of diverse aspects of being such as the modes of cognitive access and reality. To negate such an abstraction and separation is to obstruct the pathway towards God, given that we will not be able to access the being of those creatures.
Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional falls firmly within the paradigm of Intelligent Design. Seen from our vantage point, the design inference that comes from the study of living creatures is a completely logical one (one has to be blind not to see this); this is the inference that the latest theories- both theistic and more recently those of intelligent design- have put forward both in philosophical and scientific circles; such theories have generated much animosity amongst Darwinists, with their fundamental assumption of natural selection acting on random mutations. In any case, one has to recognize that all theories categorized under the ID umbrella play on two fields: that which argues strictly on scientific grounds (the work of Behe and Dembski concerning irreducible complexity and specified complexity in addition to their critique of the neodarwinist explanation, are paradigmatic examples of this) and also that which argues on philosophical grounds since they postulate the existence of a Designer, as the causal agent that is necessary for the design. Within this perspective, ID theories do not fit strictly into the experimental scientific method and can therefore be considered as non-scientific. Nevertheless this does not mean that they are false since reality is not confined to that which we can observe through experimental science. Rather it means that these theories are at the same time both scientific and philosophical in nature.
In view of these points, Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional is a must-read for those wishing to remain up to date with contemporary evolutionary theories and the arguments that support them.
Dr. Carlos Javier Alonso obtained his PhD in philosophy from the University of Navarra in Spain. He also holds a degree in hispanic philology from the University of Leon and is an associate professor at the Instituto de Educacion Secundaria Ordoño II in León. He is the author of several books on science including El Evolucionismo y Otros Mitos: La Crisis del Paradigma Darwinista (transl. Evolutionism And Other Myths: The Crisis Of The Darwinist Paradigm)