Friday, October 28, 2005

A sample from an important work by S. L. Jaki

A note from Dr. Thursday: For some time I have wanted to give you a sample of a major Chestertonian scholar, S. L. Jaki - and today I present an excerpt from his book, The Purpose of It All (pp. 39-42). This work examines the controversies of purpose, evolution, and related matters - just as much in the news (and bloggs) now as it was in GKC's time. Perhaps even more relevant today, as few people seem to know that the "evolution of the horse" has been "quietly downgraded"! This book has just been released in a new edition from Real View Books.

Those mindful of the many books, old and new, whose authors presented evolution as a purposeful process, [From the one by H. Drummond (1894) to the one by J. Bronowski (1973). A variation on that theme is The Ascent of Life (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961) by T. A. Goudge.] could see more than what meets the eye in the title, "Evolution: Explosion, not Ascent," of an essay which Gould published in 1978 in The New York Times. [The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1978, p. E6.] If explosion meant anything it was the very opposite to that gradualism on which Darwin and Darwinists have always set so great a store. Further, Gould's essay contained enough evidence to suggest that his purpose in writing it was to cover up the deeper purposes of the champions of orthodox and synthetic evolutionary theory.

Gradualism or something more
That such purposes or motivations had been at work since Darwin's days, and in fact in Darwin himself, could be gathered from Gould's recall of a letter which T. H. Huxley wrote to Darwin on November 23, 1859, the eve of the publication of the Origin of Species The letter was a classic of contradiction, a point not mentioned by Gould. For if it was true that, as Huxley stated, Darwin had "demonstrated the true cause [natural selection] for the production of species," then it could not also be true that Darwin merely loaded himself "with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly." [F. Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (London: John Murray, 1887), vol. 2, p. 234.. This Latin phrase means "Nature does not make jumps."] The difficulty, represented by a very gradual or practically imperceptible rate of evolution, was a very necessary part of Darwin's theory. It was also its most debilitating part, in addition to being a part most shrewdly contrived for purposes far beyond the legitimate purport of any scientific theory.
Huxley did not suspect that he prophesied something most ominous to emerge in the distant future as he cited his second objection: "It is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variations should occur at all." By 1859 the idea of geological evolution as riddled with major catastrophes had for some time been fallen into disrepute, largely through the work of Lyell, an early supporter of Darwin. Huxley merely noted that the idea of very gradual change was in-compatible with the fossil record. Four generations later Gould could only add that

the fossil record still proclaims it [very gradual change] false, after more than a century of diligent search... Paleontologists have documented virtually no cases of slow and steady transformation, foot by foot up the strata of a hillslope - not for horses, not for humans.[The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1978, p. E6.]

Behind that brief reference to horses lay a long story, which culminated in the early 20th century with the setting up, in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, of a large display of the fossil record of the evolution of the modern horse. For decades it served as the trump evidence of the truth of the Darwinian mechanism of evolution, a mechanism based on the gradual accumulation of minute changes, for a long-term purpose, over very long periods of time. The display was not the first of its kind but the largest, preceded by smaller exhibits, such as the one set up by O. C. Marsh at Yale University in the 1870s. It prompted Lull to introduce, in his book already quoted, the chapter on horses with a minor panegyrics:

The evolution of the horse has for humanity a very deep interest because of the debt of gratitude which man owes to this humble servitor and comrade and because of the fact that, largely through the unwearying efforts of Professor Marsh of Yale University, a collection of fossil horses was there assembled which was to prove the first documentary record of the evolution of a race. This classic collection was studied by Huxley, who pronounced it conclusive evidence in favor of evolution. Darwin was so impressed with its importance that he would have visited it had his health permitted, but he died without having seen such a culminating proof of the theory of evolution.[Lull, Organic Evolution, p. 604.]

The quiet downgrading of that display at Yale did not make the headlines, nor did similar steps at the American Museum of Natural History. Darwinists have always enjoyed a good press. Newspapers, always on the lookout for scandals and ready to unveil frauds, did not find it newsworthy that countless visitors to that display in New York had been kept in the dark for over half a century about an all important deception built into it: The data were presented as a proof of an orthogenetic evolution of horses, which, of course, turned out to be phylogenetic. In respect to size alone, as a grim Darwinist was forced to admit, "horses had now grown taller, now shorter, with the passage of time." [G. Hardin, Nature and Man's Fate (New York: Mentor, 1961), pp. 225-6.] The display found its way into countless textbooks as an illustration of the proof of evolution, although it was a rank manipulation of scientific data. One cannot help therefore suspecting that some murky purposes gave rise to it in the first place and sustained it for over so many decades.


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