Monday, October 27, 2014

Explanatory Inadequacies

Casey Luskin points us to an interesting problem with naturalistic evolutionary explanations of human behavior. The problem is that Darwinian evolutionists seem to be at a loss to explain morality and language. Luskin writes:
Humans do appear hard-wired for morality, but were we programmed by unguided evolutionary processes? Natural selection cannot explain extreme acts of human kindness. Regardless of background or beliefs, upon finding strangers trapped inside a burning vehicle, people will risk their own lives to help them escape -- with no evolutionary benefit to themselves. For example, evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Schloss explains that Holocaust rescuers took great risks that offered no personal biological benefits:
The rescuer's family, extended family and friends were all in jeopardy, and they were recognized to be in jeopardy by the rescuer. Moreover, even if the family escaped death, they often experienced deprivation of food, space and social commerce; extreme emotional distress; and forfeiture of the rescuer's attention.
Francis Collins gives the example of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who risked his life "to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers." As Collins points out, "That's the opposite of saving his genes." Schloss adds other examples of "radically sacrificial" behavior that "reduces reproductive success" and offers no evolutionary benefit, such as voluntary poverty, celibacy, and martyrdom.

In spite of the claims of evolutionary psychologists, many of humanity's most impressive charitable, artistic, and intellectual abilities outstrip the basic requirements of natural selection. If life is simply about survival and reproduction, why do humans compose symphonies, investigate quantum mechanics, and build cathedrals? Natural Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell explained why evolutionary psychology does not adequately predict human behavior:
Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive -- except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed -- except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.
Contrary to Darwinism, the evidence indicates that human life isn't about mere survival and reproduction. But in addition to our moral uniqueness, humans are also distinguished by their use of complex language. As MIT linguist Noam Chomsky observes:
Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world. If this is so, it is quite senseless to raise the problem of explaining the evolution of human language from more primitive systems of communication that appear at lower levels of intellectual capacity. ... There is no reason to suppose that the "gaps" are bridgeable.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has humorously observed that there's no Darwinian explanation for why we should have the intellectual ability to do higher math. The potential ability to do calculus was of no benefit to our primitive ancestors and even today it's only the rare grad student whose reproductive prospects are improved by his ability to solve quadratic equations.

In other words, human intellectual ability must have been latent in the species for millions of years before it ever could have been useful in the struggle for survival, but an ability that serves no useful function will eventually be purged from the genome. It certainly wouldn't be selected for since natural selection only acts upon traits that express themselves to the environment.

Darwinism may ultimately be able to contrive an explanation for phenomena like morality, language, and math aptitude, but it can't do so comfortably. The explanations don't flow smoothly from the theory, a fact which should cause theorists to reflect that perhaps there's something missing in a purely naturalistic, materialistic explanation of the development of the human species.