What Darwin Claimed

Thoughts from Steven: Darwin and Gravity

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In the last post, I talked about Newton’s law of gravity and action at a distance. The latter idea met with some resistance when it was first described because it did not have an explanation. While the mathematical equation worked, the concept behind it (action at a distance) had no explanation.

As was also mentioned last time, Darwin cited the eventual acceptance of action at a distance as a reason why people should accept some of his ideas. Here is a quote from Darwin: “Why is thought being a secretion of brain more wonderful than gravity a property of matter?”i Basically, what Darwin is saying is, if people were able to accept that gravity is just simply something that exists, would not people be able to accept the idea that conscience thought is also a property of matter or at least a manifestation of matter?

For starters, there are a number of things different between the acceptance of gravity and the acceptance of thought as natural phenomena. For one, Newton had created mathematical descriptions of gravity. While the idea of action at a distance was unusual and unexplained, it was accepted largely because the math worked. Darwin did not produce an equivalent equation for the secretion of thought from pure brain functions. In fact, I do not know of a single equation related to the theory of evolution, except for x2 + y2 = 1, which is used in the description of population genetics. Technically, population genetics does not have to relate to evolution: it can just as easily apply to variation within a kind, so even then, I do not know of any uniquely evolutionary equations. Perhaps we should not accept that thought is a result of mere brain functions because there is no corresponding demonstration that such an idea works.

The second difference between gravity and human thought is that the former describes physical phenomena while the latter describes the supernatural human activity. No one doubts that gravity, or any description of things falling or the planets orbiting the sun, is a physical phenomena. Even in Newton’s time, these things were described as mere mechanisms. The explanation was different but it was still a natural phenomena. For example, one explanation of why things fell was that the earth is the natural state of heavy objects, therefore heavy objects fall to the ground to achieve their natural state. It is an incorrect explanation, but there is no appeal to a supernatural agent. Thought, on the other hand, is often ascribed to supernatural activity. Now, that claim might seem outlandish, so let me explain.

Whether they admit it or not, everyone accepts that their thoughts are something more than the natural expression of matter. If a person’s thoughts arise from the interaction of neurons in the brain, which in turn a mere amalgamation of complex organic molecules, which in turn are simply made up of atoms, then those thoughts are as natural as gravity. The person did not have the thought so much as the thought happened in the person. For whatever reason, the chemicals were right to manifest a given thought at a given time in a given person. In order words, a person is not responsible for their own thoughts. Yet, every treats their thoughts as their own. They seek patents for new inventions, put copyrights on published works, and argue about who thought of an idea first. All of that is moot if thoughts are merely natural phenomena. The fact that people treat thoughts as something special demonstrates the fact that they actually think it is something more than simple nature. If it is something other than nature, it is above or beyond natural laws, and is hence supernatural.

By claiming that thought is a secretion of the brain, Darwin claimed that thoughts are as natural as gravity and follow some physical laws as naturally as gravity. Making such a claim contradicts Darwin’s own behavior since he was pressured to publish On the Origin of Species because another naturalist, Alfred Wallace, had independently come up with the theory of evolution. Darwin wanted to get his book out before Wallace published too much of his research so that he could claim the idea as his own. Why do that if thoughts are just a secretion of brains and a brain is just a secretion of natural processes? This is the biggest problem with Darwin’s comparison of his ideas of thought with gravity: his ideas contradicted his own behavior. It showed that he either was not aware of or cared to see the full extent of his ideas.

To a creationist, Darwin was not simply contradictory, he was wrong because we know from scripture that God created man in His image. We know that man was created with the capacity to choose, with the capacity for thought independent from natural laws. That knowledge helps us distinguish between gravity and Darwin’s ideas of thought. To someone who does not use God’s Word as a standard, it would be easy to assume that all phenomena are due to natural laws and Darwin’s statement would hold much merit. This is why it is necessary to examine the roots of science and the roots of knowledge because if one accepts that the discovery of the natural world is science and science explain everything, then that person would think that something like human thoughts must have a natural root, just like gravity does. Only an examination of foundations of science can cause a person to question those assumptions.

iDolnick, Edward (2011) The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, HarperCollins, New York, New York, pg. 302

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