Providence by Devine or Provenance by Design
Darwin and Shakespeare take a closer look … Will you?
How do we explain the complex structure of the eye?
In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote in his book ‘On the Origin of Species’:
“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances … could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree” (Chapter VI)
Is Darwin agreeing with the Creationists?
This statement, taken from Darwin’s ground-breaking publication of 1859 certainly appears to suggest that even Darwin himself couldn’t accept an evolutionary explanation for the origin of something so complex and complicated as the human eye.
It’s a statement often quoted by fundamentalist creationist christians to counter the scientific explanation of creation by evolution, and to discredit Darwin and Darwinian views.
Creationists use this powerful and potentially-persuasive statement, seemingly supported by the man himself, to invite readers to immediately consider an alternative viewpoint, and to discredit Darwin its original author.
It’s a tactic that I call ‘a shock-starter:
A device used by speakers and writers who wish to ‘grab’ their audience ‘at-the-start’, to get them thinking in a particular way, and to grab an audience’s attention in order develop a theory, an idea, or a dogma.
In 1959 -
exactly 100 years after the publication of Darwin’s book, I had a personal introduction to this ‘shock-starter’ tactic when I was sitting in my very first lecture as a Zoology undergraduate at England’s Manchester University. Our lecturer on that day was Professor H Graham Cannon, Professor of Zoology at Manchester. Cannon was a leading English zoologist and a keen supporter of an earlier theory of evolution named Lamarckism , a theory developed by the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829).
Always supportive of Lamarckism, Professor Cannon used a ‘shock-starter’ introduction in his very first lecture to me and my fellow students. It was my own introduction to the use of this intro-tactic . And how effective it was! Here’s what happened:
On our first day, we new students were seated in the Zoology Lecture Theatre at the end of Manchester University’s ancient quadrangle. Sitting in the steeply sloped lecture hall, we were awaiting the appearance of the great man.
In he came, with black robes flowing, carrying not only his lecture notes, but also a smallish-looking book. He walked up to the lectern and in flamboyant style, he announced the book’s title as ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin, and then threw the book in a dismissive manner, along the surface of the long demonstration bench that fronted the large lecture-room blackboard.
He then went on to introduce his own recently-published books, titled: ‘The Evolution of Living Things’ and ‘Lamarck and Modern Genetics’.
Captured at once. How could we disagree with such an authority?
Fortunately, Cannon’s bias towards Lamarck didn’t overpower a balanced approach to my evolution studies and in due course, I would go on to become senior lecturer with special responsibility for the teaching of Genetics and Evolution at an English College. The ‘Cannon Influence’ from that original shock-starter never left me, and I always introduced the ideas of Lamarck to my students, but only as part of the ‘whole picture’, in which Darwinism was a major player along with other theories and discoveries, both historical and currently developing.
This balanced approach contrasts sharply with that used by creationists, who present their material ‘as-is’ and complete . Like a restaurant with a special menu that’s fixed and can’t be changed …
Served for those who don’t need to think; don’t want to think; and are more-than-happy to eat it all with gusto!
Returning to the Darwin eye-quotation:
I have seen the quotation ‘posted large’ on church notice-boards; re-published in church magazines; and I’ve seen it create happy-enthusiasm among many (unthinking) christians.
This out-of-context quote is like the berry-on-the-cake to those with a determination to uphold their fundamentalist views.
Creationists use it quite blatantly, to get their audience to think in a particular way; perhaps to keep them from ‘thinking’ at all!
Whilst they may be sincere in their belief, the use of this tactic deliberately misleads readers by selectively quoting Charles Darwin. It is cheap, easy — and wrong!
The ‘selective’ quote is in fact Darwin’s intro-statement
the opening sentence of a complete quotation. One that (in its entirety) clearly shows that Darwin designed the intro as a teaser; to enable him to ‘rescue’ it through reasoned argument ; a device often used by many writers, philosophers and others. Indeed, one used even by preachers, to help ‘grab’ an audience with a tantalizing intro … to be developed and clarified later.
It can be ‘fun’ to use. Darwin was using it as ‘fun’; as a teaser; a shock-starter!
Let me explain: — ‘What Darwin actually said’.
The full quote (from ‘On the Origin of Species’) has three distinct elements:
1. The intro sentence (the intended teaser)
Note: this is the only element that fundamentalists choose to quote.
2. A well-known misunderstanding from the past
Used to offer a caution, to show that even ‘common-sense’ can be shallow — and wrong.
3. The argument
Its purpose: to reveal the teaser-quality of the opening sentence by ‘rescuing’ it via reasoned argument, to help fuller understanding.
Here is the Darwin statement — in full:
From: “On The Origin of Species” Chapter VI
Organs of extreme Perfection and Complication.
The actual passage is split into 3 parts to cross-reference the 3 points above
1) To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.
2) When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.
3) Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.
So … there you have it … from its originator … in full.
Fundamentalist christians tend to be non-thinkers. They often mis-quote, or part-quote supposed ‘evidence’ in weak attempts to support their viewpoint. They have closed minds, and as non-thinkers their viewpoint is unlikely to change. They love the certainty of their scriptural writings, and they cannot tolerate any other viewpoint. They are not interested in reasoned argument; often they will offer so-called ‘common-sense’ explanations, knowing that any non-thinking reader will take and accept their simpler and ‘obviously common-sense’ explanation.
They are unable to accepting anything that appears to contradict ‘original’ scripture.
Forgive the pun — but: Is there more to this than meets the eye?
Shakespeare writes, in ‘Hamlet’:
‘What a piece of work is a man! How Noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In Action, how like an Angel in apprehension, how like a God!
The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals — and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’
What a piece of work is man! — this quintessence of dust
What is this quintessence of dust?
What a piece of work is the eye! — this quintessence of dust.
Creationists say (of the eye):
It comes ‘from dust’ (quoting Genesis Ch 2 v7) as a part of whole ‘man’.
‘from numerous gradations … simple to complex’ (Origin of Species Ch VI)
And You? Where Do YOU Stand ?
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
‘What a piece of work is man!’
(Genesis Ch 2 v7)
‘What a piece of work is woman!!’
(Genesis Ch 2 vv 21–22)
‘What a piece of work is the eye!’
(On The Origin of Species Ch VI)
“Providence … or Provenance …” by Fred: Almost Famous
* * * * * © Fred Ogden 2020 * * * * *
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