[As noted yesterday, the following essay was written by a reader and commenter who requested the opportunity. In the spirit of the open inquiry and free expression UR is renowned for, its contents are neither endorsed nor condemned by this blog or webzine. On account of the essay’s thoughtfulness, though, it has been deemed worthy of a hearing. –AE]
Written by Intelligent Dasein
1. Introduction and Scope
This piece emerges from roiled beginnings. While the ideas presented herein have long been contemplated by the author and held by him to be provisionally true, the occasion of them taking shape in the present form was not, I am somewhat aggravated to say, the pure contemplative love of truth as such, nor the magnanimous desire to educate my benighted fellows, nor even the vanity born of holding exclusive possession of a novel and exciting conception which, once articulated, figures largely to gain its original representative a measure of historical notoriety; rather, it was exhausted patience with the endless, uncomprehending, unjustified scorn to which the ideas were subjected when they appeared in their fragmentary form, strung unsystematically throughout innumerable comments delivered over several years. A patient man hopes—is commanded to hope—that time will be his vindicator; an exhausted man often providentially finds that the acceptable time of vindication has been placed into his own hands. Many most sincere thanks at the outset for extending this opportunity to set the matter forth in a more comprehensive style. This one small barque, this one hull in which to collect my wares, this one mast from which to fly a flag, is a welcome relief from thrashing about in the troubled waters of the comments section; and for the transport of cargo so rare and easily damaged as new paradigms, it is only fitting that a proper conveyance be brought in to help shield it from the impertinent spray.
The antagonism I refer to has long made itself most acutely felt in discussions involving ‘HBD’, that is “human biodiversity,” a term d’art among the Dissident Right community whereby they assert not only their belief that significant behavioral and physiological distinctions prevail among the major divisions of mankind (by itself a less controversial statement), but also emphasize that these distinctions, customarily called racial distinctions, are primarily biological in nature and origin. The word “biological” is not neutral here, for in its present usage it brings with it a vast array of philosophical and ideological baggage that, whether unpacked or not, imparts its own intrinsic complications to the compound idea denoted by HBD, thus rendering the latter somewhat more controversial than the mere existence of differences per se. In the first place, “biology” serves to conceptually locate such differences firmly on the side of “nature” in the Nature/Nurture debate, meaning that they would not be amenable to alteration via the frequently demanded channels of education and social spending. I gather—accurately I believe, and to no slight purpose—that this is one of the chief considerations motivating such rapt adherence to the term on the part of its devotees. HBDers are justifiably upset by the titanic sums of money spent on the welfare of underperforming racial groups, by the constant excuses made for their failure to benefit from such largess, by the importation of mass waves of immigrants from racially diverse countries, and so forth; but most especially by the universalistic cant with which these policies are rationalized and enforced, with insinuations that no racial group is inherently different from any other, and which therefore puts disparity of outcomes down to racism or deprivation. Furthermore, the disgust resulting from long exposure to this general attitude is also what motivates the summarily dismissive posture (to be discussed momentarily) with which I am met whenever I challenge any article within the HBDers’ prevailing orthodoxy. The emotional appeal of the position is maintained by the understanding that since these racial differences are “biological,” it is pointless to try to change them. I have no wish to take issue with any of this right now; my point at present is simply to draw attention to the fact that HBD is clung to with such ardor not because it is “true” but mainly for its sociological implications.
In the second place, however, “biology” also carries with it an air of scientificness from whence HBD draws its claims of objectivity and authority. Biology is supposed to be a science, after all; it is supposed to be founded in empirical observation, subjected to rigorous tests, and entrusted to the keeping and criticism of highly educated professionals. Any idea thus bonded, sealed, and christened with the oils of scientific legitimacy can supposedly be taken as verified truth, which accounts for some of the haughtiness with which HBDers are known to look down upon their disputants. Biology today embraces some of the most deified and self-assured concepts now going. There is, for example, the astounding and almost uncanny esotericism of our medical technique, which has indeed cured many diseases and birthed a sort of modern day mysticism of health and wellness; there are the mighty subdisciplines of genetics and biochemistry and pharmacology, with their ever so exacting analytical methods and their aura of recondite profundity; there is paleontological investigation and its excavations into the perished eons of Earth’s natural history; and most of all there is, standing behind it all, the Saturnian figure of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, which is the language, the logic, and the primum mobile of the whole modern biological worldview. Insofar as HBD drinks from these unsullied waters, it would seem to be naught more than the natural excrescence of all that is most established and least doubted in our day and age.
It is precisely here, however, and not on the grounds of any ostensibly distasteful (to me, or so my antagonists say) sociological conclusions, that I make my criticism—not that this has spared me any great deal of misrepresentation and calumny. In criticizing the “science” of HBD I have often been opposed not with calm facts but with some rather emotion-driven vituperations, as if I had grieved the righteous spirit that valiantly resists all the lies and cant. The hurt feelings are certainly forgivable, the issue being as serious as it is; but not so the steadfast refusal, even after many explanations, to understand what it is I am really talking about. Serious matters require serious attention, not glibness or snark or ill-informed polemics. The sort of shallow false dichotomies levelled against me (e.g. if I am not an HBDers then I must be a Bible-thumping creationist, etc.) testify to the fact that the matter has not been thought through. These are not arguments in the philosophical sense; they are rhetorical bombasts used to adorn and flatter the personality of he who makes them, and they that approve them. Such things are fine in lighter matters, but here there are important philosophical, theological, moral, and scientific issues at stake; issues that, I dare say, the HBDers have bungled and refuse to be corrected on; issues which, if left in their current state, would serve only to frustrate the HBDers’ own objectives and to further marginalize their position. It is to these issues that we now turn our attention in this essay.
I set it forth here that the science behind HBD is suspect. The general conclusions to which HBDers come regarding the role of race in our society are not (usually) in and of themselves antifactual, but the argumentative superstructure adduced in support of such conclusions is full of metaphysical errors, leaving the conclusions without a firm foundation and vulnerable to unanswerable attacks. I further maintain that HBD in itself, from within its own framework, is powerless to generate any feasible political solutions to the problems it identifies, and serves mainly as an idiomatic in which political frustrations are vented rather than as an organ of tactical response to political realities. There is perhaps no domain beside the political in which men are more disposed to idealism, and there is no domain in which idealism is less assured of success than practical politics. These twin detriments—philosophical confusion and political ineptness—render HBD a uniquely unhelpful liability that it would be better to abandon.
On the philosophical front, the problems are deep and intriguing. Our discussion here ranges far, much further indeed than many here were perhaps ever desirous to go. “Biology,” it has been said, means today predominately genetics and Darwinism. But Darwinism has its roots in the materialism and monism of its native 19th century, themselves being the outgrowths of the Lockean empiricism that came to dominate English philosophy in the modern era. The modern era was instigated, as it were, by the disruption brought by Cartesian dualism, which was a deterioration of the high synthesis achieved by St. Thomas and the Scholastics, which itself was the correction and perfection of Neo-Platonic Augustinianism and Aristotelian hylomorphism. We shall see in this essay that race is very much a question of matter and form, that the hylomorphic dualism of Aristotle is the only manner of treating such questions, and that in fact all other proffered solutions amount only to distortions of hylomorphism. Even though the discussion can take place here only in truncated form, what shall emerge will be a good indication, not merely of the “metaphysics of race,” but of the very metaphysical nature of the reality of race.
On the political—that is to say, the sociological—front, we will at last arrive at a conclusion that may appear anticlimactic if we were to foreshadow it here, but which, once properly illuminated by a full and clear contextualization, will reveal itself to be the one and only end that can be hoped for with a clear conscience and worked for with every expectation of success. Let it be known, I am writing from what I intend to be, and what I believe to be, a Traditional Catholic perspective. In the nonce, that means that I take Apostolic Christianity (i.e. the Gospel of Christ in its Traditional acceptation) to be the arbiter of all truth. That does not mean that only that which the Gospel explicitly comprises is all the truth there is to be known, or that other truths that exist are at least implicitly contained within the Gospel; it means that any truth, howsoever it is discovered, must harmonize with this Gospel and if it does not then it is not true. My objective here is situated within the larger project of restoring Apostolic Christianity as a light unto the world and working towards a new theonomous synthesis which places our politics and social life on a correct foundation, and which collects up what remains of useful Western science to be conserved and employed appropriately.
These are weighty matters; we certainly have our work cut out for us. But as the original topic of this essay was race and HBD, let us make our departure from there, and so begin.
I am a race-realist. That is to say, my intuitions as well as my reason, insofar as I can supply it with reliable data from my senses, leads me to believe that race is an essential (rather than an accidental) aspect of one’s concrete personal existence. The words “essence” and “accident” here, and their cognates, are being used in the context of an explicitly metaphysical dialogue; those readers familiar with the basics of Aristotelian metaphysics will be able to apply their regular meaning in what follows, while those readers not so familiar should easily be able to infer from the context what is meant by them. To put it simply, an essential property of something is a property that cannot be changed without changing the definition or identity of that thing, while an accidental property is a property that can be so changed. For reasons we shall examine momentarily, I do not believe one can consistently commit to race-realism without also being a race-essentialist; race-realism just is race-essentialism. However, far from being obscurantist or dilutive, this claim is actually much stronger than the type of race-realism claimed by the HBDers; and, as we shall see, it plunges us into many difficulties from whence it is necessary to extricate ourselves.
Thus, the first point I wish to advance is the idea that race-realism entails race-essentialism. But even here a preliminary problem presents itself: If, as I have just said, race-essentialism necessarily involves so many thorny difficulties, then why commit to it in the first place? Why not simply adhere to some milder version of the theory which, like HBD, accommodatingly locates race within the realm of the accidental and thereby avoids the metaphysical problems while still preserving, in a rough-and-ready way, the commonsense realities that accord with practical reason? The answer is that, apart from the truth of these things being worthwhile to seek for its own sake, the fact of the matter is that the alternative to race-essentialism simply cannot be true. It cannot be true that race is any kind of an accident. Therefore, whatever the difficulties may be, they need to be faced and reconciled somehow. The failure to do so is one of the reasons why the politically charged cant surrounding the subject remains with us to this day. To see how race-accidentalism must be wrong, we will consider a question that will serve as our initiation to these murky and troublesome currents.
If race is real, what kind of reality does it have? What is its nature? It would seem the simple duty of anyone calling himself a race-realist to able to answer with confidence and clarity just what the nature of that reality is. The HBDers certainly have an answer at the ready: Race is biological. This is often explicitly emphasized with the rhetorical flourish that “race is a biological reality,” the intent of which is to drive home the idea that race is something definite and indisputable, like a sum of numbers. A more explicated version of their claim, which I think does justice to the HBD conception, goes as follows:
“The different races of mankind are like extended families which, long separated from each other, were subject to different environmental selective pressures for many thousands of years. These different conditions led to the predominance of different genetic traits among the races that altered them both physiologically and psychologically. The legacy of these genetic differences has produced disparity in the races’ average behavior and civilizational potential that, being biological, are not amenable to deep or rapid alterations through the mechanism of controllable environmental factors such as education or socioeconomic assistance.”
Let us not dispute with the terms for a moment. The problem here is not the truth or falsity of the above definition. The problem is that, even if every word of this is true, none of it adds up to race being essential. What we have described here is a series of accidental alterations to some underlying substance, in this case human beings. If race and biology are held to exist in the manner here implied, it is tantamount to saying that biology is something worn by human nature like a skinsuit, as if (with discernable echoes of Cartesianism) human nature is the ghost in the biological machine. Around this core of human nature there has accrued an agglomeration of “biology” that is fluid enough to be changed and imprinted by Darwinian selection pressures, but which changes within do not go deep enough to alter the identity of the underlying substance.
Although HBDers tend to be quite vocally opposed to any kind of blank-slatism when it comes to the individual’s IQ, time preference, or general psychological comportment, their own style of thinking leads to the curious result that they themselves have become blank-slatists in a much more fundamental sense, viz. that the racial differences in which they have invested so much importance are but incidental colorations of human nature, mere products of chance and the passage of time, presumably further alterable by more of the same, indefinite, unremarkable, inessential. One could perhaps avoid this difficulty by taking a hard materialist approach and declaring that there is no ghost in the machine, there is only the machine, the biological skinsuit from the example; but upon doing so, one immediately involves oneself in a nominalist dead end. If there is only an evolving assemblage of deterministic billiard balls walking around in human shape, then there is nothing stable enough to qualify as the human nature that can be the bearer of a particular racial nature. At any rate, nominalism is quite opposed to race-realism as a matter of principle. It is difficult to argue that race is essential when nothing else is.
There is a controversy here which plunges much deeper than mere racial questions per se and which embroils all of modern biology in an ancient metaphysical problem. If crude materialism is false (we leave aside for the moment nuanced forms of materialism such as panpsychism), then there is an immaterial component to reality. What is the nature of this immaterial component, and how does it interact with the material? In the consideration of living things, the immaterial component rises to the forefront and becomes decisive, for it is rightly intuited by most men that the difference between living and nonliving matter is that the former is “animated” by some special principle which endows it with life, form, and direction. However, while rejecting the existence of the immaterial certainly makes one’s philosophy incorrect, simply admitting it does not automatically make it right. It would be wrong, for example, to hold with Plato that there is an ideal soul-substance which travels from body to body by means of metempsychosis; it would be right to hold with Aristotle and Aquinas that each individual soul is the form of exactly one substance. It is correct when the same Aristotle says that the material body and the immaterial soul must necessarily be conceptually distinct; it is incorrect when his early modern apostate Descartes argues so persuasively that the physical and the spiritual can have nothing to do with one another, and then is forced to propound a bizarre theory about occultic interactions in the pineal gland.
Although they are probably unaware of it, HBDers and modern evolutionary biologists are making a very Cartesian sort of error when they locate the “form” of the living creature in the “information” contained in its genetic code. The dubiousness of this idea of genetic information will absorb us later in the essay; we mention it here in order to pronounce a final verdict of insufficiency on HBD’s conception of the matter/form problem. An organism’s DNA is not any less physical than the rest of its body. To say that race is “genetic” is to say nothing more than that race is “biological,” and to say either one is simply to say that race is “material,” i.e. its origins lie entirely on the material side of the organism, the side that is subject to accident and external causality. But race-realism demands that we locate race in the realm of the essential, in the form and not in the matter. Furthermore, race must be located in the form, since it is an integral aspect of creaturely existence, appearing along with it in every moment, and must therefore flow from whatever underlying identity unifies that existence. We are not simply playing word games here; and yet, race is not numbered among the essential and definitional properties of the human being, viz. “rational animal.”
What is needed is an intermediate class of properties consisting of things which are not accidents inhering in a substance and also not themselves essential and definitional properties, but which appear along with essence as a necessary condition of essence appearing in existence. We shall examine whether it is legitimate to speak of such properties and also whether, in saying that they exist, we do not say too much; for it would appear that such properties comprise a rather large class of qualities of living things, and that the term “race” actually denotes the broad category of essences that must be stamped with quality as a condition of appearing. We shall see that this is indeed the case, that “race” is universally diffused as physiognomy and mien and style. To further our inquiry into this subject we would do well, then, to adopt in a provisional sense a phenomenological definition of race as “the disposition of that which unfolds in the act of living.” Let us begin there and see where it takes us.
3. Beyond Humanity: Race in the Wider World
Adopting a wider view will at the very least help to bring some Apollonian coolness and light to an issue that tends to be overcharged with political contentiousness. Prescinding from the subject of human beings, we will examine for a moment the concept of race—the mysterious disposition of the unfolding—as it appears in the plant and animal worlds. For anyone wishing to delve deeper into this particular aspect of our discussion, I could do no better than to recommend that he read Part A of the second volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, The Cosmic and the Microcosm.
Now, the idea of “physiognomy”—by which is meant the manner in which the character or qualities of a creature tells upon its features—has received renewed interest in Alt-Right circles. The phrase “physiognomy is real” has become something of a hashtag and a meme unto itself, but is usually employed as means to denigrate the sort of young men who follow liberalism (“soy-boys”) and the sort of young women who follow feminism (“blue-hairs”) as evolutionarily and sexually inadequate. These epithets, crude as they are, do represent at least a lurch in the general direction of real physiognomic understanding, but only of the very basest sort. They relate to the genuine article by way of convention, in the same manner that the folding of paper airplanes and the labors of the Wright brothers can both be considered aeronautical engineering. We must go beyond these crudities to get at the substance of the matter.
Physiognomy is indeed real. In fact, it is more than merely real, it is the real (or rather, it grasps what is real)—i.e. it is the perceived actuality within the appearance of the thing; but it is a process more aesthetic than scientific. Physiognomy is a mode of apperception that occupies the borderlands of poetic imagination. It is the deep and sympathetic judgment that is penetrated by the qualities of a thing and, from its ineffable aura, derives its essence. The physiognomist is the judge of men, of individuals, of peoples, races, classes, nations, eras, plants, animals, and human productions. Young children often excel at it; born artists and historians retain it into adulthood, as do the great leaders in some capacity. It is a thing not to be too closely described, for it tends to wither underneath the critical gaze. The crass obtuseness and materialism of the ordinary adult is precisely what remains after the physiognomic flair has been lost, but no one quite loses enough of it that they fail to make judgments at all. Without this talent, the world of perception would consist of nothing but bare, skeletal facts without significance. It is only due to the physiognomic flair that significances exist at all.
Beholding living things, one is sometimes impressed by an uncanny quality, an effect or message, something just shy of being verbal, that seems to emanate from their very presence. A grove of pine trees in the afternoon sunlight bespeaks a vastness and timelessness that seems to transport one back to a vanished era of Earth-history when great conifer forests ruled over silent continents whose very shapes are now a mystery. So powerful is the impression that it matters not that the grove is in the middle of a bustling city, a piece of landscaping in an apartment complex or office park. You have but to stare at the pines, and the streets, the traffic, and the buildings all disappear; you behold only their livingness, and suddenly you are back in the Carboniferous. The trees have their own period-specific quality about them which pays no heed to the march of millennia. I get the notion, when I analyze it all, that this feeling is mediated by the muffled glint of waxy needles, by the shadowy interior volume, by the sky-combing branches that seem to stifle every breath of wind. I recall that the tree must thrust itself upward and outward to eat the sunlight that serves as food, and it must cast its pollen upon the fickle winds while also trapping its mate’s pollen therefrom, in order to reproduce. Then the feeling coalesces into the impression of a will—“Light and air! I dominate light and air!” And while science may tell us all about the efficiency of its Fibonacci spirals and the chemistry of its photosynthetic process, these are only physical facts. The perception of a will in the stylized domination of light and air is physiognomy.
This type of perception is capable of discerning some quality in the nonmaterial essence of a thing as it manifests itself in existence. It is a talent that can be developed and deepened, but not systematically controlled. As such, it will uncover certain truths for us, but not systematically and only on a case-by-case basis. Physiognomy will not yield ever-reliable and ever-predictable results like arithmetic; but the astonishing fact is that, since it exists at all, it leads directly to the conclusion that everything living can be understood, at least in principle, as the stylized expression of a will.
Despite the just-mentioned murkiness of this process, it seems we have now acquired a good prima facie understanding that “race” ought to be included amongst the bevy of will-like facts that are disclosed to us through physiognomic apperception, for what is race but stylized existence? It now falls to us to present some manner of distilling race as a meaningful designation from amidst the swarm of essential and accidental facts that also appear along with the organism. This I intend to do by way of an analogy that I caution at the outset against pressing too far due to a particular shortcoming which I shall highlight later, but one which will furnish us with a serviceable mental architecture for continuing discussion. That analogy will be the components of spoken language.
Reflect for a moment how the analysis of the meaning of a sentence tends to resolve itself into two domains. First and foremost, there is the grammar of the language, which is by far the more fundamental of the two. It is the grammar that relates words and ideas to one another. Without this structural element—with its subjects, verbs, objects, cases, prepositions, and other connecting particles—language would not be intelligible and could not be either a means or an expression of thought.
In the second place there is the vocabulary of language, the list of words associated with particular things or activities. This is what we might call the arbitrary side of language. As everyone knows when he takes a moment to think about it, the actual words of a language could be replaced with other words, or with some other set of symbols or cyphers, and as long as the speakers took the trouble to acquaint themselves with the new sign-convention, they could go on speaking “their” language just as before without needing to wonder how the words and sounds interrelate. It is the grammatical structure which serves the critical role of relating meanings one to another; the words and word-sounds serve as markers for meanings and can be changed without changing what they refer to.
Both the grammar and the vocabulary of a language are facts which are given in immediate experience; together they form the warp and weft of the momentary-actual. In our analogy—which, again, must not be too severely pressed—the grammar stands in for that which is essential in the makeup of an organism. A dog, for example, being a mammal, must be warm-blooded; if its body temperature falls too low it will die. The vocabulary in our analogy stands for that which is accidental in the makeup of an organism. It forms nothing in the definition of a dog whether this particular dog has been well or poorly trained, well-nourished or sadly neglected, even though such facts become quite decisive in the life history of the animal. We are left with the impression that, while both the essential and the accidental are facts of great moment, one is involved in the definition of the thing and the other is not. Following a Spenglerian convention, the essential side we shall sometimes refer to as destiny: A creature conceived as a dog must be at every moment a dog and must follow a doglike existence. The accidental side shall correspondingly sometimes be referred to as incident: Should the poor pup be drowned or eaten shortly after birth, that is a fact for its history but not a fact in its nature, i.e. we do not know it analytically simply by knowing the definition of a dog.
Our language analogy suffices so far even if the sentence we are analyzing is simply written down. Another aspect enters into our experience once the sentence is spoken. We can imagine, after a fashion, the grammar being the essence or soul of the sentence, the meaning that is brought to expression in it. The vocabulary comprises the incidents and accidents that embody its particular history and express what is intended either well or poorly. But in every act of speaking there is a third component that breaks forth, a sound quality, a rhythm, cadence, or accent that stamps the expression with a definite color. The accent of an utterance does not form part of its definition, yet there is no such thing as an unaccented spoken word. Accent, therefore, is not in and of itself essential but it is entailed in essence as a condition of its existence. If the meaning of a sentence is an essential form struggling for existence, and the vocabulary of a sentence is the array of incidental facts among which it exists, then the sound and the accent are the material by which it exists. Similarly, it is not essential to a created soul that it exist as an embodied being, but the whole purpose of this soul is to so exist by informing matter. Therefore, the matter it will exist as, and the nature thereof, while not being a part of its essence, are virtually present in essence. Likewise, race as the qualification of embodied existence is virtually present in essence.
The limitation in this analogy that I had mentioned earlier results from the fact that, in the actual nature of spoken language, accent can sometimes be thought of as something incidental itself. This is resolved by understanding that, while a particular accent may be incidental to the meaning of a sentence (modulo analogy: It is incidental to the definition of “human being” whether the human in question is Caucasoid or Negroid), there is no such thing as a spoken word without sound quality (every human being has some racial designation which is integral to existence for him). We can therefore say without fear of error that race is something that lies within essence, albeit virtually. It is certainly not something accidental.
Here we must pause to treat of a matter which easily causes confusion in inquiries of this sort. It is tempting, all too tempting given the confrontational nature of race relations, to consider races after the manner in which oenophiles are wont to consider vintages. We are speaking here of terroir, which is an important factor in its own right and something that must be understood before we continue.
Terroir is understood as the sum of environmental conditions that influence the final character of a wine. Whether the vineyard be on a hillside facing east or one facing south, whether the soil is chalky or flinty, whether the growing season was warm or cool or damp, and so forth, are all terroir considerations. Terroir undoubtedly exists and its influences impact every living thing in every way, all of the time. While it may be expedient for purposes of political rhetoric to sometimes speak of human races after this fashion—as if reds and yellows, blacks and whites were simply grapes of a different hillside—it is for scientific purposes merely sentimental and quite inappropriate. Terroir, as we can readily see by now, lies decidedly on the incident side of life and not on the destiny side. It is incident for a grape whether it is planted in clay or loam; it is destiny that it grows on a vine and not on a bush. When we abstract away all the influences of terroir, we are still left with a certain something-or-other that has a quality all its own, something that would still be brought to expression no matter what sort of soil it was planted in, and it is among these expressions that we locate race. The manifold determinations of essential nature, racial qualification, terroir conditioning, and incidental happenstances form such a complicated collage that no systematic science could hope to separate them in every case; but they remain conceptually quite distinct, and it is according to this that we say that race as expression-quality is precisely what remains when all terroir influences have been removed.
Finally, it is necessary to speak about destiny (the disposition of that which unfolds) and incident (the sum of external influences) as they relate to time and causality. They would both seem to involve some sort of process, but these processes run orthogonal to one another and cannot be subsumed into each other. Incident, being in the most general case a mechanistic series of impacts, of physical and chemical forces operating with inevitable results, has the world outside the organism as its theater of operations. Incident means, in very literal truth, all that is not oneself, all that can be enjoyed or endured but never identified with. There is, in its perfectly logical consequences, a sort of timelessness to it. It partakes of the order of space, of causality, of non-particularity.
Destiny is that which is inside the organism as its own soul and identity. It is everything proper to it, possessed by it, belonging to it, not to be given up without mortal struggle. Destiny exists nowhere as an arrangement of physical facts but only as the constant, immaterial, ineffable yearning of the soul towards its definite form, overcoming contradictions and chaos and the riot of incident swirling around it. It partakes of the order of time, of direction, of unrepeatability and uniqueness. That which is in destiny is stamped there from the beginning and does not change as incidents do.
We have covered a lot of ground in this chapter, but the arguments condense here to this critical point: Race, as the qualification of existence, belongs virtually to essence and therefore to destiny and not to incident. As destiny, it is integral with the total nature of the organism. There are not, then, particular “racial traits” as the term is ordinarily understood. There are not traits at all as the modern geneticist understands them. There is one nature, one destiny, one soul that comes to expression in the organism. It is there from the beginning as that which, by definition, cannot be altered by incident. But only that which incident alters is experienced in space as causality. This leads to the startling conclusion of the impossibility that race is acquired.
4. In the Darkness of Unraised Questions
The consequence that race cannot be acquired at all is a result that brooks no qualification. It cannot be acquired over a single lifetime through terroir influences, nor can it be acquired over many lifetimes by a process of Darwinian selection. Race is given as virtually present in essence, appearing along with essence as a condition of existence; it cannot “get into” the organism any other way. This has profound implications that go far beyond the immediate subject of race relations.
In what follows we are about to depart sharply from the norms of conventional scientific understanding. This section will present difficulties and obscurities arising from the fact that the questions of which it means to treat are nowadays never asked in an explicitly scientific or philosophical context. It is not that the subject matter or our method of treating it is itself irrational; only that the contemporary scientific worldview has not taken account of it, has in many instances simply ruled it out of court, and has historicized it away as the “ignorance” of a prior, unenlightened era. As a result, we have been left without a language, without a literature, without the well-trodden paths of traditional investigatory or exegetical methods with which to develop it. The subject is very much still in the raw, an unexplored territory in which the discoveries and the dangers have not been laid hold of in any rigorous way. We must remember the novelty of the situation and be charitable with ourselves as we proceed.
We have averred already that race is a property of an intermediate kind that is not itself essential but is virtually present within essence, belonging to it as a tendency. We have seen that this situates race on the destiny side of a life course, the side which cannot be affected by that which is merely incidental to that life course. We have spoken quite liberally about race as something that appears along with essence as a condition of existence. Questions about the manner of this appearing and about what it is that appears can no longer be shirked.
If race belongs to the immaterial substantial form of the organism, then the question of where race comes from is ultimately the question of where forms come from. But if the form is immaterial, then it cannot be thought of as arising or developing by materially derived notions of causality. The form is not an emergent property of simple matter, suitably organized. It is not any kind of property of matter at all. It is something ontologically prior to matter that is not explainable by mechanical causes and effects. That which is explainable by such causes and effects—i.e. what we ordinarily call the laws of physics—be they never so exhaustive and exact, would, as far as the form is concerned, be nothing but the sum of possible shapes of the incidental. Nothing could, by this means, get back “behind” the form in order to produce a change in its nature. However subtle one tries to be about it, no motions within matter can alter the nature of something which is itself necessarily immaterial.
Philosophers, being intuitively aware of this problem, have made many attempts down through the centuries to explain the origin of the forms. The theory of rationes seminales, a Neo-Platonic conception, held that the forms where incorporated into the universal logos from the beginning. Platonism in general, in all its various developments, posited some sort of preexistence. Scholastic Christian theology, developed partially out of the thought of Aristotle, affirmed at the Council of Trent that forms are introduced by the immediate concurrence of God and are multiplied as bodies are multiplied in the act of procreation. These two approaches, while not equivalent, are morphologically similar enough that they point to a common realization. Whether the forms are present in the mind of God, or at least present in the logos which is an emanation from God, or whether they are introduced by God in acts of special concurrence, we cannot avoid speaking of creation in the appearance of the forms. This is the crux of the matter; it is a necessary consequence of the forms’ immateriality that they do not arise “causally,” that is by the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
The term “creation” is what puts the scientifically minded on high alert, as if we had just violated the rules of inference and introduced something arbitrary and superstitious. However, we arrived at this conclusion by a flawless process of logic. The correct perception of reality leads inescapably to the conclusion that the forms do not have a material origin. It is important to remember that for the time being we are using the term only in a very loose and philosophical sense. We have not committed ourselves to any particular religious doctrine; we have not even committed ourselves to any particular notion of theism. We have only committed ourselves to acknowledging the priority of the metaphysical over the physical. Howsoever existence in any sense comes into being, so also do the forms come into being.
At first blush, this seems to raise obvious difficulties for the theory of Darwinian evolution, which posits a continuous material modification of organisms down through time. Indeed, if any of what we have said is right, then the whole Darwinian substrate of HBD thinking is radically incorrect and any subsequent understanding of race-realism will need to be placed on an entirely different foundation. Thus, it appears that all we have to do along our royal road to understanding races is to casually disprove and replace Darwinism. A tall order but, “fortune favors the bold,” so here we go.
5. The Metaphysical Impossibility of Darwinism
Before burying such a monumental theme as Darwinism, it is only fitting to pay brief respect to its historical importance. Darwinism was a grand idea that undergirded the thinking of many educated men for a century and a half, but it was not the kind of idea it purported to be. It was not in fact a scientific idea in the least, nor was it even a “metaphysical” idea except in the cynical sense that a thoroughly unmetaphysical metaphysics was exactly what subsequent thinkers, desirous of that very end, decided to make of it. In itself it is a type of all-encompassing schematism, a means of arranging one’s data so that everything—every species and trait and genetic sequence—receives a dynamic description as an optimized function of time. The result is a Linnaean classification system that is then “temporalized” into a cladogram. Darwinism, divested of any sense-specific elements such as actual living organisms, could be just as consistently presented as a book full of unusual polynomial curves, iteration problems, and Fourier analyses. Its incredible persuasive power results entirely from the fact that it draws one into a whole world of mathematical poetry that seems to simulate natural history, but from first to last asserts nothing that is not analytically true from its initial suppositions.
This at least was its original sense. The contemporary Neo-Darwinian synthesis of natural selection and genetic mutation is something else over again upon which its founder’s spirit certainly does not rest. Modern Darwinism has sunk almost to the level of a rhetorical cheap shot by which the speaker means to flout the scruples of his interlocuter or to grandstand before the members of his own party. If this assessment seems harsh, I challenge the reader to scan the internet comments for instances in which the theory is mentioned in any other connection. Like his contemporary Marx, Darwin’s most vociferous friends (and foes) often do not seem very well acquainted with the source material.
This is not the place for an exhaustive critique of the Darwinian literature; however, suffice it to say that a survey of the master’s principle works conduces to the impression that the spirit which animated his thinking could be described not so much as natural selection but as maximization. Darwin believed that life quasi-deliberately varied itself so as to exploit every small opportunity that difference in situation afforded. Among stalks of wheat growing together in field, for instance, we see some a little taller and some a little shorter, some leaning this way and some that; but each one striving to avoid competing directly with its neighbor for the identical “such-as-it-is”—a sort of Pauli exclusion principle for living beings, as it were. In this manner life involved itself in a steady, inexorable, almost volition-less tendency towards diversification. Into this process natural selection was introduced as a secondary effect which made an end of those individuals who were not sufficiently divergent so as to avoid being overshadowed by a stronger exemplar of the same type, all those who were “close but no cigar.” Thus, for Darwin the tapestry of life was a Sierpinski carpet with the denser areas being kingdoms and genera and species—the continuous culling of a continuously spreading mat, with great emphasis placed on the empty spaces. It was a quaint idea, gentle, respectable, very English, and now practically gone with the wind.
Notice that this stands directly opposed to the “selfish gene” postulates of the modern synthesis, wherein DNA segments engage in a ruthless competition with one another to replicate exact copies of themselves and to be the “last man standing.” The fact that two so distinctly contrary conceptions have long traveled comfortably under the same name does invite initial skepticism as to the value of the propositions, although no particularly deft feats of intellect are required to hammer out sophistical Hegelian compromises. But whether authentic, modern, or mingled, all Darwinisms suffer from the malady that they do not really address what is at issue here. Darwinism obviates the problem of the origin of the forms by the short route of denying them altogether; for in Darwinism there are no forms, no definition, and no species. It is possible to get from anywhere to anywhere else by an incremental process of purely material transformations; that is, by accidental change. But accidents must inhere in a substance, and Darwinism does not furnish us with anything that can be the substrate of all these changes. All we can do is grasp desperately for a sort of universalistic gray fuzz that might at best be considered the materialist bastard child of Spinozism, or even more desperately at Hinduistic sparks of soul-matter that migrate from body to body without being the formal principle of any of them. Since no coherent conception of matter can exist on either one of these views, such ideas are untenable and, metaphysically speaking, quite silly. However impressive the façade of Darwinism may be, it appears to have been built on an unexamined metaphysical foundation that is unable to support the world in existence.
An additional problem proceeds from the fact that the Darwinists seem to claim for their theory the somewhat magical property of deriving things of one kind from things of another. Given enough time, they say, it is possible—again, by purely material transformations—to get life from nonliving matter, or reasoning beings from unreasoning beasts. It can only be due to the extreme neglect of metaphysics as a field of study that such preposterous implications were ever accepted by the intelligentsia. If what we call life is a wholly material process, then matter must itself be alive or life does not really exist; it is not possible for both life and nonlife to inhere in the same subject. And reasoning, for its part, cannot be a material process at all. If Darwinism leads us to these straits then Darwinism, be it never so captivating, simply cannot be true.
I intend to spend the next several chapters in an attempt to overthrow the Darwinian paradigm. Should this sound overly ambitious, please allow me to delimit my objective. Darwinism has been studied and amplified and ramified for well over a century. It has been incorporated into innumerable discussions of philosophy and biology and natural history. There is no way I can hope to replace all that in a single essay, not even one as long as this is. It is not my intention to write a complete alternative natural history of the Earth in grandiose proportions. All I can do is what philosophers of science must always do and have always done when they bring their metaphysical toolkit to bear upon scientific problems, and say that while I may not know exactly how the matter may be, I know that it cannot be this way. I can thereafter indicate the outlines of where a solution will lie, given what else we know to be true. So much I believe is quite within my powers.
6. Problematic Alternatives A: Young Earth Creationism
Having announced my attack, there is no doubt but that now those in the audience who wear the Darwinian livery have set their abundant whiskers at full defensive bristle, and are even now polishing up their blunderbusses for a hearty fusillade against the quixotic creationist sallies they think they have repelled a thousand times before. I have to warn you gentlemen that the arguments I am about to advance are not anything you are familiar with.
This is the first of four chapters in which I wish to discuss the problems with various proffered alternatives to Darwinism before arriving at the correct solution. The topic at present is Young Earth creationism, an idea deriving from a very literal reading of the creation story in the Book of Genesis and holding that the Earth and all its lifeforms were directly created by God approximately 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. It is also the primary idea that antievolutionists like me are accused of adhering to, even before the accusers have bothered to find out anything more about our position. As such it is used as a rhetorical strawman, with the implication being that all antievolutionists believe this, and that the idea is far too preposterous for any intelligent person to take seriously. Given its hot-button nature, it is necessary to treat of Young Earth creationism before proceeding any further.
This was not exactly to my liking. In the structural sense, if I had set out simply to write a reasoned survey of the range of opinions on the matter and the problems with each one, I should have liked Young Earth creationism to come much later in the discussion after I had dealt with other theories that are historically older and philosophically far more profound. In this I have been frustrated by the infantile state of the conversation, but there is another concern which may yet render the former one a blessing in disguise. Parsing Young Earth creationism will allow us to examine, in a highly relevant and emphatic way, a fundamental idea I like to call “epistemological infinitism,” which is a key concept that needs to be understood and reincorporated into scientific discussions ranging far beyond the present one.
But before all that happens, I wish to say a few words in support of the much-maligned creationists, who are wrong but for a good reason. There are many well-meaning people, mostly Evangelical Protestants these days, who hold to Young Earth creationism because they believe their religion obliges them to do so. Since Biblical literalism has been out of fashion with educated opinion for quite some time, these people often develop a siege mentality and feel as if they are the last, slim bastion of defense holding out against a Godless society. Their motives are salutary, perhaps even heroic; but their beliefs—let us not fear the unpretty word—are heretical. It has always been possible, and it always will be possible, for simple and uneducated people to get exactly what they need to know about God’s relation to His creation from a literal reading of the Genesis story. No doubt that is part of the reason why God set the story down precisely as He did. However, once the natural history of the world becomes a conscious problem for more developed intellects—a problem that acquires profound cultural, moral, philosophical, and theological overtones when it presents challenges to the literalist account—then the discussion has reached a level of sophistication whereat the real meaning of the Christian doctrine of creation as it impacts the scientific context must be made clear. The Young Earth creationists are not helping this process along. I do not want them unduly ridiculed, but this needs to stop. As far as Christianity in the modern West is concerned, a naïve literalism simply will not do. Neither, however, will naïve compromises. For example, various types of “God-guided evolution” have been proposed, and they seem to be the preferred solution for those who wish to offend neither the sensibilities of their age nor the claims of their religion, but who for whatever reason do not feel compelled to think either one of them through to their last implications. Half measures such as these are not really philosophical investigations; they are more like word games, like the brain teasers one finds in the back of the newspaper: Break the code, find the key that compiles one message into the language of the other. A real philosopher does busy himself constructing clever syntheses; he just needs to seek the truth, humbly and honestly. Remember, a true explanation will be a true explanation: Whatever is true in Genesis and whatever is true in the natural world will belong to it, properly and unforcedly. It is to this end that we now discuss epistemological infinitism as a metaphysical groundwork for all scientific explanations.
By epistemological infinitism I mean the frank acknowledgement of the reality of Aristotle’s potential infinities in matters of scientific observation. Wherever a potential infinity is found, there also is an infinite depth of possible observations. For example, it ought to be taken as axiomatic that there is no such thing as extended matter without parts. Now, matter is nothing but the permanent possibility of causality, and causality is a type of interaction. Therefore matter, in order to interact, must be spatially extended or else it would pass through all other things without leaving any trace of itself. Therefore, all matter is extended, and matter just is, among a few other properties, extension in space. Anything extended is divisible into parts which are themselves extended, and so on ad infinitum; and so, there is no such thing as extended matter without parts, Q.E.D.
Notice that this basic result—which is nothing more than analytical influences following upon the blandest common sense—already contradicts quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two central pillars of modern physical orthodoxy, because it means that there cannot be any such strange beasts as fundamental particles or massive singularities. If my contradicting these two towering theories is raised as a reductio against me, I can only say “so much the worse for them,” although it is far outside the scope of the present essay to argue about the subject. Such a breezy dismissal of the reigning physical paradigm is not likely to win me many converts from among its true believers, but perhaps minds of a different sort will be excited by the prospect of discoveries waiting beyond the current intellectual confines, discoveries that will open up once it is realized just how much of our supposedly settled science is in fact founded upon illogic. So it will be with physics, and so I hope it will be with our investigation into evolution.
To return to the topic of creationism, the potential infinity we are interested in here involves the temporal duration of the universe. Epistemological infinitism holds that there cannot be any such thing as an observable beginning to existence. Such a thing is quite beyond the epistemological horizon; therefore the universe, for naturalistic purposes, must be regarded as infinite in duration, beginningless, endless, and—at least in terms of its ontic structure if not its phenomenal characteristics—without change. We are in good company when we say this, for it was none other than St. Thomas Aquinas, thinking in accord with the ever-reliable Aristotle, who gave the Church’s imprimatur to this very line of reasoning. The basic syllogism at issue is this: Either the world was created ex nihilo at some point in the past, or it has always existed. There is no way to decide the question, since a world that had been created in its present form would look no different from one that had always been there. Therefore you can, if you will, regard it as permanent. A casual reader might take this as precluding any possibility of a special creation, but in fact this is not the case. Recall that this was said by a Christian, and not just any Christian but the most orthodox of all scholars, by St. Thomas himself, the papally declared Common Doctor of the universal Church. That being the case, it invites us to take a closer and more expansive look at what Christianity really means by its doctrine of creation.
The original intent of St. Thomas here was to refute a claim made by St. Bonaventure that creation can be proven to have occurred. Thomas drew upon the arguments of Aristotle in order to defend the Church’s teaching that creation was a free act of God and was not constrained by any necessity, and therefore could not be the logical conclusion of any sound process of natural reason. It was by Revelation alone that the Church proclaimed creation, and not on the strength of any empirical evidence which was not only not wanted but also not possible and not credible. And while St. Thomas’ sympathies may have rested with the need to defend the divine prerogative against a creeping strain of necessitism, it would seem that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander here, and Christianity must certainly not be afraid to take the argument for all it is worth. The crucial phrase here is that the question cannot be decided, i.e. there is no means by which the natural reason can differentiate a created universe from the only possible alternative, an infinitely existing one. Let us put this in the strongest possible terms: There is no test, no experiment, no observation, no discovery, and no argument that ever could or ever will make the created universe appear distinguishable from one that has always existed. This is equivalent to saying that, while a Christian must accept by Revelation that the universe was created ex nihilo by a free act of God, this same Christian, when he wears the hat of the natural investigator, must regard the universe as epistemologically infinite.
Thus, a quartet of potentially observable infinities—the infinite extent and divisibility of space, the infinite extent and divisibility of time—are firmly established fundamental truths both for Christianity and for natural investigation. We have here a first handful of that pure product, that simple and unforced truth which is the hallmark of a real philosophy. It would seem now that in their staid attempts to defend creation from the evolutionist’s scythe, the Young Earthers have unfortunately busied themselves in doing a bunch of things that never needed doing in the first place. Evolution never touched creation; the purpose of the creation doctrine is divine omnipotence, divine freedom, divine love—not natural history. However, by no means should this be taken to imply that, so long as the heavenly authority is secured, we may proceed to fill up the natural history of the Earth with whatever explanations happen to suit our fancy. It was beneficial for us to discuss Young Earth creationism first and thereby arrive by the shortest route to the grand notion of epistemological infinitism. We will need it and related principles in defeating several other false alternatives such as “God of the Gaps,” guided naturalistic evolution, and artifactuality. To these we now turn our attention.
7. Problematic Alternatives B: Rationes Seminales
We have established now that the universe must appear to be without a beginning. We have also at least adumbrated that the forms of living things are immaterial entities and that living things are not merely bodies that arise by mechanical forces in already existing matter. This still leaves us with the problem of where exactly the forms do come from. Perhaps the strongest and deepest attempt to ever address this problem while still falling short of correctness was put forth by the theory of rationes seminales or “rational seeds.” The meaning of this obscure phrase is somewhat better glimpsed in the Greek formulation than in the Latin, where it appears as spermatikoi logoi or “sperm of the logos.” But whether Latin or Greek, the drift of the idea is that the logos-structure of reality—a sort of ontological order which infuses the world with intelligibility—already contains within it the forms of living things as potencies or possibilities. Therefore, when new life emerges, be it a new individual or a whole new species, it does not represent an entirely de novo creation but is simply a preexisting possibility moving from potency to actuality when the conditions for its development are met.
One should not underestimate just how enormously attractive an idea this is. It seems to provide a great deal of explanatory power and creative depth. It appeared in numerous forms throughout the entire Neo-Platonic world, which coincided with the Patristic period of early Christian thought. None other than the great St. Augustine held it. It was sophisticated enough to appeal to intellectuals who thought cult religions superstitious, yet pious enough to preserve the divine glory for even the most religiously minded. The idea is still with us today, albeit subconsciously. Something of the same spirit seems to motivate those who search for extraterrestrial life, which must necessarily assume that life arises on its own whenever conditions are ripe for its appearance. Modern drawing room philosophies of pantheism, panentheism, and panpsychism are at least not averse to it. A common strain of it seems to present just about everywhere one cares to look, as the idea is loose enough to support multiple interpretations. In its most barebones sense, it would seem only to state that living forms are at least preexistent in the mind of God, which would be true on any theory.
At first blush there seems to be little here for a Christian to object to: God respired the logos into being and the logos contains the forms of future organisms—that seems to accord well with the basic Christian attitude. However, this was another idea rejected by St. Thomas Aquinas. In order to see why, we will need to be a little more clear about what it means for matter and form to be composited into a substance. Let us begin with the notion of prime matter, i.e. the pure potentiality that serves as the primordial basis for material things. Prime matter cannot exist on its own because it has no qualities of any kind. It is itself a kind of nothing, but a fertile nothing from which a world can be created. It is the “nihilo” in the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At the opposite pole we have form, which is the entirely immaterial idea or essence of a substance, in this case a living organism. In order to exist they need to combine into the substantial form, which is the coalescence of idea and matter, of potency and act. The substantial form is the “first act” of a substance; that is, its determinate form of being by which it acquires membership in a class. There is no type of actually existing being prior to this. Therefore, the rationes seminales cannot exist because they do not inhere in anything in the only manner in which form can inhere in matter. They cannot inhere in prime matter without informing it, and they cannot inhere in something already existent that has form, because then they would be only accidents and not forms. A key consequence of this argument is that there is only one and exactly one form inhering in every substance.
All this talk of form and substance, act and potency, may seem rather opaque to a modern reader who has never been schooled in Aristotelian metaphysics or Scholastic philosophy. Bearing this in mind, I should like to present a whole alternative scenario which will illustrate the main points but will do so in a thoroughly modern idiom. It has the advantage of being very closely related, mutatis mutandis, to the scheme advanced by St. Bonaventure that St. Thomas originally argued against. Readers of Schopenhauer will also recognize it as resembling a long discussion of life as the objectification of the will that the master carried on in The World as Will and Idea. It has the further advantage of being intimately known by me; for this was once my own belief, developed independently by me as a young man after much thinking and independent study of mostly scientific texts, before I became a mature philosopher and before I became a Christian. I parted with it reluctantly, and only on the authority of St. Thomas, so I am well-positioned to appreciate the appeal of it. I call this the Cellularity Theory: It takes the cell as the prime form of all life but understands life panentheistically and monistically as the intensification of a quality ever-present in matter. Effectively, there is no such thing as nonliving matter, only simpler degrees of objectification of the will.
Grant that existence is founded upon an ineffable and transcendent first cause who breathes forth a world for his own delight. In the primordial depths of this world we find first a will, a simple and implacable will that is everywhere and always groping towards fulfillment in a crush of pure Eros. We call it gravity, the first longing. Against the dissolving union there arises a protest for independence and freedom, and impenetrability asserts itself as the maintainer of separateness. This impenetrability, mediated by electricity and magnetism and perhaps a few other forces (it doesn’t really matter the number) exists in a dynamic tension with gravity and together they give rise to an ordered material cosmos.
The regularity of these interactions and vibrations produces all the substances and elements that go into making up the world. Now a new regularity emerges that becomes the foundation of further order—the crystal. Organized, accretive, and after a fashion reproductive, it is the first attempt at something like life. Mineral crystals grow like exceedingly primitive plants; and the more familiar types of plants, when afterwards they appear, recapitulate their crystalline inheritance. But before even large plants appear, something else happens in the sea and soil that becomes decisive for the future history of life in the universe. The cell appears, and with it the possibility of complex, self-contained organisms.
As soon as the crystals have reached a requisite degree of utility, producing things like lipid membranes and proteins and nucleic acids, they are “taken up” into the new form as a living cell. Not in the manner of materialistic Darwinian evolution does this happen, where it is a mere matter of mechanical self-assembly, but because the form of the cell was already present in the logos-structure of reality and could be educed from potentiality to actuality by the appearance of certain conditions. From here it is easy to see the next sequential steps that go into completing the panoply of life as we know it. “Cellularity” spreads over the whole Earth, providing the necessary material for other bodies. The form of the plant takes up cells into itself, building a crystal of a higher order consisting of carbonic atmosphere and light-energy and gelled loam, and founded upon living cells. Animals are a further elaboration of this process: They are a plantlike powerhouse plus a digestive compost pile of soil fermentation, and their crystalline structure is modified for sensation and motion. Life and matter are of a single nature through and through, and the only difference is in the greater or lesser number of prerequisite forms required for a given expression of will.
This compounding of form upon form was the basic Bonaventurian vision. It is all extremely attractive, but quite wrong. Saint Thomas showed us why, viz. the forms of the subordinate orders (for example, the form of a single living cell in the human body) would be present only as accidents, not substances. That there is one and only one essence in every substantial form leads to some profound consequences for life and matter that are quite at variance with the modern mindset. We are used to thinking of the material world as consisting solely of the physical and chemical transformations of the basic elements. We think of the matter of our bodies as though it were just the same oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, albeit in a special arrangement, but the same chemical elements, nonetheless. The hylomorphic view of Aristotle and Aquinas entails that this is not correct, and that, while those elements can be educed out of human flesh when it decomposes, human flesh is human flesh, a genuine thing of its own, not just an arrangement of elements. Water, in other words, is not H2O.
The implications for the history of life are perhaps even more foreign to modern minds. The scientists of today have roundly assumed that since all lifeforms seem to consist of at least one cell, therefore some single cell was the common ancestor of all life on Earth. There really is no basis for this assumption. Rather, when the essential form of a living creature enters existence, it “cellularizes,” i.e. it acquires a cellular structure as a consequence as of the material nature it must exist within and its concomitant need for metabolism and gas diffusion and so forth. Likewise heredity itself, which we shall talk about in more detail later, has also been quite seriously misunderstood. DNA sequences themselves are not the vehicles of heredity; they are simply flesh, simply body, simply a consequence of existence under material conditions. Life “geneticizes” in the same manner it “cellularizes,” and this means that DNA sequences, be they never so similar, must be regarded no differently than any other homologous structures, and consequently genetic similarity in no way establishes phylogenetic relationship.
Yes, I am aware that this probably comes across as sheer crackpottery; but once again, just as we saw in the previous chapter with epistemological infinitism, it follows with the strictest logic from indubitable metaphysical foundations. Notice also that the contrary was never proven to begin with; it was simply asserted when Watson and Crick elucidated the chemical structure of DNA. From that moment to this, its role as the vehicle of heredity has been an unquestioned assumption. I maintain that not only is DNA not the vehicle of heredity, but that there is no material vehicle of heredity. Common descent is proven neither by cellularity nor by genetics. Many ancillary beliefs such as the Margulis theory of mitochondria are likewise found to be unmotivated. Every form stands on its own. Any such theory of interrelatedness—whether it be materialist-Darwinian or dualist-Bonaventurian or New Age-Gaian—that serves to make all life on Earth into one single historically connected superorganism, is quite incompatible with the doctrine of the forms and is certainly not what we mean by creation or the logos-structure of reality. Neither do we mean mere mathematical information as such, and this leads us to our next chapter.
8. Problematic Alternatives C: Intelligent Design
We need not linger long over the introductory material here. Much has been written both for and against Intelligent Design in historically recent times, and I could think of little that would be less helpful or less to my taste than to attempt another meaningless and dry survey of the state of that debate, which must at the last reveal itself to be either a colossal (dare I say unforgiveable) misunderstanding or a shameful exercise in intellectual autoeroticism. The main objective in this chapter, as in the previous two chapters, will be to show what creation is not. Intelligent Design is an even bigger distortion of the creation doctrine than probably even Young Earthism, but it is far and away the most published about, the most popular, the most philosophically parsed by public pseudointellectuals, the most cruelly attacked by ignorant and wanton bullies, and the least expertly defended by mountebanks. Neither the opponents nor the advocates of this idea deserve any credit for accepting its ludicrous premises. Both strawman and dumb idol, it seems almost deliberately engineered to do nothing except generate pointless controversy, the grist of the academics’ tiresome mill.
Intelligent Design refers to a set of theories according to which life is said to exhibit a property called “irreducible complexity,” that is to say, living organisms consist of parts that are so interdependent that the proper functioning of one depends on the proper functioning of all the others, such that the impossibility of them falling into this arrangement by chance is certain or at least prohibitively severe. When a complex system of this nature is in evidence, so the theory goes, it stands to reason that it was placed there by an intelligence who so orchestrated the parts as to function in this mutually dependent manner. The locus classicus of this style of thinking, or at least what is commonly taken to be so, is the watchmaker analogy of William Paley, viz. the idea that if we see a watch, we suppose that there is a watchmaker who manufactured it and who did so for a purpose. This shallow reading is actually quite unfair to Paley, who situated his analogy within an entire book of natural theology and whose main arguments were rather more subtle and profound than that. It had been Paley’s objective to argue for the existence of God based upon the goodness and order to be found in creation, not to argue that organisms are so complex that only God could have made them, and therefore God exists. In this he was much more in line with the Five Ways of St. Thomas Aquinas and much more in line with what I am talking about in this essay; the shallow interpretation is not something that would have occurred to him. It is certainly correct to argue in a Thomistic manner that the fact that there is order and intelligibility in the cosmos at all inevitably leads to the conclusion of an ultimate and transcendent rational cause. However, the complexity of living organisms is meant only as a rather idiosyncratic route into this general principle; it is not, as it were, “the point” of it. Given an intelligible cosmos, one could easily imagine any number of intermediate causes that could have resulted in complex structures like living organisms without direct divine involvement, provided that these structures are conceived mechanistically; but one cannot not imagine God, given an intelligible cosmos.
And life is not to be conceived mechanistically. Nothing so perfectly illustrates the dilapidated state of contemporary metaphysical understanding as the fact that even the so-called Intelligent Design camp accepts without question the materialist or Cartesian-dualist presupposition that living beings are merely complex biochemical machines. Under the mad spell of their “irreducible complexity” (which, mechanically speaking, does not even exist—there is no such thing as a machine that is not reducible to simpler functional units, for that is what it means to be a machine), it was forgotten that the question here was never about how the molecules in a living organism got into their current arrangement; it was about how a living thing qua living could come into existence at all. But rather than touch this question, it was if the Intelligent Designers asked themselves, “How complex would a 3D printer need to be to in order to print up a pineapple or a goldfish?” And, having decided that undirected physical forces could not provide a sufficiently likely analogue to such a device, they declared that the pineapple printer could only be an intelligent agent.
Thus the stage is set for the Design detractors’ chief counterargument, viz. “Who designed the designer?” At one level this is simply a childish quip, but at another level it points up the very problem with all this foolishness. If the designer is another material, mechanical process, then an infinite regress of such designers is strongly implied; and rather than solving the problem, all we have done is delayed the solution by one or more iterations. On the other hand, if there is a first, foundational designer that is not itself designed, it raises the question of why, if random forces could produce this thing, they could not also produce life as we know it without such an intermediary. In fact, if life is material and its cause is material, then there cannot be anything more in the effect than there is in the cause. Absolutely everything is determined right from the very beginning, and the whole idea of irreducible complexity turns out to be quite nonsensical. If life is material that has been organized by a designer, then either the designer had a designer or it did not; and since neither arm of this disjunct is possible, the true value of “Intelligent Design” consists in that it serves as a reductio proving that life is not material organized by a designer.
Before departing from this chapter altogether, it is necessary to say a few words about the experiments into “synthetic life” conducted by J. Craig Venter—e.g. inserting an entirely reconstructed genome into a bacterial cell—because sooner or later they are sure to be brought up in connection with the question of whether life can be synthesized at all. A full discussion of these experiments should be left for another time; what is of interest here is the essence and nature of what they revealed. Suffice it to say here that life was not created artificially. It is only the modern researcher’s unmerited belief in genetic information as the motive power and élan vital of the organism (to be discussed in chapter 13) that causes him to interpret the results that way. What actually transpired here was a radical microsurgery akin to, say, removing a limb and quickly reattaching it again. Once DNA is dethroned from its usurpatious role as élan vital and properly ennobled as an organ of protein synthesis, this will all become clear.
We can imagine, at the last, a modern version of Leibniz’s Mill experiment. Let us take an organism, perhaps a housefly, and expand its proportions by a hundred billion such that we can actually walk around amidst its molecules and observe them in their living activity. If life consists entirely in a certain arrangement of parts then it ought to be scale-invariant, and this giant fly should be every bit as alive as its Lilliputian counterpart. Furthermore, since it is only the process, the arrangement, the information that really counts, even a simulation of the fly ought to be just as alive as the real fly, provided it was exact. We ought to be able to program and copy flies to our heart’s content; nay, we can even conjure them into existence through deeply bizarre projections like the following: Somewhere among the thousand-odd Avogadros of air molecules in the room I am writing in, there is a certain subset of them that, given their current positions and trajectories, are about to compute the perfect fly simulation algorithm. All I need to do then is find the right selector, the right “decryption key,” which need not go to the trouble of actually existing, and I can say that the fly is really present in the air around me. And what about transcendental numbers? An infinite, nonrepeating, nonterminating decimal expansion like π must eventually contain every possible bit string, including the fly simulation algorithm. Perhaps there is some mystical sense in which I create whole virtual menageries just by drawing circles in the sand. All this is passing strange and ridiculous, but to such extremes are we driven by mathematical realism and Intelligent Design’s implication that life consists in the information or arrangement of material parts. It is hardly more inane than the multiverse theory which is seriously entertained by many practicing physicists. Schopenhauer expressed something of the same criticism when he said that if life is in the shape of things, then we would find it in clouds in the shapes of beasts. If on such outlandish excursions, physical or mental, we do not find living creatures, we will not find them in the arrangement of their own molecules either.
9. Problematic Alternatives D: Unintelligent Design
In this the last of our chapters discussing problematic alternatives to Darwinism, we finally address the class of theories to which Darwinism itself belongs, as well as any variations upon it. This we may style, to use a figure of speech, unintelligent design, by which we mean any theory holding that life is composed solely of matter and compounded by material forces, but these forces act in a random and stochastic manner devoid of purposeful direction. Erstwhile critics of Darwinism have almost universally advanced arguments highlighting the extreme improbability of such a process; however, I do not believe that this is the correct approach. Probability can never afford the basis for a metaphysical argument, and if the universe must be assumed to be indistinguishable from one that is infinitely old in infinite space, then even the least probable events must be assumed to have happened. This does not benefit the Darwinist, however, for the following reason.
Recall what was said earlier about the magical thinking engaged in by evolutionists. The idea that “given enough time, anything can happen” does not extend to things that are metaphysically impossible, such as the development of life from nonlife. It is not that this is merely highly improbable, which would not matter; it is that it is metaphysically prohibited, which matters very much. The living organism is not a process occurring in otherwise dead matter. It is alive by virtue of what it is, and this essence is its immaterial form. It is the soul, the “anima,” that makes it alive in the first place. The soul is monadic, immaterial, indivisible, and therefore not changeable in the manner that accidents change. Matter is extended, material, and always in flux. A living soul cannot be made of matter any more than justice can be literally weighed in a balance. Evolutionists are simply making a category mistake when they assert that a timescale of billions of years will square that circle for them.
It is common nowadays to hear analogies made (both ways) between the evolutionary process and computation, neural networks, machine learning, and so forth. It has been said to me on occasion that if a computer can learn to play chess better than any human grandmaster, then natural forces can make a biosphere is billions of years. It was not really explained just what exactly these two things have to do with one another, unless we are to believe that the natural world is a giant analog computer running a simulation with living creatures (but what is it simulating?). In any case, it has simply been missed that the real thrust of this argument ought to run in the opposite direction. If the much more intensified and deliberate processes of computation and engineering cannot make life where formerly there was none, then a fortiori random forces should not be able to do so either. It is precisely here where everything hinges, for nobody has any idea how to engineer or compute life. This is not because there are “gaps in our knowledge”—the God of the Gaps hypothesis is both another straw clutched at and another strawman demolished by the respective anti- and pro-evolution factions—but because that which we call knowledge belongs to a different order of being than that which we call life. Life is real and primordial whereas knowledge exists only for an intellect. It does about as much good to say that life can be made with knowledge as it does to say that matter can be made with knowledge. Yet the Darwinians do not even say this much; they say that life was made in the same manner that knowledge would make it in but cannot, only without the knowledge. Truly magical thinking indeed.
This is all so much the worse for machine learning and AI, which really do not even exist except as moods in the minds of modern, educated onlookers. Although this essay is not the place to discuss it in depth, we ought to at least foreshadow that it will soon be necessary to put an end to this whole manner of speaking. Machines do not “learn to play chess.” Rather, a group of human beings (the programmers) plays chess against another human being (the grandmaster) using the machine that they designed and built as an intermediary. Machines can neither learn nor play chess because machines cannot do anything; they do not carry within themselves their own principle of activity. The machine is simply the orchestration of incidents. In order to make a machine, physical qualities are abstracted away from the materials in which they inhere, then recombined in different proportions to produce the desired result. No machine, from the most simple to the most complicated, is essentially anything more than a bunch of dominoes set up to fall and cascade in a predictable pattern. If two falling dominoes are not alive, then neither are 200 million. If screws, levers, and inclined planes are not sparking with rudimentary intellect, then neither is a computer intelligent. How was it ever forgotten that machines are simply tools, auxiliaries produced by humans to aid the humans in doing the things that they want done? The whole idea of machine agency is quite frankly, quite literally a mass delusion—a delusion never examined because to do so would be fatal to Western man’s entire self-conception. However, the thing itself being true, it cannot be suppressed forever. It will emerge into the light of day with such profound cultural consequences that few even dare imagine the outcome. If AI falls, so also falls Darwinism, Intelligent Design, unintelligent design, and the entirety of biomolecular genetics conceived as information. There is no God of the Gaps due to missing knowledge, but we are left to confront the God of the one great gap between life and nonlife which is otherwise unbridgeable.
In summary, we have seen that life cannot be simply material and that this squelches any idea that it was designed either intelligently or unintelligently, meaning that Darwinism and Intelligent Design are both false. If life is not mere matter, then it must be a compound of matter and form. But we have also seen that forms are not potential in the logos-structure of reality nor are they educed by material causes, which precludes Bonaventurianism and Cellularism. The origin of forms must therefore involve a special act of divine concurrence either originally or in the process of procreation. But we know from epistemological infinitism that Young Earth creationism is also false. Therefore, we are left with the truth of the Tridentine formulation, viz. “The soul [read here the essence or substantial form] is of itself and per se the form of the body and is multiplied as bodies are multiplied.”
Thus, having completed our survey of the relevant metaphysics, we move on to the constructive phase of the new and correct paradigm.
10. But What About the Fossil Record?
At this point I can practically hear my many Darwinian interlocutors exclaiming, “Oh, come now, we know that evolution occurred because we can observe it happening in the fossil record.” They will go on to assert that the preponderance of paleontological and geological evidence together forms a story that is most impressively consistent, and which includes evolution as an integral component. The Darwinian theory is supported by so much else that we seem to know so thoroughly that we therefore also “know” it. But do we really? What do we actually know from the fossil record? What is it possible to know from the fossil record? And what exactly is the fossil record, anyway?
I submit that we know rather less about the fossil record than we pretend to know. For us laymen, among whom I must number myself, it is certainly true that the proportion of our knowledge of the fossil record which derives from direct investigation and experience is practically nonexistent. Almost the entirety of our knowledge is mediated to us by books, scholarly articles, documentaries, classrooms, and the consensus of expert opinion. This does not, in and of itself, throw such knowledge into disrepute, but it does mean that what we are presented with is already situated within the context of a carefully constructed narrative that tends to induce certain global presuppositions that color our interpretation of subsequent facts. Although evolutionists are wont to be very insistent about the value of their “empirical” science, evolution is the kind of science that is accepted almost entirely on authority by the vast majority of its adherents. But furthermore, I maintain that even among the experts, even among the collectivity of experts and firsthand field researchers, much less is known than is generally supposed. The subject matter is by definition quite ancient and incomplete. We have seen again and again in the history of science that inferences from incomplete evidence are wildly off the mark; however, here there can be no final reckoning, no corrective, no great affirmation of indubitable truths, for the answers lie irretrievably lost in the past. The full picture of what life was really like in the kingdom of the dinosaurs or the paleolithic seas is something more remote from us than the surface of Venus. We can and have sent probes to Venus, but we can send no probes backward in time.
Yet, I do not mean to rest my criticism on such appeals to ignorance. Rather, I intend to rest it precisely on that which is most widely and definitely and incontrovertibly known about the natural history of life on Earth, viz. that the forms of life have varied over time. The deep past contained some organisms that are no longer with us, and some of today’s organisms seem not to have inhabited the past. The Darwinians have often strangely claimed the mere fact of this change as proof of their own and only their own theory, as if nothing else could explain it. But the type of variations seen are not the ones that would be most obviously compatible with a Darwinian reading. We do not anywhere see a successive refinement of life developing itself on the fitness principle. Instead we find forms appearing suddenly in their complete condition, enduring for long ages practically unaltered, and then fading into obscurity. This disharmony between theory and observation has sometimes sent Darwinians grasping for epicyclic ad hoc hypotheses such as punctuated equilibrium. I have been told by some that this theory is now discredited. Whether it is or not, the problem that prompted it certainly remains.
In rejecting both Intelligent and Unintelligent Design, we have already ruled out not only Darwinism but any theory holding that life emerges and develops due to “causality,” due to forces acting upon matter according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. There is no discernable logic to living forms appearing when and as they do. The essential form is something that originates beyond the epistemological horizon, beyond the domain of causal knowledge. The mystery of matter and form, which was inconsistently amalgamated in Cartesian dualism and soothingly elided in materialistic Darwinism, is here seen to be primary and requires the hylomorphic synthesis. But this opens up again an epistemological problem that particularly afflicts the science minded. What does it mean for a form to come from beyond the epistemological horizon? The immaterial form has to acquire a material existence at some point, so what happens when it does? What would I see if I were standing there? It is this urge to understand the visible side of the process that motivates many an honest skeptic, and it was one of the principle attractions of Darwinism that it seemed (only seemed) to provide an answer. Now that the subject, once thought closed, has been opened up again, it is only fair to ask what transpires in the physical world when a wholly new lifeform (by this we mean one not issuing from a parental exemplar of the same kind) comes into existence. We have stipulated before that the form must inform the matter. It is not a familiar phrase or a familiar process, so we will have to try to imagine what it might look like. Here are four examples.
-Natal neogenesis: The first place where we might expect to se the emergence of life of a novel form, is the very place where we typically see the emergence of new life of the same form—in birth. For in very truth, the process of procreation in the same kind is no less astonishing than would be an entirely new creation developing through a similar process, except that we are so habituated to the former that it often ceases to amaze. It could be that new forms are born from existing forms via some sort of gestational process. Whether it is a live birth or a hatching from some kind of egg or a budding off as in the case of many plants and asexually reproducing animals, it is not difficult to see how a new lifeform could arrive into existence by way of the reproductive channels of an existing lifeform. Such an event would not even be too terribly puzzling but might seem more of an extraordinary case of a normal process, a curiosity.
-Inorganic neogenesis: Here the matter that the new essence informs does not belong to a single living creature in a parent/child relationship with the new one, but consists in the waters, muds, and rocks of the Earth, or perhaps the fertile soil with its retinue of microorganisms. Very likely in the case of bacteria and protists, and also perhaps fungi, worms, arthropods, and many types of plants. It reminds of the spontaneous generation theories of old, although it is important to remember that it is not “causal” and cannot be induced into occurring at the experimenter’s command. This is why pasteurization works and canned foods remain sterile. The difference between spontaneous generation and inorganic neogenesis is that the latter cannot be assumed to occur just because certain conditions are met but happens only at the discretion of God. This is certainly how the first lifeforms were created, and one cannot say that there is not a continuous stream of them still trickling in unto the present day.
-Vegetative neogenesis: Given the remarkable nature of plant growth—of vegetative propagation or the development of a complex arrangement of stems, roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits out of a commonplace looking seed—it should not be impossible to imagine a plant transforming entirely into another plant, or likewise a different plant or even an animal growing on it like a kind of fruit before breaking off and living an independent life. Plants often reproduce by budding and division anyway, so once again the outline of the process itself involves nothing unfamiliar. It is only the emergence of a different kind rather than a similar kind of creature that distinguishes it from procreation.
-Animal neogenesis: The wholesale transformation of an animal of one type into an animal of another type. Possible as an economical means of producing predator-types out of prey-types (and vice versa), and also for the subtler differences involved in radiation and allopatric speciation (see next chapter). It is important to remember here that all these different modes of neogenesis are only meant to answer the question “What might it look like?” and not to explain the matter causally after the manner of “this, therefore that.” God does not need an “economical” means of making predators out of prey; He Who made everything out of nothing can surely make something out of anything. However, it may be expedient as a means to keeping an area populated at all times with all the different types of life necessary to make up a functioning ecosystem.
11. The Metamorphosis
Any or all of these types of neogenesis might have happened. There is no firm dividing line between them, nor between other types that might possibly be imagined. It is also possible that God simply creates new forms in situ without making use of the preexisting material conditions. That is certainly possible to His power, but then their appearance would seem utterly miraculous to our eyes. Very seldom does God deign to so thoroughly override the laws of nature He has established; He prefers to work within them as much as possible. But the emergence of any new life—be it a new individual or an entirely new species—is a sort of miracle, whether obviously uncanny or camouflaged in the ordinary course of things. Howsoever the transformations occur, the general idea can be subsumed under a single heading that I like to call, with apologies to Franz Kafka, “the metamorphosis.” The essential form informs preexisting matter and the new life emerges, and the appearance of it will be like something after the manner of birth, growth, or miracle. Even though essential forms do not originate within the confines of the nature that we can observe, even though they come from beyond the epistemological horizon and do not develop according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason—even so, this is not unscientific. The metamorphosis is something that could at least in principle be observed if we were very, very lucky. It is the business of scientific hypotheses to predict new phenomena that have not yet been observed. Perhaps one day it will be observed.
The metamorphosis is a sort of umbilical cord between essence and existence, between form and matter, between the eternal and the temporal, between Heaven and Earth. That which appears on Earth as life is that which is present in the mind of God as idea. The eternal idea temporalizes by informing matter in a particular time and place, thereby acquiring individuality. New individual souls of the same kind are created by the concurrence of God as bodies are conceived or divided. New souls of a novel kind are created by God and embodied through the process of metamorphosis. It is important to remember here that, even should the new soul first come into existence by informing the already existing body of some other creature, it does so only by immediately and entirely displacing the other soul. The first creature dies so that the second one can be born. There is no amalgamation, development, evolution, or transformation of one soul into another. This is why we belabored the point earlier that there can be one and only one form in every substance. Each one is separated from all others because it is individuated by matter. Finally, that which impacts the body by way of causality does not educe changes in the soul. Souls are “timeful” with respect to destiny (as the symbol of the tree tells us—the tree is the historical plant whose shape is acquired by and through its life history), but they themselves are not causally altered in time.
The fossil record, as far as it goes, bears witness to this process. But somebody may yet ask whether this is all just some sort of prestidigitation, whether this soul-doctrine has been superimposed upon a natural history that is in fact merely naturalistic, as a way of dissimulating it. The metaphysical discussion we had in earlier chapters ought to have put that concern to rest, but it is no trouble to address it again from a slightly different angle, for such questions are bound to rise again and again to trouble us in the midst of a paradigm shift. The salient point here is to recognize that the metamorphosis need not involve a radical change. A whole concatenation of forms may follow one upon another in metamorphic succession with each one differing only slightly from its neighbor, such that the chain of them put together might be taken to mimic a gradual Darwinian development. I am not aware of any actually existing examples of this, but we retain it as a possibility as it may shed some light on those phenomena the Darwinian refers to as radiation, allopatric speciation, and colonization. If a certain rare bird is present on only one island in the world, but a similar form is widespread on a nearby continent, it is possible (although not necessary) that the island population originated from the continent. What is not possible is that the island population got into its present condition by way of “transitional forms.” There are no such things as transitional forms since every form must be something entire and complete unto itself. But if Darwinism were true then there would be nothing but transitional forms with no boundaries or definition or species. Every population would simply be a “local variety” of the same generic life-stuff. On the other hand, if a founding and breeding population from the mainland could arrive at the island by chance, it is not unreasonable to ask whether, if such an event be possible at all, it is not sufficiently common so as to keep interbreeding going between the two groups. Chance colonization events are triply unlikely insofar as they have to happen by accident and have to happen only once, and going only one way. If, on the other hand, chance colonizations were actually quite rare indeed, then a formal metamorphosis of the founding population to something more suitable to its involuntary environs would seem to explain observed reality better.
It is okay that the metamorphic doctrine would allow for a process that mimics a Darwinian-like result in those rare instances when Darwinism sort of seems to work. After all, the Darwinian idea attracted the attention of so many intelligent people for so many years precisely because it seemed to explain a few things that needed explaining. The fact that it was metaphysically impossible should have been heeded; the search should have continued for a better explanation even as Mr. Darwin was heartily thanked for his contributions. I am endeavoring here to supply that corrective. It is ever the case in science that when a new paradigm supplants an old one, the new arrival must pay the proper respect to its historical predecessor by not only explaining the old facts and explaining them better, but also by graciously understanding the source of the error. Mankind was too precipitous in accepting Darwinism and forgot first principles in the process. With the doctrine of the metamorphosis, we no longer need to make that compromise.
12. Plasticity Within the Form and the Demise of the Border Collie
My evolutionist interlocutors, perhaps now gasping in exasperation, may at last decide to deploy their nuclear arsenal in defense of their treasured theory. “But we know evolution is possible because we have done it ourselves. We have been breeding domesticated plants and animals for thousands of years and making all sorts of changes in them. Look at the different breeds of dog. Do you honestly think that this is not evolution? Do you honestly think that this is not a perfect analogy for the differences in human races? Do you honestly think that a chihuahua is no different than a border collie?” My old friend, this Homeric and belletristic border collie, always seems to make an appearance in these discussions. Ever the faithful companion of the Darwinian posse, he never fails to come when called, all bright-eyed and tail a’ wagging, to supposedly settle the matter in favor of the powers of natural selection. This is due, of course, to him being thought the most intelligent of the working dogs, and to his uncanny powers being the result (it is said) of a very vigorous selective breeding process which has stamped them deeply into his blood and behavior. If man can make a border collie out of a wolf, it is thought, then nature acting over unimaginably longer timescales can make all the species in the natural world that we see around us.
The argument from selective breeding, which is usually called “microevolution” in these sorts of debates, is the Darwinian’s strongest trump card. It is time that we see exactly what is going on with the border collie, with Holstein cattle, with Cavendish bananas, and with all the other breeds, strains, and cultivars which man has developed for his own use down through the millennia. Of course, referring to all this as microevolution from the beginning is to use a question-begging term, for it presumes the very thing which is to be proven. Critics of evolution have long laid stress on the fact that selective breeding does not produce differences in kind. All breeds of domestic dog are still dogs, for example. The evolutionists have responded that this is really just a question of degree; the bifurcation of life into wholly different species is really just a more protracted and random version of the same process that has developed both chihuahuas and border collies out of some distant domestic dog ancestor. The issue here is whether breeding really is anything like evolution, and if not, what is it exactly.
If, as we have established earlier, substantial forms are immediate creations, then unless there is an instance of formal metamorphosis, procreation will be after the same kind. But the formal metamorphosis of a living creature cannot be educed by material causality. Selective breeding by humans is a type of material causality, therefore the development of breeds and strains is reproduction within the same kind. The changes that are wrought, therefore, are not substantial but accidental, even though these changes can be quite pronounced. This is an example of what I like to call plasticity within the form.
Plasticity is akin to an intensified terroir influence that has been focused by the mind and hand of man. All organisms are by nature outfitted to respond to terroir influences because they cannot know beforehand what sort of conditions chance will expose them to. This responsive power exists to help them achieve their destiny amidst the range of material circumstances that cannot be part of their formal definition. When that power is pushed to its uttermost limits by deliberate human interference, then we get creatures that produce more milk and more grain and larger fruits than their natural tendency would be to, had they been left alone. We must remember here that this is the very opposite of Darwinian “fitness.” Human-developed cultivars are almost always at an extreme disadvantage compared to their own wild types. They are fragile and do not survive easily outside of their artificial environments. Significantly, the traits imposed upon them by selective breeding are shed or dissipated or their bearers die out completely when the creatures are allowed to go feral, for they are not in the service of destiny. The domestic type is more or less tortured into its present existence by unrelenting pressure under which it strives mightily to survive, thus developing the distortions and exaggerations we refer to as desirable traits.
Consider the life of a barnyard plant or animal. From its first moment until its last, it is never allowed to live and to exist for itself. It begins with the ruthless culling of all its brethren who do not possess the sought-after qualities. If it survives that test, it is marched along its life course with heartless efficiency, fertilized and fed a carefully controlled stream of nutrients, measured for benchmarks met and eliminated if it falls behind, caged and corralled in unusual conditions, and finally harvested and slaughtered and converted into raw material for human consumption, which was its end all along. A more unnatural type of selection pressure could hardly be imagined.
This is what life looks like under the impact of “causality.” There can be no better proof that microevolution has nothing to do with the natural history of life on Earth than the fact that, in a natural environment, the pressures would come from all sides, at all times, in all ways, leading to no net bias in any direction. The result of this constant barrage would be to keep all forms compact and well-rounded, like pebbles in a stream. Any eccentricities would have been worn away, quite unlike the deliberate eccentricities that are introduced by selective breeding programs. A twisted creature, forced to serve an end totally outside itself, deprived of its natural shape and natural habits, still laboring to survive even under these straitened conditions—this is microevolution. It cannot create forms; it can only force them to exist in a distorted shape and squeeze something out of them in the process.
An additional fatal blow to microevolution is how very limited it is. It has been suggested to me before that if the particular plants and animals that man has adapted to his own use, such as Bovidae and cereal grains, had not been domesticated, we could have started with others and achieved much the same result. Actual breeders and agriculturalists know this is not true, however. Almost every useful domestic plant and animal has been with us since prehistory, these forms showing a more pronounced affinity to being adapted and controlled by man. The others either cannot reproduce well in captivity or cannot be coaxed into producing some result we find desirable. This goes to show that adaptability and responsivity to terroir influences varies greatly from form to form, which marks the difference between creatures like cockroaches and coelacanths which remain unaltered for whole geological ages, and domestic dogs which split evasively into a profuse variety of shapes. Many creatures have a fairly narrow range beyond which they simply will not adapt anymore. This relative cohesivity of the form is something given along with it at its inception and which all the mechanisms of causality are powerless to alter.
This ought to put a rest to the argumentum ad border collie. He is a fine and helpful chap, but basically a hothouse flower who has been wrenched into his current condition and who could not and would not long maintain it of his own volition. It is usually not very helpful to think of human races along such lines, although terroir influences certainly do affect the human organism. True selective breeding among humans is almost impossible to imagine under real-world conditions, except to the extent that it operates unconsciously based on notions of beauty and class and social importance; even there, however, there is so much noise mixed in with the signal that the term “cultivar” and its synonyms can be applied to human beings only as a very loose analogy. Among peoples, “race” is better understood not as distinguishing physical traits but as character, as an adjective applying to those individuals who possess the prerequisites for greatness as opposed to those who are lacking in some respect. We will touch upon this again at the end of the essay.
The argument is now almost done but the evolutionist still has one last arrow in his quiver: The genetic evidence. In the next chapter we will look on in amazement at how a whole subject could have been so thoroughly and completely misunderstood as to strain credibility, and once we see it in a new light it will be impossible to see it any other way ever again.
13. The Mismeasure of DNA
I should like to begin this chapter by posing another epistemological problem. The problem is vast in scope and ought to be worthy of a book-length treatise of its own. We cannot let it detain us here, for it would too heavily encumber the present essay; but we ought to at least be aware of its existence so that we can see how the implied response renders moot any sweeping claims made for the specificity of DNA when it comes to either heredity or phenotypic traits. The problem, to wit, is this: Considering an organism and all its manifold attributes, what exactly about it can we really refer to as a “trait”? Given the limited information of our senses and the finite and somewhat arbitrary list of categories into which we can classify its properties, how do we know that anything we are likely to fix upon as a meaningful characteristic is at all something definite as far as the organism itself is concerned? And since we cannot be sure of what constitutes a trait to begin with, how can we further say that such qualities are correlated with, and indeed derive from, certain DNA sequences? Look at the locus classicus of such thinking. Look at Mendel’s pea plants. Is tallness a trait? Are yellow or green peas a trait? What if the salient quality here was not something readily presentable to our senses? What are the chances that all this should be straightforwardly related to certain genetic sequences in a way that we can understand?
I ask this in order to highlight the problems involved in assuming that the complete phenomenological picture of an organism is readily decomposable into “traits” that can then be easily and causally assigned to genetic sequences. Empirically this has never been the case; indeed the number of specific “genes” known to result in hereditarily reliable outcomes remains small and sparse and very incomplete. Again, this is due not to the inadequacy of our knowledge but to the essential incorrectness of our conceptual framework. Thinking of DNA as the information or “blueprint” according to which a creature is constructed leads to innumerable blind alleys and false conclusions. Since organisms are essences and holistic wholes, they are not constructed out of material parts to begin with, so it makes no sense to look for their “instruction manual” in DNA or anywhere else. The equivalence between DNA and “genetic information” has indeed never been establish, but then again never was the question seriously asked. As mentioned earlier, it was simply asserted to be the case when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, because the notion that there must be some sort of genetic code was already preestablished in the minds of the scientific community. Had anyone been more curious at the time, they might have wondered how very strange it was that a 3-bit codon, which was just what was needed to satisfy their desires, turned out to be present whole and entire within nucleic acid. They might have wondered if this seemingly serendipitous result was not rather an artifact of their own style of perception.
It ought to be clear by now that information—in the modern mathematical sense, not the hylomorphic sense of informed matter—is simply the wrong way to understand the life and history of organisms. What DNA really is has so far eluded understanding due to this false role that was forced upon it. Here once again we find the Darwinists guilty of a sort of magical thinking, this time partaking of the fallacy of microscopism. Because DNA is molecular in scale and thus not readily seen and recondite in its operations, it is often taken as a black box out of which miracles can emerge. The scientific community has convinced itself that somewhere out of sight a mysterious process occurs that transforms information into proteins and proteins into life. This is no more possible than the domino analogy we mentioned before; it is only the invisibility of molecular workings that allows the magic spell to continue. If DNA were really blown up to the size of the familiar laboratory stick-and-ball model, nobody would claim that it was actually manufacturing a living thing. They would say rather that it was the result of a living thing or that it adorns a living thing, in the same sense that a growing hair results from and adorns a living mammal. The existence of congenital genetic diseases, which sadly afflict the entire organism in often horrible ways, testifies to this fact. For if DNA really is just a genetic blueprint, then a mutation in DNA would result in noise, static, a sort of sub-organic slop that held not any form. As it is, genetic mutations result in afflictions that the living form tries to carry on in spite of.
DNA, among other possible functions that we do not know about, is simply an organ of protein synthesis. It belongs to the organism in the same sense that the rest of the organism’s body belongs to it, for the DNA is also “body”—it is just as physical, just as phenomenal, just as corporeal, and just as material as a hand or a foot. It is not “information.” There really is no such physically existing thing as information in the modern mathematical sense, which is really only a certain semiotic sign-convention embossed upon a material substrate which requires a rational actor to interpret. Physical matter is quite indifferent to that sort of information, so we cannot expect to find it speaking back at us from out of the DNA molecule.
Once we accept “DNA as organ,” a lot of other observed facts make sense in context. The polyploidy of high-yielding cereal grains and the polynucleation of muscle cells are rather obvious cases of their need to support more growth than usual. Also, the fragmentary successes achieved by genetic engineering to date make sense only on this model and on no other. The production of Bt corn, of golden rice, and of insulin-making bacteria, to take but a few well-known examples, are comprehensible only if one views DNA as a sort of potent raw material, the way that an ER nurse might view the blood in an IV bag during a blood transfusion. It infuses a definite result—bodily health—without effecting a change in essence; the blood recipient does not transform into the blood donor. Likewise, there can be no better proof of the lack of correspondence between genetic sequences and observed traits than the fact that one and the same genome is present in both the fertilized zygote and the fully grown mammal, the acorn and the oak tree, the larval grub and the adult moth. If a phenotypic change as profound as that between a chicken and an egg can occur with no genotypic change whatsoever (or so it is thought; cf. seq.), then the change between, say, a chicken and a peafowl ought to present no impediments. The main reason for the specificity of DNA seems to be to constrain individuals to breeding only with certain other individuals, thus preserving a living strain within a natural kind—a role that is most powerfully expressed by the symbol of the chromosomal number.
For these reasons, we have to conclude that DNA has only a functional and indefinite relationship with heredity. We have said before that when an essential form becomes an existent living being, it “geneticizes” as a means to becoming actual under material conditions. This means that in most cases it simply takes over and proceeds with the genetic material contributed to it by its parents, but there is no reason to expect this to be invariably the case. I predict that as genetic studies progress and are performed by researchers with more integrity who are less tainted by the reigning orthodoxy, we shall find that DNA is not always transmitted with perfect fidelity from parent to child, that it does not remain unaltered throughout the lifespan of the individual, that there are often phenotypic changes without genotypic changes, and likewise genotypic changes without phenotypic changes, that both intraspecies and interspecies chimeras occur with regularity, and that except in certain comparatively rare and obvious cases, the correspondence between genetic patterns and observable phenomenal traits of the organism remains opaque and impossible to determine. Heredity, though quite real, remains an essentially mysterious process that it would be a travesty to reduce to chemical identifiers.
With this, the argument against Darwinism and the materialistic conception of life is complete. We have reached the end of the discursive portion of our discussion and proceed with our final three chapters of conclusory remarks by taking up again the problem of human races.
14. Back to Human Races
By summing up and assimilating everything we have covered thus far, we are now in a position to make the following remarks about human races. There is but one human essence, that of rational animal. All human beings anywhere, no matter their ethnic background or chronological age or developmental state, partake of this form. It first appeared, as do all forms, in an act of special creation of which the epistemological trace takes the shape of a metamorphosis. Beyond that, the circumstances of its appearance—the when and the whence—we do not know, and we will never know. It would be foolhardy to try to reconstruct a natural history of the human race based on the scant evidence available to us; and, against the hopes of those looking forward to a genetic unraveling of the problem, DNA can tell us nothing. All that we have at our disposal is the physiognomic flair that perceives an ontology of essence underneath the sensible signs, with all the caveats that implies. Accordingly, as I see it, the principal division between human beings is that between black Africans and everybody else, which I would consider to be a metamorphically accented change flowing from essence. The differences between Caucasians, East Asians, South Asians, Amerindians, and Polynesians are probably accidental and result from terroir influences and diet operating over lengthy periods of time. All other ethnicities are capable of better relations and better mutual understanding between each other than any of them are with blacks, and blacks have less capacity than others in civilizational potential. Black people are in general less able to engage fully in distinctively human activities and do so only with difficulty for themselves and aggravation for others, yet they are not essentially anything other than human. This seems to indicate that black people are under some type of curse, the “curse of Ham” as it was classically known, as a punishment long ago stamped upon them. This is neither a cruelty nor a prejudice to state. It agrees with the plain facts, and it is rather less damning than the idea, held by the HBDers, that they are biologically predestined to a substandard fate. A curse can be overcome, but not so a sentence of inferiority based upon race, where race is held to be “biological” and biology is held to be all.
Race is real and essential; it is not a social construct. The racial problems that exist in America, however, are entirely social constructs. They exist not in spite of society’s choices but precisely because of them, specifically because of the movements, demonstrations, rulings, and legislation that transpired in the wake of the Civil War and has continued throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Absent the particular history that Western peoples find themselves in and indeed created for themselves, racial problems would not exist in the form of a suffocating atmosphere that stifles truth-telling and redress. Racial realities cannot be obviated within the narrow ranges and scant degrees of freedom which divine providence permits human agencies to affect; however, we need not despair of finding workable solutions on that account. Armed with a true knowledge of men and nature, we are fitted to understand how we may live our lives in peaceableness and freedom apart from the tyranny of racial grievances and racial game-playing.
It is important to understand that we cannot do this under the HBD paradigm. For him who considers HBD to be true, there is no possibility of a transcendent hope that society can be organized justly. If biology is absolutely real and determinative, then logically all problems are material problems and require material solutions. Make no mistake, it is the absolute unthinkability of these solutions, both scientifically and morally, which drive the majority of modern people to the vague and wishy-washy declaration (I do not call it belief) that people are all the same “under the skin” and that therefore chronic misbehavior by certain racial groups must be tolerated and ascribed to social conditions. It is, ironically, HBD-style thinking that helps to cement the unworkable and unrealistic modern consensus. Since people know not what else to say and are mortally afraid of bringing condemnation down upon themselves by speaking forbidden truths, they readily resort to a practical compromise that holds race to be an important consideration for dispersing social benefits but an unimportant consideration for assessing moral or cultural worth. This nonsense needs to stop, not only because it is intellectually incoherent but because it is a charade too costly to carry on.
The American Century, along with the consequent dollar hegemony and financial repression it enabled, has allowed fraud to operate on a titanic scale, of which the racial grievance industry is just a subset. This will certainly stop when the money runs out, but in the meantime, it would be helpful to have a hermeneutic within which to talk about racial realities in such a way that allows constructive solutions to grow and spread on their own. The hylomorphic conception of essences, specifically the notion of race as a variable property within essence, provides that hermeneutic. Nobody wishes to be biologically classified, but everyone wishes to belong to their own family, tribe, nation, and home. This is what it means to have an identity as a human being, and race is a part of that. Human beings are different, but the differences are not fundamentally biological; there should be no B in HBD. This is not because race is less than biological, it is because race is more than biological, Race is essential, and even the biological differences between people flow from these essential differences, not the other way around. The understanding of race as biological is doubly flaw, both because “biology” has no definite meaning in this context and because race is prior to and deeper than biology.
15. Christian Morality and Race: What Would Jesus Do?
Again, I have written this essay from what I hope to be, and believe to be, a Traditional Catholic perspective. To the extent that morality needs to be introduced into racial questions at all, the Church’s teaching is very simple and very clear: Race is irrelevant as to whether or not one’s soul can be saved, as is nationally, sex, age, and social class. “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is nether bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal III:28) What is often missed by those who cite this scripture in support of the thesis that the Church is in favor of some kind of egalitarianism, is the fact that it is a two-edged sword. There is neither man nor woman in Christ, so sex is irrelevant as to whether someone can be saved; yet the Church has never failed to insist that men and women have different social roles to play, nor has the Church ever advocated for equal representation of women in the workplace or any of the other goals of modern feminism. There is neither bond not free in Christ, but the Church does not seek to overturn the ordering of society and establish a communist paradise. By the same token, the Church really has very little to say specifically about race relations.
If this seems to run counter to a great deal of ostensibly “Christian” sermonizing that has occurred since the dawn of the revolutionary age and which picked up steam especially during the great social crusades of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is only because this coincides with the time when real Christianity was being steadily subverted, bastardized, and lost in favor of the “social gospel.” This social gospel is not an outgrowth of Christianity at all but of Western civilization. It is the West in its late, modern, declining form. It is the grandchild not of Christianity but of counterpoint, chamber music, Cartesianism, and the categorical imperative. An erudite grievance studies graduate paper is a derivative product precisely in the same vein as a Schubert sonata, of which it is the contemporary incarnation. And that is why those who speak of “saving” the West from progressivism have no grounds for hope. This progressivism is simply their beloved West in its old age. The philosophical, intellectual, and artistic traditions of every great civilization always conclude themselves in a jejune maze of tiresome social-ethical problems, in universalism and monism and “socialism,” to the delight of millionaire arrivistas and the boredom of everyone else. Modern “racial” problems are creatures in this class; they are pastimes for educated but idiotic elites. Christianity is now something firmly set against the West, which has grown hubristic and demonic. It can salvage what was once good in the West, just like it once salvaged all that was good in the Classical world, only by maintaining its purity, independence, and higher nature.
The general topic is far too broad to tackle at the end of a long essay, but we can certainly say a few words specifically pertaining to Christianity and modern racial problems, lest a scrupulous person think that the Church commands adherence to the modern liberal line. In short, by raising race as a moral problem at all, we have already falsified our understanding to an extent that makes hollow and sentimental conclusions inevitable. We ought rather to let the subject benefit from a protracted period of benign neglect. We are not obligated to ensure equality of outcome among racial groups. We are not obligated to ameliorate racial disparities or even to notice them. We are not obligated to elevate certain individuals or groups to a higher social condition than their own talents or fortunes of birth would qualify them, just because they happen to belong to a certain ethnicity, any more than we would be obligated to do so for anyone else. We are not obligated to forcibly redistribute private money from one racial group to another for any reason whatsoever.
We are obligated to work for realistic and equitable solutions to political problems within the limits set by time and circumstance. This means that we are obligated to work for social justice according to the true meaning of the term. Justice means equitability, i.e. the apportioning to everyone their due, no more and no less. It is sad, but entirely unsurprising, that the modern understanding comprises almost the exact opposite of what the word and concept of justice really refers to. It is never wrong to love justice, to seek justice, to work for justice, or to delight in justice. The following short list, therefore, consists of laudable goals that any man can work towards in good conscience. Although the powerful of the world are always able to assert their will even when in the wrong, the claims of justice still exercise a subtle force upon the minds of men since they cannot be denied without doing violence to reason. History pays respect to justice done and manfully articulated, and history will recognize us if we:
-Stop forced association: It is certainly wrong to mandate of a private individual that he may not exclude from his presence those whose company he does not want, or to tell a private business whom they must employ or serve rather than leaving it to the proprietor’s discretion.
-Stop redistribution: The welfare state is dangerous in its current form. It needs to be liquidated, and not just the portions thereof that we find personally upsetting. Social Security and Medicare as well as housing and food aid need to be wound down. Their existence necessitates a gigantic government bureaucracy which exists solely to take money and redistribute it, and will find ever more justifications for doing so as long as it exists. It also contributes to the general attitude that it is okay to appeal to the government for private assistance. This is nothing but an engineered crisis that cannot but result in a tragic fall.
-Stop Affirmative Action: Forcibly allocating scarce positions, appointments, and opportunities to people based on their racial or national background, while passing over more qualified candidates, is the very definition of injustice. Unless it were done privately, in which case it would be within the purview of individual liberty, it simply cannot be supported. The force of law must not be involved in making these decisions.
In summary, the best, most logical, and most equitable way of dealing with so-called racial problems, which are social constructs, is to stop constructing them. We must fight back against state interference in these matters and then let the results settle out where they may. The answer to what Jesus would do about racial problems is blessedly “not much.” If only we could live in imitation of Him, we would not have these constructions to trouble us.
16. Conclusion: The Darwinian Paradigm Overthrown
My objective in this essay has been to argue that what I have called the Alt-Wrong paradigm of HBD rooted in Darwinian principles is metaphysically unsound and leads to unworkable ideas. I believe I have done this in the course of our discussion and I hereby declare the Darwinian paradigm overthrown, at least in fundamentum. That does not mean that there is not much more work to be done. Essays like this one should be elaborated on and reworked; the prose should be made more forceful and more delightful. There is enough material hinted at here for another hundred explanatory essays and several books. This is good, for it will perhaps inspire a new generation of thinkers to take up the challenge of developing the correct hylomorphic paradigm to a respectable degree. If I may cherish one small hope for myself, it is that in the future I shall see less of that needless amplification of verbiage engaged in by the Darwinists who say, “evolved to” when they mean “is.” For that is the true nature of Darwinism—it asserts the existence of a process where there is not any, and then cites the plain facts in support of the unmotivated premise. Darwinism as idea has no umbilical to the world of existence. Only the hylomorphic dualism of Aristotle, St. Thomas, and the Schoolmen is able to grasp with certainty the realities of matter and form. Now begins a great work which will occupy the minds and hands of many and will yield great fruits in the years to come. If this work of mine can provide them with comfort and inspiration, then may God be praised.