Backwards Ignorance of Evolution


The truth most needed today is that the end is never the right end. The beginning is the right end at which to begin. The modern man reads everything backwards. He is like a blind man exploring an elephant, and condemned to begin at the very tip of its tail. But, he is still more unlucky; for when he has a first principle, it is generally the very last principle that he ought to have. He starts, as it were, with one infallible dogma about the elephant; that its tail is its trunk. He works that wrong way round on principle, and tries to fit all the practical facts into his principle. Because the elephant has no eyes is its tail-end, he calls it a blind elephant; and lectures on its ignorance, superstition, and lack of education. Because it has no tusks at its tail-end, he says that the tusks are a fantastic flourish attributed to a fabulous fanciful creature. Because it does not as a rule pick up things with its tail, he dismisses the magical story that it can pick up things with its trunk. He probably says it is plainly a piece of anthropomorphism to suppose that an elephant can pack its trunk. He becomes a pessimist; the world to him is not only an elephant, but a white elephant. He does not know what to do with it, and cannot be persuaded of the perfectly simple explanation; which is that he has not made the smallest real attempt to make head or tail of the animal. He will not begin at the right end; because he happens to have come first on the wrong end.

Having arrived at the wrong end, we have a problem: the problem of induction. The inductive method, this superstitious belief in the unchanging repetition of the universe as we know it, continues to see its own reflection as it glances at the history of the world. Perhaps we should call this tendency to see its own reflection “Inductomorphism”. The scientist has grasped evolution by the tail because that is the only thing he can grasp; and has declared, by the power of Inductomorphism, there were no “eyes” in its beginning. He sees no purpose at the end and declares the same for life’s beginning. He has grasped his ignorance and called it intelligence. Now, only the religious man keeps the scientist in check because the religious man has always started at the beginning.  It is the religious man who sees the world rightly as being backwards. He is not afraid to give modern intelligence its rightful name: ignorance. Only when we look backward in time without our modern spectacles do we see how much younger is the Tree of Knowledge than the Tree of Life.

(Much of this is an adaptation of Chesterton and Barfield.)


26 thoughts on “Backwards Ignorance of Evolution

    1. Larry,

      I’m glad you liked it. The world is bigger than our limited understanding of it. You’re metaphor is telling: “grounded in reality.” It envisions mankind as plants or trees that dig deep in the earth to grow properly. It’s a relationship that isn’t borne out of a naturalistic worldview.

  1. You got it wrong here: The religious man continues to feel around the tree, claiming that this must be the elephant (“like a trunk”) because surely there must be an elephant, because his father said so. The scientist, on the other hand, carefully examines what he feels, does not have any opinion what it is before examining it and talks to other people who feel this thing without trying to condemn them for feeling the elephant totally wrong. The scientist, in the end, will be able to describe the whole elephant (or the tree), if there is one, while the religious guy will still claim it’s like a trunk because his father (or some holy book) said so.
    Not surprising that you got the ignorance part backwards, too.

  2. Daniel, when you use a line of reasoning that leads to conclude that up means down and black means white, you have a vital clue that something is wrong somewhere… and it’s not wrong ‘out there’ but wrong ‘in here’, in the line of reasoning.

    Quite simply, HOW do you know you have the correct beginning? All you have is what you believe to be the correct beginning, but even here you have compelling evidence that the Genesis account is factually wrong in many testable circumstances. The only reasonable conclusion is that central parts of this account stands contrary to what we find in reality. You cannot trust it because it has shown itself to possess factually incorrect information (the mixed up orders, the flood, human ancestry, and so on).

    So we return to the question, HOW do you come to possess knowledge (OTHER than from your beliefs) to determine the correct beginning?

    The honest answer is, you don’t.

    Once you realize and accept this, only then can you begin an honest inquiry and begin to recognize why the religious claims are bogus from beginning to end if you are concerned with what’s true in reality.

    1. Tildeb,

      But, up is down depending on your position; and black does mean white: you only see what’s reflected, not what’s absorbed. This world will surprise you. If this “line of reasoning” surprises you, it has something in common with reality.

      If you can’t figure out which beginning is the correct beginning then you shouldn’t make up a dogmatic story about the elephant having no eyes just because all you can see is the tail. And if you can’t figure out the correct beginning, it doesn’t mean that there is no correct beginning or even that they are all “bogus.”.

      1. Again, Daniel, all you’re doing is playing with language to make common terms not mutually understandable. To make up mean down by shifting a relative perspective NOT held in common is unhelpful in the highest degree; it is simply wordplay to make unintelligible the meaning. This is your defensive tactic when confronted with simple, yet effective, criticism. It’s nothing more than a dishonest method to avoid the criticism.

        In this case, the criticism is about determining HOW to find the accurate beginning you tout as a solution to working backwards from what is in existence today. But it’s not a real-world solution at all because it is substituting made up shit and calling it a ‘beginning.’ That’s the sum total of your methodology to determine human ancestry when compared directly to evolution: made up shit inserted as a starting point and claimed to be accurate. But when examined in detail, your claim about ‘beginnings’ doesn’t fit the evidence. That’s not a problem for anyone who criticizes your method; it’s a problem for the person drawing conclusions about reality based solely on made up shit.

        To cope with criticism, you flip it around, change the meaning, and accuse me and anyone who understands why evolution is true (because it fits All the evidence) of “making up a dogmatic story.” This is exactly backwards and it is absolutely typical of you..

      2. Tildeb,

        I’m not shifting your perspective. I’m showing you what it really is. You’re the one who has bought into the philosophy of naturalism which dogmatically says that what counts for reality has to fit within the scientific method. It also gives you the problem of induction. You make the world smaller than it is, then you pay for it with all these problems. Of course, someone who accepts a smaller version of reality would accuse someone else who showed them a larger world of “messing with language.” It is the very definitions of words that you have infused with all the limitations of naturalism; which you then complain of being “messed with” when someone challenges you.

        As to How one might know which beginning is correct. It’s not hard to figure out that humans consider themselves to have purpose for their lives and then come to the realization that for us to have purpose, even a manufactured one, that evolution had purpose. If I have three apples and you ask for four, I cannot give you what I don’t have. You are free to go around claiming to have four apples, but you would be delusional. But, your problem is worse than that. You’re claiming to have something that you say is and never was in the universe, ever. There is a possibility that I might give you four apples, but there is no possibility of having purpose in a purposeless universe, even a self-made purpose.

        Just come to the logical conclusion that the universe and evolution had and has purpose in it and you are one step closer to finding out HOW one might know the correct beginning. Leave behind the self-contradiction of purposely saying there is no purpose only to claim a manufactured one out of nothing.

      3. So, what you’re saying is that ‘purpose’ reveals Jesus (in a long about way). But to do this, you use a meaning of the term ‘purpose’ that is not shared: that ‘purpose’ is a thing that exists independently of people but which is extracted from the universe and used by people. As you write,

        “humans consider themselves to have purpose for their lives and then come to the realization that for us to have purpose, even a manufactured one, that evolution had purpose.”

        The problem here is one of language: you do not understand correctly what ‘purpose’ means, and so you have built a line of reasoning that starts with a fatal error, namely, that purpose is created by any agency through intention. It is the intention can be as solid as an encoded behaviour in genetic form or as vague as a fleeting preference. If there is no agency involved causing effect, then it is a mistake to assume agency, assume intention, assume purpose. This is why the argument you present does not link your intentions to some other agency, anymore than evolution is supposed to possess agency. Unless and until you can show this link to an agency, your line of reasoning remains solely that of assumption, which I rudely call ‘making shit up’. You cannot show evolution to have intention, any more than you can show ‘erosion’ to have purpose. Insisting that it must have purpose is as wrong-headed as insisting Jesus must be true for you to be able to choose vanilla over chocolate.

      4. Tildeb,

        I would like to know how you can lecture me on the definition of purpose and deny that purpose exists; as if we talk of what makes a dog, and deny there is any such thing as a dog. And here you will say that you have a made-up purpose for your own life, but that just begs the question of how you can even make one. It’s like claiming to have obtained four apples from me when I only had three apples to give you. All you are and ever will be has come to you through the process of evolution. And you are in the grip of its forces right now. If you claim to yourself a self-made purpose, evolution gave that ability to you. But, that means that somewhere, in all the factors involved, the ability to know and choose a purpose, even purpose itself, was given to you through that evolutionary process. Man does not “extract” purpose. That is a contradiction; for he would have to purposely extract, which means that he had purpose before he extracted it. In the same way, if intention was not given to you, you cannot intend anything. If your mind was an unintentional byproduct of evolution, it can have no intention, for intention was not involved in its making. A cause cannot give the effect what it does not have.

        You say, “If there is no agency causing effect, then it is a mistake to assume agency.”

        But, there is an agency causing effect— YOU! Purposes and intentions come from persons, i.e. agencies. If you consider yourself a person who has purposes, then it was in the causes that brought you about and therefore must exist independently of you (for evolution was around long before any of us). And since the only thing that we know of that can have purposes is a person, it follows that a person, i.e. an agency, included it in evolutionary processes. Evolutionary processes produced you— a purposeful being. If there really is no purpose in evolution and you claim to make your own purpose, you are “making s*** up.” And an agency giving us purpose is what people usually understand God to be. What more evidence do you want for a Creator? You are the greatest evidence for God there is.

        Your skepticism in this matter is not as great as you think it is. The human mind is a machine for coming to conclusions. When we hear of a man too intelligent to believe; it is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet, or a bolt too strong to keep a door shut. Man is an animal that makes dogmas, and the man who affirms naturalism is just such an animal, only to a lesser degree. As a man piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion on the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy, he is legitimately becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system (like our friend Cedric), when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broadminded.

      5. Dan, follow along:

        You have a house on a hill above a river. It rains. The river rises and the moving water erodes the base of the hill just enough to cause a weakening in the foundation of your house, just enough for it to topple over and fall into the swollen river.

        You are arguing that each droplet of water that played some tiny part in the accumulated erosion that caused your house to topple into the river must first have possessed the intention of toppling your house to cause this toppling effect, so there must be a guiding agency involved in the process we call erosion that directs purpose to each droplet of water. The evidence, you insist, is the toppled house.

        Can you spot the error in this line of reasoning you continue to use to show evidence for the agency you believe causes human purpose?

      6. First, you are using a chain of cause and effect that doesn’t produce a purposeful being. My argument deals with the production of purposeful beings and the causes that brought them about, so you are not addressing my argument. Second, if purpose is involved in the chain of cause and effect you’re talking about, it is not involved in the same way because it did not produce purposeful beings. Third, toppling a house is not something that is a normal, regular part of erosion. Erosion is a process that moves rock and soil from one part of the earth to another. That is the effect, or set of effects, to which it tends. A toppled house is an uninentional part of that process. For instance, if my intention is to walk past you, but in doing so I stub my toe on your foot, you cannot say the stubbed toe was intentional.  Fourth, even if you could defintely show that purpose was not involed in erosion or any other physical phenomena, the existence of purposeful beings would still have to be explained and purpose would have to be accounted for in the causes that brought them about.

      7. Dan, what you are expressing is the belief that there is an organizing principle to human life that gives it purpose and meaning and your reason is that there must be agency behind this principle. But what you do not successfully show is evidence for this agency except by use of circular reasoning – that purpose can only exist for humans if an agency gives us this organizing principle, so the organizing principle is evidence for this agency. Yet when anyone suggest we are perfectly capable of creating and then applying any kind of organizing principle for intentional actions we undertake, you insist that this can only come from some outside agency. But this is what is being criticized!

        So I introduced a process of erosion to show you that effects of actions do not in fact reveal any necessary outside agency. Intentions you bring into being by efficacious actions similarly – like erosion – do not give us any evidence of purpose from any outside agency.

        Calling humans ‘purposeful beings’ does not advance your thesis of a necessary outside agency one iota.

      8. … (like our friend Cedric)…

        Woah! What? Let’s re-read that bit.

        When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism…

        I don’t honestly remember mentioning dropping any doctrines.
        I’d assume I’d have to pick them up first before dropping them though.

        …when he declines to tie himself to a system (like our friend Cedric),…

        Tie myself to a system? What system?

        …when he says that he disbelieves in finality,…

        Wait. If I said that then it’s only fair that you should quote me.
        (Or alternatively, quote the person you are referring to in case you don’t mean me)
        Besides, I’m not sure what you are talking about with this “finality” thing.

        …when, in his own imagination, he sits as God,….

        Ah, the gift that keeps on giving…
        when, in his own imagination, he sits as Zeus
        when, in his own imagination, he sits as Xenu
        when, in his own imagination, he sits as Sky Woman
        etc, etc, etc.

        …holding no form of creed…

        By “creed”, you mean some form of religion, right?
        So…you’d be happy if I or someone became a Muslim or something?

        …but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconciousness of the grass.

        Ok, so let’s review that…
        By “contemplating all” I’m “sinking” somehow?

        (…awkward silence…)

        This was something that you wrote stoned?

      9. I’m not saying there was an organizing principle involved. I really don’t know what you mean by that anyway. It could mean anything, but I’m not fond of guessing. Besides, I’ve not even mentioned an “organizing principle.” Why do you try to reduce my argument to some circular caricature, or add elements that I don’t add?

        “we are perfectly capable of creating and then applying any kind of organizing principle for intentional actions we undertake”

        Are you saying that by sheer will power humans can bring purpose into existence out of nothing? None of us create something out of nothing. We can only deal with what we’ve been given. Now the implicit claim of atheists is that they can indeed create something out of nothing, namely purpose. For although they say there is no purpose in the universe and never was, they conjure out of thin air, in an act that can only be called magic, purpose for their own lives. But they can’t really do that. They just walk around in delusions. Is it better to exist in a delusion than to admit there is purpose in the universe? If there really is no, and never was any, purpose in the universe, there is no such thing as “manufactured” purpose either. It would be creation ex nihilo.

      10. Are you saying that by sheer will power humans can bring purpose into existence out of nothing?

        If that’s what he said then quote him.
        (…time passes…)

        None of us create something out of nothing.

        Yeah tildeb. How dumb of you to say that. Har har.
        (Oh wait, he didn’t say that. Hmm.)

        Now the implicit claim of atheists is that they can indeed create something out of nothing, namely purpose.

        It’s so implicit. Very, very implicit. It’s really implicity-ish.
        In fact, it’s so implicit that it sound like you are just being dishonest and, y’know, making stuff up. Strawman.

        They just walk around in delusions. Is it better to exist in a delusion than to admit there is purpose in the universe? If there really is no, and never was any…

        You are having a conversation with yourself.
        From the moment when you pretended that tideb said something that he didn’t actually say, it all went downhill from there.
        Other people around you are just shaking their heads sadly at the guy muttering quietly at the bus stop.

      11. Cedric,

        Tildeb claims to have purposes but doesn’t account for them in the causes that brought him about. If he says he can create purpose, then implicitly he indicates that he does so out of nothing. I don’t think he’ll explicitly say he can make something out of nothing, but rather he will say that he can create purpose but never tell me where it comes from. A thing is either there or it’s not, it’s either true or it’s false. This is basic logic. I don’t think he wants to tie himself to either proposition because it’s much safer to stay within the confines of agnostic thinking and stay elusive. It makes for rough conversation, but I’m learning to live with it.

        Tildeb’s conversation is an actual real conversation. Yours, however, is not. It’s hard for me to take you seriously any more. I wish you had better things to say and I keep looking for them.

      12. A thing is either there or it’s not, it’s either true or it’s false.

        Here. Right here. See what you do? You call ‘purpose’ an independent thing that exists in space and time. Repeatedly, I’ve pointed out that this is a mistake you make and refuse to correct.

        Show me a purpose. Point to this thing. Pick it up. Move it. Paint it. Do something to it. Where odes it rest when not in use? Does it have a parking space, a bed, an allotted space on the shelf? Come on, Dan: what’s the problem?

        Oh. Right. Purpose is not a thing. Let’s repeat that together (I like to help): Purpose (come on, say it with me) is not a thing. Purpose does not exist as a thing. It is not something brought into existence out of nothing.

        Are you catching on yet? No?


        A thing is not either true or false. This shows the scope of you continued confusion with what the term means. A thing either exists in space and time capable of causing effect or it does not. ‘Purpose’ does not fall into this category.

        ‘Purpose’ for the umpteenth time is a descriptive word not of a thing but of an intention that is being fulfilled. The OED describes it as both a noun (the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists, a particular requirement or consideration, typically one that is temporary or restricted in scope or extent, a person’s sense of resolve or determination) and as a verb (have as one’s intention or objective).

        Do you see anything about purpose existing as an independent thing? No? Correct: purpose does not exist independently of the person or agency that reveals intention of agency.

        Not only can I create purpose, any purpose assigned to me as the causal agent can only come from me. When you arrive at understanding why this is true, let me know, and then we can continue the conversation. Until, I assume you’ll just keep making shit up.

      13. Tildeb claims….

        Don’t tell me what Tildeb claims.
        Quote him.

        If he says he can create purpose, then implicitly…

        NO. Quote him saying it. Your creative interpretation is worthless to me.

        I don’t think he’ll explicitly say he can make something out of nothing…

        Gee, ya think?

        I don’t think he….

        Gee, ya think?

        It makes for rough conversation, but I’m learning to live with it.

        At the moment, the conversation is all coming from you. It’s all your spin.

        Tildeb’s conversation is an actual real conversation.

        Yet you can’t bring yourself to quote it.

      14. Tildeb,

        You haven’t responded to my reply of your last comment. I made it into a post. Did I finally come up with an argument that made you wonder if I was right? Are you just annoyed with my persistence? Am I wearing you out? Or are you starting to question your atheism?

        Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to put my reply here for your perusal.

        I agree with some of what you say here. Purpose is not a piece of matter existing in space and time causing effect. A agree that “purpose does not fall into this category.” So how does purpose exist? You ask me to show it to you, to point it out; and you want me to do so on purpose. You ask me to purposely paint it, or purposely do something to it. The problem, as you ask it, is that purpose is not something you can look at; it is something you look along with. Purpose does not cause effect; it is the guiding factor in the cause and effect fulfilling a specific intention. Purpose is something we apply or use to achieve specific ends or goals. As such, you cannot look at purpose; you can only look along purpose towards the end or goal it points to. And if you actually meet or fulfill the goal you set out to achieve, you can actually say you did it on purpose. Otherwise, if the goal is not met and something different is accomplished, you cannot say you did it on purpose.

        But, if purpose is something we use, apply, or look along with, that does not relieve us of the responsibility of accounting for the fact that we have it. It is not material but it is there. To say it is not there, is to say so on purpose and to contradict one’s self. You say that purpose is not a thing; but a thing is just a certain kind of being, and being is the most comprehensive concept that we have, applying, as it does, to everything that exists. But, if purpose does not exist, that is to say, there is no guiding factor that we can use to achieve specific ends or goals, then no ends would be fulfilled except by happy accident. And we could not even take advantage of the circumstance to our benefit because we would be doing so on purpose, and as we have said, “there is no purpose.” Here is clear evidence for purpose — that we point to certain ends and goals and actually reach them repeatedly. We intend to grab a soda and actually do. We intend to paint a wall and actually do. We intend to type on the keyboard and actually do. If the same actions produced random, inexplicable, and unexpected results maybe we would never know purpose at all. It is repetition of the same causes with the same effects that shows purpose. Chains of cause and effect in this world that produce random results actually give us a contrast that highlights the purpose we do see.

        You say, “Not only can I create purpose, any purpose assigned to me as the causal agent can only come from me.” And here is where you are confused. You are implicitly indicating that throughout the whole process of evolution from beginning to end nothing had purpose, not a single solitary thing; but all of a sudden at a certain point in man’s evolutionary development, man was the first and only one to have purpose. It’s like saying everything was blue throughout evolutionary history until man appeared and then he was red, but there was no such thing as red before man. Here is where you have to admit that purpose was there all along or else you abandon logic; because you are an effect of which the evolutionary process is the cause, and the cause cannot give the effect what it does not have. If the effect has purpose, so did the causes of that effect in some way or another. The only things that we know of that have purposes or give things purposes are causal agents, therefore it follows that a causal agent existed and included purpose in evolution in various ways in order to produce YOU who now have purpose and give purpose to things you make. A causal agent giving the universe purpose is what everyone usually understands to be God.

        You say, “purpose is not an independent thing…” and I have to disagree with you. Logic leads me to. It is true that purpose comes from causal agents like yourself, but purpose also exists in the things that we make. For instance, a coffee maker contains purpose and its purpose, which we gave it, is to make coffee. Purpose exists in the coffee maker because we guided the materials involved to form a chain of cause and effect in such a way that the materials would produce coffee every time we push the button. Now, it doesn’t just work for the person who made it, it works for everyone else too. But, they didn’t give the coffee maker purpose. They didn’t form the chain of cause and effect to produce the specific effect of making coffee. They just have to push a button, and actualize the cause and effect chain. Therefore, the purpose that exists in the coffee maker is independent of its maker and anyone else, though it could not have contained it without the maker, and cannot be used without someone pushing the button. It’s clear that purpose once given to materials becomes independent.

      15. Dan, I stopped replying because your argument does not hold any merit and I can not get you to understand why. I’ve tried umpteen ways of showing you what it is you are doing all to no avail. All you’re doing is playing with words, switching meanings (and switching nouns to adjectives and back again thinking yourself able to avoid your point being hit with a legitimate criticism) whenever convenient, and avoiding consistency and clarity of thought. It’s like you trying to argue that, “Purpose is a thing. But it’s not a thing if you accuse me of calling it a thing until I say it is a thing-that-isn’t-a-thing and when you point it out I’ll agree it is a very handy adjective, until I decide I need to use it again as a thing, in which case it’s back to being a useful noun and I’ll hide behind the shield of logic so that the very premises you question that lead me to calling it a thing are exempt from examination in order for me to maintain my ‘conclusion’ that purpose is a thing. Unless it isn’t, in which case I’ve proven to myself it’s still a thing that exists independent of me.”

        It’s exhausting, Dan.

  3. Backwards Ignorance of Evolution

    Provocative title.
    With eagerness I read the article. Sadly, evolution was not mentioned.

    …truth…modern man…principles…elephants…dogma…pessimism…something about “indcutive method” or whatever…tendencies…scientists…religious men…trees of various pursuasions etc.
    Evolution is a no show.

      1. Ah, you do mention evolution again!

        The scientist has grasped evolution by the tail because that is the only thing he can grasp; and has declared, by the power of Inductomorphism, there were no “eyes” in its beginning.

        Yep, right there.
        Apparently, it’s got a tail and it’s been grasped by “the scientist”.
        Plus “inductomorphism”, of course.

        (..awkward silence…)

        Alrighty then.

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