Guide The Metaphysics of Evolution: Evolutionary Theory in Light of First Principles

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Robert Hammond. Among the many philosophical principles used in the evolutionary sciences, perhaps the most radically metaphysical of all is the assertion that evolution is not progressive and indeed pointless. We will return to the discussion of evolutionary progress in chapters 5 and 6. The point to be emphasized here is that within the academic study of evolution, including cosmological, biological, and cultural evolution, the metaphysics of the scientific worldview plays a major role in determining the boundary conditions under which evolution can be studied or even understood.

These metaphysical commitments are for the most part unconscious, and thus they are usually held uncritically. Despite the fact that the metaphysics of the modernist worldview has been severely questioned by professional philosophers, professional scientists continue to use this reality frame as a definitional container for the institutional study of evolution.

Integral philosophy thus seeks to include the advantages of methodological naturalism within its purview, even as it transcends the limitations of scientific materialism. As we look at the history of science we can see how the various philosophies of materialism and positivism have served the important function of cleansing our thinking about nature by ridding it of superstition and all kinds of fallacious assumptions. But now the chick is hatched and science has become the new politically empowered authority on the truth.

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And this has resulted in the accompanying metaphysics of scientism becoming a new kind of state-sponsored belief system, used by materialists as a quasi-religious power base in academia and the mainstream media. As we have seen, there is no getting around metaphysics—if we want to investigate reality we must have a categorical framework with which to organize both our investigations and our findings. Historically, the metaphysics of materialism served science well because it was the most minimal form of metaphysics available. Scientists wanted to get at the bare facts, and it was presumed that a philosophy of materialism would interfere the least in their apprehension of these facts.

However, scientists adopted materialist metaphysics not only because it seemed to interfere least with the process of getting at the facts. In practice, the primary use of materialistic accounts of evolution was found in their symbolic role of overcoming the cultural power of traditional religious worldviews. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the theory of evolution was used as an effective tool for recruiting people into the modernist worldview because it provided a creation story that was more rational and more satisfying than Biblical, or other scriptural accounts.

This discussion of the metaphysics that is closely, sometimes imperceptibly, associated with the evolutionary sciences is not an attempt to refute the sturdy basics of descent with modification. As explained in the introduction, I am not trying to smuggle in a specific spiritual belief system or otherwise advocate unscientific theories such as intelligent design. Rather, my intent is to affirm as much evolutionary science as possible. Yet at the same time, I want to show how the abundant metaphysical assumptions that frame so many features of the evolutionary sciences have become theoretical handcuffs that prevent us from moving to the next phase in our understanding of evolution.

For most fields of scientific investigation, metaphysical materialism continues to provide an adequate reality frame for doing science. But in the field of evolution, which has such profound explanatory relevance for human affairs, the metaphysics of strict materialism is now worn out. Contrary to the assertions of scientific materialists, explanations of evolution that rely exclusively on the mechanisms of chance mutation and environmental selection cannot explain the appearance of self-consciousness and the transcendent powers of human awareness.

Yet if we are to come to grips with these evolutionary causes, we need a new kind of categorical framework.