In September I read two books about evolution. One was “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe. I had taken notes and was preparing a review when life turned upside down for me. It is almost like the “Intelligent Design” crowd have gotten tired of showing how impossible macro evolution through mutation and natural selection is. In Axe’s case, and I really enjoyed this, he did the proving and then said we do not really need this evidence to know that evolution just makes no sense. He compared common sense to common science. We just know that the odds of spilling your alphabet soup and it spilling out to spell a Shakespeare sonnet is not going to happen even if you do it a number so high that it loses all sense of meaning.
Well I will go on with that another time. I really enjoyed Tom Wolfe’s inside baseball look at Darwin and Wallace in “The Kingdom of Speech” which was the other book I was reading in September. Wolfe is describing the different cosmogony stories starting with Genesis, the Apache, Michabo the Great Hare of the Algonquin, Yhleh the Raven of the Tlingit, the Cherokee’s water beetle, Inktomi the spider of the Assiniboine Indians, the dung beetle of the Egyptians, and Cagn the praying mantis of the Khosian. He then moves to the Navajo where I will give you the quote:
The Navajo Indians’ creator was an insect that seems to have been identical to what is known today as the biting midge (colloquially, the no-see-um bug). Biting midges are so small you can’t see them. But you can’t mistake them when they bite your ankle. For all practical purposes they are invisible. But the Navajo biting-midge creator was smaller than small and invisible than invisible, because it came into this world without its two wings. yet it is the creator in probably the most sophisticated cosmogony ever believed in, a story of full-scale, gradual evolution from next to nothing to modern man. In the beginning, the biting midges lived in the First World, down deep deep deep beneath the earth’s surface. As evolution began, they grew back their missing wings, and one species evolved all the way into a full blown insect, a locust. Locust led the hives up into the Second World, where they began to evolve into animals of every species. Then Locust led the whole burgeoning menagerie up into the Third World, where the most advanced species evolved into men. Then Locust led all the men and all the animals up into the Fourth World, which was right below the crust of the earth. In an Inktomi like show of energy and dedication, the menagerie’s spiders built rope ladders out of their webbing so that everybody could climb up onto the earth’s surface.
A later cosmogony was a dead ringer for the Navajos’, dead and unfortunately duller, except for one thing. The creator in this cosmogony was a creature even smaller, even less visible to the naked eye, than a biting midge, namely, a single, undifferentiated cell–or “four or five” of them. “Undifferentiated” means it could evolve into any living thing, vegetable or animal. This cosmogony was the only one recent enough for people to know the chief storyteller by name: Charles Darwin. “Four or five” is from a scrap of conversation he had with a group of students not long after he told the story publicly. The students had the sort of naïve, unbridled, free-floating curiosity most youths unfortunately rein in far too early in life. They wanted to know some small but fundamental details about the moment Evolution got under way and how exactly, physically, it started up–and from what?
Darwin had apparently never thought of it quite that way before. Long pause…and finally, “ohhh,” he said, “probably from four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere.” One student pressed him further. He wanted to know where the cells came from. Who or what put them in the pool? An exasperated Darwin said, in effect, “Well, I don’t know…look, isn’t it enough that I’ve brought you man and all the animals and plants in the world?”
In this respect, Darwinism was typical of the more primitive cosmogonies. They avoided the question of how the world developed ex nihilo. Darwin often thought about it, but it made his head hurt. The world was just…here. All cosmogonies, whether the Apaches’ or Charles Darwin’s, faced the same problem. They were histories or, better said, stories of things that had occurred in a primordial past, long before there existed anyone capable of recording them. The Apaches’ scorpion and Darwin’s cells in that warm pool somewhere were by definition educated guesses. Darwin, a Cambridge man, after all, was highly educated by the standards of his time, but so, no doubt, was the Apache medicine man who came up with the little old man with the long beard in the disk. The difference in Darwin’s case was that he put together his story in an increasingly rational age. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to present his cosmogony as anything other than a scientific hypotheses. In the Navajo cosmogony the agent of change (as distinct from the creator) was alive. It was Locust. In Darwin’s cosmogony it had to be scientifically inanimate. Locust was renamed Evolution.
There were five standard tests for a scientific hypotheses. Had anyone observed the phenomenon–in this case, Evolution–as it occurred and recorded it? Could other scientists replicate it? Could any of them come up with a set of facts that, if true, would contradict the theory (Karl Popper’s “falsifiability” test)? Could scientists make predictions based on it? Did it illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science? In the case of Evolution…well…no…no…no…no…and no.
In other words there was no scientific way to test it. Like every other cosmogony, it was a serious and sincere story meant to satisfy man’s endless curiosity about where he came from and how he came to be so different from the animals around him. But it was still a story. It was not evidence. In short, it was sincere, but sheer, literature.
It really is a fun read for anyone who realizes that the world’s emperors do not have any clothes on.