Evolution v. Creation Metaphor Watch: Design without a Designer, Maybe—But Laws without a Lawgiver?

Given that most people do not have advanced degrees in mathematics or the sciences, debates and discussions surrounding evolution and creationism appear in the public square in the form of competing metaphors, similes, and extended analogies.

In other words, we use metaphors, similes, and extended analogies to simplify and grasp issues that might be otherwise inaccessible to us.

Hence we can keep a look-out for the ways in which our use of language, especially metaphorical language, frames and structures discussions of evolution and creationism.

Today’s metaphor comes from a quote at the beginning of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). Before Darwin begins the first chapter of his book, he offers two introductory quotes—one by Francis Bacon, which I have already discussed here (https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/evolution-v-creationism-metaphor-watch-the-first-big-salvo-in-the-metaphor-war-comes-from-darwins-origin-of-species-1859/), and one by W. Whewell, which says,

But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws.

In other words, the multiplicity of individual things in the universe did not simply pop into existence, one by one, as if God were a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat.

Had they done so, they would not have behaved in a way that science could study them—they would not have acted, metaphorically speaking, “lawful.”

As a near contemporary of Darwin’s, Edward Clodd, put it in his book, Pioneers of Evolution from Thales to Huxley (1898):

Evolution knows only one heresy—the denial of continuity. Recognizing the present as the outcome of the past, it searches after origins. (37)

Of course, why things in the universe should be lawful and predictable at all—why, for example, billiard balls do not simply jump off their tables, instantly sprout wings, and fly away at whim—Darwin did not attempt to tackle.

Darwin gave us a probable reason for presuming that exquisite living designs could arise in nature without a designer (via the “law” of natural selection), but he did not attempt to offer a probable reason for why there is so much predictability and continuity in our observations of nature in the first place—that is, why there are “laws” without a “lawgiver.”

Darwin, at least in 1859, was open to the Deist option of an Intelligence starting things up at the beginning of time, and then allowing things to take their subsequently “lawful” evolutionary courses.

And some sort of Deist option is not intellectually unrespectable today.

Some physicists, for example—and most notably, Garrett Lisi—think that the E8 geometric lattice is the underlying structure of the universe, offering mathematical explanations for why the universe is the way it is, and why it functions according to the laws that it functions by. In short, it may contain physics’s “holy grail”—the great TOE (theory of everything). In an interview back in November of 2007, Lisi told the Telegraph of London:

I think our universe is this beautiful shape.

Here is an image of the E8 in two dimensions—that “beautiful shape” that Lisi’s equations are attempting to get a handle on:

If the E8, or something exquisitely symmetrical and beautiful like it, is found by physicists to ultimately describe our universe’s predictable and “lawful” behavior, we are still left with the question, where did this extraordinary underlying structure come from?

It is the type of question that Darwin made no presumption to try and answer.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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