In doing some thinking/reading this early (2 AM) morning about Max Müller's repudiation of Darwin's hypothesis about the mind of man (Lectures on Darwin's Philosophy of Language - Max Müller), I wondered whether the linguist Noam Chomsky had been influenced by him and/or commented on him or his work. In doing so, I came across an essay written by the seminal 20th-century thinker Owen Barfield, and within it, I was delighted and edified by his usual great writing and penetration of thought. The following excerpt elicited a chuckle:
When I say he “told” Darwin, I am speaking literally. For he not only delivered a series of lectures to the Royal Institution in 1873 under the title Mr. Darwin’s Philosophy of Language, but he sent the pamphlet in which they subsequently appeared to Darwin himself and afterwards called on him. “He listened most attentively,” wrote Müller, describing the interview, “he asked questions, but raised no serious objections. Before he shook hands and left me, he said in the kindest way, ‘You are a dangerous man’.” Moreover, after reading another essay of Müller’s two years later Darwin wrote to him: “…though some of your remarks have been rather stinging, they have all been made so gracefully, I declare that I am like the man in the story who boasted that he had been horsewhipped by a Duke.” But that is not all. In an earlier letter to Müller, written after reading the lectures I have referred to, there is a still more revealing admission:
He who is fully convinced, as I am, that man is descended from some lower animal is almost forced to believe, a priori, that articulate language has been developed from inarticulate cries; and he is therefore hardly a fair judge of the arguments opposed to this belief.
It is clear enough from the above that the light of reason was not Charles Darwin’s guiding star.
What is also clear enough is that in his dialogues with Darwin, the seminal 19th-century thinker Max Müller held to the Bible's precept of gentleness and respect with even those with whom he disagreed, and further (and thankfully), Charles Darwin, despite his apostasy, had been so influenced by the Bible's impact upon Christendom, that he too behaved with the gentleness and respect demanded by it1Something which is only rarely manifested by today's popular atheists.. And if I may be so bold as to expand upon what Barfield wrote above, what he's really saying is that Darwin's guiding star was blind faith as opposed to the rigor required by natural philosophy (more-or-less what we call science today). In essence, Darwin, bitter about his lot in life2I am not here treating his trials and tribulations lightly of course. He had true suffering, but what differentiates man from man is how each handles that suffering, and if handled incorrectly, such a man should be rightly remonstrated with., wanted to give the heave-ho to the Biblical narrative of creation, and he created a story to fit that want. The flimsiness of his story is not surprising of course, because Darwin was much more natural historian than natural philosopher. Considering the role that Christianity played in establishing what we think of as modern science, it should be no surprise that it was the true natural philosophers (q.v. the 'North British Physicists') of the day who most vehemently opposed Darwin and his bulldog Huxley3Also bitter about his lot in life in not being admitted into the best universities in the land due to how 'Anglican privilege operated in the world of science.'. Of course, all men proceed by faith and not by sight, but the blind faith necessary to believe in and endorse the evolutionary hypothesis is to be descried and decried always. Indeed, in acquainting (reacquainting?) myself with Müller's work, I came across a summation of the aforementioned lectures in Nature magazine4Not surprisingly, what has become an organ of hysterics about 'climate change' and the reification of Boxer from Orwell's Animal Farm when it comes to the evolutionary hypothesis, used to be something other than a shill for the status quo. in which just one of many examples which demonstrate the depth and breadth of the blindness at work in this belief system is clearly articulated:
The lecturer, confining himself to the evolution theory as it affects language, essayed to show that between the language of animals and the language of man there is no natural bridge, and that to account for human language such as we possess would require a faculty of which no trace has ever been discovered in lower animals. If, as Mr. Darwin begs us to assume, there were a series of developments graduating insensibly from ape to man, it would of course be impossible to fix a definite point where the ape ended and the man began; but he asks us to assume that which does not exist, and without evidence to support this, of which there is none, the theory remains only a theory. Indeed, said the Professor, whenever the distance between two points in the chain of development seems too great, we are told again and again that we must only imagine a large number of intermitted beings representing gradations insensibly sloping up or sloping down, in order to remove all difficulty.
Nature Vol. VII, No. 165 December 26, 1872
What is particularly ironic about the above is that anyone familiar with apologetics5Atheists and materialists will also have heard of this, but if they are thoughtful and informed, will have brushed it aside as wholly specious. There is only one argument which has any philosophical weight against theism and that is known as the 'problem of evil,' a topic which is handled adroitly by Peter van Inwagen in his book of the same name. will have heard the phrase 'God of the gaps:' a pejorative phrase directed primarily at Christians used by atheists which, just like the fiction of Christianity and science being at odds, has no rational and evidentiary basis in the facts of history. The irony of course, is that the entire evolutionary hypothesis is more gap than fact, and Darwin himself said that if the millions upon millions of necessary 'intermediate' forms were not discovered in the fossil record, his entire hypothesis would collapse. What has occurred instead is that in essence a handful of sand has been found to support his wild conjecture, when what was needed was an entire desert and hence, more effort has been expended in trying to convince people that either a) a handful of sand is an entire desert or b), the evidence used to be there, but can't be found due to one reason or another. The bottom line? The charge that Christians have invoked 'God' whenever some poorly understood phenomenon or another has been encountered is pure, unadulterated poppycock. Quite the reverse is true: when presented with vast vistas of necessary evidence, the atheists and materialists have brushed aside their manifold inadequacies and have instead clamored about nonexistent 'deficiencies' in e.g. the Christian world view.6There are rare exceptions to this rule, e.g. the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. This is at least consistent for the atheist because their primary motivator in their ontology is the supposed non-existence of entities.
For those who might want to quibble about the above, it is important to understand two things: 1. It is a cavil, and 2. What can be stated without the allowance of even so much as a cavil, is that none of the foundational scientific endeavors in history were started by the atheists or the materialists: they, in all cases where science (natural philosophy) thrived, made their appearance after all of the fundamental work was done and only then started their pooh-poohing. No civilization was ever built by atheists, nor was one ever built in which the atheist voice had a guiding or architectural voice. The Christian seeks to understand the Lawgiver through exploring His creation as part of his worship of the Creator: that is and was his motivation. What is the atheists' motivation? The declared non-existence of something? Self-love? We're seeing in the West how that's all working out. A moment's reflection will underscore why the atheists have always been hangers-on and destroyers of civilization rather than the builders and sustainers of such. For those interested in exploring these topics in much more breadth and depth than I can do here, a good starting point are the following books, all of which I highly recommend, ordered by difficulty:
- Wrestling with Nature: From Omens to Science - Edited by Peter Harrison, Ronald Numbers, Michael H. Shank
- The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science - Peter Harrison
- The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715 - Paul Hazard
- God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God - John Lennox
- How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity - Rodney Stark
As to Chomsky, it appears that Barfield was not a fan:
I recall, in my own discipline, the pleasure I felt in becoming acquainted with Noam Chomsky’s notion of generative grammar. The very word “generative” was like a breath of fresh air with its suggestion of a creative Word. And then you go a little further and you discover that by “generation” he simply means the physical configuration of the brain!
- 1Something which is only rarely manifested by today's popular atheists.
- 2I am not here treating his trials and tribulations lightly of course. He had true suffering, but what differentiates man from man is how each handles that suffering, and if handled incorrectly, such a man should be rightly remonstrated with.
- 3Also bitter about his lot in life in not being admitted into the best universities in the land due to how 'Anglican privilege operated in the world of science.'
- 4Not surprisingly, what has become an organ of hysterics about 'climate change' and the reification of Boxer from Orwell's Animal Farm when it comes to the evolutionary hypothesis, used to be something other than a shill for the status quo.
- 5Atheists and materialists will also have heard of this, but if they are thoughtful and informed, will have brushed it aside as wholly specious. There is only one argument which has any philosophical weight against theism and that is known as the 'problem of evil,' a topic which is handled adroitly by Peter van Inwagen in his book of the same name.
- 6There are rare exceptions to this rule, e.g. the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel.