Essays, Book Chapters, and Monographs
on Owen Barfield and His Work
Evolution as a Property of Mind
Owen Barfield, who until his recent death had been the last of the four original 'Inklings,' argued in many of his works that evolution as a process is not a property of matter, but a property which rightly belongs to mind and to the products of mental activity; so that when we use the term in reference to some artifact that is human in origin, as in say, the 'evolution of the automobile, we are using it correctly. We are then describing a process in which countless human designers, engineers and craftsman have contributed their ideas and insights, over a long periods of time, so that we can properly speak of a technology as having 'evolved.'
However, when we use the term 'evolution' to describe a process that we believe goes on in nature without guidance of any sort, we are faced with a difficulty that in the history of science and philosophy has been glossed over, but that could be pivotal to future thought.
When we try to construct an evolutionary theory of natural origins, or a description of any kind that will help us to understand what has actually happened in nature to bring all its wonders into existence, we find that we simply cannot do this unless we resort to using the kind of language that would normally be appropriate only to the evolutionary development of man-made artifacts, like the automobile, but inappropriate to the description of a supposedly non-mental process. When we use words in this context that describe mental activities, like 'design' or 'select,' or mentally-guided physical activities like 'create' or 'construct,' we traditionally seek to give such terms a specious validity, and also a kind of anonymity, by placing the word 'natural' in front of them. A moment's thought, however, will assure anyone that the use of this word as a modifier does not change the essential character or meaning of the verb or noun that follows. 'Design' remains the description of a mental process no matter how it is modified, and to add the qualifier 'Designer-less design,' as some writers have done in support of the Darwinian theory, is to enter the realm of logical absurdity. The word 'design' in its normal usage, as it relates to human creativity, includes the concept of 'purpose'. No human ever designs anything without purpose. No matter how whimsical a designer's purpose it is still a purpose. So 'Designer-less design' can only mean 'purposeless purpose'. This, I hardly need say, is an oxymoronic concept, a total contradiction in logic, and to use it as a part of a scientific theory, i.e. as a means of claiming, as Darwinism has done for more than a century, that nature is devoid of purpose, entails an outright logical error. There can be no such thing as purposeless purpose, and any theory that rests upon so irrational a concept must ultimately be rejected.
The above conclusion is contrary to what has long been the conventional wisdom, but it could have been anticipated. Darwin realized from the outset that the phrase "Natural Selection" was deceptive in character and, in later editions of the Origin of Species, he defends himself for introducing it:
In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, Natural Selection is a false term; but who ever objected to chemists speaking of the elective affinities of the various elements? - and yet an acid cannot strictly be said to elect the base with which it in preference combines. . . . Everyone knows what is meant and is implied by such metaphorical expressions; and they are almost necessary for brevity. (1876 ed., 66)
We must sympathize with him, for he is faced with the difficult task of describing as undirected a process which we can hardly imagine as occurring other than through the direction of some intelligence. However, in the above argument he fails to observe that the phrase 'elective affinities,' as it was used in the chemistry of an earlier era, was manifestly not the single most important component in a theory that had dismissed God the Designer as "an unnecessary hypothesis." The word 'selection' as Darwin uses it, is much more than "necessary for brevity," it is necessary for the theory to be even plausible. Without 'natural selection' there is no theory, and it is pointless to claim, as is sometimes done, that this usage is just a kind of 'shorthand.' There is no more convincing longhand to back up the shorthand.
Darwin's oversight, therefore, is more than just serious, it is potentially fatal, because as long as God still existed in the background of human consciousness as the presumed source of natural design it was still logically acceptable to make use of the language of design in describing the way nature worked. In turning God into "an unnecessary hypothesis" however, Darwin removed the Designer but kept the language of design (the use of intentional idioms), and by so doing he unconsciously enshrined within science itself the oxymoronic concept of 'purposeless purpose'.
Intentional words and phrases always denote either a spiritual or a mental activity, and since the natural world is not a human creation, the alternative, if not God in any traditional sense, must at least be God-like. The use of intentional idioms always invokes mental or spiritual creativity, yet the theory which they are used to support, claims to deny any such creativity. This "false term" is what makes the theory appear to work, it has no substance or argument without it. Doubts concerning the legitimacy of the use of 'selection' and other intentional idioms must, therefore, go to the very heart of the theory's validity.
Noam Chomsky asserts that "divine design is a useless idea," and if anyone using that phrase, means the biblically-derived image of an omnipotent God creating the universe in six days, then where science is concerned he is doubtless correct. So if we conclude, on the grounds stated above, that Darwinism conceals a fatal error in causal logic, then it would appear that in dealing with the question of origins modern man must choose between an irrational idea and a useless one.
It has long been evident that the creationist assertion "God did it" and the Darwinian claim that "Chance did it" are, as knowledge claims, equally unsatisfactory. "Chance," as Owen Barfield asserts: "in fact equals no hypothesis," and to resort to it in the name of science means "that the impressive vocabulary of technological investigation [associated with evolutionary biology] was actually being used to denote its breakdown; as though, because it is something that we can do with ourselves in the water, drowning should be included as one of the different ways of swimming".
Barfield is correct; if drowning can be considered a method of swimming "because it is something that we can do to ourselves in water," then the use of intentional idioms in defense of materialism will also be acceptable, on the grounds that it is something that we can do with language; however, in both cases rationality is forfeit. His reference to the misuse of the "impressive vocabulary of technological investigation" is nowhere more evident than in the now all but universal misapplication of the term 'mechanism,' a misapplication so widespread that it has become a dictionary definition: e.g. Mechanism - "the theory that the workings of the universe can be explained by physics and chemistry." If challenged, a materialist will likely claim that this usage only tells us that everything in the universe is law-abiding, but in fact it does much more. It places the entire vocabulary of human intelligent creativity at the disposal of a world-view which asserts that the universe is not intelligently created. Through its language, Darwinism wrongfully universalizes human creativity, and puts it in the place of the now supposedly absent divine Designer. In Darwin's theory, therefore, God is dead, but man is silently and unconsciously elevated to divine status.
This logical error, perhaps more than any other factor, has permitted Darwinism to give the impression of being scientific when in fact, as Barfield suggests, it represents the total breakdown of the scientific method. Real science is critical causal enquiry; Darwinian theory is at best hypothetical speculation about the origin of life and consciousness based upon 'mechanistic' assumptions which perversely fail to take into account the two-factor nature of all mechanisms - natural law plus design. That the idea of mechanism must contain these two factors, and not just natural law, was conscientiously argued by the late Michael Polanyi in his article, 'Life's Irreducible Structures'. The logical contradiction I have referred to above is inescapable. All that one can do to counter it, is to ponder the irony of the fact that creative language cannot be logically used to support materialism. Perhaps this is because language itself is spiritual in origin as religious tradition has long suggested, but this possibility goes beyond the scope of this present article. Here I wish to focus only on the consequences of what I believe to be an undeniable historic error, perpetrated unconsciously at a time when we were not awake to its consequences.
Under what circumstances could the use of intentional language in the defense of Dawinism be justified? If scientific materialism, i.e. an assumed Monism of Matter wherein consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon, were first established to be undeniably true, so that its truth were not in any way dependent upon evolutionary theory, then it would be justified to ignore the above logical contradiction. The contradiction would still be there, but we would have little choice but to continue closing our eyes to it. Instead, for more than a century now, we have seen the Darwinian or neo-Darwinian theories of evolution offered as proof of materialism, of the primacy of matter. This is not responsible science or philosophy, because it has entailed the unconscious misuse of logic. There is no 'proof' of the truth of materialism that does not in some way make use of intentional language, so that where logic is concerned we have accepted the unacceptable. In this way we have gained freedom from from theism in science, and from theistic morality, both I believe were desirable ends. But the cost has been high; we have laid the foundation for a society without values now visible on nearly every city street, because where "everything is matter...nothing matters." This, together with the need to enshrine irrationality in science, may cause many to want to explore other options.
Our choice is not limited to the 'useless' and 'irrational' as mentioned earlier, because there is a third option. For centuries now we have limited our view of causal logic to either religious belief, within the context of a Cartesian dualism, or to scientific materialism, which assumes the truth of a Monism of Matter, although it now seeks further ways to avoid that fact. There is, however, a second critical monism, a Monism of Mind or thought, which arises mainly from the scientific work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and from the life's work of the Austrian seer/scientist Rudolf Steiner. This second critical monism, while it may sometimes deal with the subject matter of religion, is not religion but science, i.e. causal enquiry. Steiner's anthroposophy, which Barfield defended in his many works, and in arguments with his friend C. S. Lewis, is not a belief system, and it therefore accepts nothing on grounds of authority, not even morality. It has, moreover, a foundation in epistemology which argues that thought possesses a higher reality than matter, a possibility which cannot be overlooked, and which recent findings in quantum physics would appear to confirm. Goethe and Steiner offer us a scientific world view in which causal logic works the other way around, from Mind to matter, not from matter to mind, and consequently is antithetical to the assumptions that underlie materialism and have lead to the logical dilemma described above. It is the task of critical thought, wherever possible, not to base conclusions upon assumptions. In my article 'Causal Logic: Dualism and the Two Monisms,' I have attempted to show how a Monism of Matter may be contrasted with a Monism of Mind or thought, and how they both stand in relation to religion and to religious tradition.
Don Cruse, Box 19, Site 1, RR2, Ponoka, AB, Canada, T4J 1R2 Phone/Fax 403 704 1341 e-mail: Don @ inversionmixers.com
 Science, Vol 160, 1968 (page 1308)
 See Johnathan Kellerman's crime novel Survival of the Fittest, Bantam Books, 1998, p. 503.
 For example, John R. Searle in his work The Rediscovery of the Mind (MIT Press, 1994), seeks to deny the validity of both monism and dualism, which avoids the really difficult issues by making his arguments unaccountable to causal logic. Behind this unaccountability, however, there still lies the assumption of materialism, which is now, as in Darwinism, seemingly supported by arguments that rightly belong either to a dualism or to a Monism of Mind.