Friday, February 24, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (5): FitzRoy and Darwin

                                                   Cerro Brujo (Finger Hill) on San Cristobal Island

                                      The "Cathedral" Rock Formation in Cerro Brujo



On the morning of Day 4 (January 31), we were on the northwest coast of San Cristobal at Cerro Brujo, a large tuff cone that has eroded to create caves and a tunnel.  A tuff cone is created by volcanic magma mixing with sea water, and it's a form of compacted volcanic ash.  We navigated around the cone in our panga, exploring some if its magnificent rock formations.

This was one of the first areas of the Galapagos explored by Captain Robert FitzRoy and Darwin.  Fitzroy was educated in science, and he collected fossils and kept a journal that was the basis for his book on the voyages of the Beagle, which was published along with Darwin's book.

In the afternoon, we hiked over Punta Pitt on the northeastern tip of San Cristobal.  During the hike, Xavier, our naturalist guide, talked about how Darwin had been chosen by Captain FitzRoy to on the Beagle during its voyage around the world (from December of 1831 to October of 1836), primarily for the purpose of surveying the coasts of South America for the British Navy. 

In 1828, the Beagle had been on a previous surveying trip around South America.  The surveying duties along the storm-tossed coastlines of Tierra del Fuego were so depressing for Pringle Stokes, the Captain, that he wrote in his logbook: "The soul of man dies in him."  He then put a pistol to his head and killed himself.  Fitzroy was appointed to take his place as Captain.  When he got his assignment in 1831 to do another surveying trip to South America, FitzRoy decided that he needed to have the company of an educated gentleman in his cabin, with whom he could converse, and thus avoid the gloomy fate of the previous captain.

 
Robert FitzRoy


FitzRoy interviewed Darwin, who was only 22 years old.  Since he believed that he could tell a man's character by the shape of his face, FitzRoy was disturbed by the bad shape of Darwin's nose.  But later he agreed to accept him.  In Darwin's Autobiography, Darwin observed "I think he was afterwards well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely."  Darwin's trip was paid for by his father.  Once on the boat, Darwin identified himself as the ship's naturalist.  FitzRoy and Darwin became good friends during their five year voyage.

Xavier told us this story.  But I was surprised that he did not tell us the rest of the story, and particularly FitzRoy's later attack on Darwin's theory of evolution as an assault on Biblical creationism.  So here, again, as I have suggested previously, it seems that the Galapagos naturalist guides steer away from any discussion of the creationist-evolution debate.

During their five years together on the Beagle, Darwin and Fitzroy did not argue about creationism and evolution, because Darwin did not develop his evolutionary theory of the origin of species until years after his return to England.  But they did argue about other things.  In his Autobiography, Darwin remembered a tempestuous argument over slavery:
"Early in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered 'No.'  I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything.  This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word, we could not live any longer together."
Later, after a few hours, Fitz-Roy apologized to him. But the angry disagreement that began in 1859 was never settled.

When The Origin of Species was published in 1859, Darwin mailed out copies to his friends, including FitzRoy.  Fitzroy's letter in response was harsh: "My dear old friend, I, at least, cannot find anything 'ennobling' in the thought of being a descendent of even the most ancient Ape."

In June of 1860, at the famous debate over Darwin's book between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, organized by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, FitzRoy was in the audience.  He waved a copy of the Bible over his head, and shouted that he "often expostulated with his old comrade of the Beagle for entertaining views which were contradictory to the first chapter of Genesis." He expressed his regret that he had helped Darwin gather some of the facts that Darwin was now using to support his blasphemous theory.

In his Autobiography, Darwin wrote about FitzRoy: "He was afterwards very indignant with me for having published so unorthodox a book (for he became very religious) as the Origin of Species."  Darwin also reported that while on the Beagle, FitzRoy was occasionally near to insanity.  Later in life, he became deeply depressed by his financial problems and by the failure of his efforts at supporting Christian missionary activity in Tierra del Fuego: the first missionaries starved to death, and then later ones were massacred by Fuegians who turned against the Christians and reverted to their aboriginal ways.

In April of 1865, FitzRoy committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.  So he finally met the end that he had feared thirty years earlier on the Beagle.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (4): A Baconian Mastery of Nature for a Darwinian Contemplative Life

Hiking on South Plaza Island on Day 3 of our trip, we saw the over 500 cacti planted on this small island by the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS).  They are protected by fencing.  This was done because feral goals had eaten down most of the cacti on the island.  Now that the goats have been eradicated--by being shot--cacti can grow again, so that the island is restored to its earlier state.

In Wildlife of the Galapagos, by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking, it is said that "goats are, after man, the most destructive animals on the planet" (235).  In 1965, Miguel Castro, the conservation officer of the CDRS, started the first systematic goat eradication program, starting with the island of Santa Fe.  Land iguanas and giant tortoises can be driven to extinction by goats eating up the vegetation they need.  Later, in the afternoon, we sailed to Barrington Bay on Santa Fe and saw the restored island as it had recovered after the goats had all been killed by 1975.  One sign of success is the pale or pink land iguana that is found only on Santa Fe.

                               Galapagos Pink Land Iguana Found Only on Santa Fe Island

Some clever strategy has been required to kill the goats, through sharpshooting from helicopters.  Even when almost all the goats are killed on an island, a few individuals can escape the hunters.  To track these down, on the island of Pinta, the hunters have deployed what they call Judas goats and Mata Hari goats.  If a goat is fitted with a radio collar and released, its natural social instinct is to seek out other goats, thus leading the hunters to their prey.  The most effective technique is to use male goats that have been rendered sterile (Judas goats) or female goats that have been sterilized and chemically treated to simulate a state of permanent estrus (the Mata Hari goat).  Over 40,000 goats were shot in the 1970s alone.  There are now only a few feral goats left in small populations on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and southern Isabela.

Once the goats have been eradicated from an island, the scientists and workers at CDRS can plant native vegetation or reintroduce native animals, such as giant tortoises, that have been born and reared in captivity.

As I have noted in some previous posts, I see this as an example of Francis Bacon's project for using science to master nature for human benefit.  Some critics of Bacon's project have complained that this turns science or philosophy away from its traditional devotion to the theoretical life--knowledge of nature for its own sake--to a purely technological concern for the practical manipulation of nature for human uses.  But Bacon himself, particularly in his Essays, argued that his new science would be good not only as a means for its practical benefits, but also as an end in itself for the pure pleasure of understanding.  To know the truth about nature is satisfying in itself for those who choose a contemplative life, because such knowledge is "the sovereign good of human nature" (Bacon 2002, p. 342).

This Baconian understanding of science is manifest in the Galapagos, where Darwinian scientists have supervised the conservation of the islands for study by scientists and for instructing people in Darwinian evolutionary science.  In 1935, the centennial of Darwin's arrival in Galapagos, American travel writer Victor Von Hagel travelled to Galapagos with a replica of the bust of Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History.  He wanted to plant it at the site on San Cristobal where Darwin first stepped off the Beagle onto a Galapagos island.  The bust is now displayed in a park on the grounds of the Ecuadorian naval base in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

                The Site of Darwin's First Landing in the Galapagos, September 16, 1835

                     Darwin's Bust in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island

There is a little myth-making at work here.  It is not true that the whole theory of evolution by natural selection came to Darwin's mind while he was in the Galapagos Islands.  But the exaggerated story of the importance of Galapagos for Darwin's thinking--particularly, the finches--has been crucial for the rhetorical branding of Galapagos conservation and ecotourism with Darwin's name.

Nevertheless, there is some truth to the myth of Galapagos as the home of Darwinian evolution.  Within a few years after his return to England, Darwin's notes show that he slowing began to recognize the importance of what he had seen in Galapagos.  In the second edition of The Voyage of the Beagle (published in 1845), he gave his first published hint in his chapter on Galapagos that he was thinking about the evolutionary transmutation of species: "The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. . . . both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact--that mystery of mysteries--the first appearance of new beings on earth."  Moreover, it is certainly true, that since Darwin's death, no other spot on Earth has been as intensively studied as a natural laboratory for Darwinian evolution.

In 1935, Von Hagen wrote about "the need for conserving the irreplaceable natural phenomena of the archipelago, and to save from extinction this living laboratory for the study of evolutionary processes."  This idea of Galapagos as the "living laboratory" of evolution is a powerful theme.

In the 1950s, evolutionary scientists like Julian Huxley (the first director general of UNESCO) argued for protecting the Galapagos Islands.  In 1959, the centennial of the publication of The Origin of Species, there were many events to commemorate Darwin's science and its connection to Galapagos.  In that year, Ecuador passed a law declaring the uninhabited 97% of Galapagos Ecuador's first national park.  Huxley declared that this would serve "the preservation of all sources of pure wonder and delight" as a natural human need.

Within a few years, scientists supported by international organizations established first the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands and then the Charles Darwin Research Station.  Eventually, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) took over the management of the Park.

The GNPS has designated 92 visitor sites in Galapagos.  Visitors must be accompanied by naturalist guides who have been trained and certified by the GNPS.  The scheduling of visits by the tour boats must be approved by the GNPS so that only a few people at a time are visiting a site.

From my two tours of Galapagos, with two different naturalist guides, what I have found most interesting is how the guides have clearly been intensively trained in the evolutionary science of Galapagos, so that they can teach the tourists how to understand what they see in Galapagos within the intellectual framework of evolutionary science.  The guides are required to undergo regular retraining so that they know about the latest research on the evolutionary geology, botany, and zoology of Galapagos. 

And just as George Gaylord Simpson said that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," so the fundamental theme for the naturalist guides in their talking with the tourists is that "nothing in Galapagos makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Moreover, there also seems to be an implicit assumption in what the guides say that evolutionary science explains everything--that nothing on Earth, or in the whole Universe, makes sense except in the light of Darwinian evolutionary science.  Clearly, the global ecotourists who come to Galapagos are receptive to this message.

I have also noticed that the guides are remarkably silent about the creation-evolution debate, and about the claim of some religious believers that nothing makes sense except in the light of God's creation of everything in the beginning.

The Reason-Revelation Debate has been settled, it seems, in favor of Darwinian Reason and against Biblical Revelation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Cambridge Conference on Natural Law: Comments on the Papers

I will be participating in a conference on natural law at the University of Cambridge on March 4th, at the Lecture Theatre LG 18, Faculty of Law.

The papers for the conference can be found in a Dropbox file.

My paper is entitled "The Darwinian Science of Thomistic Natural Law."

Here are my comments on the papers, which I have circulated among all the participants.



COYLE ON SOCIABILITY AND NATURAL LAW

Sean Coyle (“Can Natural Laws be Derived from Sociability?”) argues that Aristotle does not derive natural law from human sociability, because Aristotle “has no natural law theory” (1).  To consider the derivation of natural law from human sociability, he claims, one must look to those Christian philosophers who influenced Thomas Aquinas—particularly, Augustine.

 
I don’t find this persuasive.  It is true that Aristotle rarely uses the term “natural law.”  But he does speak of natural right or what is right or just by nature in the Nicomachean Ethics (1134b17-32).  Moreover, in the Rhetoric, he explicitly speaks about “natural law” (1373b1-22).  As Coyle indicates by his citations, much of Aquinas’s writing about natural law is in his commentaries on Aristotle.

 
Coyle ignores Aquinas’s reliance on Aristotle’s biological writings (and on Albert’s biology that builds on Aristotle) in explaining the sociability of the social and political animals, including human beings.  This is a big part of my paper.  I realize, of course, that some people will want to argue that I am wrong about this.

 
Coyle writes: “moral theory cannot rest only upon enlightened self-interest or self-interest modified by the interests of others. Such reciprocity is not morality, but merely the realization that I cannot have the things I want unless you have them too” (4).  This overlooks Aquinas’s argument that the starting point for the natural inclinations is self-love, because each person by a necessity of natural instinct must love himself, and each person extends that love of himself to others as extensions of himself (Arnhart, 15).

 
Coyle rightly emphasizes the importance for Aquinas of the order of natural inclinations in ST, I-II, q. 94, a. 2.  But he does not notice that this all comes from Aristotle’s biological writing.  And he does not notice the absence of any Biblical citations here.  Of course, Coyle might want to dispute my reading of 94/2.

 
In speaking about Aquinas on Christian charity and loving one’s enemies, Coyle (8) is silent about Aquinas’s rejection of loving enemies in arguing for the “special virtue of vengeance” (Arnhart, 62).

 
COYLE AND McBRIDE ON EXCEPTIONLESS NORMS

 
Coyle and Nicholas McBride (“Equality, Flourishing, and the Existence of Legal Absolutes”) defend the existence of exceptionless norms as part of Thomistic natural law. I doubt this.  I agree that there are enduring patterns in human life that reflect a universal human nature.  But I also see such variability in the temperamental nature of individuals and in biological historicity that make absolutely exceptionless norms unlikely (Arnhart 18-27).

 
Coyle implies that Aristotle thought there were exceptionless norms (9).  But this ignores Aristotle’s observation that while there is a natural standard of justice or right, “all is changeable” (1134b30).  Aquinas agrees.  Coyle even refers to Aquinas’s declaration that while natural law is generally the same for all human beings, as soon as one moves to particular conclusions for particular circumstances, exceptions appear, and thus the general principles are only “for the most part” (ST, I-II, q. 94, a. 4).

 
Coyle suggests that Aquinas believes that not stealing and not lying are exceptionless norms (9).  But Aquinas says that it is lawful to steal out of necessity (II-II, q. 66, aa. 6-8), and that it is “lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back” (II-II, q. 110, a. 3, ad 4).  Coyle hides this latter remark in a footnote.

 
Coyle says that not killing the innocent is another example of an exceptionless norm.  But he is silent about Aquinas’s claim that God’s command to Abraham to kill Isaac shows that killing the innocent can be right if God commands it (II-II, q. 64, a. 6, ad 1).

 
Moreover, everything Aquinas says about the virtue of prudence as the judgment of what should be done in particular circumstances suggests the absence of exceptionless norms.

 
McBride identifies the prohibition against torture as the classic example of exceptionless norms (2, 8).  But he does not explain the legal history or moral psychology of this rule against torture.

 
One clear illustration of how sympathy and the moral emotions have sustained the movement to human rights is the condemnation of legal torture as a violation of human rights.  Traditionally, torture was regarded as a proper means by which legal aauathorities could extract confessions or punish malefactors.  But, then, in the 18th century, the unjustified suffering of the victims of torture was so vividly depicted by critics as a barbarous violation of human dignity, that there was a broad movement in Europe and North America to ban torture as “cruel and unusual punishment.” 

 
Historian Lynn Hunt writes: “Torture ended because the traditional framework of pain and personhood fell apart, to be replaced, bit by bit, by a new framework, in which individuals owned their bodies, had rights to their separateness and to bodily inviolability and recognized in other people the same passions, sentiments, and sympathies as themselves” (Inventing Human Rights, 112).

 
In his Second Treatise, John Locke had justified the idea of natural rights with two kinds of principles--"divine workmanship" and "self-ownership." If human beings are created by God in His Image, then they have a divinely created worth that cannot be properly denied by those who would deprive them of their sacred rights. But if each human being is naturally inclined to take possession of himself in mind and body, and if each man can see that all other men assert the same self-possession, then this human experience of self-ownership could be a purely secular ground of human rights. The modern move towards understanding human rights as rooted in the secular human experience of empathy and moral emotions relies on Locke's secular principle of self-ownership without the religious principle of divine workmanship.

Even as Hunt stresses the primacy of emotion in this understanding of human rights, she also recognizes the role of reason. Human rights have a kind of "inner logic" or a "kind of conceivability or thinkability scale" (150). She illustrates this by showing how the French revolutionaries were driven by the logic of human rights to extend the circle of humanitarian concern. Declaring that all human beings are equal in their natural rights inevitably inclines us to expand that equal protection to new groups of human beings. So, for example, once the French revolutionary leaders had granted religious liberty to Protestant Christians, this made it easier to see the need for granting liberty to Jews.

Nevertheless, as Hunt shows, that logic of human rights was slowed in the 19th century by various ideological movements--nationalism, scientific racism, and Marxism--that were opposed to universal human rights. The natural human disposition to empathy is constrained by a natural tribalism, so that we feel less concern for those we regard as strangers or enemies. The Volkish nationalism of Hitler and the Nazis was an extreme manifestation of this natural tribalism.

Eventually, however, the moral revulsion against the barbarous atrocities of the first half of the 20th century provoked a renewal of the human rights movement beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. We can continue to see the emotional psychology of human rights in the work of governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) that publicize those brutal practices around the world that elicit our moral repugnance in the service of human rights.

This emotional resonance of empathy expressed in the disgust with cruelty confirms, Hunt concludes, the natural grounding of human rights in human moral emotions. "The history of human rights shows that rights are best defended in the end by the feelings, convictions, and actions of multitudes of individuals, who demand responses that accord with their inner sense of outrage" (213). "The process had and has an undeniable circularity to it: you know the meaning of human rights because you feel distressed when they are violated. The truths of human rights might be paradoxical in this sense, but they are nonetheless still self-evident" (214).

This history of human rights shows, Hunt explains, the complex interaction of genetic nature, neural structures, and cultural history.

"Needless to say, empathy was not invented in the eighteenth century. The capacity for empathy is universal because it is rooted in the biology of the brain; it depends on a biologically based ability to understand the subjectivity of other people and to be able to imagine their inner experiences are like one's own. . . ."

"Normally, everyone learns empathy at an early age. Although biology provides an essential predisposition, each culture shapes the expression of empathy in its own particular fashion. Empathy only develops through social interaction; therefore, the forms of that interaction configure empathy in important ways. In the eighteenth century, readers of novels learned to extend their purview of empathy" (39).


Hunt refers to biological research on the neuroscience of empathy in the brain as showing the roots of the moral emotions in evolved human biology.  This research also shows that some people—psychopaths—have abnormal brains so that they cannot feel these moral emotions, and thus they have no moral sense, because they don’t feel guilt, shame, or care for the suffering of others.  There is no deficit in their capacity for abstract reasoning—they are often very intelligent—so this shows that Kant was wrong to think that moral experience was based on pure reason alone without any emotion.

POSTEMA ON MATTHEW HALE
Gerald Postema’s paper—“Hale’s Common-Law Naturalism”—is an instructive account of Matthew Hale’s understanding of natural law, divine law, positive law, and common law.

I do wonder, however, why Postema is silent about those notorious decisions of Hale—particularly, those regarding witchcraft and rape—that cast doubt on Hale’s legal judgment and whether he rightly understood natural law.

 
Hale has had a pernicious influence on the legal history of both witchcraft and rape.  In both cases, he showed a misogynistic prejudice that violated the natural law principle of equal treatment under law.  Can Postema defend him against this criticism?

 
One of Hale’s most influential legal standards concerns rape: “it must be remembered . . . that it is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent.”  In fact, this is false.  During Hale’s own lifetime, there were few convictions for rape because of the obstacles facing women who might lodge a rape charge, and because of the likelihood of acquittals.  Moreover, while Hale was deeply skeptical of women claiming to have been raped, he was remarkably credulous in accepting the dubious claims of those who pretended to be victims of women practicing witchcraft.  As Keith Thomas said in his history of magic in 16th and 17th century England, “the accusation of witchcraft was easy to make and hard to disprove.”

 
In 1662, Hale presided over the trial of two women from Lowestoft who were said to be witches.  By 1662, many people were becoming skeptical of the reality of witchcraft, and as early as 1575 some people who claimed to have been bewitched were tried for perpetrating a hoax.  And yet Hale dismissed the evidence in the Lowestoft case that those claiming bewitchment were hoaxers. 

 
In the trial report, Hale’s charge to the jury was summarized: “Whereupon, the judge . . . only this acquainted them, that they had two things to inquire after. First, whether or no these children were bewitched? Secondly, whether the prisoners at the bar were guilty of it?  That there were such creatures as witches he made no doubt at all; for first, the scriptures had affirmed so much.  Secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided laws against such persons, which is an argument of their confidence of such a crime.”  The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the two women were hanged as witches.

 
The report of this trial and Hale’s judgment in the case was immensely influential in subsequent trials for witchcraft, partly because of Hale’s high reputation.  The report was cited at the Salem witch trials.

 
Hale cited the Bible as the evidence of divine law commanding the execution of witches. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18).  Like the Biblical teachings on slavery and homosexuality, here is a case of where we need the natural law to correct the Bible (Arnhart, 54-62, 73-77).

 
Hale has also had a bad influence on the English law of rape.  He was responsible for the legal rule that husbands cannot be charged with raping their wives.  In Historia Placitorum Coronae, Hale wrote: “the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.”  Amazingly, he offered no citation to support this statement.

 
Many commentators have recognized the absurdity of Hale’s rule.  But when Parliament debated this in 1975, the rule was upheld by MPs who quoted Hale.

 
If this shows Hale’s unreasonable bias against women, does it show his disregard for the natural law principle of equal treatment under law?  Or will Postema argue that I’m mistaken about this?

 

 MURPHY ON THE GENETIC BASIS OF HUMAN RIGHTS

 
James Murphy (“Justifying Human Rights: The Threat and the Promise”) says that those who framed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 could agree on a list of human rights, but they could not agree on any philosophical or theological justification for those human rights.

 
As Murphy indicates, some people have argued that the only justification for human rights is theological, and there have been at least two kinds of theological justifications proposed.  The most common is the argument that the idea of human rights is justified by the Old Testament doctrine that all human beings were created in the image of God, which gives all human beings a moral dignity that they would not have without that idea. 

 
The second theological justification is Nicholas Wolterstorff’s argument that the New Testament doctrine that all human beings will be redeemed on the Last Day for an eternal life in friendship with God gives them the dignity that justifies human rights.  (Oddly, this suggests that Wolterstorff does not believe in the doctrine of Hell as the eternal punishment for most human beings.)  Murphy observes that Wolterstorff is a Calvinist, and his theological justification for human rights is Calvinist in that it teaches that human beings as totally depraved by original sin have no merit in themselves, and so whatever human dignity they have comes purely as an unearned gift of God.

 
Murphy argues against Wolterstorff’s theological justification, and Murphy indicates that he prefers the Catholic doctrine of imago Dei as the better theological justification for human rights.

 
And yet Murphy also endorses a third way of justifying human rights—a philosophical justification of human rights as grounded on “our genetic capacities for personhood” that are shared by all human beings as long as they retain the human genome (12).

 
I agree with this third way as a biological justification of human rights founded on our evolved human nature, which appeals to a moral anthropology rather than a moral cosmology.  I see evidence that this kind of biological justification of human rights is implicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and explicit in the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights of 1998.  (My thinking about this has been influenced by Johannes Morsink’s two books on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

 
The idea of human rights would seem to depend on the idea of human nature. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights never speaks of "human nature," it does refer once to nature in declaring that the family is "natural" (Article 16). Moreover, the references to the "inherent dignity" of "all members of the human family" and the declaration that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" implies some shared human nature that is the source of human rights.

Originally, in the drafting of the Universal Declaration, Charles Malik a Lebanese Christian and Thomist proposed the following language for Article 16: "The family deriving from marriage is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. It is endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights antecedent to all positive law." The drafters accepted the first sentence but rejected the second, because they wanted a purely secular statement that did not depend on religious belief. Similarly, proposals to refer in Article 1 of the Declaration to human beings as "created in the image and likeness of God" were not adopted. The drafters of the Declaration thought that the shared repulsion towards Nazi barbarism and the determination to declare a universal morality of human rights that would condemn such barbarism manifested a natural morality that did not depend on religious belief. This cosmopolitan morality of human rights must somehow be grounded in human biological nature.


 
Here is how the Declaration begins, with the first two recitals of the Preamble:

"(1) Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,


"(2) Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."

Article 1 declares: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

The reference to "barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind" reminds us, of course, that the Declaration was largely an expression of shared moral revulsion against the Holocaust and the other horrors of Nazism in World War II.  The phrase "conscience of mankind" generalizes from the feelings of outrage that people around the world felt in response to the radical evils of Nazism. Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shows us how we derive "rights from wrongs" (a phrase used as the title of a book by Alan Dershowitz). That is to say, we formulate "rights"--justified entitlements to special treatment--from our experience of shocking injustices. The Declaration shows how moral outrage against atrocities expresses a universal morality that can be formulated as human rights rooted in the inherent dignity of all human beings.


 
At one point in the drafting process, there was another reference to nature. It was proposed that Article 1 should declare that all human beings "are endowed by nature with reason and conscience." As an alternative to this language, the Brazilian delegation proposed: "Created in the image and likeness of God, they are endowed with reason and conscience . . ." Similarly, the Dutch delegation proposed that the first recital of the Preamble should state: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, based on man's divine origin and immortal destiny, is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world."

These proposals for religious language about human beings as created in God's image provoked intense debate. Some of the drafters saw a stark opposition between God and nature as alternative sources for human reason and conscience. Bogomolov of the USSR attributed the phrase "by nature" to "French materialist philosophers." Finally, the Brazilians agreed to withdraw their religious language if the phrase "by nature" were dropped, and a consensus formed on this resolution of the dispute.

At one point, a proposed amendment would have changed "by nature" to "by their nature," which conformed to Malik's recollection that "the intention of the Commission on Human Rights had not been to imply that man was endowed with reason and conscience by an entity beyond himself."  It is regrettable, I think, that the drafters did not go with this phrase "by their nature," because this would have clearly suggested their understanding that the source of human rights is neither a transcendent God nor a transcendent Nature, but human nature.


In at least one of the recent documents on human rights, the biological basis of human rights in human nature is explicitly recognized. The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights was adopted by UNESCO in 1997 and then ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1998.

The first three articles are put under the title "Human dignity and the human genome":

Article 1
“The human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity. In a symbolic sense, it is the heritage of humanity.”
Article 2
“a. Everyone has a right to respect for their dignity and for their rights regardless of their genetic characteristics.
“b. That dignity makes it imperative not to reduce individuals to their genetic characteristics and to respect their uniqueness and diversity.”

Article 3
“The human genome, which by its nature evolves, is subject to mutations. It contains potentialities that are expressed differently according to each individual's natural and social environment, including the individual's state of health, living conditions, nutrition and education.”

Here we can see much of the complexity and tension in appealing to human biology as a ground for human rights. Universal human rights assume a "fundamental unity of all members of the human family," which in turn assumes an underlying unity in the human genome, because membership in the human species requires some shared genetic basis.

And yet the human genome brings about not only the unity of humanity but also its diversity. No two human beings are genetically identical. Even identical twins are not really identical.  So even if human beings are roughly equal at birth in being identifiably human, they are not completely identical. Here we can see the implicit worry that some human beings might be excluded from the human family because of genetic differences that some people would consider abnormal or inferior.

We can also see here the fear of genetic reductionism. Although being genetically human is the precondition for being treated with the dignity that human beings deserve, human beings are not fully reducible to human genetics.

The human genome is recognized as a product of evolution and thus subject to evolutionary change through mutations. But there is enough genetic stability to sustain the reality of the human species.

That genetic humanity consists of potentialities that are diversely expressed in each individual through the interaction with the natural and social environment of the individual, which includes physical conditions, bodily functions, and social learning.

Human genes by themselves do nothing. They shape human life only though genetic potentialities working through complex interactions with the physical and social world. That's why human biology is much more than genetics. The biological nature of human beings depends on the coevolution of innate tendencies, social history, and individual life history.

The universality of human genetic nature allows for universal human rights. But the moral history of human rights will reflect the complex contingencies of social and political history.
We can see then that this Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights of 1998 supports Murphy’s claim that human rights can be rooted in the uniquely human capacities of the human genome.  Religious believers like Murphy can see that human genome as bearing God’s image.  But even those who lack such religious belief can see the grounding of human rights in human nature.  Thus, natural law can stand on its own natural ground independently of any belief in divine law (Arnhart, 69-81).

 
STONER ON LEGISLATORS AND JUDGES

James Stoner argues that we can rightly distinguish the work of the legislator from the work of the judge in American constitutionalism by applying Aquinas’s distinction between human law as a determination of natural law and human law as a deduction from natural law: the American legislator is concerned with determination, while the American judge is concerned with deduction.

Stoner’s paper is confusing, however, in that he seems to contradict himself.  He says that “determination ought to belong to the legislative power alone” (12).  But he also says that there is a “mixture of deduction and determination in legislative activity” (18).  He says that “the sort of reasoning involved in judicial decision seems to be deductive in character” (13).  But he also says that “a mixture of deduction and determination appears as well in the reasoning of judges” (19).

As far as I can tell, Aquinas does not distinguish between the legislator’s determination and the judge’s deduction.  Instead of that, Aquinas distinguishes between legislators as making general rules for the future and judges as deciding particular cases in the present (I-II, q. 95, a. 1, ad 2).

Stoner’s paper suggests other questions as well.  When he says that “common law belongs in a sense to both jury and judge” (7), does this include jury nullification as an exercise of natural law reasoning—as, for example, in the exercise of jury nullification to overturn the fugitive slave laws in the U.S. as contrary to natural justice?

What exactly does he mean by “the natural-law moment in constitutionalism” (17)?  Does he mean that the U.S. Constitution implicitly appeals to natural law?  If so, how and where?  In the Preamble?  In the 9th Amendment?  In the 14th Amendment?  Is the Declaration of Independence part of the constitutional system?  Some of the legislators who framed and ratified the 14th Amendment said that the clause protecting “the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” incorporated all the natural rights invoked in the Declaration of Independence.  Does Stoner agree with this as part of “the natural-law moment in constitutionalism”?

If Aquinas is right that every human positive law is derived from the natural law (I-II, q. 95, a. 2), does that mean that constitutional law must be interpreted in the light of natural law?  So, for example, does that mean that the debate in Obergefell v. Hodges over whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right is necessarily a debate over the natural law of marriage (Arnhart, 54-62)?




COTTINGHAM AND LOMBARDO ON TRANSCENDENTALIST AND EMPIRICIST ETHICS

Do we see in the papers by John Cottingham (“Nature and Natural Law: The Constraints on Practical Reasoning”) and Nicholas Lombardo (“Deriving Natural Law from Mosaic Law, Human Desire, and God’s Silence”) a fundamental choice between transcendentalist ethics and empiricist ethics?  If so, then my paper would be on the side of empiricist ethics.

Cottingham argues against an “empiricist naturalist” view that roots morality in “the sentiments and inclinations we find arising naturally within us,” because this deprives morality of any grounding in the “objective” reality of a divinely ordered cosmos, which is “to explain away all morality as an illusion arising from the projection outwards of purely subjective inclinations” (2, 8).  The morality of natural law has no objective reality unless we see that natural law as created by God as part of His teleologically ordered cosmos.  Therefore, Cottingham seems to agree with Kant that true morality necessarily requires theistic faith “beyond the reach of empirical knowledge” (9-10).

Although Lombardo sees natural law as ultimately created by God, Lombardo seems to disagree with Cottingham in suggesting that natural law can stand on its own natural ground in human nature without any necessity for appealing to faith in God as the creator of that natural order.  If so, then Lombardo would be on the side of an empiricist ethics, as I am.

Lombardo writes:

Must natural law originate with a divine legislator to command or oblige?  From the account of natural law given here, we can answer emphatically in the negative.  Our natural inclinations direct us to move toward specific goods suitable to our nature, thus commanding us, and our tendency toward the good directs us to act in accord with the rest of our natural inclinations, thus obliging us—with or without a divine legislator responsible for bringing those natural inclinations into being.  Therefore, natural law does not require a divine legislator to command or oblige (8).

Is Lombardo here agreeing with my argument that while religious faith in God’s creation of natural law can support natural law, there is no necessity for this, because natural law can be known by natural human experience even without such religious faith?

Is Cottingham arguing that it is impossible for those without religious faith to recognize and follow natural law?  If so, does this mean that natural law is actually a supernatural law or divine law?  Does he disagree with Aquinas’s separation of natural law from divine law?

Does Cottingham agree with Aquinas that faith must be supernaturally infused by God, and that “to have faith is not in human nature” (ST, II-II, q. 6, a. 1; q. 10, a. 1, ad 1)?  If so, does this mean that those in whom faith has not been infused cannot know the natural law?  And therefore natural law cannot be a universal law for all human beings regardless of whether they have any religious faith?  If natural law depends on faith, and faith is not in human nature, does this deny that natural law is really natural?

There are two possible interpretations of what Cottingham is saying.  The first is that people who have no Biblical faith that God created natural law cannot recognize or obey natural law at all.  The second is that people who lack this Biblical faith can recognize and obey natural law as rooted in their natural human inclinations, but only Biblical believers can see that this natural law really is ultimately created by God.  Which interpretation of Cottingham is correct?

Do Cottingham and Lombardo disagree with my claim that natural law can correct the Bible?  For example, can natural law teach us that the Bible is mistaken in supporting slavery?  As I have indicated in my paper, the Bible was often invoked by defenders of American slavery (Arnhart, 73-78).  And Abraham Lincoln indicated in the Second Inaugural that the Bible did not resolve the slavery debate: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” 

The defenders of American slavery cited both Aristotle and Aquinas as arguing that slavery is natural insofar as it is better for the slave to be ruled by a wiser man (ST, II-II, q. 57, a. 3, ad 2).  Does natural law allow us to see that this judgment is mistaken?

Lombardo cites some provisions of the Mosaic law that sanction violent cruelty that most of us would find wrong.  Does natural law allow us to correct this?

Aquinas supported the authority of the Church in the Inquisition to kill heretics (ST, II-II, q. 11, a. 3).  Does natural law allow us to correct this?

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI asked forgiveness for the faults of the Church in promoting religious violence, including the unjustified violence apparently supported by the Bible.  In 1999, Cardinal Ratzinger endorsed a statement of the International Theological Commission (ITC) on “The Church and the Faults of the Past.”  This statement recognizes that the Old Testament never shows the people of Israel asking forgiveness for their unjustified violence against their enemies.  Although we see people confessing their sins before God, we don’t see them confessing their sins before the people they have injured. Why not?  The ITC observes:

Acts of violence perpetrated by Israel against other peoples, which would seem to require a request for forgiveness from those peoples or from their descendants, are understood to be the execution of divine directives, as for example Genesis 2-11 and Deuteronomy 7:2 (the extermination of the Canaanites), or 1 Samuel 15 and Deuteronomy 25:19 (the destruction of the  Amalekites).  In such cases, the involvement of a divine command would seem to exclude any possible request for forgiveness.  The experiences of maltreatment suffered by Israel at the hands of other peoples and the animosity thus aroused could also have militated against the idea of asking pardon of these people for the evil done to them. (2.1)

If one reads this passage carefully, one can see a quiet admission that we must recognize that the Bible is mistaken when it reports God as commanding unjust violence.  The people of Israel saw no need to be forgiven for acts of violence that they “understood to be the execution of divine directives,” and thus “the involvement of a divine command would seem to exclude any possible request for forgiveness.”  Is this a hint that they were mistaken?  That what the Bible reports as “divine directives” for unjust violence is wrong?  Does this show the ITC using natural law to correct the Bible?  Would Cottingham disagree with this by arguing that since God is the creator of natural law, His command overrules natural law?

That God’s command can overrule the natural law prohibition on killing innocent people is suggested by God’s command to Abraham to kill his son Isaac (Genesis 22).  Aquinas explains:

Now man’s reason is right, insofar as it is ruled by the Divine Will, the first and supreme rule.  Wherefore that which a man does by God’s will and in obedience to His command, is not contrary to right reason, though it may seem contrary to the general order of reason: even so, that which is done miraculously by the Divine power is not contrary to nature, though it be contrary to the usual course of nature.  Therefore just as Abraham did not sin in being willing to slay his innocent son, because he obeyed God, although considered in itself it was contrary to right human reason in general, so, too, Osee sinned not in committing fornication by God’s command. (ST, II-II, q. 154, a. 2, ad 2)

Would Cottingham agree with this?

 
 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (3): The Evolution of Iguanas, Finches, and Humans by Hybridization

 
Marine Iguana
 


                                                                   Land Iguana

 
Hybrid Iguana from Breeding of a Male Marine Iguana and Female Land Iguana
 
 
Video of Marine Iguana Feeding Underwater
 
 
South Plaza Island, Looking Towards North Plaza Island
 


                                                       A Video on the Hybrid Iguana


On Day 3 (January 30), I began the day before sunrise, sitting on the balcony of our stateroom, reading and writing in my journal.  As the sun came up, I saw South Plaza Island, a small island (measuring one tenth of a square mile), near the even smaller island of North Plaza, which are off the east coast of Santa Cruz island.  From my reading, I knew that one of the unique features of South Plaza is that it is the only place where hybrid iguanas have been found. 

Both marine iguanas and land iguanas are unique to Galapagos.  The marine iguana is the lizard in the world that swims and forages for food underwater.  DNA analysis has shown that hybrid iguanas have a marine iguana father and a land iguana mother.  This is surprising because not only are marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) separate species, they even belong to separate genera.

Marine iguanas have sharp claws that help them grip the rocky seafloor, and they have flat faces that allow them to eat up algae off the rocks.  Hybrid iguanas also have sharp claws and flat faces, but they have never been observed foraging in the sea.  Instead, they forage for food on land like the land iguanas, but unlike the land iguanas, the hybrid iguanas can use their sharp claws to climb trees and cactus in search of food.

Hybrid iguanas show no defects that would impede their survival, but they do not seem to be capable of reproducing, although some scientists think they might turn out to be fertile.  In fact, many hybrid animals have proven to be capable of reproducing.

Howard Snell, a biologist at the University of New Mexico, was the first person to notice the hybrid iguana on South Plaza in 1977, and he saw that the hybrid iguana had features that were intermediate between the marine iguana and land iguana.  From 1977 to 2000, Snell has seen as many as 16 hybrids.  They are so rare that many naturalist guides who have visited South Plaza many times have never seen one.

Luckily, our group saw one hybrid iguana shortly after we had landed on the small wooden dock on South Plaza and then climbed up the lava rocks.  Snell has identified one hybrid individual who was often near the wooden dock.  And since iguanas can live long lives (30  years or more), it's possible that we saw the same individual.

So here's another example of how the evolution of life forms can depend on the unique natural history of a small island.  South Plaza provides the "Goldilocks conditions" that are "just right" for producing hybrid iguanas.  First, the island is so tiny that there is not enough room for land iguanas and marine iguanas to live in separate habitats.  Since their territories overlap, they frequently come into contact, and thus  they have many opportunities for interbreeding.  The second condition is that on South Plaza the breeding seasons of land iguanas and marine iguanas overlap: when male marine iguanas are ready to mate, the female land iguanas are at the end of their breeding season.

If animals from different species can crossbreed to produce hybrids, and if some of these hybrid animals can be fertile, this challenges the traditional belief of Biblical creationists that the Creator created all species to be eternally separate and fixed.  For example, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile, the Savoyard Vicar argues that the complex order in living nature proves the existence of God as the intelligent designer of that order, and part of that order is the existence of species that are eternally separate.  The Vicar insists: "The generation of living and organized bodies is by itself an abyss for the human mind.  The insurmountable barrier that nature set between the various species, so that they would not be confounded, shows its intentions with the utmost clarity.  It was not satisfied with establishing order.  It took certain measures so that nothing could disturb that order" (Bloom trans., p. 276).

Early in his life, the naturalist taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1788) agreed with this traditional belief that the natural order of created species could never be disturbed: "there are as many species as the Infinite Being created in the beginning."  But as he worked more in the classification of species, he discovered plants that were hybrids, some of which were capable of reproducing, and thus becoming a new species.  He concluded: "it is impossible to doubt that there are new species produced by hybrid generation."  For this, he was denounced by clergy who accused him of blasphemy in denying the Biblical account of God's special creation of species.

Later, creationist naturalists like Joseph Gottlieb Kolreuter (1733-1806) and Carl Friedrich von Gartner (1772-1850) studied hybrids to try to prove that Linnaeus was wrong, arguing that the hybridization of two species could not produce a new species, because God had specially endowed hybrids with sterility. 

In his chapter on "Hybridism" in The Origin of Species, Darwin argued against "the view commonly entertained by naturalists . . . that species, when intercrossed, have been specially endowed with sterility, in order to prevent their confusion."  He pointed out that the degree of sterility was innately variable in individuals of the same species, and that some species could cross with other species and produce fertile hybrids.  Darwin did not explore, however, the possibility that hybridization could be a means for the evolution of new species.

Over the past 150 years, most biologists have recognized the evolution of new plant species through hybridization, but they have generally assumed that this is uncommon for plants, and that it never happens for animals.  And yet, in recent decades, the evidence for the evolution of hybrid animals has  become too extensive to ignore.  Biologists like Matthew Arnold of the University of Georgia and James Mallet of the University College London has led the intellectual movement for recognizing the evolution of animal species by hybridization (Mallet 2007; Pennisi 2016).

This new evidence for evolutionary speciation through hybridization subverts the once long-accepted "biological species concept" of Ernst Mayr, which assumes that reproductive isolation is the critical element of any species, so that members of a species breed only with other members of their species.  The evidence for hybridization shows that the barrier to interspecies reproduction is much weaker than Mayr believed.

Once two species mate and produce fertile hybrid offspring, evolution can occur in two ways.  If the hybrid mates back with a member of the parent species, new DNA is introduced into the genome of the parent species, which is called introgression.  If hybrids mate among themselves and reproduce, this creates a new species.  Introgression introduces much more genetic variation more quickly than is possible through random mutation, which means that hybridization can help organisms adapt better and more quickly to changing environments.

Darwin introduced the image of the evolution of species as a tree of life, as in this famous page in his notebooks, where he drew a tree of life and wrote "I think."

 

Some devoted Darwinians have even had this tattooed onto their bodies!  But if the idea of the evolution of new species by the hybridization of old species is correct, then we need to draw connections between the branches of this tree, so that the tree of life would become more like a web of life.

The Galapagos hybrid iguana is not a clear example of this, insofar as there is doubt as to whether it can be fertile.  A better example is the Galapagos finches as studied by the Grants on Daphne Major.  In 1981, the Grants noticed the arrival of an unusual male finch that they called "Big Bird."


            "Big Bird," a Hybrid Darwin's Finch on the Galapagos Island of Daphne Major

He had a big head.  He weighed 28 grams, instead of the 18 grams typical for male finches.  And he sang an unusual song.  He probably originated on Santa Cruz Island from the mating of a cactus finch and a medium ground finch.

At first, Big Bird and his offspring consorted with the medium ground finches on Daphne Major.  But then after a severe drought from 2003 to 2005 killed 90% of the finches on the island, the two surviving Big Bird descendants and their 26 offspring crowded together in one corner of the island, and they breed just among themselves, which suggests that they are becoming a separate species.  Because of their intermediate-size beaks, they can crack certain seeds that other birds can't.  The unusual song that they sing also separates them from other birds.  So the effect of hybridization on evolution here is partly cultural--the social learning of song.

Recently, the Grants have been cooperating with geneticists to identify the genes responsible for the size and shape of finch beaks, which explains the genetic basis for beak variations and for the evolution of the intermediate-size beaks of the hybrid finches (Lamichhaney et al. 2015).

So the descendants of Big Bird are beginning to look like a new species that evolved through hybridization, although the Grants are unwilling to say that this really is a new species.

Hybridization has occurred not only among iguanas, finches, and many other animals, but also among human beings.  In 2010, analyses of the nuclear DNA of ancient and living humans showed that they carried traces of DNA from Neandertals and from archaic humans from Denisova Cave in Siberia.  It seems that Europeans and Asians have inherited 2% to 6% of their nuclear DNA from Neandertals.  And people living in Southeast Asia have inherited about 5% of their DNA from the Denisovans.

If this evolution by hybridization is true, this refutes the traditional creationist claim that all species have been created by God to be eternally separated.  It also subverts the argument of people like Leon Kass that genetic engineering--moving genes from one species to another--should elicit moral repugnance as an unnatural act of "playing God."  After all, it appears now that nature has been engaged in genetic engineering for millions of years.  And we can still see that evolutionary genetic engineering in action in the island laboratories of Galapagos.


REFERENCES

Lamichhaney, Sangeet, et al.  2015.  "Evolution of Darwin's Finches and their Beaks Revealed by Genome Sequencing." Nature 518 (19 February): 371-75.

Mallet, James. 2007. "Hybrid Speciation." Nature 446 (15 March): 279-83.

Pennisi, Elizabeth. 2016. "Shaking Up the Tree of Life." Science 354 (18 November): 817-21.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (2): Islands of Life

                              A Panoramic View of Pinnacle Point on Bartholomew Island


On Day 1 (January 28), my wife and I landed at the Baltra airport.  There we met the five other passengers for our cruise on the Cormorant (a German couple from Switzerland, a Canadian couple from Montreal, and an American living in Ecuador) and our naturalist guide (Xavier).  On the boat, we had lunch, and then we navigated to our first site for hiking--Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz island, where we saw sea turtle nesting sites and American Flamingoes in the lagoons behind the beaches.

On Day 2 (January 29), we navigated to Bartholomew Island in the morning for hiking to the top of the island, and then snorkeling at the foot of Pinnacle Point to see sharks, rays, and the Galapagos penguins.  In the afternoon, we moved to Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island for hiking on a lava field.

I soon found myself thinking about one idea that stayed with me throughout this trip--every one of these islands is a world unto itself that is geologically, biologically, and culturally unique because of its unique natural history, and thus the Galapagos Islands make it easier to see how all of life could have evolved on islands. 

This idea was nicely stated by Loren Eiseley in an essay on the Galapagos: "It is the working of such mysterious principles as adaptive radiation and selection which binds this assemblage of extraordinary plants and animals together and relates even the story of man to island tortoises and flightless birds. We are all, in fact, the product of islands, visible or invisible. At some point in the fossil past, isolation and mutation have diverted each bit of life down some solitary road from which there is no turning back."

After all, the Earth itself is an island in the Cosmos, with a unique natural history that has made it the only place, as far as we know, in which life has emerged.  And even if we do someday discover life on another island planet in the universe, we can expect that it will have forms of life unlike those on Earth, because it will have its own unique history shaped by contingent events and circumstances.

An example of the unique geological and biological history of Santiago Island is a large lava flow at Sullivan Bay created by a volcanic eruption in 1889.  There have been more recent lava flows--the most recent was in May of 2015 from Wolf volcano on Isabela Island.  But this lava field on Sullivan Bay is the most recent lava flow in Galapagos that is open to visitors.  So it's an opportunity to see how these islands originate from volcanic eruptions and also to see how life originates on barren lava.

  
Galapagos Pahoehoe or Ropy Lava

 
Mollugo crockeri Plant on Lava

 

                                                                        Lava Cactus


Looking over the massive expanse of bare lava, it's hard to imagine how life could ever take root here.  And yet after about 45 minutes of hiking, we saw Mollugo crockeri, which is the first plant colonizer on this lava, and this species is found only on Santiago Island and no where else in the world.  Then, after an hour of hiking, we saw a Lava Cactus, which is also endemic to Galapagos, and found only on barren lava flows.  Mollugo is a perennial herb.  It's flowers are white with five petals.  As the leaves die, they eventually create soil, although it takes over 5,000 years to build a layer of soil on lava.

So here we see the origins of plant life on the volcanic islands of Galapagos.  We must assume, however, that these plants unique to Galapagos--and in the case of Mollugo crockeri, unique to Santiago Island--evolved from ancient ancestral species that found their way to Galapagos from the South American continent.  Critics of Darwinian science might object that this is only a speculative assumption--a "just-so story" unsupported by empirical evidence.

And yet Darwin treated this as a testable theory.  First, we can predict that there must be plant species on the mainland that are similar enough to these species endemic to Galapagos as to be plausible candidates for the evolutionary ancestors of these plants.  Second, we can predict that there must be some way for the seeds of these ancestral plants to reach the Galapagos Islands, which are 600 miles from the mainland--either by being blown through the air, by floating on the ocean currents, or by being carried through the air by birds, or by being brought to the islands by humans.

In his Origin of Species, Darwin has two chapters on "Geographical Distribution," in which he reports the results of many years of experimentation at his home in Down to test the possible ways that seeds might have travelled from a mainland continent to distant oceanic islands like Galapagos.  He put the seeds of eighty-seven different plant species in salt-water for weeks at a time, and then he planted them to see if they would germinate.  Most of them did germinate.  He noted that many seeds sank in water.  But when plants were dried, some of them would float.  He then checked the average speed of currents in the Atlantic Ocean (from A. K. Johnson's Physical Atlas), and he calculated that the seeds of 14 out of every 100 plant species belonging to one country could float across 924 miles of sea to another country.  He also tested the possibility that seeds could be carried across an ocean in the carcass of a dead animal.  He fed a pigeon on seeds, killed the pigeon, and then floated its body on salty water for a month.  He then dissected the body, planted the seeds, and discovered that most of them germinated.

This illustrates how evolutionary theory can be experimentally tested.  By contrast, the proponents of "scientific creationism" and "intelligent design theory" never engage in the experimental testing of their theories.  Thousands of scientists have gone to Galapagos to empirically study the evolution of species in the islands.  Much of this research has been supported by the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island.  But there is no Creationist (or Intelligent Design) Research Station supporting empirical research in Galapagos, because Creationism and Intelligent Design Theory are not empirically testable theories.

And yet, while Creationism and Intelligent Design Theory have no positive content as testable theories of the origin of species, they do have some negative content insofar as they criticize evolutionary science for its intellectual weaknesses, which forces evolutionary scientists to strengthened their reasoning.

So, for example, creationists and intelligent design proponents have criticized evolutionary theory for failing to become an empirically proven science, because no scientist has ever directly observed the evolution of new species from ancestral species.  We can directly observe the Mollugo plant and the Lava Cactus growing on the lava field in Sullivan Bay.  We can see that these plants are endemic to Galapagos.  We can see that they are similar to plants on the mainland of South America.  And we can test the possibility that seeds from the mainland could find their way to Galapagos.  But we cannot see the evolution of one plant species into a new plant species on Galapagos.

Now, of course, there is at least one evolutionary research project on Galapagos that has become famous as showing "evolution in action"--the study of the history of finches on the Daphne Major island by Peter and Rosemary Grant.  And yet, despite the way their work is reported in high school and college biology textbooks, there is some dispute as to whether they have really seen the macroevolution of one species into another.  I will return to this in a later post.

As I indicated in my previous posts on my first trip to Galapagos in 2013, I have been surprised that all of the ecotourists and the naturalist guides that I have met in Galapagos assume that the truth of evolutionary science has been proven, and that much of the proof is found in Galapagos.  And consequently, Creationism and Intelligent Design Theory seem ridiculous to them.

That impression was confirmed the night of our second day, while the Cormorant was anchored in Sullivan Bay, when all of the passengers stayed up late drinking some good wine and talking about the evolution debate.  The conversation included Kjetil Haugan, the Norwegian businessman who owns Haugan Cruises, which operates the Cormorant and two other yachts cruising Galapagos.  He travelled with us for a few days, on his way to a business meeting in the islands.  The Europeans and the Canadians were completely baffled that Americans were still debating evolution.  I explained my debates with creationists and intelligent design proponents (particularly those at the Discovery Institute).  And I also explained that many American politicians (like Vice President Pence and Ben Carson) were vocal opponents of evolutionary science.  All of these people on the boat thought that the Galapagos Islands provided irrefutable evidence for the origin of species through Darwinian evolution.  Moreover, this commitment to evolutionary science as a way to explain the universe was part of their global liberal culture as cosmopolitan ecotourists.  As you might expect, we also talked about Donald Trump, who was just as baffling to these global liberal Europeans as the religious opponents of evolution.

I will have more to say about this in future posts.