Commentary on Morris: A course correction in Darwinism

- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.
Director, School of Life Sciences,
University of Madras - Guindy Campus, Chennai 600 025, India

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 5.
Dr. Morris has touched upon an important topic of current interest namely Darwinism. Mutations, recombination and selection are the basis for evolution. At the outset we must distinguish three aspects (I) General Theory of Evolution, (2) Biological evolution and (3) Darwinism. Huxley (1942) defined Darwinism as the "blend of induction and deduction which Darwin was the first to apply to the study of evolution". He further argued that Darwin based his theory of natural selection on (I) the tendency of all organisms to increase in a geometrical ratio and (2) in spite of such progressive increase the numbers of a given species actually remain more or less constant. The deduction from these two is that there is a struggle for existence " or better, a struggle for survival must occur". Use of the phrase "MUST OCCUR" is indicative of an instinct to fight for survival is a universal common denominator. Similarly natural selection was a deduction of the occurrence of variation found among organisms as well as on the survival of the fittest.

Recently Evan Schwartz has published a book entitled "Digital Darwinism: cutthroat competition". One is interested in the relationship between information technology and Darwinism. Is there any connection between them? However, the word Darwinism is simply used in the sense of pointing out the existing competition leading to the survival of the fittest in the area of e-commerce and e-business.

One major induction is that of many assumptions have to be made to explain the general theory of evolution. It is said that " it explains a lot if we assume that it is true" (Margulis 1991). While discussing the " General Theory of Evolution" Kerkut (1960) makes seven basic assumptions. They are:

(1) Non living things gave rise to living material, i.e. spontaneous generation occurred.

(2) Spontaneous generation occurred only once.

(3) Viruses, bacterial, plants and animals are all inter related.

(4) Protozoa gave rise to the Metazoa.

(5) Various invertebrate phyla are interrelated.

(6) Invertebrates gave rise to the vertebrates.

(7) Within the Vertebrates the fish gave rise to the amphibia, the amphibia to the reptiles and the reptiles to the birds and mammals i.e. the modern ampbibia and reptiles had a common ancestral stock and so on.

These assumptions explain and tide over many rough and difficult areas in evolution and its biology.

It was Thomas Henry Huxley in 1888 wrote an article on " The Struggle for existence: A programme" wherein he observed "The creatures are fairly well treated and set to fight - whereby the strongest, the swiftest and the cunningest live to fight another day (Hamburgh, 1980). In such a gladiatorial theory of existence why should we explain hostility? Is there a place for altruistic concern? It is interesting to note the usage of the word "Programme" in T.H. Huxleys' essay. So questions are asked (I) is ethical behavior or altruism part of the genetic program of man? (2) If so what are the origins of altruism and how did ethical behavior evolve? (3) Does ethics and altruism make biological sense? Is altruistic behavior part of the strategy of life -likely to spell survival or success for the species containing members that practice it? Human beings are called "Imperial Animal " (Tiger and Fox 1971). In a "ruthlessly aggressive animal " (human being) and a strongly self assertive being, can there be any room for altruism?

However, biological fitness is measured not in terms of a "win in battle"premise. " The classical Neo-Darwinists like Th. Dobzhansky, J. Huxley, C.E. Waddington, A. Montague, B.F. Skinner, Peter Medawar and Desmond Morris taught us that biological fitness is by no means always promoted by ability to win in combat. It is much more likely to be furthered by inclination to avoid combat" (Hamburgh 1980). However, by witnessing the very recent killing fields in the biosphere, it appears that the instinct to kill its own species is the dominantly programmed character in humans. In animals when they fight for a sexual mate it is a question of dominance and it is not a license-to-kill behavior. Animals do not compete for the same niche. There is niche segregation - the "animal exclusion principle" in ecological thought avoids combat in nature (Odum, 1971).

One is struck by the existence of "opposing factions" and "hostility" within the different groups of evolutionists (Huxley 1942 and Azariah, 1994) as well as within the creationist (Ross, 1998). These characters are an integral part of the ruthlessly aggressive animal - the human being! Are these lethal characters programmed ? or is there any other non material explanation ? These questions are worth perusing to find an effective answer. In this context, Gaylin (1976) comments "We must look once again into ourselves and brace ourselves for good news. I do not deny that there may be a genetic directive for aggression in mankind, but genetic basis for love is far more obvious his aggression is innate, but such a concern suggests that and love lies behind it: A ruthlessly aggressive animal would not have built into his nature so much anxiety about the presence of that aggression". Macer (1998) is of the opinion "love is the biological heritage given to us by our genes, the capacity that evolved." Then it is a mystery why self-assertion and aggression and violence have taken over such an strong biological heritage to love one another. "Evolutionary Ethics as defined by J. Huxley is really a call for us to lend a hand in our own evolution. Indeed morality he tells us, rests on our ability to determine the direction towards which evolution leads us" The moral question is " can a product control or correct the process" if we consider human beings are the product of evolutionary process? I think we can correct the direction. But to do so one has to understand the meaning of life and seek for spiritual powers.

Dr. Morris draws our attention to the conclusions of Dennett and others that "a logical extension of Darwin's theory is that complex species can arise from simple ones, sentience from non-sentence and human souls from animal minds and life from non-life". This statement rests heavily on the above major induction. Secondly, the deduction that "there is therefore, no need for a Creator" and "nor does the presence of design necessarily point to a conscious personal designer" will invite endless arguments and animosity. If we ask the question " Are we genetically programmed to be good?" (Hamburg (1980) then there must be a programmer. In computer programming any "digital mutations" does not get the message across, as it is not beneficial. For example in our "dot com" lifestyle of existence, a comma instead of a dot in an email ID does not send the message through and it needs an external progrmmer to correct these "digital mutations" which are not selected to be carried through the computer evolution. If God is not the creator then evolution through natural selection must be the "creator." For even fundamental evolutionist like T.H. Huxley attribute creative powers to natural selection- " In the second place, the statement that selection is a destructive agency is not true, if it is meant to imply that is merely destructive. It is also directive, and because it is directive, it has a share in evolutionary creation, neither mutation nor selection alone is creative of anything important in evolution, but the two in conjunction are not creative " Anyone who has creative powers is a creator. If a programmer programs us then what happens to Autonomy? Do we do the programmers' will or self-will?

Further, as pointed out by Dr. Morris, there are many difficulties in accepting complex physiological systems as products of evolution. It needs lots of "faith" to accept all the claims of evolutionists. " for example, one physiologist pointed out that during the evolution of birds, so many simultaneous changes would have been necessary to convert the three chambered reptile heart into the four chambered bird model, that the change could not have come about through natural selection alone". Therefore, a logical deduction is that natural selection is not the reliable creative mechanism capable of building highly complex biological systems like the heart and the eye. On this line, Christian apologists have raised a number of such difficult areas even in molecular and biochemical evolution (vide Behe, 1998).

Human beings are characterized by their cultural attributes for which there is no "cultural fossil" in the animal kingdom. Animals do not have the concept of "right and wrong". Whether, metaphysical and cultural expression of human beings can be precisely linked to genes and are they programmed genetic expressions remains to be proved. (Muller, 1993) while stressing the need to use "conscience" as the last tool of moral defense in human attempts to recreate nature, attributes "some unknown part" of human brain as the residence of conscience and he further claimed that that it grows with "true religion". St Paul when he visited the wisdom hungry Greeks found an altar "to the unknown God". In each one of us, about 95% of our chromosomes are "closed" to human scrutiny and may have unknown functions. It is very likely that there is an unknown area in our chromosomes that could explain many of the mysteries of life and Mother Nature.

Can there be any relationship between ethics/bioethics and evolution? Is there what is known as Evolutionary Ethics? My students frequently mention that the one subject that does not contribute its mite to value/virtue formation is the subject of evolution! Can a mindless-materialistic theory develop a system of value based ethics in human beings is a debatable statement. Does it develop a strong love for materials (Macer, 1998)? We need an external moral sanction for such a development of values. Julian Huxley has attempted to find a substitute for a divine sanction as the foundation of ethics. He has proposed an evolutionary sanction instead. It is time that some scholar in evolution and Darwinism should take time to clearly outline the principle of Evolutionary Ethics for the benefit of preservation of peace on earth.


Azariah, 1994 Global bioethics and common hope: 3. Biophilosophy of the biosphere and the Darwinian Paradigm. IN Bioethics for the People by the People. Ed. D.R.J. Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ.. pp. 112-124.
Behe, M.J. 1998 Intelligent Design Theory as a tool for analyzing Biochemical systems. IN Mere Creation. Ed. W.A. Dembski. IVF Press, Illinois. Pp. 177-194
Gaylin, W. 1976 Caring. Knopf. New York
Hamburch, M 1980 Is biology relevant to Ethics? Yet another entry into the sociobiology debate. Ethics in Science and Medicne 7: 49-56.
Huxley, J (1942) Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. George Allen and Unwin Lts. London. Pp 645
Kerkut, G.A 1960. Implication of Evolution. Pergamon Press.
Macer, D.R.J. 1998 Bioethics is love of life: An alternative textbook. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ
Margulis, L 1991 Unruly Earth Mother. Science 252: 378-79. April 19. 1991
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Odum, E.P. 1971 Fundamentals of Ecology. WB Sanders. Philadelphia.
Ross, H 1998 The Genesis Question. Navpress. Colorado.
Tiger,L and R. Fox 1971 The Imperial Animal. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.

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