The article by Castro L & Toro M (2004) The evolution of culture: From primate social learning to human culture PNAS 101:10235-10240 got "barbecued" in the June 2004 issue of the fundamentalistic bible internet site Creation-Evolution Headlines. Here my (rather entertaining) e-mail dispute with the editor David F. Coppedge:


 In a comment entitled "Key to Evolution of Culture Suggested" from 06/28/2004 you criticized a last year PNAS article by Castro & Toro (PNAS 101/27, 10235) concerning a new theory on the evolution of culture. I was perplexed by the arrogance and ignorance of your comment. What the hell do you mean by "Darwinian idol", "ivory-tower pseudoscientific speculation with a sprinkling of magic", "abstruse-looking equations", "unguided naturalistic world", "nearly impenetrable jargon", "confabulation of irrelevancies", "simplistic hypothesis"??? Apparently, you really fear that somebody would stand up and say:  Do what you want!  There is no God!

But that's not the topic at all here. Nobody is questioning the existence of God, and surely not this paper. Why do you react so aggressively? This is no complicated issue. You really don't need these equations to understand the message of the paper. The message simply is, that our ancestors began to develop such a thing like culture by commenting the imitative behavior of their children. This is a fairly simple assumption, much more rational and modest than e.g. the rather gloomy concepts of psychoanalysis on the evolution of culture (Oedipus, patricide, ...). You should be happy about the advancement of our rational thinking on a matter abound with obscure hypotheses. There is no danger threatening from such kind of reasoning.

Be cool. God bless you. MB

Hello Michael, Thank you for writing.  It's always good to hear from readers, whether or not they agree. First of all, be assured that I am quite cool, calm and collected in person, even if the commentary gets a little colorful. But if baloney gets published in a science journal, it's going to get barbecued on Creation-Evolution Headlines - unlike almost any other science reporting service that regurgitates it without thinking.  This one was full of it.

I think you err in calling this paper an advancement in rational thinking and diminishing its implications.  Just-so storytelling is not rational thinking.  And the paper is clearly seeking a naturalistic explanation for culture, looking for the roots of it in apes. It was reviewed by Francisco Ayala, an adamant anti-creationist. The authors made it explicitly clear that this was an evolutionary story, yet they had to admit that there was a big gap between apes and humans - only humans possess true culture, language and a remarkable ability to learn from the actions of others. Those are the facts, and rational thinking is to acknowledge the facts, is it not? To mold the facts to one's preconceived philosophy is not advancement of rational thinking.

I think you also err in assuming this paper has nothing at all to do with religion or belief in God. The only way to claim so is to allow for theistic evolution, because this paper is clearly trying to derive culture from apes through an unguided, naturalistic process. Yet theistic evolution will not work in the deistic sense of God setting the universe in motion and letting natural law take over. We know from quantum uncertainty and chaos theory that there is an inherent uncertainty in natural law that could never predict the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, or the origin of humanity or culture by a "front-loading" of the initial conditions. The only way for a theistic-evolutionary God to have had anything to do with mankind would be for him to have guided every causal step with mankind as the goal, because it is astronomically improbable that human beings would have ever arisen by chance and necessity. Yet to believe that would be no different qualitatively than believing in a Biblical, immanent God, so why believe in the evolution at all?

So, if we approach this paper understanding that theistic evolution is not an acceptable compromise, the paper definitely lays claim to the territory of theism.  It is saying God had nothing to do with the things that matter most to us in life: our culture, our language, our intellectual activity, and our personal relationships. To the extent these scientists assert the explanatory power of evolution, they are diminishing the explanatory power of God's design. They are attributing it all, ultimately, to chance and necessity. This is a direct conflict with theism that cannot be denied. A God who would leave it up to unguided natural processes is a phantom, totally disconnected from the world, a mere Cheshire cat, disappearing with a grin and not worthy of anyone's reverence or prayers.

Yet scientifically, their case is extremely weak. It is nothing more than a just-so story, a suggestion, a tell tale, a flimsy short rope tossed out into a vast chasm.  I had to laugh when reading it. The only way journals can publish such tales is because of an a priori commitment to philosophical naturalism (the Darwinian idol). You must come to reject this cardinal sin of evolutionary teaching, that presumes any kind of storytelling is what science is all about (crev1203.htm#darwin335). Science took a very bad turn at Darwin (crev0104.htm#darwin342), when storytelling became sanctified. You should read Janet Browne's highly-praised biography of Darwin and see.

Yes, I am glad to see the disappearance of psychoanalysis, Oedipus, patricide and the other gloomy concepts you mention, but replacing those with another gloomy concept is not progress.

Be assured also that I have had a lot of calculus, so equations do not scare me, and you are right that they are not necessary to get the point, and since any equations built on false assumptions add nothing but fluff, they do constitute a confabulation of irrelevancies by definition.

Please read more of the articles on Darwinism and evolutionary theory before making up your mind. I don't know of any other internet source that puts out this much material this fast directly from scientific journals from a position critical of Darwinism. Much of the reporting reveals the Darwinians shooting themselves in the foot without help from our commentary. You might also benefit from the book Signs of Intelligence (ed. William Dembski) by various scientists discussing the Darwinian paradigm and the intelligent design alternative. As someone involved in brain research, I'm sure you realize just how astonishingly complex the human brain is. See these recent reports: crev200504.htm#body121 / crev200503.htm#body120 / crev1004.htm#body110

Since Darwinism appears woefully inadequate to explain the brain (crev1204.htm#darwin500) and is, in my opinion, a hoary old Victorian dogma that is on the way out, I invite you to get on board with the intelligent design movement - something I think you will find much more intellectually stimulating and satisfying. Will you accept a free DVD of Unlocking the Mystery of Life if I send it to you?
Good day,
David F. Coppedge, Editor
Creation-Evolution Headlines

...The article was published under the rubric "social science", and in this domain, many texts appear like "storytelling". But in fact it was based on observation and modelling. The authors did not simply invent or fantasize their subject. Several primate species have been carefully observed during the last decades, so they can base their conclusions on a lot of scientific literature. Nevertheless, their idea looks so simple that I was surprised that nobody else before them has come up with  that idea. On first glance, as with any simple idea, the whole thing might not appear worth to be published, due to a high "so what?"-content. Maybe it is this what you mean by "storytelling".

... seeking a naturalistic explanation for culture, looking for the roots of it in apes... What else could we do? I see no alternative. God has become man with Jesus' death and resurrection. No more miracles, just truth.

... Francisco Ayala, an adamant anti-creationist... Come on... Let's not think in these black-and-white categories. I don't know this man. I've seen the article, and it's no bullshit.

... a big gap between apes and humans... that's exactly what's the paper about: it tries to propose a hypothesis, how this difference could evolve. Improved learning of behavior laid the foundation to tradition and culture. In other words: If we could remove all memories from all human brains, we would have  to start once again as apes, but since we will comment on the behavior of our children, we would again develop culture, and after some 100.000 years or so, we probably would built rockets again (or even something more reasonable).

... to derive culture from apes through an unguided, naturalistic process... Again: there is no reasonable alternative to it. God has become man  with Jesus' death and resurrection. No more miracles, just truth.

...predict the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, or the origin of humanity or culture... It's difficult, but never? We know from physical chemistry that open systems with entry and exit of energy tend to develop compex structures (Ilya Prigogine, self-organizing systems, nobel price 1977, and many others).

The assumption of a "creator" is at least as improbable  as the assumption of development "by chance". It may surprise you that I still believe in God. Apparently, my faith is not the same as yours. Your faith is simple, mine is more complex. As a scientist, I  can't deny the power of reason. I'm quite sure, that everything in the physical world can be explained in a rational way, be it the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, or the origin of humanity or culture.

... no miracle was necessary, in the sense that  everything can be explained on the basis of reason. From our actual point of view, these are no questions of high theological relevance any more. In former times, too many uncertainties caused us troubles and fear. Today, the much more relevant questions are: How do we get along with each other? Is there enough love in our society? Or do we  allow that reason develops into a monster governing our personal  relationships and displacing love?

... God... is now free to concentrate on more important things: on love, foregiveness, modesty, courage, on values of our inner life. Fortunately the times are over when christian theology was paralized by contraversies about the movements of earth and  sun.

We will learn from psychoanalysis what is worthwhile, and we will  ignore the rubbish.

... the intelligent design movement... much more intellectually stimulating and satisfying... You really think so, David? From my comments, you should recognize that I experience the actual discussion of these topics in the scientific literature as sufficiently "intellectually stimulating and satisfying", much more so than dogmatic positions.

Best wishes,

Hello Michael, Since I perceive you are one to pick and choose points to take potshots at rather than reason through an issue (Prigogine trumps Pasteur? get real), I will leave you to your devices... Three comments: logical positivism was obsolete a century ago. The worst kind of dogma is failing to see one's own. And whatever you mean by "God has become man with Jesus' death and resurrection. No more miracles, just truth" I hope you get over your schizophrenia soon. If He is not our Creator, he cannot be our Savior, nor the way, the Truth and the life. Maybe you should pay more attention to the one who knows everything and was there, instead of the opinions of men who don't know everything and weren't there.
Best regards,
David F. Coppedge

... as a scientist I'm used to  explain natural phenomena on the basis of well established scientific theories. And to make the story short, I found it convenient to use this telegram style of reasoning.

Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost is present in his church. What you call "the opinions of men" may in fact result from this Ghost. As a christian, I believe that God has become man. You shouldn't see any schizophrenia in that position. It is difficult to understand, but it is at the heart of christian theology. Jesus lives in his church, in all of us who feel as a part of this church. This is the mystery of trinity: God the creator, God the man, and God the Holy Ghost, all in one. Maybe you are no christian in that sense. But as St. Paul advised us, we should respect also those not sharing our believes, and so I leave you to your devices with respect.

Best wishes,

MB (4/05)