Darwinism everywhere


Profound truth in a formal system can be identified only as a provisionally winning strategy in an open and infinitely extended evolutionary game. Darwinian selection of the fittest seems to get its due everywhere, even in mathematics. Richard Dawkins has come up with the idea that Darwinist learning by trial and error is the only way to create genuinely new information.

Darwinism on many levels

Creation proceeds by implicit but subtly innovative rules of the game. Such Darwinian self-selection of an axiomatic existential base is evident already during the early evolution of our universe. Later, life processes evolved according to an analogous pattern of self-enriching competitive play. New, significant information is created during these elimination rounds. Truth ensues from the unavoidable dead ends; value arises from the material rejected or sacrificed.

The self-same principles are visibly at work during the maturation of the immune system and the human brain. Furthermore, they can be invoked in human thought generation and in the formation of abstract truth. In man, trial and error is supplemented by perceptive imagination and leaps of faith; thinking is the art of making virtual mistakes. Human cultures evolve by introducing rival sets of axiomatic values which drive the social interplay to ever higher levels of the game. The speed of learning has increased tremendously; the economy of thought and action are pivotal ─ time is all-important.

New invigorating information is created in the Darwinian interplay between venturesome actors and harsh realities. Most players are bound to lose in the fierce competition but, paradoxically, the very losers imbue the game with meaning. The failures and mistakes are the real source of information and the increase in complexity. There is no reliable foreknowledge, no pre-existent path into the future. At every crossroads we need axiomatic acts of faith to make up our minds. To examine minor truths we need access to a more patent one; to measure an infinitude, we need another of a higher power.

Richard Dawkins has come up with the idea that Darwinist learning by trial and error is the only way to create genuinely new information. The scientific quest for truth can be understood as systematized Darwinism; old theories are falsified and are superseded in an unpredictable succession of ever more competitive information.

Mathematical and scientific truth

What is truth? The mathematicians unanimously assert that no axiomatic language can describe or prove its own truth. The truth criteria must originate in a superordinate language which gains its relevance from an even richer idiom.

It is impossible to construct mathematical truth machines; all interesting mathematics displays independent creativity and leads to unpredictable consequences which cannot be deduced from the given premises but must be studied empirically in a wider frame of reference. Willful juggling with these concepts leads to paradoxes – a sure sign of the inadequacy of the language game. Faith in science as an infallible truth machine is thus a fallacy.

Science is a superordinate game involved with the elucidation of all the other games. Unsurprisingly, the rules of this science of science remain a muddle. Karl Popper’s critical rationalism (or fallibilism) is the most attractive doctrine but, in the main, it explains discoveries only after the event. Science, like most creative undertakings, works within a haze of insufficient information and has to proceed according to a Darwinian search process. Important knowledge is gained only through fruitful mistakes. The sparse truth must be substantiated by innumerable errors and false leads which appear inevitable even in hindsight. The value-laden meta-hypotheses of science are even more insecure, and thus the perfect convergence of all science is a dangerous delusion.

The intrinsic problems of the human sciences are complicated by creeping changes in the epigenetic rules. The perpetual quest for valid simplification all too often turns into blatant self-deception, as opinionated structuralists try to perform their great leaps on scientific crutches. In the breathless search for the all-determining grammatical elements of human behavior, the dynamics of the game is greatly underestimated. Just as we have cautiously begun to untangle the incredible involution of the simple elements of matter, human actors are frivolously reduced to puppets on a string. Politics and religion, myths, sagas, art – literally all culture is seen as the predetermined outcome of hidden ‘structures’. After all, art is the only proper science of man.

Faith and truth

Faith announces itself in our choice of values, the rules we try to apply in carrying out our everyday obligations. Faith is historical self-selection both in its personal and societal aspects. It implies a risky wager on a very distant future, impenetrable to any rational analysis. In the fullness of time the fruits of faith become manifest − the truths of tangible accomplishment as well as the falsity of delusions. Theology may, after all, be an empirical science.

The craving for truth will always call faith in question but they both have the same root; the intrinsic value of truth is a question of faith. Truth is what remains when all untruths have been exposed. In their struggle with the concept of truth, the logicians have arrived at an ingenious definition, taking a leaf out of Darwin’s book: “Truth is the provisionally winning strategy in an open and infinitely extended evolutionary game”. The definition merely covers how to reach ever better and deeper truths, but that is as good as it gets.

Is some knowledge so potentially dangerous that we should banish it for fear of its incontestable force? Such self-censorship would be a fatal error. Where are the high priests who could define the limits of judicious ignorance, and what would ensure that despite everything the genie was not let out of the bottle, either openly or in secret? We must trust both ourselves and our fellow-beings in dauntless acceptance of reality.

If we want to call off the quest for truth we can only do so by appealing to some explicit superordinate criteria, man-made idols as it were, which distinguish once and for all between right and wrong, true and false. Thanks to the absence of such authoritarian intervention, natural science especially has gone from strength to strength. In recent times artistic activity has by and large enjoyed similar advantages. Only posterity will tell whether the outcome is equally impressive.

The passion for truth is borne out by yet another injunction: the repudiation of lies and falsehood, concealment and pretence. Renouncing false testimony clears the way for an ascending spiral of creative play. Deep truth is the strangest of attractors but Absolute Truth, the Kingdom of God, is not of this world. It recedes before our bold advances, forever holding out the hope of a higher verity. The craving for truth will always call faith in question but they both have the same root; the intrinsic value of truth is a question of faith.

The aim of scientific endeavor is explicit knowledge, the naked truth, but the success of science is contingent upon good faith. Like the naked electric charge, naked truth can have no independent existence; its realization would require infinities of information. We neither can nor will ever be sure of the most important things in life. Like faith, hope, love and morality, truth is a prospective concept which is basically indescribable and indefinable. The highest truth is always a question of faith.