Scientism’s Aching Need to Make Suicide Inevitable

Evolution is not, contrary to the Internet, an idea spontaneously generated from the cranium of Dear Darwin. It has existed since the Greeks, and was well phrased by Capital Kant, who stated: “an orang-outang or a chimpanzee may develop the organs which serve for walking, grasping objects, and speaking-in short, that lie may evolve the structure of man, with an organ for the use of reason, which shall gradually develop itself by social culture.”

The Christian who denies the reality of evolution in the biological world for the sake of making his God seem awesome is a fool, and needs to read up on efficient causes. The existence of intelligible, creative processes is no evidence against an Intelligent Creator. The darwinist who pretends there is no massive gap between no-life and the first irreducibly complex single-celled organisms is similarly foolish. But both of them miss a crucial point. If all life is solely the product of evolution, then man — his rationality, his capacity for language, and his appreciation of beauty — is a product of evolution. If man is merely the product of evolution, then we must confront the fact that he — with every meme prematurely ejaculating that “Darwin is the death of all this Creation nonsense!” — is judging the system of evolution like a god who has transcended it. In fact, this is precisely what he does.

If every claim of the darwinist is vindicated, and everything about man is reduced to a series of successful genetic mutations, the truth remains that the darwinist can freely choose evolution, and is thus no more the determined product of evolution than the obese man is a determined product of fast food.

The “survival of the fittest” only works if an animal by its nature wills to survive. Then the fitter it is, the more likely its survival. If animal has no will to live, it doesn’t matter if it randomly mutates a longer beak or a tommy-gun for an arm. The “will to live” is the great presupposition of Darwinism, and I think it a good one. It is self-evident in all animals — except the animal man.

Man is an animal who may at any moment give the finger to the “will to live” and make his exit from the universe. For every other being in the universe we may take for granted a natural will for continued existence, but for man, continued existence is a choice. We certainly favor continued life insofar as we naturally view life as a good and death as bad. But this makes the “will to live” an influence on us, not a determining factor, an influence that is — like most influences — easily overridden: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Man, insofar as he can willfully commit suicide, is not determined by evolution.

The poet Heinrich von Kleist, after studying and believing the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which claims that man cannot ever truly know something, killed himself, writing: “I am going, since there is nothing left for me either to learn or gain in this life.” We are free to decide that life is not worth living.

This implies that man has a certain dominion over creation, for what is determined for all of nature is a choice for man.

Animal suicide does not, in a strict sense, exist. Aphids can kill themselves in response to a threat to their “herd”, splattering their guts on a predator. Salmonella perform a similar activity in response to invading bacteria. Most other accounts of animal “suicide” are anecdotal and highly anthropomorphized, as when people argue that beached whales have lost the desire to live and have thus flung themselves upon the shore, or term a herd of sheep running off a cliff as a “mass suicide”. This has not stopped enthusiastic biologists — bless their hearts — from trying to argue that animal “suicide” and human suicide are the same. This article won the Unbelievably Insane Snippet of Scientism award for me, when it claimed:

“You begin to challenge the definition of suicide. The body and mind are so damaged by stress and so it leads to self destruction. It’s not necessarily even a choice,” Ramsden told Discovery News.

“It becomes reversed, in a sense,” said Ramsden. Animal and human suicides are no longer seen as willful acts but as responses to conditions.

The denial that suicide is a choice is absolutely necessary if we are to continue to hold the thesis that man is as he is solely because of a process of random mutation measured against a will to survive. Willful suicide and man-as-mere-product-of-evolution are incompatible. Thus darwinists go to lengths to make the suicide of man who has said that life is no longer worth living anything but man’s decision that life is not worth living.  Our article stated:

Pea aphids, for instance, when threatened by a lady bug can explode themselves, scattering and protecting their brethren and sometimes even killing the lady bug. They are literally tiny suicide bombers…

The big difference is that in modern humans that calculation can go wrong. There are some acts of suicide that do save lives. But most of the millions or so human suicides each year worldwide benefit no one…They are acts that perhaps used to serve a purpose in early human societies, he said, but have lost their function in the modern world.

The man who claims that suicide is not a free choice but a determined product of evolution must admit that human suicide as we experience it today is an absurdity. We are making a bizarre mistake, because some genetic mutation “informs” us that our death would benefit the herd. Never mind that there is no evidence. Never mind that even the earliest recorded human suicides were over the fact that “life was not worth living”. (Never mind that the argument made amounts to this: Based on the a priori that humans are subject to evolution in precisely the same manner as aphids, our experience of suicide as a choice cannot have any bearing on the reality of suicide. This can only be answered with a question: If our experience of reality has no necessary bearing on reality, why should we trust that your experience of the reality of evolution has any similar bearing on reality?)

If man is to be maintained as a determined product of evolution, suicide must be something that happens, not something done. But until this is actually established, and the human experience which judges all truth and falsehood is deemed faulty, man transcends evolution, looking upon it like a god.

  • Obliged_Cornball

    Though you accuse “Darwinists” of anthropomorphizing accounts of suicide, you certainly do the same by claiming that an animal “wills” to live. Certainly animals act in ways that generally preserve them, but claiming that amounts to a “will to live” is a huge leap of faith transcending any experienced reality. We know that our own behaviors result from the “will to live,” but how are we to know the same of animal behaviors? Projecting the internal state of “will” onto an observed behavior is exactly the same faulty process of reasoning that allows Darwinists to equate an aphid’s explosive act of inclusive fitness to the human who slits his wrists. And since your argument proceeds on the assumption that we must uphold the “will to life” as the driving force of evolution, it has serious problems.

    (Seriously, where did you get this assumption? Is it even theoretically possible for a bacterium to “will” anything in a remotely analogous way to our own experience of will? Yet somehow they manage to be subject to the laws of evolution anyway, so I am forced to conclude that your claim is necessarily bullshit.)

    • Montague

      That was anthropomorphic but not a defeater. If (free) will implies capacity for self-damnation, of course it is consistent to say animals, lacking free will, are not capable of willing self destruction to no end; they merely act according to programming. Marc’s point, if I am not mistaken, is that humans are the only creature capable of ignoring programming and instinct.

      Please be more generous when you correct an unintentional equivocation, which here I think is grammatical seeing as Marc is a well-informed Catholic who does not, so far as I am aware, attribute (free) will to animals in the first place.

      • Montague

        Besides, isn’t this a tu quoque fallacy, saying that the counter argument is fallacious because it has the fallacy which it shows the position it is trying to defeat has? So if it is self-defeating it is so only in a way that proves it was correct in the attempt.

        • Obliged_Cornball

          I do think Marc is successful in pointing out flaws in some “Darwinist” accounts of suicide (specifically, Ramsden’s arguments) – and I am trying to demonstrate that his arguments regarding evolution in general contain the exact same flaws. It would be fallacious if I insisted that Ramsden’s opinion were sound, which I do not. Instead, I’m trying to show that his arguments fail to get off the ground *for the very same reason.*

      • Obliged_Cornball

        My objection does not hinge on free will, but the concept of “will” in general. I was referring specifically to this passage:

        “The ‘survival of the fittest’ only works if an animal by its nature wills to survive. Then
        the fitter it is, the more likely its survival. If animal has no will
        to live, it doesn’t matter if it randomly mutates a longer beak or a
        tommy-gun for an arm. The ‘will to live’ is the great presupposition of
        Darwinism, and I think it a good one.”

        There is no such presupposition in the theory of evolution by natural selection. Animals that can’t even be conceived as potentially having a “will” of any kind are still bound by its principles. The very concept of “willing” something may not be analogous to animal experience. So while their behavior ultimately aids survival, it is false to suggest that this *necessitates* the existence of a “will to live.” But of course, this clarification would require an expansion of the concept beyond Darwin’s originally-proposed mechanisms, hence why I put the term “Darwinism” in quotes.

    • Ron klingler

      How would you define will then? Will appears to be, in the context of this posting and in popular philosophy, the affirmation or denial of the intellect and manifesting it into action; they’re two halves of what’s the ego. My humble knowledge of philosophy would say that when there is no intellect, there is only will. So the bacterium’s actions would be of its will.

      • Obliged_Cornball

        I’m confused by your description. If will is “the affirmation or denial of the intellect,” then your claim that “when there is no intellect, there is only will” becomes impossible. The will would, in such a case, have nothing to affirm or deny – thus it couldn’t be responsible for the manifestation of action.

        • Ron klingler

          Because the bacterium exists and acts, it has an ego. If it has no intellect, the ego consists of only the will.

          Perhaps I should have said will is synonymous with action, which is often the manifestation of the affirmation or denial of the intellect.

          • Obliged_Cornball

            If the will can be reduced to mere action, then one could say that bacteria possess it. This is not the interpretation I sensed in Marc’s post, though. A “will to live” defined simply as actions that promote life isn’t a “great presupposition” of evolutionary theory. This is because evolution favors behavior that tends toward survival – thus *producing* what you call the “will to live.” I am baffled as to why Marc would call it a “presupposition” under this model, as the theory already accounts for why action tends toward life. Your far less anthropomorphic account of “will” is far more sensible, but it eliminates the need for any “great presupposition” or similar silly things.

    • Aaron Lopez

      “Certainly animals act in ways that generally preserve them, but claiming that amounts to a “will to live” is a huge leap of faith transcending any experienced reality.”

      Not necessarily, and the previous elaboration given by Ron is the one I concluded from reading Marc’s post. The “will to survive” is, yes, an immaterial effort. While it exists within the physiology of an organism, it also transcends it, but the “will to survive” should not be mistaken for always being a conscious effort. When you differentiated between “general preservation” and the “will to live”, you were already treading down the wrong path. The fact of the matter is, they are essentially one and the same.

      What the simple “will to live” does not do, however, is explain why we even attempt to commit suicide, because it does negate our existence. While Marc’s post is a polemic, the solution to the problem you perceived is actually in the unwritten Christian apologetic on this subject. Suicide is not question of body (organism), or mind (consciousness; “the will to live”). It’s a question of spirit i.e a God-breathed soul, of which we alone are privileged to have.

      It is because of this natural alignment to a supernatural or transcendent end, we may at first find it difficult to say that animals have “the will to live”. The will discussed in Marc’s article, however, is so basal that we naturally take it for granted.

      • Obliged_Cornball

        Once Ron clarified that “will to live” can be synonymous with action, it became evident to me that I alluded to such a thing in my objection. What I do stand by, however, is the assertion that such a will is no “presupposition” of evolutionary theory. Marc’s insistence on that phrase is what produced my confusion, because the theory itself can already account for why such a “basal” will exists. As far as the claim that the human “will” is different, I already made it clear that I agree with that. However, your denial that suicide is a question of “mind” further confuses things – because we already established that the “will to live” *precedes* anything resembling “consciousness.” So you have not, in fact, ruled out the possibility that suicide is related to “mind.”

        • Aaron Lopez

          You’re still confused.

          While the “will to live” can be separated from consciousness, it can also exist within consciousness, and that does seem to be the case anyway, since human beings try to rationalize suicide.

          You are in theory keeping the “will to live” mutually exclusive from the origins of consciousness, which is keeping you from resolving the issue.

          • Obliged_Cornball

            I do not separate those two, in fact, I think that in most cases consciousness serves the function of the “will to live” in humans. Yet in some cases, that function goes wrong. Mungling put it well when he said that “a trait which provides benefits in one sphere of life produces negative effects in another.” Consciousness in humans *generally* serves the function of living, but if certain things go wrong then the organism will use it for a different function. I still see no need for any kind of assumptions outside of what the theory of evolution (*not* just Darwinian evolution) entails.

  • Human Ape

    “Willful suicide and man-as-mere-product-of-evolution are incompatible.”

    These two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And if human apes are not the product of evolution then are we the product of a magic god fairy? I think you might be full of it.

    Why do you call biologists “darwinists”? Biologists are called “biologists”.

    • Doug

      Note the word “mere.” We are very likely the product of evolution, but just not solely evolution. Evolution doesn’t quite explain it all was Marc’s point.

  • Mungling

    Hello everyone!
    I’m a long time listener and a first time caller. As an aspiring biologist I
    thought I might comment on this blog post.

    This post is
    thought provoking, but it manages to make a number of errors commonly
    associated with evolutionary thought. Firstly, it equates natural selection
    with survival of the fittest. This is
    not true. There are numerous examples where animals will develop traits which
    do not maximize their lifespan. This is because natural selection cares little
    for the survival of an organism; it only cares about how many offspring that
    organism produces. Survival does not always correlate with fecundity.
    Consequently, there are numerous examples of adaptations which result in the
    death of an organism so that it may better pass on its genes directly (through
    its own offspring) or indirectly (through the offspring of relatives).

    This article
    also makes the assumption that all evolutionary derived traits are adaptive;
    this is also incorrect. Evolution can produce maladaptive traits. Sometimes a
    trait was adaptive in a previous environment but due a change in the
    environment has rendered that trait harmful. Sometimes a trait which provides
    benefits in one sphere of life produces negative effects in another (the idea
    of evolutionary tradeoffs).

    With this in mind, voluntary suicide can be reconciled with evolutionary theory.
    What conditions might have lead to the evolution of suicide? I do not claim to

    I would also like to point out that there really isn’t a “massive gap between no-life and the first irreducibly complex
    single-celled organism”. There are a number scenarios where we can
    envision chemicals assembling in such a way that they eventually began to self
    replicate. This pseudo-life would be the bridge between life and non-life. We
    even see these pseudo-life forms existing today: we call them viruses.

    I would also be careful with accepting the idea of irreducible complexity. The evolutionary
    community is growing better at envisioning scenarios which could lead to even
    the most complex of organs. To the best of my knowledge there is no structure
    currently available which can be described as irreducibly complex.

    There are some other quibbles I have with this post (rationality and language
    are explainable as evolved traits); however, that wasn’t really the point of
    the post.

    Regardless, I enjoyed this particular post. Keep it up Marc.

    • Obliged_Cornball

      Bravo, sir.

    • Doug

      Well, said.
      However, I would like to point out that the evolutionary community has always been long on envisioning and short on evidence. Their lack of acceptance of irreducible complexity means little. The scientific community in general has become overweening. Miracles used to involve incurable diseases, but now scientists are not really willing to call any disease incurable, so the definition of miracles had to be adjusted. (This, of course, is not to say they are necessarily wrong.)
      The gap between no-life and life is still immense. Viruses rely on cells already possessing life to exist. So while they seem to be a stepping stone from non-life to life, that cannot be the case because they rely on already-living cells to propagate.

      • Mungling

        Thanks for the kind words.

        I agree that the study of evolution has difficulty in directly observing their theories. I think we can agree that this is not necessarily because the theory of evolution doesn’t pass muster; rather, the nature of the process of evolution makes direct observation extraordinarily difficult.

        In this case, however, I think that the point is moot. Most arguments surrounding irreducible complexity seem to use this basic formula.

        Premise One: Evolution works in a small, step-wise fashion.
        Premise Two: For a trait to become more prevalent within a certain population it must confer an adaptive advantage.
        Premise Three: Certain traits (e.g. the eye, the structure of a flagella) are complex organs which would have required many steps to develop. Until the the final product was achieved none of these intermediate steps would have conveyed an adaptive advantage.

        Conclusion: Complex structures could not have been developed through natural selection.

        This is an example of an argument which is valid but not accurate. Number two is wrong (for reasons that don’t necessarily bear upon the current argument) and number three is also wrong (organs which traditionally have thought to be an all or nothing affair have since been shown to possess viable intermediate states).

        Does this prove that complex organs are the product of evolution? Admittedly, it does not. It does, however, provide a framework which might explains how these organs may have developed through natural selection. Consequently, the argument of irreducible complexity is not a valid argument against the theory of evolution.

        As for the distinction between life and non-life, I grant that you have a point. A virus is not what I would call an ideal middle ground between simple molecules and a cell. In fact, that isn’t the point at all. A virus does demonstrate that an non-cell like things (I won’t step int he “Is a Virus Alive?) have the ability to reproduce and be affected by natural selection. It should not then be too difficult to conceptualize non cell-like thing which had the ability to self-replicate.

        In other words: the gap isn’t between life and non-life so much as it is between a molecule and a self replicating molecule. That distance is significantly less <arc has implied.

    • Christian Stillings

      I realize that I’m commenting on this quite late, but I like your comment on the whole, and I’d like to briefly respond to a few points.

      Consequently, there are numerous examples of adaptations which result in the death of an organism so that it may better pass on its genes directly (through its own offspring) or indirectly (through the offspring of relatives).

      I’m certainly not accusing you of bluffing, because it sounds like you know quite a bit more about evolutionary theory than I do. However, I’ve read this statement over a few times and I still don’t think I’ve “gotten it”. Are there any specific examples of this in nature which you (or anyone) could provide me with some links about? Maybe it would make more sense if I saw an example of the principle in action.

      With this in mind, voluntary suicide can be reconciled with evolutionary theory.What conditions might have lead to the evolution of suicide? I do not claim to know.

      I think one of Marc’s particular issues is that we don’t see “voluntary suicide” in any other species in the same way that we do with humans. It’s certainly possible that it could be an extraordinarily rare development that only happens to affect one species in our time, but given how many species presently exist, that’d be pretty conspicuous.

      As to “irreducible complexity”, I agree that it makes for an extraordinarily poor “God-of-the-gaps” argument. Given the rate of scientific progress, I agree that it seems quite likely that viable theories will emerge which require no supernatural intervention. However, I don’t think he’s saying “you can’t explain this, therefore it must be God!”. Rather, I understood him as saying “there’s a heck of a lot of work still to be done here, and that’s remarkable.” It may be a similar sentiment, but I wouldn’t mark him down much for it.

  • Joe Monte

    Ya know, so many armchair activists who don’t have a dog in this fight other than blind obedience to the Pontiff should get into a pair of scrubs on and take care of someone dying of a terminal illness. Two come to mind:

    One man in the end stages of ALS was unable to speak/swallow/breathe/move but he managed to convert his garage into a room before he was too incapacitated. He saw it coming a long way off but he made preparations for a place where he received his care until he succumbed to his illness. He had two kids that would climb on him and sit on his bed. I never talked to them about how they processed his condition but I’m sure they were watching their father slipping away and everyone was powerless to stop the progression of this awful, awful illness. Apparently he chose to live.

    Another of my patients was shot four times in his car while on a date when he was 24. He caught a bullet in the c4-5 area rendering him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He also suffered a period of hypoxia that caused him to have anteriograde amnesia – a type of amnesia where you can’t learn anything new (cf. the film Memento). Every day he’d ask me if I had any kids. Sometimes he’d ask me the same question a number of times a day. He’d go on rants about gun violence reciting and endless paragraph that was the same sentences just shuffled in a different order as he progressed. Every time he woke up he forgot that he was paralyzed. He was in constant pain and on a lot of pain meds. He described being gripped by a constant “terror” of dying from pain. There was no amount of counseling or comfort I could give him because, well, he’d forget almost as quickly as I’d tell him. He’d plead with me to euthanize him just about every night I was there. I’d tell him that this decision was above my pay grade and the scope of my practice was limited. “F— you!” he’d scream at me.

    My telling him that I wish he could have his request fulfilled was unethical but that was the case. Most of the people in his life also had a dreadful and reluctant desire for him to get his way but those tools were not available to us so we did the best we could with what we had. Our “aching need”, as you put it, was just that but you mean it in a night-before-Christmas type of ache. How dare you! You and everyone else who sits in front of a computer munching nachos while blogging away as if you knew better than the rest of us should put down the keyboard and suit up! You remind me of the Pope who sits in his gilded finery, riding around hermetically sealed in his Popemobile telling people they can’t masturbate, can’t have sex, can’t report your local priest for anally copulating your son and so forth – just like Jesus did, right?

    Unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty please find something better to write about!

    • Ryan

      Whoa there Joe… I can see where you could draw some issue with some of what was written here, as there was a decided lack on the subject of culpability, however to go off on a tirade of personal experience doesnt exactly draw water for your argument.
      If you want personal experience, here ya go: my grandmother shot herself in the face, my brother attempted to drown himself, I am a Iraq-war veteran who served as an Army Medical Operations Officer in a combat unit (I got to watch people die, and then I got to come home and attempt to garner care for those with debilitating physical and mental scars). If you ask for people to get dirty before they discuss the issue, well, Im filthy. Unlike you, I would never dream of telling people they cant weigh in on an issue just because they havent “got any skin in the game.” Why? Because everyone suffers and has witnessed suffering, who are you to say whether or not a person has the authority to discuss a topic?
      And then you draw the Pope into the argument? How quickly we forget the way that JPII publicly dealt with an erosive disease. A man gifted with rare mental faculty and a predilection for flowering poetry, was reduced to a trembling old man via illness… and yet he endured. I once heard it said, “Many teach us how to live, but Pope John Paul II taught us how to die.”
      I am in no way minimizing the atrocities that took place while the Church was under his charge, but I would ask you to not similarly minimize his commitment to life.

      I’ve seen awful things, as I’m sure you have… but that doesn’t give us special authority to dictate who has an opinion on what. This relativism that you imply would mean the death of reason.

      • Joe Monte

        Thank you for your heartfelt post, Ryan. You strike me as a truth-seeker.

        Our host here at Bad Catholic, Marc, makes a lot of unqualified statements on a variety of topics. Rather than someone ardently seeking the truth he comes off as an apologist.

        I took offense at his characterization of “darwinists” cackling with glee at the thought of administering a lethal dose of drugs to some quad tiring of his existence. When faced with terminal conditions like those I feel a profound helplessness. I NEVER patronize any of my patients by telling them “I understand” because I don’t. I can’t. Marc, on the other hand, comes off as if he does, moreover, as if he knows better! The latter patient saw his slow and irrevocable decay coming a long way off and prepared for his dying days. The latter, if given the opportunity, would have ended it in a heartbeat (mercifully he died suddenly between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2011).

        If I you were to tell you who was going to win the Super Bowl this weekend you would be well within your rights to tell me that my opinion is invalid. Why? I don’t watch football. I won’t be watching it on Sunday either and reason will not have died. Whatever Marc’s experience he doesn’t make it plain. Remember those people jumping out of the World Trade Center. Well, they all committed suicide. If they didn’t they’d have been burned alive. Both of the choices they had sucked but whatever choice they made I have to honor. However someone decides to go out in the face of a terrible decision is all theirs. I don’t know how I’d face it if something like that were to happen to me. But the last thing I’d need would be someone lobbying congress to keep me alive against my wishes or someone else telling me about what John Paul did (he could have been on a morphine drip in his final hours for all we know).

        Speaking of the Vatican…

        As far as I’m concerned, Ryan, trying to use anyone in the corridors of the St. Peter’s as a good example will fall flat. The Catholic Church has made opacity is raison d’etre and history will tell you that the Church was not often a proponent of their dictates. If it’s John Paul II, or Urban II their first interest is primacy of the Church (themselves).

  • pj

    evolution is a hoax

    • newenglandsun

      How much was I supposed to drink again?

  • newenglandsun

    Even supposedly if animals did commit suicide and this was observed, then this would just be scientists forgetting about our souls, failing to distinguish human from animal and calling man a beast. How dehumanizing.