Chance

For the Nobel Prize winning biologist Jacques Monod, “chance and necessity” working over the vastness of evolutionary time, are the only necessary ingredients to explain the evolution of life.

For Barfield, however, the introduction of chance into the equation of evolutionary biology represents nothing less than abandonment of the goals of science.

There is no more striking example than the Darwinian theory of that borrowing from the experimental by the non-experimental sciences. . . . It was found that the appearances on earth so much lack the regularity of the appearances in the sky that no systematic hypothesis will fit them. But astronomy and physics had taught men that the business of science is to find hypotheses to save the appearances. By a hypothesis, then, these earthly appearances must be saved; and saved they were by the hypothesis of—chance variation. Now the concept of chance is precisely what a hypothesis is devised to save us from. Chance, in fact = no hypothesis. Yet so hypnotic, at this moment in history, was the influence of the idols and of the special mode of thought which had begotten them, that only a few—and their voices soon died away—were troubled by the fact that the impressive vocabulary of technological investigation was actually being used to denote its breakdown; as though, because it is something we can do with ourselves in the water, drowning should be included as one of the different ways of swimming.
(Saving the Appearances 68)

This reductio ad absurdum is not the only frontal assault in Barfield’s writings on the concept of chance. In Worlds Apart, the Anthroposophist Sanderson pokes fun at the reliance of the evolutionary biologist Upwater on the chance hypothesis:

Upwater: You people [critics of Darwinism] always leave out the infinite amount of time, running into billions of years, over which it [descent with modification] went on.

Sanderson: Yes, but unlimited time doesn’t render conceivable an inherently inconceivable sequence of events. Are you going to force me to bring out those monkeys and their typewriters?
(Worlds Apart 201)

And in Unancestral Voice, the Meggid explains to Burgeon that, as a concept, chance has lost its explanatory power:

“Hitherto the brain has been impelled by its experience of irregularity to find a more embracing regularity that will account for it—until it has reach a point beyond which it cannot go. Or if it has not yet reached that point, it will do so before long. That ultimate irregularity it classifies, or it will classify, as ‘chance’; and that is what you must understand, when you hear men speak of chance as of something that operates in nature alongside the laws they have inferred. You know of the part that was assigned to chance in the science of biology. Some of that irregularity has since been resolved into regularities hitherto unobserved, and, in doing so, the observers have approached nearer to the ultimate irregularity, to the place where change and transformation originate. You have recently learned how the science of physics has been forced even nearer to that point.”

“Yes,” said Burgeon; “and it is the point at which some say the search must be abandoned. It would almost seem, from what you say, that they are right; since there is nothing else that they can do.”

“If it is the love of truth that impels them, and not some other motive, they will do what their predecessors did before them. They will seek in a deeper conformity to law the explanation of what confronts them as ‘chance.'”
(Unancestral Voice 205)

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.