The Great Ideas ~ The Answer to Darwin

The Answer to Darwin


In The Darwinian Theory of Man’s Origin, Adler of course explained Darwin’s theory of evolution and the evidence that anchors it.  Here in The Answer to Darwin, he continues with the evidence, adds to it more current research and the gives some evidence of his own to the contrary.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters Francisco Goya

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799) Francisco Goya ~ source Wikiart

Adler reminds us that Darwin never built his theory on the anatomical or physiological resemblance between the higher animals and man, nor embriological similarities or fossils.  He rested his whole argument on mental power, in respect to the differences and similarities.  “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”  What evidence did Darwin use for his conclusion?  It is all on the basis of human and animal behaviour.  He claims animals reason, use tools and use speech the same as man but to a lesser degree.  Adler then gives examples of experiments of animal behaviour since Darwin’s day, all seemingly to support Darwin’s theory.  But Adler does not believe they are indisputable and he is going to dispute them.  He believes that men differ essentially from all other animals in kind, and his evidence will be presented under three different headings:

  1. Only humans make artistically
  2. Only humans think discursively
  3. Only humans associate politically

He will proceed as Darwin, comparing human and animal behaviour but arrive at opposite results.  In these examinations, there are some things only humans do, special things that require human reasoning.  It will mean not that man reasons more than other animals, but that man alone is rational.

Adler then asks how can the evidence show something that cannot be seen, namely reason?  How will he be able to confer this special power?  There will be two marks in the evidence:

  1. if human behaviour is highly variable
  2. if that behaviour shows some understanding that no animal has, an understanding that “is found or expresses itself in a grasp of the universality of things”
Hooded Crows Brun Lijefors

Hooded Crows (1891) Bruno Lijefors ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Only Humans Make Artistically

Adler had asked Luckman to send the outline of his evidence to people, including universtiy professors, to get their feedback.  As to if only humans make artistically, Luckman presents the first objection: spiders spin beautiful webs and bees engineer their hives perfectly, and beaver’s are wonderful engineers.

Adler is not interested in the excellence of the production but the way in which animals make and the way in which humans make (ie. behaviour); animals are makers by instinct and humans, by art.  Herein lies instinct versus art influenced by reason.

For example, even though the spider’s web is possibly more exacting than a human artistic design, there is no change in how the spider spins his web compared to his ancestors HOWEVER, a human improves or increases his skill, not only over his lifetime but therefore the human race develops greater skill over history.

Two other ways to see this difference between species are:

  1.  While animals, like man, can use rudimentary tools, only man makes machine tools. Man can develop fine applications and “separate the idea of the thing to be produced from the individual production ….. and here is seen man’s grasp of the universal, the plan, the idea, apart from the individual circumstance.”
  2. Works of fine art are only created by man.  We may see a bee hive or a beaver’s dam as works of art, but to the animal, they only satisfy a basic biological need.  Man creates not only for biological purposes but often only for the sake of enjoyment.

Therefore, “human making is different from animal making.”

The Ambassadors Hans Holbein the Younger

The Ambassadors (1532) Hans Holbein the Younger ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Only Humans Think Discursively

Adler is now presenting his second piece of evidence.

Luckman points out that professors whom he has canvassed say that animals can solve problems and thus animals think discursively.  Adler agrees that animals certainly do solve problems which proves they think.  Yet all the problems they solve are by trial and error or by “perceptual insight” which meet basic biological needs.  Men can problem solve in a similar way but men also think in another way; consider the problems of mathematics, philosophy, or theoretical or speculative sciences which do not serve biological needs. Secondly, the manner in which they think about them is distinctive; an animal is active using his senses, limbs, etc but only man sits to think in a manner that can illustrate intense bodily inactivity (think of the statue of Le Penseur by Rodin).  “Only men sit down to think about what is important and not urgent.”

The word “discursively” is related to discussion and he means “only men think in words, in words that are abstract, referring to things that cannot be perceived but only understood.”  It is human language only that consists of words and sentences.

Le Penseur (The Thinker) Auguste Rodin

Le Penseur (The Thinker) Auguste Rodin ~ source Wikipedia

Only Humans Associate Politically

Adler reaches his third and final point which is only humans associate politically. Luckman reveals that he’s had an outcry against this statement as, if you look at wasps, ants, etc. it’s obvious that animals associate.  Adler does not disagree that animals are social and even gregarious, he only says than man is the only one to associate politically.  Animals which are social, are so because of instinct and do not change from generation to generation, however humans “form by reason the conventions, the constitutions, the laws, the rules unto which they live.”  This accounts for the great variability from race to race, or tribe to tribe, or culture to culture, or century to century.  In fact, Adler claims man is the only constitutional animal.

Luckman raises other objections.  How can a baby or a mentally challenged person, both of whom cannot use or cannot fully use reason, be seen as rational human beings?  Adler says both have the potentiality of reason, even though it is not developed or stunted.  A baby grows into reason but a pig never will; a mentally challenged person may some day be healed and be able to use reason but an animal never will.  However, Adler says his original statement does not mean that man always uses his reason or that he acts rationally; that is seldom the case.  Yet man is also the only animal who is unreasonable and irrational.  And only man can go mad.

Luckman stops him, stating that there is evidence of psychologists making rats neurotic by frustrating them in their mazes.  Adler responses that “by creating, through conditioning in the animals, a kind of tight conflict of impulses, the animal breaks down under the tension of that conflict into a severe frustration that I admit might look like a neurosis.”  But Adler thinks it is not.  It takes a psychologist to make a rat neurotic but humans are capable of become so without the help of a psychologist.  There is a difference.

In the next talk (essay), The Uniqueness of Man, Adler will weigh the evidence on both sides.  He also stresses the importance of understanding the issue and how it affects everyone theoretically, practically, morally, politically and spiritually.


⇐  The Darwinian Theory of Human Origin                The Uniqueness of Man ⇒


8 thoughts on “The Great Ideas ~ The Answer to Darwin

  1. i’m no expert, but i believe Adler a bit out of date… language is part of the difficulty… humans are trapped in their own reality by believing that language describes everything… but there is plenty of evidence that reality is larger than language can describe… in point of fact, the universe doesn’t care whether man can talk or not, it just goes on its own way as if we didn’t exist… the comments occurring on a little known planet on the edge of a small galaxy do not materially effect the processes of the universe…

    there: a view from a larger perspective… i really love the pictures you include with your posts; they add a lot…

    • That’s interesting, Mudpuddle. If reality is larger than language can describe though, is language the best we have? And since humans have it, it makes us distinct. And the universe ….. it’s not really an entity, is it, it just IS. Adler is countering Darwin specifically, so if Darwin wasn’t concerned about the universe or those things, Adler wouldn’t be addressing it. You can tell he’s staying very specific. That said, I know little about Darwin (only made it 1/2 way through Origin of Species and have never read The Descent of Man) ….

      Thanks for the comment on my pictures! It’s fun finding them and they certainly brighten up a dried post (albeit, a valuable one) like this! 🙂

      • all species have communication of some sort… and i’d say humans just “are”… it might be simpler to say that there is a universe and humans are part of it… albeit a miniscule part…

        • Yes, but Alder would say human communication is different, bringing in reason and abstraction. And for me, the universe just “is” yet we are something unique, miniscule yes, but does size or quantity determine if something is unique or not …???

  2. I am so going to get this book. I have always contended that Darwin simply saw animals that were simpler, became more complex and then humans. He assumed that they developed from one into another. He had no evidence of transitory animals or record of transitory animals in fossils to go by.

    People never consider that: there should be millions of fossils showing animals with part of a toe,or arm or part of an eye, and besides, what use would they be? There should millions of animals and people walking among us partially developed, but everyone is complete.

    Then there’s the second law of thermodynamics that everyone ignores.

    I really like Adler. I’ve read a number of his books and this one is going on the Amazon wish list.

    Very thorough review!

    • Ah, interesting additional information, Sharon. I know nothing about Thermodynamics. I’ve always intended to read Darwin’s Black Box, but I’m not sure if it would enlighten me or confuse me, lol! Adler’s great! Even when you don’t agree with him, his process of thinking is quite impeccable!

  3. Have you read Adler’s “How to Read a Book”? Good stuff but not the easiest of reads (for me, that is!) I have Darwin’s Black Box but my science reads have taken a back seat in recent times.

    • I’ve read Adler’s “How to Read A Book” but I should revisit it sometime soon. Have you read Adler’s “How to Speak and How To Listen”? That one is almost just as good, if not better, IMO. I used to read so much non-fiction but yes, my reading of it has dwindled. I’d like to pick it up again but perhaps in time.

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