Friday, September 16, 2005

WHY EVOLUTION FAILS TO PERSUADE: Facts and Speculation are Regarded the Same

By Kevin Wirth

One of the things I've noticed about evolutionary explanations is that they are just chock full of speculation. Not that it could be any other way - since after all - science cannot ever hope to demonstrate conclusively that any proposed historic evolutionary event or scenario ever really took place. But it's interesting to note that the way evolutionists get around this little detail is through the use of speculations, extrapolations, and conjecture to fill in the gaps. And it is this combination of facts (data) and speculation which is presented as "evidence supporting evolution" and is then fed through periodicals and the media to academia, the scientific enterprise, and the public.

Evolutionists, content that such 'evidence' is more than adequate to make their case, then react with everything ranging from mild irritation to angry rhetoric against those who would dare to challenge their findings. They label those who would challenge evolution as "ignorant" yahoos bent on destroying the very fabric of civilization as we know it.

To suggest that protecting a set of pet speculations is akin to protecting all of science and modern civilization from disaster is a contrived tactic designed to instill fear in the minds of the uninformed, and flies in the face of polls that consistently show we already live in a culture that is dominated by people who believe in the notion of a Creator.

Evolutionists are just having kittens over this.

They can't believe that so many people persist in being so dumb or irrational, superstitious, unreasonable, ignorant, or any one of 25 other undesirable things that (they say) define such people. I often hear the claim that if we allow ID to be taught to our kids, we will quickly lose our spot as a world leader in the realm of science. It'll all be downhill after that. This is because we will be (allegedly) replacing scientific facts with faith or some other form of religious mumbo jumbo.

"While the Russians are building up their scientific technological education, their friends of the Moral Majority are attempting to destroy our science teaching. ‘Scientific’ creationism is contradictory to the teaching of science; young people will learn to take things on faith rather than as the result of truth through experiment—that is, the scientific method. Thus we will lose our future scientists while the Soviets will continue to forge ahead....It is important that we in the free world do not Lysenkoize our scientific education. We must stop the efforts of Falwell and company, who are bent on returning us to the Middle Ages and possibly oblivion". (Mayer, William. 1982. The Legacy of Darwin, Free Inquiry, 2(3):28-31).

“We must be doing something wrong” evolutionists often lament – adding that science education simply must improve so that the general population no longer adheres to that outmoded and unscientific notion of a Creator. They never seem to understand that maybe it’s them, not us, who fails to understand a thing or two. It never occurs to many evolutionists that nature exhibits evidence of a creator everywhere we look, and that we don't need to reference a holy book to make a case for it.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. put it pretty succintly just this past weekend when he said:

"We don't know Michelangelo by reading his biography; we know him by looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And we know our creator best by immersing ourselves in creation." (We Must Take America Back, speech delivered on Saturday, 10 September 2005 at the Sierra Summit in San Francisco, CA)

Regardless of whether you think Kennedy is a politician, environmentalist, or scientist, his remarks on this point reflect the perspective shared by a majority of Americans. But in the battle for freedom of thought, it’s comments like these that far too many of our educators absolutely refuse to tolerate, much less contemplate. A minority of evolutionists are intent on controlling how this debate gets presented to our kids and the public, and so far, they've been largely successful. It’s an ill-conceived intellectual turf war and PR campaign all rolled into one. And I plan to spend a little bit of energy in this blog showing you how the battle is waged, and why it’s so important to challenge it.

One of the reasons why evolution fails to persuade the majority of Americans is because they co-mingle facts (data) with conjecture, and come up with a form of double-speak that most people can see through (except evolutionists). A combination of facts, theory, conjecture, guesswork, and extrapolations that cannot be falsified does not equal unequivocal evidence in the minds of most rational people - those who see what they want to see will buy into it, but others will remain skeptical. And it most certainly also doesn't mean, as many evolutionists are quick to retort, that their target audience is 'uneducated' - it means that the evolutionists have not presented a convincing case in a way that makes sense to them. Taking their target audience (the American public) to court to ensure that the evolutionary perspective is protected against dissent by ramming it down their throats doesn't help much either. What's that old proverb, "A man convinced against his will remains unconvinced still"?

It looks to most Americans like the evolutionists are reacting with a flair for thuggery rather than a sense of fairness or decency. Like it or not, you don't convince people by putting chains on what they can think about, or shutting down their skepticism or dissent by acts of discrimination, bigotry, and legal maneuvers. What that approach accomplishes instead is arouse a sense of "what's up with those people, anyway? Why are they so adamant that only their idea should be considered - what's the big deal, anyway?" and before you know it, their efforts will backfire. And they have. Evolution has earned a reputation of being unnecessarily militant and over the edge in the past 25 years. And part of the rason for that is because Americans don't like to be told what they have to think because it's so...un-American.

It's like an ice cream man with an ice slush product trying to tell a kid that it's really a vanilla bar. No kid is going to believe it. If it LOOKS like an ice slush product, do you blame the kid and call him stupid or ignorant? If any product manufacturer in a free enterprise environment took on this marketing approach, they would doomed to failure from day one. This is exactly what the evolutionists have done, and why they have failed to convince the majority of Americans that their perspective holds as much water as they claim it does.

But, I digress. Let me get back on track here with the point: evolutionists mix facts with speculation to spin stories about evolution and then call that concoction all that is necessary to establish the credibility of evolution beyond a reasonable doubt. How do they do this? What is their approach?

First, the evolutionists make an authoritative claim that “evolution is a scientific fact”, and the notion of a Creator is inherently a “religious” idea. They trot out some of the best “Who’s Who” in science to back up these claims, as if that’s going to make a difference. In fact, thankfully, it makes little difference because what the evolutionists don’t seem to understand is that their approach is fatally flawed. Why? Because they don’t understand that facts+speculation do not = facts, they = speculation+facts. And anyone with any common sense knows that you can't make a case and call something a fact with just a bunch of speculations. Duh.

When I suggested that the speculation of creationists is no different than the speculation of evolutionists in a blog this past week, someone in the academic community immediately put me in my place by saying that:

Yes, but one of the views is firmly founded in observable facts (that would be the science), while the other is based on belief/faith (that would be the theology). For you to equalize those two views shows a profound lack of knowledge and understanding of what science is.

Click here to read the blog and comments

What this person doesn't understand is that speculation cannot, by its very nature, be the confirmation science requires to establish any notion as a scientific 'fact'. Just because an idea sounds really good isn't an acceptable reason to call it a 'fact'. It would be much more honest to call such a thing a 'working hypothesis'. But militant evolutionists are not content with this, and insist on elevating their theory to a level of credibility it has not yet earned.

“…what the genius of Darwin achieved, surely, was not to discover a host of new facts unknown to his predecessors that somehow added up to the further fact of evolution through natural selection: what he did was to see the facts in a new context – an imaginative context, the context of an idea, but an idea which seemed and seems to many modern minds peculiarly factual, and idea so convincing, so congenial, so satisfying that it feels like fact.” (The Faith of Darwinism, by Marjorie Grene. Encounter Magazine, Nov 1959, Vol XIII, No. 5, pg. 51).

When you mix one drop of black paint in a bucket of white paint, it might look like it’s pure white, but it’s not. Even if you blend a small amount of speculation with facts, you create something other than facts, even if it "feels like a fact". In the case of evolution (using the paint metaphor), the amount of speculation currently used to buttress the theory would turn a white can of paint to a dark shade of gray. For the evolutionists to say that their speculations are better than the speculations presented by Intelligent Design theorists because theirs are ‘scientific’ and the ID'ers notions are not (oh puleeeeze!) is faulty beyond comprehension, not to mention dishonest. As Grene says, evolution is merely a context for the facts that "seems" so convincing. That's more honest.

You can't have it both ways. You can't say "evolution is a scientific fact" and then use tons of speculations to back up your claims about how this or that critter allegedly evolved (see my previous post citing Barabara Stahl's comments).

Marjorie Grene also makes this observation:

“…the species theory, like most great forward steps in science, was a triumph of scientific imagination, rather than of fact collecting." (The Faith of Darwinism, by Marjorie Grene. Encounter Magazine, Nov 1959, Vol XIII, No. 5, pg. 51).

Need I say more on this?

Secondly, the 'fact' is, the role and significance of speculation required to support any notion of alleged historic evolution can scarcely be overemphasized. It is THE essential ingredient in nearly every story of the evolutionary history of any species. It is the glue for all evolutionary scenarios that are honestly presented, and if you read any descriptions of the evidence for evolution carefully, this will become obvious time and time again. Because laced within those descriptions is what I call the 'language of speculation', where the facts we don't know about are replaced with conjectural language links such as "must have been", "experts agree", "most certainly", "undoubtedly", "probably", etc. etc.. Without massive doses of such terminology, there would be no recounting of any alleged evolutionary event. How then, can such stories, riddled with specuative comments, be so widely accepted as 'facts' or 'evidence' in favor of evolution? How can they become regarded as indisputable evidence?

The answer is obvious: If you are predisposed to believe in evolution - then the stories sound convincing and congenial and so believable that they "feel like fact". Few people seem willing to stand up and make the distinction that speculations are not sufficient to require a wholesale acceptance of evolutionary theory. Those who do so, no matter how impressive their credentials may be, are typically either shot down, marginalized, or ignored. So much for the freedom to dissent.

No, I’m sorry, speculation is speculation – period. The best a speculation can be is a working hypothesis. And please, don't call it a 'fact', because it just isn't. The act of creation isn’t subject to scientific testing any more than any of the alleged historic evolutionary events are. So if we’re going to teach our kids a set of evolutionary speculations, then we ought to be allowed to teach them about ID speculations as well.

Thirdly, and as I've mentioned elsewhere - there are clear dangers associated with promiting just one version of reality. While there's nothing at all wrong with using speculation to propose ideas in science - this is how science often advances - that's not what's going on here. We've gone well beyond that with evolution. We've allowed an idea - a clearly speculation-ridden idea no less - to become anchored in our cultural psyche to such an extent that backing away from it at this point would be perceived by many as unthinkable. That fact alone ought to give real scientists pause to consider whether the theory is more orthodoxy than science.

One of the dangers of this dogged adherence to ideas that remain unsupported by data is that it guides the interpretation of future discoveries, often erroneously. David Pilbeam, a world reknown paleoanthropologist, in a rare admission of making such errors, recounts how he to to revise his presuppositions when he discovered that his data did not fit them. He admits that he had to re-train himself to properly evaluate the fossils he found, and discovered that his evolutionary presuppositions were leading him astray, adding:

"I know that, at least in paleoanthropology, data are still so sparse that theory heavily influences interpretations. Theories have, in the past, clearly reflected our current ideologies instead of the actual data: Witness the transitions from "man the weapon-wielder" to "man the tool-maker" to "the naked ape" to "man the linguist" to "man the manipultor", and so on. Presumably, we are still so influenced". (Rearranging Our Family Tree, By David Pilbeam. Human Nature, June -1978)

Pilbeam isn't the only person who has made this observation. Harvard College professor James Conant opined that:

"We have already seen that many scientific ideas have become so deeply embedded in our everday view of the world that we find it difficult to draw the line between conceptual schemes and matters of fact. What were once working hypotheses on a grand scale and later became new conceptual schemes are now almost universally accepted as being descriptions of reality". (Science and Common Sense, By James Conant. Yale University Press, 10th Printing, July 1964, pg. 262)

So, it's not a stretch to say that it is speculations that set the tone for much of what today passes for established evolutionary 'fact'.

So, it really doesn't help much when I hear things like "if we teach our kids Intelligent Design theory or speculations, we will send science plunging back into the dark ages”. No we won’t - that's just another speculation - with about as much basis in fact as anything else the evolutionists have to say.

Besides, we have a TON of ID scientists and educators who have made incredible scientific contributions to our culture – take Dr. C. Everett Koop (reknown for his life-saving surgical techniques) and Dr. Damadian (inventor of the MRI) for example. These guys are creationists, and they have demonstrated that they are perfectly able to function in a scientific environment.

Most creationists understand and appreciate the way good science works - and they recognize the same scientific evidence that the evolutionist works with. Yes, you heard me right. When it comes to scientific 'facts', most creationists are in nearly complete agreement with evolutionists. It's only in their interpretations of those facts that they differ. And those interpretations, which are often nothing more than speculations, are the 'facts' evolutionists refer to, and that must be presented as 'science' to our kids. I'm not knocking speculation - it's a necessary part of science. But I'm also not confused by thinking that speculations are scientific 'facts' or data. That would be like saying orange juice and water are the same.

G.A. Kerkut, biochemistry professor at the University of Southampton: "The philosophy of evolution is based upon assumptions that cannot be scientifically verified... Whatever evidence can be assembled for evolution is both limited and circumstantial in nature". (cited in Biology, Keith Graham et al, A Beka Book Publications, Pensacola, FL,1986, p.363 )

To establish anything as a ‘fact’ of science, you need to be able to set up a repeatable and falsifiable test for it. This is simply not possible for historic evolutionary events because they occurred in the distant past, and are therefore not subject to such testing. All of which leaves us with the art of conjecture, extrapolation, guesswork, inference, and imagination. And design is as reasonable an inference from the facts as evolution seems to be for many folks. You don't need to be 'religious' to make this observation.

So – no one can credibly claim that ANY alleged evolutionary event in the past is a ‘scientific fact’ – period. That's because we can't go back in time and observe what happened. The best we can do is propose evolutionary possibilities, which, as everyone knows, are not the same as 'facts'. Anyone who knows anything about science understands this. Except the evolutionists. “Oh, not so fast!” they proclaim. “Of course we can’t prove evolution historically, but we know it happened because we can prove evolution is occurring today”.

I’m sorry – time to push the NAAAAA! (wrong answer) button.

First of all, even though many admit to micro-evolutionary events occurring today, this would NOT require us to accept that macro-evolutionary events occurred in the past. It might seem to be a logical deduction, but it's a logical fallacy nevertheless. Micro-evolution does not demonstrate macro-evolution. And, making this assumption does harm to the scientific enterprise.

"...the sciences dealing with the past stand before the bar of common sense on a different footing. Therefore, a grotesque account of a period of some thousands of years ago is taken seriously though it be built by piling special assumptions on special assumptions, ad hoc hypothesis on ad hoc hypothesis, and tearing apart the fabric of science whenever it appears convenient; the result is a fantasia which is neither history nor science". (Science and Common Sense, By James Conant. Yale University Press, 10th Printing, July 1964, pg. 278)

Secondly, since the small micro-evolutionary events we see today are not conclusive evidence, using them as evidence of the greater macro-evolutionary paradigm is a leap of faith no different than what the Intelligent Design (ID) theorist proposes (i.e., that a Creator is responsible for all life based on the apparent design observed in nature).

And besides, these micro-evolutionary events, when left to occur on their own, typically don’t show us what we need to see in a case of true ‘evolution’, i.e., we don’t see the formation of new genetic information. What we see is a re-shuffling of existing genetic information, which is generally nothing more than plumbing the depths of variation within a species – all of which are normal, non-evolutionary events. It all comes down to just another example of what Marjorie Grene said: evolution is an "...idea so convincing, so congenial, so satisfying that it feels like fact."

On the other hand, the ID theorists argue that life appears to be far too complex to have evolved by chance – showing evidence of design (from a Grand Designer). This observastion can be made without reference to any chapter and verse in a religious text. The concept of design isn't inextricably linked to the realm of 'religion', otherwise why not ban the teaching of architecture, computer programming, and a host of other academic and practical disciplines where design is readily applied? But 'Oh No', say many evolutionists, 'we simply can't allow the teaching of design in the realm of biology because that notion, in the context of the life sciences, is inherently religious'.

Give me a break. No, it is not. Saying that there is a Designer is no more or less "religious" than adamantly saying that there can be no such Designer - from a scientific perspective. The decision about which set of speculations our kids choose to believe is better left for them to decide - and everyone should be free to carry that with them into whatever field of scienctific endeavor they may choose. This should be true, at least in America of all places, where we are guaranteed to have freedom of thought (except, and rightly so, when it comes to planning a Terrorist attack). It's interesting that one of the key arguments promoted during the Scopes trial (an effort to allow the teaching of evolution in our schools) was to let our children examine all of the facts - but now that they are in the catbird seat, I think it's notable that so many evolutionists don't feel this is a valid argument anymore.

"...For God's sake, let the children have their minds kept open - close no doors to their knowledge; shut no door from them...". (Dudley Field Malone, attorney for John Scopes, during the Scopes trial. The World's Most Famous Court Trial. 3rd Edition, 1925, pg. 187)

So much for the consistency of the evolutionsts. It's interesting how this argument, which they used to gain a foothold in the American educational system, holds no merit whatsoever for them today. This appeal to reason for mutual consideration of Creation and Evolution has shifted today to a different tune - that of exclusivity. Many evolutionists would no more countenance including the idea of ID in our schools than they would consider retracting any of the key tenets of Darwinism.

Well, I don’t have to go to the Bible or the Koran to see the sensibility in the notion of a Designer for the universe, so I doubt that it will turn any of our kids into religious fanatics anymore than designing a quilt or building a house would – and it can hardly be considered a case of introducing religion into our schools. Just because an idea is consistent with a religious concept doesn't mean our kids are going to convert to Christianity or Judaism, anymore than our kids are going to become terrorists because they learn about terrorism.

This approach is also no different than saying that because there's a lot of talk about sex in the Bible, we shouldn't teach our kids about it because it's a 'religious' concept.

Like I said, give me a break.

What we're really witnessing is an extreme reluctance (refusal) by many evolutionary scientists to consider the possibility that the facts could indicate a Creator. This is a deliberate choice, and is not based on that quaint and oft-used remark "science cannot address anything regarding religious matters". I agree - science can't do that. But that statement skirts around what science can lead us up to - the point of understanding the possibility that life was created, without addressing the nature, mind, or intent of that creator. So you see, the notion of a Creator is not inherently 'religious' in and of itself. You can examine arguments that indicate a Creator acted on nature without saying one thing about why he might have done so.

So – I have a solution - and a suggestion for what I think we need to do. I say that both sides need to present their perspective to our kids agnostically. No evangelism allowed. Both sides stick with the 'scientific facts' and speculations, and state their interpretations of the evidence in non-religious terms. This is really and truly the only credible way to resolve this dispute. If the evidence for evolution is as compelling as the evolutionists say it is – then they should have no fear of putting their idea up against any other challenges that might come along (and Intelligent Design appears to be the only serious contender…). In fact, evolutionists should see this as a great opportunity to let the ‘facts’ speak for themselves. After all, if the evidence is so overwhelming, this should be a slam dunk, right? The only caveat I would add is that honesty must prevail. This means that where we can’t claim that something is a scientific fact, we don’t do it.

The facts are this – there were critters roaming the earth ages ago that are no longer around. Those are the facts, period. We have fossils of those critters - and those are also facts. Both evolutionists and creationists accept this factual evidence. Science cannot ever ever tell us where they came from, how they got here, or how they allegedly evolved because all of that is purely a matter of speculation – period. You can say that scientists are offering us their educated guesses – and that would be honest. But when someone says that what is necessarily a conjecture about evolution is the same as scientific 'fact', and that the ‘scientific evidence that establishes historic evolution as a fact’ - this is pure horse hooey.

On a stick.

All you need to do is read books like the one written by Barbara J. Stahl and you can clearly see that this is the case (see my earlier post from this week directly below).

Evolutionists are caught in a straitjacket constrained by vast amounts of time which makes it impossible for them to ever observe alleged evolutionary events of the past. This means that any and all historical evolutionary events are necessarily and forever constrained to the realm of working hypotheses (speculations), which means they can never ever hope to become established scientific facts - only dogma. And, since this is the case, there is ample cause to hear the speculations of IDers.

"...The fundamental inherent difficulty in the study of evolution is, that this great natural process involves time dimensions of a magnitude quite out of proportion to the duration of human life or even to the sum of human experience, and the observer has therefore to rely on indirect, or circumstantial evidence. Hence beliefs that are often referred to as theories of evolution are, more accurately, only working hypotheses. This is a very important matter because the essence of a hypothesis is that it is an opinion suggested by the available evidence, but not one which precludes the possibility of some alternative. A hypotheis may well be substantiated when more corroborative details are forthcoming, but until then there is no logical reason for excluding the consideration of some other explanation of the facts. So, while it may be justifiable to believe that evolution affords a reasonable explanation of the facts of nature, it is not justifiable tomaintain that no other explanation is possible or permissible". (Features of Evolution in the Flowering Plants, By Ronald Good. Dover, 1974, pg. 2)

So – let’s allow our kids to study both sides of this controversy, but let’s also be honest and make the clear distinction between scientific fact and speculation. Historic evolution isn’t a ‘fact’ – and it can never be scientifically established as such. It's conjecture about what many people think happened, and nothing more. And anyone who tells you different either doesn’t understand how science works, is blinded to a belief in their preconceptions, or is being dishonest. Either way, none of these reasons are compelling enough to require our children to be told that evolution is the only viable or credible 'scientific' explanation. Using the banner of science to promote speculations as scientific 'facts' - now that's dishonest.


Anonymous Kutsuke said...

Wow, I am so sorry I didn't have time to finish reading this tonight, but I am glad to see a fellow free-thinker who doesn't buy into that crap. Well, I know Dr. Bergman personally, and if you would want to talk with him about this, perhaps I could introduce each of you.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah now that I know who you are, I see that no introduction will be necessary. I have seen one blog where some people criticized Bergman for having his book published by you. Simply skeptic at first, I now believe their critiques to be beyond biased. I hope to read more of your materials in the future.

11:34 AM  

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