Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

FYI-FTR: Part 9, only fools dispute facts (and, Evolution is a fact, fact, FACT!)


In a current UD News thread, we see how Megan Fox at PJ Media reports:

>>If you want to know why people dislike atheists, it’s because they’re thoroughly dislikeable. And if you should find yourself on the wrong side of atheists, like I did by simply posting a video [–> perhaps, this] of myself walking through the Field Museum in Chicago asking questions about evolution — a topic many still view as controversial — be prepared to have to go to the police and file reports of harassment and cyberstalking. You are not allowed to question the gods of the atheists, namely Darwin and the scientists who bow at the altar of Darwin. If you do, you’ll face nothing but insults, harassment, death and rape threats, as I quickly found out after my video went viral. Atheists come off as people who want to force their beliefs down your throat. Anyone who objects is held up as the dumbest person on earth, worthy of public flogging and abuse.>>

Now, it was an interesting exercise to go to the PJ Media story, where in the combox I found yet another hardy perennial evolutionary materialist talking point:

>> evolution is as much of a fact as the Earth being round (well, an oblate spheroid, but you get the point). Creationism — or “intelligent design” as it is called today — is simply wrong, and is not science, but religion, and thus has no place in science class.

“Teaching both sides” is just a rhetorical trick . . . >>

This is of course a three in one fallacy, as there is (1) a classic slippery slope definitional slide, also (2) an attempt to equate design theory with creationism/religion and then (3) strawman caricature of what it means to “teach the controversy” regarding biological evolution. At best, irresponsibly ill informed in a day when accurate information is readily accessible and it should be well known that a lot of willful misrepresentation of design thought has been projected by leading opponents and amplified endlessly by spin-driven media. (To get a clue as to what has been going on for years, please take time to read the UD weak argument correctives, the IDEA Center FAQ and the New World Encyclopedia’s corrective to Wikipedia’s hatchet job on ID.)

Before addressing on particular points, let’s pause to review this series so far:

>>Let’s discuss: >> Elizabeth Liddle: I do not think the ID case holds up. I think it is undermined by [want of . . . ???] any evidence for the putative designer . . . >>

FYI-FTR*: Part 2, Is it so that >>If current models are inadequate (and actually all models are), and indeed we do not yet have good OoL models, that does not in itself make a case for design>>

FYI-FTR*: Part 3, Is it so, that >> . . . What undermines the “case for design” chiefly, is that there isn’t a case for a designer>>

FYI-FTR: Part 4, What about Paley’s self-replicating watch thought exercise?

FYI-FTR: Part 5, on evolutionary materialism, can a designer even exist?

FYI-FTR: Part 6, What about “howtwerdun” and “whodunit” . . . >>[the ID case has] no hypothesis about what the designer was trying to do, how she was doing it, what her capacities were, etc.>>

FYI-FTR: Part 7, But >>if you want to infer a designer as the cause of an apparent design, then you need to make some hypotheses about how, how, where and with what, otherwise you can’t subject your inference to any kind of test>>

FYI-FTR: Part 8, an objection — >>nobody has solved the OOL challenge from an ID perspective either. And they never will until ID proposes the nature of the Designer (AKA God) and the mechanisms used (AKA “poof). >> >>

Now, on steps of correction:

>>evolution is as much of a fact as the Earth being round (well, an oblate spheroid, but you get the point).>>

1 –> This is the slippery slope, “fact, fact, FACT!” fallacy. When suitably said rather confidently while dressed up in a lab coat , it can be quite persuasive.

2 –> The fallacy however slides into error on the gap between

(a) something that is directly observable, Earth’s roundness (not seriously disputed among the educated since Aristotle pointed out the consistent round shape of our home world’s shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse and since Eratosthenes calculated the circumference with fair accuracy coming on 2300 years ago) and

(b) a highly speculative, often ideologically loaded reconstruction of the deep, unobserved and in fact (short of a Sci Fi time machine) unobservable past of origins.

3 –> The key step in the trick is to suggest that there is a simple accumulative continuity between observable small shifts in populations [micro-evolution] and a grand narrative of origin of major body plans across the tree of life [macro-evolution). Where, sometimes even that difference in terminology is subjected to rhetorical dispute, cf. the UD correctives here and here.)

4 –> A sadly illuminating side-light is cast from a classically revealing remark noted in Wikipedia five years ago now:

>>. . . When scientists say “evolution is a fact” they are using one of two meanings of the word “fact”. One meaning is empirical, and when this is what scientists mean, then “evolution” is used to mean observed changes in allele frequencies or traits of a population over successive generations.

Another way “fact” is used is to refer to a certain kind of theory, one that has been so powerful and productive for such a long time that it is universally accepted by scientists. When scientists say evolution is a fact in this sense, they mean it is a fact that all living organisms have descended from a common ancestor (or ancestral gene pool) [8] even though this cannot be directly observed. [“Evolution as theory and fact,” coloured emphasis added. Acc: Aug. 7, 2010. (The current form tries not to be so blatant, but much the same problem obtains when one says:  “Fact can mean to a scientist a repeatable observation that all can agree on; it can mean something that is so well established that nobody in a community disagrees with it; it can also refer to the truth or falsity of a proposition” and “Evolution is a fact in the sense that it is overwhelmingly validated by the evidence. Frequently, evolution is said to be a fact in the same way as the Earth revolving around the Sun is a fact.”)]>>

5 –> Only fools dispute facts, of course; so if an ideologically loaded speculative reconstruction of the deep past of origins can be dressed up as indisputable fact by pointing to the supposedly authoritative consensus of Science, and by slip-sliding from observables to speculative models, a lot can be got away with. This all too common fallacy must be corrected.

6 –> So, again, we need to be reminded of the following, from No. 6 in the current series, regarding how:

>>a priori ideological impositions as with Lewontin’s notorious example in the January 1997 NYRB review of Sagan’s last book does not properly answer the case (indeed, such puts a very different cast on the toxically loaded burning strawman rhetoric we have seen for years . . . much of it is obviously turnabout, projective “he hit back first” accusation by advocates of a priori evolutionary materialist scientism):

demon_haunted>> the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi]  to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.  [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. Bold emphasis and notes added. If you have been led to imagine that this is “quote mined” kindly read the linked fuller annotated cite, and also the several following cases. The kulturkampf is real.] >>

In short, we see here a direct implication, that there is an overwhelming impression of design in the natural world, and it is being institutionally suppressed by lab coat clad ideological imposition of a priori, evolutionary materialist scientism. No wonder, Philip Johnson classically replied in First Things, that November:

>>For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” [–> or, more colourfully, materialists dressed up in lab coats] And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [Emphasis added.] [The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]>>

. . . . It should be patently clear that an empirically grounded inference to design as relevant causal factor on tested reliable observed signs such as FSCO/I, is not to be equated to an inference to a designer, or to the nature of that designer; apart from, the common-sense point that contrivance requires a contriver and design a designer with adequate intelligence, skill, means and opportunity.>>

7 –> Evolution in the relevant sense is not a fact, and it is not an observable like the roundness of the earth. It is long since past time that this fallacious comparison was retired.

>>Creationism — or “intelligent design” as it is called today — >>

8 –> This is a case of speaking with disregard to readily accessible truth, in the hope of profiting by what is said or suggested being accepted as true. And, such a lie [yes, I just stated a definition . . . ] remains a lie even if one is mindlessly repeating a false accusation in the teeth of readily accessible corrective information.

9 –> A clue, if something makes all those on the other side of a significant dispute seem obviously idiotic and/or to be utterly wicked deceivers or worse, it is highly likely to be a stereotypical, bigotry driven scapegoating talking point.

10 –> NWE provides a handy definition of design theory in its corrective to the Wikipedia article [unfortunately, on controversial topics, Wikipedia tends to be dominated by circles of radical activists who often manipulate its rules to push their agenda as if it were all that is to be said on a topic, failing to be fair and accurate]:

>>Intelligent design (ID) is the view that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection[1] Intelligent design cannot be inferred from complexity alone, since complex patterns often happen by chance. ID focuses on just those sorts of complex patterns that in human experience are produced by a mind that conceives and executes a plan. According to adherents, intelligent design can be detected in the natural laws and structure of the cosmos; it also can be detected in at least some features of living things.

Greater clarity on the topic may be gained from a discussion of what ID is not considered to be by its leading theorists. Intelligent design generally is not defined the same as creationism, with proponents maintaining that ID relies on scientific evidence rather than on Scripture or religious doctrines. ID makes no claims about biblical chronology, and technically a person does not have to believe in God to infer intelligent design in nature. As a theory, ID also does not specify the identity or nature of the designer, so it is not the same as natural theology, which reasons from nature to the existence and attributes of God. ID does not claim that all species of living things were created in their present forms, and it does not claim to provide a complete account of the history of the universe or of living things.

ID also is not considered by its theorists to be an “argument from ignorance”; that is, intelligent design is not to be inferred simply on the basis that the cause of something is unknown (any more than a person accused of willful intent can be convicted without evidence). According to various adherents, ID does not claim that design must be optimal; something may be intelligently designed even if it is flawed (as are many objects made by humans).

ID may be considered to consist only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent. It conflicts with views claiming that there is no real design in the cosmos (e.g., materialistic philosophy) or in living things (e.g., Darwinian evolution) or that design, though real, is undetectable (e.g., some forms of theistic evolution). Because of such conflicts, ID has generated considerable controversy.>>

11 –> NWE also addresses Creationism:

>>Creationism, in its most widely used sense, is a set of religious positions opposed to modern materialistic views of the origin of the Earth and of living things. In a different and much older sense, creationism is a particular theological position on the origin of the human soul  . . . .

In the first sense, creationism (not to be confused with the doctrine of creation) has various meanings. Most broadly, it can mean simply that the universe was divinely created. Somewhat more specifically, it can also mean that life on Earth was divinely created. Even Charles Darwin (1809-1882) could have been called a “creationist” in this second meaning, since he concluded The Origin of Species (after the first edition) with the statement that life was “originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.” But Darwin believed that the evolution of living things after their initial creation could be explained without God’s further involvement,[1] and “creationist” is usually used to describe someone who rejects this aspect of Darwin’s theory of evolution . . . .

In modern controversies over cosmic and biological origins, creationism takes two general forms: Old-Earth creationism (OEC) and young-Earth creationism (YEC). The former infers from evidence in nature that the Earth is many millions of years old, and it interprets Genesis to mean that God created the universe and living things through a long process of change. The latter interprets Genesis to mean that God created the universe and living things in a short time (usually six 24-hour days) a few thousand years ago, and it regards the natural evidence as compatible with this interpretation. U.S. courts have ruled that creationism is a religious view that cannot be taught in public school science courses, though polls show that most Americans subscribe to some form of it. Creationism is often confused with intelligent design, but there are significant differences between them.>>

12 –> Patently, it is simply wrong to equate design thought with Creationism.

>>is simply wrong, and is not science, but religion,>>

13 –> By the same terms, the ideological, worldview level agenda typified by Lewontin as cited, is more properly an anti-religious prejudice and underlying philosophical, worldview commitment that equally should have no place in the classroom.

14 –> And, the patent inculcation of reflexive hostility to “religion” should equally have no place in the classroom.

>>and thus has no place in science class.>>

15 –> This is educationally wrong. Where there are major worldview issues, perspectives and a hostility-inducing controversy marked by confusion and polarisation as well as willful misrepresentations, it is entirely in order to clear the air by providing fair summaries of key terms and perspectives.

16 –> This point is being obscured by the inappropriate use of the comparison to the roundness of the earth.

17 –> Likewise, it is fully appropriate to have a unit of study on the methods, ideas and history of science that draws out its strengths, weaknesses, successes, failings, and limitations, with an eye to citizenship and ethical responsibilities.

18 –> Otherwise, science education far too easily becomes indoctrination in precisely the sort of evolutionary materialist ideology dressed up in the lab coat that Lewontin inadvertently exemplified. And so, we come to:

>>”Teaching both sides” is just a rhetorical trick . . .>>

19 –> A turnabout, projective accusation — a notorious and sadly effective propaganda trick. Here, pivoting on a strawman caricature.

20 –> In fact — as already highlighted, there is an excellent and obvious educational purpose, for both citizenship and for those few who will go on to be scientists, medical practitioners, nurses or policy makers, to clear the atmosphere; starting with what science is, and the strengths and limitations of its methods in the here and now and in attempted reconstructions of the deep past of origins which we have not observed and cannot observe. If you wonder at my emphasis on health professionals, ponder this logo from the Second International Congress on Eugenics, in light of where that lab coat clad movement notoriously ended up:

Logo, 2nd Int'l Congress, Eugenics Movement, 1921 [HT: Wiki]
Logo, 2nd Int’l Congress, Eugenics Movement, 1921 [HT: Wiki]
21 –> In this context, it becomes especially important to teach that all scientific theories are open-ended, never ultimately “settled.” This, is because of the inherent limitations of inductive reasoning and particularly abductive inference to best explanation:


22 –> An excellent start point for such discussions is Newton’s Query 31 in Opticks:

>>As in Mathematicks, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths. For Hypotheses are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy. And although the arguing from Experiments and Observations by Induction be no Demonstration of general Conclusions; yet it is the best way of arguing which the Nature of Things admits of, and may be looked upon as so much the stronger, by how much the Induction is more general. And if no Exception occur from Phaenomena, the Conclusion may be pronounced generally. But if at any time afterwards any Exception shall occur from Experiments, it may then begin to be pronounced with such Exceptions as occur. By this way of Analysis we may proceed from Compounds to Ingredients, and from Motions to the Forces producing them; and in general, from Effects to their Causes, and from particular Causes to more general ones, till the Argument end in the most general. This is the Method of Analysis: And the Synthesis consists in assuming the Causes discover’d, and establish’d as Principles, and by them explaining the Phaenomena proceeding from them, and proving the Explanations. [Emphases added.]>>

23 –> This is of course a key source on the classic basic “scientific method” commonly taught in grade school and high school, e.g. from Science Buddies:

A School-level outline of "the" scientific method (HT: Science Buddies, fair use)
A School-level outline of “the” scientific method (HT: Science Buddies, fair use)

24 –> Pupils, however, should have exposure to key insights of philosophers of science on this method, as regards its limitations.

(Hint: there is no one- size- fits- all method used by all scientists to do good science, and only used to do scientific work. Good inductive reasoning is broader than science, and of course empirically grounded findings, however empirically reliable to date, can never be settled beyond all reasonable question or possibility of error.)

25 –> It would then be useful to go to another remark in the same Query, considered in its wider context:

>>Now by the help of [the laws of motion], all material Things seem to have been composed of the hard and solid Particles above-mention’d, variously associated in the first Creation by the Counsel of an intelligent Agent. For it became him who created them to set them in order. And if he did so, it’s unphilosophical to seek for any other Origin of the World, or to pretend that it might arise out of a Chaos by the mere Laws of Nature; though being once form’d, it may continue by those Laws for many Ages . . . .

And if natural Philosophy in all its Parts, by pursuing this Method, shall at length be perfected, the Bounds of Moral Philosophy will be also enlarged. For so far as we can know by natural Philosophy what is the first Cause, what Power he has over us, and what Benefits we receive from him, so far our Duty towards him, as well as that towards one another, will appear to us by the Light of Nature. ” [If you are tempted to dismiss this as an afterthought imposed in old age (and to do much the same for Newton’s General Scholium in Principia), with insinuations of senility hovering in the background, it would help to read here and here. HT, VJT of UD. Newton was a thoroughgoing design- evident- in- nature oriented theist from at least his prime years on, on the record of primary materials in the Newtonian corpus, and had probably always been a theist, albeit evidently not an orthodox Nicene Creed believer.]>>

26 –> In that context, Nancy Pearcey’s now classic perspective piece gives us some food for thought:

>>Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper

By Nancy Pearcey

[ . . . . ]

Most historians today agree that the main impact Christianity had on the origin and development of modern science was positive.  Far from being a science stopper, it is a science starter.

One reason this dramatic turn-around has not yet filtered down to the public is that the history of science is still quite a young field.  Only fifty years ago, it was not even an independent discipline.  Over the past few decades, however, it has blossomed dramatically, and in the process, many of the old myths and stereotypes that we grew up with have been toppled.  Today the majority view is that Christianity provided many of the crucial motivations and philosophical assumptions necessary for the rise of modern science.[6]

In one sense, this should come as no surprise.  After all, modern science arose in one place and one time only: It arose out of medieval Europe, during a period when its intellectual life was thoroughly permeated with a Christian worldview.  Other great cultures, such as the Chinese and the Indian, often developed a higher level of technology and engineering.  But their expertise tended to consist of practical know-how and rules of thumb.  They did not develop what we know as experimental science–testable theories organized into coherent systems.  Science in this sense has appeared only once in history.  As historian Edward Grant writes, “It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else.”[7]. . . .

The church fathers taught that the material world came from the hand of a good Creator, and was thus essentially good.  The result is described by a British philosopher of science, Mary Hesse: “There has never been room in the Hebrew or Christian tradition for the idea that the material world is something to be escaped from, and that work in it is degrading.”  Instead, “Material things are to be used to the glory of God and for the good of man.”[19] Kepler is, once again, a good example.  When he discovered the third law of planetary motion (the orbital period squared is proportional to semi-major axis cubed, or P[superscript 2] = a [superscript 3]), this was for him “an astounding confirmation of a geometer god worthy of worship.  He confessed to being ‘carried away by unutterable rapture at the divine spectacle of heavenly harmony’.”[20] In the biblical worldview, scientific investigation of nature became both a calling and an obligation.  As historian John Hedley Brooke explains, the early scientists “would often argue that God had revealed himself in two books—the book of His words (the Bible) and the book of His works (nature).  As one was under obligation to study the former, so too there was an obligation to study the latter.”[21] The rise of modern science cannot be explained apart from the Christian view of nature as good and worthy of study, which led the early scientists to regard their work as obedience to the cultural mandate to “till the garden”. . . .

Today the majority of historians of science agree with this positive assessment of the impact the Christian worldview had on the rise of science.  Yet even highly educated people remain ignorant of this fact.  Why is that? The answer is that history was founded as a modern discipline by Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hume who had a very specific agenda: They wanted to discredit Christianity while promoting rationalism.  And they did it by painting the middle ages as the “Dark Ages,” a time of ignorance and superstition.  They crafted a heroic saga in which modern science had to battle fierce opposition and oppression from Church authorities.  Among professional historians, these early accounts are no longer considered reliable sources.  Yet they set the tone for the way history books have been written ever since.  The history of science is often cast as a secular morality tale of enlightenment and progress against the dark forces of religion and superstition. Stark puts it in particularly strong terms: “The ‘Enlightenment’ [was] conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science.”[22] Stark’s comments express a tone of moral outrage that such bad history continues to be perpetuated, even in academic circles.  He himself published an early paper quoting the standards texts, depicting the relationship between Christianity and science as one of constant “warfare.”  He now seems chagrined to learn that, even back then, those stereotypes had already been discarded by professional historians.[23]

Today the warfare image has become a useful tool for politicians and media elites eager to press forward with a secularist agenda . . . [The whole article is well worth the read, here.]>>

Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, is editor at large of The Pearcey Report and the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at World Journalism Institute.  This article appears, with minor changes, in Areopagus Journal 5:1 (January-February 2005): pp. 4-9 (www.apologeticsresctr.org).  Copyright © Nancy Pearcey.>>

27 –> With those balancing remarks in hand, the crude, stereotypically dismissive nature of the objector’s talking point becomes quite glaring.


It is high time for a fresh, clean start in dealing fairly and responsibly with origins science and with science education on origins. END