In a recent post, Professor Moran issued me with a challenge:
Vincent, let’s test your honesty. Considering the two sides of this debate, do you honestly think that evolutionary biologists are more likely — or at least as likely — to be swayed by ideological bias and emotion as the creationists who argue against evolution?
In today’s post, I’d like to explain why I believe that evolutionary biologists who regard evolution as an unguided process are more ideologically biased than people who believe that God made us – whether through a process of (a) direct creation or (b) guided evolution. The distinction between the latter two positions is totally irrelevant, from Professor Moran’s perspective: he has written that he regards even biologist Ken Miller as “a creationist of the Theistic Evolution flavor,” adding that “If you are entirely convinced of the truth of evolution then you can’t be a creationist.” To be entirely convinced of evolution, according to Moran, means that you cannot believe that God guided the process, even in an way undetectable to science. As he puts it, in a recent post of his (Clergy discuss the relationship between science and religion, January 10, 2014):
One of the most important lessons of science is that life evolved from simple primitive organisms over a period of at least three billion years. The history of life can be fully explained by natural causes without any need for miracles or divine intervention. We have learned that the evolution of life on this insignificant planet, in an ordinary galaxy, in a vast universe, has no purpose or goal.
There aren’t many religions that can accommodate those facts.
Moran is declaring here that it’s a scientific fact that evolution has no purpose or goal – in other words, it is unguided.
1. Evolutionary biologists have an a priori commitment to materialism
There can be no reasonable doubt that evolutionary biologists have an a priori commitment to materialism, as is perfectly illustrated by the following quote from Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. 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 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, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”
The above quote was taken from Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s last book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (“Billions and Billions of Demons” in the New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997).
I would ask my readers: if this is not a clear-cut example of ideological bias, then what is?
2. Leading evolutionary biologists refuse to be swayed by any evidence for God
Skeptics are fond of mocking the Aristotelian philosophers of the 17th century who, according to popular legend, refused even to look through Galileo’s telescope, because they feared that it might falsify their theories. (By the way, that story is apocryphal – see here.)
More recently, creationist Ken Ham was widely ridiculed when he stated, in a recent debate with Bill Nye, that nothing would convince him that Christianity was false. “The answer to that question is, I’m a Christian,” said Ham. “And as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly through his word, and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bible is the word of God. I admit that that’s where I start from.” However, at least Ken Ham’s refusal to abandon Christianity was not based on any a priori considerations, but rather on what he regarded as overwhelming evidence for the truth of the Christian world-view, which not even the findings of science could possibly trump. Ham did not say whether this evidence was based on his subjective experience of God’s grace, or his experience of public events, such as miracles or prayers being answered. Personally, I suspect it was a mixture of both. In any case, the point I would like to make here is that Ken Ham does not reject atheism on a priori grounds, but on a posteriori grounds: he thinks the evidence points the other way, overall.
However in recent years, leading evolutionary biologists have declared on a priori grounds that nothing could possibly convince them of the existence of God. This is about as clear-cut an example of ideological bias as you could get.
One of these evolutionary biologists who maintains that there’s no possible evidence that would convince him of God’s existence is Professor PZ Myers. In a post over at Pharyngula, titled, It’s like he was reading my mind (October 9, 2010), he argued that there could be no possible evidence for the existence of God, since (a) the concept of God is so slippery that it cannot be falsified, so by the same token it can’t be verified; and (b) any evidence for God’s existence would have to be scientifically replicable and hence natural, which by definition, God is not:
Steve Zara has a nice article at RD.net that is actually saying the same thing I’ve been arguing at recent talks: There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god.
I propose a new strident atheism. No playing the games of theists. No concessions. No talk of evidence that can change minds, when their beliefs are deliberately placed beyond logic, beyond evidence. Let’s not get taken in by the fraud of religion. Let’s not play their shell-game.
The nature of this god is always vague and undefined and most annoyingly, plastic — suggest a test and it is always redefined safely away from the risk. Furthermore, any evidence of a deity will be natural, repeatable, measurable, and even observable… properties which god is exempted from by the believers’ own definitions, so there can be no evidence for it. And any being who did suddenly manifest in some way — a 900 foot tall Jesus, for instance — would not fit any existing theology, so such a creature would not fit the claims of any religion, but the existence of any phenomenon that science cannot explain would not discomfit science at all, since we know there is much we don’t understand already, and adding one more mystery to the multitude will not faze us in the slightest.
So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us.
Incidentally, I should point out that Professor Myers’ assertion that belief in God is unfalsifiable is factually incorrect. In my post, My faith is falsifiable, Professor Coyne. Is yours? (October 12, 2010), I listed no less than seven observations that I believe would falsify theism, as well as some observations that would falsify Intelligent Design. Additionally, Myers’ assertion that any good scientific evidence would have to be replicable begs the question. There is no reason in principle why a single observation could not establish the existence of a supernatural Agent, provided that it was sufficiently well-attested. (For instance, if a very large number of people observed and videotaped the resurrection of a corpse on just one occasion, that observation alone would warrant the conclusion that a supernatural Agent was responsible, since such an event would constitute a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is something that no natural agent could possibly bring about.) Finally, Myers’ argument that if an observation is scientifically replicable, it must be natural, merely establishes that a supernatural Being cannot be observed. What Myers fails to consider, however, is the possibility that a scientifically replicable measurement of some property of the cosmos as a whole (e.g. its fine-tuning, or its finite age) might lead us to infer that the cosmos itself was designed. Anything which designed the cosmos as a whole would of course be a supernatural Agent.
Professor PZ Myers is not alone in his conviction that nothing could possibly persuade him of the existence of God. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recently made the same frank admission – which is rather surprising, as he had previously described himself as 6.9 out of 7 on a seven-point scale of religious belief, ranging from strong theism (1) to strong atheism (7). But in a December 2013 interview with atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian, Professor Dawkins forthrightly declared that there was no conceivable evidence that would convince him of the existence of God. (The relevant portion of the interview starts at 12:30 and continues to 15:30.)
In the clip, Dawkins claimed to have been persuaded by Steve Zara (a regular contributor to his blog) that even if he were to witness what appeared to be a sign from God, either hallucination or trickery by technologically advanced aliens would be a more probable explanation for the phenomenon. When Boghossian pressed him, “What would persuade you?”, Dawkins replied (15:10), “Well, I’ve started to think nothing would, which in a way goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his (sic) mind when evidence is forthcoming. The trouble is, I can’t think what that evidence would look like.” As one reviewer summed it up (Dawkins Finally Admits He is Closed-Minded About the Existence of God, December 20, 2013):
This is a video clip that should be shown in churches everywhere. Dawkins, with agreement from Boghossian, has just admitted that if God Himself were to appear to Dawkins, complete with mind-boggling displays of miraculous power, all during the second coming of Christ, he would NOT consider that evidence for God’s existence. Well, if an empirical demonstration of God and miracles would not count as evidence for God’s existence, then nothing will. And that is essentially what he confesses at the end of the clip.
Two leading evolutionary biologists, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, have both publicly stated that no amount of evidence could persuade them of the existence of God. I ask: how much more ideologically biased could you get than that?
To be fair, I should point out that evolutionary biologist and Gnu Atheist Jerry Coyne has publicly stated that he could be convinced of the existence of God by sufficiently strong evidence, although he adds that in his opinion, no good evidence has been forthcoming. Coyne’s article is well worth reading: he has put some serious thought into the matter.
3. Professor Michael Behe explains why theists are less biased than scientific materialists
In an Apologetics 315 interview with Brian Auten on August 28, 2013, Intelligent Design advocate and biochemist Michael Behe made a highly persuasive case that theists are less biased than scientific materialists when examining the question of how life emerged on Earth, since theism does not rule out Darwinism, whereas materialism precludes the possibility of Intelligent Design at the very outset:
BA: Well, we mentioned there how hotly some of these issues are debated, and when I’m thinking about this I wonder, you know, why does this issue get so passionate? So, what do you think is at stake here? Are you just this foolish dissenter? Are you attacking the foundations of science? My question here is, why do you think the arguments against your view are so heated?
MB: I think the answer is pretty straightforward, and that is that the idea of intelligent design has implications for outside of science as well. But many scientific ideas have implications outside of science too. For example, one obvious one is the Big Bang theory. It used to be thought a hundred years ago that the universe was eternal, unchanging. Then the Big Bang theory was proposed, and a lot of scientists didn’t like it, it turns out, because it suggested some sort of creation event. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. So, that has some philosophical implications. But nonetheless, I think intelligent design has even more perhaps compelling implications, and some people just don’t want the world to be like that. Some people don’t want the world to have be designed. Many people, especially many prominent scientists, simply don’t want there to be a god. They want science to figure out how everything was put together, and if God had a large roll in the putting together of life, then science is kind of assigned to a secondary role. So, it’s kind of like that. Also, for political reasons to tell you the truth. Some people think that for some reason that the idea of intelligent design is a politically conservative idea, and is associated with conservative political elements, and they don’t like that. But, there’s no reason why one should think that that’s the case. Design is design, it could easily fit with any types of political philosophies, and as a matter of fact, the lawyer William Jennings Bryan, who was the defendant in the Scopes trial, or was the opponent of evolution, he was a political liberal. He didn’t like Darwinism because he thought it lead to war, and he thought it lead to a neglect of the poor and other kind of baleful social effects. So, it touches a lot of basic issues that people feel very strongly about, and people do get red in the face and hop up and down when you talk about it.
BA: Well, I can imagine a lot of people are going to claim your belief in God or your personal agenda is driving your argument here. Of course that cuts both ways and could be said of any view, but putting that motivation element aside, I want to focus in and ask what role do you think someone’s philosophical presuppositions play in their analysis of the data?
MB: Well, it depends. It depends on how tightly they will hold onto them. If you absolutely, positively refuse to believe that there’s anything beyond the universe, or any being intelligent and powerful enough to have made life, or directed the making of life, or directed the making of the universe, then no amount of evidence by definition will convince you otherwise. You could think that all the things we discovered in science are illusions, or that there’ll be some explanation coming down the pike in the future, and of course the future never comes so you’re pretty safe. So, philosophical presuppositions can short circuit a decent idea in science. In my mind at least, a Christian or theist, is in best position in discussions of evolution because, at least as far as I can see, God could have used Darwinian processes to make life if he wanted to. Who am I to say that he couldn’t? But he didn’t have to. I don’t know what he did, and so I go out and look, and a theist can go out and look, and kind of evaluate the evidence, whereas somebody who rules out God from the start is in a bind. Then they have to simply shoe horn all of the data into this worldview where the only thing around at the beginning was mindless energy and matter. So, I think theists have an edge in this discussion.
Some readers may object that some fundamentalist Christians are just as biased against evolution as Richard Dawkins is biased in favor of it. I’d like to make three points in reply.
First, the terms of Professor Moran’s challenge make no reference to fundamentalist Christians; they simply refer to “evolutionary biologists” versus “creationists who argue against evolution.” And as we’ve seen, Professor Moran interprets the term “creationist” very broadly, as including not only Intelligent Design theorists but also the biologist and Darwin-defender Ken Miller.
Second, fundamentalist Christians are open to a certain degree of persuasion: while they hold fast to the inerrancy of Scripture, they are willing to allow that their particular interpretation of Scripture may be mistaken.
Third, fundamentalist Christians do not claim that you can’t be a Christian unless believe in Young Earth (or Old Earth) creationism, whereas evolutionary biologists like Professor Moran are adamant that you can’t be an evolutionist unless you believe that the process of evolution was entirely unguided. It’s not hard to see who’s being more intolerant here.
4. Evolutionary biologists as thought police: further proof of ideological bias
Queen Elizabeth I is supposed to have once famously remarked, “I would not open windows into men’s souls.” But today’s evolutionary biologists apparently think otherwise. Some of them have gone on the record as saying that science students who hold personal beliefs (e.g. a belief in creationism) which are at variance with the currently accepted findings in their field of science, should not be allowed to graduate, no matter how well they understand the science in their field. That means that if you’re a biology student at university and you get 100% on all your examinations, and you also happen to be a creationist or an Intelligent Design theorist, then you shouldn’t be allowed to graduate.
Eugenie C. Scott, a former executive director of the National Center for Science Education, openly admitted as much in an interview with Cornelia Dean of the New York Times (Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules, February 12, 2007):
…Dr. Scott, a former professor of physical anthropology at the University of Colorado, said in an interview that graduate admissions committees were entitled to consider the difficulties that would arise from admitting a doctoral candidate with views “so at variance with what we consider standard science.” She said such students “would require so much remedial instruction it would not be worth my time.”
That is not religious discrimination, she added, it is discrimination “on the basis of science.”
Professor Moran shares the same bias. In a post dated December 29, 2007, he declared that he would flunk any student of his who admitted to being a creationist, even if that student was able to demonstrate his/her understanding of evolution:
As we’ve seen time and time again on the blogs (and elsewhere), the Christian fundamentalists have erected very strong barriers against learning. It really doesn’t matter how much they are exposed to rational thinking and basic scientific evidence. They still refuse to listen.
This is one of the reasons why I would flunk them if they took biology and still rejected the core scientific principles. It’s not good enough to just be able to mouth the “acceptable” version of the truth that the Professor wants. You actually have to open your mind to the possibility that science is correct and get an education. That’s what university is all about.
Of course, we all recognize the problem here. How do you distinguish between a good Christian who is lying for Jesus and one who has actually come to understand science? It seems really unfair to flunk the honest students who admit that they still reject science and pass the dishonest ones who hide their true beliefs.
And in a post titled, Flunk the IDiots (November 17, 2006), relating to students at the University of California, San Diego, who were forced to attend a lecture against Intelligent Design, even though 40% of the freshman class at UCSD reject Darwinism, you wrote:
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it’s hopeless to expect that a single lecture — even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock — will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
And as if that were not enough, Professor Moran spelt out his policy with crystal clarity in his post, Michael Ehnor gets it right (April 4, 2008):
Michael Egnor has posted a number of quotations from me about how I would deal with people who don’t understand the basic principles of science [Dr. Larry Moran and Censorship of Intelligent Design].
He get it mostly right. If they are undergraduates who don’t understand that evolution is a scientific fact, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, then they flunk the course. If they are graduate students in a science department, then they don’t get a Ph.D. If they are untenured faculty members in a science department, then they don’t get tenure.
Finally, Professor Moran defended the right of a Ph.D. committee to question a candidate regarding his “true opinions” – exactly the kind of inquisitorial process that Queen Elizabeth I rejected 400 years ago – in a 2007 post discussing the Ph.D. candidature of Kirk Durston:
The next hurdle will be the Ph.D. oral exam. Members of his committee know that he has been making very vocal claims about the significance of his Ph.D. research. They know that he has been making claims that the work refutes evolution even if that’s not what’s in the thesis. Should they question him about the difference between what he says in the thesis and what he says on the lecture circuit? Do they have a right to fail him if they think that what’s in his thesis does not reflect his true opinion about the science — and that his true opinion is scientifically invalid?
I think the committee has this right and I think that a Ph.D. candidate should be prepared to defend any “scientific” claims they make outside of the lab.
Professor Moran’s views are not at all uncommon among evolutionary biologists. Biology professor Michael Dini of Texas Tech University openly espouses the view that, in order to receive a letter of recommendation with his signature, a student should be required to “truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer” to the question: “How do you think the human species originated?” On his Website, he wrote: “If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.”
Writing in Evolution in the News (February 2003), reporter Do-While Jones made the following telling observation:
Dr. Dini believes that Christians cannot be good doctors. We find that ironic because the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital refers the most difficult cases to the (Seventh-day Adventist) Loma Linda University Medical Center. Isn’t it strange that Dr. Dini doesn’t believe that creationists can be good doctors when one of the finest medial institutions in the world is run by a Christian church that believes in a literal six-day recent creation?
Leading atheist spokesman Austin Cline apparently concurs with Dr. Dini’s views, writing that trainee doctors who don’t wish to learn about evolution “should be denied a medical license of any sort,” and adding: “If you can’t accept the reality of evolution, then you are so disconnected from reality that there’s no way you can be an effective physician and I don’t think that you’ll have anything to offer any other scientific field either.”
One wonders whether Dr. Dini or Austin Cline would have awarded a medical license to leading pediatric surgeon and Seventh Day Adventist Dr. Ben Carson.
5. Nobel Prize winning scientists betray their ideological bias, by publicly declaring that evolution has no purpose
In 2005, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity organized the Nobel Laureates Initiative, which consisted of a petition (available online here) that was sent by 38 Nobel Laureates (most of them scientists) to the Kansas Board of Education on September 9, 2005, asking the Board to vote against the inclusion of intelligent design in the academic curriculum. The petition contained the following statement:
Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modern biology, its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA. In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.
Note those words: “an unguided, unplanned process.” Do they not bias the whole discussion? It is one thing to say that belief in evolution is “logically derived from confirmable evidence.” It is quite another thing to assert that the belief that evolution is unplanned is logically derived from that same evidence – particularly when there are eminent scientists, such as Simon Conway Morris, who argue that the pattern of convergence in the paleontological record suggests that the evolution of intelligent beings, over the course of time, was inevitable, and that evolution has a built-in bias towards the production of intelligent life-forms. As a trained scientist, Morris categorically rejects the view that evolution is an unguided process.
To be sure, the Nobel Prize-winning authors go on to say in their 2005 letter to the Kansas Board of Education that “Science and faith are not mutually exclusive,” but I would respectfully submit that by excluding the possibility of God-guided evolution at the outset, the authors have effectively consigned God to irrelevance: He may exist, they say, but if He does, then He has nothing to do with us.
In short: it’s quite obvious that the letter to the Kansas Board of Education by Nobel Laureate scientists promoting the teaching of evolution betrays an ideological bias on the part of its authors.
The authors of the letter are also incorrect in their assertion that the concept of a supernatural agent as scientifically untestable. An argument demonstrating that even the multiverse must have been incredibly fine-tuned, in order to generate our universe, constitutes powerful evidence for a supernatural Designer of Nature. Dr. Robin Collins mounts such an argument, in his essay, The Teleological Argument. Dr. Collins goes even further in his new paper titled, The Fine-Tuning for Discoverability, which puts forward a new fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, to the effect that some of the laws, initial conditions, and the fundamental parameters of physics were deliberately set in order to make the existence of an Intelligent Designer of the cosmos more easily discoverable by the embodied conscious agents (such as human beings) living in the cosmos. If the universe is indeed fine-tuned for discoverability, than that’s a finding which points to the existence of a transcendent Author of Nature.
Finally, I should add for the record that Intelligent Design theory does not address the question of whether the Designer is supernatural; it merely stipulates that the Designer is intelligent. The Nobel Prize-winning authors misrepresented the character of Intelligent Design, in their letter.
Professor Moran’s claim that scientific observations point to evolution being unguided
Professor Moran evidently shares the views of the 38 Nobel Laureates who petitioned the Kansas Board of Education. In a post titled, Is “Unguided” Part of Modern Evolutionary Theory? (August 28, 2012), Professor Moran acknowledged that “it isn’t true that the history of life has to be devoid of purpose or guidance,” adding that “There could well be evidence that god intervened.” However, Moran reiterated his view that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the history of life on Earth was “guided in any particular direction or that there was any underlying purpose.” Hence the conclusion that the evolution of life on Earth was unguided was “a tentative conclusion based on fact and observation and not on ‘the theory of Darwinian evolution.'”
In his final paragraph, Moran wrote:
“The history of life looks exactly like it should if it were the result of accident, contingency, and evolution.”
I have to respectfully disagree with Professor Myers’ assessment of the evidence. To me, the history of life on Earth doesn’t look anything like the result of an accident. If the development of life on Earth were due to an accident, then I certainly wouldn’t expect to find a digital code in the DNA of living things. Nor would I expect to find genetic programs controlling the development of organisms. And I wouldn’t expect to find any sentient creatures at all, let alone self-aware beings like Homo sapiens.
Let me put the question differently, by posing a little thought experiment. Suppose you learned that scientists had finally discovered a planet outside our solar system with organic life on it, after a painstaking process of spectroscopic analysis identified a signal that pointed to the presence of organisms very similar to Earth bacteria on that planet. How confident would you be that the planet also had: (a) complex animals; (b) creatures that were conscious; and (c) creatures that were self-aware and capable of critical thinking? Not very confident, I would imagine.
It takes a deeply entrenched ideological bias to be able to look at the four-billion-year geological record of life on Earth and say: “The history of life looks exactly like it should if it were the result of accident, contingency, and evolution.”
6. The epistemological bias underlying biologists’ rejection of God
The real reason, I would suggest, for the hostility shown by evolutionary biologists towards the very concept of a Creator is the notion that religious belief is based on a flawed epistemology.
Professor Moran, who denies that there are “there are ways of knowing other than science (evidence + rationalism),” articulates his views on epistemology succinctly, in a post of his, dated February 4, 2010:
It’s much more probable that all theologies are wrong because they rely on faith and not evidence. Like it or not, faith is blind and irrational. And that makes it incompatible with science.
Moran elaborates on this point in a subsequent post, directed at fellow atheist John Wilkins, titled, Who’s the Grownup in the Science vs Religion Debate? (March 7, 2010):
I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence.…
I do assume that science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge but that’s a testable assumption—at least in theory. All one has to do to refute that argument is demonstrate the existence of valid forms of knowledge that cannot possibly be derived from the scientific approach AND ARE COMPATIBLE WITH SCIENCE AS A WAY OF KNOWING…
You don’t have to accept my assumption that science is a valid way of knowing. That’s not the point. I agree that that the assumption cannot be justified as “scientific” since that’s a circular argument much like the one you used to dismiss Popper. The point is that once you make that assumption and become a scientist, you can’t just arbitrarily pick and choose how you are going to apply that way of knowing… You can’t be consistent if you say that science helps you understand evolution but you need to shift to another way of knowing when trying to decide whether you have a soul that lives on after you die…
When it comes to the bigger picture, I’m participating in a debate about rationality and superstition. The evolution/creation debate is a subset of that much larger debate. My allies in that large debate are fellow atheists and skeptics and we are fighting against superstitious beliefs of all kinds. My allies are people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne (among others). Many of the superstitious beliefs are religious. My enemies in that debate are all those people who promote superstition and irrational (IMHO) worldviews. Those “enemies” include [theistic evolutionists] Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris as well as [Intelligent Design theorists] Michael Behe, Bill Demski (sic), and Paul Nelson.
In a similar vein, Professor Jerry Coyne also maintains that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, and in a recent post, endorses Alan Sokal’s view that the real conflict between science and religion is about what constitutes good evidence, and that only “publicly reproducible sense experience (that is, experiments and observations) combined with rational reflection on those empirical observations” should legitimately count as evidence- a claim which excludes at the outset not only the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge, but also knowledge of singular, irreproducible events.
As I pointed out in a recent post titled, Why science cannot be the only way of knowing: A reply to Jason Rosenhouse (March 22, 2014), “science cannot possibly be the only way of knowing, since the way in which we know the background assumptions upon which science rests is necessarily different from the way in which we know facts which we discover by applying the scientific method itself: the former mode of knowledge is better described as meta-scientific.” Meta-scientific knowledge, then, is one form of knowledge that cannot be derived from science, but is clearly compatible with science as a way of knowing.
For example, the scientific enterprise presupposes a meta-belief in the reality of the external world, in laws of Nature, and the existence of other individuals (e.g. scientists) who have minds. It also presupposes a meta-belief in the reliability of induction – a belief which can only be justified if we assume that there is a God, as I argued in a post titled, Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus (November 23, 2013), and elaborated on in a follow-up post titled, Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part One) (see here for Part Two, which discusses the fine-tuning argument, and here for Part Three, which discusses the problem of evil). Professor Moran reviewed my November 23 article in a post titled, You simply won’t believe what the IDiots are saying now! (November 24, 2013) and wrongly interpreted it as stating that “I have to become a believer in God in order to continue doing science,” but that wasn’t what I was saying at all. On the contrary, I believe atheists can do very good science. Rather, what I was arguing in my post was that only belief in God can justify the practice of relying on scientific induction. In my article, I also explained why attempted justifications such as the past success of science (“Science works!”), Noether’s First Theorem, and the philosophical arguments put forward by Donald Williams and D. C. Stove, all fail to provide a proper grounding for belief in the reliability of scientific induction.
Many philosophers also maintain that we are capable of something called synthetic a priori knowledge, of statements which, while not true by definition (as analytic truths like “All bachelors are unmarried” are), are nevertheless knowable by us independently of our experience. For instance, you surely do not need experience to tell you that causes cannot follow their effects, that space might (for all we know) have extra dimensions but cannot possibly have -17.3 or four-and-a-half dimensions, and that the same object cannot be red all over and green all over, at the same time.
I should add that Professor Moran misrepresents religious claims to knowledge when he says that they are based on faith or on private revelation (which he describes as “listening to imaginary voices in your head”). This is nonsense. Religious arguments for the truth of this or that religion are typically based on a very public revelation that is vouchsafed by large numbers of eyewitnesses who attest to having seen or heard it – for example, the Israelites who were supposed to have heard the voice of God when He spoke to Moses (see Exodus 20:22, Deuteronomy 4:33), or the 500 witnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15: 6). In that case, the credibility of the religious claim can be assessed by performing Bayesian logic on the testimony itself, as well as any supporting documents (manuscripts containing records of that testimony). In addition, a prior probability needs to be assigned for the supernatural claim in question e.g. a resurrection form the dead). I address the question of how prior probabilities for miracles should be assigned in my post, Why science cannot be the only way of knowing: A reply to Jason Rosenhouse (March 22, 2014), where I also argue that the prior probability of a miracle should not be set to zero, as this would violate Cromwell’s rule.
Professor Moran also maintains that belief in science precludes belief in miracles. For a refutation of this view, readers are invited to peruse my post, Whose side are you on, Professor Coyne? What Anatole France really said about miracles. Briefly: even if Professor Moran were right in saying that whatever happens, happens in accordance with some law of Nature, what he fails to realize is that this argument against supernaturalism only holds if scientific reductionism is true. In other words, Moran is assuming that there are no higher-level laws of Nature (perhaps known only to the Author of Nature) which govern rare and singular occurrences, and which cannot be derived from the lower-level laws which support the regular order of Nature. I ask: what is so absurd about the concept of a singular law, or more generally, a law which does not supervene upon lower-level laws? And how exactly should a miracle be defined? Should it be defined as the violation of the laws of Nature, or should it be simply be defined as an event at variance with lower-level laws, which support the regular order of things? Perhaps the latter definition would be more fruitful.
7. Venom as an indicator of bias among evolutionary biologists
Evolutionary biologists display a real venom towards prominent scientists who espouse Intelligent Design theory and/or creationism. If venom is any indicator of bias, then evolutionary biologists possess far more bias than their scientific opponents.
Jonathan McClatchie, in a post over at Evolution News and Views titled, Colliding With the Pharyngula: My Encounter With PZ Myers, reported on a talk given by Professor Myers to Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub, on 6 June 2011:
PZ Myers projected a slide displaying a portrait of Jonathan Wells, noting that “I have to single out this man, whom I consider the most contemptible, despicable, cruel, and vicious evil liar in the creationist movement today,” apparently spitting the words out one by one. He paused. And then, as if to emphasise the point, said, “Yes. He’s a nasty, nasty person.” This was met with rapturous applause.
Read those words again: “contemptible, despicable, cruel, and vicious evil liar.” When was the last time you read a leading spokesperson for the creationist or Intelligent Design movements say anything like that?
I put it to my readers that on any reasonable assessment of the evidence, evolutionary biologists who regard evolution as an unguided process are far more biased than the creationists and/or Intelligent Design theorists whose views they disparage.
49 Replies to “A question of bias”
Professor Moran is wrong when he states, “It’s much more probable that all theologies are wrong because they rely on faith and not evidence. Like it or not, faith is blind and irrational.”
No, professor. Like it or not, faith is not mere credulity. In fact, the Bible itself warns against believing every word someone tells you. Faith is not blind, and it certainly is not irrational. Now, I will grant that some religious beliefs do fly in the face of all reason. But, then again, many strongly held scientific beliefs have proved to be wrong (cold fusion, for example). Does that mean that all scientific beliefs are wrong or are not based on reason? Why view religious beliefs any differently?
The faith described in the Bible does not exist without knowledge but is, instead, solidly based on knowledge and sound reason. The Bible says, for example, that if your worship is to be “acceptable to God,” it must be “a sacred service with your power of reason.” In other words, you must worship God “in a way that is worthy of thinking beings.” (Romans 12:1; The Jerusalem Bible) So the faith described in the Bible is not something blind and irrational, or a leap of faith, as Professor Moran thinks. It is something you have thought through carefully. Of course, if you are to reason properly, you need accurate information.
The quality of one’s faith will depends greatly on what one hears or on how dependable the information is that you are putting into your head. Appropriately, the Bible says that “faith follows the thing heard.”—Romans 10:17.
A fundamental requirement for faith is “an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) Only “the truth,” says the Bible, “will set you free,” free from misleading beliefs, whether they are scientific or religious. (John 8:32) The Bible warns people not to put faith “in every word.” (Proverbs 14:15) Rather, it says that you should “make sure of all things”—or test out the things you hear before believing them. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Why should you do research and test out your beliefs? Because faith based on falsehood is only a delusion. Some noble-minded people from the ancient city of Beroea set a fine example in acquiring proper faith. Even though these individuals really wanted to believe what Christian missionaries taught them, they made a point of “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”—Acts 17:11.
The Bible describes true faith as “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Hebrews 11:1) Clearly, a person with real faith has based his beliefs on a careful scrutiny of all available data. Reasoning on such information produces the conviction that even things that cannot be seen with the literal eye are, nonetheless, realities.
[“Are Faith and Reason Incompatible?”, Awake!, January 2011]
Myers and his ilk have an unpleasant surprise coming.
Great observations and very convincing!
One way to detect bias in statements and papers is to reverse positions or switch names. For example
“Faith” is a $100 word that seems to have a kind of mystical connotation that involves an ability to hold your breath and believe really, really hard. Like wiggling your ears, faith is taken to be an ability that only some people have.
This is why I prefer to use the $5 word “trust” instead.
Do you trust the US mail? Do you trust your ability to drive safely? Do you trust that God loves you despite what you’re going through?
I have pondered over the subject multiple times, but I have to admit that I don’t understand fanatical commitment to atheism. If anyone can point me in the right direction I would be very grateful.
Faith and knowledge are a continuum, Barb, respectively, corresponding to time and space, and may be religious or secular. In the latter case, and in the simplest terms, my switching the light on using the switch by the door, is an act of faith, based on a very approximate, but more than adequate, statistical knowledge, within the context.
The Judaeo-Christian is able to avail himself of an interactive faith-knowledge continuum composed of both the sacred and the secular continua – which circumstance, no doubt, proved highly propitious for the divine inspiration of science’s greatest innovative thinkers.
The goal of the atheist is not to prove to himself or others that God does not exist. On the contrary. The goal of the atheist is deeply psychological in nature. It’s driven by resentment and hatred for either God or some religion. The goal of the atheist is to hurt God or the other guy’s religion by whatever means possible, including forceful indoctrination, brainwashing, defamation and blacklisting.
Atheists are not a very happy bunch. They remind me of the Taliban in a lot of ways.
My, what a specific, conclusive and pointed words from a man who believes that 1) science is the only way of knowing, and 2) that all of life is purposeless, meaningless and random!
Sorry, I meant my above post in reference to PZ Myers comments about Dr. Wells.
In any case, Christian faith is more a matter of commitment to charity, selfless love, over time. ‘As St James stated in his epistle: ‘The Devil believes and trembles.’
Credence plays a minor part, and that, buttressed by associated knowledge; credulity, no part at all, as you said.
It was sightly different in Christ’s day for his disciples, as they were required to commit to following a man who was a penniless, itinerant preacher, in very bad odour with the authorities.
Faith, however, seems to be part of another kind of continuum, composed of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
If, as seems very, very likely, science as a determined, pertinacious endeavour, initially solely took off in Europe, as a result of the underlying Christian belief that God created the world for man to study and understand with his reason, then that other great, primordial, theological virtue (together with Charity), Hope, would surely have fuelled the search for answers.
It seems unlikely one could possess such Hope without a somewhat commensurate degree of Faith, and vice versa. Charity is just the ‘be all and end all’! The ‘active ingredient’ in all the virtues, isn’t it?
I hear your point, but I’m wondering if it might be a little over-broad. Certainly there are many atheists who are militant and vocal and, in addition to their atheistic beliefs, actively fight against religion. Yet there are other atheists who are much more calm and collected and who don’t fit into the militantly anti-theistic crowd.
Probably still an over-simplification, but I like to distinguish between atheists and those I call “anti-theists.” Of course the latter (Dawkins, Myers, et al.) tend to be the most vocal and get noticed the most, so there is a natural tendency to think that all atheists are anti-theists. Many, unfortunately, are; but not all.
Appreciate this irony, it is semi-famously known that Joseph Stalin on his death bed, one of the greatest mass murderers in history, shook his fist at the God he did not believe in.
The following study was interesting:
I certainly don’t think I would get sweaty daring a pink unicorn 🙂 that study humorously reminds me of this verse:
Also of humorous note:
It really is amusing for Moran, who constantly berates anyone who believes in Design as an IDiot, to maintain that he is the one not being emotional in all this:
Barb, even though I am not a Jehovah’s Witness I applaud what you say in your comment. I also believe that faith without evidence is shallow and groundless.
What I can’t understand is why materialists can believe in a multi-universe which they cannot see nor have any real evidence for and yet condemn belief in God on the grounds that He can’t be seen. Can anyone see wind? We can certainly measure its effect, when I see refuse flying past me and see that the trees are swaying I intuitively know that there is wind even though I can’t measure it precisely. Oh, yes I can measure its velocity but try to define its volume.
From what I can see many materialist scientists have a double standard and tend to live in hypocrisy.
I posted one example here. I have another forth coming and I’ll link to it when it is up.
1,177 human orphan genes removed by evolutionists from databases
I have to agree with vjtorley, it takes a lot more faith and fundamentalism to not believe in a Creator than to believe there is one.
Also agree very much with Mapou in that atheism is a disorder, a condition that requires therapy. It is not rational, it is not logical and history serves to remind us just how dangerous their nihilistic attitude can be.
Here is another:
Making up missing links with plaster and body parts from other creatures
HT JoeCoder x10
What a loaded question.
How does one “argue against” evolution? What does that even mean?
VJT, do you “argue against” evolution?
Is someone who “argues against” evolution by definition a creationist?
Is it only creationists who “argue against” evolution?
Moran is a chest thumping ape. Let him thump.
1. More religious people have accepted evolution as a possibility than the other way around.
2. Ask Antony Flew.
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A story I heard personally from Malcolm Muggeridge (that stirred me then and still does even yet) was his account of a conversation he had with Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin. She spent some time with Muggeridge in his home in England while they were working together on their BBC production on the life of her father. According to Svetlana, as Stalin lay dying, plagued with terrifying hallucinations, he suddenly sat halfway up in bed, clenched his fist toward the heavens once more, fell back upon his pillow, and was dead.
Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), p. 26.
Biased? If you are willing to ruin the careers of students and teachers because they do not believe as you do, I suggest you are now so biased that it has become a case of intellectual fascism. No science is so settled that it is beyond doubt, challenge or disbelief.
Moran and his ilk are conducting the atheist version of the inquisition.
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UD will not tolerate scordova and Mung hijacking threads to spew venom at each other. All such post of which we become aware will be deleted, and if they continue posting privileges will be deleted.
DELETED. See note at 22
Let’s test Prof. Moran’s honesty now and see if he concedes
the point in light of the excellent argument and evidence put forth by vjtorley.
DELETED. See note at 22.
Oldarmy94 pz Meyers is a joke of a scientists . If you ever wanna see an atheist abandon his supposed love of science , reason and logic and see him exposed for the dogmatic cultist he is really is just bring him just a little evidence that makes him very uncomfortable about his worldview .
Listen to this post by pz Meyers on the shroud of turin from 2009. He still cling to the invalidated 1988 c14 tests and conveniently ignores the peer reviewed work of agnostic chemist ray Rogers which blows the 88c14 dates out of the water.
Pz Meyers is nothing but an extreme atheistic religious cultist . The hari Krishnas would be proud of how he brainwashes himself against the shroud here.
“”I get thrown the miracle of the shroud of Turin on a regular basis — just last week someone confronted me with it, basically saying “A-ha! Jesus existed because there’s an old scrap of cloth with a face on it!” It doesn’t matter that I point out that it’s been dated to the 13th century, and was nothing more than a profit-making ‘relic’ for churches that would also hawk Jesus’s foreskin and John the Baptist’s pinky bone. They’d usually retort that it was not humanly possible to make the shroud, so it had to be a religious miracle.
Now I’ve got more ammo. The Shroud of Turin has been recreated, using simple medieval technologies. No magic, just acidic pigments.
I know, it won’t stop the kooks, but it’s still useful to know. Next up, we need more evidence against the patently goofy Miracle of Luciano, which is the other ‘proof’ of god that gets flung around a lot.”””
Never mind that he was proven wrong by an agnostic who is one of the country’s to chemist from his peer reviewed chemical research .
And Meyers before actually studying the now failed replica of the shroud had this to say .
“”Now I’ve got more ammo. The Shroud of Turin has been recreated, using simple medieval technologies. No magic, just acidic pigments.
I know, it won’t stop the kooks, but it’s still useful to know. Next up, we need more evidence against the patently goofy Miracle of Luciano, which is the other ‘proof’ of god that gets flung around a lot.”””””
Pz Meyers was proven wrong on both accounts ,but does he do the very thing he claims that scientists are supposed to do when they are proven wrong?
He doesn’t at all and keeps ranting and raving against the shroud as being a fake even though he’s been made to look like a fool on it many times .
Is this the vaunted love of science and reason that atheists profess to have ?
It’s no wonder everytime I see any of pz Meyers posts I have to chuckle.
I love the fact that he’s dumbing down his atheist sheeple more every day
“”1. More religious people have accepted evolution as a possibility than the other way around.
2. Ask Antony Flew.””
Correct , flew was an advocate for evolution for a long time, but changes his mind towards the end of his career didn’t he 🙂
And he didn’t say that God changed his mind , but he changed his mind because he found the case compelling for an intelligent designer of some sorts.
I must ask you to refrain from criticizing Sal on my threads, from now on. Regardless of whether your complaints against him have any basis or not, harassment is unacceptable behavior. Nobody deserves to be subjected to that.
You are welcome to talk about any other topic, apart from Sal.
Dr. Torley, great post. Thank you for the obvious hard work and thought you invested in this project.
Thank you, Barry. I appreciate your kind remarks.
Querius @ 4:
They are synonymous. The definition of faith at Hebrews 11:1 proves my point. In Greek, the terminology used to define faith (some translations use “assured expectation”, “Assurance of things hoped for”) can be translated as “title deed”. When you own a house, car, or boat outright, you are given a title to it signifying ownership.
Box @ 5:
I found an interesting post regarding atheists, which posits that absentee fathers might contribute to this line of thought: http://www.religionnews.com/20.....e-atheist/
Fossil @ 13: I don’t pretend to understand their thought processes. If science is defined as whatever can be proved experimentally, then where does that leave cosmologists and astrophysicists (and biologists, for that matter)?
Going back to the OP, Professor Moran asks:
“Let’s test your honesty.” Implying that VJTorley is or has been dishonest?
And two sides? Evolution and creationism? Not everyone who believes in a creator/designer believes in a literal 6-day creative period. There are, then three sides: evolution (blind and unguided by a designer/creator), creationism (posited by a literal reading of Genesis), and creation (posited by religious people who do not read Genesis literally).
Yes, see Richard Lewontin’s quote above. He basically admitted this to be the case!
I would state that it’s possible for anyone to be blinded by ideological bias. But unlike the proud and often arrogant scientists, I have found that creationists are more likely to follow the advice of Charles Darwin and openly examine each side as presented to them. Odd that scientists who celebrate Darwin’s birthday and proclaim him the greatest scientist ever refuse to do what he himself suggested that all scientists should do.
Professor Moran has kindly replied to my post, A question of bias, in a new post over at Sandwalk.
It seems that he is considerably more open-minded than PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and Richard Lewontin: he thinks science should have no a priori commitment to materialism or to atheism, and that there could (in principle) be evidence for God’s existence. Good for him.
However, with regard to academic discrimination against students who get 100% on their biology exams and are then denied the chance to graduate because of their creationist and/or pro-ID views, Moran answers that only lying creationists and ID supporters would get 100% on his exams: “if you got 100% on all the exams then it should mean that you lied about what you understand and accept.” But my point was that an examiner should never ask an examinee what he/she personally accepts. It’s one thing to ask a question like:
“How would an evolutionary biologist answer the objection that the Cambrian explosion could not have happened within the relatively short space of 20 million years?”
It’s quite another thing to ask a question like:
“How would you answer the objection that the Cambrian explosion could not have happened within the relatively short space of 20 million years?”
No-one should be forced to answer questions like that, which implicitly ask you about your personal beliefs.
In my conclusion I stated that “evolutionary biologists who regard evolution as an unguided process are far more biased than the creationists and/or Intelligent Design theorists whose views they disparage.” Professor Moran thinks this is refuted by something which I myself acknowledge: “strong evidence for an unguided process—fixation of neutral alleles by random genetic drift— leading to the vast majority of differences between modern humans and their common ancestor with chimpanzees” (emphasis mine).
I’d like to make two points here.
First, Regarding the neutral changes in our genome, I would agree that the neutral theory accounts for the amount of change that has taken place. Whether it can account for the pattern of change in our genome is another question entirely, as I have noted previously.
Second, there is a world of difference between “the vast majority” and “all,” and I note that Professor Moran himself rejects the view that the neutral mutation theory can account for all of the differences between us and chimpanzees. Consequently the critical question here relates to whether those mutations distinguishing humans from chimpanzees which are not the result of neutral mutations were intelligently guided or not. And that’s a question that science has not yet answered in the negative.
As I have argued in a previous post, the human brain has undergone not only rapid growth in size (which natural selection might account for), but also several qualitative changes, over the past few million years. Until it can be shown that the occurrence of these changes over the past few million years within the human population would not be an unlikely event, the scientific question of whether our evolution was guided or not must remain open.
Human beings are very peculiar animals. A scientist investigating the question of what makes us special should avoid making default assumptions at the outset, and be open to as many hypotheses as possible. Hence the importance of maintaining an open mind.
Greetings, VJ et al:
A few observations:
It is clearly not the case that evolutionary biologists must necessarily be atheists. Of the five most widely recognized founders of the “modern evolutionary synthesis,” R. A. Fisher, J.B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and Ernst Mayr, three – Fisher, Wright, and Dobzhansky – were by their own attribution not atheists. For that matter, neither was Darwin, who described himself using the term “agnostic” coined by his friend and defender, Thomas Henry Huxley. (BTW, neither am I. See: http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html) And as I expect that some readers of this comment will attempt to show that none of these non-atheists were “really” non-atheists, to me that seems to “open Elizabeth’s window” in the same manner to which Dr. Torley (and I) would object.
It is also clearly not the case that evolutionary biologists necessarily begin with a metaphysical commitment to materialism and then twist their interpretations of their science to conform with it. That was certainly not the case for me: I have only very recently (i.e. less than a year ago) and very grudgingly come to provisionally accept that a metaphysical assumption of materialism is a more parsimonious way to explain the data of the natural sciences than non-materialism. However, this does not in any way mean that I have become an ontological materialist, only that I have come to provisionally accept that materialist explanations of natural phenomena are more parsimonious. This is, of course, an appeal to metaphysical standards of validity, not empirical verification by means.
It is also not necessarily the case that a student who does not “accept” the theory of evolution cannot pass (or even more so, excel) in a course of study in evolutionary biology. Once again, if a person can provide acceptable answers to questions about evolutionary biology (by “acceptable” I mean “in conformity with the generally accepted standards of the discipline”), then they should be considered to have earned a passing grade. Indeed, if their answers show greater than average marshaling of evidence and logical argument, then they deserve a better-than-average grade. One of the only grades of A+ that I have ever awarded for my evolutionary biology course at Cornell was fully earned by a young Earth creationist who demonstrated on three comprehensive essays that she fully understood both the theory of evolution and its implications. She did not, however, accept the underlying metaphysical assumptions upon which it was based. Again, the difference between “demonstrating competency” and “affirming acceptance” are two distinct and metaphysically separate mental actions. “Acceptance” once again is “opening Elizabeth’s window” and who am I (or anyone else) to say what is the case about the innermost contents of someone else’s mind?
Aso, I do not think that demonstrating that evolution is an unguided/non-purposeful process is something that can be done easily or empirically. In my evolutionary biology course I ask my students to present convincing evidence that some observable phenomenon is the result of “purpose.” For example, one observes a rock roll down a hill and stop moving at the bottom. Does the rock roll down the hill “in order to” reach the bottom? To say so strikes many of us as non-sensical, but that’s because we now think in a way that has been conditioned by four hundred years of Newtonian scientific metaphysical assumptions. Does a “sidewinder” air-to-air antiaircraft missile change its flight path “in order to” fly up the hot exhaust of a jet aircraft? Do birds have wings “in order to” fly? We use phrases like these all the time, yet when pressed to explain exactly what we mean by them, most people can’t articulate why they sound valid or invalid. Like supreme court justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, “I know it when I see it,” we all know what purpose is when we see it, but knowing exactly what it is we mean by “purpose” is difficult to articulate, much less convincingly demonstrate.
In studying the history of Darwin’s formulation of the theory of evolution and its acceptance by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community,it has become clear to me that Darwin formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection in the way that he did because it was compatible with the generally prevailing metaphysical framework for the other natural sciences (i.e. physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.), none of which require purposes as causes for observable events. In other words, the theory of natural selection is accepted by most scientists because it is compatible with the metaphysical assumptions upon which the natural sciences are based, not because anyone has demonstrated that purpose does not exist. Evolutionary theory since Darwin does not require (nor does it refute the existence of) purpose for the “guidance” of “descent with modification.” Purpose is not necessary according to the theory of evolution, and so the overwhelming majority of evolutionary biologists don’t include it in our explanations.
This, of course, leads some evolutionary biologists to assert that, since purpose isn’t necessary for evolution, then it does not exist. This is not a conclusion based on evidence, but is rather a non-empirical (and unnecessary) metaphysical inference, made by scientists with little or no understanding of the basic principles of logic or ontological philosophy.
Finally, I do not think that ad hominem arguments do anything except undermine the credibility of anyone making such arguments. Either one’s assertions can be supported by evidence and logic or they can’t. Attacking the character, commitment, honesty, or intelligence of one’s intellectual opponents demonstrates conclusively that one entirely lacks character, commitment, honesty, and intelligence.
Just how is inumerable improbable coincindences more parsimonious than one well coordinated design? And seeing that there isn’t any evidence for natural selection actually doing something, what do they accept it for? Yes it exists but it hasn’t exactly been demonstrated to be a designer mimic.
While I can agree with you on many of the points you made, I don’t believe that evolutionary extrapolations created from cherry-picked data are scientifically credible. Specifically, the incremental development of the incredibly complex structure and operation of DNA (and RNA) are wildly unlikely as are the incredibly complex and numerous internal chemical cycles and processes of a cell (and cell wall), which can be compared to a large modern city. There might be a naturalistic explanation for them, but Darwinism and its modern variations is a highly unlikely mechanism.
With the current data, a far more reasonable scientific view is that there was some type of external intervention, alien or deity.
Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution, explores what evolution can and cannot do *based on actual case studies* involving malaria research. You might want to read it. I think you’ll be surprised.
I don’t have any problem with researching and teaching about the various theories of evolution along with their implicit limits. Recent genome research seems to be having a profound effect on our conceptions, and offers an exciting new landscape with more unanswered questions and fewer 19th-century speculations.
Faith without evidence is shallow and groundless. I would say it is dangerous, but there are times when we need to believe even without evidence.
For instance, we have no evidence that Jesus will return, yet we need to simply believe this.
We have no evidence of what heaven will be like outside of what is written in the Bible – and actually that does count as evidence – but we still need to believe it.
Why? Because we do have good evidence to trust the Bible. Since we have found other things in the Bible reliable, we can step out on a limb and believe in heaven, spiritual truths about God, etc. with “no evidence”.
And so, for instance, I believe that even if we cannot prove the universe is young, or even if we can’t solve all the problems of a young universe, just like we accept the teaching of the Bible about heaven as true, we accept the teaching of Genesis as true as well. Besides, there is some evidence that does support a young earth as well so it is not totally blind faith.
Moses had no evidence that a flood would take place, but he believed and obeyed. We too need to believe and obey in faith, even though we cannot show direct evidence for heaven or other truths of the Bible.
We believe it because we believe it is God’s Word.
The problem for Moran is that unguided evolution doesn’t have a process capable of producing what we see. It doesn’t have a testable model. It doesn’t have any supporting math. It doesn’t make any predictions and it is useless as a research heuristic.
If any evolutionist disagrees then I am more than willing to read what they have to say- ie produce that testable model for unguided evolution. Produce those predictions borne from unguided processes.
My bet is Larry Moran won’t do any of that.
Hi Allen MacNeill,
Thank you for your post. There are some evolutionary biologists who (like yourself) are remarkably fair-minded people. I was very gratified to read that you had awarded an A+ to a young-earth creationist who demonstrated her understanding of evolution in three essays that she wrote.
I agree with you when you state that do not think that demonstrating that evolution is an unguided/non-purposeful process is something that can be done easily or empirically. Likewise, demonstrating that it’s a guided process is also difficult. Recently I’ve been thinking about this in connection with the human genome and how it compares with that of the chimpanzee. It seems that the vast majority of the mutations separating humans from chimps are neutral or near-neutral. Suppose, however, that their distribution in the human genome were shown to be highly clustered, rather than uniformly distributed. Would that not suggest design?
Finally, I think the following passage in your post really hits the nail on the head:
As an account of how Darwinism came to be accepted, I’d say that’s spot-on.
I apologize for my behaviour re: Salvador. I will strive mightily to not let it happen again.
I apologize to Salvador for the venom in my posts. I will try to remember that Salvador is a brother in Christ and conduct myself accordingly.
A friend called me onto the carpet in an email and you all have done likewise and I accept the correction.
Stephen Webb relates the extremely Unfair Bias he received from Darwinists at the college he taught at:
podcast – Dr. Stephen Webb interviewed by Casey Luskin
Mung, just in case no one else acknowledges your apology – well done.
Allen_MacNeill @ 33:
I want to note here that you begin discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution, i.e. his explanation for the origin of species (and, by extension, of life itself). That theory can be briefly summarised as the combination of mutation (to provide beneficial variations) and natural selection (to preserve beneficial variations).
Now you are switching between half the theory and the theory itself.
Parenthetically, it is this kind of linguistic legerdemain that causes the uncharitable to accuse some people of deliberate dishonesty.
I’m not doing that. I dont believe you intended any such thing.
But natural selection is not something that anyone really argues about, except to note that Darwin’s innovation was to turn it upside down and posit it as the mechanism of retaining variations whereas it had previously been seen as the mechanism of eliminating variations. As has been noted elsewhere, natural selection kills off the weak, the sick, the old, and the mutant. (Mutants are overwhelmingly less likely to be “fit”.)
Indeed, the incredible (from an evolutionary standpoint) stasis seen in species on this planet is wholly unremarkable to someone who understands that this is the actual effect of natural selection; to eliminate deleterious variations and preserve the (genetic) status quo.
This strongly suggests that the information, inherent in a particular species, is unlikely to have been produced by a mechanism that acts to eliminate variations.
Why does this matter?
Because in spite of the above, nobody is arguing about natural selection. If natural selection eliminates the unfit, then anyone may acknowledge that, if mutation can produce a more fit variation, then natural selection may eliminate the parent stock which was previously the most fit but now is not.
The argument is, though, does mutation produce fitter variations than the parent stock?
What the experiments with bacterial resistance and experience with (e.g.) sickle-cell anaemia illustrate, is that mutations may have some beneficial aspects but overall they represent a loss of information and therefore (and I would argue, necessarily) a loss of function. In sum, a loss of fitness.
In other words, even those very few mutations that convey any benefit at all, do not do so without an associated disadvantage which tends to become overwhelming outside of the narrow circumstance which favoured that mutation. In terms of “fitness”, mutation is far from demonstrated as a productive mechanism. The bulk of evidence points strongly in the other direction.
So, both halves of Darwin’s theory are problematic, the combination being rendered less convincing thereby, not more.
And thus, the reason for the strident, crusading (and in some cases, persecuting) metaphysical position of the materialists is not quite so ‘understandable’ as your comment suggests.
And even if it were the case that discoveries since Darwin have buttressed his theory (they have not; they’ve made it even less credible), that provides no justification for why anyone believed it 200 years ago, nor proclaimed it the apotheosis of reason and on that basis have derided dissenters ever since.
Except the a priori metaphysical commitment you just disavowed, which as an historical matter is strikingly apparent in the autobiographical writings of many of those who took up the theory with such enthusiasm at a time when its originator admitted that the evidence did not support it. Darwin’s argument about the future prospect of finding finely graduated fossil remnants of his tree of life was an assault on the evidence, an open admission that he could not justify his theory from the evidence. The “imperfection of the evidence” cannot be any sound basis for a scientific theory, and you would not accept such an argument from a creationist student, for example.
Nor should you, and nor should we.
Very nice comment.
Your name has been taken in vain.
You may want to respond. I have quoted you from the past and you have been challenged. It will be an interesting conversation and should be very polite. But maybe there is a teaching moment for the professor. I once taught in college so know the thrill of the debate.
Can you elaborate on the sentence you wrote please? I’ve though creationism and creation meant the same thing? How can literal and nonliteral interpretation of the Bible make the difference in believing in creation itself?
But I still have a beef with the “UD Editors,” lol! I appealed to them long ago to deal with this situation and they didn’t, so I just took a leave of absence from UD.
So I will just once again bite the bullet. But this time perhaps I can do so without absenting myself. It will certainly be a greater challenge! 🙂
My primary concern is to not damage UD by my behaviour. The community is larger than myself or Sal. And I once again think I failed in that concern, and once again will strive to better myself.
Your posts are greatly appreciated. If there is any way I can contribute to your efforts please do say. I have a library that is far greater than I can hope to consume, lol!
RE VJ Torley @ #38:
The same could be said about most diverging phylogenetic lines. It has become increasingly clear in the past few decades that most of the genetic differences between diverging lines are either neutral or nearly neutral. This was predicted by Kimura and Ohta’s theories almost 50 years ago, but only confirmed with the advent of large-scale genomic sequencing in the past decade or so.
However, this isn’t really news. Darwin himself noted in the Origin that the best characters to use for classification were those not subject to selection, as those would be least likely to appear similar as the result of convergence. The same is essentially the case for homologous sequences in the genome. Phylogeneticists now almost universally use non-conserved sequences to analyze divergence patterns and rates, as these show the clearest pattern of shared derived characters a la cladistic analysis.
As to whether clustering of neutral or near-neutral sequences would qualify as evidence for design, that might be problematic. We don’t really know why changes in sequence happen. We understand a little bit about how they happen: retrotranspositions, transposon insertions, random base substitutions/insertions/deletions/inversions, etc. most of which have no detectible effect on phenotypes/adaptive functions. However, we don’t yet know if there are particularly “hot” parts of the genome in which such changes occur (or other “cold” parts in which they don’t). To determine if these might be the case will require much more comparative sequences analysis, so that “hot” and “cold” spots can be statistically identified and analyzed.
That said, your suggestion in an earlier thread that “orphan” sequences (especially adaptive ones) might show patterns that deviated significantly from random appearance would seem to me to be a more interesting test of a design hypothesis. For example, if a series of orphan sequences were found to produce reinforcing adaptive changes in the phenotypes of non-homologous phylogenetic lines, that would imply that there was some “reason” for their insertion into the unrelated genomes. Mainstream evolutionary theory would tend to predict that such functional orphans would be randomly distributed, both in location in the genome and in time of appearance. If a set of several orphans, all affected the same components of the phenotype, but appearing separately in non-homologous lines were shown to exist, this would be strong evidence for some kind of “deliberate” (i.e. non-accidental insertion of such sequences. I don’t know of any like this, but we still know so little about the fine structure of genomes that making definitive statements one way or the other would seem to me to be premature.
I’d like to make another point related to the OP. Remember when Bill Nye was bemoaning the “fact” that if we didn’t all accept evolution we would fall behind in the technological race? The idea was that we would be trying to innovate but the unbelievers couldn’t help us. Given that roughly half the population is unbelievers, it would be comparable to having all women leave the workplace. Apparently the US keeping up with the rest of the world was very important to Nye.
It certainly can be debated whether unbelievers in unguided evolution would really be totally inept at innovation. But some of these people want to exclude unbelievers not only from science, but from such professions as medicine. That is roughly the same as saying that no women can work. Is intellectual purity of such importance to these people that they are willing to handicap our nation just so nobody can work in a science-related field unless he/she is orthodox in his/her belief in evolution? Shades of “no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark …”
Can’t we just invoke “chance”? Or is chance not really an explanation?
Why? What is the basis for that prediction?
Allen MacNeill, true to form, absconds from taking responsibility for his comments at UD.