Dr. Moran has asked me to respond to some technical questions over at Sandwalk. When I started writing this response I intended to put it in his combox. Then I realized there is a lot in it that is relevant to our work at UD. So I will put it here and link to it there.
Dr. Moran, before I answer your technical questions, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not a scientist, much less a biologist. I am an attorney, and being an attorney has some pluses and some minuses insofar as participating in the evolution debate goes. Like many people in the last 25 years, I was inspired to become involved in this debate by Phillip E. Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial.” Johnson is also an attorney, and he said this about what an attorney can bring to bear:
I approach the creation-evolution dispute not as a scientist but as a professor of law, which means among other things that I know something about the ways that words are used in arguments. . . . I am not a scientist but an academic lawyer by profession, with a specialty in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind those arguments. This background is more appropriate than one might think, because what people believe about evolution and Darwinism depends very heavily on the kind of logic they employ and the kind of assumptions they make.
Johnson is saying that attorneys are trained to detect baloney. And that training is very helpful in the evolution debate, because that debate is chock-full of faulty logic (especially circular reasoning), abuse of language (especially equivocations), assumptions masquerading as facts, unexamined premises, etc. etc.
Consider, to take one example of many, cladistics. It does not take a genius to know that cladistic techniques do not establish common descent; rather they assume it. But I bet if one asked, 9 out of 10 materialist evolutionists, even the trained scientists among them, would tell you that cladistics is powerful evidence for common descent. As Johnson argues, a lawyer’s training may help him understand when faulty arguments are being made, sometimes even better than those with a far superior grasp of the technical aspects of the field. This is not to say that common descent is necessarily false; only cladistics does not establish the matter one way or the other.
In summary, I am trained to evaluate arguments by stripping them down to examine the meaning of the terms used, exposing the underlying assumptions, and following the logic (or, as is often the case, exposing the lack of logic). And I think I do a pretty fair job of that, both in my legal practice and here at UD.
Now to the minuses. I do not claim personally to be able to evaluate technical scientific questions. Like the vast majority of people, I rely on the secondary literature, which, by and large, is accessible to a layman such as myself. When it comes to independent analysis of technical scientific questions, I have nothing useful to say.
Back to our cladistics example. I have a very general understanding of how clads are made and what they mean. But I do not claim to be an expert in the technical issues that arise in the field. Of course, that is not an obstacle to spotting a faulty argument about cladistics, as I explained above.
Digging deeper – to the fundamental core of the matter – my baloney detector allows me to spot metaphysical assumptions masquerading as scientific “facts.” This is especially useful in the evolution debate, because – to use KF’s winsome turn of phrase – evolutionists love to cloak their metaphysical commitments in the holy lab coat.
Consider the following claim: Evolution is a fact.
Yes it is, and it most certainly is not, depending on what one means by the word “evolution.” If all you mean is that living things were different in the past than they are now, then sure. Even YEC’s believe that. But if you mean that modern materialist evolutionary theory has been proven to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold consent, then the statement is absolutely not a fact. Even materialist evolutionists dispute such vital issues as the relative importance of natural selection. This is quite aside from the fact that many people (especially ID proponents) do not believe the theory is even plausible, far less unassailable.
Yet I can’t tell you how many times I have caught materialists in this very equivocation. I do not believe that materialists are always being intentionally misleading when they say this. Some are but not all. Those in the latter group have a commitment to materialist metaphysics that is so strong that they often cannot tell where their metaphysics ends and their empirical observations begin. A person who allows his materialist metaphysical commitments to blind him, may truly believe that the mere fact that living things are different now than they were in the past is, on its face, evidence for materialist evolutionary theory. Why? Because if materialism is true, then materialist evolutionary theory must also be true as a matter of simple logic even before we get to the evidence.
And as a matter of strict logic, they are correct. The conclusion follows from the premises. The argument is valid. But what materialist fundamentalists never stop to ask is whether the argument is also sound. Is that crucial premise “metaphysical materialism is true” a false statement? There are good reasons to believe that it is, and sometimes it takes someone with a good baloney detector – someone like a lawyer – to clue them in on this. As astounding as it seems, it is very often the case that materialist evolutionists not only fail to acknowledge an unstated assumption that is absolutely critical to their argument; but also they fail to even know that they’ve made that assumption in the first place and that that assumption might possibly be false. I can help them understand those things.