Intelligent Design

Darwinism as Motte-and-Bailey Fallacy

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From Wikipedia:  “The motte-and-bailey fallacy** (named after the motte-and-bailey castle) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy where an arguer conflates two positions with similar properties, one modest and easy to defend (the “motte”) and one much more controversial (the “bailey”).”

It occurs to me that the entire Darwinian project is often portrayed in terms of a motte-and-bailey fallacy.  How many times have you heard the statement “evolution is as certain as gravity”?  Well, given a certain sense of the word “evolution,” the statement is true or nearly so. 

Consider the following proposition:  Evolution means “change in the biosphere over time.”  No one – from the most ardent materialist atheist to the most fervid young earth creationist – disagrees with that statement.  It is entirely uncontroversial and supported by overwhelming evidence.

Now consider this proposition:   The mechanism of evolutionary change is completely explained by gradualism as proposed in the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis.  That statement is controversial even among mainstream materialist evolutionary biologists. 

Not only is the second proposition controversial, but also every biologist who knows the first thing about his field knows that to the case.  Therefore, when a biologist makes the “well established as gravity” statement in support of Darwinism, we can know with near absolute certainty that he is employing the motte-and-bailey fallacy.  The “bailey” is the highly controversial position that the Neo-Darwinian mechanism is sufficient to explain the history of evolution.  When called on it, the proponent can retreat to the “motte,” which is the universally agreed proposition that the biosphere is different now than it was in the past.

We need to do a better job of calling out the motte-and-bailey tactic when we see it employed.


**Philosopher Nicholas Shackel coined the term in this paper.  Excerpt: 

A Motte and Bailey castle is a medieval system of defence in which a stone tower on a mound (the Motte) is surrounded by an area of land (the Bailey) which in turn is encompassed by some sort of a barrier such as a ditch. Being dark and dank, the Motte is not a habitation of choice. The only reason for its existence is the desirability of the Bailey, which the combination of the Motte and ditch makes relatively easy to retain despite attack by marauders. When only lightly pressed, the ditch makes small numbers of attackers easy to defeat as they struggle across it: when heavily pressed the ditch is not defensible and so neither is the Bailey. Rather one retreats to the insalubrious but defensible, perhaps impregnable, Motte. Eventually the marauders give up, when one is well placed to reoccupy desirable land. For my purposes the desirable but only lightly defensible territory of the Motte and Bailey castle, that is to say, the Bailey, represents a philosophical doctrine or position with similar properties: desirable to its proponent but only lightly defensible. The Motte is the defensible but undesired position to which one retreats when hard pressed. I think it is evident that Troll’s Truisms have the Motte and Bailey property, since the exciting falsehoods constitute the desired but indefensible region within the ditch whilst the trivial truth constitutes the defensible but dank Motte to which one may retreat when pressed.

7 Replies to “Darwinism as Motte-and-Bailey Fallacy

  1. 1
    ronvanwegen says:

    “Not only is the second proposition controversial, but also every biologist who knows the first thing about his field knows that to the case. ”
    Whoa! What?

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Evolution means “change in the biosphere over time.” No one – from the most ardent materialist atheist to the most fervid young earth creationist – disagrees with that statement.

    Well, I would. That’s a statement about ecology, not evolution.

    Now consider this proposition: The mechanism of evolutionary change is completely explained by gradualism as proposed in the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. That statement is controversial even among mainstream materialist evolutionary biologists.

    Not controversial at all. Just flat-out wrong.

    This is the first time I’ve seen either of these claims made. Does Barry have any examples of biologists making these exact claims?

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the oft repeated claim from Darwinists that “evolution is as certain as gravity”. Granville Sewell traced the origin of that particular claim to Joseph Le Conte in 1897.

    In fact Le Conte not only claimed that evolution was as certain as gravity but that evolution was “far more” certain than gravity.

    “The law of evolution is as certain as the law of gravitation. Nay, it is far more certain. The nexus between successive events in time (causation) is far more certain than the nexus between coexistent objects in space (gravitation). The former is a necessary truth, the latter is usually classed as a contingent truth.”
    – Le Conte

    Dr. Sewell even quotes Le Conte again, in a fuller context, at the beginning of his newly updated video which he just uploaded on YouTube a few days ago

    Why Evolution is Different

    As to the claim that evolution is as certain, or even “far more certain”, than gravity, Dr. Berlinski rightly regarded that claim as preposterous,

    “On the other hand, I disagree that Darwin’s theory is as `solid as any explanation in science.; Disagree? I regard the claim as preposterous. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen or so decimal places; so, too, general relativity. A leaf trembling in the wrong way would suffice to shatter either theory. What can Darwinian theory offer in comparison?”
    (Berlinski, D., “A Scientific Scandal?: David Berlinski & Critics,” Commentary, July 8, 2003)

    Darwinism simply has nothing to offer in comparison.

    In fact, Winston Ewert recently found the dependency graph (Intelligent Design) model to be “far more certain” than the common descent (Darwinian) model. Dr. Hunter termed the Darwinian model to be “incredibly inferior” to the Design model.

    New Paper by Winston Ewert Demonstrates Superiority of Design Model – Cornelius Hunter – July 20, 2018
    Excerpt: The problem is that the common descent model is so incredibly inferior to the dependency graph model that the Bayes factor cannot be typed out. In other words, the probability of the data set, given the dependency graph model, is so much greater than the probability of the data set given the common descent model, that we cannot type the quotient of their division.
    Instead, Ewert reports the logarithm of the number. Remember logarithms? Remember how 2 really means 100, 3 means 1,000, and so forth?
    Unbelievably, the 10,064 value is the logarithm (base value of 2) of the quotient! In other words, the probability of the data on the dependency graph model is so much greater than that given the common descent model, we need logarithms even to type it out. If you tried to type out the plain number, you would have to type a 1 followed by more than 3,000 zeros. That’s the ratio of how probable the data are on these two models!
    By using a base value of 2 in the logarithm we express the Bayes factor in bits. So the conditional probability for the dependency graph model has a 10,064 advantage over that of common descent.
    10,064 bits is far, far from the range in which one might actually consider the lesser model. See, for example, the Bayes factor Wikipedia page, which explains that a Bayes factor of 3.3 bits provides “substantial” evidence for a model, 5.0 bits provides “strong” evidence, and 6.6 bits provides “decisive” evidence.
    This is ridiculous. 6.6 bits is considered to provide “decisive” evidence, and when the dependency graph model case is compared to comment descent case, we get 10,064 bits.
    But It Gets Worse
    The problem with all of this is that the Bayes factor of 10,064 bits for the HomoloGene data set is the very best case for common descent. For the other eight data sets, the Bayes factors range from 40,967 to 515,450.
    In other words, while 6.6 bits would be considered to provide “decisive” evidence for the dependency graph model, the actual, real, biological data provide Bayes factors of 10,064 on up to 515,450.
    We have known for a long time that common descent has failed hard. In Ewert’s new paper, we now have detailed, quantitative results demonstrating this. And Ewert provides a new model, with a far superior fit to the data.

    For any other theory in science, this level of falsification would simply be completely devastating to the theory. Indeed, with such a decisive level of falsification, the theory would be rightly relegated to such erroneous beliefs as the moon is made of green cheese. But alas, Darwinian evolution gets a free pass when it comes to falsifying evidence no matter how badly the evidence falsifies the theory.

    To repeat what I’ve stated many times before, Darwinian evolution is not a testable science, but a unfalsifiable pseudoscience, even a religion, for atheists.

    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    but test everything; hold fast what is good.

  4. 4
    ET says:

    Biological evolution is broadly defined as a change in allele frequency, over time, within a population.

    Darwinism and modern evolutionary thought are defined as universal common descent / ancestry starting from some unknown population(s) of simpler biological reproducers via blind and mindless processes such as natural selection and drift.

    So yes, given the first definition, evolution is as certain as gravity. Given the second, evolution is an impossibility.

  5. 5
    polistra says:

    We don’t need to use obscure literary references like Motte and Bailey.

    Bait and switch means the same thing, and is much more familiar. It also leads the listener to think of con games and frauds instead of medieval military tactics.

  6. 6
    David P says:

    Controversy? Never heard of it.
    People playing the change over time is certain, therefore all Darwinblather is certain card? Doesn’t happen.
    It would seem some people would have us believe they don’t use the internet. Like they’ve never seen a discussion about evolution on Reddit, Facebook or Twitter. Or entire websites devoted to Darwinblather like talkorigins or whyevolutionistrue.

    “We need to do a better job of calling out the motte-and-bailey tactic when we see it employed.”
    Will do, Barry. Will do.

  7. 7
    Fasteddious says:

    Pol @ 8 – you beat me to it.
    I have noted the following “bait and switch” mode of evolutionary thinking:
    There is much evidence for microevolution by the Darwinian mechanism (the true bait), therefore (the switch), macroevolution by the Darwinian mechanism is a sure thing (false).

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