Just so we are clear, I am certain that everyone who posts at this site believes evolution is a fact (or fact! fact! fact! as some of our more breathless opponents prefer).
Whoa Barry! Are you telling us that Uncommon Descent does not oppose the concept of evolution? Yes, I am telling you exactly that.
Then what is all the fuss and disagreement about? I’m glad you asked. But before I answer that question, let me begin with what the fuss and disagreement are NOT about.
The fuss and the disagreement are not about whether evolution occurred. Obviously evolution occurred if by “evolution” one means, “things are different now than they were in the past.” I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. That bare fact is uninteresting, even trivial.
The important question is not WHETHER things are different now than they were in the past. They obviously are. The important question is “WHY are things different now than they were in the past?” As Phil Johnson has pointed out, the Darwinist starts with the following proposition: “Given materialist premises, Darwinian evolution or something very much like it simply must be true.” Therefore, since the Darwinist already “knows” that Darwinian evolution exhausts all of the options open to investigation, he interprets all of the data to – big surprise here – confirm Darwinian evolution. It is almost literally the case that a Darwinist is incapable of seeing data that does not confirm or tends to disconfirm his theory.
But the Darwinist’s initial premise is false even on materialist terms. Even uber-materialist Richard Dawkins admits that the complexity and diversity of life might be the result of the actions of super-intelligent aliens. This explanation requires no supernatural act to have occurred and violates no precept either of philosophical or methodological materialism.
Therefore, the fuss and the disagreement is about whether “intelligent cause” must be ruled out from the beginning as a possible causal factor for why things are different now than they were in the past. It is exactly like two police detectives standing over the body of a person whose head has been bashed in by a blunt object and having the following conversation:
Columbo: “I am a materialist. Therefore, given my premises I know for a certain fact that this person’s death must have been caused by blind, unguided natural forces. Therefore, I already know that all of the data I find will support that conclusion. Moreover, the certain knowledge I have before I ever even look at the data means I will never even have to consider the possibility that this person’s death was caused by the acts of an intelligent agent, and I can safely ignore any data that might tend to disprove my starting point or confirm an “intelligent agent” theory. My theory is that a rock fell from above and hit him in the head. Probably the rock was dislodged from the side of a hill by the wind or rain and rolled down the hill and smacked him. Bad luck all around. By the way, I call the rolling rock theory a “theory” only for form’s sake. We both know it is a fact! fact! fact! Bad luck all around. Case closed.”
Holmes: “I am not going to make up my mind in advance about whether this death resulted from blind, unguided and exceedingly bad luck or whether it is the result of the acts of an intelligent agent, that is to say, murder. By the way, I am willing to assume materialist premises too, at least on a methodological basis, but you are wrong to say that assumption precludes the act of an intelligent agent. All murderers of whom I am aware have been quite human. I understand your rolling rock theory, and I just don’t think it is supported by the data. First of all, the body is almost at the top of the hill, so it is unlikely that even if a rock were dislodged by the wind and rain it could have gathered enough momentum to do the work you ascribe to it. Also, I note that there are no bloody rocks anywhere around the body. Finally, I note the presence of a bloody club near the body, and on that club are the fingerprints of the dead person’s worst enemy who swore to kill him only two days ago. I conclude that the “accident theory” while not impossible from a mathematical or logical perspective is not the most likely explanation. This scene bears indicia of design. I conclude the victim was murdered.”
Columbo: “Fundamentalist cretin!”
If the case were to proceed to trial, we might also have this:
Judge Jones: “I understand that Holmes went to Sunday School when he was a child. Therefore, his theory must be disregarded as the musings of a religious fanatic. Case dismissed. Bailiff, set the defendant free!”