The flaw is not in the science, the flaw is in the logic
|May 11, 2011||Posted by News under Intelligent Design|
Logic is not science. Logic is a commodity which cannot be hoarded or monopolized by any particular occupation or profession. Logic is an intellectual tool available equally to both scientist and non-scientist. If the issue at hand is not a question of scientific data or knowledge itself, but a logical comparison, deduction, or conclusion involving scientific data or knowledge, scientific credentials are for the most part irrelevant. At that juncture, the scientist, historian, plumber, and taxi-driver are all on equal footing, providing their logic is sound. No one made the point better than Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, indisputably a genius of the highest order and one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century: “I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”
It is my contention that many of the hottest areas of dispute in the so called “battle” between science and religion have relatively little to do with the actual science involved. They are to a great extent problems of logic.
Along the way, he wonders whether PZ Myers has “gone mad,” but read it for yourself to see why. He has somewhat to say about Myers audience as well … and Jerry Coyne … (Note: UD News does not think Myers has gone mad. Much depends on the emphasis … )
Dr. Robert Shapiro, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at NYU, (and self-declared agnostic) is one of the most outspoken critics of modern-day Origin of Life research. In fact he was unofficially dubbed “Dr. No,” by his students for his repeated criticisms of what he called the “deeply flawed” approach of many scientists as they search for a purely naturalistic origin of life. When asked for his reaction to a widely touted experimental “breakthrough” by a British researcher he was quoted as saying, “The flaw in this kind of research is not in the chemistry. The flaw is in the logic – that this type of experimental control by researchers in a modern laboratory could have been available on the early earth.” The particular details of that experiment are not relevant to our present discussion. What is relevant is the above highlighted phrase, and I ask the reader to contemplate its import and let it percolate through your brain. “The flaw is in the logic.”
Many laypeople in our times view scientists as sort of demi-gods. Dr. Niles Eldredge, a distinguished scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, put it this way, “Many scientists really do seem to believe that they have a special access to the truth. They call press conferences to trumpet new discoveries…and they expect to be believed – by their peers, and especially by the public at large. Throwing down scientific thunderbolts from Olympian heights, scientists come across as authoritarian truth givers, whose word must be taken unquestioned.” Speaking as a highly accomplished scientist himself, he unceremoniously shatters this misleading façade: “That all the evidence shows the behavior of scientists to be no different from the ways in which other people behave is somehow overlooked in all this.” Simply put, they are subject to the same foibles as all other human beings. Some scientists are petty, underhanded, lustful, manipulative, and envious, while others may have developed sterling quality of character. And yes, a brilliant scientist can conduct a complex experiment calling on all his vast knowledge and skill, and then proceed to draw faulty conclusions, not due to a failure of his science, but due to a failure in his logic. (There are any number of reasons why an individual might fail in their logic, but that is not our concern here.) Please focus on this crucial distinction. Logic is not science. Logic is a commodity which cannot be hoarded or monopolized by any particular occupation or profession. Logic is an intellectual tool available equally to both scientist and non-scientist. If the issue at hand is not a question of scientific data or knowledge itself, but a logical comparison, deduction, or conclusion involving scientific data or knowledge, scientific credentials are for the most part irrelevant. At that juncture, the scientist, historian, plumber, and taxi-driver are all on equal footing, providing their logic is sound. No one made the point better than Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, indisputably a genius of the highest order and one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century: “I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”
It is my contention that many of the hottest areas of dispute in the so called “battle” between science and religion have relatively little to do with the actual science involved. They are to a great extent problems of logic. Let’s start with Niles Eldredge himself. In his foreword to Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (by Dr. Eugenie Scott), Eldredge states that there are two grand predictions made by evolutionary theory and that by experimentation and observation one can see these predictions confirmed:
What predictions arise from the notion of evolution – that is, the idea that all organisms present on earth are descended from a single common ancestor? There are two major predictions of what life should look like if evolution has happened…(1) more closely related organisms will share more similarities with each other than with more remotely related kin; rats and mice will be more similar to each other than they are to squirrels; but rats and mice and squirrels (united as rodents) share more similarities than any of them share with cats. In the end there should be a single nested set of similarities linking up all of life.
He then goes on to explain that this prediction has been borne out in the world of nature:
This is exactly what systematic biologists and paleontologists find as they probe the patterns of similarities held among organisms – in effect, testing over and over again this grand prediction of evolution. Rats, squirrels, and mice share many similarities – but with all animals…they share a common organization of their cells. They share even with the simplest bacteria…the molecule RNA [and]DNA.
On the surface it sounds quite reasonable. As life moved forward in its evolutionary journey from the first common ancestor, organisms on the same evolutionary branches will resemble each other more closely than those on divergent branches. It is a rather simple task to test this prediction. All we have to do is find those living things that are closely related and see if they share more similarities than with more distantly related organisms. But you may ask: How do we know which species are more closely related in order to test out the level of similarity? Eldredge has already given us the answer, “Rats and mice will be more similar to each other than they are to squirrels, but rats, mice, and squirrels (united as rodents) share more similarities than any of them share with cats.” This logic is so thoroughly and fatally flawed that it never sees the light of day:
· Rats, mice, and squirrels, which are all closely related, are very similar to each other.
· And how did we know that rats, mice, and squirrels are closely related in the first place so that we could test out if they share similarities?
· We know they are related, because they are very similar to each other.
In order to test his prediction, Eldredge has presupposed the truth of what he is testing for.
Let’s put it a different way: If evolutionary theory is true, then living things are “related” through the evolutionary process, and as a result of this “relatedness” will share similarities. However, if the theory is not true, then living things are not “related” at all, and the fact that they share similarities is for an entirely different reason (hint: they were created that way). In order to test out the truth of this prediction of evolutionary theory, Eldredge must look for “related” organisms to see if they are similar, but in order to know if organisms are “related” we need some independent knowledge that the theory is true in the first place! Not only is Eldredge’s prediction untestable and unfalsifiable, it is, in fact, a striking example of circular reasoning. Along this line of thinking, the only testable and falsifiable predictions that could be made are the following: If evolutionary theory is true we would expect to see that (1) some living things are very similar to each other, (2) some living things are less similar to each other, and (3) all living things share some similarities. Let’s face it, numbers (1) and (2) are nothing more than truisms, and although molecular biology has confirmed (3), it offers no conclusive demonstration of evolutionary theory. All it tells us is that…well, that all living things share similarities!
The second grand prediction, that the earliest forms of life are “simple” and that more complex living organisms are found at a later point in time, seems to be supported by scientific observation. However, that is certainly not conclusive evidence for the truth of the theory, and it is rather interesting to note that it follows the same progression from simple life in water to more advanced forms of life, culminating in the human being, as “predicted” in the first chapter of Genesis. (Just as an aside, most people are unaware that the age of the universe, and the time frame of the first six “days” of creation is an open ended question in orthodox Jewish theology. There is actually an authoritative 700-year old kabbalistic source that puts the age of the universe at just under 15.4 billion years.)
In any case, though, there is a “third grand prediction” of evolutionary theory that begs our scrutiny, not because Eldredge mentions it, but precisely because it is so noticeably absent from his list of grand predictions. The obvious “third grand prediction” should have been that if all life originated from one common ancestor, then the fossil record should provide the “smoking gun” evidence that shows the gradual transitions from one species, genus, phylum, etc., to another. What makes this even more astounding is that Niles Eldredge is a highly respected and world-renowned paleontologist! It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the reason he leaves this out, is because in his opinion as a world-class paleontologist, the fossil record does not provide compelling evidence for Darwinian evolutionary theory. This by itself should give the dispassionate observer quite a pause for thought. If we are using Eldredge’s paradigms for investigating the truth of evolution, it seems we are on quite shaky ground.
I want to make it clear to the reader that what I have written above should not be misconstrued as a comprehensive analysis of evolutionary theory nor an attack on Eldredge’s credentials as a scientist; I am simply pointing out the flaws in his logic.
Let’s move on to one of the more outspoken and zealous (read: tiresome and obnoxious) advocates of the atheist/Darwinist worldview, P.Z. Myers. Dr. Myers is an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris, a satellite of the main state university, or as David Klinghoffer put it, “well known as the Harvard of Morris, Minnesota.” In a lecture at the Atheist International Alliance in 2009 (Burbank, Ca.) entitled Design vs. Chance, Myers administered, what he considered to be, a thorough thrashing of Intelligent Design. What actually occurred, as I will try to demonstrate, is that he stuck both feet so deep in his mouth, that it would have required a team of expert podiatrists to make things right again. I leave it to the reader to decide for him or herself which of those options more closely mirrors reality.
Myers began by presenting a brisk summary of Intelligent Design theory:
“The core of the argument is this: (A) Complexity can only be created by a designer, (B) Biology is really complex, (C) Biology was created by design.”
He then poses the following to his audience,
“What about the whole complexity issue? We biologists will freely admit that things are really complicated inside the cell. So how do we explain it? Don’t we have to resort to a Creator? And we say, of course not. There’s lots of things that are very complicated [and aren’t the result of an intelligent creator]. I’ll show you an example here.”
At this point in his PowerPoint presentation there is a photograph showing a rather large pile of driftwood along what is obviously a coastline. Myers informs us that it is Rialto Beach in upper Washington State. He continues…
“And this is a very common thing along beaches…driftwood. You find these walls of driftwood between you and getting down to the beach, real walls, very complicated walls. It has been constructed, who did it? We know the answer, natural processes did it. We don’t need a designer to build this kind of wall. This is complex, you simply can’t deny it. If I turn the projector off would you be able to draw it? No.”
To be honest, when I saw this lecture for the first time, I thought Myers was joking. A pile of driftwood as being analogous to the “complexity” of a living cell?! Myers is arguing that since a “complex” and “complicated” pile of driftwood can accumulate through an undirected natural process, so can a living cell. I guess if by “complexity” you mean a chaotic collection of junk, then I would have to agree; a large pile of driftwood is certainly “complex.” In any case, no self-respecting ID theorist would ever use the term “complexity.” The terms that are always used are “functional complexity” or “specified complexity.” In other words, complexity that achieves some pre-determined goal, complexity that clearly functions towards a specific purpose. The argument is that functional complexity and specified complexity clearly are the result of intelligent intervention. A pile of driftwood is immediately recognizable for exactly what it is; a random, disorganized, purposeless collection of….well, driftwood! To describe this argument as flawed logic would be misleading; we first would have to dignify it by labeling it as some form of logic in the first place. It is not flawed logic, it is simply ridiculous.
It may be hard to believe, but it gets worse. A photograph of an expertly-constructed brick wall surrounding a garden flashes on the screen:
“On the other hand we are familiar with this kind of wall. So this is also a wall, it’s one that we can recognize that has a specific purpose, that was built by human agents, and I’d have to say that of these two walls, which one is simpler? The human built one…When we look at natural walls [i.e driftwood] what we discover is natural things are built by chance and necessity, they are functionally unspecified, there’s nothing that says that a pile of driftwood is a wall…and they tend to be complex. In this sense, complex often means sloppy, but it’s still complex. Artificial walls [i.e. the brick wall] are built with intent, they are functionally very specific…and relatively simple.
Let’s follow this “logic” as it leads us straight into a train wreck:
· Piles of driftwood are “functionally unspecified,” “sloppy,” are assembled randomly by natural processes, and are considered to be “complex.”
· Brick walls are “functionally very specific,” have a “specific purpose,” are assembled by intelligent agents, and are considered to be “simple.”
· Ergo, a living cell which is “complex” is comparable to a pile of “complex” driftwood and has nothing in common with the “simple” and “functionally very specific” brick wall that obviously is the product of intelligent design.
Does Myers actually expect us to believe that the simplest living organism that exists, a bacterium – which is, in the words of Australian microbiologist Michael Denton, “a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of elegantly designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up of all together one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machinery built by man and without parallel in the non-living world…an object resembling an immense automated factory…carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth,” – is assembled like a pile of driftwood on a beach? Isn’t it glaringly obvious that it resembles, not the “functionally unspecified” and chaotic collection of driftwood, but the “functionally very specific,” “built with a purpose,” and “built with intent,” brick wall?! Has he gone mad? Has this man completely abandoned any semblance of rationality? How is it possible that his audience continues to sit through this nonsense, bobbing their heads up and down in approval like a pack of toy dogs on the back window of a car?
I didn’t think it was possible to present a more outrageously flawed piece of logic than the one with which I was presented by Dr. Jerry Coyne, an atheistic biologist at the University Chicago. What was Dr. Coyne’s smug response to the simple fact that science has no clue how something as functionally complex as a bacterium could have emerged from non-life?
“We may never understand how life originated on Earth, because the traces of early life have vanished. We know it happened at least once, but not how. I’m pretty confident that within, say, 50 years[!] we’ll be able to create life in a laboratory under the conditions of primitive Earth, but that, too, won’t tell us exactly how it did happen – only that it could.”
No wonder Dr. Coyne turned down an invitation to a moderated discussion with me on the subject of Origin of Life; even if he agreed today, he would need 50 more years to prepare his case! Be that as it may, P.Z. Myers has clearly surpassed Jerry Coyne in producing flawed logic, or what in this case would be more accurately described as non-logic. But the “jewel in the crown” of P.Z. Myers’ level of integrity and intellectual potency in this whole discussion is best illustrated by what he posted on his blog-site “Pharyngula,” (3/8/11): “If we’re going to start comparing lacunae, let’s start with thermodynamics. We’ve got detailed, complete mathematical descriptions of a fundamental mechanism that drives all of biology; the Torah’s got nothin’…We win. Argument over. Fuck off, rabbi.” (Seriously, aren’t atheists embarrassed by P.Z. Myers?)
One might conclude, after reading what I’ve written above, that I have a low opinion of the level of intelligence or scientific expertise of the aforementioned scientists. That would be a mistaken conclusion. If I needed a piece of scientific data within their fields, or an explanation of a biological process, I would unhesitatingly inquire of Dr’s Eldredge, Coyne, and Myers, and I would rely on the validity of their answers. I again remind the reader of Dr. Robert Shapiro’s incisive observation. When atheistic/materialist scientists use their laboratory tables as pulpits to preach their non-belief, the flaw is not in their science, the flaw is in their logic.