Arguments Against Evolution Pt. 1

There are many arguments lodged against evolution. Some of them carry more weight than others. We’ve all heard at least some of these arguments and puns like “evilution” being thrown around. This is part one on the arguments against evolution. It will cover some of the unscientific arguments.

 

Evolution is just a theory

One of the arguments employed by scientific creationism is to point out that evolution is not a fact, but only a theory. It should be noted that the term “theory” as used in science does not stand opposite to “fact.” Robert Pennock goes on to explain that “[t]o call something a scientific fact is simply to say that it has been so well confirmed evidentially that it is hard to imagine how it could be overturned, though we always have to keep an open mind that the new evidence could do so, if only in principle.” Sehoya H. Cotner and Randy Moore state that a scientific theory “is a related set of hypotheses that together form a broad, testable explanation about some fundamental aspect of nature. That is, a theory is a well-supported broad idea…” An important distinction regarding theory and its relation to fact is that scientific theories do not become facts after they’ve been proven as true, but theories explain facts.  Even though the theory of evolution leaves many details yet to be figured out, the key mechanisms of evolution are known as facts.

Richard Dawkins provides two very different definitions of what a theory is:

  •  A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.

and

  • “A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view of notion.” He states that scientists use the first definition when it comes to the theory of evolution, whereas creationists opt for the second definition.

Keith B Miller provides four characteristics of a good theory: “(1) explanatory power; (2) predictive power (testable expectations); (3) fruitfulness (ability to generate new questions and new directions of research); and (4) aesthetics (e.g., beauty, simplicity, symmetry).”  The theory of evolution is a good theory because it explains many branches of science, it generates testable hypothesis and generates new questions for research.

 

Evolution is a belief/religion

Pennock argues that “[o]n the watered-down notion of faith implied in the criticism there would be no belief that is not based on faith – knowing one’s birthday, that fluoride protects against cavities, and so on would all be matters of faith – so the concept would lose its important, distinctive meaning. These simple beliefs and other scientific conclusions are not based on faith but are inferred from the evidence of observation. To abuse the notion of faith so that it extends to such quotidian beliefs is to gut it of its theological significance.” Simply put: one short-changes both science and belief.

 

Charles Darwin renounced the theory of evolution on his deathbed

This argument is void. Even if Darwin did renounce his theory on his deathbed, it would not change the validity of his theory. Biologists, geologists, and other scientists do not accept the truth of evolution on the basis of Darwin’s authority but on the basis of evidence.

 

Charles Darwin was an atheist

One cannot classify Darwin as an atheist. Hewas never an atheist, but instead leaned more towards agnosticism. In a personal letter Darwin wrote the following: “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.” He moved away from a theistic view of a God that intervenes in the creation to a deistic view where God is further away and does not intervene. In another letter, Darwin wrote: “I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design and benevolence on all sides of us.” As with Darwin renouncing his theory on his deathbed, even if Darwin was an atheist, it would not make any difference to the scientific validity of his theory.

 

Naturalism is a religion

Many writers state that naturalism is a religion. Pennock states that “naturalism is not necessarily tied to specific ontological claims; its base commitment is to a method of inquiry… it is a methodology that is rationally justified and that is accessible to all.” Naturalism is concerned with study of the natural world, not the supernatural world. Since ancient times the term has been associated with secularism such as Epicureanism and materialism, but the term has also been associated with certain religious views, eg. pantheism and natural theology.

Pennock describes the situation with insight and wit: “It is misleading for creationists to characterize science in general and to define evolution in particular as “godless.” Science is godless in the same way that plumbing is godless. Evolutionary is no more or less based on a “dogmatic philosophy” of naturalism than are medicine and farming.”

 

Evolution Has Never Been Proven

David T. Williams argues that “despite the evidence for evolution, this falls short of proof, and there remain weighty objections to the idea, and not just that evolution, on at least the macro scale, has not been demonstrated; it falls short of the verification that scientific rigour demands. It is at best a hypothesis…”

Dawkins states that “the best scientists can do is fail to disprove things while pointing to how hard they tried.” The vast majority of the evolutionary history happened before it could be observed by sentient beings and the processes of evolution are mostly too slow to be observed within an individual’s lifetime.

Pennock points out that proof depends on what the definition of “proof” is that one is working with. One example is that evolution lacks “proof” from Scripture and another example is the thought that only that which leaves one without anything less than complete certainty is not proof. A third example is the language used. Scientists and philosophers of science often speak of “evidence” instead of “proof’ and say a hypothesis has been “confirmed” instead of “proven.”

 

Sources:

Brooke, J H 1985 The Relations Between Darwin’s Science and his Religion in Durant, J (ed.) 1985. Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 40-75.

Cotner, S & Moore, R 2011. Arguing for evolution: An encyclopedia for understanding science. Greenwood: Santa Barbara.

Daintith, J & Martin, E (eds.) 2010. Oxford dictionary of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, F (ed.) 1898. The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Vol I. New York:  D Appleton and Company.

Miller, KB, An evolving creation: Oxymoron or fruitful insight? in Miller, K B (ed.) 2003. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans. 3-14.

Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Williams, D T 2010. Evolution through kenosis. The Expository Times 121:390. 390-394.

Advertisements

Darwin a Friend of Theology? Part 3 – Intelligent Design

 


 

http://theogothstock.deviantart.com/art/Wristwatch-II-338294593

Intelligent Design is quite difficult to place. Intelligent Design is sometimes grouped together with creationism, but Intelligent Design propagators deny that creationism and Intelligent Design are the same thing. U.S District Judge John E. Jones is quoted by Bailey as saying that ID is “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory… ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” While there is truth in this statement, it should be noted that the Intelligent Designer is not always identified with the Christian God. Yet, Intelligent Design recognizes that there must be some sort of Designer of the cosmos.

The notion of intelligent design is an ancient one that has existed in various forms since the ancient Greeks. The term “Intelligent Design” (as opposed to evolution which is seen as blind) is credited to F. C. S. Schiller who used it in 1897. The modern movement started in the early 1990’s and some prominent Intelligent Design proponents are Michael Behe, William Dembski, Philip Johnson and Jonathan Wells. Phillip Johnson is sometimes seen as the “father of Intelligent Design.”  William Dembski explains Intelligent Design as such: “According to the theory of intelligent design, the specified complexity exhibited in living forms convincingly demonstrates that blind natural forces could not by themselves have produced these forms but that their emergence also required the contribution of a designing intelligence.”

Haarsma and Gray describe Intelligent Design as “the theory that biological evolution is limited to making small changes so that biological complexity could have been produced only if God (or someone) superseded evolution during biological history.” Intelligent Design is usually vague about the specifics of creation, eg. whether it was gradual or immediate, whether it took days or ages. Because of the vagueness and flexibility, Intelligent Design can adapt to most counter-arguments. Intelligent Design relies heavily on the argument from design, also called the teleological argument and the physico-theological argument. The argument from design relies on the apparent design and purpose of the universe to infer that a designer must exist. As mentioned before, this Designer need not be the Christian God.

Probably the most famous argument of Intelligent Design is that of the watch found lying on the ground by William Paley. In the words of Paley, “…the inference, we think, is inevitable; that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.” Paley was a naturalist and Anglican cleric who wrote before Darwin and also influenced Darwin before his voyage on the Beagle. The question of design in nature was an important one in theological circles during the nineteenth century in Europe, England, and America.

The Anthropic Principle seems to support Intelligent Design and can be invoked as a major argument for an Intelligent Designer. The cosmologist Brandon Carter coined the term in 1973 and the principle states that “human observers can deduce certain characteristics about the universe simply from the fact that they exist and are capable of studying it. In its strongest form, the anthropic principle insists that no universe could exist that did not have characteristics that would allow the evolution of intelligence at some point in its history.” The Strong Anthropic Principle, which is not widely held, states that the observer needs to exist in order for physics to remain constant. Those who accept the Strong Anthropic Principle do so on grounds of quantum theory. Lacey and Proudfoot state the widely accepted understanding of the Anthropic Principle: “the universe is so organized as to permit life as we know it to exist, because were the universe not organized in precisely this fashion, human beings would not exist and so could not observe the universe.”

Numerous physical constants of the universe make life possible. These constants are: the strong nuclear force, which binds protons and neutrons, the amount of energy lost during atomic fusion, atomic forces, the force of gravity, and the laws of chemistry, especially with regard to hydrogen bonding and the characteristics of water. According to the anthropic principle, there is only one universe able to support life. If there are other universes, their constants would not enable the development of life.

David H. Bailey describes the Intelligent Design strategy as a “wedge” strategy in which the “controversy of evolution” is taught first and then Intelligent Design is promoted as an alternative. The strategy ends off with “edging out evolution in favor of biblical theism.” Edward B. Davis also speaks in less than amiable terms of Intelligent design and states that the number of adherents were won “partly because its adherents typically refuse to discuss divisive issues such as the age of the earth, concentrating instead on the inadequacy of evolution to explain the origin of life, the origin of the ‘irreducible complexity’ exhibited by living things, and (to a lesser extent) the geologically sudden appearance of new animal forms at certain points in Earth history, such as the Cambrian explosion.”

 

I myself would group Intelligent Design under the broader term of Creationism, because it still invokes a deity or some kind of Intelligent Designer. In the next few posts I am going to take a look at some of the arguments lodged against evolution from the creationist and Intelligent Design camps. Later on, there will be a post dealing with the theological problems with Intelligent Design.

 

Sources:
Bailey, D H 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 43/3, 62-81.
Davis, E B 2003. The word and the works: Concordism and American Evangelicals, in Miller, K B (ed.) 2003. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans. 34-58.
Haarsma, L & Gray, T M 2003. Complexity, self-organization, and design, in Miller, K B (ed.) Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans. 288-309.
Lacey, A R & Proudfoot, M 2010. The Routledge dictionary of philosophy. Routledge: Abingdon.
Paley, W 1829. Natural theology: or, Evidences of the existence and attributes of the deity, collected from the appearance of nature. Boston: Lincoln & Edmands.
Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Rice, S A 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.