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Creation or Evolution Analysed
|Evolution or Creation Booklet||Analysis||Verdict|
|The theory of evolution, long taught in schools and assumed to be true by many in the scientific community, is increasingly questioned by scientists and university professors in various fields.||
Okay, so it is just the
opening shot, but it contains much in the way of assertion and rhetoric.
Firstly, evolution is both a fact and a theory. It is a scientific fact that all life on earth is related by what Darwin termed 'descent with modification', and the theory of evolution is, like all scientific theories, the bundled set of mutually compatible hypotheses which, taken together, seek to explain the fact. Further discussion of this here.
I make this important point so early because it may well prove relevant when what these "scientists and university professors" are allegedly questioning emerges. Call me suspicious.
Secondly, evolution may be "assumed" to be true by those outside the field (because it is only tangentially relevant to them... though it must mesh with other areas where it intersects), but it is not merely assumed by those who study it, for they see and work with the evidence every day.
Thirdly, note that these "scientists and university professors" are in "various fields". Does this sound any alarm bells, in the way that quoting Wernher von Braun did? Well, we'll see.
And fourthly, there is clearly a lurking misunderstanding of how science works. Evolution is "increasingly questioned", is it? This should hardly come as a surprise, since science is fundamentally a questioning enterprise. At every level, it asks 'is this right?' Scepticism is a cornerstone of the scientific method: don't just accept something, but demonstrate it! So finding that people raise questions and objections about some aspect of it is not a concern: it is a good thing!
|Why do questions arise?||Because that is what science does. It is a truism that in science, answering one question does little more than raise a complete new set of questions.|
|It is because as scientific knowledge has increased researchers have not been able to confirm basic assumptions of the evolutionary theory—and in fact some have been refuted outright.||I hope they are going to substantiate these assertions. It is too early to call them 'lies' just yet, but we can hold it in reserve.||Assertions|
|As more scientists and educators become aware of flaws in the theory, they are more carefully assessing it.||
Flaws? Mere assertion. Unanswered questions and unresolved problems,
perhaps, but that is in the nature of science... and that is probably conceding
too much. I suspect the authors really are considering some things to be flaws. Let's
Note that, as before: why on earth would "educators" know the first damned thing about it? Maybe they do, but it is not unreasonable to wonder how well placed to evaluate scientific claims a teacher is.
Furthermore, everyone should carefully assess anything they are told. But that is what scientists do for a living. The implication is that those closest to the subject -- those who work in biology, genetics and palaeontology -- are all making fundamental errors and are ignoring the alleged flaws... despite the fact that, as scientists, they do carefully assess their data and theories!
And scientists do this because the peer review process means that if they don't, someone else will catch them out. When a paper is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal such as Nature, the manuscript is sent to other scientists anonymously, with express instructions to rip them to shreds if they find any weaknesses, before it is decided whether it is worthy of publication.
So the suggestion here is that all those who overlook or ignore these 'flaws' are engaged in... well, is it cock-up, or conspiracy? Or... could it be...? Maybe it is those claiming flaws who are the misguided ones?
|In the United States some states' educational boards have become aware of the mounting scientific evidence against evolution and have begun to insist the theory be emphasized less or treated more evenhandedly in the classroom.||
False. They have become aware (that is, they have been on the receiving
end) of a
political and social campaign that claims there is mounting
evidence against evolution.
Education board members naturally want children taught correct science. But being, like most normal people, not necessarily great experts on biology and palaeontology, they are easy victims of spin, slur and half-truth.
And note the weasel word "evenhandedly". Who does not want to be even-handed? It appeals to our sense of decency, fair play and honesty. But there is a problem with it...
Similarly, there is mounting evidence that the Holocaust never happened (or at least is wildly overrated). This should be "evenhandedly" dealt with in history class, and education boards are remiss not to say so. One might argue that they are also rather negligent in not insisting on the inclusion of the demon theory of disease causation, and the stork theory of babies.
|Yet there is a powerful insistence by many in the scientific community not to question the theory,||
I'm not sure if this is merely an assertion, or foolishness (or both). As I have pointed out above, science is all about questioning the validity of claims. Practically every paper is testing the theory's component hypotheses!
And even after a paper has passed peer-review (no mean feat in itself), other experts are more than happy to attack the paper's content. Here is an example (note that these are only the abstracts, and much more detail is presented in each 'comment'):
Does these sound like people unwilling to question a theory? Do they sound like people engaged in a conspiracy, or too dim or deluded to notice a problem?
For the sake of space these are just a couple of currently recent instances, but they are entirely representative of the way science is conducted in its trade magazines -- pop along and browse Nature, Science, PNAS or similar at your local library if you do not believe me.
|for much is at stake.||
So scientists are hushing up the evidence so as not to rock the boat?
Here is a thought to ponder: has anyone won a Nobel prize for 'Stating the Bleeding Obvious'? Are grants awarded for 'Upholding the Status Quo'?
There is no surer route to fame and fortune (or at least grant money) in science than overturning some well-established idea, doing something new, coming up with some cutting edge approach. Yet we are to believe that "there is a powerful insistence by many in the scientific community [ie just about everyone in biology and palaeontology] not to question the theory"?
Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem
|Phillip Johnson, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley,||
And therefore a relevant expert, obviously.
Once again, let me stress that talking outside one's field does not disqualify one from commenting, nor that such a person may not be right. But it should set off those alarm bells, especially if the claimant is saying things that go against what the actual experts in the field are agreed upon.
|Fallacy: Inappropriate Authority|
|has written several books about the evolution debate. He approaches the evidence for and against evolution as though evaluating a legal case.||
|He notes the strong vested interests involved in the debate: "Naturalistic evolution is not merely a scientific theory; it is the official creation story of modern culture. The scientific priesthood that has authority to interpret the official creation story gains immense cultural influence thereby, which it might lose if the story were called into question. The experts therefore have a vested interest in protecting the story . . ." (Darwin on Trial, 1993, p. 159).||
Cutting through all the loaded words and blather, there are several errors here.
First, all science is naturalistic; so much so that it defines the enterprise. As creationist Gray notes:
Secondly, unlike any other "creation story", science's version is verifiable by anyone willing to put in the time to understand the evidence that led scientists to suggest it in the first place, and it is constantly being revised in light of new evidence.
It seems a funny way to go about protecting a story, publishing new, sometimes critical stuff about it all the time, and explaining the evidence and reasoning at any opportunity. But then, I'm not a lawyer.
Thirdly: oddly, many in this "scientific priesthood", who allegedly have a vested interest in protecting this naturalistic story, are... ardent Christians. 'Atheist evolutionists' may have a motive for protecting the story (though see next paragraph), but what's all these Christians' excuse?
Finally, we have an 'Appeal to motive' fallacy. They have a vested interest? Okay, if you say so, Mr Johnson. Remind me again how that makes the claim false?
Put it this way: if we should reject evolution because it is a "scientific priesthood" (read: a bunch of atheists, allegedly) who make the claims for its accuracy, then I can summarily dismiss the authors' quote by Wernher von Braun on the basis that von Braun was a Nazi.
As a side note, I ought to point out the origins of this rhetoric's power. It comes from the language of religion! We need remove but one word from Johnson's quote to see that it applies, a fortiori, to religion: The priesthood that has authority to interpret the official creation story gains immense cultural influence thereby, which it might lose if the story were called into question. The experts therefore have a vested interest in protecting the story!
Now admittedly, this point is veering rather close to being a tu quoque fallacy. Nevertheless, did not Jesus say (Matt 7:3, NIV):
At the very least, the moral here is that the authors are not surveying the evidence dispassionately. They have a vested interest in protecting their story.
Is it too much to speculate that their real gripe is actually with the fact that their own world-view does not have "cultural influence"? No, I'm being too cynical, obviously.
|Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem|
|Professor Johnson critically examines the logic and reasoning evolutionists use in the debate. He likens the carefully protected theory to a warship that has sprung a leak. "Darwinian evolution . . . makes me think of a great battleship on the ocean of reality. Its sides are heavily armored with philosophical barriers to criticism, and its decks are stacked with big rhetorical guns ready to intimidate any would-be attackers.||
Empty rhetoric. Similarly, I can say that creationism is a rusting hulk on the sea bed; it was holed below the waterline long before Darwin, and sank sometime around 1860, but some people seem determined to raise the thing and get it doing weekly crossings of the Atlantic, despite it no longer having an engine or rudder.
Like such a vessel, however, this sort of talk doesn't get us very far.
|"In appearance, it is as impregnable as the Soviet Union seemed to be only a few years ago. But the ship has sprung a metaphysical leak, and the more perceptive of the ship's officers have begun to sense that all the ship's firepower cannot save it if the leak is not plugged. There will be heroic efforts to save the ship, of course . . . The spectacle will be fascinating, and the battle will go on for a long time. But in the end reality will win" (Johnson, pp. 169-170).||
More rhetoric and assertions from a lawyer.
"it is a tale
|But what is behind the debate?||
A socio-political agenda? Certainly not science, anyway. While scientists do indeed debate the validity of many issues within their discipline, the fact of evolution is not one of them. In fact, as far as evolution itself is concerned, there is no scientific debate. In just the same way as nobody in astronomy or cosmology debates a heliocentric solar system.
So here we have a disingenuous weasel-word. Creationists want there to be a debate, because that makes it seem, to Joe Public, that there is something to be debated! There isn't, not on evolution in general at least. Talk of a debate, and you make it seem that where there's smoke, there's fire. Nonsense. Where there's smoke, there's smoke. Or in this case, smoke and mirrors.
This is why both Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins always refuse(d) to enter into such 'debates'. See 'Why I Won't Debate Creationists'.
|How did an unproven theory||
It's amazing how two simple words can reveal such mangled understanding of science. You see, nothing in science is ever proven!
The point here is so well
known (except by creationists) that it even has an aphorism: Proof is
for mathematics and alcohol.
So nothing in science is ever absolutely proven, because new information could, potentially at least, come to light to overturn even the most basic statement, at least in principle. Something may be very, very likely true, but because we do not pretend to know every last thing, it might be wrong. Hence, as Stephen Jay Gould put it:
See the full discussion of the term here.
So much for "unproven". As for "theory"... well, prefixing it with "unproven" suggests that the authors are using what Gould there refers to as the American vernacular definition. But science uses the term rather more precisely: it is much more than a hunch or a guess...
Therefore, what we have here is misunderstanding and equivocation. Nobody ought to be surprised that evolution is an unproven theory. But nor should they take that to mean it is just some educated guesswork supported only by "philosophical barriers to criticism".
Whether the equivocation is deliberate, or the accidental result of ignorance, is hard to tell. But I have my suspicions, and my earlier suspicions turned out to be justified...
|[How did evolution] gain such wide acceptance?||
By accumulation of evidence. Here's some.
|How did alternate [sic] theories come to be summarily dismissed without a hearing?||
They didn't. They had their chance, and blew it. Perhaps the authors are unaware of the hundred years and more of discussion that took place prior to Darwin's book? The alternative theories have been rejected for not fitting the evidence, but only total ignorance of the history of science could lead someone to think this happened "summarily" and "without a hearing".
|How did the biblical account of the origin of the universe and man lose so much credibility?||
Lack of evidence? To be scientifically credible, an idea must be testable and supported by evidence. But maybe we will get to the bit where the authors detail their evidence later.
And note that what lost credibility was only a literal interpretation of Genesis. Who says it must be read literally? Certainly none of the main churches!
It does seem an odd thing to do, given that, no
matter how inspired, the Bible was undoubtedly written by fallible humans.
|The roots of the battle between evolution and the Bible go back centuries.||
Note again that many theists -- most, outside the US -- do not even consider a battle to be required.
interpretations of the Bible
It is a shame that scientists and religious figures alike have perpetuated many myths about creation and nature. In the past few centuries, science has refuted some religious notions about nature and the universe that religious leaders mistakenly attributed to the Bible. Sadly, this has caused some religious leaders and institutions to take unnecessarily dogmatic stands that were only harmful in the long run.
So far so good!
I wonder if interpreting Genesis literally would be considered unnecessarily dogmatic, though...?
|At the same time misunderstandings about what the Bible does and does not say have led some on all sides of the debate to accept wrong conclusions.||
Assertion, but okay for now.
But... do I catch a whiff of an up-coming No True Scotsman fallacy...?
|For example, in late 1996 Pope John Paul II shocked both Catholics and non-Catholics when he mused that the theory of evolution seemed valid for the physical evolution of man and other species through natural selection and hereditary adaptations.||
I'm not sure that a message delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences could be referred to as his 'musings', but yes, it was shocking. Shocking that it might take so long for the Catholic Church to catch up with science. Not that it ought to shock: it took them long enough (until 1981) to come to terms with Galileo.
|How did this startling declaration come about? What factors led to this far-reaching conclusion?||
One has to wonder why the authors consider it that startling.
magazine commented on the pope's statement: "[Pope] Pius [in 1950] was
skeptical of evolution but tolerated study and discussion of it; the
statement by John Paul reflects the church's acceptance of evolution. He
did not, however, diverge at all from Pius on the question of the origin
of man's soul: that comes from God, even if 'the human body is sought in
living material which existed before it.'
"The statement is unlikely to influence the curriculum of Catholic schools, where students have studied evolution since the 1950s. Indeed, taking the Bible literally has not been a hallmark among Catholics through much of the 20th century.
Where is this leading?
Someone more suspicious than I am might wonder... we know the answer to the question 'Is the Pope a Catholic?'... but are they suggesting: Is the Pope a True Christian™ ?!
|Asked about the
pope's statement, Peter Stravinskas, editor of the 1991 Catholic
Encyclopedia, said: 'It's essentially what Augustine was writing. He tells
us that we should not interpret Genesis literally, and that it is poetic
and theological language'" (Time, international edition, Nov. 4, 1996, p.
The Catholic theologian Augustine lived 354-430. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes him as "the dominant personality of the Western Church of his time, generally recognized as the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity." It adds, "He fused the religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy" (15th edition, 1975, Micropaedia Vol. 1, "Augustine of Hippo, Saint," pp. 649-650).
Augustine realize he was doing his followers a grave disservice by viewing
parts of the Bible as allegorical while simultaneously incorporating into
his teaching the views of the Greek philosophers. For the next 1,300
years, covering roughly the medieval age, the view of those pagan
philosophers became the standard for the Roman church's explanation of the
So Augustine is to blame for the demise of Genesis being taken literally? All he actually said was: beware of talking demonstrable nonsense, because it brings the whole of Scripture into disrepute.
How, exactly, is such apparently sensible advice doing anyone a disservice?
But then, it seems the authors are unaware of both the actual quote, and of its meaning. Or as Augustine himself put it:
|Furthermore, ecclesiastical leaders adopted the earth-centered view of the universe held by Ptolemy, an Egyptian-born astronomer of the second century. "It was . . . from the work of previous [Greek] astronomers," says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "that Ptolemy evolved his detailed description of an Earth-centered (geocentric) universe, a revolutionary but erroneous idea that governed astronomical thinking for over 1,300 years . . .||
Okay... but note the phrase "ecclesiastical leaders adopted the earth-centered view". Fine, provided they are not implying that previously they had been supporters of heliocentrism, an expanding universe, singularities and cosmic background radiation... and ditched it all in favour of geocentrism on the say-so of Augustine.
|"In essence, it is a synthesis of the results obtained by Greek astronomy . . . On the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, Ptolemy again extended the observations and conclusions of Hipparchus—this time to formulate his geocentric theory, which is popularly known as the Ptolemaic system" (Britannica, 15th edition, 1975, Macropaedia Vol. 15, "Ptolemy," p. 179).||
I guess that as long as they just keep quoting Britannica they shouldn't go too far wrong...
|The Bible and
Thus it was not the biblical perspective but the Greek view of the cosmos—in which everything revolved around a stationary earth—that was to guide man's concept of the universe for many centuries. The Roman Catholic Church made the mistake of tying its concept of the universe to that of earlier pagan philosophers and astronomers, then enforced that erroneous view.
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