2nd Response to Ilona on Evolution

Ilona of True Grit has replied to my response to her comments left on my blog. This time she is replying on her blog. This is her second reply to me, and I think two things are becoming clear and they are the two reasons why I think she fails to make compelling arguments. First, she has a very shallow understanding of the scientific method. Second, she isn't really arguing against evolution, she's arguing against atheism. Which is fine, but since I'm not an atheist, and since evolution and atheism are not the same thing, it's a fairly irrelevant argument to me. Let's get to the specifics. She begins with this statement:

I am trying to make the point that evolutionists are weak in the base of their arguments which are simply lots of "probablies" rather than in the idea that ID/creationists arguments have superior strength.

This is a rather astonishing statement in light of the fact that the ID crowd has yet to produce anything like a testable hypothesis, and the few testable hypotheses, mostly in the realm of flood geology, offered by more conventional creationism have been tested and falsified completely. If Ilona has a testable, falsifiable ID or creationist model that explains the data as well as evolution, by all means let us hear it. But she'll be the first to offer one, as the IDCs have failed to offer ANY such model and the model offered by YECs has been falsified over and over again and fails to explain the data entirely.

On the subject of the eye and brain evolving together, I had said, "When I say that the eye and the brain probably evolved together, I mean that there is solid evidence and sound reasoning to reach that conclusion." Ilona replied:

This entire didactic paragraph is an interesting bit of information, but how is it proof that there is evolution, rather than a created being...where the brain and the eye are in tandem in development? I wouldn't protest the neurological studies at all.... I don't see how they are more in favor of an evolutionary idea rather than the ID one.

Well first, let's recall that I was not offering this argument about the eye as proof of evolution (nor would I use the word proof in this context at all), but was responding to another blogger's arguments about the eye being impossible for evolutionary theory to explain. That it does not "prove" what I never claimed it "proved" is hardly a compelling criticism. The only point in making that argument was to point out, in response to an ID advocate, that the eye is not a problem for evolution to explain and that in fact evolution explains it better than ID because it also explains the flaws in the eye's design. Ilona seems to be taking quite a novel tack for an ID advocate as she later argues, in response to my quote of Ken Miller on the matter of evolution's constrained actions and an Intelligent Designer's unconstrained actions:

But if one wants to know "Which part of the statement is not "grounded in factual truth"? It is this: "since the designer lacks the constraints that are obviously present if life evolved".

That is not a given, and not provable. Why must a designer lack constraints?

Again, let's remember that the context of this was a debate with two other bloggers, Matt and Rusty, both of whom maintain that the designer was God and was entirely unconstrained. It was a given to those to whom I was responding. If it's not a given to Ilona, then perhaps we could discuss what she DOES believe about the designer. I know of no one who advocates ID or conventional creationism who argues that God was not omnipotent. But since I was not arguing with an as-yet-unstated "constrained designer" model, this is again not a compelling criticism for the same reason as above - it criticizes my argument for not disputing a claim that hadn't been made.

Now let's get to what I think is the crux of the issue, which is her misunderstanding of the scientific method. She states:

Although calling my argument a false dichotomy is convenient for the oppositions argument, the actual contention I offered was that evolutionary theory does not fit into the scientific methodology of replicated experimentation which creates the "Certainty is rated on a continuum".

What is offered by Ed is more along the lines of historical hypothesis and theory.... which is an art and is more honestly represented than the "science" of
evolutionary theory.

I think this shows several serious misunderstandings about the nature of scientific methodology. First, she seems to think that science is limited to "replicated experimentation" of the sort done in chemistry, for example. But experimentation is only a very small part of science, and it is not the only way a hypothesis can be tested. Second, she seems to think that any hypothesis or theory that is historical in nature - that is, that explains events that took place in the past - is not science at all, but is "art". But this is simply nonsense. Many fields of science deal primarily with past events - astronomy, geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, and many more. The fact that the event is not "replicable" has no bearing on its designation as science and not art. The very same logical processes are used in those fields - explanatory models are created, testable hypotheses are inferred based upon them, and the hypotheses are tested by making discrete predictions that are either confirmed or disconfirmed by observation. Ilona seems to think that experimentation is the only means of testing a hypothesis, but that simply ignores the reality of what scientists do every day. Historical theories are also testable, and only occassionally do those tests involve experimentation. I would strongly recommend to Ilona that she spend some time reading Doug Theobald's FAQ on the scientific method in the Talk.Origins archive, which might help her understand both the different ways in which hypotheses are tested and the nature of certainty in science. That FAQ ends with this statement:

A crucial related point is that modern scientific theories are probabalistic. This means that all testing of scientific predictions is carried out in a statistical framework. Probability and statistics pervade modern scientific theories, including thermodynamics (statistical mechanics), geology, quantum mechanics, genetics, and medicine. The mathematics of probability is a discipline that many people find, shall we say, distasteful. However, a working knowledge of statistics is absolutely essential for judging the fit between observed data and the predictions of any theory.

Ilona continues:

Not that there are not the plausible parts for those disposed to believe in it. But I will still maintain that evolutionary theory is not certainty in any sense of the word. It isn't a proven fact, and many of its parts are not proven facts. It has problems

Any time someone uses the phrase "proven fact", it is a sure sign that they really do not understand what the word "fact" means in science, or the nature of "proof". Science does not "prove facts". Science explains facts. Gould explained it perfectly in a Natural History article some years ago:

In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is "only" a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of sciencethat is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Evolution is not a "proven fact" because A) nothing in science is ever "proven", unlike in mathematics or formal logic; and B)it's not a fact at all, it is an explanation for a set of facts, which means observational data.

Now on to the other problem, which is her equation of evolution with materialistic atheism. In her reply she claimed not to be doing this, but she continually refers to "evolutionists or materialists" as though those two groups must be identical and have identical premises. But since millions and millions of "evolutionists" are NOT materialists, this is false right from the get go. She says here:

However, if evolutionary theory is not rooted in materialist philosophy, what is it based in? Or perhaps we look at it another way: where does the idea of materialist or physicalist philosophy come from, if not the theory of evolution? Am I wrong to see the two as inter-related?

Yes, you are wrong. And you seem to be wrong in both directions, since it isn't clear whether you are claiming that evolution comes from materialism, or materialism comes from evolution. Neither statement is true. Evolutionary theory is no more "materialist" than any other scientific theory. One of the basic axioms if science is that only material (i.e. natural) explanations are allowed, because they are the only explanations that can be tested or falsified. This is what I meant when I explained the difference between methodological naturalism (MN), which is required of all scientific theories, and philosophical naturalism (PN), which is what I presume Ilona means by "materialism" and which does not need to be true in order for MN to be valid. Evolutionary theory is no more "materialist" than any other scientific theory, it merely sticks to the same ground rules. Or as my friend Rob Pennock says, "Evolution is atheistic in the same sense that plumbing is atheistic." Perhaps Ilona could explain why evolutionary theory is "materialistic" in any sense that is different from the sense in which, say, the germ theory of disease or the theory of gravity are "materialistic".

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It's a common mistake for people to believe the scientific method requires repeatable experiments.

That's not true. observations must be repeatable. Other people must be able to review your data, to repeat your observations....

Experiments are merely an easy and quick way of generating observations.

You can wait around for apples to fall, and observe that they accelerate at 9.8m/s per second...or you can drop the stupid things yourself and measure that.

They're both equally valid observations, and both repeatable.

Quite right, Morat. I made this comment on someone else's blog today as well, that we simply do a horrible job of teaching the philosophy of science to kids in school. We teach them a cartoon-simple version of it, without much to do with the real world of scientists. The evidence of how badly we teach that subject can be seen in any conversation about evolution. Whenever you hear phrases like "just a theory" or "proven fact", you can be absolutely certain that the person understands science at about an 8th grade level, but that's about how well we teach it to everyone.

I have to say I am astounded that people do not want evolution taught in schools. I say this as a Christian who believs that the world was created by God.

That belief is not based on science and I would never expect it to be taught in a science class. We know that evolution occurs. From a scientific standpoint it is the only plausible explanaition for the world as we see it today. It may turn out to be wrong, but until we can scientifically demonstrate that it is, there is no reason to teach anything but evolution.

By Aaron Pohle (not verified) on 03 Mar 2004 #permalink

Aaron-

Thanks for the comment. Along those lines, I have a friend who is a Baptist minister in the UK. He is absolutely astonished that so many churches in the US are opposed to evolution. He simply does not understand why it would even be an issue. One point I hammer home again and again is that evolution is not opposed to the existence of God or to Christianity. I just know far too many devout Christians who are excellent evolutionary scholars and scientists to believe that. It isn't science vs God, it's science vs a dogmatic and unyielding interpretation of one particular religious text.

it appears that on some points we are talking past one another, but on others, there seems to be a stubborness about not understanding what the other person is acutally saying.

In the stubbornness section, I would place some of your comments that evolution and atheism are mixed up in the oppositions mind. I believe this is a red herring that has worked well in past arguments and you keep hoping for someone to take the bait once again.

That is not what is being argued, by me anyway. Not in this series of posts.

Perhaps it would be good for us all go back to eigth grade levels if that is what it takes to sort out how strong evolution theory truly is or is not.

On talking past one another, I think some backtracking is necessary on one of the givens:
" Matt and Rusty, both of whom maintain that the designer was God and was entirely unconstrained."

There is a problem with the idea that God is entirely unconstrained. I have found this idea very common, but it is not in line with the Biblical picture of YAHWEH. It is a very large scope of a discussion, however.

I could leave it at "I believe differently than Matt and Rusty on this point".

"The fact that the event is not "replicable" has no bearing on its designation as science " was part of circular reasoning since the modes of science that you cited are heavily reliant on the evolutionary theory [geology, paleontology, etc]

Science uses replicable experimentation in testing theory and then designating facts.

Eighth grade level or no, that is seen in everything that is regarded as true science.

whatever new points you might have.... I'll see whether posts are in the offing.

Maybe just to look over some of the more subtle of the logical fallacies......

In the stubbornness section, I would place some of your comments that evolution and atheism are mixed up in the oppositions mind. I believe this is a red herring that has worked well in past arguments and you keep hoping for someone to take the bait once again. That is not what is being argued, by me anyway. Not in this series of posts.

But you've several times in this exchange referred to "evolutionary theorists or materialists" as though those two things were synonymous. What about evolutionary theorists who are NOT materialists? A large percentage of them are not materialists. A survey of one large scientific organization showed that about 40% of them were theists. Theists are, by definition, not materialists. You've also said, "And this is the great protest that many die-hard theists ( like myself) have with the evolution model." Again, this clearly denotes that you DO see this as a battle of evolution with theism, but that simply isn't the case. This is not a red herring, it is a perfectly reasonable way to read your own words in this exchange. If you don't think that evolution equates with atheism, then by all means say so. And stop making statements that combine the two as though they were one and the same.

"The fact that the event is not "replicable" has no bearing on its designation as science " was part of circular reasoning since the modes of science that you cited are heavily reliant on the evolutionary theory [geology, paleontology, etc]

Oi vey. Do you really think that geology, paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, astronomy and cosmology are not "real science" and are instead "art"? Experimentation is one way of testing a hypothesis, but it is hardly the only way of doing so. Basic chemistry does not exhaust the entire range of testing in the realm of science. An astronomer cannot replicate the birth of a star or the formation of a planet or the big bang. Does that mean that astronomy suddenly becomes an art and not a science? Of course not, and only someone who conceives of science in a cartoonish fashion would make that claim. Can you name a single philosopher of science who says that experimentation is the only way to test a hypothesis or that the fields I mentioned are not "real science"? Of course you can't. They don't exist. Because you're wrong. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but that's the truth.

Science uses replicable experimentation in testing theory and then designating facts. Eighth grade level or no, that is seen in everything that is regarded as true science.

No, no, a thousand times no. Facts come before theories, not after. You are confusing "fact" with "true explanation". Go reread the Gould quote I gave you and think about it:

And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome.

Apples falling to the ground is a fact. Planets staying in regular orbits is a fact. Newton's theory of gravity is a theory that explained those facts, which was later replaced by Einstein's theory of gravity (which was really a modification of Newton's). Einstein's theory did not then become a fact, it became a true explanation - a valid theory that explains facts. Theories do not become facts, they become well-validated theories. And that's all. Theory is not a step to some higher level of certainty. Theory is in fact the highest level of certainty given to an explanation in science. There is no level after "theory" beyond well validated and successful as an explanation.

You have the patience of a saint. {Hmmm... I wonder what a practicing agnostic's saint might look like, so to speak?). I have given up long ago engaging in discussions like these with folks who insist that "disprovable" means that doing science is a wholly reliable way to uncover information about or, more broadly, to understand the physical world. You start to feel like King Canute after a while.
What I've fallen back on to short circut discussions [usually opened by students clutching bibles] who want to explain to me why Darwin was wrong and why science that contradicts the bible is too is that wonderful question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" It's the best example I can think of of a question that science does not, and can not address, there being no evidence on which to base any conclusion or hypothesis to be tested, but which philosophy and religion can and do address. It seems to make them happy [since it concedes that a Really Really Big and Important Question is beyond the ability of science to answer] and they go away.
Shutting off discussion like that would bother me if I taught philosophy or religion, but since what I teach is American History,I manage to do it with a clear conscience.

By Flatlander100 (not verified) on 04 Mar 2004 #permalink

That reminds me of a funny story from college. I was in an anthropology class and the professor spent the first 3 weeks or so lecturing on evolutionary theory. At the end of the 3 weeks he said that he wanted to take a survey and he asked how many in the class accepted evolution. About half raised their hands. He said okay, in the interests of fairness, those of you who don't accept evolution, the floor is yours. Tell us why evolution is not true. Silence.

The next week a girl in the class came in waving a book and she said, "Okay I know why evolution isn't true now." So the prof said, "Okay, tell us why." She said, "Because it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics." The prof said, "Okay. What is the 2nd law of thermodynamics?" and the girl gave the perfect exasperated sigh and said, "Well I don't know". So he asked if anyone in the class knew what the 2nd law was. I raised my hand and said yes, and I explained what it was and why it didn't prevent evolution at all. At that point the girl says, "I don't know why you two think you're so smart, I mean even Aristotle was a Christian." Upon being told, in between guffaws, that Aristotle was dead 350 years before Jesus lived, she stormed out and never came back. I presume she dropped the class.

"in this exchange referred to "evolutionary theorists or materialists" as though those two things were synonymous."

Or does not mean synonymous, it did mean both were referenced in the sentence.

"Do you really think that geology, paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, astronomy and cosmology are not "real science" and are instead "art"? "
I said those sciences were heavily reliant upon the evolutionary theory and that your argument became circular for that reason.

I said that historical -especially in the time of the ancient history- is an art using conjecture and evidence together to arrive at theories. I compared the construction of the volutionary theory to this.

"An astronomer cannot replicate the birth of a star "

An astronomer doing this, no. but we see it is replicated.

We do not see this with ape to human.... or any other of the transformations theorized in evolution theory.

"Can you name a single philosopher of science who says that experimentation is the only way to test a hypothesis or that the fields I mentioned are not "real science"? "

Would this be pertinent , since this is your conclusion of my view and not what I said?

Aren't there the replicated observations? Or does one live on theorized abstractions alone?

"Apples falling to the ground is a fact. Planets staying in regular orbits is a fact."

Yes, Replicable facts. You are right. I don't dispute any of this... and an explanation of these would need to be demonstrable, right? Within the given facts.

Theory is another of those words with different uses. I say that, as presented, evolution is not clearly the end of the matter in the same way as Newton's Theories.

"Theories do not become facts, they become well-validated theories."

Exactly. Evolution is given "well-validated" place without the necessary validation.

===on other subjects:
"Hmmm... I wonder what a practicing agnostic's saint might look like, so to speak"

Rather like the "Revs" on some of the forums (insiders joke)

"At that point the girl says, "I don't know why you two think you're so smart, I mean even Aristotle was a Christian." Upon being told, in between guffaws, that Aristotle was dead 350 years before Jesus lived, she stormed out and never came back. "

oh haha those stupid christians

Aristotle was a Christian! Priceless! Am passing on.

BTW, "wholly reliable" in my post should have been, of course "wholly unreliable".

By Flatlander100 (not verified) on 04 Mar 2004 #permalink