In Defense of Evolution (Again)

In last Thursday’s edition of the The Exponent, Andrew Buesking replied to my response to his response to an article published a month ago. Got all that?

Since it’s nearly the end of the semester, The Exponent isn’t accepting any more letters for publication. Thus, I’ll resort to responding to his points below, in the hope that he, or anyone else following this discussion, will be able to find it. But at least now I won’t be limited to 300 words!

Here goes:

In his letter published on December 8, Andrew Buesking counters my argument that Intelligent Design is not scientific by claiming that, by the same criteria I used, evolution is also not scientific. However, his counterargument demonstrates some common misunderstandings of both science in general and evolutionary theory in particular, as well as of the relationship between science and religion that underlies the core of the ID controversy.

First, Mr. Buesking rhetorically asks, “[i]f ID is so implausible, then why did the Exponent mention it in the story?” Plausibility doesn’t factor into consideration. Regardless of your stance on the issue, it’s undeniable that the topic of evolution versus ID has been in the news quite a bit lately, thanks to the Kitzmiller trial in Dover, the recent gutting of the Kansas science standards, and the continuing pro-ID public relations campaign by the Discovery Institute, for starters. I certainly wouldn’t consider publication in The Exponent a good metric for determining the correctness or plausibility of something; after all, earlier this semester they ran a front-page story on palm reading.

In his argument that evolution is “untestable and unfalsifiable,” Mr. Buesking makes the common error in asserting that evolution makes claims about the origin of life. Evolution does no such thing; evolution deals with the development of new species from existing species, and does not address where those first organisms or species came from. While there are scientific efforts to explain the origin of life, they are nowhere near as well-developed or agreed upon as evolution is. Thus, the failure to demonstrate in a laboratory “that ‘hot, dilute soup’ will spawn life” is irrelevant to the question at hand.

Furthermore, scientists have observed instances of speciation, in which the formation of new species — what creationists and ID advocates often call “macroevolution” — has been observed. (Scroll down to part 5 for a list of examples.) In addition to that, there is plenty of other evidence for macroevolution.

Also, it’s certainly possible to have a scientific theory that cannot be tested per se in a laboratory, if it makes testable predictions about what we can observe in the world around us. If this weren’t the case, branches of science such as astrophysics or cosmology couldn’t exist, as we certainly aren’t able to create stars, let alone galaxies, in the laboratory! Yet we can still make testable and falsifiable predictions in these fields. For example, the Big Bang theory predicted the existence of the cosmic microwave background radiation before it was first detected, a discovery which disproved the rival Steady State theory. If we can have scientific theories about the origin of the universe itself, we can certainly have them about the origin of species.

Finally, at the end of his letter, Mr. Buesking claims that evolution is inherently atheistic, stating that “evolution is also motivated by a secular humanist world-view that, in its very nature, seeks to disprove the existence of a deity.” This must be news to the over 10,000 clergy who signed the Clergy Letter Project’s statement that reads, in part:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.

Because science restricts itself to a strictly naturalistic view of the world, it is incapable of saying anything one way or the other about the existence of God or any other supernatural entity. While some scientists such as Richard Dawkins may personally find that evolution supports their atheistic worldview, other scientists such as Ken Miller look at the same theory and find support for their belief in a Christian God. In both cases, it is individual people making non-scientific arguments from scientific theory to support their worldview, not the science itself.

Science cannot “point to such a being” whether it exists or not. Any entity worthy of being called God would have to have the ability to violate the ordinary laws of nature at will. Because science takes a strictly naturalistic view of the world, it would see such actions as violations of scientifically predicted behavior. But how is science to tell whether the cause of this violation is divine intervention or some as-yet-undiscovered natural phenomenon? For example, would the unintuitive results of the double-slit experiment point to God diverting the paths of photons, or could it be explained by the wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics? In other words, how are we to determine whether the cause is unknown because it is beyond mere human comprehension, or is unknown because we simply haven’t figured it out yet? ID takes the first approach, whereas science takes the second.

Although it’s certainly possible for particular religious claims to be contradicted by science (as Young-Earth creationism‘s claim of a 6000-year-old Earth is incompatible with results from radiocarbon dating or the visibility of stars millions of light-years away), there is no inherent conflict between religion itself and science. Religion asks the Why questions, and science asks the How questions. We can ask religion why we are here and science how we got here and get two perfectly valid and compatible answers.

4 Responses

  1. You have no proof for Evolution pick a topic and i will show you. please write me. if i am wrong please show me where. i am only 14 so i am sure you are a lot smarter then me. but the only difrence is that i’am right and your wrong(enless you can prove it to me. and anyone who belives in Evolution please write me and give me your proof.

  2. Besides the arguments put forth in my original post, you can find lots of additional information about the evidence for evolution in the Talk.Origins Archive.

  3. Is this kid serious? Is this spam?

  4. I think it is right that evolution is not about the origin of life as per creationism. It is merely the currently recognized mechanism by which organisms select genetic traits given environmental constraints. Which, in many cases, is purely “random” and unrelated to “fitness.”

    If you haven’t yet, you should check out The Metaphysical Club. It talks about the change in 19th Century thought in America which incidentally includes evolution. Includes Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. There should be a copy in HSSE.

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