Evolution and Creation - Summary
Conflict of paradigms
Thomas Kuhn, in his famous work ‘The structure of scientific revolutions’ brought the wider worldview concept of his day into understanding science. His (and Polanyi’s) concept of paradigmic science, where scientific investigation is done within a wider ‘paradigm’ moved the debate over what exactly science is towards real science requiring two things
1) An overarching paradigm which shapes how scientists view data (i.e. theory laden science)
2) Solving problems within that paradigm
Kuhn claimed that Karl Popper’s ‘falsification criteria’ for science was not accurate, as there were many historical cases where a result occurred that could be considered as falsifying the theory, yet the theory was not discarded as the scientists merely created additional ad hoc hypothesis to explain the problems.
It is through the view of Kuhnian paradigms that I view the evolution and creation debate.
(Curiously, Karl Popper obliquely referred to Kuhn’s scientific paradigm concept when he said “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme.” )
Here I define evolution (Common Descent Evolution or CDE) as: The theory that all life on earth evolved from a common ancestor over billions of years via the unguided natural processes of mutation and selection (and ‘drift’) and creation (Young earth creation or YEC) as: The theory that various kinds of life were created under 10,000 years ago and variation within these kinds occurs within limits via mutation and select (and ‘drift’).
I believe CDE and YEC can both be properly and most accurately defined as being scientific paradigms.
Whilst CDE proponents claim that CDE is falsifiable (E.g. Haldane and Dawkins saying a fossil Rabbit in the Precambrian era would falsify CDE), it is easy to see how the theory laden-ness of science makes such a find unlikely. Classification of rock strata was initially (and still commonly) done via the presence of index fossils. (Note: The designation of these fossils as representing a certain historical period was done within the CDE paradigm) The finding of a fossil Rabbit in a rock strata would almost certainly result in classification of the strata as something other than pre-cambrian, or the inclusion of other ad hoc explanations for the fossil (Overthrusts, reworking etc). It is worth noting that many smaller (only 200 million year) similar type surprises are happily integrated within CDE. (A recent example is pushing back gecko’s 40 million years in time) The main point here is that the claimed falsification is not a falsification of CDE, but merely falsifies the assumption that fossils are always buried in a chronological fashion. CDE can clearly survive as a theory even if only most fossils are buried in chronological fashion.
Many other events and observations exist which could be said to falsify evolution (e.g. the origin of life, soft tissue remaining in dinosaur fossils), but are happily left as unsolved issues. It is because of these types of occurrences that I suggest CDE is properly assigned as a scientific paradigm. Which is to say that CDE is not viewed as falsified by these unexpected observations, but instead these problems within CDE are viewed as the grist for the mill for making hypothesis and evaluating hypothesis within the paradigm.
YEC can also be properly identified as a scientific paradigm although significantly less well funded and so significantly less able to do research into the problems that existing observations create within the paradigm. One such example of research done is the RATE project. Specifically the helium diffusion study which predicted levels of helium in zircons to be approximately 100,000 times higher than expected if CDE were true.
What placing YEC and CDE as scientific paradigms does is make sense of the argument. CDE proponents (properly) place significant problems within CDE as being something that will be solved in the future (E.g. origin of life) within the CDE paradigm. YEC can also do the same (E.g. Endogenous Retroviral Inserts).
1) Ideas like Stephen Gould’s non-overlapping Magistra (NOMA) are self-evidently false. If God did create the universe 7000 years ago, there will definitely be implications for science.
2) Ruling out a supernatural God as a possible causative agent is not valid. As with (1) such an activity is detectable for significant events (like creation of the world/life) and so can be investigated by science.
a. To argue otherwise is essentially claim that science is not looking for truth, but merely the best naturalistic explanation. If this is the case, then science cannot disprove God, nor can science make a case that YEC is wrong.
b. Anthony Flew, famous atheist turned deist makes the point quite clearly when talking about his reasons for becoming a deist
“It was empirical evidence, the evidence uncovered by the sciences. But it was a philosophical inference drawn from the evidence. Scientists as scientists cannot make these kinds of philosophical inferences. They have to speak as philosophers when they study the philosophical implications of empirical evidence.”
Certainty in science
Flew’s comments highlight another significant issue. The role of inference. Especially in ‘historical’ (I prefer the term 'non-experimental') science.
Much rhetorical use is given to the notion that YEC proponents discard the science that gave us planes, toasters and let us visit the moon (sometimes called ‘operational’...I prefer ‘experimental’ science). Yet CDE is not the same type of science that gave us these things. CDE is making claims about the distant past by using present observations and there is a real disconnect when doing this.
One of the chief functions of experiment is to rule out other possible explanations (causes) for the occurrence being studied. Variables are carefully controlled in multiple experiments to do this. The ability to rule out competing explanations is severally degraded when dealing with historical science because you cannot repeat and control variables. You may be able to repeat an observation, but there is no control over the variables for the historical event you are studying.
Scientists dealing with non-experimental science have to deal with this problem, and they generally do so by making assumptions (sometimes well founded, sometimes not). A couple of clear examples are uniformitarianism (Geological processes happening today, happened the same way, the same rate in the past) and the idea that similarity implies ancestry.
A couple of quotes will make my point for me. Henry Gee chief science writer for Nature wrote "No fossil is buried with its birth certificate" ... and "the intervals of time that separate fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent." It's hard enough, with written records, to trace a human lineage back a few hundred years. When we have only a fragmentary fossil record, and we're dealing with millions of years -- what Gee calls "Deep Time" -- the job is effectively impossible... Gee concludes: "To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story -- amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific." (Taken from Icon’s of Evolution). Gee’s response to this quote of him supports my point “That it is impossible to trace direct lineages of ancestry and descent from the fossil record should be self-evident. Ancestors must exist, of course -- but we can never attribute ancestry to any particular fossil we might find…. Again, this is a logical constraint that must apply even if evolution were true -- which is not in doubt, because if we didn't have ancestors, then we wouldn't be here.”
Colin Paterson’s infamous quote about the lack of transitional fossils makes the same point. “The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archaeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no: there is no way of answering the question.”
A simple thought experiment highlights this concept. Assuming at some point in the future, scientists find some scientific knowledge that makes the naturalistic origin of life a more plausible possibility given the time constraints. (For instance...given completely arbitrary probabilities, say there is a 15% chance of OOL from unliving chemicals driven by natural processes in the lifetime of the earth to date) Does this mean that it must of happened that way in the past? Clearly the answer is no.
But even claims of certainty about experimental science is unjustified. The history of science contains many examples of widely held scientific beliefs being overturned. Phlogiston is probably the most famous, but geosynclinal theory (preceding plate techtonics) is a more non-experimental science example. So even claims about experimental science should be made with this in mind, evoking a more humble stance. Comments about CDE being a ‘fact’ or being on par with gravity are unfounded and display a profound ignorance of science and history. Such comments are not scientific, but faith based.
So how to evaluate between the two paradigms?
This is the question that matters... Controversially, Kuhn claimed that choosing between paradigms was not a rational process. Whilst not subscribing to complete relativism, I believe there is a real subjective nature between paradigms. Objective problems play a part, but how much those problems are weighted seems to be a fairly subjective decision.
From my perspective, the cascading failure of many of the evidences used to infer CDE is a clear indication of the marginal superiority of the (admittedly immature) YEC paradigm. Chief examples are things such as embryonic recapitulation (found to be a fraud), the fossil record (Found to exhibit mostly stasis and significant convergence), the genetic evidence (Found to exhibit massive homoplasy). Update: And the disagreement between molecular and morphological data.
It is curious however, that even with the near monopoly of the CDE paradigm in science education in America, that only a small fraction believe it. (CDE hovers around 10%, whilst 50+% accept YEC and the remainder Theistic evolution) This certainly indicates to me, that perhaps it is CDE that is not as compelling an explanation than YEC.
Whatever the decision, it is more appropriate to say that YEC is the “better inferred explanation” than CDE or vice versa. Such an understanding of the debate leads to a far more productive discourse and avoids the insults, derision and anger that seems to be so prevalent.
(Note: Post updated to fix spelling errors, highlight the distinct is between experimental and non-experiment science.
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