Monday, July 27, 2009

Are Evolutionists Delusional (or just in denial)?

My friend Paul Nelson has the patience of Job. He writes that evolutionists, such as PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, "need to think about [their theological arguments] more deeply." In one moment evolutionists make religious arguments and in the next they claim their theory is "just science." Their religious arguments, they explain, really aren't religious arguments after all. Gee, that was easy. In light of such absurdity, I don't have much confidence that evolutionists are going to think more deeply about this. But it would be nice if they would stop misrepresenting science. And it would be nice if they would stop using their credentials to mislead the public. In short, it would be nice if they would stop lying.

I don't like to think that people are liars. Perhaps evolutionists are merely delusional or in denial. I know they are smart people so this isn't just a case of acting stupidly. Whatever the case, it is a fact that evolutionists engage in substantial misrepresentation of the facts. Here's how Coyne attempts to explain why his religion isn't really religion after all:

the argument from imperfection — i.e., organisms show imperfections of “design” that constitute evidence for evolution — is not a theological argument, but a scientific one. The reason why the recurrent laryngeal nerve, for example, makes a big detour around the aorta before attaching to the larynx is perfectly understandable by evolution (the nerve and artery used to line up, but the artery evolved backwards, constraining the nerve to move with it), but makes no sense under the idea of special creation — unless, that is, you believe that the creator designed things to make them look as if they evolved. No form of creationism/intelligent design can explain these imperfections, but they all, as Dobzhansky said, “make sense in the light of evolution.”

Should we laugh or cry? According to Coyne the design "makes no sense under the idea of special creation" and this "is not a theological argument, but a scientific one." Coyne's misrepresentations and sophistry are, frankly, astonishing. Let's have a look in more detail. First, here is what Coyne writes about this design in his new book, Why Evolution is true:

One of nature's worst designs is shown by the recurrent laryngeal nerve of mammals. Running from the brain to the larynx, this nerve helps us speak and swallow. The curisou thing is that it is much longer than it needs to be. ... In giraffes the nerve takes a similar path, but one that runs all the way down that long neck and back up again: a distance fifteen feet longer than the direct route! ... This circuitous path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve is not only poor design, but might even be maladaptive. That extra length makes it more prone to injury. It can, for example, be damaged by a blow to the chest, making it hard to talk or swallow. But the pathway makes sense when we understand how the recurrent laryngeal nerve evolved. ... But the particular bad designs that we see make sense only if they evolved from features of earlier ancestors. If a designer did have discernable motives when creating species, one of them must surely have been to fool biologists by making organisms look as though they evolved. [82-5]

This, of course, is a classic example of the theological naturalism which is the heart of evolutionary thought. Design X must have arisen naturalistically because it would not have been designed. Such assumptions about design, and what counts as acceptable and unacceptable design, are metaphysical--they are above science. They do not derive from science, but rather drive the science, as we can see so vividly here in Coyne's example.

Coyne also employs the classic evolutionary argument that it would be deceptive for God to have created the design, because this would mean he created organisms to look as though they evolved.

But nature's organisms do not look as though they evolved. Except, that is, if one assumes that God would never have designed the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Again, we're back to assumptions about design. Evolutionists are so deep in their own metaphysics they don't even realize it.

Evolution has no scientific explanation for how the recurrent laryngeal nerve, or any other nerve for that matter, evolved. It is a vacuous theory. But it knows they must have evolved because God would not have done it that way.

In fact, evolution has no solid basis for even thinking these designs are necessarily poor. This is more religion making its way into the argument, as the assumption of poor design is itself a motif of evolutionary thought. When in doubt, evolutionists assume lack of function or poor design. It is not a scientific finding so much as a consequence of the belief that evolution is true.

In fact, evolution's track record is terrible. Its many "findings" of lack of function or poor design are typically found to be false when more understanding is gained. In the case of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, it and associated nerves are complex and we by no means are in a position to declare the state of the design's goodness at this time.

Finally, Coyne makes a standard evolutionary appeal to a famous paper by evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Dobzhansky was one of the twentieth century's leading evolutionists and he wrote a paper entitled "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

The title itself reveals the metaphysical message and, not surprisingly, the paper was a tirade against divine creation. It is now a classic example of theological naturalism in action. The paper's title has become one of the most memorable and quoted phrases for evolutionists--another constant reminder of the theology embedded in their thinking.

Coyne makes the usual appeal to this iconic paper, but as if sensing a problem Coyne carefully edits the title. He writes that such imperfect designs "as Dobzhansky said, 'make sense in the light of evolution.' "

It may sound similar, but Coyne's redaction is a not too subtle attempt to hide the metaphysics. Dobzhansky's message was that imperfections make no sense except in evolution. That is, imperfections make no sense in divine creation.

Coyne inverts the message to say that imperfect designs make sense in evolution. Of course, but so what? So do perfect designs, and everything in between. All these make sense in evolution just as my bad day yesterday makes sense in astrology and warp drive makes sense in science fiction movies. When you can make up whatever just-so stories come to mind, then everything "makes sense."

The bottom line is that it is precisely from theology and metaphysics that evolution derives its power. Evolution is proclaimed to be a fact by Dobzhansky, Coyne and the evolutionists not on the basis of speculative science. As Elliott Sober has pointed out, evolution's truth status comes from the assumed unlikeliness of design, and all the theology entailed therein. It is, as Sober put it, Darwin's Principle.

Evolutionists like to make factual claims. One fact that is incontrovertible is that evolution is driven by theological claims--that is a matter of public record. Evolution is a religious theory. What is interesting is that the evolutionist denies any such thing. He may as well be denying the nose on his own face. This is truly a fascinating mythology.

Whether evolutionists are liars, delusional or in denial is difficult to say. What is obvious is that evolutionary thought is bankrupt. Religion drives science, and it matters.