If you gaze at an illustration of our solar system you will immediately be struck by its clock-like regularities. The planets revolve about the sun in the same direction, and in the same plane—the sun’s equatorial plane known as the ecliptic. And as the planets race around the track they also spin like tops, and in the same direction. And their moons show the same patterns. The solar system seems to be one big, precise, clock-like machine. Well, almost.
In fact, imbedded in the solar system’s clock-like regularities are a great many anomalies, some of which were known in Bernoulli’s day. The comets do not travel in the ecliptic, many moons go their own way, and Venus and Uranus don’t spin like the other planets. And beyond the obvious anomalies there is a steady stream of less obvious, but no less vexing, deviations. For instance, while the planets do appear to travel in the ecliptic, in fact their orbits all deviate from that ideal, in varying degrees.
This is the puzzle of the solar system. It reveals striking patterns but also myriad and significant anomalies. Bernoulli was sure a single cause was behind all this, but his certainty was to give way, years later, to a variety of complex ideas with multiple causes that would be needed.
A comet may have collided with the sun or a cloud of material may have condensed. Instabilities may have caused some planets to form rapidly, planets and objects collided, moons formed, icy dust collected, planets perturbed and raced around each other, moons were captured, objects were ejected to the far reaches, the solar wind cleaned house, and magnetic braking slowed the sun. These is a bit of the pinball-machine like chaos that has been envisioned to account for the solar system. Hardly the single cause Bernoulli had “proven.” And today’s discoveries of other solar systems, with their variety of patterns, has complicated the picture even more.
But if Bernoulli’s foray into cosmology was ill-fated, he did make a lasting, if unfortunately, contribution to the historical sciences. That would be his method of constructing and comparing different hypotheses. Hypotheses in the historical sciences tend to be dramatically underdetermined and so, it would seem, hardly able to be proven.
But if competing hypotheses could be constructed—and knocked down—then is not one’s hypothesis the obvious winner? In fact statistical probabilities could be calculated allowing us no option, as Bernoulli argued, but to accept the hypothesis unquestioningly. His was not the first use of such contrastive thinking, but the son of math’s first family brought the authority of numerical calculations and to the historical sciences.
Bernoulli’s mathematical version of contrastive proofs soon became standard fare in eighteenth century cosmology, and then no less so in the nineteenth century’s theory of evolution. After Darwin it continued to provide many of the key justifications of evolutionary thought. Now a new paper out this week in the elite journal Nature continues the tradition.
The new paper constructs several hypotheses for the early phases of evolution history and shows how universal common descent, in one variant or another, is the clear winner. And in the now well-established Bernoullian tradition, the results are grossly misinterpreted in favor of evolution. After showing that a comparison of 23 proteins—similar versions of which are found in many species—fit the universal common descent hypothesis far better than the hypothesized alternatives, the paper erroneously states that the results are “very strong empirical evidence” for universal common descent.
Not surprisingly the paper is an instant hit with evolutionists, celebrated everywhere from journals and popular science magazines to the blogosphere. One science newsletter proclaims:
First Large-Scale Formal Quantitative Test Confirms Darwin’s Theory of Universal Common Ancestry
Scientific American has informed its readers that “The Proof Is in the Proteins: Test Supports Universal Common Ancestor for All Life,” and National Geographic adds that:
All Species Evolved From Single Cell, Study Finds
Creationism called "absolutely horrible hypothesis"—statistically speaking.
In his blog PZ Myers, who with his Lutheran background believes god would never have created this world, applauds the big numbers that “support evolutionary theory.” And Nick Matzke, who also believes in the evolutionary metaphysics that god would never have designed what we observe in the biological world, is delighted that the new work debunks creationism.
Of course all of this is false. It is junk science at its worst. In a public discussion I asked the paper’s author about these problems. I reminded him that one hypothesis comparing well against others does not translate into very strong empirical evidence for the hypothesis. But he disagreed. He assured me that his analysis is fundamentally based on modern, cutting edge statistical methods, and that he firmly stands by his conclusions. Indeed, no scientist or statistician would find them to be controversial, he added.
I explained to him that the problem lies not with the statistical methods. Daniel Bernoulli also used cutting edge methods of the day (he was the first that I know of to use a null hypothesis based on random distributions). But when comparing such scores a scientist or a statistician would merely claim that the hypothesis with the significantly higher score is the winner of the group. That is entirely different than his high claim that the results constitute very strong empirical evidence for the hypothesis. That conclusion is simply false. The hypothesis may be true, it may not be true, but the study does not provide such powerful empirical evidence for it. Unfortunately, such misinformation fuels the kind of reporting we saw above.
But again the evolutionist continued to disagree. You are simply incorrect, he replied. From a model selection perspective, from a likelihood perspective, and from a Bayesian perspective, empirical evidence can only be evaluated relative to other hypotheses. That’s all we have. No hypothesis can be evaluated in isolation—such an idea is impossible and incoherent. This view is not from evolutionary biology—this is the standard non-frequentist statistical view (and even most frequentists have the same view). He suggested I read some introductory books on likelihood and Bayesian statistics.
Evolutionary thought, including its history, metaphysics and abuse of science, is a fascinating study. I replied that I was amazed. The lengths to which evolutionists must go is incredible. It is always striking to see the certainty with which evolutionists promote their philosophies and metaphysics. You can see it in the history of evolutionary thought, and today it just keeps on coming. They impose their philosophies, as though they were facts, on the world. Their faulty logic is exceeded only by their boldness.
I again explained that when one hypothesis beats out others you cannot make the claims you are making. What you have is very strong evidence that the hypothesis beats out the other hypotheses, period. You do not have very strong evidence for the hypothesis, as you are claiming.
And your appeal to the limitations in your confirmation methods doesn’t change the fact that you are making false claims, and celebrating them as valid findings. The fact that “That's all we have” hardly justifies the publishing and promotion of misinformation. The fact that “That’s all we have” ought to serve to temper the claims, not exalt them.
But contrastive thinking has been at the heart of evolutionary thought for centuries. From Kant to Darwin, and on up, what has always been rather revealing is how evolutionists have presented their proofs as though they were objective, undeniable findings. It is always a bit shocking to see such bold claims made on such faulty logic.
At this point the evolutionist turned the blame on me. We have, he explained, overwhelming evidence that universal common ancestry beats out competing multiple independent ancestry hypotheses. If you don’t consider that as evidence for universal common ancestry, then you are certainly entitled to that opinion. But the rest of us are not required to believe that your opinion makes any sense. Yours is a strange philosophy, to my mind, and I’m sure to most people who will read your words.
Repeatedly I have found that evolutionists are unable to see the problems and fallacies with their theory. And so when you point out those problems, the evolutionist ultimately can only conclude that the problem lies with you. You are an obstructionist, or biased, or anti science, or something.
This evolutionist was not being judgmental in any personal way. He threw up his hands and concluded that I am the problem, but his response was genuine, not contrived. It was not mean spirited. Just as Bernoulli proclaimed that anyone who would deny the obvious evolutionary conclusions “must reject all the truths, which we know by induction” so too evolutionists ever since can only understand skepticism as, itself, problematic.
Evolution is a metaphysically-driven tradition and like most such traditions has built-in protections against objective critique. The result, unfortunately, is junk science. This new paper will be erroneously celebrated far and wide as yet a new level of certainty for evolution. Let the worship begin.