If I had a nickel for every time evolutionists insisted that they are merely following the evidence, immediately after (or before) making religious arguments, I think I would be a zillionaire. You can read about Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers insisting on their innocence here and here, but this self contradiction is not limited to the big shots. From laboratories to sanctuaries, and dorm rooms to chat rooms, the constant refrain of evolutionists is that the raw data make their idea a fact, but then the supporting arguments are religious. Evolutionists are the proverbial fish that doesn’t know it’s in water, the lampshade partier who doesn’t know he is drunk.
Recently an evolutionist informed me that this idea that evolution is religious is all wrong. Oh really? Indeed, yes, utter nonsense. The evidence behind evolution is compelling and obvious. How embarrassing for anyone to question it. Like it or not, evolution is a fact.
Oh boy, here we go again. So what sort of evidence is so powerful that it can make such an unlikely idea into a fact? We’re supposed to think that the most complex designs known arose on their own, and indeed we must accept this as fact or we are ignorant. This must be very persuasive, powerful evidence. So what are some examples?
As usual, the evolutionist provided evidences that are indeed very powerful. But their power comes not from a scientific interpretation, but from a religious or metaphysical interpretation. For example, the evolutionist cited pseudogenes.
Pseudogenes are disabled genes and similar pseudogenes, with similar disabling mutations, are found in cousin species. Surely, as the argument goes, this is proof positive of common descent. There’s only one problem, the premise of the proof is not scientific.
This pseudogene example is a good one because it mirrors so many others that have come before. The evidence, from a scientific perspective, is circumstantial and mixed. Yes, some pseudogenes have similar disabling mutations in different species, the so-called shared errors. But there is evidence that mutations are not always random to begin with, and hot spots have been observed in pseudogenes. Furthermore, there are disabling mutation patterns in some pseudogenes that cannot be explained by common descent. So here even evolutionists agree that repeated mutations must have occurred independently.
We can certainly chalk up some instances of the pseudogene evidence as successful predictions of evolution, but on the whole it is not that simple.
So at best, from a scientific perspective, we have a successful prediction. But there are many failed predictions as well. In science we do not select the evidences the help our case and claim victory. We need to look at all the evidence.
Such details, however, are not a problem for evolutionists for there is another side to the pseudogene argument. As with so many other evidences that have been enlisted by evolutionists, the pseudogenes, they say, would never have been designed or created.
As Elliott Sober explained recently (though it has been obvious for centuries), the strength of the evolutionary argument is not in its driving up the probability of evolution, but in its driving down the probability of creation or design.
At its core evolutionary thinking is contrastive. It’s evolution versus creation—us versus them. In this zero sum game, either they’re right and we’re wrong, or they’re wrong and we’re right. And since the evidence shows that they’re wrong, then we must be right. There you have it, evolution is a fact. But the argument is not scientific. It relies on private, subjective premises about design or creation.
The logic is rarely spelled out as plainly as in Sober’s paper. A rhetorical question or snide comment will usually do to make the point. “We’ll leave others to figure out why god would create such junk,” is a typical taunt.
And so isn’t it obvious that in all of this evolution is just science? When probed about his metaphysics, the evolutionist has a variety of canards at the ready to separate himself from the religion he has planted. “Why, we’re just testing your theory of creationism,” is the usual first stop.
But that’s not my theory of creationism. And even if it was, your rebuke would then allow only for the conclusion that my particular theory of creationism is false—not that evolution is compelling.
In fact, most of the strong evolutionary arguments entail religious premises which are not found in creationism or design—instead they arose in various traditions within the web of evolutionary thought. As with so many other origin tales, evolution entails strong religious feelings about god and the world. If I only had a nickel.