Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Darwinius masillae: The Religion in Evolution

Alfred North Whitehead once observed that we often take our most crucial assumptions to be obvious and in no need of justification. These underlying assumptions are unspoken and undefended because, as Whitehead put it, "Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.” This week a new paper describes a beautiful primate fossil which evolutionists claim as powerful evidence for their theory. In fact, evolutionists have orchestrated an instant sensation out of the find. Journalists across the board obediently relayed the evolutionary message to their readers, listeners and viewers, and movies, books, documentaries and web sites are in the works. It will be a multi media extravaganza.

Why all the hype? It is not merely because we now have a beautifully preserved early primate fossil. While this is certainly cause for celebration in the paleontology department, it would not qualify for the evening news. The excitement is because of what Darwinius is thought to portend for evolution. The fossil is supposed to be an important puzzle piece in primate evolution, and therefore human evolution. And that's big news. But behind all the hype lies an unspoken and unrecognized assumption that has nothing to do with scientific research.

It seems so obvious that evolutionists would laugh to think it even needs to be explained: similarity implies evolution. As one evolutionist quipped, if an intelligent being had designed both a fish and Sophia Loren from scratch, there’s no way, if evolution hadn’t occurred, that her arm would have had any internal resemblance to the fish.

That's a funny way to put it, but it is no joke. This sentiment comes from a non scientific, theological tradition that has been influential for centuries. It is one of the core religious components of evolutionary thought, and it has deeply penetrated today's science. This new primate fossil is not merely viewed as a new specimen to add to our understanding of species from the past. It is taken as yet more proof of evolution, and this will be the message in the media blitz to come.

But similarities between species are not necessarily a result of evolution. In fact, that idea has substantial scientific problems. But the mandate for evolution doesn't come from science, it comes from religion. The Darwinius masillae story is yet another example of this influence, and why it is important. Consider this recent example from PZ Myers' blog:

The evolution of whales is also a matter of fact and evidence. We have the fossils; we can see a pattern of change across geological time, from those hooved terrestrial quadrupeds to flippered ambush predators adapted to living in the shallows to four-flippered, paddle-tailed swimmers to obligate water-dwellers with flukes and no hind limbs, with many stages in between. It is a beautiful and strongly-supported example of macroevolutionary change. So yes, we believe it — you'd have to be blind to ignore the testimony of the rocks.

There are three fallacies in this single paragraph, but they aren't fallacies to evolutionists. Given the religious beliefs of evolutionists, such evolutionary thinking makes perfect sense. The most obvious of Myers' fallacies is his affirming of the consequent. If a theory makes a prediction that is found to be true, this does not prove the theory to be true. However, if the theory, and only the theory, can make that particular prediction, then the successful prediction does prove the theory true. As Elliott Sober put it, evolution relies on contrastive thinking. Or as Ernst Mayr put it, evolution is proven by the default of the alternatives.

And how do evolutionists know that only their theory can create the fossil patterns we find? Such a claim, of course, goes far outside science. Such a claim entails religious knowledge not available to science, and not vulnerable to scientific findings. With evolutionary thinking, the logic switches from if P then Q, to if and only if P, then Q. The grammatical difference is slight but the effect is huge. The former is scientific, the latter is religious. The former refers to a particular theory, the latter presumes knowledge of all explanations.

PZ Myers thinks of himself as a voice of reason, free of religious motivation. Like the fish which is unaware it is in water, Myers and the evolutionists are so steeped in religious committment that they are unaware of it. As Whitehead observed, the undefended assumptions are the important ones. For "such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.”