Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Evolution's Religion Revealed

Did you know evolution is a religious theory? If this seems strange then read on. In this post I will explain one way that evolution is contingent on religious reasoning. Such reasoning is a constant thread running through the evolution genre, but it can be subtle. If you are familiar with the evolution literature you may have noticed this underlying theme, but exactly how does it work?

Enter evolutionist and philosopher Elliott Sober. In his new paper, Sober continues his work in analyzing the arguments for evolution. He has done much work which is particularly helpful in showing (i) the premises built into the arguments and (ii) the relative strengths of the different arguments evolutionists use. And strong arguments are needed for evolution, as Sober writes:

One of the main objections to Darwin’s theory, both when the Origin was published and in the minds of many present-day Creationists, is the idea that species (or ‘‘fundamental kinds’’ of organism) are separated from each other by walls. No one doubted, then or now, that natural selection can cause small changes within existing species. The question was whether the process Darwin described can bring about large changes. Maybe a species can be pushed only so far ... If we focus just on natural selection, it is hard to see why Darwin had the more compelling case. However, if we set natural selection aside and consider instead the idea of common ancestry, the picture changes. Darwin thought he had strong evidence for common ancestry. This is enough to show that insuperable species boundaries (and insuperable boundaries between ‘‘kinds’’) are a myth; if different species have a common ancestor, the lineages involved faced no such walls in their evolution.

And what is this powerful evidence for common ancestry? Sober points out that the strong arguments used by Darwin are not from adaptive designs (i.e., designs that increase fitness), but rather useless or even deleterious designs (Sober cites our tailbone and gill slits in the human fetus as examples). He summarizes this in what he calls Darwin's Principle:

Adaptive similarities provide almost no evidence for common ancestry while similarities that are useless or deleterious provide strong evidence for common ancestry.

And why are useless or deleterious similarities so helpful? It is not because they raise the probability of common ancestry, but rather because they lower the probability of separate ancestry. In other words, the reason common descent is a no-brainer is that the alternative, separate ancestry, is extremely unlikely.

Evolutionists like to use the analogy of two students turning in writing assignments with identical typos or mistakes. It would be conceivable for different papers to have similar ideas and even passages. Such similarities are reasonably possible even if the students worked independently. But is separate ancestry at all likely if the papers contain so many shared typos and mistakes?

No, and the probabilities can become ridiculously low. It is these shared errors that make the case for a common "ancestor" because they disprove separate ancestors. Similarly, evolutionists say that it is the shared biological errors that make common ancestry the obvious conclusion by showing that separate ancestry is so unlikely.

This, then, is how those insuperable species boundaries (and insuperable boundaries between ‘‘kinds’’) are shown to be a myth. Simply put, evolution becomes a fact because creation is, for all practical purposes, false.

So where's the religion?

While all of this may sound scientific, it in fact hinges on subtle but crucial religious assumptions. First consider the term paper analogy. It is true that we can scientifically determine the likelihood of whether or not the two students worked independently. We can do this because we understand very well the process of writing term papers. And if need be we could even measure the rate at which students make mistakes, so the probability of the shared errors could actually be calculated fairly accurately. In other words, we have an accurate and reliable model for the creation of term papers and their errors.

But what about those shared biological errors? How many of us have created different species? And what researcher can measure the rate at which these errors arise when species are created? Of course we cannot measure such data--they come from our religious beliefs. Here is how Stephen Jay Gould described the role of these shared errors in evolutionary thought:

Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution--paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce. No one understood this better than Darwin. Ernst Mayr has shown how Darwin, in defending evolution, consistently turned to organic parts and geographic distributions that make the least sense.

Over and over Darwin argued that biological designs were "inexplicable on the theory of creation." From the pentadactyl pattern in our hands and feet to the distribution of frogs around the world.

Today these arguments have been augmented to include the latest findings, such as pseudogenes. They are widely used and scientific sounding. When evolutionist David Penny argues for evolution with the reasoning that "Clearly we can reject any idea that the trees from the different sequences are independent," one might never suspect that religion is at work. Is it not a scientific conclusion? Hardly.

But the religion in evolution is not always so subtle. In fact, when evolutionists attempt to prove their theory is a fact, they usually bring out their religion in full force. It is just so obvious for evolutionists. How could anyone disagree with their conclusions? In his book Finding Darwin's God, Ken Miller describes elephant-like fossil species dating back to as much as 50 million years ago. Trends in the design of the trunks and tusks can be found amongst these species. Using these trends, the species can be compared and classified. It is, according to Miller, an overwhelming proof of evolution because, yes here it comes, we cannot possibly believe there is a designer behind such a haphazard arrangement:

This designer has been busy! And what a stickler for repetitive work! Although no fossil of the Indian elephant has been found that is older than 1 million years, in just the last 4 million years no fewer than nine members of its genus, Elephas, have come and gone. We are asked to believe that each one of these species bears no relation to the next, except in the mind of that unnamed designer whose motivation and imagination are beyond our ability to fathom. Nonetheless, the first time he designed an organism sufficiently similar to the Indian elephant to be placed in the same genus was just 4 million years ago--Elephas ekorensis. Then, in rapid succession, he designed ten (count’em!) different Elephas species, giving up work only when he had completed Elephas Maximus, the sole surviving species.

This, and a thousand other examples, is the true color of evolution. It is impossible to separate it from its religious foundation. The scientific problems with evolution and common ancestry are enormous. But Darwin and evolutionists ever since have argued that evolution must be a fact because creation is obviously false. The arguments take on different forms depending on the evidence at hand, and they can be subtle. There need be no mention of religion or creation. The underlying religious premise is often hidden between the lines. Indeed, evolutionists often are unaware of the metaphysics that surrounds them. Religion drives science, and it matters.