Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Even Wrong

The great physicist Wolfgang Pauli once criticized a scientific paper as so bad that it was “not even wrong.” It was so sloppy and ill conceived, thought Pauli, that to call it merely wrong would be to give it too much credit--it wasn’t even wrong. Today such a condemnation applies well to the theory of evolution which relies on religious convictions to prop up bad science. It seems that every argument for evolution wilts under scrutiny. Here is a classic example.

Evolutionary thinking has always appealed to the patterns found in nature’s designs as powerful mandates for a naturalistic origin. For instance, in the eighteenth century Daniel Bernoulli, Immanuel Kant and Pierre Laplace all argued that the patterns of the solar system revealed that it must have evolved via a naturalistic process. Different processes were hypothesized and no one knew exactly how it happened, but these Enlightenment thinkers considered it to be a fact that, one way or another, the solar system evolved strictly via natural law (sound familiar?).

Exactly why did the patterns of the solar system mandate such a narrative? Because if God had designed the solar system it would not have the patterns we observe. As Kant explained:

It is clear that there is no reason why the celestial bodies must organize their orbits in one single direction. … Thus, God’s choice, not having the slightest motive for tying them to one single arrangement, would reveal itself with a greater freedom in all sorts of deviations and differences.

In other words, we observe certain patterns, but they seem to be gratuitous and god would not so limit his designs. In the following centuries this argument became a cornerstone of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Here is one of Darwin’s many arguments that his theory must be true because god would never have created the patterns we observe in biology:

How inexplicable are the cases of serial homologies on the ordinary view of creation! Why should the brain be enclosed in a box composed of such numerous and such extraordinary shaped pieces of bone, apparently representing vertebrae? … Why should similar bones have been created to form the wing and the leg of a bat, used as they are for such totally different purposes, namely flying and walking? Why should one crustacean, which has an extremely complex mouth formed of many parts, consequently always have fewer legs; or conversely, those with many legs have simpler mouths? Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?

Today this argument is rampant in evolutionary thought. It runs throughout the literature and evolutionists invoke it when their theory is questioned. There are so many contradictions and absurdities in this evolutionary argument it is hard to know where to begin. Here are a few of its more egregious failures.

1. First, the argument obviates huge problems with evolution. The patterns we find in biology do not fit evolution, but this minor detail is glossed over by using this counter argument. Instead of demonstrating that evolution is a compelling story, evolutionists argue that god certainly did not design what we find in biology, so it must have evolved. No wonder they say evolution is a fact. We don’t know how it happened, but it must have happened. Consequently the bar is substantially lowered for naturalistic explanations. Speculative, untestable, and downright silly explanations are routinely contemplated.

2. Similarly, another problem is that conflicting data are not viewed as problematic because, after all, they are not random. There certainly is a pattern of sorts, and so evolutionists take this as profound support for their theory, even when the data are contradictory, under evolution. Evolution’s epistemological bar is lowered so far it is hitting the ground, as all kinds of observables become powerful supporting evidence. The massive convergence found in biology (profound similarities in otherwise distant species) become a non issue for evolutionists. I debated one professor who claimed that both similarities and differences between species are evidence for evolution. Talk about having your cake and eat it too. But it all makes perfect sense if you’re an evolutionist.

3. This leads to the next problem, which is that this argument is a science stopper. By removing the possibility that evolution may be false, a whole set of questions and research avenues are automatically eliminated. And of course, it makes evolution unfalsifiable. Different hypotheses within evolution can be tested, but evolution itself cannot be.

4. Indeed another problem, in addition to the sanctioning of raw speculation, is the massive data interpretation and filtering bias. Biological data are interpreted and filtered according to evolution. Contradictory data are usually filtered out long before the analysis step, thus improving the fit. Evolutionists make all kinds of erroneous claims about how astronomically well the data fit their theory.

5. Of course another problem is the argument is religious. It is a problem because evolutionists claim their theory is certainly not religious. Indeed, they argue strenuously that religion must absolutely be cleansed from science. Religion and science, they say, do not mix. But in fact they do mix, and quite well it seems.

A common canard is that any such religious claims do not reflect the beliefs of evolutionists; rather, it is merely a test of opposing ideas. That is, of course, irrelevant. When evaluating theories, personal beliefs are not part of the equation. When religious premises are used to prove a theory, then the theory is relying on the religious premises, period. Who actually believes or doesn’t believe in the premise is a separate matter.

6. But is it not reasonable to test opposing ideas? Can we not look for patterns as a means of rejecting the design hypothesis? Sure, but why do patterns refute design? Is there anyone (aside from the evolutionist) who says that a designer would not use patterns? A far more significant test would be to show that evolution is compelling. If naturalistic processes do the job, then design is superfluous. But evolution repeatedly fails.

7. The use of patterns to reject design reveals how arbitrary is the evolutionary criteria. Kant, for instance, realizing the data did not fit the patterns very well (and thus potentially raising problems for strictly naturalistic explanations), amended his “god wouldn’t use patterns” argument, with the additional argument that “and, oh by the way, if god were to use patterns, he would do it precisely.” So patterns prove evolution, and deviations from patterns do to.

Evolutionists can, in fact, contrive various criteria to refute opposing ideas. Imagine if nature really did consist of a series of random designs. Evolutionists could just as easily claim it as a powerful sign of natural processes. After all, a designer certainly would create according to patterns, whereas the unguided, blind forces of nature easily explain the randomness we observe.

The metaphysics in evolution run deep. It is one long religious argument, filled with non scientific claims and speculation. But it recognizes none of this in itself, and instead projects it onto opposing ideas. In the height of hypocrisy, evolutionists locate these problems in their neighbor’s eye. Opposing ideas, they say, don’t fit the evidence very well, are non falsifiable, are science stoppers, and are religious. All of this in defense of a theory that isn’t even wrong. Religion drives science and it matters.