Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evolution And Shoddy Logic

It seems that the Evolution/Creation debate has broken out in the YeshivaWorldNews coffeeroom. To his credit, the YW Editor has been putting up both pro- and anti-evolution posts.

One thing that often amuses me about arguments like this from the Creationist* side is the fact that the Creationists inevitably end up using shoddy logic to prove their point. I have long maintained that it would be much more logical for Creationists to simply ignore the evidence and state that they hold their position solely as a matter of faith rather than argue with the evolutionists on a scientific basis. By waging the battle on the "scientific turf," they open themselves up to arguments that simply do not work.

I had a good example of this in the YWN thread. A poster named Bogen came up with this gem:

Evolution is just a theory, not a fact. (And a false theory, at that.)

Past evidence for evolution has been overturned. In the past, major scientific revolutions have overturned theories that were at the time considered factual.

In the past there have been scientific hoaxes regarding evolution, such as the Piltdown Man forgery.

Pieces of "evidence" for evolution such as Ernst Haeckel's 19th-century embryo drawings, were not merely "scientific errors" but frauds; Biology textbooks have continued to reproduce such "evidence" long after it had been debunked.

Evolution is a pseudo-religion (evolution is based on faith, supporters of evolution revere Charles Darwin as a prophet, and supporters of evolution dogmatically reject alternative suggestions out-of-hand.)

Evolution is "unfalsifiable" (there is no tests that could be made that would demonstrate that the statement is false). Any "fact" can be "fitted" into the evolutionary framework. Past events of speciation are not observable and repeatable, and therefore evolution is not falsifiable. In 1976, Popper himself said that "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme".

I don't mean to pick on Bogen personally here. These arguments are typical of the ones that you find in the less-educated corner of the Creationist camp. And every one of these arguments utterly fails when it comes to disproving evolution (which was Bogen's goal):

  • The fact that he mentions that evolution is "only a theory" shows that he does not understand just what a scientific theory is. Gravity, too, is a theory.
  • The fact that " major scientific revolutions have overturned theories that were at the time considered factual," hardly proves that evolution is false. After all, at one time we had theories as to how diseases were transmitted. Now,we have the germ theory. The fact that an older theory was overturned does not invalidate the germ theory. Likewise, the fact that older evolutionary models were overturned does not invalidate newer models.
  • The fact that frauds such as Piltdown Man and Haeckel's embryo drawings were perpetrated does not invalidate evolutionary theory. Fraud has existed in all branches of science at one time or another. The fact that the frauds were eventually discovered and discredited is a point *in favor* of the scientific method.
  • The claims that evolution is a pseudo-religion, that Darwin is revered as a "prophet," that evolutionists dogmatically support *anything* (isn't that against the very idea of the scientific method?) and that evolution is unfalsifiable and has never been observed are simply false. A simple Google serach or common sense will show them to be outright false.

Interestingly enough, I don't have a problem with a faith based argument, regardless of whether or not I can show it to be false. For example, a cornerstone of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Now, I personally wasn't present and can't state for certain whether it happened or not. I don't have a problem with a Christian who maintains that it happened -- after all, I have no argument to counter it and say that it didn't happen. I don't even have a problem with a faith based argument that is counter to scientific evidence. For example, someone can maintain that the universe is only 5769 years old and that God rigged the evidence to make the world look older. Now, I personally don't agree with that statement, but if that's what you want to believe, then go ahead.

Shoddy logic, or outright false claims, on the other hand, is something that I feel the need to address. In other words, when Creationists claim that evolution didn't happen because they maintain it as an article of faith, then I won't argue. I may consider you wrong, but not foolish. On the other hand, when they use bad logic and false statements, then they are wrong, and possibly foolish or malicious.

The Wolf

Related Post: Exactly Whom Is Doing The Arguing?
Also, check out The Rebbetzin's Husband's post regarding Creationist arguments.


* When I say "Creationist" in this post, I'm specifically referring to the Young Earth Creationists who maintain that evolution did not/does not happen. I fully recognize that one can believe in both Creation by a Divine Power and evolution at the same time.

NB: I don't mean to be attacking Bogen here "behind his back." However, past experience has shown that whenever I link to (or even refer to) my blog, the YWN editor does not put up the post. So there really is no effective way for me to alert him to this post. If someone has a way of getting the message to him, I'd appreciate it.

25 comments:

His Lordship, Garnel Ironheart said...

Are there flaws in the Darwin's theories? Yes. Is there plenty of scientific evidence supporting them? Also yes.

Just as you noted that the germ theory of disease overturned that which came before, we must also recognize the possibility that it too will be overturned one day.

Until very recently, high cholesterol was blamed for causing heart disease. Now evidence is starting to emerge that it doesn't. Something else is and the resulting damage to the body causes a reactive increase in cholesterol. This would explain why cholesterol-lowering drugs are nearly useless for preventing a first heart attack.

The problem many of us have with the pure evolutionists, as opposed to the theories, is that they do not see it this way. Evolution has been proven and will never be disproven, according to them. That crosses the line into faith making it a religion, not a science which would simply say "This is the best theory we have now to explain life around us. Give us a better one and we'll take a look at it."

PsychoToddler said...

Any time you bring religion or G-d into an argument you automatically take it out of the realm of natural science. If you're dealing with a being that can do *anything*, then of course He can arrange the "facts" to be whatever He wants them to look like. So the facts are therefore, irrelevant.

Sure, you can argue that G-d rigged the evidence to make the world look much older (and allow for scientific method to prove that it is). The real question is, why would He?

tesyaa said...

Well, that thread is now closed. I can't understand the purpose of the Coffee Room (or YWN as a whole for that matter) except to sell advertising.

DAG said...

If hoaxes prove Science is not valid, what does the Bible Code hoax prove?

Mikeinmidwood said...

Dag

The bible codes prove a lot about g-d. No hoax.

Jersey said...

If the Piltdown Man hoax disproved evolution, what does Shabbtai Zvi's hoax do to Judaism?

Yirmiahu said...

"When I say "Creationist" in this post, I'm specifically referring to the Young Earth Creationists who maintain that evolution did not/does not happen. I fully recognize that one can believe in both Creation by a Divine Power and evolution at the same time."

Perhaps before you are too tough on those who criticize "evolutionism" you might mention your conclusion to proponents of evolution...

"This thesis is the Principle of the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. It asserts that natural selection operating on variations is not only a sufficient condition for the origin of a species but also the only sufficient condition for the origin of any species" (The Logic and Methodology of Science and Pseudoscience, Fred Wilson, page 150)emphasis mine

"Sure, you can argue that G-d rigged the evidence to make the world look much older (and allow for scientific method to prove that it is). The real question is, why would He?"

This question is not as strong, imo, as why would He create a world in one way, and reveal to us He created it in another way without revealing that it was just allegorical? Or for that matter why He would create the world to appear as though it happened by chance?

Apparent prior existence, to some degree is inherent in the B'reshis account, so to use such apparent prior age to argue for an allegorical approach is circular.

triLcat said...

Interestingly, people continue to talk about Darwin's theory of phyletic gradualism, despite the fact that punctuated equilibrium is more accurately supported by the fossil record.

If you look at the theory of punctuated equilibrium, it is much easier to reconcile that form of evolution with creationism. (Although you still have to accept that a day of creation is an era and not a 24-hour day)

On a completely unrelated subject, you took Ezzie's wife's name in vain... I think you meant "search."

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Thanks for the link.

It seems to me that the appeal of the "older appearance" approach is not so much its logic as its pedigree, in that it is Talmudic in origin.

Anonymous said...

You missed the funniest shoddy logic in the whole enterprise: the creationists argue that evolution has been disproved (repeatedly!), and in the next breath say evolution isn't science because it's unfalsifiable! Totally oblivious.

Joseph said...

Wolf wrote:

The fact that " major scientific revolutions have overturned theories that were at the time considered factual," hardly proves that evolution is false. After all, at one time we had theories as to how diseases were transmitted. Now, we have the germ theory. The fact that an older theory was overturned does not invalidate the germ theory. Likewise, the fact that older evolutionary models were overturned does not invalidate newer models.

Wolf, your logic is flawed. Your example ("the fact that an older theory was overturned does not invalidate the germ theory") is incorrect. The correct example would be just as germ theory invalidated previous science on how diseases were transmitted (and just as "newer" evolutionary science overturned older evolutionary science), current evolutionary science can (and history has proven will) be overturned by even newer science.

Therefore, how can one place any faith in evolutionary science, considering it has been overturned in the past and will again in the future. (As far as disease transmittal is concerned, sure it may be overturned in the future but germ theory is the best current available medical science for society to utilize in fighting the spread of disease. We can change in the future if a better solution is found. Evolution on the other hand, is of no practical utility, and we need not rely on its theory that we know has and will be overturned.)

Joseph said...

In short, what scientist are now swearing is "proven fact" will become disproven (much like previous science has.)

Not a single word of Tanach has, or ever will, be disproven.

triLcat said...

"Not a single word of Tanach has, or ever will, be disproven."

That statement is silliness. The evidence is overwhelming that the Earth is several million years old.

There are full-on contradictions in the Torah. Even in the first two prakim of Breshit, there are discrepancies in the description, some of which are contradictory.

The fact that rabbis have found ways to gloss over these discrepancies doesn't mean they aren't there. Nothing in the Torah has been "disproven" because we don't allow it to be disproven. We hold tight to our beliefs and explain away anything that contradicts evidence to the contrary.

Use that argument on a real evolutionist who knows their stuff, and they'll find you twenty places where science has determined that the "truths" of the Tanach are so unlikely that you'd be foolish to count it as truth.

Personally, my faith isn't determined by whether every statement in the Torah is told exactly how it really played out. I assume that the Torah was written to a certain audience. Describing kriyat yam suf as a tsunami (there is geological evidence of that) wouldn't appeal to the Am Yisrael of the desert, so it was written as a full-on anti-nature miracle, and the rabbis went on to describe it as more and more of a miracle in the midrashim.

Then again, if you proved to me that there was never a guy named Avraham, my belief in the ways of Am Yisrael is strong enough that it wouldn't make me stop being a Jew.

Joseph said...

triLcat, I addressed myself to Wolf, not to every apikorus out there.

triLcat said...

Joseph: Perhaps you are not familiar with how the internet works... If you don't want everyone else reading and responding to what you write, you should use email.

Additionally, if you're calling me an apikores... I can only laugh. I'm actually quite comfortable with my relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam... but thanks.

Joseph said...

"I'm actually quite comfortable with my relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam"

I heard the same line from Reform folks.

triLcat said...

"I heard the same line from Reform folks."

Maybe they're doing something right that you don't realize...

Joseph said...

That fits your profile.

I notice you made a post well into Shabbos -- including in Israel.

triLcat said...

That's odd. On my computer screen, blogger lists the post time as 2:02pm.

Candle-lighting was at 4:16pm in Modiin.

Maybe you have the special version that tells you what you want to think instead of what's actually happening.

Joseph said...

"November 22, 2008 10:44 AM" Eastern Time

And you hold how many minutes after shkia?

triLcat said...

"November 22, 2008 10:44 AM" Eastern Time

17:44 = 5:44pm
Shabbos was over at 5:15pm.
sorry you don't know how to do math.

BrooklynWolf said...

OK, let's leave the talk of Chillul Shabbos alone please, can we? Thanks.

The correct example would be just as germ theory invalidated previous science on how diseases were transmitted (and just as "newer" evolutionary science overturned older evolutionary science), current evolutionary science can (and history has proven will) be overturned by even newer science.

Joseph,

You raise an interesting point. Nonetheless, I think you're wrong here. The reason is very simply because evolution is not going to go away. Yes, there may be refinements in the theory as we go along, but there is just too much evidence for it to expect that the entire enterprise is going to be overturned by some radical new theory.

In many ways, science progresses by further closing in on the mark. To use a fairly simple example, suppose I told you that I'm thinking of a number from 1 to 100 and I want you to guess it, with me telling you after each guess whether the number is higher or lower than your guess. Your first guess will probably be 50, and I'll tell you that my number is higher. Then you'll guess 75, and, again, I'll tell you my number is higher. Your next guess will likely be 87 or 88. In this way, you begin to eventually close in on the true answer. Yes, you still haven't hit it, but you *know* that the answer is not going to be found in the 1-15 range. The same is true with science... we change the next guess from 92 to 93 because it better fits the evidence, and eventually we'll find out if we need to adjust it up further, or perhaps down (even to 92.5!). But, based on the evidence already accumulated, the answer isn't going to be found at 17.

The Wolf

Joseph said...

Wolf,

Surely you are aware that "newer" science (in evolution or otherwise) has COMPLETELY overturned older science (i.e. determined the opposite of what previous science held as proven).

So to take your analogy, after I guessed 75, it would be as if you stated "whoops, sorry its below 50." (So at that point, yes it may even be 17!)

triLcat said...

I apologize for engaging in such a shtuyot conversation. I was genuinely curious as to how he'd arrived at the conclusion that I posted on Shabbat since I think I'd have noticed if I'd broken Shabbat...

Back to the real topic... Scientific theory is not the same as the colloquial use of theory. Scientific theory is based on massive amounts of evidence glued together with a level of conjecture.

The overwhelming evidence points to an Earth that is many millions of years old. To deny that is to deliberately bury your head in the sand.

The overwhelming fossil evidence points to the fact that humans as we exist today did not show up on Earth within a week of fish.

If you choose to be obtuse about this, go ahead.

If you choose to assume that the Torah isn't written as a history book, but rather as a spiritual guide, then you can accept this discrepancy and continue to be a Yid.

I feel bad for anyone who is in a situation where the fundamentals of their yiddishkeit involve disbelieving empirical evidence.

000646 said...

Joseph,

You are wrong, the fact that the earth is way older then 6000 years old and that all life on earth (including humans) have evovled from earlier life forms is just as proven as germ theory, or that the earth is round, or that water is made out of H20.

The same way it is unreasonable to beleive that the world will one day be discoverd to be flat or germ theory will be disproved it is unreasonable to assume that the earth will be found to be less then 6000 years old or that evolution never happend.

In the olden days most things in science were assumed as people didnt have the means to gather the evidence as we do today. Once somthing has been discoverd by modern science to be fact (as evolution & an old earth have) it is unreasonable to assume that it will one day be disproven.
If you wish to beleive all of proofs were just planted there to fool us i guess i wouldnt be able to disprove you (the same way i cant disprove the tooth fairy, or the idea that there is a giant purple unicorn flying outside your window that noone can see).

However this is not a reasonable or rational approach, so please stop pretending that you are being scientific and rational in not beleiveing in these things.