Fallacy Friday!

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Shifting the Burden of Proof!

(related to “appeal to ignorance”) This fallacy occurs when the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of an argument. In a logical...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Common Creationist Complaint: How do evolutionists know that living things were not designed?



Common Complaint: Living things look like they were designed, so how do evolutionists know that they were not designed? Richard Dawkins wrote, “biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.”Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, wrote, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” The problem for evolutionists is that living things show too much design. Who objects when an archaeologist says that pottery points to human design? Yet if someone attributes the design in living things to a designer, that is not acceptable. Why should science be restricted to naturalistic causes rather than logical causes? [1]


Logical Fallacies:

Answer: The only way we could know if something was designed is if it could not have been created any other way. But just because we may not know how it could have been created any other way does not preclude that it did form naturally (argument from ignorance - see below for more). For example, I have a fairy stone necklace given to me by a dear friend (see these beautiful fairy stones?) A fairy stone is formed from a mineral called staurolite that forms a unique cross shape when it crystallizes. At first glance, it might seem like it was carved that way even though it formed naturally. If someone didn't understand how crystals formed, then they would assume design.

There are lots of things in science that may “look” like they were designed. Nature can be very complex, and humans spend a lot of time manipulating our environment. We live in a world that we have "designed" - buildings, roads, computers, clothes - and so we have a natural prejudice to assume design, regardless of whether or not design has occurred. A lot of creationists argue that some of these things are “too complex” to have evolved and must have been “designed.” They call these “irreducibly complex systems.” As it so happens, each time someone has argued that something is “irreducibly complex,” upon further study, we've actually discovered the evolutionary mechanisms behind it. There has yet to be a single viable “irreducibly complex system."



If you really want to think logically, let's do a thought exercise. Imagine you are building a house from scratch. You spend a lot of time planning it out to make it perfect for your needs. You look ahead for potential problems and create simple and efficient ways of solving them. You know ahead of time how many bedrooms you will want, where you will want the bathrooms to be, whether or not you will want a study or a gym. You have unlimited funds and resources, so you have no problems getting it to turn out "perfectly." Once you're done planning, you build it, and you're done.

Now imagine you want a house with the same features, but

you are having to start with a one-room house that's already there. You can only make small adjustments at a time, and you have to work with what is already availabe, and while you do get "new" material to work with every once in a while, there's really no way of knowing exactly what you'll get. With each change, it starts becoming more and more complicated. Eventually, the house might look pretty unusual (think the Burrow from Harry Potter). It might even look so complicated that an outsider looking in might even think that you had planned on it being that way all along.

The first scenario is what we would expect of a "designer God" who planned out everything and then created it instantly while the second is what we would expect from a God working over a long period of time following natural laws (that he himself put in place). And what this reveals is that, far from complexity suggesting design, complexity suggests evolution. The more complicated a system is, the more likely it evolved. After all, why would a designer God have created a 15-step process to create one enzyme when he could have just engineered the perfect 1-step process? These systems are evidence for evolution. A simple, efficient, perfect design would be more indicative of a world created in 6 days designed by an all-knowing God whereas a world full of complexity - the kind of world we live in - is more aligned with a world that was created using evolution as a tool.

The reason why complexity is indicative of evolution is because evolution isn't so much about "survival of the fittest” (not a Darwinian phrase, by the way) as it is “survival of the fit enough.” For something to be adaptive, it has to answer the question, “Does it work?” And there are lots of things that "work" without being the "best" option. This is why we humans have chronic back problems (our backbones are designed for quadrupedal movement, not bipedal), eyes with blind spots (as opposed to the nearly identical octopus eye that doesn't), hiccups (left-over from ancestors who had to close off their air passages when using their gills), hernias from walking upright (most notably in men because gravity causes their testicles to descend leaving a cavity), the risk of choking (a consequence of our ability to speak – other animals do not choke), useless goosebumps (only really helpful if you are really hairy because it traps air and keeps you warm), Fallopian tubes that don't actually connect to our ovaries (resulting in eggs having to cross a gap between them, sometimes failing and resulting in life-threatening abdominal pregnancies), wisdom teeth that need to be pulled because our larger brains took up room in our jaws, and it's even why we have ancient bacteria converting food into energy for us. 
A "perfectly designed" human body would hardly have these flaws, but one that evolved using natural laws would.

The claim that science somehow ignores logical causes is one of the more ridiculous creationist claims I've come across. Science is very logical, and evolution is one of the most logical processes scientists have discovered. It's very simple: Inheritable and varying characteristics in an environment where not everyone survives and reproduces means that beneficial variations will appear more frequently in the future and harmful variations will appear less frequently (see this post for more). It's so logical that when Thomas Henry Huxley first read Origin of Species, he said, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!" [2]

What is really ironic is that the author, in claiming science is somehow illogical, is actually committing two significant logical fallacies. The first is the argument from ignorance, a fallacy that states that just because we don’t know something doesn't mean that we can dismiss it or that we won't one day figure it out. Saying that “science can’t explain it so it must have come from God” is drawing a conclusion with incomplete evidence. Just like it was illogical to conclude that the Sun was the center of the universe because the Bible said so, it is illogical to conclude that something had to be designed just because science hasn't figured something out yet. The second logical fallacy the author makes is “shifting the burden of proof.” In all logical arguments, the burden of proof lies with the individual making the claim. So if you claim design, then it is your responsibility to provide evidence for design (all attempts at which have failed). It is not the job of the scientists to prove that it couldn't have been designed. So in reality, it isn't science that is ignoring logic; it's the creationists making these claims.

Science isn't restricted to "naturalistic rather than logical causes." Science is restricted to both naturalistic and logical causes. Claiming otherwise while at the same time arguing that it must have been done by a supernatural being who can break the laws of physics at a whim is quite hypocritical and far from logical. It is the epitome of a deus ex machina. Science restricts itself to the study of natural causes, and, by definition, God is a supernatural being (although some could argue that God works within nature, just beyond our understanding of it, but that would only reaffirm my position that God works through science).

I don't have a problem with the idea that God created the universe and everything in it. I firmly believe it. But when you stop there and refuse to accept the evidence that the world he created provides for you - the evidence for evolution - then your idea of God is not one who works through laws, is not a God of order, and is instead a God who is purposely trying to mislead us. If your search for truth ends with "God did it," then you might as well turn over your cell phone because science, and evolution, are responsible for it. Science is a continual search for answers, and ending the search by invoking God doesn't answer the questions; it doesn't answer why humans have the same DNA as the vegetables we eat, why we are so physiologically similar to mammals, and why chimpanzees share 97% of our DNA. Evolution answers these questions without rejecting the idea of an ultimate creator. It is those who have a narrow view of what God can do who reject the answer his creation gives us. And in a way, they are also rejecting the creator Himself.

[1] 15 Questions for Evolutionists. Evolution: the naturalistic origin of life and its diversity (The General Theory of Evolution, as defined by the prominent past evolutionist Kerkut; see introduction to Origin of life.) by Don Batten


[2] March 11th, 1863, in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Vol. II, ed. Francis. Darwin. Basic Books, New York, 1959, pg 363

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