Monday, September 29, 2014

Common Creationist Complaint: Why is evolutionary ‘just-so’ story-telling tolerated?

Common Complaint: Why is evolutionary ‘just-so’ story-telling tolerated? Evolutionists often use flexible story-telling to ‘explain’ observations contrary to evolutionary theory. NAS(USA) member Dr Philip Skell wrote, “Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive—except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed—except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery." [1]

Logical Fallacies:
  • Complex question: The initial question includes the false implications that 1) evolution is "story-telling" and, 2) it is so egregious an idea that it shouldn't be tolerated.
  • Straw man: The suggestion that evolution is “story-telling” implies that the vast amount of evidence we have for evolution is comparable to a work of fiction. 
  • False premise (not technically a fallacy, but leads to fallacies): The suggestion that there are any scientific observances that are contrary to evolutionary theory is completely unsupported, but it's presented as fact. There isn’t a single shred of scientific evidence against evolution.
  • Appeal to Authority: Relying on someone who is not an expert in the field in question to act as an authority on that field. 
Answer: There are so many problems with this question. The entire foundation of the question is so fallacious that the highlights above aren't adequate to explain why it's so flawed. For one thing, this is supposed to be included as a "Question for Evolutionists," but this is hardly aimed at evolutionists. Instead, it's a subtle suggestion to those who are reading it, primarily those who already reject evolution, that they shouldn't "tolerate" the teaching evolution. The use of the phrase "story-telling" implies that evolution is a fantasy, and placing quotations around the word "explain" suggests that the evolution as an explanation - which is the definition of a theory - is unfounded, that the explanations it does provide are somehow flawed. The reason for this skepticism, if you can genuinely call it skepticism, is that they are claiming that there are observations contrary to evolutionary theory, a specious claim derived from the Skell quote. 

The Skell quote in and of itself needs examination. Any time someone relies on an authority figure to support their claim, regardless of whether or not that authority is actually an expert on the subject, they are committing an appeal to authority fallacy. In this case, Philip Skell is not an appropriate authority; he was a chemist, not a biologist. Referencing him as evidence for the rejection of evolution is kind of like asking a plumber to fix your electricity. He also did a lot of work with the Discovery Institute, an organization whose purpose, in part, is to defeat "scientific materialism" - the philosophy of thought that science is founded upon. 

In this particular quote, Skell claims that evolution makes humans self-centered and aggressive while also making us altruistic and peaceable. The problem with this statement is that it is a gross oversimplification of the evolutionary process. The reason we have these seemingly contradictory states has to do with the different pressures that our ancestors have gone through at different times. At one point in our primitive history, aggressive, “me-centered” behavior was the only way to survive (pre-social structure), so those traits were supported. Eventually, we began to work in communities, and those who were overly aggressive were detrimental to the community, and peaceable behavioral attributes were more adaptive and thus appeared more frequently. Different environmental pressures caused different traits to evolve (appear in greater numbers in the population), and that's why in times of crisis, when social structure breaks down and survival is paramount, we often have law-lessness; we focus on “survival” only, and the aggressive tendencies we had evolved emerge. This same "change in pressure" also explains why we have two general paths for reproductive behavior: quality mate vs. quantity of mates. Both have advantages, and depending on the fitness of the individual and the type of environmental pressure present, one may be more present in an individual than another as well as a society at large. 

The vast majority of scientists, especially biologists, accept evolution as the foundation of biological science. Creationists are all-too-willing to collect names of scientists who reject evolution, not only are they rarely trained in any field related to biological evolution, they pale in comparison to those who do. In response to this tendency, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) started the "Project Steve,"
 in which only evolution-accepting scientists whose names are Steve, about 1% of the population, can sign up. It currently has over 1300 names, significantly more than any other list of those who reject evolution.

The reason why evolution is taught is because it’s backed by evidence; it's been thoroughly vetted. It is the only theory that actually explains the evidence we have. Scientific theories have to have a lot of evidence before they can be considered valid, and it’s the only one that explains everything that we see. 

[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

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