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...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Common Creationist Complaint: How do evolutionists know that living things weren't 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:
  • Shifting of the Burden of Proof: The person who makes a claim has to provide the proof of that claim. In this case, they are arguing that we have to prove that something wasn't designed; this is logically invalid. They must provide the evidence that everything was designed. It is not the job of the scientists to prove that it couldn't have been designed. 
  • Argument from Ignorance: Just because may not know everything doesn't mean we can fill the void of information with "God did it." Not knowing the answer isn't proof of magic or mysticism. It just means we don't know - yet. 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. 

Answer:  One of the fundamental problems with this question (other than the above fallacious statements) is how you would know something was designed. There are many examples of objects that look designed but that formed naturally, and the only way we can determine whether or not it was designed is by ensuring that there it could not have been created any other way (precluding, of course, actually witnessing the event). For example, I have a fairy stone necklace given to me by a dear friend. A fairy stone is formed from a mineral called staurolite that forms a unique cross shape when it crystallizes. If you didn't know any better, you'd assume it was made that way - carved out of stone - even though it formed naturally. 


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. With this house, you get to start from scratch. You spend a lot of time planning it out, aiming for simple solutions to complex problems. You know ahead of time how many bedrooms you will end up needing it to have, how many stories, where you want the stairs to go. You plan for energy efficiency, beauty, flow - all at the same time. Once you've got it planned out perfectly, you create it in a short period of time, and you're done.


Now imagine you are remodeling a one-room house. You can only add on bit-by-bit as you need it, and you have to work with what is already available (with the exception of periodic "new" material to work with, let's just call them, oh, mutations). Because you can't sit there and plan it all out for efficiency ahead of time, it ends up very complicated (maybe not dissimilar to the Weasley's "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 claim that science somehow ignores logical causes is one of the more ridiculous creationist claims I've come across (especially since the author is committing two pretty serious logical fallacies in his initial claim). 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!"

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

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