Anti-Evolution II: The Argument against Closedmindedness

ANTI EVOLUTION II: CLOSEDMINDEDNESS

One of the most convincing intellectual weapons in the arsenal of evolution supporters is that evolution has won over scientific opinion.  This is the argument that convinces me, for instance.  I admit that I don’t really understand the deeper science behind evolution, but when I see that every mainstream scientist endorses the idea, I am willing to be convinced.  But if we step outside that consensus, it is easy to see that such a consensus can actually be an argument against the simple truth of evolution.  And for the purposes of this blog, remember that I am not trying to convince or convert committed evolutionists to the opposite point of view.  All I hope to do is to show that there are respectable reasons why people might hold that opposite point of view.  I would like each side only to acknowledge that those on the other side might not be wicked, ignorant, or crazy.  In the case of the scientific consensus about evolution, it is easy enough to see how such a consensus can be proof of the
untruth of evolution, as much as it can be proof of its truth.  Here’s what I mean:

For most regular people, science is still understood to be a matter of deducing the objective truth about the nature of life and humanity.  Something is more scientific, in this view, when it comes closer to that objective truth, and less scientific as it edges away.  Thus, if evolution is
science, then those who oppose evolution must oppose science.

But scientists and those interested in the nature of science offer a much more complex view, especially since works like Thomas Kuhn’s
influential 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Since that time, the nature of scientific truth has been understood to be more of a social construction.  To create scientific truth, scientists engage in a social process that constructs an orthodoxy.  The word Kuhn used has made it into everyday usage: scientists construct a paradigm that guides their explanations.  Those who fall outside that paradigm must be forbidden from calling their work “real” science.  However, due to the nature of this process, the next scientific revolution can only come from those at the
outer boundaries of the current dominant paradigm.  Only by challenging the existing paradigm can scientific revolutions take place.

To clarify this process, consider an example that Kuhn himself used.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European scientists agreed that combustibility resulted from an ineffable substance they called phlogiston.  When something burned, it was the phlogiston in that material being released.  This concept guided their research.  They argued about phlogiston’s nature; they disagreed about the implications of experiments in which different elements were burned in the air or under glass lids; they created a scientific consensus about the nature, meaning, and  implications of phlogiston.

By the end of the eighteenth century, a scientific revolution had rejected the idea of phlogiston.  Until that time, however, any notion that contradicted the dominant scientific paradigm would have been rejected.  Why did some materials gain weight, for example, when they rusted and supposedly emitted phlogiston?  During the reign of the scientific consensus about phlogiston, such disconfirming evidence was explained within the paradigm of phlogiston.  Scientists wondered if phlogiston might have negative weight, for example.  But they generally did not consider the idea that phlogiston itself was utterly imaginary.

The implications of this understanding of scientific truth are obvious.  In the case of evolution, the fact that mainstream scientists all agree on evolution does not prove the merit of evolution.  Rather, it only proves that such evolutionary scientists are trapped by the intellectual
constrictions of that dominant paradigm.  They do not need to be wicked, ignorant, or insane to do so.  In fact, most of them would love to come up with a powerful new idea that would revolutionize scientific knowledge.  Most of them would drool at the thought of having their name ranked up there with the other scientific revolutionaries, Lavoisier, Newton, Darwin, Einstein.  It is not that they are trying to enforce an orthodoxy.  Rather, they are fundamentally unable to think beyond the restrictions of their current paradigm.  They cannot think of ideas, in other words,
that build on ideas they do not think.  It will not be until a scientific revolution overhauls current understandings that scientists will be able to see the flaws in their evolutionary thinking.

Perhaps the example of phlogiston is too far removed from current thinking, however.  It might be easy to acknowledge that scientists back in the seventeenth century would fall prey to such unscientific notions, but to take solace in the idea that more recent science would not do so.  An
example from the twentieth century, then, might be more convincing.  For a few decades at the beginning of the twentieth century, one dominant idea was that of scientific racism.  Experts explored the differences between different types of humanity.  Races were graded on a scale from robust, vigorous, intelligent Anglo-Saxons at the top, to indolent, brutish Sub-Saharan Africans at the bottom.  The qualities of each race were
scientifically delineated.  Readers were told that such notions had been agreed upon by a consensus of leading scientists.  To doubt it would be to
express ignorance and reactionary stubbornness.  The policy implications of this kind of science were obvious.  If there were greater and
lesser races of humanity, it made sense to avoid cheapening the better races with the traits of the lesser.  Breeding between different races would lead to a deadly downward spiral of stupidity and weakness.  It made sense to promote racial eugenics, the discouragement of breeding of less advanced races and the utter prohibition of breeding between races.  The people who promoted these ideas were not cranks or outsiders.  They included scholars such as Madison Grant, who testified as an expert before US Congress as they debated passing newer, stricter immigration laws in 1924.

Before such ideas were kicked out of mainstream science by scholars such as Franz Boas, they dominated thinking about the nature of man
and society.  It took people with a previous commitment to an alternative understanding of humanity to challenge that view.  Among those challengers were evangelical Protestants.  James M. Gray, for example, in his career as president of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
(1904-1934), challenged the notion of scientific racism, just as he challenged the notion of human evolution.  For Gray, both ideas conflicted with the truth of Biblical teachings.  The Bible, Gray believed, described a common origin for all of humanity in the Garden of Eden.  Thus notions that some races were higher or lower contradicted God’s teaching.  The fact that scientists with impeccable credentials scoffed at Gray’s supposed
intellectual naiveté didn’t deter him.  He was able to think outside the dominant paradigm because he was committed to his understanding of an inerrant Bible.  Indeed, he was forced to think that way.  He could not have accepted the ideas of scientific racism, just as he could not accept the idea of evolution.

It is easy enough for some to reject the logic of Bible-based anti-evolutionists, but such rejectionists should be humbler in their assertions of confidence in the scientific consensus.  Such consensuses have in the past bound mainstream scholars to reprehensible ideas such scientific racism, or incorrect ideas such as phlogiston.  Simply because there is a consensus doesn’t make something true.

Those who support evolution often make another criticism of their opponents.  They point out that creationists’ claims violate the most fundamental principles of modern science by requiring a supernatural cause.  Such arguments, evolution supporters insist, go against the nature of true science, in which supernatural causes are rejected in favor of digging out the true material causes of things.  Science, at its heart, must reject such explanations, or else risk falling into a muddle in which every event can be explained away as the result of divine activity.  Take a simple example.  Thunder can be explained as the noise made when angels are bowling.  Such an idea is comforting to young children frightened by the noise of a storm.  But if adults were to seriously contend that thunder might in fact be caused that way, it would require fundamental violence to the notion of science.  Scientists know that thunder is really caused by the rapid movement of air to fill the void left by electrical discharges of lightning.  What if the Bible declared that thunder were caused by angels bowling?  Then anti-thunderists might declare that scientists arrogantly assumed that every roll of thunder was caused that way, when in fact some of the thunder might be due to angels bowling.  There is no proof, they could say, that angels did not bowl some of the thunderbursts.  No scientist could ever prove the cause of every single thunderburst.

But those who oppose the idea of evolution are not talking about thunder.  Their case is much stronger.  Thunder is observable.  Thunder can be studied as it happens.  In the case of the origins of life, evolutionists will admit that they have no direct proof of what occurred.  They infer from a body of evidence what they think makes sense, but in doing so they privilege an enormous package of pre-existing ideas about the notion of causation.  In other words, when they look at evidence from fossils and embryos, such evidence confirms their evolutionary hypothesis.  But in order for it to do so, evolutionary scientists must assume that there is only a material cause.

So, for example, evolutionists note that the basic structure of human hands is very similar to the bone structure of a bat’s wing, or a whale’s flipper.  From that they conclude that each of these mammals must have evolved from a common ancestor.  Makes sense.  But that conclusion has already assumed a material, evolutionary cause.  Consider, for instance, what can happen when you open your mind to consider a divine cause.  The conclusion of divine creation makes just as much sense.  Take a look underneath the hood at the engines of a Ford, a Toyota, and a Hyundai.  You will see very similar structures.  Each of them uses very similar mechanisms for generating power and translating that power into movement.  Each of them also has some similar additional parts, such as a reservoir for windshield-washer fluid.  Does that mean that they were not designed?  Of course not.  It means that the designers worked with structures that worked well.  If we assume a designer for life on earth, then we might conclude that the designer found that the same basic structure worked well for whales, bats, and humans.  The point is that evolutionists put the cart before the horse.  They assume a material, evolutionary cause for life, then when they look at evidence, they find their assumption confirmed.  At the very least, if we assume a divine, intentional cause for life, we can find our assumptions similarly confirmed.

ANTI EVOLUTION II: FURTHER READING

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (Richfield, MN: Onesimus Press, 1984); Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race (New York: Scribner’s, 1916).

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4 Comments

  1. Pro-Evolution IV: The Nature of Science « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. Intelligent Design Defended « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  3. REQUIRED READING: Protester Voices « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  4. Creationist: Give Creationist Kids Evolution! | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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