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Thread: Cogent criticism of evolutionary theory

  1. #1

    Cogent criticism of evolutionary theory

    I just came across this article by Mark Cartmill in Discovery Magazine, written in April 1998 (Source). While it is quite long, it has some valuable pearls in it and pointed criticisms of evolutionary biology that made me say "ouch!" because they were true and hurt.

    Cartmill points out that we frequently dismiss opponents of evolutionary theory as religious nuts who believe in the Bible literally, who think that it is bad for humans to be related to monkeys, and that the earth began 4000 years ago. While these views may held by some anti-evolutionists, they are clearly not held by the 50% or more people in the United States who believe that evolution is an unproven theory.

    More elegantly than I can, Cartmill suggests that the conflict is not the simplistic views of evangelical Christians but the unscientific views being promulgated by some evolutionary biologists, namely that God has no role in evolution, our creation, development, and being. In other words, what is being taught as science in schools is anti-religion. That is what is raising the ire of religious anti-evolutionists. They are not objecting to evolution per se but the denial of a role of God in evolution.

    I said "ouch" because this criticism has a ring of truth to it. The mantra of evolutionists is that science does not address the issue of God, Creation, or even an Intelligent Designer because these are untestable hypotheses. If so, we should not teach evolution as if these hypotheses have been disproven.

    For some time now, some of the more ardent evolutionists have been taking the science far beyond what it can and should be addressing. They have brought their atheism into science and that should not be. In earlier posts, I have expressed my discomfort with some evolutionists, such as Richard Dawkins (Source) who has used evolution theory to sell his brand of atheism. For example, Dawkin's latest book "The God Delusion" is, in my opinion, more of an attack on religion than about science.

    Cartmill makes another interesting point in the article. He points out that many "academic left" thinkers (he also calls them "post-modernists) have joined forces with the "evangelical right" on the issue of evolution. As he puts it:

    To those who see it through a postmodernist lens, science as currently practiced is pretty bad stuff. Science is oppressive: by demanding that everyone talk and argue in certain approved ways, it tries to control our minds and limit our freedom to question authority. Science is sexist: designed by males and driven by domineering male egos, it prefers facts to values, control to nurturance, and logic to feelings—all typical patriarchal male hang-ups. Science is imperialist: it brushes aside the truths and insights of other times and cultures. (“Claims about the universality of science,” insists historian Mario Biagioli, “should be understood as a form of cognitive colonialism.”) And of course, science is capitalist (and therefore wicked): it serves the interests of big corporations and the military-industrial complex.

    The scholar Ania Grobicki summed it up this way: “Western science is only one way of describing reality, nature, and the way things work—a very effective way, certainly, for the production of goods and profits, but unsatisfactory in most other respects. It is an imperialist arrogance which ignores the sciences and insights of most other cultures and times. . . . It is important for the people most oppressed by Western science to make use of what resources there are, to acquire skills and confidence, and to keep challenging the orthodox pretensions of ‘scientific’ hierarchies of power.”

    In this view, science is really aiming at a totalitarian control over our lives and thoughts. And though all fields of science are suspect, what most left-wing anxiety centers on is biology. You can get an idea of the fear that pervades this literature—and a taste of the convoluted prose some of these people write—by reading what the philosopher Jean Baudrillard has to say about biochemistry. “That which is hypostatized in biochemistry,” he writes, “is the ideal of a social order ruled by a sort of genetic code of macromolecular calculation . . . irradiating the social body with its operational circuits. . . . Schemes of control have become fantastically perfected . . . to a neocapitalist cybernetic order that aims now at total control. This is the mutation for which the biological theorization of the code prepares the ground. . . . It remains to be seen if this operationality is not itself a myth, if dna is not also a myth.”
    Ouch, again. But, it again has a ring of truth. Geneticists and molecular biologists have long sparred with psychologists and humanists over these issues. There is an arrogance of science that cannot be justified. I have often encountered an interesting attitude amongst students and doctors, for example, who believe that if something is not statistically significant, it must not exist. They simply ignore things that don't fit in the straitjacket of known theory.

    Likewise, the nasty debate that has erupted between Deepak Chopra and geneticists (see The Trouble with Genes) showcases the arrogance of geneticists. Admittedly, Dr. Chopra is ignorant and does not make his case well. However, he does have a case. Even though they know a lot, geneticists don't know everything about genes and how they work. Knowing and studying all the parts of a television does not necessarily give us insights into what shows up on the television screen.

    A human is more than the sum of parts. The western mode of science, the so-called "Scientific Method" is not the only way of science. I was reminded starkly of this about a decade ago when a Russian scientist worked in my laboratory. He was a very bright young man but trained in a very different scientific tradition. Whereas we teach our students to think in terms of hypotheses, to generate expectations and test those expectations in an experiment, he was taught the exact opposite approach. He believed that an unbiased scientist should do an experiment without hypotheses, to have an open mind and observe.

    I have long taught my students that the experiment did not fail when it failed to confirm their hypothesis. In fact, I tell them that they should be thankful when an experiment does not work the way they expect. If all that an experiment did was to confirm preconceived hypotheses, we have learned nothing. It is only when an experiment comes up with unexpected results and challenges us to generate new hypotheses that we have discovered something new and learned from the experience.

    While the Western scientific method has its strengths and beauty, it is not the only way to do science. Arrogant science is bad science. We should be humble and be open to new ways of looking at things, of understanding the world. To ignore what does not fit with current established dogma of science is unscientific. We must be careful to keep an open mind and be receptive to new ideas.

    Wise.
    Last edited by Wise Young; 10-29-2006 at 06:29 PM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young
    I was reminded starkly of this about a decade ago when a Russian scientist worked in my laboratory. He was a very bright young man but trained in a very different scientific tradition. Whereas we teach our students to think in terms of hypotheses, to generate expectations and test those expectations in an experiment, he was taught the exact opposite approach. He believed that an unbiased scientist should do an experiment without hypotheses, to have an open mind and observe. Wise.
    I don't know where it is you are trying to go with this and don't want to be batting at windmills. I hope I may be forgiven for going at your statements piecemeal.

    The example above seems to present a logical inconsintency. We are being admonished to do "the experiment" w/o first generating a hypothesis. Then how do we arive at the choice of "the experiment"?

    The arrogance of may who practice science is unhealthy but the rejection of the psuedoscientific approach to concept evaluation is logical and healthy.
    "The world will not perish for want of wonders but for want of wonder."
    J.B.S.Haldane

  3. #3
    The Russian vs. American research attitude is like an article I touched on today. The article was describing how they used a negative metal and then passed a laser past one side of the metal. What happened was that they reversed light and actually found it to be faster than the rate of light traveling forward. Of course faith in one's ability/research lends itself towards the anatomy/evolution we face daily.


    Click - http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/200...runc_sys.shtml
    Last edited by Rock; 10-29-2006 at 08:47 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rock
    The Russian vs. American research attitude is like an article I touched on today. The article was describing how they made a negative metal and then passed a laser past one side of the metal. What happened was that for the first time they reversed light and actually found it to be faster than the rate of light traveling forward. Of course faith in one's ability/research lends itself towards the anatomy/evolution we face daily.
    I'm not clear on what they did experimentally and what conclusions were drawn from it.

    Can you provide a link?
    "The world will not perish for want of wonders but for want of wonder."
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    hmmm...

    God really doesn't not play a role in evolution as a science...does She? After all, envolutionary biology is based on a scientific method....observation..hypothesis...supporting evidence...to theory.

    Science is science...Religion is religion. They are two different "animals" We need to stop trying to find a "common ancestor" and just treat them distinctly.

    If people want to go to Catechism, is temple, or whatever, they can GO FOR IT. Have a ball....just be sure to bring in your evolution assignment the next morning...gee whiz.

    It's not "rocket science." Religion is a private issue and should be kept that way. Values are also distinct from religion, as is a sense of community.
    Last edited by etexley; 10-29-2006 at 10:58 PM.
    Eric Texley

  6. #6
    Originally Posted by etexley
    God really doesn't not play a role in evolution as a science...
    I don't think I have ever seen anyone contradict their own essay with their first sentence and their last also for that matter.

    Name one religion or even a field of research that doesn't support a value of some sort.



    Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
    Gen 3:2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
    Gen 3:3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
    Gen 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall NOT "not" surely die:


    You have one too many nots in your first sentence. The serpent told eve the truth if he had an extra NOT before the other not. It changes the meaning completely.
    Last edited by Rock; 10-29-2006 at 11:34 PM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member artsyguy1954's Avatar
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    Interesting topic, Dr Young.

    I for one have never had any problem reconciling the inexorable workings of evolutionary law with with God's purpose and vision. That does not mean that I believe, unlike some of my rural BC bible belt friends, that God created everything in one week about 6000 years ago. (They can't agree whether he started working at eight or nine o 'clock monday morning) If God is a Canadian he started no earlier than nine and is unionized. Lol ! You guys get the idea.

    The whole debate about creationism versus evolution seems a bit ludicrous to me and a storm in a tea cup. What could be more divine than the beauty of creation itself and the fascinating complexity of natural law in all its inexorable purpose?

    That the far left is making common cause with the religious right in the evolution debate does not surprise me. There is something fanatical if not to say fascist about the mindset of both groups that makes me very uncomfortable .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young
    I just came across this article by Mark Cartmill in Discovery Magazine, written in April 1998 (Source). While it is quite long, it has some valuable pearls in it and pointed criticisms of evolutionary biology that made me say "ouch!" because they were true and hurt.

    Cartmill points out that we frequently dismiss opponents of evolutionary theory as religious nuts who believe in the Bible literally, who think that it is bad for humans to be related to monkeys, and that the earth began 4000 years ago. While these views may held by some anti-evolutionists, they are clearly not held by the 50% or more people in the United States who believe that evolution is an unproven theory.

    More elegantly than I can, Cartmill suggests that the conflict is not the simplistic views of evangelical Christians but the unscientific views being promulgated by some evolutionary biologists, namely that God has no role in evolution, our creation, development, and being. In other words, what is being taught as science in schools is anti-religion. That is what is raising the ire of religious anti-evolutionists. They are not objecting to evolution per se but the denial of a role of God in evolution.

    I said "ouch" because this criticism has a ring of truth to it. The mantra of evolutionists is that science does not address the issue of God, Creation, or even an Intelligent Designer because these are untestable hypotheses. If so, we should not teach evolution as if these hypotheses have been disproven.

    For some time now, some of the more ardent evolutionists have been taking the science far beyond what it can and should be addressing. They have brought their atheism into science and that should not be. In earlier posts, I have expressed my discomfort with some evolutionists, such as Richard Dawkins (Source) who has used evolution theory to sell his brand of atheism. For example, Dawkin's latest book "The God Delusion" is, in my opinion, more of an attack on religion than about science.

    Cartmill makes another interesting point in the article. He points out that many "academic left" thinkers (he also calls them "post-modernists) have joined forces with the "evangelical right" on the issue of evolution. As he puts it:


    Ouch, again. But, it again has a ring of truth. Geneticists and molecular biologists have long sparred with psychologists and humanists over these issues. There is an arrogance of science that cannot be justified. I have often encountered an interesting attitude amongst students and doctors, for example, who believe that if something is not statistically significant, it must not exist. They simply ignore things that don't fit in the straitjacket of known theory.

    Likewise, the nasty debate that has erupted between Deepak Chopra and geneticists (see The Trouble with Genes) showcases the arrogance of geneticists. Admittedly, Dr. Chopra is ignorant and does not make his case well. However, he does have a case. Even though they know a lot, geneticists don't know everything about genes and how they work. Knowing and studying all the parts of a television does not necessarily give us insights into what shows up on the television screen.

    A human is more than the sum of parts. The western mode of science, the so-called "Scientific Method" is not the only way of science. I was reminded starkly of this about a decade ago when a Russian scientist worked in my laboratory. He was a very bright young man but trained in a very different scientific tradition. Whereas we teach our students to think in terms of hypotheses, to generate expectations and test those expectations in an experiment, he was taught the exact opposite approach. He believed that an unbiased scientist should do an experiment without hypotheses, to have an open mind and observe.

    I have long taught my students that the experiment did not fail when it failed to confirm their hypothesis. In fact, I tell them that they should be thankful when an experiment does not work the way they expect. If all that an experiment did was to confirm preconceived hypotheses, we have learned nothing. It is only when an experiment comes up with unexpected results and challenges us to generate new hypotheses that we have discovered something new and learned from the experience.

    While the Western scientific method has its strengths and beauty, it is not the only way to do science. Arrogant science is bad science. We should be humble and be open to new ways of looking at things, of understanding the world. To ignore what does not fit with current established dogma of science is unscientific. We must be careful to keep an open mind and be receptive to new ideas.

    Wise.
    Your last sentence is of course correct and revealing. Nothing better could be said than arrogant science is bad science. The last paragraph is a beautiful assessment as well as a new ( I think for you ) way of viewing science. It is quite true that science has indeed become a sort of dictatorial power without checks and balances. It was science that declared that smoking was universally unhealthy, and therefore trampled upon the rights of those who chose to use a natuarally grown plant for their own amusement, pain/stress relief/dieting, etc. Does science think that God placed this plant upon this earth in such abundance so that man could abolish it? A recent study suggests that this generation will not live as long as the previous ones due to obesity. I don't see any overweight old people walking around, but I see plenty of 80 years old smokers. Without going in to a more detalied argument, I'll just say that the reduction in class of the smoker is due to the ex-smoker who cannot stand the sight nor smell of his former addiction, because it may lure him back to the habit. So he deals with it by banning any sight of it, and science is his license to do so. We have yielded the power of what is good and bad to the doctors and scientists. Commom sense no longer plays a part. If second hand smoke were dangerous than all smokers would be dead. Do you really think that the human being is so fragile that a little smoke mixed with carbon dioxide can kill him. Barbecues cause the attendee to inhale the equilavent of 11,000 cigerattes. No one bans barbecues, or fireplaces. Nicotine is a drug. Like all drugs it has it's uses, and if abused will become deadly. Drink 6 quarts of milk a day and it will kill you. Aristotle taught us 2,000 years ago that the mean was what we should aim for, or as we know it: moderation in all things. When scientists contributed to the ex-smokers discrimination of the smokers, they set in motion a way of depriving civil liberties. One cannot administer a wicked law. Like a disease it spreads, until it touches it's upholders as well as it's defiers. When we made it okay to take away the rights of smokers, we made it okay to remove the rights of others. If you can do one, you can do the other.

    It is not important to believe in God so that one will go to heaven or win the latest war. It is important to admit to the possibility of a God so that one does not take on the identity of divinity for himself or someone else or group. Humans are not Gods. They can not ever know everything. That is why your last paragraph and especially your last sentence are of the utmost importance. We can never know everything, and keeping a totally open mind lets us learn more. Learning more is all we can ever hope for.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Juke_spin
    I don't know where it is you are trying to go with this and don't want to be batting at windmills. I hope I may be forgiven for going at your statements piecemeal.

    The example above seems to present a logical inconsintency. We are being admonished to do "the experiment" w/o first generating a hypothesis. Then how do we arive at the choice of "the experiment"?

    The arrogance of may who practice science is unhealthy but the rejection of the psuedoscientific approach to concept evaluation is logical and healthy.
    Juke,

    Let me try to explain where I am trying to go in my post.

    Religion vs. science. We have often said that science cannot test the hypothesis that there is a creator, intelligent designer, or divine intervention. If so, science should take a neutral position on the subject rather than to say that there is no God. Evolutionary theory should not be turned into an argument for atheism in the same way it should not be used to argue for a particular religion. In short, we should leave religious matters to religion and scientific matters to science. Whether or not God had anything to do with evolution belongs in the realm of religion and not in the realm of science. Many who oppose evolution do so because they perceive that evolution theory denies the existence of God. Unfortunately, some scientists have reinforced this impression.

    Reductionist vs. Empirical Science. Regarding the different modes of science, the standard "scientific method" of Western science involves making an a priori hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis, and either confirming or refuting the hypothesis. However, there is a place for non-hypothesis driven empirical observation. In a sense, that is what Darwin did when he went to the Galapagos. He observed and formulated a hypothesis to fit his observations. The empirical observation method is often useful for formulating hypotheses. Hypothesis-drive scientific method is useful after hypotheses have been formulated and are ready to be tested. There is room for both kinds of science.

    Common Mistakes. People often make three common mistakes in science. The first is to conclude causation from correlation. The second is to assume that if something is not statistically significant, it must not be real. The third is assume that if there is no evidence for something, it does not exist. It is useful to discuss these three mistakes in slightly greater detail:
    Mistake 1: Correlation implies causation. For example, it is well known that people who smoke seldom develop Parkinson's disease. This does not mean that smoking prevents Parkinson's disease. It just so happens that people who have early stage Parkinson's disease use cholinergic mechanisms (the same system that nicotine affects) to compensate for loss of dopaminergic cells. Therefore, they are often sensitive to nicotine and that is why people who smoke are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease.
    Mistake 2: Improbable events are not real. Occasionally, somebody with a "complete" spinal cord injury will recover substantial function. One should not dismiss this phenomenon. It may be rare but it is real and we should learn from what causes it to occur. Statistics is just a way of calculating the probability of events. Because something is not statistically significant does not mean that it is not real.
    Mistake 3: Lack of evidence means that something does not exist. I sometimes say that there is no evidence that something is true. Some people may interpret my statement to mean that something is not true. For example, I may say that there is no evidence that bone marrow stem cell transplants improve function. This does not mean that bone marrow stem cell transplants do not improve function. It simply means that we don't have evidence, yet.

    These are common errors that even experienced scientists and doctors make. For example, doctors have long observed that people with heart disease have high cholesterol and have jumped to the conclusion that cholesterol causes heart disease. Billions of dollars have been spent on lowering cholesterol. As it turns out, lowering cholesterol does not always prevent heart disease. While very high levels of cholesterol may contribute to heart disease, it may be a manifestation of something else that is causing heart disease rather than itself causing heart disease. Likewise, recovery from "complete" spinal cord injury is rare and many doctors have jumped to the conclusion that spinal cord regeneration cannot occur in humans. Although something is rare, it may be real. Finally, because we have no evidence does not mean that God does not exist. It simply means that we don't know.

    Wise.
    Last edited by Wise Young; 10-30-2006 at 02:31 AM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young
    Juke,

    Let me try to explain where I am trying to go in my post.

    Religion vs. science. We have often said that science cannot test the hypothesis that there is a creator, intelligent designer, or divine intervention. If so, science should take a neutral position on the subject rather than to say that there is no God. Evolutionary theory should not be turned into an argument for atheism in the same way it should not be used to argue for a particular religion. In short, we should leave religious matters to religion and scientific matters to science. Whether or not God had anything to do with evolution belongs in the realm of religion and not in the realm of science. Many who oppose evolution do so because they perceive that evolution theory denies the existence of God. Unfortunately, some scientists have reinforced this impression.

    Reductionist vs. Empirical Science. Regarding the different modes of science, the standard "scientific method" of Western science involves making an a priori hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis, and either confirming or refuting the hypothesis. However, there is a place for non-hypothesis driven empirical observation. In a sense, that is what Darwin did when he went to the Galapagos. He observed and formulated a hypothesis to fit his observations. The empirical observation method is often useful for formulating hypotheses. Hypothesis-drive scientific method is useful after hypotheses have been formulated and are ready to be tested. There is room for both kinds of science.

    Common Mistakes. People often make three common mistakes in science. The first is to conclude causation from correlation. The second is to assume that if something is not statistically significant, it must not be real. The third is assume that if there is no evidence for something, it does not exist. It is useful to discuss these three mistakes in slightly greater detail:
    Mistake 1: Correlation implies causation. For example, it is well known that people who smoke seldom develop Parkinson's disease. This does not mean that smoking prevents Parkinson's disease. It just so happens that people who have early stage Parkinson's disease use cholinergic mechanisms (the same system that nicotine affects) to compensate for loss of dopaminergic cells. Therefore, they are often sensitive to nicotine and that is why people who smoke are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease.
    Mistake 2: Improbable events are not real. Occasionally, somebody with a "complete" spinal cord injury will recover substantial function. One should not dismiss this phenomenon. It may be rare but it is real and we should learn from what causes it to occur. Statistics is just a way of calculating the probability of events. Because something is not statistically significant does not mean that it is not real.
    Mistake 3: Lack of evidence means that something does not exist. I sometimes say that there is no evidence that something is true. Some people may interpret my statement to mean that something is not true. For example, I may say that there is no evidence that bone marrow stem cell transplants improve function. This does not mean that bone marrow stem cell transplants do not improve function. It simply means that we don't have evidence, yet.

    These are common errors that even experienced scientists and doctors make. For example, doctors have long observed that people with heart disease have high cholesterol and have jumped to the conclusion that cholesterol causes heart disease. Billions of dollars have been spent on lowering cholesterol. As it turns out, lowering cholesterol does not always prevent heart disease. While very high levels of cholesterol may contribute to heart disease, it may be a manifestation of something else that is causing heart disease rather than itself causing heart disease. Likewise, recovery from "complete" spinal cord injury is rare and many doctors have jumped to the conclusion that spinal cord regeneration cannot occur in humans. Although something is rare, it may be real. Finally, because we have no evidence does not mean that God does not exist. It simply means that we don't know.

    Wise.
    Well that was satisfying and I have to agree that scientist often use their positions wrongly in coming to the above three conclusions in a lot of cases and surely in using them to state that the realities of evolutionary theory preclude the existence of a god.

    On the third error, believing that lack of evidence means that something does not exist; I adopted a little aphorism a while back, "Absence of proof isn't proof of absence." that could be modified: "absence of evidence isn't proof of absence". to fit.

    On an individual, non scientist, level; as we are human it is in our natures to want to believe we know the answers to the deep and abiding questions that being alive and senitent generate. I have found that a good understanding of evolutionary theory (ever changing, as most good science must be) and its implications, answers the questions most religious people look to a god for.
    "The world will not perish for want of wonders but for want of wonder."
    J.B.S.Haldane

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