Interpretation or valid conclusion?

Over at A Different God ( Jesse has written a decent four part series answering a creationist.

On part three, poster Ryan responds to me by saying that the evolutionary conclusions that scientists have come to are merely a different interpretation of the evidence.

Rather than dump a long reply on Jesse’s blog I felt it would be more appropriate to make it into a blog posting of its own because it accurately describes how I once thought.

Creationists will argue that their viewpoint is a valid interpretation of the scientific evidence that is gathered from the world around us. The trouble with this viewpoint is that it presupposes the correctness of creationism and then seeks to validate it by seeking confirmation in specific pieces of scientific evidence. Items that conflict creationism are disregarded and explained away.

The big issue that is consistently ignored is that the evidence of evolution is wide ranging and bountiful. Its not just in the visibly similar anatomy of animals, its not just in the skeletal structure too. As scientific advances continued over the years we have seen DNA evidence join the fray and confirm many of the ideas that scientists already had, as well as throw up a few surprises and clarifications.

What’s more, there is nothing in the anatomical or genetic evidence that cannot be explained through evolutionary theory, which means that there is nothing that a creationist can point and say it is evidence for God and not evolution.

Which is where we get onto the subject of interpretation.

The creationist will insist that all the evidence we see could be the result of how God did it. Whilst that is true, its not actually evidence in and of itself. Defaulting to the ‘God did it’ position is not starting from a neutral position, its starting from an already formed conclusion and choosing to read the facts in a way that confirms the starting point. What’s more, this is not a scientific argument because it does not offer anything that joins the evidence together.

To be scientific, a theory has to stitch the observed evidence together in a way that explains the detail. The theory also has to be testable; not necessarily there and then, but the concept and idea has be such that a test is possible. Claiming God does not meet that criteria and so interpreting scientific evidence as confirming creationism is not valid. The pieces simply don’t fit.

Science does offer a valid conclusion.

When a scientific theory is proposed it undergoes very rigorous tests. One thing that creationists often fail to grasp is that proving something wrong in science is a very good thing. I remember having some very real issues with this one. The idea that something in science could be wrong created all sorts of problems and typically meant to me that science was unreliable and the whole field could be systematically undermined by a single wrong idea. It took me a long time to grasp the concept that a wrong result is still a scientific result and evidence for what would be right.

The theory of evolution is very well tested and over the years it has been broken down into so many small pieces, that any one of them could be overturned with the right evidence. Yet none has.

I can’t remember exactly what I used to believe on the subject of how so many scientists had managed to come to the conclusion that evolution is true. I am pretty sure it was along the lines of; they were misguided or interpreted wrong. However, if that was truly the case, then someone would have shown that to be the case by now. It is only ignorance of the scientific method that enables someone to still believe what I believed.

The conclusions that scientists have come to when viewing the evidence of life around has been subject to much debate and testing. If there was any chance at all that there were holes in the theory of evolution, then they would most certainly have been found and exposed. Any scientist that can genuinely show that evolution is false would be pretty much guaranteed a Nobel Prize, and more. Many scientists have examined various facets of evolution and subjected them to stringent test and scrutiny.

This is something that is easily forgotten by the creationist. I know I did.


Acceptance of evolution in the world

Acceptance of evolution in the world.

I have just stumbled across the above blog post, which has a graph showing several countries in the world and the ratios of the population that accepts or denies evolution.

The graph mainly lists European countries, though the United States is there, and depressingly low down.

What I would like to see as a comparison is the acceptance in Asian, African and South American countries too. I guess for the moment that information is not available and I also imagine that a fair few of those countries will be extend the bottom of the graph to show lower and lower acceptance of evolution.

What I’d also like to see is how those numbers have changed in the last decade or two. Have the numbers gone more or less in favour of Evolution? I’d also like to see that same comparison in the next few decades to see how the numbers change.



The Language of Evolutionists

David Attenborough 1

Image via Wikipedia

One of the major sticking points for me was the language, words and phrases that I’d hear used when describing evolution.

The most problematic one is the use of the word ‘design’. Its used when describing the eye, a bird’s beak and many more anatomical components. Each time I’d hear it I’d fume inside and imagine myself vocally admonishing the presenter of whatever television programme had daring to suggest that a mindless random process like evolution could ever design anything.

Another major bugbear was when the evolution process was described in words that seemed to imply an intelligent guiding process, as though the end result was already known and evolution worked its way making changes required to achieve that result. Again, my angry brain voice would be screaming at the television “evolution is a benign process that’s not even real you twonk!”.

So I would huff and puff my way through nature programmes. It’s a wonder I didn’t give up watching them really.

Then of course there is our very British institution, Sir David Attenborough. No matter what the programme he was fronting, no matter how interesting or relevant the subject matter was, he would always slip in the fact of evolution and the millions of years it took for such and such to evolve or form or whatever. It didn’t seem to matter if the evolutionary process was relevant to the piece in question, it was brought up anyway. Presumably because nature documentary equals “must mention evolution”.

Given my Zambian upbringing, anything nature that involved centralAfricaor any savannah animal that I was familiar with was pretty much mandatory viewing. So it goes without saying that I was exposed to a fair number of such phrases and their automatic affect on my blood pressure.

I’m all cured now

The examples given above are not in any way an exhaustive list of the language and phrases used when describing evolution that can cause, not just frustration, but also confusion.

Thankfully, I’m over that and I can now enjoy nature documentaries with a freedom and freshness that’s genuinely enjoyable.

I do still notice these one offensive phrases and I do often wonder if I was never alone in getting uppity over them. I am sure that if they caused an intellectual problem for me, they did for others too and perhaps editors and science journalists should pay more careful attention to the language used to explain evolution. They’ll never stop upsetting the staunch creationists, but if the language was less emotive and more factual it might help with righting the misunderstandings that cause creationists to react so and might even help them along the road to acceptance. After all, if they are watching the programme, kits because they have an interest in the subject.

Sometimes I try to rephrase them in my head in a way that explains the point better.