Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's Called Burden of Proof, Counselor, Or, When Snide Attacks aren't Enough

This op-ed printed recently in the Birmingham News just cries out for a detailed rebuttal. Since items from the News only stay online for 7 days (edit: it appears I'm wrong about this), I've taken the liberty of reproducing the entire piece here, except for the author's email.

Prove it or admit you can't
Sunday, December 11, 2005

The debate over evolution, natural selection, creationism and intelligent design seems to me mostly a jumble of intellectually dishonest arguments. As with so many of society's debates, polarization of political positions has resulted in mere thinly veiled, snide attacks on the intelligence of those holding the opposite position.

Darwin hypothesized two essential prongs for his theory of evolution: (a) that species "evolved" one from another through some process; and a bolder one, (b) that the process was exclusively one of natural selection (survival of the fittest). Many people, and apparently most scientists, have accepted both prongs as fact. (See National Geographic Magazine, November 2004.)

Some religious people - the creationists - are troubled by the first prong, because it appears inconsistent with a literal interpretation of Genesis' description of creation.

Scientists are dismissive of creationists because of the fossil and geological records of the Earth's development. Creationists are hard-pressed to cite scientific evidence opposing that record, and Darwinists then claim victory for both prongs of Darwin's theory. Here, the scientists abandon their intellectual honesty.

Most people uncomfortable with Darwinism find trouble only with the second prong of his theory - the more speculative theory that development of species occurred solely through a process of natural (random) selection, without input of any "supernatural" or "intelligently designing" force. These believers in "intelligent design," if they are religious, may view Genesis as allegorical and not literal.

On the second prong of Darwinism, however, "intelligent designers" have the widely held view (88 percent, according to National Geographic) that an intelligent force has been at work in the universe with a role in the development of species.

Darwinists who attack intelligent design have scant evidence for their second-prong theory - that change occurs exclusively by natural selection, in no way attributable to intelligent design. Their best argument is that slight variations appear in species that could in theory have occurred naturally.

Understandably, they are in the uncomfortable position here of proving a negative. Consequently, they most often resort to two other arguments, both fundamentally dishonest.

First, they often obfuscate the debate by falling back on the weightier evidence for Darwin's first prong. Second, they define away their proof problem. Since they cannot prove that intelligent design did not cause the changes or proliferation of species, they argue that such a notion is inherently nonscientific, and that such a causation is out of bounds in any scientific discussion.

A little intellectual honesty is in order. Having stated a theory that expressly excludes intelligent design, science should admit it is incapable of proving or disproving intelligent design. Such proof is simply beyond the tools available to mortal man.

Having admitted that, they should admit - to that extent - that Darwin's second prong, natural selection of species, is not proven fact and cannot be proved fact, but merely a valid scientific theory that cannot be proved to be the ultimate causation of development of species, to the exclusion of intelligent design. They may legitimately state it is the only "scientific theory," but they must be willing to admit clearly the implications of that phrase.

As a believer in intelligent design, and one with some training in science, I can live with schools teaching Darwin's theory so long as this truth is admitted clearly within the context of that teaching. It is not asking too much of science that it admit what it can and what it cannot prove.

Attorney David M. Wooldridge lives in Homewood. His e-mail address is [redacted]
© 2005 The Birmingham News

I'll offer my thoughts and snide attacks in the next post.

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