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Friday, June 24, 2005

Evolution and Creationism

The theory of evolution is just what it says it is: a theory.

It is not hard fact and it has not been proven to be the true explanation for the development and propagation of life on this planet we call Earth. However, it is more than a simple hypothesis; much evidence has been gathered which supports evolution; much, much evidence in fact. That is what elevates it to the position of theory; it is more than speculation and guesswork but at the same time it is not irrefutable fact.

To suggest that it is fact is to fall into the same trap that I have heard creationists and Intelligent Design proponents fall into. The trap is to stop thinking of the theory of evolution as a part of an ongoing scientific investigation and instead think about it as some sort of religious dogma. Darwin didn't like his own theory since he was a devout man himself, but he recognised the scientific method behind its deduction and respected that.

If one considers any scientific theory, one has to realise that scientists do not deal in laying out absolute truths, rather it is the job of a scientist to use the available facts and data and construct a theory that best fits their observations. A different scientist might then come along and develop an alternate theory that also fits the data. This has happened, many times. Einstein and Newton spring to mind. That is how scientific discovery works. Contrary to what some people think we aren't just spending our time dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's.

Creationism as a scientific answer to the question of how we got here just does not work. That is not to say that it might not be true; perhaps God does like playing jokes on us and planting deliberate errors within the fossil record. Perhaps our methodologies for dating our finds are all wrong and we have committed the biggest blunder in history (all 6000 years of it). However, I don't think so, I don't think that God is a practical joker and I don't think that we are wrong. Evolution has been seen in the laboratory. It fits. Until a new theory emerges it will do me as an explanation.


13 comments:

hrun said...

Kav, it is an interesting point you make, that one should not think of the 'theory of evolution' as an irrefutable fact. However, as you stated further below: Evolution as a mechanism is as much an irrefutable fact as anything we can ever know to a degree of certainty. It has been observed in the lab and in the wild many, many times. Many of mechanisms that drive evolution in these cases are undertood and the evolution itself can sometimes be followed down to the molecular level. So, if you call other natural phenomena a 'fact', like for example the law of gravity, then evolution is also a 'fact'.

One can always use the 'prankster God' to explain away anything that we think of as proven facts. How can we determine with certainty that gravity is a natural law, rather than God fooling us? Who knows, maybe He has been continuously pushing all of us, including apples, sattellites, airplanes, rocks and raindrops down to earth to make us believe that gravity does in fact exist. Yet, tomorrow morning He may chose to stop doing so and see us all float off into space. What a hoot! All those physicists who thought that gravity was more than just a theory will be quite red-faced.

Ryan Somma said...

I like your point about absolute truths. Creationists have to deal with absolute truths because their ideology is set in stone. They have a book that cannot be changed or amended and are thus forced to engage in rationalizations to explain the disconnects with reality and other contradictions.

Its funny that so many of them cite errors in Darwin's original works because of this perspective. They think Evolutionists see Darwin's books as facts set in stone instead of an hypothesis that has been revised and improved upon as we have learned more about our world.

Ryan Somma said...

I like your point about absolute truths. Creationists have to deal with absolute truths because their ideology is set in stone. They have a book that cannot be changed or amended and are thus forced to engage in rationalizations to explain the disconnects with reality and other contradictions.

Its funny that so many of them cite errors in Darwin's original works because of this perspective. They think Evolutionists see Darwin's books as facts set in stone instead of an hypothesis that has been revised and improved upon as we have learned more about our world.

Kav said...

hrun,
By gravity do you refer to the experience of being attracted to the ground (or any massive body) or to the theory that describes that attraction? There is a difference. We can measure the attraction and quantify it; we can use tools like maths to express it in terms of other quantities and thus we can arrive at a theory to describe why it occurs. I don't argue that it doesn't occur but I also won't argue that our explanation for it is a fact. Curvature of space time, just like the theory of evolution, fits all the available evidence and so it is a very good theory. Not a fact, though. i am trying not to deal in absolutes in scientific investigation, if you do then you become in danger of becoming close minded to new developments that endanger your pet theory.

Kav said...

Don't get me wrong, I think evolution probably is the correct theory. I certainly don't accept creationism as a reasonable explanation for describing the available evidence.

Kav said...

Ryan, why could I not have written what you just said? That expresses one of my key points far more eloquantly than I managed.

hrun said...

Kav, I think I understand you a little better now, but not completely. For clarities sake, let's forgo my example of gravity and go back to evolution and the theory of evolution.

So, as I understand you, you say that while evolution is observable and a fact (like the sensation of being attracted by gravity) the theory of evolution, i.e. the explanation of how and why it occurs is not an observable fact. Yet, how do we separate these two things? What is this 'evolution' that is observable? And what is this 'theory of evolution' that explains the hows and whys of 'evolution'? These are really not mere rhetorical devices (I know that one prime technique to 'win' arguments is to ask for precise definitions, a notoriously hard endeavor). Unlike gravity, we don't have a specific sense to feel or experience evolution. We have an idea of what evolution is, how it works and what we would expect to happen if evolution takes place. Then we observe nature and see that all this stuff actually happens. Thus, we say, we observed evolution. However, I do not see how this can be divorced from the 'theory of evolution'.

Anyway, I hope you see the point that I am so clumsily driving at. If not, please ask for claritfications and I will write more when I am in less of a rush. Cheers.

Kav said...

Hrun that is a tricky one and I will get back to you on it. I need to brush up on my Darwin before I accidently misrepresent what he actually proposed in his theory. As a half-cocked attempt I would suggest that we can see the apparent response of organisms to various stimuli in the laboratory and this fits the theory that evolution occurs through natural selection (which is what Darwin suggested). However, just because Darwin's explanation explains the behaviour of those organisms and explains the different types of birds of the same family in the south pacific, we should not automatically call it fact. Just because you or I cannot come up with an alternative explanation that does not mean there isn't one. I guess the argument could even be made that just because some organisms in a lab seem to evolve there is no reason for the same process to work on us. Like I said I shall get back to you on this once I can think it through, i can see what you are driving at though.

hrun said...

Kav, thanks for looking into it in more detail. I am curious what will come out of this discussion. Also, please do not feel rushed... I am quite patient and things can move at quite a slow pace (as you can see from the activity on my Blog).

One thing I might add is that Darwin may have been the first or the most prominent person to propose something that is called the theory of evolution. However, Darwin published his work in a time before even Gregor Mendel had come up with theories on hereditry and nearly 100 years would go by before it was discovered that DNA was the genetic material. So, while Darwin was visionary for his time and the theory proposed by Darwin remains largely unchanged, a number of additions and clarifications have been made to the theory of evolution beyond the simple catchphrase "survival of the fittest".

Kav said...

So, while Darwin was visionary for his time and the theory proposed by Darwin remains largely unchanged, a number of additions and clarifications have been made to the theory of evolution beyond the simple catchphrase "survival of the fittest".

which is one reason I want to look at it carefully :-)

Also you go some way to answering my point, the theory has been changed and refined over time. Hence it has not been demonstrated to be an ummutable fact; as more evidence is found and new ideas are developed we refine our views. I do not argue that there will neccessarily be a huge revision of our ideas behind the mechanism of evolution, but I do argue that we cannot ever know so well as to call it a fact that our interpretation of the mechanism is 100% correct. Perhaps this is just a question of standards of proof?

hrun said...

The point though is that even though things may have been added to the theory of evolution or views on the mechanisms that drive evolution have been refined (or more insight has been added by understanding hereditry or genetics) the basic tenets of evolution have not changed. In fact, as you stated above, they actually have been observed. So, it basically comes back to the question: What is 'evolution' that we can observe and what is the 'theory of evolution' that may be refined as new evidence is found.

It still remains very interesting to my what your mindset is on this issue.

Kav said...

hrun, I have not forgitten you, just busy combining work and house hunting today. Oh, nice one on kickstarting the old weblog back up :-)

hrun said...

I guess for some odd reason I just felt the urge to blog some stuff. Must be because I have really important things that need procrastinating in real life. ;)