Science Cannot Solve Our Problems Without a Foundation of Humility
Every Scientific Fact is Open to Reevaluation—Except Evolution, by Conservatives
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
One of the predictable rites of the biological establishment is the outraged, condescending response given to any criticism levied at the theory of evolution by the wrong group. There is no end of the amount of indignant spleen vented towards the supposed interlopers—pig-ignorant, fundamentalist, pseudo-scientific nuts—who dare contradict the most important idea in the history of science. Consider noted atheist and evolutionary evangelist Richard Dawkin’s statement:
It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).
And yet, in two recent articles on pride and error in the sciences, a foundation is laid for even evolutionary biology to be more open to criticisms, without worrying from where these critiques arise.
In both Half the Facts You Know Are Probably Wrong, by Ronald Bailey, and How Might Intellectual Humility Lead to Scientific Insight?, by W. Jay Wood, a strong argument is advanced for principled and unbiased humility in the search for scientific truth. After all, could it really be any other way? Does the scientific establishment actually stand for the proposition that no accurate criticisms of evolution could EVER come from those of a non-conformists or religious mindset? Why should Mother Nature or God favor a blindly biased cabal of “truth hoarders” arrogantly convinced only they intuit the secret nuts and bolts of the universe?
I. A Stagnant Pool—Reign of Evolutionary “Certainty”
If there is one certainty in biology, it is the unchanging place of evolution as the center of the study of the “genesis” of life. So, the centerpiece of a scientific enterprise is unchallengeable, secular dogma? Yes. Why this is so can be answered from several different angles. From the pro-evolutionary side, the reason is it’s the “only game in town”—claiming no other plausible theory exists to explain life’s origins. Evolutionary critics, on the other hand, will point out that Neo-Darwinian evolution is the centerpiece of a rather simplistic naturalist philosophy that calls upon August Comte and John Stuart Mill’s Church of Humanity. This secular religion demands that only measurable or “natural” explanations be examined in the sciences. So, by fiat, God is rejected.
Evolution therefore inhabits the enviable place of being a “theory” which brooks no dissent. So, how does this effect the biological sciences? Many negative elements are introduced from the presumption of blind evolution. First, its assumed the purpose of biology is the furtherance of evolutionary theory; i.e., all scientific research is understood to be designed to prove, not harm, the central tenets of evolution. Second, evolution encourages an ethic of amorality to pervade the sciences which also filters into society. Third, much time, labor and valuable, finite resources have been expended to prop up belief in the unprovable hypothesis—evolution. Fourth, a spirit of censorship has descended over the sciences in protection of the unchallengeable thesis, driving out many religious and independent thinkers.
Fifth, Darwinism helped encourage some of the most morally reprehensible research and activities in history, such as the eugenics movement, and the scientific programs of the Nazis and Russians. Sixth, a reductionist and highly condescending myth is constantly dispensed in all public forums extolling the truth and rightness of evolutionary cant, including all mainstream science shows. Seventh, an incredible opportunity to better understand nature has been lost if evolutionary theory is wrong from the embargoing of advocates. Eighth, as Darwinism is an unprovable hypothesis, biological science itself is built upon wholly non-scientific criteria, which cannot be questioned. Finally, evolution encourages a jaded view of life, as a series of random events that have no meaning or direction, instead of a mystery and a miracle to behold.
And yet, according to its leading proponents, there can be no intelligent, principled or educated opposition to Darwinism. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution Richard Dawkins says,
Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. We know this because of a rising flood of evidence supports it. Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it…Proof beyond reasonable doubt? Reasonable doubt? That is the understatement of all time. I shall be using the name ‘history-deniers’ for those people who deny evolution…
To say Dawkins is closed-minded is as controversial as claiming the Ayatollah opposes pulled pork sandwiches. He goes out of his way to regularly insult the religious, but now has been called out for being a secular “Fundamentalist” by a noted scientist. The UK Mail, in an article titled: Richard Dawkins branded a fundamentalist by expert behind the ‘God particle’, reports:
Atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins was branded a ‘fundamentalist’ by one of his most eminent scientific colleagues. The militancy of Professor Dawkins’s attacks on religious belief mean he is ‘almost a fundamentalist himself’, scientist Peter Higgs said. Professor Higgs, whose theory on the sub-atomic ‘God particle’ was recently supported by experiments at the Cern research centre near Geneva, is considered one of the world’s leading scientists and is widely tipped for a Nobel prize.
II. Response of the Evolutionary Critics
Critics from both the religious and atheist school are noted here.
A. Non-Religious Critics—Sir Fred Hoyle
There have been extraordinary rejections of evolutionary theory by some of the world’s leading scientists. According to one site, Fred Hoyle was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century:
Fred Hoyle was an atheist, but also a freethinker who embraced intelligent design. Hoyle was a very famous Cambridge (UK) physicist, astronomer, and cosmologist. The truth is that Hoyle absolutely disbelieved in Darwinism. He thought that there is intelligence “out there” in the cosmos, and perhaps in past time, that is directing the progress of life on Earth. In The Intelligent Universe, Hoyle meticulously demolishes Darwinism in great detail and with scientific precision.
In The Intelligent Universe, Hoyle wrote this famous passage:
A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.
Hoyle makes an equally strong claim in the same book:
Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule?” Of course you would…A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.
Hoyle calculated the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 1040,000. Since their are only 1080 atoms in the known universe, he argued that even a whole universe full of primordial soup wouldn’t have a chance. He claimed that the notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.
Interestingly, Dr. Hubert P. Yockey, physicist on the Manhattan Project under Robert Oppenheimer, dedicated himself to studying application of information theory to problems in biology. He stated Hoyle was “wildly optimistic” in his numbers on evolution, which he considered much more unlikely, saying: “The origin of life is unsolvable as a scientific problem.” Thus he rejected the primordial soup theory of the origin of life.
Hoyle was criticized for his views, but not dismissed wholesale by other scientists because of his eminence inside the scientific community. In addition, Harvard’s famous paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, believed the fossil record did not support gradual evolution. He taught, instead, that “saltation” had occurred—that is, episodic flurries of quick evolutionary leaps. He states the problem in an article:
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:
- Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.
- Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’
The problem with Gould’s saltationism is that it pulls the rug out from under slow evolutionists, whose God is Chance and Time. Further, there is no clear method from which saltationist evolution could occur—although he states “punctuated equilibrium” is responsible. While Gould’s ideas were controversial, and perhaps indistinguishable at some level from a creationist account of the rise of animals, his eminence as the world’s greatest paleontoloist, and a best-selling author shielded him from criticism.
B. Creationist Critics
A notable religious critic of evolution is Jonathan Wells (PhD Cal State Berkley). His book Icons of Evolution is an attack against the Darwinist dogma of missing links, etc. Wells describes his “Icons” and why he decided to expose their falsehoods:
We all remember them from biology class: the experiment that created the “building blocks of life” in a tube; the evolutionary “tree,” the peppered moths, and Darwin’s finches. And, of course, the Haeckel embryos. All of these examples, and many others purportedly standing as evidence of evolution, are incorrect. Not just slightly off. Not just slightly mistaken. On the subject of Darwinian evolution, the texts contained massive distortions and even some faked evidence. In fact, when the false “evidence” is taken away, the case for Darwinian evolution, in the textbooks at least, is so thin it’s almost invisible.
Responses to Well’s Icons were extraordinarily condescending and disrespectful. One scientist, Jerry Coyne, composed the following response (including a pointed attack on his religious beliefs):
Wells’ book rests entirely on a flawed syllogism: hence, textbooks illustrate evolution with examples; these examples are sometimes presented in incorrect or misleading ways; therefore evolution is a fiction. To compound the absurdity, Wells concludes that a cabal of evil scientists, “the Darwinian establishment”, uses fraud and distortion to buttress the crumbling edifice of evolution. Wells’ final chapter urges his readers to lobby the US government to eliminate research funding for evolutionary biology.
The fact is, Wells’ critics, instead of thanking him for pointing out obvious and misleading flaws in evolutionary teaching materials, attacked him personally, claiming all his points were either trivial or irrelevant to evolution. Yet, is this really the way science is supposed to work—where only the “right” people are allowed to criticize? Instead, Wells’ critics come off like the jilted ex-girlfriend, personally offended by his disagreements. We do well here to recall scientist Garret Hardin’s warning from Nature and Man’s Fate—that he who does not honor Darwin “...inevitably attracts the speculative psychiatric eye to himself.”
III. Call for Systemic Biological Reform
There is currently an enormous problem with intellectual integrity in scientific publications, as outlined in the article Why Most Published Research Findings Are False which states,
There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false…Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.
Further alarms on scientific falsification are happening across the globe in various studies, such as in Global Warming. For example, Michael Mann is infamous for his misleading “Hockey Stick Graph” falsely showing temperatures spiking for the first time in history. Moreover, falsified science is found everywhere—more typically with popular topics. Overall, there has been a—Tenfold increase in scientific research papers retracted for fraud. Finally, wherever we find fame, money, or power, we should keep an eye out for suspect scientific research. And certainly, in such a politically and culturally important field as evolutionary biology, with its vast use as a foundation for all modern, public undertakings, we must especially be on the lookout for fraud—such as the many faked “Missing Links” between ape and man, like Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Peking Man, etc… (list of evolutionary frauds).
So what can be done to improve scientific rectitude and create a more open, and scientific culture? We must acknowledge that “Science” is only the Scientific Method and no one needs special permission to criticize established theories or offer new ones. That is the only way Science itself can evolve. So we must encourage a humble regard for the truth and a measured response to those who challenge even highly regarded scientific “facts”—since today’s facts are often tomorrow’s misinformation—as described in Half the Facts You Know Are Probably Wrong. Overall, a sense of modesty towards dissent should be highly encouraged in the sciences instead of fury when one’s icons are pulled down. One writer suggests the following as an antidote to scientific close-minded arrogance:
I focus on the virtue of “intellectual humility” and ask what relevance it has for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. I argue that intellectually humble scientists have a stronger likelihood of winning knowledge and other intellectual goods than those lacking this virtue.
After all, some of today’s “heretics” will evolve into tomorrow’s visionary geniuses.