Monday, December 29, 2008

D'Souza Recap

Having first recommended Dinesh D'Souza's book What's So Great About Christianity, I have been spending several posts demonstrating what's wrong with his thinking in the chapter on evolution. At this point, I'm halfway through the four reasons he gives for his acceptance of the macroevolutionary story. (D'Souza is clear to dismiss the naturalistic/atheistic portion of modern evolutionary thought, but my contention is that there is no good reason or evidence that would compel one to accept that evolution--even theistic evolution--is the accurate understanding of life on Earth.)

To recap, D'Souza's first reason for accepting evolution is that "virtually every" biologist accepts it. I identified several problems with this reason. First, it is simply false; there are many biologists who doubt the evolutionary story, though many keep their doubts to themselves since airing those doubts could cost them their job or result in the denial of tenure. Moreover, to the extent that most biologists believe in evolution, it is because continuance in a course of biological study depends in large part upon acquiescing to neo-Darwinism as handed down by the Darwinists that teach and write "virtually every" biology course and textbook.*

Second, D'Souza's reasoning here is fallacious. It commits one of the informal fallacies of relevance, specifically the ad populum fallacy. The truth or falsehood of a claim (or theory or paradigm) is not dependent on its popularity, on whether it enjoys majority (or even unanimous) acceptance. To put it another way, the degree to which an idea is accepted is irrelevant to whether that idea is true or false. In commiting this rather obvious fallacy, D'Souza shows that his thinking on this particular issue is much more confused and less critical than that which he brings to most other subjects. He writes,
While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.
It should be obvious that every scientific revolution--every significant change in scientific thinking--was preceded by a time in which "virtually every" scientist (in the given field) complacently accepted the reigning theory and the naysayers were few in number (or even a single individual). That D'Souza cannot see this fatal flaw to his reasoning is (I believe) telling.

D'Souza's fourth and final reason (I have not yet dealt with the second and third) for accepting evolution is what he calls a "single invariant trajectory" in the complexity of living things. I took several posts to document the problems with this reason. In short, the geological and fossil record does not in fact show such a trajectory, but at every turn falsifies the expectations of Darwin and the claims of his modern defenders. The actual fossil record demonstrates sudden bursts of new life, fully-formed, fully-adapted, and part of complete ecosystems, followed by long periods of stasis (in which the organism does not show any change throughout its tenure in the fossil record). I went on to explain that the reasons that (what we call) more advanced organisms arose later in Earth's history had nothing to do with evolution and everything to do with Earth's changing suitability. Specific life forms were not created until the planet provided an environment in which they could thrive.

In the next post, I'll begin to interact with D'Souza's remaining two reasons for accepting evolution. As you might expect, they too involve muddled thinking on this issue.

*I'm not here describing some evil conspiracy. It's simply the way of science to encapsulate in textbook form the reigning paradigm in a given field, and to present that paradigm as complete and unquestionable truth. The intention is not to indoctrinate or brainwash students (though that may appear to be the result); rather, the point is to bring each generation of students as quickly as possible up to speed, so that they can break new ground from that foundation (and not waste time reestablishing in their own mind the validity of that paradigm). This is in part why (in the specific case of Darwinian evolution) one recieves such loud, insistent, and uncomprehending resistance today when one raises the tiniest doubt about whether evolutionary theory is adequate or true.

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