For Those Who Reject Evolution

If you are somebody who rejects the Theory of Evolution, I have several questions I’d like to ask you. I’m interested in determining several things about your position. I’m also willing to work with other areas of scientific discourse, like Big Bang cosmology, as the questions only need to be tweaked slightly.

What is your scientific background? Have you earned any PhD’s in any field related to biology, and if so, where did you earn these degrees from? Is this institution accredited by any government recognized accreditation agency, like the New England Association of Schools and Colleges? Getting a PhD from a degree mill, like Patriot Bible University, really isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, even if you spent thousands of dollars on it.

Have you ever had any papers published in reputable, peer reviewed, journals on topics related to biology? If so, approximately how many, and when was your last paper published?

If you have a PhD or have published papers

Congratulations. You’re among a very elite group of people in the world that has sufficient background to actually understand the scientific evidence, and the theory, to be able to take a reasonably informed position on evolution. You may be correct in your position regarding evolution, but I have no way to know. As a layman, I do not have the background knowledge to properly evaluate the evidence, so I’m forced to accept the scientific consensus.

The rest of this post isn’t for you. Your job is to go out and convince the rest of the scientific community that the Theory of Evolution is not correct. I probably don’t need to tell you that you have your work cut out for you. Evolution has been an accepted scientific theory for well over 100 years, and doesn’t appear to have been falsified. If you can reverse the consensus of your fellow scientists on Evolution, I’ll gladly come along and accept whatever new theory becomes the consensus.

If you don’t have a PhD and haven’t published papers

If you do not have a PhD in some field of biology, and you have never published any papers related to biology, do you recognize that you are not an expert when it comes to matters of biology? What has convinced you to believe that you have sufficient expertise to evaluate the evidence for the Theory of Evolution?

Do you current accept any other position to explain the diversity of life on Earth, like Intelligent Design? Keep in mind that I do understand that rejecting one theory does not mean that you accept any other.

Have you taken any post-secondary courses that deal with evolution, that try to explain it to non-scientists, or explain why scientists accept the theory?

Do you reject all of science, or is it only particular theories in science that you have trouble accepting? Do you accept the theory of Special Relativity which tells us that time is not absolute, and that “now” is a relative concept?

What would it take to convince you that you, an admitted non-expert, should accept the scientific consensus, in this case, that the Theory of Evolution is the best explanation we currently have for the diversity of life on Earth? Could you ever be convinced to accept the position of expert scientists on this matter, or are you convinced that you know better?

Please feel free to leave your answers in the comment section below!

Do Scientists Who Go Against Evolution Risk Their Career?

There’s one particularly silly claim that I hear from the creationist crowd, and I want to take a few moments to point out how wrong it is. The first time I heard this claim was shortly after Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” was released, although I’m sure the ID community has been claiming persecution for much longer. The claim is that there are scientists who disagree with the theory of evolution, and once this gets known the scientific community works to get these people fired. The supposed reason for this is the theory of evolution is actually a religion, and those who question the religious dogma must be punished, either by losing status, being denied tenure, or blacklisting them to stop their entire academic career.

What makes this claim all the more silly to me is how much these people seem to lack awareness of the issues around academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and honest scholarship that happens within private religious universities. The last time I checked there are no secular biology departments that require members to sign any statement of faith, let alone one that they will accept evolution, regardless of the evidence, and promise to never criticize it. Compare this against religious universities, many of which do require faculty, staff, and students, to sign a statement of faith. Institutions such as Biola University, Liberty University, Bob Jones University, and many others, are real places where faculty are not allow to question certain elements of doctrine, lest they risk being fired!

Any time I’ve ever talked with somebody, who works in the secular academic world, I’m told that your value comes from primarily two things:

  1. how many academic papers you publish, which ultimately leads to
  2. how much grant money your work pulls in

The competition is fierce, and there are often more people trying to work in academia than there are positions available, as the United States is turning out somewhere around 60,000 new PhD’s every year (the numbers may be even higher now). If your research does not bring in grant money then universities don’t have much use for you, and will gladly look at somebody else who could. The office space, and other resources, that you use could be better used by somebody else who will be more productive. Frankly, biology departments aren’t interested in people who work on pseudoscience, and this probably extends to other areas of science.

The problem isn’t so much that there people risk being fired for espousing creationism. These people are usually fired because they aren’t publishing, because real academic journals don’t accept pseudo-scientific nonsense. Attempts to publish work on ID simply doesn’t get past the peer review step, unless you submit to a pay-to-publish journal, or one of the creationist journals (like the “Answers Research Journal”.) Peer review is difficult, and junk gets stopped, because it’s supposed to be. It’s a quality control step that helps to ensure that real science is being published, and pseudoscience is weeded out. Those who don’t get published, and who don’t get grants, don’t tend to stay employed for very long, or earn tenure, at a serious academic oriented university.

If anybody was actually doing real science, and could get their work past peer review, that would overturn evolution, they would be lauded by the scientific community for overturning the 150 year old consensus. Science moves huge steps forward not by everyone holding the consensus, but by those who challenge and overturn the consensus.

What’s even more incredible about this entire claim is that good scientists actually want to be shown to be wrong! Every good scientist works hard to falsify their theories. Finding out that your work is wrong, while a blow to personal ego, means that science is correcting itself. The whole idea that science wants to prop up a particular idea, because religious conservatives doesn’t like it, is little more than delusional fantasy. Good scientists care about what’s true.

Now, I can’t stop people from believing that there’s a giant conspiracy to make sure that evolution is taught to students, and that academics love to make an example of those who oppose the status quo. The problem is that the facts really don’t support this persecution claim. Scientists are (for the most part) honest about the evidence and what the best conclusions are that can be drawn from that evidence. If you’re a scientist, and you’re getting shot down by the scientific community, it’s most likely because the case you’re trying to make is not a good one. The status quo is hard to overturn by design, but it can be overturned.  Science doesn’t get overturned because you say so.

1000 Scientists Sign Dissent From Darwin Petition

The Discovery Institute has updated their “Dissent from Darwinpetition and they have apparently gotten over 1000 signatories.  For those unfamiliar, the petition says:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

There are a few things I’d like to point out about this petition, and the problems I have with it:

The most glaring problem with this petition is that most of the signatories aren’t even biologists, or in a field related to biology.  That in itself should be a major red flag to anybody looking at this.  I plan to spend a few hours looking over the 25 pages to try and figure out approximately how many of these signatories are actually biologists, or in biology related fields.  I suspect the number is somewhere around 30%, just from a cursory glance.

The second thing that should be striking is the exact wording of the petition.  Nowhere does it say that the signer actually considers evolution false, or that they consider Neo-Darwinian evolution to be incapable of explaining the diversity of life.  All the petition says is that the signer is skeptical (which frankly, should be the position of scientists in regard to every theory in science).  I seriously wonder how many of these signatories actually dispute the explanatory power and models of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory?

Third, the number of signatories represents a tiny fraction of the scientists who do accept that Evolution explains the diversity of life that we see around us.  The last survey done on the subject, only 9 years ago, showed that 97% of scientists accept that humans, and all other species, evolved over time.

Fourth, this amounts to little more than an argument from authority.  Science isn’t determined by what scientists think, but rather what can be established using the scientific method that finds its way into peer reviewed scientific journals.  These journals represent the accumulated human knowledge through the scientific method.  If you want to change science you need to publish in credible journals, not through petitions.

Fifth, let’s assume that this whole thing is on the up-and-up, and that there is a huge movement of credible scientists who do not accept Evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life.  What then?  Does this make Intelligent Design (ID) a more credible explanation?  No, because ID is still pseudoscience.  Does this make Christianity more plausible?  No, because Christianity was never plausible to begin with.  Even if the theory of Evolution is falsified tomorrow, it doesn’t make any other theory more probable, and any other explanation still needs to have good models, with confirmed testable predictions, in order to be accepted as a scientific theory.

I think it’s rather sad that the Discovery Institute spends so much effort on trying to undermine a well established scientific theory, and does nothing to actually contribute to the field of science.  They don’t go out and get their work published in scientific journals.  They don’t go out and actually try to build credible theories that offer good explanations. They simply work to create a campaign of disinformation.

Am I worried about the status of Evolution?  Not at all.  Even if the Theory of Evolution fails, I’ll still be an atheist, because my atheism is not tied to Evolution being true.  Why creationists spend so much time trying to undermine Evolution is beyond me.

Response to a Fundamentalist Christian Apologist

“I have published dozens of articles and two books on the scientific evidence for a universe that exists by intelligence. I would recommend that you read them but I have noticed that when I have suggested this in the past, you have ignored my encouragement.”  — Robert Clifton Robinson, in his reply comment to me in his post Slavery Can Be A Really Good Thing.

Frankly, Mr Christian apologist, the fact that you’ve written two books (anybody can write a book and get it published), and dozens of articles (I have a blog too), on the “scientific evidence for a universe that exists by intelligence”, is of little concern to me. I believe you lead the evidence to your preferred conclusion, rather than following it, as good scientists do. As yet there is no scientific consensus about what you claim, and scientists have yet to come out to say that the evidence tells us that any gods exist, or that the universe is the result of some supernatural intelligence.  Maybe they will one day, but they have not yet.

I suspect I know what you’ll say about the fact that scientists haven’t come out and admitted that the evidence doesn’t lead to your conclusion:  That the scientists are all atheists, and they’d rather sin than acknowledge a creator.  I’ve heard this too many times from fundamentalist Christians.

But please tell me how many of these articles have you submitted for peer review to scientists? How many of these articles have been published in credible, peer reviewed, journals?  For the record, I’m not talking about meaningless creationist journals like “Answers Research Journal“, or predatory pay-to-publish journals where anyone can publish their nonsense for a between $200 to $2000.  What have actual scientists said about your so-called articles?  If you ever submitted them, I’m willing to bet that they’d end up in the bin.

I’m also curious, Christian apologists, what credentials you have in the area of science.  You claim you’re using scientific evidence to establish that the universe required an intelligent creator, but I’m willing to bet that you’ve had very little, if any, scientific training.  What degrees have you earned, in what fields, and from what accredited learning institutions?  How many years have you worked in the field of science that you think you have enough background to even sit at the same table as scientists, or even try to contribute to science?  Looking at your “about” page, I see nothing about any of your credentials, even as a theologian.

So please tell me why I, or anybody else, should invest any time to consider your “scientific evidence” when you are almost certainly not an expert in the subject, or demonstrated yourself to other experts?

Why Do So Many People Deny Scientific Consensus?

A troubling thing that I’ve noticed over the past decade is the staggering number of people who deny the consensus of scientist.  Whether it’s the science on global warming, Evolution, Big Bang, GMO safety, or the effectiveness of homeopathy, you can find a lot of people who hold superstitious, and unscientific, views even when the consensus of scientists is in strong opposition.

At the heart of this problem are a number of factors, each one contributing, but I doubt that any is likely the root cause. I see several likely contributors, but this list is by no means exclusive: Scientific ignorance, the Dunning-Kruger effect, various personal biases like confirmation and self-serving, along with religious influence.

Evolution

Visiting the social media pages of various conservative Christian apologists, I see many, but not all, seem to reject Evolution outright. I don’t know if this is because it’s what they believe, or if it’s because of their fundamentalist audience they want to appeal to.  Even when I find an apologist who rejects Young Earth Creationism, or accepting that Evolution is true, it’s not uncommon for them to receive a lot of flack for not holding to a literal interpretation of Genesis. Interestingly, a January 31st poll, done over at Capturing Christianity’s Facebook page, had about 600 responses with 85% in accepting Intelligent Design, and 15% rejecting it.  I find these numbers to be absolutely staggering.  While there are a lot of mainline Protestants (who largely accept evolution) in the US, there is a scary number of fundamentalists who reject certain areas of science.

Whenever I try to point a creationist towards the very strong evidence we have for Evolution, they will largely deny it and declare it to be non-science.  They’re convinced that some super intelligent supernatural being created life, and no amount of evidence, or even the consensus of scientists, will ever convince these people that Evolution is real, and explains the diversity of life we see today.  As far as fundamentalist Christians are concerned, the Bible is infallible, and we should believe a very literal interpretation about the origins of Humans.

We All Rely On The Consensus Of Experts

None of us has the time, or the capability, to become experts in every single field.  There are simply too many areas where extensive study is required to have enough background to evaluate the evidence.  Science is complicated, and in order to have sufficient background to even properly evaluate the evidence can take at least a decade to obtain the necessary credentials.  Strangely, many people think that just reading a little bit on the Internet gives them sufficient background in order to inform their beliefs.

One of the reasons that science has become so successful is because each scientist is incredibly specialized, and are effectively masters of a very tiny subdomain.  These experts have enough knowledge of their domain to be able to effectively debate, among themselves, the evidence, and the theories that are supported by the evidence.

It is, quite simply, impossible to become a master of every possible domain that we want to examine, and therefore must rely on the consensus of experts to tell us what is most likely to be true.

“But That’s Just An Appeal To Authority”

While this may be a common charge, it’s actually not an appeal to authority to appeal to scientific consensus.  Scientists are almost always extremely conservative, and don’t make scientific statements lightly.  If a scientific theory has the consensus of scientists then you almost certainly have a theory that has been debated, and examined thoroughly, by scientists, and that the theory is strongly supported by the evidence.

It’s also important to note that the consensus of scientists is not a proclamation of truth, as science does not make proclamations of truth.  Science makes evaluations of evidence, and tentatively accepts or rejects theories based on the current evidence.  Any scientific theory could be overturned with new evidence, however, we can be reasonably confident that scientific consensus tells us what is most likely to be true about the natural world.

If you care about truth, and want to believe what is most likely to be true, you really have no reason to reject scientific consensus.

Why I Care About Beliefs

Many times, while engaging with Christians, I’m asked something like “why do you care?  If what you believe is true we just go to the ground and rot.  Why can’t you just leave our beliefs alone?

The answer is really easy.  I care because what we believe matters.  Our beliefs inform our actions, and our actions have objective consequences for both ourselves and others around us.  When we believe things that aren’t actually true we risk causing real harm to other people, including those we care about.  I care about what I believe because I do not want to cause harm to others.  I care about what I believe because I’d be a hypocrite if I told people to believe something that I myself didn’t care about. As Matt Dillahunty has said many times “I want to know as many true things and as few false things as possible.

If you value truth, and you care about yourself and those around you, then it stands to reason that one should try to make sure that all of their beliefs are true, or at least very likely to be true.

I Make Mistakes Sometimes

I’ll admit that I make plenty of mistakes, including mistakes about beliefs.  Even at this moment I almost certainly hold beliefs that are not actually good descriptions of reality.  I hope that these beliefs are benign, but ultimately it’s hard to know.  Knowing what’s actually true is hard, and we make a lot of errors in the process.  After all, nobody ever said that learning was easy.  We should all be willing to admit that we could be wrong about just about anything we believe!

Why I’m A Skeptic

Because knowing what is true is so difficult, and reliable means to establish truth are so limited, I try to be very careful about what I “allow” myself to believe (not that belief is actually a choice.)  Being a skeptic, and forcing your brain to justify every belief, seems to be one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves from bad beliefs, but even that isn’t perfect.

I’m sure all of us like to think that our beliefs are a good modeling of reality.  Nobody wants to think that their beliefs are unfounded, or wrong.  The thing is every one of us almost certainly believe something incredibly stupid, and we’d probably feel embarrassed when we realize the truth about some of these things.  Here’s the rub: we all make mistakes, and it’s very unlikely that anybody is going to stop loving you, or is going to think less of you, for admitting that you held a wrong belief.

Commit yourself to having true beliefs, and always making sure that your most important beliefs are true.  Commit yourself to good epistemological methods, so that we can stop believing silly things.  We owe it to ourselves, and to those around us!