Creation, Evolution, and Evidence:
The Question of Causation

It is difficult to say anything at all about the creation/evolution debate and have people actually hear you. What I mean is this: that many people have already done whatever reading and evaluating has seemed right to them, and when they read another piece (such as this) they are often reading to see whether they should line up with you or against you, rather than checking the validity of what you say. I've also seen it happen that naturalistic evolutionists suspect political motives rather than a pursuit of knowledge.

But in an environment like that, where does that leave the evidence? In my line of work (programming), the data is of key importance. In scientific discussions about evolution, it seems that too often the data -- the evidence -- is not really the driving force of the conversation. Today I will only raise a question about the evidence and where it can take us: What exactly should we expect the evidence to contribute to a resolution of the debate? I don't here mean a nasty jibe that some people will never listen to the evidence. No, here I mean simply that there are people on both sides of the debate who accept the same evidence. There are people on both sides of the house who are ready to acknowledge that, say, Species X arose in such a form at Time Y. And yet, even given the same base evidence, and even given that many people accept the same formulas, methods, and data used, these people are not necessarily on the same side of the debate.

Note: There are also those who question the data or methods, but the naturalists often do not distinguish between those opponents who reject the data and methods on the one hand, and those on the other hand who accept the data and methods but note that other conclusions are possible. This has contributed to the unproductivity of the debate and has led to some justifiable frustration on the part of those who accept the current scientific data and methodology. But that is not where the point of this post lies.

What then are the main differences in the debate? What is the main difference between creation and evolution? Is the difference a belief in God? Not necessarily. Darwin believed in God, and many theists believe in evolution; more still believe in a certain form of guided evolution. "Guided evolution" is something that the sola natura camp tends to reject as being still a bit creationistic. The "young earth creation" camp, the old earth "guided evolution" camp, and even the "intelligent design" camp are often lumped together in the minds of opponents. What do they have in common? As imprecise as it is to lump those groups together in all instances, still what they have in common is ultimately one of the most interesting questions of the debate. That question is not about which species arose when and where, but why -- it is ultimately a question of causation.

With the question in mind -- the question of causation -- let's go back to the data. The evidence in hand is a fossil, and a series of fossils, and all of the fossil record such as it exists and will exist with ongoing research. What can the evidence tell us -- in a quantifiable, observable, objective way -- about how it came to exist? Is a fossil, or series of fossils, capable of providing evidence on why and how it arose? How would a fossil look different if it were or were not caused purely naturally? How would a fossil look different if it were or were not purposefully caused? One side of the debate states that chance, environment, and such natural factors alone caused it. Another view states that a purposeful action caused it. Is it possible for us, based on the fossil record, to decide between those two (or come up with other alternatives)? For any explanations we do devise, whether in the past or in the future, to what extent is any given explanation data-driven and suggested to our minds by the evidence, rather than vice versa? Is it possible for us, examining a fossil, to determine not just when and where it may have come to exist, but also to determine why? What hard facts would give evidence of "nature alone"? What hard facts would give evidence of "purposeful action"?

I hope that by now I have made plain the questions that press most on my data-driven mind: to what extent is the current debate truly driven by the data? From a standpoint of what we can humanly know, is it possible to prove the causation of past events? If the fossil record lends knowledge of a certain species arising at a certain time, does it also provide any insight as to whether it arose by chance or on purpose? And if it is not possible to empirically evaluate the causation of past events, then what is the responsible handling of discussions of causation within a scientific, empirical framework? If theories are not so much "evidence-based" as "evidence-compatible", then what is the objective basis for preferring one evidence-compatible theory over another?


Anonymous said…
Couple comments:

People like to label opinions so they don't have to listen to them.

What if it turned out that "God" and "Evolution" are merely different names for the same entity?

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