Extraordinary Claims, Ordinary Fallacies, and Evolution

 

[The critique of evolutionary theory below is from my bestselling (sure!) book, Transcending Proof. I have posted Chapter Three here in full, slightly edited, as a response to a contributor at the Facebook group "Apologetics, Philosophy, Reason and Logic," who challenged apologists critical of evolution to basically put up or shut up.[1] Pardon the length.
 
Also please understand that I neither begrudge fellow believers their views on this issue nor insist that they adopt my own views instead. As the apostle Paul and countless theologians since have argued, to press nonessential dogmas upon others as a litmus test for Christianity can be a serious stumbling block to sincere faith in Christ. But that holds across the board. Believers are not beholden to a particular theory of science any more than they are beholden to my interpretation of Scripture. I repudiate evolution not simply because I find the evidence for God's active, creative power at work in nature overwhelming, but because I find the arguments for macroevolution and common descent unconvincing, if not utterly fallacious. And as a Christian apologist I see no reason why apologists should uncritically concede to atheists the one theory they need most in order to be, as Dawkins remarked, "intellectually fulfilled."]
 
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TO HEAR MOST ACADEMICS nowadays, the creation-evolution debate is officially over. Evolution won. The National Academy of Sciences says it, the courts believe it, and that settles it. With the reported "collapse" (prohibition) of the intelligent design movement at the 2005 Dover trial, it appears the last vestiges of creationism have been officially and completely replaced by a secular-naturalistic evolutionary orthodoxy already well into its second century of predominance over the life sciences.[2]

Indeed, the basic outline of the textbook vision of cosmology and evolution is now more firmly established than ever: The universe came into being by unknown means roughly fourteen billion years ago; the earth followed suit some ten billion years later; and the better part of a billion years after that the first living organism emerged on earth, again by unknown means. This tiny, fragile being, driven by the instinct to survive common to all living things, then began to reproduce, adapt and evolve. From there evolution by natural selection eventually generated all the forms of life that have ever graced the planet.
 
This last part of the story is no mere theory. Supported by a mountain of evidence, evolution is a fact of science which no rational or educated person would ever presume to dispute. So declare leading promoters of evolution like Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, and of course, Richard Dawkins. "Evolution is a fact," asserts Dawkins. "Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact."[3] Even prominent Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga evidently have few misgivings about the claims of evolutionary theory. Craig, for example, seems satisfied with little more than the idea that the universe had an absolute beginning and its various physical constants appear to be "fine-tuned" for human life to exist. Whether the evolutionary story depicted by Darwin in such broad strokes is true or not is "irrelevant," he says, to the truth of the Christian revelation.
 
Though I greatly respect Craig as a theologian, I have to disagree here. Whether God directly created life on earth, or whether natural mechanisms of evolution created life in his stead, arguably makes the difference between faith in "the God of the living" (Mark 12:27) and mental acknowledgment of an abstract deity more befitting the prime mover of Aristotle's metaphysics. For countless believers and atheists alike, Christian theism means very little if God is not the active, principal agent of creation. In a Reasonable Faith interview Craig nonetheless went further and pronounced that for sophisticated Christians like himself, belief in young-earth creationism among Americans, and pastors in particular, is "hugely embarrassing."[4]
 
Hugely embarrassing or not, arguments against evolutionary theory by creationists and other critics ought to be heard on their own merits. If some of Darwinism's more vocal proponents, the "new atheists," have taught us anything, it's that truth should not be equated with majority opinion. I couldn't agree more. Those same atheists would also maintain that any scientific theory worth its salt ought to be falsifiable in principle; that there is no place for unchallengeable dogmas in science. Again I agree wholeheartedly. In a charitable spirit of agreement with new atheists and evolution theorists alike, then, I will here briefly explain my skepticism of evolution, specifically macroevolution.[5] My argument runs basically as follows:
 
1. Evolution is an extraordinary claim.
2. The logic of evolution is demonstrably fallacious.
3. Any claim that is both extraordinary and logically fallacious is probably false.
4. Evolution is probably false.
 
The first two premises require some elaboration. Evolution is clearly considered neither an extraordinary claim nor a fallacy of any kind in most contemporary academic circles. For that reason the remainder of this chapter will address those contentions, paying particular attention to the fallacies of evolution.
 
The Extraordinary Claim of Evolution
 
One of the catch-phrases that circulates among scientific naturalists is Carl Sagan's evidentialist dictum, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The idea essentially is that the more antecedently improbable the hypothesis, the heavier the burden of proof it must meet to become confirmed. While a popular notion among scientists and "a model for critical thinking, rational thought and skepticism everywhere," the extraordinariness of evidence required to support extraordinary claims has ironically never been adequately defined, let alone quantified.[6] Most often this subjectively perceived need for extraordinary evidence finds its expression whenever a believer suggests the plausibility of a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus. Hume's "general maxim" for repudiating miracle claims put it this way: "That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish."[7]
 
Although Hume reserved such extreme skepticism for miracles, he offered little rationale for assigning insurmountably low probability to a miracle in the first place, other than an assertion that it violates what he termed the "uniform experience" of humans to the contrary. Hume has rightly been accused of begging the question on this point, for if anyone, at any time or place, has in fact witnessed a miracle (like a bodily resurrection), then the experience to the contrary is not in fact uniform. Against Hume's own experience – but arguably consistent with his skepticism of induction – a considerable number of people in first century Judea witnessed (or at least claimed to have witnessed, under threat of death and torture) Jesus resurrected. Such well attested claims constitute evidence in favor of the resurrection miracle. (That is, the resurrection hypothesis is more likely given historical accounts based on eyewitness testimony of Jesus risen than it would be without them.)
 
What does all this have to do with evolution? Well, quite a bit, in the sense that the evolutionary history of life on earth has clearly not been witnessed by anyone – not even in principle. The macroevolutionary, taxa-spanning genetic and morphological transmutations from fish to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to birds and mammals, etc., if they occurred at all, occurred in the prehistoric past. These sorts of transmutations cannot be observed today because, as the late great Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould acknowledged, time simply does not permit their observation: "Major evolutionary change requires too much time for direct observation on the scale of human history. All historical sciences rest upon inference, and evolution is no different from geology, cosmology or human history in this respect. In principle, we cannot observe processes that occurred in the past."[8] But if, as Gould says, evolution does not work on the same scale as human history, it cannot be "no different from human history." Whereas the events of human history can at least be experienced, remembered and recorded, not even this much can be said of macroevolutionary events from the prehistoric past. Such events can be neither scientifically replicated nor historically documented. This doesn't make evolution an extraordinary claim, but certainly makes it a candidate.
 
Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer acknowledges that the claim of evolution might appear extraordinary, but is quick to add that extraordinary evidence has been adequately provided for it: "Darwin's claim of evolution by means of natural selection was an extraordinary claim in its time, so he was required to provide extraordinary evidence for it. He did, and evidence has continued accumulating ever since."[9] But given that "extraordinary evidence" has yet to be rigorously defined, whether sufficient evidence for Darwin's extraordinary claim has actually been provided remains a matter of opinion. According to Elliott Sober, the dearth of accessible background knowledge bearing upon such a "deep and general theory" like evolution suggests that its prior probability cannot be empirically grounded:
 
An empirical theory, like Mendelianism, that is itself justified by observations can provide such probabilities. But this possibility does not bear fruit in the case of Darwin's theory or Einstein's [general relativity]; we have no empirically well-grounded theory of the processes by which theories like Darwin's or Einstein's are made true.[10]
 
Part of the problem here may be simple overreach. As Swinburne argues, ever-increasing explanatory scope for a proposed theory actually entails that its intrinsic probability is diminished, not enhanced: "What I mean by this is that, in so far as it purports to apply to more and more objects and to tell you more about them, it is less probable. Clearly the more you assert, the more likely you are to make a mistake."[11] In other words, the explanatory virtue of wide scope has to be balanced against the explanatory virtues of simplicity and specificity. A simple theory making specific claims cannot explain everything about a wildly complex universe. Thus increasing explanatory scope involves decreasing reliance on background knowledge, because all the relevant data already lie within reach: "A 'Theory of Everything' will have no contingent background evidence by which to determine prior probability. Prior probability must then be determined by purely a priori considerations."[12]
 
A "Theory of Everything" might still be true, of course, but it cannot meet the scientific criterion of rigorous testability because it is not based on observations of specific phenomena in the world and therefore makes no specific or falsifiable predictions. Evolution appears to be one such “theory of everything” – which is one of a few reasons many critics consider it unfalsifiable in principle.[13] As it turns out Darwin’s notion of "descent with modification" explains the entire biosphere at a stroke, in that all points of similarity among species are evidence of common descent and all variations are evidence of modification. But it would difficult to even imagine a biological feature which is neither similar nor dissimilar to that of a hypothetical ancestor. Accordingly evolution can explain pretty much any biological feature with little risk of falsification.
 
Macroevolution is not just unobservable, but unpredictable. It may proceed in rapid "fits and starts" like the Cambrian Explosion, wherein most of the major phyla and basic body plans recognized today allegedly co-evolved over the course of ten to twenty million years (a geological "blink of an eye") from almost no plausibly identifiable immediate precursors; or it may languish indefinitely, leaving creatures like gingko trees and horseshoe crabs virtually frozen in stasis for many hundreds of millions of years. It may reveal itself openly in the fossil record, or it may hide in the fossil record's countless "gaps."[14] It may select for predatory prowess, or it may select for interspecies cooperation and altruism. It may produce healthy, growing populations, or it may produce mass extinctions. Everything confirms it, and nothing disconfirms it. Theodosius Dobzhansky asserted famously that "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." That may be so. But as Sir Karl Popper argued just as famously, "A theory that explains everything, explains nothing."
 
From all this it follows that in empirical terms, at least, the prior probability of evolutionary theory being a true account of life's origin, diversity and complexity is at best undefined. At worst, the prior probability of the evolutionary account (or indeed any particular account) of life's origin, diversity and complexity would have to be close to zero – which would make it an extraordinary claim. After all, as fine-tuning arguments for theism would suggest, our existence on any theory is an extraordinary fact. This lends at least some weight to the argument from design. "The complexity, value, and fragility of intelligent life on earth," says the atheist philosopher Paul Draper, "makes its existence extraordinary, and in some sense surprising; yet it is just the sort of thing one would expect to exist if theism were true."[15] From a probabilistic standpoint it would almost make sense to dismiss the idea that intelligent life in the universe exists at all, were it not for extraordinary evidence supporting it – viz., direct, ongoing experience of our own existence in the universe.
 
Now evolution just may be the best explanation on hand for the rise of biological diversity, in the same way that the resurrection of Christ may be the best explanation for the rise of the early church. But in both cases the explanation would have to be based not so much on rigorous experimental designs but on rational inferences derived from available data. Given that evolution is less a fact of science than an extraordinary claim, those inferences ought to be scrutinized carefully.
 
The Central Fallacy of Evolution
 
With the publication of Darwin's Black Box in 1996, biochemist Michael Behe introduced one of the cornerstone concepts of the intelligent design movement: irreducible complexity. His basic insight was that a complex functional system consisting of many interrelated parts is irreducibly complex if removal of just one of the parts results in loss of function. Behe's now famous common sense analogy for biological irreducible complexity is that of a mousetrap. Although a seemingly simple device, the mousetrap needs all its parts to effectively trap mice:
 
If the wooden base were gone, there would be no platform for attaching the other components. If the hammer were gone, the mouse could dance all night on the platform without becoming pinned to the wooden base. If there were no spring, the hammer and platform would jangle loosely, and again the rodent would be unimpeded. If there were no catch or metal holding bar, then the spring would snap the hammer shut as soon as you let go of it…[16]
 
The standard evolutionary rejoinder to this sort of argument is to point out that a highly complex system can also be thought of as an amalgamation of not-quite-so-complex but still adaptively useful parts and subsystems. So biologist Ken Miller (who has been known to sport a "tie clip" made from the spring, hammer and base of a mousetrap to illustrate the point) answers Behe by an appeal to the master: "Darwin's answer, in essence, was that evolution produces complex organs in a series of fully functional intermediate stages. If each of the intermediate stages can be favored by natural selection, then so can the whole pathway."[17] Miller is a well-respected scientist, but one could scarcely imagine a more directly stated example of the fallacy of composition. To recognize the fallacy, it may be helpful to plug some analogous referents into Miller's statement, as in: "If each of the soldiers in an army can fit in this foxhole, then so can the whole army." Or, "If each of the atoms in my body is invisible, then so is my whole body." My argument therefore is that evolution explicitly invokes a logical fallacy:
 
1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts.
3. To say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts is to commit the fallacy of composition.
4. Evolution is a fallacy.
 
There is certainly no a priori reason to think that lots of small changes leading to a single adaptive structure will simultaneously produce all the other structures necessary for the complex function of, say, vision or propulsion to emerge. Even if the system in question were not "irreducibly" complex, and plausible survival-dependent functions could be imagined for each of the numerous individual components[18] at the time of their emergence, these would be strictly coincidental (literally: collectively incidental) relative to that system's overall function. What distinguishes microevolution from macroevolution, then, is a matter not of degree but of kind. The former can be easily verified, the latter apparently not at all.
 
To his credit, Dawkins has acknowledged the distinction between mere accumulations of parts and the functional arrangements of those parts. There may not be much difference between Mont Blanc and a molehill, except maybe for the amount of earth needed to form them; but there is an unmistakable qualitative difference between a molehill and a mole: "The answer we have arrived at is that complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone."[19] But then Dawkins offers an explanation – cumulative natural selection – which again simply breaks down complicated things into lots of individually adapted and evolved parts. In other words, he seems to suggest, there is no real difference between mere accumulations and functional arrangements after all.
 
Such arguments are fallacious because a whole is not (necessarily) equal to the sum of its parts. In this case the functional complexity of a living system appears to be more than the sum of its selectively advantageous mutations. This is a point I tried to make a few years ago when challenged by some atheist friends to read Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker and critique it from a Christian perspective:
 
To the contrary, in an instance of specified complexity each modification or component is integral to the whole.... It follows from all this that each emergent component of a functional whole was actually integral to the whole even at the time of its emergence – which means either that the whole was in fact designed, or else the apparent design of the whole is in fact entirely coincidental. Yet design and coincidence are the two notions Dawkins specifically sets out to dispel. Instead he promotes a third option, cumulative natural selection, which supposedly lies right in between randomness and teleology. However, the third option is no option at all: The blind watchmaker of natural selection could not conceivably have selected such a huge number of precisely integrated components without having a pre-specified goal in mind, unless somehow nature also just happened to present a correspondingly huge number of "selective pressures" (and beneficial mutations to go along with them) incidental to their collective formation.[20]
 
No matter how we slice it, evolution remains an inadequate explanation for the origin of specifiable complexity. A novel yet functional biological system cannot be expected to arise unaided from innumerable alleged natural selection events, any more than a working intergalactic spacecraft can be expected to arise from extended production runs at a Boeing plant with no direction from managers or input from engineers. As quality managers like W. Edwards Deming have observed, the only new thing to emerge from an undirected repetitive manufacturing process would be ever-increasing nonconformance to the very specifications necessary for the product to survive in a competitive marketplace. In this and other ways evolution flies in the face not only of sound reasoning but of our common sense experiences.
 
According to Daniel Dennett and others natural selection is actually a biological "algorithm," in which the introduction of variations into continually reproducing populations in a selective environment eventually must produce new species. Even so, whether ongoing macroevolution actually occurs would then be something akin to the halting problem: That is, there appears to be no universal algorithm that can determine whether the algorithm of natural selection will run indefinitely or – as the evidence of artificial selection indicates – halt somewhere around the species level.
 
Economics provides another analogy: The well-established law of diminishing returns says that increased profitability as a function of increased factors of production cannot be maintained indefinitely. At some point (though that point may vary from one situation to the next) labor exhausts the various resources it needs to produce efficiently, and return on investment declines. In other words, profitability is not a simple linear production function. Evolution seems to obey a similar law. Though the identifiable traits and characters of a species may vary substantially through the course of generations, eventually the species exhausts the finite set of genetic configurations available to it, and microevolution settles into stasis. Thus animal breeders may continuously select for an impressively wide diversity of dogs, say, or pigeons. But they can never produce anything like non-mammals from dogs, or non-birds from pigeons. Regardless of how macroevolution may be said to operate in principle, it cannot be reduced to an extrapolation based on observations of microevolution.
 
In terms of logical validity it hardly matters whether a living system is demonstrably "irreducible," as Behe puts it, or whether anyone can prove that a given biological structure "could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications," as Darwin put it. (It isn't really clear just how even in principle anyone could prove that an admittedly quite conceivable scenario such as the gradual evolution of a bacterial flagellum could not possibly have happened – but we'll address that shortly.) My point here is simply that the explanatory logic underwriting evolutionary theory is invalid as stated, and for that reason alone evolution may well be false.
 
Additional Fallacies of Evolution
 
There have always been rational justifications for questioning the veracity of evolution. Besides the fact that macroevolution cannot be observed, the various phenomena of species stasis, convergent evolution, the Cambrian explosion, and a systematically discontinuous fossil record, to name a few examples, all lend themselves to skepticism. It was once common, for another example, to describe the phylogenetic tree of life as a perfectly nested hierarchy, which was said to be directly entailed by evolution. Then in the 1990's scientists came across strong evidence of lateral gene transfer near the "trunk" of the tree, indicating that hierarchical nesting is less than perfect (and by implication that the search for a "last universal common ancestor" may be a waste of time).
 
For many observers, that suggests the possibility of separate creations – a forest rather than a single tree. With lateral (or horizontal) gene transfer in view, naturalists now "envisage separate lines arising from the communal pool of the first cellular organisms, but the case may equally be made for the Cambrian explosion as the origin of the forest."[21] In response to all this most evolutionary systematists and taxonomists happily made the necessary adjustments to their phylogenetic tree diagrams and went on with their business. But they overlooked something important, by a rule of inference as basic as modus tollens: Given that evolution entails a perfectly nested hierarchy, any failure of hierarchical nesting entails that evolution is false.[22]
 
Even if the phylogenetic hierarchy were found to be perfectly nested, this would only provisionally confirm one prediction of evolutionary theory. And no matter how often confirmed, scientific theories cannot establish the truth of a theory in the first place. Truth, it could be argued, is chiefly a matter of metaphysics and deductive logic; whereas scientific discovery depends upon probabilities and induction. In terms of propositional logic, evolutionary theory, and indeed almost the entire modern scientific enterprise, amounts to another fallacy. Consider again the example of the nested hierarchy said to confirm the theory of evolution:
 
If E, then N
N
E

Now consider the analogous example of a wet spot on my kitchen floor confirming the theory that the family dog, Buttons, relieved herself on it while no one was looking:

If B, then W
W
B

It could be argued that since B predicts W, W confirms B. But of course W also confirms any theory that predicts W. The wetness of my kitchen floor could be due to numerous agents besides a house dog with a weak bladder. It may be, for one plausible alternative, that one of my children got thirsty and spilled some apple juice on the floor a few minutes before I walked into the kitchen. Likewise, an unwitting process of descent with modification is not the only conceivable means of producing nested hierarchies. (Database engineers and city planners produce them all the time.) Dembski describes this fallacy, affirming the consequent, as the "failure to recognize that the antecedent conditions for a given claim may be manifold and therefore not uniquely determined."[23]
 
This is not to say that scientific inferences are false (our dog certainly could have relieved herself on the kitchen floor, as further analysis in this case could easily determine), only that they have no reliable truth function. Inductive reasoning and inferences to the best explanation are indispensable tools within the larger scope of natural science, but hardly the keys to unlocking eternal verities. Scientific discovery depends primarily on the collection and analysis of empirical data. Because these data are constantly in flux, the inferences drawn from them are ever subject to revision, and often, replacement. When scientists argue that evolution is not merely provisionally confirmed, or widely accepted, or rational or coherent, but absolutely true, they stray outside the proper domain of science.[24]
 
Now most critics of evolutionary theory readily concede that when defined as "the change in frequency in alleles in a population over time," evolution can scarcely be denied. In that particular sense scientists are correct to label evolution a "fact of science." But of course scientists also use the term evolution to describe a historical process of descent with modification from a common ancestor which, as previously noted, does not follow logically from the first definition and cannot be verified in principle: "Bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, speciation events, changes in the size and shape of finch beaks, the development of new breeds of dog, and changes in allele frequency are all examples of change, but none of them demonstrate that the basic kinds of organisms share a common ancestor."[25] To argue for the truth of a concept under one definition of a term by invoking another definition of the same term is to commit the fallacy of equivocation. When evolutionists like Gould charge that creationists have "tightened their act" to grudgingly accommodate these various empirical observations, they attack a straw man. Most creationists are happy to acknowledge that there is, and always has been, abundant genetic diversity within species. Even in the book of Genesis "giants" roam the earth, and Jacob breeds cattle with desired characteristics through artificial selection. Yes, creationists and other critics of evolutionary theory almost universally accept the truth of "evolution," but only under the much more restricted sense of the word.
 
When the subject turns to intelligent design, evolutionists are quick to point out the fallacy of arguing from ignorance – and their objections are often justified. The fact that an evolutionary explanation for the origin of bacterial flagella may currently be lacking, for example, does not mean that its complexity is strictly "irreducible" in the sense that there cannot possibly be any evolutionary explanations forthcoming. Nor does it mean that an alternative explanation like intelligent design is true. But faulty logic can cut both ways. It is equally unsound to argue that evolution must be true simply because the argument from irreducible complexity has failed to prove it false, or that creationism is false because it lacks the testable rigor of a scientific theory.[26] To hear many of evolution's defenders, however, the burden of proof for evolution runs no deeper than the human imagination. If we can merely postulate, as Dawkins says in reference to abiogenesis, a plausible naturalistic scenario for the origin of specifiable complexity, then we may safely assume evolutionary explanations true by default.
 
In terms of polemics against their critics, though, the fallacy of choice among evolutionists appears to be the old-fashioned personal attack. The ad hominem fallacy takes many forms here, but two in the main. First is the lamentable but predictable tactic of suggesting that anyone who repudiates evolutionary theory is ignorant of science. Evolutionists toss around the term "ignorance" as a pejorative so often, one might be tempted to think them omniscient. In one of many typical such swipes during a Talk Origins newsgroup discussion, Keith Robison remarked of fellow biochemist and leading intelligent design theorist Michael Behe, "That Behe is ignorant of these basic molecular genetic and biochemical facts is a depressing commentary on the level of research that went into his book." Understandably, given his credentials, Behe felt compelled to patiently defend himself from this particular recurring accusation:
 
In this group of posts I am repeatedly said to be "ignorant." That may be true, but I think there is reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. I have a Ph. D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania (received an award from Sigma Xi for "Best Thesis"), postdoc'd for four years at the National Institutes of Health (as a Jane Coffin Childs Fund postdoctoral fellow), have been an academic biochemist for 14 years, have gained tenure at a reasonably rigorous university, have published a fair amount in the biochemical literature, and have continuously had my research funded by national agencies (including a five-year Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health) and currently have research funds.
 
Well, perhaps I am a real biochemist, but am simply "ignorant" of work on the evolution of irreducibly complex biochemical systems? Perhaps. But I am not unaware that evolution is a controversial subject, and certainly tried to cover all bases when researching and writing my book. I have no death wish. I do, after all, have to live with my departmental colleagues, a number of whom are Darwinists. So I searched the literature as thoroughly as I could for relevant information and tried to be as rigorous as possible. Perhaps there are step-by-step, Darwinian explanations in the literature for the complex systems I describe in my book, but if there are I haven't seen them, nor has anyone brought them to my attention.[27]
 
That someone of Behe's professional standing would have to defend his competence as a scientist or (more importantly) his right to think for himself is, to borrow Robison's phrase, a depressing commentary on the level of hostility and disdain reserved for critics of evolution in academic circles. So it is that the ad hominem fallacy too often bleeds over into the fallacy of appeal to authority, where having the highest and mightiest credentials wins the argument – and where Behe, as it happens, would still win most of his arguments.
 
Even more depressing is the frequency with which antievolutionary arguments are dismissed on the basis of their presumed motivation. The idea seems to be that the very act of presenting an antievolutionary argument can only derive from an irrational bias against evolution. And if some evidence can be found indicating that the person presenting the argument is religious, then the argument becomes weaker still because the bias has been "exposed." This is all complete nonsense, of course, as it would invalidate any argument for anything. C.S. Lewis gave this sad tendency the name "Bulverism" after a fictional character given to the sort of easygoing rhetorical dismissiveness here described. Ironically enough, scholars typically associate Bulverism, which evolutionists seem to embrace, with postmodernism, which evolutionists despise: "Postmodern bulverism makes a philosophical position out of the ad hominem fallacy – it believes that 'arguments need not be refuted, only situated.'"[28]
 
What Lewis called Bulverism, logicians refer to as a special category of ad hominem, the genetic fallacy. It works like this: Merely identify the psychological (or cultural, ethnic, etc.) “source” of the opposing argument and the argument is thereby nullified. We would do well to recall that the very purpose of reasoned argument is to ascertain the truth of a matter regardless of the strong motivations, passions, biases, etc., of those most heavily invested in it. Failure to understand this unfortunately leaves many creationists and intelligent design advocates falling all over themselves to show that they are not motivated by religion, nor indeed by anything but a noble pursuit of objective knowledge and scientific advancement. (Yet even noble pursuits are psychologically motivated, so that on Bulverism scientific beliefs are just as inherently "invalid" as beliefs borne of religious inspiration – or of egotistical yearnings to win a Nobel Prize, or of an atheistic determination to falsify the traditional interpretation of a religious text, etc.)
 
Nonetheless, evolutionists frequently allege that the only people who doubt their theory harbor a “prior commitment” to an arbitrarily held religious belief. This polemical tactic has always struck me as odd, if only because often those same evolutionists will then turn around and urge these presumably narrow-minded religious zealots to join their brethren on the bandwagon. After all, they point out, most religious people do in fact accept evolutionary theory. But if the only people who doubt evolution are religious, while most religious people accept evolution, it seems to follow that the people with the strongest ideological commitment are actually non-religious. (So strong is this commitment that there is not a single non-religious person who doesn't share their belief in evolution!) Regardless, if evolutionists can make effective use of a fallacy like Bulverism, well, I can too. As noted previously, Jerry Coyne (along with Dawkins, Myers, et al) argues that evolution is not only a beautiful idea, but true. Clearly he wants evolution to be true because he thinks it's beautiful. Thus even if Bulverism were true we would have yet another reason for thinking that evolution is false.



[1] "This is just a friendly reminder to apologists. If you find yourself arguing against evolution, just stop talking. You can only hurt yourself…. If you really have a valid reason (i.e., evidence) to challenge the theory of evolution, please publish it and collect your Nobel prize. Otherwise, have some self respect and keep your abject nonsense to yourself." See https://www.facebook.com/groups/185084261699925/permalink/700560150152331/ (requires logging into Facebook and joining the group).
[2] As Thomas Nagel observed, "The 2005 decision by Judge John E. Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was celebrated by all red-blooded American liberals as a victory over the powers of darkness." – "Public Education and Intelligent Design," Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 36, No. 2 (2008), p. 187. The ringing endorsement of Judge Jones and the court by the scientific community at large came as a surprise to those of us who have been trained by that same scientific community to believe not only that evolution has nothing to do with politics, but that non-scientists (like John E. Jones) do not and cannot possess the high degree of specialized knowledge required to understand the issue, let alone speak with any authority to it.
[3] Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 2009), p. 8. This trenchant assertion of evolution's ongoing factual indisputability is one sort of statement common among biologists like Dawkins. Another sort, seemingly incompatible with the first, is that because it isn't a pseudoscientific claim like creationism, evolution is falsifiable in principle; indeed that the person who succeeded in falsifying it would immediately garner a Nobel Prize for his efforts. 
[4] "William Lane Craig: Creationism is an Embarrassment," YouTube video taken from a Reasonable Faith podcast, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dDOkDOMJj8. 
[5] Ernst Mayr offers the following widely accepted definition of macroevolution: "Evolution above the species level; the evolution of higher taxa and the production of evolutionary novelties such as new structures." – One Long Argument (New York: Harvard, 1991), p. 182.
[6] Patrizio E. Tressoldi, "Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: The Case of Non-Local Perception, a Classical and Bayesian Review of Evidences," Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 117 (2011). 
[7] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Selections from A Treatise of Human Nature (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1907), p. 121. To say that Hume held miracles to be strictly impossible would misinterpret his argument, but only a little. He did seem to suggest that even if true, miracles could never pass the evidential tests required to confirm them; so that they may as well not be true (or something like that.) As one blogger characterized Hume's argument, "Miracles don't happen, because if they did, they would be miraculous." 
[8] Stephen J. Gould, Hen's Teeth and Horses' Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (New York: Norton, 1983), p. 257. One hesitates to quote evolutionists like Gould (or Dawkins, Shermer, Coyne, etc.), given their contempt for "quote mining," the allegedly widespread practice of critics taking their statements out of context. Unfortunately, the only acceptable "context" for quoting evolutionists seems to be something like full agreement with their position, which makes it difficult for critics to explain exactly why and where they disagree with them without also taking them out of context. Rather than abide by the unspoken rule that skeptics of evolution must refrain from quoting evolutionists altogether, I will go ahead and run the risk of quote mining. On a related note, some evolutionists also take umbrage at the term "evolutionist," for reasons I can't understand. I've never heard a better or more useful term than "evolutionist" for someone who researches, promotes and defends the theory of evolution, so that's a word I will be using. My apologies to anyone genuinely offended by this.
[9] Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (New York: Holt, 2006), p. 50.  
[10] Elliott Sober, Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 26-27. It should be noted that Sober is a proponent of evolutionary theory, his remarks on its empirical limitations notwithstanding. Other philosophers of science (most notably Larry Laudan and Hilary Putnam) have held more generally to the principle of "pessimistic meta-induction," an inference drawn from a long history of formerly successful but now defunct scientific theories which suggests that claims to truth based on current science are probably unfounded. Despite their empirical successes these theories are in all likelihood mere approximations of physical reality.
[11] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (New York: Oxford, 2004), p. 55.
[12] Swinburne, p. 60.
[13] A common counter to this objection is the prospect of discovering a "Precambrian rabbit," or some other mammal buried in very early strata. A single such fossil would completely falsify evolution – or so we are told. But at the same time we are told that evolution is supported by an "overwhelming mountain of evidence." How then can leading evolution theorists be expected to completely jettison their theory upon the finding of an isolated rabbit skeleton? What's one little bunny fossil against a mountain of evidence? Besides, if so-called gaps in the fossil record can conceal untold eons of evolution, they can easily conceal any number of rabbits and other mammals in and among very early strata.
[14] Notice that reference to "gaps" in the fossil record presupposes – you guessed it – evolution. Of course the fossil record remains incomplete in the sense that it there are almost certainly more fossils yet to be discovered, but it may well be complete in terms of the presumed gaps ever having being "filled" by evolution. Whether evolution best explains the systematically discontinuous pattern of the fossil record as it actually exists remains a matter of interpretation.
[15] Paul Draper, "Christian Theism and Life on Earth," in J.B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), p. 27.
[16]  Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 42.
[17] Ken Miller, "Answering the Biochemical Argument from Design," from God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science, Neil A. Manson, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 296.
[18] A mammalian eye, for instance, requires at minimum the cooperation of the following "basic" parts to function: the iris, lens, retina, and optic nerve. In turn these parts, such as the retina's roughly 90 million rods or "photocells," are themselves functionally complex. Dawkins calls such an arrangement "specifiable complexity," that is complexity empirically linked to a specific function. He also calls it being "statistically-improbable-in-a-direction-specfied-without-hindsight." – The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: Norton & Co, 1996), p. 15.
[19] Dawkins, p. 9. 
[20] Don McIntosh, "Blind Faith: A Review and Critique of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins" (2002), https://sites.google.com/site/transcendingproof/watchmaker. Note that I do not consider an article from my own web site an especially authoritative source (I have even fewer scientific credentials than Darwin had when he first set sail on the Beagle). I only reference the argument from my site because I haven’t seen a similar argument elsewhere.
[21] Larry Witham, By Design: Science and the Search for God (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003), p. 184.  
[22] This of course would mean that evolution has in fact been falsified, and therefore that evolution is falsifiable in principle – contrary to what I suggested earlier. The fact that evolution theorists consistently fail to acknowledge such facts, however, suggests that their theory remains immunized to falsification in practice.
[23] William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (Downer's Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1999), p. 201.
[24] Biologist Jerry Coyne, for example, seems to have purged all traces of doubt from his mind: "Darwin's theory that all of life was the product of evolution, and that the evolutionary process was driven largely by natural selection, has been called the greatest idea that anyone ever had. But it is more than just a good theory, or even a beautiful one. It also happens to be true." – Why Evolution is True (New York: Penguin, 2009), p. xvi. 
[25] Jason Lisle, "Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy of Equivocation," Answers in Genesis (2009), http://answersingenesis.org/logic/logical-fallacies-the-fallacy-of-equivocation/
[26] Scientists bear the burden of proof for their own theories, which is why I am not obligated to provide a better theory in order to identify the fallacies associated with evolution. But if I had to propose a scientific theory of creationism, it would make use of various lines of evidence familiar to evolutionists: nested hierarchical ordering (not only of the "tree of life" but of living systems generally, down to the single cell) as evidence of systems design; body plans and homology as evidence of modular design; adaptability as evidence of robust design; and the genetic code in DNA as evidence of design specifications. My theory would then posit the Creator not as a "supernatural being," but rather an intelligent higher-dimensional causal agent whose particular mechanisms of creation have yet to be discovered. Since other serious cosmological proposals such as string theory and M-theory also invoke higher dimensions and undiscovered mechanisms, there is no prima facie reason to think my theory could not be scientifically viable.
[27] Michael J. Behe, "Behe Responds to Postings in Talk Origins Newsgroup," Access Research Network (1996), http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_toresp.htm
[28] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, "Pilgrim's Digress: Christian Thinking on and about the Post/Modern Way," in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views, ed. Myron B. Penner (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), p. 26.
 

Comments

Anonymous said…
DM: Whether God directly created life on earth, or whether natural mechanisms of evolution created life in his stead, arguably makes the difference between faith in "the God of the living" (Mark 12:27) and mental acknowledgment of an abstract deity more befitting the prime mover of Aristotle's metaphysics.

I think this is the point. On the one hand we have scientists (from all faiths and none) who look at the evidence, and say evolution happened, and on the other, as the above shows, we have Christians who look at the Bible and say evolution did not happen.

DM: Hugely embarrassing or not, arguments against evolutionary theory by creationists and other critics ought to be heard on their own merits.

But if the reason for rejecting evolution comes down to how you interprete some texts written thousands of years ago, then no.

Okay, sure, creationists come up with various arguments, but they have all been solidly trashed over more than a century. The reason creationists stick to them is not the evidence, it is the Bible. And that is not science.

The arguments against evolutionary theory have been examined on their merits, and subsequently rejected.

The Pixie
Anonymous said…
DM: Well, quite a bit, in the sense that the evolutionary history of life on earth has clearly not been witnessed by anyone – not even in principle.

This is a bizarre argument. We know there are numerous species around today. They got here somehow, and whatever the process, no one was around t see it. This argument applies just as well to creationist. Or whatever really happened.

DM: Everything confirms it, and nothing disconfirms it.

This is similar. Think it though. We know there is a huge variety of life, some of it beautiful, some of it ugly. Whatever the process, it has to explain all that. It has to explain why some species have remained unchanged in the fossil record, and it has to explain why some changed relatively rapidly.

Evolution does.

DM: That may be so. But as Sir Karl Popper argued just as famously, "A theory that explains everything, explains nothing."

This is true of creationism, which merely says God chose to do it that way.

It is not true of evolution, which could not explain, for example a six limbed vertebrate, such as a centaur. Creationism could readily explain centaurs; God wanted centaurs.

Evolution explains all the species we see because evolution happened.

____

DM: 2. To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts.

No, it is to say that the whole may be adequately explained by the sum of the parts. Just because one characteristic can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can. And "adequately explained in terms of" is not the same as "equal".

DM: 3. To say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts is to commit the fallacy of composition.

That is not the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition is saying that what is true of a component is necessarily true of the whole.

The Pixie
Anonymous said…
DM: There have always been rational justifications for questioning the veracity of evolution. ... Then in the 1990's scientists came across strong evidence of lateral gene transfer near the "trunk" of the tree, indicating that hierarchical nesting is less than perfect (and by implication that the search for a "last universal common ancestor" may be a waste of time).

Are you saying lateral gene transfer does not happen? There is very good experimental evidence that it does, starting from 1951 and work on diphtheria. Evolution acknowledges that it happens, and has been updated to allow for that. That is how science works.

___

DM: That someone of Behe's professional standing would have to defend his competence as a scientist or (more importantly) his right to think for himself is, to borrow Robison's phrase, a depressing commentary on the level of hostility and disdain reserved for critics of evolution in academic circles. So it is that the ad hominem fallacy too often bleeds over into the fallacy of appeal to authority, where having the highest and mightiest credentials wins the argument – and where Behe, as it happens, would still win most of his arguments.

Worth remembering Behe at Dover.

"Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. ... He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not “good enough.” (23:19 (Behe))."

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District/4:Whether_ID_Is_Science#Page_78_of_139

This is the usual way of creationism, just ignore the evidence that you do not like. It is certainly not science, and illustrates why Behe has to defend his competence as a scientist. Also consider this, from the trial transcript:

"Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that's correct. "

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day11pm.html

Seriously? That makes me question his competence as a scientist.

The Pixie
Joe Hinman said…
Don your argument id riddled with fallacies. Your assertion that law of diminishing returns is a valid way to think about biology and nature is fallacy of argument from analogy.The whole concept of creationism is based upon the fallacious assumption of verbal plenary inspiration of scripture.
Joe Hinman said…
1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts.
3. To say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts is to commit the fallacy of composition.
4. Evolution is a fallacy.

My major argumemt against fallacy of comp when it's used against the CA is that it;s not really a fallacy it's not really true. If the parts of a whole are identical in some way the composition being a whole is not a fallacy. A wall made of all bricks os a brick wall.

here is how I define fallacy of composition:"the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole." or "Description: Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. This is the opposite of the fallacy of division." not really the same as the whole = sum of parts. I would assume that can be true at times. A glass of milk is equal to the chemical make up of itself.
Don McIntosh said…
Hey Pix, thanks for commenting here.

>>The reason creationists stick to them is not the evidence, it is the Bible. And that is not science.<<

That's a false dilemma. It's always possible that creationists have been led to believe the Bible by the evidence.

>>The arguments against evolutionary theory have been examined on their merits, and subsequently rejected."<<

By some people, yes. By others, no. But that objection still has nothing to do with the merits (or lack thereof, if you prefer) of the arguments against evolution.

>>This is a bizarre argument. We know there are numerous species around today. They got here somehow, and whatever the process, no one was around to see it. This argument applies just as well to creationist. Or whatever really happened.<<

Right. So *any* explanation as to the origin of species (and genera and phyla, etc.) is an extraordinary claim, because it involves not only prehistorical events but unverifiable processes. The question, then, is which theory has the best evidence in support of its extraordinary claim.

>>It is not true of evolution, which could not explain, for example a six limbed vertebrate, such as a centaur. Creationism could readily explain centaurs; God wanted centaurs.<<

Are you suggesting that evolution is scientifically rigorous because we've never seen a centaur? That doesn't seem to follow. Besides, if someone were to discover a Centaur, I assure you that many believers in evolution would tout it as strong evidence of the virtually limitless power of natural selection. Of course this would mean overhauling the "tree of life," but that's been done before.

Your argument sounds to me like saying the creative power of the Toyota Motor Corp. is a bad explanation for the functional complexity of my car, because Toyota hasn't also created a seven-decker bus, though they clearly have the power to do so.

>>No, it is to say that the whole may be adequately explained by the sum of the parts. Just because one characteristic can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can. And 'adequately explained in terms of' is not the same as 'equal'.<<

I don’t see an appreciable difference here, but either way you see the point: "Just because one characteristic can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can."

And yes, I agree completely. :-)

>>That is not the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition is saying that what is true of a component is necessarily true of the whole.<<

Another false dilemma. There are various ways to express the fallacy of composition, just as there's more than one way to skin a cat.
Anonymous said…
DM: That's a false dilemma. It's always possible that creationists have been led to believe the Bible by the evidence.

I never said it was a dilemma at all. And I never said anything about why Christians believe the Bible (I guess it is because of evidence of a sort). All I said was that the only reason creationists are creationist is because of the Bible (though other holy book would also apply).

DM: By some people, yes. By others, no.

By people way more qualified than us and way more familiar with the evidence and people with all sorts of religious beliefs. And 99% of biologists believe evolution happened, having looked at the theory on it merits.

DM: But that objection still has nothing to do with the merits (or lack thereof, if you prefer) of the arguments against evolution.

So if my car breakdown, and I get the same diagnose from twelve garages, where there are experts in repairing that make and model, it still makes sense if actually I think it is something else, right? Well, it does if my holy book says it is something else.

DM: Right. So *any* explanation as to the origin of species (and genera and phyla, etc.) is an extraordinary claim, because it involves not only prehistorical events but unverifiable processes. The question, then, is which theory has the best evidence in support of its extraordinary claim.

Exactly. How does that help your argument?

DM: Are you suggesting that evolution is scientifically rigorous because we've never seen a centaur? That doesn't seem to follow.

A centaur is an example of something that would falsify the theory, and being falsifiable is part of science, add that to the abundance of evidence, its power to explain...

The Pixie
Anonymous said…
DM: Besides, if someone were to discover a Centaur, I assure you that many believers in evolution would tout it as strong evidence of the virtually limitless power of natural selection. Of course this would mean overhauling the "tree of life," but that's been done before.

What do you think overhauling the "tree of life" means? It is a phrase used in this article, and discusses how coral has been moved from one ancient group to another. I.e., it is used hyperbolically about some pretty minor changes. Finding a six limbed vertebrate would be far more devastating to evolution than discovering we share more genetic material with coral than previously thought.

DM: Your argument sounds to me like saying the creative power of the Toyota Motor Corp. is a bad explanation for the functional complexity of my car, because Toyota hasn't also created a seven-decker bus, though they clearly have the power to do so.

But that is the point. Toyota could create a seven decker bus right now if they wanted to. We would expect no fossil record, no transitional forms because the bus would be created.

Evolution is quite unlike that. Evolution occurs in steps, and has to work with what it already has at each stage (this is why a giraffe was only seven vertebrae in its neck, the same as you or I, whilst the swan has 24; the giraffe evolved from a mammal with a standard seven vertebrae neck; it was clearly not designed). If there were centaurs, we would see six limbed creatures in the fossil record, we would see other six limbed species around today.

DM: I don’t see an appreciable difference here, but either way you see the point: "Just because one characteristic can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can."

I agree. Your point number 2 says to the contrary that it does follow:

"To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts."

DM: There are various ways to express the fallacy of composition, just as there's more than one way to skin a cat.

But sometimes the whole is equal to the sum of the parts! If I have a load of apples, that that is equal to the sum of the number of apples! If it is sometimes true, then it is not a fallacy. Go look up fallacy of composition.

The Pixie
Don McIntosh said…
Pix, I'll be happy to leave your other arguments unanswered and skip to this:

>>>Your point number 2 says to the contrary that it does follow:

"To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts."<<<

You're kidding, right? My whole point there is that such an inference is fallacious, not that it follows *validly*. It sounds like you're arguing simply to be contentious.

>>>But sometimes the whole is equal to the sum of the parts! If I have a load of apples, that that is equal to the sum of the number of apples!<<<

Correct!

>>>If it is sometimes true, then it is not a fallacy.<<<

Not correct! Your apple example holds true because of the uniformity of the parts of the collection in question, not because of the form of the argument (that's why the fallacy of composition is an *informal* fallacy).

Take an ad hominem that turns out to be true. I attempt to refute an argument for a certain proposition by a convicted perjurer by pointing out that he's a convicted perjurer. Even if the proposition is in fact false, and even if he is in fact a convicted perjurer, the logic by which I refuted his argument would be fallacious.

In the same way, the fact that some collections are homogenous in certain respects does not mean that all collections are homogenous. As mentioned in my piece, an object that is composed of any number of invisible atoms is not therefore an invisible object.

>>>Go look up fallacy of composition.<<<

You don't think I looked it up before referencing it in my own argument? LOL. Look it up yourself. The mere fact that you Googled it and found a link doesn't tell me you understand the concept.

Don McIntosh said…
Oops. I should clarify here:

"...the fact that some collections are homogenous in certain respects does not mean that all collections are homogenous *in every respect*."
Joe Hinman said…
Don tell me how you answer no to Argument from Comp when it's used against the CA but then it applies here?

I argued A from Comp is not the whole is equal to the sum of it's parts. That idea is also definition of certain forms of reductionism but no one thinks they are argument from comp.
Anonymous said…
DM: You're kidding, right? My whole point there is that such an inference is fallacious, not that it follows *validly*. It sounds like you're arguing simply to be contentious.

From your post:

1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts.
3. To say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts is to commit the fallacy of composition.
4. Evolution is a fallacy.

You appear to be saying that point 2 is fallacious (and certainly that is my position). But if point 2 is fallacious, then that invalidates your argument.

In logic, for the conclusion to be proven then each step must be valid, and yet you are insisting that that is not the case!

DM: You don't think I looked it up before referencing it in my own argument? LOL. Look it up yourself. The mere fact that you Googled it and found a link doesn't tell me you understand the concept.

So it should be easy for you to actually quote a web page to support your claim. Here are a whole bunch from the first page of Google that disagree with you (I think the anti-spam will stop too many actual links).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition
The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). For example: "This wheel is made of rubber, therefore the vehicle to which it is a part is also made of rubber." This is clearly fallacious, because vehicles are often made with a variety of parts, many of which may not be made of rubber.

https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/88/Fallacy-of-Composition
Description: Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. This is the opposite of the fallacy of division.

http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-fallacy-of-composition-in-economics-definition-examples.html
The fallacy of composition arises when an individual assumes something is true of the whole just because it is true of some part of the whole. For example, if you stand up at a concert, you can usually see better. You may then directly infer that if everyone stands up, everyone can see better. But you know it doesn't work that way and will lead to obscured views for the majority of attendees. Therefore, what might be true for one individual in the crowd is not true for the whole crowd.

https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/composition-division
You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts.

https://yandoo.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/fallacies-of-composition-and-division/
The Fallacy of Composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. Conversely, the Fallacy of Division occurs when one infers that something true for the whole must also be true of all or some of its parts. Both fallacies were described by Aristotle in Sophistical Refutations.

http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/composition/
The fallacy of composition is the fallacy of inferring from the fact that every part of a whole has a given property that the whole also has that property. This pattern of argument is the reverse of that of the fallacy of division. It is not always fallacious, but we must be cautious in making inferences of this form.

https://onlinephilosophyclub.com/fallacy-of-composition.php
A fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole or even of every proper part of the whole.

The Pixie
Don McIntosh said…
Hey Joe, that's a good question about the CA, and I'm not intending to blow if off. Give me a bit more time to address it. Thanks.
Don McIntosh said…
Pix,

>>>From your post:

1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. To say that a characteristic of the whole system can be adequately explained in terms of a characteristic of its individual components is to say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts.
3. To say that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts is to commit the fallacy of composition.
4. Evolution is a fallacy.

You appear to be saying that point 2 is fallacious (and certainly that is my position). But if point 2 is fallacious, then that invalidates your argument.

In logic, for the conclusion to be proven then each step must be valid, and yet you are insisting that that is not the case!<<<


You mean the premises of an argument have to be true for the conclusion to follow? Oh dear, I hadn't realized that. How embarrassing! I guess my argument is a complete failure.

Ha! Just kidding. Look, it's not that premise 2 is itself fallacious, rather that premise 2 is describing fallacious evolutionary reasoning. If it helps maybe I can revise the argument using your own phrasing (for the third premise):

1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. A complex biological system includes all its components.
3. Just because one component can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can (where "all" in our context clearly means the whole system and the function that depends upon it).
4. Evolution is a non sequitur.

Again, this doesn't mean that evolution is necessarily false, only that it's an invalid explanation for the construction of specifiably complex systems. This is why I said, "No matter how we slice it, evolution remains an inadequate explanation for the origin of specifiable complexity."

Pick a favorite among your cited definitions/ descriptions of the fallacy of composition, meanwhile, and by the same basic line of reasoning you should be able to see why the logic driving evolutionary theory fails.
Anonymous said…
DB: Look, it's not that premise 2 is itself fallacious, rather that premise 2 is describing fallacious evolutionary reasoning. If it helps maybe I can revise the argument using your own phrasing (for the third premise):

1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. A complex biological system includes all its components.
3. Just because one component can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can (where "all" in our context clearly means the whole system and the function that depends upon it).
4. Evolution is a non sequitur.


That is a lot better. And that is why biologists are still working to explain how things evolved.

However, given that these complex biological system exist, we know they came from somewhere, and we know evolution can explain a lot of them, so it seems likely evolution will explain them all. So far there is nothing else that is even trying.

Really, this looks a lot like God-of-the-gaps. We do not know how system X occurred, so there is a nice gap we can insert God into.

DM: Pick a favorite among your cited definitions/ descriptions of the fallacy of composition, meanwhile, and by the same basic line of reasoning you should be able to see why the logic driving evolutionary theory fails.

The way you rephrased it fits the real fallacy.

The Pixie
Don McIntosh said…
A bit more on the fallacy of composition:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1056286/posts (I haven't been able to use HTML tags here lately for some reason, so you'll have to paste the link into a browser window.)

Basically there are two "varieties" of the fallacy of composition, which according to Copi and Cohen are "distinct because of the difference between a mere collection of elements and a whole constructed out of those elements."

"Thus a mere collection of parts is no machine; a mere collection of bricks is neither a house nor a wall. A whole such as a machine, a house, or a wall has its parts organized or arranged in certain definite ways. And since organized wholes and mere collections are distinct, so are the two versions of the composition fallacy, one proceeding invalidly to wholes from their parts, the other proceeding invalidly to collections from their members or elements."

My argument appeals to the fact that a whole (often) has its parts organized or arranged in certain definite ways. Evolution may (or may not, who knows) account for the gradual formation of a singular structure, say a beak or a wing, in response to various environmental pressures. But that does not mean that evolution can account for the entire bird: A bird must have *each* (or a large minimal number) of its parts – cells, organs, tissues, subsystems – in place just so in relation to all the *other parts*, in order to live at all.

It's the same basic reason a bunch of subcontractors that show up to work at a construction site (framers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.) cannot really hope to build a house apart from a set of plans drawn up by a skilled architect and various engineers.
Joe Hinman said…
click here

use greater than, lesser than imn place of parenthethese.


(a href="http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1056286/posts ")(b)click here(/b)(/a)


Anonymous said…
Don, I was hoping you would come back to this:

1. Evolution posits that the function of any complex biological system can be adequately explained as the accumulation of countless minor functional adaptations of its individual components.
2. A complex biological system includes all its components.
3. Just because one component can be adequately explained, it does not follow that all can (where "all" in our context clearly means the whole system and the function that depends upon it).
4. Evolution is a non sequitur.

I agree weith 1 to 3, as written here. Can you explain how you arrived at 4?

The Pixie
im-skeptical said…
My argument appeals to the fact that a whole (often) has its parts organized or arranged in certain definite ways. Evolution may (or may not, who knows) account for the gradual formation of a singular structure, say a beak or a wing, in response to various environmental pressures. But that does not mean that evolution can account for the entire bird: A bird must have *each* (or a large minimal number) of its parts – cells, organs, tissues, subsystems – in place just so in relation to all the *other parts*, in order to live at all.

What preceded the bird? A different bird - one that lacked some specific adaptation that the current one has. And what preceded that? You can co all the way back to dinosaurs, one minor adaptation at a time. And you can go back beyond that, always with one adaptation at a time. And that's why your argument is a total failure.
Steven Satak said…
You again? Is there any comment section on evolution or its refutation you don't pollute? You've been banned from Stan's blog. How long before they tire of your time-wasting rigamarole here?
im-skeptical said…
You again? Every time I address pseudo-scientific ignorance with accepted scientific facts, people like you crawl out from under the woodwork with demands to ban anyone who disagrees with your bullshit.
JBsptfn said…
Scientific facts accepted by who? People who were paid off?
Joe Hinman said…
Steven Satak said...
You again? Is there any comment section on evolution or its refutation you don't pollute? You've been banned from Stan's blog. How long before they tire of your time-wasting rigamarole here?

you are both guests on the blog and expected to comment on the issues not the personalities. Skepie is welcome here until or unless he violates the rules which you just did please just address issues,
Steven Satak said…
My apologies to one and all. My experiences with this fellow on other blogs got the best of me. Good luck to you all.

Steve
Joe Hinman said…
I understand believe me, hope you stick around.
im-skeptical said…
My experiences with this fellow on other blogs got the best of me.

Steven, you know as well as I do that Stan bans people for the crime if disagreeing with him. That includes people like Hugo Pelland and others who never make any unseemly comments. But if you think I have behaved badly in my interactions with you (and as far as I can recall, it was only at that blog), I invite you to show everybody the exchange, so they can judge for themselves just how badly I behave. As it is, you are simply trying to poison the well. How typical.
JBsptfn said…
Just for the record (I am not attacking anyone, I am just saying), Martin also had problems with Hugo on his blog as well.

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