Yet More Evolution/Creation Dialogue in the Daily Bee

 

On 1/1/08, an article entitled “Clergy Letter Project announces ‘Evolution Weekend’” appeared in the Sandpoint, ID  Bonner County Daily Bee.  This article described the forthcoming “Evolution Sunday” in which some 760 congregations from around the world would be discussing the compatibility of science and religion, with particular emphasis on the understanding that an acceptance of the theory of evolution and religious belief are complimentary, rather than confrontational.   When I first saw this article, I surmised that it would not be long before Mr. Hohf, pastor of the local Church of Christ and perennial outspoken anti-evolutionist, would put his typical pseudoscientific spin on the subject.  Sure enough, on 2/15/08 (immediately following Evolution Sunday), a paid promotional article by Mr. Hohf appeared on the last page of the newspaper. 

In his article, Mr. Hohf made at least two erroneous assertions.  First, he claimed that Christianity is partially based on “eyewitness testimony and historical ‘verification,’ both of which are more akin to scientific truth.”    This assertion is wrong for several reasons.   1. There is no such thing as “scientific truth.”  Unlike religion, science does not lay claim the absolute truth.   All genuine scientific theories are tentative and are subject to revision in the light of new evidence.   Scientific theories simply provide the best scientific explanation for a particular natural phenomenon based on critical analysis of the current available evidence.  2.   Science is not based on subjective, eyewitness testimony as are the stories in the Bible.  It is based on hard, verifiable, objective evidence.   3.  None of the miraculous events depicted in the Bible are historically verifiable in the scientific sense.  They are all based exclusively on hearsay testimony which, by its very nature, precludes definitive verification.  Purported supernaturally orchestrated events (i.e., miracles), even if they did occur, are not explicable in scientific terms since science deals only with natural causes and effects.  Furthermore, much of what was once thought to be historically verified in the Bible is now being called into serious question.  (See here for some examples.)    

Second, Mr. Hohf incorrectly stated “…the theory of evolution (e.g., macroevolution, the age of the earth, origin of the universe and of life, origin of major life groups) belongs in the former category, i.e., religious truth.  It is based on neither observation nor repeatable experimentation, but is a matter of faith – a faith that is held so religiously that no one is even allowed to question it.”   Here again he has committed multiple errors.  1.  The theory of evolution does not deal with the age of the Earth (cosmology and geology does that), the origin of the universe (cosmology does that) and of life (abiogenesis covers that topic).  The theory of evolution specifically and exclusively provides an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth after the first primitive life form(s) was(were) present, nothing more.  2.  The theory of evolution is based on the same rules of scientific validation as other scientific theories.  As such it is, by virtue of being a scientific theory, based on observation and repeatable experimentation.  The fact that creationists do not understand the meaning of “repeatable” in the scientific context is beside the point.  (See here for a more detailed discussion of the subject.)  3.  Science is not based on faith.  As noted above, it is based on hard, verifiable, objective evidence.  (See the previous link.)   4.  The theory of evolution is questioned every time a scientist does any research related to the subject.  Any evidence that is examined to verify the theory represents evidence that could potentially invalidate it.  Much to the chagrin of the creationists, no such invalidating evidence has ever been identified.  Besides, wasn’t Mr. Hohf questioning the theory in his article?  I didn’t see anyone stopping him from expressing his opinion.

 

In response to Mr. Hohf’s misleading statements about the theory of evolution, I submitted a letter to the editor which appeared in the 2/28/08 edition of the Bee.   (Some of the most interesting exchanges occurred in the comments section that followed the series of letters on the Bee’s website.  They can be accessed by clicking on “Comments” after each letter.  It should be noted that the chronological order of the comments is from the bottom to the top.)               

My 2/28/08 Letter:

Theory is one of most corroborated of all time

 
 

In a promotional article (“Science and Faith,” Feb. 15), Randy Hohf incorrectly asserts, “It (the theory of evolution) is based on neither observation nor repeatable experimentation, but is a matter of faith - a faith that is held so religiously that no one is even allowed to question it.”

Since it was first formulated by Charles Darwin nearly 150 years ago, the theory of evolution (TOE) has emerged as one of the best corroborated theories in all of science. Conversely, creationism, in its various guises, has consistently flunked every scientific test to which it has been subjected. In a misguided attempt to even the playing field, some anti-evolutionists are now fostering the deceit that the TOE is based on their own type of wishful thinking.

The TOE, like all established scientific theories, is firmly grounded in observable, verifiable, factual evidence. And, as are all scientific theories, it is open to rigorous examination. Faith is belief without definitive evidence. Only someone who is unfamiliar (purposely or otherwise) with the vast empirical database that underpins the TOE could mistake it for a faith-based ideology.

The evidential support for the TOE is strong and unequivocal. (See “29 Evidences for Macroevolution” on the Internet for some examples.) Creationists routinely ignore this evidence and pretend that it does not exist. Unfortunately for them, sticking their heads in the sand does not make the evidence go away. Nor does their self-imposed denial of the facts magically transform the TOE into faith-based religious dogma analogous to their own.

 

JACK DeBAUN

Comments on the Bee’s Website

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On 3/6/08, a letter by Evalyn Finney appeared in the Bee addressing another aspect of this controversial subject.

Evalyn Finney’s 3/6/08 Letter:

ACLU pushing theory down our throats

 

It's too bad how people just can't give up on the theory of evolution. Creation or Intelligent Design can't be taught in school, for fear of the ACLU (known in some circles as the American Communist Liberal Union), but evolution is pushed down our throats everywhere we turn.

God has given people the ability to make choices, even if they're wrong. “Intelligent design” also takes intelligent, thinking people to understand it and accept it as truth. Faith in God can free us from a lot of fears and misconceptions.

Someone once gave a succinct definition of the theory of evolution: “From the goo, to the zoo, to you.”

EVALYN FINNEY

Comments on the Bee’s Website

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On 3/9/08, a letter written by Mr. Hohf in rebuttal to my letter of 2/28/08 was printed in the Bee.

Randy Hohf’s Letter of 3/9/08:

Where theories end and faith begins

 
 

I am glad to see that Jack DeBaun (“Theory,” Feb. 28) at least admits that the theory of evolution is just that - theory.

A theory is a proposed model used to explain certain phenomena. The distinction between theory and fact is that theory is one possible explanation for observable facts. For example, it is a fact that apples fall from trees. Newton proposed a theory to explain this fact. Einstein proposed a different theory. But as evolutionist Stephen J. Gould himself pointed out, apples keep falling (as do theories, I might add).

In spite of claims to the contrary, naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of major groups of species, etc., are only theory. And yet, theories are supposed to be testable and falsifiable. But since the origin of the universe and of life occurred only once, in the prehistoric past, explanations are untestable.

Similarly, the theory of common descent of major life groups is one possible explanation for the facts that different life groups exist and share common characteristics. But the marco-evolution explanation can neither be observed nor tested by repeatable experiment. Rather, it is a leap of faith based on naturalistic interpretations of circumstantial evidence and extrapolations from observable minor genetic changes. The best that can be said is that certain observable facts (e.g., similar characteristics between life groups) suggest the possibility of common descent.

 

But these facts equally suggest the possibility of common design. Neither is capable of definitive proof. And this is where faith comes in.

RANDY HOHF

Comments on the Bee’s Website

(In his letter Mr. Hohf uses a familiar creationist ploy.  He attempts to downplay the status of the theory of evolution by insinuating it is “just” a theory.  For a discussion of the different between the meaning of “theory” in common parlance and in the scientific sense, see here. )

 

On 3/23/08, a letter that I had submitted in response to Evalyn Finney’s letter of 3/6/08 was printed in the Bee.

My Letter of 3/23/08:

Intelligent Design, creationism are religion

 
 

In her letter (March 6), Evalyn Finney laments, “creation or intelligent design can't be taught in school, for fear of the ACLU.”

Creationists have been granted the opportunity to demonstrate their scientific credibility in court on a number of occasions. Not surprisingly, they have a consistent record of failure. (Google “8 Major Court Decisions against Teaching Creationism as Science.”) The latest case involved a proposal by religious instigators to teach intelligent design (ID) in the Dover, Pa., school district. During this 21-day trial, the districts [the word I actually used was “IDists”] were allowed to present their most convincing arguments by their best and brightest spokespersons.

At the end of the trial, the judge (a conservative, Christian, Bush appointee) concluded, “We have addressed the seminal question whether ID is science. We have concluded it is not.” He wrote, “ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents  He further chided some ID proponents for their “breathtaking inanity” and for the fact that they “would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy.” (See www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-12-20.html for more details.)

Creationism and ID cannot be taught in public school science classes because they are religion, not science. The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the inculcation of religious beliefs in public schools. Creationists fear the ACLU for the same reason robbers fear cops.

 

Regarding Mrs. Finney's risible definition of evolution, someone has also defined the biblical creation of humans as: “Humus (plus heavy breathing) to humans.” (See Genesis 2:7)

JACK DeBAUN

Comments on the Bee’s Website

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Finally, I submitted the following letter to the Bee shortly after the publication of Mr. Hohf’s letter of 3/9/08.  This letter was not published and the latest exchange of letters on this subject appears to have come to an end.

My unpublished letter:

In his letter of 3/9/08, Randy Hohf again confuses faith (“… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb 11:1) with the hypothetico/deductive reasoning process involved in scientific investigation.  Faith requires no tangible evidence whatsoever, all it entails is hope and/or wishful thinking.  On the other hand, valid scientific theories must be based on solid, verifiable evidence.  (See the University of CA. Paleontology Museum’s website “Understanding Evolution” for evidence supporting the theory of evolution (TOE).) 

The scientific reasoning process used to develop theories like the TOE is analogous to the type of critical thinking that makes it possible for juries to arrive at meaningful verdicts based on circumstantial evidence left at crime scenes without the necessity of actually repeating the crimes in the court room.

In order to qualify as a valid scientific theory, an explanation must meet several criteria, some of which include:

1.       It must invoke only natural causes and effects. 

2.       It must describe testable mechanisms that account for observed phenomena.

3.       There must be some scientific means of demonstrating its potential falsity.

4.        It must make specific predictions that are confirmed by subsequent research.

So-called intelligent design (ID) satisfies none of these criteria.  It is nothing but god-of-the-gaps theology based on faith and arguments from personal incredulity.

ID proponents had an opportunity to present their most persuasive arguments in Federal court and they lost decisively. (See www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-12-20.html )  As the judge rightfully concluded, ID is religion, not science.

Jack DeBaun