Science in Christian Perspective


Malice in Blunderland
University of Waterloo Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Graduate Student in Philosophy

From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 99-101.

Professor Isis and Doctor Notnot were distinguished faculty members at the Passion for Truth Institute for advanced studies in Philosophico paleontology (PP.). It was my undeserved privilege to accompany these great men each Sunday afternoon as they walked and talked in the gardens at Blunder near the institute. My task was to keep score in the unusual but fascinating game which they played. Of course I had to take notes in shorthand so as to be able to reproduce verbatim their dialogue in order that each could check the other's points at the end of the game. One particular Sunday afternoon stanch out vividly in my mind, and is worth preserving for the scientific community. And so for the advancement of PP. to which these men unstintingly gave their best, i have consented, with permission from the P.T.i. archives, to release for the first time this most memorable dialogue.

On this particular day Professor Isis was unusually anxious to begin discussion. No sooner had the three of us walked through the garden gate than he blurted at Doctor Notnot.

Isis: Do you know that there are still living some diehard anti-evolutionists? I have never in my life been so humiliated by a colleague as I was at the conference in Tranquil last week. I used the word "evolution" several times in the paper which I delivered and this man actually questioned not only my use of the word but the very truth of the concepts entailed. I thought at first that he was joking but I soon learned he was in dead earnest-ever so serious.

Notnot: How did you answer him?

Isis: Considering that I was allowed only one and one-half hours (including discussion) I couldn't take much time. I expressed my dismay that any scientist in this enlightened age-it's been over a century since evolution was clearly established-could be so ignorant of the facts. Can you imagine it, in the midst of the world's greatest scientific minds, a man would dare question these laws of nature?

Notnot: It's a pleasant day, Professor, and I do not intend to wrangle, but is it not conceivable that most of these men of science are mistaken. You are surely not proffering the argument that because most of the great scientific minds believe evolution to be well established, then it actually is. That would be the democratic fallacy.

Isis: Good heavens, you're beginning to sound like him! Of course I'm not suggesting that because most think it is so then it is so. It is not the most at all that I'm emphasizing. It is the fact that the most-I would say almost all-are topnotch men in science. I am not emphasizing the quantity of those minds but the quality. However, if you do have a great number of such great minds agreeing, then the likelihood of evolution being well grounded is increased. And such a consensus is a bit more indicative of the truth than waving your right hand or saying Aye, wouldn't you agree, Doctor?

Notnot: Yes, but great minds, whether numerous or few, do not ipso facto guarantee the truth of the ideas to which they unanimously subscribe. It may be that these minds, great though they be, have never applied their thinking to the basic assumptions of biological evolution. Perhaps with little more than a student's intoductory course on the subject they have assumed that all is well at that level; in which case drawing upon their credentials would be committing the fallacy called Appeal to Authority. Besides, you know yourself that the trail blazers in science have been precisely those people who have not had the majority of great minds with them at the inception of their discoveries. What greater example could we adduce than Einstein?

Isis: Granted there is no absoluteness to this kind of inductive inference, but there is a much greater probability that the most in this case are right and this fellow-I wish I could remember his name-is wrong. The burden is his to establish the case against evolution.

Notnot: Well, did you give him a chance?

Iris: As I said there wasn't much time for discussion. Besides I can't imagine what he could have said.

Notnot: He might have questioned you on the argument from paleontology.

Isis; What do you mean?

Notnot: Is there really any solid evidence for the claim that one species evolved into another? Are there not great gaps in the fossil record where you would expect to find important intermediate forms in the chain of ascending complexity?

Isis: My dear doctor I can assure you that the evidence is very solid! Are you not aware of the literature on the subject? I can produce a dozen books from my library alone illustrating the gradual change in morphology of organisms which have been taken from strata that are reliably dated. Now we need not labor the elementary, that younger deposits lie above the older ones. From the concomitance of old strata and simple forms, as well as young deposits and complex forms, may we not safely assume-indeed are we not forced to the conclusion-that the lower forms are the ancestors of the higher forms; especially when we have in some cases such a complete "genealogy?"

I was never sure whether Doctor Notnot had started out playing the devil's advocate and later discovered the difficulty of his position which he then felt obliged to defend, or whether he was serious from the beginning. In any case his next query was offered in an apologizing tone quite atypical of the doctor.

Notnot: But do these evidences of graduation really exhibit a change from one species to another? What I mean to ask is: could we not think of these fossils as variations of A or C rather than as evidences of transitional form B, where B is the link between the radically different forms A and C? Do we really have all the stages between any species A and any other species C?

Isis: Forgive the pun Doctor but that is a specious argument. Granted we do not have the table completely filled, but we have enough gradations of complexity to establish the principle of evolution from lower to higher forms. Your criticism reminds me of Zeno's paradox. No matter how many gradations you were presented with you would always say there wasn't enough evidence to establish the case. If I showed A1 and A2 you would want to see A1, Alb . . . . A2. And if I showed you Ala and Nb you'd want to see Alai, A5° , . . . In principle you would never he satisfied.

Notnot: Sir, I think that I have already conceded that there are changes within limits. This is a fact observable today. I have no quarrel with the microcosmic aspects of change. It's the so-called macrocosmic changes
that I'm concerned about. I do not argue with At, A2, or Ct, C2 . . . C'. What I wonder about is the form B which evidences the transition from A to C; that form which clearly has A and C characteristics, Surely we can expect such evidence from evolutionary doctrine.

Isis: But you are arbitrarily setting what you call the boundaries and then saying that there are no fossils which exhibit a boundary line form. By contrast I have first presented evidence, not imaginary boundaries, and from this evidence of gradual and extended change have established the spectrum from A-form to C-form. But you are saying that B is non-existent, What B are you talking about?

Notnot: Well for example, is it not supposed that reptiles evolved into birds? Where are the fossils that have both birdlike and reptile-like characteristics? The strata should be replete with these forms if in fact such forms ever existed.

Isis: There is one very good example of which I'm sure you're aware, the Archeopteryx. But I realize there is some doubt connected with that transitional form and I expect that you won't accept it as evidence. Just for argument's sake I shall give up that form and suppose that the B form in this case does not exist. There are still two mistakes in your argument. One is a fallacy and the other is an oversight regarding the nature of scientific investigation.

The fallacy is Argutnentum ad igncsraniam. You are arguing from the fact that we haven't discovered any evidence of B-form to the conclusion that B-form has never existed. There may be several reasons for the B-form not being preserved which we shall discover with further geological investigation. Or perhaps through further investigation the B-form will yet turn up. By contrast, however, notice that I have not argued from the failure of proof on one side to the establishment of proof on the other. I have adduced the gradual sequence of forms and argued from that evidence. And here I'm speaking about forms that would be universally accepted by the scientific community-not like the Archeopteryx. And this brings me to your second mistake.

In science we move from the known to the unknown, not vice versa. Anomalous situations do not disprove the rule, much less establish a contradictory rule. The probability of a theory being a fact increases as the evidence continues to support that theory. And I'm quite safe in saying that the paleontological evidence has increased to the point where we can call evolution a fact.

Notnot: I quite agree, Professor, that a scientist ought to move from the known to the unknownnot withstanding the fact that hypothetical speculation plays an important part in the scientific thought process-as regards what can be stated as fact. But I fear that you accept too easily what you later claim to know. What you would call a fact I would call an interpretation of the facts and, I might add, not an interpretation that I care to endorse. Too much weight is being placed on the phenomenon of one fossil appearing after another fossil. It comes precious close to the post hoc fallacy which is committed when you argue that because C comes after A, then A is the cause of C.

Isis: I beg to differ my dear doctor! I do not see how I'm committing that fallacy at all.

Notnot: Let me illustrate...

Isis: Please do!

Notnot: Suppose that you and I walked into a museum which displayed the history of bicycles. Imagine that the stages are represented along one long wall. Your eye moves from left to right viewing first the unicycle, second the primitive bicycle, thirdly the tricycle and finally a motorcycle. Now tell me, would you think that 2 evolved from 1, 3 from 2 and so on?

Isis: Of course not.

Notnot: Then why argue that because one form appears after another that the latter form is the result of the former one? Evolution, if there is such a thing, is not in the object observed but in the minds of the inventors.

Isis: Sir, your line of argument is irrelevant. You are arguing from analogy. (Professor Isis was becoming visibly disgruntled with Dr. Notnot.) Anyone who knows the first thing about logic knows that analogies do not prove anything, they only illustrate. You are taking one general characteristic in one case, namely the gradational complexity of the bicycle, and comparing it to a similar characteristic in the other, namely the gradational complexity of fossils, and arguing that the same developmental conditions prevailed in both cases. Surely you see the flaw!

Notnot: No, professor I do not see the flaw, and unless you can produce more evidence than fossil gradations, you have no right to speak of any interconnecting causes of development. In the case of the bicycle we not only can talk to people who lived through its "evolution"-first hand accounts-but we have plenty of documentation besides. We know that men made them and we can observe and repeat the process by which they were made.

Both men by this time were extremely intense and I was writing like wildfire to get down every word.

Isis: Obviously, doctor you are glossing over the evidence for development that has already been given you. For some reason you close your mind to the fossil record. If I say more I will be simply laboring the obvious. The mechanisms of development are also observable today. In your own lifetime you can observe the change in the average height of people in a country. You must also be aware of the mutant forms that have been artificially produced among plants, animals and insects. And it is right there that your bicycle analogy has a gaping hole. Even primordial organic material in the biosphere is not as rigidly formed and lifeless as bicycles. These forms are changeable and adaptable and not cast iron.

Notnot: But sir, you both smuggle in a false assumption and commit a fallacy. There are two reasons for not being able to use the fact of mutations as evidence for a mechanism of evolution. One, most mutations are deleterious to! the organism and two, those which are not deleterious cause nothing more than a change in part of the organism. That is, eyes may change from one color to another but they remain eyes. Tails may become shorter or longer but they remain tails. And this brings me to the fallacy of which you are obviously unaware: the fallacy of composition.

You are arguing from the properties of the parts of a whole to the properties of the whole itself. It's like saying that because each part of an engine is light then the whole engine must be light. In your theory of evolution you are forgetting the organizational and compositional factors. To say that parts of an organism mutate is not to say that the whole organism does. Forgive the pun but that is the gaping whole.

I'd never seen Professor Isis so flustered.
"Why, ever since I've known you you have never brought up these questions. You . . . you . . . rat!"
"Ad hominem," retorted Notnot.
"No, I take that back, you're not a rot, you're a monkey's uncle."
Quite pompously Notnot said, "I've got you, because the lower primates are older than the higher primates; and if I'm a monkey's uncle then your tables are turned upside down and your theory of uniformitarionisms is defeated."
With a smirk Isis came back with, "False presumption, my dear doctor, for you are a living fossil!"
With that remark Professor Notnot turned 180' and stormed down the path by the pond. Professor Isis was also in no mood far tea. He too charged off. I was left stunned in the ringing silence. Just then two Canada geese flew overhead and punctuated the dialogue with, "Honk! honk!"