The Process of
Logically Evaluating
Theories of Evolution

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

To get a quick overview, I suggest reading

This paper does not evaluate theories of evolution or creation.
Instead, it examines basic principles of logic, and develops guidelines
for how origins theories should (and should not) be compared and evaluated.
the focus is on evaluating neo-Darwinian theories of biological evolution)

1. Comparisons and Definitions 
2. The Many Meanings of Evolution 
3. The Many Meanings of Creation 
4. Comparisons that are Logically Valid 
5. Shifts of Meaning (how and why) 

6. Should science be logical? 
Should we question the consensus? 
7. Origins Education in Public Schools 



    1. Logical Evaluation

    Logical Comparisons
    During our scientific evaluations, we should use basic principles of logic.  One important principle, logical comparison, is illustrated (in a question borrowed from a prominent philosopher) by asking, "Is a theory proposing that John is an Olympic Weightlifter (OW) supported by an observation that John can lift a hat and place it on his head?"  Yes, the OW theory predicts that John can lift the hat, and he does.  But plausible alternative theories — like "John is a 98-pound weakling" or "John is medium strong but not olympic strong" — are also compatible with this result, so the observation offers little support for OW even though it is compatible with OW.  When we see John lift a hat, the appropriate response is "So what?"  To justify a response of "Wow!", the evidence must be more relevant (in a logical comparison of OW with competitive theories) and more impressive.  For example, if we saw John lift an extremely heavy weight, close to the world record, this would provide strong evidence for the plausibility of OW, since this observation would be much less compatible with the alternative theories.
    In this illustration, three theories — proposing that John is a weakling, is medium strong, or olympic strong — all agree that John can lift the hat.  Therefore, evidence about hat-lifting does not provide support for any of these theories.  But there is disagreement about his ability to lift a near-record weight, so observing this lift would support the Olympic Weightlifter theory.  And a dismal failure in this lift, without even coming close, would provide evidence against the OW theory.  In this situation, the principle of logical comparison says, "To distinguish between these competitive theories, we must focus on their differences (they disagree about John's ability to lift the near-record weight), not their similarities (they all agree that John can lift the hat)."
    In real life, however, this basic principle of logic is often ignored when origins theories are evaluated.  How?  Instead of using logical comparisons, scientists and educators often claim support for evolution because "it can lift hats" instead of focusing their attention on questions that are more challenging (for evolution) and more useful (for evaluation).  A logical framework for comparing origins theories is outlined in Section 4.  But we cannot logically compare theories unless the components of each theory are precisely defined.  Therefore, we'll examine precise definitions (below and in Sections 2 and 3) before returning to logical comparisons in Section 4.

    Precise Definitions
    Are definitions important?  Imagine that "car" is a word with many meanings, and "car" can mean just the car's body, or its engine, drive train, gas tank, hood ornament, or seat cover, or the whole car with everything included.  Will you say "yes" when someone puts his hand on the seat cover of your new car and says, "Will you sell me this car for $1000?"  And what should you do if a salesman points to a shiny new Porsche and says, "Do you want to buy this car for $5000?"  Of course, you would sell your seat cover for $1000, and you would buy the Porsche for $5000.  But unless you get a precise definition of what "car" means in each case, in writing, you might lose your car and $4000, and end up with only a shiny new hood ornament.  Yes, precise definitions are important in this imaginary scenario, and in real life.
    In science and education, we can improve the accuracy of our thinking and communication by using two important words — evolution and creation — with precision and consistency.  Since each of these words can have many meanings, confusion is possible.  But if we decide that confusion is undesirable, that misunderstanding should be avoided, we can aim for precise definitions that will minimize the possibilities for confusion and misunderstanding.  This worthy goal, the pursuit of conceptual clarity, is the focus of Sections 2 and 3: The Many Meanings of Evolution, and The Many Meanings of Creation.

    2. The Many Meanings of Evolution 
    If we want to logically evaluate the evolutions, and help students understand these important concepts, we should:  1) carefully define each concept that is called "evolution" and  2) critically examine the relationships between these concepts.  In our pursuit of conceptual clarity, one option is to replace the word "evolution" (which has many meanings) with many words (each with one meaning), as I've done below.  In this context the goal of conceptual clarity is to be certain, each time "evolution" is discussed or evaluated, that the meaning is clear and precise.

    In general, evolution is "a process of change" that occurs in any context.  Thus, we can refer to the evolution in societal cultures and personal attitudes, geological formations and weather systems, galaxies and species.

    In an effort to explain how the first living cell could be produced by undirected natural process, theories of chemical evolution are proposed.

    In biology, the basic definition of evolution (E) is any change (small or large) in the gene pool of a population.  But biological E can have many meanings:
    microevolution (micro-E) is the changes in a population within a species.
    macroevolution (macro-E) occurs when changes produce a new species;  claims for macro-E range from minor macro-E (which occurs, for example, when two groups within a species become isolated from each other, then evolve independently until they can no longer interbreed, thus forming two species that are very similar) to major macro-E (when a new species is very different).
    common descent is a theory of E proposing that all current organisms are descendants of a single organism.
    Total Macro-E (*) is a claim that all biodiversity and biocomplexity (in all organisms throughout the history of life) was produced by the cumulative effects of natural micro-E and macro-E.  { * In an effort to clarify the logical principles that are examined in this page, I've invented three terms: Total Macro-E and (below) basic fossil-E and detailed fossil-E. }
    fossil evolution:  a theory of basic fossil-E claims that the fossil record (consisting of data about fossils situated in the context of geological formations and geography) indicates a fossil progression (from simple to complex, with branching of species,...) spanning billions of years on an old earth;  detailed fossil-E claims that all details of the fossil record are consistent with neo-Darwinian evolution.
    mechanistic theories of evolution propose specific natural causes of evolution.  In neo-Darwinian theories, Darwin's ideas are modified by and combined with ideas developed since his time, from a wide range of fields that include genetics, mathematical population analysis, and molecular biology.  Modern neo-Darwinism is a broad umbrella that encompasses different variations (such as gradualism and punctuated equilibrium) that agree on many concepts but disagree about others.  Basic neo-Darwinian theories of evolution propose mechanisms for:  (1) producing genetic variation in a population through introducing new genetic material (by mutation, duplication followed by mutation, or gene inflow) and shuffling old material (by gene crossovers and sexual reproduction);  (2) expressing genetic variation in the characteristics (physiology, structure, behavior,...) of individuals;  (3) causing changes in gene frequencies in a population through natural selection (by differential rates of survival and reproduction for individuals or groups), random genetic drift (especially in small subpopulations), and gene inflow or outflow;  (4) producing new species by reproductive isolation (due to geography, behavior, physiology,...).  /   Evolutionary scenarios for the history of life can involve many factors, including relationships among species (competition and mutualism,...), climate shifts and continental drifts, linked genes and developmental regulators, changes in the functions of enzymes and organs, and more.

    Scientists often think about biological evolution, in one or more of the ways described above, without consciously thinking about the potential worldview implications (philosophical, religious, ethical, social,...) of evolution.

    In Section 4, after looking at alternative theories in Section 3, we'll examine four types of evolution (as defined above) that can be components in an origins theory:  1) small-scale E (micro-E and minor macro-E);  2) an old earth with a basic fossil-E progression;  3) common descent;  4) Total Macro-E by natural mechanisms.

  3. The Many Meanings of Creation

    Theistic Creation
    According to the most popular form of young-earth creation (yeC) theory, the universe and the earth with its inhabitants were miraculously created during a 144-hour period less than 10,000 years ago.  Later, most of the earth's geology and fossil record were formed in a flood that covered the entire earth.
    According to old-earth creation (oeC), God's creative activity was spread over billions of years.  At various times during this period, God used miraculous-appearing theistic action to create new types of organisms.  There are two types of old-earth creation:  oeCindependent proposes independent creations "from scratch" (so it would not necessarily have any relationships with existing species) similar to the independent creations in yeC;  oeCmacromutation proposes creation by macromutation, with extensive modification (by changing, adding, or deleting) of the genetic material for some members (or all members) of an existing species.  Both old-earth theories, oeCindependent and oeCmacromutation, propose a natural history involving a combination of natural-appearing evolution and miraculous-appearing creation.
    theistic evolution (TE), also called evolutionary creation, considers natural evolution to be God's method of creation, with the universe designed so complex life would naturally evolve.  /  The E in TE can refer to Total Evolutionastronomical E (to form galaxies, solar systems,...) and chemical E (to form the first life) and biological E (for the development of life) — or only the biological E that is the focus in this page.

    What is my position?  Based on a logical evaluation of evidence, I think that oeCmacromutation is the most plausible explanation for the history of life (for the biocomplexity and biodiversity we observe in the past and present), and that intelligent design is the most credible scientific theory.  But the main purpose of this paper is to show why (and how) all theories, not just those I support, should be precisely defined and logically compared.

    Scientific Similarities and Differences
  Although their interpretations of history differ, theistic evolution and nontheistic evolution (deistic, agnostic, atheistic, pantheistic,...) propose the same scientific explanations for biological history, so in scientific evaluations "theistic E = nontheistic E" and I'll denote both by E.  { But scientific evidence for a design of the universe is evidence favoring all theistic theories, including theistic E, over scientifically similar nontheistic theories. }
   The scientific similarities and differences between creation theories (yeC, oeCindependent, oeCmacromutation) and design theories — when we compare them with each other and with evolution — are examined in Section 4.

    Intelligent Design
    A design theory is not a creation theory.  What is a theory of design?  If you receive a radio signal — 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,... — and you conclude that "probably this string of prime numbers was the result of design, since it's very unlikely that it was produced by a natural process that wasn't intelligently directed," you are proposing a theory of intelligent design.
    To explain the origin of a feature (an object, organism, system, situation,...) the two possibilities are non-design (with production by undirected natural process) and design (with production by design-directed action that converts a "design idea" into reality, into a designed feature we can observe).  Because a feature was produced by either design or non-design, we can use eliminative logic:  if we conclude that non-design is highly improbable, then design is highly probable.  Thus, evidence against non-design is evidence for design.  And evidence for non-design (for the sufficiency of undirected natural process in producing a particular feature) is evidence against a design of that feature.
    Can design be proved?  No.  A design theory does not claim there is proof that non-design is impossible, it only claims that, based on scientific evidence, design seems more probable.  This type of probability-based conclusion is consistent with the logic of science in which proof is always impossible, even though scientists can develop a logically justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory.  In science, a high level of confidence (not proof) is the goal of scientists when they evaluate a theory to determine whether it is worthy of acceptance.

    In several areas — including the origins of our universe, the first life, and complex life (*) — scientific analysis shows that design deserves to be accepted, not as the only possible explanation, but as a potential explanation that is highly plausible and is worthy of serious consideration and further development.
    * Notice the two kinds of design theories, claiming that either:  (1) design-directed action occurred at the beginning of history (to produce a universe with properties of nature that are "just right" for a wide variety of life-permitting phenomena, ranging from nuclear fusion and star formation to the chemistry of enzymes and DNA), or (2) design-directed action occurred during history (as in the origins of life or complex life).  /  In the rest of this paper, design will refer to the second type of theory, claiming that "there is scientific evidence for design-directed action during the history of nature."

    In many areas of life — for example, when a crime detective infers that "this death occurred by murder, not natural causes" — a conclusion that "design-directed action did occur" can be logically justified.  How?  If we observe strong signs of design (as in a sequence of prime numbers, or in the circumstantial evidence for a murder) we can infer that design-directed action occurred, even if the agent and action were not observed.  This logic is consistent with the methods of modern scientists, who often infer the existence of an unobservable cause (an electron, idea,...) from the observable effects it produces.
    Since claims for design can be logically evaluated using the methods of science, why are there any doubts about whether a design theory can be scientific?  When carefully examined, methodological arguments for excluding design from science seem weak.  For most opponents of design, the main concerns are metaphysical, and a common claim is that a design theory is equivalent to a creation theory.  But they are not the same, as explained below:

    In any area (radioastronomy, homicide, origins,...) an inquiry about design is a two-stage process:  first ask "Was there design-directed action?", and then investigate the details.  A basic design theory claims that "design-directed action did occur" (the first stage) but does not try to explain the details (how, when, why, who,...) of design-and-production.  Of course, we should evaluate a design theory based on what it does claim (that design occurred) instead of what it does not claim (that it can explain the details).  { But arguments for a design theory can be based on assumptions about details — for example, the amount of time available for evolution, or whether a scenario for design-action includes common descent — as explained later. }
    In origins, a design theory is not a creation theory.  A design theory can be supplemented with details (about the designer's identity and actions, re: how, when, why,...) to form a variety of theories about supernatural creation or (as in a theory proposing that evolution on earth was intelligently designed and directed by space aliens who evolved before us) natural non-creation.  A design theory — which does not propose divine action, but does acknowledge it as a possibility — does not try to distinguish between creation and non-creation.  Instead, a design theory just claims that "design-directed action did occur."

    Sections 2 and 3 have described a wide range of theories about evolution, creation, and design.  Section 4 will outline a framework for evaluating these theories, using logical principles from Section 1.


    4. Logical Comparisons in Scientific Evaluation 
    During a logical comparison of precisely defined theories, we find that some common "evidence for biological evolution" is not useful for evaluation, since it does not help us distinguish between different origins theories.  For example, evidence for micro-E (such as changes in the frequency of drug-resistant bacteria or large finch beaks) and minor macro-E (in the evolution of species that do not interbreed but are otherwise similar) will help us understand evolution, but it is not useful for theory evaluation because all modern theories agree that this type of evolution has occurred in the past and does occur now.
    You can see this agreement about "micro-E and minor macro-E" in the first row (yes, yes, yes, yes, yes) of the table below, which (in the white-shaded central region) shows four E-components of five modern theories that are described in Sections 2 and 3:  For each component (for each aspect of E-theory), does a theory say "YES, this did occur" or "NO, this did not occur"?  { For sharper visual contrast, so you can more easily see the pattern of similarities and differences when comparing theories, each "no" is symbolized by "-". }

theory components
(for each type of E, does
a theory say yes or no?)
creation by
of 1800
micro-E and minor macro-E yes yes yes yes yes -
old earth with basic fossil-E yes
? yes
common descent
? yes - - -
natural Total Macro-E yes - - - - -
claims that "God did it" ? ? yes yes yes yes

    The final column, shaded gray, shows outdated creation theories from two centuries ago in 1800, which should be ignored when we evaluate current theories.  The final row, shaded purple, asks a question about religious interpretation: Does this theory claim that "God did it"?  /  Two answers are "?" because, as shown in the final row, a basic theory of natural evolution or intelligent design is, by itself, neither atheistic nor theistic.  The other two "?"s show that, in biology, a particular theory of intelligent design might challenge an old earth or common descent, or it might not, in making a claim that "there was design-directed action" for a particular biological feature.  But since all modern design theorists affirm micro-E and minor macro-E, this is a YES.

    In the table below, the scientific information from above is arranged in a different way, to more clearly show an important principle: When we're evaluating origins theories, logical comparison is important.  To distinguish between two theories, we must focus on evidence about disputed components (highlighted in black), not shared components (in gray).  And for the two scientific questions that a design theory answers with "?", the contrast between theories is uncertain because this depends on the particular design-claim (and supporting evidence) that is being evaluated, as indicated by the green components.


for each two-theory
gray components are shared by both theories being compared,
but the two theories disagree about black components.
action during the
history of life
old earth

total E
old earth

total E
old earth

total E
old earth

total E
evolution (E):
totally natural
evolution of
all organisms
old earth

total E
old earth

total E
old earth
total E
old-earth creation
(by macromutation
of genetic material)
old earth

total E
old earth

total E
old-earth creation
(with independent
old earth
total E
young-earth creation
(with independent
creations )

    These two tables shows the importance of precise definitions (for the 4 components and 5 theories) and logical comparisons (of the 5 theories with each other).  The rest of this section discusses the comparisons in more detail.

    Comparing Evolution and Creation

    The five modern theories agree about micro-E and minor macro-E:
    Every biological population contains variations that can be inherited.  If a certain variation provides a competitive advantage for survival and reproduction, this variation (and the genes that cause it) will become more common in the generations that follow, producing a "natural selection" change over time in the genetic makeup of a population.  This process of micro-E (due to natural selection and/or genetic drift,...) can lead to the macro-E formation of new species.  For example, a population might split into isolated subgroups (perhaps living in different environments with different selection pressures) that genetically diverge, eventually producing two species that cannot breed with each other.  If the two species thus formed are similar, except for their inability to interbreed, this is minor macro-E.
    Because all modern theories agree with this aspect of E-theory, evidence that natural selection (and/or other natural processes) produces minor macro-E does not provide support for neo-Darwinian E-theory, relative to any of the non-E theories.
    note: The definition of macro-E that is "minor" tends to be broader in oeC than in yeC.  But unlike creationism in the early 1800s, modern yeC does not propose that species are immutable, or that no new species were formed after the initial 6-day creation period.  Instead, the claim is that E is limited to changes within the boundaries of the originally created kinds.  Most current theories of yeC propose that each "kind" was created with a large amount of diverse genetic information in its gene pool, in order to allow subsequent adaptations (for different ecological contexts and to changing environmental conditions) by micro-E and minor macro-E.  This type of proposal, that genetic information was "frontloaded" to be used for changes in the future, is also a part of some oeC theories.

    All of the non-E theories (design, oeCmacromutation, oeCindependent, yeCindependent) challenge a claim, made by Total Macro-E, that "undirected natural process" mechanisms are sufficient to produce the entire history of life.  They question the plausibility of an extrapolation from micro-E through minor macro-E to Total Macro-E by asking "How many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?"  Another question is whether multi-part systems that seem irreducibly complex (because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function) could be produced in a step-by-step process of evolution, since there would be no function to "select for" until all of the parts are present.  { These questions are examined more closely in another page. }

    The most important difference between the four non-E theories is an old earth and basic fossil-E.  Are fossils arranged in a way (generally increasing in complexity and diversity, with appropriate time-and-space biogeographical relationships) that indicates a long-term developmental history?  The old-earth aspects of neo-Darwinism differ only from yeC and its theories of flood geology, which propose that most of the earth's geology and fossil record were formed during a worldwide flood.  Thus, much of the evidence often claimed for evolution — for an old universe, an old earth, and basic fossil E — is evidence against yeC but not against oeC or design.
    Although oeCindependent, oeCmacromutation, and design are compatible with basic fossil-E, these theories challenge a claim that all details of the fossil record (including the "Cambrian explosion" and the long-term stasis of species with minimal change) provide support for Total Macro-E.

    The main scientific difference between the old-earth theories — oeCindependent and oeCmacromutation, with creations that are independent or macromutational, respectively — is common descent.  The independent creations of oeCindependent (or yeC) would break a chain of continuous common descent.  By contrast, with oeCmacromutation the chain is unbroken because during creation by a macromutational "extensive modification of genetic material" most of the original genetic material is not modified, and the parent/offspring relationships are retained.
    Therefore, evidence for common descent — such as a shared genetic code (in most species), structures that seem vestigial, homologous structures (like bat wings, whale flippers, dog paws, and panda thumbs) that seem to be "variations on a theme" derived from previously existing structures, similarities in gene sequences (ranging from essential developmental Hox genes to apparently nonfunctional pseudogenes) in different species, and "molecular clock" correlations — is consistent with either oeCmacromutation or natural evolution.
    Although this evidence would be possible with oeCindependent, there seems to be no logical explanation for much of the data if common descent has been interrupted by totally independent creations.  With oeCindependent, sometimes there might be a logical reason for a designer to re-use functional components from an existing organism in a newly created organism.  But in most cases a history of common descent (as proposed in oeCmacromutation or E) seems to be a simpler, more plausible explanation.  With independent creation (either old-earth or young-earth) we might expect designs to appear independent and optimal.  By contrast, theories of oeCmacromutation and E both predict that new species will appear to be modifications of old species, because this is what they are.  {panda thumb theology}
    Notice that, although common descent and Total Macro-E are often equated by proponents of E, they are not the same.  oeCmacromutation agrees with common descent, but proposes some supernatural creation activity that — if we could compare the genomes before and after a creation event — would appear to be miraculous rather than natural, so it challenges a theory of completely natural Total Macro-E.

    Can scientists distinguish between oeCmacromutation and evolution?  With detailed data — such as lab reports (for physiology, structure, DNA,...) for all organisms during a period of change — it would be easy.  But it's more difficult with the data we actually have because oeCmacromutation, which includes two mechanisms (continual natural-appearing evolution and occasional miraculous-appearing macromutational genetic modifications), is consistent with most evidence for evolution.  The major differences are that oeCmacromutation challenges Total Macro-E by raising questions (re: irreducible complexity, rates of change,...) about important details of bio-E.
    Does oeCmacromutation have to be "more different"?  No.  A "high contrast" with other theories is not a requirement for a scientific theory.  For example, in most situations the predictions of Newton's classical mechanics and Einstein's special relativity are almost identical.  But we don't demand that, if we are to take Einstein seriously, his theory must be modified to make it differ from Newton's theory in other ways, so that (for our convenience, so we can use data that is easy to collect and analyze) we can more easily distinguish between his theory and Newton's theory.

    Comparing Design and Evolution
    In a theory of intelligent design, the "when and how" details are optional (they may or may not be included), as explained in Section 3.  Since a basic theory of design does not have to explain the details (of when, how, why, who,...) it can answer questions about an old earth or common descent with a noncommittal "I don't know."  Thus, the two "?"s in the tables
    But conventional theories of neo-Darwinian E (which make a claim for Total Macro-E by undirected natural process with no design) require both an old earth and common descent, so evidence against either would be evidence against E and for biological design.  Therefore, some proponents of design argue against common descent (or an old earth) because they think this is justified by the evidence and will be helpful — even though it isn't necessary (because it is only one of several possible ways that evolution might be false) — in providing evidence against non-design evolution.
    Other proponents of design, including myself, think the scientific evidence indicates common descent (and an old earth) but not Total Macro-E.  If logical scientific evaluation provides support for common descent, arguing against common descent is counter-productive in building a case for design because this will focus attention on aspects of biology where (we think) the evidence is consistent with evolutionary theory, and will distract attention from important questions — about irreducible complexity, rates of change,... — where evidence indicates that a theory of Total Macro-E may be incorrect.

    Necessity, Sufficiency, and Status
    For a theory with the logical structure of evolution, we use and-logic for determining truth, but or-logic for determining falsity:  if a theory of neo-Darwinian Total Macro-E is true, this requires the truth of micro-E and old earth and common descent and Total Macro-E, which means that the falsity of Total Macro-E requires the falsity of micro-E or old earth or common descent or Total Macro-E.  These and/or requirements can be expressed in terms of necessity and sufficiency:  the truth of each component is necessary (but not sufficient) for the truth of Total Macro-E, so the falsity of any component is sufficient (but not necessary) for the falsity of Total Macro-E.
    To be logical, we must abandon a two-theory approach and think in terms of (at least) three theories: Total Macro-E, design with descent, and design without descent.  In a three-way comparison, evidence against descent counts against Total Macro-E and design with descent, and it counts for design without descent.  Similarly, evidence for descent counts for two theories (Total Macro-E and design with descent) and against one theory (design without descent).  But evidence about descent, either for or against it, does not help us distinguish between Total Macro-E and design with descent.

    Although in logic it is convenient to think about truth or falsity (as in the first paragraph above), usually in science it's more useful to frame our logic in terms of the evidence for or against a theory (as in the second paragraph).  In science we cannot logically prove that a theory is true or false, but scientists can develop a logically justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory.
    As a reminder that the outcome of theory evaluation is an educated estimate rather than a claim for certainty, it is useful to think in terms of a theory status, which can range along a continuum from low to high, to describe the degree of confidence in a theory.
    The question, "Can design be proved?", is discussed in the Appendix.

    A Summary of Section 4
    To evaluate theories in a way that is scientifically rational, we need conceptual precision and logical comparison.
    Scientifically, theistic evolution agrees with neo-Darwinism;  theologically, it is a theory of creation.
    Each creationist theory (old-earth macromutational, old-earth independent, young-earth independent) is similar in proposing a history of nature with a combination of normal-appearing natural events and miraculous-appearing events, but there are significant scientific differences.  Each theory agrees with small-scale evolution (micro-E and minor macro-E) but disagrees with Total Macro-E.  The old-earth theories, oeCmacromutation and oeCindependent, agree with evidence for an old earth and basic fossil-E;  and oeCmacromutation agrees with common descent.
    In evolutionary biology, the basic claim of a design theory is that scientific evidence does not support Total Macro-E;  questions about common descent or old-earth fossil progressions are included in some design theories (about the ways in which natural evolution is inadequate to explain the history of life) but not in other design theories.

    The focus of this page is METHODS of evaluation — especially the criteria that should be used, and should not be used, when comparing theories — rather than OUTCOMES of evaluation.  Since the outcome of a scientific evaluation should depend on scientific evidence, the evidence (and its interpretation) is the focus of other pages.


    5. Shifts of Meaning

    Distortions of Perceived Support (How does it occur?)
    What happens when a word with many meanings is used inconsistently, without precision, by shifting from one meaning to another?  The perceived support for the word can increase, or it can decrease.
    an increase:  The perceived support for evolution can be artificially increased in a two-step process involving faulty logic.  First there is an explanation of the ample evidence for a strongly supported meaning of evolution, such as micro-E, minor macro-E, or basic fossil-E.  Second, without calling attention to the shift, this support is transferred to another meaning, such as Total Macro-E, that has weaker empirical support.
    a decrease:  In a similar two-step process, evidence against one creationist theory is shifted onto another creationist theory.  For example, criticisms of young-earth theories (which are one component of young-earth creationism) are often shifted onto theories of old-earth creation.  And the important scientific differences between one old-earth theory (independent creation) and another old-earth theory (genetic modification) are ignored.

    avoiding an increase or decrease:  An "evolution shift" increases the implied support for evolution, while a "creation shift" weakens the implied support for creation.  In each case the shift (and associated implication) is not logically justified.  If we think logical distortions are undesirable, we should avoid these illogical shifts by using precise definitions and logical comparisons, as explained in Sections 1-4 and in the summaries below:

    Avoiding Shifts, Part 1 (for theories of evolution)
    To minimize illogical evolution-shifts, we should clearly explain the many meanings of evolution.  We should always distinguish between fossil-E (basic and detailed), common descent, micro-E, macro-E (minor and major), and Total Macro-E.  These theories of E, which can be viewed as sub-theories within an overall theory of E, are related yet distinct.  Each sub-theory makes different claims and is supported by different evidence, so our estimates of plausibility should be different for each sub-theory about a particular type of E.
    By contrast, if there is only "evolution" it is too easy to assume that evidence for some aspects of evolutionary theory — such as basic "old earth" progressions in the fossil record, or micro-E (when natural selection causes changes in the frequency of various types of finch beaks, or produces bacteria populations resistant to commonly used drugs) or minor macro-E speciation (when a species "splits" to produce two new species that, although they cannot interbreed, are otherwise very similar) — provides strong support for Total Macro-E.
    When we estimate the plausibility of an extrapolation from micro-E to Total Macro-E, there should be a rigorous evaluation for each step connecting the intermediate levels.  This analysis should be based on tight logic, not loose language that allows a transfer of support from one level to another.

    Avoiding Shifts, Part 2 (for theories of design or creation)
    In a logical evaluation, we must compare theories of creation with each other and with theories of evolution, to see where they agree and disagree, as explained in Section 4.  These comparisons will show why evidence for some components of evolutionary theory (for an old earth, common descent,...) should decrease the evaluative status of some theories but not others.
    For example, evidence for "an old earth with basic fossil progressions" will lower the evaluative status of young-earth creationism, but it says nothing about the plausibility of old-earth creationism.
    And evidence for common descent — such as a shared genetic code, similar pseudogenes, and homologous structures — deserves a response of "So what?" when comparing Total Macro-E with a theory of old-earth creation by macromutational genetic change.  Evidence for common descent is necessary for showing the plausibility of Total Macro-E, but is not sufficient (in fact, it is not relevant at all) for showing that Total Macro-E is a better explanation.
    When we apply the principles of logical comparison and ask, "Does this evidence really matter?", we see that most of the evidence typically proposed in support of evolution is irrelevant when comparing Total Macro-E with old-earth creation by macromutation or with a basic theory of intelligent design.  For a comparative evaluation of any two competitive theories, instead of wasting time on questions where both theories agree, we should focus on the differences.  Strong support for Total Macro-E requires strong answers for tough questions, such as those about irreducible complexity or rates of change.  /  Or we can ask another question that is related to irreducible complexity, but is even more challenging:  Could a nonliving system naturally achieve the minimal complexity required to replicate itself and thus become capable of changing, in successive generations, by neo-Darwinian evolution?  Was the first living organism produced by undirected natural process?   {note: This question is independent from neo-Darwinian theory, which simply assumes the existence of an organism that could reproduce, and doesn't try to explain how the first living organism became alive.}

   Shifting by Ignoring
 Unfortunately often, defenders of "evolution as fact" make three logical mistakes:  theories of design and creation are equated;  creationism is characterized as young-earth creationism;  if old-earth creation is acknowledged, it is limited to independent creation, thus ignoring the possibility of creation by genetic modification.
    For example, old-earth creation is defined as "independent creation" by Eugenie Scott (of the National Center for Science Education), Mark Isaak (in the Talk Origins website), and Wesley Elsberry.   Scott says, "Progressive Creationists [oeC] generally believe that God created "kinds" of animals sequentially; the fossil record is thus an accurate representation of history because different animals and plants appeared at different times rather than having been created all at once.  PCs reject the inference that earlier forms are genetically related to later ones; kinds are separate creations: descent with modification does not occur. ... Even though OECs accept most of modern physics, chemistry, and geology, they are not very dissimilar to YECs in their rejection of descent with modification."  According to Isaak, "Progressive Creationists... generally believe that... the newer kinds are specially created, not genetically related to older kinds."  And Elsberry defines evolutionists very broadly, in a way that encompasses oeCmacromutation, as "those who accept evolutionary change in the sense of common descent of life on earth."  Similarly, the "Evolution and the Nature of Science" Institute (in its Fair Test) and Craig Nelson (describing "Effective Strategies for Teaching Evolution" in The Creation Controversy & The Science Classroom for the National Science Teachers Association) consider only theories proposing independent creation.
   In each case, oeCmacromutation (with creation by modification of existing genetic material) is ignored.  Is this because the authors think oeCmacromutation is the scientifically strongest theory of creation, and — in violation of logical principles for comparing competitive theories — they would rather compare naturalistic evolution with only the weaker alternatives?

    Why do shifts of meaning occur? 
    A shift of meaning can arise from an intention to mislead, inadequate understanding of concepts, lack of communication skill, or (in one type of shift) from a decision to narrowly focus on the most visible and vocal form of creationism.  But value judgments (about the relative importance of different evaluation criteria) can provide a reason to ignore distinctions between theories, to ignore differences (when similarities are considered more important) or to ignore similarities (when differences are considered more important).
    For example, a proponent of yeC might place such a high priority on young-earth theology that any theistic old-earth position (independent creation, creation by macromutation, or theistic evolution) will be opposed with equal vigor, because differences between these positions seem less important than their old-earth similarities.  And the creationist similarities between old-earth creation and young-earth creation can be ignored (or treated as if they were not important) when there is a heavy emphasis on "age of the earth" differences.
    On the other hand, a fanatical evolutionist might choose to see only the creationist similarities, while ignoring the scientifically important differences.  And for a person who abhors any implication of God "interfering with nature," any proposal for detectable theistic action is abhorrent, and all creationist theories (and even theories of design, which don't propose divine action but don't forbid it) are equally guilty.

    Value judgments are an essential part of life.  In all of our evaluative decisions, we make judgments about the relative importance of various criteria.  But a strong weighting of evaluation criteria often produces a closed mind with a "flattening of perspectives" that leads to stereotyping people and overlooking logic (*).  Therefore, we should carefully analyze our value judgments to check for wisdom and utility, so we can avoid inaccurate evaluations and unwarranted implications.

    * For example, an evolutionist who believes that "all creationists are irrational" may be tempted to claim scientific support against a generic "creationism" by citing evidence for an old earth or for common descent.  In contrast with this sloppy logic, critical thinking that is more precise would explicitly acknowledge that "evidence for an old earth supports my position against yeC (but not oeCindependent or oeCmacromutation)" and that "evidence for common descent supports my position against yeC and oeCindependent (but not oeCmacromutation)."

    A Summary of Sections 1-5: 
    The quality of our thinking and evaluating, in science and education, will improve when we use precise definitions and logical comparisons, when we accurately understand all theories, explicitly acknowledge their similarities and differences, and use this knowledge in our evaluations and communications.


Sections 1-5 are mainly about scientific logic.
Sections 6-7 are about philosophies of science and education.

    6. Should science be logical?  Are questions justified?
    We should not waste our time on logical principles for scientific evaluation if the questions being asked are not scientific, or if the evidence for evolution is so strong that "evolution is fact" is the only rational conclusion.  Are questions about evolution scientific?  are they justified?  Unfortunately, defenders of evolution often claim that answers of "no" provide a reason to avoid the process of comparative evaluation, based on scientific evidence, that is outlined in Section 4.
    In most of this page, the focus is on logic.  This section, however, will look at some ways in which the process of logical evaluation is affected by philosophical preference and cultural-personal influence.  { It assumes you have read Intelligent Design (in Section 3) and Comparing Design and Evolution (in Section 4). }

   Methodological Naturalism
   Those who oppose a critical examination of evolution claim that a theory of intelligent design (which proposes that a particular feature was produced by design-directed action, and was not the result of undirected natural process) cannot be scientific.  This philosophical claim is based on a preference for methodological naturalism (MN) which proposes that authentically scientific thinking must always lead to the conclusion that "it happened by natural process."  If science is restricted by MN, and if a design theory says "maybe it didn't happen by natural process," then design cannot be scientific.

    Open Science and Closed Science
    The difference between science that is open and closed is the difference in responding to a question:  Has the history of the universe included both natural and non-natural causes?  In open science (liberated from MN) this question can be evaluated based on scientific evidence.  In closed science (restricted by MN) the process of science is irrelevant because the inevitable conclusion — no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence — is that "it happened by natural process."
   The many benefits of Open Science are carefully examined, in more depth, in an overview of Design in Science that encourages you to learn more because "even though some arguments for Closed Science may seem strong initially, the counter-arguments are stronger and more logical, and the closer we examine Open Science, the better it looks."  For example, an argument that "supernatural causation is unscientific because the agent and the action-mechanism are unobservable" seems impressive initially, until we think more carefully about the methods of modern science: "Modern scientists often infer the existence of an unobservable cause (an electron, idea,...) due to the observable effects it produces.  Similarly, if we observe "signs of design" we can infer design-directed action, even if the agent and action were not observed."
    This section looks briefly at a few of the many benefits of open science:

    The Possibility of Unavoidable Error
    Is MN always the best way to do science?  Maybe not.  Imagine two possible worlds:  one world has a history of nature with all events caused by only natural process, while the other world has a history of nature that includes both natural and non-natural events.  When we ask, "Which type of world do we actually live in?", we hope our science will help us, not hinder us, in our search for the answer.  But in one of the two possible worlds a closed science, restricted by MN, must inevitably reach the wrong conclusion.  By contrast, in either world a non-MN science will allow (although it cannot guarantee) reaching the correct conclusion.
    In open science, a scientist begins with MN but is free to use both MN and non-MN modes of thinking, to consider a wider range of possibilities that include both non-design and design.  A scientist begins by assuming non-design (with the operation of only undirected natural process) but recognizes that this is an assumption, a theory to be tested, not a conclusion to be accepted.  There is flexible open-minded inquiry, with individual and communal freedom of thought, and scientists can follow the data wherever it leads.  Each theory is evaluated based on its merit, and if a non-MN conclusion is justified by the evidence, this is allowed.  An open science is consistent with scientists' preference for intellectual freedom.

    Bypass the Process, Claim the Authority
    Many advocates of evolution claim that MN is an essential foundation of science.  Ironically, however, MN provides a way to bypass the process of science and then claim the authority of science.  Of course, The Grand Conclusion of MN-Science — that for every event in the history of the universe, "it happened by natural process" — is actually the assumption of MN.  The circular reasoning of MN-science, which converts a naturalistic assumption into a naturalistic conclusion, is automatic and unavoidable.  But even though no science is needed, the authority of science is claimed as support for The Grand Assumption of an all-natural history of nature.  Does this seem logical?

    Should science be logical?
    If we want science to be a search for truth, should we define the main goal of science as a search for NATURAL explanations, or a search for LOGICAL explanations?  Of course, when we ask "Should science be logical?", everyone agrees that YES is the answer.  But disagreements occur when we ask "If there is a conflict between logical and natural, which criterion should have the higher priority?"  Should we be forced (by methodological naturalism) to accept a "scientific conclusion" that is less logical, simply because it is natural?  For example,...

    Is evidence irrelevant?
    To see the irrelevance of evidence when methodological naturalism determines the conclusion, compare the evidence-based implausibility (earned by current theories for a "chemical evolution" origin of life) with the naturalism-based confidence of the National Academy of Sciences when they boldly assert that "For those who are studying the origin of life, the question is no longer whether life could have originated by chemical processes involving nonbiological components.  The question instead has become which of many pathways might have been followed to produce the first cells. (Science and Creationism, 1999)"  Yes, evidence is irrelevant when we rely on the logic of naturalism:  Even though each of the "many pathways" is highly implausible, one pathway must have produced life (because according to naturalism this is the only possibility) so confidence does not require evidence.
    Of course, the irrelevance of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, or that MN will lead to a wrong conclusion. (*)  But it does illustrate a logical weakness of MN, which requires that we must reach a scientific conclusion before doing any science.

    * And the status of biological evolution, which begins after the origin of life, is not related to the status of chemical evolution, so each theory should be evaluated independently.

    Reasons for Questions?
    Should we ever question the authority of scientists?
    In science education we accept the claims of physicists about theories of motion.  Therefore, shouldn't we also accept the analogous claims of biologists about theories of evolution?  And if a physics teacher feels a duty to persuade students that current theories are true, shouldn't a biology teacher also do this?  Why should the authority of scientists be accepted (and used as a justification for persuasion) in one case, but questioned in the other?
    Because this argument for evolution depends on analogy between two situations that are similar in some ways but different in others, we should logically analyze the similarities and (especially) the differences.  In this case there is an important difference when we ask, "Are there scientific reasons for caution?"  For some aspects of evolution, but not motion, a logical analysis of evidence seems to provide reasons for critical questions.
    But are these questions really justified?  Most evolutionary biologists claim that their only questions are about HOW (but not WHETHER) Total Macro-E occurred.  To support their claim for unanimous consensus, they point to the absence of challenge and debate in their own scientific journals.  But is the absence of questions due to an absence of evidence, or a reluctance to look at the evidence?  One illustration of reluctance is the experience of a scientist whose questions were rejected by an editorial board because "our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable." {Behe and journals}

    Cultural-Personal Influence
    In all areas of science, including evolutionary biology, theory evaluation is affected by cultural-personal influences.  In the current institutional structure of biology, an uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory offers many professional advantages, making it easier to obtain funding and publications, employment and promotions, and respectful acceptance from colleagues.  By contrast, a public questioning of evolution can damage a scientist's career.  Even a decision to allow questions by others can be "a bad career move" for a journal editor, because the absence of design in scientific journals is the basis of an argument that "theories of design are not scientific so they should not be allowed in public schools." {an example from NCSE}  This argument produces a strong pressure to avoid being the first editor to break the "design barrier" and acknowledge the scientific legitimacy of design questions, such as those Behe asks about irreducible complexity, by allowing them in your own journal.  And as discussed above, a commitment to methodological naturalism guarantees that, no matter what the evidence indicates, the "scientific" theory will be a naturalistic theory.
    If there are reasons to suspect that the institutional structure and interpersonal dynamics of a discipline are hindering its objectivity, there are reasons to wonder whether we should uncritically accept everything the discipline claims.  If internal self-checks are hindered, it seems wise to listen with an open mind to critics of the "consensus conclusions" offered by the discipline.  Of course, even if biology currently has a strong disciplinary bias in favor of Total Macro-E, this bias does not mean that Total Macro-E is necessarily false.  But it does provide a reason for caution.
    If we don't uncritically accept the consensus conclusion offered by the scientific community, what is the alternative?  We can be open-minded when listening to critics of the consensus, and by using careful analysis we can try to determine what the evaluation status of Total Macro-E would be with an unbiased science based on pure logic, if cultural-personal factors were minimal and we could objectively evaluate the evidence.

    Should we ask the question?
    If there could be an unbiased evaluation, what would be the conclusion?  It depends on the type of evolutionary theory being evaluated.  There is some evidence for all aspects of biological evolution, and strong evidence for some aspects.  By contrast, theories of chemical evolution have earned a very low status.  But even for theories with low status, a claim for design-directed action should be made with caution and humility.  Why?  Because a claim that "undirected natural process was insufficient to produce this feature" requires an evaluation of current theories based on current evidence, plus an imaginative yet realistic extrapolation into the future of science to estimate what the evaluation status might be with theories and evidence in the future.  {Can we prove design?}
    Intelligent scientists can rationally disagree about the evaluation status of current theories and (especially) future theories.  Yes, it can be difficult to confidently answer the question, "Was design involved in producing this feature?"  But it should be easy to decide, "Should we ask the question?"  A curious, open-minded scientific community will say "YES, we want our science to be flexible and open to free inquiry."

    Are questions justified?
    Maybe, as explained in Sections 4 and 5, much of the high status usually given to evolution is due to an illogical shifting of support from some aspects of evolution (such as patterns of change in the fossil record, and small-scale changes produced by natural selection) onto claims for a large-scale "natural production of everything" (a Total Macro-E) that is not as well supported.  Maybe when these shifts are avoided so there is a clear definition of evolution (in claims for "evolution as fact") and the evidence is carefully examined, some interesting questions will seem scientifically justified, and humility about some aspects of evolution will seem logically appropriate.

    The questions in this section are examined more thoroughly in a page about methodological naturalism that explains why Open Science is Better Science.


  7. Origins Education in Public Schools
    According to the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution, the government should not "establish" religion or prohibit the "free exercise" of religion.  In American public schools, is it legal to explain theories in which divine action is either proposed (as in young-earth creation, old-earth creation, or theistic evolution) or allowed (as in intelligent design)?  Yes.  Even the National Center for Science Education — a group that defines its goal as "working to defend the teaching of evolution against sectarian attack,... to keep evolution in the science classroom and 'scientific creationism' out" — agrees, saying that legally "a teacher can teach about religion (though not advocate it)... one can discuss controversies involving religion, but it would not be proper to take sides. (source)"
    As usual in origins education, however, things aren't this simple.  Does the legal status change if, as recommended in Section 4, the components in theories are being evaluated?  Although only creationary theories are explicitly religious, all origins theories (including design and natural evolution) have religious implications.  When a component is evaluated, does this imply that theories containing this component (either affirming or denying it) are also being evaluated?

    Based on the logical principles in this page and the legal principles in Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook (1999), it seems that the most educationally effective and legally acceptable method, in American public schools, is to focus on the accurate understanding and logical evaluation of two origins theories: natural evolution and intelligent design.  The table below summarizes the logical criteria that should (and should not) be used in a comparative evaluation of these two theories.

   mere evolution    mere design  
 micro-E and minor macro-E  YES YES
 old earth with basic fossil-E  YES
( YES )
common descent
natural Total Macro-E YES NO
claims that "God did it" ? ?

    In the "old earth..." row, the "(YES)" indicates that time is not a factor in a comparative evaluation of evolution and design, because old-earth proponents of design think the earth really is old, and "for the sake of argument" most young-earth proponents are willing to accept, during evaluations of evolution, an assumption that billions of years were available during the history of life.
    In the "common descent" row, the MAYBE is a reminder that some design theories deny common descent while others affirm it (as explained earlier), and that the truth of each component of E (micro-E, basic fossil-E, common descent) is necessary, but is not sufficient, for the truth of Total Macro-E.
    The "natural Total Macro-E" row has the only clear contrast of YES-versus-NO.  Therefore, these questions (about irreducible complexity, rates of evolution,...) should be the main focus during a logical scientific evaluation when we're trying to distinguish between evolution and design, between undirected natural process and design-directed action.

    The "mere" in mere evolution and mere design indicates that a "metaphysically stripped down" version of each theory, with minimal religious implications, is being discussed in the classroom.  In doing this, a teacher can be aware of the wide range of implications (psychological, sociological, theological,...) associated with every origins theory, and then make a decision that these will not be emphasized in the classroom.  Instead, the focus will be on scientific evidence and logical evaluation.
    How can the concept of "mere science" be actualized in a public school classroom?  What should a teacher say about naturalistic evolution and intelligent design?  Although these origins theories are not explicitly religious, they may have religious implications for students.  Many students, whether or not they are vocalizing their internal questions, will be curious about the religious implications of evolution and design, which can be (but don't have to be) associated with atheism and theism.  How can a teacher handle these questions in a way that is informative (so students are not forced to "fill in the blanks" with what they think a teacher is intending) without crossing over the line into persuasion?
    Of course, a public school teacher should avoid persuasion for (or against) the religious beliefs of students.  And the goal of instruction can be a maximum understanding (by students) of evolution, rather than a maximum persuading (of students) about evolution.  { Proponents of design want to teach more about evolution, not less, to help students improve their understanding of this important theory. }
    Maybe a teacher can adopt a "some but not too much" approach by carefully describing the components of evolution, and explaining that within each religion there are differences of opinion about each component, and that these debates (although interesting and important) will not be part of the classroom discussion, which will focus on science.  Maybe.
    This paper will not try to offer detailed advice about how to cope with the challenge of teaching "mere science" wisely and effectively in a climate of controversy. But I think it is safe to say that "Effective teaching... depends on the integrity and skill of individual teachers who think carefully, with wisdom and courage, about desirable goals, who build a solid foundation by adequate preparation and planning, and carry out their plans with sensitivity and respect."  { from Critical Thinking about Evolution in Public Schools }

    Of course, for education in private schools (religious or secular) and home schools, teachers and students can use the full framework with all theories (proposing evolution, design, or creation) being compared.

   If you want to learn more about origins education in American public schools, in the context of the U.S. Constitution and recent legal decisions, I suggest reading Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook (by David DeWolf, Stephen Meyer, and Mark DeForrest, 1999).  Their long page — which is actually a short book, graciously made available to you for free — offers a wealth of useful information about public education, examined in the context of the U.S. Constitution and recent legal decisions.  It is carefully written, and a careful reading will help you develop an increased depth of understanding.  { In the appendix, A Guide to the Guidebook gives tips for reading it. }  Their basic conclusion, summarized and oversimplified in my own words, is that "Yes, it is legal for a teacher to encourage critical thinking about evolution, when this is done with wisdom and skill."



Sources of Ideas 
Panda Thumb Theology 
The Origin of Life 
Can design be proved? 
Critical Thinking in Closed Science 
A Guide to the Guidebook

    Sources of Ideas
    Elliott Sober uses the Olympic Weightlifter Theory to illustrate a Surprise Principle (When does successful prediction provide strong evidence?) in the chapter about "Inductive and Abductive Arguments" in his book, Core Questions in Philosophy.  {back to Logical Comparisons}
    And a strategy of imagining two worlds (and thus the possibility of unavoidable error) was suggested by another philosopher, Paul Nelson, at a conference about "Design and its Critics" in June 2000.

    Panda Thumb Theology (Can we predict what God would do?)
    Do "imperfect adaptations" provide evidence for Total Macro-E by natural process?  Is it true that "Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution... [because] God surely would not have used a collection of parts generally fashioned for other purposes."  Here, in The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould asserts that God "surely would not," as if he knows what God would have done.  But in the Bible, it seems that God usually is not interested in a history that appears optimal, or theistic action that appears obvious.  But the possibility of creation-activity that is not "optimal and obvious" is opposed by advocates of Total Macro-E, who want a competitor with predictions that are different from E-theory and easy to falsify.  {back}

    The Origin of Life (by Chemical Evolution?) 
    Scientists who are trying to imagine how life might have arisen naturally propose a two-stage process:
    1) formation of organic molecules, which combine to make larger biomolecules;
    2) self-organization of these molecules into a living organism.

    What scientists are learning is that the complexity required for life (in terms of biomolecule formation and self-organization) is much greater than the complexity possible by natural process (beginning with lifeless matter).  This huge difference has motivated scientists to creatively construct new theories for reducing requirements and enhancing possibilities, but none of these ideas has progressed from speculation to plausibility.  {details}

    The section below is from the "Design and Science" part of my introductory overview of Origins Questions for Science and Theology:

    7B. Can design be proved?
    In science, proof is impossible, but scientists can develop a logically justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory.
    Because a feature was produced by either non-design or design (*), if the evaluative status of non-design decreases, the status of design increases.  And vice versa.  By testing for non-design, we can test for design.  We can conclude that a design theory is probably true (if all non-design theories seem highly implausible) or is probably false (if one non-design theory seems highly plausible).  { * In Sections 7A-7D, design means "empirically detectable design-directed action during the history of nature," not design by natural process. }
    an application:  Current theories for a natural origin of life seem highly implausible.  Is it rational for scientists to consider the possibility that life might have been the result of design-directed action?  Of course, certainty is impossible because we can never propose and test all possibilities for non-design.  But we could develop a logically justified confidence that our search has been thorough yet futile, and no promising approaches remain unexplored.

    Future developments in science could make the status of non-design increase (if we discover how a feature could have been produced by non-design) or decrease (if new knowledge reinforces our doubts about non-design).  To decide which "future science" is more probable, we must predict improvements in current theories and inventions of new theories.  This requires creativity (to imagine what could be) plus criticality (to make realistic predictions about what is probable in reality, not just possible in our imaginations) so we can avoid the extremes of insisting that in science "nothing new will ever happen" or "anything could happen."
    In several areas, including the origin of life, scientific analysis shows that design deserves to be accepted, not as the only explanation, but as a potential explanation that is reasonably plausible and is worthy of serious consideration and further development.

    What about future developments in science?  Scientists can look at the properties (the unfavorable chemical equilibria, the high degree of biocomplexity required for metabolism and reproduction,...) that make a natural origin of life seem implausible, and try to imagine ways in which future knowledge might change our views of each property.  They can ask, "How likely is each change?" and "How would it affect our evaluations for a natural origin of life?"
    back to Intelligent Design or Proof and Status

    Critical Thinking in Closed Science
    Section 7B concludes, "the potential of design theories to make valuable scientific contributions should be recognized and welcomed."  In reality, has there been a gracious "welcome to our house" reception, or is the door being jealously guarded by zealous gatekeepers of knowledge?
    When Mike Behe submitted papers about irreducible complexity (*) to science journals, what was the response?  "While some science journal editors are individually tolerant and will entertain thoughts of publishing challenges to current views, when a group (such as the editorial board) gets together, orthodoxy prevails." {from Behe's Correspondence with Science Journals: response to critics concerning peer-review}   For example, a senior journal advisor responded to Behe's critical analysis with a generous proposal for delayed publication: "Having not yet understood all of biology is not a failure after just 200 years...  Let us speak about it again in 1000 years."  And the editorial board of another journal concluded their letter of rejection, "Our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable." { from Behe's "Correspondence..." }
    * If a biochemical system with multiple parts is irreducibly complex (if all parts are necessary for performing the system's function), could this system be produced in a step-by-step process of evolution by natural selection, since there is no function to "select for" until all of the parts are present?
    According to a noble ideal of objective science — operating in a community of curious, open-minded scientists who are exploring freely, thinking flexibly, and dedicated to finding the truth — the response should be different.  Ideally, instead of ignoring the concept of design, pretending it doesn't exist and trying to exclude it from the mainstream of science, its tough questions would be carefully examined and used as a stimulus for critical analysis, creative thinking, and productive action.  Instead, scientifically interesting questions are avoided: "Let us speak about it again in 1000 years."
    In an open-minded free science, Behe's perceptive thought-provoking ideas would be enthusiastically welcomed as an opportunity to increase the range of conceptual diversity, an invitation to move "beyond the black box" in order to gain a more complete and detailed understanding of evolution at the molecular level, consistent with the standards of modern molecular biology.  The scientific journals — fulfilling their potential as a haven of free thinking — would be eager to host invigorating debates about new ideas, to stimulate and facilitate interactions between critics of a theory and its loyal defenders.  Instead, these questions are resented and rejected, because an editorial board "believes that evolutionary explanations... are inevitable."

    Originally, this was from Section 7D of an extended argument (in Sections 7A-7E of my page explaining why Open Science is Better Science) for the benefits of Open Science:  7A and 7C-7E explain the rationality of an open science (which is not restricted by methodological naturalism, and is willing to consider design);  7B looks at "the five possibilities" and the challenge of extrapolating our evaluations into the future;  7F examines "Cultural-Personal Factors in Science";  7G asks "Can a theory of evolution be scientific?" and explains why YES is the answer.  {more details about Behe and journals, and freedom in science}  {back to main body}
  Sections 7A and 7C-7E of Open Science is Better Science explain the rationality of an Open Science (which is not restricted by methodological naturalism, and is willing to consider design);  7F examines "Cultural-Personal Factors in Science";  7G asks "Can a theory of evolution be scientific?" and explains why YES is the answer.

    A Guide to the Guidebook
    To get an overview of the Legal Guidebook you can read their Introduction and Conclusion (in Chapters 1 and 9) and the Preface, written by Jon Buell, which explains why a folksy proverb — "a Smith and Wesson beats four aces" — is, unfortunately, often relevant in origins education.  Chapters 2 and 3 ask, "Is critical thinking justified by scientific evidence and logic, and is it therefore scientific?";  Chapters 4-7 look at constitutional and legal principles for the treatment of religion in public schools;  and Chapter 8 explains what local school boards should consider when making decisions.

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