Only a Theory

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, June 10, 2021 4 comments

by Steve Risner

Last time, I discussed the strawman fallacy and why no one should ever use it, but we all tend to on occasion. You can read about that here if you’re not familiar with it. What I’ve been doing is going over a post in a group I’m a member of where another member (an unbeliever) tried to explain to creationists some things they should avoid doing when debating about origins. We had preaching, circular arguments, and the ad hominem argument, followed lastly by the strawman. I gave a few examples of strawman arguments that unbelievers use against creationism and explained very briefly why they are, in fact, strawman arguments. But in the post I’m drawing content from, this person also gives 5 examples of strawman arguments he says creationists use too often. As I said last week, creationists do, in fact, use strawman arguments sometimes. That is because everyone uses them on occasion.

Today I wanted to begin looking at his examples and explain them a bit. Some will likely be more fun and informative than others. Here goes:

1. EVOLUTION IS ‘ONLY’ A THEORY. True, but the ‘only’ implies a theory to be something inept or suspect. However, a theory in the scientific context does not mean a simple supposition. A scientific theory is one that has been rigorously tested and, so far, has passed all tests and, importantly, all these tests are in the public domain for anyone to scrutinize and challenge with equally testable alternatives.

I like this one because it’s complex. This is because while the idea that “evolution is only a theory” is an argument often used by creationists, it’s not true in the real sense of what a theory is. Using his own definition/explanation for what a theory is, we can see evolution does not even meet that standard. Let me explain.

A theory begins as an idea—a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation made based on limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Darwin published a book in 1859 that hypothesized life and its diversity erupted from a common, less complex ancestor long ago. He wrote in a letter that he believed life may have begun in some warm little pond. In essence, he believed that pond scum changed over time into people and everything else we see alive around us. This was a hypothesis because at that time, it had very little evidence and required more investigation. However, how difficult is it to investigate past events? In this case, we’re talking about past events that allegedly happened millions or billions of years ago under conditions we have very little understanding of.

Over time, a hypothesis can gain support after a great deal of experimentation and testing. How do you test if fish evolved into amphibians? How do you test if reptiles are descendants of amphibians (older, simpler reptiles, of course and not today’s modern reptiles)? How do we test if a common ancestor existed that connects humans and other “higher” apes several million years ago? There is literally no way to test these assertions. They happened in the past under conditions and for reasons we cannot possibly know.

After a hypothesis gains a great deal of support, it may begin to be referred to as a theory. This is because the idea accommodates most (if not all) of the available information, it has been rigorously tested, and there is no other viable explanation for whatever the hypothesis claims. In other words, the idea seems to explain a lot, was tested a lot and passed all the tests, and there’s no other way to explain the phenomenon. Is this true of universal common descent (what some simply call evolution)? Not by a long shot.

Sir Francis Bacon, the father of modern science and the scientific method, would be a good person to look into. He developed the scientific method as we know it today. His description of how science works looks like this: Observation leads to induction which leads to creating a hypothesis. Once we have a hypothesis, we test that hypothesis by experiment. This will either lead to proof the hypothesis was correct or disproof. Once we reach this point, we often can make knowledge claims. Where does universal common descent fall in here?

Many evolutionists will, at this time, employ the classic “bait and switch” fallacy. The specific type of bait and switch is usually the motte and bailey fallacy which I covered here. In short, you say one thing (like evolution meaning small observable changes in a population over time) and then switch your meaning to something else (like evolution meaning the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form). This happens in nearly all (not all but pretty close) conversations I’ve had with evolutionists. This is a logical fallacy and it is deceptive, although often times I believe the evolutionist doing this is unaware they’ve done it. They’re usually parroting what they’ve read or heard others say. If creationists would make sure to point out this fallacy whenever it is used, it might go a long way. However, evolutionists may counter with the idea that small changes in a population over time is what leads to extremely large changes over deep time. This is not true and, again, is just extrapolation or speculation. Small incremental steps cannot account for huge leaps.

But the size of the change isn’t even the most important part of the objections to universal common descent. Untold amounts of information must be added to the genetic code for the “simplest” life forms like single celled organisms to evolve into “higher” life forms like hawks, horses, dogs, or eventually humans. There is no natural process of any kind that can add specific, complex information into the genetic code, creating new functions or anatomy. Any example given is generally a loss of information or a regulation change of some sort.

Universal common descent is not a scientific theory. Adaptation and genetic drift would qualify as science since we see extremely small changes in some populations of organisms over time. These changes are generally due to epigenetics, degenerative mutations, and population isolation among other things. These things are known to occur. What we don’t know and cannot know is if that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source, which itself came from an inorganic form. This is the definition of the General Theory of Evolution as stated by Dr. Gerald Kerkut.

Creationists have frequently pointed out that the topic of origins, while important and interesting, is not a scientific field. It cannot be. It’s philosophical or religious in its scope and can be supported with science, but it itself is not a scientific inquiry no matter how badly evolutionists want it to be. Evolutionists will occasionally hint at this sort of thing but it’s sometimes by accident. The program on PBS called Evolution said this: “The evidence for Evolution is all around us, if we choose to look for it.” This was marvelous! They’re stating that the evidence doesn’t speak for itself, but one needs to choose to accept what evolutionists say it says. We’ve been saying this for years. Creationists and evolutionists have always had the same evidence. We choose to interpret it based on our preconceived ideas and worldview. This is impossible to overstress.

For those who want to believe that science and evidence are unbiased, we need to review something that Dr. Richard Lewontin, an outspoken evolutionist himself, said in 1997: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

That quote is what an honest evolutionist looks like. Unfortunately, it was likely only for a moment, but it’s refreshing to hear an unbeliever who understands the debate for what it is—a debate over worldviews. I believe an accurate paraphrase of his statement would be this: “Even if it seems ridiculous to do so because it has failed so miserably so often and the conclusions we draw are so absurd, we must draw them from a materialist position. Even if it’s extremely obvious that another explanation is as good or even much better, we cannot allow anything of the supernatural into our thinking. Science doesn’t demand this but we, the scientists, do.”

Is universal common descent only a theory? No. It’s not really a scientific theory at all. The genetics associated with biological entities and their minute changes over time generally are. But beyond that, it’s pure speculation. Creationists have warned other creationists for many years not to use the argument that “Evolution is only a theory.” But this is because it elevates the General Theory of Evolution to something far more than it is. I’ve run out of space here, so we’ll say goodbye until next time when we’ll be looking at how a species changes in our next addition. Thank you sincerely for reading.

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Dave Peterson said...

Good article. I suggest using standard names for fallacies. "Bait and switch" is an old sales technique, where an inexpensive product is advertised (the bait), and when the customer comes to buy it, the salesman convinces them to buy a more expensive model (switch).

The standard term, "equivocation" better describes what is happening. A word that means two things is used in one case and switches meaning without the reader realizing it. "Evolution" meaning adaptation in species is switched for "evolution" meaning life developing from non-life over millions of years into advanced life.

Only man is rational.
No woman is a man.
Therefore, no woman is rational.

The argument "equivocates" on the word "man," which changes from humans in the first sentence to males in the second sentence. Once the real meanings are revealed, the fallacy of four terms becomes clear.

It's a minor point. I prefer not to have to learn the name of a new fallacy, only to discover that it's a fallacy that's been around for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Adding new names to well understood fallacies adds confusion.

Stephen Meiner said...

As Dave stated as his example of equivocation, "No woman is a man," well, arguably that is not even termed as politically correct (sadly).

But,humor aside, the entire concept of all the exact atoms needed (as if shipped there) were suddenly struck by lightning and by that tremendous force they shockingly created a living being, like Frankenstein. But, even if everything assembled in Planck time, there would not be mathematically enough time for everything to come together through evolutionary means. Just like Frankenstein, evolution is at times entertaining, but not at all possible.

Thanks again, Steve.

Steve Risner said...

Thank you, Dave, for your insight. I use bait and switch because it's easier for most people to understand. Motte and bailey is the more precise version of this in debate. But most people have never heard of that nor could they define equivocation.

I appreciate your help!

Steve Risner said...

Thank you, Stephen, for your take. There isn't enough time, you're right. And there are no odds to suggest the idea could even happen--not just poor odds but no odds at all.