Saturday, April 5, 2008

Consilience of Induction

For many years I have heard scientific laypeople, in conversations or letters, express their thoughts that evolution is “tested and proven…rock solid.” Strangely, most evolutionary scientists would probably not use that description, but they are pleased the public thinks that way. The support pillars for evolution are not nearly so massive. Let’s illustrate the point with a literary tussle from the early 1990s. Phillip E. Johnson, a brilliant lawyer, wrote a critique of Darwinism in 1991 entitled Darwin on Trial. For his effort, he has taken many cynical hits from evolutionists who do not like exposure of the weaknesses of evolution. Evolution is firmly ingrained in the very bone marrow of the scientific community and consequently, our culture. Anyone who challenges it becomes the victim of the “attack mode” by scientists, sympathetic media, the education system, the courts, and many others.

One famous scientist who has attacked Johnson was the late evolutionary guru Stephen Jay Gould. His 1992 rebuttal in Scientific American, entitled “Impeaching a Self-appointed Judge,” attempted to embarrass and mock Johnson more than defend evolution. Anyone who questions evolution these days may expect a counter attack, an indication of the very high stakes involved. He criticized Johnson for suggesting that traditional scientific methods such as observation, experimentation, and testability, were desirable investigative tools. Gould characterized Johnson's suggestion as "a narrow and blinkered caricature of science as experiment and immediate observation only." But Johnson's understanding of science was not so narrow. He objected to making the "explanatory power" of the theory almost equal to "fact." Gould's article went on to introduce an unfamiliar term - consilience of induction - to describe how evolutionary scientists work.

Consilience of induction? Consilience is an obscure word, meaning the joining or jumping together of knowledge and information across disciplines to create a unified framework of understanding. I respect the inductive insights scientists are blessed with, along with the value of consensus. But when the main support structure for evolution’s major thesis boils down to consilience and consensus rather than traditional scientific evidence, we may be dealing more with wishful thinking than with TRUTH.