Saturday, June 4, 2011

Degree of Certainty

The choice between belief in evolution and belief in creation is a choice of utmost importance. It possesses importance on multiple levels, from personal to cultural. The importance of our beliefs about evolution and creation cannot be overstated.

Stakeholders in the discussion lobby for acceptance of their views. We often hear references to the “court of public opinion” or the “jury being out.” In a legal setting, lawyers must persuade the judge or jury of the truth of the case in order to secure a favorable verdict for their client. Along the way there are many types of arguments brought to bear which have little or nothing to do with truth or falsity. The case for the truth of evolution has been tried energetically ever since The Origin of Species burst upon the scene in 1859. According to a large throng of analysts, the verdict has been settled long ago. The frequent voicing of such a statement is but one example of a logical fallacy, a reasoning error often overlooked in the argument process, whether in personal persuasion or in a courtroom.

Logical fallacies associated with the case for evolution are extremely common. We must acknowledge that logical fallacies in the case for creation also prevail. One need only watch a few interview news shows to affirm the fact that logical fallacies--errors in reasoning--abound in human experience. The abundance of these errors may be an indicator of a “missing link” in our educational system. One of my fondest recollections as a teacher involves a wonderful group of children with whom I spent a memorable semester. Students in our school for whom the curricular offering of “French” was deemed academically inappropriate, were assigned a class clumsily dubbed “Non-French.” It was soon more appropriately labeled “Skills.” Having some freedom to choose the curricular topics, I decided to offer “Logic for Beginners.” Surprisingly, the enthusiastic students loved the course, including the Venn diagrams and syllogisms. They compassionately tagged their more adept classmates in the French class “Non-Skills.”

There are several dozen logical fallacies (errors of reasoning), many of which permeate the evolution discussion as well as other weighty discussions. One would be hard pressed to catalog all of these fallacies with respect to any one topic. Many fallacies relate to neglect of the actual truth value of an argument in deference to explicit or subtle pressure to accept the argument on other grounds. For example, in the bandwagon fallacy, people are urged to “get on board” with an idea, because so many other people are on board with the idea. This informal fallacy is no better or worse than a formal fallacy. All fallacies are problematic because they often have the appearance of being good arguments. Closely related to this fallacy are appeal to emotion, appeal to consequences, and appeal to force.   

The case made for evolution is rife with hyperboles. The BioLogos Forum publishes hundreds of blog posts under the banner Science and the Sacred from many different authors, mostly supportive of theistic evolution. Recently I read a post from Michael L. Peterson, newly appointed to the faculty of Asbury Theological Seminary as Professor of Philosophy of Religion. He stated “The findings of the sciences have converged more strongly on the truths of Evolution, such that it now has as high a degree of confirmation as anything else we know in science.” Having studied multiple issues in the field of science, including issues related to origins theories of evolution, creation, and intelligent design, I can report that there are numerous conclusions in science confirmed with far more certainty than the paradigm of evolution. I can also report that many of the “certain” science conclusions related to evolution are, indeed, not confirmed with any such degree of certainty.

Once more we must make the distinction between what science says and what truth is. We must make a bold attempt to open-mindedly discover possible errors in our methods of discovery, in our logic, in our reasoning, in our methods of argument, and in how we use our powers of persuasion. The responsibility to discover what is certain and true is our God-gifted ability and responsibility.