Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sweeping Generalizations

The issue of evolution generates considerable angst in our day, especially as it seems to conflict with biblical views. We might describe some exchanges between evolutionists and creationists, even old earth creationists, as intense if not heated. Currently there is a strong campaign directed at evangelicals, especially on our college campuses, to accept the compatibility of theistic evolution with their Christian belief system. The BioLogos organization is at the forefront of this movement. Spokespersons for BioLogos make unwarranted claims for the evolutionary paradigm. For example, Francis S. Collins, BioLogos founder, pronounces Darwin’s framework of variation and natural selection “unquestionably correct,” and claims, “Evolution, as a mechanism, can and must be true.” (emphasis mine)

In freshman college English Composition class, my professor instructed his student writers to “avoid 100% statements.” This cautionary advice was the professor’s attempt to divert his youthful scholars from the fallacy of “sweeping generalization.” Are science professionals prone to generalization fallacies in reporting some of their findings? As in most human endeavors using the power of persuasion, yes, they are.

The common genetic information system among all living things bespeaks the relatedness and common ancestry of all life, evolutionists forcefully proclaim. There are similarities in the genomes of divergent species. At first blush this may seem to make sense if one finds all naturalistic explanations appealing as most scientists do, especially in bio-science. They perceive genetic commonality through the lens of naturalism, hence, evolution. Creation and design proponents see the commonality as evidence of the work of a designer repeatedly re-using common design strategies. It is certain that neither viewpoint offers a standard of proof acceptable to those holding the opposite belief.

Ultimately, origins questions yield primarily to abductive inference, cornerstone of the historical sciences: We must ask, “What is the best explanation for what we observe?” Does any operational (experimental) or observational science unequivocally provide examples of mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow which result in examples of macro-evolutionary speciation, not merely micro-evolutionary adaptation? If not, should evolutionists tout their view as unquestionably correct, and further claim that evolution, as a mechanism…must be true?

The need for an open minded truth search takes precedence over the need to promote sincerely held belief preferences or philosophical commitments. We must commit to studying and understanding not only the evidence which supports our own view, but also the evidence produced by those who disagree with us. Without this pattern of action we merely talk past one another.

The Apostle Paul’s exchange with the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17) is a model for our interactions with those holding divergent views. Had we been present for that conversation, it is unlikely we would have observed a rancorous approach by the apostle. He reasoned with them about matters of eternal significance, using his observations of their devotional icons and their knowledge of the universe as entry points for the discussion. We imagine the apostle’s gracious manner enabled him to confront his listeners in a meaningful search for truth. Instead of sweeping generalizations, Paul’s discussion was reasoned and respectful. The narrative records responses ranging from sneers to an expressed desire to hear more. Some even “joined him and believed.”