Monday, February 16, 2009

Darwin Bicentenary part 7: House of Cards or Heap of Ruins – you choose

The big difficulty with an attempt to form an unequivocal opinion on the evolution/ID debate is that there is an enormous amount of data to assimilate, evaluate and ultimately synthesise into a conclusion. Most of the debate protagonists start with strong convictions and viscerally identify themselves with one side of the debate or other. They then become foot soldiers for their chosen side and as and when powder and ball come to hand they fire their one shot musket off in the general direction of the enemy.

However, for me the debate is less like being in a battle than finding oneself as a disinterested judge in a court case which generates masses of tedious evidence to wade through. I have the growing the feeling that it is going to be impossible to make an equivocal decision on the matter, although I currently favour the evolutionary view. As I suggested in my last post one has at bear in mind that the visceral group identifications of defense and prosecution will make them prone to (consciously and unconsciously) slanting the evidence. For example many evolutionists are very bullish about evolution being a fact. And yet here is a quote I have taken from a post on Uncommon Descent by the celebrated evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould:

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change–over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.

Unless one is very familiar with the Paleontological record it is difficult to evaluate this statement. In the fossil record there are celebrated evolutionary transitional forms relating to bird and whale evolution and yet such transitional forms are a bit like those miracles that are lauded as proof of God – they are few and far between and of ambiguous interpretation.

Here is another link I obtained from honest-to-God atheist Larry Moran who in a blog posting dated 14th February quotes at length from the linked article in the Guardian by British Paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, a Christian. Although Morris is an evolutionist, he questions whether evolution is a “total explanation”. You’ve got give Larry Moran full marks for facing and trying to stare down difficulties, but I find him a little too converted and passionate for my purposes. But Larry is after all an officer with rank in the atheist’s musket army. He is enamored of the concept that the pattern description activity of science is truly an ontological “gap narrowing” operation which in his mind, as in the minds of many a Christian, puts the squeeze on the standard notion of an “Intervening God” (but see my last blog entry).

As I have said I still favour evolution; as a theory it does seem to at least have structure, a structure that is so patently lacking in ID theory; the ID community seem to be a loose coalition of anti-evolutionists who have a wide range of opinions on the nature of paleontological history. Evolution may sometimes come over as a fragile house of cards, but although the protagonists of ID theory are united in their vociferous opposition to evolution, ID theory, in comparison to evolution’s house of cards, comes over as a heap of ruins; but then that could have something to do with the complex ontology that ID theorists are positing.
(Bury St Edmund's Abbey)


mihalis-halkida said...

Hello my name is Michael. I have seen your blog and I feel good. We follow your blog from Greece and I wish you good fun and joy
A simple life, simple happiness
Greetings. Michael

Timothy V Reeves said...

Nice to hear from the sunny clime that is the birth place of philosophy!