Course title: Science: Good, Bad & Bogus – an Introduction to the Philosophy of Science
Date: October 2005
Creationists claim that evolution is "just a theory" and hence not a science (cited in Kitcher, 1982, p.31). Einstein's relativity, quantum theory and theoretical physics are all theories and science. There are many theories in science. What do Creationists really mean? Indeed, when Creationists uttered the word "theory", they meant an idea or a guess, which is not justifiable and hence not scientific. To avoid equivocation, one needs to distinguish the Creationists' "theory" from the scientific theory.
Who are Creationists? Basically, someone who believes in God can be considered to be a Creationist. Thus Creationists, in a broader sense, may not disagree with Darwin's evolution (Miller, 1984, p.21). In this essay, for the sake of simplicity, Creationists refer to the group that believe in Christian God and treat evolution as a "theory" in the sense discussed above.
Before answering the question, several issues need to be discussed. They are the basis the Origin of Species and Darwinian theory, the basis of Creation science; and the contrast between evolution and Creation science. Then, an example, the Arkansas trial, will be given. Finally, by analysing Kitcher's criteria for successful science and criticising Morris's attack on evolution, I will argue that Creationists' arguments are unsound.
The Origin of Species
Evolution was formulated in Charles Robert Darwin's book Origin of Species first published in 1859. Here is the basis of his idea.
Darwin divides his Origin of Species into fourteen chapters. Starting with "Variation Under Domestication," Darwin points out that the conditions of life causes variability. Variability is not an inherent and necessary contingency. It is ruled by dozens of unknown laws. Also, the intercrossing of species and aboriginally distinct are less important in the origin of domestic production (Darwin, 1964, p.43). "Variation Under Nature" is the discussion on individual differences. It is believed that individual of the same species are unlikely sort into the same mould (1964, p.45). The "distinction between species and varieties" are in fact unclear and unorganized (1964, p.48). This could be explained by "inevitably from the struggle of life." The variation, therefore, tend to preserve the individual and "will generally be inherited by its offspring." The probability of the offspring to survive is high. This is called Natural Selection (1964, p.61). The descendants can be modified and is diversified (1964, p.128). There exists a cause such that the offspring is slightly different from their parents (1964, p.170).
Darwin then turns into the Difficulties of the Theory. The central questions are: if species have descended from others with slight difference, why are not the transitional forms observable? Could a certain habit of species have been modified to an entirely new habit? "Can instinct be acquired and modified through natural selection?" The problem of hybridism is also addressed (1964, p.171-172). The process of natural selection is indeed very slow and this "implies the continual supplanting and extinction of preceding and intermediate gradations." Darwin stresses that "the most different habits of life could not graduate into each other." Every organic being tries to flight for their life and hence the habits can be changed under new conditions of life (1964, p.203-204). He answers the question of instinct by showing that the mental qualities of domestic animals and "the variations are inherited." Instincts would be vary in a state of nature (1964, p.242-243). The findings in the Hybridism chapter supports Darwin's view that "there is no fundamental distinction between species and varieties" (1964, p.278).
In the last few chapters, Darwin was concerned with geology and geography. He proposed that the geological record is far from perfect because human knowledge is limited to small portion of the world, small number of generations of species and short duration of formation, etc. (1964, p.341-342). The process of extinction of a group may be very slow. As an inevitable consequence, once a group wholly disappeared it will not reappear again (1964, p.343-344). Edward Forbes says that the governing laws of life are nearly the same throughout time and space (cited in Darwin, 1964, p.409). So, as Darwin suggests, there are common characters between species that belong to certain area or period of time (1964, p.410). He claims that all species in this world "have all descended, each within its own class or group, from common parents, and have all been modified in the course of descent" (1964, p.457-458).
Basis of Darwinian theory
Roughly speaking, there are two factors in the process of evolution: genetic variability and natural selection. The former is a matter of chance, while the later is an "anti-chance" factor. This dualism "gives evolution both its great flexibility and its goal-directedness" (Mayr, 1976, p.9-10). This is simple enough. Deeper understanding is essential for our discussion of the issue. Let us explore Darwinism theory a bit more.
The public understanding of the term "Darwinism" is sometimes ambiguous. One may simply refer Darwinism to the belief that man is descent from the apes. One may refer it to natural selection (Mayr, 1988, p.196). According to Ernst Mayr, Darwinian theory can be a combination of five theories: evolution as such, common descent, gradualism, multiplication of species, and natural selection (1988, p.198; 1992, p.36-37).
Evolution as such "is the theory that the world is neither constant nor perpetually cycling but rather is steadily and perhaps directionally changing, and that organisms are being transformed in time." This is no longer a theory as the moderns had given up the constant world view (Mayr, 1988, p.198-199). Common descent means branching. Different objects, like animals and plants, may be derived from a common ancestor (Mayr, 1988, p.200-202). Gradualism tells us that transformation is a slight and slow process, but not a sudden one. In the modern sense, it is defined as populational evolution that concerns with genetic changes (Mayr, 1988, p.202-205). The origin of vast organic diversity is explained by the multiplication of species. The "species multiply either by splitting into daughter species or by 'budding', that is, by the establishment of geographically isolated founder populations that evolve into new species" (Mayr, 1992, p.36). Natural selection explains that few individuals survive because of "well-adapted combination of inheritable characters." For the modern evolutionist, the production of new individuals is a complex process (Mayr, 1988, p.209; 1992, p.37).
Basis of Creation science
To understand the basis of Creation science, several questions need to be considered. What is the origin of life in Creationism? What evidences do they have to support their view? What is their claim to regard it as a science?
Creationists often use a watchmaker analogy to argue that there is a Creator. If one accepts that an intricate watch has a watchmaker; then one has to agree that humanity, life, earth and the universe have a Creator because all of these are more intricate than a watch. They also argue that such Creator "is general among all peoples and all cultures" (Asimov, 1984, p.184). Who is the Creator? The creationists' dogma lies on the Bible. They believe that the earth is formed 4004 B.C. (Ruse, 1982, p.285). Mankind is four days younger than the earth. Adam was the first human male and Eve, the first human female, was cloned from the body of Adam. Other animals are made within the first sixth days of Creation (Strahan, 1987, p.2). This is Creationists' belief in the origin of life and it is based on the Bible.
The Creation Research Society, founded in 1963, claims that the Book of Genesis is compatible with science and "provides a more scientific account of origins" (Strahan, 1987, p.7). Here comes Creation science. Creationists believe that God wrote the Bible, which implies that Genesis is indeed a true record of history and Flood is a real event. They claim that their belief can be justified. Consequently, Creationism is "an alternative scientific theory of world origins" and hence should be taught in schools (Ruse, 1982, p.291; Strahan, 1987, p.7). This is their claim. Whether or not it should be taught will be discussed in the Arkansas trial example.
Evolution versus Creation science
The crucial contrasts between evolution model and Creation model can be summarised as follows.
Evolution model predicts that galaxies keep changing over time, while Creation model suggests that it never change (Ruse, 1982, p.294; 1988, p.258); evolution model predicts "life evolved (and apparently is evolving) from non-life," while Creation model suggests life comes from another life (Ruse, 1982, p.295; 1988, p.258); evolution model says that origin changes slowly and gradually, while Creation model says that plant and animals are designed and completed at a moment; variation in evolution model is unlimited, while it is limited in Creation model (Gish, 1988, p.271).
An example of the key issues in dispute: the Arkansas trial
As can be seen from the previous section, evolution model and Creation model stand on opposite sides. These contraries open up the disputes. One of the arguments is that if evolution and Creation science should be taught in schools. Let us look at the Arkansas trial.
After the First World War, the teaching of evolutionism is prohibited in several states of the Union. In the 1960's the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the prohibition. Failing to exclude evolution in classrooms, Creationists tried to include Genesis into classrooms as well. They cried that Creation science should be taught alongside with evolution. In 1981, the state of Arkansas opened a talk for this issue. A bill, namely Act 590, was an attempt to balance the teachings on evolution and Creation science (Ruse, 1984, p.314-318).
In the court, Michael Ruse and the evolution supporters made seven major claims. First, the term "kinds" and "relatively recent" in the description of Creation science in Act 590 are ambiguous. It is weird that only one particular natural disaster, the Noah's Flood, is mentioned in Genesis. Second, the Act 590 act evolution wrong. Third, disproving evolution is not a sufficient condition to prove Creationism. Forth, they challenge the Creation science literature that "God used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe," hence Creation science failed to be a science. Fifth, the explanation and prediction in Creation science are not scientific. Creation science is indeed non-tentative. Sixth, Creation science is a dishonest. Seventh, Ruse argues that freedom of speech does not imply that Creation science can be taught in schools (Ruse, 1984, p.329-334).
The court decided that Creation science is a religion and should not be taught in schools, and Act 590 is overthrown. The evolutionists sort of won a victory.
I have outlined the basis of Darwinian theory and Creation science. I have also discussed the contrast between evolution and Creation science with the Arkansas trial example. Now I shall proceed to present my view on this issue. To make things clear, let me restate the Creationists' claims. They argue that evolution is merely an idea and not scientific. In order to criticize their claims, I will first describe Kitcher's account of successful science. Then I will explain, using Kitcher's criteria, why is Creationists' argument flawed. Lastly, I shall challenge Morris's attack on evolution.
Philip Kitcher urges three characteristics of successful science: independent testability, unification and fecundity (1982, p.48). These are proper criteria for scientific theories. I shall use Einstein's story to demonstrate what Kitcher means. Kitcher claims that auxiliary hypotheses can be tested independently (1982, p.46). One hundreds year after Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is published, researchers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, using modern computer and new data, confirmed Einstein's theory (Sloan Digital Sky Survey, 2005, internet). Kitcher also claims that science is a coherent work (1982, p.47). According to Joe Wolfe, "Einstein's principle of relativity is just a generalisation of that of Galileo and Newton." Speed of light is deduced from Maxwell's equations (Wolfe, 2005, internet). Thus, relativity is not a closed theory. It makes uses of previous physicists' works and hence it is inseparable from many other physics laws. Moreover, relativity opens up researches on quantum mechanics.
I agree with Kitcher that Karl Popper's falsificationism can be replaced by the criteria given above. Many theories in modern science would be unfalsifiable. For example, as Kitcher states, Newtonian mechanics is unfalsifiable (1982, p.42-43). Since falsifiability unable to make demarcation, it fails to be a proper criterion. As a result, if the Creationist uses Popper's falsificationism to claim that evolution is not scientific, the argument is just unsound. Moreover, argues Kitcher, evolution is a science. Not only is the evolution unified, it opens up researches for contemporary biologists. It can be seen from the development of biology in the last two centuries (1982, p.53).
One central argument of the controversy is the age of the earth. History of the earth, argues Morris, begins at certain time. To start, one must rely on the Bible. If one rejects the possibility of God, then he is an atheist; and if one accepts that God exists, then he is the Creator (1963, p.29). I shall first point out that if one does not believe in Christian God, he is not necessary an atheist. He may believe God in other religions. In fact, Morris fails to give any evidence that why we must start with the Bible. With the discovery of radioactivity in the nineteenth century, physicists estimate the age of the earth to be 4.54 billion years (Bowler, 2000, internet). This contradicts what the Bible says. The reliability of Bible is being questioned. Morris moves on to argue that evolution is not taking place now (1963, p.31). Again, he fails to give convincing reasons. I have mentioned that evolution is not a sudden action and it is affecting contemporary biology. Morris then claims that Christian God, in contrast with evolution, finish his work in six days and "he is no longer creating anything" (1963, p.31-32). Unfortunately, this Creation fails to explain the diversity of life. By diversity I mean different kinds of species throughout history. Fossil records show that some animals exist before the Christian God created human. Dinosaur, which lived from 230 to 65 million years ago, is an example (Carpenter, 2000, internet). Morris admit that fossil record provide evidence (cited in Halstead, 1984, p.248). Palaeontologist Halstead does researches on fossils and draws conclusion to support evolution (1984, p.248-250).
Creationists attack evolution for several reasons. I have examined some of the crucial arguments and I cannot stand with them. Basically they fail to give strong evidence to support their views. So, their claim was flawed. Darwin's account of evolution is not just a "theory" in the sense of Creationists' view.
I thank John Schuster for his critique of my draft and Peter Slezak for his teaching.
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