A Common Sense Argument for Evolution


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As you read this, somewhere in the American backwoods a Christian fundamentalist is claiming that the Theory of Evolution must be wrong because man did not evolve from "monkeys."

Explaining the science?

Possibly, there's a rationally minded person around trying to convince them otherwise. The usual approach is to present the Creationist with enough scientific evidence to refute their arguments, which always rely on ignorance, misunderstanding or outright deliberate misconstruction of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, the Theory of Evolution (or ToE, as I'll call it from now on) rests on a large foundation of evidence and knowledge, and it's usually hard to bring a Creationist up to speed in a single discussion or article on disparate studies that he's been neglecting or rejecting for a lifetime.



Richard Dawkins was recently asked to justify the ToE in a single sentence. He didn't try to tackle that but chose to present a single fact that solidly substantiates the ToE. Still, understanding DNA relies on lots of science that most Creationists simply don't have, because their school failed them, or they were told to reject this knowledge, or both.

An appeal to common sense

Many uneducated Christians choose to reject complex chains of evidence and reasoning in favor of simple things in the here and now that they can see and feel. This boorish anti-intellectualism is something they choose to call "common sense." Very well, let's see if the ToE can't be substantiated without direct recourse to science!


Experts and the law

In deciding between the ToE and Creationism, those of us without a decent education in the life sciences are in the same position as Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller/Dover trial. His Honor wasn't a trained biologist, so he had to rely on the testimony of experts. It's the same procedure as with ballistics, forensics, criminal psychology and so on: We do our best to find a competent expert, and then we ask that expert to pre-digest the evidence for us. Borrowed knowledge, so to speak.

As a historic footnote, the proponents of Creationism found themselves soundly thrashed at that trial, because it turned out that their position was based on nothing but their say-so while science was backed by (literally, in the trial) piles of evidence. Incidentally, the judge is a conservative Christian.

Objection!

The Kitzmiller/Dover trial took almost 3 months and cost many thousands of Dollars. This procedure doesn't make our argument any simpler, does it?

One problem with the "court trial" method is that we must be very sure our expert isn't biased. The judge had to follow the expert at least part way into the scientific evidence to make sure he wasn't being hoodwinked. Duly considerate of the Creationist's science allergy, we're trying to make do with less science.


The Internet Court

Fortunately, modern technology (thanks to science, by the way!) allows us to do something the US legal system doesn't: We can call on thousands of expert witnesses to compensate for bias. You can say that Richard Dawkins is wrong because he has an atheist agenda. You can say the same about Jerry Coyne and certainly about PZ Myers. But what about, say the National Academy of Sciences, the club of America's most prestiguous scientists? All just a conspiracy? Oh OK, we've got more: How about 1000 scientists?


Project Steve

There's a list of (currently) 1155 scientists worldwide, about half of them biologists, who "support" the ToE. Specifically, they signed this statement:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

So why is it called "Project Steve?" Because the list only includes scientists named Steve, Stephen, Esteban or something similar. Stevens make up only about 1% of the population, so you can see that these 1155 experts are only the very tiny tip of an iceberg of scientific support for the ToE.

To be fair, Creationists have a list of scientific proponents too. But I count no more than 6 Steves in that list, and it's considerably shorter on biologists. Also, a fair number of the signatories are deceased.

Project Steve is quick to point out that it's mostly a light-hearted jab at Creationism:

"We did not wish to mislead the public into thinking that scientific issues are decided by who has the longer list of scientists!"

So without going unduly deep into mathematics and statistics, what do Project Steve and its opponent project tell us?

  • Roughly 100,000 scientists support the ToE.
  • Roughly 200 scientists reject the ToE.
  • 99.8% of scientists support the ToE.

Who are these guys?

These people all went through some serious education to become professional scientists. They learned the scientific method, and how it deals in challenging theories to strengthen them by trying to disprove them. Some of them are involved in literally digging up more evidence for (or against) the ToE. As JBS Haldane (allegedly) famously quipped,

"the discovery of a fossil rabbit in Precambrian rocks would be enough to destroy my belief in evolution."

Other scientists are actively engaged in experimenting with evolution. Others are directly benefiting from the ToE. Many are in a position where they could discover evidence disproving the ToE.

Why would they do that, you ask? Because disproving the ToE would be huge! Scientists get really excited about new discoveries that turn current knowledge on its head. That's how science advances! That's why people who make such discoveries get Nobel Prizes. Any scientist who could prove Darwin wrong would have it made in the shade.


Two main groups of scientists keep trying to do this:

In summary: The majority of scientists are qualified professionals, in support of the ToE, who would be only too happy to demolish it if they could. On the other side, a small minority of scientists, all of them strongly religious, who either lack evidence or are outright frauds.

Conclusions

Many Christians are familiar with CS Lewis' famous trilemma about Christ: "Lunatic, Liar or Lord". I think our common-sense investigation about the proponents of the ToE faces us with a similar set of choices. I'll spell them out for you:

  • They're all stupid! Tens of thousands of well educated, qualified scientists, after drinking Darwin's Kool-Aid, have been blindly repeating the mantra of Evolution, gathering but foolishly misconstruing mountains of evidence; and none of them had the brains to successfully challenge the establishment based on superior, conflicting evidence. Why do governments and universities even pay these morons, anyway?

  • It's all a big conspiracy! For 15 decades, everybody including Darwin knew that the ToE is a big lie. But except for the brave folks at the Discovery Institute, nobody has dared to reveal the truth, because a big secret organization of atheists is holding their families hostage in a dark basement. They're all sworn to keep the secret, and to vigorously discredit anyone who dares to challenge the ToE. And that's why science never changes its mind about anything.

  • They're... right? Applying the same principles that brought us the moon shot, computers and the end of smallpox, scientists worked out this theory, it's proven to be useful and no evidence to the contrary has ever emerged. Crazy, huh?

Without going into stuff like "common descent," the fossil record, carbon dating, the genome or DNA, I've done nothing but present a lineup of witnesses and their claims. What's your common sense verdict?


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changed March 3, 2011