“Two plus two makes five” – Winston Smith, 1984.
by Jim Caryl
IF enough people believe it, or if it is illegal not to believe it, will it be true?
I spend a lot of my time, probably too much, waging a battle of wits and reason with the truly and irredeemably unreasonable. The usual subject is the scientific theory of evolution. I preface the noun “theory” with scientific so as there is no mistaking exactly what we mean by theory.
Whenever I hear the words “Just a theory….” levied at a scientific theory, it sends a shudder down my spine. As I’ve mentioned before, and I will undoubtedly continue to do so, a scientific theory is not speculation or opinion, it is a comprehensive, logical and above all testable model that represents the best means of explaining the evidence. Furthermore it facilitates predictions that can be tested experimentally to continue to verify the reliability of the theory. The theory of evolution is just such a theory:
The theory of evolution explains that variation exists between individuals within a species, it explains how natural selection can act to drive this variation and it shows how, and describes why, some organisms display characteristics that make them better suited, i.e. fitter, for life in the environment in which they live. It explains how these “fitter” organisms are the ones more likely to survive and pass on their characteristics to offspring. It explains how, over time, these characteristics become a trait in all members of a species, and how less favourable characteristics can be lost. Ultimately, the theory of evolution explains how a species, over this long period of time and subject to much genetic change steered by natural selection, can be very different from its ancestors.
Now, the above paragraph is qualitative, and largely non-technical. However, bound up within the above is some impressively complex science. The debates that rage amongst scientists is not about the validity of the above, it’s about the specifics of how they’re achieved. Part of what I aim to do with this blog is not re-write any of the perfectly excellent books on evolution that are available, but to tackle those areas that are taken advantage of by religious fundamentalists. Science is a dynamic subject; by the time it is written up in a book, it is already out of date. As I mentioned before, there is a battle of wits going on out there, between scientists or other such rational free-thinkers, and religious fundamentalists (which for want of a better term, I call “Fundies”).
It is important to appreciate that scientists such as myself are not fighting with Fundies because they have a point, they don’t; we fight with them because they confuse and indoctrinate people who have no hope of knowing that what they are being told is unsubstantiated twaddle. Anti-evolution is ultimately anti-science, and anti-science is quite simply denying the observed world around you, it’s saying that 2 + 2 = 5.
Evolution is not a religion, and evidence is not the doctrine of that religion. As much as Fundies would have you believe that to be the case, it is simply not true. If you are not a Fundie, i.e. someone who believes in the literal and inerrant interpretation of the bible, specifically Genesis, then you should have no reservations about accepting the theory of evolution. Similarly, if you have heard of Intelligent Design, this is essentially creationism freed from the dungarees and dressed in a suit. It is even more pernicious and insulting to science, and like creationism, there is not one shred of evidence to support it.
Evolution is a scientific theory, and as such I can quite happily state that if someone were to provide unequivocal evidence that any of the major foundation tenets of the theory are false, then I will immediately adopt the ensuing most logical adaptive theory based on the new evidence. Do please note however, that the default position, should the theory of evolution prove unfounded, is not the existence of a “creator”; that would be a logical fallacy, in the same manner as saying “Well if you don’t support Rangers Football Club, then you must by default support Celtic Football Club”.
In contrast, the “Fundies” would be forced to admit that even if all the evidence in the world pointed to the fact that their belief was unfounded (and such evidence is not testable by scientific means, thus is mute) they would still believe in it, because it is their belief. Whatever evidence you may cite, however obvious or veraciously determined, is simply wrong. Scripture comes first, reality second.