Fallacies of logic
by Jim Caryl
THE theory of evolution is an elegant theory, but to really get at the nitty-gritty details takes some discipline and a head for new concepts. There is much excellent literature out there, and plenty online; my links under the title “Free-thinking”, to the right, are as good a starting point as any.
If you are going to learn about evolution, or science as a whole, then you should hear it from scientists, or other communicators of science, and NOT at websites such as “allaboutscience.org“. With a little reading, you may spot that the site is actually hosted by “allaboutcreation.org“, and I can assure you of three things:
- There are many such sites on the internet.
- They use scientific sounding language, but in fact demonstrate complete and universal ignorance of the theory of evolution and of the method of science.
- They can all be recognised because somewhere they will mention the words “creator” or “designer”; they can’t help themselves. They may also use the word “evolutionist” to describe one who accepts evolution, this is almost uniquely a creationist terminology.
- Their websites will be based largely around the notion that evolution cannot explain the complexity that is seen in nature, or other notions that they have little comprehension of themselves. Their aim is to raise the more complex issues that they know the average person isn’t going to know about.
They are however flawed because they try to interpret scientific evidence using their own parochial world view, i.e. that we’ve only been here 6,000 years, and we all arrived here in more or less the same form as we are now. Thus they can never hope to understand the time-scales and gradual change through intermediate forms upon which evolution is based.
Here’s an example from the website I cited, on their section about evolution:
Evolution – The Evidence of Why Scientists Believe in Evolution
Evolution, in this context, can be defined as: the belief that all living things, including man, resulted by natural changes from lifeless matter, with no supernatural intervention involved. If life on earth really came to be in this manner, by chance and from lifeless matter, then why are there so many intelligent people — even PhD scientists — who reject the theory?
Well, seeing as this is the first paragraph of the page, one wonders what “context” exactly they’re talking about? Secondly, their definition of evolution is completely wrong; evolution has nothing to say about the origin of life from lifeless matter, this discipline is called Abiogenesis. The theory of evolution, as I’ve described before, explains the origin of species, how natural variation in a species can be acted upon by natural selection over time, resulting in a diversity of different species. By mis-defining evolution, they are attempting to set up a classic fallacy in logic known as a “Straw Man”; by distorting the original definition into something that it clearly doesn’t state, making it easier to defeat, e.g.:
- Person A has position X.
- Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
- Person B attacks position Y.
- Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
Creationists use many such fallacies of logic and it is for this reason that some people find their arguments compelling, but a familiarisation in the basic tenets of logic, if not the science itself, often renders their arguments hollow and pathetic. A good tutorial on fallacies in logic can be found here, also the source of the above example.
So the small snippet from allaboutscience.org finishes up with another popular claim, which is that “many scientists disbelieve evolution”. This is simply not true. I am yet to meet a professional scientist who does not believe in evolution, most of my colleagues can say likewise. I’m not doubting there are some, but I would absolutely guarantee they were raised as a Fundie. However, such claims are difficult to prove unless you post a form out to every scientist on the planet and ask for their opinion on the matter. You may as well make the claim, “many chefs spit in your food”. You couldn’t really prove otherwise.
Another of their paragraphs:
But more importantly, we must not forget that scientists, being human, show a great variety of beliefs, attitudes, and character, just like politicians, teachers, and salesmen. Any scientist will try to fit the evidence into his general philosophy of things. Sometimes this natural tendency overrides logic and leads one to look at only the favorable evidence. Enthusiasm for popular ideas easily leads to the ignoring of contradicting or “uncooperative” data.
Well the first part is certainly true, if somewhat condescending, you can almost hear them grinding their teeth to admit that we scientists are human, thank you. We are only human, but they are setting up for another classic fallacy of logic, called “ad hominem“. In this, the argument is rejected due to an irrelevant fact about the person making the argument; very popular in politics! Thus by talking about our fallible human nature, our science is therefore bollocks.
The second statement is a complete untruth; scientists do not fit the evidence to their world view, this is what creationists do. Like children, creationists are unable to believe that people can have ideas that they themselves don’t have. Note also that they are referring to “scientists” as a whole here, lets not forget that this group includes some of the most intelligent people in society, who en masse have contributed so much to society.
The last quoted sentence is particularly amusing, given fundamentalist proclivities to ignore anything that contradicts their own views; the only “data” they have to call upon is scripture that is not only resplendent with contradiction, but is exactly what one might expect of a society for whom a wheelbarrow would be an astonishing example of emergent technology.