Thursday, February 26, 2015

Litmus Tests

A writer at The New Yorker by the name of Adam Gopnik believes that a presidential aspirant's views on evolution should be a litmus test for serving as president. Really, he does. Speaking of the question asked of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker last week in London as to whether he believed in evolution, Gopnik says this:
What the question means, and why it matters, is plain: Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn’t be trusted with power. This catechism’s purpose—perhaps unfair in its form, but essential in its signal—is to ask, Do you stand with reason and evidence sufficiently to anger people among your allies who don’t?
This is silliness of a high order. It assumes that our politicians all have thought deeply about the matter and have arrived at a considered opinion about it, which is nonsense. I doubt very much whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama can explain the difference between genetic drift and natural selection or between micro and macroevolution, or what punctuated equilibrium is. Indeed, I doubt either of them could explain what Neo-Darwinism is. Nor should that deficit count against them as long as they don't decide to pontificate on the matter. If someone does not have much expertise on something then, pace Mr. Gopnik, it's both rational and wise to refrain from offering opinions on it as if he had.

More than than the silliness of what amounts to a religious test of high office, Gopnik's profession of fealty to reason and evidence is hard to believe. After all, evolution of the Darwinian variety, i.e. the view that natural processes and forces are adequate to account for all that we see in the living world, is not necessarily based on reason or evidence but rather often on a commitment to a naturalistic metaphysics. Consider what several accomplished evolutionary biologists have said on this very point:
“[I believe evolution to be true] not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible,” the late D.M.S. Watson, chair of evolution at the University of London.

“Evolution is unproved and improvable, we believe it because the only alternative is special creation, which is unthinkable,” Sir Arthur Keith, the late physical anthropologist and head of the Anatomy Department at London Hospital.

"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." Richard Lewontin, former professor of genetics at Harvard University.
Gopnik continues:
All the available evidence collected within the past hundred and fifty years is strongly in its favor, and no evidence argues that it is in any significant way false.
Unfortunately for Gopnik's thesis this claim is itself false. The theory may, in its major lineaments, be true, but it's simply wrong to say that there's no significant evidence against it. Gopnik should read Stephen Meyer's books, Signature in the Cell, or Darwin's Doubt, or Michael Behe's books Darwin's Black Box or The Edge of Evolution, or Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution, or Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis or Nature's Destiny. It may turn out that the evidence amassed in these works can be explained in Darwinian terms, but so far most refutations of them consist pretty much of assertions that the problems raised have all been answered without actually showing exactly how that is so.

Anyone wishing to read more about the problems with Darwinism without having to read a whole book can check out a relatively short piece by Casey Luskin in which he lists and explains ten problems that Darwinian versions of evolution have found to be intractable. The ten are these. Go to the link for the explanations:
  1. Darwinism has no viable mechanism to generate a primordial soup
  2. Unguided \chemical processes cannot explain the origin of the genetic code
  3. Random mutations cannot generate the genetic information required for irreducibly complex structures
  4. Natural Selection struggles to fix advantageous traits into populations
  5. The abrupt appearance of species in the fossil record does not support Darwinian evolution
  6. Molecular biology has failed to yield a grand "Tree of Life"
  7. Convergent evolution challenges Darwinism and destroys the logic behind common ancestry
  8. Differences between vertebrate embryos contradict the predictions of common ancestry
  9. Neo-Darwinism struggles to explain the biogeographical distribution of many species
  10. Neo-Darwinism has a long history of inaccurate Darwinian predictions about vestigial organs and "Junk DNA"
Apparently unmindful of these difficulties Gopnik goes on to say this:
But evolutionary biology is not an ideology, which one believes in or doesn’t. What it demands is not belief but what science always demands, and that is the ability to evaluate the evidence and hear out the theory, and to poke holes in it if you can. So far, the fabric remains defiantly unpoked, the holes either unmade or else readily mended, with the stitching improving the tensile strength of the whole.
Again, there may eventually turn out to be answers to these difficulties within a neo-Darwinian framework (although as time goes on this seems less and less likely), but the assumption that they will is an act of faith. It's a faith in the truth of the metaphysical view called naturalistic materialism. Ironically enough, for man committed to reason, Gopnik's insistence that presidential candidates share his particular faith seems more than a little unreasonable.