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Coming to Peace with Science by Appealing to the Consensus

In his book Coming to Peace with Science, Point Loma Nazarene University biology professor Darrel R. Falk makes many arguments for common descent and Darwinian evolution. Many of these arguments are evidence-based (some of this evidence is countered in a previous post), but some of his most forceful arguments are not based upon evidence. They are based upon appeals to authority. Consider the following:

  1. "We must not be fooled into thinking that minor fluctuations in the data that are accepted as valid by virtually all geologists are relevant to this question." (p. 70)
  2. "Christian and non-Christian nuclear physicists are virtually in 100 percent agreement that the decay rates could not have been significantly influenced by anything throughout earth's history." (p. 72)
  3. "Based on a great deal of rich, internally coherent data well beyond the scope of this book, there is no doubt in the minds of virtually all professional astronomers that the universe is ancient indeed." (p. 80)
  4. "Virtually all biologists believe that with time, over hundreds of millennia, that other junction point for the jaw became primary and exclusive, while the quadrate-articular bones were freed up to become the famous incus/malleus of the middle ear." (p. 1117)
  5. "Certainly the data of nuclear physics, geology and astrophysics lead virtually all individuals with doctorates in these disciplines, both Christian and non-Christian, to conclude that the earth is very old." (p. 170)
  6. "Furthermore the fossil record leaves virtually all paleontologists to conclude that new life forms of increasing complexity have made a gradual appearance throughout earth's history." (p. 171)
  7. "The fact that this stretch of gibberish is found in the same gene, in the same place, but only in these related animals, suggests to virtually all geneticists that this retroposon entered the intron in one organism many years ago and has been copied faithfully in its new position ever since." (p. 191)
  8. "It is clear to virtually all geneticists that many millions of years ago the SINE CHR-1 restroposon became inserted into the intron of one gene of an animal that was on lineage to whales, dolphins, hippos, and other even-toed ungulates." (p. 192)
  9. "Since gibberish is inserted within the same intron (which is gibberish itself) at the same position in two different species from different prototypes, virtually all geneticists are convinced about the reason: they share common ancestors." (p. 192)
  10. "Virtually all geneticists agree that the reason they share the same chromosome arrangement is because they all spring from the same great-great-great-great-...grandparent in which the event first took place." (p. 198)
  11. "One of my primary goals in writing this book has been to lay before the church the reasons why almost all scientists (including Christian ones) believe in the gradual appearance of life on this earth. " (p. 224)
  12. "Most scientists, however, see no evidence for a set of design rules." (p. 14)

    (all emphases added)

If you're seeing a pattern here, it's because Dr. Falk likes to appeal to the authority of "virtually all" scientists to make his arguments. Now to Dr. Falk's credit, he spends a lot of time talking about the evidence, but this repeated argumentum ad "virtually all" scientists is a little troubling.

Now as I wrote recently, following Jay Richards, an appeal to a consensus "hardly means the scientific 'consensus' is necessarily wrong" and "[i]ndeed, some wrongly challenge the consensus when it ought to be affirmed." Thus, as regards to quotes 1, 2, 3, and 5, I would agree that the evidence is in favor of the consensus. To be clear, I agree because the evidence is in favor of the consensus. Not simply because it's the "consensus."

The consensus is never right because "virtually all" scientists believe something, but because the evidence supports it. Accepting the consensus because it's the consensus is a self-referential argument. What matters is the data. And as I pointed out earlier, the view that introns are "gibberish" has been called by Scientific American "perhaps the biggest mistake in the history of molecular biology." So as regards quotes 7, 8, and 9, there are reasons to doubt the purported consensus view of "virtually all" scientists that introns are "gibberish." So sometimes the consensus can be wrong, but we have to look carefully at the evidence before we decide these matters.

The lesson to be learned here isn't that the consensus is always wrong. Or that it's always right. It's that we need to think for ourselves, look at the evidence, and not simply believe something because someone tells us that we'd be in agreement with "virtually all" scientists.

[Note: This post originally accidentally said quote 4 said the universe is "an accident" when it should have said it is "ancient." The unintended typo has now been fixed.]