Contradictions, Irony, and Appeals to Authority Permeate <i>The Language of Science and Faith</i> - Evolution News & Views

Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Faith and Science NEWS
 

Contradictions, Irony, and Appeals to Authority Permeate The Language of Science and Faith

Links to this 6-Part Series Reviewing The Language of Science and Faith:
• Part 1: 'Junk DNA' and 'Pseudogene' Arguments Pushed Into Increasingly Small Gaps in Scientific Knowledge
• Part 2: Outdated Argument That Feathers Evolved From Scales
• Part 3: Rebutting Arguments for Eye Evolution
• Part 4: Does Neanderthal Argument Demonstrate "Common Ancestry"?
• Part 5: Giberson and Collins Commit Berra's Blunder While Arguing for Macroevolution
• Part 6: Contradictions, Irony, and Appeals to Authority Permeate The Language of Science and Faith
• The full review can be found here.
The title of Chapter 1 in Karl Giberson and Francis Collins' book The Language of Science and Faith is "Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?" The very title of the chapter itself implies that affirmative belief in evolution is an indisputable matter for Christians. If you doubt that they are so adamant, bear in mind that it was Giberson himself who recently wrote that "Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you." They're welcome to believe in evolution, but should they present their case in such a non-inclusive way? But before delving further into the rhetorical strategies of The Language of Science and Faith, let's revisit some of the main scientific evidence and arguments they cite in this chapter for why you "have to believe in evolution":
  • repeated appeals to a singular pseudogene which they call "broken DNA," which is shared by humans and other primates (this turned out to be a weak argument since we're continually finding new function for pseudogenes);
  • feathers evolved from scales (an argument that has been abandoned by evolutionary biologists);
  • eyes evolved from light-sensitive pigments (they gave no evidence to help the reader accept this claim, but the evidence strongly challenges their assertion)
  • humans share common ancestry with Neanderthals (many consider humans and Neanderthals to be so similar that they are -sub-races of the same species, so this doesn't show common ancestry with some non-human type); and finally...
  • macroevolution is simply repeated rounds of microevolution (they provided no empirical evidence for this claim other than bald assertions and misguided appeals to intelligently designed technological evolution).
  • Giberson and Collins want the reader to feel that the answer to the question posed in the chapter title is an unequivocal 'yes.' But as we've seen, the evidence cited in this chapter was extremely unimpressive. Their arguments were outdated and in some cases consisted of little more than bald assertions that is contradicted by the evidence. But again, they are welcome to 'believe in' neo-Darwinian evolution if that's what they want. We can agree to disagree and I have no problems with the making a case for their viewpoint. They have their right to believe what they wish; likewise there's nothing wrong with logically critiquing their argument in a civil manner to show why I find it unpersuasive.

    But there's another quality to The Language of Science and Faith that is much more disconcerting. The troubling part about The Language of Science and Faith is the level of rhetoric that that Giberson and Collins use while trying to lead readers to conclude that they "have to believe in evolution." The book is full of appeals to authority and attacks upon the character and competence of Darwin-doubting scientists. It is into this most unfortunate territory that we now cautiously step.

    Appeals to Authority
    Theistic evolutionists seem to love making appeals to authority. Last year we saw Biologos president Darrell Falk rely heavily upon appeals to authority in his book Coming to Peace with Science. It seems that Giberson and Collins have followed Falk's rhetorical strategy. Thus, in chapter 1 of The Language of Science and Faith alone, we find comments like:
  • "almost all Christian biologists accept evolution." (p. 30)
  • "in most large gatherings of scientists you would not find even one person who rejects the theory of evolution." (p. 30)
  • "The scientists at the BioLogos Foundation are unaware of any biologists who have abandoned evolution in the past few years. Not one." (p. 31)
  • "we are equally unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution." (p. 31)
  • "Christians should take no comfort in the misplaced hope that the scientific community is gradually abandoning the theory of evolution." (p. 34)
  • "the validity of scientific ideas is best addressed by the leading experts." (p. 33)
  • And just in case you didn't get the message, they even go so far as to claim that "[v]irtually all geneticists consider that the evidence proves common ancestry with a level of certainty comparable to the evidence that the earth goes around the sun." (p. 49) (Note: this is from the paragraph where they again cite a singular pseudogene as a "broken" gene.")

    Get it? The not-so-subtle message is that if you doubt universal common ancestry, then you're no better than a geocentrist. I get the sense that Giberson and Collins don't want people to think for themselves on topics like evolution, but to simply capitulate to those whom they deem "the leading experts."

    I wasn't sure if the book actually intended such a message until I read Giberson's recent response to William Dembski where Giberson makes it very clear that he doesn't want people thinking for themselves on topics like evolution. He writes:
    To suggest that this "data" can be handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of science.
    Stop and think for a moment about what Professor Giberson just said.

    Dr. Giberson doesn't think that the average person should be allowed to "make up their own minds" on evolution.

    Unfortunately, this mindset is becoming more and more typical of the Darwin lobby: they want people to stop thinking for themselves. Berkman and Plutzer's survey in Science from earlier this year went so far as to criticize a teacher who felt that "[s]tudents should make up their own minds" on evolution "based on their own beliefs and research." Such a mindset seems profoundly dangerous and wrong in many ways. In fact it seems, dare I say it, anti-intellectual because it demands intellectual conformity from all.

    Self-Contradictory Argument
    What's most ironic, however, is that Giberson and Collins later defeat their own appeals to authority. They write that "scientific truth is not decided by the number of names on a list, or who wins the debate or convinces the most people. It is based on the evidence." (p. 33) Here I completely agree! But if they really believe that statement, and the evidence is all that matters, then why do they feel the need to persistently rely on appeals to authority?

    I think that Giberson and Collins want to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, they want readers to imbibe a not-so-subtle message that they ought to capitulate to experts who 'believe in" evolution because those experts are in the majority. Realizing that's a fallacious and dangerous argument, on the other hand they want to be able to say that they still made the correct argument that that scientific truth is "based on the evidence," not "the number of names" who support a theory. They're completely right about this latter point, but they seem to be sending contradictory messages, not giving "straight answers" to these questions.

    But there are other contradictions that are even more troubling yet to be found in The Language of Science and Faith.

    Attacking Darwin-Doubting Scientists
    What's most unfortunate about the The Language of Science and Faith is not the book's questionable and self-contradictory appeals to authority. Nor is it the book's apparent attempt to dissuade people from thinking for themselves on evolution. Rather, it's how Giberson and Collins try to win the hearts and minds of their readers by using the rhetorical strategy of attacking the competence and character of Darwin-doubting scientists.

    Let's start with their attacks on the competence of Ph.D. scientists who have bravely signed a list dissenting from neo-Darwinian evolution. In one instance Giberson and Collins write:
    "The 'Dissent from Darwin' list includes philosophers, physicists, mathematicians and academics from other fields. Many of them never took even a single course in biology beyond high school." (p. 32)
    This is a bald assertion--and there's no evidence at all that it ought to be taken seriously. And how do they know that is true? Their intended point, of course, is that these Ph.D. scientists are supposedly not qualified to express real dissent from Darwinian evolution. In fact, they make this argument explicit, stating: "Many of the scientists listed are not trained in biology and so are not in a position to evaluate the central theory of the field." (p. 32)

    What's ironic (and contradictory) about their argument is that the book's first author, Karl Giberson, is not trained in biology and even admits that he "took his last biology course in 1975." (p. 32) Now I'm not raising this point to attack Giberson's knowledge or credentials, and in fact I don't think that Dr. Giberson is unqualified to comment on evolution simply because he is not a trained biologist. In fact Giberson--who is the first author of The Language of Science and Faith--must feel the same way since he just wrote this book which spends many pages evaluating evolution.

    Giberson's admission that he lacks the same qualifications of those whose qualifications he attacks does not exactly make for a compelling argument. Given that he's writing extensively about evolution, his attack on the competence of Darwin-doubting scientists seems downright hypocritical.

    Giberson and Collins have also misconstrued the purpose of the Dissent from Darwinism list. As noted, they write that "scientific truth is not decided by the number of names on a list, or who wins the debate or convinces the most people. It is based on the evidence." Again, I could not agree more. But the "Dissent from Darwin" list was never intended to demonstrate that neo-Darwinian evolution is false simply because x number of scientists disagree with neo-Darwinism. What the list does demonstrate is that one cannot dismiss scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism simply by appeals to authority. The list shows that there is a critical mass of credible scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism.

    By overstating the purpose of the Dissent from Darwinism list, Giberson and Collins hope they can convince the reader to dismiss it. But when used properly, the list defeats their own quite explicit argument, that one ought to ignore scientific dissent from Darwinism because of appeals to the authority of the majority viewpoint.

    But their most unpleasant jab at Darwin-doubting scientists is yet to come. They write:
    "The evangelical literature is so filled with misrepresentations and outdated information about evolution that even a lot of research might not lead an honest seeker to the truth." (p. 34)
    To be sure, there have been some Christians who challenged evolution with bad arguments. But by making broad-brushed attacks upon the entire body of Christians who would argue against neo-Darwinism, Giberson and Collins apparently want to paint all Christians who doubt neo-Darwinism in a negative light.

    That faux pas aside, again, we see irony in their statement: If their claim is true, then Giberson and Collins' book defeats its own argument, since The Language of Science and Faith uses outdated arguments that feathers evolved from scales.

    The 'Seeds of Doubt' Strategy Fails
    The rhetorical strategy of Giberson and Collins is now becoming clear: they want to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of readers not through discussing the evidence, but by attacking the trustworthiness and competence of skeptics of neo-Darwinian evolution. Aside from the fact that this implied argument of commits the genetic fallacy, Giberson and Collins haven't done a very good job of making this argument, because every attempt to plant doubt in the reader's mind is refuted by their own book:
  • Giberson and Collins make repeated appeals to authority but then admit that all that matters is the scientific evidence;
  • Giberson and Collins attack the qualifications of non-biologist scientists who doubt evolution, but Giberson himself is a non-biologist who lacks training in biology and evolution.
  • Giberson and Collins attack the "misrepresentations and outdated information" among writings that challenges evolution, but their own book is far from mistake-free, and uses some unambiguously outdated and now-abandoned arguments about evolution.
  • I raise these points not because I want you to distrust Giberson and Collins. They're both very smart, qualified, and informed scientists, and they make arguments worth considering. Read their books. Evaluate their arguments. Read the responses. Decide for yourself if they make a persuasive case.

    But also realize that there are a lot of smart, qualified, and informed scientists who doubt neo-Darwinian evolution. The fact that some of those scientific critics may happen to be "evangelicals" does not mean that therefore those responses are "filled with misrepresentations and outdated information about evolution." Giberson and Collins are making arguments designed to stifle your own self-investigation, not encourage it.

    Whenever Giberson and Collins stop talking about the evidence, and start appealing to authority, attacking Darwin-skeptics personally, and asking you to stop thinking for yourself, it's time to become skeptical: If the evidence is on their side, why do they feel the need to do this?