May 31 2013

Final Response from Don McLeroy

Here is it.

Steven,

We agree that historical sciences like evolution are “tested” by the evidence. My key insight from our discussion is we disagree about the amount of evidence needed to demonstrate evolution. I want to see significantly greater evidence than you do.

I admit that I do not have the time to read all the technical articles and read all the links you have referred to, but I do not admit that I am unable to judge the adequacy of the evidence evolutionists have presented for evolution. I have read the popular literature of highly acclaimed evolutionists; I have thought about how much evidence is required to demonstrate evolution. And, I have found it unconvincing.

Of course our major disagreement is that I am a theist and you are an atheist. I wonder how much that “colors” our view of the sufficiency of the evidence for evolution.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be interviewed on your podcast and to have this this continued dialog. I have truly enjoyed our discussion; you are the proverbial “scholar and a gentleman.” 

Don

I had hoped that Don would engage more directly with the evidence that I provided him. I’m disappointed that we could not continue to do a deep dive on the core question here – the amount of evidence for evolution. I am actually surprised he was willing to engage in this forum to this extent, and I’m glad we were able to keep our exchange civil, but in the end he just dodged the key issue.

Don’s primary point is that there is insufficient evidence to support evolutionary theory. Related to this is his contention that reading the popular literature is a sufficient guide to the extent and quality of that evidence. I believe I have demolished both of those points in my prior posts.

It’s difficult to make too many sweeping statements about the popular literature. It all depends on who is writing in the field. Also, there is a great deal of popular writing on any scientific topic, including evolution, and this varies greatly in terms of the amount of detail and evidence presented, vs a more broad-brushstroke conceptual approach.

I have read a great deal of popular works, articles and books, on evolution and feel that the evidence presented for evolution is extremely robust. But I have read some semi-technical books, like Taking Wing, the Neanderthals, The Sixth Extinction, and others, that get fairly specific on the evidence. I have also consumed many National Geographic articles, that delve into great detail about specific fossil specimens and what they tell us.

Frankly, Don simply has not read enough. Also, it’s one thing to use the popular literature to get an idea about the current findings of science and opinions of scientists. It is quite another thing to use the popular literature in order to disagree with the very scientists you are reading, and the consensus of scientific opinion.

Also I don’t think it’s appropriate for Don to say that the evidence is weak, but I don’t have time to look at the actual evidence – this evidence right here that you put in front of me to convince me the evidence is not weak.

Don’s position also is that my threshold for “sufficient evidence” is different than his. This is something on which we can agree. This is the true believer-skeptic-denier continuum. A true believer is anyone less skeptical than you, while a denier is anyone more skeptical than you. Anyone more toward the true believer end of the spectrum is naive and gullible, while anyone more toward the skeptical end is cynical. This is not actually true, but that is the default perspective most people have. Everyone uses themselves as the calibration standard for appropriately skeptical.

Here again we have a continuum with a “demarcation problem” – no clear dividing lines. There is also no easy answer to what is “appropriately skeptical.” This is a judgement that takes a great deal of thought, understanding of the methods of science, a fairly high degree of critical thinking, and the ability to transcend any major biases.

All I can say on this score is that I think I have made my case in the prior posts. Readers, of course, are invited to judge for themselves.

Don writes: “Of course our major disagreement is that I am a theist and you are an atheist. I wonder how much that “colors” our view of the sufficiency of the evidence for evolution.”

This is now a major strategy of creationists – the false equivalency. I think it is a marker of the tremendous success of evolution and science over the last century, and the dismal failure of creationism, that they have had to retreat all the way to their current position.

Creationists began their crusade against evolution by banning the teaching of evolution, saying it was not science, and that science supports creation. Of course, they still say this among themselves, but in the public sphere, especially in the context of public school education, they have retreated all the way to Don’s coy position – I am not defending creationism, I am just saying that there are some weaknesses to the theory of evolution.

Further, the failure to elevate creationism to the status of a science (or anything with any intellectual respectability) has forced them to retreat to the position that – well, OK, we can’t prove creation, but neither can you prove evolution. It’s all just different world views and biases.

Evolution is not an atheistic belief – it’s a scientific belief. In this way it is just like gravity, nuclear physics, and geology. Science follows methodological naturalism, and does not allow for supernaturalism because by necessity such notions are not falsifiable. But plenty of people of faith accept the science of evolution (and other sciences).

You can also look at is this way – within the realm of science (which is all that matters when you are talking about what gets taught in the science classroom) evolution is the answer to the origin of species. It is the unifying concept underlying all of biology, it is the consensus of scientific opinion, and it is as rock solid as any idea in science.

Conclusion

Don McLeroy, who led the move to introduce science textbook standards in Texas that would have the effect of opening the door to creationist arguments about alleged weaknesses of evolutionary theory, claims that the evidence for evolution is weak. He then challenged me to prove him wrong, to show him compelling evidence.

I did that. Honestly, it took me all told about an hour on Google to compile an impressive list of evidence for common descent and evolution (given that I was already familiar with most of it).

I now challenge Don to take the time to actually look at the evidence I provided. If he still thinks that is not enough, I can provide more. Or – he can talk to working scientists and ask to be shown some of the evidence, to be given a taste of how deep it actually is. Get a tour of a natural history museum – and I mean a tour of the back of the museum, with cabinets and draws filled with thousands of fossils (not just the few replicas they have on display).

If you are going to disagree with the scientific consensus, and sit on a school board making decisions about science education, that is minimal due diligence.

I don’t expect any further response from Don, but I do hope he continues to explore this issue, even if just to prove me wrong. Do it – prove me wrong. Look a the evidence and tell me what you find. I don’t expect people to change their world view over the course of one conversation. But just maybe, we started a process that will ultimately change his opinion.

Like this post? Share it!

50 responses so far