Posted by jlwile on May 18, 2011
There is a very interesting discussion going on at Patheos. Dr. William Dembski posted part 1 of a four-part discussion with Dr. Karl Giberson. Essentially, it is Dr. Dembski’s review of The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, a book co-written by Dr. Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins. The book’s goal is to promote theistic evolution. It claims to show that real science supports evolution and that evolution is not contrary to Christianity.
I actually agree with the second part of that statement. While there are those who think that the concept of evolution is inherently anti-Christian, I most certainly do not. Jesus tells us that we are to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), and there are many theistic evolutionists (Dr. C.S. Lewis, Dr. Alister McGrath. Dr. John Polkinghorne, and Dr. Alvin Plantinga, for example) who have produced amazing fruit for the kingdom of God. To assume that these people hold to an inherently anti-Christian idea borders on the absurd.
Where I disagree with this book is in its first statement – that evolution is supported by real science. Dr. Dembski apparently disagrees as well, judging by his review of the book. While his comments are useful, they are not what I find really interesting about this discussion. The interesting stuff comes in Dr. Giberson’s response, which is part two of the discussion.
In Dembki’s review, he says the book’s constant drumbeat that evolution is the scientific consensus is utterly irrelevant. Science isn’t done by consensus; it is done by following the data, and there are a lot of data that simply do not fit well into the hypothesis of evolution. Given that so much data oppose evolution, real science should be challenging it rather than simply accepting it.
In his reply, Dr. Giberson tries to downplay the data that contradict the evolutionary hypothesis. He calls them “anomalies,” and he says:
Most scientific theories have anomalies. But it requires a rather dramatic leap to argue, as I believe Bill does in the passage quoted above, that anomalies suggest that the prevailing explanation is no longer the best one available.
I would disagree with Dr. Giberson that the problems evolution faces when compared to the data are mere anomalies. Instead, the predictions of evolution have been falsified time and time again by the data. This, in my mind, makes those problems rise far above the level of “anomalies.”
For the sake of argument, however, let me grant Dr. Giberson his statement. Let’s suppose that these problems are nothing more than anomalies. Does this really mean that they don’t suggest a need to rethink the theory? If Giberson would look at the history of his own field (he holds a Ph.D. in physics from Rice University), he would see that anomalies are, indeed, enough to warrant rethinking a theory.
After all, at the turn of the century, physicists really thought that the Newtonian framework along with the wave view of light formed a complete and comprehensive description of the physical world. In fact, one of the most famous physicists at the turn of the century, Nobel laureate Dr. Albert. A. Michelson, said this:1
The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.
Why did he say that? Because there was so much evidence that existed for Newtonian mechanics and the wave nature of light, that they were both firmly entrenched in science. They were, indeed, the height of scientific consensus. Sure, there were a couple of “anomalies” to work out, like the photoelectric effect and the emission spectra of elements, but clearly there was no new physics to learn, right?
Wrong! These “anomalies” led to the discovery of quantum mechanics, which changed the face of physics forever. It showed us that Newtonian mechanics was simply an approximation that applies only to the macroscopic world, and that unlike the scientific consensus claimed, light is not a continuous wave. Thus, unlike Giberson claims, anomalies do, indeed, give us strong reason to question the prevailing dogma of the day. Had visionaries like Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, etc., not challenged the prevailing consensus because of mere anomalies, modern physics would not have been born! So even if there are just “anomalies” associated with evolution (and I think the problems go way beyond that description), the proper scientific response is to question its validity. The history of physics has clearly shown us that.
However, Giberson’s lack of understanding when it comes to the history of physics isn’t the only thing wrong with his response to Dembski. The worst thing about his response is that he continues the drumbeat of scientific consensus. He says we must rely on the scientific consensus, because we cannot evaluate the data for ourselves:
“Of course we cannot confront the data ‘on our own’.” Dealing with scientific data requires training and experience in whatever narrow area we are considering…To suggest that this [sic] “data” can be handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of science.
In other words, he says that science is just too hard and too detailed for most people to understand. Thus, instead of thinking for themselves, they need to rely on “experts” to do the thinking for them. As far as I am concerned, that’s probably the most anti-science thing that anyone can possibly say!
…an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Science will progress significantly better under Crichton’s philosophy than it will under Giberson’s philosophy, and it is amazing that someone as well-trained and experienced as Dr. Giberson doesn’t understand this!
1. Michio Kaku, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, (Doubleday, 2008), p. 285.
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2. Tom Bethell, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, (Regnery, 2005), pp. 13,14.
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