Critical Analysis of Evolution
In my last blog, How to Think, I urged that people who wish to become sophisticated in their thinking try to develop skills in critically thinking. It seems that the Ohio Board of Education wants that too but only in biology -- in fact, only in the study of evolution. An attorney in the intelligent design trial in Pennsylvania, Mr. Eric Rothschild, is quoted in my morning's Columbus Dispatch as saying
When you see "critical analysis of evolution" you really need to look at what's behind that....Why is there no call for critical analysis of plate techonics?If I were to have a "Critical Thinkers Hall of Fame" I would include Mr. Rothschild. He has made the two points that most need making, and, of course, beat the crap out of the creationists in court. The first is that "critical analysis of evolution" is code for "introduce creationism/intelligent-design in biology lectures," though he didn't put it that way exactly. The second is that a specific reference to a critical analysis of evolution in the absence of references to a critical analysis of plate techtonics, a critical analysis of the particle and wave theories of light, and so on, is the best possible evidence that someone is engaged in the fallacy of "special pleading," though again he didn't put it quite that way. As The Nizkor Project notes
From a philosophic standpoint, the fallacy of Special Pleading is violating a well accepted principle, namely the Principle of Relevant Difference. According to this principle, two people can be treated differently if and only if there is a relevant difference between them. This principle is a reasonable one. After all, it would not be particularly rational to treat two people differently when there is no relevant difference between them.The Nizkor Project is concerned that we do not treat people differently who do not exhibit any relevant difference but the same applies to scientific claims. If we are to have a critical analysis of evolution, we must have a critical analysis of the formation of black holes, plate techtonics, the number agreement rule in English ("John and Mary are here" is a well-formed English sentence but "John and Mary is here" is not), and any other scientific claim because there is no relevant difference between these things. In fact this whole notion of urging biology teachers to engage in a critical analysis of evolution should receive a giant "DUH!!!!" Our teachers should engage their students in a critical analysis of every subject they study.
But, of course, that is not what fundamentalist Christians want. The most inane aspect of this is the idea that scientists working on issues in evolutionary theory are not already engaged in a critical analysis of their discipline. Of course they are. The idea that God plopped Adam down on Earth and then in creating Eve took one of Adam's ribs and also gave them a full blown language competence so He can talk to them and they can talk to each other would, of course, be dismissed immediately because there is no empirical evidence for it (books, including the Bible, don't count). That's all it takes to dispatch the creationist theory of the origin of humans to the intellectual dumping grounds for bad ideas.
The idea that the design of humans exhibits an intelligence at work is hard to swallow. The notion "intelligent design" is impossibly vague. To me, if humans were intelligently designed, we would have an immunity to all diseases. If He had done that, we wouldn't have to be worrying about the bird flu. To my claim, it could be countered that the intelligent design of humans would entail giving us a limited life span because of (perhaps) the psychological damage life itself inflicts on us and the lack of a total immunity to disease is one of the mechanisms God uses to limit our lifespans. I would reply, why not simply let the aging of organs ado the trick? No diseases; just the aging of organs, perhaps adding on accidents that take our lives and such things as murders. There is no way to make the notion "intelligent design" substantive because my "intelligent design" might be your "idiotic fantasy," and vice versa.