Don’t worry, I’m still alive! It’s nearing the end of my exam period, with three exams already done and dusted. My last exam – Principles of Genetics – is on Friday, and then I’m free. Stress levels haven’t been too bad, but as you’re probably aware, it’s taken the wind out of my blogging. Oof!1 I’ve also learnt that I’m not a huge fan of medical microbiology, especially when it comes to memorising specific antibiotics. Why would you ever want to kill bacteria? Sure, some of them cause disease – but I’m sure they’re just misunderstood. We need to listen to their side of the story before we go on another specicidal rampage!
Anyway, what I actually need to write about happened yesterday: back in March (on my birthday, actually), I linked to a new pro-ID/anti-evolution blog I’d recently found, called How To Debate Evolution, and the author has responded to my linking with some words on my brief analysis of their blog’s content (edited by me to remove pointless rhetoric):
According to our young friend one short sentence is all that is required to summarize the entire content on my site:
“In other words, ‘Intelligent design can be secular and is hypothetically possible, and therefore the burden of proof is on the evolutionary biologist/ID critic to prove that intelligent design didn’t happen.’”
But what exactly WAS I saying regarding the burden of proof?
Well, it’s quite simple actually. The burden of proof always rests on the person making a claim. Since this is a website about how to debate evolution I am telling the reader not to go into a debate arguing for Creationism or ID and thus taking the burden of proof on themselves. Rather, they should go in simply asking ‘what is the evidence for Evolution’ and thus leaving the burden of proof on the evolutionist.
So then why all this talk about alien bio-engineered ID?
It’s sort of like this:
Say a person is debating an evolutionist and asks, like I mentioned above, for the evidence for evolution.
And say the evolutionist begins presenting the various lines of evidence.
At some point during this presentation the non-evolutionist will jump in and say, how do you know this happened through evolution and wasn’t just designed that way?
To which the evolutionist will respond with, ‘Designed Eh? Or don’t you mean created since we all know that ID is nothing more than rehashed Creationism?’ Well this is a discussion about science and Creationism is not science so…”
If however the non-evolutionist had prefaced the conversation with the 8 points mentioned on my homepage, this would no longer be a problem and the debate could continue on.
Just to refresh your memory, this was the part of their original post I was taking issue with (bolded for utter clarity):
But whether they admit it or not, they have just acknowledged that intentional/intelligent design is very much possible and not at all a “religious” belief. They have just admitted that living organisms could be the result of something other than evolution. So the question then becomes, how can we know for certain that living organisms are in fact the product of evolution and not the product of this other process, intentional design, which the person has already admitted could also produce similar thing? [sic] The burden of proof is thus placed on the evolutionist.
This wording is highly ambiguous: it seems like the author is suggesting that the evolutionary biologist prove that design was not involved, or that design is the default position if evolution is shown to be discordant with the data.
The author is right, the burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. As such, if two people want to get into a discussion about the evidence for evolution, mentioning design as a rival hypothesis is rather irrelevant, as the inadequacy of one hypothesis does not make another more plausible. So why bring it up at all, ala. the recent post’s “At some point during this presentation the non-evolutionist will jump in and say, how do you know this happened through evolution and wasn’t just designed that way?”? If the discussion is solely about evolution, design shouldn’t be mentioned at all.
Contrary to what many ID proponents and creationists believe, evolutionary biology has not survived to this day as a field of science due to the fact that no credible alternative explanations for the diversity of life on Earth have ever been put forward. It is not our “blind, feeble attempt at making sense of the world of biology”, as someone at the Discovery Institute might likely say. We don’t hold onto it as a vestige of a past age, desperate to appear knowledgable, but at our core accepting of the fact that we know nothing. It is not a vacuous placeholder. We do not fear some greater truth that we dare not accept. It is not a reactionary orthodoxy, put in place to shield the eyes of the many.
Evolution stands on its own. That any number of culturally-competing ideas about the origins of life’s diversity may or may not be religiously based is completely irrelevant to its ability to explain and predict biological facts. I’m not really sure if my anti-evolutionary friend understands this. Not to say that they don’t, just that they haven’t made it entirely clear if they do.
Returning to the text of the original post (the second quote), what should have been said is that the burden of proof is on the evolutionary biology supporter to support evolution, and the burden of proof is on the ID proponent to support ID. People defending evolution should not have to find some way to discredit an alternative hypothesis in order to complete their defence, unless that hypothesis is being actively proposed by someone (and that person won’t sit down and be quiet for a few minutes) – after all, there are infinite potential hypotheses out there for every scientific problem, but they only become meaningful when minds happen to stumble upon them and claim them as their own.
You want to know the proper way to debate evolution? Have a look at the evidence and the constituent hypotheses at the same time. Judge if it has been a useful theory, if it has predicted data, if it explains data, and if there are significant problems with it. Leave discussion about alternative explanations out of it, unless you’re willing to go into sufficient detail about why that alternative explanation is better, with as much depth as you did analysing evolution in the first place.
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- Does a greater onomatopoeia exist than “oof”? Challengers welcome. ↩