Taking Darwin On Faith?

I missed a piece in the Indianapolis Star a couple of days ago, until a friend pointed it out to me today. Russ Pulliam’s article, “Taking Darwin On Faith”, manages to muddle and confuse at least two issues. He quotes Richard Holdeman, who emphasizes that there is a problem in treating certain theological extrapolations from evolutionary biology as though they are the inevitable consequence of accepting evolution, which is probably a fair point. But I suspect that Holdeman would be dismayed to see the use to which his quotes are being put, namely as though they were an argument against evolution.

Pulliam treats the matter in an either/or way that misunderstands not only how science works but real life. Sure, there may be “raw data” and “speculations”, but in between there are also perfectly logical deductions from various pieces of evidence – what science calls “theories” – which are no more a “mere hunch” than deducing from a person’s fingerprints on a murder weapon, DNA from the crime scene, motive and various other pieces of evidence that the individual in question is guilty of murder.

In short, it is only “faith” in our ability to draw rational inferences and conclusions based on evidence that is required to accept evolutionary biology. Without that faith, there can be no science, no criminology, and basically no thinking that isn’t just hunches and opinions. And so unless Pulliam thinks that thinking is a waste of time or misguided (which would obviously be a self-contradictory standpoint), then he really ought to inform himself better about modern science, and perhaps offer a better treatment of modern biology to his readers. Then again, perhaps Pulliam’s own ill-reasoned article is itself evidence that reason cannot be trusted, that we are too prone to self-deception. Yet even so, it can be argued that scientific methods do a better job of helping us avoid such self-deception and poor reasoning than anything else available.

One last thing. No scientist I’ve ever encountered takes Darwin on faith. Darwin’s theory has been maintained where the evidence supports it, and modified where it doesn’t. Evolutionary theory itself has evolved. Evolution, as it is understood today, isn’t about Darwin or faith but about observation, evidence, deduction and reason. Those who deny this presumably have failed at some point in the chain of logic to either observe, to examine evidence, to reason or to deduce.

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  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    Pulliam makes a couple of other very irritating errors that undermine his position.The first is the general conflation of "Darwin" to "Evolution". You quite correctly observe that Darwin's original version of evolution has been modified (significantly…) over the last 150 years. That's a significant strike against Pulliam, but his use of the term "followers of Darwin" serves to insidiously suggest that biologists are part of some cult of personality centered on Darwin and thus unwilling or unable to incorporate new information. This, of course, is absurd, as that incorporation of new information is central to the scientific process. (I note with some amusement that such incorporation of new information is antithetical to some religious viewpoints, in particular many of those most vocal in denying evolution.)Pulliam also ham-handedly attempts to redefine science in a way that attempts to shift evolution into the realm of philosophy (He uses Holdeman's comments in an attempt to support his position, but that seems to be an egregious misrepresentation of Holdeman's words, even absent their broader context).It's revealing that Pulliam's overarching point – that accepting evolution is a matter of faith – is one of the points that gets trotted out in any of dozens of creationist sources. Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, and many other such folks have used precisely the same argument. Pulliam's only distinguishing feature is his use of Holdeman.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06750423741735453398 Rev. Ouabache

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