Correction to chpt 2 of Believing Bullshit

Here’s an endnote I am adding to a chapter I am contributing to the upcoming Handbook on Humanism (edited by AC Grayling and Andrew Copson [Wiley Blackwell publisher]). I now realize I got something wrong in chapter 2 of my book Believing Bullshit, so might as well set the record straight publicly. Here’s the endnote of the chapter I am now writing for the new book [n.b. YEC = Young Earth Creationism]:

 

Elsewhere I have said that because Ken Ham’s theory makes no predictions – takes no risks – regarding the fossil record, so it cannot be confirmed by the fossil record. See “But It Fits!” in my Believing Bullshit (Amherst NY: Prometheus Press, 2011). I now realize I did not get this quite right. Were we to start excavating fossils that were clearly stamped “Made by God in 4,004 BC”, etc., that might indeed confirm – even strongly confirm – YEC, despite the fact that YEC does not predict such a discovery. True, such a discovery may not be probable given YEC, but, given the discovery is nevertheless considerably more probable on YEC than otherwise, it would still confirm YEC to a significant degree. 

 

So here’s what I should have said in Believing Bullshit (from the new chapter):

There’s a popular myth about science that if you can make your theory consistent with the evidence, then you have shown that it is confirmed by that evidence – as confirmed as any other theory.

 

Proponents of ludicrous belief systems often exploit this myth. It is exploited by Ken Ham. It may also exploited by those who reinterpret their preferred scripture or prophecy in order to make it “fit”.

 

Of course, achieving “fit” and achieving confirmation are not the same thing.

 

As we saw earlier, a theory can be strongly confirmed by making a risky prediction – by predicting something that would not be particularly likely if the theory were false.

 

The theory of evolution and common descent, in its fully developed form, does indeed make many such risky predictions – predictions that turn out to be true. That means it is strongly confirmed.

 

Take the fossil record, for example. The theory predicts fossils will be dug up in a very specific order. It predicts, among other things, that, because mammals and birds are a comparatively late evolutionary development, their fossils will never be discovered within the earlier, pre-Devonian sedimentary layers (which contain over half the fossil history of multicellular organisms). If the theory of evolution were false and YEC true, on the other hand, there would be no particular reason to expect a complete absence of mammal and bird fossils in those earlier deposits (indeed, YECs wouldn’t be at all surprised had such fossils shown up). Yet, among the countless thousands of fossils excavated each year, not a single example of a pre-Devonian mammal or bird has ever been found. That’s some coincidence if the theory of evolution is false. (Note this is just one example of how the theory of evolution is strongly confirmed. There are numerous others.[i])

 

By contrast, Ken Ham’s brand of YEC studiously avoids making such risky predictions regarding the fossil record. Whatever order the fossils are dug up is of no consequence to YEC. Mammals and birds in the pre-Devonian – fine. No mammals and birds in the pre-Devonian – no problem. For this reason, while the ordering of those fossils that have been excavated does strongly confirm the theory of evolution, it does not strongly confirm YEC.[ii][iii]


 


 

[i] See for example the talk Origins archive entry by Douglas Theobald, 29+ Evidences for Macro-evolution Part 1: the Unique Universal Phylogenetic Tree. Available online at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html

 

[ii] Elsewhere I have said that because Ham’s theory makes no predictions – takes no risks – regarding the fossil record, so it cannot be confirmed by the fossil record. See “But It Fits!” in my Believing Bullshit (Amherst NY: Prometheus Press, 2011). I now realize I did not get this quite right. Were we to start excavating fossils that were clearly stamped “Made by God in 4,004 BC”, etc., that might indeed confirm – even strongly confirm – YEC, despite the fact that YEC does not predict such a discovery. True, such a discovery may not be probable given YEC, but, given the discovery is nevertheless considerably more probable on YEC than otherwise, it would still confirm YEC to a significant degree.

 

[iii] Also notice that each new assumption Ham introduces to try to explain away the evidence against YEC has the effect of reducing the prior probability of his overall theory. Ham succeeds in endlessly protecting YEC against empirical refutation only by endlessly reducing the prior probability that YEC is true.

About Stephen Law
  • David_Evans

    Surely Ken Ham’s beliefs imply a prediction that no fossil – in fact, nothing on Earth – will ever be found to be older than 4004 BC. In particular, no well-preserved organic sample will ever have less C14 than the amount indicating that date. That prediction is probable given YEC and, if it had been confirmed by the evidence, would have supported YEC as against evolutionary theory. No divine date-stamps would be expected or necessary.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    About “risky predictions” being evidence.

    Evidence for a theory is not evidence that fits it, because the same evidence may fit other alternative theories too. Rather evidence proves a theory when it does not fit, and thus falsifies, its negation. And evidence supports a theory, or makes it more probably true, when it does not fit an alternative theory.

    Now a risky prediction would be, for example, Einstein’s prediction that light rays are bent by mass to a particular degree. When such was observed it is not true that Einstein’s theory (general relativity) was proved true. Indeed, given that it contradicts quantum theory, it is probably false. What the evidence did prove was that Newton’s alternative theory was false (in that particular), and that therefore Einstein’s theory is in comparison closer to the truth.

    This simple fact of logic has far reaching implications. For example when atheists ask for evidence for theism, theists should try to give evidence against atheism, or evidence against a positive atheistic theory such as scientific naturalism.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X