email - August 2009

Paradigm Prisoners

There are more than just two kinds of evolutionists.

The feature article in our June newsletter described the background behind our video, Evolution for Intellectuals, which we entered in the Discover magazine contest. (By the way, two months after the contest ended, Discover has still not announced any finalists, let alone the winner.)

In the June newsletter we talked about the intended audience for the video. We made the rather off-hand observation that there are basically just two kinds of evolutionists.

One group we called “Intimidated Intellectuals.” This group consists of people like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne who believe in evolution because they are afraid of God. It is pointless to try to reason with these people because their belief is based on fear, not logic.

The only way to get an Intimidated Intellectual to change his mind is to change his opinion about what God is like. We don’t do that. That’s what churches are for. We stick to science.

We called the second group of people “Innocently Ignorant.” These people assume evolution is true because of all the propaganda proliferated by Intimidated Intellectuals who find safety in numbers. If everybody else believes in evolution, then the Intimidated Intellectuals can rest assured that there is no God. It is important to Intimidated Intellectuals to censor the science curriculum of all evidence against evolution so that the masses of Innocently Ignorant people will accept evolution without any embarrassing questions.

Classification of Evolutionists

It was not our intention to create a perfect taxonomy of evolutionists. Not every evolutionist fits into one category or the other. There certainly are ignorant evolutionists who hate God, and therefore fall into both categories. But, as we have said, we weren’t trying to classify people—we were simply trying to understand people.

Anita realized that there are people who don’t really fit into either category. In the heart of her email she wrote,

I wonder in which group you place a standard evolutionary biologist. I'm not in the field myself, but I am in another field of science and have an understanding of how much work goes into the career of a scientist of any sort. They could hardly be said to 'not know anything about evolution', considering it's their lives' work. The very nature of science would mean that they wouldn't last very long if they accepted things without question because it was told to them. So it seems they don't belong in the first group.

But the second group seems reserved for those evolutionary biologists (and others, I don't know how many of Discover Magazine's editors have biology training) who are vocal about evolution as opposed to creation. Most of the evolutionary biologists I'm thinking of wouldn't even consider it a choice of "Evolution or God", many would be Christian and suffer no dilemma about it.

She makes an excellent point. So, on further reflection, we realize that there is another class of evolutionists which we call “Paradigm Prisoners.”

I personally hate the word “paradigm,” and avoid using it whenever possible. “Paradigm” simply means “how somebody thinks about something.” My emotional aversion to the word “paradigm” is because the phrase “paradigm shift” was so overused (and misused) in the software development community in the late 20th century. In the context of trying to improve the software development process, all the experts kept saying we needed a “paradigm shift.” It didn’t really matter how we changed our thinking—we just had to change our thinking somehow!

Unfortunately, “paradigm” really is the perfect word to describe the situation. Professional biologists are taught to consider everything using the evolutionary paradigm. So, when looking for a term to describe this third category of evolutionists, Paradigm Prisoners narrowly beat out Peer-pressured Professionals. The people that Anita describes are pressured by their peers to adopt the evolutionary paradigm.


Once upon a time, scientists discovered truth using the scientific method. Repeatable experiments were done to objectively confirm or deny a hypothesis. That was what made science so reliable. Opinion was excluded. The experimental results didn’t depend on what the scientist thought the results should be. Truth was based on observable results.

But the old scientific method doesn’t lend itself well to subjects such as evolution, global warming, and cosmology; therefore the scientific method has been replaced by consensus. Scientific truth is now determined by majority vote rather than experimental results.

What this means is that if most scientists believe it, it is true. If you believe something different, you are, by definition, wrong. This inevitably leads to “group think.” You will naturally think whatever other people in the group think because you don’t want to be wrong. There is an unconscious (but compelling) peer pressure to agree with other scientists.

Here’s where the paradigm comes in. Biologists habitually, and unconsciously, think about everything using the evolutionary paradigm. For example, a biologist observes a lizard crawling up a smooth glass window pane. His immediate impulse is to think, “How did that lizard EVOLVE feet that can stick to glass?” He thinks that because that is the consensus way to think about things. The consensus of his peers is that everything evolved by chance and natural selection, so the natural way for a professional biologist to think about things is to try to fit everything into the evolutionary paradigm.

A creationist would look at the lizard using the creation paradigm and wonder, “How did God create feet that allow a lizard to climb up a glass window?”

So, a creationist would naturally try to figure out how the lizard feet work, trying to fit this into his creation paradigm; but an evolutionist would try to figure out how lizard feet came about by chance, trying to fit this into his evolutionary paradigm.

In other words, it all comes down to how someone naturally thinks about things. Professional biologists are trapped in an evolutionary paradigm prison. They have to think about it that way because, “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Even things that don’t make sense (such as why a caterpillar rests helplessly in a cocoon while turning into a butterfly) have to somehow make sense in the light of evolution.

It is tough for biologists to break out of the evolutionary paradigm prison, especially if they don’t have tenure. As soon as they disagree with the prevailing consensus, they are wrong.

Status Quo

To hear us tell it this way, it would seem that scientific innovation is doomed. No scientific breakthroughs can possibly occur because the academic institutions are locked into keeping the status quo. And, to a great extent, that really is the case.

If that is the case, how does any scientific progress happen? Scientific progress certainly does happen. The outrageous answer to how it happens is this: Great scientific advancements generally don’t come from scientists in academia—they come from engineers in private industry.

It wasn’t Professor Bill Gates, or Professor Steve Jobs, who ushered in the personal computer revolution. College dropouts who thought about computers in a different way are the ones who advanced technology. They are the ones who caused the paradigm shift that allowed all of you to read this essay on the Internet.

The public perception is that our great universities are where creativity and academic freedom are advancing human knowledge. The truth is that the universities are just trying to produce crop after crop of graduates who agree with consensus. That’s why they are so fervent about keeping any discussion of Intelligent Design, or fallacies in the theory of evolution, out of the classroom.

Sure, you can find a rogue professor here or there who is open to discovering new truth that upsets the academic applecart; but he is a member of an endangered species. A professor like that certainly isn’t the dean’s favorite.

Universities should be leading the charge for academic freedom, but they aren’t. They are the ones suppressing criticism of the theory of evolution in the name of science. They are threatened by opposing views. They are the academic elite. How dare anyone disagree with them!

Coming back to Anita’s email, professional biologists don’t really fit into either of the two categories we originally proposed. Consciously or subconsciously, they are locked in the evolutionary paradigm prison. They have been taught to see everything as the result of evolution, so most of them won’t question the underlying assumption of evolution. Many don’t even know they are in prison. If they do consciously recognize that the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against evolution, there isn’t much they can do about it. To question evolution in an academic environment is career suicide. There isn’t an easy escape.

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