email - September 2012

Science, Philosophy, Politics, and Rhetoric

When we said that evolutionists are philosophers, not scientists, we unintentionally insulted a philosopher.

This week’s email comes from Brian.

Hello, there, I must say I'm an avid reader of your website and share your views about evolution. One qualm I have is your accusation that evolutionary scientists employ philosophy rather than science. As a philosophy major, I must say that they do not employ philosophy, they employ rhetoric. Philosophy is about arriving at the truth through logical proof based on logical principles. The arguments presented by evolutionary enthusiasts smudge facts or mislead a potential audience through the use of persuasive language. Rhetorical technique is not the methodology of a philosopher, it's the method of a sophist.

Sincerely,
Brian
Philosophy Undergraduate

Brian is absolutely correct. It is insulting to philosophers to call evolutionists, “philosophers.” It was not our intention to belittle philosophy by association with evolution. So, we sincerely apologize to any philosophers we have offended.

The goal of philosophy is to discover truth. The goal of rhetoric is to win an argument, regardless of whether it is true or not. Philosophy is an honorable pursuit. Rhetoric isn’t.

The Chain of Relationships

Brian’s email shines some light on an important issue that warrants deeper examination—specifically the relationships between science, philosophy, politics, and rhetoric.

Science deals with facts discovered by observation and experimentation. Philosophy deals with beliefs derived by inference from facts. Politics deal with actions based upon beliefs. Rhetoric is often used to achieve political goals.

Science

Science is untainted by opinion. An apple accelerates towards Earth at 32.2 feet per second squared regardless of whether or not one shares Isaac Newton’s religious beliefs. Science is 100% factual. There is no place for faith in science. Science is quantitative—that is, it is all about numbers, measurements, accuracy, and precision. The measurements are always the same (within specified limits) regardless of who does the experiment. Science is all about things that are measurable, dependable, and repeatable.

Chemical engineers depend upon science to manufacture products with consistent quality. Electrical engineers use science to insure that communication devices will operate reliably. Civil engineers depend upon science to tell them the maximum load a bridge will bear. The scientific method reveals facts that one might literally stake one’s life upon.

But as powerful as science is, there are some questions that science just can’t answer. For example, “What is the meaning of life?” Are we here because God created us to be the object of His love? Or is this life just one revolution of the wheel of reincarnation rolling us toward ultimate bliss? Or is life just a meaningless accident of nature? Science can’t answer these questions because they can’t be tested experimentally by some process that produces a numerical result with specified certainty.

Philosophy

Philosophers use logic to analyze facts in an attempt to answer questions that are outside the realm of science. Scientific observation tells us that a particular caterpillar will turn into a particular species of butterfly after a certain number of days (plus or minus a known number of days); but science can’t tell us why. Evolutionists speculate about how natural selection must have caused this process to evolve. Christians speculate about how God must have done this to illustrate His miraculous transforming power. In either case, it is just speculation. Both make inferences based on the same facts, but come to different conclusions.

Mixed Science and Philosophy

Modern biology is a mixture of science and philosophy. Gregor Mendel’s famous experiments with pea plants were scientific; and there are plenty of modern genetic experiments that carry on that great scientific tradition. Modern medicine is based on biological experiments that quantify the reaction of biological systems to various chemical compounds. For the most part, biology is as legitimate a science as physics or chemistry—but there are parts that are not. Some parts are just foolish speculation. For example, the “scientific study” that showed zebra embryos start with dark skin but develop narrow, alternating black and white stripes before they're born because horseflies are most attracted to solid-colored hides, is just speculation. 1

Rhetoric

In March of 2005, we received the first of a series of emails from someone we nicknamed, “Argumentative Alex.” After a while, he stopped writing to us. But last month, he started emailing us again. He even signed his emails, “Argumentative Alex.” We will share one of those emails with you below because it illustrates Brian’s point about the difference between philosophy and rhetoric. Argumentative Alex isn’t a philosopher. He isn’t interested in dealing with issues. He just wants to satisfy his own ego by winning an argument through a dishonest trick.

Before we look at Alex’s email, let’s look at the big picture with emphasis on the scientific, philosophical, political, and rhetorical aspects.

Separating Science From Philosophy, Politics, and Rhetoric

It is a scientific fact that all species exhibit some variations to a greater or lesser extent. It is also a scientific fact that selective breeding can cause particular variations to occur with greater frequency in an isolated population. One philosophical inference is that natural selection has caused one primitive, unknown living thing to evolve into every living thing on the planet. (We believe that is an incorrect inference; but that’s beside the point now.) This is the basis for the political belief that students should be taught in American public schools that a single cell originated spontaneously, came to life, and diversified into every species that has ever existed (including man) through an unguided process of evolution that has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. (Of course, Christians object to their tax dollars being used to indoctrinate their children into rejecting their parent’s religion; but that also is beside the point.) People like Alex use rhetorical tricks to enforce their political agenda.

Here’s Alex’s email.

Subject: 75 theses errors
Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 3:28 AM

Hi David

I've just been reading your essay entitled '75 Theses' and I'm afraid you've made a basic error at the start.

If you read the 'TalkOrigins' reference, it doesn't use the 6-point statement as a definition for evolution as you imply but as a definition for evolution and related topics. The reference actually reads:-

"(b) "Evolution-science" means the scientific evidences for evolution and inferences from those scientific evidences. "

and goes on to make clear, in section IVb :-

"The emphasis on origins as an aspect of the theory of evolution is peculiar to the creationist literature. Although the subject of origins of life is within the province of biology, the scientific community does not consider origins of life a part of evolutionary theory. The theory of evolution assumes the existence of life and is directed to an explanation of how life evolved."

So points 1, 5 and 6 do not form any part of an accepted definition of evolution. This means that, of your theses, 3, 4, 5, 9 -17 (especially 17, which is a real 'straw-man'!), 19 - 21, 28 - 35, 37 - 42, 47 (which is factually wrong - look up nylonase and Cit+ functions in bacteria), 54 (which uses the non-scientific term 'proof'), and pretty much all the rest, in fact, are irrelevant to any discussion of evolution.

I hope you will amend your essay accordingly

Best wishes

Argumentative Alex

As we have so often pointed out over the years, the trick is to change the definition of “evolution” depending upon the circumstances. First, “evolution” is defined to be “a small variation caused by natural selection,” which is unquestionably true. But then it is argued that children should be taught that life originated spontaneously and diversified over millions of years because “evolution is true.”

Alex argues that our definition is not “an accepted definition of evolution.” Who gave TalkOrigins the authority to define words?

In the case of a word like “evolution,” which has multiple meanings, it is important to specify which meaning is under discussion. Another meaning of “evolution” is, “any kind of change over time.” Cars have “evolved” from the Ford Model-T to the Ford Mustang, but that has nothing to do with what we are talking about. The fact that cars have evolved does not prove that new biological orders evolved from older ones.

This definition trick has also been used in the “fixity of species” straw man. In this trick, evolutionists claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution doesn’t believe species ever change in any way. So, the fact that new varieties of agricultural crops produce better yields, and are more resistant to pests or diseases, is proof that fixity of species is wrong.

That’s a different kind of evolution. We aren’t talking about that. Nobody objects to teaching that kind of evolution in school. That’s why we are careful to distinguish the scientifically incorrect doctrine that should not be taught in public schools from the kind of evolution that is true.

Alex may not accept it, but our definition is an accurate description of what is being taught in public schools. If all that is being taught in public schools is natural selection, there would not be any opposition to it.

By the way, Theses 47, “No mutation has ever been observed that provides a new function (sight, hearing, smell, lactation, etc.) in a living organism that did not previously have that function,” is not factually wrong. Bacteria did have the digestive function before nylon was invented. The fact that they could not digest nylon before nylon was invented is simply because there wasn’t any nylon to digest.

Nit-picking about definitions, and obvious attempts to misunderstand arguments, are hallmarks of rhetoric.

Proof in the Pudding

Perhaps it is my engineering background that makes rhetoric so foreign and offensive to me. Whenever I had a dispute with another engineer about how to design something, we always tried to understand each other’s position to determine who was right. We never tried to convince each other to accept our design using a rhetorical trick. It is foolish to use rhetoric to prove that a bad design will work because we will actually build something using that design. If the design is faulty, the product won’t work, and we will be proved to be wrong, no matter how clever the rhetoric is. It is better to learn the truth before we commit the time and resources to building a failure.

Evolutionists, on the other hand, never build anything that proves or disproves their idea. So, if a rhetorical trick advances their political agenda, they win.

Why Argue?

The doctrine that life originated spontaneously, and that all life evolved from that original life form, is false, and should not be taught in school. If that doctrine isn’t being taught in school, why does anyone object to prohibiting it? If we objected to children being taught that there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, nobody would argue with us because (1) they don't believe there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, and (2) they don’t teach that in school. But people do argue with us when we say that the spontaneous origin of life and subsequent evolution shouldn’t be taught in school because (1) they do believe in the spontaneous origin of life and subsequent evolution, and (2) it is being taught in schools, and they want it to continue to be taught as fact to impressionable children in school.

Evolutionists use rhetorical tricks (not science or philosophy) to advance their political agenda. We again apologize to any philosophers we offended.

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, April 2012, “Zebra Stripes”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v16i7n.htm