Attacking Evolution? So What?

One of the most common tactics I see creationists use to attempt to prove creationism is to try to disprove evolution (and sometimes, if they know a bit more about what evolution actually covers, abiogenesis, Earth science, and cosmogony).  They usually see these attacks as proof that creationism must be true, without really understanding… well… the rules of logic.  So I’ve decided to help these apologists out a bit and help explain the difference between a well-reasoned argument style and their style.

Squirtle knows more about evolution than you

First, I’d like to describe the difference between a condition being necessary for truth, and a condition being sufficient.  In order to show how incredibly nerdy I am, I will try to illustrate this argument with Pokémon analogies.

Let’s start by looking at the Air Lock ability.  Rayquaza is the only Pokémon that has this ability.  Therefore, if we are told that a certain Pokémon has Air Lock, this fact is sufficient to conclude that the Pokémon must be Rayquaza.  We can also say that if we are given a Pokémon without Air Lock, it cannot be Rayquaza, as it is necessary that Rayquaza have Air Lock.   Note the way in which I described those cases: sufficiency was used to conclude some positive result (this Pokémon is), and that necessity was used to conclude some negative result (this Pokémon is not).  It’s also simple to take the contrapositive of these statements, and we’re given: if we are given a Pokémon that is not Rayquaza, it must not have Air Lock, since if it did, we could conclude that this Pokémon is Rayquaza (sufficiency), which is a contradiction; if we are given a Rayquaza, it must have Air Lock, since if it did not, then we could conclude that this Pokémon is not Rayquaza (necessity), which would be a contradiction.

Next, I’ll extend this further to the Torrent ability.  Twelve Pokémon posses this ability, Squirtle being one of them; since I’ve already explained things at length, I’ll just show how the above argument does not work in this case.  If we are given a Pokémon with Torrent, we can conclude that this Pokémon could be Squirtle, as it is necessary for Squirtle to have Torrent, but not sufficient, as there are eleven other Pokémon with that ability.  If we are given a Pokémon that is not Squirtle, it is not sufficient to say that this Pokémon cannot have Torrent.

Next, let’s look at Iron Fist.  Hitmonchan can have either this ability or Keen Eye, however, no other Pokémon can have Iron Fist.  Therefore, it is sufficient to say that if we have a Pokémon with Iron Fist, it must be a Hitmonchan, while being given a Hitmonchan is not sufficient to conclude that it must have Iron Fist.

Finally, let’s look at Heatproof.  Bronzor and Bronzong can posess either this ability or Levitate.  Therefore, if we are given a Pokémon with Heatproof, it is not sufficient to conclude that we have a Bronzor, and if we are given a Bronzor, it is not sufficient to conclude that it has Heatproof.  These arise because it is not necessary for a Bronzor to have Heatproof, nor is it necessary for a Pokémon who has Heatproof to be a Bronzor.

And so, in a roundabout way, I’ve described four cases:

Necessary Not Necessary
Sufficient Rayquaza and Air Lock Hitmonchan and Iron Fist
Not Sufficient Squirtle and Torrent Bronzor and Heatproof

The next thing I need to describe is what’s called a dichotomy.  A dichotomy is a split of all possible instances of a set into two distinct sets,  such that there is no overlap between the two sets, and so that nothing is in neither set.  Since I’m on a Pokémon roll, I’ll help to describe this more with Pokémon.

If I said that I could split all of the Pokémon in the game into two sets: Those with the Water type, and those without the Water type, you would agree that these sets do not overlap, and encompass all possible Pokémon.  However, if I said I could split all of the Pokémon in the game into two sets: Those with the Water type, and those with the Fire type, you would instantly disagree with me, and bring up Grass, Fighting, or any other possible type.  Furthermore, if I said I could split all of the Pokémon into two sets, and included all the current types in those two sets, I can almost guarantee that it will be an invalid split when Black and White come out (generation five will surely introduce at least one more type, right?).  These last two splits are called “False Dichotomies;” they do not fulfil the above listed requirements.

I think that now it’s time to finally lay down my advice to apologists.  The statement “because I have disproved science, my religion is correct” is incredibly false, as I will hopefully demonstrate with my Pokémon examples.  First, the argument assumes that it is both necessary and sufficient for some branch of science to be wrong for some religion to be correct; they think that it’s a Rayquaza and Air Lock situation.  However, this case (and the Hitmonchan one)  is probably the least accurate position you could take up within the table above.  If -anything-, we’re either talking about Squirtle or Bronzor.  Let me take this opportunity here to say that when I say “science” in the following paragraphs, I’m most likely talking about evolution, abiogenesis, Earth science, or cosmogony.

Saying that it is both necessary and sufficient for science to be false for a certain religion to be true is not a well thought out argument.  While we can take the position that if your God exists, science must be wrong, we cannot take the position that if science is false, your God must exist.  This is a false dichotomy.  If science is wrong, one of the countless other religions that have existed might be true, a different scientific theory might be true, or it might have been something we have not even considered yet (the Gen V of reality?).

The Hitmonchan case might actually be the most nonsensical; this is arguing that if god exists, science isn’t necessarily false, but if science is false, he must exist.  A cursory glance at this conclusion should raise an eyebrow.  However, I think I’ve heard people taking this position, as contradictory as it seems.  It’s important to note though that this isn’t actually contradictory; we could arrive at a proof for God that does not require debunking science (especially if it can’t be debunked), and that proof and subsequent truth of the statement “god exists” would not then imply that science is false.  However, the sufficient part of the argument falls into the false dichotomy hole again.

I subscribe to something between Squirtle and Bronzor.  Saying that it is necessary for science to be false for god’s existence, yet not sufficient, does not fall into the false dichotomy hole; the only contestable part is whether god’s existence precludes scientific truth.  The Bronzor case helps to rectify this, but is not in line with most apologist’s line of reasoning.  God’s existence must knock some scientific theories out of the running in their minds.

So there you have it.  In order to present a compelling argument for your branch of religion, be it creationism, intelligent design, teach the “controversy”, or a not-so-intellectually-and-simply dishonest sect, you cannot just attack science and expect that to be enough.  In fact, by attacking scientific theories, you only make them stronger in the end.  Having to deal with scrutiny and addressing challenges are an extremely basic part of any scientific theory.

FYI, your holy book is not proof.    I don’t care how much you can claim it prophesies things – twisting the meaning of words and sentences in the text does not impress those outside your religion.

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~ by buncythefrog on June 5, 2010.

7 Responses to “Attacking Evolution? So What?”

  1. You realise, of course, there are going to be people trying to use pokemon as evidence that evolution is false, right?

  2. Yeah, I’m not exactly sure why the religion-science dichotomy exists, to be honest, and I suspect it might be the fault of both sides. Science having gone up against religion back in the day of the Enlightenment, and fundamentalist religion backlashing up to this very day, which creates a backlash among some scientists…and the cycle continues.

    I believe that God exists. I also believe that He uses rational, orderly laws. Aka what we know as “science”. So…I’m not really getting the problem here. I don’t think I have to disbelieve science.

    Now, there is a sense in which I can understand their panic, it has to do with their mindset, I won’t get into that here.

    But yeah, I’m with you. That line of logic really doesn’t lead anywhere.

    • To be incredibly nitpicky, science provides explanations for natural systems. If you believe that God -made- these systems, it isn’t necessarily science, it just means that we can use science to analyze those creations.

      Mmm, like I was saying in the post, God’s existence doesn’t necessarily preclude scientific truth, though it might in some areas.

      The reason I wrote this post, beyond the fact that I’ve met many people who have used this line of thinking, was because of something back in high school; I was in an Earth and Space Science class, and we had to do presentations. I forget what mine was about, maybe a planet. One of the fundie Christian students in that class did a presentation on Creationism or ID, I forget what it was being called at the time. The presentation was “carbon dating is wrong, evolution is wrong, read a bit of Genesis, done.” I responded by saying “what was the point of this presentation?” He didn’t understand, despite me trying to explain it to him, that he had done nothing to prop up his own claims. That was the first time I encountered this kind of thinking, and above all else, it’s that presentation that sticks out in my mind when I think about anti-science attitudes from the religious. I wanted to finally get a small refutation of that out on this blog at some time.

  3. Sorry, I zoned out when you got to the Pokémon. But I already understand evolution, so it’s OK.

    …Wait, no it’s not. If I’m too old for Pokémon, your target audience is definitely too old and is not going to ask their kids.

    • As I mentioned earlier to you on IRC, the Pokemon stuff is a shtick, and the logic of the argument itself is all contained two paragraphs after the table.

  4. ^ Due to your site’s lack of a post preview feature, I demand that you fix my formatting!

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