applying logic and causality backwards…

When creationists try to frame studies of evolutionary mechanisms as proof of a deity, they have their arguments exactly in reverse.
cow chicken hybrid

Every time an experiment manipulating evolution hits the news, there’s always an eager throng of people who insist that the very fact that the biologists intervened and steered the forces of selection or mutations to doing the experiment means that we now have proof of a designed involved in evolution. Just take yesterday’s study on the possible emergence of multicellularity. According to the creationist crowd, if the biologists didn’t trigger the selective influences on the yeast, it would’ve remained the same and their meddling is therefore proof that without an external force, multicellularity wouldn’t have happened.

Remember the study cited by Lehrer in his indictment of scientists’ seemingly slow progress? That’s exactly where it applies. Just because a biologist shook a beaker or changed a few genes to see what will happen according to the rules of evolution today isn’t proof that someone else also shook the beaker or changed a few genes billions of years ago, but it’s a rather neat and tidy story that’s easy to digest and hence it gets cited by those who are looking to justify a belief. It’s a backward and very self-centered approach, one that essentially promotes a two-tiered fallacy as a fact.

An applicable old cliché would be the one often used by creationists regarding a paining and a painter. If they see a painting, someone must have painted it since paintings don’t paint themselves. Therefore, since we’re not seeing stones turn into bacterial film out of the blue, someone must have created life. Airtight logic, right? Well, no, not at all. We know that paintings have a painter because we’ve seen painters make paintings. If we doubt a painting’s origins, we could always perform a chemical analysis on them and see that yes, it’s canvas with paint on it and we know that there’s a group of painters out there who do similar work.

We can even track down the original painter of a more recent work and ask her to replicate her efforts. With life, matters are much less cut and dry because we’ve never seen a designer or an architect of living things. How do we confirm that living things are made rather than self-organizing? Where do we find the designer? No, in our hearts and in a spiritual universe all around us are not valid answers because they don’t pinpoint a culprit we could ask about the creation of life. And just because scientists did something interesting in the lab doesn’t mean that the very same experiment also happened in nature, much less that a hyper-intelligent being was behind it.

Having dealt with the non-sequitur we can now move on to the argument by assertion on which this entire line of thinking is based. Just like all intelligent design talking points, which are now living well past their sell by date and never actually worked, this one relies on asserting that there must be an entity capable of creating living things and that this entity is singular. This proposition alone requires a few hundred lines of evidence to establish in any way, shape or form, and merely asserting that there’s a singular designer is not proof.

If your goal is to work backwards from the standpoint that some unnamed designer (or you could just say save both the time and the trouble and say God since this “designer” facade isn’t fooling anyone), created all life and we have to work backwards form this premise, the assertion that manipulating evolution for experiments is proof of your deity makes sense. But that’s not a valid point with which to start. We have to work from what we know onwards, otherwise we’re just deluding ourselves by inventing ways to wedge evidence into a predetermined conclusion. Under this pretense, a scientist tweaking evolution the lab has to be proof that a deity had to have done something similar in the past because if he didn’t, then the chain of events don’t match what we want to believe happened. That’s not a reasonable or logical argument. It’s just wishful thinking.

# science // biology / evolution / pseudoscience / religion


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