Science and Creationism

John R. Grehan jrg13 at PSU.EDU
Tue Apr 2 11:47:24 CST 2002

At 09:15 AM 4/2/02 -0500, you wrote:
> >>>>From: John R. Grehan [mailto:jrg13 at PSU.EDU]
>It seems to me that if one looks to the origin of evolutionary thought it
>did not come from any "scientific observation" since there were plenty of
>people engaged in scientific observation (e.g in Darwin's time) who did not
>produce evolutionary theory, and the same applies to interpretation and
>By this statement, I must conclude there is nothing left to discover!

I don't come to the same conclusion.

>all the people "engaged in scientific observation" before, during, and since
>Darwin's time, any theory that's not already been produced must not be
>scientific.  John, just because no-one else thought of it yet, that doesn't
>mean some new angle of thinking won't come up with some new theories or
>that those new theories can't be scientific.

I'm not quite sure I understand the point in the first sentence, but for
the second, I did not exclude any new angle of thinking or that new
theories can't be scientific. I  was questioning whether evolution came
from "scientific observation". It seems to me that the reference to a "new
angle of thinking" coming up with "new theories" is actually closer to the
historical reality. It was seeing the same observations in a different
context that led Darwin and others to an evolutionary perspective, not
"scientific observations" of themselves.

>Probably most religions started with observations and attempts at
>explanation of what was observed.  However, most religions seem to rely
>very heavily on faith (belief in the absence of data) rather than generation of
>hypotheses and attempts to then prove them false.  In religion, a new way
>of looking at the world is called "divine revelation" and a new religion is
>started.  In science, a new way of looking at the world is called "paradigm
>shift" and a new body of theory (and a new set of experiments) is started.

Seems to me that this suggests that there are some very strong parallels in
conceptual methodology. In science there is also a heavy reliance on faith
in the absence of data. This faith has even led to scientific breakthroughs
where research was carried out in the absence of data. Examples include
faith in Newton's theory of gravitation even thought the facts of planetary
motion contradicted that theory.

>Unfortunately, when evolutionary biologists get lazy, they tend toward this
>attitude themselves--if the experiment worked out, it's evidence of
>evolution, if it didn't, we just don't understand the system as well as we
>thought.  The result has been the generation of a lot of evolutionary
>"just-so" stories that have come back to haunt us.

Agreed. But the problem I am concerned with is the teaching and popular
representation of evolution as a science simply being the generation of
evidence in support of evolution.

>Most of the sciences are readily subject to generation and falsification.
>However, cosmology and evolution, because of their scope, are more difficult
>in that regard.

Some philosophers of science may argue that they are not falsifiable in the
ordinary sense as the comprise the research programs that direct the
activities of researchers.

>but we haven't come up with the machinery necessary to test or observe

That may all depend on one's perspective. From mine I would argue that
phylogeny (as a research method) has passed the test of corroboration
through biogeography where phylogenetic relationships were assigned spatial
homologies that led to novel predictions of geological structure that were
later empirically corroborated by geologists.

This is why we come
>dangerously close to religion (relying on coincidence and just-so stories),
>at times, in our own work.  And this is what leaves us so vulnerable to
>concerted attack from the religious.

I think its the reliance on the stories in the teaching and presentation of
evolution that is the problem, not the stories themselves. The stories
represent summaries of knowledge or understanding by the author. The
stories to not represent the method by which those stories were generated.

John Grehan

Frost Entomological Museum
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Entomology
501 ASI Building
University Park, PA 16802. USA.
Phone: (814) 863-2865
Fax: (814) 865-3048

Frost Museum

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