What If Creationists Held Their Religion To The Same Unreasonable Standards They Set For Evolution?
Creationists are the ultimate skeptics, and yet in another sense they are also ultimately gullible. I’ve always found this unusual. They will believe in completely ludicrous things like men being raised from the dead and talking ghosts that can impregnate virgins through the ear without even a shred of evidence, but when confronted with the evidence for biological evolution they transform from gullible and naive peons into staunch critics upholding the most unreasonable burdens of proof ever constructed. This is, incidentally, one of their chief modes of argument, and perhaps one of the pillars of creationist reasoning.
The theory of evolution is actually supported with a wide array of evidence, so much so that the theory is almost as undoubtable as a scientific theory can get. Evolution is right up there with basic principles of elementary physics in terms of observational support. In the face of such overwhelming evidence, the only route left for potential criticism is to adopt epistemic standards of such unreasonableness that virtually nothing could be considered true if we applied such standards across all areas of inquiry and knowledge. The creationist attack, then, is a form of selective epistemic standard raising. For all intents and purposes, if other proposed ideas were supported by evidence to the degree that biological evolution is, creationists would certainly not doubt these ideas. However, the theory of evolution is fair game for doubt, because creationists selectively demand ridiculously implausible degrees of evidence for its truth, and won’t accept anything less.
Common creationist arguments that utilize this tactic are numerous. For instance, they often make the following claims:
- There aren’t that many transitional fossils. Scientists should find a lot more.
- Scientists can’t explain in full detail how life first arose / how sex evolved / etc.
- Scientific claims are provisional and always subject to disproof. Why should we believe in evolution if it could be wrong?
- Macro-evolution that produces grand and complex changes has never been “observed”.
Notice how these facts could only truly be considered criticisms of evolutionary theory if we expected complete and total mathematical proof for biological evolution. The problem, of course, is that empirical sciences do not deal with formal proofs of absolute certainty, and must instead rely on evidence and probability, like much of our every day knowledge.
In normal scenarios, creationists do not have such high epistemic standards. If, for instance, they found a half-eaten deer carcass surrounded by wolf paw prints, the reasonable conclusion is that the wolves ate the deer. If they subsequently found wolves with fur covered in deer blood, and analyzed the vomit of one wolf and found that it contained deer meat, that would be further evidence in support of the rather obvious conclusion that wolves ate the deer in question.
I swear, this is tofu blood!
Now, if some wolf-loving skeptic wanted to protect the wolves from this charge of murder, he could adopt the creationist strategy and utilize unreasonably high epistemic standards to shield himself from criticism. He could argue, for instance, that because no one “observed” the wolves eating the deer, we could doubt the conclusion. For this skeptic, all the evidence pointing towards the wolves means nothing if we cannot directly observe the event in question. He could also remark that the wolf theory leaves out certain details. For instance, it doesn’t tell us exactly how many wolves were involved, or whether the wolves first attacked from the right or left side, or whether the deer happened to be looking down at its feet when the attack occurred. The skeptic could argue that these “gaps” in the theory rule out the wolf hypothesis.
Of course, any reasonable person can see that the wolf skeptic sets his epistemic standards way too high. We need not directly observe the event, nor explain every trite and inane detail in order to know that the wolves did indeed eat the deer. The evidence of the eaten deer carcass, the wolf paw prints, and blood spattered wolves, the deer meat in the vomit, and so on, all show without a doubt that the deer was eaten by the wolves.
The deer just ate itself, we swear!
Clearly, creationists use almost the exact same sorts of arguments against evolution. When they argue that huge biological changes resulting from evolution have never been observed, for instance, they do not realize that scientists need not directly observe single-celled organisms becoming primates in order to reasonably conclude that such an event occurred, just as those who believe that the wolves ate the deer need not directly observe the event to know that it truly happened, given the abundance of evidence supporting the claim. When creationists argue that there are gaps in the fossil record, they fail to realize that geology predicts such gaps, and it is hardly reasonable to expect every species that ever lived to become fossilized. They also fail to realize that the few transitional forms that have been found are solid evidence of evolution. If, for instance, one could not find the paw prints of one particular blood-covered wolf, for instance, it wouldn’t necessarily indicate that the other wolves whose paw prints were found did not eat the deer. Indeed, the missing paw print of the one wolf is not evidence that he didn’t eat, anyway, because the more plausible explanation, given the evidence of his blood-covered fur, is that he ate the deer but perhaps did not leave any prints, or that his prints were destroyed by the other wolves walking over them. Finally, the creationist criticism that scientists cannot explain a very specific and complex even like the evolution of sex with absolute accuracy, and then remarking that this is evidence against evolution, is like claiming that because we can’t explain from which angle the wolves first attacked, the wolf scenario must be false. Clearly, such an argument would only hold any force for someone with unreasonable expectations of evidence, who for some reason believed that we must prove everything with complete logical certainty, even though this sort of accuracy is impossible outside of mathematics.
The only way to truly defeat this sort of skeptical challenge is to apply it to things the creationist holds dear, like his belief in God. If, for instance, one adopts this stance of irrational doubt and applies it to the Bible, it is quite clear that the Bible falls clear to the ground like the inaccurate, contradictory text that it is. Indeed, one of the most interesting things about creationists is their ability to have such high epistemic standards for something like evolution, while at the same time having virtually no epistemic standards at all in place for claims about religion, often justifying these beliefs with talk of faith. One would think the creationist would be consistent with his standards of proof, but it turns out that he only sets evolution to such a high standard because he finds its implications inconsistent with his religious worldview. If only the theory of evolution had proven that men were created from dirt by an omnipotent bearded dude, perhaps the scientists would have had an easier time convincing the creationists of its truth. Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t frequently accord with the whims of creationists and the rest of the willfully ignorant, and the only way to truly gain knowledge is through good old evidence gathering, much to the chagrin of those who espouse the value of faith.
Indeed, one need not even endorse extreme skepticism in order to tear down most people’s religious beliefs. Plain, regular reasoning and skepticism will suffice, because most religious claims are downright ludicrous and unsupported by any form of evidence. One can only imagine how quickly such religious beliefs would be destroyed if one approached them with the extreme skepticism the likes of which creationists brandish at evolution.