False Dilemma: The set-up of this debate and the challenge from Dr. Hovind [prove the truth of evolution] imply a false dilemma or either-or fallacy or fallacy of excluded middle. If I say that it’s either evolution or it’s creation, then I am ignoring possible middle ground—a manifestation perhaps of borderline syndrome—but I won’t seduce myself to ad hominems here <g>. Note that an inability to provide proof for evolution does not automatically establish the truth of creationism. Such an establishment of truth for the contrary theory should happen only if the “or” is justifiably an “XOR” (exclusive “or”—“aut” in Latin, not “vel.”) But the exclusive “or” for the statement “it’s either creationism or it’s evolution” cannot be established since there are other alternatives. Underlying this false dilemma is another intriguing nature of the religious mind. In absence of any other way of proving the religionist’s beliefs, s/he resorts to a stubbornness that begins to think of humanity completely in “us-them” terms. You may have heard phrases like “You’re either with us or you’re against us”—period! No room for negotiations. No allowance for differences. No permission for common ground. You see, for example, in the allowance of time for debaters that the religious sponsors lump everyone into their own camp or in collectively the others’ camp.
I shall attempt a case for middle ground soonest. Meanwhile let me assert that it’s a peculiarity of the religious mind to wish solid truths and to think in terms of absolutes and it’s a quality of the scientific mind to accept probabilities and the onus to search for more evidence to even challenge some of the ideas held now. So, the distinction I’d like to make between religion and science is that the former searches for absolute truth or absolute truths, and the latter attempts to establish predictability within the framework of a pragmatically held theoretic assumption. What the scientist asserts is that any proposition can be challenged and, indeed, should be challenged to assure us that it holds up as a tool and instrument for predictions.
Let me illustrate scientific thinking with a very simple example. Suppose I believe that when I dunk litmus paper into acid, then the litmus paper will turn red. Is that a truth? You might think so; but strictly speaking, it is not a truth at all; instead, it has a high probability of recurrence. In other words, when I do this again, I anticipate with a very high degree of certainty—though not absolute certainty—that this will happen again as stated. The scientist also knows under what circumstances s/he will retract the statement “when I dunk litmus paper into acid, then the litmus paper will turn red.” The clear-headed thinker will retract that statement if and only if clearly certified litmus paper is dunked into clearly certified acid and comes out purple or green or whatever. And the religionists occasionally have subscribed to that principle also: St. Boniface, for example, chopped down an ancient oak that was thought to be inhabited by the god Thor. When the oak fell, so did the Germans fall--to Christianity. Suppose I were to suggest such a test of a god by having her or him or it strike some infidels or make me king of the USA for a day or some other such test. I am willing to be large sums of money that this form of scientific thinking would not sit well with the religionists. As Mark Twain said, “Faith is when you believe something you know ain’t true.” And strangely enough, the more untenable a religious position is, the more tenacious are its advocates.
We need to be clear about the fact that we cannot know the world at all. Each and everyone of us carries a world around in his or her head. When one of us dies, the world does not change; the world ends—namely the only world that this individual knew: the one in his or her head. Something is outside of our heads—no doubt. But precisely what its nature is, we cannot know in any direct and immediate sense. All our knowledge is mediate. To organize our knowledge, we set up explanatory and predictive hypotheses. The evolutionary hypothesis makes sense as long as we find evidence that fits the theoretical mold. When we find evidence that does not and when that contrary evidence abounds sufficiently, we may have a shift of assumptions, a shift which, when it is as global as the shift from theological thinking to scientific thinking in the 13th century, has been referred to by some as a paradigm shift. That is, not only a few hypotheses change, but an entire outlook and many hypotheses attached to that outlook may change.
Dr. Hovind’s challenge to prove the truth of evolution is, thus, either sadly misinformed or malicious. No scientific hypothesis can be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt; we are dealing in predictions under the pragmatic test for probability or probable truth. The attempt to prove the truth of scientific hypotheses died sometime in the 1920’s with the Verifiability Criterion of the Logical Positivists. I don’t know why the religionists are still trying to fight that battle—unless they know of that predicament of human reasoning and are trying to set up a false dilemma to persuade the gullible.
But let me buy into the false dilemma for a moment. Suppose that we need to reject the explanatory model of evolutionary theory to classify and to attempt an understanding of the fossil evidence that we are finding or the phenomena that Hubble is seeing in the far distant past. Suppose then that we have concluded that this theory is not verifiable and must thus be rejected. What do I have now? With divine agency, I now do not only have to explain the origin of the universe and its will to some form of assertion of the will to be, but I also will have to explain the origin of the spiritual being that accounts for the origin of the universe; I will have to account for how spiritual being asserts itself onto material being to create a world—you do remember the problem of how many angels can dance on the tip of pin, don’t you? That’s the problem: how does spiritual entity interact with material entity—a very serious problem if you buy into creationism. OK. From the explanatory and possibly falsifiable model of evolution, I have landed myself in a logical universe where I now have to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of the deity, and the mode of interaction between spiritual and material entities. And since the creative force is intelligent in some way, the acts may be internally motivated in that spiritual being and thus become completely unpredictable. Can you envision going to a physician who will diagnose your ailment with a comment that it’s a stone that God forgot to take out of the clay when s/he/it decided to create the world five minutes ago with all the memories, fossil data, and beings as you see them now. Such a world would be too ludicrous to make any sense of whatsoever. So, recognizing fully that evolution—like any scientific theory—is not true in any absolute sense but is under ongoing examination by the scientific community, I am still willing to live with these tenuous theory until we find out better than I would be willing to sell out to the lunatic fringe. I mean, it’s not the case that this world has never before been hoodwinked by the religionists before. The Greeks had already calculated the circumference of the earth by measuring the length of shadows of equally long sticks at the same time with many miles between the sticks. And then we made the terrific progress of ushering in Christianity to give us such blessings as the inquisition, the witch burnings, the killing of people who dared to think in variance of the major doctrines of the Christians, the flat-earth theory, and he most abhorrent doctrine of inheritable evil from Adam and Eve’s original sin.
Science does not know it all but can live with not knowing all; and I feel a lot more comfortable with that state of affairs than I would if I had to live under the scourge of the religious know-it-alls who permit no variances from a basic stance of totalitarianism expressed as arbitrarily derived FAITH.