Saturday, 20 June 2015

The special creationist burden of proof - and how they always evade it.

One of the more obvious examples of special creationist intellectual dishonesty can be seen when they attack evolutionary creationists who point out the flaws, blunders, logical fallacies, and scientific errors in the special creationist position. The special creationist argument - that evolutionary creationists are not 'qualified' to talk about evolution is more than a little bizarre when the evolutionary creationists appeal not to their own opinion or expertise (except when directly relevant such as the impact evolution has on medicine for example), but to the relevant scientific authorities.

One can readily see the poor logic of the special creationist position if we imagine a situation when an educated layperson rebutted a geocentrist by appealing to arguments made by modern astronomers, only to be told by the geocentrist (also a layperson) that the first layperson's attack on geocentrism was invalid because he was not an astronomer, and therefore not qualified to discuss the subject. Needless to say, most people would regard the geocentrist argument as laughable, not just because the first layperson was not appealing to his own opinion, but the accepted consensus view, but because the burden of proof lay exclusively on the person challenging the consensus view. In order to be taken seriously, the geocentrist needed to show that he understood the subject intimately, a position which demanded intimate knowledge of the subject, but evidence of actively discussing it with the scientific community, in order to show that his ideas had been subjected to the highest scrutiny. In the absence of that, the geocentrist's denial of heliocentrism would carry no weight, and his attempt to dismiss layperson's citation of the scientific consensus on the subject would rightly be seen as a desperate attempt to shift the burden of proof.

This is exactly the position that we see among many special creationists, particularly in our community, who resort to such claims in a desperate attempt to evade the overwhelming evidence for evolution. The simple truth is that evolution is not a theory in crisis, special creationism is not taken seriously outside a tiny fundamentalist rump of science denialists, and common descent has not been doubted among serious life scientists for well over a century. None of this is remotely in doubt, and for those who still delude themselves by pretending otherwise, listing a representative sample of relevant authorities who accept evolution based on the scientific evidence would not go astray:
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be emphasized in K–12 science education frameworks and curricula. Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy needed to be well-informed citizens and prepared for college and STEM careers. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and many other scientific and educational organizations.
NSTA recognizes that a century of political controversy has prevented evolution from being emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate with its importance. This political controversy has been accompanied by anti-evolution policies, the intimidation of science teachers and textbook publishers, and the general public's lack of understanding about evolutionary theory. Teachers face pressure not only to eliminate or de-emphasize the teaching of evolution, but to introduce scientific misinformation and non-science into science classrooms. This pressure comes from overt advocacy of nonscientific views, such as “creation science,” “intelligent design,” or other forms of creationism, as well as the implicit advancement of those nonscientific views to “teach the controversy” or present “strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” Twisting and abusing core pedagogical principles, such as critical thinking and scientific inquiry is another strategy designed to open science classroom doors to non-science.
American Anthropological Association 
The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association affirms that:
  • Evolution is a basic component of many aspects of anthropology (including physical anthropology, archeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics) and is a cornerstone of modern science, being central to biology, geology, and astronomy;
  • The principles of evolution have been tested repeatedly and found to be valid according to scientific criteria. Evolution should be part of the pre-college curriculum; it is the best scientific explanation of human and nonhuman biology and the key to understanding the origin and development of life;
  • Religious views are an important part of human cultures, and deserve a place in the pre- college curriculum, provided that they are not presented dogmatically or in a proselytizing context. A comparative, anthropological study of religion would not violate the Constitutional requirement of religious neutrality in the classroom. An anthropological understanding of religion would be helpful in resolving some of the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution;
  • The Association respects the right of people to hold diverse religious beliefs, including those who reject evolution as matters of theology or faith. Such beliefs should not be presented as science, however;
  • Teachers, administrators, school board members and others involved in pre-college education are under pressure to teach creationism as science and/or eliminate or downgrade evolution, to the detriment of public scientific literacy. Many succumb to this pressure, for lack of expressed support from scientists and other community members;
Therefore anthropologists are encouraged to use their knowledge both of evolution and of human social and cultural systems to assist communities in which evolution and creationism have become contentious. Anthropologists should help the public and public officials understand that good science education requires that evolution be presented in the same manner as other well-supported scientific theories, without special qualifications or disclaimers, and that an understanding of religion and other cultural systems should be part of the education of each child.
The coverage of evolution in biology textbooks we have written reflects the broad consensus in the scientific community. As noted in a booklet issued by the National Academy of Sciences, "Evolution pervades all biological phenomena. To ignore that it occurred or to classify it as a form of dogma is to deprive the student of the most fundamental organizational concept in the biological sciences."  
Our textbooks are written from this point of view. Evolution occupies a prominent position, and is covered explicitly. Many sections use evolutionary concepts to explain the diversity of living and fossil organisms, the adaptations of organisms to their environments, and similarities of structure and function shared by related organisms. In this way, we present students with the understanding of biology shared by the overwhelming majority of working scientists in the United States and throughout the world. 

The contemporary theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry. It is the foundation for research in many areas of biology as well as an essential element of science education. To become informed and responsible citizens in our contemporary technological world, students need to study the theories and empirical evidence central to current scientific understanding. 
Over the past several years proponents of so-called “intelligent design theory,” also known as ID, have challenged the accepted scientific theory of biological evolution. As part of this effort they have sought to introduce the teaching of “intelligent design theory” into the science curricula of the public schools. The movement presents “intelligent design theory” to the public as a theoretical innovation, supported by scientific evidence, that offers a more adequate explanation for the origin of the diversity of living organisms than the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution. In response to this effort, individual scientists and philosophers of science have provided substantive critiques of “intelligent design,” demonstrating significant conceptual flaws in its formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts.
The theory of evolution is all but universally accepted in the community of scholars and has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the natural world. The Ninety-first Annual Meeting of the American Association of University Professors deplores efforts in local communities and by some state legislators to require teachers in public schools to treat evolution as merely a hypothesis or speculation, untested and unsubstantiated by the methods of science, and to require them to make students aware of an "intelligent-design hypothesis" to account for the origins of life. These initiatives not only violate the academic freedom of public school teachers, but can deny students an understanding of the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding evolution. 
The implications of these efforts for higher education are particularly troubling to this Meeting. To the degree that college and university faculty in the field of biology would be required to offer instruction about evolution and the origins of life that complied with these restrictions and was at variance with their own understanding of scientific evidence, their freedom to determine what may be taught and how would be seriously abridged. 
This Meeting calls on local communities and state officials to reject proposals that seek to suppress discussion of evolution in our public schools as inimical to principles of academic freedom.
The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, is reiterating its call for evolution to be included in the K-12 science curricula at an "age-appropriate level," because it is "central to our modern understanding of science." 
"Evolution is a well-established, central scientific concept," said William F. Carroll, Jr., Ph.D., ACS president. "In the proper context, students should be exposed to a wide diversity of ideas to help them shape their own opinions. But they should get a solid understanding of science from their science teachers through a full and robust scientific curriculum. Evolution is the proven scientific model that we should be teaching in the science classroom." 
Carroll said: "Because the debate has recently moved to the national stage, the American Chemical Society wants to reiterate its position that the curricula in our nation's science classrooms should be based on well-established science, such as the theory of evolution in biology and other sciences." 
In a recently adopted policy statement, the Society said that "evolutionary theory is not a hypothesis, but is the scientifically accepted explanation for the origin of species, and explains significant observations in chemistry, biology, geology, and other disciplines." 
ACS urged state and local education authorities to support high-quality science standards and curricula that "affirm evolution as the only scientifically accepted explanation for the origin and diversity of species." The Society further asked administrators and curricula supervisors to make sure that evolution is taught in their classrooms and is "accurately represented in their science textbooks, and assessed on local and state science tests."The Society said that "evolution cannot be dismissed or diminished by characterizing it as mere conjecture or speculation." The Society's first policy statement on evolution was in 1999 in response to the Kansas Board of Education's move toward de-emphasizing evolution in the curriculum.”
Evolution represents one of the broadest, most inclusive theories used in pursuit of and in teaching this knowledge, but it is by no means the only theory involved. Scientific theories are used in two ways: to explain what we know, and to pursue new knowledge. Evolution explains observations of shared characteristics (the result of common ancestry and descent with modification) and adaptations (the result of natural selection acting to maximize reproductive success), as well as explaining pollen:ovule ratios, weeds, deceptive pollination strategies, differences in sexual expression, dioecy, and a myriad of other biological phenomena. Far from being merely a speculative notion, as implied when someone says, “evolution is just a theory,” the core concepts of evolution are well documented and well confirmed. Natural selection has been repeatedly demonstrated in both field and laboratory, and descent with modification is so well documented that scientists are justified in saying that evolution is true.  
Some people contend that creationism and its surrogate, “intelligent design,” offers an alternative explanation: that organisms are well adapted and have common characteristics because they were created just so, and they exhibit the hallmarks of intelligent design. As such, creationism is an all inclusive explanation for every biological phenomenon. So why do we support and teach evolution and not creationism/“intelligent design” if both explain the same phenomena? Are botanists just dogmatic, atheistic materialists, as some critics of science imply? Hardly, although scientists are routinely portrayed by creationists as dogmatic. We are asked, “Why, in all fairness, don’t we teach both explanations and let students decide?”  
The fairness argument implies that creationism is a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, and that is not true. Science is not about fairness, and all explanations are not equal. Some scientific explanations are highly speculative with little in the way of supporting evidence, and they will stand or fall based upon rigorous testing. The history of science is littered with discarded explanations, e.g., inheritance of acquired characters, but these weren’t discarded because of public opinion or general popularity; each one earned that distinction by being scientifically falsified. Scientists may jump on a “band wagon” for some new explanation, particularly if it has tremendous explanatory power, something that makes sense out of previously unexplained phenomena. But for an explanation to become a mainstream component of a theory, it must be tested and found useful in doing science. 
To make progress, to learn more about botanical organisms, hypotheses, the subcomponents of theories, are tested by attempting to falsify logically derived predictions. This is why scientists use and teach evolution; evolution offers testable explanations of observed biological phenomena. Evolution continues to be of paramount usefulness, and so, based on simple pragmatism, scientists use this theory to improve our understanding of the biology of organisms. Over and over again, evolutionary theory has generated predictions that have proven to be true. Any hypothesis that doesn’t prove true is discarded in favor of a new one, and so the component hypotheses of evolutionary theory change as knowledge and understanding grow. Phylogenetic hypotheses, patterns of ancestral relatedness, based on one set of data, for example, base sequences in DNA, are generated, and when the results make logical sense out of formerly disparate observations, confidence in the truth of the hypothesis increases. The theory of evolution so permeates botany that frequently it is not mentioned explicitly, but the overwhelming majority of published studies are based upon evolutionary hypotheses, each of which constitutes a test of an hypothesis. Evolution has been very successful as a scientific explanation because it has been useful in advancing our understanding of organisms and applying that knowledge to the solution of many human problems, e.g., host-pathogen interactions, origin of crop plants, herbicide resistance, disease susceptibility of crops, and invasive plants.
Representing 22 professional societies and 84,000 scientists in disciplines that range from single molecules to public health, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) affirms that instruction in science is an essential component of education. Science education has become increasingly important in driving innovation and discovery, and in enabling citizens to make informed decisions and to compete in the 21st century workplace. For these reasons, it is critical to preserve the integrity of science education by opposing the mandatory teaching in science classes of creationism, intelligent design, and other concepts not based on sound scientific principles. 
Proponents for non-scientific accounts of the development of life, including creationism and intelligent design, contend that evolution alone should not be taught in science classes. Arguing that evolution is "just a theory," rather than a fact, they insist that intelligent design should be offered as an alternative to evolution or given "equal time", and that schools should "teach the controversy" surrounding evolutionary theory. 

FASEB does not support these views. We also affirm that these positions seriously undermine science education. 

In science, a theory is a coherent explanation of natural phenomena based on direct observation or experimentation. Theories are logical, predictive, and testable. They are open to criticism and when shown to be false, they are modified or dismissed. Using this definition, evolution is categorized with other scientific theories such as gravity or atomic theory, which, like evolution, are universally accepted among scientists. 

Evolution is among the most thoroughly tested theories in the biological sciences. It is supported by volumes of scientific evidence in numerous fields, including genetics, biochemistry, developmental biology, comparative anatomy, immunology, geology, and paleontology. Moreover, evolution lays the foundation for much of what we know about genetics, immunology, antibiotic resistance, human origins, and the adaptation of species to a changing environment. Removing evolution from the classroom, or misrepresenting evolution as a flawed theory, deprives students of one of the most important tenets of science and the basis of our understanding of biology and medicine, including pandemic influenza and AIDS. 
Progress in science consists of the development of better explanations for the causes of natural phenomena. Scientists never can be sure that a given explanation is complete and final. Some of the hypotheses advanced by scientists turn out to be incorrect when tested by further observations or experiments. Yet many scientific explanations have been so thoroughly tested and confirmed that they are held with great confidence. 
The theory of evolution is one of these well-established explanations. An enormous amount of scientific investigation since the mid-19th century has converted early ideas about evolution proposed by Darwin and others into a strong and well-supported theory. Today, evolution is an extremely active field of research, with an abundance of new discoveries that are continually increasing our understanding of how evolution occurs.
The theory of evolution is being attacked by religious fundamentalists who call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of it. From a scientific view point there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth. 
Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes. 
The Assembly calls on education authorities in member States to promote scientific knowledge and the teaching of evolution and to oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline.

In an open letter published today [Thursday, 20 October, 2005] in major newspapers, the nation's leading researchers and science educators have joined forces for the first time to express "grave concern" that ID might be taught in any school as a valid alternative to evolution. 
The signatories to the letter include all the nation's peak groups in the field, notably the Australian Academy of Science, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, and the Australian Science Teachers Association… 
As Australian scientists and science educators, we are gravely concerned that so-called "intelligent design" (ID) might be taught in any school as a valid scientific alternative to evolution. 
While science is a work in progress, a vast and growing body of factual knowledge supports the hypothesis that biological complexity is the result of natural processes of evolution. 
Proponents of ID assert that some living structures are so complex that they are explicable only by the agency of an imagined and unspecified "intelligent designer". 
They are free to believe and profess whatever they like. But not being able to imagine or explain how something happened other than by making a leap of faith to supernatural intervention is no basis for any science: that is a theological or philosophical notion.
For a theory to be considered scientific it must be testable - either directly or indirectly - by experiment or observation. The results of such tests should be able to be reproduced by others as a check on their accuracy (and, importantly, if repeated testing falsifies the theory it should be rejected rather than taught as part of the accumulating body of scientific understanding). 
Finally, a scientific theory should explain more than what is already known: it should be able to predict outcomes in novel situations.

Evolution meets all of these criteria but ID meets none of them: it is not science. 
We therefore urge all Australian governments and educators not to permit the teaching or promulgation of ID as science. 
To do so would make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views - be they astrology, spoon-bending, flat-earth cosmology or alien abductions - and crowd out the teaching of real science.
Interacademy Partnership (68 signatories)
We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science. We urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature. Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet. 
We agree that the following evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines. Even if there are still many open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted these results:
  • In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.
  • Since its formation, the Earth – its geology and its environments – has changed under the effect of numerous physical and chemical forces and continues to do so.
  • Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least 2 billion years ago, the slow transformation of the atmosphere to one containing substantial quantities of oxygen. In addition to the release of the oxygen that we breathe, the process of photosynthesis is the ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life on the planet depends.
  • Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.
We also subscribe to the following statement regarding the nature of science in relation to the teaching of evolution and, more generally, of any field of scientific knowledge : 
Scientific knowledge derives from a mode of inquiry into the nature of the universe that has been successful and of great consequence. Science focuses on (i) observing the natural world and (ii)formulating testable and refutable hypotheses to derive deeper explanations for observable phenomena. When evidence is sufficiently compelling, scientific theories are developed that account for and explain that evidence, and predict the likely structure or process of still unobserved phenomena.
When evolutionary creationists point out that the overwhelming majority of competent, qualified life scientists - those who are best placed to offer an informed opinion on evolution - accept the fact of common descent, they are not cherry picking authorities, or manufacturing a consensus that does not exist. They are merely pointing out what is patently obvious to anyone who is not blinded by fundamentalist dogma - those who know what they are talking about overwhelmingly accept evolution. Denying it is about as reasonable as pretending that - well - the sun orbits the Earth.