Why: Why?

Tom Pearson (pearson@panam1.panam.edu)
Mon, 13 Apr 1998 10:54:14 -0500 (CDT)

At 01:34 PM 4/12/98 -0700, Dario Giraldo wrote:

>When Geology becomes an exact science, when geologists can look at the
>earth and say with certainty this volcano is going to erupt this day at
>this hour with this much force. This piece of land is going to shake with
>this much intensity. You can find x millions of gallons of oil in this
>exact point and be true everytime, then I'll believe their claims to
>billions of years for this or that to happened.
>When Evolution becomes a law and not just a theory filled with gaps and
>situations that are more the product of 'creative science' than scientific

I want to make it clear that I speak here as a philosopher, not as a
scientist. But I want to speak as a philosopher, since my concern with the
post cited above is related to an assortment of logical errors that I have
seen not only in Dario's comments, but in a fair amount of the discussions
on this topic.
First, in dealing with scientific matters -- indeed, in dealing with
anything we encounter in this life -- we are not dealing with certainties at
all. Certainties are normally reckoned to be derived from proofs. But
science doesn't traffic in proofs. It deals with evidence, and the
subsequent reasoning that seeks to integrate and account for the evidence.
But this produces no proof of anything. For instance, if you are driving
down the street, and a child runs out in front of your car, can you be
*certain* you will strike and injure the child? Of course not. You have no
proof of anything here. Why, then, do you attempt to stop the car, or avoid
the child? Because you have good grounds for concluding that the evidence
before you indicates the appropriate response. Again, if you have a severe
toothache, can you be certain that going to the dentist will not make the
problem worse? If you can't prove that, wny bother going? In short, if we
waitied until we were always in possession of a priori certainty before we
rendered a judgment, we would know nothing, and act on everything
indiscriminately. Science does not proceed that way, and neither does life.
Asking for science to become "exact," in the sense of providing
"certainties," is a red herring, and does not deserve to be taken seriously.

>Then you'll can say YEC/Noah and many more events are false. In the
>meantime, it becomes a matter of faith. Who or what do you believe more
>because none of us was there to witnessed it and the results can't be
>duplicated in the lab.

Second, it is simply not the case that, because evolution is a
flawed and inconclusive theory, that in itself validates the YEC/global
flood position. This is an ignoratio elenchi, or argument from ignorance.
Usually, it goes like this: if you can't prove your point, that is
sufficient to prove mine. It's not clear to me if Dario is arguing this,
but I've seen a good many others who have so argued. But of course, a
failure to adequately demonstrate one position doesn't at all lend credence
to any other possible position. They could all be wrong.
This second fallacy seems to rest on a third, I think. I
frequently encounter the notion that, on the matter of origins, there is
Theory A, and there is Theory Z. One must be right, and the other must be
wrong. But this is a false alternative. In fact, when it comes to origins,
there is no "Theory A" or "Theory Z." There are a variety of evolutionary
positions, and a spectrum of speculations on the part of those who hold to
Intelligent Design, or Theistic Evolution, or Special Creation. The fallacy
of false alternative depends on mistaking such discrete options for
exclusive categories. "Theory A is right and Theory Z is wrong," *only*
works when, say, Theory Z is a complementary class to Theory A (meaning: a
class of all non-A theories), and not simply an alternative to Theory A.
Based on numberless conversations with folks on both sides of the origins
issue, I have a suspicion that many people tend to confuse the Principle of
Non-Contradiction with the Principle of Excluded Middle, and then further
muddy things up by invoking the Princicple of Sufficient Reason, which
frequently results in the presentation of a false alternative.
Finally, on "a matter of faith." This makes everything humanly
knowable "a matter of faith," as Descartes showed. But it sounds as though
Dario is proposing "faith" as the appropriate response to a lack of
certainty. If so, this is a time-honored philosophical position, and its
name is "skepticism." I cannot be certain if there are unicorns in my
office right now, but I have "faith" that there are such unicorns here. I
cannot be certain that the clothes I am wearing are the same ones I put on
this morning, but I have "faith" that they are. I cannot be certain that
the sun will set in the west this evening, but I have "faith" that it will.
In short, I am abdicating knowledge in favor of "faith." This is a robust
skeptical position. When knowledge is defined by certainty, "faith" is all
that is left -- for anything. For most of us, most of the time, the
question is not about our faith, but about what justifies our faith. Do we
have good evidence for the claims we make about the object of our faith? Is
that evidence carefully examined, and is reason suitably applied to that
evidence? Are our conclusions reliable, informative, and prone to
verification (or falsification)? Everyone, of course, has the proverbial
"right to his opinion." But that's a legal right, not an intellectual one.
For opinions to be treated seriously, or as candidates for knowledge, they
need to justified in some way. That's the key issue.
I suppose what I want to do here is frame my comments in the form of
questions. Why do so many YEC/global flood proponents (not all of them, by
any means) depict the question of origins as a false alternative? Why do so
many in this group seem to believe that if they can point out the multiple
and obvious inadequacies within the range of evolutionary theories, they
have thereby established the legitimacy of their own position? Why do some
YEC/global flood adherents appear to hold that, by eroding all knowledge
claims about origins, they have achieved a level playing field for this
contest? None of these strategems is the least bit convincing. Why do they
do this?

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas
e-mail: pearson@panam1.panam.edu

>Best Regards,
>Dario Giraldo
>Lacey, Washington