Would You Like Fries With That Theory?

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May 10, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

Would You Like Fries With That Theory?

Anti-Darwinists love to ridicule the concept of “scientific orthodoxy,” suggesting that it represents the unsupported collective opinion of many scientists who are basically just “voting” on things. Going against it is considered to be evidence of independent thinking and even courage.

A blogger at Uncommon Descent challenged Bruce Waltke’s “high regard for ‘current scientific orthodoxy’” and scolded Beliefnet columnist Ron Dreher for wondering how a leading academic like Waltke could get in trouble for simply noting that he thought the scientific consensus should be taken seriously.

The blogger went on to pose a most curious question: “Can we no longer confront the data on our own?” The answer to this is so obvious that I am surprised it would even be asked. The answer is “no.” Of course we cannot confront the data “on our own.”

To confront scientific data “on our own” would imply that we have scientific training and experience in whatever area we are looking at. If you say you can interpret fossil data on your own, for example— as biochemist Duane Gish and legal scholar Phillip Johnson tried to do—I would like to give you a brief quiz on fossils: Where might you find a fossil if I asked you to go fetch one? How much of a fossil skeleton is typically present? How do you figure out the age of a fossil? What exactly is a fossil? What parts of a skeleton are most likely to be missing or incompletely fossilized? How do you decide if bones found together are from the same organism?

If you cannot answer simple questions like these then you cannot confront fossil data “on your own.” And fossils are the simplest part of the evolutionary picture. Interpreting genomic data, with its complex biochemical, statistical, and historical underpinnings is not remotely possible without the relevant expertise.

My field is physics. I cannot imagine what it would mean for a layperson to deal with the data of physics and draw their own conclusions. Physics is particularly hard because of the math. If you don’t understand differential equations, then you simply cannot understand quantum mechanics. You can certainly look at the colored lines in a spectrum and somehow imagine that they come from electrons jumping back and forth in the atom, but that is a far cry from understanding what is going on. I earned a math degree en route to my Ph.D. in physics, but I never did learn enough math to understand quarks. I have to rely on specialists in that area.

Furthermore we rarely—if ever—apply this “Professor Everyman” style of reasoning to, say, medical diagnoses. If our child is sick we want our doctor to share the collective wisdom of the medical profession with us and tell us what to do, not hand us some charts and say “Here are the facts. Let me know what medications you want me to prescribe. Or if you think surgery is required.”

The only time we hear calls to stand up and challenge “orthodoxy” is when we don’t like that orthodoxy.

Evolution, Big Bang, and Global Warming are all places where uninformed lay people presume to challenge the scientific community. We hear calls to present both Intelligent Design and evolution to high school students and let them make up their own minds. Is this really a serious proposal? How can this possibly work? Questions that leading scientists with Ph.D.s have explored and debated for decades are to be presented to 17-year-old high school students to adjudicate during a 50 minute class right after lunch?

I need to meet these amazing students.

Professor Everyman would have us believe that the “scientific orthodoxy” or “consensus” is just an opinion poll. Scientists all believe the earth is billions of years old; they all like pepperoni pizza; and they all think blue is a great color. We can be lemmings and go along with the crowd or we can think for ourselves, and order sausage pizza, prefer green, and believe the earth is 10,000 years old.

To go along with the majority in this case is caricatured as abandoning your own thinking in favor of blindly accepting someone else’s. This kind of independent thinking would have rescued poor confused Bruce Waltke, for example, who needed to be “familiar with the current scientific data, rather than the current scientific orthodoxy.”

Unfortunately, only trained specialists can be familiar with scientific data. There are thousands of scientific papers published every month. Even if you focused on one small subfield—say fossils—it would take you years to get to the point where you could deal with the data directly and draw your own conclusions. Even scientists typically do not handle the data directly except in their own small area.

We must understand how the much-maligned consensus emerges in science. Take the age of the earth as an example where a well-defined “orthodoxy” exists. Nobody gathered all the geologists together and asked them “How many of you think the earth is: a) ten thousand years old? b) ten million? c) one billion; d) 4.6 billion? and then counted hands, as though they were choosing a venue for the Christmas party.

The age of the earth was a matter of some controversy for well over a century. Used to dating it at ten thousand years using the Bible, geologists came to understand that it was much older. At first the numbers were varied and uncertain; different dating methods yielded different results. There was no consensus.

But when scientists don’t agree, they work energetically—and generally amicably—to find out what is wrong. Research is done to gather more data; papers are published highlighting the disagreements and asking tough questions. More data is gathered. Conferences are held to address the problem. Very bright young people eagerly go into this field because it is obviously in need of fresh thinking. More data is gathered. Young whippersnappers brashly challenge their elders. Fogeys with their heels dug in gradually become marginalized. More data is gathered. Slowly the discrepancies begin to disappear under a mountain of fresh data until the reasons for the differences vanish and a consensus emerges.

The consensus on the age of the earth not a “consensus of opinion” but a “consensus of data” and a “consensus of methods.” We now understand that there are multiple ways to measure the age of the earth and they all converge on the same value.

To understand science is to understand this process—to appreciate just how much effort is expended over the course of a century as thousands of scientists from different disciplines, different countries, and speaking different languages, gather data and work vigorously until they all get onto the same page—and reach a “consensus”— about what is going on. To suggest that this “data” can be simply handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is profoundly miss the point of science.

There is a more common term for “scientific orthodoxy” that is widely used in other areas. It is wisdom.

Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

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Gregory - #13706

May 14th 2010

Please be calm, Rich. This should be a friendly place to discuss openly and reasoably. If you have taken offence at any of my posts, let me apologize for that.

I am not jumping to the defence of ´theistic evolution´. Earlier I wrote that you were speaking right out of ID´s playbook, now you return the favour.

Don´t defer to Darwinians, instead learn to live with (for now) the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis (MES), which is accepted by most biologists today, incuding Drs. Falk, Applegate & Venema, along with many others associated with BioLogos. They are all free to question & criticize aspects of the MES, as trained professionals.

But please don´t call them ´Darwinists´ because I don´t think most of them self-label themselves that way. & you do not control their self-labels!

“You’ve argued that speaking of design in nature is offensive to Christian theology” - Rich

No, I haven´t. Put up your proof,  or retract this statement please.

Re: #13701 Which IDT? Whose IDT? Yours, Rich?

Marshall - #13708

May 14th 2010

Hi Rich,

I was hoping you would be willing to lay a few cards on the table and show some organisms that you do think share common descent and some results that you do think are due to known evolutionary processes. I realize that you are trying to avoid god-of-the-gaps accusations, but claiming that everything is missing so there’s no knowledge to even put a gap between doesn’t help. Even most YECs accept common descent to some level, and allow that evolutionary mechanisms explain some level of the differences (and often well beyond the species level).

If we have no common ground, such as accepting that evolution can lead to nylon-eating bacteria, and fruit flies share common descent, we have no mutually acknowledged ingredients from which to discuss “the recipe for making a whale”. I think my analogy with plate tectonics has been validated by your continuing posts. Biologists can’t show you how each feature of a whale came about any more than geologists can show you how each feature of a mountain came about. What they can do, in both cases, is point to known mechanisms that have been shown to do the same kinds of things we see. (cont.)

Marshall - #13709

May 14th 2010

(cont.) Sometimes, the interaction of mechanisms along with the time involved can mean that not enough evidence remains to be specific. Other times, they can be quite specific (such as the blog entry a while back on “Signature in the Synteny”). Even when we have a clear explanation, one can claim that it doesn’t prove that it happened that way (as pds did in the “Synteny” thread). It’s always possible to cling to agnosticism. However, until you can show something you accept, I don’t see much value in discussing what you reject.

Rich - #13711

May 14th 2010

Gregory (13706):

Here’s my “proof”.  On the “Truth Project” thread, in posts #13371 and #13393, you wrote:

“... the universe is *not* ´designed´. It is ´created,´ by a Creator…. Why, in your words *should* Christians ´swallow´ the special term ´design.´ Don´t you realize that in so doing the usage of ´creation´ is therefore lessened?”

and [including my set-up remark, for context]:

“By calling God a designer I’m certainly not “lessening” God” - Rich

“Well, I [Gregory] say you are. What does *your* Pastor, Minister, Priest, Rabbi or Imam say?”

So speaking of the universe as “designed” (a) is doctrinally false, because the universe is “created” instead—which apparently excludes “designed” in your view; (b) lessens God, i.e., promotes an inferior conception of God, one which would be frowned upon by pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams.  By implication, speaking of design is offensive to Christian theology.  You didn’t use those exact words, but they’re implied by your remarks.  Q.E.D.

Gregory - #13713

May 14th 2010

Take it to the other thread then please Rich. There are questions there for you to answer. I still don´t think you clearly distinguish between ´design´ and ´creation´ in a helpful way.

You said “offensive,” I didn´t.

Christians have been making appeals/arguments to/from design for many years. Why would I be against this? All TEs that I know accept such views. BioLogos means the word is from God!

Rich - #13714

May 14th 2010


I cannot understand what you want from me.  I’ve already indicated twice that I’m willing to accept *much more* than common descent for fruit flies and microevolutionary adaptations such as nylon-eating bacteria.  What I’ve asked you do is show me how the sort of minor gene-cluster rotations that Venema and Falk write about (which I have never denied) can turn a hippo into a whale, as opposed to turning one fruit fly into another closely related fruit fly that can’t be told apart from the first without a microscope or a genomic analysis.  And if you can’t provide the proof yourself, I’ve given you the option of pointing me to some literature where the proof is found.

I repeat:  evolutionary biology has demonstrated only the mechanisms of microevolutionary change.  It has not shown that the mechanisms of microevolutionary change are adequate to produce new body plans, new systems, radically different organisms.  When that is shown, my belief in neo-Darwinism will be secured.  For as long as it is not shown, I will continue to regard neo-Darwinian theory (outside of microevolutionary contexts) as unwarranted speculation.  Let’s sign off on this, shall we?

Rich - #13716

May 14th 2010

Gregory (13713):

I grant that you didn’t say “offensive”.  Nonetheless, you implied that design theory leads to a less than adequate notion of God as Creator, and therefore a less than adequate formulation of Christianity.

That charge, as you must know, is a very common charge of TEs against ID, and I’m just about ready to throttle the next TE who makes it.  So I jumped on you as the nearest target.  Sorry if you felt I was unfairly picking on you.  But try to get the context: if you read all the posts above on this thread, you will see that I have been developing a theme about TEs—that they tend to offer theological judgments from atop the mountain, as if they are the authorities on Christian theology and ID people are heretics or theological incompetents.  Yet statistically speaking, among the dozens of TEs and hundreds of ID people I’ve encountered, ID people are more orthodox in historical terms than TEs.  So I find TE pompous and presumptuous in this regard.  See where I’m coming from now?

Rich - #13717

May 14th 2010


I don’t know what planet you inhabit.  TE in modern practice is defined much more by what it’s against that what it’s for, and what it’s against is:  (1) YEC and (2) ID.  (It’s also against Dawkins-atheism, but that’s taken for granted.)

What does TE reject about ID?  *That design is scientifically detectable*.  This is a major theme in almost all TE writing.  And it very rarely is presented in a qualified form, e.g., “*this* design argument doesn’t work, but some other may”.  Design detection is ruled out of science on principle.  And it’s also declared a bad way of approaching God on principle.  If you’ve read Ken Miller’s first book, if you’ve followed the discussion on the ASA list with any comprehension, you *must* have heard these arguments from TEs before.  So why are you now pretending that TEs are just fine with design?  Most of them aren’t—not unless it’s regarded as *demonstrable to faith only*.

Rich - #13718

May 14th 2010

Gregory (13706):

You can label people something other than “Darwinist” if you like.  As long as one defines one’s terms, any term will serve.  By “Darwinist” I mean someone who believes that neo-Darwinian mechanisms (of the sort championed by Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Dawkins, etc.) are the primary mechanisms which drive macroevolution.  In that sense, all the people I spoke of are Darwinists. 

No, Gregory, I don’t have to “live with” the Modern Synthesis, because I think it’s bunk, and I have too much independence of spirit simply to cave into the experts, especially when they are experts in a “science” I don’t respect and wnen I think they are bluffing, exaggerating, and theologically motivated.  I don’t have a Ph.D. in biology.  So what?  Darwin had only a B.A. in Classics.  The ability to think, reason and criticize is not confined within disciplinary pigeonholes.  That’s my whole objection to Dr. Giberson’s posting above.  It basically says:  “Non-specialists, shut up and pay obeisance.”  Dr. Giberson’s stance is opposed to everything I believe about the real university as a community of scholars.  No one, not even the world’s top specialist, is above rational criticism by intelligent non-specialists.

Marshall - #13719

May 14th 2010

Hi Rich,

I’ve already indicated twice that I’m willing to accept *much more* than common descent for fruit flies and microevolutionary adaptations such as nylon-eating bacteria.

Yes, you very carefully say that you’re willing to accept it, if some future demonstration should be made. What I’ve been asking is what you already accept.

I repeat:  evolutionary biology has demonstrated only the mechanisms of microevolutionary change.

In your opinion, what are the mechanisms of macroevolutionary change, as distinct from microevolutionary change? In my (layperson) understanding, evolution has mechanisms, and the micro- and macro- is looking at different levels of results.

Gregory - #13725

May 14th 2010

Marshall, Though I respect your efforts, you may be asking too much from Rich.

He has just spoken about biology as “a science he doesn´t respect.”

What he seems to be asking for is a great purge in biological science that will turn it on its head.

Other people, like the historian and philosopher of biology Douglas Alchin, can point out Darwin´s errors, while also celebrating his achievements.


General intellectual history vs. history and philosophy of biology vs. biology: big differences or not?

R Hampton - #13728

May 14th 2010

Who has greater authority to speak conclusively regarding matters of past history?—Moses writing under divine inspiration, or the scientist who has all the tools of modern scientific research available to him, but who lacks divine inspiration?

You express a popular view of many American Christians - particularly Conservative-Protestant - who have rejected the Natural Revelation. Understood in the Thomist tradition and upheld by the Catholic Church, Natural Revelation is EQUAL to Special Revelation because they are complimentary components of the singular Truth literally embodied in Christ (his physical body, the realm of Science, and his spiritual soul, the realm of Scripture). By themselves, either one offers an incomplete understanding.

As a practical matter, Christians like yourself have mistakenly blinded one eye towards God.

Rich - #13729

May 14th 2010

Marshall and Gregory:

Just to clarify, the “science” that I don’t respect is not biology itself, but evolutionary biology, which is think is filled with bluff, guesswork and bluster.  But *empirical*, *experimental* biology, the sort which tells us which genes produce colour-blindness and what hormones are involved in various bodily processes and how the bombardier beetle’s apparatus works and how pink roses are produced and how mercury finds its way into the tissues of fish, I have the greatest respect for.  I salute its researchers, as I salute chemists and physicists.  It’s the creative story-tellers in the sub-department of evolutionary biology that I could easily live my entire life without, and not feel that I was missing anything.

R Hampton - #13730

May 14th 2010

Pope Benedict XVI
October 31, 2008

...questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences ... A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.

...To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author.

R Hampton - #13731

May 14th 2010

It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole.

R Hampton - #13732

May 14th 2010

Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

The distinction between a simple living being and a spiritual being that is capax Dei, points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject. Thus the Magisterium of the Church has constantly affirmed that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). This points to the distinctiveness of anthropology, and invites exploration of it by modern thought.

Rich - #13733

May 14th 2010


As I said, I’d prefer to end this discussion, but I’ll try one more time, then exit, whether you reply or not.

I’m a highly trained academic of the old-fashioned kind, and I’m therefore used to holding qualified positions, not rigid partisan positions.  Therefore, when I speak about evolution, I offer a qualified position, not a rousing yes or no.  I *tentatively* affirm macroevolution as a *process*—I *tentatively* agree with Behe that it has occurred.  But I *also* agree with Behe that Darwinian *mechanisms* cannot come close to explaining *how* it occurred.  If you want the arguments, read *The Edge of Evolution*.  After that, I recommend reading *Nature’s Destiny* by Michael Denton.  Neither Behe nor Denton believes that hippos became whales merely by “random mutations” combined with “natural selection”.  These two books should open your eyes to alternatives to neo-Darwinian theory within an acceptance of macroevolution.  Au revoir.

Rich - #13736

May 14th 2010


You wrote:

“Re: #13701 Which IDT? Whose IDT? Yours, Rich?”

ID theory as found in *No Free Lunch*, *The Edge of Evolution*, *The Design of LIfe*, *Signature in the Cell*, and the theoretically allied (though not institutionally allied) work, *Nature’s Destiny*.  I learned what ID was by carefully studying these books. 

If you find something in my arguments inconsistent with those works, let me know, providing passages and page numbers.  But probably this would be best done on another thread specifically devoted to ID.  We’ve wandered off the topic of Dr. Giberson’s posting.

R Hampton - #13738

May 14th 2010

From Answers in Genesis: Arguments that should be avoided (because further research is still needed, new research has invalided aspects of it, or biblical implications may discount it)

2. Microevolution is true but not macroevolution. (People usually mean that we see changes within a kind but not between kinds; however, the important distinction is that we observe changes that do not increase the genetic information in an organism.)

Marshall is asking what I like to refer as the Dog/Wolf problem. ID lacks any scientific methodology to emprically determine specific kinds. The Dog descended from Wolves, who descended from Foxes, who descended from Leptocyons, and so on, and so on… Wolves and Foxes, while they may look very similar, can not interbreed because of the differences in chromosomes. Are they of the same kind or not, and why?

Rich - #13739

May 14th 2010

R Hampton (#13738):

You still are not reading my posts carefully.  I did not say “microevolution is true but not macroevolution”.  I said (a) that even among evolutionary biologists there was dispute over whether known microevolutionary mechanisms alone can get one all the way to macroevolution [and I cited a peer-reviewed journal article to prove the existence of this view]; (b) macroevolution might well have occurred, but not through neo-Darwinian means; (c) if macroevolution *has* occurred through neo-Darwinian means, this has nowhere in the literature been demonstrated. 

For more information, see the books cited in my reply to Marshall above.  I have the impression that you have not read either of them, and I think they might help you to understand not merely my personal position (which is unimportant), but ID at its best, and also some of the problems with neo-Darwinian theory.  Au revoir.

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