Posted by: William | May 5, 2008

The Best Answer in Brevity

Reading in Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial today, he went over some pretty interesting insights. This is unconventional for me, but I’d like to share an extended, but ultimately brief segment of Johnson’s text from chapter two discussing natural selection. Johnson makes an interesting point. In a field which places limits on the plausibility of its options, they may have chosen the only option—however weak at some points its answers may become.

Natural Selection as a Philosophical Necessity

“The National Academy of Sciences told the Supreme Court that the most basic characteristic of science is “reliance upon the naturalistic explanations,” as opposed to “supernatural means inaccessible to human understanding.” In the latter, unacceptable category contemporary scientists place not only God, but also any non-material vital force that supposedly drives evolution in the direction of greater complexity, consciousness, or whatever. If science is to have any explanation for biological complexity at all it has to make do with what is left when the unacceptable has been excluded. Natural selection is the best of the remaining alternatives, probably the only alternative.

In this situation some may decide that Darwinism simply must be true, and for such persons the purpose of any further investigation will be merely to explain how natural selection works and to solve the mysteries created by apparent anomalies. For them there is no need to test the theory itself, for there is no respectable alternative to test it against. Any persons who say the theory itself is inadequately supported can be vanquished by the question “Darwin’s Bulldog” T.H. Huxley used to ask the doubters in Darwin’s time: What is your alternative?

I do not think that many scientists would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle, without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is true. But there is an important difference between going to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible alternative, and going to test the evidence to look for confirmation of the only theory that one is willing to tolerate. We have already seen that the distinguished scientists have accepted uncritically the questionable analogy between natural and artificial selection, and that they often been undisturbed by the fallacies of the “tautology” and “deductive logic” formulations. Such illogic survived and reproduced itself for the same reason that an apparently incompetent species sometimes avoids extinction; there was no effective competition in its ecological niche.”

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