Browse Search Feedback Other Links Home Home
The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Induction and Consensus Conclusions

Post of the Month: February 2000

by Zeus Thibault

Subject:    Re: NEW CHALLENGE: Can evolutionism ever be 
            substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt?
Date:       February 25, 2000
Message-ID: 89796g$j65$

In article <eCat4.33$>,
"Mike Goodrich" <> wrote:

[snip to the goods]

>THUS A SIGNIFICANT QUESTION EMERGES: Has, indeed *can*, evolutionism
>ever be established as fact/truth beyond the 'reasonable doubt'
>Therefore the challenge is:
>If you believe it HAS: Show how and why remaining doubts are

Dear Mike,

Here I will address your challenge more directly. First off, I must state that I do not believe any science can ever establish "truth" or "fact," in the sense that a scientific statement can be made that is formally beyond question. I do, however, trust that science can provide relatively accurate descriptions or models that approximate physical reality. I base this trust on three things: (1) the spectacular success that science has enjoyed in predicting and controlling the natural world, (2) the fact that the scientific method is nothing more than a rigorous application of basic assumptions and decisions that we all make every day in navigating through our physical and temporal world, and (3) the fact that scientists from every possible background and bias generally come to the same consensus conclusions about the majority of scientific matters.

The problem with science is that it is fundamentally non-logical. It relies on both deduction (i.e. formal logic) and induction for its conclusions. Because of the problem of induction, scientific conclusions are necessarily always tentative. I do not think this is fatal, however, since most of our personal knowledge of the world, including family, friends, weather, etc. is based on induction anyway. Simply put, if you do not trust the accuracy of knowledge obtained by induction, I think you might as well just believe that the world is a dream in your own head. So, when it comes down to it, I will trust the scientific method up until the point that it stops making successful predictions about otherwise unknown aspects of the world.

Furthermore, I believe that biology is no different from any other field normally accepted as science. This includes physics, geology, astronomy, and chemistry. I base this belief on first hand knowledge. I am a physical biochemist - I have worked in and interact with various biological and non-biological fields, and I find no fundamental methodological differences in the way science is performed in any of them. There is constant feedback and cross-talk between non- biological sciences and biology that independently support and reinforce the conclusions made in all sciences involved. There once was a time when many people, both scientists and philosophers, may have considered biology and physics to have separate methodologies, but now that physics has moved past asking the most simple of questions, physicists have come to realize that they face the same problems as biologists, including such things as complexity, chaos, randomness, non-linearity, historical contingency, hierarchical explanation, and non-deterministic processes, among many other complications.

With this in mind, I think it is now obvious why I feel consensus biological conclusions, especially the most unifying theory of biology, that of common descent with modification through the action of natural selection, are "proven" beyond a reasonable doubt. I feel that if you accept scientific inquiry as able to make, at the least, approximately accurate descriptions of the physical world, then you must also accept the consensus conclusions of biology. I accept scientific inquiry as valid; the same reasons I use to justify trusting my life in the operation of an airplane are used to justify my trust in the validity of the conclusions of evolutionary biology.

Here at the beginning of the 21st century, the extreme majority of life scientists throughout the world, from all nations, from all political backgrounds, from all cultures, of all "races," of all religions, of all ages, both male and female - in other words, of all possible philosophical biases both intentional and unintentional, have come to the same conclusion: All of life is genealogically related and has evolved through time, primarily driven by natural selection. Besides a small few from the Muslim and Jewish faiths, the only dissenters of which I am aware are a minority of Protestants (who in turn are a minority of Christians) who freely admit themselves that they have a predisposed bias towards believing in a relatively literal interpretation of the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Those Christians who feel (erroneously in my view) that there is an inherent conflict between the evolutionary description of life and the Biblical view necessarily presume that the validity of evolutionary theory would force a falsification of their prior philosophical bias. For these reasons, if nothing else, I think that the opinions of the self-labeled scientific creationists and proponents of biological intelligent design should be viewed with suspicion. If evolutionary biology were inaccurate, I trust that the world scientific community would have come to that conclusion within the past 140 years of extensive inquiry, research, testing and discovery.

That said, what truly convinces me that the theory of common descent with modification through natural selection is accurate is the evidence. In the end, what I find convincing in evolutionary arguments is exactly what I find convincing in any other argument (such as those made in criminal courts, those in history, or those in physics). A convincing explanation given for some set of events makes predictions that, if it were not true, would otherwise be very, very improbable. There is too much that is explained, there is too much that is and was predicted, and there are too many simple ways to prove it false for evolution to be wildly inaccurate. This is why I have no reasonable doubt about the validity of evolutionary biology to give accurate descriptions of the world which it investigates.


[Return to the 2000 Posts of the Month]

Home Page | Browse | Search | Feedback | Links
The FAQ | Must-Read Files | Index | Creationism | Evolution | Age of the Earth | Flood Geology | Catastrophism | Debates
Post of the Month