March 11, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Assessing Evolutionary Explanations

No matter the biological discovery, evolutionists are ready with their explanations.  The explanations, however, are often riddled with puzzles, surprises, and seemingly arbitrary appeals to chance.  Do such explanations really provide more understanding than those of creationists, who explain that living things were designed for a purpose?

  1. Shrimp deal:  “Many deep-sea species have close relatives living in shallow, relatively warm water, but how shallow-water species were initially able to cope with the huge hydrostatic pressures of the deep ocean is poorly understood,” said a researcher at the University of Southampton.  According to PhysOrg, the team studied closely-related shrimp that live in shallow waters and near deep-sea vents – environments with astonishing differences in pressure and temperature.
        The observations merely demonstrated that these shrimp can live in either environment.  Their evolutionary explanation had to invoke an unobserved ancestor: “These physiological capabilities were probably inherited from an ancestral species shared by both shallow-water and related vent species.”
        The explanation, however, begs the question of how the putative ancestor gained the ability to survive both environments in the first place.  And if the living species have that ability, what has been explained?  Evolutionary theory appears to be a superfluous appendage to an observation that the shrimp are designed to survive in a wide variety of conditions.
  2. Hunt for and gather a story:  We have a mystery.  “One of the most complex human mysteries involves how and why we became an outlier species in terms of biological success” – particularly, why are human hunter-gatherer cultures so different from those of other primates?  PhysOrg again came to the rescue to explain the mystery and deliver understanding, this time from scientists at the University of Arizona “who study hunter-gatherer societies”.  The article promised their work is “informing the issue by suggesting that human ancestral social structure may be the root of cumulative culture and cooperation and, ultimately, human uniqueness.”
        Clearly humans had ancestors, and some of them hunted and gathered – as some cultures do today.  At first glance this explanation (actually just a suggestion) seems like a tautology; early humans had a unique ancestral social structure that gave birth to a modern unique social structure.  The ASU team, intent on deriving human uniqueness from other primates, studied 32 modern foraging tribes, and found the obvious: they identified “human hunter-gatherer group structure as unique among primates.
        But how did they get that way?  That’s the evolutionary question.  “The increase in human network size over other primates may explain why humans evolved an emphasis on social learning that results in cultural transmission,” Professor Kim Hill offered.  “Likewise, the unique composition of human ancestral groups promotes cooperation among large groups of non-kin, something extremely rare in nature.”  Humans are unique because they evolved to be unique.  Is that what he just said?
  3. The hand is quicker than the stone:  “Stone Tools Influenced Hand Evolution in Human Ancestors, Anthropologists Say.”  That’s a headline on Science Daily that claims research at University of Kent “confirmed Charles Darwin’s speculation that the evolution of unique features in the human hand was influenced by increased tool use in our ancestors.”  But did the tools shape the hand, or did the hand shape the tools?
        Here’s the data: “Research over the last century has certainly confirmed the existence of a suite of features in the bones and musculature of the human hand and wrist associated with specific gripping and manipulatory capabilities that are different from those of other extant great apes.”  Then, the explanation: “These features have fuelled suggestions that, at some point since humans split from the last common ancestor of living apes, the human hand evolved away from features adapted for locomotion toward alternative functions.
        A creationist reading this is going to reject the assumption that humans split from a common ancestor.  What can evolutionists argue as evidence for their view?  One of the them at U of Kent put forward the possibility that the human hand “may have been subject to natural selection as a result of using simple cutting tools.”  But why would a primate use tools without the equipment to do it?  And what about a stone causes a hand to evolve?  New Caledonian crows have probably been using tools longer than evolutionists think humans have, but their beaks do not appear to be changing much from those of other birds (see 05/26/2009 and links).
        Somehow, their “may have” suggestion evolved into a triumph for Darwin:

    Dr [Stephen] Lycett, Senior Lecturer in Human Evolution at the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, explained: ‘140 years ago, writing from his home at Down House in Kent, Darwin proposed that the use of stone tools may have influenced the evolution of human hands.
        ‘Our research suggests that he was correct.  From a very early stage in our evolution, the cultural behaviour of our ancestors was influencing biological evolution in specific ways.’

    Did the cultural behavior influence the evolution of the hand, or did the hand influence the cultural behavior?  Or did both evolve together?  In any of these cases, it is not clear that the observations about the uniqueness of the human hand have been explained at all.

  4. Progress in size:  Researchers at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center have convinced themselves that “Evolution Drives Many Plants and Animals to Be Bigger, Faster,” reported Science Daily.  The challenge, though, is whether they could convince a nonbeliever in evolution with their explanation.
        “Organisms with bigger bodies or faster growth rates tend to live longer, mate more and produce more offspring, whether they are deer or damselflies, the authors report.”  So far, a correlation between size and fecundity is all they’ve served up.  Whether lizards, snakes, insects and plants, the organisms in their sample of 100 species (as found in the literature on natural selection) displayed a “very widespread pattern” appearing to support the claim that “larger body size and earlier seasonal timing – such as earlier breeding, blooming or hatching – confer significant survival advantages.
        Questions arise immediately from this explanation, though: why doesn’t every animal and plant evolve to get bigger and faster over time?  And why were so many extinct species much larger than their modern counterparts?  If a prey animal gets bigger, but its predator simultaneously grows bigger and faster, has the prey animal won any survival advantage? (see “Slippage on the treadmill,” 03/17/2003).  Another question: why don’t animals converge on a Goldilocks model – a medium size?  The authors themselves were puzzled by that.  “If organisms are supposedly well-adapted to their particular circumstances, then why is it so seldom the case that the individuals that survive and reproduce the best are the ones that are not too small, nor too big, but just right?”
        Their initial explanation, therefore, required several auxiliary explanations.  “The authors explored three possible explanations,” they said: (1) size is costly, (2) environments fluctuate (think Darwin’s finches), and (3) “A third possibility is that natural selection drives one trait in one direction, while simultaneously driving another, genetically correlated trait in the opposite direction.”  Perhaps this could be dubbed the “House divided against itself cannot evolve” theory.
        The problem with composite explanations, though, is figuring which one is the right one.  If your doctor tells you your weight gain is caused by (1) lack of self-control, (2) genes, or (3) cancer, you would demand to know which one matters most.  Composite explanations, further, violate Ockham’s Razor (see Ockham, Jan 2010 Scientist of the Month).  Unless evolutionists come forward with a primary cause for the effect that can also explain the exceptions, it seems doubtful they’ve explained anything.
  5. Your inner tumor:  Surely one of the most bizarre explanations offered by evolutionists recently is in the title of a story on New Scientist: “Tumours could be the ancestors of animals.”  According to writer Colin Barras, this is “the idea that cancer is our most distant animal ancestor, a ‘living fossil’ from over 600 million years ago.”  According Barras, Charles Lineweaver and Paul Davies have put forward the notion that “cancer is not simply linked to the evolution of animals – it was the earliest animals.
        As justification, the evolutionists showcased a tumor’s ability to evade the immune system and to generate blood vessels (angiogenesis).  Understandably, though, “Reactions to Lineweaver and Davies’s idea vary from cautious enthusiasm to outright scepticism,” one calling it an “imaginative metaphor,” another, “a step too far.”  “There is no evidence to believe that the ability to develop blood vessels is an ancient feature of animals,” a critic said.
        In response, Lineweaver used evolution to justify evolution: “Fully developed angiogenesis had to have evolved from proto-angiogenesis,” he said.  “I think it’s clear that some form of proto-angiogenesis was very important for the earliest animals.”    How or why “proto-angiogenesis” (whatever that is) would have evolved in some unobserved ancestor incapable of understanding why it would be “very important” some day is left as an exercise in imaginative metaphor.

In the heady days of logical positivism (around the 1930s), Carl Hempel attempted to eliminate anecdotal explanations in science and replace them with deductive logic.  To him, it was essential for an explanation to refer to natural laws and initial conditions such that the result had to happen.  Subsequent philosophers have undermined that vision.  Hempel’s “covering law model” leaves out too many favored explanations, and simultaneously legitimizes some quack explanations.  His model left biologists with “physics envy,” because clear laws of nature are hard to come by in biology.  There are too many variables and complexities to be able to predict or retrodict events in natural history with deductive logic appealing to laws of nature.
    Nevertheless, it would appear desirable that scientific explanations aspire to more than ad hoc stories, complex explanations requiring multiple auxiliary hypotheses, composite explanations, mere suggestions, or tautologies (such as “things are as they are because they were as they were” – an explanation that works in reverse just as well).  If the evolutionary explanation reduces to “stuff happens,” or things evolve because they evolve, then alternatives like intelligent design would seem to have grounds for competing in the marketplace of explanation.

The Darwin Storytelling Empire is a corrupt racket.  It’s long overdue to expose their pretensions to providing superior scientific explanations.  That’s why you read Creation-Evolution Headlines.  All the other clueless news media just parrot the myths emanating from the clueless Darwinists, with no critical analysis whatsoever, thinking they have done their job.  Their product is as empty as a balloon held aloft by hot fogma.  (For definition of fogma, see the 05/14/2007 commentary).
    What about science in general?  In the late 20th century after logical positivism collapsed, philosophers of science were left wondering if scientific explanation was even possible.  Some, like van Fraassen, concluded that explanation was not even the business of science.  Describing useful patterns in experience in more and more detail was sufficient, he said; leave explanation to others, because it gets into metaphysics.  But where does that leave the presumed epistemic superiority of science over the humanities, philosophy, or even theology?  Why should science get an elevated status in the academy and popular culture if it cannot explain why the world is the way it is?
    The key insight that undermines the Darwin explanatory program is that explanation requires presuppositions in the conceptual realm: the need for knowledge, truth, ethics, honesty, logic, universality and consistency.  None of those things can be derived from evolutionary naturalism.  When you hear an evolutionist assuming any of these things, you know he or she is cheating.  Theology provides the only grounds for reasoning toward true truth about a real reality.  When enough people employ the two-pronged attack on Darwinism (exposing their vacuous explanations and their pilfering of theological presuppositions), there may be hope of toppling the corrupt Darwin Storytelling regime (12/22/2003 commentary).

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