“The Fact of Evolution” from Big Think

Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Thoughts | 9 comments

I think this short piece from Big Think featuring Richard Dawkins succinctly shows the definition of the word “fact” and its common misuse by people in an attempt to discredit science. This follows on well from my last post in which I tried to illustrate the difference between “facts” and “fancy”. Enjoy.

Transcript after the jump.

Question: How would you correct the understanding that evolution is a theory?

Richard Dawkins: The word “theory” can be used to mean something speculative and tentative. In everyday speech it probably usually is used in that sense. Scientists very often use it in a much more positive sense. I think the easiest way is to use the ordinary language word “fact”. In the ordinary language sense of the word fact, evolution is a fact.

Question: What is the evidence that evolution is a fact?

Richard Dawkins: The evidence that makes it a fact is partly fossil evidence, partly comparative evidence, looking at modern species and comparing their bones, their organs, their structures generally, and especially their molecules, their genes, at a molecular level. This is extremely persuasive and powerful evidence. You compare the genes of animals and plants. You find that the pattern of resemblance is a tree, a branching tree. And that branching tree could only be a family tree. Other very persuasive evidence is the geographical distribution of animals and plants on islands and continents: they’re exactly where we should expect them to be if evolution were a fact.

Recorded on: October 21, 2009

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9 Comments

  1. I dispute nothing in Dawkins’ answer. I just see nothing about the fact of evolution that is incompatible with the presence of a god/creator. To my way of thinking, evolution stands as a fact in and of itself. I doubt there are many intelligent theists who support pure creationism.

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    • I do agree, there are two different questions here. However both questions can be subjected to the same rationale of discourse, and if the answer appears to be one or the other, we can safely say what the answer is with some confidence. We cannot however find an answer which suits us, what we would like to be true, or that panders to misunderstandings and ignorance, then proudly proclaim the answer.

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    • “Intelligent theists” Is that an oxymoron?

      How can you call anyone intelligent when they have rejected obvious facts, claim belief in the impossible, and deny any rational thinking?

      Can one be intelligent and continue to proclaim belief in a mysticism that has resulted in more human misery and deaths than any other political or philosophical system?

      I see nothing about the fact of evolution that points to a god/creator and much that does not.

      As always, the burden of proof is upon those making the claims. What proof do you have of any of it?

      Most of the problems of the world are, and always have been, caused by religion. For example, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and family planning clinic bombing in the USA. Then there were the crusades, the inquisition, and the dark ages. Get the idea?

      Humanity will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

      Prove anything I have posted is not true.

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    • Since evolution is true… why would god need to create Adam out of Dust and Eve from Adams rib? That doesn’t seem very compatible…

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    • Yes, Christy, there are certainly intelligent theists. I used to be one. So many atheists did :-) It is just that it becomes increasingly difficult to find ways to make science and religion compatible the further one goes up the educational ladder. The cognitive dissonance becomes rather extreme.

      It requires a lot of mental work to hold on to religious beliefs while simultaneously working in the world of science. The most successful ruse is to build an intellectual wall around the theistic beliefs so that they cannot be challenged by the scientific facts. As long as we can maintain the wall things are O.K. – but it does take effort. This effort can make us over-react and become angry with those who push through our wall insisting that we compare science facts and logical methodology with what we have hidden away in there. It is the same kind of thing that people with paranoid delusions do to maintain their irrational beliefs in the face of evidence from real life. In our case, however, the religious belief sets have been socially sanctioned and protected from challenge and scrutiny by national laws, ceremonies, privileges and conventions of “politeness”. – Until recently. It ‘s going to get harder to maintain the separation of faith and reality in the future of the civilized and educated world.

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  2. I’m looking for the source of a good quote: “I see no reason why God would not use so elegant a method [as evolution] to accomplish his ends.” I think is was J.B.S Haldane, but I can’t document it.

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    • Before you take heart in a single quote, perhaps it would be better to first, define what you mean by “god” then offer proof of the existence of that particular deity.

      Even millions of quotes hardly makes a reasonable case. Anyone can say anything. That doesn’t make it true. Independently verifiable evidence is whatis required.

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    • Before using such a quote, it would be a good idea to consider the evidence for and against the “elegance” of evolution. As I understand it, it is full of unintelligent designs, failures, stuff ups, disasters, wastefulness and gratuitous violence,.

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    • As to biological order, if unaided natural selection really is capable of producing the ordered diversity we see in the terrestrial biosphere today, I see no reason why a God who wanted such ordered diversity should not have used this very elegant mechanism. If I doubt that God did this, it is only because I doubt that unaided natural selection could do the job. I think that other mechanisms would be required and that he therefore must have used them. But if unaided natural selection would work-well, why shouldn’t God use something that would work?

      Darwinism: Science or Philosophy
      Chapter12: Doubts About Darwinism
      Peter van Inwagen

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