Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sociobiology 3: Evolution and Intelligent Design

Sociobiology is sometimes called evolutionary psychology. It is, as the name suggests, an evolutionary theory. The starting point for sociobiology as it affects family life is Darwin's theory of sexual selection.

In teaching sociobiology, I find myself daily on the front line of the alleged war between evolution and intelligent design. So I bring you this dispatch from the front.

Evolution is a theory. It is as well grounded as any scientific theory, but it is a theory, and is in principle falsifiable by a theory that better explains the material evidence. And, like all human knowledge, even if it weren't falsifiable, it could be just plain wrong. But I don't think it is wrong, in the main.

Intelligent design is a theory. It is as well grounded as any theological theory, but it is a theory, and is in principle falsifiable by a better theory that explains the revelational evidence. And, like all human knowledge, even if it weren't falsifiable, it could be just plain wrong. But I don't think it is wrong, in the main.

The intellectual puzzle of sociobiology is to explain why some features of family life which seem to go against reproductive survival – such as menopause – would get selected for. The intellectual puzzle of design theory is to explain why some features of human life which seem to go against the designer's sovereignty – such as free will – would get designed in.

What the theories of evolution and intelligent design have in common is more important than what divides them. Evolution and design both believe that the world we see works the way it does for a reason. The common enemy of both is the belief that existence is random, irrational, and meaningless.

So when in class we are discussing a puzzle of family life, we often come to a point at which the only thing to say is "this exists for a reason. We cannot say for sure whether the reason was part of an initial design, or the result of millions of functional decisions, but we can discern a reason."

And thus the alleged war between evolution and design disappears.

The real war is not between faith and reason. The belief in reason is itself a faith. The real war is between reason and unreason.

9 comments:

Ashley said...

"The belief in reason is itself a faith."

This statement does not make any sense. I think that evolution explains where we came from more that any other ideas. I cannot accept Intelligent Design, because I am an atheist. I do not believe in reason. I use reason to determine fact from fiction. Athiests simply have no faith at all.

Gruntled said...

Do you believe that it is true that there is no God? Why do you believe that? On what evidence? When you use reason to determine fact from fiction, what methods of reasoning are you putting your trust in? Why do you have faith that those methods will yield true results?

Evolution is a theory. Like all scientific theories, it is rebutable and not provable. When we believe it, believing that it is a true account of reality is an act of faith.

Ashley said...

I believe that there is no god because I see no evidence for it. I use logic to determine if something is true or not. Meaning, I look at the evidence (or the lack there of) and determine for myself what is true or false. When it comes to evolution, I accept that theory because it is the best idea I have heard on the subject. Debunking evolution does not prove that god had anything to do with it. It seems by you last question that you missed the point of my last post. Atheists simply have no faith at all. Faith is a concept that I am not capable of. Many theists do not understand why a person doesn't have faith. Sometimes they will say that evolution is our religion. That is because they do not understand what it means to be an atheist.

Ashley
americaninfidel@adelphia.net

SQ said...

Nope, you lost me. What does this mean? [Intelligent design] is in principle falsifiable by a better theory that explains the revelational evidence. I don't think you can prove or disprove an article of faith. You either believe or you don't.

Gruntled said...

There are many different versions of intelligent design possible. Most of the ones I know believe that the God of the Bible is the designer. The Bible itself, especially the Genesis account of creation, are cited as evidence that the world is designed, and of how it is designed. But there are multiple possible readings of the Bible. Two intelligent design theorists may both believe that the world is intelligently designed, that God is the designer, and that the Bible is God's revealed word, and still disagree on how the design worked or what the Bible reveals about the world's design. This exactly parallels how two evolutionists might differ on how to read the physical evidence.

DavidD said...

I wish people agreed on what “faith” and “belief” mean. In his book The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg has a good chapter on some reasons they should not be used synonymously. Of course, people still are free to use them just that way. That is the only way one could say belief in reason is faith. Who in the world trusts only in reason? A scientist who has decided on atheism may trust only observation and reason. A fundamentalist may trust only biblical inerrancy and reason. It’s the same reason. Reason is like math. It has to have something to work on, or it’s just an abstract game. So what is one going to accept as the facts reason can go to work on?

Is the fossil record a fact? Some say no. Some react to how the fossil record cannot be reconciled with the order of creation in Genesis by saying the fossil record must be wrong. Noah’s flood must have jumbled up all these layers; radioisotope dates must be wrong, despite their great consistency; geologists must be pawns in this great demonic conspiracy to threaten the Bible. Yeah, that’s it! Some reason their way backwards to figure out how the Bible can be inerrant regardless of any observation to the contrary. It’s obvious, only creationists don’t want to admit that they are not guided simply by reason, especially not for the courts.

How intricate the data is for Earth history, how fossils, climates, rock types, and plate movements all fit together to make a coherent series of maps that paleontologists make for both the continents and the range of flora and fauna on land and in the sea for more than half a billion years. I compare that to the assertion that all such data is misleading. I find the latter to be utterly unbelievable. And that’s before creationists reject every implication of molecular genetics, as well. It’s difficult to prove that the denial of Earth history is unbelievable since people do believe such a denial, but then people only deny Earth history because they’ve chosen the Bible instead. It is a common observation that for the sake of religious faith, people will indeed believe the unbelievable. That’s not my definition of faith. It makes sense to me for faith to allow belief in the unknowable, but not the unbelievable. My trust in God is about love, not about being blind.

Saying that evolution and intelligent design are both only theories can only be an attempt to obscure the fact that the former was a natural conclusion from a staggering number of facts, while the latter is a ploy to have creationism taught in public schools even though the US Supreme Court has said it cannot be. They are not the same. “Prove it,” you might say. I don’t have to. The facts speak for themselves to anyone who can put aside their bias and look at them. Many people can’t do that. Many instead say that it is those who disagree with them who are too biased to believe a reasonable interpretation of the facts. I wish it were true that anyone could look at the facts and see the truth. After all, there are many popular books on evolution, even some written by theists. There are also many books on creationism. Enough material is available for anyone. But many only read what reinforces their beliefs while many who do read the other side only do so looking for weakness, which naturally they find. It’s human nature.

I’m happy for God to take His course and nature take its course in this. Since we can’t even agree what nature is, I’m quite sure God will remain beyond us for some time. So I can do the best I can for myself to understand God and nature, not worrying about the public conflicts, because one side in the public conflicts is certainly ridiculous. That side is nothing about God, but only human nature. However long it takes for that to become obvious to everyone, God has that much time. Maybe He’ll wait. Maybe He has another way. For one’s own sake, all one really has to conclude is that the two sides in this dispute are not at all symmetric. One is very right, for this limited point of evolution being a fact. One is very wrong, so what is the chance that they are right about anything else? Do you really think you should trust your salvation to the words of ancient men who didn’t even know that moonlight is reflected sunlight? I think it’s very interesting.

How one reacts to the truth that P. T. Barnum was right, that a sucker is born every minute, depends on first being honest with oneself about whether I’m a sucker or not. We’re not all the same.

Gruntled said...

"Saying that evolution and intelligent design are both only theories can only be an attempt to obscure the fact that the former was a natural conclusion from a staggering number of facts, while the latter is a ploy to have creationism taught in public schools even though the US Supreme Court has said it cannot be."

To say that evolution is a theory is not a comment on how much evidence there is for evolution, but rather a fact about the nature of all scientific theories. Scientific theories are -- is there any other way to say this? -- theories. I agree that it is a well-supported theory, but it remains a theory.

"I’m happy for God to take His course and nature take its course in this."
If God made nature, what could this phrase mean?

sq said...

Is this response in answer to my question? ( There are many different versions of intelligent design possible. ) If so, I still don't get it. Two believers in intelligent design might have different ideas about the details of their belief, but it's still all faith. It neither be proven or disproven. You can't and shouldn't be trying to prove (in a scientific way) an article of faith.

I don't think evolution and intelligent design are the same at all. Scientific theories are designed to be demonstrated without having to take somebody's word for it. Faith is all about accepting without proof. I think even trying to "prove" a theory about intelligent design misses the point -- faith in God and His creation, etc., etc., is faith-based and explicitly not science-based.

Gruntled said...

Scientific theories can be demonstrated, in the sense that you can show an experiment or an empirical result which fits with the theory. Scientific theories, though, cannot be proven to be true.

First, every scientific theory is open, in principle, to the next empirical finding which should be impossible according to the theory. This doesn't lead scientists to say that reality is wrong, of course, nor do they say that science is wrong. They just go looking for a better theory. (This is without getting into the Kuhn's richer picture of how scientific paradigms change, which still agrees with this basic point that scientific theories are never proven once and for all).

Second, science proceeds by empirical investigation. It believes that empirical reality follows laws, that these laws are the same in different times and places, and that we can discern them by reasoned examination of empirical reality and clever insight about what those empirical regularities really mean. Believing that all of the above is true, and will yield true knowledge about reality, is itself an act of faith.

Hume pointed out that no matter how many times we have seen the sun rise in the east, no matter how careful our records nor how mathematically accurate our data, we can't prove that it will do it again tomorrow. Our belief in causation does not really rest upon any observation of causation. What we observe is constant conjunction. We believe that the constant conjunctions that we observe are due to a sequence of cause and effect which we cannot observe.

Faith is ok. It does not destroy science, any more than it destroys religion. Science can demonstrate how puzzles can be solved within the paradigm agreed to by scientists. It cannot prove that the paradigm is true.