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Discussion 15 to Talk Back 88
First, we should look at the nature of the disagreement going on here.

by: Will Petillo

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I think we should take a step back for a moment and look at the nature of the disagreement going on here. While the surface argument is about whether the theory of evolutionary is true, there is an underlying disagreement about what evolution is. And until the latter argument is resolved, any attempt to discuss the former will inevitably go in circles until one side gets too bored or annoyed to respond.

You state, “Just because I do not agree with you does not mean I do not understand the complex argument of evolution.”

Perhaps, but at the very least you clearly have a different understanding of how evolution works; otherwise we would not see interchanges like this:

Michael: “And that is my problem with evolution it is a lottery ticket and some how it all came in just right.”

Jackdaw: “Evolution is NOT random selection. Mutations are random. Survival is anything but random. The selections are as a result of the unsuccessful creatures being unable to survive in their environment.”

Michael: “I’d have a hard time thinking a slime mold turned into a man.”

Me: “Who on earth ever said that it did?”

If I were to put absolutely everything I understand about evolutionary theory into a single piece of writing, nowhere would I say anything about life coming about by “accident,” nor would I say anything about humans being descended from monkeys, nor would I make a great number of the other statements creationists tend to use in characterizing the thoughts of people who believe in evolution. Therefore, when you make statements about how unlikely it is that we came about by “accident,” it is clear to me that we have a disagreement about what evolution is. Thus, any subsequent arguments that you make about how improbable it is that something as complicated as human could have arisen by “accident”—or any other variation of the old “Divine Watchmaker” argument—fall on deaf ears because we are simply talking about different things.

Because yeah, if evolutionary theory actually stated that putting an ecosystem together through natural processes was analogous to putting a bunch of nails and wooden boards in a box, shaking it around, and coming up with a house, I’d find it pretty improbable too. And if evolutionary theory actually stated that evolution worked in a continuous progression from lesser to greater organisms, I’d also be wondering why humans hadn’t evolved into some sort of perfect, “master race” yet—or, for that matter, why there are still monkeys that haven’t turned into people.

Instead, when I think about evolution, I think about a continuous process of natural selection causing some descendants that are slightly more adapted to a local niche in the environment to become steadily more numerous, other descendants that are more adapted to a different local niche specializing differently until they become a different species, and other lines of descendants dying off. When I think about evolution in this way, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely. It’s amazing—like a vastly more intricate version of Conway’s Game of Life—but entirely plausible. And when I hear about observations of the fossil record (and every other discipline of science) fitting extremely well with the predictions made by evolutionary theory, that just seals the deal for me that this theory which is absolutely intuitive on its face actually applies to the real world.

Now, perhaps you disagree here. Perhaps you see no distinction between the theory of evolution as I claim to see it—or in what you have seen presented about evolution during your own research—and your characterization of evolution as claiming that humans came about “by accident.” Or perhaps you think I am being overly generous to scientists professing evolution; that I am just making things up to make evolution sound more plausible than it is and the theory is really more like the way you have repeatedly described it—fantastically complex stuff happening “by accident,” slimes turning into people, and so on. If such is the case, then let's shift the discussion to what the argument is really about, what evolution is, and put aside the debate about whether the theory is true until we have come to an agreement about what exactly it is that we are talking about.

Or, if you are not interested in breaking out the science textbooks for some textual interpretation and are willing to accept the understanding of what evolution is as put forth by us here, then we can move on to discussing the validity of evolution. If you choose this route, however, please don’t talk about evolution working by “accident.” I do not say this because any of us are obsessed with using exactly the right words all the time in precisely the right ways. Indeed, I’ve been pretty consistently guilty of sloppy wording in the majority of my posts on this site, including this one. I, for one, am willing to look past terminology towards intent. The manner in which you express your opinions becomes very important, however, when an improper phrasing is used as the basis for a substantive argument. The following argument, for example, should be considered off-limits if you are not interested in debating what evolution is: “Evolution says complex ecosystems arose by accident. It is so incredibly unlikely that something so complicated arose by accident so evolution must be false.” Just in case I have not already been clear, this argument is off-limits because almost anyone who understands and believes in evolution as a theory would reject the premise stated in the first sentence and the rest of the argument follows from that premise. If you believe that premise should not be rejected, then we have a fundamental disagreement about what evolution is that needs to be resolved before we can move on with any sort of meaningful dialogue.

The same principle of dividing the question of what evolution is from is evolution true goes for arguments from ignorance (which I mean as a technical term, not as a pejorative). For example, when you ask about what mutation could possibly make bees desire nectar, that is not a proper question to ask when discussing whether evolution is a plausible theory. It’s not an inherently bad question, but the appropriate context would rather be an attempt to understand how exactly evolution allegedly works. When you hear that explanation and come to an agreement with whoever you are talking to about how evolutionary theory answer that question, then and only then, should you move on to discussing the merits of that answer. Of course you can disagree along the way, but remember that any disagreement at that point in the process of discussion is about what evolution is, not whether it is true.