I just got back from the Southern Economic Association, where I attended many of the sessions of the Austrian economists.* In one session, the subject was comparing Kant’s view of the process how the mind comes to know things vs. Hayek’s view. One discussant said several times that he could “tell an evolutionary story” of how the brain ultimately processes information, and others dutifully nodded their heads. Evolutionary “stories” are acceptable to most in Academia. In a subsequent side conversation, he admitted that the biologists he hangs around with find these “stories” less than satisfying, but it’s what the state of their science is.
I do not accept these “stories” for multiple reasons. We have academic “stories” in many disciplines where the subject is that of a complex system. Biology is only one; macroeconomics and climate science are two more. In certainly the latter two, there are so many variables it is almost impossible to tease out causation, such that each side just says its theoretical case, and presents data that it suggests is conclusive, and the other side is simply unimpressed. In many cases, the other side is then dismissed as unscientific. As one of our frequent commenters likes to say: impasse.
My disagreement with evolutionary theory is not only theological–although that is firmly the case–but also because of an obscure branch of science called mathematics.That’s where these “stories” come into play. First, we must acknowledge that opposition to evolution in no way means you disagree with natural selection. In a fallen world, it is not terribly surprising that there is variation within species in a process that most of us find cruel–the “survival of the fittest.” What has always been the fantastic evolutionary claim is that the variation we see within species provides the path for variation from one species to another, so called macroevolution. Given the process of survival of the fittest, coupled with random mutations, now you have a naturalistic process to explain the world around us. And the best part? God is not needed! But I say, not so fast.
First, in competing theories, to prove your point you must show evidence that not only is consistent with your own theory, but is incompatible with the alternative hypothesis. In slightly more technical terms, given it is impossible to prove your own theory true, you must prove the null hypothesis (the theory you are rejecting) to be false. To show data that supports two explanations, and then trumpet your own explanation triumphantly, means nothing. And that’s what so many of these evolutionary “stories” do; they show variation within species and then claim, shazam, that this shows the mechanism to demonstrate variation across species. The null hypothesis must be the God hypothesis. When I say “In the beginning God,” and I mean by God an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, this by the very definition of what I mean by God, means it is impossible to disprove the null hypothesis. Because any evidence we see can be consistent with that kind of God. Ok, I’ll admit in this argument–maybe I’m not playing fair because by faith I’ve already made impossible for my opponent to prove me wrong.
But this leads to our second criticism, that my opponents likewise must be operating from faith as well. Why? Mathematics! It is not even enough to show one potential step in the evolutionary process, and show it to be consistent with your hypothesis and even rejecting the null hypothesis. Once we begin to see the complexity of life, and the number of steps that would be necessary for the evolutionary story to be true**, it becomes a sheer fantastic leap of faith to accept this story. The mathematics behind this is something you should learn in an elementary probability and statistics course called joint probability. In this case, when any two independent events must happen together, the probability of the joint event is equal to the probability of each of the events multiplied by the other event. The second important point is that probabilities are always expressed as between 0 and 1. So something that is impossible has a probability of zero, while something that is certain has a probability of one. So for everything that is subject to probability, it must have 0<P<1. And we know that if we multiply any two numbers that are less than one, the resultant number is smaller than the previous two. Now if an event has a probability of 50%, and it must also occur with another event of probability of 50%, then joint probability theory would indicate the probability of the joint event is 25% (.5 X .5=.25). Here is the key implication: the more events that must occur for a given outcome, the lower the probability.
When Darwin wrote his theory, he undoubtedly thought of the cell as a simple concept. Yet now modern microbiologists understand the cell is incredibly complex, with numerous steps involved, with many steps dependent upon yet other steps to be able to plausible provide reproductive advantage. Let’s say there are 1000 steps to get to life from basic elements. Let each step be highly probable to occur, say .99. Now what does the joint probability theory say the probability of life occurring is? 0.004317124%. So well less than 1/100 of a percent, when each step is virtually certain (.99) and the steps are only 1000. In reality there are millions upon millions of things that have to happen and the probabilities are much lower. Thus the probability of evolution is zero. It is not sufficient to tell a story, or as in this argument, suggest the evolutionary assumptions are plausible or possible:
Here is a possible scenario for the evolution of the eubacterial flagellum: a secretory system arose first, based around the SMC rod and pore-forming complex, which was the common ancestor of the type-III secretory system and the flagellar system….
We can say that even if the probability is .999999 (a totally preposterous assumption), if there are billions of things that must happen to get life as we know it, the joint probability is still zero. I do not have this kind of faith. So why do serious academics blindly accept these kind of “stories” and then ridicule those that disagree as neanderthals? Further, this leads to bad science. In the session I was in, the debate went clearly to Hayek, because Kant couldn’t possibly have understood evolution, and Hayek did, so therefore Hayek’s evolutionary process is correct. It could be true, but it may not be–one shouldn’t write Kant off simply because we can tell an evolutionary “story.”
I remain suspicious of scientific claims of certitude in areas of complex systems. This is yet another reason why. Especially when these claims are in opposition to what is consistent with a Christian worldview.
*Generally Austrians are highly supportive of evolutionary economics, since they like the “spontaneous order” implications. In my own writings, I prefer to use the term “emergent order” to discuss how market results lead to outcomes that no individual could have planned in advance, precisely to avoid the random, unplanned implications. While the macro effects are unplanned, the micro actions are the result of deliberate planning, and thus the order that comes about more appropriately “emerges” rather than comes about “spontaneously.”
**I’m not going to track down the voluminous back and forth calculations between creationists and their opponents on how unlikely the earth is from a naturalistic perspective–you Bereans can do this on your own. Suffice it to say that the probability is very small, so small that it is effectively zero.