Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Union-Bulletin of Walla Walla, Washington, that’s in Walla Walla County — hubba hubba! — and it’s titled Debate still open on evolution. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. As we usually do we’ll omit the writer’s name and city.
Okay, let’s get started. The letter begins with a profound question:
Has evolution been proven to be true?
Then we get the letter-writer’s confident answer:
It has not. Earlier this year I learned that Steve Luckstead has been writing a monthly column for the U-B [the Union-Bulletin] with the thesis that it has been proven. In his March 4 column he stated, “I love that science is ruthlessly objective. Nothing is accepted without proof. In fact, any proposed idea isn’t seen to be science without the possibility of being falsified.”
We can’t find that Luckstead column, but we suspect that it doesn’t literally claim that evolution has been proven. Our guess is that Luckstead means only that evolution has been “proven” in the sense that it’s been tested and not falsified. Anyway, today’s letter continues:
[T]here are only two possibilities. Either we evolved or there was a Creator, a master designer. It is crucial folks understand that if strict scientific methods are used neither the evolutionary theory nor creation theory can be proven. Neither of them can be falsified. It takes a certain amount of faith for folks to believe in either them. Someone has suggested the evolutionary theory is the humanist’s religion.
It’s certainly true that creationism can’t be proven or falsified. Well, it has been falsified in the sense that large chunks of the Genesis creation account are contradicted by observable evidence — but that can easily be explained away by either denying the evidence or imagining as many convenient miracles as may be required. That’s why creationism isn’t science. Evolution, however, is a genuine scientific theory. Does the letter-writer understand this? Apparently not. He says:
If Luckstead believes his theory can be falsified, it seems to me it would only be fair to the public if he would explain how that would be done.
There are many ways evolution can be falsified, and we’ve written about this before. See Creationism and the Burden of Proof. Also, the would-be evolution debunker can go out and find the infernally elusive Precambrian rabbit. Let’s read on:
Let’s look at what some noted evolutionists have written about the proof of evolution. In 1932, Horatio H. Newman, professor emeritus of the University of Chicago conceded, “Reluctant as he may be to admit it, honesty compels the evolutionist to admit there is no absolute proof of organic evolution.”
Assuming that’s an accurate quote, we have no quarrel with it. There is no “absolute proof” of any scientific theory. The letter continues:
Nearly 40 years later Ernst Mayr, Ph.D. of Harvard, an outstanding evolutionist, declared: “The fact that the evolutionary theory is now so universally accepted is no proof of its correctness … the basic theory is in many instances hardly more than a postulate.”
Ernst Mayr? We’ve never seen a creationist cite Ernst Mayr as an authority against evolution. For that reason, this letter is truly memorable. And then, immediately after that stunning quote (with a suspicious ellipsis glaring in the middle if it), the letter ends with this definition, which is supposed to be the ultimate evolution killer:
The dictionary defines a postulate as a position or supposition without proof.
Well! At this point the letter-writer imagines that we’re sobbing in frustration. We’ve been totally devastated! But be of good cheer, dear reader. Your Curmudgeon is on the job.
We immediately suspected quote-mining, but we really had to hunt for that Mayr quote. We found it here — or at least something close to it. You can see that Mayr’s statement has been badly mangled by the letter-writer — or, more likely, by the creationist website from which he copied his material. An important omission appears in red, the mined snippet we found appears in bold, and we can’t locate the part that was quoted before the letter-writer’s ellipsis:
The essentials of the modern theory are to such an extent consistent with the facts of genetics, systematics, and paleontology that one can hardly question their correctness. The basic framework of the theory is that evolution is a two-stage phenomenon: the production of variation and the sorting of the variants by natural selection. Yet agreement on this basic thesis does not mean that the work of the evolutionist is completed. The basic theory is in many instances hardly more than a postulate and its application raises numerous questions in almost every concrete case.
In case you have any lingering doubts about Mayr’s position (although you shouldn’t) a few paragraphs latter Mayr says this:
It is the application of the theory that is sometimes controversial, not the theory itself.
So there you are, dear reader. We conclude that if you’re a creationist, everything is okey dokey in Walla Walla.
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