Discoveroids: Evolution Is Self-Refuting

Night was dark

We’ve previously written about what we think of as the creationists’ war on reason. If you need a reminder, here are a few old posts about it: Jason Lisle: The Logic of Faith, and that links to a few others — See Jason Lisle: Faith vs. Reason, and before that Jason Lisle Tells Us How To Think, and we’ll never forget this one — Mathematics is Creationist. And see also Creationism and Logic, and AIG’s Logic: Prepare To Lose Your Mind.

The Discovery Institute is now joining in that campaign against reason. Look at what we found today at their creationist blog: Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself. It was written by Nancy Pearcey, a new Discoveroid “fellow,” whom they introduce like this:

ENV is pleased to share the following excerpt from Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes. A Fellow of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, Pearcey is a professor and scholar-in-residence at Houston Baptist University and editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report.

In other words, Nancy teaches at a bible college. The Discoveroid post is a long one, and it’s painful to read, so we’ll give you only a few excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

A major way to test a philosophy or worldview is to ask: Is it logically consistent? Internal contradictions are fatal to any worldview because contradictory statements are necessarily false. “This circle is square” is contradictory, so it has to be false. An especially damaging form of contradiction is self-referential absurdity — which means a theory sets up a definition of truth that it itself fails to meet. Therefore it refutes itself.

No problem so far. Let’s read on:

An example of self-referential absurdity is a theory called evolutionary epistemology, a naturalistic approach that applies evolution to the process of knowing. The theory proposes that the human mind is a product of natural selection. The implication is that the ideas in our minds were selected for their survival value, not for their truth-value.

Aaaargh!! Before proceeding further into the Discoveroid darkness, we note that Wikipedia has a writeup on Evolutionary epistemology. They say it:

refers to three distinct topics: (1) the biological evolution of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans, (2) a theory that knowledge itself evolves by natural selection, and (3) the study of the historical discovery of new abstract entities such as abstract number or abstract value that necessarily precede the individual acquisition and usage of such abstractions.

The first of those seems unobjectionable. If our senses didn’t provide sufficiently accurate perceptions to assure our survival, we wouldn’t be here. We see that Nancy is combining that with the second meaning, to say that “the ideas in our minds” are the result of natural selection. She’s confusing perceptions with ideas. Nancy continues:

But what if we apply that theory to itself? Then it, too, was selected for survival, not truth — which discredits its own claim to truth. Evolutionary epistemology commits suicide.

Aaaargh!! Do we need to go on with this mess? No, not really, but we’ll scan ahead to see if there are any spectacularly absurd parts we can excerpt. Ah, how about this (the ellipsis is in the Discoveroid post):

Philosopher John Gray writes, “If Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true, … the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.” What is the contradiction in that statement?

We haven’t verified that quote, but we don’t see any contradiction in it. There’s obviously no guarantee that every idea ever conceived will be true. There are lots of bad ideas out there, so we’ve had to develop the scientific method to test our ideas. But look at what Nancy does with Gray’s statement:

Gray has essentially said, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it “serves evolutionary success, not truth.” In other words, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it is not true.

Aaaargh!! Later she quote-mines Darwin’s “horrid doubt” letter, so beloved by creationists. We debunked it here: A Preacher Quote-Mines Darwin. Nancy, however, good creationist that she is, goes all the way with the thing:

Surprisingly, however, Darwin never confronted this internal contradiction in this theory. Why not? Because he expressed his “horrid doubt” selectively — only when considering the case for a Creator.

Aaaargh!! Here’s more:

Applied consistently, Darwinism undercuts not only itself but also the entire scientific enterprise.

Aaaargh!! We won’t go on any longer. If you’re interested, click over there and read Nancy’s entire post. We don’t know what you’ll get out of it, except that it’s probably a good indication of what goes on in bible colleges — and, of course, in the Discoveroids’ “think tank.”

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49 responses to “Discoveroids: Evolution Is Self-Refuting

  1. This has got to be one of the Top Five utterly ridiculous articles the DI has ever posted. And that’s saying something.

  2. Duncy seems to hold a brace of irrational opinions, among them that an idea, even if it was selected for entirely pragmatic reasons rather than its truth, is necessarily false. It’s surprising that the Discorrhoids have seized on this obviously fallacious principle.

    Curmy, two errors. Opening sentence, “… about what we think of…”; 9th paragraph, “Later she quote-mine’s quote-mines Darwin’s…

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    Curious to know, so I googled and found she is “Professor of Apologetics”, part of a nine person department. I’ll leave it to someone else here to tackle the fun task of writing the ‘apologetics is self-refuting’ comeback.

  4. If you’re interested, click over there and read Nancy’s entire post.

    Oh, I did (before your post).

    We don’t know what you’ll get out of it …

    It provided my morning entertainment. A good laugh is always welcome.

  5. Thanks, Con-Tester. That Discoveroid post really scrambled my brain.

  6. @ Charles Deetz:

    ‘Apologetics’ means never having to say you’re coherent…

  7. Barbara Forrest

    Nancy Pearcey is not a new DI fellow. She was with them when the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now the Center for Science and Culture) was first founded in 1996. See She is a long-time young-earth creationist who used to write for the YEC Bible Science Newsletter:

  8. Another method people use is 1984 newspeak. Simply ban the use of the word, phrase, or idea and it will go away, or so they think.

  9. If evolution is true, that does not mean that everything about every living thing can be accounted for by evolution. For example, evolution does not account for the fact that all living things are made up of “normal” matter, rather than anti-matter. Maybe it is something else, in addition to evolution, that make us able to think.

    Moreover, it is not always clear how evolution can account for some things. For example, it is not clear how cooperation can be the product of natural selection. Maybe it is not a simple way that brains are produced by evolution.

    On the other hand, if our thoughts are the products of intelligent design, how can that account for our thoughts being true? As we all know, things which are intelligently designed can be functioning in unexpected ways. Ever hear of a computer bug? If one can excuse the intelligent design of my bad back, it would be no difficulty to excuse the intelligent design of mistaken thoughts.

    If we can excuse the intelligent design of mistaken thoughts, that means that we cannot rely on intelligent design of thoughts being correct.

    Do we know that our designers had the intention of giving us the ability to think correctly?

  10. One thing I am sure of is am not clicking on her post. There are better ways to kill brain cells.

  11. This certainly has to be one of the most painful articles written by the discoveroids.

    Maybe we need to start measuring the amount of mental torture one will endure when reading an article by the amount of times Curmudgeon posts the “Aaaargh!!” in front of a paragraph. There was a lot of them this time.

    5 Aaaargh!!’s means a 20% drop in brain function for approximately one hour.

  12. Barbara Forrest says: “Nancy Pearcey is not a new DI fellow.”

    Hi, Barbara. I don’t recall seeing her name before. It’s interesting that she’s been guiding them all along.

  13. anevilmeme

    Textbook nuttery. DI’er continually equate a philosophical worldview with facts, evidence and the scientific method. Ultimately a worldview is nothing more than an opinion, not a set of testable set of facts.

  14. I don’t understand why the Discoveroids post this kind of material. Perhaps they’ve given up pretending that their opposition to evolution is based on evidence, and have begun the transition to overt evangelicalism. Maybe we can expect to see more christian apologetics in the future, courtesy of the promoters of ID.

  15. Ed says: “I don’t understand why the Discoveroids post this kind of material. Perhaps they’ve given up pretending that their opposition to evolution is based on evidence, and have begun the transition to overt evangelicalism.”

    It’s understandable. It won’t upset their fans, all of whom are creationists anyway. And they’ve probably given up on persuading the science community and the courts. So at this point in the game, I suspect it’s all about keeping their generous patrons happy, so the cash will keep flowing. In other words, they’ve given up, and all they’re trying to do now is survive.

  16. Footnote: the DI blurb credits Nancy Pearcey as “author of the 2005 ECPA Gold Medallion Award winner Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity“. I don’t imagine I was alone in never having heard of the ECPA Gold Medallion Award; it turns out to be an award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association

    From the website of the ECPA, one finds the following Statement of Faith of the Association

    I. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
    II. We believe there is only one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    III. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
    IV. We believe that for the salvation of the lost and sinful, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
    V. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
    VI. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
    VII. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Yep, you can count on the Discovery Institute to bring you all the science, all the time.

    In fact, I was so incredulous when I first glanced at Pearcey’s post on the DI blog, an hour later I had to look again to see if perhaps I had only imagined something so moronic had been published. I wish I hadn’t. Reading such a ridiculous piece of intellectual onanism has left me feeling…well, sullied, and in need of a shower.

  17. I’ve noticed that creationists have a hard time with probabilistic thinking. It’s all or nothing with them.

    You say the human brain evolved and it therefore might not be attuned to perceiving the world 100% truly 100% of the time? Then it’s 100% false all the time and only with God can we know anything!

    You say that the conditions of Earth are low probability? Then it was impossible to form naturally therefore God did it!

    (BTW, Pearcey’s argument is just a formulation of Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.” The Wikipedia article on it of the selfsame title is pretty good.

  18. Pearcey tells us, “An especially damaging form of contradiction is self-referential absurdity. . . .”

    Now notice point VI in the ECPA credo: “We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.”

    Notice the Designer is supposed to be not only intelligent but also merciful and just. We would expect a conscientious designer of any product to toss out those that failed to meet quality control standards. If the products are sentient beings who at the end of their testing period are rendered unconscious, we would expect a merciful designer to revive only the ones who passed inspection and dispose of the rejects without waking them up.

    Instead, this Designer wakes everybody up and either elevates them to eternal glory or plunges them into eternal agony in a process both absurdly cruel and absurdly inefficient.

    So it is ID theory that is self-refuting.

  19. jimroberts

    W. V. O. Quine pithily refuted this rubbish: Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind

  20. @Barbara F: while I’d love to see some YECer join the iDIots from Seattle it seems that Nancy Pearcy isn’t one.

    Of course creacrap is very flexible, but arguing that the Big Bang happened say 10 000 years ago seems a bit of a stretch even for creationists.

  21. I searched my own blog for Nancy Pearcey, and she pops up a couple of times. In “Pandas” Publisher Withdraws in Texas, I quoted a portion of Judge Jone’s opinion in Kitzmiller, where he mentions that “Nancy Pearcey, a Young Earth Creationist, contributed to the work.” He’s speaking about Of Pandas and People.

    And in Discovery Institute: Dominionists? No Way!, Klinghoffer refers to her as “our friend and colleague” and he discusses an article she wrote which says … well, you gotta read it.

  22. If the buyBull is absolute truth and to be obeyed than why is this WOMAN in total violation of it!! She clearly shows why the buyBull tells women to shut the h*** up, wait for me to show, and spread them!!!! She is not to be teaching men about gawd!!

  23. She’s on Facebook with an open page.

  24. Charles Deetz ;)

    And her “The Pearcey Report” looks like a collection of right-wing muckraking that would attract Media Matters or RWW if she and her husband weren’t such bit players. And, IMHO, that kind of claptrap, like “OBAMA’S Ongoing Assault on the U.S. Constitution”, that is anything but truthful, refutes the truthiness of her version of truth.

  25. Curmudgeon:
    “That Discoveroid post really scrambled my brain.”
    Mine too. Whenever one thinks they’ve reached bottom, they find a new low.

  26. Diogenes Lamp

    Pearcey did write for the Bible Science Newsletter, which was YEC and treated geocentrism with respect. She once wrote that it was important for children to be taught that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

    So, genius. Fits right in with the Duplicity Tute.

  27. Diogenes Lamp

    And let’s remember she was a main author of “Of Pandas and People.”

  28. “Gray has essentially said, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it ‘serves evolutionary success, not truth.’ In other words, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it is not true.”

    So the ability to tell the difference between what’s true and what’s false isn’t a survival trait? Gorsh, who’d’a thunk it?

    And in any case,Ms. Pearcey (deliberately?) confuses the theory of evolution, which posits the phenomenon and explains how it works, with the phenomenon itself, so as to arrive at a manufactured logical contradiction.

    Come to think of it, creationism fits Pearcey’s quote-mined criterion better than Darwinism does, since the ability to believe in something regardless of the facts is essential to its survival.

  29. @Eric Lipps quotes:
    “Gray has essentially said, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it ‘serves evolutionary success, not truth.’ In other words, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it is not true.”

    No, at worst, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it does not provide a demonstration that it is true. (This argument says that there is no reason to conclude anything about the truth or falsehood of our thoughts. It does not claim that survival is a mark of falsehood!)

    That is also true of Mendel’s theory, or Harvey’s, or Pasteur’s, or …

    And how does the “theory” of Intelligent Design meet her standard? If our minds are Intelligently Designed, how does that give us any reason to say anything about what are minds are capable of?

  30. TomS: “For example, it is not clear how cooperation can be the product of natural selection.”

    To the contrary — it’s quite clear. A cooperative tribe will be a successful tribe. They will have more success in hunting, building shelters, competing with other tribes for the available resources, and are more likely to develop a common language to facilitate cooperation. Once they have the language developed, they can cooperate by sharing ideas — and when they get to that point, their genetic spread would be exponential.

  31. Nancy Pearcey: ” Internal contradictions are fatal to any worldview because contradictory statements are necessarily false.”

    It would seem she is totally blind to the contradictions within the Bible.

  32. “She once wrote that it was important for children to be taught that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.”
    Diogenes, do you have a source, going back to Nancy Pearcey herself? No matter my respect for our dear SC and Judge Jones,

    “Judge Jone’s opinion in Kitzmiller, where he mentions that “Nancy Pearcey, a Young Earth Creationist”
    is not good enough for me to accuse someone of something as bad and offensive as YEC. At the other hand I would rejoice if we could establish beyond reasonable doubt that the IDiots from Seattle have hired a YECer indeed. But that’s exactly why I’m skeptical.

  33. @retiredsciguy
    I chose a poor example. I was not intending to suggest that cooperation could not be accounted for by natural selection. What I meant that at first glance it might seem difficult to account for cooperation. Just because P. can’t think of a way to account for something, that does not mean that it cannot be accounted for.
    She is not merely saying that n.s. is a feeble theory, she is saying that it is contradictory. Not just, she says, n.s. as it is now understood doesn’t have an account for such-and-such; but that n.s. means that such-and-such is impossible.
    Even if the all the wisest people in the world cannot think of a way to account for correct reasoning on the basis of n.s. that does not mean that n.s. cannot account for it. But she goes further, and says that that means that n.s. is inconsistent with correct reasoning.
    Pasteur demonstrated that spontaneous generation is not operating in the present world. Pasteur did not provide an account for our brains producing truth. Maybe Pasteur’s theory is incapable of accounting for truth. That does not mean that Pasteur’s theory is inconsistent with truth.

    How about this conundrum for Intelligent Design: Why is it that ID cannot provide any account for human minds thinking true thoughts? Just because some thought is Intelligently Designed, that does not mean that it is true. (Think of all of the Irreducibly Complex, Specified Complex, undoubtedly designed thoughts that turned out to be wrong. Take your pick: Labor Theory of Value, Utility Theory of Value, Cost-Of-Production Theory of Value, Power Theory of Value – all designed, at least one of them not true.)
    Does that mean that Intelligent Design is inconsistent with truth?

  34. Bob Carroll

    Nancy Pearcey is listed as #1020 in the “Encyclopedia of American Loons.” SC, I recommend looking her up. She is definitely a YEC, and is closely associated with the Disco gang.

  35. Sorry, BobC, that Encyclopedia doesn’t show NP is a YEC either.

  36. Mark Germano

    Will apologies to Leslie Orgel, evolution is cleverer than Nancy Pearcey.

  37. Mark Germano

    mnb0 is right: there is nothing in the Encyclopedia entry that points conclusively to YEC. But if I had the proverbial gun to my head and had to choose, I wouldn’t think twice.

  38. michaelfugate

    FWIW she went to the same theological seminary as Missouri congressman Todd Akin.

    I am just wondering how she thinks Christianity improves fitness? Didn’t help Jesus much.

  39. Reflectory is spot on. In fact, the language used is so close to that of {lantinga’s “Warrant and proper function”, which I described at, that to her other intellectual crimes we must add palgiarism.

  40. Even down to the truncated letter used to fabricate the legend of Darwin’s doubt (a phrase later used in a different context); see link above

  41. michaelfugate

    Having read several articles by Plantinga, it is obvious that he really has very little understanding of evolutionary theory.

  42. TomS: I must have mis-read your intended meaning re: natural selection and cooperation. My apologies for jumping down your throat on that.

    At any rate, it’s amusing to watch creationists twist their “logic” into knots trying to make scripture sound like an accurate description of reality. I think their main problem stems from the fact that they think science is just another branch of philosophy, the correctness of which can be determined solely by clever argument.

  43. Apologetics is to some extent self-refuting. Apologetics is explaining and defending the faith, so the question becomes, explaining to who and defending from what? If you look at Christianity as a whole, it is pretty much the predominant worldview in the west. To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, “Even the atheists are Christian in that the god they don’t believe in is the Christian god.”

    When Christians were 5% of the Roman empire, the role apologetics was pretty important. But when the market share is 70% or more?
    If you owned a company that had 70% of the market would you ever mention the competition in an ad? Would you even advertise?
    At a broad level, the existence of apologetics shows the existence of an “underdog” faith, one that is either very small in size or that is losing members. It is an admission that some large number of people do not hold your faith and are “attacking” it.

    On a more personal level, you have to wonder about the “faith” of those who practice apologetics. Are they trying to convince me or themselves?

    And finally, and this where apologetics does in fact refute itself, if the bible is the infallible word of god, it must communicate itself perfectly and be totally self evident to everyone who reads it. God can do that, right? The fact that the text needs so many explainers, even for people who say they believe, is proof that it is not infallible and therefore not the word of god. Why would the perfect word of god need defenders and explainers?

    The very existence of people like NP and William Lane Craig and seemingly thousands like them, tells you that you cannot get the “truth” simply by reading the bible and it is then false by their own definition.

    How is that for self refuting?

  44. Charles Deetz ;)

    @Paine in the Butt wins the internets for finally tackling my original expectation that someone would prove apologetics is self-refuting.

  45. @michaelfugate
    What I don’t understand is why professional philosophers who are by no means sympathetic to anti-evolutionism take the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism seriously.
    There is a large literature on it.
    BTW, is there any indication that NP has taken it into account in her presentation?
    I take no offense. It is my obligation to make myself understood.

  46. Thanks, Paine, for finding and sharing that great , thought-provoking video! In less than 20 minutes, Matt Ridley explains the ascendance of mankind better than anything I’ve seen before.

  47. michaelfugate

    It’s like why sharks don’t eat lawyers – professional courtesy. They are more interested in the argument than the premises.