Cornelius Hunter: The Circularity of Science

Prepare yourself for a wild ride, dear reader. The Discovery Institute is making a frontal assault on science itself in their newest post. The title is Evolution Confirmed? The Philosophy of Naturalism. It was written by Cornelius Hunter — a Discoveroid “fellow” who teaches at a bible college. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

[B]y wholeheartedly embracing and promoting Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous phrase, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” evolutionists have backed themselves into a corner from which they cannot escape. There is much to say about this evolutionary rallying cry, but at the top of the list is that it is false. Unequivocally false.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Isn’t this great? Then he says:

This is not an opinion or a pushback. I’m not trying to pick a debate — because there is no debate. We may as well debate whether bachelors are male. Dobzhansky’s phrase, with all due respect, is “not even wrong,” as physicists like to say. It is silly, and yet there it is — all over the literature. The phrase is approvingly recited even in peer-reviewed technical journal papers. It is the mantra that evolutionists will not stop repeating, all the while revealing that this isn’t about science. Evolutionists will never repeal and recant, because there simply is too much at stake here.

Yes, we’re desperate, so we keep repeating the mantra. After that, Cornelius tells us:

But Dobzhansky’s famous phrase is not the only way evolutionists have self-destructed. [Hee hee!] They have made other nonnegotiable and important claims that are equally corrosive. One is that evolution is both confirmed and required. The National Association of Biology Teachers’ official position statement on the teaching of evolution states that evolution is (i) confirmed by the scientific evidence and (ii) a necessary going-in position in order for science to function properly.

[…]

Do you see the problem? This philosophical position that evolutionists have staked themselves to is circular. To understand why, imagine for a moment that you witness a miracle, involving “non-naturalistic or supernatural” causes. According to evolutionists, such an event is “outside the scope of science.”

Foolish evolutionists! They don’t realize that miracles are all around us. Cornelius continues:

Does that imply the event was necessarily not real? No, the fact that something falls outside of one’s definition of science does not rule it out of existence. The event does not automatically become necessarily impossible. Something can be not amenable to scientific investigation yet real.

Right — supernatural events are just as real as natural events! Let’s read on:

So evolutionists have committed themselves to yet another false statement. But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that if one insists on and is committed to naturalism, then naturalistic, evolutionary, explanations are what you will find. So of course evolution is confirmed by the science. It has to be. For evolutionists, the question is not whether evolution is confirmed by the science, the only question is what are the particulars.

Verily, the circularity is obvious! Another excerpt:

This explains why evolutionists interpret the evidence the way they do. It explains how contradictory evidence can be sustained over and over and over. It also explains why, so long as you stick to naturalism, anything and everything is allowed.

[…]

Evidence will be interpreted, filtered, analyzed, and processed according to the rules. Non-cooperative evidence will be set aside and viewed as “grounds for further research.” Or it will be ground up and recast until it can be made to work right. Cooperative evidence, on the other hand, will be viewed as normative, and ready for incorporation into proper scientific theories.

That’s how it’s done! Here’s more

When evolutionists insist that science must be strictly naturalistic they show their hand. The flip side of their claim, that evolution is confirmed, is not a theory-neutral, objective finding. It is driven by the philosophy. It is circular — the conclusion was assumed in the first place.

And now we come to the end:

If your going-in position is that naturalism is required, then your results will adhere to naturalism. Evolution is not a scientific finding. It is a philosophical mandate.

What Cornelius has done here is restate ol’ Hambo’s often repeated doctrine: In Ken Ham: The Battle of Worldviews we quoted him:

It’s a battle between two different worldviews. Students who are committed to the starting point that there is a Creator are going to interpret the evidence in a different manner than their evolutionary or atheistic professors. It’s not religion vs. science — it’s a battle between two different interpretations of the same evidence!

So there you are. Cornelius and the Discoveroids agree with ol’ Hambo. And you have a decision to make, dear reader — between reality and Oogity Boogity! The choice is yours.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

25 responses to “Cornelius Hunter: The Circularity of Science

  1. Cornelius Hunter has either not read David Hume, or hopes his readers have not. While Hume did argue that it was reasonable to dismiss claims contrary to Universal experience, he also noted that it might be quite reasonable to accept an observation of some unprecedented and inexplicable event, without automatically attributing it to a supernatural cause (since surely there are natural causes unknown to us). Methodological naturalism does not constrain us from concluding that, e.g. the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that a global flood occurred during human history, or that humans are unrelated to other species on this planet — if the evidence supports such conclusions. It only precludes the inference that miracles are the only possible explanation for such phenomena. Evolution is not a presupposition. That evidence matters is a presupposition; Hunter apparently would prefer to do science on the opposite presupposition.

  2. So how exactly is biology different than any other branch of science in this respect? If certain religious groups had decided to hang their hats on a different set of Biblical verses, perhaps the ones that contradict astronomy, could his article not be written exactly the same?

    “Without heliocentrism, nothing in astronomy makes sense.”

    “Astronomers will never repeal and recant, because there simply is too much at stake here. The waters above the vault where the sun hangs do not automatically become necessarily impossible. Something can be not amenable to scientific investigation yet real.”

    OK, time to start teaching the firmament controversy. Students: Are the waters above the firmament salt, or fresh? Show your work.

  3. And creationism is not circular, rather it is a Mobius strip – as one goes around the loop, one ends up upside-down.
    They do not have an explanation for anything, they cannot say anything positive, they are in a negative advertising campaign. There is nothing in the Bible to say that there is a limit about micro-evolution – nothing at all, positive or negative, about micro- or macro-evolution.
    About design – design means that there are limits, and they cannot bring themselves to admit that there are limits to what their designers do – let alone to describe a limit. But if they could admit that there are no limits, then there is no explanation: why this, rather than that? But even if there is a design, design is not enough, there has to be action following up on the design. But why resort to design, except if there is something not to the liking – in which case, how did things come to be wrong in the first place: necessity is the mother of invention (=design), what necessity is there present to God?
    No, it is not a Mobius strip, there is multiply twisted loop.
    In brief, they cannot describe a coherent alternative, so they are forced into their negative advertising political campaign.

  4. Michael Fugate

    Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of God – the anti-science, anti-naturalist manifesto. Read Stephen Meyer’s exposition on philosophy of science.

    Whether a Thomist believing because there is a god there is design or a Paleyist believing because there is design there is a god – neither explains anything.

  5. Evolutionists will never repeal and recant, because there simply is too much at stake here.

    How exactly does one “repeal” an idea? “Repeal and recant” sounds like a garbled echo of the Republican chant about Obamacare.

    Do you see the problem? This philosophical position that evolutionists have staked themselves to is circular. To understand why, imagine for a moment that you witness a miracle, involving “non-naturalistic or supernatural” causes. According to evolutionists, such an event is “outside the scope of science.”

    Talk about circular reasoning. In order to identify an event as a miracle, it has to have “non-naturalistic or supernatural causes.” But in order to provide evidence for the existence of such causes, a miracle has to occur.

    Such arguments aren’t just outside the scope of science; they’re outside the scope of reason.

  6. Creationists can rely on magic, superstition, wishful thinking, old wives tales, folklore, what the stars foretell and what the neighbors think, omens, public opinion, astromancy, spells, Ouija boards, anecdotes, Da Vinci codes, tarot cards, sorcery, seances, sore bunions, black cats, divine revelation, table tipping, witch doctors, crystals and crystal balls, numerology, divination, faith healing, miracles, palm reading, the unguessable verdict of history, magic tea leaves, new age mumbo-jumbo, hoodoo, voodoo and any of that other weird stuff.

    I’ll stick with things that have evidence supporting them.

  7. “Evolutionists will never repeal and recant, because there simply is too much at stake here.”
    That reminds me; has Cornelius ever recanted for showing two pictures of Thylacines (one reversed) and labelling one ‘marsupial wolf’ and the other one ‘wolf’?

  8. All I get from this smear aimed at evolution and evolutionists is that the Discovery Institute folks are pure dyed-in-the-wool anti-science Creationists, regardless of their attempts to avoid the Creationist label in other venues.

  9. Coyote,
    “I’ll stick with things that have evidence supporting them.”
    Well said.
    Although I might add “reproducible” to the evidence descriptors to circumvent the inevitable “the bible is evidence” garbage.

  10. Ken Phelps has it exactly right. “When evolutionists insist that science must be strictly naturalistic they show their hand”; but the same accusation can be levelled against physicists.

    In “Defeating Darwinism by opening minds”, one of the foundation documents of the current ID epidemic, Johnson very eloquently makes the case that the a priori rejection of supernatural explanation is question begging. But the scientific rejection of supernatural explanation is not a priori, but pragmatic.

  11. Scientists do, on occasion, test non-natural explanations.
    There was a spate of non-natural hypotheses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of ESP. These were tested and eventually found lacking.
    From time to time, someone tries testing astrology or prayers or UFOs.
    But creationism and ID remain sterile, they insist on not offering any explanations. How can they expect scientific recognition when all there is to anti-evolution is an political-social negative advertising campaign?
    No one has suggested any explanation for the position of the human body as the closest neighbor to other primates in the tree of taxonomy – no explanation which does not mention descent with modification. Once a creationist offers something, then it can be taken seriously.

  12. Laplace discussed this. He pointed out that scientists investigte magnetism, even though (at his time) no naturalistic explantion was forthcoming

  13. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    This is what comes to my mind.

    This is what Wesley shared recently on the UD thread over at AtBC.

    Back in 2001, I pointed out to Dembski (and Behe was in the audience) that scientists are the ultimate pragmatists; given that something works and does something useful for them, the philosophical arguments will pretty much be obviated or ignored. So the thing to do would be to show that ID did useful work for science. If he could do that, it wouldn’t matter, in some sense, whatever criticism I was making, he would be able to convince scientists directly and they’d ignore me.

    Not, of course, that either Dembski or Behe have been able to capitalize on that advice.

    What Corny needs to do is knock off his long winded whining, roll up his sleeves, and get to work giving the world something more than circle-jerk apologetic “philosophy” that provides something of value beyond rhetorically propping up unfalsifiable beliefs and tales from the desert.

  14. Ceteris Paribus

    Cornelius Hunter proudly proclaims:

    “We may as well debate whether bachelors are male.”

    That’s not really grounds for a science debate. The term “bachelor” is just a linguistic term of gender: (Look up bachelor at Dictionary.com) “bachelor (n.) c. 1300, “young man;” also “youthful knight, novice in arms,” from Old French bacheler, bachelor, bachelier (11c.) “knight bachelor,” a young squire in training for knighthood, also “young man; unmarried man”

    Contrast that with “bachelorette”: (Look up bachelorette at Dictionary.com) “bachelorette (n.) “unmarried woman,” 1896, from bachelor with French ending -ette. Replaced earlier bachelor-girl (1888). The word appears to have been formed in English; Old French had bachelette “young girl” (15c.)”

    Now what is really interesting in the science of gender, is that from ancient times it had always been assumed that it was the male partner which furnished the stuff by which to make a new offspring of the species. The female partner merely supplied the vessel in which offspring were spawned.

    What is important in the discussion is that “bachelorette” occurs only after the time that Karl Ernst von Baer discovered the mammalian ovum in 1827. And Edgar Allen discovered the human ovum only in 1928.

    Jebus! These ignorant creationist blowhards, like Cornelius Hunter, who make such a fuss over their bible, gives me the creeps every time I hear a church bell ring.

  15. TomS,
    Their explanation of similarities is that if there is one designer, similarities in design are to be expected. Some ID proponents even go so far as to say their theory “predicts” such similarities (“if you have a model that works, it makes sense that you would keep using it”).

  16. Paul Braterman said: “Laplace discussed this. He pointed out that scientists investigte magnetism, even though (at his time) no naturalistic explantion was forthcoming”

    And today scientists investigate “dark energy,” although no one has any clue what is. Quantum mechanics is also a continuing mystery (at least to me), but it’s based on verifiable observations.

  17. Indeed. Th defeater to this argument iis that the DNA of a marsupial “wolf” resembles that of a kangaroo, not a wolf

  18. Hunter:
    Something can be not amenable to scientific investigation yet real.

    Could he name something? I suspect he’s thinking of things like ‘spirituality’ but those are only non-investigable because they’re not very well-defined.

    As soon as something can be observed, it becomes in principle amenable to research and therefore, arguably, the supernatural doesn’t really exist. If you claim, for example, that the archangel Gabriel appeared to you last night, then, for lack of physical artefacts left behind, we can assume you dreamed it. And even if we can’t replay this very experience, we can show with drugs and the like that we can fool your brain into revealing the most bizarre things.

    So I’d like Hunter to give some examples of “real” things that can’t be researched scientifically.

  19. ” It is circular — the conclusion was assumed in the first place.”
    In a way Corny Cornelius is right. However what he forgets is that circularity does not imply being wrong. What he fails to do is asking the correct question (but then, if he didn’t fail he wouldn’t produce creacrap): what justifies the scientific method?
    One valid answer is Corny Cornelius using its fruits (computer, internet) to spread his crap around the world.

  20. KenP asks a deep question: “So how exactly is biology different than any other branch of science in this respect?”
    Of course it isn’t, as every single YECer confirms when rejecting what physics, geology and probably a few others say about the age of our Earth in exactly the same way (well pointed out by our dear SC) as Corny Cornelius does.

    PaulB comments: “the same accusation can be levelled against physicists.”
    And of course in the same way LeBron James can be accused of not playing chess against the San Francisco Warriors.

    RTT quotes: “given that something works and does something useful for them” is the philosophical justification for methodological naturalism. It’s as simple as that.

    “So the thing to do would be to show that ID did useful work for science.”
    It would also be nice if the IDiots were capable of doing usefl work beyond the scope of science, besides being an endless source of our amusement on this site.

  21. @Tom B
    I try to make it clear that it is not merely similarities that places H. sapiens a primate, but the complex pattern of similarities and differences. We are closest to chimps and other apes, not quite so close to monkeys, a little less close to tarsiers and other primates, all of the primates are close to other mammals, mammals are still rather recognizable as tetrapods, as somewhat so as vertebrates, and even as animals.
    The complex predictable pattern of a tree suggests common descent with modification in general. As in linguistics and in philology.
    And no one has suggested any other explanation of taxonomy.
    When anyone suggests any other explanation, it would be the duty of scientists to study that suggestion, whether that relies on “common sense”, revelation, just a guess, a dream, etc.

  22. I also want to make this point, which is different from the nested hierarchy observation.
    Is there a law of creation or non-natural intelligent design that a creator/designer is responsible for similar things? Cannot God create things however he wishes? Rather, can’t God make some living things just as easily out of helium, radium and neutrinos? Why not make some in two dimensions, others in 17 dimensions?
    What are the laws of the supernatural that demand that things are designed?
    Why not make each living thing sui generis, like angels?

  23. TomS,
    I agree with you completely. See Paul Braterman’s post as well. I was just responding to your post regarding the lack of any explanation for similarities. Their explanation is completely invalid, but they do have one.

  24. “Their explanation of similarities is that if there is one designer, similarities in design are to be expected.”
    The problem is rather that this not an explanation at all – if there is one designer, differences are to be expected as well. One designer explains everything hence nothing.

  25. I must be more careful if I say “there is no explanation for similarities”.
    It is true that creationists do not have no explanation for anything, for reference to an agency for which anything is equally related (“anything is possible”) does not distinguish, does tell us “why this, rather than that”.
    An omnipotent agency does not have any expectations.
    But a single limited agency might have an expectation for similarities of its products. In particular, referring to the agency as a “designer” is to say that there is a limit to the agency, an expectation, so it does leave open the possibility that a single designer would be expected to be responsible for some similarities.