God is a big plot too!

God is a big plot too!

In January I wrote a post titled "Evolution is a big plot":


that used a "best fit line" analogy to show the radical difference in approach to the evidence between science and pseudoscience (creationism/ID), and also the disarray of approaches among different brands of anti-evolution pseudoscience.

Now I'd like to extend the analogy from proximate causes and basic "what happened when" conclusions to ultimate causes. While I think the former analogy is a good one – illustrating the "convergence, neither sought nor fabricated" quite nicely, I’m not as confident of this one. I expect both "evolutionists" and evolution deniers to object to it. But if it stimulates thought for even one reader it's worth the effort.

Visualize the "ultimate causes" plot as follows: A vertical line represents the anthropomorphic, anthropogenic Judeo-Christian God (of creationists and theistic evolutionists). A horizontal line represents "no god, and no designer of biological systems." The infinite other lines represent other "design" situations.

In contrast to the "proximate" plot, the data points of the "ultimate" plot, depending on they are defined, either don’t exist yet, will never exist, or exist, but are very scattered, with no line appearing to fit any better than any other. Biblical creationists (YECs, OECs, geocentrists, etc.) will pick and choose the data to show that they converge on the vertical line. The IDers' job is much easier, they just pick and choose to show that no points fall on the horizontal. Shrewdly, they know that most of their target audience will infer that they must therefore fall on the vertical, oblivious to the fact that it simply does not follow.

Scientists, perhaps because it’s their nature to "connect dots," and definitely because, contrary to Dembski’s whine, connecting dots *works*, will often attempt to do it for the ultimate causes. But that's where they have been unable to achieve the "convergence, neither sought nor fabricated." Some scientists think the horizontal line has support, others think the vertical one does, and still others think that the results are inconclusive. So for science as a whole, the "~4 billion years of descent with modification and speciation, driven by processes that include genetic variation and natural selection" is settled for all practical purposes, but the "ultimate causes" remains a very open question. A matter of faith, if you will.

The moral of the story is that it's OK for scientists to debate the details of the proximate causes that remain unsettled, and it's OK to debate the existence of God, designers, etc. But it's a very bad idea to let anti-evolution activists bait-and-switch those debates, or pretend that they call the settled conclusions into question. Rather, use Dembski's own advice against him, and "don't take the bait." Focus on proximate causes and basic "what happened when" conclusions (age of life, which species share common ancestors, etc.) and ask evolution deniers detailed questions about their personal opinions on those matters. Then sit back and watch the fun.