Gratuitous Affirmation

When Affirming Words Supplant Epistemological Rigor

In his 2019 book, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, biochemist Michael Behe exposes several tactics employed by Darwinists, which have effectively kept Darwin’s tired theory front and center as an explanation for origin of life, and origin of species. These tactics – powerful as they are - have little to do with epistemological rigor; you know, those methods informing the way scientists are supposed to do science - with controlled, repeatable experiments, generating data either in support of or in nullification of a hypothesis. As a reminder to those of us who cannot remember what good, peer-reviewed science theoretically should look like, such findings are then submitted to an academic journal, where the editor does his or her (or “they”) due diligence ensuring the findings are repeatable before publication.

Apparently, Darwinism has evaded this due process and in fact, for thinkers like Behe, synthetic organic chemist Dr. James Tour, molecular biologist Dr. Douglas Axe, and countless others who demand such rigor, they are the ones gas-lighted - accused of being flat-earth “science denier’s,” and… wait for it… creationists. Dr. Tour, acting like a real scientist, brilliantly takes methodological naturalism as a means for explaining origin of life to task in the video below.

If anyone has seen Dr. Tour in live presentations, he nearly always invites synthetic chemists in his audience to publicly challenge his assertions – this is the way science is done.

But gas-lighting  and name-calling aside, Behe enumerates an even more powerful tactic giving life support to Darwinism – that of gratuitous affirmations. Of its power, Behe remarks:

Gratuitous affirmations of a dominant theory can mesmerize the unwary. They lull people into assuming that objectively difficult problems don’t really matter. That they’ve been solved already. Or will be solved soon. Or are unimportant. Or something. They actively distract readers from noticing an idea’s shortcomings1.

So powerful is this tactic, Behe remarks, that readers of popular or even more technical articles addressing direct or peripheral issues surrounding evolution’s remarkable powers to create are prompted to quip, “of course.” “Of course Darwinism holds amazing powers to generate creative phenotypes of every kind… we all knew that” – we are expected to affirm. From a popularized science article Behe draws one example of countless many, penned by New York Times science writer Olivia Judson on the cleaning behavior of birds, stating,

Birds like the silky flycatcher, Phainopepla nitens, that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a “waggle dance.”

Behe rightly challenges that there are no methodological studies to date documenting how birds lacking this behavior suddenly developed it by random genetic mutations to genes encoding proteins impacting “. . . specific neural pathways due to some identifiable, measurable selective pressure.” For this expectation of epistemological rigor, Behe is assailed – yet, who is the real scientist here? Behe adds that the inclusion of the word “evolved” serves no purpose, rather, it is pretend knowledge. While we might tolerate such fanciful assertions in popularized science articles, Behe points out that technical articles are tainted as well, along with textbooks.

In my own experience, while preparing notes for an organic chemistry class, the author of the textbook we use in class offered this gratuitous affirmation of the power of evolution (nearly escaping my own notice), as follows:

Because they are generally the products of millions of years of evolution, the structures of biomolecules are highly adaptable to serve specific biological functions.2

Biochemist Douglas Axe has both experimented and published extensively rigorous challenges to the alleged power of evolution to generate functional biological molecules. In his book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition, he chronicles his own explorations into protein research, and informed by it proffers a powerful argument against the notion of “accidental invention.” To his credit and many like him, he is not willing to sacrifice epistemological rigor in order to give evolution a pat on the back.

Some might ask, “So what? So what if evolution enjoys a pass for now; what’s the big deal?” Gratuitous affirmations, winks and nods, are not the way science is conducted. Francis Bacon and his contemporaries developed this epistemological method for the express purpose of weeding out fantastical explanations of natural phenomena by influential people. These seventeenth-century forward thinkers could see the impact of false popularized explanations on advancing technologies and culture.

On a final note, closer to our own time, evolution is not the only dogma enjoying popular gratuitous support. Today, we are told that gender is fluid, having no basis whatsoever in a person’s biology. Society’s objectively “intelligent” person is the one quipping, “Of course gender is not informed by biological structures, but rather is a mere sociological construct,” or, “Of course you change your gender by mere verbal edict and demand we all join you in your own reality.”  Popular affirmations such as these having no basis in epistemological rigor are dangerous, as they migrate from the absurd musings of an activist college professor - to the culture and arts, and eventually informing law and medical practice… and, to our peril.

If we have learned anything from Behe’s book, it is that we all need to open our eyes to what the culture and the scientific community quips “of course,” to, so as to not affirm pretend knowledge.

Notes:

  1. Behe, M. J. (2019). Darwin devolves: The new science about DNA that challenges evolution. HarperCollins.
  2. Karty, J., & Melzer, M. (2010). Organic chemistry: Principles and mechanisms. New York: WW Norton.

Further Reading

has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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