Missing links

As I drive down the road, I have faith that the driver in the opposite lane will hold his course and pose me no threat. That's faith. I have no previous experience with him on the road. I'm just simply assuming that he knows the rules of the road, respects his life, and respects mine.

It takes faith to believe in creation or evolution. The ramifications of either decision are discussed in a previous post. The previous discussion of faith posed it as irrational. Assumptions are not necessarily irrational. While I might have faith that the driver in the other car will not do anything stupid, and while I might have faith in my car and my driving abilities to avoid disaster, it is perhaps more accurate to say that I "assume". I make such an assumption through knowledge and experience. I assume that the other driver wants to live, has passed a driver's test, has a modicum of experience on the road, and no ill will against me. With these assumptions, I forge ahead.

This is how humans live. We continually draw on our memories and assumptions, sometimes pleasantly surprised when we are not correct, and sometimes unpleasantly surprised. In either case, we alter our future assumptions and carve future responses.

So let's substitute "faith in God" or "faith in science" with "assumptions about God" and "assumptions about science".

When we talk about "assumptions about God" we can say generic things like "He has my best interest at heart" and "He has a master plan." If we talk about "assumptions about science", we have to admit scientists are not evil. They are not out to prove God does not exist. Perform this exercise. Go to Pubmed and type "[dp] 2007" for the search term. This selects biomedical articles for the year 2007. Look at the first item. Mine was "Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) provide co-stimulation in positive selection along with survival of selected thymocytes." Look through the list and you'll get a sense about what scientists do. They deal with minutia, and they do it in a very systematic, empirical way.

Do scientists have faith? No, but they have assumptions. They assume previous results were accurate or inaccurate and they formulate hypotheses to test assumptions. That's what science is. It's not so much the acquisition of knowledge, but the challenge of assumptions.

Challenging an assumption does not have to be confrontational. The hypothesis can be set up as "Assuming X was true, then Y should follow. In this paper, we test Y...." If Y is true, then X is supported implicitly. If it is not, then X may be unsupported implicitly. The ramifications of the results are discussed in the "Discussion" section of most papers. Future research must then explain findings in terms of X and Y. This is science. Call it knowledge, but really it's the quest for a cohesive story. Certainly opinions come into play, but it is data and our interpretations of the data that really constitute the resulting knowledgebase and it is a work in progress.

The beauty about science is that it is testable. A finding can be debunked or supported as more advanced techniques to acquire and analyze data arise. Similarly, theories can be expanded or pigeon-holed. Some competing theories may coexist for some time before evidence either proves one right or can explain how they can be bridged by describing how both are correct under certain conditions.

Evolution is often criticized for its missing links, the lack of transient forms in the fossil record. (See this Scientific American article for common critiques and sensible responses).

What is uncomfortable for the Creationist is the notion that evolutionists can be comfortable without knowing everything. Indeed, there are many "holes" in evolution. We don't know how it all works. Sure there are genetic changes, but how many do you need for a system to be co-opted and take on a new function? What about epigenetic changes? "Fittest" really is ill-defined in "survival of the fittest".

Yet, time and time again, when biology assumes evolution, the pieces fit. In fact, you cannot find one study that refutes it. You can try and throw the complexity argument at it, and I'll hand it right back to you -- many genes that regulate cell division in my body are the same as those in plants. Pop quiz: How many cervical vertebrae does a giraffe have? Seven -- the same as all mammals including whales, pigs, and us primates. You want to know where a lot of our understanding about our own biology comes from? A number of other critters, especially mice. We can create drugs and cures for cancer because we share a same biology (i.e. common ancestor).

Creationists cite that this similarity illustrates a single creator. I especially like this link's mention that if we were dissimilar biochemically, then we couldn't eat our fellow creatures. Was that part of God's original plan?

When you start looking at evolution and see natural progressions, life starts making sense. If you assume a supernatural, you build assumptions riddled with holes because they are fleeting and untestable. What might be real and good for you might be killing somebody else. Don't talk to me about the splinters in evolution until you get the log out of religion.

Want to talk about the lack of finding a missing link? The biggest missing link is God. He's not there!


Anonymous said...

Good stuff Tom. I would have to disagree with your atheistic conclusion, but your explanation of how faith undergirds all systems of belief is spot on!


PhiJ said...

I smell dead link - the aig and sciam ones both give me a 'page not found' error.

Tom said...

That's a bummer. Both links were interesting. I've tried to find them again, but cannot. :-(

The AIG link merged the idea that "Common descent" is equivalent to "Common Designer". They then said a common design was necessary -- Metabolically, it would not make sense for God to create animals and plants with a different biochemistry, because then they would have no nutritional value. Since we have dominion over them, and they were designed with nutritional value for us, we can consume them.