Monday, January 30, 2017

Evolution is just a story . . . really?

I think we have a new tactic being tested out by the Discovery Institute (DI).  In this post: "Theory of Evolution? Call It a "Narrative" Instead" by one of the more prolific DI talking heads: little davey 'klingy' klinghoffer, he would like you to think of Evolution as being just a 'Narrative'.  Is he kidding? Actually I have trouble distinguishing when klingy is trying to be funny or serious, but that's neither here nor there.  So let's briefly discuss.

What is a Narrative anyway?  Wikipedia defines is as:

"A narrative or story is any report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, and/or still or moving images."
From this point of view, I guess you can call Evolution a 'Narrative' because it certainly does tell a story of connected events.  Evolution tells the story of life on this planet, not the initial spark of how life formed, but once life existed how it changed and the many forces driving those changes until we reach the present day and we see the incredible variety of life we have today.

So how do I feel about calling Evolution a narrative?  I'm not that bothered by it that much because by the definition, you can call it that.  Just like by definition you can call a diamond 'a rock' and The Biltmore  'a house'.  But by doing so in any way do them justice?  What you cannot do is to call a diamond just a rock, or the Biltmore just a house, can you?

So what is the Discovery Institute (DI) up to?  What we have is nothing more than another word game, something the DI does instead of actual science.  By calling Evolution 'a narrative', they are trying to make it less than it really is, trying to box it into something they can throw away.  Since they have made very little headway getting people to question evolution, they keep trying to re-define it.  Not too long ago their tactic was 'it's only a theory.', today is 'it's only a story.'  In between their original attacks they tried to pass off Evolution as a philosophy called 'Darwinism', a religion, an antiquated concept, and even a violation of physics.  They keep trying to re-define it, but none of it seems to stick.  They keep failing because Evolution tells a compelling story, one loaded with evidence, predictive power, and because it works.  They consistently keep trying to denigrate evolution using such word games because when it comes to the science, they have been failing miserably.   

Just for fun, let's contrast something for a minute.  Creationism, and it's little brother Intelligent Design, also tell a story, doesn't it.  The source document is the Christian Bible . . . and if you disagree let me, let me also remind you that the DI and it's pet concept of Intelligent Design (ID) are religious propositions, not matter how often they claim otherwise.  It was determined in court and also in their own documents.  We've dealt with that issue many times, so let us simply call it what it is, a religious concept.  Since it's underpinnings are based on a specific religion and that religion also has a series of interconnected stories, you can call ID a narrative as well.

Of course, you can look back at the definition of 'narrative' and please note the two words I placed in in italics, real or imaginary.  Therein lies the difference between Evolution as a narrative and ID as a narrative.  As we have already said, Evolution cannot be called only a narrative due to an incredible amount of supporting evidence, decades of scientific study and confirmation.  Yes, it's a narrative, but it is also a real story and it's considerably more than just being a story.  It best fits all the current scientific evidence, so that makes if a pretty damn good story.

Intelligent Design can also be called a narrative, but without supporting evidence, that's about all you can call it.  No one has done any scientific work that lets you call it much else.  It's not a scientific theory, it's not a valid explanation of how life changed on this planet over millions of years, it's not even a good bedtime story because one you hit 'god-did-it', the story is over.  So while you can call Creationism/ID a narrative, you really can't call it much more than that.

Of course klingy doesn't say that. He just tries to reduce down evolution to the status of just being a story. He also does it by trying to mischaracterize evolution as only being:
"evolution by natural selection operating on random mutations"
However, in typical DI fashion, klingy forgets to mention the other multitude of evolutionary forces at work, ones that expand greatly the explanatory power of evolution.  No one in the scientific community would characterize evolution as solely being natural selection operating on random mutations.  That sort of straw-man is most often used by Creationists, including Intelligent Design proponents.  Which certainly clearly characterized klingy.

So, yes Evolution is a story!  It's also a Scientific Theory, or rather an overarching scientific theory made up of hundreds of other scientific theories, each of those theories tell a story that makes up part of the evolutionary whole.  Intelligent Design is truly just a story and one that says surprisingly little.

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