Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Nothing in biology makes sense ... [updated]

Quote mining Theodosius Dobzhansky's Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973, p. 125) a tiny wee deeper than the standard quotation of the title only, it turns out that he opened this essay as follows:
>>As recently as 1966, sheik Abd el Aziz bin Baz asked the king of Saudi Arabia to suppress a heresy that was spreading in his land. Wrote the sheik:
   "The holy Koran, the Prophet's teachings, the majority of islamic scientists, and the actual facts all prove that the sun is running its orbit ... and that the earth is fixed and stable, spread out by God for his mankind. ... Anyone who professed otherwise would utter a charge of falsehood toward God, the Koran, and the Prophet."
    The good sheik evidently holds the Copernican theory to be a "mere theory," not a "fact". In this he is technically correct. A theory can be verified by a mass of facts, but it becomes a proven theory, not a fact."<<
Fourty years later, creationists and IDologists have employed the false dilemma between "mere theory" and "fact" so successfully that some evolutionary biologists no longer apply the traditional distinction expressed by Dobzhansky, because it plays into the hands of anti-Darwinians. Jerry Coyne (2009, p. xiii), for example, states:
>>But evolution is far more than a "theory," let alone a theory in crisis. Evolution is a fact.<<
See also Larry Moran's Evolution is a fact and a theory at Sandwalk.

UPDATE 03.06.2012: The solution I have now reached concerning this issue is that creationists seem to mistake facts with data. Facts are not data. Mere data without a theory to make sense of them remain noise. A fact is made by a theory's predictions (derived hypotheses) and data collected in order to test them.
Philosophers of science would probably say that facts are theory laden: 

fact = data + theory. 
Creationists seem to think that they can miraculously get the meaning of data directly without any theory mediating it to them. Hece the best way to take their false dilemma of 'theory vs. fact' rhetoric from them seems to point out that they jump from their own theory (creation) to the facts they wish for ignoring the data, or they jump from the data to the facts they wish for ignoring scientific theories. Anyway, it's a false dilemma. 

  • Coyne J. Why evolution is true. Viking Penguin, New York.
  • Dobzhansky T. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The American Biology Teacher, March 1973.