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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Roger Ebert, the Philosopher

Roger Ebert should stick to commenting on movies. In the 'Movie Answer Man' section of his web site, he was overheard saying, "The argument between Darwinians and Creationists is similar: Darwinians use science, Creationists use faith. 'Creationist science' is laughed at by reputable scientists because it tries to use its easily refuted 'science' to explain a belief that grows from and depends entirely on faith."

There are so many things wrong with his comment that I don't even know where to begin. First of all, Darwinians and Creationists both use science and faith. For theories which are empirically verifiable by attempting to explain phenomena that are directly observable, they both call upon science; for theories which are not empirically verifiable by attempting to explain phenomena that are not directly observable, they both call upon faith. Each system likewise begins with a set of presuppositions that are not subject to science, nor can they be (e.g. the problem of induction), but shouldn't that already be admitted by even the likes of Ebert?

When it comes to the primary approach to scientific methodolgy, both systems affirm accumulation and examination of empirical data through observation, repetition and analysis. And when it comes to demonstrating the positive empirical support for their system, they both rely on citation of empirical data. But now notice an interesting characteristic here: when it comes to the primary means of criticizing each other's system, Creationists call upon citation of empirical data, whereas Darwinians call upon an a priori rejection on the basis of their philosophical biases and presuppositions. A prime example of this is Roger Ebert himself. As Jorge A. Fernandez notes in his article (which carefully critiques the notorious Talk.Origins FAQ), "Few would argue with the notion that 'things change.' But to take the step from 'things change' to 'and therefore, that’s how it all got here' is a leap of blind, irrational faith that would send even the most fanatical snake worshipper reeling."

So much talk about "change in the genetic characteristics of a population over time" is featured in both the Darwinian and Creationist systems and is subject to science; in other words, "change in the genetic characteristics of a population over time"—science—is not the point of controversy. The point of controversy is, primarily, the clash of philosophical presuppositions (which is to be critiqued philosophically, not scientifically) and, subsequently, the facade of metaphysical naturalism being presented as 'science' because it strives to use scientific jargon. But as Michael Shermer ironically noted in his book Why People Believe Weird Things, "Dressing up a belief system in the trappings of science by using scientific language and jargon," he says, "means nothing without evidence, experimental testing, and corroboration. Because science has such a powerful mystique in our society, those who wish to gain respectability, but do not have evidence, try to do an end run around the missing evidence by looking and sounding 'scientific'."

Darwinians use science, yes, but they also use a great deal of faith. Creationists use faith, yes, but they also use a great deal of science. It is every bit as disingenuous to pit the science of Evolution against the faith of Creation as it is to pit the science of Creation against the faith of Evolution. When one is evaluating competing systems, one should compare apples with apples... don't you think so too, Mr. Ebert?