Agnostic! Are you sure? (The atheist delusion)

by whitecraw, Friday, January 25, 2008, 10:48 (4544 days ago) @ ima sceptic

Evolution while still described as a theory in scientific terms, is as close to a proven process (fact) as it is possible to get.

A fact is not a 'proven process'. A fact is that which is the case. The theory of evolution by natural selection is a fact of history, insofar as it is the case that such a theory exists. In this respect it has the same factual status as the theory of evolution by intelligent design and the theory of creation.

The key question is which (if any) of the rival theories is true. The truth of a theory depends on a number of things, not least its ability to explain the facts as we find them. A theory which is successful in explaining the facts does not thereby become itself a fact; it remains a theory which has not yet been falsified by some fact that it cannot explain.

The trouble is that rival and contradictory theories can be equally true, insofar as they are each able to explain the facts as we find them. In evaluating these rival theories we must compare their other virtues: the economy of their explanations, for example, the better theory being deemed the one which provides the simplest explanation; the degree of falsifiability of their explanations, the better theory being deemed the one which is more susceptible to being falsified by newly discovered facts; and/or the heuristic value of their respective explanations, the better theory being deemed the one which generates the greater number of problems requiring further research. All such considerations need to be taken into account in calculating a theory's explanatory power; and it is the theory which has the greatest explanatory power of the range of available alternatives that is deemed the truest.

This of course means that the truth of any given theory is only ever provisional and holds only for as long as no one can come up with a better theory. Such is the nature of the scientific enterprise, which isn't in the business of producing truth in the absolute sense but only the best shot at truth we can currently take.

In my judgement, the theory of evolution by natural selection is (properly understood) the best theory we currently have to explain the process of life on the planet. It by and large explains the facts as we currently find them, it does so with greater economy than its rivals can manage, and it guides us in the direction of future research into unanswered questions which may or may not in the longer term lead to its falsification.

What amuses me is how the theory has come to be held dogmatically by many refugees from religion, to the extent that it has become for those refugees a substitute for religious belief. I suspect it is thus held because it satisfies a residual need for certainty, and also because it is perceived to be a stick that can be used to beat religion over the head with; that is, for therapeutic and ideological reasons, rather than for good scientific reasons. But, of course, I may be wrong.

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