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Macroevolution: One Long Argument from Ignorance

The charge is often made that ID constitutes an argument from ignorance (a charge I’ve shown to be false here). But a case can be made that conventional evolutionary theory, insofar as it tries to explain macroevolutionary changes, itself constitutes an argument from ignorance. In Gary Jason’s book Critical Thinking (p. 133), he characterizes the argument from ignorance as follows:

[The argument from ignorance is] the fallacy of arguing that something must be true because nobody can prove it false or, alternatively, that something must be false because nobody can prove it true. Such arguments involve the illogical notion that one can view the lack of evidence about a proposition as being positive evidence for it or against it. But lack of evidence is lack of evidence, and supports no conclusion. An example of an appeal to ignorance: Styrofoam cups must be safe; after all, no studies have implicated them in cancer. The argument is fallacious because it is possible that no studies have been done on those cups or that what studies have been done have not focused on cancer ( as opposed to other diseases).

In this light, consider how evolutionists attempt to explain the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. Do they provide a detailed, testable Darwinian pathway to the bacterial flagellum? No. The best they do is point to a microsyringe embedded within the flagellum (known as the type three secretory system, or TTSS). But this will hardly do since virtually all engineered systems contain subsystems that are functional in their own right. The challenge is to provide a gradually complexifying sequence of functional intermediates that goes from near zero complexity through the TTSS all the way to the bacterial flagellum. Evolutionists have nothing like this. In other words, they have no positive evidence for the adequacy of the Darwinian or other material evolutionary mechanisms to produce the bacterial flagellum (a point admitted by James Shapiro and Franklin Harold — see here). Moreover, they rule out of court all evidence for design of the flagellum because such evidence fails to exclude all logically possible Darwinian pathways to the flagellum. In other words, because ID proponents haven’t proven that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum could not possibly have happened by purely material means, therefore it happened by purely material means. That fits the bill as an argument from ignorance.

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2 Responses to Macroevolution: One Long Argument from Ignorance

  1. You couldn’t be any more correct, Bill.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to explain the origin of the flagellum, you have to provide a specific, detailed description of a process that will start from some given initial starting condition, using some given set of available resources, and which will then predictably produce a flagellum, correct? Currently neither ID theory nor evolutionary theory offers any such explanation, so if either side claims to have “explained” the origin of the flagellum, they are necessarily arguing from ignorance. It seems to me that the current status of the origin of the flagellum is simply “unexplained,” and if we use our current ignorance about the flagellum’s origin as the basis for arguing for or against design, then maybe we deserve to be accused of arguing from ignorance.

    But really, is the “designedness” of the flagellum a function of knowing its origin? How the flagellum got here is an implementation question, not a design question. Given the remarkable self-consistency and holistic integration of creation, I feel confident that science will eventually figure out the implementation details for this marvelous bit of engineering as well, and I think that it’s best not to get too hung up on the intricacies of IC. Design stands on its own, and should not fall just because science does (or does not) gain insights into how the design was implemented.

    [But that's just the point: a design-theoretic approach will try to reverse engineer the flagellum with all the insights nano-technology has to offer and not limit itself artificially to trial-and-error evolutionary tinkering. We can know that we are dealing with a technology even if it is beyond our present sophistication to reconstruct it. For that reason, even without an implementation of the flagellum (and other such systems) in hand, ID doesn't constitute an argument from ignorance. --WmAD]

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