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Scientific proof, not faith, determines what is truthful

W. Mitchell Masters, Associate Professor of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
Ohio State University, Columbus

Published in The Columbus Dispatch, Saturday, 13 May 2000

In a recent column in The Dispatch, Judge James L. Graham says the ideas of Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe have evolutionists perplexed. This is definitely not the case and betrays his (and others') ignorance of evolutionary biology. Instead of wishfully looking toward the day evolutionists and creationists find common ground in the acceptance of the notion that "irreducible complexity," or explaining life's origin, requires an omnipotent designer, a more realistic basis for common ground would be acceptance of the following statement: Whether the presence and diversity of life is the product of the hand of God or of the workings of mindless natural processes is a question lying beyond the realm of science. In other words, the bishop and the atheist are united in that their beliefs are a matter of faith, not scientific proof.

One will never be able to discover a scientific test that proves or disproves the existence of God. The only position a scientist can take on this issue as a scientist is agnosticism. Scientists usually do not settle for this unsatisfying conclusion and move toward belief or disbelief, but when they do they have moved outside the realm of science and thus can no longer claim to be speaking as scientists.

Graham also claims that moral reasoning, even the very basis of society, depends on the acceptance of a Creator and appeals to such authorities as the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In science, a thing is not accepted as true because it is written down or a famous person believes it, but because it stands up to scientific tests. A pertinent question for an evolutionary biologist, then, is not whether our morals derive from a Supreme Authority (a scientifically unanswerable question), but in what ways our behavior and beliefs may have been shaped by our evolutionary history.

Showing that morality has an evolutionary underpinning would not be equivalent to countenancing moral anarchy; it would suggest that humans should perhaps examine carefully the basis for our laws and our treatment of others in a more rational way than blind appeal to a Higher Authority. But, given the disparate and divisive opinions about morality that have in the past resulted from such appeals, maybe new insight from evolutionary biology would be helpful in understanding our human condition and promoting tolerance.

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