Intelligent Design’s Logical Fallacies

The many articles on Newsvine regarding creationism and intelligent design have sparked a good deal of comments from proponents of those views, several expressing the same tired arguments for why creationism ought to be afforded time in science classrooms across the country. Primarily, they argue that, because the evidence for evolution isn’t convincing (to them, that is — nearly all scientists find it overwhelming), evolution must be wrong and, because it’s wrong, intelligent design must be right. Clearly, these people haven’t spent much time in an introductory logic course, because they’re snagging themselves on fallacies left and right.

First we have the False Dilemma:

A limited number of options (usually two) is given, while in reality there are more options. A false dilemma is an illegitimate use of the “or” operator.

Either evolution is right or God created life. Those are the options given by the creationist. But, of course, there a good deal more possibilities. Maybe there are physical laws we have yet to discover that cause atoms to arrange themselves into living beings. These laws could be a natural as gravity and would in no way require the presence of a creator. I’m sure anyone with even a little imagination can come up with more scenarios that don’t include God. This is a False Dilemma because it is perfectly reasonable for someone to reject both evolution and intelligent design. They are far from the only two possibilities.

The problem is, this is would mean an end to most creationist arguments. They don’t actually have any evidence for creationism — except the very weak one from complexity I examine below — and so are forced to construct an artificial binary and then proceed to attack one side of it.

And then there’s what I’ll term the Lottery Ticket Fallacy. It goes something like this: Let’s say there’s a huge pile of pieces of paper, each with a one-hundred digit number on it. You reach into the pile and pull one out at random. Looking at it, you exclaim, “Wow, providence must be at work because, out of all these possibilities, I happened to get this number.” It’s a silly reaction, right? There’s nothing special about your number except that it happens to be the one you got. You couldn’ve seen the same providence at work no matter which number you drew.

How is this similar to creationism? Take this comment, posted on one of my other websites:

Well, if our own bodies and the very planet we live on is not evidence enough of a supreme power that created us it should at least be enough to be accepted as a credible theory.

(A note: Here again we have the creationist mixing up the meanings of “theory.” In every day life, it means a guess: “I have a theory that the reason the Patriots lost last week is because…” In science, on the other hand, a theory is considerably more rigorous. Please, if you don’t fully understand the difference, read up on it. This is the single most common creationist argument against evolution and it’s also by far the dumbest.)

What’s going on here? Basically, he’s claiming that because the world exists and because he finds that fact miraculous, there must be an intelligence behind it. How else to explain getting this reality as opposed to some other one? Here’s how:

There is some evidence to support that our universe goes through cycles. It expands and collapses, over and over again. Each time, it is likely that conditions are slightly different. So it is certainly possible that there have been millions (or billions or trillions) of prior universes that didn’t have the capacity for something like us. And now that Universe 1,000,001 comes along and makes humans, it must be God at work. But what about the other beings that probably existed in those other universes? Did they think the same thing? Did they find their universes required a creator because their own existence was miraculous?

To take it a step further, there’s no reason to suppose that ours is the only universe. There could be a trillion-billion others out there that don’t have the conditions for life. The simple fact is that even if you take an enormous number of dice, so long as your roll them a sufficiently enormous number of times, eventually you’ll end up with whatever total or sequence you’re looking for. There just isn’t any evidence that there’s anything particularly special about this universe.

Creationists can’t address either of these questions because they can’t give positive arguments for the existence of God that don’t rest upon similar lines of reasoning. God has to be taken on faith and can, therefore, never be disproved, just as he can never be proved. Evolution, on the other hand, can be easily disproved. All it would take would be finding a skeleton of human or house cat below the KT Boundary.

I’m all for people arguing against evolution. That’s the nature of science. It’s clear that almost every theory (and that’s theory in the scientific sense, kids) we’ve held throughout human history has been shown to be inadequate. There’s no reason to believe our current ones won’t look just as silly or basic a couple hundred years from now. Evolution has more evidence going for it than almost any other theory creationists have little trouble with (such as Newtonian physics, the Theory of Relativity, etc.), but it is singled out because it conflicts with a religious world view. Creationists don’t make up their minds after carefully parsing the available sides, theories, and evidence. They believe what they believe and attack anything that might point to the Bible not being true.

Like flat earthers and anti-Copernicans, we need only wait a few hundred years for their views to be widely derided as nothing more than religious dogma. Until then, though, we can sit back and at least make them learn a little about basic logic.