Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Different strategies to refute human evolution

My demanding major on one hand, and my horrible time management skills on the other, afford me very little opportunity to seriously study apologetics. Whatever little knowledge I have on different topics pertaining to apologetics is wide, not deep. (Which explains why I write blog posts instead of books)

I don't claim to have a detailed, precise rebuttal to the scientific theory of human evolution. Like most other topics that I write about, what I have in mind are approaches and models of how to solve the problem. I can show you the path, although I haven't walked to the end of said paths. The present post is a testament par excellence to that fact. It's a roadmap to the different strategies one can adopt in answering the challenge of human evolution. Hopefully this will generate interest among enthusiastic Muslims who would study the relevant material and see the solutions to the end.

To rebut human evolution means to rebut, undercut, or re-interpret the evidences for it, like the evidences from fossil record and comparative genomics. It also involves calling into question the method in which the conclusion is reached, and the dataset used in the analysis. What follows are the different ways in which this can be achieved.

There is method to the way the strategies are arranged. You can picture theorizing about human evolution as an elaborate argument, with a number of different premises. If even one of the premises is faulty, human evolution would be rendered unjustified. Only if all premises are solid would the conclusion go through. The premises range from being very general (e.g. science is reliable) to very specific (e.g. this is the only way to interpret the data). The strategies given here target different premises leading to the conclusion, progressing from the more general ones to the more specific. I think this is a useful and intuitive way of thinking about the issue. I've provided a graphic at the end of the article which I've made with my mad MSpaint skillz.

Strategy 1: Scientific analysis and theorizing are irrelevant when it comes to Adam, since he was a miracle. Given the available scientific data- and nothing but the scientific data- is the claim of Jesus (as) being born a virgin defensible? The answer is no, and that's irrelevant. Miracles are by definition unscientific. Scientific explanations need to invoke laws, but miracles by definition defy laws. As such, miracles by their nature fall beyond the scope of scientific unfalsifiability. So it is with Adam. More can be said about this, but that's the long and short of this approach.

Listening material for Strategy 1:

1. Yasir Qadhi's lecture on evolution, available here

Strategy 2: Paleontology, genomics etc are not the only constituents of the relevant dataset when it comes to theorizing about human origins. This approach of rebutting human evolution is powerful, promising, and underrated. Both the creationist and evolutionist are in the business of explaining human existence. The evolutionist's strategy is to explain the human genes and bones in evolutionary terms. But, the proponent of this strategy would argue, there is more to human existence than just genes and bones and flesh. What makes humans human is not our bipedalism or brain size or genetic microsatellites, but our mental or cognitive capacities. These include language, rationalism, enhanced degree of self-awareness, higher-order desires, autobiographical memory, and so on. These fundamental characteristics of humans- what truly constitute the human package- is very difficult to explain in terms of evolutionary processes, simply because cognates of these features are rarely found in any other animal species. As such, while the evolutionary explanation may triumph on the limited dataset of bones and genes, once you expand the dataset to include other, perhaps more crucial features of human existence- that explanation breaks down completely. On a broader dataset, creationism sports at least as much explanatory power as evolution.

Reading material for Strategy 2:

1. Vincent Joseph Torley's articles (thick with references) on the topic, available here, here, here and here.

[Note: This "other data" can contain data from revelation as well. If the dataset under consideration includes the proposition "Islam is true", then what the Qur'an has to say needs to be incorporate in our theory of human origins. Of course, in that case the proposition needs to be backed up with other evidences]

Strategy 3- The science is bogus. This strategy involves calling into question the specific scientific disciplines which yield the aforementioned evidences. So a proponent of this strategy would argue that as far as scientific disciplines go, paleonanthropology or molecular archaeology are not very reliable. As such, whatever evidences they yield must also be called into question. This strategy isn't as implausible as it may seem. Quite often, paleontology (especially archaeology) draws conclusions based on extremely scanty amounts of data, especially when it comes to answering questions like whether a certain species could be characterized as having symbolic/linguistic capabilities. How would linguistic capabilities be correlated with bones and stones? Would relatively advanced technology correspond with linguistic capabilities as well? What constitutes artistic expression? How do we know whether patterned scratches on cave walls constitute as art or not? What evidences would be appropriate to establish controlled fire use or burial? These questions tend to be extremely controversial. In addition, there are concerns with the availability and transparency of fossil data, biased interpretation (and rejection) of evidence, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.

Reading material for Strategy 3:

1. Forbidden Archaeology by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson
2. The Hidden History of the Human Race by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson (condensed version of 1)
3. Forbidden Archaeology's Impact by Michael Cremo (sequel to 1)
4. How reliable are genomes from ancient DNA? by Brian Thomas and Jeffrey Tomkins

[Note: Cremo's approach may be said to belong more neatly in strategy 4. I saw it fit to include under strategy 3 because my key takeaway point from his book was the unbelievable selectivity that is at work when it comes to paleontological data generation. If his conclusions are true, that would mean the paleontology cannot be said to yield reliable data to begin with]

Strategy 4- The science is alright, the data is bogus. This strategy, to an extent at least, admits that paleontology and/or molecular archaeology and/or comparative genomics are reliable sources of knowledge, but the data derived from these sciences is not what mainstream scientists claim them to be (and hence don't support evolution). This is usually the most common approach taken by run-on-the-mill creationists and Intelligent Design advocates. It's important to note here that evidence for evolution isn't homogenous- it involves genes from existing species, genes from extinct species, fossils, artifacts, and so on. So different people can direct their skepticism at different sorts of evidences.

Reading material for Strategy 4:

Skepticism about paleontological data:

1. Buried Alive by Jack Cuozzo
2. Bones of Contention by Marvin Lubenow
3. Science and Human Origins by Casey Luskin, Ann Gauger, and Douglas Axe

Skepticism about comparative genetics data:


1. More than a Monkey: The Human-Chimp DNA Similarity Myth by Jeffrey Tomkins
2. Science and Human Origins by Casey Luskin, Ann Gauger, and Douglas Axe
3. Who was Adam? by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross
4. Relevant papers by Jeffrey Tomkins, available here

Skepticism about population genetics data (this is a topic I know next to nothing about):


1. Science and Human Origins by Casey Luskin, Ann Gauger, and Douglas Axe
2. Relevant articles by Ann Gauger, available here

Strategy 5- The science is alright, the data is alright, the interpretation is bogus. Proponents of this strategy would agree with the data generated by mainstream scientists. Note, however, that there is no "orthodoxy" or "standard narrative" when it comes to paleontology. The data is ambiguous enough to have multiple stories describing the evolution of humans. By saying the proponents of this approach would agree with the data, I mean they would agree to some version of the "orthodoxy". As an example, there's no consensus in the academia about whether Neandertals had symbolic expression. So people who agree or disagree to this conclusion would both count as adopting this strategy. Anyways, while they would agree with the data, they would interpret the data differently. Fazale Rana, for example, agrees with the data but thinks it points to abrupt origin of humans on earth, and not the slow-and-gradual evolution. Young-Earth Creationist Robert Carter believes the data generated from population genetics actually supports all of humanity being derived from a very, very tiny population.

Reading material for Strategy 5:

1. Who was Adam? by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross
2. The non-mythical Adam and Eve by Robert Carter, available here
3. Does genetics point to a single primal couple? by Robert Carter, available here (also peruse Carter's other relevant articles from here)

Strategy 6- The science is alright, the data is alright, a different interpretation is possible. While proponents of strategy 3 would claim that the interpretation of the data presented by evolutionists is wrong, proponents of strategy 6 would claim their interpretation is not wrong, but a creationism-friendly interpretation can also be given.

Reading material for Strategy 6:

1. Who was Adam? 12 theses and a caveat by Vincent Joseph Torley, available here

[Note: Since strategies 5 and 6 basically agree with the scientific data (but differ in interpretations), mainstream scientific literature would constitute reading material as well]


All of these strategies have things to be said in their favor, and I believe the most comprehensive and satisfactory solution to the problem of human evolution can be developed by adopting an eclectic approach incorporating the insights from all of them.

There are two other strategies used to reconcile human evolution with scripture, I haven't mentioned them because I don't find them convincing. The first strategy would say Islam supports human evolution. I haven't seen any responsible, evenhanded interpretation of the scripture grounded in a consistent tafsir methodology that lends support to this view. Also note, this strategy can get away with claiming only so much. A central claim of human evolution is that there were no "primal human couple" from whom we came, i.e. human monogenesis is false. Yet, the Qur'an and ahadith emphasize on this point so thoroughly and repeatedly that I don't think there's any way a Muslim can doubt monogenesis. We could claim at best that the primal couple arose by evolution, and all humanity came thence. From a scientific perspective, that view is still super weird. So even granted the success of this strategy, it affords little cause for comfort to the scientifically minded Muslim. Anyways, the best paper I've come across which defends this "reconciliation" thesis is available here.

The remaining approach involves some variant of science denial. Proponents of this view point to some fundamental problem with science as a truth-seeking enterprise itself, and conclude that scientific knowledge is by nature unreliable to different extents. This is a view I find to be extremely unsatisfactory, if not ludicrous. Sure, certain parts of science can be unreliable- I myself am a little sympathetic to the claim that one can trust paleontology only so much. If one objects to evolution on such a restricted ground, more power to him. But to say evolution is unreliable because science in general is unreliable just strikes me as a cop out.

(click the image to enlarge)

12 comments:

  1. Very useful piece of writing! Carry on!!

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  2. What about tackling it from the perspective of a philosopher of science by showing that the methods employed behind the science in proving evolution of the human species cannot yield certainty? Like using Popper and others like him. Your thoughts?

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    1. I have a hunch you won't like my answer, dear reader. This is exactly the sort of approach I characterize as a soft form of science denialism, and hence a cop out. It's trivially true that scientific knowledge doesn't yield certainty. The set of "certainty"-inducing fields of knowledge is vanishingly small (arithmetics, some truths of logic, and maybe awareness of our mental states, and that's about it). But that doesn't mean knowledge that is less than "certain" cannot still count as knowledge. Would someone really claim with a straight face that the sun rising in the East is not knowledge? And yet, it's not absolutely true, since human sensoria is fallible. If scripture said "sun rises in the west every day", could we really get away with saying "oh well, it's not absolutely certain, so no conflict arises"? No respectable epistemologist or philosopher of science I know of- except the extreme skeptical variety- demand such an incredible criterion- that of certainty- for a proposition to be counted as knowledge. For something to count as knowledge, it only needs to be justified true belief, and justification entails only being more probably true than not.

      I don't understand why Popper is so popular, since his views about scientific truths border on pyrrhonian skepticism. Here's a simple (but to my mind effective) way of appreciating the dilemma we face when we deny the reliability of scientific knowledge: science is nothing but the extension of our everyday reasoning. When you decide not to go to office tomorrow because your boss called you and told you to have the day off, you have engaged in a form of scientific reasoning, complete with all the assumptions of science (induction, falsification, the whole nine yards). Even more dangerous, truths of religion are argued on the basis of a mode of reasoning very similar to scientific reasoning. So once you deny science on grounds that its not "certain", you really call into question the vast majority of the basic truths about reality.

      Wallahu 'alam.

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    2. Thank you for the quick reply. I actually did like your answer because it was realistic and pragmatic.
      You mentioned under Strategy 2 about "other data" and how even "revelation" could fall under this. Could you kindly recommend any reading material written by non-Muslims on how "scientific" it would be to accept such revelatory material as "data" in issues like human evolution?

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    3. That's an incredibly specific topic, lol. I guess the material you'd be looking for would concern definitions and scope of science, and epistemic justification in general. You may want to look into "Understanding Philosophy of Science" by James Ladyman and "Epistemic Justification" by Richard Swinburne.

      As for my personal opinion, this all depends on how broadly you're willing to define science. If we define science not on the basis on what it works on (e.g. only on "natural" things and concepts, as opposed to supernatural), but on the basis of a method one adopts, then it would be safe to say that the Strategy 2 caveat is scientific. Scientific reasoning involves gathering all relevant data on the topic, constructing stories or narratives on the basis of said data, then selecting the "best" among these stories on the basis of criteria like how much of the data they explain, how well they do the explaining, how simple it is, and so forth. So in talking about human origins, we must consider all relevant fields of data as long as they are justified. Now if we have evidence that Islam is true, then what Islam says about evolution must be considered germane to the discussion at hand as well. Indeed, ignoring such true data would amount to ignoring relevant evidence.

      The process is not as simple as it sounds, it's not a matter of "Islam says X, therefore X". Taking into account what Islam says is only the first step of reasoning. Then we would also have to consider the other lines of evidences yielded by science, and consider how best to reconcile all of the relevant evidence into one overarching coherent story. This reconciliation effort then would benefit from the strategies mentioned in this post.

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    4. Thank you so much. You've provided much food for thought on this rainy Tuesday morning!

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  3. As salamu alaykum, Hamza. You've researched this topic quite thoroughly, so how do you personally think:

    Does one have really good reasons not to believe (basing on available fossil\genetics\other research data), that we evaluated from apes?

    I've recently came upon a christian german article, which was provided by self-explaining citations from evolutionary scientists who admit that we choose evolutionary view just because otherwise we would set the premise of special creation which is unscientific and we would lose our jobs (roughly speaking), whereas the fact of evolution is by now ablosutely open and has no direct evidence - it seemed to me like there is a total frustration among unbiased thinkers in the academia. Then I noticed, that the references are all old (post WW2 up to 60-s date of publishing), which I believe must be related to the so-called "eclipse" of this theory, which they soon extricated and got convinced back. Does the situation around the human evolution among scientists somehow changed, what it looks like now?

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    1. My suspicion is that the scientific community, to reference Thomas Kuhn, is beset with and governed by subsets of methodological fads to which they must subscribe and are strictly beholden, and from which they cannot self extricate under pain of ostracisation or risk of public ridicule. Like any community of artisans or craftsmen, they must obey their host guilds' unwritten charters, or what Kuhn labeled "paradigms". But in the case of the evolutionary paradigm, I suspect the conspiracy runs deeper, especially if one were to factor political, cultural, and recently, corporate strings currently steering scientific research and derivative enterprise. All such fads however are subject to the same socio-historical forces that compel broad based paradigmatic shifts within and without, as well as impel individual practitioners to revise and adapt. Evolutionary edifices are currently enduring radical revision, and I suspect that the 21st century will see its naturalistic propositions deconstructed in the face of grassroots as well as irresistible academic pressure

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    2. Now it's clearer, thanks. I've heard atheists responding to brothers Saboor and Hamza that all how they unsuccessfully try to expose the evolution is basically mixing and blowing up some very slight contentions within the academia (e.g. "tree of life" vs "bush of life"), hence the alleged war between the modern evolutionary scientists doesn't really take place. In fact, as they assert, these academics never doubt the key paradigms as natural selection, common ancestor, inter-species mutations. On the contrary, the constantly accumulating bank of fossil data brings more missing links and evidence for the naturalistic evolution. Whereas the exception of a very tiny bunch of freaks in the academia, whose ideas don't deserve that much mention, is not to be taken seriously.

      If you possess it, would you share with us some other information on this matter, so that now I wouldn't rashly agree with this notion?

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    3. Thanks for your discussion folks (my name is Hassan, not Hamza).

      Frankly, I find the much of this discussion to be besides the point. Let's leave considerations of philosophy of science on one side for a moment and look at Ramin's question: you seem to be asking whether there is evidence enough to conclude that evolution is true (and by that I hope you're talking about human evolution specifically, because other aspects of evolution are irrelevant as far as this blog post is concerned). Well, what do you think the most straightforward and sure-fire way to answer that question is? It's obvious: Look.at.the.data. There are scientists who produced data which claim to argue for human evolution, there are creationist scientists who have claimed to produce evidence against it. Now it falls on you to study both sides of the argument and make informed decisions on the back of that. Really, it doesn't get any simpler than that, and no alternative to this can ever be fully satisfactory, and especially not appeals to philosophy of science or historical trends in scientific progress.

      I'll be the last one to knock philosophy, as any reader of my blog would know much of my work is concentrated around analytic philosophy of religion. And philosophy of science is definitely important for both theoretical and practical epistemological purposes. Just that I don't think it's very relevant in the present discussion. When I first started reading philosophy of science, I too became excited because the different models of scientific antirealism (due to Popper, Kuhn, Fraasen et al) seemed like such an easy way to do away with any and all science-religion conflict. Except once you adopt antirealism, you can't help but open yourself up to skeptical possibilities of all kinds. As I pointed out in an earlier comment under this post, even much of religious reasoning is based on premises shared by scientific realism, and denying the latter would entail denying the former to different extents.

      I appreciate the commenter who cited Kuhn, and I do agree scientists can get attached to their pet theories and paradigm. But, like, how can you ever prove that these considerations do, *in fact*, affect their conclusions? You can't just admit the possibility of bias and conclude that scientific knowledge is unreliable- after all, what aspect of human intellectual endeavor is ever free of bias? All that Kuhnian consideration can serve you to do is open up the bare, logical possibility that scientific consensus could conceivably be wrong. But that's just a possibility. To prove that they are indeed wrong, there is absolutely no way other than to look into the data itself. I've supplied some references in my post, you may want to start with that.

      And it frustrates me that Muslims at large are taking such an incredibly long time to come to this *obvious* conclusion. Literally all the other religious/theistic/deistic apologetics movement- Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Intelligent Design, what have you- all of them without exception realize the importance of studying the data, doing actual scientific research if you want to defend whatever narrative you are defending. And yet Muslims at large are still trying to hide behind philosophy of science and absolve themselves from the responsibility of studying the actual data. I'm sorry for coming off so harsh but I'm just incredibly frustrated at this. Any way you slice it, we are displaying a level of science denialism that will make young-earthers blush.

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  4. Salam Alaykum,

    A little bit off topic (though it is a combination of this post and your previous post on the Quran): Would you say there is an undeniable connection between the attitude of modern science and modern history, and is it something that we as Muslims need to work more on? (insofar as Islam would be studied as a historical phenomenon strictly devoid of supernatural miracles and the historical quest would be to 'deconstruct' the religion and identify building blocks of Islam from the 'natural world' of 7th century Arabia)

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