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Yes, Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence — Let’s Hear Some for Darwinian Evolution

Granville Sewell
Photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Carl Sagan famously said on his TV series Cosmos, “I believe that the extraordinary should be pursued. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I agree. You shouldn’t change the entire direction of science based on a few isolated pieces of evidence.

Intelligent design (ID) proponents make an extraordinary claim, that the origin and evolution of life cannot be explained without postulating a guiding intelligence. If this idea becomes generally accepted it will be a huge change in the direction of science, so the scientific establishment is justified in dragging its feet. But the evidence for intelligent design does not consist of a few missing fossils or a few examples of irreducible complexity, which could eventually be shown to be reducible. ID advocates believe we have long ago passed the threshold of evidence required to accept this extraordinary claim and that every new discovery in biology and biochemistry pushes us farther beyond the threshold. Evolution News readers are exposed to this evidence daily.

Another Extraordinary Claim

But less noticed is that ID opponents also make an extraordinary claim. They believe that they have found, or at least will eventually find, natural, unintelligent, causes capable of creating things which in our uniform experience are known to be created only by intelligence. 

I have often argued (most recently here) that to attribute to natural selection the ability to create spectacular order out of disorder is to attribute to it, alone among all unintelligent forces in the universe, the ability to defy the more general statements of the second law of thermodynamics, or at least the general principle behind this law. But it is not really necessary to appeal to the second law because everyone can see that Darwin’s claim to have discovered an unintelligent force capable of creating all the magnificent species in the living world, and even human brains, was quite an extraordinary claim. It credits natural selection with creative powers far beyond those claimed for any other natural causes. (Origin-of-life researchers’ claim that chance chemical processes could have created the first self-replicators, when human engineered self-replicating machines are still far beyond current technology, could also be considered to be an extraordinary claim.)

And where do we stand with regard to evidence for the Darwinists’ extraordinary claim? Have we passed the threshold of evidence required to accept their claim? Hardly. The ongoing debate between Michael Behe and his critics is over whether or not there is evidence that natural selection of random mutations can be credited with any evolutionary changes that would not be considered “devolution” and do not simply “promote the loss of genetic information.” And evolutionists now openly wonder if they need an entirely new theory. While the evidence for the extraordinary claim made by design theorists continually increases, the evidence for the Darwinists’ claim seems to be shrinking.

“Why Evolution Is Different”

In my 2020 video “Why Evolution Is Different” I imagine watching a tornado running backward and trying to come up with a scientific explanation for what we are seeing. It concludes:

Anyone who claims to have a scientific explanation for how unintelligent agents might be able to turn rubble into houses and cars would be expected to produce some very powerful evidence if they want their theory to be taken seriously. The burden of proof should be equally heavy on those who claim to have a scientific explanation for how a few unintelligent forces of physics alone could rearrange the basic particles of physics into computers and encyclopedias and Apple iPhones — and there is no evidence that natural selection of random mutations can explain anything other than very minor adaptations.

Some observers of the ID-Darwinism debate feel that the Darwinian point of view is the default so that the burden of proof is on us. But it is extraordinary that we are here at all, so any ideas about how we got here should require extraordinary evidence.