Dawkins’ Indirect Scientific Inference
In his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins declares that “the ‘theory’ of evolution is actually a fact—as incontrovertible a fact as any in science” (2009, p. vii). He wrote the book because he noted that in his previous books he “realized that the evidence for evolution itself was nowhere explicitly set out, and that this was a serious gap” that he “needed to close” (p. vii). In his failed attempt to close that gap, Dawkins delineated the kind of “evidence” that he would be relying upon. He noted that much of the “evidence” for evolution is necessarily not direct, eyewitness evidence. He stated:
Obviously, the vast majority of evolutionary change is invisible to direct eye-witness observation. Most of it happened before we were born, and in any case it is usually too slow to be seen during an individual’s lifetime.... With evolution, as with continental drift, inference after the event is all that is available to us, for the obvious reason that we don’t exist until after the event. But do not for one nanosecond underestimate the power of such inference (p. 16).
Along those same lines, Dawkins wrote: “I shall never again be tempted to give eyewitness testimony an automatic preference over indirect scientific inference” (p. 15).
The important point to notice in this regard is that often the creationist is criticized by the evolutionary community for suggesting that creation at the hand of a supernatural Creator is a scientific idea. We are told that since scientists cannot touch, see, taste, hear, or smell the Creator directly, here and now, then that “hypothesis” simply cannot be considered scientific. Yet such an assessment of Creation is inaccurate. Creation is simply, in the words of Richard Dawkins, “inference after the event” that deserves as much or more credit, according to Dawkins, as “eyewitness testimony” (cf. Butt, 2007).
In fact, the biblical explanation of Creation clearly defines the concept almost exactly as Dawkins has defined acceptable evidence. Romans 1:20 states: “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” A cursory look at the verse shows that (1) people in Paul’s time (as well as our own) were not around to directly observe the act of Creation, (2) the evidence available to Paul’s readers (and modern people) is enough to positively infer the concept of Creation and the existence of a Creator, (3) improper scientific inference from the available evidence would result in a complete misunderstanding of the origin of the Universe.
Dawkins is exactly right that real scientific inference based on indirect observation is an excellent way to arrive at facts and knowledge. Sadly, he is woefully incorrect in his assessment that such inferences substantiate evolution. The fact of the matter is, all properly formulated scientific inferences based on factual scientific evidence establish the conclusion that a supernatural Creator designed our amazing Universe.
Butt, Kyle (2007), “Indirect Observation,” http://apologeticspress.org/articles/3243.
Dawkins, Richard (2009), The Greatest Show on Earth (New York: Free Press).