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Nature of Scientific Disagreement

Sidebar: The nature of scientific disagreement

Explore Evolution makes a big deal of their single tree/orchard analogy:

Some see evidence of an orchard of separate trees; others see a single, continuous, branching tree.
Explore Evolution, p. 34

Scientists see evolution as a continuous, branching tree, not as separate trees. This statement is simply a misrepresentation and does not cite any sources for its claim.

We have seen that scientists disagree over how to interpret the fossil evidence.
Explore Evolution, p. 34

While there can certainly be disagreement over interpretation, Explore Evolution has not cited any specific argument among legitimate scientists. Who are these mysterious dissenting "scientists"?

But how can there be disagreements? Facts are facts, right? How can qualified scientists disagree over evidence?
Explore Evolution, p. 34

This statement is one of the most egregious of in this chapter. This is wrong in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin to parse this, but first let us examine some assumptions here:

1. The Nature of Evidence

Explore Evolution seems to think that the word evidence means something clear and unchallengeable. However, in the scientific sense, new evidence is often fiercely challenged. Evidence is rarely 100% clear.

By way of analogy, think of this question in Hamlet: Is Hamlet insane, or merely pretending to be insane? The answer, of course, is yes. And no. One can cite passages of Hamlet where the prince talks about pretending to fake insanity. One can also cite passages where Hamlet sees things no one else sees (the ghost of his father in his mother's bedroom, for example). The "evidence" found in the play isn't clear, and a bald statement--Hamlet is not insane--will certainly be challenged. This analogy is a better way to think of the nature of scientific evidence than Explore Evolution's false assumption.

2. Scientists Shouldn't Disagree.

Anyone who has ever attended a scientific conference knows that speakers rarely get far into their prepared talks before some member of the audience challenges them. As soon as one makes any claim in a scientific conference or scientific paper, other scientists pounce with questions that are substantive and challenging. Such criticism isn't necessarily personal, but rather is part of the process of science. Explore Evolution incorrectly assumes that if good evidence exists, scientists will not disagree. Explore Evolution misunderstands science.