Rebuttal to Zakir Naik – I

Posted on August 16, 2009 by

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by Awais Masood

I always believed that there are limits to credulity and ignorance but I was proven wrong when I watched Zakir Naik presenting ‘arguments’ against evolution. [1]

It was difficult for me to digest that a large number of people present in the live audience and watching on screens could buy into such third grade arguments. Moreover one can raise strong questions regarding the credibility of such a (pseudo) scholar. It is understandable – in the context of low literacy rates, much lower rates of scientific education and suppression of rational inquiry in our region – that general public could misunderstand science and take things for granted but it is criminally ignorant to let people like Zakir Naik churn out rubbish in the name of science.

In this series of rebuttals, I intend to take on Naik’s arguments, statement by statement and debunk those claims and expose what I perceive as either abject ignorance or criminal trickery.

Argument : Zakir Naik claims that evolution is a theory and not a fact [1]

It is perhaps the most popular and actually the most ridiculous argument presented by creationists. It actually exhibits  complete ignorance of science and scientific method and raises serious questions regarding the academic credentials of Naik who claims to be a doctor of medicine.

Anybody who has gone through elementary courses in science knows that there are other ‘theories’ of science such as ‘Theory of Gravitation’ and ‘Electromagnetic Theory’ but nobody declares gravity as just a theory and jumps of a thirty storey building in a hope that he/she will start floating in mid-air rather than falling downwards.

The reality is that in scientific jargon, the terms ‘theory’ and ‘fact’ carry very different meanings. The colloquial usage of term ‘theory’ which stands for unsubstantiated claims is not valid for the scientific theories of Evolution, Electromagnetism and Gravity.

What is then a scientific theory? Biochemist, Science Fiction writer and popularizer of science, Isaac Asimov explains:

Creationists frequently stress the fact that evolution is “only a theory,” giving the impression that a theory is an idle guess. A scientist, one gathers, arising one morning isaac-asimovwith nothing particular to do, decided that perhaps the moon is made of Roquefort cheese and instantly advances the Roquefort-cheese theory.

A theory (as the word is used by scientists) is a detailed description of some facet of the universe’s workings that is based on long observation and, where possible, experiment. It is the result of careful reasoning from these observations and experiments that has survived the critical study of scientists generally.

For example, we have the description of the cellular nature of living organisms (the “cell theory”); of objects attracting each other according to fixed rule (the “theory of gravitation”); of energy behaving in discrete bits (the “quantum theory”); of light traveling through a vacuum at a fixed measurable velocity (the “theory of relativity”), and so on.
All are theories; all are firmly founded; all are accepted as valid descriptions of this or that aspect of the universe. They are neither guesses nor speculations. And no theory is better founded, more closely examined, more critically argued and more thoroughly accepted, than the theory of evolution. If it is “only” a theory, that is all it has to be. [2]

Similarly, Paleontologist Stephen J. Gould states:

If the vernacular word FACT has any currency in science, it can only be defined as “confirmed to so high a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”   By this definition, evolution – the observation that all organisms are connected by unbroken ties of genealogy – is as much a fact as anything discovered by science – as well confirmed as Copernicus’s claim that the Earth moves around the sun.[3]

Gould states at another place:

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s Stephen_Jay_Gould_by_Kathy_Chapmandata. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.” The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms. [4]

Skeptic, Psychologist and historian of science Michael Shermer comment on scientific thinking:

Scientists agree that the following elements are involved in thinking scientifically:

Induction: Forming a hypothesis by drawing general conclusions from existing data.

Deduction: Making specific predictions based on the hypotheses.

Observation: Gathering data, driven by hypotheses that tell us what to
look for in nature.

Verification: Testing the predictions against further observations to confirm or falsify the initial hypotheses.


Science, of course, is not this rigid; and no scientist consciously goes through “steps.” The process is a constant interaction of making observations, drawing conclusions, making predictions, and checking them against evidence. [5]

Shermer further explains:

Through the scientific method, we may form the following generalizations:michael_shermer

Hypothesis: A testable statement accounting for a set of observations.

Theory: A well-supported and well-tested hypothesis or set of
hypotheses.

Fact: A conclusion confirmed to such an extent that it would be
reasonable to offer provisional agreement.

A theory may be contrasted with a construct: a nontestable statement to
account for a set of observations.The living organisms on Earth may be
accounted for by the statement “God made them” or the statement “They evolved.” The first statement is a construct, the second a theory. Most biologists would even call evolution a fact.

Through the scientific method, we aim for objectivity: basing conclusions on external validation. And we avoid mysticism: basing conclusions on personal insights that elude external validation.[5]

Conclusion

I consider the above arguments enough to explain why Naik’s statement holds no ground. It may seem wasteful to spend so much time refuting a single statement (rest of them will be refuted too in future) but I find it important as it leads us to another important question. Is he totally ignorant of the scientific method or he deliberately uses false statementin front of his audience. In first scenario he comes out to be a totally ignorant speaker who holds no credibility to take part in debates regarding science. His shameless arrogance is appalling in this regard. How could he stand in front of millions of people in audience and argue regarding things, he is totally ignorant of? Is such a man worth listening to? If he is deliberately lying, the case becomes more severe. He is charlatan who cheats and deceives his audience with verbal trickery and false arguments and all that in the name of religion!

References

1. Zakir Naik on Evolution, Video

2. Asimov, Isaac, The “Threat of Creationism”, New York Times Magazine, 14 June 1981

3. Gould, Stephen J,  ‘Creation Science ‘ is an Oxymoron, Skeptical Inquirer Vol. XI, no. 2 / Winter 1986-87

4. Gould, Stephen J, Evolution as Fact and Theory, Discover 2 (May 1981): 34-37

5. Shermer, Michael, Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time, 2002

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