Wishful Thinking

By L. Alfred James

Wishful ThinkingWishful thinking: it’s something all of us have seen. A good example would be that friend who has fallen madly in love with some person who is an absolute train-wreck waiting to happen. Our friend shockingly fails to see numerous (and serious) shortcomings in the object of their affection. You point out that their heartthrob is consistently irresponsible, refuses to get a job, and regularly blames everyone else for his or her emotional outbursts. “Oh, that’s no big deal,” your friend says. “Everyone has a couple areas they need to work on.” Then they give you a long-winded speech about how their wonderful darling is so funny, nice, and good-looking. Despite your best efforts, you can’t get them to even acknowledge the gravity of their beloved’s issues (until reality hits…a couple of years later).

What is going on here? Wishful thinking. The scientific name for this phenomenon is confirmation bias. It’s the tendency to only notice those things that confirm what you want to believe (and the tendency to ignore those things that contradict what you want to believe). Whatever you want to call it, human beings have a strong inclination to overlook anything that doesn’t agree with what they want to believe. Just consider:

  • The alcoholic who insists that he doesn’t have a problem. “After all,” he says, “I’ve gone a full hour without drinking.”
  • The tobacco company executive who claims that smoking cigarettes is healthy, explaining that the evidence linking smoking and cancer has been exaggerated.
  • After a presidential debate most of the Republicans interviewed say that their candidate clearly won, and most of the Democrats interviewed say that their candidate clearly won; but they can’t both be right.
  • A shocking crime has happened and the perpetrator has been caught red-handed. But when reporters interview his mother, she confidently asserts that her son is innocent. “My boy would never do anything like that.”

Confirmation bias is everywhere, even in science. If you want proof, consider the way that evolutionists discuss the topic of artificial selection. In case you don’t know, artificial selection is the practice of professional breeders who carefully select which animals (or plants) produce offspring in order to cultivate particular characteristics (after many generations) in plants or animals. For example, through artificial selection horticulturalists have produced broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi. Believe it or not, all of these vegetables—though they are very different from each other—are descendants of the exact same ancestor, the wild mustard plant. That shows how powerful artificial selection (with a lot of patience) can be.

By the same token, dog breeders have produced breeds that are as different from each other as a Mastiff and a Maltese; a Great Dane and a Chihuahua. Nonetheless, all dogs are descended from the same original wolf-like stock from many centuries ago.

Thus, breeders can produce very different creatures from a single ancestor. This, according to evolutionists, demonstrates that species can be shaped endlessly. Species are said to be moldable and ductile to a limitless extent. As Richard Dawkins opines, “Breeders are almost like modellers with endlessly malleable clay.”1 It is then assumed that these observations can be extrapolated and applied to all of nature for all time. Listen to Dawkins: “If human breeders can transform a wolf into a Pekinese, or a wild cabbage into a cauliflower, in just a few centuries or millennia, why shouldn’t the non-random survival of wild animals and plants do the same thing over millions of years?” To say it another way, if humans can so dramatically change the characteristics of a species (or an isolated population) in a matter of mere centuries, it is easy to see how nature could produce huge changes over millions of years. Indeed, if the offspring of a particular population kept experiencing such dramatic changes we would eventually classify this population as new species.

Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Well, it is, if you want to ignore the data that disagrees with the theory.

What they don’t mention is the fact that breeders hit barriers. Breeders can’t produce a dog so big that it’s the size of a horse, or so small that it’s the size of a cricket. Think of it. Have you ever seen a full-grown dog as tiny as, say, a grasshopper? No. Have you ever seen a dog as big as a rhinoceros? No. But don’t think it’s from a lack of effort. Breeders have tried. After all, such a unique creature would be a hot item on the market, making its breeder extremely wealthy and famous. Nonetheless, no matter how patient and persistent any breeder is, they just can’t do it. It is biologically impossible.

One of the greatest breeding experts of all time was Luther Burbank. He explicitly wrote about these limits, calling this phenomenon the “Reversion to the Average.”

“I know from my experience that I can develop a plum half an inch long or one 2 1/2 inches long, with every possible length in between, but I am willing to admit that it is hopeless to try to get a plum the size of a pea, or one as big as a grapefruit…there are limits to the development possible, and these limits follow a law…In short, there is undoubtedly a pull toward the mean which keeps all living things within some more or less fixed limitations.”

Thus, the work of breeders provides powerful evidence against evolution, not for it. For centuries breeders have run up against these barriers time and time again. The fact that these barriers exist has been confirmed by repeated experimentation, endlessly, over hundreds of years. It is an unassailable scientific fact, and it flagrantly contradicts evolutionary theory.

But go to the literature and see how often you will find any popularizer of evolution wrestling with this fact. Indeed, you will be hard pressed to find any advocate of evolution who even mentions the “Reversion to the Average.” Instead, most of them just trot out the data that (when spun just the right way) seems to support their view. That is not good scholarship. It is not an honest presentation of the data either. Instead, it is propaganda; it is confirmation bias; it is wishful thinking. But in our culture we call it science. Such a sham. Such a shame.

1. Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: FreePress, 2009), 42. See also Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (New York, Penguin, 2009), 127.

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